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Molinari’s 10th Evening

Gustave de Molinari, Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare: entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété (Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street: Discussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property) (1849)

[A Draft of Liberty Fund's new translation]
[May 17, 2012]

[10th Evening]

[SUMMARY: On state charity and its influence on population. – The law of Malthus. – Defence of Malthus. – On the population of Ireland. – How to put an end to Ireland’s woes. – Why state charity creates an artificial growth in population. – On its moral influence on the working class. – That state charity discourages private charity. – On the quality of the population. – Ways of improving the population. – The mixing of races. – Marriage. – Successful marriages. – Ill-matched marriages. – Their influence on race. – In what situation, under what regime would the population most easily maintain itself at the level of its means of existence.]

Molinari_1849LesSoireesRSL-TP300.jpg MolinariObitB-300
Title Page of the original 1849 edition
The photo of Molinari (1819-1912) which accompanied his obituary in the Journal des économistes

Introduction

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Molinari's book Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare; entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1849) is being translated by Liberty Fund. The translation was done by Dennis O'Keeffe and it is being edited by David M. Hart. The critical apparatus of foontnotes and glossary entries, and introduction are being provided by David Hart. We welcome feedback from Molinari scholars to ensure that this edition will be a great one and thus befitting Molinari in his centennial year.

This page has a detailed Table of Contents and links to other Chapters.

 

The Tenth Evening

[p. 276]

SUMMARY: On state charity and its influence on population. – The law of Malthus. – Defence of Malthus. – On the population of Ireland. – How to put an end to Ireland’s woes. – Why state charity creates an artificial growth in population. – On its moral influence on the working class. – That state charity discourages private charity. – On the quality of the population. – Ways of improving the population. – The mixing of races. – Marriage. – Successful marriages. – Ill-matched marriages. – Their influence on race. – In what situation, under what regime would the population most easily maintain itself at the level of its means of existence.

THE ECONOMIST.

I will speak to you today about the disruption and disasters caused by state charity,[347] by the welfare institutions maintained , organized and financed at the government’s expense and that of the regional départéments and communes. These institutions, whose costs are met by all taxpayers without distinction, constitute one of the most harmful of the attacks on property. From the point of view of the population...

THE SOCIALIST.

Here we go. Ecce iterum Crispinus. Here is Crispinus again.[348] The Malthusian returns. I wager you are going to call for the abolition of welfare offices in the interests of the poor [p277]; but you will not be listened to I warn you. The 1848 Constitution imposed on society the obligation to provide assistance.

THE CONSERVATIVE.

And society will be well able to fulfill this duty.

THE ECONOMIST.

Then so much the worse. How can a government help the poor? By giving them money or help in kind. Where can this money and this help be found? In the taxpayers’ pockets. You see the government forced therefore to resort to the Poor Rate,[349] that is to say to the most frightful engine of war which has ever been directed against the poor.

THE SOCIALIST.

Malthusian![350] Malthusian! Malthusian![351]

THE ECONOMIST.

Certainly, that is an insult which honors me . I am a Malthusian when it comes to the population,[352] I am a Newtonian when it comes to gravity, and a Smithian when we are talking about the division of labor.

THE SOCIALIST.

We are definitely going to fall out. I began, if I have to confess it to you, by letting myself be shaken by your doctrines. I was surprised to find myself praising property and admiring its very fertile results...but, it would be impossible for me to admire Malthus and even more impossible to praise him. What! You would actually dare to undertake the justification of that blasphemer who himself dared to say that “a man arriving without means of existence on land already occupied, will have to leave”,[353] of that heartless economist [p278] who was the apologist of infanticide, plague and famine! You could as well defend Attila or Mandrin.[354]

THE CONSERVATIVE.

You will bear witness that we detest Malthus as much as you yourselves do. Le Constitutionnel recently displayed its disregard for this deplorable fetish of English political economy.[355]

THE ECONOMIST.

Have you read Malthus?

THE CONSERVATIVE.

I have read the passages quoted by Le Constitutionnel.

THE SOCIALIST.

And I have read the passages quoted by M. Proudhon.[356]

THE ECONOMIST.

These are the same, or rather it is the same, for it is that passage alone they quote. Moreover, however barbaric this passage seems, it is for all that the expression of the truth.

THE CONSERVATIVE.

What an abomination!

THE SOCIALIST.

What infamy!

THE ECONOMIST.

And yet they contain an essential human truth, as I will prove to you.

Tell me, then, do you think that the earth can provide all the raw materials necessary for the maintenance of a limitless number of human beings?

THE SOCIALIST.

Definitely not! The earth can never feed more than a limited number of inhabitants. Fourier reckoned this number at [p279] three to five billion.[357] The population today, however, numbers scarcely a billion.[358]

THE ECONOMIST.

You accept that there is a limit, and indeed it would be absurd to maintain that the world could feed two, three, four or five hundred billion people.

Do you believe that the reproductive power of the human race is limited?

THE SOCIALIST.

I could not say.

THE ECONOMIST.

Look at everything which lives or grows and you will find that nature has been immensely generous with the seeds it supplies. Each kind of vegetable spreads a thousand times more seeds than the land makes fertile. Animal species are likewise provided with a superabundance of seed.

Could things be arranged differently? If animal life and vegetable life possessed only limited reproductive power, would not the slightest catastrophe be sufficient to annihilate their species? Could the organizer of everything[359] have managed without providing them with almost unlimited reproductive power?

