Review of

The Principles of Political Economy
by John Stuart Mill

Walter Bagehot

[Part 2 of 2]

We have now examined the whole of what Mr. Mill calls the statics of the subject; that is, we have inquired what in any given state of capital and population adjusts the remuneration of labour; and we have found that the two efficient causes were the supply and demand for labour and the supply and demand for a particular species of capital. We have now to treat of what in the continuation of the new scientific metaphor is called the Dynamics of Political Economy: in other words, we must consider the Laws according to which Capital is augmented and Population increases. We shall incidentally treat of a problem which Mr. Mill has omitted formally to consider: viz., what in a progressive state of capital apportions how much of it shall be of the remunerative and how much of the cooperative sort. It is obvious that in our view this question is of great importance in reference to the interests of the labouting classes; we believe also that we shall show strong reasons for thinking that Mr. Mill's omission to consider it has led him into somewhat serious error.

The growth of capital, which we select for first consideration, varies, it is clear, directly with the productiveness of industry and the disposition to save. The productiveness or efficiency depends on a variety of causes, of which only the principal can here be specified, and of which Mr. Mill has nowhere attempted a complete enumeration. However, it may be stated with sufficient truth for all really important purposes, that the efficiency of industry increases with the knowledge of the productive arts, the general intelligence of the people, and in agricultural communities with the natural fertility and favourable situation of cultivable land. Fifty years ago it might have been not unimportant to dwell on the importance of the cultivation of the productive sciences and their corresponding arts, but the prodigious and evident strides which the scientific arts have recently made and the existence of such conspicuous results as railroads, and steam-engines, and electric telegraphs, make it no longer necessary to dilate on what has become a matter of familiar and popular knowledge. It will now also be generally admitted that the intelligence of the workmen employed both in agriculture and still more in manufactures is an important element in the efficiency of industry. It is incumbent on us to remark that Mr. Mill has collected considerable evidence to prove that all workmen the English stand particularly in need of some general education; other nations, the Italian it is said especially, seem to possess a natural quickness of perception, by which they are able readily to master, at any time of their lives, new single processes of manufacture. English labourers on the other hand have no such natural powers, but are, as a rule, indebted to a general education for whatever power they possess of working at any branch of industry save the particular one in which they have been brought up. The great authority for this observation is the evidence taken before the Poor Law Commission on the subject of the training of Pauper Children. There was, if we remember right, in the same evidence, and we are a little surprised that Mr. Mill omits to refer to it, a rather remarkable body of testimony to the effect, that though special branches and single processes of manufacture might be learnt by persons almost entirely uneducated, yet that the power of making general arrangements or superintending efficiently the work of others was almost always dependent on school teaching or on an equivalent selfeducation. These two elements in the productiveness of industry are in an advancing state of society almost always on the increase. It is very different with the third element, the intrinsic fertility of the soil. It is obvious that, as a rule, the most productive land will be the first taken into cultivation, those who have the first choice will in a general way choose the best. Moreover, the situation of land has an exactly similar effect: the lands from desire of not falling themselves and not allowing their children to fall below the condition which they themselves have been used to occupy. As a consequence of this, it is contended, as we think justly, that though a large improvement in the condition of the people might be attended with an immediate acceleration in the rate of increase, yet the next generation would grow up in habits which they would be unwilling to forfeit by a general system of improvident marriage. As a practical question, Mr. Mill thinks that no prudential restraint is practised by the agricultural labourers, and that, if the increase of population were in the hands of that class only, the English people would increase as fast as the American. So that there can be no ground for saying that an increase of comfort would in our case, at least, diminish the providence of the labouting class. On the means by which Mr. Mill would effect this desirable change we shall speak hereafter, and at present shall only add, that he would very largely increase the funds expended on national education, so as to obtain, if possible, not only the economic, but also the moral and intellectual requisites of a provident population.

As to the general doctrine, that a great increase in the comforts of the labouring classes is often a check to the increase of their numbers, it fortunately happens that there is a case in point to which Mr. Mill has an opportunity of appealing. An immense increase in the comforts of the French peasantry was,it is well known, an immediate consequence of their first Revolution. Over and above this, the depopulation and extra demand for labour caused by the wars of Napoleon were all circumstances tending to raise the rate of wages, and therefore, according to the vulgar doctrine, to stimulate population. Yet the fact has been, that the increased comfort and the new distribution of landed property have produced a slackened increase of population, and that the French population increases very much more slowly than the average rate of European nations.

We have purposely used language which implies our assent to this portion of Mr. Mill's doctrine. It is not, however, to be looked upon as a principle which, like a physical law, will certainly operate with an unvarying energy under all times and circumstances. The multiplicity of motives that incline men to contract marriages render the theory of population the most complex part of elementary political economy; the conclusions of science upon it are as yet very rough and general. Particular cases of natural habit and unlooked-for conjunctures of events may well render futile the best adjusted theory of human action. On this special subject political economy is more vague than perhaps it need be; but all that it can ever do, is to indicate general rules; and no one can ever be exempted from the necessity of studying each case that occurs in practice, with a due attention to disturbing agencies. On this particular point we may say that it is considerably more likely than not that a general increase of habitual comfort will slacken the advance of population, but not that it will do so of necessity and invariably.

