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the House of Commons to be printed, 18th March, 1818. M ORE than four hundred volumes on the subject of the N Poor Laws, are enumerated by Şir Frederick Eden, and still this vast and intricate subject, vast as regards its bearings upon human happiness, and intricate on account of its involving in the discussion the fundamental principles of political science, is continuing to employ and to baffle the sagacity of our legislators and philosophers. Not fewer than sixty-six statutes (forty of the number during the present reign) have been passed since the famous 43d of Elizabeth, (which was itself a digest of all the existing laws on the subject,) in brder to give perfection to the present system. And now, the eventual abolition of the wbole, the clearance of the Statute-Book from the total nuisance of the Poor Laws, is represented as the only adequate remedy for this gigantic mischief, the political 'plague of
Vol. X. N.S.
• England.' One writer, whose name carries with it very considerable weight, * has not scrupled to affirm, that No Scheme • for the amendment of the Poor Laws' merits the least attention,
which has not their abolition for its ultimate object.' And even the Committee of the House of Commons seem to be of opinion, that their abolition would be decidedly beneficial, could it be effected with safety. In the interim, some remedial regulations are on all sides admitted to be indispensably necessary, in order to arrest the accelerating progress of the evil. "The strongest conviction of the impolicy and mischievousness of the system, has as yet,' remarks Mr. Courtenay, 'induced
no man to propose its total and immediate abrogation ;' while those who are for proposing palliatives, are willing that every partial amendment should have a tendency towards a general
abandonment. As to the best means of introducing a reform, however, there fortunately exists a diversity of opinion which will, we hope, secure the rigid and suspicious examination of any legislative project of the nature of experiment. It will be well if the clamour and the panic which have spread through all ranks, on the subject of the Poor Laws, and the vehement eloquence with which the dangers arising from the Law of Relief have been aggravated, should not favour the passing of enactments not less injurious, in some points of view, than the evils they are ostensibly designed to remedy.
All that we shall attempt in the present Article, is, to introduce our readers to a general view of the question itself; we shall then proceed to examine the measures proposed, by way of mitigating the existing burden. There are a few previous considerations which, although some of them may appear little better than truisms, the reader may find it very convenient to carry with him into the investigation.
In the first place, whether there exist a Law of Relief, or not, there will always remain a portion of the community in a state of poverty. Whether the Poor Laws tend to lessen, or to increase, the sum of Pauperism, they are not the cause of poverty. This is a state wbich, under any conceivable circumstances of society, must be incidental to a large portion of the labouring classes. When the population of a country has attained the point at which the supply of labour is fully adequate to the demand, the wages of labour are not likely to remain much higher than suffices for the bare subsistence of the labourer and his family. This is poverty, when a man can earn no more than he must expend in the supply of his daily wants ; and when liis earnings fall below the sum requisite for his main
* Ricardo “ On the Principles of Political Economy and Tax. “ation." p. 113.