Front Page Titles (by Subject) INAUGURAL ADDRESS AS PRESIDENT OF THE MANCHESTER STATISTICAL SOCIETY on THE WORK OF THE SOCIETY IN CONNECTION WITH THE QUESTIONS OF THE DAY.∗ - Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers
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INAUGURAL ADDRESS AS PRESIDENT OF THE MANCHESTER STATISTICAL SOCIETY on THE WORK OF THE SOCIETY IN CONNECTION WITH THE QUESTIONS OF THE DAY.∗ - William Stanley Jevons, Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers 
Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers (London: Macmillan, 1883).
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INAUGURAL ADDRESS AS PRESIDENT OF THE MANCHESTER STATISTICAL SOCIETY on THE WORK OF THE SOCIETY IN CONNECTION WITH THE QUESTIONS OF THE DAY.∗
It has been suggested to me that I might suitably open the discussions of the present session of our society with some general remarks upon the subjects which might profitably come under our notice. One main object of a statistical society is simply to collect and publish information concerning the condition of the State or the people, and our transactions show that this object has not been neglected; but experience proves that our meetings afford an excellent opportunity for the discussion, in a perfectly unbiassed spirit, of questions of great and immediate public interest. With no foregone conclusions to support, and nothing to restrict the limits of fair and calm discussion, we meet here mutually ignorant, it may be, of the religious sect or public party to which one member or another may belong. From the author of the paper for the evening we receive statistical facts combined in a systematic or scientific form; and here, if anywhere, the truth is allowed to prevail from its own inherent strength. For the last thirty-six years the society has pursued an unobtrusive—probably too unobtrusive—a career; but a little inquiry would show that its career has been of great utility. On many subjects it has elicited opinions both new and true; it has either originated or given an impetus to the public discussion of various questions now bearing or likely to bear benefit to the State. And it has not altogether been unworthy of its position in a city and county which have heretofore been considered fertile in great and novel principles.
We meet at a time when considerable stagnation of trade undoubtedly exists, and there are not wanting persons who endeavour to spread abroad the notion that free trade is a failure. We are told that the results of our present commercial policy must be inquired into, and that a system of reciprocity treaties must probably be substituted for a perfect free trade. Living though we still do in the metropolis and stronghold of free trade, we cannot be wholly indifferent to the existence of such notions, and it is worth while to consider what we ought to do. In upholding a spirit of perfect impartiality we cannot refuse to entertain the question if it be brought before us by any member who might happen to share those notions, and wish to support them by well arrayed facts. And if “a Manchester Manufacturer,” or other anonymous agitator of this subject, trusts his own figures, and cares to submit them to a searching discussion, we would find an impartial body of critics here. But this is surely the most we need do. The burden of proof is upon those who agitate the question, and were we in this society, or were the country in Parliament, to start an inquiry into the subject, it would be yielding infinitely more weight to the facts hitherto adduced than belongs to them. Freedom of trade may be regarded as a fundamental axiom of political economy; and though even axioms may be mistaken, and different views concerning them must not be prohibited, yet we need not be frightened into questioning our own axioms. We may welcome bonâ fide investigation into the state of trade, and the causes of the present depression, but we can no more expect to have our opinions on free trade altered by such an investigation than the Mathematical Society would expect to have the axioms of Euclid disproved during the investigation of a complex problem. It would not be the principles of free trade that would be in question, but the political events, the great fluctuations in the supply of cotton or corn, and especially the reckless or even criminal proceedings of certain portions of the trading-classes which have disturbed the course of unrestricted industry.
