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eighteenth century society unconsciously resisted any attempt at making it a mere appendage of the market. No market economy was conceivable that did not include a market for labor; but to estab­lish such a market, especially in England's rural civilization, implied no less than the wholesale destruction of the traditional fabric of society. During the most active period of the Industrial Revolution, from 1795 to 1834, the creating of a labor market in England was prevented through the Speenhamland Law.

The market for labor was, in effect, the last of the markets to be organized under the new industrial system, and this final step was taken only when market economy was set to start, and when the absence of a market for labor was proving a greater evil even to the common people themselves than the calamities that were to accom­pany its introduction. In the end the free labor market, in spite of the inhuman methods employed in creating it, proved financially bene­ficial to all concerned.

Yet it was only now that the crucial problem appeared. The eco­nomic advantages of a free labor market could not make up for the social destruction wrought by it. Regulation of a new type had to be introduced under which labor was again protected, only this time from the working of the market mechanism itself. Though the new protective institutions, such as trade unions and factory laws, were adapted, as far as possible, to the requirements of the economic mechanism, they nevertheless interfered with its self-regulation and, ultimately, destroyed the system.

In the broad logic of this development the Speenhamland Law occupied a strategic position.

In England both land and money were mobilized before labor was. The latter was prevented from forming a national market by strict


legal restrictions on its physical mobility, since the laborer was prac­tically bound to his parish. The Act of Settlement of 1662, which laid down the rules of so-called parish serfdom, was loosened only in 1795' This step would have made possible the setting up of a national labor market had not in the very same year the Speenhamland Law or "allowance system" been introduced. The tendency of this law was to the opposite; namely, towards a powerful reinforcement of the paternalistic system of labor organization as inherited from the Tudors and Stuarts. The justices of Berkshire, meeting at the Pelikan Inn, in Speenhamland, near Newbury, on May 6, 1795' "" ^ ^"^ ^ great distress, decided that subsidies in aid of wages should be granted in accordance with a scale dependent upon the price of bread, so that a minimum income should be assured to the poor irrespective of their earnings. The magistrates' famous recommendation ran: When the gallon loaf of bread of definite quality "shall cost 1 shilling, then every poor and industrious person shall have for his support з shillings weekly, either procured by his own or his family's labor, or an allow­ance from the poor rates, and for the support of his wife and every other of his family, 1 shilling, 6 pence; when the gallon loaf shall cost 1/6, then 4 shillings weekly, plus 1/10; on every pence which the bread price raises above1 shilling he shall have з pence for himself and 1 pence for the others." The figures varied somewhat in various counties, but in most cases the Speenhamland scale was adopted. This was meant as an emergency measure, and was informally intro­duced. Although commonly called a law, the scale itself was never enacted. Yet very soon it became the law of the land over most of the countryside, and later even in a number of manufacturing districts; actually it introduced no less a social and economic innovation than the "right to live," and until abolished in 1834, it effectively pre­vented the establishment of a competitive labor market. Two years earlier, in 1832, the middle class had forced its way to power, partly in order to remove this obstacle to the new capitalistic economy. In­deed, nothing could be more obvious than that the wage system imperatively demanded the withdrawal of the "right to live" as pro­claimed in Speenhamland—under the new regime of the economic man, nobody would work for a wage if he could make a living by doing nothing.

Another feature of the reversal of the Speenhamland method was less obvious to most nineteenth century writers, namely, that the wage-system had to be made universal in the interest also of the wage


earners themselves, even though this meant depriving them of their, legal claim to subsistence. The "right to live" had proved a death-trap.

The paradox was merely apparent. Allegedly, Speenhamland meant that the Poor Law was to be administered liberally—actually, it was turned into the opposite of its original intent. Under Elizabethan Law the poor were forced to work at whatever wages they could get and only those who could obtain no work were entitled to relief; relief in aid of wages was neither intended nor given. Under the Speenham­land Law a man was relieved even if he was in employment, as long as his wages amounted to less than the family income granted to him by the scale. Hence, no laborer had any material interest in satisfying his employer, his income being the same whatever wages he earned; this was different only in case standard wages, i.e., the wages actually paid, exceeded the scale, an occurrence which was not the rule in the countryside since the employer could obtain labor at almost any wages; however little he paid, the subsidy from the rates brought the workers' income up to scale. Within a few years the productivity of labor began to sink to that of pauper labor, thus providing an added reason for employers not to raise wages above the scale. For, once the intensity of labor, the care and efficiency with which it was performed, dropped below a definite level, it became indistinguishable from "boondoggling" or the semblance of work maintained for the sake of appearances. Though in principle work was still enforced, in practice outdoor relief became general and even when relief was administered in the poor-house the enforced occupation of the inmates now hardly deserved the name of work. This amounted to the abandonment of Tudor legislation not for the sake of less but of more paternalism. The exten­sion of outdoor relief, the introduction of aid-in-wages supplemented by separate allowances for wife and children, each item rising and falling with the bread price, meant a dramatic re-entry in regard to labor of that same regulative principle that was being rapidly elimi­nated in regard to industrial life as a whole.

