6 JANUARY 1912, Page 15


MR. LLOYD GEORGE in his speech at Cardiff on Friday week dealt at length with the problem of poverty. Though his intentions were good we should not i be sincere if we did not say that there is no hope in attacking the problem as he attacked it. Rhetoric sets no bones and breaks no bad habits. We are entirely with him when he speaks of it being a stain upon our national flag that it should float over slum-bred, half-starved children and ill-paid, ill-fed, and ill-housed working men and women. Wo hold, further, that there is nothing which the nation should consider more carefully and in a more anxious spirit than the problem of poverty. The evil is great, we want a remedy, and we ought not to be satisfied till we have found it and applied it. But this is as far as we can keep company with Mr. Lloyd George. His diagnosis of the causes of the evil is incorrect, and so are his remedies. He seems to think that the misery of those who are poor is due to the action, or at any rate the neglect, of those who are well off. Mr. Lloyd George does not put it perhaps quite as plainly as that, but it comes to the same thing. He tells us that people are poor and wretched because of their surroundings, and that we, the people who are bettor off, are responsible for the existence of these surroundings. We venture to say that by far the greater part of the talk about surroundings of which we hear so much at the present time is pure cant. A man does not become a horse because he lives in a stable. On the other hand while a horse remains a horse the place in which he lives does become a stable. If you put a, man or a group of men into a stable, and do not interfere with them, they will soon convert the stable into a house—provided, of course, that they are men of ingenuity and resource, and not, like Neapolitan beggars, content to sit in the sun in the winter and in the shade in the summer, anxious only to take things easy and not exert themselves. We do not, of course, say that surround- ings have no effect upon men. They may be so bad as to destroy a man's physical powers and make him incapable of exertion. But looking at the thing largely, the physical surroundings of the majority of the population are not of that kind. Again, a man's moral and political surround- ings may be of a kind likely to induce poverty. For example, restrictive legislation may make men poor and keep them poor. If the law interferes with a man's freedom to sell his labour as ho wills, or to exchange freely with others what he has made by his labour, then no doubt moral and political surroundings are created which induce to poverty. In the last resort a man is paid out of his product, and if while he has the capacity to lay 600 bricks a day without injury to his health you by rules and regulations forbid him to lay more than 400, you are clearly establish- ing surroundings which create poverty for himself and for others. In the same way if when he has made a chair or a table you throw impediments in the way of his exchanging the chair or table with a man who has brought things from abroad to offer him in exchange, you are creating poverty by your political and moral surroundings. Lastly, if by heavy taxation you deprive a man of a large portion of the product of his labour, under the plea that you want to give it to somebody else who wants it even more than he does—generally a person who through idle- ness or other causes has failed to make exchangeable products—you are making surroundings which tend to the production of poverty, misery, and destitution.

Mr. Lloyd George would probably say that these are not " surroundings " in the true sense, and that wo are evading the real issue by introducing the problem of political and moral surroundings. In that case wo will for the moment put that matter aside and meet him on. the question of physical surroundings and ask how the evils —which, remember, those who think with us deplore quite as whole-heartedly and quite as passionately as he does— are to be got rid of. On the essential point we are not pessimist, but share his faith that destitution may be got rid of if only the true remedy be found and adopted. The causes of poverty and destitution under which the State labours so miserably may be divided into two classes, economic and moral. In the same way there is an economic remedy and a moral remedy. Without question the moral causes and the moral remedy are the most important, though we must never forget that both sets of causes, i.e., the moral and the economic, are combined in the fact that both produce waste, and that waste, whatever its origin, produces the physical phenomena of want and wretchedness.

Dr. Chalmers taught, and taught truly, that poverty is a moral disease and demands a moral remedy. The greatest endowment which a man or woman can have, even when we are considering their economic surroundings, is cha- racter—self control and moral and intellectual energy. To take the metaphor we have already employed, human beings with character and self-control if they are let alone will not be content for very long to allowithe stable to remain a stable, but will turn it into a house. If they have not character but are lazy, happy-go-lucky, and without self- control, they will be content to give reign to the desires and passions of the moment rather than to conquer their surroundings. The problem from this side, then, becomes, as Chalmers saw, tho consideration of the best way of endowing men with character. This side of the question is too great a one for us to deal with in detail here, but in the widest sense what is wanted is the awakening of the religious, the spiritual, and the moral sense. The man who, like Wordsworth's " Happy Warrior," makes his moral being his prime care furnishes our ideal. But we can only get him to do this if there be implanted in his nature the call to higher things, the divine discontent with his surroundings, the desire to improve them and to rise above them. The old-fashioned economists were perfectly right, though they may have put their view in unspiritual terms, when they insisted that if you want to improve men's material con- dition the first thing you must do is to raise their standard of comfort and make them desire to improve their economic) condition. The Spectator has been severely called to account by the ablest of Socialistic public prints, the New Age, for saying that the way to get rid of slums is to get men to refuse to live in them. We remain, however, im- penitent, and contemplate without alarm the possibility of our suggestion of a strike against slums taking place.

