TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE STATE OF THE COUNTRY, ECONOMICAL AND POLITICAL.
ON several occasions during the last twelvemonth, we have indi- cated the approach of a period of severe economical distress. Exactly when the evil would arrive, nobody could venture to pre- dict with confidence; but that it was inevitable sooner or later, seemed plain to the few who troubled themselves to ascertain the causes of the prosperity, which, with the vulgar high amid low, was only matter of rejoicing and boast. Those causes were in some measure of an accidental, and altogether of a temporary nature; such as great improvements of agriculture, and unusually fine seasons. During the last three or four years, a great deal more than the common quantity of food has been consumed: a great deal more food, therefore, must have been produced. This was the basis of the prosperity. The quantity of food above what maintained the producers—the surplus portion of food—the por- tion which maintains, as Dr. CHALMERS expresses it, " the dis- posable population," that is, all who are not engaged in rais- ing food—the means, the foundation, the very principle of non- agricultural industry—was augmented: and the effect was the same as it' the quantity of British land, or the natural fertility of the land which constitutes Britain, had been miraculously increased. With a given capital and population not agricul- tural, the field of employment for non-agricultural capital and labour (meaning surplus food) was greatly enlarged. Hence arose a new demand for non-agricultural works, for foreign productions, for home manufactures, for all those countless objects which, whether obtained from abroad or produced at home, result from and are in proportion to the surplus of domestic food above what maintains the producers of food. But this new demand for non-agricultural products—this new power of pur- chase as to ,,hjects resulting from the employment of non-agri- cultural capital and labour — could scarcely have had effect without a e :rresponding enlargement of the medium of ex- change. In order that there should be more transactions without increasing the value of money, there must, of course, be more money. When a series of fine harvests, or some other means of augmenting the national wealth, takes place in France, the possible effect s'. ems to be lost for want of a currency susceptible of being enlarged so as to allow of more transactions. In the United States, on the contrary, whenever the field of employment for non-agricultural capital and labour is enlarged by the cultiva- tion of new land, the new base of national wealth is maintained by a new quantity of money sufficient for couducting a new amount of transactions. lo England, from 1832 down to the close of last year, there has been no want of money for conducting an in- creasing amount of transactions. The Bank of England and the Joint Stock Banks have probably issued, as often happens in the United States, a greater increase of money than was called for by an enlargement of the field of employment for non-agricultural capital and labour. We speak here, not of an excess, but of a sufficiency of money for new purposes. At one time, indeed, it appears almost certain that the amount of money was not too much increased : we allude to the beginning and middle of the late period lit' prosperity, when the most cautious of practical men and the soberest of economists were equally of opinion that money was not in excess—that the new demand for works arid goods was " rear—that the prosperity was not fictitious or apparent, but " solid." And truly solid have beeu its results; for who can doubt that the new quantity of surplus food, circulated by a new amount of money, has been beneficially employed in the repro- duction of national wealth,—in augmenting the amount of en- joyment amongst the people, the amount of the national capital, and even the amount of the population itself? But the cause of these results—the prosperity out of %% hich they have arisen— could not Nat for ever. The harvest of last year was indifferent, not to say bad ; and since it appears to be in the nature of agricul- tural improvement to take place, not gradually aad progres- sively without a check, but by fits and starts, or great leaps, there is no ground for hoping that the recent proportion will be maintained between non-agricultural capital and labdur on the one hand, and the field for their employment on the other. Nay, a new, or rather the old proportion, seems to have occurred already. It is all a question of proportion. The non-agricultural capital and labour—the wealth and population of this country_ were never so great as at present • ) et the field for their employ- ment may be even less in proportion than during sonic long periods of distress which occurred between 1813 and 1832. Ab- solute quantities may be put rait of this inquiry : the relative quantities are all in all. It matters not whether the food- pre- clueing power of the country have int:leased, but whether it be increasing ; not whether it be now greater than ever, but whether it be likely to go on increasing, or to be stationary for some time. Nay, supposhig a continual increase both of non-agricultural capital and labour, and of the field for their employ merit, that is, of surplus food ; yet it' those elements of produmion and wealth should increase at different rates—if the field of employment, al- though continually increasing, should not increase as fast as the capital awl labour, there would still be what is commonly called distress : the very cause of the distress, indeed, would be the too rapid augmentation of capital and labour—too rapid, that is, in proportion to the increase of the field for their employment. Such,
we very much fear. is the present ease. The recent stimulus to class. The discretionary powers of the Commissioners, too an.