No measure was ever more universally popular.1 Parents were free of the care of their children, and children were no more dependent upon parents; employers could reduce wages at will and laborers were safe from hunger whether they were busy or slack; humanitarians applauded the measure as an act of mercy even though not of justice and the selfish gladly consoled themselves with the thought that though


it was merciful at least it was not liberal; and even ratepayers were slow to realize what would happen to the rates under a system which proclaimed the "right to live" whether a man earned a living wage or not.

In the long run the result was ghastly. Although it took some time till the self-respect of the common man sank to the low point where he preferred poor relief to wages, his wages which were subsidized from public funds were bound eventually to be bottomless, and to force him upon the rates. Little by little the people of the countryside were pauperized; the adage, "once on the rates, always on the rates" was a true saying. But for the protracted effects of the allowance system, it would be impossible to explain the human and social degradation of early capitalism.

The Speenhamland episode revealed to the people of the leading country of the century the true nature of the social adventure on which they were embarking. Neither the rulers nor the ruled ever forgot the lessons of that fool's paradise; if the Reform Bill of 1832 and the Poor Law Amendment of 1834 were commonly regarded as the starting point of modern capitalism, it was because they put an end to the rule of the benevolent landlord and his allowance system. The attempt to create a capitalistic order without a labor market had failed disas­trously. The laws governing such an order had asserted themselves, and manifested their radical antagonism to the principle of paternalism. The rigor of these laws had become apparent and their violation had been cruelly visited upon those who had disobeyed them.

Under Speenhamland society was rent by two opposing influences, the one emanating from paternalism and protecting labor from the dangers of the market system; the other organizing the elements of production, including land, under a market system, and thus divest­ing the common people of their former status, compelling them to gain a living by offering their labor for sale, while at the same time depriving their labor of its market value. A new class of employers was being created, but no corresponding class of employees could con­stitute itself. A new gigantic wave of enclosures was mobilizing the land and producing a rural proletariat, while the "maladministration of the Poor Law" precluded them from gaining a living by their labor. No wonder that the contemporaries were appalled at the seem­ing contradiction of an almost miraculous increase in production ac­companied by a near starvation of the masses. By 1834, there was a general conviction—with many thinking people a passionately held


conviction—that anything was preferable to the continuance of Speen­hamland. Either machines had to be demolished, as the Luddites had « tried to do, or a regular labor market had to be created. Thus was mankind forced into the paths of a Utopian experiment.

This is not the place to expatiate upon the economics of Speen­hamland ; there will be occasion for that later on. On the face of it the "right to live" should have stopped wage labor altogether. Stand­ard wages should have gradually dropped to zero, thus putting the actual wage bill wholly on the parish, a procedure which would have made the absurdity of the arrangement manifest. But this was an essentially precapitalistic age, when the common people were still traditionally minded, and far from being directed in their behavior by monetary motives alone. The great majority of the countryfolk were occupier-owners or lifeholders, who preferred any kind of exist­ence to the status of pauper, eyen if it was not deliberately burdened by irksome or ignominious disabilities, as subsequently happened. If laborers had been free to combine for the furtherance of their inter­ests, the allowance system might, of course, have had a contrary effect on standard wages: for trade union action would have been greatly helped by the relief of the unemployed implied in so liberal an adminis­tration of the Poor Law. That was presumably one of the reasons for the unjust Anti-Combination Laws of 1799-1800, which would be otherwise hardly explicable since the Berkshire magistrates and mem­bers of Parliament were both, on the whole, concerned about the economic condition of the poor, and after 1797 political unrest had subsided. Indeed, it might be argued that the paternalistic interven­tion of Speenhamland called forth the Anti-Combination Laws, a fur­ther intervention, but for which Speenhamland might have had the effect of raising wages instead of depressing them as it actually did. In conjunction with the Anti-Combination Laws, which were not revoked for another quarter century, Speenhamland led to the ironical result that the financially implemented "right to live" eventually ruined the people whom it was ostensibly designed to succor.

