An Examination of Mr. George's position
as a Systematic Economist


Robert Scott Moffat




A writer [W.H. J…] in the Quarterly Review says Mr. George's book is "a model of logical and lucid arrangement." The lucidity of Mr. George's arrangement is remarkably facilitated by the comparative simplicity of the view he takes of industrial organization. However complicated its details, its salient points with him are uncommonly few, and it costs little trouble to arrange them in an ostensibly symmetrical series. Nevertheless, simple as Mr. George's arrangement is, it presents, from a logical point of view, one inconvenience. His first book discusses the theory of wages, the second that of population. Now, according to the received view, the former theory depends upon the latter. It is true that Mr. George's object is to bring himself to a dead-lock in his examination of the received theory of wages so as to compel himself to fall back upon the preliminary question. But, in point of fact, he not only overturns the established theory in his first book, but sets up a rival one before he has examined the preliminary question at all. I, therefore, cannot agree with the Quarterly Reviewer as to the strictly logical character of Mr. George's arrangement, although I do not think any great fault is to be found with it on the score of lucidity. At all events, as it appears to me that a clear view of the problem of population is indispensable to any useful discussion of the problem of wages, I have found it necessary to reverse the order of Mr. George's first and second books.*
* I do not regard the departure from logical arrangement as necessarily a fault. I have adopted the same plan in the opening of The Eoonomy of Consumption. My objection to the particular departure made by Mr. George is that it leads to the discussion and settlement of a complex question without an essential preliminary investigation. Had he discussed wages in a preliminary chapter, and resumed the discussion after that on population the method would have been unexceptionable.

Mr. George is the boldest of the opponents of Malthus. A reader of his book, unacquainted with the history of the Malthusian controversy, could hardly fan to be struck with the immense variety of weapons in the armoury wherewith Mr. George assails his opponent's theory, and he would be disposed to imagine that the discussion indicated on Mr. George's part a highly original view of the problem involved in it. As I have already hinted in the preface, I am prepared to believe that the argument so shaped itself in Mr. George's mind; yet it is singular to find that, apart from the peculiar dress in which he presents them, even the most recondite of Mr. George's arguments are old and familiar.

There is a more general reason than that which I have assigned for giving precedence to Mr. George's second book. The problem of population lies at the foundation of all economic science, and consequently can be discussed independently of any of the particular problems of the science; while none of these can be discussed independently of it. Mr. George's own discussion of it might, in fact, stand as an independent treatise. As, moreover, Mr. George is at issue with the received doctrine of population, the problem is with him a crucial one. If his theory of population stands, he has a basis for the rest of his system ; if it falls, it becomes, at least, extremely doubtful how doctrines designed to fit into a particular theory of population will fit into its opposite. Another reason for dealing with this section first is that it displays in a very special manner Mr. George's idiosyncracies as a reasoner, which might be less apparent to an untrained reader in his dealing with mere abstruse and technical questions.

Mr. George is a clear and concise writer, that is to say, he states a proposition in clear and concise language, and, although he does not always avail himself of the privilege, he can also state an argument clearly and concisely. But he has a fault, which is one of the greatest a scientific writer can have, a fondness for arguing by illustration. Mr. George, however, does not neglect direct argument except in some cases in which he seems to think his proposition nearly self-evident, a confidence which is by no means necessarily shared by his readers. His illustrations may, therefore, be taken rather as an excrescence than as a defect in his work, and, in most cases, they may safely be left out of consideration.

Another difficulty, however, occurs in quoting Mr. George, especially as in a purely polemical discussion conciseness is indispensable. It sometimes happens to him in hammering out an idea to arrive in the middle of a paragraph, or even of a sentence, at a clear and logical proposition which substantially expresses all he has got to say independently either of what goes before or of what follows it. I trust that in quoting such propositions in an isolated form I shall not do Mr. George an injustice; for while I may omit matter that is merely explanatory or illustrative, I shall be as careful as possible not to omit any qualification to which he has subjected any proposition he affirms. Mr. George's book is very accessible, and if I do not burden my pages with wholesale repetitions of it, scrupulous readers will easily be able to verify by reference to it the accuracy of my representations.

The book on population contains four chapters. The first chapter is merely explanatory, and contains an account of the received doctrine, and of its relations to other economic doctrines; the second deals with the evidence in favour of the Malthusian doctrine derived from fact; the third deals with inferences for and against it from analogy; the fourth, entitled "Disproof of the Malthusian Theory," gives the positive evidence relied on against it.

As the first chapter does not seem to me to require any particular comment, I have introduced an independent explanatory chapter. I have also summed up the examination in a concluding one.


On the Unpopularity of the Existing Theory of Population.

The theory of population propounded by Malthus, and since known by his name, has earned for its author a most distinguished unpopularity. Hardly Any author has been more thoroughly despised, abused, and even hated. Perhaps a fate more unenviable still is that which has recently befallen him of being made the object of a kind of fetish- worship by a body calling themselves the New Malthusians, whose speculations, whatever may be their intrinsic merit, Malthus himself would have held in the utmost abhorrence.

