Transcriber's note: Footnotes have been renumbered and moved to the end of the text.
Problems of Poverty
An Inquiry into the Industrial Condition of The Poor
John A. Hobson, M.A.
Author of "The Problem of The Unemployed," "International Trade," Etc.
First Published April 1891 Second Edition November 1894 Third Edition July 1896 Fourth Edition July 1899 Fifth Edition May 1905 Sixth Edition 1906
The object of this volume is to collect, arrange, and examine some of the leading facts and forces in modern industrial life which have a direct bearing upon Poverty, and to set in the light they afford some of the suggested palliatives and remedies. Although much remains to be done in order to establish on a scientific basis the study of "the condition of the people," it is possible that the brief setting forth of carefully ascertained facts and figures in this little book may be of some service in furnishing a stimulus to the fuller systematic study of the important social questions with which it deals.
The treatment is designed to be adapted to the focus of the citizen- student who brings to his task not merely the intellectual interest of the collector of knowledge, but the moral interest which belongs to one who is a part of all he sees, and a sharer in the social responsibility for the present and the future of industrial society.
For the statements of fact contained in these chapters I am largely indebted to the valuable studies presented in the first volume of Mr. Charles Booth's Labour and Life of the People, a work which, when completed, will place the study of problems of poverty upon a solid scientific basis which has hitherto been wanting. A large portion of this book is engaged in relating the facts drawn from this and other sources to the leading industrial forces of the age.
In dealing with suggested remedies for poverty, I have selected certain representative schemes which claim to possess a present practical importance, and endeavoured to set forth briefly some of the economic considerations which bear upon their competency to achieve their aim. In doing this my object has been not to pronounce judgment, but rather to direct enquiry. Certain larger proposals of Land Nationalization and State Socialism, etc., I have left untouched, partly because it was impossible to deal, however briefly, even with the main issues involved in these questions, and partly because it seemed better to confine our enquiry to measures claiming a direct and present applicability.
In setting forth such facts as may give some measurement of the evils of Poverty, no attempt is made to suppress the statement of extreme cases which rest on sufficient evidence, for the nature of industrial poverty and the forces at work are often most clearly discerned and most rightly measured by instances which mark the severest pressure. So likewise there is no endeavour to exclude such human emotions as are "just, measured, and continuous," from the treatment of a subject where true feeling is constantly required for a proper realization of the facts.
In conclusion, I wish to offer my sincere thanks to Mr. Llewellyn Smith, Mr. William Clarke, and other friends who have been kind enough to render me valuable assistance in collecting the material and revising the proof-sheets of portions of this book.
I. The Measure of Poverty II. The Effects of Machinery on the Condition of the Working-Classes III. The Influx of Population into Large Towns IV. "The Sweating System" V. The Causes of Sweating VI. Remedies for Sweating VII. Over-Supply of Low-Skilled Labour VIII. The Industrial Condition of Women Workers IX. Moral Aspects of Poverty X. "Socialistic Legislation" XI. The Industrial Outlook of Low-Skilled Labour
List of Authorities
Problems of Poverty
The Measure of Poverty.
Sec. 1. The National Income, and the Share of the Wage-earners.—To give a clear meaning and a measure of poverty is the first requisite. Who are the poor? The "poor law," on the one hand, assigns a meaning too narrow for our purpose, confining the application of the name to "the destitute," who alone are recognized as fit subjects of legal relief. The common speech of the comfortable classes, on the other hand, not infrequently includes the whole of the wage-earning class under the title of "the poor." As it is our purpose to deal with the pressure of poverty as a painful social disease, it is evident that the latter meaning is unduly wide. The "poor," whose condition is forcing "the social problem" upon the reluctant minds of the "educated" classes, include only the lower strata of the vast wage-earning class.
But since dependence upon wages for the support of life will be found closely related to the question of poverty, it is convenient to throw some preliminary light on the measure of poverty, by figures bearing on the general industrial condition of the wage-earning class. To measure poverty we must first measure wealth. What is the national income, and how is it divided? will naturally arise as the first questions. Now although the data for accurate measurement of the national income are somewhat slender, there is no very wide discrepancy in the results reached by the most skilful statisticians. For practical purposes we may regard the sum of L1,800,000,000 as fairly representing the national income. But when we put the further question, "How is this income divided among the various classes of the community?" we have to face wider discrepancies of judgment. The difficulties which beset a fair calculation of interest and profits, have introduced unconsciously a partisan element into the discussion. Certain authorities, evidently swayed by a desire to make the best of the present condition of the working-classes, have reached a low estimate of interest and profits, and a high estimate of wages; while others, actuated by a desire to emphasize the power of the capitalist classes, have minimized the share which goes as wages. At the outset of our inquiry, it might seem well to avoid such debatable ground. But the importance of the subject will not permit it to be thus shirked. The following calculation presents what is, in fact, a compromise of various views, and can only claim to be a rough approximation to the truth.
Taking the four ordinary divisions: Rent, as payment for the use of land, for agriculture, housing, mines, etc.; Interest for the use of business capital; Profit as wages of management and superintendence; and Wages, the weekly earnings of the working-classes, we find that the national income can be thus fairly apportioned—
Rent L200,000,000. Interest L450,000,000. Profits L450,000,000. Wages L650,000,000. Total L1750,000,000.
Professor Leone Levi reckoned the number of working-class families as 5,600,000, and their total income L470,000,000 in the year 1884. If we now divide the larger money, minus L650,000,000, among a number of families proportionate to the increase of the population, viz. 6,900,000, we shall find that the average yearly income of a working- class family comes to about L94, or a weekly earnings of about 36s. This figure is of necessity a speculative one, and is probably in excess of the actual average income of a working family.
This, then, we may regard as the first halting-place in our inquiry. But in looking at the average money income of a wage-earning family, there are several further considerations which vitally affect the measurement of the pressure of poverty.
First, there is the fact, that out of an estimated population of some 42,000,000, only 12,000,000, or about three out of every ten persons in the richest country of Europe, belong to a class which is able to live in decent comfort, free from the pressing cares of a close economy. The other seven are of necessity confined to a standard of life little, if at all, above the line of bare necessaries.
Secondly, the careful figures collected by these statisticians show that the national income equally divided throughout the community would yield an average income, per family, of about L182 per annum. A comparison of this sum with the average working-class income of L94, brings home the extent of inequality in the distribution of the national income. While it indicates that any approximation towards equality of incomes would not bring affluence, at anyrate on the present scale of national productivity, it serves also to refute the frequent assertions that poverty is unavoidable because Great Britain is not rich enough to furnish a comfortable livelihood for everyone.
Sec. 2. Gradations of Working-class Incomes.—But though it is true that an income of 36s. a week for an ordinary family leaves but a small margin for "superfluities," it will be evident that if every family possessed this sum, we should have little of the worst evils of poverty. If we would understand the extent of the disease, we must seek it in the inequality of incomes among the labouring classes themselves. No family need be reduced to suffering on 36s. a week. But unfortunately the differences of income among the working-classes are proportionately nearly as great as among the well-to-do classes. It is not merely the difference between the wages of skilled and unskilled labour; the 50s. per week of the high-class engineer, or typographer, and the 1s. 2d. per diem of the sandwich-man, or the difference between the wages of men and women workers. There is a more important cause of difference than these. When the average income of a working family is named, it must not be supposed that this represents the wage of the father of the family alone. Each family contains about 21/4 workers on an average. This is a fact, the significance of which is obvious. In some families, the father and mother, and one or two of the children, will be contributors to the weekly income; in other cases, the burden of maintaining a large family may be thrown entirely on the shoulders of a single worker, perhaps the widowed mother. If we reckon that the average wage of a working man is about 24s., that of a working woman 15s., we realize the strain which the loss of the male bread-winner throws on the survivor.