In this chapter of Mr. Mill's book, and also in some other parts of it, there seems to us to be a want of concise formulae summing up and stamping on the memory the previous proof and explanation. We cannot attempt here fully to supply this deficiency; but we will set down a few brief sentences for the consideration of others. We do not mean that none of the principles which we are about to mention can be reduced to more elementary considerations: but we wish to see drawn out a set of intermediate principles to obviate the tiresome necessity of a continual resort to the first assumptions and axioms of science. It should be remembered that the founders of both the great schools of logic have combined to teach that in the skilful use of those axiomata media consists the practical utility of knowledge. It may then be perhaps said, -- 1st. That misery so extreme as to cause disease and death is an obvious check to the increase of population. 2ndly. That extreme degrees of misery short of this stimulate population by producing recklessness; in technical Malthusian language this is expressed by saying that the positive and preventive check never act together in any force. 3rdly. That the greatest economical preventive check on population is the desire of not falling in consequence of marriage into a state of society lower than that which when unmarried they have been accustomed to occupy; and next in efficiency is the desire that their children shall not occupy a position in life inferior to their own. 4thly. That these desires at least among the industrial classes increase with amount of comfort enjoyed. 5thly. That improvements in the condition of a people sufficient to raise the habitual standard of comfort act as a check, and, not like smaller improvements, as a stimulus to the increase of population: and the converse principle that an accession of misery and discomfort sufficient to depreciate that standard will be an incentive and not a check to such an increase. 6thly. That the desire of preserving their own condition is a more and more efficacious preservative against over-population in proportion as persons feel that their own condition is dependent on themselves and not on others and so also the desire for their children's welfare strengthens proportionably to the certainty of the children's condition being dependent on the conduct of their own parents and not on the actions of other people.

This last consideration of the absence of uncertainty is a point on which Sismondi has powerfully enlarged in various of his writings. It is a great reason with him for preferring the status of a present proprietor to that of a hired labourer. The latter is at the mercy of the speculations of capitalists and the vicissitudes of commerce. Without knowing why, his trade may be depressed, for years; neither his prosperity nor his adversity are of his own creation. Very different is the position of a peasantry who have a footing on the soil -- if each man can cultivate his own land thoroughly, his position is secured: as he cannot be ruined by the conduct of others, his comfort is not dependent on either capitalist or landlord; he may suffer from the elements and from Providence, but so far as man is concerned, he has within reach the "Saxon Utopia," a fair day's wages for a fair day's work.

Very similar is the effect of the two systems on population. A peasant proprietor feels that his children will certainly descend in the scale of society if his fleehold be at his death divided among a numerous family. He either therefore does not have so many children, or he saves a fund out of which those who do not inherit the land may be provided for. He knows how many persons his land will maintain, and for how many he is likely to have other funds. It is of no importance at all to him what others of his class may do; if he is himself provident, the condition of his children is in the main secure. This kind of causes keep the population of Norway, as the returns show, very nearly stationary. Far different is the position of a country like England, where the lower orders are mere hired labourers, possessing, as a rule, no accumulated capital. All this class knows is that they are dependent on the present position of the labour-market, and that their children will be in like manner dependent on its future condition. Each individual feels that the number of his children is but a slight point in determining the condition of each. He has no reason at all to think that if he has only one child that one will necessarily or probably be better off than if he have a dozen. This depends on the conduct of the whole class to which he belongs, and he has no data, and at present no mental ability, to determine what that conduct is likely to be.

A capitalist, it should be observed, is in a position exactly similar to that of the peasant proprietor. If he can leave each of his children the amount with which he started in life, he has every reason to think that they will on an average be in a position not inferior to his own. It is no matter to him that his neighbours are not equally saving: if his children have capital they will not be worse, but possibly better off, for their neighbours not being possessed of it too. This certainly is a main element in producing the providence in marriage, which perhaps even to an unfavourable extent is characteristic of the middle classes in England.

From this it is clear that if the working classes could be raised to a state in which saving was a preliminary to marriage there would be an efficacious obstacle to their reckless and indefinite increase. If dependence on mere wages could in any way be superseded by the habit of saving for themselves and for their children, if the working classes could be brought within the range of the motives which now act on the rest of the community, we might confidently anticipate a great immediate improvement in their physical condition. It is consolatory to remember that this is one of the points on which purely intellectual education is really most serviceable. Instruction is to the mind what the telescope is to the eye. To an uncultivated intellect what is distant will always be invisible, but a well-trained mind is habitually able to look into the future, and to deal with the absent as though it were present. It is to be hoped, and perhaps expected, that the present exertions for the spread of education will not fail in a few years to increase materially the forethought of the labouring classes.

Yet by itself this intellectual improvement will not be sufficient. Before people can save, they must have a surplus to save out of. It will be necessary to raise the condition of the lower orders considerably above their present condition before they will become habitually a saving class. In the middle ranks a small amount of self-restraint will make a considerable difference both in their property and in their social position: but it would take much more than can be expected of mankind generally to make much improvement in the condition of the lower orders. Hesiod's proverb that the half is more than the whole, amounts in Economics to saying, that the smaller the income the harder it is to save any given proportion of it.

