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Thomas Malthus
An Essay on the Principle of Population

1798

AN ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION, AS IT AFFECTS THE FUTURE
IMPROVEMENT OF SOCIETY WITH REMARKS ON THE SPECULATIONS OF MR.
GODWIN, M. CONDORCET, AND OTHER WRITERS.

LONDON, PRINTED FOR J. JOHNSON, IN ST. PAUL'S CHURCH-YARD, 1798.

Abridged and formatted by Neil Jumonville, 2006.


Preface


The following Essay owes its origin to a conversation with a
friend, on the subject of Mr Godwin's essay on avarice and
profusion, in his Enquirer. The discussion started the general
question of the future improvement of society, and the Author at
first sat down with an intention of merely stating his thoughts
to his friend, upon paper, in a clearer manner than he thought he
could do in conversation. But as the subject opened upon him,
some ideas occurred, which he did not recollect to have met with
before; and as he conceived that every least light, on a topic so
generally interesting, might be received with candour, he
determined to put his thoughts in a form for publication.

The Essay might, undoubtedly, have been rendered much more
complete by a collection of a greater number of facts in
elucidation of the general argument. But a long and almost total
interruption from very particular business, joined to a desire
(perhaps imprudent) of not delaying the publication much beyond
the time that he originally proposed, prevented the Author from
giving to the subject an undivided attention. He presumes,
however, that the facts which he has adduced will be found to
form no inconsiderable evidence for the truth of his opinion
respecting the future improvement of mankind. As the Author
contemplates this opinion at present, little more appears to him
to be necessary than a plain statement, in addition to the most
cursory view of society, to establish it.

It is an obvious truth, which has been taken notice of by
many writers, that population must always be kept down to the
level of the means of subsistence; but no writer that the Author
recollects has inquired particularly into the means by which this
level is effected: and it is a view of these means which forms,
to his mind, the strongest obstacle in the way to any very great
future improvement of society. He hopes it will appear that, in
the discussion of this interesting subject, he is actuated solely
by a love of truth, and not by any prejudices against any
particular set of men, or of opinions. He professes to have read
some of the speculations on the future improvement of society in
a temper very different from a wish to find them visionary, but
he has not acquired that command over his understanding which
would enable him to believe what he wishes, without evidence, or
to refuse his assent to what might be unpleasing, when
accompanied with evidence.

The view which he has given of human life has a melancholy
hue, but he feels conscious that he has drawn these dark tints
from a conviction that they are really in the picture, and not
from a jaundiced eye or an inherent spleen of disposition. The
theory of mind which he has sketched in the two last chapters
accounts to his own understanding in a satisfactory manner for
the existence of most of the evils of life, but whether it will
have the same effect upon others must be left to the judgement of
his readers.

If he should succeed in drawing the attention of more able
men to what he conceives to be the principal difficulty in the
way to the improvement of society and should, in consequence, see
this difficulty removed, even in theory, he will gladly retract
his present opinions and rejoice in a conviction of his error.

7 June 1798


CHAPTER 2

The different ratio in which population and food increase--The
necessary effects of these different ratios of increase--
Oscillation produced by them in the condition of the lower
classes of society--Reasons why this oscillation has not been so
much observed as might be expected--Three propositions on which
the general argument of the Essay depends--The different states
in which mankind have been known to exist proposed to be examined
with reference to these three propositions.


I said that population, when unchecked, increased in a
geometrical ratio, and subsistence for man in an arithmetical
ratio.

Let us examine whether this position be just. I think it will
be allowed, that no state has hitherto existed (at least that we
have any account of) where the manners were so pure and simple,
and the means of subsistence so abundant, that no check whatever
has existed to early marriages, among the lower classes, from a
fear of not providing well for their families, or among the
higher classes, from a fear of lowering their condition in life.
Consequently in no state that we have yet known has the power of
population been left to exert itself with perfect freedom.

Whether the law of marriage be instituted or not, the dictate
of nature and virtue seems to be an early attachment to one
woman. Supposing a liberty of changing in the case of an
unfortunate choice, this liberty would not affect population till
it arose to a height greatly vicious; and we are now supposing
the existence of a society where vice is scarcely known.