Vegetable and animal species, however, never exceed certain limits, either because not all the seeds are fertilized, or because some of them which have been fertilized, die. It is thanks to the non-fertilization of seeds or to the swift destruction of fertilized ones, that they balance themselves with the amount of food which nature offers them.

Why should man be shielded from this law which regulates all animal and vegetable species? [p280]

Imagine that man’s reproductive power had been limited, imagine that any union could produce only two individuals; would humanity then, I will not say have multiplied, but simply maintained itself? Instead of propagating themselves in such a way as to people the earth, would not the different races of mankind have been successively extinguished, through the contingency of sickness, war, accident etc.? Was it not necessary for man, like the animals and plants, to be provided with superabundant reproductive power?

If man possesses, like other animal and vegetable species, superabundant powers of reproduction, what must he do? Must his kind proliferate as they do, leaving to nature the task of destroying their surplus? Must man reproduce without worrying about the fate of his offspring any more than animals or plants do? No, being equipped with reason and foresight, man naturally acts in accord with Providence to maintain his kind within proper limits; he likewise refrains from giving birth to beings doomed in advance to destruction.

THE SOCIALIST.

Doomed to destruction...

THE ECONOMIST.

Let us see. If man used all his reproductive power as he is only too disposed to; if the number of men as a consequence were one day to pass the limit of the means of subsistence, what would happen to the individuals produced in excess of that limit? What happens to the plants which multiply beyond the nutritive potential of the soil?[360][p281]

THE CONSERVATIVE.

They perish.

THE ECONOMIST.

And can nothing save them?

THE SOCIALIST.

The productive power of the land could be increased.

THE ECONOMIST.

Up to a certain limit. That limit reached, however, imagine that the plants multiplied in such a way as to exceed it. What would be bound to happen?

THE SOCIALIST.

Obviously in that case the surplus will die.

THE ECONOMIST.

And can nothing save it?

THE SOCIALIST.

Nothing can save it.

THE ECONOMIST.

Well what happens to plants happens also to men, when the limit of their means of existence is exceeded. That is the law which Malthus recognized and confirmed;[361] there we find the explanation of this famous passage for which you and yours condemn him: ‘A man who arrives in a world already occupied, etc’. And how did Malthus recognize this law? By looking at the facts! By establishing that in all the countries where population has passed the means of subsistence, the surplus has perished through famine, illness, infanticide, etc., and that the destruction has not ceased to carry out its funereal function until the point where population has been pulled back to its necessary equilibrium.

[p282]

THE SOCIALIST.

To its necessary equilibrium...So you think that the countries where Malthus investigated his law would not have been able to feed their excess population; you think that our beautiful France, where harsh circumstances decimate generations of poor people, could not feed those who die prematurely.

THE ECONOMIST.

I am convinced that France could feed more people and feed them better if the multitude of economic abuses which I have drawn to your attention had ceased to exist. While we are waiting, however, for light to be shone upon these abuses, while we wait for them to disappear, it is wise not to go beyond the present means of subsistence. Therefore let us demand, vigorously, the reforms necessary to push back the limits of the means of subsistence, and also let us recommend with Malthus, until that is achieved, prudence, abstinence and moral restraint.[362] Later, when the complete emancipation of property has rendered production more abundant and distribution more just, abstinence will become less rigorous, without, however, ceasing to be necessary.[363]

THE SOCIALIST.

Does not this abstinence, this moral restraint, hide a gross immorality?[364]

THE ECONOMIST.

What immorality? Malthus thought that people were rendering themselves guilty of a real crime by bringing into the world beings destined inevitably to perish. He advised, consequently, [p285] that we abstain doing so. What do you find immoral in this advice?

THE SOCIALIST.

Nothing, but you know very well that complete abstinence is not possible in practice, and God knows what immoral compromise you have conjured up.

THE ECONOMIST.

I beg you to believe that we have conjured up nothing at all. The compromise of which you speak was being practiced long before Malthus was busy working on the laws of population. Political economy never recommended it, speaking only of moral restraint.....As for deciding whether this compromise is immoral or not, this is not a matter for us economists; consult in this connection the Academy of Moral and Political Science (moral science section).[365]

THE SOCIALIST.

I will, without fail.

THE CONSERVATIVE.

I understand very well that the population can exceed the limits set by the means of subsistence; but is it easy to establish that limit? Can we say, for example, that the population has gone beyond the subsistence limit in Ireland?

THE ECONOMIST.

Yes, and the proof of it is that every year a part of the Irish population dies from hunger and poverty.[366]

THE SOCIALIST.

While the rich and powerful aristocracy which exploits Ireland has a splendid existence in London and Paris.[367]

[p284]

THE ECONOMIST.

If you looked closely at the causes of this monstrous inequality, you would locate them once again in the attacks made against property. For several centuries confiscation was the order of the day in Ireland. Not only did the Saxon conquerors[368] confiscate the land-holdings of the Irish people, but they also destroyed Irish productive output, by burdening it with hugely damaging restrictions. These barbarities came to an end but the social conditions they established were maintained and aggravated, to England’s great shame.

THE SOCIALIST.

Add it was to England’s profit too.

THE ECONOMIST.

No, because today Irish poverty is maintained and increased on the one hand by the special taxes which England imposes on herself to feed the poor of Ireland, and on the other by the routine taxes she raises to protect the persons and property of the Irish aristocracy.[369]

THE SOCIALIST.