Mr. Mill, however, we must pause to observe, is of opinion that population will be checked in a somewhat different manner. He expects that there will arise an unfavourable popular sentiment against those who overstock the labour-market, and that operating as a penalty, this feeling will diminish the number of such offenders. We will not assert that this is impossible. Mr. Mills has pronounced that all who deny it are profoundly ignorant of the true motives of human action. When the teacher gets dogmatical, the learner becomes nervous, and we feel therefore inclined to be cautious. We only wish to observe, that there is as yet no sufficient basis of fact for us to look upon it as a very well established doctrine. We doubt also if the act of overstocking the labour-market be an act sufficiently marked and definite to excite popular reprobation. Mr. Mill admits that no such feelings anywhere exists now, not even where there is the greater amount of this sort of restraint; but as in these countries the labouring population are mainly peasant proprietors, there is no occasion and indeed no opportunity for any such popular sentiment. We can understand that where saving is an habitual preliminary to marriage, those will be look.ed down upon and disliked who neglect it. As to much more than this we are inclined to be sceptical. We do not know enough to speak confidently as to the factory population; but though we are not used to be over timid in theorizing, we are not bold enough to expect anything at all like this of English agricultural labourers. At all events it is safer and more practical to assert that the existence of a strong saving habit among the lower classes is both a necessary and a sufficient condition of their economical welfare.

We have now discussed the subjects of the growth of Capital and the increase of Population. In the course of the discussion we omitted avowedly to consider two questions: What is the cause which divides Capital into its two distinct divisions? secondly, What are the causes regulating the rate of profit? We shall now discuss the former, which as we stated is omitted by our author. The latter it will be expedient still further to postpone.

We do not here enjoy the benefit of Mr. Mill's guidance, but the problem does not appear to contain any peculiar difficulty. It is a principle in the theory of value, that articles producible at equal cost will be supplied in proportion to the demand for them: those most in demand will be most in number; those least in demand will be fewest in supply. For if the supply of any should fall short of this proportion, their price will rise, and an extra profit will be obtained by the producer, in consequence of which capital will be attracted to the employment, and the supply will be augmented. This principle applies to the case before us. The respective amounts in which equally costly portions of the two kinds of capital are supplied, will be determined by the demand for each. The demand for remunerative capital depends on the rate of remuneration, (which will be discussed presently,} multiplied by the number of labourers employed at that rate. The demand for the co-operative sort of capital depends on its efficiency in satisfying existing wants. If new discoveries in machinery make that portion of capital able to supply more readily any desirable articles, profit will be higher in the improved department of industry, and an increased portion of the annual savings of the country will be attracted towards it. Improvements in machinery may therefore be detrimental to the working classes, by drawing off some capital which would have been devoted to their maintenance to aid the production of commodities which they have no opportunity of consuming. All improvements which increase the supply of wagespaying commodities are of course beneficial to the labourer. It may also happen that as all machinery requires labour to work it, the demand for the latter may be a benefit compensating the labourer for the harm done in the way which we have pointed out. Other advantages of machinery might also be named, but each of them are consistent with saying that an increase in the efficiency of machinery may affect the distribution of capital between its divisions, in a manner detrimental to the working classes.

The rate of remuneration has been mentioned above, as a cause influential in deciding how much of a country's capital shall be remunerative, and how much co-operative. It has been shown in our remarks on Population, under how many limitations it is true there is a certain amount of commodities which the lower classes will be content to receive, and without which they will not continue to increase. It has been shown that this minimum of remuneration is of two sons, one physical, which is the minimum that will keep alive the existing number of labourers; secondly, a moral minimum, susceptible under proper circumstances both of increase and diminution. Now it is clear that if the demand for labour be unaltered, it is essential to the industry of the country that the working classes shall have the physical minimum of wages; and also that unless circumstances occur to depreciate the moral standard, they will receive what the standard metes out to them. Although Mr. Mill has not inquired into the causes which determine how much capital shall take the form of wages-paying commodities, he has repeatedly declared his belief that the labouring classes will in general enjoy the comforts accompanying this latter variable minimum of remuneration. He has also in some places gone further, and attempted to show that they cannot permanently receive more. He has indeed an entire chapter on popular remedies for low wages, which is devoted to the elucidation of this opinion. The popular remedies to which he refers, are those in which law or public opinion afford a higher remuneration to labour than would be given by unrestricted competition. Mr. Mill teaches that such laws or customs must be wholly inoperative. He appears to think that there is a prima facie absurdity in attempting to support more labourers than the "capital" of the country will maintain, or to give the same number of labourers a larger recompense for their exertions. Now if, as certain economists are prone to assume, all capital were of one sort, and if it could be used only for production, and were not consumable by unproductive consumers, if in short, by some law of nature, capital could only be used in supporting labourers, this argument would certainly be a good one. Nature would in that case have enacted that the remuneration shall be of such and such an amount, and no human legislature could go further, or impair her work.

But since remunerative capital can be consumed by unproductive consumers, this argument will not hold. If wages were raised ten per cent. by law, wages-paying commodities would rise in price, and the more opulent consumers would probably restrict their consumption, and labourers would command more of the existing supply. Moreover, the rise of price would cause an increased production of wages-paying commodities. Capital which was going to be employed in manufacturing steam-engines or plate, or some such articles, would be employed in agriculture, or in preparing the coarser kinds of manufacture which are used by labourers. Capital would be shifted from the manufacture of luxuries for the opulent, to the production of necessaries for the indigent. How much the labouring classes would gain would depend on the agricultural circumstances of the time. If the new application of capital to the land only yielded such a return as would keep the price at the level which it occupied when the law came into operation, the labouring classes would obviously gain still exactly what they gained in that year, and no more. If, on the other hand, food could be supplied at the price it occupied previous to the enactment of the new law, it is obvious also that the labourers would gain by the full amount in which the law raised their pecuniary resources; the price would be as before, an their money-wages would be greater. In general, something intermediate between these two cases would happen; the labourer would gain more than in the first, and less than in the second. But in either case such a law would be advantageous to labourers: and in relation to all remunerative commodities except food, the most favourable contingency is almost certain to happen.