There is something ludicrously illogical in the way in which “a Manchester Manufacturer” fixes upon a temporary depression of trade, easily accounted for by the most obvious causes, in order to discredit the great and permanent policy of the country. Such a writer trusts much to obliviousness. One would suppose, from the way he writes, that depression of trade and want of employment were wholly new experiences in this country, never heard of before the days of Peel. But a very slight reference to the records of past years would convince us that we should be grateful for the way in which the beneficent principles of free industry have mitigated the intensity of distress which has recurred at intervals of years under every financial régime. It would be tedious to remind you in any detail of the severe destitution and trouble of the years 1817–19, which occurred after the restrictive system had long been in operation, and before the idea of free trade was hardly broached. If it be objected that long wars had then enfeebled the industry of the country, I will mention instead the distress of the year 1826, which occurred at a time when the speculative energies of the kingdom had certainly not been dormant, and while hardly any important steps had yet been taken towards free trade. But I prefer to direct your attention to the years 1841–43, which bring us nearer to the present order of things, and show how wholly unconnected with the tariff is a certain temporary depression of industry. Let anyone take a volume of a Manchester newspaper for 1842, and in the early part of that year he will find in every page evidence of “the appalling and unparalleled distress” as it was called which then prevailed in the manufacturing districts of the West and North. In some places, especially Paisley, the population was said to be starving for want of employment, and the Government was implored to send food. The Government did not send food, but they did insist upon the repression of serious disturbances which arose among an almost desperate people. The bread riots, which occurred in this city in the latter part of 1842, can hardly have escaped the memory of all who are here.
This, let me remind you, took place when the tariff was still published in the form of a book, with an index to the very numerous articles contained therein; when the arrangements of Providence for the supply of food were improved by an ingenious sliding scale; when we attempted to repress the industry of neighbouring countries by an export duty on coal and certain other materials; and promoted our own manufactures by a general ad valorem import duty on manufactures of cotton, woollen, linen, iron, etc., varying from £5 to £30 per £100. It was the discontent and agitation arising during those gloomy years which finally determined the country in favour of free trade, and it is an extraordinary coincidence that the very year which has witnessed the removal of the last trace of protection in the small corn duty, just repealed by Mr. Lowe, should have brought an agitation, however limited and contemptible, for a reversal of that great work.
For my part, when I consider how great are the causes which have lately concurred to derange our trade, I feel exceedingly thankful that we have so easily surmounted crises like those of the cotton famine, and the collapse of 1866. Our own transactions contain ample information to enable anyone to understand our present position, and the real causes of stagnation. I know no one who has ex pounded in so thorough, and, as it seems to me, so sound a manner the causes of commercial fluctuations as Mr. John Mills. His paper on Credit Cycles and the Origin of Commercial Panics shows in the clearest way that these recurrent periods of depression are not due to any artificial causes, nor can they be accounted for by the state and regulations of the currency; they have recurred under a régime of inconvertible paper currency, a régime of free issues of convertible paper, and a régime of regulated issues upon a metallic basis. I may add that in other countries similar panics have occurred where there was a purely metallic currency, and bank notes were unknown. They have also recurred, as I have already mentioned, under every form of tariff which has existed in this country during the present century, or even longer. Mr. Mills has proved that such fluctuations have a deeper cause which we can only describe as the mental disposition of the trading classes. As a fact, there is every ten years or thereabouts au excitement of hope and confidence leading to a profusion of speculative schemes, the incurring of a great mass of liabilities, the investment of a great amount of floating capital, and an intense temporary activity of trade. As we know too well, there follows inevitably a corresponding reaction, and we are now in the third year of what Mr. Mills has so well called the Post Panic Period. I trust that he will before long favour us with a continuation of his admirable paper, pointing out how completely the course of events is justifying his remarks.
There are at present signs of the dawn of commercial activity. The first slight blush of returning day is beginning to show itself. The promoters of companies are beginning again to put forth their proposals in an extremely diffident and deprecatory manner. As there are no unfortunate reminiscences attaching to deep sea cables, they are selected to lead off with, and I do not doubt that before two or three years are over we shall again have occasion to fear the excessive confidence and the occasional want of integrity of projectors. It is a very significant fact that the iron trade, after several years of depression, is now beginning to be active. If masters and men in that trade would only let it take its natural course there would soon be nothing to complain of; and it will be truly unfortunate if a premature advance of wages and prices—for such is thought by many to be the recent decision of the trade in South Staffordshire—should drive their better fortune from them. Prosperity is probably only a question of a short time, and the close connection which exists between the demand for iron and the amount of fixed investment about to be made, seems to render the price of iron the best commercial weatherglass.