In looking at the gradations of income among the working-classes, it must be borne in mind that as you go lower down in the standard of living, each drop in money income represents a far more than proportionate increase of the pressure of poverty. Halve the income of a rich man, you oblige him to retrench; he must give up his yacht, his carriage, or other luxuries; but such retrenchment, though it may wound his pride, will not cause him great personal discomfort. But halve the income of a well-paid mechanic, and you reduce him and his family at once to the verge of starvation. A drop from 25s. to 12s. 6d. a week involves a vastly greater sacrifice than a drop from L500 to L250 a year. A working-class family, however comfortably it may live with a full contingent of regular workers, is almost always liable, by sickness, death, or loss of employment, to be reduced in a few weeks to a position of penury.
Sec. 3. Measurement of East London Poverty.—This brief account of the inequality of incomes has brought us by successive steps down to the real object of our inquiry, the amount and the intensity of poverty. For it is not inequality of income, but actual suffering, which moves the heart of humanity. What do we know of the numbers and the life of those who lie below the average, and form the lower orders of the working- classes?
Some years ago the civilized world was startled by the Bitter Cry of Outcast London, and much trouble has been taken of late to gauge the poverty of London. A host of active missionaries are now at work, engaged in religious, moral, and sanitary teaching, in charitable relief, or in industrial organization. But perhaps the most valuable work has been that which has had no such directly practical object in view, but has engaged itself in the collection of trustworthy information. Mr Charles Booth's book, The Labour and Life of the People, has an importance far in advance of that considerable attention which it has received. Its essential value is not merely that it supplies, for the first time, a large and carefully collected fund of facts for the formation of sound opinions and the explosion of fallacies, but that it lays down lines of a new branch of social study, in the pursuit of which the most delicate intellectual interests will be identified with a close and absorbing devotion to the practical issues of life.
In the study of poverty, the work of Mr. Booth and his collaborators may truly rank as an epoch-making work.
For the purpose we have immediately before us, the measurement of poverty, the figures supplied in this book are invaluable. Considerations of space will compel us to confine our attention to such figures as will serve to mark the extent and meaning of city poverty in London. But though, as will be seen, the industrial causes of London poverty are in some respects peculiar, there is every reason to believe that the extent and nature of poverty does not widely differ in all large centres of population.
The area which Mr. Booth places under microscopic observation covers Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, St. George's in the East, Stepney, Mile End, Old Town, Poplar, Hackney, and comprises a population 891,539. Of these no less than 316,000, or 35 per cent, belong to families whose weekly earnings amount to less than 21s. This 35 per cent, compose the "poor," according to the estimate of Mr. Booth, and it will be worth while to note the social elements which constitute this class. The "poor" are divided into four classes or strata, marked A, B, C, D. At the bottom comes A, a body of some 11,000, or 11/4 per cent, of hopeless, helpless city savages, who can only be said by courtesy to belong to the "working-classes" "Their life is the life of savages, with vicissitudes of extreme hardship and occasional excess. Their food is of the coarsest description, and their only luxury is drink. It is not easy to say how they live; the living is picked up, and what is got is frequently shared; when they cannot find 3d. for their night's lodging, unless favourably known to the deputy, they are turned out at night into the street, to return to the common kitchen in the morning. From these come the battered figures who slouch through the streets, and play the beggar or the bully, or help to foul the record of the unemployed; these are the worst class of corner-men, who hang round the doors of public- houses, the young men who spring forward on any chance to earn a copper, the ready materials for disorder when occasion serves. They render no useful service; they create no wealth; more often they destroy it."
Next comes B, a thicker stratum of some 100,000, or 111/2 per cent., largely composed of shiftless, broken-down men, widows, deserted women, and their families, dependent upon casual earnings, less than 18s. per week, and most of them incapable of regular, effective work. Most of the social wreckage of city life is deposited in this stratum, which presents the problem of poverty in its most perplexed and darkest form. For this class hangs as a burden on the shoulders of the more capable classes which stand just above it. Mr. Booth writes of it—
"It may not be too much to say that if the whole of class B were swept out of existence, all the work they do could be done, together with their own work, by the men, women, and children of classes C and D; that all they earn and spend might be earned, and could very easily be spent, by the classes above them; that these classes, and especially class C, would be immensely better off, while no class, nor any industry, would suffer in the least." Class C consists of 75,000, or 8 per cent., subsisting on intermittent earnings of from 18s. to 21s. for a moderate- sized family. Low-skilled labourers, poorer artizans, street-sellers, small shopkeepers, largely constitute this class, the curse of whose life is not so much low wages as irregularity of employment, and the moral and physical degradation caused thereby. Above these, forming the top stratum of "poor," comes a large class, numbering 129,000, or 141/2 per cent., dependent upon small regular earnings of from 18s. to 21s., including many dock-and water-side labourers, factory and warehouse hands, car-men, messengers, porters, &c. "What they have comes in regularly, and except in times of sickness in the family, actual want rarely presses, unless the wife drinks."
"As a general rule these men have a hard struggle, but they are, as a body, decent, steady men, paying their way and bringing up their children respectably" (p. 50).
Mr Booth, in confining the title "poor" to this 35 per cent. of the population of East London, takes, perhaps for sufficient reasons, a somewhat narrow interpretation of the term. For in the same district no less than 377,000, or over 42 per cent. of the inhabitants, live upon earnings varying from 21s. to 30s. per week. So long as the father is in regular work, and his family is not too large, a fair amount of material comfort may doubtless be secured by those who approach the maximum. But such an income leaves little margin for saving, and innumerable forms of mishaps will bring such families down beneath the line of poverty. Though the East End contains more poverty than some other parts of London the difference is less than commonly supposed. Mr Booth estimated that of the total population of the metropolis 30.7 per cent. were living in poverty. The figure for York is placed by Mr Seebohm Rowntree at the slightly lower figure of 27.84. These figures (in both cases exclusive of the population of the workhouses and other public or private institutions) may be taken as fairly representative of life in English industrial cities. A recent investigation of an ordinary agricultural village in Bedfordshire discloses a larger amount of poverty—no less than 34.3 per cent. of the population falling below the income necessary for physical efficiency.
Sec. 4. Prices for the Poor.—These figures relating to money income do not bring home to us the evil of poverty. It is not enough to know what the weekly earnings of a poor family are, we must inquire what they can buy with them. Among the city poor, the evil of low wages is intensified by high prices. In general, the poorer the family the higher the prices it must pay for the necessaries of life. Rent is naturally the first item in the poor man's budget. Here it is evident that the poor pay in proportion to their poverty. The average rent in many large districts of East London is 4s. for one room, 7s. for two. In the crowded parts of Central London the figures stand still higher; 6s. is said to be a moderate price for a single room. Mr. Marchant Williams, an Inspector of Schools for the London School Board, finds that 86 per cent. of the dwellers in certain poor districts of London pay more than one-fifth of their income in rent; 46 per cent. paying from one-half to one-quarter; 42 per cent. paying from one-quarter to one-fifth; and only 12 per cent. paying less than one-fifth of their weekly wage. The poor from their circumstances cannot pay wholesale prices for their shelter, but must buy at high retail prices by the week; they are forced to live near their work (workmen's trains are for the aristocracy of labour), and thus compete keenly for rooms in the centres of industry; more important still, the value of central ground for factories, shops, and ware-houses raises to famine price the habitable premises. It is notorious that overcrowded, insanitary "slum" property is the most paying form of house property to its owners. The part played by rent in the problems of poverty can scarcely be over-estimated. Attempts to mitigate the evil by erecting model dwellings have scarcely touched the lower classes of wage-earners. The labourer prefers a room in a small house to an intrinsically better accommodation in a barrack-like building. Other than pecuniary motives enter in. The "touchiness of the lower class" causes them to be offended by the very sanitary regulations designed for their benefit.
But "shelter" is not the only thing for which the poor pay high. Astounding facts are adduced as to the prices paid by the poor for common articles of consumption, especially for vegetables, dairy produce, groceries, and coal. The price of fresh vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, &c., in East London is not infrequently ten times the price at which the same articles can be purchased wholesale from the growers.