In a state therefore of great equality and virtue, where pure
and simple manners prevailed, and where the means of subsistence
were so abundant that no part of the society could have any fears
about providing amply for a family, the power of population being
left to exert itself unchecked, the increase of the human species
would evidently be much greater than any increase that has been
hitherto known.

In the United States of America, where the means of
subsistence have been more ample, the manners of the people more
pure, and consequently the checks to early marriages fewer, than
in any of the modern states of Europe, the population has been
found to double itself in twenty-five years.

This ratio of increase, though short of the utmost power of
population, yet as the result of actual experience, we will take
as our rule, and say, that population, when unchecked, goes on
doubling itself every twenty-five years or increases in a
geometrical ratio.

Let us now take any spot of earth, this Island for instance,
and see in what ratio the subsistence it affords can be supposed
to increase. We will begin with it under its present state of
cultivation.

If I allow that by the best possible policy, by breaking up
more land and by great encouragements to agriculture, the produce
of this Island may be doubled in the first twenty-five years, I
think it will be allowing as much as any person can well demand.

In the next twenty-five years, it is impossible to suppose
that the produce could be quadrupled. It would be contrary to all
our knowledge of the qualities of land. The very utmost that we
can conceive, is, that the increase in the second twenty-five
years might equal the present produce. Let us then take this for
our rule, though certainly far beyond the truth, and allow that,
by great exertion, the whole produce of the Island might be
increased every twenty-five years, by a quantity of subsistence
equal to what it at present produces. The most enthusiastic
speculator cannot suppose a greater increase than this. In a few
centuries it would make every acre of land in the Island like a
garden.

Yet this ratio of increase is evidently arithmetical.

It may be fairly said, therefore, that the means of
subsistence increase in an arithmetical ratio. Let us now bring
the effects of these two ratios together.

The population of the Island is computed to be about seven
millions, and we will suppose the present produce equal to the
support of such a number. In the first twenty-five years the
population would be fourteen millions, and the food being also
doubled, the means of subsistence would be equal to this
increase. In the next twenty-five years the population would be
twenty-eight millions, and the means of subsistence only equal to
the support of twenty-one millions. In the next period, the
population would be fifty-six millions, and the means of
subsistence just sufficient for half that number. And at the
conclusion of the first century the population would be one
hundred and twelve millions and the means of subsistence only
equal to the support of thirty-five millions, which would leave a
population of seventy-seven millions totally unprovided for.

A great emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some
kind or other in the country that is deserted. For few persons
will leave their families, connections, friends, and native land,
to seek a settlement in untried foreign climes, without some
strong subsisting causes of uneasiness where they are, or the
hope of some great advantages in the place to which they are
going.

But to make the argument more general and less interrupted by
the partial views of emigration, let us take the whole earth,
instead of one spot, and suppose that the restraints to
population were universally removed. If the subsistence for man
that the earth affords was to be increased every twenty-five
years by a quantity equal to what the whole world at present
produces, this would allow the power of production in the earth
to be absolutely unlimited, and its ratio of increase much
greater than we can conceive that any possible exertions of
mankind could make it.

Taking the population of the world at any number, a thousand
millions, for instance, the human species would increase in the
ratio of--1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, etc. and
subsistence as--1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc. In two
centuries and a quarter, the population would be to the means of
subsistence as 512 to 10: in three centuries as 4096 to 13, and
in two thousand years the difference would be almost
incalculable, though the produce in that time would have
increased to an immense extent.

No limits whatever are placed to the productions of the
earth; they may increase for ever and be greater than any
assignable quantity, yet still the power of population being a
power of a superior order, the increase of the human species can
only be kept commensurate to the increase of the means of
subsistence by the constant operation of the strong law of
necessity acting as a check upon the greater power.

The effects of this check remain now to be considered.

