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Problems of Poverty by John A. Hobson

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Problems of Poverty

An Inquiry into the Industrial Condition of The Poor


John A. Hobson, M.A.

Author of "The Problem of The Unemployed,"
"International Trade," Etc.

Sixth Edition

First Published April 1891
Second Edition November 1894
Third Edition July 1896
Fourth Edition July 1899
Fifth Edition May 1905
Sixth Edition 1906


The object of this volume is to collect, arrange, and examine some of
the leading facts and forces in modern industrial life which have a
direct bearing upon Poverty, and to set in the light they afford some of
the suggested palliatives and remedies. Although much remains to be done
in order to establish on a scientific basis the study of "the condition
of the people," it is possible that the brief setting forth of carefully
ascertained facts and figures in this little book may be of some service
in furnishing a stimulus to the fuller systematic study of the important
social questions with which it deals.

The treatment is designed to be adapted to the focus of the citizen-
student who brings to his task not merely the intellectual interest of
the collector of knowledge, but the moral interest which belongs to one
who is a part of all he sees, and a sharer in the social responsibility
for the present and the future of industrial society.

For the statements of fact contained in these chapters I am largely
indebted to the valuable studies presented in the first volume of Mr.
Charles Booth's _Labour and Life of the People_, a work which, when
completed, will place the study of problems of poverty upon a solid
scientific basis which has hitherto been wanting. A large portion of
this book is engaged in relating the facts drawn from this and other
sources to the leading industrial forces of the age.

In dealing with suggested remedies for poverty, I have selected certain
representative schemes which claim to possess a present practical
importance, and endeavoured to set forth briefly some of the economic
considerations which bear upon their competency to achieve their aim. In
doing this my object has been not to pronounce judgment, but rather to
direct enquiry. Certain larger proposals of Land Nationalization and
State Socialism, etc., I have left untouched, partly because it was
impossible to deal, however briefly, even with the main issues involved
in these questions, and partly because it seemed better to confine our
enquiry to measures claiming a direct and present applicability.

In setting forth such facts as may give some measurement of the evils of
Poverty, no attempt is made to suppress the statement of extreme cases
which rest on sufficient evidence, for the nature of industrial poverty
and the forces at work are often most clearly discerned and most rightly
measured by instances which mark the severest pressure. So likewise
there is no endeavour to exclude such human emotions as are "just,
measured, and continuous," from the treatment of a subject where true
feeling is constantly required for a proper realization of the facts.

In conclusion, I wish to offer my sincere thanks to Mr. Llewellyn Smith,
Mr. William Clarke, and other friends who have been kind enough to
render me valuable assistance in collecting the material and revising
the proof-sheets of portions of this book.


I. The Measure of Poverty
II. The Effects of Machinery on the Condition of the Working-Classes
III. The Influx of Population into Large Towns
IV. "The Sweating System"
V. The Causes of Sweating
VI. Remedies for Sweating
VII. Over-Supply of Low-Skilled Labour
VIII. The Industrial Condition of Women Workers
IX. Moral Aspects of Poverty
X. "Socialistic Legislation"
XI. The Industrial Outlook of Low-Skilled Labour

List of Authorities

Problems of Poverty

Chapter I.

The Measure of Poverty.

Sec. 1. The National Income, and the Share of the Wage-earners.--To give a
clear meaning and a measure of poverty is the first requisite. Who are
the poor? The "poor law," on the one hand, assigns a meaning too narrow
for our purpose, confining the application of the name to "the
destitute," who alone are recognized as fit subjects of legal relief.
The common speech of the comfortable classes, on the other hand, not
infrequently includes the whole of the wage-earning class under the
title of "the poor." As it is our purpose to deal with the pressure of
poverty as a painful social disease, it is evident that the latter
meaning is unduly wide. The "poor," whose condition is forcing "the
social problem" upon the reluctant minds of the "educated" classes,
include only the lower strata of the vast wage-earning class.

But since dependence upon wages for the support of life will be found
closely related to the question of poverty, it is convenient to throw
some preliminary light on the measure of poverty, by figures bearing on
the general industrial condition of the wage-earning class. To measure
poverty we must first measure wealth. What is the national income, and
how is it divided? will naturally arise as the first questions. Now
although the data for accurate measurement of the national income are
somewhat slender, there is no very wide discrepancy in the results
reached by the most skilful statisticians. For practical purposes we may
regard the sum of L1,800,000,000 as fairly representing the national
income. But when we put the further question, "How is this income
divided among the various classes of the community?" we have to face
wider discrepancies of judgment. The difficulties which beset a fair
calculation of interest and profits, have introduced unconsciously a
partisan element into the discussion. Certain authorities, evidently
swayed by a desire to make the best of the present condition of the
working-classes, have reached a low estimate of interest and profits,
and a high estimate of wages; while others, actuated by a desire to
emphasize the power of the capitalist classes, have minimized the share
which goes as wages. At the outset of our inquiry, it might seem well to
avoid such debatable ground. But the importance of the subject will not
permit it to be thus shirked. The following calculation presents what
is, in fact, a compromise of various views, and can only claim to be a
rough approximation to the truth.

Taking the four ordinary divisions: Rent, as payment for the use of
land, for agriculture, housing, mines, etc.; Interest for the use of
business capital; Profit as wages of management and superintendence; and
Wages, the weekly earnings of the working-classes, we find that the
national income can be thus fairly apportioned--

Rent L200,000,000.
Interest L450,000,000.
Profits L450,000,000.
Wages L650,000,000.[1]
Total L1750,000,000.

Professor Leone Levi reckoned the number of working-class families as
5,600,000, and their total income L470,000,000 in the year 1884.[2] If
we now divide the larger money, minus L650,000,000, among a number of
families proportionate to the increase of the population, viz.
6,900,000, we shall find that the average yearly income of a working-
class family comes to about L94, or a weekly earnings of about 36s. This
figure is of necessity a speculative one, and is probably in excess of
the actual average income of a working family.

This, then, we may regard as the first halting-place in our inquiry. But
in looking at the average money income of a wage-earning family, there
are several further considerations which vitally affect the measurement
of the pressure of poverty.

First, there is the fact, that out of an estimated population of some
42,000,000, only 12,000,000, or about three out of every ten persons in
the richest country of Europe, belong to a class which is able to live
in decent comfort, free from the pressing cares of a close economy. The
other seven are of necessity confined to a standard of life little, if
at all, above the line of bare necessaries.

Secondly, the careful figures collected by these statisticians show that
the national income equally divided throughout the community would yield
an average income, per family, of about L182 per annum. A comparison of
this sum with the average working-class income of L94, brings home the
extent of inequality in the distribution of the national income. While
it indicates that any approximation towards equality of incomes would
not bring affluence, at anyrate on the present scale of national
productivity, it serves also to refute the frequent assertions that
poverty is unavoidable because Great Britain is not rich enough to
furnish a comfortable livelihood for everyone.

Sec. 2. Gradations of Working-class Incomes.--But though it is true that an
income of 36s. a week for an ordinary family leaves but a small margin
for "superfluities," it will be evident that if every family possessed
this sum, we should have little of the worst evils of poverty. If we
would understand the extent of the disease, we must seek it in the
inequality of incomes among the labouring classes themselves. No family
need be reduced to suffering on 36s. a week. But unfortunately the
differences of income among the working-classes are proportionately
nearly as great as among the well-to-do classes. It is not merely the
difference between the wages of skilled and unskilled labour; the 50s.
per week of the high-class engineer, or typographer, and the 1s. 2d. per
diem of the sandwich-man, or the difference between the wages of men and
women workers. There is a more important cause of difference than these.
When the average income of a working family is named, it must not be
supposed that this represents the wage of the father of the family
alone. Each family contains about 21/4 workers on an average. This is a
fact, the significance of which is obvious. In some families, the father
and mother, and one or two of the children, will be contributors to the
weekly income; in other cases, the burden of maintaining a large family
may be thrown entirely on the shoulders of a single worker, perhaps the
widowed mother. If we reckon that the average wage of a working man is
about 24s., that of a working woman 15s., we realize the strain which
the loss of the male bread-winner throws on the survivor.

In looking at the gradations of income among the working-classes, it
must be borne in mind that as you go lower down in the standard of
living, each drop in money income represents a far more than
proportionate increase of the pressure of poverty. Halve the income of a
rich man, you oblige him to retrench; he must give up his yacht, his
carriage, or other luxuries; but such retrenchment, though it may wound
his pride, will not cause him great personal discomfort. But halve the
income of a well-paid mechanic, and you reduce him and his family at
once to the verge of starvation. A drop from 25s. to 12s. 6d. a week
involves a vastly greater sacrifice than a drop from L500 to L250 a
year. A working-class family, however comfortably it may live with a
full contingent of regular workers, is almost always liable, by
sickness, death, or loss of employment, to be reduced in a few weeks to
a position of penury.

Sec. 3. Measurement of East London Poverty.--This brief account of the
inequality of incomes has brought us by successive steps down to the
real object of our inquiry, the amount and the intensity of poverty. For
it is not inequality of income, but actual suffering, which moves the
heart of humanity. What do we know of the numbers and the life of those
who lie below the average, and form the lower orders of the working-

Some years ago the civilized world was startled by the _Bitter Cry of
Outcast London_, and much trouble has been taken of late to gauge the
poverty of London. A host of active missionaries are now at work,
engaged in religious, moral, and sanitary teaching, in charitable
relief, or in industrial organization. But perhaps the most valuable
work has been that which has had no such directly practical object in
view, but has engaged itself in the collection of trustworthy
information. Mr Charles Booth's book, _The Labour and Life of the
People_, has an importance far in advance of that considerable attention
which it has received. Its essential value is not merely that it
supplies, for the first time, a large and carefully collected fund of
facts for the formation of sound opinions and the explosion of
fallacies, but that it lays down lines of a new branch of social study,
in the pursuit of which the most delicate intellectual interests will be
identified with a close and absorbing devotion to the practical issues
of life.

In the study of poverty, the work of Mr. Booth and his collaborators may
truly rank as an epoch-making work.

For the purpose we have immediately before us, the measurement of
poverty, the figures supplied in this book are invaluable.
Considerations of space will compel us to confine our attention to such
figures as will serve to mark the extent and meaning of city poverty in
London. But though, as will be seen, the industrial causes of London
poverty are in some respects peculiar, there is every reason to believe
that the extent and nature of poverty does not widely differ in all
large centres of population.