Hence arises the popular cry against the wicked middleman who stands between producer and consumer, and takes the bulk of the profit. There is much want of thought shown in this railing against the iniquities of the middleman. It is true that a large portion of the price paid by the poor goes to the retail distributor, but we should remember that the labour of distribution under present conditions and with existing machinery is very great. We have no reason to believe that the small retailers who sell to the poor die millionaires. The poor, partly of necessity, partly by habit, make their purchases in minute quantities. A single family has been known to make seventy-two distinct purchases of tea within seven weeks, and the average purchases of a number of poor families for the same period amounted to twenty-seven. Their groceries are bought largely by the ounce, their meat or fish by the half- penn'orth, their coal by the cwt., or even by the lb. Undoubtedly they pay for these morsels a price which, if duly multiplied, represents a much higher sum than their wealthier neighbours pay for a much better article. But the small shopkeeper has a high rent to pay; he has a large number of competitors, so that the total of his business is not great; the actual labour of dispensing many minute portions is large; he is often himself a poor man, and must make a large profit on a small turn- over in order to keep going; he is not infrequently kept waiting for his money, for the amount of credit small shopkeepers will give to regular customers is astonishing. For all these, and many other reasons, it is easy to see that the poor man must pay high prices. Even his luxuries, his beer and tobacco, he purchases at exorbitant rates.
It is sometimes held sufficient to reply that the poor are thoughtless and extravagant. And no doubt this is so. But it must also be remembered that the industrial conditions under which these people live, necessitate a hand-to-mouth existence, and themselves furnish an education in improvidence.
Sec. 5. Housing and Food Supply of the Poor.—Once more, out of a low income the poor pay high prices for a bad article. The low physical condition of the poorest city workers, the high rate of mortality, especially among children, is due largely to the quality of the food, drink, and shelter which they buy. On the quality of the rooms for which they pay high rent it is unnecessary to dwell. Ill-constructed, unrepaired, overcrowded, destitute of ventilation and of proper sanitary arrangements, the mass of low class city tenements finds few apologists. The Royal Commission on Housing of the Working Classes thus deals with the question of overcrowding—
"The evils of overcrowding, especially in London, are still a public scandal, and are becoming in certain localities a worse scandal than they ever were. Among adults, overcrowding causes a vast amount of suffering which could be calculated by no bills of mortality, however accurate. The general deterioration in the health of the people is a worse feature of overcrowding even than the encouragement by it of infectious disease. It has the effect of reducing their stamina, and thus producing consumption and diseases arising from general debility of the system whereby life is shortened." "In Liverpool, nearly one-fifth of the squalid houses where the poor live in the closest quarters are reported to be always infected, that is to say, the seat of infectious diseases."
To apply the name of "home" to these dens is a sheer abuse of words. What grateful memories of tender childhood, what healthy durable associations, what sound habits of life can grow among these unwholesome and insecure shelters?
The city poor are a wandering tribe. The lack of fixed local habitation is an evil common to all classes of city dwellers. But among the lower working-classes "flitting" is a chronic condition. The School Board visitor's book showed that in a representative district of Bethnal Green, out of 1204 families, no less than 530 had removed within a twelvemonth, although such an account would not include the lowest and most "shifty" class of all. Between November 1885 and July 1886 it was found that 20 per cent. of the London electorate had changed residence. To what extent the uncertain conditions of employment impose upon the poor this changing habitation cannot be yet determined; but the absence of the educative influence of a fixed abode is one of the most demoralizing influences in the life of the poor. The reversion to a nomad condition is a retrograde step in civilization the importance of which can hardly be exaggerated. When we bear in mind that these houses are also the workshop of large numbers of the poor, and know how the work done in the crowded, tainted air of these dens brings as an inevitable portion of its wage, physical feebleness, disease, and an early death, we recognize the paramount importance of that aspect of the problem of poverty which is termed "The Housing of the Poor."
So much for the quality of the shelter for which the poor pay high prices. Turn to their food. In the poorest parts of London it is scarcely possible for the poor to buy pure food. Unfortunately the prime necessaries of life are the very things which lend themselves most easily to successful adulteration. Bread, sugar, tea, oil are notorious subjects of deception. Butter, in spite of the Margarine Act, it is believed, the poor can seldom get. But the systematic poisoning of alcoholic liquors permitted under a licensing System is the most flagrant example of the evil. There is some evidence to show that the poorer class of workmen do not consume a very large quantity of strong drink. But the vile character of the liquor sold to them acts on an ill- fed, unwholesome body as a poisonous irritant. We are told that "the East End dram-drinker has developed a new taste; it is for fusil-oil. It has even been said that ripe old whisky ten years old, drank in equal quantities, would probably import a tone of sobriety to the densely- populated quarters of East London."
Sec. 6. Irregularity of work.—One more aspect of city poverty demands a word. Low wages are responsible in large measure for the evils with which we have dealt. In the life of the lower grades of labour there is a worse thing than low wages—that is irregular employment. The causes of such irregularity, partly inherent in the nature of the work, partly the results of trade fluctuations, will appear later. In gauging poverty we are only concerned with the fact. This irregularity of work is not in its first aspect so much a deficiency of work, but rather a maladjustment While on the one hand we see large classes of workers who are habitually overworked, men and women, tailors or shirt-makers in Whitechapel, 'bus men, shop-assistants, even railway-servants, toiling twelve, fourteen, fifteen, or even in some cases eighteen hours a day, we see at the same time and in the same place numbers of men and women seeking work and finding none. Thus are linked together the twin maladies of over-work and the unemployed. It is possible that among the comfortable classes there are still to be found those who believe that the unemployed consist only of the wilfully idle and worthless residuum parading a false grievance to secure sympathy and pecuniary aid, and who hold that if a man really wants to work he can always do so. This idle theory is contradicted by abundant facts. The official figures published by the Board of Trade gives the average percentage of unemployed in the Trade Unions of the skilled trades as follows. To the general average we have appended for comparison the average for the shipbuilding and boiler-making trades, so as to illustrate the violence of the oscillations in a fluctuating trade:—
General per cent. Ship-building, etc.
1884 7.15 20.8 1885 8.55 22.2 1886 9.55 21.6 1887 7.15 16.7 1888 4.15 7.3 1889 2.05 2.0 1890 2.10 3.4 1891 3.40 5.7 1892 6.20 10.9 1893 7.70 17.0 1894 7.70 16.2 1895 6.05 13.0 1896 3.50 9.5 1897 3.65 8.6 1898 3.15 4.7 1899 2.40 2.1 1900 2.85 2.3 1901 3.80 3.6 1902 4.60 8.3 1903 5.30 11.7
These figures make it quite evident that the permanent causes of irregular employment, e.g., weather in the building and riverside trades, season in the dressmaking and confectionery trades, and the other factors of leakage and displacement which throw out of work from time to time numbers of workers, are, taken in the aggregate, responsible only for a small proportion of the unemployment in the staple trades of the country.
The significance of such figures as these can scarcely be over- estimated. Although it might fairly be urged that the lowest dip in trade depression truly represented the injury inflicted on the labouring-classes by trade fluctuations, we will omit the year 1886, and take 1887 as a representative period of ordinary trade depression. The figures quoted above are supported by Trade Union statistics, which show that in that year among the strongest Trade Unions in the country, consisting of the picked men in each trade, no less than 71 in every 1000, or over 7 per cent., were continuously out of work. That this was due to their inability to get work, and not to their unwillingness to do it, is placed beyond doubt by the fact that they were, during this period of enforced idleness, supported by allowances paid by their comrades. Indeed, the fact that in 1890 the mass of unemployed was almost absorbed, disposes once for all of the allegation that the unemployed in times of depression consist of idlers who do not choose to work. Turning to the year 1887, there is every reason to believe that where 7 per cent, are unemployed in the picked, skilled industries of a country, where the normal supply of labour is actually limited by Union regulations, the proportion in unskilled or less organized industries is much larger. It is probable that 12 per cent, is not an excessive figure to take as the representative of the average proportion of unemployed. In the recent official returns of wages in textile industries, it is admitted that 10 per cent, should be taken off from the nominal wages for irregularity of employment. Moreover, it is true (with certain exceptions) that the lower you go down in the ranks of labour and of wages, the more irregular is the employment. To the pressure of this evil among the very poor in East London notice has already been drawn. We have seen how Mr. Booth finds one whole stratum of 100,000 people, who from an industrial point of view are worse than worthless. We have no reason to conclude that East London is much worse in this respect than other centres of population, and the irregularity of country employment is increasing every year. Are we to conclude then that of the thirteen millions composing the "working-classes" in this country, nearly two millions are liable at any time to figure as waste or surplus labour? It looks like it. We are told that the movements of modern industry necessitate the existence of a considerable margin supply of labour. The figures quoted above bear out this statement. But a knowledge of the cause does not make the fact more tolerable. We are not at present concerned with the requirements of the industrial machine, but with the quantity of hopeless, helpless misery these requirements indicate. The fact that under existing conditions the unemployed seem inevitable should afford the strongest motive for a change in these conditions. Modern life has no more tragical figure than the gaunt, hungry labourer wandering about the crowded centres of industry and wealth, begging in vain for permission to share in that industry, and to contribute to that wealth; asking in return not the comforts and luxuries of civilized life, but the rough food and shelter for himself and family, which would be practically secured to him in the rudest form of savage society.
