ricardo to place
[Reply to 450a]
Gatcomb Park, Minchinhampton 9 Sept 1821
I have gone through the whole of your MS with the greatest attention, and have great pleasure in saying that in my humble judgment it is a complete and satisfactory answer to all Mr. Godwins objections to the theory of Population, as explained by Mr. Malthus. I have no doubt but that its publication will bring you great credit and fame, and will be deemed a proof of your being possessed of a good stock of industry and talents. I hope you will be able to make such arrangements as that it may speedily appear in print. To take off a little of the value of my praise I must candidly confess that I am not very familiar with calculations concerning births, marriages and deaths, and therefore am entitled to be considered only in the light of an ordinary reader, paying great attention to the subject before him.
In looking over the paper of my notes, made during the time I was perusing your MS, I observe that there are some parts in which I do not quite agree with you and which I shall now, without any apology, submit for your re-consideration. First, in the latter part of the first chapter it is I think inferred that under a system of equality population wouldpress with more force against the means of subsistence than it now does. This I do not think is true. I believe, that under such a system, mankind would increase much faster than it now does, but so would food also. A larger proportion of the whole capital of the country would be employed in the production of food-necessaries, and a less proportion in the production of luxuries, and thus we might go on, even with an increase of capital, without any increased difficulty, till that distant time, which because of its distance, Mr. Malthus says should not damp our ardour. Whether this would be a more happy state of society is another question which it is not now necessary to discuss. It should always be remembered that we are not forcing the production of food to the extent of our power. Without one shilling more capital, without any additional labour being employed in the country, we might probably increase the quantity of food 25 pc. On this foundation are raised all Mr. Owen’s speculations.—
2. Chap. 3 Section 1 Page 4. Is the passage I have marked quite fair towards Mr. Godwin. “I have proved by general reasoning” says Mr. Godwin “that so and so cannot be true. I will now shew you by an appeal to facts that I am correct, but if my facts do not afford the evidence which I think they do my general reasoning will still be conclusive.” You have shewn, and may shew, that his general reasoning is defective, but I do not see the justice of the charge of his pretending to be thought right “whether he is so or not—whether the thing he asserts be possible or impossible”.
3. Page 28 Your table supposes the increase of population to be the same the last year that it is the first—surely this cannot be right. Population does not indeed increase in the same steady geometrical ratio that money does, which accumulates at compound interest, but still it increases at some rate which may be called geometrical. Your table is constructed on a principle of arithmetical increase.
4 Page 29 For the same reason as that just given I object to halving the increase in the 10 years to find out the population of 1795.
5 Chap. 3 Section 2 Page 4 If a population of 3 millions increases to 4,500,000 in 55 years, by the addition of one child to every 8 marriages, it will increase to 6,750,000 in 110 years and consequently will double in a smaller period than 110 years.
“If ⅛ of child to a marriage &c. &c. &c.” the answer 37 cannot be correct, for population increases in a geometrical ratio. If £1 pr. Annm. at 5 pc. accumulates at compound interest for 20 years it will amount to £33, but we should be wrong therefore to infer that if £2 pr. Annm. accumulated for half the period that would also amount to £33, it would in fact only amount to £25.
6. Chap 3 Secn. 3 Page 3 You remark the absurdity of Mr. Godwins thinking it necessary that there should be 8 births to a marriage in America in order to double the population in 25 years, and that it is inconsistent with his own data, but I do not think you dwell enough on this important part of the difference between you.
7 Chap 6 Secn. 1 Page 2 Your remarks on the word “right” as used by Mr. Malthus is strictly correct perhaps, but you should in fairness recollect in what sense he meant to use it. “The law professes” Mr. Malthus might say “to give every man a right to the enjoyment of his own property, but in effect the right is withholden from him if at the same time it gives a contrary and inconsistent right to another man to be maintained out of that property[”]. The labour of a poor man is his property and therefore by analogy he has a right to all that it will procure him, but it is inconsistent and inexpedient to give him a right to any part of my property if he do not obtain it, by my freely giving it to him in exchange for his labour. By “right” and “law of nature” Mr. Malthus clearly means, “moral right” “utility” “the good of the whole” or some equivalent expression. I am not defending the accuracy of Mr. Malthus’s language on this occasion—I know it is not strictly correct, I as well as you am a disciple of the Bentham and Mill school, but his meaning cannot be mistaken.
8. Page 5 same Chap. I am not satisfied with the reply here given to Mr. Malthus’s proposal. If men depended wholly on their own exertions for support, a state of society might and I think would exist, in which it could not be [“]successfully shewn that no labourer and very few artizans have a prospect of being able to maintain a family.[”]
9. Page 8 You agree with Mr. Malthus that his plan if adopted would lower the poor rates, but you say it would reduce the poor to the very lowest state possible. Why? not if it raised wages, and this is what Mr. Malthus expects from it. You are bound to shew, that wages will not be raised, when a portion of the money now paid for labour, under another name, is withdrawn, and transferred to the employers of labour. You say that private benevolence would degrade the poor man more than the aid he receives, from the poor rates. I believe otherwise. Mr. Malthus be it remembered does not propose the abolition of the poor laws as a measure of relief to the rich, but as one of relief to the poor themselves. Is it not a little inconsistent to say, as you appear to me to say, that the poor laws have degraded the poor of this country, and yet warn us against their gradual abolition for fear of degrading our people to the level of the degradation of the poor in countries where there are no poor laws.