To later generations nothing could have been more patent than the mutual incompatibility of institutions like the wage system and the "right to live," or, in other words, than the impossibility of a func­tioning capitalistic order as long as wages were subsidized from public funds. But the contemporaries did not comprehend the order for which they were preparing the way. Only when a grave deterioration


of the productive capacity of the masses resulted—a veritable national calamity which was obstructing the progress of machine civilization— did the necessity of abolishing the unconditional right of the poor to relief impose itself upon the consciousness of the community. The com­plicated economics of Speenhamland transcended the comprehension of even the most expert observers of the time; but the conclusion ap­peared only the more compelling that aid-in-wages must be inherently vicious, since it miraculously injured even those who received it.

The pitfalls of the market system were not readily apparent. To realize this clearly we must distinguish between the various vicissitudes to which the laboring people were exposed in England since the coming of the machine: first, those of the Speenhamland period, 1795 to 1834; second, the hardships caused by the Poor Law Reform, in the decade following 1834; third, the deleterious effects of a competitive labor market after 1834) until in the 1870's the recognition of the trade unions offered sufficient protection. Chronologically, Speenhamland antedated market economy; the decade of the Poor Law Reform Act was a transition to that economy. The last period—overlapping the former—was that of market economy proper.

The three periods differed sharply. Speenhamland was designed to prevent the proletarianization of the common people, or at least to slow it down. The outcome was merely the pauperization of the masses, who almost lost their human shape in the process.

The Poor Law Reform of 1834 did away with this obstruction to the labor market: the "right to live" was abolished. The scientific cruelty of that Act was so shocking to public sentiment in the 1830^ and 1840's that the vehement contemporary protests blurred the pic­ture in the eyes of posterity. Many of the most needy poor, it was true, were left to their fate as outdoor relief was withdrawn, and among those who suffered most bitterly were the "deserving poor" who were too proud to enter the workhouse which had become an abode of shame. Never perhaps in all modern history has a more ruthless act of social reform been perpetrated; it crushed multitudes of lives while merely pretending to provide a criterion of genuine destitution in the workhouse test. Psychological torture was coolly advocated and smoothly put into practice by mild philanthropists as a means of oiling the wheels of the labor mill. Yet the bulk of the complaints were really due to the abruptness with which an institution of old standing was uprooted and a radical transformation rushed into effect. Disraeli denounced this "inconceivable revolution" in the lives of the


people. However, if money incomes alone had counted, the condition of the people would have soon been deemed improved.

The problems of the third period went incomparably deeper. The bureaucratic atrocities committed against the poor during the decade following 1834 by the new centralized Poor Law authorities were merely sporadic and as nothing compared to the all-round effects of that most potent of all modern institutions, the labor market. It was similar in scope to the threat Speenhamland offered, with the signifi­cant difference that not the absence but the presence of a competitive labor market was now the source of danger. If Speenhamland had prevented the emergence of a working class, now the laboring poor were being formed into such a class by the pressure of an unfeeling mechanism. If under Speenhamland the people had been taken care of as none too precious beasts deserved to be, now they were expected to take care of themselves, with all the odds against them. If Speen­hamland meant the snug misery of degradation, now the laboring man was homeless in society. If Speenhamland had overworked the values of neighborhood, family, and rural surroundings, now man was detached from home and kin, torn from his roots and all meaningful environment. In short, if Speenhamland meant the rot of immobility, now the peril was that of death through exposure.

Not until 1834 was a competitive labor market established in England; hence, industrial capitalism as a social system cannot be said to have existed before that date. Yet almost immediately the self-protection of society set in: factory laws and social legislation, and a political and industrial working class movement sprang into being. It was in this attempt to stave off the entirely new dangers of the market mechanism that protective action conflicted fatally with the self-regulation of the system. It is no exaggeration to say that the social history of the nineteenth century was determined by the logic of the market system proper after it was released by the Poor Law Reform Act of 1834- The starting point of this dynamic was the Speenhamland Law.