Occasionally one of these sensational stories breaks into the light of day, through the public press, and shocks society at large, until it relapses into the consoling thought that such cases are exceptional. But those acquainted closely with the condition of our great cities know that there are thousands of such silent tragedies being played around us. In England the recorded deaths from starvation are vastly more numerous than in any other country. In 1880 the number for England is given as 101. In 1902 the number for London alone is 34. This is, of course, no adequate measure of the facts. For every recorded case there will be a hundred unrecorded cases where starvation is the practical immediate cause of death. The death-rate of children in the poorer districts of London is found to be nearly three times that which obtains among the richer neighbourhoods. Contemporary history has no darker page than that which records not the death-rate of children, but the conditions of child-life in our great cities. In setting down such facts and figures as may assist readers to adequately realize the nature and extent of poverty, it has seemed best to deal exclusively with the material aspects of poverty, which admit of some exactitude of measurement. The ugly and degrading surroundings of a life of poverty, the brutalizing influences of the unceasing struggle for bare subsistence, the utter absence of reasonable hope of improvement; in short, the whole subjective side of poverty is not less terrible because it defies statistics.
Sec. 7. Figures and Facts of Pauperism.—Since destitution is the lowest form of poverty, it is right to append to this statement of the facts of poverty some account of pauperism. Although chiefly owing to a stricter and wiser administration of the Poor Law in relation to outdoor relief, the number of paupers has steadily and considerably decreased, both in proportion to the population and absolutely, the number of those unable to support themselves is still deplorably large. In 1881 no less than one in ten of the total recorded deaths took place in workhouses, public hospitals, and lunatic asylums. In London the proportion is much greater and has increased during recent years. In 1901 out of 78,229 deaths in London, 13,009 took place in workhouses, 10,643 in public hospitals, and 349 in public asylums, making a total of 24,001. Comparing these figures with the total number of deaths, we find that in the richest city of the world 32.5 per cent., or one in three of the inhabitants, dies dependent on public charity. This estimate does not include those in receipt of outdoor relief. Moreover, it is an estimate which includes all classes. The proportion, taking the working-classes alone, must be even higher.
Turning from pauper deaths to pauper lives, the condition of the poor, though improved, is far from satisfactory. The agricultural labourer in many parts of England still looks to the poorhouse as a natural and necessary asylum for old age. Even the diminution effected in outdoor relief is not evidence of a corresponding decrease in the pressure of want. The diminution is chiefly due to increased strictness in the application of the Poor Law, a policy which in a few cases such as Whitechapel, Stepney, St. George-in-the-East, has succeeded in the practical extermination of the outdoor pauper. This is doubtless a wise policy, but it supplies no evidence of decrease in poverty. It would be possible by increased strictness of conditions to annihilate outdoor pauperism throughout the country at a single blow, and to reduce the number of indoor paupers by making workhouse life unendurable. But such a course would obviously furnish no satisfactory evidence of the decline of poverty, or even of destitution. Moreover, in regarding the decline of pauperism, we must not forget to take into account the enormous recent growth of charitable institutions and funds which now perform more effectually and more humanely much of the relief work which formerly devolved upon the Poor Law. The income of charitable London institutions engaged in promoting the physical well-being of the people amounted in 1902-3 to about four and a half millions. The relief afforded by Friendly Societies and Trade Unions to sick and out-of-work members, furnishes a more satisfactory evidence of the growth of providence and independence among all but the lowest classes of workers.
The improvement exhibited in figures of pauperism is entirely confined to outdoor relief. The number of workers who, by reason of old age or other infirmity, are compelled to take refuge in the poorhouses, bears a larger proportion to the total population than it did a generation ago. In 1876-7 the mean number of indoor paupers for England and Wales was 130,337, or 5.4 per 1000 of the population; in 1902-3 the number had risen to 203,604, or 6.2 per 1000 of the population. This rise of indoor pauperism has indeed been coincident with a larger decline of outdoor pauperism through this same period. But the growth of thrift in the working-classes, the increase of the machinery of charity, the rise of the average of wages—these causes have been wholly inoperative to check the growth of indoor pauperism. Nor, if one may trust so competent an authority as Mr Fowle, is this explained by any tendency of increased strictness in the administration of outdoor relief, to drive would-be recipients of outdoor relief into the workhouse.
The figures of London pauperism yield still more strange results. Here, though the percentage of paupers to population has shown a steady decline, the process has been so much slower than in the country that there has been no actual fall in the number of paupers. Throughout the whole period from 1861 to 1896 the numbers have remained about stationary, after which they show a considerable rise. The alarming feature in this table is the rapid rise of indoor pauperism, far more rapid than the growth of London's population. From 1861-2 the number of indoor paupers has grown by steady increase from 26,667 to 61,432 in 1902-3, or from a ratio of 9.5 to one of 13.4 per 1000. While the proportion of outdoor paupers per 1000 is little more than half that of the country as a whole, the proportion of indoor paupers is more than twice as great. Roughly speaking, London, with less than one-sixth of the population of the country, contains nearly one-third of the indoor pauperism. This fact alone throws some light upon the nature of city life. A close analysis of metropolitan workhouses discloses the fact that the aged, infirm, and children composed the vast majority of inmates. A very small percentage was found to be capable of actual work. About one-third of the paupers are children, about one-tenth lunatics, about one-half are aged, infirm, or sick. This leaves one-fifteenth as the proportion of able-bodied male and female adults. As a commentary on the administration of the Poor Law, these figures are eminently satisfactory, for they prove that people who can support themselves do not in fact obtain from public relief. But the picture has its dark side. It shows that a very large proportion of our workers, when their labour-power has been drained out of them, instead of obtaining a well- earned honourable rest, are obliged to seek refuge in that asylum which they and their class hate and despise. Whereas only 5 per cent of the population under 60 years are paupers, the proportion is 40 per cent in the case of those over 70. Taking the working-class only out of a population of 952,000 above the age of 65, no fewer than 402,000, or over 42 per cent, obtained relief in 1892. In London 221/2 per cent of the aged poor are indoor paupers. The hardness of the battle of life is attested by this number of old men, and old women, who in spite of a hard-working life are compelled to end their days as the recipients of public charity.
Sec. 8. The Diminution of Poverty in the last half century.—In order to realize the true importance of our subject, it is necessary not only to have some measurement of the extent and nature of poverty, but to furnish ourselves with some answer to the question, Is this poverty increasing or diminishing? Until a few years ago it was customary not only for platform agitators, but for thoughtful writers on the subject, to assume that "the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer." This formula was ripening into a popular creed when a number of statistical inquiries choked it. Prof. Leone Levi, Mr. Giffen, and a number of careful investigators, showed a vast improvement in the industrial condition of the working-classes during the last half century. It was pointed out that money wages had risen considerably in all kinds of employment; that prices had generally fallen, so that the rise in real wages was even greater; that they worked shorter hours; consumed more and better food; lived longer lives; committed fewer crimes; and lastly, saved more money. The general accuracy of these statements is beyond question. The industrial conditions of the working- classes as a whole shows a great advance during the last half century. Although the evidence upon this point is by no means conclusive, it seems probable that the income of the wage-earning classes as an aggregate is growing even more rapidly than that of the capitalist classes. Income-tax returns indicate that the proportion of the population living on an acknowledged income of more than L150 a year is much larger than it was a generation ago. In 1851 the income-tax-paying population amounted to 1,500,000; in 1879-80 the number had risen to 4,700,000. At the same time the average of these incomes showed a considerable fall, for while in 1851 the gross income assessed was L272,000,000, in 1879-80 it had only risen to L577,000,000.