We do not defend such a law; not only because it could not be worked in any known system of industry, but also because it could not be urged on the capitalist as a duty to give so much additional wages. Something must be known of his position in life, his duties to his family and those dependent upon him, before any such principle could be affirmed. But it seems to us obvious that capitalists ought not to beat down labourers to the lowest possible amount. They have no more right to be greedy and avaricious than any other class; and it is discreditable in economists to teach that such conduct is not hurtful to the public and indefensible in itself.

The effect of such a law on population is a distinct question. Ricardo would of course assume that if it were for the benefit of the lower orders it would stimulate their increase, and wages would be reduced to their former standard. Even so, the wages-fund of the country is increased, the rate of remuneration is the same, but the persons paid are more. Mr. Mill reasons here after the manner of Ricardo. Nor do we pretend to say that any such law or custom could of itself and alone raise the rate of wages materially. But it may be one of many concurrent agencies in so raising it, and its existence may prevent its decline by counteracting other agencies that may be depreciating the labourer's habitual standard of comfort; and therefore might be rather a check on population than a stimulus to it.

On the whole, therefore, as to the rate of remuneration, it may be said, without wearying our readers by unnecessary details, first, that when the demand for labour is unaltered, the physical minimum must be maintained; secondly, that moral minimum will always be maintained when the demand for labour is not much raised or much diminished, or when the supply of wages-paying commodities does not become much more easy or more difficult; thirdly, that the benevolence of the higher classes answers all the purposes of an extra demand for labour. These are the main principles regulating the rate of remuneration. The proportion between wages-paying and what may be called instrumental capital is settled, as has been seen by the demand for each sort; the demand for the first varying directly as the rate of remuneration muliplied by the number of labourers employed: the demand for the second being determined by the productive power of machinery in ministering to human wants.

Reviewing therefore what has been said, we find that we have considered the demand and supply of remunerative capital, and under the head of Population we have discussed the supply of labour. The demand for labour, the only remaining factor of our original formula, will not perhaps detain us long. It depends as a whole on the power which each single act of immediate labour possesses to satisfy human wants, multiplied by the number of such acts which are desired. From this it is clear, that it is more beneficial to the lower classes to be employed in quickly-recurring acts, than in acts which when once done do not require any second or at all events any but a deferred repetition. The pyramids of Egypt once built no one cared about the builders: and it is to be feared they were put on reduced rations of onions. This is the ground of a part of the truth implied in Ricardo's doctrine that it was better for labourers that capital should be laid out in services than in commodities. Supposing that the labouter sold the commodities, this would 0nly be true when the service required more frequent repetition than the acts necessary to the production of the commodities. When the capitalist sells the commodity, as is now most usual, it is not so good, if we look only to the interest of the labourers, to buy the article as to employ labour more directly; since the capitalist will not always, or indeed often, employ the whole purchase-money for their benefit.

We have therefore now pretty nearly solved the problem with which we set out, namely, what under present circumstances regulates the rate of wages? We found that this was determined temporarily by the supply and demand for remunerative capital as compared with supply of labour, and the demand for it. We have now inquired, so far as our limits will allow, what are the causes permanently determining the supply and demand both for remunerative capital and for labour. One problem has been omitted, viz., the cause of determining the rate of profit, and these will even now be treated of more conveniently hereafter.

We are now therefore able to go on to discuss Mr. Mill's plans for the benefit of the lower orders. The difficulty is, that the rate of wages is so low; and the great problem for European and especially for English statesmen in the nineteenth century is, how shall that rate be raised, and how shall the lower orders be improved. Whatever be the evil or the good of Democracy, in itself it is evident, that the combination of democracy and low wages will infallibly be bad. In all ages, the rulers of mankind have for the most part agreed in having a predominating inclination for making themselves comfortable. If power be given to a miserable democracy, that democracy will above all things endeavour not to be miserable. This it will attempt by whatever schemes are congenial to minds and consciences, corrupted by ages of hereditary ignorance and hereditary suffering. And woe to those who, under such a Government, propound plans for the benefit of their rulers: Saevi proximis ingruunt. The favourite theorist of yesterday is punished to-day because the Millennium is not yet come. Such is the lesson which the annals of Europe in the year 1848 teach to English statesmen. The only effectual security against the rule of an ignorant, miserable and vicious democracy, is to take care that the democracy shall be educated, and comfortable and moral. Now is the time for scheming, deliberating and acting. To tell a mob how their condition may be improved is talking hydrostatics to the ocean. Science is of use now because she may be heard and understood. If she be not heard before the democracy come, when it is come her voice will be drowned in the uproar.

So great and so urgent is in our judgment the importance of plans for the improvement of the working classes: we regret, therefore, that so much of our space has been taken up with the explanation of the existing state of things in England, that we must be brief in our account of Mr. Mill's schemes for the elevation of the labouring classes. He has schemes for both England and Ireland; and we will take the latter first.