the increase of capital and populntion may have caused those elements of wealth to bear at present a greater proportion to the field of employment, than before the late prosperity ; just as the I call for more money may have led to a greater increase of money I than was wanted. If so, the immediate prospect is terrible. For, just ae in the case of the money. not ouly must affairs be shaken or convulsed, as it were, out.of that state which belongs to a progiessive increase in the proportion which the field of eta- ploy ruent bears to capital and labour—when wages and profits, both together, are naturally high — into that state when all the elements of production are either stationary or increas- ing at the same rate, and when wages and profits, qwing to the general tende'ney of capital and population to outgrow the field of employment, are naturally low; but also, what is far worse, a more than common excess (not amount, but excess) of capital and labour must, somehow or other, he wasted or destroyed, until that economical proportion take place, which gives profits, though low, to all capitalists, and wages, though low, to all la- bourers. During this process of waste or destruction, much capital is invested, not only without profit, but with loss; and many labourers are quite without employment: it is indeed by the losses of capitalists and the sufferings of the labouring class, that the necessary destruction of capital and population is brought about.* We have bad such scenes before in England, but never on so great a scale as that which now presents itself to the view of the calm and unshrinking inquirer ;—banks breaking (for the crash always begins in the money- market); great mercantile houses stopping, to pay a few shillings in the pound ; a swarm of enenor firms obliterated, as one may say, by the fall of the great partnerships which had sustained them; new undertakings stopped or abandoned; every man in almost every rank avoiding all but necessary expenditure; orders for goods withheld or coun- termanded ; a glut of shipping ; cotton and woollen mills shut up; iron-furnaces " blown out O' capitalists of every class and order either ruined or harassed by the most wretched anxiety ; and the great bulk of the people—the labouring class—some not employed at all, but living or starving on the poor-rate or charity, others employed at starvation wages, and all of them in a state of violent political irritation ; in one word, general distress, with all its fearful consequences. Such, we are painfully compelled to be- lieve, is the approaching condition of English political economy and politics.
The political part of the subject is the most interesting; on account perhaps of its novelty, as well as its greater urgency and Importance. We all know what is likely to be the sum total of economical evil resulting from a great commercial convulsion; we also know what have been the political consequences of past periods of economical suffering; but none of us can tell what political effects will arise from such a cause in the year 1837. Careful observation of facts at the time, has left on our mind a fir in persuasion, that that most pregnant political change, the Reform Bill, was the immediate product of economical distress. As those facts have often been cited in the Spectator, we need not repeat them again. Let us rather point out the new circumstances under which distress will operate politically henceforth.
The Reform Bill is part of the constitution, and cannot be altered without the consent of the People: it will never bealtered, therefore, so as to make the constitution more aristocratic or less democratic. There it is, unchangeable save in a democratic direc- tion; and it was obtained, as men of all parties admitted at the time, some publicly and others in private, by the attitude of that portion of the Teeple which constitutes the physical force. If any one imagine that those who compose the physical force have for- gotten this, he is miserably deceived. They know it, and will
never forget it. But they have been forgotten by those for whose benefit they then exerted them-elves: all the merit of the work-
ing classes has been forgotten by the middle class—their willing- ness to unite with the middle class against the Tory aristocracy, their patience and forbearance, their sacrifices of time and money, (enormous sacrifices to them who have so little of either to spare,) their steadiness and resolittion throughout that wearisome struggle by which " the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing
but the Bill "—the new constitution of the middle class—was
torn from the Lords. All title has been forgotten by the middle- class Members of Parliament, or remembered only with a sort of shame at the existence of their debt to the working classes.
Moreover, no part of the price, which was promised to the working classes for their exertions in carrying the Reform Bill, has been paid. It is true that the high wages, which were promised to them as a sure result of the Reform Bill, have actually come to pass. But by what means ?—through accidental circumstances,
for which the working classes owe no thanks to those on whom the Reform Bill bestowed political power. Has the Reformed Parliatnent taken advantage of the I rosperity to legislate against the recurrence of distress? Certainly not ; for, with the exception of the new Poorlaw, it would be hard to cite a single measure of the Reformed Parliament which tends to a better stare of poli- tical economy. And even that measure was supported (especially by Lord Been:on AM. when he told the Lords to look to their rents) on grounds—and by most of its Parliamemary supporters with objects—wholly foreign to the advantage of any but the landlord • To dime who wish to learn the eireurn•tances under which both capital and population are neee.satilv wasted or de.tre■ IA, we would recommend the study of CI' A I. M itg.tdpleS of Pailied Economy, and WA K E FIELD'S Ensland and An,trica.