It is true, as has been often said, that there was nothing intrinsically new in the theory of Malthus. Many scholars, from the time of Plato and Aristotle to the time of Malthus himself, had either explicitly or implicitly given expression to the fundamental conception which involves the whole doctrine of Malthus. Moreover, about the time of Malthus, the doctrine appears to have been in the air, as every important discovery is when it is due; or, as we may say if we are to assume the doctrine to be false, many writers were attacked by it as men are attacked by a contagious malady. But there were reasons why, previous to the time of Malthus, the doctrine should not have acquired that possibility of practical application that was essential to make it of serious importance even as a speculation. The very old observation, for which Mr. Frederick Harrison has recently claimed originality for Auguste Comte, that the period of predominance of industry in civilized society was preceded by a period of predominance of war, marks both the time and the place in which it was natural that the theory of Malthus should appear. The prevalence of industry over war, as the chief pursuit of civilized man, if not ultimately doubtful, yet remains up till this day most imperfectly achieved in the greater part of the civilized world.

While this state of things continues, speculation as to over-growth of population can be little more than an academic study. If there are natural powers capable of effecting a rapid growth in the numbers of human beings, there are social opportunities for their rapid consumption.

It is one of the most important circumstances in the history of England that her insular situation permitted her first among the nations of Europe to enjoy that security for internal peace, and that liberty of voluntary abstension from foreign wars> that were indispensable to her becoming a permanent shelter for an absorbing pursuit of industrial enterprise. This circumstance, among other advantages, gave her the Malthusian theory.

Assuming that theory to be adapted to the conditions of industrial predominance, the merit of Malthus in its introduction was great. Others dealt with it informally, and incidentally. He alone gave it a place among the fundamental principles of economic science. Since then it is possible to evade or to deny the theory of population: it is impossible for anyone who pretends to deal systematically with industrial economy to ignore it.

The method of Malthus*s book contributed to this result. Not content with a demonstration of the conditions that give the doctrine of population a claim to rank among fundamental scientific truths, he went into an extensive historical investigation to show that its operation could be traced through every variety and vicissitude of human experience.

The value of this so-called "inductive" evidence may not to a purely reasoning mind be as great as it is in popular estimation. The proof deduced from the natural conditions of human life, taken in con- junction with the fact, if it be a fact, of the expansive force of the reproductive powers, is alone conclusive.[1] But the inductive method, if less valid, is more imposing, especially to Englishmen, who can hardly be convinced by abstract reasoning. Moreover, this investigation has a value, apart from its value as evidence, and extending^ beyond the sphere of political economy. It gave, at least, a hypothetical answer to the problem which had hitherto baffled historians, whence, from comparatively uncultivated regions, came those incessant hordes that overthrew great empires, and overran the most fertile and populous regions of the earth. It threw also a new light upon a question which was becoming one both of historical and economical importance. If in a country whose resources are imperfectly developed, population, as Malthus professed to show, tends to press on the actual limit of developed resources, then it is easy to see how a mortal injury is inflicted upon the inhabitants of such countries when a more skilful and enterprising people occupies a large portion of their territory, and, measuring their pursuits by its own, expects them to live on the remainder. The decline of the savage before the civilized man appears in these circumstances to have been a marvel only to unsophisticated ignorance.

Among those who previously to Malthus gave expression to views analogous to his in relation to population, two remarkable instances may be noted. Dean Swift, in his "Thoughts on Religion," says "Although reason were intended by Providence to govern our passions, yet it seems that in two points of the greatest moment to the being and continuance of the world, God has intended our passions to prevail over reason. The first is the propagation of our species, since no wise man ever married from the dictates of reason: the other is the love of life; which, from the dictates of reason, every man would despise, and wish it at an end, or that it had never had a beginning." The same great writer, in one of his bitterest satires, recommends, as a means of keeping down the population of Ireland, the cultivation of a taste for cooked babies as a luxurious article of diet. Adam Smith, in the chapter in which he deals with the wages of labour ( Wealth of Nations, Book I., Chap. VIII.), lays down this fundamental proposition, which is as distinct a statement of the theory of population as any given by Malthus:

"Every species of animals naturally multiplies in proportion to the means of their subsistence, and no species can ever multiply beyond it. But in civilized society, it is only among the inferior ranks of people that the scantiness of subsistence can set limits to the farther multiplication of the human species; (?) and it can do so in no other way than by destroying a great part of the children which their fruitful marriages produce."

I do not wish to spoil a quotation by putting part of it in italics; but the reader will do well to peruse the last clause of this passage as if it were italicised. It forms an admirable transition to the chief topic of this introduction. I have spoken of the unpopularity of Malthus ; I wish now to advert to the persistent unpopularity of the Malthusian doctrine.

This unpopularity, it would seem, has exercised an adverse influence not only on the reception of the doctrine, but on its theoretical development in co-ordination with other theoretical doctrines. The doctrine itself has been formally recognized by the highest in reputation among our economical authorities, but the recognition has been accompanied by many practical caveats calculated to stave off the responsibility for a strict application of it to existing circumstances, and so to save the credit of the acceptors without diminishing the odium of its original form. Even of those who have accepted it most unequivocally, most, if not all, have wholly missed its true purport and application.