The area which Mr. Booth places under microscopic observation covers
Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, St. George's in the East,
Stepney, Mile End, Old Town, Poplar, Hackney, and comprises a population
891,539. Of these no less than 316,000, or 35 per cent, belong to
families whose weekly earnings amount to less than 21s. This 35 per
cent, compose the "poor," according to the estimate of Mr. Booth, and it
will be worth while to note the social elements which constitute this
class. The "poor" are divided into four classes or strata, marked A, B,
C, D. At the bottom comes A, a body of some 11,000, or 11/4 per cent, of
hopeless, helpless city savages, who can only be said by courtesy to
belong to the "working-classes" "Their life is the life of savages, with
vicissitudes of extreme hardship and occasional excess. Their food is of
the coarsest description, and their only luxury is drink. It is not easy
to say how they live; the living is picked up, and what is got is
frequently shared; when they cannot find 3d. for their night's lodging,
unless favourably known to the deputy, they are turned out at night into
the street, to return to the common kitchen in the morning. From these
come the battered figures who slouch through the streets, and play the
beggar or the bully, or help to foul the record of the unemployed; these
are the worst class of corner-men, who hang round the doors of public-
houses, the young men who spring forward on any chance to earn a copper,
the ready materials for disorder when occasion serves. They render no
useful service; they create no wealth; more often they destroy it."[3]

Next comes B, a thicker stratum of some 100,000, or 111/2 per cent.,
largely composed of shiftless, broken-down men, widows, deserted women,
and their families, dependent upon casual earnings, less than 18s. per
week, and most of them incapable of regular, effective work. Most of the
social wreckage of city life is deposited in this stratum, which
presents the problem of poverty in its most perplexed and darkest form.
For this class hangs as a burden on the shoulders of the more capable
classes which stand just above it. Mr. Booth writes of it--

"It may not be too much to say that if the whole of class B were swept
out of existence, all the work they do could be done, together with
their own work, by the men, women, and children of classes C and D; that
all they earn and spend might be earned, and could very easily be spent,
by the classes above them; that these classes, and especially class C,
would be immensely better off, while no class, nor any industry, would
suffer in the least." Class C consists of 75,000, or 8 per cent.,
subsisting on intermittent earnings of from 18s. to 21s. for a moderate-
sized family. Low-skilled labourers, poorer artizans, street-sellers,
small shopkeepers, largely constitute this class, the curse of whose
life is not so much low wages as irregularity of employment, and the
moral and physical degradation caused thereby. Above these, forming the
top stratum of "poor," comes a large class, numbering 129,000, or 141/2
per cent., dependent upon small regular earnings of from 18s. to 21s.,
including many dock-and water-side labourers, factory and warehouse
hands, car-men, messengers, porters, &c. "What they have comes in
regularly, and except in times of sickness in the family, actual want
rarely presses, unless the wife drinks."

"As a general rule these men have a hard struggle, but they are, as a
body, decent, steady men, paying their way and bringing up their
children respectably" (p. 50).

Mr Booth, in confining the title "poor" to this 35 per cent. of the
population of East London, takes, perhaps for sufficient reasons, a
somewhat narrow interpretation of the term. For in the same district no
less than 377,000, or over 42 per cent. of the inhabitants, live upon
earnings varying from 21s. to 30s. per week. So long as the father is in
regular work, and his family is not too large, a fair amount of material
comfort may doubtless be secured by those who approach the maximum. But
such an income leaves little margin for saving, and innumerable forms of
mishaps will bring such families down beneath the line of poverty.
Though the East End contains more poverty than some other parts of
London the difference is less than commonly supposed. Mr Booth estimated
that of the total population of the metropolis 30.7 per cent. were
living in poverty. The figure for York is placed by Mr Seebohm
Rowntree[4] at the slightly lower figure of 27.84. These figures (in
both cases exclusive of the population of the workhouses and other
public or private institutions) may be taken as fairly representative of
life in English industrial cities. A recent investigation of an ordinary
agricultural village in Bedfordshire[5] discloses a larger amount of
poverty--no less than 34.3 per cent. of the population falling below the
income necessary for physical efficiency.

Sec. 4. Prices for the Poor.--These figures relating to money income do not
bring home to us the evil of poverty. It is not enough to know what the
weekly earnings of a poor family are, we must inquire what they can buy
with them. Among the city poor, the evil of low wages is intensified by
high prices. In general, the poorer the family the higher the prices it
must pay for the necessaries of life. Rent is naturally the first item
in the poor man's budget. Here it is evident that the poor pay in
proportion to their poverty. The average rent in many large districts of
East London is 4s. for one room, 7s. for two. In the crowded parts of
Central London the figures stand still higher; 6s. is said to be a
moderate price for a single room.[6] Mr. Marchant Williams, an Inspector
of Schools for the London School Board, finds that 86 per cent. of the
dwellers in certain poor districts of London pay more than one-fifth of
their income in rent; 46 per cent. paying from one-half to one-quarter;
42 per cent. paying from one-quarter to one-fifth; and only 12 per cent.
paying less than one-fifth of their weekly wage.[7] The poor from their
circumstances cannot pay wholesale prices for their shelter, but must
buy at high retail prices by the week; they are forced to live near
their work (workmen's trains are for the aristocracy of labour), and
thus compete keenly for rooms in the centres of industry; more important
still, the value of central ground for factories, shops, and ware-houses
raises to famine price the habitable premises. It is notorious that
overcrowded, insanitary "slum" property is the most paying form of house
property to its owners. The part played by rent in the problems of
poverty can scarcely be over-estimated. Attempts to mitigate the evil by
erecting model dwellings have scarcely touched the lower classes of
wage-earners. The labourer prefers a room in a small house to an
intrinsically better accommodation in a barrack-like building. Other
than pecuniary motives enter in. The "touchiness of the lower class"
causes them to be offended by the very sanitary regulations designed for
their benefit.

But "shelter" is not the only thing for which the poor pay high.
Astounding facts are adduced as to the prices paid by the poor for
common articles of consumption, especially for vegetables, dairy
produce, groceries, and coal. The price of fresh vegetables, such as
carrots, parsnips, &c., in East London is not infrequently ten times the
price at which the same articles can be purchased wholesale from the

Hence arises the popular cry against the wicked middleman who stands
between producer and consumer, and takes the bulk of the profit. There
is much want of thought shown in this railing against the iniquities of
the middleman. It is true that a large portion of the price paid by the
poor goes to the retail distributor, but we should remember that the
labour of distribution under present conditions and with existing
machinery is very great. We have no reason to believe that the small
retailers who sell to the poor die millionaires. The poor, partly of
necessity, partly by habit, make their purchases in minute quantities. A
single family has been known to make seventy-two distinct purchases of
tea within seven weeks, and the average purchases of a number of poor
families for the same period amounted to twenty-seven. Their groceries
are bought largely by the ounce, their meat or fish by the half-
penn'orth, their coal by the cwt., or even by the lb. Undoubtedly they
pay for these morsels a price which, if duly multiplied, represents a
much higher sum than their wealthier neighbours pay for a much better
article. But the small shopkeeper has a high rent to pay; he has a large
number of competitors, so that the total of his business is not great;
the actual labour of dispensing many minute portions is large; he is
often himself a poor man, and must make a large profit on a small turn-
over in order to keep going; he is not infrequently kept waiting for his
money, for the amount of credit small shopkeepers will give to regular
customers is astonishing. For all these, and many other reasons, it is
easy to see that the poor man must pay high prices. Even his luxuries,
his beer and tobacco, he purchases at exorbitant rates.

It is sometimes held sufficient to reply that the poor are thoughtless
and extravagant. And no doubt this is so. But it must also be remembered
that the industrial conditions under which these people live,
necessitate a hand-to-mouth existence, and themselves furnish an
education in improvidence.

Sec. 5. Housing and Food Supply of the Poor.--Once more, out of a low
income the poor pay high prices for a bad article. The low physical
condition of the poorest city workers, the high rate of mortality,
especially among children, is due largely to the _quality_ of the food,
drink, and shelter which they buy. On the quality of the rooms for which
they pay high rent it is unnecessary to dwell. Ill-constructed,
unrepaired, overcrowded, destitute of ventilation and of proper sanitary
arrangements, the mass of low class city tenements finds few apologists.
The Royal Commission on Housing of the Working Classes thus deals with
the question of overcrowding--

"The evils of overcrowding, especially in London, are still a public
scandal, and are becoming in certain localities a worse scandal than
they ever were. Among adults, overcrowding causes a vast amount of
suffering which could be calculated by no bills of mortality, however
accurate. The general deterioration in the health of the people is a
worse feature of overcrowding even than the encouragement by it of
infectious disease. It has the effect of reducing their stamina, and
thus producing consumption and diseases arising from general debility of
the system whereby life is shortened." "In Liverpool, nearly one-fifth
of the squalid houses where the poor live in the closest quarters are
reported to be always infected, that is to say, the seat of infectious

To apply the name of "home" to these dens is a sheer abuse of words.
What grateful memories of tender childhood, what healthy durable
associations, what sound habits of life can grow among these unwholesome
and insecure shelters?

The city poor are a wandering tribe. The lack of fixed local habitation
is an evil common to all classes of city dwellers. But among the lower
working-classes "flitting" is a chronic condition. The School Board
visitor's book showed that in a representative district of Bethnal
Green, out of 1204 families, no less than 530 had removed within a
twelvemonth, although such an account would not include the lowest and
most "shifty" class of all. Between November 1885 and July 1886 it was
found that 20 per cent. of the London electorate had changed residence.
To what extent the uncertain conditions of employment impose upon the
poor this changing habitation cannot be yet determined; but the absence
of the educative influence of a fixed abode is one of the most
demoralizing influences in the life of the poor. The reversion to a
nomad condition is a retrograde step in civilization the importance of
which can hardly be exaggerated. When we bear in mind that these houses
are also the workshop of large numbers of the poor, and know how the
work done in the crowded, tainted air of these dens brings as an
inevitable portion of its wage, physical feebleness, disease, and an
early death, we recognize the paramount importance of that aspect of the
problem of poverty which is termed "The Housing of the Poor."

So much for the quality of the shelter for which the poor pay high
prices. Turn to their food. In the poorest parts of London it is
scarcely possible for the poor to buy pure food. Unfortunately the prime
necessaries of life are the very things which lend themselves most
easily to successful adulteration. Bread, sugar, tea, oil are notorious
subjects of deception. Butter, in spite of the Margarine Act, it is
believed, the poor can seldom get. But the systematic poisoning of
alcoholic liquors permitted under a licensing System is the most
flagrant example of the evil. There is some evidence to show that the
poorer class of workmen do not consume a very large quantity of strong
drink. But the vile character of the liquor sold to them acts on an ill-
fed, unwholesome body as a poisonous irritant. We are told that "the
East End dram-drinker has developed a new taste; it is for fusil-oil. It
has even been said that ripe old whisky ten years old, drank in equal
quantities, would probably import a tone of sobriety to the densely-
populated quarters of East London."[9]

Sec. 6. Irregularity of work.--One more aspect of city poverty demands a
word. Low wages are responsible in large measure for the evils with
which we have dealt. In the life of the lower grades of labour there is
a worse thing than low wages--that is irregular employment. The causes
of such irregularity, partly inherent in the nature of the work, partly
the results of trade fluctuations, will appear later. In gauging poverty
we are only concerned with the fact. This irregularity of work is not in
its first aspect so much a deficiency of work, but rather a
maladjustment While on the one hand we see large classes of workers who
are habitually overworked, men and women, tailors or shirt-makers in
Whitechapel, 'bus men, shop-assistants, even railway-servants, toiling
twelve, fourteen, fifteen, or even in some cases eighteen hours a day,
we see at the same time and in the same place numbers of men and women
seeking work and finding none. Thus are linked together the twin
maladies of over-work and the unemployed. It is possible that among the
comfortable classes there are still to be found those who believe that
the unemployed consist only of the wilfully idle and worthless residuum
parading a false grievance to secure sympathy and pecuniary aid, and who
hold that if a man really wants to work he can always do so. This idle
theory is contradicted by abundant facts. The official figures published
by the Board of Trade gives the average percentage of unemployed in the
Trade Unions of the skilled trades as follows. To the general average we
have appended for comparison the average for the shipbuilding and
boiler-making trades, so as to illustrate the violence of the
oscillations in a fluctuating trade:--

General per cent. Ship-building, etc.