If we suggest that the study of Speenhamland is the study of the birth of nineteenth century civilization, it is not its economic and social effect that we have exclusively in mind, nor even the determining influence of these effects upon modern political history, but the fact that, mostly unknown to the present generation, our social conscious­ness was cast in its mold. The figure of the pauper, almost forgotten since, dominated a discussion the imprint of which was as powerful аs


that of the most spectacular events in history. If the French Revolution was indebted to the thought of Voltaire and Diderot, Quesnay and Rousseau, the Poor Law discussion formed the minds of Bentham and Burke, Godwin and Malthus, Ricardo and Marx, Robert Owen and John Stuart Mill, Darwin and Spencer, who shared with the French Revolution the spiritual parentage of nineteenth century civilization. It was in the decades following Speenhamland and the Poor Law Reform that the mind of man turned towards his own community with a new anguish of concern: the revolution which the justices of Berkshire had vainly attempted to stem and which the Poor Law Reform eventually freed shifted the vision of men towards their own collective being as if they had overlooked its presence before. A world was uncovered the very existence of which had not been sus­pected, that of the laws governing a complex society. Although the. emergence of society in this new and distinctive sense happened in the economic field, its reference was universal.

The form in which the nascent reality came to our consciousness was political economy. Its amazing regularities and stunning contra­dictions had to be fitted into the scheme of philosophy and theology in order to be assimilated to human meanings. The stubborn facts and the inexorable brute laws that appeared to abolish our freedom had in one way or another to be reconciled to freedom. This was the mainspring of the metaphysical forces that secretly sustained the positivists and utilitarians. Unbounded hope and limitless despair looking towards unexplored regions of human possibilities were the mind's ambivalent response to these awful limitations. Hope—the vision of perfectibility—was distilled out of the nightmare of population and wage laws, and was embodied in a concept of progress so inspiring that it appeared to justify the vast and painful dislocations to come. Despair was to prove an even more powerful agent of transformation.

Man was forced to resign himself to secular perdition: he was doomed either to stop the procreation of his race or to condemn him­self wittingly to liquidation through war and pestilence, hunger aid vice. Poverty was nature surviving in society; that the limitedness of food and the unlimitedness of men had come to an issue just when the promise of a boundless increase of wealth burst in upon us made the irony only the more bitter.

Thus was the discovery of society integrated with man's spiritual universe; but how was this new reality, society, to be translated into terms of life? As guides to practice the moral principles of harmony


and conflict were strained to the utmost, and forced into a pattern of all but complete contradiction. Harmony was inherent in economy," it was said, the interests of the individual and the community being ultimately identical—but such harmonious self-regulation required that the individual respect economic law even if it happened to destroy him. Conflict, also, seemed inherent in economy, whether as competi­tion of individuals or as struggle of classes—but such conflict, again, might turn out to be only the vehicle of a deeper harmony immanent in present, or perhaps future, society.

Pauperism, political economy, and the discovery of society were closely interwoven. Pauperism fixed attention on the incomprehen­sible fact that poverty seemed to go with plenty. Yet this was only the first of the baffling paradoxes with which industrial society was to con­front modern man. He had entered his new abode through the door of economics, and this adventitious circumstance invested the age with its materialist aura. To Ricardo and Malthus nothing seemed more real than material goods. The laws of the market meant for them the limit of human possibilities. Godwin believed in unlimited possi­bilities and hence had to deny the laws of the market. That human possibilities were limited, not by the laws of the market, but by those of society itself was a recognition reserved to Owen who alone dis­cerned behind the veil of market economy the emergent reality: society. However, his vision was lost again for a century.

Meanwhile, it was in relation to the problem of poverty that people began to explore the meaning of life in a complex society. The induction of political economy into the realm of the universal hap­pened in two opposite perspectives, that of progress and perfectibility on the one hand, determinism and damnation on the other; its trans­lation into practice was also achieved in two opposite ways, through the principle of harmony and self-regulation on the one hand, compe­tition and conflict on the other. Economic liberalism and the class concept were preformed in these contradictions. With the finality of an elemental event, a new set of ideas entered our consciousness.




the speenhamland system was originally no more than a make­shift. Yet few institutions have shaped the fate of a whole civilization more decisively than this, which had to be discarded before the new era could begin. It was the typical product of an age of transformation and deserves the attention of any student of human affairs today.