One of the first to recognize the doctrine theoretically and evade it practically was Professor Dugald Stewart, who, in his Lectures on Political Economy, Part I., Book I., chap, ii., says,

"The field which yet remains to employ the labours of ourselves and our children, is sufficiently ample to animate the exertions of the most sanguine beneficence; and it is a miserable misapplication of the time and talents which are now in our possession to waste them in fruitless anticipations of the condition of remote ages, while so much may be done to lighten the pressure of actual evils." This is, with various modifications, the popular way of regarding the doctrine still, and it is far from being without economic sanction. There are even distinguished writers in the " [Quarterly Journal of the Statistical Society of London," [Particularly Mr. Stephen Bonnie, the author of several independent works on statistics]

who think that even from their point of view substantial grounds can be found for it. It is evident, however, that this is not the way in which the theory was regarded by Adam Smith, or in which it was propounded by Malthus. And it may be said at once that such a view is not an acceptance, but a denial, and, if the theory be true, a denial more pernicious than the most direct negative, of the doctrine of population. For one of the essential conditions of the practical application of the doctrine is the gregariousness of man. The doctrine of population does not mean that when the whole surface of the earth is covered with human beings, there will begin to be a danger of over-population. It means that such a danger exists now, and will continue to exist, in every settled community. The mere pressure of population upon subsistence does not suffice to induce a settled community to disperse in search of wider habitations. Before pressure can produce dispersion it must become severe, and emigration then affords but a temporary and partial relief. It is not each community alone, but every section of a community, of whatsoever kind, to which the theory of population has a distinct application. It applies not merely to local divisions, but to separate classes, and to separate divisions of each class, and this is the only condition on which its application can ever become practical. The means of subsistence of any trade or profession in any community depend upon the demand for the services of that trade or profession in that community, and the trade or profession that increases beyond the demand for its services violates the law of population as mach as if it over-peopled the world.

Upon this view of the problem the question we have to consider is, whether the unpopularity of the theory of Malthus is or is not deserved. The theory, if true, demands a universal application. Rightly apprehended, it [unreadable], not, as Adam Smith supposes, to the working classes alone, but to every class, beware of increasing beyond the means of maintenance which the economy of society provides for you. This is a restraint that comes home to every individual, and it cannot, and ought not to be borne, without reasonable cause. But the question we have now to consider is, not, is the theory true? but, is its truth desirable? If we had the choice, should we wish it to be true or false?

It is highly necessary that such a question should be put as a preliminary to an examination of Mr. George's view of the theory of population. For Mr. George is no half-hearted antagonist. He bans and curses the theory in every sense, and from every point of view. And his opposition to it on theoretical grounds is diametrical. As far as Malthus can extend the capability of the human species to grow, so far does Mr. George extend the adequacy of the provision for its growth. Incredible as it may seem, but as we shall certainly see, he extends it even farther. We have thus the two views directly put before us. There is no paltry quibbling about the degree of attention necessary to be given to acknowledged limits. The question is simply whether the actual capacity for development of the human race is finite or infinite. It may fairly, then, be asked, which alternative is desirable? And this question possesses equal interest whether we assign the palm of victory as to the truth of their respective doctrines to Malthus or to George. For, on the one hand, while the carpers at Malthus have failed to reconcile us even to their own modifications of his views, possibly Mr. George may succeed in reconciling us to Malthus himself; and, on the other hand, it would be a rare misfortune if, after Malthus's doctrine had been held odious as long as it was at least partially believed to be true, it should turn out to be only and truly desirable just at the moment when it was found to be wholly false; and if we should curse Mr. George for vanquishing Malthus, whom we had cursed. Let us hope, then, that terms in which John Stuart Mill, one of its most steadfast supporters, describes the doctrine of Malthus, that the limit of population is due to the "niggardliness of nature," may not apply to the true doctrine, whichever it may turn out to be.

We have then to contemplate the question of infinitude. Pascal puts the hypothesis of an infinite material universe, and he insists on its acceptance on the ground of the infinitude of God. From the infinite divisibility of matter to the infinite expansion of space, he fills his universe with worlds of organized being. Now, if this hypothesis is true, the term universe is manifestly a contradiction. With worlds between which in no conceivable lapse of time and with no conceivable rapidity of transit is communication possible, how can there be anything at one? If the universe is infinite, then to each particular part of it the mass must be infinitely nonexistent. We may surely take a different view of creation from that propounded by Pascal. If God is infinite, His creatures are not. We know of various suns and systems, but none of them is infinite to our apprehension. The chemical theory of matter disposes of infinitude as a practical part of the structure of our globe, and, so far as we know, the rest of the material world resembles it. We can, therefore, no longer see " myriads of worlds in the tear of an insect. Thus, if the world is made for limited intelligences, may we not reasonably suppose it to be limited?