The economical condition of Ireland is probably far worse than that of any other country possessing equal natural advantages. The rate of wages scarcely comes up to the minimum that will support life, and falls far short of that needful to maintain the human body in full working strength. The land tenure appears to be about the worst possible. It has nearly all the disadvantages both of la grande and la petite culture, without any of their corresponding advantages. This tenure is known as the cottier system, which Mr. Mill has here defined as the system in which the peasant rents by competition only, and not at all by fixed custom. It is not difficult to see, that in a country with a rapidly increasing population, and but a little non-agricultural employment, a great preponderance of such a land tenure ensures the utter misery of the labouring classes. Land is, in such a country, the first necessary of life, and the landlords have a monopoly of it. The peasants will promise to pay any rent in order to obtain possession of the soil. This nominal rent they will be unable to pay, and the landlord will take whatever more is produced than is necessary to give the tenant a bare subsistence. As population increases, the competition strengthens: the rents increase in amount, the tenant is more and more oppressed with debt, and he has to work harder and harder in order to obtain the most meagre sustenance. Necessaries are being bartered for luxuries, and those who need the former are at the mercy of those who possess them. It is obvious that what has been described as the prevalent practice of Irish landlords is morally unjustifiable. We do not charge all the Irish landlords with abetting such a system. The better part of them do not take into account the biddings of the peasants in settling the rent, but act on their own notion of what he is able and ought to pay: yet though the evidence taken before Lord Devon's commission shows that such more respectable landlords are not absolutely few, it seems also certain that they form an inconsiderable fraction of the whole rent-owning class. The ownership of land however gives no moral title to inflict suffering on its occupants. The landlord under this system takes habitually a cruel advantage of the necessities of the poor: and that such can be the constant course of events in a Christian country, shows how little the Jewish Prophets are heeded by those who profess at least to acknowledge their authority.

The question then arises, how are these cottiers to be got rid of? No man defends them; but it is difficult to devise plans for introducing a better system. Mr. Mill's answer is that a large number of them may be provided for by making them peasant proprietors. There are in round numbers a million and a half(2*) of waste lands in Ireland, which there is every reason to think would repay tillage. This land is now lying useless, and it does seem a very obvious course to bring it into cultivation. To any such scheme as Mr. Mill's there is however a strong dislike in very many English minds. It seems to us that the evils of Ireland have created a prejudice against this their appropriate remedy. An inveterate idea prevails that the existence of small holdings is the cause of Irish misery, and that the scheme of peasant proprietorship is a mode of perpetuating the existing system of land tenure. We feel sure that this is a fair statement of much influential opinion. But yet both these two propositions are ridiculously untrue. It is not the smallness of the holdings that is the cause of the evils of Ireland; for in Ulster, where the condition of Irish society is far better than elsewhere, the division of land is more minute than in any other portion of the country. Again, the system which now prevails is one of rack rents, where all surplus beyond the bare subsistence of the tenant goes of necessity to the landlord: the system proposed as a remedy is, that in some cases no rent at all should be paid; and in the case of more fertile soil, that a fixed sum should be reserved, a system which would obviously give the tenant a secure enjoyment of whatever surplus produce his industry might extract from the soil. Is there any connection therefore between the existing system and that proposed as a remedy for it? In the one the main feature is unlimited exaction; in the other the main feature is the fixity of the quit rent which is to be paid. This point of fixity is one which Mr. Mill has in all its bearings admirably elucidated, and as it seems to us with very great originality.

The only other remedy proposed for Ireland is the wholesale eviction system. Some persons who wish to adapt Ireland in all respects to the model of England have wished to introduce large tillage farms, and to make day labourers of the lower classes. We have before given some reason, and Mr. Mill has collected almost demonstrative evidence, that on grounds principally derived from the theory of population a nation of peasant proprietors is much preferable to one of hired agricultural labourers. But putting this aside, there is strong reason peculiar to the individual case for preferring to introduce into Ireland the system of peasant proprietors. The Poor Law Commissioners for Ireland state "that agricultural wages vary from sixpence to one shilling a-day: that the average of the country in general is about 8 d., and that the earnings of labourers come, on an average, to from 2s., to 2s. 6d a-week or thereabouts." Now the number of the cottier population is exceedingly large, and it is evident that the addition of anything like it to the number of hired labourers would bring down the rate of wages enormously. It is obvious that, bad as the cottier system may be, this remedy for it is worse than the disease. Wages are now 2s. 6d a-week; what will they be after a great reduction?

It is said that capital will come from England to employ the additional labourers. But Mr. Mill justly replies that capital will not come from England until the social state of the lower classes is improved, and therefore if we adopt the scheme of large farms we are forced on the dilemma that capital will not come till the people are improved, and that the people will not be improved before the capital comes. Also there is no likelihood that a sufficient amount of capital would come. The Poor Law Commissioners state that there are in Ireland five agricultural labourers to the extent of soil which employs two in Great Britain. It is obvious that if the agriculture of Ireland is assimilated to that of England, this immense surplus of labourers would be thrown out of employment.

Moreover the system of peasant proprietors has been tried in Ireland and has worked well. There exists in Ulster a kind of incipient copyhold, from which a tenant at will cannot be turned out so long as he pays a fixed customary rent. From this it is an obvious consequence that the consent of the occupying tenant must be purchased before a new one can have possession of the soil. It is this institution of tenant-right which has made the people of Ulster so superior to those in other parts of Ireland. They have this system because being English and Scotch they were a better race of people in the beginning; but peculiarities of race act not by magic, but by creating social habits and institutions: the cause of a well-organized industry when it is not improved from without must always be an appropriate disposition of the industrious classes, yet it is not the less true that the happiness of the labourers results immediately from the beneficial organization. Hence it appears that the institution which it is proposed to extend has been already tried and has succeeded admirably.

