Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. I.—: Increase of Industrial Employment. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2
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Sect. I.—: Increase of Industrial Employment. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 2.
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Increase of Industrial Employment.
Of the three means proposed, the first would undoubtedly be the best, if it were practicable; for assuredly it is better to draw an idle population to useful labour than to feed it with alms, or send it into exile.
The statement, that there are four millions of persons unemployed in Ireland is doubtless an exaggeration. Official documents prove that, out of 7,763,000 inhabitants, there are 4,863,000 engaged in agriculture, and 1,419,000 employed in trade or manufactures; whence it would follow that about one million were destitute of all employment.1 But in Ireland the greatest number of paupers consists not of those who have no work but of those who have not regular work. Half of the Irish farmers are paupers for a part of the year; and if account were taken only of the agricultural labourers and manufacturing operatives who have employment all the year round, the amount of such labourers would be next to nothing.2 We may then, without risk of error, affirm that, out of the eight millions in Ireland, half have either no employment, or employment insufficient for acquiring the means of subsistence.3
The same statistical documents, which show that in Ireland nearly five millions of individuals are employed on the land, show that in England and Scotland, out of a population of 16,205,000, not more than five millions are engaged in agriculture; that is to say, nearly the same number that is so employed in Ireland; nevertheless, England and Scotland have an extent of 54,000,000 of acres, whilst Ireland has only 19,000,000. So that in Ireland the land absorbs two-thirds of the population, whilst in the other two countries it does not engage quite one third; and that Ireland employs as many labourers to cultivate her soil as England and Scotland, which are double her size. Finally, it appears certain that by the Irish system of tillage the ground produces one half less than it does under the management of an English or Scotch farmer; whence it follows that three Irish agricultural labourers do rather less work than an Englishman or Scotchman.4 Even supposing that the number of English and Scotch labourers is too small, that of the Irish agriculturists is clearly excessive. And the defective cultivation of the ground depends precisely on their quantity.
The employment in tillage of more hands than are necessary, and who injure each other from the mere effect of their numbers, is an absolute evil in an economic point of view; but this evil may be a relative good in politics. Thus, if it were true that every one in Ireland not engaged in the cultivation of land is absolutely without employment, and that every unoccupied individual is an enemy of the public peace, we should be compelled to acknowledge that, even for the general advantage, it would be better that the land were covered with the greater number of cultivators, even though the produce were less. Thus, whilst the principles of political economy would advise the ejection from the land of half of those who occupy it, the political state of the country would require that the number of cultivators should be still further increased.
What, then, is to be done? Must we, by tearing away a portion of those who derive from it some means of subsistence, increase the number of Irishmen who have neither resource nor employment? Or must we increase the sum of misery that crushes the country, by breaking up the portions of the present occupants, and distributing the fragments to those who have none?
Assuredly, if there is any country to which the establishment of manufactures would be a blessing, Ireland is that country. Employment to its half-occupied or idle hands would be to Ireland not only an element of happiness, but a means of safety. There is in Ireland a productive force of several millions of hands which is inert or ill-directed. It is an instrument which manufacturing industry would set at work where it is now idle, and render fruitful where it is barren.
All causes unite to render the development of industry in Ireland desirable: if the physical existence of the lower classes is interested in it, so also is the future of the middle classes, whom we have seen invited to so high a destiny; industry alone can feed the one, and enrich the other.