To the human intellect the notion of infinitude look at it how we may, presents a prospect which is irreconcilable with sanity. We cannot get rid of the notion of infinitude, but we must turn away from it if we would preserve our reason. There is one pleasing view we might take of the infinite if we could only reconcile it with the ultimate conditions of reason. The hypothesis is this: the infinite represents capacity, the finite attainment. There is no real infinite; but there is no assignable limit to possible attainment. But there are infinities that will not thus be exorcised. The most inexorable are those of time and space. I shall briefly refer to the former only. We can scarcely conceive of a real infinitude of future time, for were infinite time to be realized time would be at an end, and the infinite exhausted. But with an infinite duration of past time the case is different. It is utterly impossible to conceive an absolute beginning of being. But if being had no beginning the past must be infinite. Now the past, whether long or short, is certainly over, and beginning and end, like opposite extremes of space, are absolute correlatives, so that we have here a true infinitude which is absolutely at an end. But the notion of the infinite mocks us with contradictions more inconceivable still. If space is infinitely divisible, so also is time. There must, therefore, be an infinite succession of distinct periods of time in a moment, which passes almost before we are aware it is present.

Let us pass, then, from a notion which so transcends and baffles our reason that we cannot live at peace with it. If it is one of the conditions of our existence that the number of our race should be unlimited, surely it is not a desirable condition, and if we value our own peace of mind we must wish the victory to Malthus.

But if our race is to have a limit, where should we wish the limit drawn? Do not 30,000,000, 80,000,000, or 100,000,000 constitute a nation large enough for patriotism? Do not 250,000,000 constitute an empire big enough for ambition? Do not 1,500,000,000 make a world large enough for sympathy? Does not even Malthus still leave us a continent or two to fill? And what do the conditions of his theory demand of us? Only that in the propagation of our species, as in all other things, we shall go about the business, whether of maintaining or increasing population, with prudence and moderation.

BOOK I / Chapter 3

Mr. Georqe^s Examination of the Facts in Support of the Malthusian Theory

From his introductory chapter, it appears that Mr. George's hostility to the Malthusian doctrine is grounded on the belief that it lies at the root of the received doctrine of wages, which it is his main object to overthrow. How far this is the case we shall have an opportunity of examining in the following book. It is true, as Mr. George himself remarks, that Adam Smith has anticipated Malthus in the statement of the theory of population, and Ricardo's theory of wages seems to have been framed with direct reference to that theory; but, on the other hand, there seems no evidence that Adam Smith had the theory of population distinctly in view in framing his general theory of wealth. That theory is followed by Ricardo, and to it the theory of wages is also designed to conform. A theory of wealth framed without reference to the more fundamental problem of population may happen to be true; but it is open to grave suspicion that it may, at least, be found defective. Although the theory of wages may have been framed with some reference to the theory of population, it does not necessarily follow that it, or the theory of wealth to which it is related, are in accordance with that theory. In saying that the doctrine of wages "finds it's strongest support" in the doctrine of population, Mr. George assumes a closer relation between them than he has shown to exist. By getting rid of the doctrine of population, it is possible he may get rid of the obnoxious doctrine of wages; but it is also possible that, by establishing the doctrine of population, he might render the amendment of that doctrine imperative.

Another observation occurs in the introductory chapter, which it is essential to note, in order to a due appreciation of Mr. George's point of view in dealing with the facts in evidence of the Malthusian theory. He says the assumption of geometrical and arithmetical ratios of increase is "a play upon proportions which hardly rises to the dignity of that in the familiar puzzle of the hare and the tortoise;" and he quotes John Stuart Mill as calling it "an unlucky attempt to give precision to things which do not admit of it, which every person capable of reasoning must see is wholly superfluous to the argument."

Now, in spite of John Stuart Mill's characteristic mode of defining those who do not agree with him, he and Mr. George are entirely wrong on this preliminary point. I do not defend the terms "geometrical" and "arithmetical," as applied to the ratios of potential increase of population and food respectively; but the ratios upon which Malthus insists are definite, and they are within the limits of the facts adduced in support of them. Malthus gives twenty-five years as an estimate of the time within which a population free from any restraint might double itself, an estimate which there is reason to believe is well within the limit of possible growth. He supposes that in each similar period land which had been cultivated up to a certain degree of fertility, that of the current skill of husbandry in his day, would not have its fertility increased by more than an equal increment, an estimate which no experience affords the faintest hope of ever being exceeded. The inevitable conclusion is, that while population, by its inherent force, tends to grow at the rate of 1, 2, 4, 8, &c., or over, it is retained by the limit of maintenance from growing at a rate exceeding 1, 2, 3, 4, &c., or under. This is the essence of the Malthusian doctrine, and not merely, as Mr. George represents, "that population tends to increase faster than the power of providing food." This difference will be found essential in dealing with the facts; it is also important in the application of them. It is not merely that population, if unrestrained in its growth presses upon resources, but that it presses upon a diminishing margin with continually growing stringency. The nature of the process is this. When population and production start from 1, there is no pressure untill 2 is reached. But at 2 population has acquired a force which would carry it to 4, while production only reached 3. It is, however, restrained, and they reach 3 together. Three times the initial population is now pressing on a uniform or diminishing margin, so that its force would be sufficient to carry it to 6, while production went on to 4.

What the opponents of Malthus habitually forget is, that this theory assumes the unrestrained growth of population. It is a measure of the amount of pressure needed, in some form or other, to prevent population from exceeding its resources. The theory not only admits, but asserts, that the pressure is in point of fact exerted; but because this fact does not lie open to superficial observation, the opponents of the theory take advantage of its non-appearance to deny the force of the tendency of growth altogether. The varying rate of mortality upon which Malthus dwells as the main indication of pressure is ignored by some opponents, who look exclusively to the adequacy of resources to the maintenance of the existing population, while by others, like Mr. George, it is boldly attributed to other causes.