Under the mercantile system the labor organization of England rested on the Poor Law and the Statute of Artificers. Poor Law, as applied to the laws of 1536 to 1601, is admittedly a misnomer; actually these laws, and subsequent amendments, formed half of the labor code of England; the other half consisted of the Statute of Artificers of 1563. The latter dealt with the employed; the Poor Law, with what we would call the unemployed and unemployable (apart from the aged and children). To these measures were added later, as we saw, the Act of Settlement of 1662 concerning the legal abode of the people which restricted their mobility to the utmost. (The neat distinction between employed, unemployed, and unemployable is, of course, anachronistic since it implies the existence of a modern wage system which was absent for another 250 years or so; we use these terms for the sake of simplicity in this very broad presentation. )

Labor organization, according to the Statute of Artificers, rested on three pillars: enforcement of labor, seven years' apprenticeship, and yearly wage assessments by public officials. The law—this should be emphasized—applied to agricultural laborers as much as to artisans, and was enforced in rural districts as well as in towns. For about eighty years the Statute was strictly executed; later the apprenticeship clauses fell partly into desuetude, being restricted to the traditional crafts; to the new industries like cotton they simply did not apply; yearly wage assessments, based on the cost of living, also were in abeyance in a large part of the country after the Restoration (1660). Formally, the assessment clauses of the Statute were repealed only in 181 з, the wage clauses in 1814. However, in many respects the apprenticeship rule


survived the Statute; it is still the general practice in the skilled trades in England. The enforcement of labor in the countryside was discon­tinued little by little. Still it can be said that for the two and a half centuries in question the Statute of Artificers laid down the outlines of a national organization of labor based on the principles of regula­tion and paternalism.

The Statute of Artificers was thus supplemented by the Poor Laws, a most confusing term in modern ears, to which "poor" and "pauper" sound much alike. Actually, the gentlemen of England judged all persons poor who did not command an income sufficient to keep them in leisure. "Poor" was thus practically synonymous with "common people," and the common people comprised all but the landed classes (hardly any successful merchant failed to acquire landed property). Hence the term "poor" meant all people who were in need and all the people, if and when they were in need. This, of course, included paupers, but not them alone. The aged, the infirm, the orphans had to be taken care of in a society which claimed that within its confines there was a place for every Christian. But over and above, there were the able-bodied poor, whom we would call the unemployed, on the assumption that they could earn their living by manual work if only they could find employment. Beggary was severely punished; vagrancy, in case of repetition, was a capital offense. The Poor Law of 1601 de­creed that the able-bodied poor should be put to work so as to earn their keep, which the parish was to supply; the burden of relief was put squarely on the parish, which was empowered to raise the neces­sary sums by local taxes or rates. These were to be levied upon all householders and tenants, rich and nonrich alike, according to the rental of the land or houses they occupied.

The Statute of Artificers and the Poor Law together provided what might be called a Code of Labor. However, the Poor Law was admin­istered locally; every parish—a tiny unit—had its own provisions for setting the able-bodied to work; for maintaining a poorhouse; for apprenticing orphans and destitute children; for caring for the aged and the infirm; for the burial of paupers; and every parish had its own scale of rates. All this sounds grander than it often was; many parishes had no poorhouses; a great many more had no reasonable provisions for the useful occupation of the able-bodied; there was an endless variety of ways in which the sluggardliness of the local rate­payers, the indifference of the overseers of the poor, the callousness of the interests centering on pauperism vitiated the working of the law.


Still, by and large, the nearly sixteen thousand Poor Law authorities of the country managed to keep the social fabric of village life un­broken and undamaged.

Yet under a national system of labor, the local organization of unemployment and poor relief was a patent anomaly. The greater the variety of local provisions for the poor, the greater the danger to the well-kept parish that it would be swamped by the professional pauper. After the Restoration the Act of Settlement and Removal was passed to protect the "better" parishes from the influx of paupers. More than a century later, Adam Smith inveighed against this Act because it immobilized the people, and thus prevented them from finding useful employment as it prevented the capitalist from finding employees. Only with the good will of the local magistrate and the parish authori­ties could a roan stay in any other but his home parish; everywhere else he was liable to expulsion even though in good standing and employed. The legal status of the people was therefore that of free­dom and equality subject to incisive limitations. They were equal be­fore the law, and free as to their persons. But they were not free to choose their occupations or those of their children; they were not free to settle where they pleased; and they were forced to labor. The two great Elizabethan Statutes and the Act of Settlement together were a charter of liberty to the common people as well as a seal of their disabilities.