There are countries where the progress of manufacturing industry is not viewed without a kind of disquietude and terror; they are those where the peasants seem to desert tillage in multitudes for the factories, and where the large manufacturers, by their number and system, seem to contain germs of corruption for the people, and danger for the state. But what reason is there to fear that the land would be abandoned in a country where the people knows and loves nothing but it? What we have to dread in Ireland is not the excess that would drive too large a portion of the population from the country into the manufacturing towns, but the very contrary extreme. We should fear that the people chained to the soil should not be sufficiently detached from it to support manufacturers. Even supposing that a factory life exercises a pernicious influence on the physical and moral conditions of the operatives; supposing that the factory corrupts women and children, and attacks the habits of domestic life, and the future prospects of society;—were it true that the aggregation of large masses of operatives, in particular parts of the country, becomes too considerable a power in the state, and too dangerous an instrument in the hands of parties;—were it no less firmly established that these great operative masses which manufacturers employ, are subject, from their oscillations, to fall suddenly and without transition, from labour into idleness—that is to say, from comfort to destitution;5 these evils, admitting them in their fullest extent, would be a thousand times less than those which exist in Ireland; where idleness corrupts far more than the labour in factories,—where misery depraves all those whom idleness does not corrupt, and where millions of starving paupers are a more formidable cause of disorder and anarchy, than a like number of individuals could be in any case, who found in their labour numerous means of existence. Whence, then, comes it, that Ireland so much required, and is at the same time so destitute of, manufacturing industry?6
It is not because the protection of government is wanting to industry in Ireland, but that protection is almost barren. The system of prizes to encourage certain fabrics has been tried, some efforts of production followed, which ceased so soon as the prizes were withdrawn. In order to open a free scope for Irish industry, government is anxious to open immense lines of communication by canals and railways; assuredly such means of transport are admirable aids to industry, but they must first find the industry existing; they might aid its birth, but they could not create it. In 1780, Ireland had fine roads. Arthur Young, whose testimony has great weight, declares that at that period they were far superior to the roads of England. Ireland was then not the less destitute of commerce and manufactures; whilst England had already entered on her era of commercial wealth and industrial prosperity.
In its desire to promote Irish industry and trade, government has proposed to execute itself the great lines of communication which it deems proper to be made. But this is a perilous means. Is it fit that government should be a speculator in public works? Can private industry securely advance in a country where it may at every step find a rival so powerful as the state?7
The government of Ireland might perhaps see in this system of works executed by the state, the advantages of at once giving employment to those not employed by private industry; but such work would only afford partial and transitory relief. And it would be so especially in every British country, where the intervention of government in public works is considered, and not perhaps without reason, a fraud on private enterprise. Now this accidental employment of idle hands would be an evil rather than a good, if the labourer, after his temporary engagement with the government, found afterwards no employment in the factories of private speculators. It is a great misfortune for a country to believe that the protection of government is necessary to the prosperity of its industry. Industry and industrial employments are not created by imperial decrees or acts of parliament; governments have been led to believe that they can create them, by the facility with which they can destroy them, or prevent their birth.
There were formerly flourishing manufactures in Ireland;8 the English government, then, to effect this purpose, had only to fetter them, for liberty is the vital air to industry: it loaded with trammels half the operatives of Ireland,9 and interdicted its ports and those of the entire world to the products of Irish labour.10
England’s oppression of Ireland is nowhere shown so clearly as in its commercial policy. England wished to sell everything to Ireland, and purchase nothing, which was just as absurd as it was unjust: for Ireland could not traffic with England, and how could those buy which did not sell? This commercial selfishness of England was sometimes pushed to downright insanity. In the reign of Charles II., England having resolved to extend its exclusion of the products of Irish industry, a bill passed the Commons, by which the importation of Irish cattle was declared a nuisance; in the Lords some objection was made to the word nuisance, and one member proposed that it should be a felony; the chancellor, with more wit and as much reason, said that it might as well be called adultery.11
The unjust trammels which fettered Irish industry are now broken: all Irish operatives are free; Ireland may send her produce to every part of the world; and the ports of England are open to her. The commercial liberty which unites Ireland to England is not merely that which is established between nation and nation, but that which naturally exists between different portions of the same nation, between two territories subject to the same empire; Ireland and England are in the same commercial relation to each other as any two English cities; Dublin trades with Liverpool, just as Liverpool does with London.
But the industrial employment which despotism so easily destroys, does not so easily revive with liberty; for though it cannot exist without freedom, yet freedom is not its creator; far different conditions are required both for its birth and development.
The commercial liberty of which the conquest was begun in 1782, but not completed until 1820, has hitherto produced only one salutary effect in Ireland. It has opened an immense market to its agricultural produce, and secured a kind of privilege for its corn in the English ports from which the grain of other countries is excluded. But it has conferred no advantages on Irish manufacture; Ireland still continues to use the products of English industry.