As to the effect of peasant proprietorship on Irish population, there is every reason to believe that the class of people whom we are now concerned with practise no prudential restraint whatever, and there can therefore be no reason for saying that any new system will be productive of increased improvidence. It has also been shown that Mr. Mill has ground for saying that, against over-population, peasant proprietorship is the best preservative yet known. But, besides these two weighty considerations, there is reason to prefer this system to that of hired labourers, because Government may lay down rules to preserve the integrity of properties, and these rules may act as a check on population over and above the natural effects of peasant proprietorship. These rules should be enforced because "brute custom" is of great force in matters of population, and habits of improvidence cannot be suddenly eradicated. But on the opposite plan of replacing the cottiers by hired labourers, no check at all would be put to the increase of population; the labourers would be abandoned entirely to their own control, and as they most likely would not become a saving class, they would in all likelihood soon be no better off than at present, although we grant the false assumption that their condition would for a brief period be improved. On this account therefore we should hold that, whether or not the nominal proprietorship should be reserved for the government, it would be certainly advisable to keep a watch over the subdivision of properties exactly as is now done by the more intelligent and respectable of Irish landlords.

These arguments are, it is obvious, quite independent of any opinion on the intrinsic merits of the small system of cultivation. All that it is necessary to show for our present purpose is, that there is no such enormous evil in the small system of cultivation as to overbalance that good which we hope would accrue from the institution of peasant proprietorship. Mr. Mill's judgment seems, however, to us so admirable on this point, that we will sum it up and present it entire to our readers; a study of it will serve to remove from the minds of many economists those opinions which, where they are not mere prejudices, are conclusions drawn from a very limited and exceptional experience. Mr. Mill's conclusions are, that the small system is a social nuisance when the rent is unfixed, and can be raised in consequence of the improvement of the property, and that it does more harm than good when the properties are too small to employ the whole time of the proprietor and those dependent on him; when the property is too small to give the owner a full security against any probable accidents of crop: and also that this system wastes much time when the properties do not lie in one place, but are divided into smaller holdings, between which the tenant has often to go to and fro. Also that in the case of crops not requiring very minute attention, the same labourer will extract from the same land a greater return under the large system of cultivation, but that the small system will yield a larger gross produce than the large to the same number of hands employed, because of the greater industry and forethought which are developed in the minds of the peasant proprietors by the certain hope of enjoying the fruits of their own labour.

It is a consequence of this last proposition that the surplus produce available for supporting a non-agricultural population will be greater under a system of peasant proprietor than under any system of large farms on which the hired labourers are equally well fed. It is out of this surplus that all the most valuable portions of the community -- all those whose trade it is to instruct, govern and educate the community -- are for the most part subsisted. When therefore the agricultural population have a fair share of comfort, this surplus is the real test of the advantages or disadvantages accruing from any agricultural system; but in any other case it is no test at all. There is no advantage but much evil in giving the labourers (as is done in Somersetshire(3*) and Wiltshire) less food than will keep men in full working condition, in order that a large surplus may be left to support nonagricultural classes. Large masses of men are always degraded morally by extreme physical suffering. In matter of fact, a large portion of this surplus is expended on the producers of luxuries and on those non-productive classes who do nothing either for the wealth or the improvement of the community, and it is preposterous to benefit these at the expense of a more useful class. But even if the whole surplus were expended on the educators of the community it would be no adequate compensation for the moral degradation of a large portion of those who are to be educated. "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox which treadeth out the corn" is the true rule of Economics, and it is disgraceful that thinkers enough are found to hold and imply, if not in terms to state, a different doctrine.

On the whole, therefore, there is no ground for universally preferring the large system of cultivation, which, indeed, appears to be more beneficial only where it is necessary to enforce the utmost economy of labour. There is therefore no objection arising from the theory of agriculture against introducing the small system into Ireland. We have advanced strong positive reasons almost wholly derived from Mr. Mill's work, for recommending their immediate introduction: we have only to add on this point, that if the waste lands should prove insufficient to provide for the whole of the cottier population, Mr. Mill would turn their present holdings, under proper restrictions as to size, into farms, at a fair quit-rent, tendering of course to the proprietors of the soil the fair market-value of the land; a measure which assumes no more powers over the soil than an ordinary railway bill, and which is certainly justifiable if experience should prove it to be necessary.