Among plants and animals the view of the subject is simple.
They are all impelled by a powerful instinct to the increase of
their species, and this instinct is interrupted by no reasoning
or doubts about providing for their offspring. Wherever therefore
there is liberty, the power of increase is exerted, and the
superabundant effects are repressed afterwards by want of room
and nourishment, which is common to animals and plants, and among
animals by becoming the prey of others.

The effects of this check on man are more complicated.
Impelled to the increase of his species by an equally powerful
instinct, reason interrupts his career and asks him whether he
may not bring beings into the world for whom he cannot provide
the means of subsistence. In a state of equality, this would be
the simple question. In the present state of society, other
considerations occur. Will he not lower his rank in life? Will he
not subject himself to greater difficulties than he at present
feels? Will he not be obliged to labour harder? and if he has a
large family, will his utmost exertions enable him to support
them? May he not see his offspring in rags and misery, and
clamouring for bread that he cannot give them? And may he not be
reduced to the grating necessity of forfeiting his independence,
and of being obliged to the sparing hand of charity for support?

These considerations are calculated to prevent, and certainly
do prevent, a very great number in all civilized nations from
pursuing the dictate of nature in an early attachment to one
woman. And this restraint almost necessarily, though not
absolutely so, produces vice. Yet in all societies, even those
that are most vicious, the tendency to a virtuous attachment is
so strong that there is a constant effort towards an increase of
population. This constant effort as constantly tends to subject
the lower classes of the society to distress and to prevent any
great permanent amelioration of their condition.

The way in which, these effects are produced seems to be
this. We will suppose the means of subsistence in any country
just equal to the easy support of its inhabitants. The constant
effort towards population, which is found to act even in the most
vicious societies, increases the number of people before the
means of subsistence are increased. The food therefore which
before supported seven millions must now be divided among seven
millions and a half or eight millions. The poor consequently must
live much worse, and many of them be reduced to severe distress.
The number of labourers also being above the proportion of the
work in the market, the price of labour must tend toward a
decrease, while the price of provisions would at the same time
tend to rise. The labourer therefore must work harder to earn the
same as he did before. During this season of distress, the
discouragements to marriage, and the difficulty of rearing a
family are so great that population is at a stand. In the mean
time the cheapness of labour, the plenty of labourers, and the
necessity of an increased industry amongst them, encourage
cultivators to employ more labour upon their land, to turn up
fresh soil, and to manure and improve more completely what is
already in tillage, till ultimately the means of subsistence
become in the same proportion to the population as at the period
from which we set out. The situation of the labourer being then
again tolerably comfortable, the restraints to population are in
some degree loosened, and the same retrograde and progressive
movements with respect to happiness are repeated.

This sort of oscillation will not be remarked by superficial
observers, and it may be difficult even for the most penetrating
mind to calculate its periods. Yet that in all old states some
such vibration does exist, though from various transverse causes,
in a much less marked, and in a much more irregular manner than I
have described it, no reflecting man who considers the subject
deeply can well doubt.

Many reasons occur why this oscillation has been less
obvious, and less decidedly confirmed by experience, than might
naturally be expected.

One principal reason is that the histories of mankind that we
possess are histories only of the higher classes. We have but few
accounts that can be depended upon of the manners and customs of
that part of mankind where these retrograde and progressive
movements chiefly take place. A satisfactory history of this
kind, on one people, and of one period, would require the
constant and minute attention of an observing mind during a long
life. Some of the objects of inquiry would be, in what proportion
to the number of adults was the number of marriages, to what
extent vicious customs prevailed in consequence of the restraints
upon matrimony, what was the comparative mortality among the
children of the most distressed part of the community and those
who lived rather more at their ease, what were the variations in
the real price of labour, and what were the observable
differences in the state of the lower classes of society with
respect to ease and happiness, at different times during a
certain period.

Such a history would tend greatly to elucidate the manner in
which the constant check upon population acts and would probably
prove the existence of the retrograde and progressive movements
that have been mentioned, though the times of their vibrations
must necessarily be rendered irregular from the operation of many
interrupting causes, such as the introduction or failure of
certain manufactures, a greater or less prevalent spirit of
agricultural enterprise, years of plenty, or years of scarcity,
wars and pestilence, poor laws, the invention of processes for
shortening labour without the proportional extension of the
market for the commodity, and, particularly, the difference
between the nominal and real price of labour, a circumstance
which has perhaps more than any other contributed to conceal this
oscillation from common view.

