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The Laws of Population and Wages. [July, though population naturally increases much faster than food, food actually increases much faster than population.
But how does it appear that this desire of bettering our condition, and the moral restraint which it produces, actually increase with the progress of society? Mr. Senior argues the point in this way.
*As wealth increases, what were the luxuries of one genera-tion become the decencies of their successors. Not only a taste for additional comfort and convenience, but a feeling of degradation in their absence, becomes more and more widely diffused.'
That is, more persons will rather dine alone on champagne and chickens, than share their roast beef and pudding with a wife and family. Without stopping to inquire how far such a preference would evince a correct notion of the true sources of happiness, we must remark, that the argument of Mr. Senior appears to us to be unsound. Independently of other objections that might be made to it, it evidently assumes the point to be proved. He wishes to show, that in the progress of society, the means of subsistence regularly increase faster than the population; and begins by assuming that in the progress of society wealth increases. Now the precise meaning of an increase of wealth is an increase of the means of subsistence relatively to the population ; so that, in making this assumption, he falls into the common error of taking for granted the question in dispute. But this is not all. After taking for granted, without proof, the point he wishes to prove, Mr. Senior, in the next following sentence, attempts to establish it on grounds inconsistent with those he had gone upon before, although, in our opinion, much more tenable. He has, in fact, in this passage, hit upon a principle, which, if he had been aware of its importance, and followed it out into its consequences, would have rectified his theory on the whole subject. The sentence immediately succeeding the one last quoted, is as follows.
The increase, in many respects, in the productive power of labor, which naturally takes place in the progress of society, must enable increased comforts to be enjoyed by increased numbers, and as it is the more beneficial, so it appears to me to be the more natural course of events, that increased comfort should not only accompany but rather precede increase of number.'
In this passage, the increase of the means of subsistence relatively to population, or, in other words, the increase of
wealth, which was just before attributed to an increased prevalence of the so-called moral restraint of Mr. Malthus, is now attributed to an increase in the productive power of labor. This statement of two opposite theories in two successive sentences, without any apparent feeling of their inconsistency, shows that Mr. Senior had not taken a clear and comprehensive view of his subject. Of the two theories, the latter is undoubtedly the true one. It is substantially the same with the one which we have stated above as an indirect answer to Maltbus; namely, that the increase of population naturally leads to a division of labor, and consequently to an increase in its productive powers. Mr. Senior sees the fact, though he has not seen the importance of it, or felt its inconsistency with his own general system. It is much to be regretted, that, having thus accidentally fallen upon the great truth which really governs the whole subject, the learned Professor should have been so little conscious of its value, that he has turned it to no account, and, in fact, never alluded to it, excepting in this single sentence. Had he given it due weight, it would, as we have remarked, have revolutionized his whole book.
Such, however, is the mode in which our author endeavors to reconcile the premnises of Malthus with facts directly contradictory to his conclusions. In supposing, as Mr. Senior does, that the increasing prevalence of moral restraint counteracts the supposed tendency of population to increase more rapidly than food, so as to prevent it from pressing against the means of subsistence, he is wholly at variance with Maltbus, as will be recollected at once by all who are familiar with the Essay on Population. It is constantly maintained throughout that work, that, although there may, in the progress of society, be some little increase in the influence of moral restraint, which will palliate in a slight degree the tremendous evils, that are supposed to result from the law of population, yet, that in the main, the principles of human nature will remain as they have always been; and that the evils in question are, under some slight variation of form and extent, necessary and perpetual. This, we say, is the view of Malthus. Mr. Senior, as we have seen, has adopted a different one, and believes that as society advances, a constantly increasing moral restraint overcomes the power of population, and prevents it from exercising its naturally disastrous influence. Notwithstanding this essential difference between their respective theories, Mr. Senior, who
VOL. XXXIII.—NO. 72. 2
has a talent for reconciling inconsistencies, seems to have satisfied himself that they are perfectly agreed, and has undertaken to convince Mr. Malthus that such is the fact. A correspondence, which has taken place between them on this point, is published as an appendix to the Lectures, and, for such as feel an interest in the subject, forms a very amusing chapter of literary history. We would willingly, if we had it in our power, copy the whole of these letters, but our limits will only allow a short notice of their contents. In the first, Mr. Senior politely addresses his Lectures to Mr. Malthus, and informs him that he at one time supposed that there was a great difference of opinion between them, but that, on further examination, he has ascertained that this difference is comparatively trifling, and in a great measure verbal. Mr. Malthus, in his answer, acknowledges the kind intentions of Mr. Senior in attempting to reconcile the difference between them, and then proceeds to point out, distinctly and forcibly, the nature of this difference, as described above. In a second letter, written in reply to this, Mr. Senior admits that the difference