1884 7.15 20.8
1885 8.55 22.2
1886 9.55 21.6
1887 7.15 16.7
1888 4.15 7.3
1889 2.05 2.0
1890 2.10 3.4
1891 3.40 5.7
1892 6.20 10.9
1893 7.70 17.0
1894 7.70 16.2
1895 6.05 13.0
1896 3.50 9.5
1897 3.65 8.6
1898 3.15 4.7
1899 2.40 2.1
1900 2.85 2.3
1901 3.80 3.6
1902 4.60 8.3
1903 5.30 11.7

These figures make it quite evident that the permanent causes of
irregular employment, e.g., weather in the building and riverside
trades, season in the dressmaking and confectionery trades, and the
other factors of leakage and displacement which throw out of work from
time to time numbers of workers, are, taken in the aggregate,
responsible only for a small proportion of the unemployment in the
staple trades of the country.

The significance of such figures as these can scarcely be over-
estimated. Although it might fairly be urged that the lowest dip in
trade depression truly represented the injury inflicted on the
labouring-classes by trade fluctuations, we will omit the year 1886, and
take 1887 as a representative period of ordinary trade depression. The
figures quoted above are supported by Trade Union statistics, which show
that in that year among the strongest Trade Unions in the country,
consisting of the picked men in each trade, no less than 71 in every
1000, or over 7 per cent., were continuously out of work. That this was
due to their inability to get work, and not to their unwillingness to do
it, is placed beyond doubt by the fact that they were, during this
period of enforced idleness, supported by allowances paid by their
comrades. Indeed, the fact that in 1890 the mass of unemployed was
almost absorbed, disposes once for all of the allegation that the
unemployed in times of depression consist of idlers who do not choose to
work. Turning to the year 1887, there is every reason to believe that
where 7 per cent, are unemployed in the picked, skilled industries of a
country, where the normal supply of labour is actually limited by Union
regulations, the proportion in unskilled or less organized industries is
much larger. It is probable that 12 per cent, is not an excessive figure
to take as the representative of the average proportion of unemployed.
In the recent official returns of wages in textile industries, it is
admitted that 10 per cent, should be taken off from the nominal wages
for irregularity of employment. Moreover, it is true (with certain
exceptions) that the lower you go down in the ranks of labour and of
wages, the more irregular is the employment. To the pressure of this
evil among the very poor in East London notice has already been drawn.
We have seen how Mr. Booth finds one whole stratum of 100,000 people,
who from an industrial point of view are worse than worthless. We have
no reason to conclude that East London is much worse in this respect
than other centres of population, and the irregularity of country
employment is increasing every year. Are we to conclude then that of the
thirteen millions composing the "working-classes" in this country,
nearly two millions are liable at any time to figure as waste or surplus
labour? It looks like it. We are told that the movements of modern
industry necessitate the existence of a considerable margin supply of
labour. The figures quoted above bear out this statement. But a
knowledge of the cause does not make the fact more tolerable. We are not
at present concerned with the requirements of the industrial machine,
but with the quantity of hopeless, helpless misery these requirements
indicate. The fact that under existing conditions the unemployed seem
inevitable should afford the strongest motive for a change in these
conditions. Modern life has no more tragical figure than the gaunt,
hungry labourer wandering about the crowded centres of industry and
wealth, begging in vain for permission to share in that industry, and to
contribute to that wealth; asking in return not the comforts and
luxuries of civilized life, but the rough food and shelter for himself
and family, which would be practically secured to him in the rudest form
of savage society.

Occasionally one of these sensational stories breaks into the light of
day, through the public press, and shocks society at large, until it
relapses into the consoling thought that such cases are exceptional. But
those acquainted closely with the condition of our great cities know
that there are thousands of such silent tragedies being played around
us. In England the recorded deaths from starvation are vastly more
numerous than in any other country. In 1880 the number for England is
given as 101. In 1902 the number for London alone is 34. This is, of
course, no adequate measure of the facts. For every recorded case there
will be a hundred unrecorded cases where starvation is the practical
immediate cause of death. The death-rate of children in the poorer
districts of London is found to be nearly three times that which obtains
among the richer neighbourhoods. Contemporary history has no darker page
than that which records not the death-rate of children, but the
conditions of child-life in our great cities. In setting down such facts
and figures as may assist readers to adequately realize the nature and
extent of poverty, it has seemed best to deal exclusively with the
material aspects of poverty, which admit of some exactitude of
measurement. The ugly and degrading surroundings of a life of poverty,
the brutalizing influences of the unceasing struggle for bare
subsistence, the utter absence of reasonable hope of improvement; in
short, the whole subjective side of poverty is not less terrible because
it defies statistics.

Sec. 7. Figures and Facts of Pauperism.--Since destitution is the lowest
form of poverty, it is right to append to this statement of the facts of
poverty some account of pauperism. Although chiefly owing to a stricter
and wiser administration of the Poor Law in relation to outdoor relief,
the number of paupers has steadily and considerably decreased, both in
proportion to the population and absolutely, the number of those unable
to support themselves is still deplorably large. In 1881 no less than
one in ten of the total recorded deaths took place in workhouses, public
hospitals, and lunatic asylums. In London the proportion is much greater
and has increased during recent years. In 1901 out of 78,229 deaths in
London, 13,009 took place in workhouses, 10,643 in public hospitals, and
349 in public asylums, making a total of 24,001. Comparing these figures
with the total number of deaths, we find that in the richest city of the
world 32.5 per cent., or one in three of the inhabitants, dies dependent
on public charity. This estimate does not include those in receipt of
outdoor relief. Moreover, it is an estimate which includes all classes.
The proportion, taking the working-classes alone, must be even higher.

Turning from pauper deaths to pauper lives, the condition of the poor,
though improved, is far from satisfactory. The agricultural labourer in
many parts of England still looks to the poorhouse as a natural and
necessary asylum for old age. Even the diminution effected in outdoor
relief is not evidence of a corresponding decrease in the pressure of
want. The diminution is chiefly due to increased strictness in the
application of the Poor Law, a policy which in a few cases such as
Whitechapel, Stepney, St. George-in-the-East, has succeeded in the
practical extermination of the outdoor pauper. This is doubtless a wise
policy, but it supplies no evidence of decrease in poverty. It would be
possible by increased strictness of conditions to annihilate outdoor
pauperism throughout the country at a single blow, and to reduce the
number of indoor paupers by making workhouse life unendurable. But such
a course would obviously furnish no satisfactory evidence of the decline
of poverty, or even of destitution. Moreover, in regarding the decline
of pauperism, we must not forget to take into account the enormous
recent growth of charitable institutions and funds which now perform
more effectually and more humanely much of the relief work which
formerly devolved upon the Poor Law. The income of charitable London
institutions engaged in promoting the physical well-being of the people
amounted in 1902-3 to about four and a half millions. The relief
afforded by Friendly Societies and Trade Unions to sick and out-of-work
members, furnishes a more satisfactory evidence of the growth of
providence and independence among all but the lowest classes of workers.

The improvement exhibited in figures of pauperism is entirely confined
to outdoor relief. The number of workers who, by reason of old age or
other infirmity, are compelled to take refuge in the poorhouses, bears a
larger proportion to the total population than it did a generation ago.
In 1876-7 the mean number of indoor paupers for England and Wales was
130,337, or 5.4 per 1000 of the population; in 1902-3 the number had
risen to 203,604, or 6.2 per 1000 of the population. This rise of indoor
pauperism has indeed been coincident with a larger decline of outdoor
pauperism through this same period. But the growth of thrift in the
working-classes, the increase of the machinery of charity, the rise of
the average of wages--these causes have been wholly inoperative to check
the growth of indoor pauperism. Nor, if one may trust so competent an
authority as Mr Fowle, is this explained by any tendency of increased
strictness in the administration of outdoor relief, to drive would-be
recipients of outdoor relief into the workhouse.

The figures of London pauperism yield still more strange results. Here,
though the percentage of paupers to population has shown a steady
decline, the process has been so much slower than in the country that
there has been no actual fall in the number of paupers. Throughout the
whole period from 1861 to 1896 the numbers have remained about
stationary, after which they show a considerable rise. The alarming
feature in this table is the rapid rise of indoor pauperism, far more
rapid than the growth of London's population. From 1861-2 the number of
indoor paupers has grown by steady increase from 26,667 to 61,432 in
1902-3, or from a ratio of 9.5 to one of 13.4 per 1000. While the
proportion of outdoor paupers per 1000 is little more than half that of
the country as a whole, the proportion of indoor paupers is more than
twice as great. Roughly speaking, London, with less than one-sixth of
the population of the country, contains nearly one-third of the indoor
pauperism. This fact alone throws some light upon the nature of city
life. A close analysis of metropolitan workhouses discloses the fact
that the aged, infirm, and children composed the vast majority of
inmates. A very small percentage was found to be capable of actual work.
About one-third of the paupers are children, about one-tenth lunatics,
about one-half are aged, infirm, or sick. This leaves one-fifteenth as
the proportion of able-bodied male and female adults. As a commentary on
the administration of the Poor Law, these figures are eminently
satisfactory, for they prove that people who can support themselves do
not in fact obtain from public relief. But the picture has its dark
side. It shows that a very large proportion of our workers, when their
labour-power has been drained out of them, instead of obtaining a well-
earned honourable rest, are obliged to seek refuge in that asylum which
they and their class hate and despise. Whereas only 5 per cent of the
population under 60 years are paupers, the proportion is 40 per cent in
the case of those over 70. Taking the working-class only out of a
population of 952,000 above the age of 65, no fewer than 402,000, or
over 42 per cent, obtained relief in 1892. In London 221/2 per cent of the
aged poor are indoor paupers. The hardness of the battle of life is
attested by this number of old men, and old women, who in spite of a
hard-working life are compelled to end their days as the recipients of
public charity.

Sec. 8. The Diminution of Poverty in the last half century.--In order to
realize the true importance of our subject, it is necessary not only to
have some measurement of the extent and nature of poverty, but to
furnish ourselves with some answer to the question, Is this poverty
increasing or diminishing? Until a few years ago it was customary not
only for platform agitators, but for thoughtful writers on the subject,
to assume that "the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting
poorer." This formula was ripening into a popular creed when a number of
statistical inquiries choked it. Prof. Leone Levi, Mr. Giffen, and a
number of careful investigators, showed a vast improvement in the
industrial condition of the working-classes during the last half
century. It was pointed out that money wages had risen considerably in
all kinds of employment; that prices had generally fallen, so that the
rise in real wages was even greater; that they worked shorter hours;
consumed more and better food; lived longer lives; committed fewer
crimes; and lastly, saved more money. The general accuracy of these
statements is beyond question. The industrial conditions of the working-
classes as a whole shows a great advance during the last half century.
Although the evidence upon this point is by no means conclusive, it
seems probable that the income of the wage-earning classes as an
aggregate is growing even more rapidly than that of the capitalist
classes. Income-tax returns indicate that the proportion of the
population living on an acknowledged income of more than L150 a year is
much larger than it was a generation ago. In 1851 the income-tax-paying
population amounted to 1,500,000; in 1879-80 the number had risen to
4,700,000. At the same time the average of these incomes showed a
considerable fall, for while in 1851 the gross income assessed was
L272,000,000, in 1879-80 it had only risen to L577,000,000.

Though the method of assessing companies as if they were single persons
renders it impossible to obtain accurate information in recent years as
to the number of persons enjoying incomes of various sizes, a comparison
made by Mr Mulhall of incomes in 1867 and 1895 indicates that, while the
lower middle-class is growing rapidly, the number of the rich is growing
still more rapidly. While incomes of L100 to L300 have grown by a little
more than 50 per cent., those from L300 to L1000 have nearly doubled,
those between L1000 and L5000 have more than doubled, and incomes over
L5000 have more than trebled.

