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CHAPTER IV.: 3. Cow-Money Clause. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 8 (Chrestomathia, Essays on Logic and Grammar, Tracts on Poor Laws, Tracts on Spanish Affairs) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). In 11 vols. Volume 8.
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3. Cow-Money Clause.
“LXVII. And be it further enacted, That whenever any poor person entitled to the benefit of this Act, shall want relief for himself or herself, or his or her family, and such person shall be possessed or can obtain possession of land, or is entitled unto common of pasture sufficient to maintain a cow, or other animal yielding profit, whereby such poor person by care and industry might, in addition to their other earnings, acquire a competence to maintain himself or herself, and his or her family without further parochial relief, it shall and may be lawful for any two justices of the peace in the district, on the recommendation of the persons appointed to the management of the poor in such parish or united parishes aforesaid, and of two of the visiters of the district in rotation, certifying that such person is of good character, and that, in their opinion, an advance in money for the purpose mentioned in the said certificate (and which purpose shall be set forth in the certificate of such persons appointed to the management of the said poor) might tend to increase the income of such person, and thereby ultimately tend to diminish the parochial burthens, and which certificate shall be in the form No. NA, in the Schedule hereunto annexed. And which justices are hereby authorized and empowered, on receipt of such certificate, and on due consideration, to order and direct the payment of such money in advance, as in the judgment of such justices will be necessary for the purchase of such cow or other animal, or to direct security to be given for the rent of such land, and which money so to be allowed shall not exceed what shall be necessary to increase the income of such person by the profits to arise therefrom, to the amount to which such person would be entitled to relief for himself or herself, or for his or her family.”
I now come to the cow-money clause. The benevolence which suggested this clause is expressed in the most conspicuous characters; on the question of policy, the following observations have presented themselves.
Hitherto the danger of profusion has confined itself to income: it now threatens capital. In the preceding clauses the allowances authorized, how much soever too ample, continued to be, as they are under the existing system, in the first instance occasional only, at the worst gradual, accommodated as to their rate of efflux to the influx of the fund from which alone they could be derived. Here capital is given under the very name of capital, and as a substitute to income. The pension during pleasure is instantly converted into a pension for years or during life, and that pension at the same instant bought out by a gross sum, leaving the demand for a fresh pension to recur at any time, to be again bought off, and so toties quoties. The spigot was there opened, here the bung-hole.
It would be something in the way of security, though surely not much, if the cow were but safely lodged in the cow-house of the indigent to whom the possession of her is to be an inexhaustible spring of affluence. But even this security, slender as it is, is not provided. The capital is to be advanced, not in the shape of the cow, but in the shape of hard money, with which the object of this extraordinary bounty is left perfectly at liberty to lay in a fund either in milk or gin, according to his taste.
The cow dies or is stolen, or (what is much more likely) is supposed to be stolen, being clandestinely sold to an obliging purchaser at a distance. What is to be done? “Want of relief” warranted the first cow; the same cause will necessitate a second—limit who can the succeeding series of cows: The disappearance of the first cow (it may be said) will excite suspicion; the disappearance of a second cow will strengthen suspicion; true, but upon a mere suspicion without proof will a family be left to starve? The utmost security then amounts to this, that to a certain number of successive pensions thus bought out will succeed a pension which will not be bought out.*
By donations or loans of this sort, made by gentlemen, of high amount to deserving individuals, selected from such of their tenants or dependants as have been fortunate enough to be comprised within the circle of their notice, good is said to have been done in certain instances. I make no doubt of it. Milk is a wholesome as well as pleasant beverage; milk is particularly good for children. Thirty pounds, twenty pounds, or even ten pounds, cannot but form a very comfortable accession to the property of an individual who happens at the time to be suffering under the pressure of indigence. When at his own expense a man administers charity in so large a mass, it would be extraordinary indeed if he did not pay a considerable attention to the propriety of the application of it; and should the object prove less deserving than was supposed, or the benefit less permanent than was hoped, there is at least no immediate perceptible harm done to any assignable individual. But while the hands by which the bounty is to be dealt out remain in the clouds, or were they even lying upon the table, it seems rather too much to expect equal attention, or even in general sufficient attention, when the praise and the thanks are reaped by the hands which thus disseminate the bounty, while the burthen of it rests on the shoulders of third persons.