Such is Mr. Mill's remedy for Ireland. For England he has two remedies: one, which we will mention first, is designed to modify the intense and angry feeling of competition between labourers and capitalists that is observable at present. This is the scheme which was first recommended for general adoption by Mr. Babbage, and which, according to Mr. Mill, has been tried with excellent results both in America and in France, and also in this country for a long time past, in the Northern Whale Fisheries and the Cornish Mines. It essentially consists in making the workman the partner of the capitalist: in other words, it is proposed to pay them not a fixed salary, but a proportion of the profits. We need not here dwell much on the merits of this scheme, because it was not long since discussed in this Review by one more competent to the task. Its merit chiefly consists in giving the labourers an interest in the success of their work. From this it would ensue that industry would be stimulated and the gross produce be augmented both of manufacture and agriculture. A good feeling between labourers and capitalist would also facilitate all productive operations: and on this account there is every reason to believe that the adoption of this plan would raise to some extent the remuneration of labour, because the fund out of which labourers are paid would be greater than under the present system. But it is not in the least likely that this alteration in the mode of paying wages would in itself be adequate to meet the present difficulty. It may be doubted whether a plan could not be devised as a development of this scheme for combining the advantages both of the large and the small systems of cultivation, and also for making the condition of children as exclusively dependent on the actions of their parents, as is the case with the children of peasant proprietors. But whether this be so or not, it is clear the present rate of wages is too low to be sufficiently raised by any improvement in the mechanism of distributing. The additional amount produced would be quite insufficient to effect so great a change as is necessary.

Mr. Mill has therefore provided another scheme more capable of producing great and immediate effect. This remedy is a large scheme of Emigration. He recommends the transplantation of a number of labourers large enough to change the standard of comfort in which the remainder would live, and in which the next generation would be habitually reared. This plan is not to be confounded with that recommended by the Times newspaper, and extensively countenanced by many influential persons. This latter scheme apparently contemplates an annual emigration as a permanent outlet for the overflow of the population. This latter will not remedy the present state of the lower classes, though it might keep one which was already good from any deterioration. Mr. Mill's scheme, on the other hand, is designed for the elevation of the lower orders as a whole. It will be evident that we are in consistency bound to maintain that no objections from the theory of population could be raised to this scheme, because we have laid down that large alterations in the standard of comfort generally raise what has been called the moral minimum of wages.

The only other important difficulty likely to be started is the expense, and this Mr. Mill has a theory to encounter. He remarks that it is of no consequence that taxation entrench on the capital of a country, if the capital appropriated by Government were about to expatriate itself on account of a prevailing low rate of profit. If Government borrow the money, the process is that the coming of a new trustworthy borrower into the market raises the rate of interest and keeps capital at home. If the amount is raised by taxation, the effect is, that a certain portion of capital which was on its way to the loan-market, and from thence to foreign countries, is intercepted by the Government, and transferred to purposes of a national instead of an individual utility. In the case of England this argument certainly applies. It is a fact of experience, that when the interest of money(4*) is two per cent., capital habitually emigrates, or, what is here the same thing, is wasted on foolish speculations, which never yield any adequate return. It would clearly be no national loss if this capital were appropriated by the Government for national purposes: the best mode, perhaps, being to take it direct from capital on a terminable annuity of thirty years' duration. So that Mr. Mill has clearly answered those Economists and Manchester manufacturers who exclaim against entrenching on the National Capital for any purposes, however philanthropic. He has shown, by an argument which is so obvious when seen, as to disguise the merit of seeing it, that there exists an ample fund out of which all the higher interests of state can be satisfied, without diminishing the permanent opulence of the country. Nor is there any service so much needed from a political philosopher at the present time.

This argument, though weighty as it stands, cannot be fully appreciated, except by taking into account one or two general circumstances affecting the rate of profit, the consideration of which we accordingly postponed until the present time. The first of these propositions is, that an unlimited amount of capital cannot be employed in an old country without a diminution of the rate of profit. It has been shown that an increase of co-operative capital is of necessity accompanied by some increase of remunerative, because machinery cannot be worked without manual labour, and the extra demand for labour will require more funds to compensate for its exertion. But a large portion of remunerative capital consists of food, which as we have seen requires the application of capital to land under circumstances which in any fixed condition of the productive arts reduce the rate of return in proportion as the capital expended is from time to time augmented. The price of corn therefore rises, and it may be assumed that either the physical minimum of wages exists and must be maintained, or that the moral minimum exists and will be maintained. In either of these cases, the moneywages of labour must rise or the real remuneration of labour will fall off. Moreover, it is clear that if money-wages rise, and the price of commodities do not rise also, profits must fall. The capitalist has more to pay for getting his work done, and he has also less for himself in consequence. That prices cannot rise is clear, because the cause here assigned acts, with an exception, here unimportant, equally on all employments. If money were produced in the country, the wages of the miners would rise, as well as the wages of other labourers, or the same cause which is supposed to operate to raise the value of commodities, as compared with money, is equally operative to raise the value of money as compared with commodities. It is obvious that no circumstance can change the relative value of the two commodities which affects equally the supply of both, and does not at all affect the demand for either.

Therefore with an increase of capital, it is proved that there must be an increase of food; that an increase of food is most frequently accompanied by an increased cost of handwork,(5*) and that an increased outlay on manual labour will be accompanied by a diminution of profit.

This assumes, that the industrial arts undergo no improvement sufficient to compensate for the inferior return from poorer soils, and to prevent the price of food from rising. Mr. Mill is of opinion, that in general the progress of industrial improvement is a less powerful force than the necessity of resorting to inferior land. The price of food from century to century is the obvious criterion of this fact, if only money be of an unaltered cost. Taking into account any deranging circumstances affecting the rate of wages, it is also clear that the history of the rate of interest will be an adequate indication of the force respectively exerted by each of these two antagonistic agencies. The history of the rate of interest in England has yet to be written, and therefore we cannot find any complete test, by which to discover the relative progress of these two forces. Few subjects so interesting to a philosopher, yet remain so thoroughly uninvestigated.