What there may be in the trade of this district which is not adequately explained by the recent collapse may surely be due to the lingering effects of the cotton famine. This society has furnished the public, in Mr. E. Helm's Review of the Cotton Trade, during the years 1862–68, with probably the best arranged facts concerning the position of the cotton and some related branches of manufacture. His tables form quite a small hand-book of the subject, and no one can doubt that the disproportion which he proves between the manufacturing power and the supply of cotton is quite adequate to explain the state of things. And we must remember that the general depression of trade profits and employment unfortunately cooperates with the high price of the material at present to restrict the home and foreign demand for cotton goods. The cotton manufacture has thus been beset with every possible disadvantage, and it is absurd indeed to turn round and throw the whole blame upon that freedom of foreign commerce by which alone we can obtain a pound of cotton-wool.
One word upon reciprocity treaties. Those who harp upon this idea, because they have no other to offer, overlook the fact that every act of commerce is a treaty of reciprocity. We cannot import without we export to an equal value, and we cannot export without we import. When we broke down the barriers around our own shores we could not stimulate an inward without also stimulating an outward current. The current would doubtless be stronger were the barriers around other shores removed; but were it our habit to wait until other nations are ready to accompany our steps of progress, we should still be where we stood in 1819.
I am glad to see that one result of the present depression of trade has been to direct attention to the enormous amount of pauperism existing in this country. The recent increase of the last few years indeed is fully accounted for by the temporary state of industry, and a few years of prosperity will doubtless restore things, to what they were. But is there any time in the present century when we could look at the undoubted returns of our poor-law relief and say that they were not a matter of regret and anxiety? Can we say that we are in a sound social state when all our triumphs in science, in mechanical invention, in manufactures, and in trade leave us still with one million of the people in the state of hopeless misery and dependence.
It is true that the present generation is not responsible for the creation of so much wretchedness. Pauperism is the general resultant of all the bad and all the omitted legislation of the last five hundred years. We have enough to answer for without reproaching ourselves with the deficiencies of our fore-fathers. Our reproach must be that, enjoying a greater amount of wealth, and greater opportunities than ever before fell to the lot of any nation, we have not done more to correct the results of former neglect. But I apprehend that what we want is not so much desire to accomplish the work as unanimity concerning the mode to be adopted. As pauperism is the general resultant of all that is wrong in our social arrangements it cannot be destroyed by any single measure; it can only be reduced by such exertions as raise the intelligence and provident habits of the people. Material well-being has comparatively little effect, for, however high the wages of an artizan may be, they may be spent intemperately, and on the slightest reverse of fortune his family or himself may come to the workhouse. It is distressing to find that a population such as that surrounding this city, which, on the whole, perhaps, has as great a command of good food and all the comforts of life as any in the world, has nothing to fall back upon, no accumulated savings of consequence, and that they are, therefore, ever ready upon the least breath of adversity to come upon the public funds. No people can be really well off unless to their material prosperity be joined habits of providence and foresight, which will lead them to fortify themselves in the position they have once attained.
General education is, doubtless, the measure which most nearly approaches to a panacea for our present evils. If I do not say much on this subject it is not because I do not feel much, but because I do not know so much of the details of the subject as would warrant me in speaking of it to many members who are already fully and practically acquainted with it. I will only suggest that, as this Society has, from its first establishment, taken a leading part in those inquiries and discussions which have led to the present wholesome state of public opinion, it might now fitly give attention to the minutest details of the legislation required. Compulsory attendance at school we must have, and I wish some of our members would investigate the most efficient means of carrying out the future law.
Another obvious mode of cutting off the springs of pauperism is to repress drunkenness. Here, again, we meet a question on which public opinion has pronounced itself in a general sort of manner, but where the details are still entirely in doubt. I was very glad that our member, the Rev. Mr. Steinthal, brought the subject of the licensing laws before us in a paper which left nothing to be desired as regards perfect acquaintance with the details of legislation and recent public discussion on the subject. But I am very sorry that I cannot accept his conclusion that the Permissive Bill of the United Kingdom Alliance is the best measure to repress intemperance. It aims at the more or less complete prohibition of a traffic which cannot be entirely destroyed, and, as I for one think, ought not to be entirely destroyed. It does not aim, so far as I can see, at exactly the right object; and I cannot persuade myself that its object could be carried out in practice. No one can doubt that so powerful a society does great good by drawing attention to the evils which exist; but I wish that an equal support could be given to the exceedingly sensible and practicable measures advocated by the Licenses Amendment League of this city. What we want, as it seems to me, is a carefully regulated and limited traffic, controlled by a well-enforced law, administered by a body of magistrates or other men who will ignore altogether the interests of the publicans, and look steadily to the infinitely greater object of the public good.