But though such comparisons justify the conclusion that the upper grades
of skilled labour have made considerable advances, and that the lower
grades of regular unskilled labourers have to a less degree shared in
this advance, they do not warrant the optimist conclusion often drawn
from them, that poverty is a disease which left alone will cure itself,
and which, in point of fact, is curing itself rapidly. Before we consent
to accept the evidence of improvement in the average condition of the
labouring classes during the last half century as sufficient evidence to
justify this opinion we ought to pay regard to the following

1. It should be remembered that a comparison between England of the
present day with England in the decade 1830-1840 is eminently favourable
to a theory of progress. The period from 1790 to 1840 was the most
miserable epoch in the history of the English working-classes. Much of
the gain must be rightly regarded rather as a recovery from sickness,
than as a growth in normal health. If the decade 1730-1740, for example,
were to be taken instead, the progress of the wage-earner, especially in
southern England, would be by no means so obvious. The southern
agricultural labourer and the whole body of low-skilled workers were
probably in most respects as well off a century and a half ago as they
are to-day.

2. The great fall of prices, due to cheapening of production and of
transport during the last twenty years, benefits the poor far less than
the rich. For, while the prices of most comforts and luxuries have
fallen very greatly, the same is not true of most necessaries. The gain
to the workers is chiefly confined to food prices, which have fallen
some 40 per cent since 1880. Taking the retail prices of foods consumed
by London working-class families we find that since 1880 the price of
flour has fallen about 60 per cent., bread falling a little more than
half that amount; the prices of beef and mutton have fallen nearly to
the same extent as flour, though bacon stands in 1903 just about where
it stood in 1880. Sugar exhibits a deep drop until 1898, rising
afterwards in consequence of the war tax and the Sugar Convention; tea
shows a not considerable drop. Other groceries, such as coffee and
cocoa, and certain vegetables are cheaper. A careful inquiry into
clothing shows a trifling fall of price for articles of the same
quality, while the introduction of cheaper qualities has enabled workers
to effect some saving here. Against these must be set a slight rise in
price of dairy produce, a considerable rise in fuel, and a large rise in
rent. A recent estimate of the Board of Trade, having regard to food,
rent, clothing, fuel, and lighting as chief ingredients of working-class
expenditure, indicates that 100 shillings will in 1900 do the work for
which 120 shillings were required in 1880. The great fall of prices has
been in the period 1880-1895, since then prices all round (except in
clothing) show a considerable rise.

In turning from the working-classes as a whole to the poor, it becomes
evident that the most substantial benefit they have received from
falling prices is cheap bread. Cheap groceries and lighting are also
gains, though it must be remembered that the modes of purchase to which
the very poor are driven to have recourse minimize these gains. On
clothes the poor spend a very small proportion of their incomes, the
very poor virtually nothing. In the case of the lowest classes of the
towns, it is probable that the rise in rents offsets all the advantages
of cheapened prices for other commodities.

The importance of the bearing of this fact is obvious. Even were it
clearly proved that the wages of the working-classes were increasing
faster in proportion than the incomes of the wealthier classes, it would
not be thereby shown that the standard of comfort in the former was
rising as fast as the standard of comfort in the latter. If we confine
the term "poor" to the lower grades of wage-earners, it would probably
be correct to say that the riches of the rich had increased at a more
rapid rate than that at which the poverty of the poor had diminished.
Thus the width of the gap between riches and poverty would be absolutely
greater than before. But, after all, such absolute measurements as these
are uncertain, and have little other than a rhetorical value. What is
important to recognize is this, that though the proportion of the very
poor to the whole population has somewhat diminished, never in the whole
history of England, excepting during the disastrous period at the
beginning of this century, has the absolute number of the very poor been
so great as it is now. Moreover, the massing of the poor in large
centres of population, producing larger areas of solid poverty, presents
new dangers and new difficulties in the application of remedial

However we may estimate progress, one fact we must recognize, that the
bulk of our low-skilled workers do not yet possess a secure supply of
the necessaries of life. Few will feel inclined to dispute what
Professor Marshall says on this point--

"The necessaries for the efficiency of an ordinary agricultural or of an
unskilled town labourer and his family, in England, in this generation,
may be said to consist of a well-drained dwelling with several rooms,
warm clothing, with some changes of underclothing, pure water, a
plentiful supply of cereal food, with a moderate allowance of meat and
milk, and a little tea, &c.; some education, and some recreation; and
lastly, sufficient freedom for his wife from other work to enable her to
perform properly her maternal and her household duties. If in any
district unskilled labour is deprived of any of these things, its
efficiency will suffer in the same way as that of a horse which is not
properly tended, or a steam-engine which has an inadequate supply of

There is one final point of deep significance. So far we have
endeavoured to measure poverty by the application of a standard of
actual material comfort. But this, while furnishing a fair gauge of the
deprivation suffered by the poor, does not enable us to measure it as a
social danger. There is a depth of poverty, of misery, of ignorance,
which is not dangerous because it has no outlook, and is void of hope.
Abate the extreme stress of poverty, give the poor a glimpse of a more
prosperous life, teach them to know their power, and the danger of
poverty increases. This is what De Tocqueville meant when writing of
France, before the Revolution, he said, "According as prosperity began
to dawn in France, men's minds appeared to become more unquiet and
disturbed; public discontent was sharpened, hatred of all ancient
institutions went on increasing, till the nation was visibly on the
verge of a revolution. One might almost say that the French found their
condition all the more intolerable according as it became better."[11]

So in England the change of industrial conditions which has massed the
poor in great cities, the spread of knowledge by compulsory education,
cheap newspapers, libraries, and a thousand other vehicles of knowledge,
the possession and growing appreciation of political power, have made
poverty more self-conscious and the poor more discontented. By striving
to educate, intellectually, morally, sanitarily, the poor, we have made
them half-conscious of many needs they never recognized before. They
were once naked, and not ashamed, but we have taught them better. We
have raised the standard of the requirements of a decent human life, but
we have not increased to a corresponding degree their power to attain
them. If by poverty is meant the difference between felt wants and the
power to satisfy them, there is more poverty than ever. The income of
the poor has grown, but their desires and needs have grown more rapidly.
Hence the growth of a conscious class hatred, the "growing animosity of
the poor against the rich," which Mr. Barnett notes in the slums of
Whitechapel. The poor were once too stupid and too sodden for vigorous
discontent, now though their poverty may be less intense, it is more
alive, and more militant. The rate of improvement in the condition of
the poor is not quick enough to stem the current of popular discontent.

Nor is it the poor alone who are stricken with discontent. Clearer
thought and saner feelings are beginning to make it evident that in the
march of true civilization no one class can remain hopelessly behind.
Hence the problems of poverty are ever pressing more and more upon the
better-hearted, keener-sighted men and women of the more fortunate
classes; they feel that _they_ have no right to be contented with the
condition of the poor. The demand that a life worth living shall be made
possible for all, and that the knowledge, wealth, and energy of a nation
shall be rightly devoted to no other end than this, is the true measure
of the moral growth of a civilized community. The following picture
drawn a few years ago by Mr. Frederick Harrison shows how far we yet
fall short of such a realization--"To me at least, it would be enough to
condemn modern society as hardly an advance on slavery or serfdom, if
the permanent condition of industry were to be that which we now behold;
that 90 per cent, of the actual producers of wealth have no home that
they can call their own beyond the end of a week; have no bit of soil,
or so much as a room that belongs to them; have nothing of value of any
kind except as much as will go in a cart; have the precarious chance of
weekly wages which barely suffice to keep them in health; are housed for
the most part in places that no man thinks fit for his horse; are
separated by so narrow a margin from destitution that a month of bad
trade, sickness, or unexpected loss brings them face to face with hunger
and pauperism."[12]

Chapter II.

The Effects of Machinery on the Condition of the Working-Classes.

Sec. 1. Centralizing-Influence of Machinery.--In seeking to understand the
nature and causes of the poverty of the lower working-classes, it is
impossible to avoid some discussion of the influence of machinery. For
the rapid and continuous growth of machinery is at once the outward
visible sign and the material agent of the great revolution which has
changed the whole face of the industrial world during the last century.
With the detailed history of this vast change we are not concerned, but
only with its effects on the industrial condition of the poor in the
present day.

Those who have studied in books of history the industrial and
educational condition of the mass of the working populace at the
beginning of this century, or have read such novels as _Shirley_, _Mary
Barton_, and _Alton Locke_, will not be surprised at the mingled
mistrust and hatred with which the working-classes regarded each new
introduction of machinery into the manufacturing arts. These people,
having only a short life to live, naturally took a short-sighted view of
the case; having a specialized form of skill as their only means of
getting bread, they did not greet with joy the triumphs of inventive
skill which robbed this skill of its market value. Even the more
educated champions of the interests of working-classes have often viewed
with grave suspicion the rapid substitution of machinery for hand-labour
in the industrial arts. The enormous increase of wealth-producing power
given by the new machinery can scarcely be realized. It is reckoned that
fifty men with modern machinery could do all the cotton-spinning of the
whole of Lancashire a century ago. Mr. Leone Levi has calculated that to
make by hand all the yarn spun in England in one year by the use of the
self-acting mule, would take 100,000,000 men. The instruments which work
this wonderful change are called "labour-saving" machinery. From this
title it may be deemed that their first object, or at any rate their
chief effect, would be to lighten labour. It seems at first sight
therefore strange to find so reasonable a writer as John Stuart Mill
declaring, "It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made
have lightened the day's toil of any human being." Yet if we confine our
attention to the direct effects of machinery, we shall acknowledge that
Mill's doubt is, upon the whole, a well founded one.

According to the evidence of existing poverty adduced in the last
chapter, it would appear that the lowest classes of workers have not
shared to any considerable degree the enormous gain of wealth-producing
power bestowed by machinery. It is not our object here to discuss the
right of the poorer workers to profit by inventions due to others, but
merely to indicate the effects which the growth of machinery actually
produce in this economic condition. Let us examine the industrial
effects of the growth of machinery, so as to understand how they affect
the social and economic welfare of the working-classes.

Sec. 2. Class Separation of Employer and Workmen.--The first effect of
machinery is to give a new and powerful impulse to the centralizing
tendency in industry. "Civilization is economy of power, and English
power is coal," said the materialistic Baron Liebig. Coal as a generator
of steam-power demands that manufactures shall be conducted on a large
scale in particular localities. Before the day of large, expensive
steam-driven machinery, manufacture was done in scattered houses by
workers who were the owners of their simple tools, and often of the
material on which they worked; or in small workshops, where a master
worked with a few journeymen and apprentices. Machinery changed all
this. It drove the workers into large factories, and obliged them to
live in concentrated masses near their work. They no longer owned the
material in which their labour was stored, or the tools with which they
worked; they had to use the material belonging to their employer; the
machinery which made their tools valueless was also the property of the
capitalist employer. Instead of selling the products of their capital
and labour to merchants or consumers, they were compelled to sell their
labour-power to the employer as the only means of earning a livelihood.
Again, the social relations between the wealthy employer and his "hands"
were quite different from those intimate personal relations which had
subsisted between the small master and his assistants. The very size of
the factory made such a social change inevitable, the personal relation
which marked medieval industry was no longer possible. Machinery then
did two things. On the one hand, it destroyed the position of the
workman as a self-sufficing industrial unit, and made him dependent on a
capitalist for employment and the means of supporting life. On the other
hand, it weakened the sense of responsibility in the employer towards
his workmen in proportion as the dependence of the latter became more

With each step in the growth of the factory system the workman became
more dependent, and the employer more irresponsible. Thus we note the
first industrial effect of machinery in the formation of two definite
industrial classes--the dependent workman, and the irresponsible
employer. The term "irresponsible" is not designed to convey any moral
stigma. The industrial employer can no more be blamed for being
irresponsible than the workman for being dependent. The terms merely
express the nature of the schism which naturally followed the triumph of
machinery. Prophets like Carlyle and Ruskin, slighting the economic
causes of the change, clamoured for "Captains of Industry," employers
who should realize a moral responsibility, and reviving a dead feudalism
should assume unasked the protectorate of their employes. The whole army
of theoretic and practical reformers might indeed be divided into two
classes, according as they seek to impose responsibility on employers,
or to establish a larger independence in the employed. But this is not
the place to discuss methods of reform. It is sufficient to note the
testimony borne by all alike to the disintegrating influence of

Again, the growth of machinery makes industry more intricate.
Manufacturers no longer produce for a small known market, the
fluctuations of which are slight, and easily calculable. The element of
speculation enters into manufacture at every pore--size of market,
competitors, and price are all unknown. Machinery works at random like
the blind giant it is. Every improvement in communication, and each
application of labour-saving invention adds to the delicacy and
difficulty of trade calculations. Hence in the productive force of
machinery we see the material cause of the violent oscillations, the
quiver of which never has time to pass out of modern trade. The periodic
over-production and subsequent depression are thus closely related to
machinery. It is the result upon the workman of these fluctuations that
alone concerns us.