In his second chapter, Mr. George, like many of Malthus's opponents, begins his attack upon Malthus's facts by an attack upon Malthus himself. This is his appreciation of the author of the Essay on the Principle of Population:

"This famous work, which is much oftener spoken of than read, is still worth perusal, if only by a literary curiosity. The contrast between the merit of the book and the effect it has produced, or is at least credited with ... is, it seems to me one of the most remarkable things in the history of literature. ... It begins with the assumption that population tends to increase in a geometrical ratio while subsistence can at best be made to increase only in an arithmetical ratio. . . . Commencing with such an absurdity, the essay includes a long argument for the imposition of a duty on the importation, and a bounty on the exportation, of corn, an idea that has long since been sent to the limbo of exploded fallacies. And it is marked throughout the argumentative portion by passages which show on the part of the reverend gentleman the most ridiculous incapacity for logical thought, as, for instance, that if wages were to be increased from eighteen pence or two shillings per day to five shillings, meat would necessarily increase in price from eight pence or nine pence to two or three shillings per pound, and the condition of the labouring classes would, therefore, not be improved.*
* Malthus did not advocate bounties. He simply corrected some erroneous statements of Adam Smith as to their effects. He did not advocate duties on the importation of corn indisciminately. He held, truly, that the consequences of raising a population greater than the internal resources of a country can support are justly to be dreaded, and he said a duty on corn to maintain an equal balance between agriculture and manufactures was not impolitic. With regard to wages, what Malthus says (Chap. V.) is, that an increase of wages not earned by an increased productiveness of labour, but contributed by charity, would not permanently raise the condition of the poorer classes.

This confusion of thought does not merely crop up here and there. It characterizes the whole work. The main body of the book is taken up by what is in reality a refutation of the theory which the book advances, for Malthus's review of what he calls the positive checks to population is simply the showing that the results which he attributes to over-population actually arise from other causes. Of all the cases cited, and pretty much the whole globe is passed over in the survey, there is not a single case in which the vice and misery can be traced to an actual increase in the number of mouths over the power of the accompanying parts to feed them; but in every case the vice and misery are shown to spring either from unsocial ignorance and rapacity, or from bad government, unjust laws, or destructive warfare."

Here at once we find the consequences cropping up of Mr. George's misconception of the theory of Malthus. Malthus starts with the hypothesis that if population is not prudentially restrained, a positive restraint, which must be either vice or misery, is inevitable. He examines many societies in which a prudential restraint in vigorous exercise cannot be found, and he finds in all of them vice and misery sufficient to account for the actual limitation of growth.

Mr. George supplements this preliminary criticism on Malthus by saying:

"Nor what Malthus failed to show, has any one since him shown. The globe may be surveyed, and history viewed in vain, for any instance of a considerable country in which poverty and want can be fairly attributed to the pressure of an increasing population."

When Malthus offers the inductive evidence that vice and misery exist wherever population is not otherwise restrained, Mr. George replies:

"But you have not proved in a singly case that vice and poverty result from over-population, and not from other causes."

It may be noted that it is not Malthus who has proved the contrary, but Mr. George who says he has. The natural tendency of Malthus's evidence is to establish the connection assumed in his hypothesis; but it would be very difficult to do this on Mr. George's conditions. "The vice and misery," says Mr. George, "in every case proceed not from over-population, but from other causes." And when you ask, "From what causes?" he replies, "From vice and misery." Where there is a too rapid growth of population, "unsocial ignorance and rapacity" are certain to arise; and from these bad government will eventually spring. War is also one of the vices or miseries by which over-population is restrained. How many wars result from the desire for increased territory, or from the migrations of peoples desirous of larger or more fertile lands. Yet these, and not over-population, are, according to Mr. George, the sources of vice and misery. If Mr. George had looked a little deeper^ he would have found that the sources of vice and misery are the excesses of human passion. Is, then, the sexual passion the only one not liable to excess, and free from liability to produce such consequences? If vice and misery, in the forms which Mr. George alleges, have a natural tendency to restrain the growth of population, then it is evident that where, from whatever cause, they exist, the growth of population cannot be unrestrained. Malthus nowhere asserts that all vice and misery are due to over-population. What he says is, that if population is allowed to ran to excess, vice or misery cannot be avoided, so that where there is not virtue enough to restrain population, vice and misery are either restraining it already, or they will be produced by it. To satisfy Mr. George's conditions, it would be necessary to find a society in which neither vice nor misery existed, but in which a pressure of population was seen in the very act of producing them.

But Mr. George has not done justice to Malthus's case, even from his own point of view. Malthus has not confined himself to cases in which prudential restraints were wanting. He also instances cases, though necessarily fewer in number, where they have operated powerfully, and there he has found the vices and miseries that tend to restrain population less prevalent.

Such is Mr. George's notion of inductive evidence. Having thus laid the axe to the root of the tree, Mr. George proceeds in the following manner to cut it down.