What, are you saying you would like England to let the Irish poor perish without helping them?

THE CONSERVATIVE.

What, do you want England to permit the murder of Irish property owners and the pillaging of their property?

THE ECONOMIST.

I would like to see England to say to the aristocratic proprietors in Ireland: “You possess the greater part of Irish capital and land; well, defend your property yourselves. I no longer wish to devote a single man or a single shilling to this venture. Nor do I [p285] want to continue any more to maintain the poor souls you have allowed to multiply on the soil of Ireland. If the wretched Irish peasants unite to burn your country houses and share out your estates between them, so much the worse for you. I do not wish to concern myself any longer with Ireland”.

Ireland would ask for nothing better, as you know. “Be so kind”, said the elderly O’Connell[370] to the members of the British Parliament, “as to take your hands off us. Leave us to our own destiny. Allow us to govern ourselves”!

If England complied with this constant request from the champions of Irish independence, what would happen to Ireland? Do you think the aristocracy would abandon its rich estates to the mercy of starving bands of white boys?[371] Most certainly not! It would swiftly abandon its splendid houses in the West End of London and the Faubourg Saint Honoré in Paris,[372] to go to the defence of its threatened properties. It would then understand the need to heal Ireland’s terrible wounds. It would use its capital to develop and improve agriculture. It would begin to produce food for those it has reduced to the last extremities of poverty. If it did not take this course, if it continued in the idle spending of its income abroad, while famine did its evil work in Ireland, would it manage without outside help, to hold on to its land and property for very long? Would it not soon be dispossessed of its holdings, by the legions of the poor who are everywhere in Ireland?

THE SOCIALIST.

If England withdrew the support of its land and sea forces, [p286] this would change the situation very markedly; nothing could be surer. Would the Irish not, however, have an interest in the pure and straightforward confiscation of the property of this heartless aristocracy?

THE ECONOMIST.

This would be a very strict application of the idea of retaliation. I do not know how far it is just, how far it is moral, to punish one generation for the crimes committed by earlier ones. I do not know if the descendants of the victims of Drogheda and Wexford have the right to make the present landowners of Ireland expiate the crimes of brigands in the pay of Henry VIII, Elizabeth and Cromwell.[373] But to conceive the problem from the simple point of view of utility, the Irish would be wrong to confiscate the wealth of their aristocracy. What would they do with it? They would have to share it between a vast number of peasants, who would end up exhausting the soil, for lack of the capital to apply to it. On the contrary, by respecting the aristocratic holdings, they would allow this rich, powerful and enlightened class to take care of the transformation of the land and thus contribute its proper share in the elimination of Irish poverty. The Irish poor would be the principal beneficiaries.

As long as English taxpayers, however, bear the costs of supplying security to the landowners, and food to Ireland’s poor, you may be sure that the former will continue with the idle spending of their wealth abroad and the latter with their rapidly increasing numbers in the midst context of a dreadful poverty. You may also be quite sure that the Irish situation will go from bad to worse.

[p287]

THE SOCIALIST.

That English taxpayers should cease paying the costs of the government of Ireland seems entirely proper to me; but would it not be inhuman to abandon the Irish poor to their fate?

THE ECONOMIST.

The Irish landowners should be left to struggle with them. Left to themselves the Irish aristocrats will impose on their own class the harshest sacrifices to maintain their poor. This is what their interest will require, since charity, all things considered, is less expensive than repression. They will, however, measure the help they give precisely in relation to the real needs of the population. To the extent that the development of production will increase the employment of labor, it will diminish the total of almsgiving. The day when output is sufficient to feed the population, the aristocracy will cease its regular contributions to poverty relief. In this new circumstance, no artificial causes will be such as to promote excessive population growth in Ireland.

THE SOCIALIST.

So you believe that state charity causes an artificial and abnormal growth of population.

THE ECONOMIST.

This fact has been clearly established, following the inquiries relating to the Poor Rate in England.[374] This fact is effortlessly self-explanatory. What do the institutions known as relief agencies do? They distribute the means of subsistence to the poor, gratis. If these institutions are established by law, if they introduce an assured source of income, if they constitute a patrimony for the poor, people will always be found people to devour [p288] that income, to enjoy that patrimony; we will encounter them all the more, as charitable institutions become more numerous, richer and more accessible.

You will then see a slackening in the powerful motivation which impels a man to work so as to feed himself and his family. If the Parish or Commune grants the worker a wage supplement, he will reduce proportionately the length of his working day and the sum total of his efforts; if people open crèches and shelters for children, he will have more of them. If hospices[375] are founded and retirement pensions established for the elderly, he will cease worrying about the fate of his parents and about his own old age; if, finally, hospitals are opened for impoverished sick people, he will stop saving up against the days of illness. Soon you will see this man whom you have freed from the obligation to fulfill most of his duties towards his own and towards himself, devoting himself like a brute to his vilest instincts. The more charitable institutions are opened, the more you will see taverns and brothels opening too... Ah, well-meaning philanthropists, socialists of almsgiving, you take it upon yourselves to provide for the needs of the poor, as the shepherd undertakes to provide for those of his flock, you substitute your own responsibility for individual responsibility and you think the worker will continue to prove hardworking and farsighted! You think he will still work for his children when you have arranged for the cheap raising of this human livestock in your crèches; you think that when, at his expense, you have opened free hospices, he will continue looking after his old father; you think he will still save against the [p289] bad times when your welfare agencies and hospitals have been made available to him. You had better think again! In eliminating responsibility you have eliminated foresight too. Where nature has put men, your communistic philanthropy will soon leave only beasts.