The effect of machinery upon the regularity of employment is both a
difficult and a serious subject. Its precise importance cannot be
measured. Before the era of machinery there often arose from other
reasons, especially war or failure of crops, fluctuations which worked
most disastrously on the English labourer. But in modern times we must
look to more distinctively industrial causes for an explanation of
unsteadiness of employment, and here the close competition of steam-
driven machinery plays the leading part.

It must not, however, be supposed that machinery is essentially related
to unsteadiness of work. The contrary is obviously the case. Cheap tools
can be kept idle without great loss to their owner, but every stoppage
in the work of expensive machinery means a heavy loss to the capitalist.
Thus the larger the part played by expensive machinery, the stronger the
personal motive in the individual capitalist to give full regular
employment to his workmen. It is the competition of other machinery over
which he has no control that operates as the immediate cause of
instability of work. Thus the growth of machinery has a double and
conflicting influence upon regularity of employment; it punishes capital
more severely for each irregularity or stoppage, while at the same time
it makes such fluctuations more violent.

Sec. 3. Displacement of Labour.--But the result of machinery which has
drawn most attention is the displacement of labour. In every branch of
productive work, agriculture as well as manufacture, the conflict
between manual skill and machine skill has been waged incessantly during
the last century. Step by step all along the line the machine has ousted
the skilled manual worker, either rendering his office superfluous, or
retaining him to play the part of servant to the new machine. A good
deal of thoughtless rhetoric has been consumed upon the subject of this
new serfdom of the worker to machinery. There is no reason in the nature
of things why the work of attendance on machinery should not be more
dignified, more pleasant, and more remunerative to the working-man than
the work it displaces. To shift on to the shoulders of brute nature the
most difficult and exhausting kinds of work has been in large measure
the actual effect of machinery. There is also every reason to believe
that the large body of workers whose work consists in the regular
attendance on and manipulation of machinery have shared largely in the
results of the increased production which machinery has brought about.
The present "aristocracy of labour" is the direct creation of the
machine. But our concern lies chiefly with the weaker portion of the
working-classes. How does the constant advance of labour-saving
machinery affect these? What is the effect of machinery upon the demand
for labour? In answering these questions we have to carefully
distinguish the ultimate effect upon the labour-market as a whole, and
the immediate effect upon certain portions of the labour-supply.

It is generally urged that machinery employs as many men as it
displaces. This has in fact been the earlier effect of the introduction
of machinery into the great staple industries of the country. The first
effect of mechanical production in the spinning and weaving industries
was to displace the hand-worker. But the enormous increase in demand for
textile wares caused by the fall of price, has provided work for more
hands than were employed before, especially when we bear in mind the
subsidiary work in construction of machinery, and enlarged mechanism of
conveyance and distribution. Taking a purely historical view of the
question, one would say that the labour displaced by machinery found
employment in other occupations, directly or indirectly, due to the
machinery itself. Provided the aggregate volume of commerce grows at a
corresponding pace with the labour-saving power of new machinery, the
classes dependent on the use of their labour have nothing in the long
run to fear.

A machine is invented which will enable one man to make as many boots as
four men made formerly, displacing the labour of three men. If the
cheapening of boots thus brought about doubles the sale of boots, one of
the three "displaced" men can find employment at the machine. If it
takes the labour of one man to keep up the production of the new
machinery, and another to assist in the distribution of the increased
boot-supply, it will be evident that the aggregate of labour has not
suffered. It is, however, clear that this exactly balanced effect by no
means necessarily happens. The expansion of consumption of commodities
produced by machinery is not necessarily such as to provide employment
for the displaced labour in the same trade or its subsidiary trades. The
result of the introduction of machinery may be a displacement of human
by mechanical labour, so far as the entire trade is concerned. The
bearing of this tendency is of great significance. Analysis of recent
census returns shows that not only is agriculture rapidly declining in
the amount of employment it affords, but that the same tendency occurs
in the staple processes of manufacture: either there is an absolute
decline in employment, as in the textile and dress trades, or the rate
of increase is considerably slower than that of the occupied class as a
whole, indicating a relative decline of importance. This tendency is
greatest where machinery is most highly developed--that is to say,
machinery has kept out of these industries a number of workers who in
the ordinary condition of affairs would have been required to assist in
turning out the increased supply. The recent increase of population has
been shut out of the staple industries. They are not therefore compelled
to be idle. Employment for these has been found chiefly in satisfying
new wants. But industries engaged in supplying new wants, i.e. new
comforts or new luxuries, are obviously less steady than those engaged
in supplying the prime necessaries of ordinary life.

Thus while it may be true that the ultimate effect of the introduction
of machinery is not to diminish the demand for labour, it would seem to
operate in driving a larger and larger proportion of labour to find
employment in those industries which from their nature furnish a less
steady employment. Again, though the demand for labour may in the long
run always keep pace with the growth of machinery, it is obvious that
the workers whose skill loses its value by the introduction of machinery
must always be injured. The process of displacement in particular trades
has been responsible for a large amount of actual hardship and suffering
among the working-classes.

It is little comfort to the hand-worker, driven out to seek unskilled
labour by the competition of new machinery, that the world will be a
gainer in the long run. "The short run, if the expression may be used,
is often quite long enough to make the difference between a happy and a
miserable life."[13] Philosophers may reckon this evil as a part of the
inevitable price of progress, but it is none the less deplorable for
that. Society as a whole gains largely by each step; a small number of
those who can least afford to lose, are the only losers.

The following quotation from an address given at the Industrial
Remuneration Congress in 1886, puts the case with admirable
clearness--"The citizens of England are too intelligent to contend
against such cheapening of production, as they know the result has been
beneficial to mankind; but many of them think it is a hardship and
injustice which deserves more attention that those whose skilled labour
is often superseded by machinery, should have to bear all the loss and
poverty through their means to earn a living being taken away from them.
If there is a real vested interest in existence which entitles to
compensation in some form when it is interfered with, it is that of a
skilled producer in his trade; for that skill has not only given him a
living, but has added to the wealth and prosperity of the
community."[14] The quantity of labour displaced by machinery and
seeking new employment, forms a large section of the margin of
unemployed, and will form an important factor in the problem of poverty.

Sec. 4. Effect of Machinery upon the Character of Labour. Next, what is the
general effect of machinery upon the character of the work done? The
economic gain attending all division of labour is of course based on the
improved quality and quantity of work obtained by confining each worker
to a narrow range of activity. If no great inventions in machinery took
place, we might therefore expect a constant narrowing of the activity of
each worker, which would make his work constantly more simple, and more
monotonous, and himself more and more dependent on the regular co-
operation of an increasing number of other persons over whom he had no
direct control. Without the growth of modern machinery, mere subdivision
of labour would constantly make for the slavery and the intellectual
degradation of labour. Independently of the mighty and ever-new
applications of mechanical forces, this process of subdivision or
specialization would take place, though at a slower pace. How far does
machinery degrade, demoralize, dementalize the worker?

The constantly growing specialization of machinery is the most striking
industrial phenomenon of modern times. Since the worker is more and more
the attendant of machinery, does not this mean a corresponding
specialization of the worker? It would seem so at first sight, yet if we
look closer it becomes less obvious. So far as mere manual activity is
concerned, it seems probable that the general effect of machinery has
been both to narrow the range of that activity, and to take over that
dexterity which consisted in the incessant repetition of a single
uniform process. Very delicately specialized manipulation is precisely
the work it pays best to do by machinery, so that, as Professor Marshall
says, "machinery can make uniform actions more accurately and
effectively than man can; and most of the work which was done by those
who were specially skilful with the fingers a few generations ago, is
now done by machinery."[15] He illustrates from the wood and metal
industries, where the process is constantly going on.

"The chief difficulty to be overcome is that of getting the machinery to
hold the material firmly in exactly the position in which the machine-
tool can be brought to bear on it in the right way, and without wasting
meanwhile too much time in taking grip of it. But this can generally be
contrived when it is worth while to spend some labour and expense on it;
and then the whole operations can often be controlled by a worker, who,
sitting before the machine, takes with the left hand a piece of wood or
metal from a heap, and puts it in a socket, while with the right he
draws down a lever, or in some other way sets the machine-tool at work,
and finally with his left hand throws on to another heap the material
which has been cut, or punched, or drilled, or planed exactly after a
given pattern."

Professor Marshall summarizes the tendency in the following words--"We
are thus led to a general rule, the action of which is more prominent in
some branches of manufacture than others, but which applies to all. It
is, that any manufacturing operation that can be reduced to uniformity,
so that the same thing has to be done over and over again in the same
way, is sure to be taken over sooner or later by machinery. There may be
delays and difficulties; but if the work to be done by it is on a
sufficient scale, money and inventive power will be spent without stint
on the task till it is achieved. There still remains the responsibility
for seeing that the machinery is in good order and working smoothly; but
even this task is often made light of by the introduction of an
automatic movement which brings the machine to a stop the instant
anything goes wrong."[16]

Since the economy of production constantly induces machinery to take
over all work capable of being reduced to routine, it would seem to
follow by a logical necessity that the work left for the human worker
was that which was less capable of being subjected to close uniformity;
that is work requiring discretion and intelligence to be applied to each
separate action. Although the process described by Professor Marshall
assigns a constantly diminishing proportion of each productive work to
the effort of man, of that portion which remains for him to do a
constantly increasing proportion will be work of judgment and specific
calculation applied to particular cases. And this is the conclusion
which Professor Marshall himself asserts--

"Since machinery does not encroach much upon that manual work which
requires judgment, while the management of machinery does require
judgment, there is a much greater demand now than formerly for
intelligence and resource. Those qualities which enable men to decide
rightly and quickly in new and difficult cases, are the common property
of the better class of workmen in almost every trade, and a person who
has acquired them in one trade can easily transfer them to another."