There are some who believe it impossible for Ireland to establish manufactures whilst England is allowed to import the produce of hers; those who are of this opinion propose, that in order to protect the rising manufactures of Ireland, a duty should be imposed on the import of English goods. But then, in retaliation, the agricultural produce of Ireland would be similarly taxed in England. So that she possesses and would compromise a certain advantage for a future and very dubious good. Besides, is it true that the competition of English industry is the principal obstacle to the growth of manufactures in Ireland? Certainly not: the greatest obstacle is elsewhere; it arises less from England than from Ireland herself.
Without doubt, the English operative is on the whole superior to the Irish operative: he is more skilful and steady; he works longer and better; but the immense use made of Irish operatives in England, proves that the objection is not caused by themselves. Manchester and Liverpool employ myriads of Irishmen in their factories.12 Assuredly, when we see the two greatest industrial and commercial cities of Britain, I may say of the whole world, prosper by the labour of Irish operatives, it cannot be said that the defective labour in Ireland depends on the very nature of the workman.
It must be added, that if the labour of the Irishman is inferior to that of the Englishman, the defect has a compensating advantage, which is, that it is cheaper. A journeyman’s wages are very low in Ireland, because there is little work and an immense competition of workmen: should an Irishman in a factory do only half the work of an Englishman, it will be still more profitable to employ him, for the Englishman gets more than double his wages.13
It seems, then, that Ireland is in the most prosperous condition for the establishment of manufactures. But it is not sufficient that industry should be free; it is not sufficient to have instruments of execution; the prime mover is still wanting, that is to say, capital. Now in Ireland there is absolutely no capital.14 And why? Because this country has been long subject to the persecutions of an arbitrary government, and capitals only show themselves under the auspices of justice and guarantees; because this country possessing in the present day considerable liberties, whilst at the same time it remains subject to institutions radically vicious, is kept by the inevitable struggle in a constant state of agitation. Capital is wanting to develope industry in Ireland, but capital flies from agitation; and as capital withdraws, misery is augmented. This increase of misery multiplies the chances of trouble and disorder, and renders capital still more scarce. Once involved in this vicious circle, escape is scarcely possible.
Capital is not only wanting to manufacturing industry in Ireland, we find a similar deficiency in agricultural industry. Because there are in Ireland nearly five millions occupied with the ground, it is supposed that there is not a supply of land for the population, and that the insufficiency of the soil is the cause of all the evils. But this opinion must yield to a physical fact. Out of nineteen millions of acres, forming the surface of Ireland, there are five millions of land on which the industry of man has never been tried, and which, nevertheless, might be profitably tilled or employed in pasturage.15 And why do these lands, which seem to invite labour, remain naked and deserted? Because, in order that they should be fertilised, advances of capital are required, which the poor man cannot make, and the rich will not. And why will not the rich man invest capital in the culture of the Irish soil, without which that culture cannot increase? Because the state of the country prevents him. It is not land, then, which is wanting to the population in Ireland; it is capital that is required for agricultural labour as well as manufacturing industry.
This want of capital is not the only impediment to the improvement of the Irish workman. I have already said, that the Irish workman is not unfitted by nature for manufacturing industry, and the example of all the Irishmen profitably employed in England and Scotland attests the fact. But we must confess that so long as the Irishman remains in Ireland, he has certain grievous faults which belong not to his nature but to the country, and which render him a bad servant.