And these brutes whom you have created, these brutes deprived of all moral sense, will proliferate in numbers to the point where you will be quite incapable of feeding them. Then you will utter cries of distress, in which you will condemn the evil leanings of the human heart and the doctrines which overheat them. You will cast anathema on sensual indulgence, you will denounce the incitements of the daily newspapers and I do not know what else. Unhappy people!

THE CONSERVATIVE.

The abuse of charitable institutions can without doubt cause grave disorder in economy and society; but is it possible to dispense entirely with these institutions? Can we leave the multitudinous poor to die without help?

THE ECONOMIST.

Who is talking to you of leaving them to die without help? Let private charity freely go about its business[376] and it will help them more than your official institutions do! It will help them without breaking family links, without taking the old man away from his son, without depriving the sick husband of the care his wife and daughters will provide. Private charity springs from the heart and respects the heart’s attachments.

THE CONSERVATIVE.

State charity does not impede private charity.

[p290]

THE ECONOMIST.

You are wrong. State charity discourages private charity, or causes it to dry up. The state charity budget in France reaches a hundred million.[377] That sum is levied on the income of all taxpayers. Now private charity is not drawn from some alternative source. When the state charity budget is increased, the private one is therefore necessarily decreased. And the diminution on one side exceeds the increase on the other. When society takes care of the maintenance of the poor, are we not naturally inclined to leave their care to society? We have paid a contribution towards the state charity agency, so that is where we send the poor. This is how the heart becomes closed to charity.

Another even more efficacious means has been employed, however, to root out from our souls, the most noble and generous feeling that the Creator has planted there. We may not have dared to forbid the rich to engage in charity but we have certainly forbidden the poor to ask for it. French law regards begging[378] as a crime and it punishes the beggar as though he were a thief. Begging is strictly forbidden in most of our provinces. Well, if the poor man commits a crime by accepting alms, does not the rich man become an accomplice by giving it to him? Charity has become criminal by virtue of the law. How can you want that noble plant to remain sturdy, when everything you do serves to wither and destroy it?

THE SOCIALIST.

It could indeed be the case that state enforced charity has diminished voluntary giving. According to your own doctrines, however, is [p291] this a social ill? If charity provokes the artificial growth of the population, if as a consequence it engenders more ills than it cures, is it not desirable that we reduce it to its minimum, nay that we even abolish it entirely?

THE ECONOMIST.

I have said to you that state charity necessarily results in the artificial development of the population, I did not speak to you about private charity. I beg you not to confuse them. However developed private charity is, it remains essentially precarious, it does not supply a stable and regular provision to a specific segment of the population; nor, moreover, does it change any of the moral motivation of the human soul.

He who receives material aid from an office of state welfare, or goes into a hospital where he is coldly received, where he sometimes even serves as a guinea pig for experiments, neither feels nor could feel any gratitude for the service rendered to him. Moreover, to whom would he address his gratitude? To government or to the taxpayers? But the government is represented by cold accountants and the taxpayers pay their dues most reluctantly. The man whom society helps could not possibly feel gratitude towards a cold abstraction. He will be more inclined to think that society is acquitting itself of its debt to him and reproach it for not doing so more amply.

By contrast, a person whose poverty is relieved by an active and sensitive charity, almost always keeps alive the memory of this kindness. By receiving help, he contracts a moral obligation. Well, rich or poor, the average man [p292] does not like to contract more obligations than he can repay, morally or materially. He will accept a kindness graciously, but he will not agree to live on kindness. He would resign himself to the hardest sacrifices, he would load himself with the most repugnant tasks, rather than remain forever dependent on his benefactor. He would die of shame if he were to increase further the burden of his indebtedness through a culpable lack of foresight. Rather than destroying the moral motivation of the human heart, private charity strengthens and sometimes develops it. It raises man up rather than degrading him.

Therefore there is no way in which private charity could promote population growth. It would tend on the contrary to slow it down.

No more could it become, as does state welfare, a dangerous source of divisions and hatreds. Increase the numbers of so-called philanthropic institutions in France, continue the state regulation of charity, complete your work by forbidding him who engages in charity from doing so, as you already forbid him who receives it from taking it and you will soon see the results.

On the one hand you will find an enormous herd-like group of men, receiving as though it were so much debt, the harsh and stinting charity of the Treasury. These men will bitterly resent the wealthy classes for the stinginess of their charity, in the context of a poverty which that very charity has caused to grow endlessly.

On the other hand you will find taxpayers weighed down with taxation and who shy away from making a heavy burden even heavier, by adding voluntary charity to the kind already imposed by the state.

[p293]

In such a situation can public order be maintained for long? Can such a divided society, one in which no moral link now holds the rich and the poor together, avoid being torn apart? England was nearly destroyed by the destitution caused by the Poor Rate. Let us be very fearful of following the same path. Let us give to charity individually; let us no longer engage in communal philanthropy!...

THE SOCIALIST.

Yes, I understand clearly the difference between these two forms of charity; but ought not private charity to be directed and organised?

THE ECONOMIST.

Leave it alone.[379] It is sufficiently active and ingenious to distribute its goods in the most functional way. Its instincts serve it better than your directives ever could.

THE SOCIALIST.