Though the method of assessing companies as if they were single persons renders it impossible to obtain accurate information in recent years as to the number of persons enjoying incomes of various sizes, a comparison made by Mr Mulhall of incomes in 1867 and 1895 indicates that, while the lower middle-class is growing rapidly, the number of the rich is growing still more rapidly. While incomes of L100 to L300 have grown by a little more than 50 per cent., those from L300 to L1000 have nearly doubled, those between L1000 and L5000 have more than doubled, and incomes over L5000 have more than trebled.
But though such comparisons justify the conclusion that the upper grades of skilled labour have made considerable advances, and that the lower grades of regular unskilled labourers have to a less degree shared in this advance, they do not warrant the optimist conclusion often drawn from them, that poverty is a disease which left alone will cure itself, and which, in point of fact, is curing itself rapidly. Before we consent to accept the evidence of improvement in the average condition of the labouring classes during the last half century as sufficient evidence to justify this opinion we ought to pay regard to the following considerations—
1. It should be remembered that a comparison between England of the present day with England in the decade 1830-1840 is eminently favourable to a theory of progress. The period from 1790 to 1840 was the most miserable epoch in the history of the English working-classes. Much of the gain must be rightly regarded rather as a recovery from sickness, than as a growth in normal health. If the decade 1730-1740, for example, were to be taken instead, the progress of the wage-earner, especially in southern England, would be by no means so obvious. The southern agricultural labourer and the whole body of low-skilled workers were probably in most respects as well off a century and a half ago as they are to-day.
2. The great fall of prices, due to cheapening of production and of transport during the last twenty years, benefits the poor far less than the rich. For, while the prices of most comforts and luxuries have fallen very greatly, the same is not true of most necessaries. The gain to the workers is chiefly confined to food prices, which have fallen some 40 per cent since 1880. Taking the retail prices of foods consumed by London working-class families we find that since 1880 the price of flour has fallen about 60 per cent., bread falling a little more than half that amount; the prices of beef and mutton have fallen nearly to the same extent as flour, though bacon stands in 1903 just about where it stood in 1880. Sugar exhibits a deep drop until 1898, rising afterwards in consequence of the war tax and the Sugar Convention; tea shows a not considerable drop. Other groceries, such as coffee and cocoa, and certain vegetables are cheaper. A careful inquiry into clothing shows a trifling fall of price for articles of the same quality, while the introduction of cheaper qualities has enabled workers to effect some saving here. Against these must be set a slight rise in price of dairy produce, a considerable rise in fuel, and a large rise in rent. A recent estimate of the Board of Trade, having regard to food, rent, clothing, fuel, and lighting as chief ingredients of working-class expenditure, indicates that 100 shillings will in 1900 do the work for which 120 shillings were required in 1880. The great fall of prices has been in the period 1880-1895, since then prices all round (except in clothing) show a considerable rise.
In turning from the working-classes as a whole to the poor, it becomes evident that the most substantial benefit they have received from falling prices is cheap bread. Cheap groceries and lighting are also gains, though it must be remembered that the modes of purchase to which the very poor are driven to have recourse minimize these gains. On clothes the poor spend a very small proportion of their incomes, the very poor virtually nothing. In the case of the lowest classes of the towns, it is probable that the rise in rents offsets all the advantages of cheapened prices for other commodities.
The importance of the bearing of this fact is obvious. Even were it clearly proved that the wages of the working-classes were increasing faster in proportion than the incomes of the wealthier classes, it would not be thereby shown that the standard of comfort in the former was rising as fast as the standard of comfort in the latter. If we confine the term "poor" to the lower grades of wage-earners, it would probably be correct to say that the riches of the rich had increased at a more rapid rate than that at which the poverty of the poor had diminished. Thus the width of the gap between riches and poverty would be absolutely greater than before. But, after all, such absolute measurements as these are uncertain, and have little other than a rhetorical value. What is important to recognize is this, that though the proportion of the very poor to the whole population has somewhat diminished, never in the whole history of England, excepting during the disastrous period at the beginning of this century, has the absolute number of the very poor been so great as it is now. Moreover, the massing of the poor in large centres of population, producing larger areas of solid poverty, presents new dangers and new difficulties in the application of remedial measures.
However we may estimate progress, one fact we must recognize, that the bulk of our low-skilled workers do not yet possess a secure supply of the necessaries of life. Few will feel inclined to dispute what Professor Marshall says on this point—
"The necessaries for the efficiency of an ordinary agricultural or of an unskilled town labourer and his family, in England, in this generation, may be said to consist of a well-drained dwelling with several rooms, warm clothing, with some changes of underclothing, pure water, a plentiful supply of cereal food, with a moderate allowance of meat and milk, and a little tea, &c.; some education, and some recreation; and lastly, sufficient freedom for his wife from other work to enable her to perform properly her maternal and her household duties. If in any district unskilled labour is deprived of any of these things, its efficiency will suffer in the same way as that of a horse which is not properly tended, or a steam-engine which has an inadequate supply of coals."
There is one final point of deep significance. So far we have endeavoured to measure poverty by the application of a standard of actual material comfort. But this, while furnishing a fair gauge of the deprivation suffered by the poor, does not enable us to measure it as a social danger. There is a depth of poverty, of misery, of ignorance, which is not dangerous because it has no outlook, and is void of hope. Abate the extreme stress of poverty, give the poor a glimpse of a more prosperous life, teach them to know their power, and the danger of poverty increases. This is what De Tocqueville meant when writing of France, before the Revolution, he said, "According as prosperity began to dawn in France, men's minds appeared to become more unquiet and disturbed; public discontent was sharpened, hatred of all ancient institutions went on increasing, till the nation was visibly on the verge of a revolution. One might almost say that the French found their condition all the more intolerable according as it became better."
So in England the change of industrial conditions which has massed the poor in great cities, the spread of knowledge by compulsory education, cheap newspapers, libraries, and a thousand other vehicles of knowledge, the possession and growing appreciation of political power, have made poverty more self-conscious and the poor more discontented. By striving to educate, intellectually, morally, sanitarily, the poor, we have made them half-conscious of many needs they never recognized before. They were once naked, and not ashamed, but we have taught them better. We have raised the standard of the requirements of a decent human life, but we have not increased to a corresponding degree their power to attain them. If by poverty is meant the difference between felt wants and the power to satisfy them, there is more poverty than ever. The income of the poor has grown, but their desires and needs have grown more rapidly. Hence the growth of a conscious class hatred, the "growing animosity of the poor against the rich," which Mr. Barnett notes in the slums of Whitechapel. The poor were once too stupid and too sodden for vigorous discontent, now though their poverty may be less intense, it is more alive, and more militant. The rate of improvement in the condition of the poor is not quick enough to stem the current of popular discontent.
Nor is it the poor alone who are stricken with discontent. Clearer thought and saner feelings are beginning to make it evident that in the march of true civilization no one class can remain hopelessly behind. Hence the problems of poverty are ever pressing more and more upon the better-hearted, keener-sighted men and women of the more fortunate classes; they feel that they have no right to be contented with the condition of the poor. The demand that a life worth living shall be made possible for all, and that the knowledge, wealth, and energy of a nation shall be rightly devoted to no other end than this, is the true measure of the moral growth of a civilized community. The following picture drawn a few years ago by Mr. Frederick Harrison shows how far we yet fall short of such a realization—"To me at least, it would be enough to condemn modern society as hardly an advance on slavery or serfdom, if the permanent condition of industry were to be that which we now behold; that 90 per cent, of the actual producers of wealth have no home that they can call their own beyond the end of a week; have no bit of soil, or so much as a room that belongs to them; have nothing of value of any kind except as much as will go in a cart; have the precarious chance of weekly wages which barely suffice to keep them in health; are housed for the most part in places that no man thinks fit for his horse; are separated by so narrow a margin from destitution that a month of bad trade, sickness, or unexpected loss brings them face to face with hunger and pauperism."