Chap. 6 Sect. 2 Page 4 If it be a general though erroneous belief in a country that to increase the population be a meritorious act, is it not likely that fewer will be restrained from marriage in such a country, than in another where more just notions of what is really meritorious, and what is really pernicious, prevail? To say that “God never sends mouths but he sends meat” is not so different, as at first sight appears, to saying “that to raise up subjects for his king and country is a meritorious act.[”]
The accusations you bring against the rich are many of them just, but those concerning “the law of settlement” “the payment of wages from the poor rates” “the heavy taxes laid on the necessaries of life” are I think all unjust—the last has not the effect which the poor think they have, and the two former are the effects of a bad system which the rich do not, on account of any benefit to themselves, uphold. I cannot doubt that the original establishment of the poor laws proceeded from benevolent but mistaken views, and I think it hurts the cause which you so well support to cast blame where it is not deserved. As a matter of fact it may be true that the poor make these complaints, but you appear to me too much to countenance them.
Chap. 6. Sec. 2 Page 3. You quote from Malthus and afterwards say “Thus he is held out as a seditious grumbler if not a blasphemer without any sufficient cause for his grumbling.” This accusation is made against Mr. Malthus, and is wholly unfounded. Does he say he has no cause for grumbling? quite the contrary he says he has, but that he mistakes the cause of his distress. This is not fair criticism. That which follows in this page &c. is excellent. I have read your defence of the working class with great interest. I believe you have done them but justice, and that they are often cruelly calumniated. This part of your work will do much good, if you abate a little of the asperity with which the rich are handled. I find no fault with the severity of the passages. I complain of their injustice. You say that the object of the rich is to keep down the recompence to the labourer to the lowest rate at which they can be supported, and your proof is that their allottment from the rates is regulated by such lowest rate. It is idle to complain of those who employ labourers endeavoring to get them to do their work at low wages—this is true of all employers of labourers, not of the rich particularly; and as for the niggardly allowance from the rates what would you have them do? Would it not be worse if every man wanting work could be sure of being liberally relieved. The sincerest friends of the poor think, perhaps erroneously, that the situation of the poor would be improved if the pittance of which you complain were withdrawn from them altogether. Is it just to say (Page 12 ) “Having got him in that state, the next thing was to reduce him as low as possible”. Magistrates &c. are often ignorant—the consequences of their acts may have been injurious to the working classes, but that they designed their misery without any prospect of benefit to themselves is inconceivable. Point out if you can what they gained by it. Accuse the individual judge who uttered the words which you quote, he deserves to be held up to public odium, but do not charge such offences too indiscriminately. Indeed in candor you ought to mention the judge’s name and the case to which you allude.
Page 14 I agree that the two things you recommend should be done, but these would be very insufficient as measures of relief to the labouring classes. They are as injurious to the rich as to the poor.
Page 15 You acknowledge, that to delay marriage, and to prevent too many being born, are the only efficient remedies for the evils which the poor suffer. Mr. Malthus proposes the gradual abolition of the poor laws as a means to accelerate this desirable end,—you no where I think shew that the means would not be efficacious.
Chap. 8. Page 8 last section. May we not say that the exertions of the middling rank in this country, of which you speak with just praise, have been in part the effect of their having a better government than other countries. The liberty of the press—the public discussion of all measures of importance in Parliament, may have produced some effects on the minds and dispositions of the middling class.
Chap 9 p 1 Mill does not shew the effect that would be produced by spade husbandry, but the effect that would follow from an increasing people, which should constantly require an additional proportion of the population to be employed in husbandry. He would recommend spade husbandry, if it could be shewn that the capital and labour employed in it, yielded more than an equal capital and the same quantity of labour in plough or machinery husbandry.
If in Ireland the people raised corn with their spades, and could do it economically, no complaint could be justly made against spade husbandry. The term is unfortunately chosen. The evil of which the Irish ought to complain is the small value of the food of the people compared with the value of the other objects of their consumption, and the small desire they have of possessing those other objects. Cheap food is not an evil, but a good, if it be not accompanied with an insensibility to the comforts and decencies of life. Of what consequence is it that I give the value of a years food for a coat if I can with great facility obtain the food? Another great evil is the uncertainty to which the crops of their cheap food is liable, and the bad quality of it as a nutritious food. If it could be easily saved from year to year, or if the nutritious part could be economically extracted and put by for scarce years, the greatest objection against the cheap food of the Irish would fall to the ground.
Page 3. Ireland is in fact rather in the situation of a new than an old country.
You say some think that it is in consequence of there being an increase of people that there is an increase of food. I am one of those. There may be an increase of people without an increase of food, because the same quantity of food may be divided amongst a larger number of people, but there can be no motive for increasing the quantity of food, till there is an effective demand for it, and that can never arise without a previous increase of people. I should say that capital increases first—then the demand for more labourers—then a better condition of the labourer. If the labourer had previously been improvident, and his family was scantily provided with food, there will at once arise an increased demand for food, if otherwise, the people must actually increase before such increased demand. In the one case the people had increased before the increase of capital; and were in wretchedness and poverty—in the other, they increased after the capital, and were always prosperous and happy.
Page 4. You here very properly admit that the misery of the people proceeds from the quantity of food being insufficient for their wants, without any reference to its being raised by the spade, or of its inferior value.
I have now gone through all my remarks and it is for you to deal with them as you think they may deserve.
I can have no hesitation in expressing my opinion of your MS to Mr. Murray, which I will do to day or to-morrow. That opinion will not have probably, because it ought not to have, much weight with him. In a day or two you will perhaps call upon him yourself and I shall be happy to hear that it is to come forth under his auspices.
I am Dr. Sir Yours faithfully
I send the MS by the Coach which passes through M Hampton this day.