I agree with you that private charity is preferable to state charity. I even agree that the latter results in proliferation of poverty. What, though, if the population increases in such a way as to exceed the number of jobs supplied by production and by the private charity budget? What should we do then? Would we have to let the excess population perish?

THE ECONOMIST.

We would have to get private charity to double its zeal, and above all take care not to engage in state welfare, for the latter having the inevitable effect both of reducing the [p294] total funds available to poverty relief and of increasing the numbers of the poor, would aggravate the ill rather than assuaging it.

I say, however, that in a society in which the property of all was respected, under one in which the economic laws which govern society would cease to be misunderstood and violated, that surplus population would never come about.

THE SOCIALIST.

Prove it!

THE ECONOMIST.

Let me first tell you a few words about the factors which depress the quality of the population, which reduce the numbers of men fit for labor whilst increasing those of the invalids, idiots and cretins, blind people and deaf-mutes, whom society must feed.

THE CONSERVATIVE.

That is a side to the question which is not without interest.

THE ECONOMIST.

And one far too neglected.

Man is a combination of diverse possibilities and powers. These possibilities or powers – of instinct, feeling and intelligence – assume different proportions as between individuals. The most complete man is the one whose faculties have the most energy; the most perfect man is the one whose faculties are at once the most energetic and the most harmoniously balanced.

THE CONSERVATIVE.

I can more or less see what you wish to assert here; [p295] but do you therefore think we can act on the breeding of humans as we do on that of animals?

THE ECONOMIST.

The English have managed to improve their sheep and cattle in an almost miraculous way; they manufacture sheep – literally – of a certain size, of a certain weight, and even of a certain colour. How have they obtained these results? By crossing certain breeds and by choosing among these breeds, those individuals which will mate the most usefully.

Is it not plausible that the laws which govern the reproduction of animal species also govern that of man? [380] Notice that the numerous races or varieties which humanity comprises, are very diversely endowed. Among the inferior races,[381] the moral and intellectual faculties exist only in the embryonic state. Certain races have some faculties particularly well developed, while the rest of their organization is backward or feeble. The Chinese, for example, have a highly developed sense of color; on the other hand they are almost entirely lacking in the instinct for struggle, or combativeness. The Indians of North America, by contrast, are distinguished by their instinctual aggressiveness and cunning, and also by a harmonious ear for sounds. [382] The distinctive abilities of races are transmitted without significant modification, as long as the races do not mix. The Chinese have always been colourists; they have never been distinguished by their bravery. The Indians [p296] have always been brave and cunning and spoken in harmonious dialects.

THE CONSERVATIVE.

That would lead us to set up stud-farms for the improvement of the human race.

THE ECONOMIST.

Not at all. It suggests we should get rid of the artificial obstacles which prevent the different races of humanity from drawing closer.

THE SOCIALIST.

But this coming together must be directed and controlled.

THE ECONOMIST.

It will direct and control itself all on its own. The various forces whose lodgement is the human brain, obey, it would seem, the same law of gravitation which governs matter. The most forceful faculties attract the weakest ones of the same species. It is commonly observed, for example, that the gentlest and least egocentric characters are irresistibly drawn to the most arrogant and aggressive ones. Large forces attract small ones, the result being an average closer to the ideal equilibrium of human organisation.

This equilibrium tends to set itself up through the natural and spontaneous manifestation of individual fellow feeling and affinities. And since all physical organisation depends on the orderly management of physical, moral and intellectual faculties, the body improves itself in tandem with the mind.

If you accept this theoretical approach, you have to accept [p297] also that out of the immense diversity of types and individuals, there must be a coming together of two beings attracted to each other with the greatest intensity, whose union yields, consequently, the most workable average. Between these two beings the union is necessary and eternal. It is called marriage.

THE CONSERVATIVE.

Ah! So you support marriage.

THE ECONOMIST.

I think that marriage is a natural institution. Unfortunately, look what has happened. Owing to the immense moral and material upheavals society has endured, very many people have ceased to contract unions based purely on mutual sympathy. Racial prejudice or financial interest have been preferred as determining criteria, in the great issue of marriage, to natural affinities. Thus we have seen badly matched couples, and as a result of these unions, a degeneration, both of individuals and of the nation. Badly matched unions being liable to break up, those who make the laws have proclaimed the indissolubility of marriage and prescribed harsh penalties for adulterers. Despite this law, however, nature has never ceased to take its course and, in the event, bad marriages have been no less likely to dissolution.

When a union is badly matched, when two incompatible persons are brought together, the outcome of this monstrous coupling could scarcely be anything other than monstrous itself.

Everybody knows that the superior races who have governed Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire, have mostly been of bastard stock. Why? Because natural, mutual attractions, rarely determined their [p298] unions. Royal families in particular rarely formed alliances other than in the light of political interests. So they degenerated more swiftly and completely than the others. What would have happened to the French Bourbons after the reign of the imbecile Louis XIII, if it had not regained energy from the vigorous blood of the Buckinghams?[383] What happened to the Bourbons of Spain and Sicily, the Habsburgs and the offspring of the House of Hanover? What other families have produced so many cretins, idiots, monomaniacs and scrofulous offspring?

Let us look at the history of the French nobility in this light. In the Middle Ages, purely material considerations seem to have exerted only a feeble influence on aristocratic marriages, as the history and literature of the time reveal. So this stratum maintained itself healthy and vigorous. Later, marriages became mere associations of lands and names. Marriages were negotiated between families rather than being arranged between the truly interested parties. People who did not know each other got married. What was the result? That proper marriage became a mere fiction and that adulterous relationships proliferated, to the point of becoming the norm. An unhealthy promiscuity ended up by penetrating the French aristocracy and corrupting it to its very marrow.