Among minor measures for the decrease of pauperism I may mention those advocated by Mr. Barwick L. Baker, in a most valuable and practical paper read to the society last session. Vagrancy is one of the abuses certain to grow up under a poor-law unless it be administered with the utmost care; and I trust that the experience of Mr. Baker may meet with proper attention from the Poor-law Board. It is creditable to our society to draw forth practical information such as this paper contains.
Another important effort is now being made in this city to decrease pauperism—I mean the placing out of pauper children in the families of respectable artisans—one of our members, Mr. Charles Herford, being foremost in the undertaking. It is well known that those children who are brought up in the workhouse almost invariably return there sooner or later, and thus form a strictly hereditary class of paupers. There can be no more direct mode of cutting off a branch of the stream of pauperism than thus to arrest it in the period of childhood. The scheme, so far as it is yet carried out, acts admirably, judging from what I have heard and seen of it, and I trust Mr. Herford will shortly give us the result of his experience in the matter.
I now wish to advert to a subject which has not, I think, received the attention it deserves. I refer to the tendency of medical charities and the poor-law medical service to nourish the spirit of pauperism. Considerable indignation has been occasioned by the neglect of sick paupers which has occurred in some parishes, and there is a movement for a general and uniform improvement in the medical treatment of paupers. Everyone must hold in the highest estimation men who, like the author of “Social Duties,” devote the highest talents to a work of this kind; and few who have read this work could have failed to acquiesce in the humane views put forth. Yet I think we must take care lest in yielding to the impulses of humanity we do more harm than good. I fear we may make the Union hospital so easy of access, and so attractive, that it may lead half-way to the Poor-house itself. Whenever I see the admirable infirmary built at Withington by our member Mr. Worthington, and described in our Transactions, this is the thought which suggests itself. But I feel bound to go further, and call in question the policy of the whole of our medical charities, including all free public infirmaries, dispensaries, hospitals, and a large part of the vast amount of private charity. What I mean is, that the whole of these charities nourish in the poorest classes a contented sense of dependence on the richer classes for those ordinary requirements of life which they ought to be led to provide for themselves. Medical assistance is probably the least objectionable of all the forms of charity, but it nevertheless may be objectionable. There is nothing more sure than that a certain percentage of any population will be suffering at every moment from illness or disease. It is almost certain that every man, woman, and child will require some medical treatment, and no family is really in a solvent condition which is not prepared to meet the average expenditure for this purpose. Every hospital and free dispensary tends to relax the habits of providence, which ought to be most carefully cultivated, and which cannot be better urged than with regard to the contingency of sickness. The Times not long ago published some very remarkable and complete statistics, compiled by Mr. Hicks, showing that the annual revenue of the established charities of London alone amounted to more than two millions a year. I fear that not only is a large part of this wasted in the excessive costs of management, but that a further large portion really goes to undermine the most valuable qualities of self-reliance, and so form a bribe towards the habits of mendicancy and pauperism. About forty years ago it be came apparent to the statesmen of that day that the Poor Laws, as then administered, were doing immense injury by allowing a distribution of public money in aid of wages, and encouraging every one to rely upon the public funds for subsistence. I fear we are in danger of falling into a similar mistake now by placing upon the ratepayers or upon charitable persons the whole cost of the medical service of the poorer classes. There is really no reason why such a state of things should exist, and many why it should not exist. At present the result of almost all charitable efforts is to make the poor look upon assistance as a right and natural thing in every contingency of life. If they merely want a little medicine there is a free dispensary; if they have a bad eye or ear, there are appropriate institutions; if anyone is in weak health he seeks a free order of admission to a Southport or a Buxton Hospital; and when the most natural possible crisis in a poor woman's life approaches, she looks forward to the aid of St. Mary's Hospital. Now, I ask, why should the poorer classes be thus encouraged and instructed to look to the wealthier classes for aid in some of the commonest requirements of life? If they were absolutely unable to provide for themselves the reason would be a strong and intelligible one, but I do not believe that the people are really in such a hopeless state of poverty. On the contrary, the wages of the greater part of the working-classes, and in these districts almost the whole, are probably capable, if wisely expended, of meeting the ordinary evils and contingencies of life, and were providence in small matters the rule, the most unhesitating aid might properly be given in the more unforeseen and severe accidents and cases of destitution.