It very rarely happens that the nominal price of labour
universally falls, but we well know that it frequently remains
the same, while the nominal price of provisions has been
gradually increasing. This is, in effect, a real fall in the
price of labour, and during this period the condition of the
lower orders of the community must gradually grow worse and
worse. But the farmers and capitalists are growing rich from the
real cheapness of labour. Their increased capitals enable them to
employ a greater number of men. Work therefore may be plentiful,
and the price of labour would consequently rise. But the want of
freedom in the market of labour, which occurs more or less in all
communities, either from parish laws, or the more general cause
of the facility of combination among the rich, and its difficulty
among the poor, operates to prevent the price of labour from
rising at the natural period, and keeps it down some time longer;
perhaps till a year of scarcity, when the clamour is too loud and
the necessity too apparent to be resisted.

The true cause of the advance in the price of labour is thus
concealed, and the rich affect to grant it as an act of
compassion and favour to the poor, in consideration of a year of
scarcity, and, when plenty returns, indulge themselves in the
most unreasonable of all complaints, that the price does not
again fall, when a little rejection would shew them that it must
have risen long before but from an unjust conspiracy of their
own.

But though the rich by unfair combinations contribute
frequently to prolong a season of distress among the poor, yet no
possible form of society could prevent the almost constant action
of misery upon a great part of mankind, if in a state of
inequality, and upon all, if all were equal.

The theory on which the truth of this position depends
appears to me so extremely clear that I feel at a loss to
conjecture what part of it can be denied.

That population cannot increase without the means of
subsistence is a proposition so evident that it needs no
illustration.

That population does invariably increase where there are the
means of subsistence, the history of every people that have ever
existed will abundantly prove.

And that the superior power of population cannot be checked
without producing misery or vice, the ample portion of these too
bitter ingredients in the cup of human life and the continuance
of the physical causes that seem to have produced them bear too
convincing a testimony.

But, in order more fully to ascertain the validity of these
three propositions, let us examine the different states in which
mankind have been known to exist. Even a cursory review will, I
think, be sufficient to convince us that these propositions are
incontrovertible truths.


CHAPTER 5

The second, or positive check to population examined, in England
--The true cause why the immense sum collected in England for the
poor does not better their condition--The powerful tendency of
the poor laws to defeat their own purpose--Palliative of the
distresses of the poor proposed--The absolute impossibility,
from the fixed laws of our nature, that the pressure of want can
ever be completely removed from the lower classes of society--
All the checks to population may be resolved into misery or vice.


The positive check to population, by which I mean the check that
represses an increase which is already begun, is confined
chiefly, though not perhaps solely, to the lowest orders of
society.

This check is not so obvious to common view as the other I have
mentioned, and, to prove distinctly the force and extent of its
operation would require, perhaps, more data than we are in
possession of. But I believe it has been very generally remarked
by those who have attended to bills of mortality that of the
number of children who die annually, much too great a proportion
belongs to those who may be supposed unable to give their
offspring proper food and attention, exposed as they are
occasionally to severe distress and confined, perhaps, to
unwholesome habitations and hard labour. This mortality among the
children of the poor has been constantly taken notice of in all
towns. It certainly does not prevail in an equal degree in the
country, but the subject has not hitherto received sufficient
attention to enable anyone to say that there are not more deaths
in proportion among the children of the poor, even in the
country, than among those of the middling and higher classes.
Indeed, it seems difficult to suppose that a labourer's wife who
has six children, and who is sometimes in absolute want of bread,
should be able always to give them the food and attention
necessary to support life. The sons and daughters of peasants
will not be found such rosy cherubs in real life as they are
described to be in romances. It cannot fail to be remarked by
those who live much in the country that the sons of labourers are
very apt to be stunted in their growth, and are a long while
arriving at maturity. Boys that you would guess to be fourteen or
fifteen are, upon inquiry, frequently found to be eighteen or
nineteen. And the lads who drive plough, which must certainly be
a healthy exercise, are very rarely seen with any appearance of
calves to their legs: a circumstance which can only be attributed
to a want either of proper or of sufficient nourishment.