Over and above the general love of popularity, motives of a more personal nature may intervene, and that most naturally and frequently to no such light amount. A man to all appearance wanting “relief” for “him”...“self” or his “family,” and who to all appearance “would be enabled by the advance of money for purchasing a cow” “to maintain him”...“self” and his “family” without further “parochial relief,” may, besides being to all appearance a very industrious and deserving man, have the good fortune to possess a vote. No matter what the situation, high or low—parliamentary or having nothing to do with parliament, for a county, for a borough, or for one of those situations which gives votes for boroughs. If he himself does not possess the vote, the father, or his son, or his brother, or the father or brother of his wife or sweetheart may, which may come to much the same thing. To any man thus circumstanced (and the multitude of men thus circumstanced is not likely to be small) this cow-money clause will be a matter of particular convenience. To give the value of a dinner to such a purpose might be an act of imprudence as well as a matter of expense, and as (experience has shown) might be fatal to the cause. A bounty for good votes, a bounty to the amount of £10, as we have seen, or £20, or £30, might, under favour of this clause, be given with the most perfect safety, and without a farthing expense.
It is the profusion, I must confess, that frightens me; the topic of corruption I leave to more brilliant pens. Figures of arithmetic, and not of speech, are the figures that govern me. Standing even upon this frigid ground, I can see no bounds, I must confess, to the profusion, where the incentive remaining in full force, the main checks, all the checks which preserve any tolerable uniformity of operation, are thus to be taken away.
Even the shape of the bounty seems to my unfortunate apprehension as objectionable as the quantum of it. If the £10, or the £20, or the £30, must be given, I had rather have seen the disposal of it left altogether to the dispensing hand than clogged with the condition enforced or not enforced of converting it into a cow.
1. A resource which is to supply a permanent deficiency should be permanent as that deficiency. Here the deficiency is deemed permanent, since an occasional or temporary allowance is deemed inadequate to the supply of it. The probable remainder of the life of a cow, already in a condition to yield an annuity in the shape of milk, is limited, sickness and casualties apart, to about eight years, after which she may sell for about half price.
2. A resource which is to supply a permanent deficiency should in the variations, if any, to which the amount of it is subjected or exposed, keep pace with any variation in the deficiency, or, if that cannot be, should remain constant and invariable, so as to afford a solid ground of dependence without any partial, much less total, cessation during the period that the demand continues in unabated force. But the annuity paid by a cow undergoes a necessary suspension,—frequently of four months’ continuance, never of less than two months,—average, (say) three months, or a quarter of a year.
3. A supply allotted as a resource to indigence should be of a nature rather to strengthen by exercise, than to weaken by omission or disuse, the spirit and habit of industry. A dairy of cows would do this. Attendance upon a single cow is a species of industry, if industry it can be called, which is, of anything that can bear that name, the nearest of kin to idleness.
4. In the general account of the national wellbeing nothing is gained, but a good deal lost, if Paul be stript of as much as is bestowed on Peter. Setting aside the accidental faculty of profiting by the too-little-known opportunities afforded by husbandry in its highest and freshest state of improvement—to the maintenance of a cow the possession of land will be indispensable. This land must either be land in separate ownership, or land in the state of waste, and common land. Of land in separate ownership about three acres is looked upon as necessary to the constant maintenance of a cow. Those three acres, how are they to be had? are they to be bought and given along with the cow? This the clause does not go so far as to say. Are they to be hired, and the rent paid for them?—not to mention cow-house and dairy, for which articles shifts (it may be said) will be made. Nor for this neither does the clause go so far as to make provision. The cow, then, is to be turned upon the common; but no sooner is the cow upon the common than the expiration of the annuity of at least by far the greatest part of it, five, six, or seven-eighths, is certain and near at hand. In the existing state of population on the one hand, and husbandry on the other, it is a point pretty well ascertained,—a common will afford airing ground to a milch cow, but it will not afford maintenance. It will keep the animal alive; but it will not keep alive in her the capacity of yielding milk in a quantity amounting to a resource. While the annuity is thus sinking, so is the value of the capital itself. After a year’s existence upon a common, a well-fed cow turned out in the increasing vigour of her youth will instead of gaining have lost in value.
But before the cow was turned upon the common the common was already overcharged. The common which is not already in this state it will I believe be difficult to find. The accession of this new mouth will not add to the quantity of the pasture. So much, therefore, as the owner of this cow gets, so much do the owners of other cows lose.
