Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER II: The Poor Become Poorer - Socialistic Fallacies
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER II: The Poor Become Poorer - Yves Guyot, Socialistic Fallacies 
Socialistic Fallacies (London: Cope and Fenwick, 1910).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Poor Become Poorer
By virtue of the process foreseen by Karl Marx, “Society finds itself suddenly thrown back into a momentary state of barbarism and into pauperism.” Has barbarism increased in the last sixty years? I very much doubt it. Is pauperism greater now than it was then? Let us see.
Poor Law statistics do not greatly signify, the actual poor and the real poor are two distinct beings, the latter being produced by the law, by custom and by tradition.
The formula in which Karl Marx' theory of the two classes is condensed, that “the rich become richer, the poor poorer,” is due to that man of morbid character, Victor Modeste. In ransacking the registers of the department of public relief (Assistance publique) he observed that the same families appeared in them, generation after generation, and concluded therefrom that “the poor became poorer and the rich richer.” This is not the conclusion to be drawn from the fact, the proper one is quite different. This fact proves that people under the protection of the department, accustomed to live by its aid with a minimum of exertion, make no attempt to emancipate either themselves or their descendants from it. Looking upon themselves as they do as its pensioners they consider that it has duties in regard to them in exchange for their submissiveness and their importunate mendicancy. The number of persons in receipt of relief in France is bound to increase, for the simple reason that the number of charitable institutions has increased. Sir Athelstane Baines and those who have any practical acquaintance with the poor law would agree with Sir William Chance that, generally speaking, a Union can have as many paupers as it chooses to pay for.1
According to M. E. Chevallier in the year X, under the Consulate, 20 per cent. of the inhabitants of Paris were indigent, 12 in 1818, and 5 or 6 about 1880. In 1903 the department only returned 2 per cent. because it only includes in this category those persons who were in receipt of annual relief and not those who had received temporary assistance. M. de Foville says that it is impossible by any method of calculation to find 5 per cent. of actual destitutes in Paris. And so the proportion during the Consulate no longer holds good.
M. de Villeneuve-Bargemont, in 1829, calculated that there were 1,329,000 indigent poor in France, say 4 per cent. of the population. Beginning in 1837, the figures of the public charitable institutions yield the following results:—
Despite the increase in the number of charitable institutions and of a population which has in creased from twenty-seven and a half millions to thirty-nine millions, the figures of 1829 and of 1905 are very nearly the same.
The law of July 14th, 1905, lays upon the communes the obligation fully and completely to “supply compulsory relief to the old, the infirm, and to incurables without means.” The number of persons in receipt of relief will undoubtedly increase, but the number of actual poor will be no greater.
The law of July 15th, 1893, organised gratuitous medical assistance, not only “for all sick persons of French nationality without means,” but for all who “in case of illness are not in a position to obtain medical attendance at their own expense” (Circular of May 18th, 1894). Patients of this description are more numerous than those who obtain relief from public charitable institutions. The law may be estimated as being in operation in departments with a population of 34 millions. The medical man who has no confidence in the prospect of pecuniary recognition of his services, induces his patient to obtain the benefit of gratuitous medical assistance. By this means he makes sure of being paid.
Those persons who are in receipt of assistance are not all indigent. The number of beneficiaries in 1903 was about two millions (1,957,000) of whom 860,000 obtained substantial treatment in the course of the year. The proportion, therefore, would work out at between 5½ and 6 per cent. of the population of France; this figure is more probably above than below the true one.
In England the ancient poor law of Elizabeth's time was completely recast in 1834. No comparison is possible between the earlier and the present time, but it is estimated that in 1849 there were not more than a million poor in England and Wales, say 5½ to 6 per cent. of the population.
According to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws (1909, p. 20) the cycles of pauperism since 1871 (the year when the complete statistics for England and Wales begin) are as follows:—
In the two years 1906-7, 1907-8 the numbers have oscillated, and as it is not yet clear what place they will occupy in the general movement, they are given separately.
According to a table presented to the International Statistical Institute at its meeting in London (August, 1905) by Mr. C. S. Loch, Professor at King's College and Secretary of the Charity Organisation Society, the ratio of pauperism has undergone the following variations in the Metropolis:—
After 1903 there is a slight rise, but this is in great measure owing to the markedly paternal Socialism which is “making the poor.”1 In spite of this disturbing psychological element the proportionate number of the poor has decreased by more than one-half since 1861.
The rich may become richer, but the poor do not become poorer. The followers of Marx have announced the ruin of the bourgeoisie in the following terms:—
The bourgeoisie is incapable of ruling because it is no longer able to ensure the existence of its slave, even in the conditions of his slavery, because it is obliged to allow him to fall into a condition in which it must support him instead of being supported by him.2
The pretended slave knows better and better how to support himself by his labour and even by his thrift.
Royal Statistical Society, June 20th, 1906.
See St. Loe Strachey's “Making the Poor.”
Werner Sombart, p. 89.