If this is true, it signifies that the formal specialization of the
worker, which comes from his attendance on a more and more specialized
piece of machinery, does not really narrow and degrade his industrial
life, but supplies a certain education of the judgment and intelligence
which has a general value that more than compensates the apparent
specialization of manual functions. The very fact that the worker's
services are still required is a proof that his work is less automatic
(i.e. more intelligent) than that of the most delicate machinery in use;
and since the work which requires less intelligence is continually being
taken over by machinery, the work which remains would seem to require a
constantly higher average of intelligence. It is, of course, true that
there are certain kinds of work which can never be done by machinery,
because they require a little care and a little judgment, while that
care and judgment is so slight as to supply no real food for thought, or
education for the judgment. No doubt a good deal of the less responsible
work connected with machinery is of this order. Moreover, there are
certain other influences to be taken into account which affect the net
resuit of the growth of machinery upon the condition of the workers. The
physical and moral evils connected with the close confinement of large
bodies of workers, especially in the case of young persons, within the
narrow unwholesome limits of the factory or mill, though considerably
mitigated by the operation of factory legislation, are still no light
offset against the advantages which have been mentioned. The weakly,
ill-formed bodies, the unhealthy lives lived by the factory-workers in
our great manufacturing centres are facts which have an intimate
connection with the growth of machinery. But though our agricultural
population, in spite of their poverty and hard work, live longer and
enjoy better physical health than our town-workers, there are few who
would deny that the town-workers are both better educated and more
intelligent. This intelligence must in a large measure be attributed to
the influences of machinery, and of those social conditions which
machinery has assisted to establish. This intelligence must be reckoned
as an adequate offset against the formal specialization of machine-
labour, and must be regarded as an emancipative influence, giving to its
possessor a larger choice in the forms of employment. So far as a man's
labour-power consists in the mere knowledge how to tend a particular
piece of machinery he may appear to be more "enslaved" with each
specialization of machinery; but so far as his labour-power consists in
the practice of discretion and intelligence, these are qualities which
render him more free.

Moreover, as regards the specialization of machinery, there is one point
to be noticed which modifies to some considerable extent the effects of
subdivision upon labour. On the one hand, the tendency to split up the
manufacture of a commodity into several distinct branches, often
undertaken in different localities and with wholly different machinery,
prevents the skilled worker in one branch from passing into another, and
thus limits his practical freedom as an industrial worker. On the other
hand, this has its compensating advantage in the tendency of different
trades to adopt analogous kinds of machinery and similar processes.
Thus, while a machinist engaged in a screw manufactory is so specialized
that he cannot easily pass from one process to another process in the
screw trade, he will find himself able to obtain employment in other
hardware manufactures which employ the same or similar processes.

Sec. 5. Are all Men equal before the Machine?--It is sometimes said that
"all men become equal before the machine." This is only true in the
sense that there are certain large classes of machine-work which require
in the worker such attention, care, endurance, and skill as are within
the power of most persons possessed of ordinary capacities of mind and
body. In such forms of machine-work it is sometimes possible for women
and children to compete with men, and even to take their places by their
ability to offer their work at a cheaper price. The effect of machinery
development in thus throwing on the labour-market a large quantity of
women and children competitors is one of those serious questions which
will occupy our attention in a later chapter. It is here sufficient to
remember that it was this effect which led to a general recognition of
the fact that machinery and the factory system could not be trusted to
an unfettered system of _laissez faire_. The Factory Acts, and the whole
body of legislative enactments, interfering with "freedom of contract"
between employer and employed, resulted from the fact that machinery
enabled women and children to be employed in many branches of productive
work from which their physical weakness precluded them before.

Sec. 6. Summary of Effects of Machinery on the Condition of the Poor.--To
sum up with any degree of precision the net advantages and disadvantages
of the growth of machinery upon the working classes is impossible. If we
look not merely at the growth of money incomes, but at the character of
those products which have been most cheapened by the introduction of
machinery, we shall incline to the opinion that the net gain in wealth-
producing power due to machinery has not been equally shared by all
classes in the community.[17]

The capitalist classes, so far as they can be properly severed from the
rest of the community, have gained most, as was inevitable in a change
which increased the part played by capital in production. A short-timed
monopoly of the abnormal profits of each new invention, and an enormous
expansion of the field of investment for capital must be set against the
gradual fall in the interest paid for the use of each piece of capital.
But as the advantage of each new invention has by the competition of
machinery-owners been passed on to the consumer, all other classes of
the community have gained in proportion to their consumption of
machinery-produced commodities. As machinery plays a smaller part in the
production of necessaries of life than in the production of comforts and
luxuries, it will be evident that each class gain as consumers in
proportion to its income. The poorest classes, whose consumption of
machine-productions is smallest, gain least. It cannot, however, be
said, that there is any class of regular workers who, as consumers, have
been injured by machinery. All have gained. The skilled workmen, the
aristocracy of labour, have, as has been shown, gained very
considerably. Even the poor classes of regular unskilled workmen have
raised their standard of comfort.

It is in its bearing on the industrial condition of the very poor, and
those who are unable to get regular work at decent wages, that the
influence of machinery is most questionable. Violent trade fluctuations,
and a continuous displacement of hand-labour by new mechanical
inventions, keep in perpetual existence a large margin of unemployed or
half-employed, who form the most hopeless and degraded section of the
city poor, and furnish a body of reckless, starving competitors for
work, who keep down the standard of wages and of life for the lower
grades of regular workers affected by this competition.

Chapter III.

The Influx of Population into Large Towns.

Sec. 1. Movements of Population between City and Country. The growth of
large cities is so closely related to the problems of poverty as to
deserve a separate treatment. The movements of population form a group
of facts more open than most others to precise measurement, and from
them much light is thrown on the condition of the working classes. That
the towns are growing at the expense of the country, is a commonplace to
which we ought to seek to attach a more definite meaning.

We may trace the inflow of country-born people into the towns by looking
either at the statistics of towns, or of rural districts. But first we
ought to bear in mind one fact. Quite apart from any change in
proportion of population, there is an enormous interchange constantly
taking place between adjoining counties and districts. The general
fluidity of population has been of course vastly increased by new
facilities of communication and migration; persons are less and less
bound down to the village or county in which they were born. So we find
that in England and Wales, only 739 out of each 1000 persons were living
in their native county in 1901. In some London districts it is reckoned
that more than one quarter of the inhabitants change their address each
year. So that when we are told that in seven large Scotch towns only 524
out of each 1000 are natives, and that in Middlesex only 35 per cent. of
the male adult population are Middlesex by birth, we are not thereby
enabled to form any conclusion as to the growth of towns.

To arrive at any useful result we must compare the inflow with the
outflow. Most of the valuable information we possess on this point
applies directly to London but the same forces which are operating in
London, will be found to be at work with more or less intensity in other
centres of population in proportion to their size. Comparing the inflow
of London with its outflow, we find that in 1881 nearly twice as many
strangers were living in London as Londoners were living outside; in
other words, that London was gaining from the country at the rate of
more than 10,000 per annum. So far as London itself is concerned, the
last two censuses show a cessation of the flow, but the enormous growth
of Middlesex outside the metropolitan boundaries indicates a continuance
of the centripetal tendency.

Now what does London do with this increase? Is it spread evenly over the
surface of the great city?

Certainly not. And here we reach a point which has a great significance
for those interested in East London. It is clearly shown that none of
this gain goes to swell the numbers of East London. Many individual
strangers of course go there, but the outflow from East London towards
the suburban parts more than compensates the inflow. By comparing the
population of East London in 1901 with that in 1881, it is found that
the increase is far less than it ought to be, if we add the excess of
births over deaths. How is this? The answer is not far to seek, and
stamps with fatal significance one aspect of Poverty, namely,
overcrowding. East London does not gain so fast as other parts, because
it will not hold any more people. It has reached what is termed
"saturation point." Introduce strangers, and they can only stay on
condition that they push out, and take the place of, earlier residents.

So we find in all districts of large towns, where poverty lies thickest,
the inflow is less than the outflow. The great stream of incomers goes
to swell the population of parts not hitherto overcrowded, thus ever
increasing the area of dense city population. Districts like Bethnal
Green and Mile End are found to show the smallest increase, while
outlying districts like West Ham grow at a prodigious pace.

Sec. 2. Rate of Migration from Rural Districts.--But perhaps the most
instructive point of view from which to regard the absorption of country
population by the towns is not from inside but from outside.

Confining our attention for the present to migration from the country to
the town, and leaving the foreign immigration for separate treatment, we
find that the large majority of incomers to London are from agricultural
counties, such as Kent, Bucks, Herts, Devon, Lincoln, and not from
counties with large manufacturing centres of their own, like Yorkshire,
Lancashire, and Cheshire. The great manufacturing counties contribute
very slightly to the growth of London. While twelve representative
agricultural counties furnished sixteen per 1000 of the population of
London in 1881, twelve representative manufacturing counties supplied no
more than two-and-a-half per 1000.

Respecting the rate of the decline of agricultural population
exaggerated statements are often made. If we take the inhabitants of
rural sanitary districts, and of urban districts below 10,000 as the
rural population, we shall find that between 1891 and 1901 the growth in
the rural districts is 5.3 per cent. as compared with 15.8 per cent. for
the centres of population. Even if the urban standard be placed at a
lower point, 5000, there is still an increase of 3.5 per cent. in the
rural population. If, however, we eliminate the "home" counties and
other rural districts round the large centres of population, largely
used for residential purposes, and turn to agricultural England, we
shall find that it shows a positive decline in rural population. In the
period 1891-1901 no fewer than 18 English and Welsh counties show a
decrease of rural inhabitants, taking the higher limit of urban
population. This has been going on with increasing rapidity during the
last forty years. Whereas, in 1861, 37.7 per cent. of the population
were living in the country, in 1901 the proportion has sunk to 23 per

What these figures mean is that almost the whole of the natural increase
in country population is being gradually sucked into city life. Not
London alone, of course, but all the large cities have been engaged in
this work of absorption. Everywhere the centripetal forces are at work.
The larger the town the stronger the power of suction, and the wider the
area over which the attraction extends. There are three chief
considerations which affect the force with which the attraction of a
large city acts upon rural districts. The first is distance. By far the
largest quantity of new-comers into London are natives of Middlesex,
Kent, Bucks, and what are known as "the home counties." As we pass
further North and West, the per-centage gradually though not quite
regularly declines. The numbers from Durham and Northumberland on the
one hand, and from Devon and Somerset on the other are much larger than
those from certain nearer counties, such as Stafford, Yorkshire, and
Lancaster. The chief determinate of the force of attraction, distance
from the centre, is in these cases qualified by two other
considerations. In the case of Durham and Northumberland a large
navigable seaboard affords greater facility and cheapness of transport,
an important factor in the mobility of labour. In the case of Devon and
Somerset the absence of the counter-attraction of large provincial
cities drives almost the whole of its migratory folk to London, whereas
in Yorkshire and Lancashire and the chief Midland manufacturing counties
the attraction of their own industrial centres acts more powerfully in
their immediate neighbourhood than the magic of London itself. Thus, if
we were to take the map of England and mark it so as to represent the
gravitation towards cities, we should find that every remotest village
was subject to a number of weaker or stronger, nearer or more distant,
forces, which were helping to draw off its rising population into the
eddy of city life. If we examined in detail a typical agricultural
county, we should probably find that while its one or two considerable
towns of 40,000 or 50,000 inhabitants were growing at something above
the average rate for the whole country, the smaller towns of 5000 to
10,000 were only just managing to hold their own, the smallest towns and
large villages were steadily declining, while the scattered agricultural
population remained almost stationary. For it is the small towns and the
villages that suffer most, for reasons which will shortly appear.

Sec. 3. Effects of Agricultural Depression.--We have next to ask what is
the nature of this attractive force which drains the country to feed the
city population? What has hitherto been spoken of as a single force will
be seen to be a complex of several forces, different in kind, acting
conjointly to produce the same result.