To remedy the frequent distresses of the common people, the
poor laws of England have been instituted; but it is to be
feared, that though they may have alleviated a little the
intensity of individual misfortune, they have spread the general
evil over a much larger surface. It is a subject often started in
conversation and mentioned always as a matter of great surprise
that, notwithstanding the immense sum that is annually collected
for the poor in England, there is still so much distress among
them. Some think that the money must be embezzled, others that
the church-wardens and overseers consume the greater part of it
in dinners. All agree that somehow or other it must be very
ill-managed. In short the fact that nearly three millions are
collected annually for the poor and yet that their distresses are
not removed is the subject of continual astonishment. But a man
who sees a little below the surface of things would be very much
more astonished if the fact were otherwise than it is observed to
be, or even if a collection universally of eighteen shillings in
the pound, instead of four, were materially to alter it. I will
state a case which I hope will elucidate my meaning.

Suppose that by a subscription of the rich the eighteen pence
a day which men earn now was made up five shillings, it might be
imagined, perhaps, that they would then be able to live
comfortably and have a piece of meat every day for their dinners.
But this would be a very false conclusion. The transfer of three
shillings and sixpence a day to every labourer would not increase
the quantity of meat in the country. There is not at present
enough for all to have a decent share. What would then be the
consequence? The competition among the buyers in the market of
meat would rapidly raise the price from sixpence or sevenpence,
to two or three shillings in the pound, and the commodity would
not be divided among many more than it is at present. When an
article is scarce, and cannot be distributed to all, he that can
shew the most valid patent, that is, he that offers most money,
becomes the possessor. If we can suppose the competition among
the buyers of meat to continue long enough for a greater number
of cattle to be reared annually, this could only be done at the
expense of the corn, which would be a very disadvantagous
exchange, for it is well known that the country could not then
support the same population, and when subsistence is scarce in
proportion to the number of people, it is of little consequence
whether the lowest members of the society possess eighteen pence
or five shillings. They must at all events be reduced to live
upon the hardest fare and in the smallest quantity.

It will be said, perhaps, that the increased number of
purchasers in every article would give a spur to productive
industry and that the whole produce of the island would be
increased. This might in some degree be the case. But the spur
that these fancied riches would give to population would more
than counterbalance it, and the increased produce would be to be
divided among a more than proportionably increased number of
people. All this time I am supposing that the same quantity of
work would be done as before. But this would not really take
place. The receipt of five shillings a day, instead of eighteen
pence, would make every man fancy himself comparatively rich and
able to indulge himself in many hours or days of leisure. This
would give a strong and immediate check to productive industry,
and, in a short time, not only the nation would be poorer, but
the lower classes themselves would be much more distressed than
when they received only eighteen pence a day.

A collection from the rich of eighteen shillings in the
pound, even if distributed in the most judicious manner, would
have a little the same effect as that resulting from the
supposition I have just made, and no possible contributions or
sacrifices of the rich, particularly in money, could for any time
prevent the recurrence of distress among the lower members of
society, whoever they were. Great changes might, indeed, be made.
The rich might become poor, and some of the poor rich, but a part
of the society must necessarily feel a difficulty of living, and
this difficulty will naturally fall on the least fortunate
members.

It may at first appear strange, but I believe it is true,
that I cannot by means of money raise a poor man and enable him
to live much better than he did before, without proportionably
depressing others in the same class. If I retrench the quantity
of food consumed in my house, and give him what I have cut off, I
then benefit him, without depressing any but myself and family,
who, perhaps, may be well able to bear it. If I turn up a piece
of uncultivated land, and give him the produce, I then benefit
both him and all the members of the society, because what he
before consumed is thrown into the common stock, and probably
some of the new produce with it. But if I only give him money,
supposing the produce of the country to remain the same, I give
him a title to a larger share of that produce than formerly,
which share he cannot receive without diminishing the shares of
others. It is evident that this effect, in individual instances,
must be so small as to be totally imperceptible; but still it
must exist, as many other effects do, which, like some of the
insects that people the air, elude our grosser perceptions.