The obvious bearing of this theory on the Emigration of capital is, that since the rate of profit is being gradually lowered in an old country, sometimes it will come to a point at which persons will rather seek a higher rate abroad. There is always a certain minimum rate for anything below which persons will not think it worth while to accumulate. That minimum varies indeed with the habits of a people, yet in any one generation there is a point beyond which it will not go; and there is obviously a minimum beyond which it will not go at all. In an old country like England this minimum rate will not bear much reduction, and therefore we must contentedly look for the emigration of capital, and, what is worse to the world, though nationally the same, its destruction by foolish speculations, of which commercial crises are the inevitable results.

Hence it is clear that there will be in this country, for many years, a fund from which the higher purposes of Government may be achieved without entrenching on the support of the labouring people or the real opulence of the nation. In reference to the Emigration scheme, it may be said, that the effect of Government interference simply is to determine, that capital, which was going to leave the country, shall go to that particular foreign country, to which the labourer has been removed. It was before fixed that capital should emigrate: the direction of that migration is settled by the operations of Government. On such grounds as these, therefore, Mr. Mill contends that his scheme if adopted is in the highest degree beneficial. It is greatly preferable to any that we have ever seen proposed for remedying the economical wants of the lower classes: and its adoption is in our judgment the very best measure open to the selection of an English Government. To us it seems the best attainable means of attaining a necessary condition of all future social improvement.

We have now arrived at the end of our long labour. We have discussed the circumstances now affecting the condition of the labouring classes, and also the schemes proposed for their advantage. Of Mr. Mill's speculations on this subject we have shown ourselves no lukewarm admirers. And on this account we are at liberty to say that his chapter on the future condition of the labouring classes very much disappointed us. The lower orders are there treated as if they were beings of pure intellect. We do not for a moment deny that it is of great consequence to give the working classes intellectual cultivation, and to develop in their minds a relish for intellectual pleasures, yet we also think that the peculiar qualities of Mr. Mill's mind have led him to assign to such considerations a space out of proportion to their importance. The most important matters for the labouring classes, as for all others, are restraining discipline over their passions and an effectual culture of their consciences. In recent times these wants are more pressing than ever. Great towns are depots of temptation, and, unless care be taken, corrupters of all deep moral feeling. The passions also act with more violence than elsewhere in the intervals of a monotonous occupation, and owing to the increasing division of labour the industrial tasks of mankind are every day becoming more and more monotonous. To these considerations Mr. Mill has not alluded, nor has he enlarged on the dangers of that union between democracy and low wages which in our view make his plans for the elevation of the populace of such urgent and practical interest. If Mr. Mill had been a mere political economist, no blame would have attached to him. But he considers, beside the abstract and isolated consequences of the more desire for wealth, the application also of these consequences, with all necessary corrections, to the real world of human action. He was therefore bound to have noticed the deeper considerations we have named, and to have neglected to notice them is an omission not less unpleasing because decidedly congenial to a purely intellectual and secular thinker.

And now as we are in the act of concluding our remarks on this admirable work, it is full time to mention what is perhaps its most peculiar merit. It has been well remarked that a writer on detached points in a science need only show his reader where he has succeeded: the author of a systematic treatise must also show them where he has failed. The latter must follow the course of his subject, though it lead him to problems which he fails to solve -- the former by selecting his favourite points may easily conceal from his readers that he has ever been vanquished at all. The most appropriate praise to this work is, that it evades no difficulty, and of the problems which occur solves rightly a proportion, on its peculiar subject, beyond all precedent large. No doubt a severe judge will decide that this book is far from perfect. He will we think find there some indistinctness of expression and some diffusehess of explanation, an occasional dogmatism where there is ground for doubt, an excessive averseness to subtle speculation, and a defective appreciation of some moral and religious considerations. But after all abatements have been made, the severest judge will unhestitatingly pronounce that though there have been in England many acute speculators who have by their economical writings gained much credit in their day and generation, three men only have by such means attained permanent rank among the great thinkers of their country, and that these three are Adam Smith, Ricardo, and John Mill.


  1. This was the original Malthusian doctrine, though its author much modified it in the later editions of the Essay on Population. Ricardo, however, who thought himself a Malthusian, asserts it in terms (Works, p. 248, Ed. M'Culloch), and everywhere tacitly or avowedly reasons on the assumption of it.
  2. The exact numbers are: --
    * Cultivable. Fit for pasture.
    ....Leinster 186,000 345,000
    ....Ulster 419,000 629,000 ....Cormaught 430,000 726,000 ....Munster 390,000 - 630,000 ....Total 1,425,000 - 2,330,000

    This is not the calculation of a theorist; but the estimate of Mr. Griffith, the land-valuer for the Irish land-tax; who is not in any way pledged to the waste land scheme. The figures are given in the report of Lord Devon's commission.
  3. Mr. Thornton, the best authority on the subject, states that recruiting-sergeants find a marked difference of muscular strength between the south-west of England and the better-fed counties of the north and east. (Over-population, p. 24.)
  4. See Fullerton on the Currency, p. 161.
  5. What we call in the text the art of work or handwork, is usually called the cost of labour; but this phrase expresses naturally the rate of a labourer's wages per diem. The only use of a special phrase is to mark that the labourer is concerned with what he gets as pay for a given exertion during a given time, i.e., his wages: and that the capitalist is concerned with the result of that exertion, i.e., the work done. The common phrase seems to us to fail signally in working out this distinction.

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