is somewhat greater than he had supposed it to be, and professes his intention to make it smaller, which he proceeds to do, by giving up substantially the whole of his own ground. After stating in his Lectures, that it is the natural course of events, that increased comfort should not only accompany, but precede increase of numbers, and that there is a 'natural tendency in subsistence to increase in a greater ratio than population,' he now, in the first place, denies that he has asserted any thing like a universal increase of the proportion of subsistence to population, affirming that he only meant, that the cases in which food has increased in a greater ratio than population, are more numerous than those in which the reverse has occurred; and at length freely admits, that in all old countries, perhaps in all countries whatever, population is always pressing against food.' Mr. Senior having thus given up the whole ground in dispute, Mr. Malthus very naturally informs him, in reply, that, according to the view taken of the subject in his last letter, there is in fact no essential difference between them; after which Mr. Senior winds up the correspondence by a concluding epistle, in which he remarks, with much apparent satisfaction, that our controversy has terminated, as I believe few controversies ever terminated before, in mutual agreement.' He does not seem to recollect, that when one of
the parties gives up his point, and adopts the opinion of his adversary, it is difficult for any controversy to terminate in any
On the whole, we cannot consider the work of Mr. Senior as particularly honorable either to himself or to the ancient and venerable literary institution, under the sanction of which it is ushered into the world. On this very interesting question he gives us a meagre and scanty disquisition, which, though announced and published as Two Lectures, would not occupy in delivery more than one hour. The greater part of it is a mere repetition of the leading doctrines of Malthus, including extensive citations from the works of his disciples; and the few observations, in which Mr. Senior proposes opinions of his own, are, as we have seen, substantially abandoned in the correspondence at the close. His book is, therefore, a republication, in an abridged and very inferior form, of a previously well known system, and makes no important addition to the stock of facts, theories, or established principles already in possession of the public.
The Three Lectures on the Rate of Wages are not much more satisfactory than the two on Population. These subjects are, as our readers are aware, intimately connected. The theory on the rate of wages, now generally received among the British economists, is a necessary deduction from the theory of Malthus on Population ; and as Mr. Senior substantially acquiesces in the latter, we should naturally expect, that in this part of his work, he would have made a new statement of the former. But he has not even done as much as this; and we are really surprised, that a person of education and apparent good sense, should have supposed that he was doing even formal justice to this branch of the inquiry in the very few observations, which are here made upon it. The only passage in the Three Lectures, which treats directly of the principles that regulate the rate of wages,-the most important branch, as Mr. Senior himself declares, of political economy,—is the following at the beginning of the second Lecture.
'The question to be answered is, what are the causes which decide what in any given country, and at any given period, shall be the quantity and quality of the commodities obtained by a laboring family during the year?'
We may remark here, that the question is incorrectly stated. The object is not to ascertain what in any given country and at any given time, shall be the quality and the quantity of the commodities obtained by a laboring family during the year. It is not, for example, the object to ascertain what shall be the quantity and the quality of the commodities obtained by a laboring family during the present year, on the island of Nantucket. This may depend upon the success or failure of the whaling expeditions of the preceding year, or various other circumstances of an accidental character. The real question is, what are the principles which, operating at all times and in all countries, excepting so far as their operation is disturbed by accidental causes, determine the quantity and quality of the commodities which are received in compensation for labor ? So much for the question ; let us now see Mr. Senior's answer.
'The principal cause appears to me to be clear. The quantity and quality of the commodities obtained by each laboring family during a year, must depend on the quantity and quality of the commodities directly or indirectly appropriated during the year to the use of the laboring population, compared with the number of laboring families (including under that term all those who depend on their own labor for subsistence), or, to speak more concisely, on the fund for the maintenance of labor, compared with the number of laborers to be maintained. This proposition is nearly self-evident.'
We cheerfully concede to Mr. Senior, that this proposition is not only nearly, but quite self-evident. There cannot be a reasonable doubt, that the amount of wages, received by each individual of the laboring class, is equal to the amount received by the whole class, divided by the number of individuals. In like manner, it is quite apparent, that the amount of wages received by the whole class, is equal to the aggregate of the quantities respectively received by all the individuals. But we would venture to ask the Oxford Professor, what light either of these arithmetical truisms throws upon the principles which regulate the rate of wages? If a person were to inquire of Mr. Senior, at what rate he was paid by his pupils for the privilege of attending his Lectures on Political Economy, and he should answer, that the amount which he received from each pupil was equal to the amount received from the whole class, divided by the number of individuals; and that, on the other hand, the amount received from the whole class was equal to the amount received from each pupil, multiplied by this num