The same abuses are reborn in our times. The inflated fortunes that monopolies and privileges have given birth to, tend to link up, despite natural propriety. Civil law, by establishing the right to an inheritance,[384] has contributed further to making marriage a matter purely of material interests. Finally, the instability which menaces all our lives under the present economic regime, has brought about [p299] an avid search for those sordid pairings which it is conventional to call good marriages.

Those imperfect and depraved souls who spring from badly matched unions and clandestine liaisons, being able neither to manage their wealth, or earn their living, rely on the support of their families or on public largesse. In Sparta, they were drowned in the river Eurotas.[385] Our customs are gentler. We leave these semblances of humanity, fruits of greed or carnal licence, to vegetate. If it would be a sin to destroy them, however, is it not an even greater sin to give birth to them?

If you make short work of bad laws and prejudices which prevent the useful coming together of different human types, or which encourage the sordid pairing of material interest to the detriment of marriages based on mutual attraction, you can significantly improve the quality of the population, and by the same token you relieve charity of a substantial part of its burden.

All things returning to their natural order, an excess population would never then be anything we need fear.

I define as excess any level exceeding both the jobs made available by production and the ordinary resources of charity.

THE SOCIALIST.

Do you think then that we will always have to have recourse to charity?

THE ECONOMIST.

I do not know. It will depend absolutely on the education and foresight of individuals. If we assume a society where property is fully respected, where the openings for [p300] labor will always be at their maximum, where at the same time the distribution of information on labor transactions will always enable us to know whether there is an excess supply of labor or a shortage,[386] it is obvious that in that society the employable proportion of the population will be kept in work without difficulty.

When the supply of labor exceeds the demand, as I have said to you, the price of labor falls with such rapidity, that the workers, like all other buyers and sellers, have an interest in withdrawing part of their commodity from the market. If they do not withdraw it, if at the same time charitable activity does work sufficiently to come to the aid of those thrown out of the workshop and onto the street, the market price of labor can fall far below its costs of production.

THE SOCIALIST.

What do you mean by the production costs of labor?

THE ECONOMIST.

I mean the expenditures incurred in order for labor to be produced and to renew itself. These costs vary, essentially, according to the type of labor. A man who uses only his physical powers, can, at a pinch, restrict his consumption to purely physical things; a man who brings into play moral and intellectual resources, cannot conserve and perpetuate them if he does not look after them like his physical powers. The production costs of labor are all the higher when that labor demands the contribution of a larger number of faculties. To put it in a nutshell, the production costs of labor are proportionate to the extent and intensity of the efforts involved.

If the remuneration of a particular type of labor ceases to cover its costs of production, the workers will immediately [p301] direct themselves to branches of production which demand less effort for the same pay. In this case the price of labor will immediately rise in the abandoned industry, and equilibrium will soon be re-established. It is in this fashion that the vast scale of earned incomes naturally arranges itself, from the remuneration of the monarch to the pay of the humblest wage-laborer. Unfortunately, privileges and monopolies often shatter this natural harmony, by setting up excessive levels of pay to the advantage of certain occupations and certain industries. Freedom alone establishes a fair pattern of remuneration.

To the extent that the worker uses more of his intellectual and moral faculties at work, the costs of the production of labor rise. Now in all branches of production, the progress of machinery has the effect of making labor less physical and more intellectual. The more such progress proceeds, the more we find the costs of production of labor rising accordingly. At the same time, the growth of output, the fruits of progress, permits these augmented costs to be covered. In an era of barbarism, purely physical labor asks for little and receives less; in a civilised era, labor demands much and can obtain even more.

This, however, is on condition that the number of workers does not exceed the number of available jobs, otherwise the market price of labor will fall irresistibly below its costs of production.

THE SOCIALIST.

Unless the workers remove the excess supply from the market.

THE ECONOMIST.

Which they will not fail to do in a completely free society. Surplus workers could be fed by employed ones, with the help of voluntary charity. In such circumstances would not the population tend to diminish spontaneously? Insofar as subsidies by workers and charitable almsgiving extended to more and more souls, would not the ever growing difficulty of placing their children induce people to raise fewer of them? In such circumstances moral restraint would be operative and the natural equilibrium of population effortlessly re-established. The opposite circumstance would occur if there were insufficient workers for the available jobs. Quite sure of being able both to feed and find work for their children, the heads of families would raise more of them. Marriage would become more popular and children more numerous, until equilibrium had been restored between population and the means of existence.

This is how the problem of population would be resolved in a regime of full economic liberty. This is the way, moreover, that it always resolves itself eventually. In the meantime, however, how much suffering is caused, sometimes by the artificial and unforeseen contractions in demand for labor, sometimes by the insufficiency of state charity or the stimulus the latter gives to the growth of population! These sufferings would be, if not entirely eliminated in a system where the number of jobs available to labor and the gifts of voluntary charity were taken to their maximum, at least reduced to the lowest possible amount.