Supposing the quantity of food in any country to remain the
same for many years together, it is evident that this food must
be divided according to the value of each man's patent, or the
sum of money that he can afford to spend on this commodity so
universally in request. (Mr Godwin calls the wealth that a man
receives from his ancestors a mouldy patent. It may, I think,
very properly be termed a patent, but I hardly see the propriety
of calling it a mouldy one, as it is an article in such constant
use.) It is a demonstrative truth, therefore, that the patents of
one set of men could not be increased in value without
diminishing the value of the patents of some other set of men. If
the rich were to subscribe and give five shillings a day to five
hundred thousand men without retrenching their own tables, no
doubt can exist, that as these men would naturally live more at
their ease and consume a greater quantity of provisions, there
would be less food remaining to divide among the rest, and
consequently each man's patent would be diminished in value or
the same number of pieces of silver would purchase a smaller
quantity of subsistence.

An increase of population without a proportional increase of
food will evidently have the same effect in lowering the value of
each man's patent. The food must necessarily be distributed in
smaller quantities, and consequently a day's labour will purchase
a smaller quantity of provisions. An increase in the price of
provisions would arise either from an increase of population
faster than the means of subsistence, or from a different
distribution of the money of the society. The food of a country
that has been long occupied, if it be increasing, increases
slowly and regularly and cannot be made to answer any sudden
demands, but variations in the distribution of the money of a
society are not infrequently occurring, and are undoubtedly among
the causes that occasion the continual variations which we
observe in the price of provisions.

The poor laws of England tend to depress the general
condition of the poor in these two ways. Their first obvious
tendency is to increase population without increasing the food
for its support. A poor man may marry with little or no prospect
of being able to support a family in independence. They may be
said therefore in some measure to create the poor which they
maintain, and as the provisions of the country must, in
consequence of the increased population, be distributed to every
man in smaller proportions, it is evident that the labour of
those who are not supported by parish assistance will purchase a
smaller quantity of provisions than before and consequently more
of them must be driven to ask for support.

Secondly, the quantity of provisions consumed in workhouses
upon a part of the society that cannot in general be considered
as the most valuable part diminishes the shares that would
otherwise belong to more industrious and more worthy members, and
thus in the same manner forces more to become dependent. If the
poor in the workhouses were to live better than they now do, this
new distribution of the money of the society would tend more
conspicuously to depress the condition of those out of the
workhouses by occasioning a rise in the price of provisions.

Fortunately for England, a spirit of independence still
remains among the peasantry. The poor laws are strongly
calculated to eradicate this spirit. They have succeeded in part,
but had they succeeded as completely as might have been expected
their pernicious tendency would not have been so long concealed.

Hard as it may appear in individual instances, dependent
poverty ought to be held disgraceful. Such a stimulus seems to be
absolutely necessary to promote the happiness of the great mass
of mankind, and every general attempt to weaken this stimulus,
however benevolent its apparent intention, will always defeat its
own purpose. If men are induced to marry from a prospect of
parish provision, with little or no chance of maintaining their
families in independence, they are not only unjustly tempted to
bring unhappiness and dependence upon themselves and children,
but they are tempted, without knowing it, to injure all in the
same class with themselves. A labourer who marries without being
able to support a family may in some respects be considered as an
enemy to all his fellow-labourers.

I feel no doubt whatever that the parish laws of England have
contributed to raise the price of provisions and to lower the
real price of labour. They have therefore contributed to
impoverish that class of people whose only possession is their
labour. It is also difficult to suppose that they have not
powerfully contributed to generate that carelessness and want of
frugality observable among the poor, so contrary to the
disposition frequently to be remarked among petty tradesmen and
small farmers. The labouring poor, to use a vulgar expression,
seem always to live from hand to mouth. Their present wants
employ their whole attention, and they seldom think of the
future. Even when they have an opportunity of saving they seldom
exercise it, but all that is beyond their present necessities
goes, generally speaking, to the ale-house. The poor laws of
England may therefore be said to diminish both the power and the
will to save among the common people, and thus to weaken one of
the strongest incentives to sobriety and industry, and
consequently to happiness.