The Industrial Revolution was well on the way, when in 1795» under the pressure of the needs of industry, the Act of 1662 was par­tially repealed, parish serfdom was abolished, and the physical mobility of the laborer was restored. A labor market could now be established on a national scale. But in the very same year, as we know, a practice of Poor Law administration was introduced which meant the reversal of the Elizabethan principle of enforced labor. Speenhamland ensured the "right to live"; grants in aid-of-wages were made general; family allowances were superadded; and all this was to be given in outdoor relief, i.e., without committing the recipient to the workhouse. Al­though the scale of relief was exiguous, it was enough for bare sub­sistence. This was a return to regulationism and paternalism with a vengeance just when, it would seem, the steam engine was clamoring for freedom and the machines were crying out for human hands. Yet the Speenhamland Law coincided in time with the withdrawal of the Act of Settlement. The contradiction was patent: the Act of Settle­ment was being repealed because the Industrial Revolution demanded


a national supply of laborers who would offer to work for wages, while Speenhamland proclaimed the principle that no man need fear to ' starve and that the parish would keep him and his family however little he earned. There was stark contradiction between the two indus­trial policies; what else but a social enormity could be expected from their simultaneous continued application?

But the generation of Speenhamland was unconscious of what was on its way. On the eve of the greatest industrial revolution in history, no signs and portents were forthcoming. Capitalism arrived unan­nounced. No one had forecast the development of a machine industry; it came as a complete surprise. For some time England had been actually expecting a permanent recession of foreign trade when the dam burst, and the old world was swept away in one indomitable surge towards a planetary economy.

However, not until the 1850's could anybody have said so with assurance. The key to the comprehension of the Speenhamland magis­trates' recommendation lay in their ignorance of the wider implica­tions of the development they were facing. In the retrospect it may seem as if they had not only attempted the impossible, but had done so by means the inner contradictions of which should have been appar­ent at the time. Actually, they were successful in achieving their aim of protecting the village against dislocation, while the effects of their policy were all the more disastrous in other, unforeseen directions. Speenhamland policy was the outcome of a definite phase in the development of a market for labor power and should be understood in the light of the views taken of that situation by those in the position to shape policy. From this angle the allowance system will appear as a device contrived by squirearchy to meet a situation in which physical mobility could no longer be denied to labor, while the squire wished to avoid such unsettlement of local conditions, including higher wages, as was involved in the acceptance of a free national labor market.

The dynamic of Speenhamland was thus rooted in the circum­stances of its origin. The rise in rural pauperism was the first symptom of the impending upheaval. Yet nobody seemed to have thought so at the time. The connection between rural poverty and the impact of world trade was anything but obvious. Contemporaries had no reason to link the number of the village poor with the development of com­merce in the Seven Seas. The inexplicable increase in the number of the poor was almost generally put down to the method of Poor Law administration, and not without some good cause. Actually, beneath


the surface, the ominous growth of rural pauperism was directly linked with the trend of general economic history. But this connection was still hardly perceptible. Scores of writers probed into the channels by which the poor trickled into the village, and the number as well as the variety of reasons adduced for their appearance was amazing. And yet only a few contemporary writers pointed to those symptoms of the dislocations which we are used to connect with the Industrial Revolu­tion. Up to 1785 the English public was unaware of any major change in economic life, except for a fitful increase of trade and the growth of pauperism.