But there is little use in bewailing an evil unless some mode of remedying it can be found. There is not much difficulty in discovering the only remedy applicable to medical charities. No one can seriously think of abolishing those charities; but why should not the working-classes be required to contribute towards institutions mainly established for their benefit. Self-supporting dispensaries exist in many places which afford all requisite aid to any person subscribing some such small amount as 1d. or 2d. each per week. I have heard that some of the London hospitals have considered the idea of adopting this system, and refusing aid in all minor cases but to their own subscribers. It would not be necessary to render the hospitals self-supporting. Endowments and public contributions would usually enable every hospital or dispensary to give back in medical aid several times the value of what is given in small contributions. The object would be not so much to raise money as to avoid undermining the prudent habits of the people. Non-contributors might still be relieved, but only on the payment of a fine; and, of course, cases of severe accident, illness, or destitution would still be relieved gratuitously as at present.
We cannot be supposed yet to have reached a point at which the public or private charity of one class towards another can be dispensed with, but I do think we ought to look towards such a state of things. True progress will tend to render every class self-reliant and independent. Self-help is the truest kind of help, and you confer the greatest benefit upon a person or a class of persons when you enable and induce them to do without your aid for the future. Money spent in the education of the young has this beneficent effect. Money spent in most other modes of charity has generally the opposite effect. Hence, I venture to look upon £1 spent in the education of the young as worth £50 spent in most other charitable uses.
I am hardly likely to overlook or underestimate the mistakes committed by Trades Unions, but can we deny that they embody the true spirit of self-help? So far as their funds are spent upon the relief of sickness, the support of those who are bonâ fide out of employment, or crippled by accident, they represent the truest form of providence, and they are already one of the bulwarks against the flood of pauperism. I do not despair of the time when these societies will understand the harmful and hopeless nature of their struggle against capital, and when that day comes, and working-men devote themselves to the accumulation of capital and the employment of it for their own benefit, a new and more hopeful order of things will not be far distant.
Having ventured to speak against the abuse of medical charities, I think I need not spare my remarks upon an innumerable multitude of other charities which have nothing to recommend them. I allude to the small doles of money and bread, coals and blankets, and other articles, which, in almost every parish in England, are given out chiefly through the hands of the clergy at intervals, according to the benevolent but mistaken intentions of testators. In Manchester I have seen the Cathedral entirely filled by an indiscriminate crowd of poor persons, each summoned to receive a blanket or coverlet. Every one, of course, must know that a certain amount of physical comfort may thus be caused; but what is this to the demoralising effect of such casual charity upon the energy and prudent habits of the recipients? I do not hesitate to say that such charities are an unmitigated nuisance, and that the money is not merely thrown away but used to do harm. It would accordingly be a most salutary measure to divert a considerable part of these misused funds to the promotion of education. Such funds are really public and not private funds, and when the State recognises in the Poor Law an indefeasible right of every person to maintenance under certain most necessary conditions, and spends a huge annual sum of money in consequence, it has a perfect right and duty to inquire into the application of other public funds which really go to swell the crowd of paupers.
The British Poor Law of 1832 is one of the wisest measures ever concerted by any government, and we of this generation hardly appreciate what it has saved us from. But I much fear lest any mistaken feelings of humanity should lead us to relax the rigour of its application, and to allow it in one way or other to be circumvented and counteracted. Should this be so, then, I say that British pauperism is simply a hopeless and permanent, and probably an increasing reproach to the civilisation of this country. Doubtless the state of things is somewhat better than it was before 1832; but, considering the nature of the reforms since effected, the amount of the wealth acquired, and the general amelioration in the other ranks of society, I venture to say that the improvement in the numbers and prospects of the poorest class who are or may become paupers, is really inconsiderable. And I shudder to think what might be the effect of any serious impediment to our future progress, such as a long-continued war, the competition of other nations, or a comparative failure of our own material resources.
[∗]Printed in the “Journal of the Statistical Society,” September, 1870.