It is a general complaint among master manufacturers that
high wages ruin all their workmen, but it is difficult to
conceive that these men would not save a part of their high wages
for the future support of their families, instead of spending it
in drunkenness and dissipation, if they did not rely on parish
assistance for support in case of accidents. And that the poor
employed in manufactures consider this assistance as a reason why
they may spend all the wages they earn and enjoy themselves while
they can appears to be evident from the number of families that,
upon the failure of any great manufactory, immediately fall upon
the parish, when perhaps the wages earned in this manufactory
while it flourished were sufficiently above the price of common
country labour to have allowed them to save enough for their
support till they could find some other channel for their
industry.

A man who might not be deterred from going to the ale-house
from the consideration that on his death, or sickness, he should
leave his wife and family upon the parish might yet hesitate in
thus dissipating his earnings if he were assured that, in either
of these cases, his family must starve or be left to the support
of casual bounty. In China, where the real as well as nominal
price of labour is very low, sons are yet obliged by law to
support their aged and helpless parents. Whether such a law would
be advisable in this country I will not pretend to determine. But
it seems at any rate highly improper, by positive institutions,
which render dependent poverty so general, to weaken that
disgrace, which for the best and most humane reasons ought to
attach to it.

The mass of happiness among the common people cannot but be
diminished when one of the strongest checks to idleness and
dissipation is thus removed, and when men are thus allured to
marry with little or no prospect of being able to maintain a
family in independence. Every obstacle in the way of marriage
must undoubtedly be considered as a species of unhappiness. But
as from the laws of our nature some check to population must
exist, it is better that it should be checked from a foresight of
the difficulties attending a family and the fear of dependent
poverty than that it should be encouraged, only to be repressed
afterwards by want and sickness.

It should be remembered always that there is an essential
difference between food and those wrought commodities, the raw
materials of which are in great plenty. A demand for these last
will not fail to create them in as great a quantity as they are
wanted. The demand for food has by no means the same creative
power. In a country where all the fertile spots have been seized,
high offers are necessary to encourage the farmer to lay his
dressing on land from which he cannot expect a profitable return
for some years. And before the prospect of advantage is
sufficiently great to encourage this sort of agricultural
enterprise, and while the new produce is rising, great distresses
may be suffered from the want of it. The demand for an increased
quantity of subsistence is, with few exceptions, constant
everywhere, yet we see how slowly it is answered in all those
countries that have been long occupied.

The poor laws of England were undoubtedly instituted for the
most benevolent purpose, but there is great reason to think that
they have not succeeded in their intention. They certainly
mitigate some cases of very severe distress which might otherwise
occur, yet the state of the poor who are supported by parishes,
considered in all its circumstances, is very far from being free
from misery. But one of the principal objections to them is that
for this assistance which some of the poor receive, in itself
almost a doubtful blessing, the whole class of the common people
of England is subjected to a set of grating, inconvenient, and
tyrannical laws, totally inconsistent with the genuine spirit of
the constitution. The whole business of settlements, even in its
present amended state, is utterly contradictory to all ideas of
freedom. The parish persecution of men whose families are likely
to become chargeable, and of poor women who are near lying-in, is
a most disgraceful and disgusting tyranny. And the obstructions
continuity occasioned in the market of labour by these laws have
a constant tendency to add to the difficulties of those who are
struggling to support themselves without assistance.

These evils attendant on the poor laws are in some degree
irremediable. If assistance be to be distributed to a certain
class of people, a power must be given somewhere of
discriminating the proper objects and of managing the concerns of
the institutions that are necessary, but any great interference
with the affairs of other people is a species of tyranny, and in
the common course of things the exercise of this power may be
expected to become grating to those who are driven to ask for
support. The tyranny of Justices, Church-wardens, and Overseers,
is a common complaint among the poor, but the fault does not lie
so much in these persons, who probably, before they were in
power, were not worse than other people, but in the nature of all
such institutions.