"It is," he says, "a fact that, as we count our increasing millions, we are apt to lose sight of; nevertheless it is a fact that, in what we know of the world's history, decadence of population is as common as increase. Whether the aggregate population of the earth is now greater than at any previous epoch is a speculation which can only deal with guesses." He then spends several paragraphs in a survey of the fluctuations of population in various parts of the globe, winding up with the characteristic suggestion, "It is somewhat strange that among all the theories that have been raised. that of a fixed quantity of human life has not been broached."

Mr. George's notions of evidence are truly versatile. He has scarcely drawn breath since he accused Malthus of adducing facts which he did not trace to the alleged cause. What does such evidence as Mr. George here adduces prove ? Does he mean to say that there are instances of restrained or declining population with which vice and misery, of the kinds he himself alleges to exist independently of the growth of population, have nothing to do? But if, under these conditions, population declines, what does that prove as to its natural power of growth ? Does he mean to say that if the prevalence of vice and misery were lessened the growth of population would not be increased? And if this is 80, if the restraint upon the growth of population is in proportion to the prevalence of vice and misery, what stronger negative evidence in favour of the Malthusian theory could he have?

If the main cause of the fluctuations to which Mr. George refers has been war, do not their temporary duration afford a strong proof of the force of the reproductive principle which has incessantly repaired the ravages of that destructive scourge?

There is on this point an argument which Mr. George's "orthodox" opponents could not very conveniently use, but which is open to me. Mr. George has rejected the doctrine of economists, that industry is dependent for its growth upon a capital which is supplied to it by the independent agency of parsimony. Mr. George's argument against this doctrine is, as I shall have occasion to show, inconclusive, because he has missed the point of the doctrine he is trying to refute; but even if he had apprehended the doctrine truly, I hold that he would still have been justified in rejecting it. I am, therefore, at liberty to turn against him his own argument in as far as it is relevant. Now, Mr. George avails himself against this doctrine of the illustration afforded him by MacCullch, Chalmers, and {mirabile dicta) John Stuart Mill, the most strenuous supporter of the assailed doctrine, of the rapidity with which capital repairs the ravages effected by war. Now, if this argument is good to prove the reproductive powers of capital, is it not equally good to show the force of the reproductive power that repairs the similar ravages iu population?

Mr. George has not yet reached the limit of his controversial resources. He has yet something to present us with of a more startling character; but he pauses in his career in order to offer us a little incidental argument of a more plausible aspect which he appears to have picked up by the way.

"Malthusianism," he says, "predicates a universal law, that the natural tendency of population is to outrun subsistence. If there be such a law it must, wherever population has attained a certain density, become as obvious as any of the great natural laws which have been everywhere recognized. How is it, then, that neither in classical creeds and codes, nor in those of the Jews, the Egyptians, the Hindus, the Chinese, nor any of the peoples who We lived In close association, and have built up creeds and codes, &c., do we find any injunctions to the practice of the prudential checks of Malthus? There is at least one considerable exception to Mr. George's statement. By far the most effectual prudential restraint on over-population is marriage. Referring to this, I have formerly said "the constitution of civilized society is Malthusian." Such societies encourage the growth of population only in families, wherein provision is assumed to be made for it. But taking the argument as we find it, Mr. George has conveniently placed it just after the answer he has himself furnished to it. The governing power of society hitherto has not been industry, but war. As long as men slaughter each other freely, and for the purpose, among others, of appropriating their means of maintenance, there is no need of codes to induce them to restrain the growth of population.

In the opening of the article, "Population," in the Popular Encyclopaedia, I have formerly noticed this argument thus: "No feeling is more deeply seated in the human breast than the desire of offspring. The mere instinct of propagation, which man has in common with other animals, acquires in his case an extension and power from his intellectual elevation and the greatness of his nature, which is impossible in the case of the lower animals; and when to the social and other considerations, the influence of which is peculiar to mankind, we add the attractions which imagination lends to the passion of love, and the power which that faculty possesses of compensating for the brevity and uncertainty of life by projecting it with a sense of reality and identity of interest into succeeding generations, it will readily be perceived that however frequently celibacy may be enforced by circumstances, or prompted by religious zeal, a purely voluntary abstention, unmotivated save by want of inclination, or the strength of opposing tastes, will always be so rare as to be wholly inappreciable in its general effects, so that its complete absence may be assumed as the basis of a scientific discussion of the laws of population. But although, taking mankind in the mass, the individual desire to contribute to the increase of the species may be held to be universal, the actual growth of the population is nowhere left entirely to the unaided force of this motive. In respect to the gratification.