 

Endnotes

[347] Cherbuliez makes a distinction between the following forms of charity which Molinari would have shared: "bienfaisance publique” (public welfare) which is welfare provided by or with the assistance of any government body (such as the central State or a Commune), "charité légale” (state charity) which is a government guaranteed right to charity of all or some group of citizens, "charité officielle” (official charity) where a government body assists in the distribution of charity, and "charité privée” (private charity) which was charity funded and distributed by private groups voluntarily. Molinari and the economists were especially interested in "charité légale” which became an issue with the promulgation of the constitution of the Second Republic on 4 November 1848 which stated that all citizens had a right to government supplied (i.e. taxpayer funded) welfare (see the Preamble, section VII and Article XIII). It was closely tied in their minds to the idea of the "droit au travail” (right to a job) which was another policy pursued by the socialists in the Second Republic. [See, A.E. Cherbuliez, "Bienfaisance publique,” DEP, vol. 1, pp. 163-77.]

[348] Crispinus is a character from Juvenal’s Fourth satire, a man seemingly with no good features, greedy, merciless and self-indulgent. Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, (Juvenal) was a Roman poet who wrote in the late 1st and early 2nd century AD, most notably his Satires. The reference is to the opening four lines of the 4th Satire which states (in Latin): Ecce iterum Crispinus, et est mihi saepe uocandus ad partes, monstrum nulla uirtute redemptum a uitiis, aegrae solaque libidine fortes deliciae, uiduas tantum aspernatus adulter. In the G.G. Ramsay translation 1918 (Loeb Classical Library): Crispinus once again! a man whom I shall often have to call on to the scene, a prodigy of wickedness without one redeeming virtue; a sickly libertine, strong only in his lusts, which scorn none save the unwedded.

[349] "Taxe des pauvres” (the poor tax or the Poor Rate, to give it its English name). The model for a dedicated tax to fund welfare for the poor was the English Poor Rate which had been created during the Tudor period. The Act for the Relief of the Poor of 1601 created a system of poor relief in England and Wales which was administered by local parishes. Those who were unable to work were cared for "indoors” in an alms house; those who could work were forced to work "outdoors” in a house of industry; while vagrants and idlers were sent to a house of correction or prison. It was funded by the collection of "poor rates” on local property owners and tenants. A Royal Commission was set up in 1832 to inquire into reforming the Poor Laws which resulted in the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834. The official Report was written by the economist Nassau Senior and Edwin Chadwick: Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834 </title/1461>. A version of the Poor Laws was enacted for Ireland in July 1838.

[350] Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1858) is best known for his writings on population, in which he asserted that population growth (increasing at a geometric rate) would outstrip the growth in food production (growing at a slower arithmetic rate). Malthus studied at Jesus College, Cambridge, before becoming Anglican minister and then a professor of political economy at the East India Company College (Haileybury). His ideas were very influential among nineteenth-century political economists. His principal works were An Essay on the Principle of Population (1st ed., 1798; 2nd revised and enlarged ed. 1803; 6th ed., 1826); Principles of Political Economy (1820); Definitions in Political Economy (1827). [See, the list of his works online </person/209>]. Around the time of the publication of the Soirées there were 4 French language editions of Malthus' Principles of Population translated by P. Prevost: Geneva 1809, Geneva 1824, Guillaumin in Paris 1845 with editorial matter by Rossi, Charles Comte and Joseph Garnier, and a second Guillaumin edition of 1852 with additional editorial matter by Garnier in defense of Malthus against his critics.

[351] The most outspoken defender of orthodox Malthusianism in France was Joseph Garnier (1813-1881) who was editor of the JDE from 1845 to 1855. He edited and annotated the Guillaumin edition of Malthus's book which appeared in 1845 as well as a second edition in 1852 with a long Foreword defending Malthus against his critics. Garnier wrote the biographical article on "Malthus” and a long entry on "Population” (which was an extended defense of Malthusianism) for the DEP (1852-53). He also published a condensed version of Malthus' On the Principle of Population called Du Principe de population (Paris : Garnier frères, 1857) with copious commentaries and many appendices. A second edition of Garnier's epitome was published and edited by Molinari in 1885 following shortly after Garnier's death in 1881: Du principe de population (2e éd. augm. de nouvelles notes contenant les faits statistiques les plus récents et les débats relatifs à la question de la population), précédé d'une introduction et d'une notice, par M. G. de Molinari (Paris: Guillaumin, 1885).

[352] Molinari was a less ardent Malthusian than Garnier as he realized Malthus had underestimated the ability of the free market, free trade, and industrialization to increase output at a faster pace than population growth. Nevertheless, he was an admirer of Malthus for having raised the problem and agreed that all individuals had to exercise "moral restraint” and foresight, and responsibly live within their means without being a burden on taxpayers for support. In his treatise on political economy published shortly after Les Soirées he was still a fairly strong Malthusian [see, Cours d'économie politique, professé au Musée royal de l'industrie belge, 2 vols. (Bruxelles: Librairie polytechnique d'Aug. Decq, 1855). Vol. 1. La Production et la distribution des richesses. 5e Leçon "La Population,” pp. 375-425.] but by the time the second revised and enlarged edition appeared in 1864 he had moderated his views considerably as a result of a critical review by Charles Dunoyer. He now supported what he called "self-government” by individuals who would exercise moral restraint "sainement appliquée” (soundly applied). By this he meant that individuals should enjoy "la liberté de la reproduction” (the freedom to reproduce) and that any restraint to be exercised would be "la contrainte libre” (restraint exercised voluntarily by individuals) and not "la contrainte imposée” (constraint imposed by the government). [See, Cours d'Économie politique. 2nd revised and enlarged edition (Bruxelles et Leipzig: A Lacroix, Verbroeckoven; Paris: Guillaumin, 1863). Tome I: La production et la distribution des richesses. 5e et 6e Leçons "Théorie de la population,” pp. 391-418, 419-460.] He was still enough of a Malthusian in the 1880s to edit the second edition of Garnier's epitome of Malthus' Principle of Population (1885) and published his own condensed edition for Guillaumin's "Petite Bibliothèque Économique” (Small Library of Economics) with a long introduction defending as well as criticizing Malthus' views: Malthus: Essai sur le principe de population, ed. G. de Molinari (Paris: Guillaumin, 1889).