Capital, therefore, cannot be given in this shape without being paid for at least twice over, (even laying out of the question the certain and enormous depreciation in value:) once by the amount of the purchase-money, again by the amount of the annuity or rent charge thrown by the depreciation of the amount of the pasture upon the other commons: a depreciation equal at least to the utmost gain accruing to the commons thus favoured. If £10 then be the money paid, and £10 be the value of the cow to the individual on whom she is bestowed, £20 at least would be the loss to the community, the receiver of the bounty deducted:—£10, the clear loss to the whole community, the receiver of the bounty included.
By donations in any shape you may take a few favoured individuals out of the class of poor, and place them in the class of people of easy circumstances. But this, which is only the system of monastic charity upon a great scale, giving the beef whole instead of dealing it out in broth, is limited in its extent as well as pernicious in its effects, and in relieving present indigence sows the seed of future.
The system to be sought for is a system which shall make the supply of means keep pace with that of wants, and that by a pre-established chain of causes and effects, whatever be the rapidity or anomality of the progression. This problem has been the object of a good deal of reflection, embracing the subject in all its relations and dependencies, and the solution of it is supposed to be effected.
Consistency may be another point to be considered. While the Bill with this clause in it for the surcharging of common lands is depending, another Bill is depending, or at least in contemplation, the professed and sole object of which is the diminution of the quantity of the land thus circumstanced. The principle in the one case is, that the existence of land in this state is advantageous to the community; in the other case, that it is disadvantageous. An option between these two conflicting measures seems very requisite to be made.
The tendency of the General Enclosure Bill seems alike favourable to the interests of the rich and poor. It does, perhaps, without much seeking, all that can be done, of what appears to be sought to be done by the present Bill. Its most direct and prominent object is the giving facility to the wealthy towards the augmentation of their wealth. But at the same instant it effects with equal certainty an object of still higher amount, the raising of the wages of labour in favour of a class among the poor, and that the only one in which the wages of labour have been shown to be in many cases unavoidably inadequate to the purpose of maintenance.
I confine myself to the cow, because the cow alone occupies the foreground; there are indeed other animals in the offscape, but the species are indiscernible, and I have already plunged but too deep into the details of husbandry.
I should incline to the sow as absorbing less capital, as giving more exercise to industry, and affording a resource less precarious in its nature. But there are those that will tell me that in the government of the dairy swine are dependent upon cows; nor will the expensive beneficence of the author of this clause content itself with so inferior a resource. Looking beyond the sow I see everything or nothing. A rattle-snake is “yielding profit” to the hand that shows it, and no common is surcharged by it.
The resource presented by a loom is a permanent one: it may be rendered an unfluctuating one. A loom eats nothing; is not apt to be sick; does not sink in value by under-feeding; has no legs to be driven away upon; and is not exposed to sudden death. The working of one loom need not hinder the working of another.
A loom is but one example of a machine. But protesting against the donation of capital in any shape, protesting against the principle, I will not dive further into the mode.*
[* ] The quantum of the capital thus to be hazarded is no light matter. A friend of mine, who at this present time happens to be looking out for a cow, assures me he can hear of no animal of that kind to be sold for less than £30 that can be depended upon for giving milk sufficient to pay for her keep, for “yielding profit,” to use the expression in the Bill. The time, it is true, is a dear one; and the place, the vicinity of the metropolis. But to this purpose, within what may be termed the vicinity of the metropolis, a circle of at least twenty miles radius must surely be comprised. A cow which is worth £30 in the heart of this southern division of the two united kingdoms, can hardly be worth less than £15 at the very furthest extremity; because a difference much less than that of £15 ahead would, upon a very moderate number of cows, abundantly pay for the expense of driving them up to London, from even the most distant parts of England. This £30 price (let us hope) will not always continue; but at the most favourable season, should it fall to £20, the reduction will be full as much, I fear, as can reasonably be expected.
[* ] Some five-and-twenty years ago, I remember seeing in Elmsley’s window, fresh imported from Germany, a book with this title, “Means of Enriching States,” by an Aulic Counsellor to one of the Margraves. It was seized with an avidity proportioned to the importance of the discovery. The secret had been tried, and had succeeded. It consisted in stocking your farms well with cows. But the difficulty was to get the cows.