Here, again, the argument I have referred to tells more against Mr. George. Are great laws of nature recognized so readily? How long is it since the law of gravitation was recognized? Why has Mr. George to re-propound a theory of capital which our leading economists still reject, though of this desire men are to some extent rivals, because, except in new communities, there are few societies in which all men can have the opportunity of gratifying it: yet this rivalry is less felt than the sympathy which all have in common with a universal sentiment, and there are common as well as individual motives for encouraging population, to which this sympathy gives greater activity. Hence, in almost all primitive societies, and in many advanced ones, marriage, as the means of contributing to the maintenance in growth of population, has been regarded, if not as a matter of positive religious obligation, yet as possessing a natural moral sanction of almost equal weight, and to obviate any obstructions which the organization of society might put in the way of its universality, it has been held to be a matter of State policy to encourage it by positive laws. Besides the natural sentiment an adventitious circumstance has greatly contributed to make the encouragement of population a constant object of State policy. Mankind has hitherto lived in a state of chronic warfare. Contiguous nations, both barbarians and civilized, continue to maintain, as they have always maintained, their possessions against each other by a show of force ; and from time to time questions arise between the most advanced nations, which are only settled by extreme violence, and a, wholesale distraction of human life. However melancholy this condition of human society may be, it has to be reckoned with as a fact, and as no means have yet been discovered of remedying it, such outbursts of destructive violence may be looked for in the future as in the past Now there are several effects which this state of things has upon the growth of population which have an obvious influence on State policy.

As long as a state of violence is normal, as long even as it may be resorted to on an extreme emergency, a motive for the growth of population is created which is independent of the resources of the community, or of the means of affording happiness or supplying material comfort to those called into being.

Where war is the question numbers are strength, and, other things being equal, the community which can bring most men into the field will prevail.

Heaven helps the strong battalion, is an approved maxim of trade-craft with men of the sword and rifle. Hence, whether for defence or attack, whether from motives of fear and jealousy or ambition, the numbers of a community become a matter of vital importance, and the question which from the vulgar standpoint of common statesmanship it is natural to put is, not how many can the country support well? but, how many can it support at all. But the state of warfare, while it raises the motive for encouraging population beyond the bounds of common prudence, or, indeed, of any other restriction, puts very distinct and frequently very severe restrictions upon the means of effecting the object. Soldiers are necessarily withdrawn from productive industry. During all the time of training and actual warfare, which in the case of standing armies is permanent, their labour is precluded from contributing to the fund by which the population is maintained, and out of which alone can come the means of increasing it.

We now come to an argument which demands attention rather on the ground of its psychological than of its substantial value. In the latter respect it will be rather ap1> to recall to the memory of the reader Mr. George's estimate of the logical capacity of Malthus.

"If the tendency to reproduction be so strong as Malthusianism supposes, how is it that families so often become extinct -- families in which want is unknown? How is it . . . that in such an aristocracy as that of England, so many peerages should lapse? . . ."

… extent one of enforced celibacy, and while a considerable number of men in the flower of life are prevented from contributing in the proportion they would naturally do to the growth of the population, the support of these celibates forms a burden on the rest of the community which restricts its means of increase. In actual war there is, in addition to the ordinary burden, the drain of human life, and the enormous expense at which war is maintained, while, when the war is over, the ranks of the army are recruited from those who remain, and the normal burden is not diminished. When a soldier is killed he ceases to be of any use for promoting population, but if he were not replaced the community would be relieved of the burden of keeping him; but as another is put in his place the community is weaker by a man, has still this burden to bear, and has, besides to pay for the expense of killing the lost man, which is considerable. That nations under these circumstances uniformly prosper and grow in numbers says much for the natural strength of the reproductive principle. Another consideration, besides the exigencies of aggression or defence, has contributed to make the promotion of population a political object. The governing classes are usually the holders of property, and density of population increases the value of property, irrespective of the happiness or misery of the population as a whole. That which gives value to property is labour, and the greater the [unreadable] of labourers in a community, the greater will be the amount of service which the holders of property will be able to obtain in return for the use of their property.

"For the solitary example of a family that has survived any great lapse of time, even though asured of subsistence and honour, we must go to. Unchangeable China. The descendants of Confucius* still exist there, and enjoy peculiar privileges. . . . The descendants of Confucius, 2,150 years after his death in the reign of Khangi, numbered 11,000 males, or say 22,000 souls. . . . The esteem in which this family is held on account of their ancestor, the most holy ancient teacher, has prevented the operation of the preventive check, while the maxims of Confucius inculcate anything but the prudential check. Malthus is a dog whom any stick is good enough [unreadable].

Commerce adds a speculative element to the inducements to marriage. It not only holds out hopes which induce men to anticipate the calculations of prudence, but it makes marriage itself an available resource which can be counted on as having a distinct mercantile value. The one venal sentiment in favour of marriage causes it to be regarded as a sort of certificate of character and guarantee of stability in a young man. Even when the act itself is imprudent, he gains by it among those who have no special knowledge of the circumstances a prima facie reputation for prudence, and, as it were, steals a character by flattering the popular prejudice. But commerce is itself only a species of war. Its votaries have a faith in the inexhaustibility of its resources as implicit as that of despots in the power of their legions; but as there can be no commerce in that which is not produced, commerce is as strictly limited by production as war is by the labours of those at whose expense it is carried on.

How can any man who gives a moment's serious consideration to the question suppose that in a country closely populated like England or China any class or family is exempt from the "preventive" checks to population ? What is the primary condition of the existence of an aristocracy in any country? Surely it is that it should be limited in numbers. The size of the families of the actual members of the aristocracy may not be limited by pressure on means, but the penalty of extending their numbers is that the excess must sink into the un- distinguished mass, subject to the full brunt of the unprivileged struggle for existence. What does Mr. George mean by saying that the family of Confucius is freed from the positive check by the esteem in which it is held? Does esteem free it from vice and misery? Mr. George condescends to give us no authority for the valuable facts he adduces as to this family, but as far as they serve his purpose he may easily be made a present of them.