The first readily suggests itself couched under the familiar phrase,
Agricultural Depression. It is needless here to enlarge on this big and
melancholy theme. It is evident that what is called the law of
Diminishing Return to Labour in Agriculture, the fact that every
additional labourer, upon a given surface, beyond a certain sufficient
number, will be less and less profitably employed, while the indefinite
expansion of manufacture will permit every additional hand to be
utilized so as to increase the average product of each worker, would of
itself suffice to explain why in a fairly thickly populated country like
England, young labourers would find it to their interest to leave the
land and seek manufacturing work in the cities. This would of itself
explain why the country population might stand still while the city
grew. When to this natural tendency we add the influence of the vast
tracts of virgin, or cheaply cultivated soil, brought into active
competition with English agriculture by the railways and steamships
which link us with distant lands in America, Australia, and Asia, we
have a fully adequate explanation of the main force of the tide in the
movement of population. After a country has reached a certain stage in
the development of its resources, the commercial population must grow
more quickly than the agricultural, and the larger the outside area open
to supply agricultural imports the faster the change thus brought about
in the relation of city and rural population.

Sec. 4. Nature of the Decline of Rural Population.--It has been shown that
the absolute reduction in the number of those living in rural districts
is very small. If, however, we take the statistics of farmers and farm-
labourers in these same districts we often find a very considerable
decline. The real extent of the decline of agriculture is somewhat
concealed by the habit of including in the agricultural population a
good many people not engaged in work of agriculture. The number of
retail shopkeepers, railway men and others concerned with the transport
of goods, domestic servants, teachers, and others not directly occupied
in the production of material wealth, has considerably increased of late
years. So too, not every form of agriculture has declined. While farmers
and labourers show a decrease, market-gardeners show a large increase,
and there seem to be many more persons living in towns who cultivate a
bit of land in the country as a subsidiary employment.

Taken as a whole the absolute fall off in the number of those working
upon the soil is not large. The decline of small country industries is
much more considerable. Here another law of industrial motion comes in,
the rapid tendency of manufacture towards centralization in the towns,
which we have discussed in the last chapter. Here we are concerned only
with its effect in stamping out small rural industries. The growth of
the railway has been the chief agent in the work. Wherever the railroad
has penetrated a country it has withered the ancient cottage industries
of our land. It is true that even before the time of railways the
development of machinery had in large measure destroyed the spinning and
weaving trades, which in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and elsewhere had given
employment to large numbers of country families. The railway, and the
constant application of new machinery have completed this work of
destruction, and have likewise abolished a number of small handicrafts,
such as hand-stitched boots, and lace, which flourished in western and
midland districts, Nor is this all. The same potent forces have
transferred to towns many branches of work connected indirectly with
agricultural pursuits; country smiths, brickmakers, sawyers, turners,
coopers, wheelwrights, are rapidly vanishing from the face of the

Sec. 5. Attractions of the Town, Economic and Social. The concrete form in
which the industrial forces, which we have described, appeal to the
dull-headed rustic is the attraction of higher wages. An elaborate
comparison of towns and country wages is not required. It is enough to
say that labourer's wages in London and other large cities are some 50
per cent, higher than the wages of agricultural labourers in most parts
of England, and the wages of skilled labour show a similar relation.
Besides the actual difficulty of getting agricultural employment in many
parts, improved means of knowledge, and of cheap transport, constantly
flaunt this offer of higher wages before the eyes of the more
discontented among agricultural workers. It is true that if wages are
higher in London, the cost of living is also higher, and the conditions
of life and work are generally more detrimental to health and happiness;
but these drawbacks are more often realized after the fatal step has
been taken than before.

Along with the concrete motive of higher wages there come other inherent
attractions of town life.

"The contagion of numbers, the sense of something going on, the theatres
and music-halls, the brilliantly-lighted streets and busy crowds"[18]
have a very powerful effect on the dawning intelligence of the rustic.
The growing accessibility of towns brings these temptations within the
reach of all. These social attractions probably contain more evil than
good, and act with growing force on the restless and reckless among our
country population. The tramp and the beggar find more comfort and more
gain in the towns. The action of indiscriminate and spasmodic charity,
which still prevails in London and other large centres of riches, is
responsible in no small measure for the poverty and degradation of city

"The far-reaching advertisement of irresponsible charity acts as a
powerful magnet. Whole sections of the population are demoralized, men
and women throwing down their work right and left in order to qualify
for relief; while the conclusion of the whole matter is intensified
congestion of the labour market--angry bitter feeling for the
insufficiency of the pittance, or rejection of the claim." So writes
Miss Potter of the famous Mansion House Relief Funds.

It is easy to see how the worthless element from our villages, the
loafer, the shiftless, the drunkard, the criminal, naturally gravitates
towards its proper place as part of the "social wreckage" of our cities.
But the size of this element must not be exaggerated. It forms a
comparatively small fraction of the whole. Our city criminal, our city
loafer, is generally home-grown, and is not supplied directly from the
country. If it were true that only the worthless portion of our country
population passed into our cities to perish in the struggle for
existence, which is so fatal in city life, we should on the whole have
reason to congratulate ourselves. But this is not so. The main body of
those who pass into city life are in fact the cream of the native
population of the country, drawn by advantages chiefly economic. They
consist of large numbers of vigorous young men, mostly between the age
of twenty and twenty-five, who leave agriculture for manufacture, or
move into towns owing to displacement of handicrafts by wholesale

Sec. 6. Effect of the Change on National Health.--This decay of country
life, however much we may regret it, seems under present industrial
conditions inevitable. Nor is it altogether to be regretted or
condemned. The movement indisputably represents a certain equalization
of advantages economic, educational, and social. The steady workman who
moves into the town generally betters himself from the point of view of
immediate material advantages.

But in regarding the movement as a whole a much more serious question
confronts us. What is the net result upon the physical well-being of the
nation of this drafting of the abler and better country folk into the
towns? Let the death-rate first testify. In 1902 the death-rate for the
whole rural population was 13.7 per 1000, that of the whole urban
population 17.8. Now it is not the case that town life is necessarily
more unhealthy than country life to any considerable extent. There are
well-to-do districts of London, whole boroughs, such as Hampstead, where
the death-rate is considerably lower than the ordinary rural rate. The
weight of city mortality falls upon the poor.

Careful statistics justify the conclusion that the death-rate of an
average poor district in London, Liverpool, or Glasgow, is quite double
that of the average country district which is being drained to feed the
city. We now see what the growth of town population, and the decay of
the country really means. It means in the first place that each year
brings a larger proportion of the nation within reach of the higher rate
of mortality, by taking them from more healthy and placing them under
less healthy conditions. In the case of the lower classes of workers who
gravitate to London, it means putting them in a place where the chance
of death in a given year is doubled for them. And remember, this higher
death-rate is applied not indiscriminately, but to selected subjects. It
is the young, healthy, vigorous blood of the country which is exposed to
these unhealthy conditions. A pure Londoner of the third generation,
that is, one whose grandparents as well as his parents were born in
London, is very seldom found. It is certain that nearly all the most
effective vital energy given out in London work, physical and
intellectual alike, belongs to men whose fathers were country bred, if
they were not country born themselves. In kinds of work where pure
physical vigour play an important part, this is most strikingly
apparent. The following statistics bearing on the London police force
were obtained by Mr. Llewellyn Smith in 1888--

London born. Country born. Total.

Metropolitan Police 2,716 10,908 13,624
City " 194 698 892

Railway men, carriers, omnibus-drivers, corn and timber porters, and
those in whose work physique tells most, are all largely drawn from the
country. Nor is the physical deterioration of city life to be merely
measured by death-rates. Many town influences, which do not appreciably
affect mortality, distinctly lower the vitality, which must be taken as
the physical measure of the value of life. The denizens of city slums
not only die twice as fast as their country cousins, but their health
and vigour is less during the time they live.

A fair consideration of these facts discloses something much more
important than a mere change in social and industrial conditions. Linked
with this change we see a deterioration of the physique of the race as a
distinct factor in the problem of city poverty. This is no vague
speculation, but a strongly-supported hypothesis, which deserves most
serious attention. Dr. Ogle, who has done much work in elucidation of
this point, sums up in the following striking language--

"The combined effect of this constantly higher mortality in the towns,
and of the constant immigration into it of the pick of the rural
population, must clearly be a gradual deterioration of the whole,
inasmuch as the more energetic and vigorous members of the community are
consumed more rapidly than the rest of the population. The system is one
which leads to the survival of the unfittest."

Thus the city figures as a mighty vampire, continually sucking the
strongest blood of the country to keep up the abnormal supply of energy
it has to give out in the excitement of a too fast and unwholesome life.
Whether the science of the future may not supply some decentralizing
agency, which shall reverse the centralizing force of modern industry,
is not a wholly frivolous speculation to suggest. Some sanguine
imaginations already foresee the time when those great natural forces,
the economical use of which has compelled men and women to crowd into
factories in great cities, may be distributable with such ease and
cheapness over the whole surface of the land as no longer to require
that close local relation which means overcrowding in work and in home
life. If science could do this it would confer upon humanity an
advantage far less equivocal than that which belongs to the present
reign of iron and steam.

Sec. 7. The Extent of Foreign Immigration.--So much for the inflow from the
country districts. But there is another inflow which is drawing close
attention, the inflow of cheap foreign labour into our towns. Here again
we have first to guard against some exaggeration. It is not true that
German, Polish, and Russian Jews are coming over in large battalions to
steal all the employment of the English working-man, by under-selling
him in the labour-market. In the first place, it should be noted that
the foreigners of England, as a whole, bear a smaller proportion to the
total population than in any other first-class European state. In 1901
the foreigners were 76 in 10,000 of the population; that is a good deal
less than one per cent. Our numbers as a nation are not increased by
immigration. On the contrary, between 1871 and 1901 we lost considerably
by emigration.[19] Even London, the centre of attraction to foreigners,
does not contain nearly so large a per-centage of foreigners as any
other great capital. The census gave 3 per cent. as the proportion of
foreigners, excluding those born in England of foreign parents. Though
this figure is perhaps too low, the true proportion cannot be very
large. It is not the number, but the distribution and occupation of the
foreign immigrants, that make them an object of so much solicitude. The
borough of Stepney contains no less than 40 per cent. of the foreign-
born population of London, the foreigners increasing from 15,998 in 1881
to 54,310 in 1901. At present 182 out of every 1000 in this district are
foreigners. The proportion is also very high in Holborn, Westminster,
Marylebone, Bethnal Green, and St Pancras. The Report of the Royal
Commission on Alien Immigration, 1902, states "that the greatest evils
produced by the Alien Immigrants here are the overcrowding caused by
them in certain districts of London, and the consequent displacement of
the native population." The concentration of the immigrant question is
attested by the fact that in 1901 no less than 48 per cent. of the total
foreign population were resident in six metropolitan boroughs, and in
the three cities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds. While a
considerable number of them are Germans, French, and Italians, attracted
here by better industrial conditions in trades for which they have some
special aptitude, a greatly increasing proportion are Russian and Polish
Jews, driven to immigrate partly by political and religious persecution,
partly for industrial ends, and feeding the unskilled labour-market in
certain manufactures of our great cities.

Sec. 8. The Jew as an Industrial Competitor.--Looking at these foreigners
as individuals, there is much to be said in their favour. They do not
introduce a lower morality into the quarters where they settle, as the
Chinese are said to do; nor are they quarrelsome and law-breaking, like
the low-class Italians who swarm into America. Their habits, so far as
cleanliness is concerned, are perhaps not desirable, but the standard of
the native population of Whitechapel is not sensitively high. For the
most part, and this is true especially of the Jews, they are steady,
industrious, quiet, sober, thrifty, quick to learn, and tolerably
honest. From the point of view of the old Political Economy, they are
the very people to be encouraged, for they turn out the largest quantity
of wealth at the lowest cost of production. If it is the chief end for a
nation to accumulate the largest possible stock of material wealth, it
is evident that these are the very people we require to enable us to
achieve our object.

