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care of the sick, the lame, the wounded, and the insane poor, for lying-in women, and deserted children. They are also continually contributing towards making up losses occasioned by fire, by storms, or by floods; and to relieve the poor in severe seasons of frost, in times of scarcity, &c. in which benevolent and charitable contributions no nation exceeds us. Surely there is some gratitnde due for so many instances of goodness.
Add to this, all the laws made to discourage foreign manufactures, by laying heavy duties on them, or totally prohibiting them; whereby the rich are obliged to pay much higher prices for what they wear and consume than if the trade was open. These are so many laws for the support of our labouring poor, made by the rich, and continued at their expense: all the difference of price between our own and foreign commodities, being so much given by our rich to our poor; who would indeed be enabled by it to get by degrees above poverty, if they did not, as too generally they do, consider every increase of wages only as something that enables them to drink more and work less; so that their distress in sickness, age, or times of scarcity, continues to be the same as if such laws had never been made in their favour.
Much malignant censure have some writers bestowed upon the rich for their luxury and expensive living, while the poor are starving, &c. not considering that what the rich expend, the labouring poor receive in payment for their labour. It may seem a paradox if I should assert that our labouring poor do, in every year, receive the whole re
venue of the nation; I mean not only the public revenue, but also the revenue or clear income of all private estates, or a sum equivalent to the whole. In support of this position, I reason thus: The rich do not work for one another; their habitations, furniture, clothing, carriages, food, ornaments, and every thing, in short, that they or their families use and consume, is the work or produce of the labouring poor, who are and must be continually paid for their labour in producing the same. In these payments the revenues of private estates are expended; for most people live up to their incomes. In clothing or provision for troops, in arms, ammunition, ships, tents, carriages, &c. &c. (every particular the produce of labour), much of the public revenue is expended. The pay of officers, civil and military, and of the private soldiers and sailors, requires the rest; and they spend that also in paying for what is produced by the labouring poor. I allow that some estates may increase by the owners spending less than their income; but then I conceive that other estates do at the same time diminish, by the owners spending more than their incomes; so that when the euriched want to bny more land, they easily find lands in the hands of the impoverished, whose necessities oblige them to sell; and thus this difference is equalled. I allow also that part of the expense of the rich is in foreign produce or manufactures, for producing which the labouring poor of other nations must be paid: but then I say, we must first pay our own labouring poor for an equal quantity of our manufactures or produce, to exchange for those foreign
productions, or we must pay for them in money, which money not being a natural produce to our country, must first be purchased from abroad, by sending out its value in the produce or manufactures of this country, for which manufactures our labouring poor are to be paid. And indeed if we did not export more than we import, we could have no money at all. I allow farther, that there are middle men, who make a profit, and even get estates, by purchasing the labour of the poor, and selling it at advanced prices to the rich; but then they cannot enjoy that profit, or the incomes of estates, but by spending them in employing and paying our labouring poor, in some shape or other, for the products of industry. Even beggars, pensioners, hospitals, &c. all that are supported by charity, spend their incomes in the same manner. So that finally, as I said at first, our labouring poor receive annually the whole of the clear revenues of the nation, and from us they can have no more.
If it be said that their wages are too low, and that they ought to be better paid for their labour, I heartily wish that any means could be fallen upon to do it consistent with their interest and happiness; but as the cheapness of other things is owing to the plenty of those things, so the cheapness of labour is in most cases owing to the multitnde of labourers, and to their underworking one another in order to obtain employment. How is this to be remedied? A law might be made to raise their wages; but if our manufactures are too dear, they will not vend abroad, and all that part of employ
ment will fail, unless, by fighting and conquering, we compel other nations to buy our goods whether they will or no, which some have been mad enough at times to propose. Among ourselves, unless we give our working people less employment, how can we for what they do pay them higher than we do? Out of what fund is the additional price of labour to be paid, when all our present incomes are, as it were, mortgaged to them? Should they get higher wages, would tnat make them less poor, if in consequence they worked fewer days of the week proportionally? I have said a law might be made to raise their wages; but I doubt much whether it could be executed to any purpose, unless another law, now indeed almost obsolete, could at the same time be revived and enforced: a law, I mean, that many have often heard and repeated, but few have ever duly considered—six days shall thou labour. This is as positive a part of the commandment as that which says, the seventh day thou shall rest < but we remember well to observe the indulgent part, and never think of the other. Saint Monday is generally as duly kept by our working people as Sunday; the only difference is, that instead of employing it cheaply at church, they are wasting it expensively at the alehouse.
I am, sir, yours, &c.
ON LUXURY, IDLENESS, AND INDUSTRY.
To Benjamin Vaughan, Esq.
Written anno 1781.
It is wonderful how preposterously the affairs of this world are managed. Naturally one would imagine, that the interest of a few individuals should give way to general interest; but individuals ma nage their affairs with so much more application, industry, and address than the public do theirs, that general interest most commonly gives way to particular. We assemble parliaments and councils, to have the benefit of their collected wisdom ; but we necessarily have, at the same time, the inconvenience of their collected passions, prejndices, and private interests. By the help of these, artful men overpower their wisdom, and dupe its possessors: and if we may jndge by the acts, arrets, and edicts, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an assembly of great men is the greatest fool upon earth.
I have not yet, indeed, thought of a remedy for luxury. I am not sure that in a great state it is capable of a remedy, nor that the evil is in itself always so great as it is represented. Suppose we inclnde in the definition of luxury all unnecessary expense, and then let us consider, whether laws to prevent such expense are possible to be executed in a great country, and whether, if they could be executed, our people generally would be happier, or even richer. Is not the hope of being one day able to purchase and enjoy luxuries a great spur to la