The Effects of Machinery on the Condition of the Working-Classes.
Sec. 1. Centralizing-Influence of Machinery.—In seeking to understand the nature and causes of the poverty of the lower working-classes, it is impossible to avoid some discussion of the influence of machinery. For the rapid and continuous growth of machinery is at once the outward visible sign and the material agent of the great revolution which has changed the whole face of the industrial world during the last century. With the detailed history of this vast change we are not concerned, but only with its effects on the industrial condition of the poor in the present day.
Those who have studied in books of history the industrial and educational condition of the mass of the working populace at the beginning of this century, or have read such novels as Shirley, Mary Barton, and Alton Locke, will not be surprised at the mingled mistrust and hatred with which the working-classes regarded each new introduction of machinery into the manufacturing arts. These people, having only a short life to live, naturally took a short-sighted view of the case; having a specialized form of skill as their only means of getting bread, they did not greet with joy the triumphs of inventive skill which robbed this skill of its market value. Even the more educated champions of the interests of working-classes have often viewed with grave suspicion the rapid substitution of machinery for hand-labour in the industrial arts. The enormous increase of wealth-producing power given by the new machinery can scarcely be realized. It is reckoned that fifty men with modern machinery could do all the cotton-spinning of the whole of Lancashire a century ago. Mr. Leone Levi has calculated that to make by hand all the yarn spun in England in one year by the use of the self-acting mule, would take 100,000,000 men. The instruments which work this wonderful change are called "labour-saving" machinery. From this title it may be deemed that their first object, or at any rate their chief effect, would be to lighten labour. It seems at first sight therefore strange to find so reasonable a writer as John Stuart Mill declaring, "It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being." Yet if we confine our attention to the direct effects of machinery, we shall acknowledge that Mill's doubt is, upon the whole, a well founded one.
According to the evidence of existing poverty adduced in the last chapter, it would appear that the lowest classes of workers have not shared to any considerable degree the enormous gain of wealth-producing power bestowed by machinery. It is not our object here to discuss the right of the poorer workers to profit by inventions due to others, but merely to indicate the effects which the growth of machinery actually produce in this economic condition. Let us examine the industrial effects of the growth of machinery, so as to understand how they affect the social and economic welfare of the working-classes.
Sec. 2. Class Separation of Employer and Workmen.—The first effect of machinery is to give a new and powerful impulse to the centralizing tendency in industry. "Civilization is economy of power, and English power is coal," said the materialistic Baron Liebig. Coal as a generator of steam-power demands that manufactures shall be conducted on a large scale in particular localities. Before the day of large, expensive steam-driven machinery, manufacture was done in scattered houses by workers who were the owners of their simple tools, and often of the material on which they worked; or in small workshops, where a master worked with a few journeymen and apprentices. Machinery changed all this. It drove the workers into large factories, and obliged them to live in concentrated masses near their work. They no longer owned the material in which their labour was stored, or the tools with which they worked; they had to use the material belonging to their employer; the machinery which made their tools valueless was also the property of the capitalist employer. Instead of selling the products of their capital and labour to merchants or consumers, they were compelled to sell their labour-power to the employer as the only means of earning a livelihood. Again, the social relations between the wealthy employer and his "hands" were quite different from those intimate personal relations which had subsisted between the small master and his assistants. The very size of the factory made such a social change inevitable, the personal relation which marked medieval industry was no longer possible. Machinery then did two things. On the one hand, it destroyed the position of the workman as a self-sufficing industrial unit, and made him dependent on a capitalist for employment and the means of supporting life. On the other hand, it weakened the sense of responsibility in the employer towards his workmen in proportion as the dependence of the latter became more absolute.
With each step in the growth of the factory system the workman became more dependent, and the employer more irresponsible. Thus we note the first industrial effect of machinery in the formation of two definite industrial classes—the dependent workman, and the irresponsible employer. The term "irresponsible" is not designed to convey any moral stigma. The industrial employer can no more be blamed for being irresponsible than the workman for being dependent. The terms merely express the nature of the schism which naturally followed the triumph of machinery. Prophets like Carlyle and Ruskin, slighting the economic causes of the change, clamoured for "Captains of Industry," employers who should realize a moral responsibility, and reviving a dead feudalism should assume unasked the protectorate of their employes. The whole army of theoretic and practical reformers might indeed be divided into two classes, according as they seek to impose responsibility on employers, or to establish a larger independence in the employed. But this is not the place to discuss methods of reform. It is sufficient to note the testimony borne by all alike to the disintegrating influence of machinery.
Again, the growth of machinery makes industry more intricate. Manufacturers no longer produce for a small known market, the fluctuations of which are slight, and easily calculable. The element of speculation enters into manufacture at every pore—size of market, competitors, and price are all unknown. Machinery works at random like the blind giant it is. Every improvement in communication, and each application of labour-saving invention adds to the delicacy and difficulty of trade calculations. Hence in the productive force of machinery we see the material cause of the violent oscillations, the quiver of which never has time to pass out of modern trade. The periodic over-production and subsequent depression are thus closely related to machinery. It is the result upon the workman of these fluctuations that alone concerns us.
The effect of machinery upon the regularity of employment is both a difficult and a serious subject. Its precise importance cannot be measured. Before the era of machinery there often arose from other reasons, especially war or failure of crops, fluctuations which worked most disastrously on the English labourer. But in modern times we must look to more distinctively industrial causes for an explanation of unsteadiness of employment, and here the close competition of steam- driven machinery plays the leading part.
It must not, however, be supposed that machinery is essentially related to unsteadiness of work. The contrary is obviously the case. Cheap tools can be kept idle without great loss to their owner, but every stoppage in the work of expensive machinery means a heavy loss to the capitalist. Thus the larger the part played by expensive machinery, the stronger the personal motive in the individual capitalist to give full regular employment to his workmen. It is the competition of other machinery over which he has no control that operates as the immediate cause of instability of work. Thus the growth of machinery has a double and conflicting influence upon regularity of employment; it punishes capital more severely for each irregularity or stoppage, while at the same time it makes such fluctuations more violent.
Sec. 3. Displacement of Labour.—But the result of machinery which has drawn most attention is the displacement of labour. In every branch of productive work, agriculture as well as manufacture, the conflict between manual skill and machine skill has been waged incessantly during the last century. Step by step all along the line the machine has ousted the skilled manual worker, either rendering his office superfluous, or retaining him to play the part of servant to the new machine. A good deal of thoughtless rhetoric has been consumed upon the subject of this new serfdom of the worker to machinery. There is no reason in the nature of things why the work of attendance on machinery should not be more dignified, more pleasant, and more remunerative to the working-man than the work it displaces. To shift on to the shoulders of brute nature the most difficult and exhausting kinds of work has been in large measure the actual effect of machinery. There is also every reason to believe that the large body of workers whose work consists in the regular attendance on and manipulation of machinery have shared largely in the results of the increased production which machinery has brought about. The present "aristocracy of labour" is the direct creation of the machine. But our concern lies chiefly with the weaker portion of the working-classes. How does the constant advance of labour-saving machinery affect these? What is the effect of machinery upon the demand for labour? In answering these questions we have to carefully distinguish the ultimate effect upon the labour-market as a whole, and the immediate effect upon certain portions of the labour-supply.
It is generally urged that machinery employs as many men as it displaces. This has in fact been the earlier effect of the introduction of machinery into the great staple industries of the country. The first effect of mechanical production in the spinning and weaving industries was to displace the hand-worker. But the enormous increase in demand for textile wares caused by the fall of price, has provided work for more hands than were employed before, especially when we bear in mind the subsidiary work in construction of machinery, and enlarged mechanism of conveyance and distribution. Taking a purely historical view of the question, one would say that the labour displaced by machinery found employment in other occupations, directly or indirectly, due to the machinery itself. Provided the aggregate volume of commerce grows at a corresponding pace with the labour-saving power of new machinery, the classes dependent on the use of their labour have nothing in the long run to fear.