The evil is perhaps gone too far to be remedied, but I feel
little doubt in my own mind that if the poor laws had never
existed, though there might have been a few more instances of
very severe distress, yet that the aggregate mass of happiness
among the common people would have been much greater than it is
at present.

Mr Pitt's Poor Bill has the appearance of being framed with
benevolent intentions, and the clamour raised against it was in
many respects ill directed, and unreasonable. But it must be
confessed that it possesses in a high degree the great and
radical defect of all systems of the kind, that of tending to
increase population without increasing the means for its support,
and thus to depress the condition of those that are not supported
by parishes, and, consequently, to create more poor.

To remove the wants of the lower classes of society is indeed
an arduous task. The truth is that the pressure of distress on
this part of a community is an evil so deeply seated that no
human ingenuity can reach it. Were I to propose a palliative, and
palliatives are all that the nature of the case will admit, it
should be, in the first place, the total abolition of all the
present parish-laws. This would at any rate give liberty and
freedom of action to the peasantry of England, which they can
hardly be said to possess at present. They would then be able to
settle without interruption, wherever there was a prospect of a
greater plenty of work and a higher price for labour. The market
of labour would then be free, and those obstacles removed which,
as things are now, often for a considerable time prevent the
price from rising according to the demand.

Secondly, premiums might be given for turning up fresh land,
and it possible encouragements held out to agriculture above
manufactures, and to tillage above grazing. Every endeavour
should be used to weaken and destroy all those institutions
relating to corporations, apprenticeships, etc., which cause the
labours of agriculture to be worse paid than the labours of trade
and manufactures. For a country can never produce its proper
quantity of food while these distinctions remain in favour of
artisans. Such encouragements to agriculture would tend to
furnish the market with an increasing quantity of healthy work,
and at the same time, by augmenting the produce of the country,
would raise the comparative price of labour and ameliorate the
condition of the labourer. Being now in better circumstances, and
seeing no prospect of parish assistance, he would be more able,
as well as more inclined, to enter into associations for
providing against the sickness of himself or family.

Lastly, for cases of extreme distress, county workhouses
might be established, supported by rates upon the whole kingdom,
and free for persons of all counties, and indeed of all nations.
The fare should be hard, and those that were able obliged to
work. It would be desirable that they should not be considered as
comfortable asylums in all difficulties, but merely as places
where severe distress might find some alleviation. A part of
these houses might be separated, or others built for a most
beneficial purpose, which has not been infrequently taken notice
of, that of providing a place where any person, whether native or
foreigner, might do a day's work at all times and receive the
market price for it. Many cases would undoubtedly be left for the
exertion of individual benevolence.

A plan of this kind, the preliminary of which should be an
abolition of all the present parish laws, seems to be the best
calculated to increase the mass of happiness among the common
people of England. To prevent the recurrence of misery, is, alas!
beyond the power of man. In the vain endeavour to attain what
in the nature of things is impossible, we now sacrifice not only
possible but certain benefits. We tell the common people that if
they will submit to a code of tyrannical regulations, they shall
never be in want. They do submit to these regulations. They
perform their part of the contract, but we do not, nay cannot,
perform ours, and thus the poor sacrifice the valuable blessing
of liberty and receive nothing that can be called an equivalent
in return.

Notwithstanding, then, the institution of the poor laws in
England, I think it will be allowed that considering the state of
the lower classes altogether, both in the towns and in the
country, the distresses which they suffer from the want of proper
and sufficient food, from hard labour and unwholesome
habitations, must operate as a constant check to incipient
population.

To these two great checks to population, in all long occupied
countries, which I have called the preventive and the positive
checks, may be added vicious customs with respect to women, great
cities, unwholesome manufactures, luxury, pestilence, and war.

All these checks may be fairly resolved into misery and vice.
And that these are the true causes of the slow increase of
population in all the states of modern Europe, will appear
sufficiently evident from the comparatively rapid increase that
has invariably taken place whenever these causes have been in any
considerable degree removed.