Accustomed to endure every sort of oppression in Ireland, he has, when employed, one fixed idea, which is, that his employer will either give him no wages, or that he will pay him a less sum than is justly his due. Thus, what happens when a manufacture is established in Ireland? Scarcely are the operatives, who at first consented to work for moderate wages, masters of the field, when they combine to obtain higher wages, and applying the Whiteboy principle to manufactures, they arbitrarily fix the price of a day’s work; they enact terrible penalties against the master who should pay, and the journeyman who should consent to receive, less wages; and this barbarous code does not contain idle menaces; punishment follows close on the offence; and not long since, Dublin was the theatre of horrid murders committed on poor operatives, whose only crime was that they worked for a lower price than that fixed by the “Union of Trades;” unfortunate beings, who were murdered because they were satisfied with moderate wages, and who must have starved for want of work, if they asked higher! And what is the infallible result of these outrages? If the manufacturer yields, he is ruined; if he resists, the operatives refuse to work. In either case industrial enterprise is destroyed, and the operative who complains, and perhaps not without reason, that he receives too little wages for his work, is deprived both of work and wages.16
Here and there in England we see examples of such combinations, called sticks and strikes, but they have always been partial and transitory; they have frequently ruined one branch of industry, but never every branch of industry. In the place of the continual dread that an Irishman has of never being paid for his work, the Englishman has in general great confidence in his employers, because he is accustomed to find them careful of his rights and faithful to their engagements. The English operative, besides, generally possesses sufficient knowledge to comprehend that a temporary increase of wages may be pernicious to himself, if that increase destroys the branch of industry on which his wages depend.
This explains why the Irishmen are good workmen in English factories. When they leave Ireland, they abandon these savage traditions, and whilst they bring their physical and intellectual faculties to England, they acquire there the morality in which they were deficient, and they acquire it the more readily, when they learn that in England the rights of the journeyman are as sacred as those of the master.
The same reason explains why it is that manufacturing industry, languishing or destroyed in almost the entire country, is rather prosperous in the north of the island, where the higher and the working classes are not, as in the south, in a state of mutual suspicion; where there is war between political and religious parties, but not between the rich and the poor, the master and the workman.
Thus, on one side the agitated state of Ireland prevents the introduction of capital, and when capital is introduced by persons sufficiently bold to brave this agitation, these brutal and violent passions, which the working class seem almost to breathe in the atmosphere that surrounds them, raise an almost insurmountable obstacle to the success of their enterprise.
Without these two causes which have been just explained, capital, instead of flying from Ireland, would resort to it, and we shall soon see the source from which it would flow.
England is overflowing with capital; she sends her money over the entire world; she invests it on her continent, in America, in Asia; she speculates on land in the United States, on mines in Mexico; she establishes steam-boats in India. Why then, instead of sending her capital eight or ten thousand miles, should she not invest it in a country under her hand, where there is such a fund of labour, only requiring to be set to work? “England,” say some, “wishes to keep to herself the monopoly of industry.” I should be glad if her policy tended to this object—but what matters it, whether or no? Capital has no national spirit; wherever there is most profit and security, it makes its home. Besides, Ireland is English; it forms a part of the British empire. We should assign very extravagant national passions to English capitalists, if Belfast and Dublin differed in their eyes from Manchester and Glasgow. Let us state the matter fairly: the obstacle clearly arises from Ireland being the most miserable and agitated country in the whole world; hence an Englishman will invest his capital anywhere rather than in Ireland, and precisely because the country is directly before his eyes, he sees more clearly the danger to which his capital would be exposed if he sent it thither.
What must we conclude from the preceding statements? In the first place, so long as the causes exist which oppose the spontaneous development of Irish industry, it is not from manufactures that we must ask work for those who have it not, and a remedy for the evils of which the idleness of the people is the real or supposed cause: and in the second place, that to render the development of Irish industry possible, it is necessary to begin by removing the causes by which it is now paralysed. These causes are notorious; they are the anarchy of the country, and the spirit that animates the working classes.
But whose business is it to combat these obstacles, so ruinous to Irish industry? The establishment of manufactures is, doubtless, no business of the government; but assuredly its natural task is to prevent or dissipate the political causes which prevent the rise and growth of manufactures.
Now, by what means can the government restore peace to the country, and bestow upon the people the dispositions which are necessary to the establishment of industrial employment in Ireland? This is a question of a different nature from that which we are discussing, and which goes beyond the scope of the present chapter. I have limited myself to showing, that manufacturing industry, under present circumstances, cannot be a means of safety for Ireland, since it must encounter immense obstacles in the country itself. These obstacles arise from the inherent vice of its institutions, so that to inquire the means of developing industry in Ireland, leads us to search what sort of reforms ought to be made in the institutions of the country. The question is stated, but the arrangement of the work requires that the discussion should be placed elsewhere.
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