A machine is invented which will enable one man to make as many boots as four men made formerly, displacing the labour of three men. If the cheapening of boots thus brought about doubles the sale of boots, one of the three "displaced" men can find employment at the machine. If it takes the labour of one man to keep up the production of the new machinery, and another to assist in the distribution of the increased boot-supply, it will be evident that the aggregate of labour has not suffered. It is, however, clear that this exactly balanced effect by no means necessarily happens. The expansion of consumption of commodities produced by machinery is not necessarily such as to provide employment for the displaced labour in the same trade or its subsidiary trades. The result of the introduction of machinery may be a displacement of human by mechanical labour, so far as the entire trade is concerned. The bearing of this tendency is of great significance. Analysis of recent census returns shows that not only is agriculture rapidly declining in the amount of employment it affords, but that the same tendency occurs in the staple processes of manufacture: either there is an absolute decline in employment, as in the textile and dress trades, or the rate of increase is considerably slower than that of the occupied class as a whole, indicating a relative decline of importance. This tendency is greatest where machinery is most highly developed—that is to say, machinery has kept out of these industries a number of workers who in the ordinary condition of affairs would have been required to assist in turning out the increased supply. The recent increase of population has been shut out of the staple industries. They are not therefore compelled to be idle. Employment for these has been found chiefly in satisfying new wants. But industries engaged in supplying new wants, i.e. new comforts or new luxuries, are obviously less steady than those engaged in supplying the prime necessaries of ordinary life.
Thus while it may be true that the ultimate effect of the introduction of machinery is not to diminish the demand for labour, it would seem to operate in driving a larger and larger proportion of labour to find employment in those industries which from their nature furnish a less steady employment. Again, though the demand for labour may in the long run always keep pace with the growth of machinery, it is obvious that the workers whose skill loses its value by the introduction of machinery must always be injured. The process of displacement in particular trades has been responsible for a large amount of actual hardship and suffering among the working-classes.
It is little comfort to the hand-worker, driven out to seek unskilled labour by the competition of new machinery, that the world will be a gainer in the long run. "The short run, if the expression may be used, is often quite long enough to make the difference between a happy and a miserable life." Philosophers may reckon this evil as a part of the inevitable price of progress, but it is none the less deplorable for that. Society as a whole gains largely by each step; a small number of those who can least afford to lose, are the only losers.
The following quotation from an address given at the Industrial Remuneration Congress in 1886, puts the case with admirable clearness—"The citizens of England are too intelligent to contend against such cheapening of production, as they know the result has been beneficial to mankind; but many of them think it is a hardship and injustice which deserves more attention that those whose skilled labour is often superseded by machinery, should have to bear all the loss and poverty through their means to earn a living being taken away from them. If there is a real vested interest in existence which entitles to compensation in some form when it is interfered with, it is that of a skilled producer in his trade; for that skill has not only given him a living, but has added to the wealth and prosperity of the community." The quantity of labour displaced by machinery and seeking new employment, forms a large section of the margin of unemployed, and will form an important factor in the problem of poverty.
Sec. 4. Effect of Machinery upon the Character of Labour. Next, what is the general effect of machinery upon the character of the work done? The economic gain attending all division of labour is of course based on the improved quality and quantity of work obtained by confining each worker to a narrow range of activity. If no great inventions in machinery took place, we might therefore expect a constant narrowing of the activity of each worker, which would make his work constantly more simple, and more monotonous, and himself more and more dependent on the regular co- operation of an increasing number of other persons over whom he had no direct control. Without the growth of modern machinery, mere subdivision of labour would constantly make for the slavery and the intellectual degradation of labour. Independently of the mighty and ever-new applications of mechanical forces, this process of subdivision or specialization would take place, though at a slower pace. How far does machinery degrade, demoralize, dementalize the worker?
The constantly growing specialization of machinery is the most striking industrial phenomenon of modern times. Since the worker is more and more the attendant of machinery, does not this mean a corresponding specialization of the worker? It would seem so at first sight, yet if we look closer it becomes less obvious. So far as mere manual activity is concerned, it seems probable that the general effect of machinery has been both to narrow the range of that activity, and to take over that dexterity which consisted in the incessant repetition of a single uniform process. Very delicately specialized manipulation is precisely the work it pays best to do by machinery, so that, as Professor Marshall says, "machinery can make uniform actions more accurately and effectively than man can; and most of the work which was done by those who were specially skilful with the fingers a few generations ago, is now done by machinery." He illustrates from the wood and metal industries, where the process is constantly going on.
"The chief difficulty to be overcome is that of getting the machinery to hold the material firmly in exactly the position in which the machine- tool can be brought to bear on it in the right way, and without wasting meanwhile too much time in taking grip of it. But this can generally be contrived when it is worth while to spend some labour and expense on it; and then the whole operations can often be controlled by a worker, who, sitting before the machine, takes with the left hand a piece of wood or metal from a heap, and puts it in a socket, while with the right he draws down a lever, or in some other way sets the machine-tool at work, and finally with his left hand throws on to another heap the material which has been cut, or punched, or drilled, or planed exactly after a given pattern."
Professor Marshall summarizes the tendency in the following words—"We are thus led to a general rule, the action of which is more prominent in some branches of manufacture than others, but which applies to all. It is, that any manufacturing operation that can be reduced to uniformity, so that the same thing has to be done over and over again in the same way, is sure to be taken over sooner or later by machinery. There may be delays and difficulties; but if the work to be done by it is on a sufficient scale, money and inventive power will be spent without stint on the task till it is achieved. There still remains the responsibility for seeing that the machinery is in good order and working smoothly; but even this task is often made light of by the introduction of an automatic movement which brings the machine to a stop the instant anything goes wrong."
Since the economy of production constantly induces machinery to take over all work capable of being reduced to routine, it would seem to follow by a logical necessity that the work left for the human worker was that which was less capable of being subjected to close uniformity; that is work requiring discretion and intelligence to be applied to each separate action. Although the process described by Professor Marshall assigns a constantly diminishing proportion of each productive work to the effort of man, of that portion which remains for him to do a constantly increasing proportion will be work of judgment and specific calculation applied to particular cases. And this is the conclusion which Professor Marshall himself asserts—
"Since machinery does not encroach much upon that manual work which requires judgment, while the management of machinery does require judgment, there is a much greater demand now than formerly for intelligence and resource. Those qualities which enable men to decide rightly and quickly in new and difficult cases, are the common property of the better class of workmen in almost every trade, and a person who has acquired them in one trade can easily transfer them to another."
If this is true, it signifies that the formal specialization of the worker, which comes from his attendance on a more and more specialized piece of machinery, does not really narrow and degrade his industrial life, but supplies a certain education of the judgment and intelligence which has a general value that more than compensates the apparent specialization of manual functions. The very fact that the worker's services are still required is a proof that his work is less automatic (i.e. more intelligent) than that of the most delicate machinery in use; and since the work which requires less intelligence is continually being taken over by machinery, the work which remains would seem to require a constantly higher average of intelligence. It is, of course, true that there are certain kinds of work which can never be done by machinery, because they require a little care and a little judgment, while that care and judgment is so slight as to supply no real food for thought, or education for the judgment. No doubt a good deal of the less responsible work connected with machinery is of this order. Moreover, there are certain other influences to be taken into account which affect the net resuit of the growth of machinery upon the condition of the workers. The physical and moral evils connected with the close confinement of large bodies of workers, especially in the case of young persons, within the narrow unwholesome limits of the factory or mill, though considerably mitigated by the operation of factory legislation, are still no light offset against the advantages which have been mentioned. The weakly, ill-formed bodies, the unhealthy lives lived by the factory-workers in our great manufacturing centres are facts which have an intimate connection with the growth of machinery. But though our agricultural population, in spite of their poverty and hard work, live longer and enjoy better physical health than our town-workers, there are few who would deny that the town-workers are both better educated and more intelligent. This intelligence must in a large measure be attributed to the influences of machinery, and of those social conditions which machinery has assisted to establish. This intelligence must be reckoned as an adequate offset against the formal specialization of machine- labour, and must be regarded as an emancipative influence, giving to its possessor a larger choice in the forms of employment. So far as a man's labour-power consists in the mere knowledge how to tend a particular piece of machinery he may appear to be more "enslaved" with each specialization of machinery; but so far as his labour-power consists in the practice of discretion and intelligence, these are qualities which render him more free.