Where do the poor come from ? was the question raised by a bevy of pamphlets which grew thicker with the advancing century. The causes of pauperism and the means of combating it could hardly be expected to be kept apart in a literature which was inspired by the conviction that if only the most apparent evils of pauperism could be sufficiently alleviated it would cease to exist altogether. On one point there appears to have been general agreement, namely, on the great variety of causes that accounted for the fact of the increase. Amongst them were scarcity of grain; too high agricultural wages, causing high food prices; too low agricultural wages; too high urban wages; irregu­larity of urban employment; disappearance of the yeomanry; inepti­tude of the urban worker for rural occupations; reluctance of the farmers to pay higher wages; the landlords' fear that rents would have to be reduced if higher wages were paid; failure of the work­house to compete with machinery; want of domestic economy; incom­modious habitations; bigoted diets; drug habits. Some writers blamed a new type of large sheep; others, horses which should be replaced by oxen; still others urged the keeping of fewer dogs. Some writers believed that the poor should eat less, or no, bread, while others thought that even feeding on the "best bread should not be charged against them." Tea impaired the health of many poor, it was thought, while "home-brewed beer" would restore it; those who felt most strongly on this score insisted that tea was no better than the cheapest dram. Forty years later Harriet Martineau still believed in preaching the advantages of dropping the tea habit for the sake of relieving pauperism.1 True, many writers complained of the unsettling effects of enclosures; a number of others insisted on the damage done to rural employment by the ups and downs of manufacturers. Yet on the whole, the impression prevails that pauperism was regarded as a


phenomenon sui generis, a social disease which was caused by a variety of reasons, most of which became active only through the failure of* the Poor Law to apply the right remedy.

The true answer almost certainly was that the aggravation of pauperism and the higher rates were due to an increase in what we would today call invisible unemployment. Such a fact would not be obvious at a time when even employment was, as a rule, invisible, as it necessarily was up to a point under cottage industry. Still there remain these questions: how to account for this increase in the number of the unemployed and underemployed? and why did the signs of imminent changes in industry escape the notice even of observant con­temporaries ?

The explanation lies primarily in the excessive fluctuations of trade in early times which tended to cover up the absolute increase in trade. While the latter accounted for the rise in employment, the fluctuations accounted for the much bigger rise in unemployment. But while the increase in the general level of employment was slow, the increase in unemployment and underemployment would tend to be fast. Thus the building up of what Friedrich Engels called the industrial reserve army outweighed by much the creation of the industrial army proper.

This had the important consequence that the connection between unemployment and the rise of total trade could be easily overlooked. While it was often remarked that the rise in unemployment was due to the great fluctuations in trade, it escaped notice that these fluctua­tions formed part of an underlying process of even greater amplitude, namely, a general growth of commerce increasingly based on manu­factures. For the contemporaries, there seemed to be no connection between the mainly urban manufactories and the great increase of the poor in the countryside.

The increase in the aggregate of trade naturally swelled the volume of employment while territorial division of labor combined with sharp fluctuations of trade was responsible for the severe dislocation of both village and town occupations, which resulted in the rapid growth of unemployment. The distant rumor of large wages made the poor dissatisfied with those which agriculture could afford, and it created a dislike for that labor, as poorly recompensed. The industrial regions of that age resembled a new country, like another America, attracting immigrants by the thousands. Migration is usually accompanied by a very considerable remigration. That such a reflux towards the village must have taken place seems to find support also in the tact that no


absolute decrease of the rural population was noted. Thus a cumula­tive unsettling of the population was proceeding as different groups were drawn for varying periods into the sphere of commercial and manufactural employment, and then left to drift back to their original rural habitat.

Much of the social damage done to England's countryside sprang at first from the dislocating effects of trade directly upon the country­side itself. The Revolution in Agriculture definitely antedated the Industrial Revolution. Both enclosures of the common and consolida­tions into compact holdings, which accompanied the new great advance in agricultural methods, had a powerfully unsettling effect. The war on cottages, the absorption of cottage gardens and grounds, the con­fiscation of rights in the common deprived cottage industry of its two mainstays: family earnings and agricultural background. As long as domestic industry was supplemented by the facilities and amenities of a garden plot, a scrap of land, or grazing rights, the dependence of the laborer on money earnings was not absolute; the potato plot or "stub­bing geese," a cow or even an ass in the commons made all the differ­ence ; and family earnings acted as a kind of unemployment insurance. The rationalization of agriculture inevitably uprooted the laborer and undermined his social security.

On the urban scene the effects of the new scourge of fluctuating employment were, of course, manifest. Industry was generally re­garded as a blind alley occupation. "Workmen who are today fully employed may be tomorrow in the streets begging for bread . . . ," wrote David Davies and added: "Uncertainty of labor conditions is the most vicious result of these new innovations." "When a Town employed in a Manufactory is deprived of it, the inhabitants are as it were struck with a palsy, and become instantly a rent-charge upon the Parish; but the mischief does not die with that generation . . ." For in the meantime division of labor wreaks its vengeance: the un­employed artisan returns in vain to his village for "the weaver can turn his hand to nothing." The fatal irreversibility of urbanization hinged upon this simple fact which Adam Smith foresaw when he described the industrial worker as intellectually the inferior of the poorest tiller of the soil, for the latter can usually take himself to any job. Still, up to the time Adam Smith published his Wealth of Nations pauperism was not increasing alarmingly.