[353] The infamous passage from Malthus' Principle of Population which so incensed socialists like Proudhon and our Socialist here only appeared in the 2nd revised edition of 1803. It was removed in later editions. The passage comes from Book IV, Chapter VI "Effects of the Knowledge of the Principal Cause of Poverty On Civil Liberty”: "A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature's mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders, if he does not work upon the compassion of some of her guests.” Thomas Robert Malthus, An essay on the principle of population: or, a view of its past and present effects on human happiness (London: J. Johnson, 1803), p. 531. The Economists like Garnier explained this away as a piece of unfortunately chosen rhetoric on Malthus’ part and the idea that the poor had no just claim to the property of others, but could appeal to their good nature and sense of charity, voluntarily given. [See the glossary entry on Malthus???.]

[354] Louis Mandrin (1725-55) was a famous 18th century brigand and highwayman who challenged the privileges of the Farm General (la Ferme générale - or "Tax Farmers") by smuggling goods across the French border which were the monopoly of the Farm General. [See the glossary entry on Mandrin].

[355] Le Constitutionnel was the main liberal opposition newspaper during the Restoration period. By the 1840s it was a shell of its former self, rarely criticizing the establishment. It was revived in 1847 by Louis-Desire Véron who then sold it for a large sum in 1849. The paper supported the election of Louis Napoleon in 1848 and when he became Emperor in 1852 it became one of the main supporters of his government.

[356] Proudhon quotes this infamous passage from Malthus in Système des contradictions économiques, ou philosophy de la misère (Paris: Guillaumin, 1846), vol. 1, chap. 1, p. 24. It is interesting and curious that Proudhon's book was published by Guillaumin the publisher of most of the books written by the Economists.

[357] The socialist Charles Fourier (1772-1837) believed that in the new socialist world the world's population level would stabilize at about 5 billion people (p. 160). He believed the population crisis would be reached in 150 years time and this gave the socialists time to put their two part solution into practice. First, he had a scheme to melt the polar ice caps in order to provide the water required to expand agricultural output (he does not go into details in this part of the book). Secondly, the creation of a society based upon socialist theory ("la théorie sociétaire") would lead to lower levels of fertility among the female population ("les stériles") for the following reasons: the increased physical strength or "vigor” of socialist women; a strict vegetarian diet; the practice of free love; and the practice of a comprehensive physical exercise program which would delay the onset of puberty. The net result of these four things would be a decline in total world population to the desired and sustainable level. See, "Complément: L'équilibre de population,” in Le Nouveau monde industriel (Bruxelles: Société belge de librairie, Hauman et cie, 1841), vol. II, pp. 158-67.

[358] According to the entry on "World Population” on Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population> [accessed April 17, 2012] the population of the world reached 1 billion in 1804 and was estimated at 1.262 billion in 1850.

[359] Molinari uses the phrase “l’ordonnateur des choses” (the organizer of things) without using any capital letters so we have translated it as “the organizer of everything” rather than “the Creator” which has a religious sense which Molinari does not intend here. Elsewhere in the book he does use the word “Créateur” with this religious sense (3 times) as well as the more more frequently used word “Providence.”. The phrase “le grand ordonnateur” was also used by Louis Reybaud in a critical review of Pellegrino Rossi’s Cours d’économie politique which Reybaud thought was excessively Malthusian [see, Louis Reybaud, “Coup d’oeil sur le Cours d’économie politique,” JDE, vol. 1, 1842, p. 191.

[360] The question whether mankind's reproductive behavior was like that of a plant or an animal was crucial in Bastiat's rethinking of Malthus's theory in the period between 1846, when he wrote an article on "Population” for the JDE, vol. 15, October 1846, pp. 217-34, and 1850 when the Economic Harmonies appeared. Bastiat came to believe that, unlike plants and animals, humans were thinking and reasoning creatures who could change their behavior according to circumstances: “Thus, for both plants and animals, the limiting force seems to take only one form, that of destruction. But man is endowed with reason, with foresight; and this new factor alters the manner in which this force affects him” [FEE translation, p. 426]. He also came to the conclusion that there was a significant difference between the "means of subsistence” and the "means of existence” - the former being fixed physiologically speaking (either one had sufficient food to live or one did not) and the latter being an infinitely flexible and expanding notion which depended upon the level of technology and the extent of the free market [see FEE trans., pp. 431 ff.]. Malthus focused on the former, whilst Bastiat (and Say) and later Molinari were focused on the latter. See, the Bastiat's Chapter 16 on Population in the 1851 edition of Economic Harmonies and the editor Roger de Fontenay’s Addendum, pp. 454-64. Under the influence of Bastiat and Dunoyer (see his review of the 1st edition of Molinari's Cours d'ec. pol. (1855) reprinted in the 2nd ed of 1864, pp. ???) Molinari gradually came around to this way of thinking.

Last modified April 10, 2014