Moreover, as regards the specialization of machinery, there is one point to be noticed which modifies to some considerable extent the effects of subdivision upon labour. On the one hand, the tendency to split up the manufacture of a commodity into several distinct branches, often undertaken in different localities and with wholly different machinery, prevents the skilled worker in one branch from passing into another, and thus limits his practical freedom as an industrial worker. On the other hand, this has its compensating advantage in the tendency of different trades to adopt analogous kinds of machinery and similar processes. Thus, while a machinist engaged in a screw manufactory is so specialized that he cannot easily pass from one process to another process in the screw trade, he will find himself able to obtain employment in other hardware manufactures which employ the same or similar processes.
Sec. 5. Are all Men equal before the Machine?—It is sometimes said that "all men become equal before the machine." This is only true in the sense that there are certain large classes of machine-work which require in the worker such attention, care, endurance, and skill as are within the power of most persons possessed of ordinary capacities of mind and body. In such forms of machine-work it is sometimes possible for women and children to compete with men, and even to take their places by their ability to offer their work at a cheaper price. The effect of machinery development in thus throwing on the labour-market a large quantity of women and children competitors is one of those serious questions which will occupy our attention in a later chapter. It is here sufficient to remember that it was this effect which led to a general recognition of the fact that machinery and the factory system could not be trusted to an unfettered system of laissez faire. The Factory Acts, and the whole body of legislative enactments, interfering with "freedom of contract" between employer and employed, resulted from the fact that machinery enabled women and children to be employed in many branches of productive work from which their physical weakness precluded them before.
Sec. 6. Summary of Effects of Machinery on the Condition of the Poor.—To sum up with any degree of precision the net advantages and disadvantages of the growth of machinery upon the working classes is impossible. If we look not merely at the growth of money incomes, but at the character of those products which have been most cheapened by the introduction of machinery, we shall incline to the opinion that the net gain in wealth- producing power due to machinery has not been equally shared by all classes in the community.
The capitalist classes, so far as they can be properly severed from the rest of the community, have gained most, as was inevitable in a change which increased the part played by capital in production. A short-timed monopoly of the abnormal profits of each new invention, and an enormous expansion of the field of investment for capital must be set against the gradual fall in the interest paid for the use of each piece of capital. But as the advantage of each new invention has by the competition of machinery-owners been passed on to the consumer, all other classes of the community have gained in proportion to their consumption of machinery-produced commodities. As machinery plays a smaller part in the production of necessaries of life than in the production of comforts and luxuries, it will be evident that each class gain as consumers in proportion to its income. The poorest classes, whose consumption of machine-productions is smallest, gain least. It cannot, however, be said, that there is any class of regular workers who, as consumers, have been injured by machinery. All have gained. The skilled workmen, the aristocracy of labour, have, as has been shown, gained very considerably. Even the poor classes of regular unskilled workmen have raised their standard of comfort.
It is in its bearing on the industrial condition of the very poor, and those who are unable to get regular work at decent wages, that the influence of machinery is most questionable. Violent trade fluctuations, and a continuous displacement of hand-labour by new mechanical inventions, keep in perpetual existence a large margin of unemployed or half-employed, who form the most hopeless and degraded section of the city poor, and furnish a body of reckless, starving competitors for work, who keep down the standard of wages and of life for the lower grades of regular workers affected by this competition.
The Influx of Population into Large Towns.
Sec. 1. Movements of Population between City and Country. The growth of large cities is so closely related to the problems of poverty as to deserve a separate treatment. The movements of population form a group of facts more open than most others to precise measurement, and from them much light is thrown on the condition of the working classes. That the towns are growing at the expense of the country, is a commonplace to which we ought to seek to attach a more definite meaning.
We may trace the inflow of country-born people into the towns by looking either at the statistics of towns, or of rural districts. But first we ought to bear in mind one fact. Quite apart from any change in proportion of population, there is an enormous interchange constantly taking place between adjoining counties and districts. The general fluidity of population has been of course vastly increased by new facilities of communication and migration; persons are less and less bound down to the village or county in which they were born. So we find that in England and Wales, only 739 out of each 1000 persons were living in their native county in 1901. In some London districts it is reckoned that more than one quarter of the inhabitants change their address each year. So that when we are told that in seven large Scotch towns only 524 out of each 1000 are natives, and that in Middlesex only 35 per cent. of the male adult population are Middlesex by birth, we are not thereby enabled to form any conclusion as to the growth of towns.
To arrive at any useful result we must compare the inflow with the outflow. Most of the valuable information we possess on this point applies directly to London but the same forces which are operating in London, will be found to be at work with more or less intensity in other centres of population in proportion to their size. Comparing the inflow of London with its outflow, we find that in 1881 nearly twice as many strangers were living in London as Londoners were living outside; in other words, that London was gaining from the country at the rate of more than 10,000 per annum. So far as London itself is concerned, the last two censuses show a cessation of the flow, but the enormous growth of Middlesex outside the metropolitan boundaries indicates a continuance of the centripetal tendency.
Now what does London do with this increase? Is it spread evenly over the surface of the great city?
Certainly not. And here we reach a point which has a great significance for those interested in East London. It is clearly shown that none of this gain goes to swell the numbers of East London. Many individual strangers of course go there, but the outflow from East London towards the suburban parts more than compensates the inflow. By comparing the population of East London in 1901 with that in 1881, it is found that the increase is far less than it ought to be, if we add the excess of births over deaths. How is this? The answer is not far to seek, and stamps with fatal significance one aspect of Poverty, namely, overcrowding. East London does not gain so fast as other parts, because it will not hold any more people. It has reached what is termed "saturation point." Introduce strangers, and they can only stay on condition that they push out, and take the place of, earlier residents.
So we find in all districts of large towns, where poverty lies thickest, the inflow is less than the outflow. The great stream of incomers goes to swell the population of parts not hitherto overcrowded, thus ever increasing the area of dense city population. Districts like Bethnal Green and Mile End are found to show the smallest increase, while outlying districts like West Ham grow at a prodigious pace.
Sec. 2. Rate of Migration from Rural Districts.—But perhaps the most instructive point of view from which to regard the absorption of country population by the towns is not from inside but from outside.
Confining our attention for the present to migration from the country to the town, and leaving the foreign immigration for separate treatment, we find that the large majority of incomers to London are from agricultural counties, such as Kent, Bucks, Herts, Devon, Lincoln, and not from counties with large manufacturing centres of their own, like Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cheshire. The great manufacturing counties contribute very slightly to the growth of London. While twelve representative agricultural counties furnished sixteen per 1000 of the population of London in 1881, twelve representative manufacturing counties supplied no more than two-and-a-half per 1000.
Respecting the rate of the decline of agricultural population exaggerated statements are often made. If we take the inhabitants of rural sanitary districts, and of urban districts below 10,000 as the rural population, we shall find that between 1891 and 1901 the growth in the rural districts is 5.3 per cent. as compared with 15.8 per cent. for the centres of population. Even if the urban standard be placed at a lower point, 5000, there is still an increase of 3.5 per cent. in the rural population. If, however, we eliminate the "home" counties and other rural districts round the large centres of population, largely used for residential purposes, and turn to agricultural England, we shall find that it shows a positive decline in rural population. In the period 1891-1901 no fewer than 18 English and Welsh counties show a decrease of rural inhabitants, taking the higher limit of urban population. This has been going on with increasing rapidity during the last forty years. Whereas, in 1861, 37.7 per cent. of the population were living in the country, in 1901 the proportion has sunk to 23 per cent.