THE FRENCH DECREE AGAINST IMMIGRATION.
THE hope that the progress of material civilisation would ultimately put an end to war, break down the seclusion in which the various nations of the earth once lived in regard to trade and mutual, intercourse, and intro:. duce, if not a universal brotherhood, at any rate something akin to a universal citizenship, has proved entirely without foundation. Though the means for intercommunication between the peoples grow every year more perfect, the dislike of an influx of foreigners felt by almost all nations becomes steadily stronger and stronger. Twenty years ago, the fact that a European nation attracted. foreigners to enter its boundaries and do its work was looked upon as a matter for congratulation ; while the countries of the New World were openly doing everything in their power to attract emigrants able to endow their new homes with the wealth of strong arms and deft fingers. Now, however, the immigrant is looked upon almost as a thief,—as a man who enters a country not to give help to its population, but to steal something from them. The note of alarm is sounded. on all sides, The immigrants are coming to take the bread out of the mouths of the existing inhabitants ;' and every- where in the Old World and the New, the nations are uneasily revolving methods of keeping out foreign labour. The United States, unless present signs are utterly decep- tive, are on the brink of some rigid system for excluding immigrants, and for keeping out " the paupers of Europe," who are universally represented as underselling native labour and driving wages down to the starvation scale of the Old World. Those of our Colonies which are governed. by representative institutions are no less alarmed. over the prospect of continued competition in their labour markets, due to an increasing immigration from Europe ; and it can hardly be doubted that if restriction is adopted in America, they will at once follow suit. Though in most of the European countries, because they are full already, and therefore offer fewer attractions to immigrants, the question has not yet become actual, there are some in which it is beginning to be keenly felt, and where the desire to surround. the aborigines with a wire-fence impervious to mankind is becoming very marked. The outcry against the admission of Polish Jews into the East End. may no doubt be dismissed as trivial and unreal; but it must never be forgotten that Prince Bismarck has within the last few years not only forbidden immigration into Posen, but has actually expelled. from Prussian territory many thousands of the Poles who had already taken refuge in the provinces along the Russian border.
More important, however, than the action thus taken by Prussia, which may be partly set down to the desire of Prince Bismarck to Germanise Posen, is the attitude assumed towards the influx of foreigners by France. The intolerance of immigration among the French people has been gradually rising, till at last, backed by the figures of the last census, it has induced. the President of the Republic, on the advice of his Government, to sign the Decree which we have described. in another column. Con- sidering what the figures are in regard to foreign labour employed in France, it is hardly to be wondered at that a nation entirely given- over, as is the French, to the notion that the material prosperity of the masses is to be brought about by Protection, should. consider that its interests imperatively demand. the placing of restric- tions upon foreign immigration. The figures are so curious, that we need make no apology for quoting them here. In 1886, when the last census was taken, the total number of foreigners residing in France was 1,126,531, —i.e., 3 per cent. of the total population. If these num- bers are compared. with those of thirty years ago, it will be seen that the foreign population has trebled. itself in thirty-five years. The number of different nationalities included. in the figures of the census is very great ;; ' but the only two which are numerically important are the Belgians and the Italians. Belgians and Italians, in fact, together number, roughly, two-thirds of the whole ; and it is against them that the Decree is, in truth, directed. The Italians certainly, and, we presume, the Belgians, swarm into France to do the rough work of building and digging. The navvies and. the dock labourers of Southern France are Italians, and of the North, Belgians. France, in fact, has been using Italy as a recruiting- ground. for coolies,—we use the word. in no contemptuous sense, for the men who toil in the port of Marseilles or along the Riviera to send money to their wives in Lombard and. Venetian villages, are often far superior in morale and physique to the population • among which they work. If, however, the Decree is strictly enforced, the employment of these white coolies must to a great extent cease, for the Italian labourers will never be able to conform to a system of registration so complicated as that requiredThy its first article.
It may be, however, that et en the logic of French Pro- tectionism will feel shy of really excluding foreigners, and that France will be content with a system of petty inter- ference. For the good, however, of mankind in general, we can hardly help wishing that the policy which has pro- duced the Decree should be pushed to its logical conclusion, and that all foreign labourers should. be absolutely excluded from France. We should. then have before us a working example of that paradise of which the Protectionist working man dreams, a country in which the population does not increase, and in which no competition from out- side caused by the influx of " foreign paupers " is allowed. The working man imagines that in this paradise the lot of the worker would continually be improving, and the lot of the rich declining. In truth, such a dream is entirely baseless. In a country situated as we have described, there might perhaps be fewer rich, but there would certainly be many more desperately poor. It is the old fallacy that a man is rich not according to the pur- chasing-power of his money, but according to the actual weight of the gold he earns. If from a country which now to call in a million labourers from outside to help it perform its necessary work, these million labourers are banished, the price of labour must, of course, at once rise, and rise to such a point that the work done by a million men will not be demanded, i.e., the demand for the work done by a million men must be killed by the rise in price. In other words, the work formerly done by the million foreigners will have to be knocked of somewhere. Now, it requires little consideration to see where this will be. It will be knocked off at the point where it was paid least, that is, off the production of all cheap goods. The pro- duction, then, of cheap goods of all kinds will be stopped, and prices will rise all round. But this rise will at once diminish the purchasing-power of the wages to such an extent, that in effect they will fall to their old level again. And yet another process will be working to take away from the labourer protected from foreign labour competition the advantages of his protection. During the time of free foreign labour and the cheaper prices produced thereby, there were certain persons living in idleness or partial idleness,—non-workers. On the rise of prices, the lowest stratum of these non-workers will be forced to work. But their addition to the ranks of the workers will begin a fresh competition, and a competition quite as severe as that caused by the foreign working men. Thus, then, if we could look into the future, and see the condition of a country which had kept itself protected from all foreign competition for a, period long enough for these changes to be fully worked out, we should. find that though it might contain fewer rich people, it would contain more poor, and that the condition of those poor would certainly be no better, and probably worse, than at the period when the foreign competition was excluded. In a word, the stock of wealth would have been diminished by the withdrawal of a million men possessed of that simplest but most fundamental form of wealth, the power to labour, and all classes of the com- munity, but chiefly the men at the bottom—the men who did not start with any superfluity out of which to pay the loss—would have suffered from the withdrawal. It is a strange fact that mankind in general will never remember that every worker is an employer of labour also, and that cheap labour is of far more vital importance to him than to the wealthy capitalist. Without cheap labour the worker must live like a savage, must be content with a but instead of a house, with rough hides instead of cloth clothes, with a truck instead of a decently fitted railway-carriage, with a tallow dip instead. of gas or a lamp, with oatmeal instead of wheaten bread, with water instead of tea. Where skilled labour is cheap, and only *here it is cheap, can the mass of mankind live in a state of material civilisation. It cannot be otherwise, and those who strive to raise artificially the price of labour are inflicting the greatest of injuries on the labouring class, and aggravating instead of amending the distance between rich and poor. Let trade alone, and let labour be bought freely by those who want it—subject only to the restraints which the moral law places on all human action—and the worker will in the long-run beat the capitalist, and equalise the material con- ditions of society. Restrict and interfere with the free use of labour and the free exchange of commodities, and the poor will sink into deeper and deeper poverty, while a few monopolists, able to take advantage of this poverty, will be raised to a height of prosperity which, under more natural and more reasonable conditions, they would be forced to share with their fellows by the silent and certain working of economic laws.