But if we consider it is sound national policy to pay regard to the
welfare of all classes engaged in producing this wealth, we may regard
this foreign immigration in quite another light. The very virtues just
enumerated are the chief faults we have to find with the foreign Jew.
Just because he is willing and able to work so hard for so little pay,
willing to undertake any kind of work out of which he can make a living,
because he can surpass in skill, industry, and adaptability the native
Londoner, the foreign Jew is such a terrible competitor. He is the
nearest approach to the ideal "economic" man, the "fittest" person to
survive in trade competition. Admirable in domestic morality, and an
orderly citizen, he is almost void of social morality. No compunction or
consideration for his fellow-worker will keep him from underselling and
overreaching them; he acquires a thorough mastery of all the
dishonourable tricks of trade which are difficult to restrain by law;
the superior calculating intellect, which is a national heritage, is
used unsparingly to enable him to take advantage of every weakness,
folly, and vice of the society in which he lives.

Sec. 9. Effect of Foreign Competition.--One other quality he has in common
with the mass of poor foreigners who compete in the London labour
market--he can live on less than the Englishman. What Mrs Webb says of
the Polish Jew, is in large measure true of all cheap foreign
labour--"As industrial competitor, the Polish Jew is fettered by no
definite standard of life; it rises and falls with his opportunities; he
is not depressed by penury, and he is not demoralized by gain." The
fatal significance of this is evident. We have seen that notwithstanding
a general rise in the standard of comfort of the mass of labourers,
there still remains in all our cities a body of labouring men and women
engaged in doing ill-paid and irregular work for wages which keep them
always on the verge of starvation. Now consider what it means for these
people to have brought into their midst a number of competitors who can
live even more cheaply than they can live, and who will consent to toil
from morning to night for whatever they can get. These new-comers are
obviously able, in their eagerness for work, to drive down the rate of
wages even below what represents starvation-point for the native worker.
The insistence of the poorer working-classes, under the stimulus of new-
felt wants, the growing enlightenment of public opinion, have slowly and
gradually won, even for the poorer workers in English cities, some small
advance in material comfort, some slight expansion in the meaning of the
term "necessaries of life." Turn a few shiploads of Polish Jews upon any
of these districts, and they will and must in the struggle for life
destroy the whole of this. Remember it is not merely the struggle of too
many workers competing on equal terms for an insufficient quantity of
work. That is terrible enough. But when the struggle is between those
accustomed to a higher, and those accustomed to a lower, standard of
life, the latter can obviously oust the former, and take their work.
Just as a base currency drives out of circulation a pure currency, so
does a lower standard of comfort drive out a higher one. This is the
vital question regarding foreign immigration which has to be faced.

Nor is it merely a question of the number of these foreigners. The
inflow of a comparatively small number into a neighbourhood where much
of the work is low-skilled and irregular, will often produce an effect
which seems quite out of proportion to the actual number of the
invaders. Where work is slack and difficult to get, a very small
addition of low-living foreigners will cause a perceptible fall in the
entire wages of the neighbourhood in the employments which their
competition affects. It is true that the Jew does not remain a low-
skilled labourer for starvation wages. Beginning at the bottom of the
ladder, he rises by his industry and skill, until he gets into the rank
of skilled workers, or more frequently becomes a sub-contractor, or a
small shopkeeper. It might appear that as he thus rose, the effect of
his competition in the low skilled labour market would disappear. And
this would be so were it not for the persistent arrival of new-comers to
take the place of those who rise. It is the continuity in the flow of
foreign emigration which constitutes the real danger.

Economic considerations do not justify us in expecting any speedy check
upon this flow. The growing means of communication among nations, the
cheapening of transport, the breaking down of international prejudices,
must, if they are left free to operate, induce the labourer to seek the
best market for his labour, and thus tend to equalize the condition of
labour in the various communities, raising the level of the lower paid
and lower lived at the expense of the higher paid and higher lived.

Sec. 10. The Water-tight Compartment Theory.--One point remains to be
mentioned. It is sometimes urged that the foreign Jews who come to our
shores do not injure our low skilled workers to any considerable extent,
because they do not often enter native trades, but introduce new trades
which would not have existed at all were it not for their presence. They
work, it is said, in water-tight compartments, competing among
themselves, but not directly competing with English workers. Now if it
were the case that these foreigners really introduced new branches of
production designed to stimulate and supply new wants this contention
would have much weight. The Flemings who in Edward III.'s reign
introduced the finer kinds of weaving into England, and the Huguenot
refugees who established new branches of the silk, glass, and paper
manufactures, conferred a direct service upon English commerce, and
their presence in the labour market was probably an indirect service to
the English workers. But this is not the case with the modern Jew
immigrants. They have not stimulated or supplied new wants. It is not
even correct to say that most of them do not directly compete with
native labour. It is true that certain branches of the cheap clothing
trade have been their creation. The cheap coat trade, which they almost
monopolize, seems due to their presence. But even here they have
established no new _kind_ of trade. To their cheap labour perhaps is due
in some cases the large export trade in cheap clothing, but even then it
is doubtful whether the work would not otherwise have been done by
machinery under healthier conditions, and have furnished work and wages
for English workers. During the last decade they have been entering more
and more into direct competition with British labour in the cabinet-
making, shoemaking, baking, hair-dressing, and domestic service
occupations. Lastly, they enter into direct competition of the worst
form with English female labour, which is driven in these very clothing
trades to accept work and wages which are even too low to tempt the Jews
of Whitechapel. The constant infiltration of cheap immigrant labour is
in large measure responsible for the existence of the "sweating
workshops," and the survival of low forms of industrial development
which form a factor in the problem of poverty.

Chapter IV.

"The Sweating System."

Sec. 1. Origin of the Term "Sweating."--Having gained insight into some of
the leading industrial forces of the age, we can approach more hopefully
the study of that aspect of City poverty, commonly known as the
"Sweating System."

The first thing is to get a definite meaning to the term. Since the
examination of experts before the recent "Lords' Committee" elicited
more than twenty widely divergent definitions of this "Sweating System,"
some care is required at the outset of our inquiry. The common use of
the term "Sweating System" is itself responsible for much ambiguity, for
the term "system" presupposes a more or less distinct form of
organization of industry identified with the evils of sweating. Now as
it should be one of the objects of inquiry to ascertain whether there
exists any one such definite form, it will be better at the outset to
confine ourselves to the question, "What is Sweating?"

As an industrial term the word seems to have been first used among
journeymen tailors. The tailoring houses which once executed all orders
on their own premises, by degrees came to recognize the convenience of
giving out work to tailors who would work at their own homes. The long
hours which the home workers were induced to work in order to increase
their pay, caused the term "Sweater" to be applied to them by the men
who worked for fixed hours on the tailors' premises, and who found their
work passing more and more into the hands of the home workers. Thus we
learn that originally it was long hours and not low wages which
constituted "sweating." School-boy slang still uses the word in this
same sense. Moreover, the first sweater was one who "sweated" himself,
not others. But soon when more and more tailoring work was "put out,"
the home worker, finding he could undertake more than he could execute,
employed his family and also outsiders to help him. This makes the
second stage in the evolution of the term; the sweater now "sweated"
others as well as himself, and he figured as a "middleman" between the
tailoring firm which employed him, and the assistants whom he employed
for fixed wages. Other clothing trades have passed through the same
process of development, and have produced a sub-contracting middleman.
The term "sweater" has thus by the outside world, and sometimes by the
workers themselves, come to be generally applied to sub-contractors in
small City trades. But the fact of the special application has not
prevented the growth of a wider signification of "sweating" and
"sweater." As the long hours worked in the tailors' garrets were
attended with other evils--a low rate of wages, unsanitary conditions,
irregularity of employment, and occasional tyranny in all the forms
which attend industrial authority--all these evils became attached to
the notion of sweating. The word has thus grown into a generic term to
express this disease of City poverty from its purely industrial side.
Though "long hours" was the gist of the original complaint, low wages
have come to be recognized as equally belonging to the essence of
"sweating." In some cases, indeed, low wages have become the leading
idea, so that employers are classed as sweaters who pay low wages,
without consideration of hours or other conditions of employment. Trade
Unions, for example, use the term "sweating" specifically to express the
conduct of employers who pay less than the "standard" rate of wages. The
abominable sanitary condition of many of the small workshops, or private
dwellings of workers, is to many reformers the most essential element in

Sec. 2. Present Applications of the Name.--When the connotation of the term
"sweating" had become extended so as to include along with excessive
hours of labour, low wages, unsanitary conditions of work, and other
evils, which commonly belong to the method of sub-contract employment,
it was only natural that the same word should come to be applied to the
same evils when they were found outside the sub-contract system. For
though it has been, and still is, true, that where the method of sub-
contract is used the workers are frequently "sweated," and though to the
popular mind the sub-contractor still figures as the typical sweater, it
is not right to regard "sub-contract" as the real cause of sweating. For
it is found--

Firstly, that in some trades sub-contract is used without the evils of
sweating being present. Mr. Burnett, labour correspondent to the Board
of Trade, in his evidence before the Lords' Committee, maintains that
where Trade Unions are strong, as in the engineering trade, sub-contract
is sometimes employed under conditions which are entirely
"unobjectionable." So too in the building trades, sub-contract is not
always attended by "sweating."

Secondly, much of the worst "sweating" is found where the element of
sub-contract is entirely wanting, and where there is no trace of a
ravenous middleman. This will be found especially in women's
employments. Miss Potter, after a close investigation of this point,
arrives at the conclusion that "undoubtedly the worst paid work is made
under the direction of East End retail slop-shops, or for tally-men--a
business from which contact, even in the equivocal form of wholesale
trading, has been eliminated."[20] The term "sweating" must be deemed as
applicable to the case of the women employed in the large steam-
laundries, who on Friday and Saturday work for fifteen or sixteen hours
a day, to the overworked and under-paid waitresses in restaurants and
shops, to the men who, as Mr. Burleigh testified, "are employed in some
of the wealthiest houses of business, and received for an average
working week of ninety-five hours, board, lodging, and L15 a year," as
it is to the tailoress who works fourteen hours a day for Whitechapel

The terms "sweating" and "sweating System," then, after originating in a
narrow application to the practice of over-work under sub-contractors in
the lower branches of the tailoring trade, has expanded into a large
generic term, to express the condition of all overworked, ill-paid,
badly-housed workers in our cities. It sums up the industrial or
economic aspects of the problem of city poverty. Scarcely any trade in
its lowest grades is free from it; in nearly all we find the wretched
"fag end" where the workers are miserably oppressed. This is true not
only of the poorest manual labour, that of the sandwich-man, with his
wage of 1s. 2d. per diem, and of the lowest class of each manufacturing
trade in East and Central London. It is true of the relatively unskilled
labour in every form of employment; the miserable writing-clerk, who on
25s. a week or less has to support a wife and children and an appearance
of respectability; the usher, who grinds out low-class instruction
through the whole tedious day for less than the wage of a plain cook;
the condition of these and many other kinds of low-class brain-workers
is only a shade less pitiable than the "sweating" of manual labourers,
and the causes, as we shall see, are much the same. If our investigation
of "sweating" is chiefly confined to the condition of the manual
labourer, it is only because the malady there touches more directly and
obviously the prime conditions of physical life, not because the nature
of the industrial disease is different.

Sec. 3. Leading "Sweating" Trades.--It is next desirable to have some clear
knowledge of the particular trades in which the worst forms of
"sweating" are found, and the extent to which it prevails in each. The

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