At present the greater part of philanthropic effort, private and political, is wasted upon trying to redis- tribute the goods of the world, either through the doles of individual charity or through that even worse thing, the indiscriminate State charity which we call social reform. If it could be directed towards character building, as Dr. Chalmers directed it in his famous campaign against poverty in Glasgow, the world would soon be a very different place. We should have built the new Jerusalem on English ground. If we teach men to improve their condition, either through greater energy or through greater self-control, we have put into their hands the key of emancipation. If instead we merely give them doles of money or money's worth and tell them that their poverty is not their fault, but the fault of their neighbours, we have too often done nothing except given them the key of the public-house. Self-control and energy are not in the beginning easy and pleasant things to accomplish, and if we once teach men and women to think that after all they can live without them they have learned a fatal lesson. We all think with indignation and disgust of the millions on millions that are wasted every year by working men upon drink and gambling, for we know that if the money thus spent were laid out to better uses the surroundings of the working classes would be very different from those described by Mr. Lloyd George. To say that drinking and betting are due to a man's surroundings, and not the surroundings to them, is pure cant. We shall not at any rate see less spent upon drinking and gambling by the poor unless they can be endowed with character, with self-control, and with the desire to obtain better surroundings for themselves. To tell them that it is not their fault, but the fault of society, that they waste too much of their resources on these pleasures, and so degrade themselves and their families, is to do them the worst of services. It inoculates them with a poisonous germ—the lie that a man is not his own star, not the architect of his own fortune, not the pilot of his own ship, but the mere creature of circumstances—that in a word it is not his fault but somebody else's that he spends 2s. or 3s. out of his 30s. a week on drink and another 2s. or 3s. on betting. Character building and those principles which we know as Charity Organization Society principles, first formulated by Chalmers, will not, of course, provide us with a lightning cure. Character is not built in a day. For political philanthropists and social reformers in a hurry it is indeed not " good business " to remember that poverty has a moral cause, and must seek a moral remedy. They want a short, sharp Act of Parliament that shall change human nature in a night, and if we remind them that the thing cannot be done they do not challenge the fact in detail, but tell us that we are heartless men and want to keep the poor in their place. That is an accusation which we must be content to bear. The facts remain as stated.

So much for the moral causes and the moral remedy. The economic causes of poverty are, as we have said, to be found in economic waste. Why there is not enough to go round and why what there is is badly distributed is, in the last resort, due to the fact that we are economically waste- ful in our production. We throw numberless impediments in the way of enough things being made for all to be supplied. We forget that the true friend of man is he who makes two blades of corn grow where one grew before and who enhances the production of the thousand and one things men desire and deserve, and too often honour instead him who makes one blade grow where two grew before. Wealth is the creature of exchanges, or, to put it in another way, men can' only be supplied with what they want through exchanges. The way, then, to increase wealth is to encourage and stimulate exchanges. But exchanges cannot be encouraged and stimulated if we are always throwing impediments in their way. Free exchange in every field of human activity is, then, the essential. If we are told. that this remedy has been tried and has failed, we meet the allegation with the most direct and positive denial. True freedom of exchange has never been tried as the economic remedy for poverty. Every human community has been crushed and is now crushed under mountains of laws and statutes, rules, regulations and customs, forbidding freedom of ex- change. Man has in one sense recognized that what is wanted is abundance, but he has always been determined to seek it through the instrument of artificial scarcity. He builds roads and railways and steamships in order to stimulate exchanges, but while he is doing this with one hand with the other he is building custom houses at the end of his railway lino or at the docks which shall do their best to prevent free exchange. As Bastiat said to his French fellow citizens in 1848, " What is the sense of making railways to bring in foreign goods while at the same time you are making elaborate tariff laws to keep them out ? If, as you say, it is necessary to your welfare to keep out foreign goods, why instead of making railways do you not tear up even the roads you already have and insist that no goods shall enter your country except on men's backs ? "

On the economic side poverty will never be overcome except by the increase of wealth. We know that this will seem a hard saying to the working man, and yet it is nevertheless true that the one and only way of permanently improving his position and giving him a, larger share of the good things of the world on the material side is that the rich should grow richer. No improvement in the lot of the poor can come by making the rich poorer. Only through an increase of wealth, that is, through an increase of capital, is the economic emancipation of the worker obtain- able. In order to set more men at work and at better wages more capital is required. There cannot be more hiring, and better hiring, unless there is more capital competing for the services of those who desire to be hired. To set a man at work who is not working now, on an average, some .200 or £300 of capital is required. That capital has to be hired like everything else in the world in exchange for an annual payment ; capital and labour must go into partnership when a new worker seeks to be employed. The amount of the profit available for the worker must in the long run depend. upon the amount which has to be paid for the hire of capital. If capital can be hired cheap there will be more for the worker. If capital has to be hired dear there will be less. Capital will be hired cheap or hired. dear according as there is much or little capital in the market. If there is a great deal seeking jobs and wages, i.e., interest, the workman's share will be greater. If there is very little seeking interest the work- man's share will be smaller. Paradoxical as it may seem, then, what the worker should desire is the growth of capital, the growth of that which will compete for his labour. Destroy, sterilize, or impair capital, either through over-taxation, through legislation, or by any other means, and you must impair the worker's livelihood. Encourage the increase of capital, or mobilized wealth, by encour- aging the production of wealth in every form, that is, by encouraging exchanges, and you help the worker. Dis- courage the growth of capital and you deal him a deadly blow.

To sum up, character building and freedom of exchange —these are the stepping-stones and the only stepping- stones by which those in poverty can hope to rise to higher things. Allow the union of forces between those two and there will be improvement. Ignore this fact and attempt instead to find a remedy for poverty through devices which impair men's character and weaken their self-control and energy—devices of pauperizing legislation on one side and on the other restrictions on freedom of exchange—and improvement becomes: impossible. The surroundings which we have mistaken for the causes of poverty, but which in reality are its effects, will grow worse and worse, and men and women will grow nearer and nearer to the supreme degradation of slavery.

The workman is quite right when he instinctively desires above all things higher wages. But higher wages he will never get in a pauperized State or in one in which freedom of exchange is forbidden or impaired. In such surround- ings wages droop and wither. Only freemen in a free State can sell their labour to the best advantage.