pear to have been exerted without much discretion ; as if those officers were of opinion that the prosperity which has enubled them to carry the law strictly and hastily into effect, bad caused by the strict and hasty execution of the law, mistake winch they will discover when the prosperity has been quite superseded by (histress): so that the new law, meeting with an unexpected state of distress, will appear to have been passed with harsh and cruel intentions towards the poor. What other act of the Reformed Parliament has, either in tendency or purpose, been in accordance with the assurances solemnly made to the working classes, that they had the deepest interest in carrying the Reform Bill? Their interests are of a physical or ecenotnical nsture—not political at present, except as political economy depends on legislation; and these have been _almost entirely
neglected under the new constitution. It follows that the work'_ me classes, beginning to feel once more the pressure of distress, are in a state of angry political discontent, similar to that which moved them to sedition, not to say rebellion, in 1830.
The existence of mere distress, however severe it maybe dieing the convulsion by which the elements of wealth shall be shaken into their ordinary proportion to each other, is nothing new. N.
litical discontent, arisiug from distress, is an old story, the story of the Reform Bill. The novelty in our coming or present poli- tics, consists of these two points,—first, that the Reform Bill struggle has taught the masses to estimate their own streneth; and secondly, that they are not Reformers as before, trusting for
a better state of ecenomy to the promises or their supetiers in station, but Revolutionists, desiring changes that would rend so- ciety to shreds, and uproar the universal peace. Irritated by the most bitter disappointment, and, let us add, by the very impolitic and culpable neglect of their economical interests by a succession of Reform Governments and Parliaments, they so ler aeree with Lord STORMONT as to "hate the very name of Reform." They talk sedition, say the Globe and the John BO, when quoting rer- tain speeches at a recent meeting of the " Werking Men's Asso- ciation." It is not sedition which they talk or contempliee—revo- 'mien, not merely a sudden and violent political change, but a thorough social revolution, is their plainly-avowed object. Our Whig and Tory contemporaries will see that more than two caa play at frightening. But we write in sober sadness. The spirit of the working classes, we seriously believe, is as bad as possible. And their conduct, we greatly fear, will not be better wheu a period of general and severe distress shall stir them to action. The question then arises—what is to be done with this unhappy state of things? PEEL is ready to take (Alice, is he ?—he may be of a different mind eight or ten weeks hence. There are some who say—Increase the Army to two hundred thousand men, and put the wretches down by force. But that weuld have been done in 1830 or 1832, if it had been possible. We may doubt that it will ever be possible. At any rate, we cannot in this matter judge of the future by the experience of times antecedent to 1830. Through learning to read, and by means of newspaper organs of their own, the messes have acquired a new power of acting in con- cert and combination, so that authority has to deal with the whole bulk of the people at once, and is therefore helpless when the bulk of the people are strongly excited. Besides, any thing like a civil war in this country, where the solid fabric is held together by confidence and credit, would occasion disasters as great as those which it was the object to prevent. It is as easy to brag now, as it would be difficult to act then. We place no reliance upon force when the time for employing force shall be come. What is then to be done? The evil consists of economical and political ingre- dients. Democracy and distress cannot coexist without produ- cing worse than either. The course of democracy is not to be turned back or stayed: it follows that our only means of safety is in bringing about that state of ecenomy which, as Si Wit-leen MOLESWORTH said the other day when speaking against the Corn- hews. " renders democracy perfectly harmless in America." This, at least, would be the aim of men capable of ruling in times like those which are coming upon us. It may be seen, from the hutc- Con of the working classes since 1832, how quiet they might be made permanently, by a continual enlargement of the field of em- ployment fur capital and labour. \Vahan unlimited manufacturing power, without Coin-laws, and vrith extensive measures of coloni- zation, the people of this country might, for generations to come, continually enlarge, like the Americans, their field of employment be. capital and labour. But we are preaching to the winds.
The restricting Corn-laws have just been reenacted, as it were, by the second " Reflomed " Parliament; and it is the third
" Reform" Ministry which, through sheer ignorance, gratifies the bureaucracy of the Colonial Office by opposing Mr. Weeps great plans of colonization. Instead of app iy hie themselves to large measures of political economy, which would render the COW'S° of politics eafe and smooth, our present " etatesanen,'
Whig awl Tory, seem incapable of more num strugelmg for place and patronage. They ale but line-weather or prosperity
politicians. In times of storm or distress, they will have to make way for men of more comprehensive views and bolder purpose. Lord DURHAM, we confidently repeat, is wanted in England.