In the next two decades the picture suddenly changed. In his Thoughts & Details on Scarcity, which Burke submitted to Kit in


1795, the author admitted that in spite of the general progress there had been a "last bad cycle of twenty years." Indeed, in the decade following upon the Seven Years' War (1763) unemployment increased noticeably, as the rise in outdoor relief showed. It happened for the first time that a boom in trade was remarked to have been accom­panied by signs of growing distress of the poor. This apparent con­tradiction was destined to become to the next generation of Western humanity the most perplexing of all the recurrent phenomena in social life. The specter of overpopulation was beginning to haunt people's minds. William Townsend warned in his Dissertation on the Poor Laws: "Speculation apart, it is a fact, that in England, we have more than we can feed, and many more than we can profitably employ under the present system of law." Adam Smith, in 1116, had been reflecting the mood of quiet progress. Townsend, writing only ten years later, was already conscious of a groundswell.

However, many things had to happen before (only five years later) a man as removed from politics, as successful, and as matter-of-fact as the Scotch bridgebuilder, Telford, could burst forth with the bitter complaint that little change is to be expected from the ordinary course of government, and that revolution was the only hope. A single copy of Paine's Rights of Man mailed by Telford to his home village caused a riot to break out there. Paris was catalyzing the European fermen­tation.

In Canning's conviction the Poor Law saved England from a revolution. He was primarily thinking of the iiqo's and the French Wars. The new outburst of enclosures further depressed the standards of the poor in the countryside. J. H. Clapham, an apologist of these enclosures, conceded that the "coincidence of the area in which wages were most systematically augmented from the rates with the area of maximum recent enclosures is striking." In other words, but for aid-in-wages the poor would have sunk below the starvation level in wide areas of rural England. Rick burning was rampant. The Popgun Plot found wide credence. Rioting was frequent; rumors of rioting very much more so. In Hampshire—and not there alone—the Courts threatened death for any attempt at "forcibly lowering the price of commodities, either at market or on the road"; yet simultaneously, the magistrates of that same county urgently pressed for the general granting of subsidies to wages. Clearly, the time for preventive action bad come. But why, of all courses of action, was that one chosen which


appeared later as the most impracticable of all? Let us consider the situation and the interests involved. Squire and parson ruled the village. Townsend summed up the situation by saying that the landed gentleman keeps manufactures "at a convenient distance" because "he considers that manufactures fluctuate; that the benefit which he is to derive from them will not bear proportion with the burthen which it must entail upon his property. . . ." The burden consisted mainly in two seemingly contradictory effects of manufactures, namely, the increase in pauperism and the rise in wages. But the two were con­tradictory only if the existence of a competitive labor market was assumed, which would, of course, have tended to diminish unemploy­ment by reducing the wages of the employed. In the absence of such a market—and the Act of Settlement was still in force—pauperism and wages might rise simultaneously. Under such conditions the '"social cost" of urban unemployment was mainly borne by the home village to which the out-of-work would often repair. High wages in the towns were a still greater burden on rural economy. Agricultural wages were more than the farmer could carry, though less than the laborer could subsist on. It seems clear that agriculture could not compete with town wages. On the other hand, there was general agreement that the Act of Settlement should be repealed, or at least loosened, so as to help labor to find employment and the employers to find laborers. This, it was felt, would increase the productivity of labor all around and, incidentally, diminish the real burden of wages. But the immediate question of the wage differential between town and village would obviously become even more pressing for the village by allowing wages to "find their own level." The flux and reflux of industrial employment alternating with spasms of unemployment would dislocate rural communities more than ever. A dam had to be erected to protect the village from the flood of rising wages. Methods had to be found which would protect the rural setting against social dislocation, reinforce traditional authority, prevent the draining off of rural labor, and raise agricultural wages without overburdening the farmer. Such a device was the Speenhamland Law. Shoved into the turbulent waters of the Industrial Revolution, it was bound to create an economic vortex. However, its social implications met squarely the situation, as it was judged by the ruling village interest—the squire's.

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