Mr. George, however, is not quite satisfied with the case of the Confucius family, upon which he proceeds to reason thus -

"Yet, it may be said, that even this increase is a great one. Twenty thousand persons descended from a single pair in 2,150 years is far short of the Malthusian rate, nevertheless it is suggestive of possible overcrowding.

"But consider. Increase of descendants does not show increase of population. It could only do so when the breeding was in and in. Smith and his wife have a son and daughter, who marry respectively some one else's daughter and son, and each have two children. Smith and his wife would thus have four grandchildren; but there would be in the one generation no greater number than in the other, each child would have four grandparents. And supposing this process were to go on, the line of descent might continually spread out into hundreds, thousands, and millions; but in each generation of descendants there would be no more individuals than in the previous generation of ancestors. The web of generations is like lattice-work, or the diagonal threads in cloth. Commencing at any point at the top, the eye follows lines which at the bottom widely diverge; and beginning at any point at the bottom, the lines diverge in the same way to the top. How many children a man may have is problematical. But that he had two parents is certain; and that these again had two parents each is also certain. Follow the geometrical progression through a few generations and see if it does not lead us to quite as striking consequences as Mr. Malthus's peopling of the solar systems."

I quote this passage that the reader may, by comparing the argument advanced in it with the others in this and the following chapters, have a full view of Mr. George*s resources in dealing with the theory of Malthus. In the whole wonderful rigmarole there is only one statement relative to the question at issue, "How many children a man may have is problematical." We know the possible limit of a man's ascendants, and we know accordingly how far it is possible for population to decline. "We do not know the possible number of his descendants, and cannot set a limit to the possible advance of population; but we do know that while a man can only have two parents and four grandparents, he can have more than two children and four grandchildren. We know also that married people commonly have more than two children; and we know that in a fully occupied country the full effect of this expansive power of growth on the increase of population is never experienced, because a high birth-rate is always accompanied by a high death-rate. We know also that, especially in large towns, and in their most crowded districts, a large proportion of the deaths occur at very early ages, affording a strong presumption for the inference that they are due if not to a general, at least to a local, or special pres- sure of numbers upon resources that will not expand with sufficient rapidity. This is the gist of the question which Mr. George attempts by this frivolous illustration to mystify.

Mr. George concludes this chapter with a more serious examination of three particular oases, those of India, China, and Ireland.

The distress of India under the Mogul government was, he asserts, due to "merciless rapacity, which would have produced want and famine were the population but one to a square mile and the land a garden of Eden." The first era of British rule was distinguished by "as merciless a rapacity, backed by a far more irresistible power."

"But," he adds, "the lawless licence of early English rule has been long restrained. To all that vast population the strong hand of England has given a more than Roman peace; the just principles of English law have been extended by an elaborate system of codes and law officers designed to secure to the humblest of these abject people the rights of Anglo-Saxon freemen ; the whole peninsula has been intersected with railways, and great irrigation works have been constructed. Yet, with increasing frequency, famine has succeeded famine, raging with greater intensity over wider areas."

"Is not this," Mr. George asks, "a demonstration of the Malthusian theory?" One would think it was at least a contribution thereto. How does Mr. George dispose of it? Simply by a resume of the exaggerations and calumnies of a small body of Anglophobians among us in relation to English administration in India. But Mr. George*s authorities, taking them at their word, do not give the least support to Mr. George's hypothesis. One of Mr. George's strong points is this: "A most expensive military and civil establishment is kept up, managed and officered by Englishmen, who regard India but as a temporary place of exile; and an enormous sum, estimated at least £20,000,000 annually, raised from a population where labourers are in many places glad in good times to work for ld. to 4d. a day, is drained away to England in the shape of remittances, pensions, home charges of government, &c.

In The Nineteenth Century for April, 1884, one of Mr. George's Anglophobians, J. Seymour Keay, in an article entitled "The Spoliation of India," says the drain to which Mr. George refers "amounts not to £15,000,000, but to nearly four times that sum." On the following page he says: "Last year India exported produce valuing £83,000,000. Allowing that her merchants naturally earned profits on these at the English rate of 33 per cent., then she was entitled to receive imports in exchange to the value of £111,000,000; whereas her actual imports last year (after deducting £5,000,000 for increase of debt, as already shown, amounted to only £58,000,000, showing tribute paid to England not of £15,000,000, but of no less than £53,000,000!" Again, he says : " It must be remembered, more- over, that about one-fifth of the exports from India comes from the Native States, which, being subject to no similar deadly drain, get back the full value of their exports, together with their profits. The result, therefore, is that in exchange for the produce of British India, exported last year, valuing £66,000,000 at the port of shipment only £38,000,000 (again allowing for increase of debt) were received back, instead of £79,000,000 justly due, even at the low average rate of profit realized by all Europe."

The notion of a profit of 33 per cent, all round on the entire foreign trade of England is one of which the absurdity will be apparent to every commercial man. The manner in which Mr. Keay makes it up is remarkably simple. "In the ten years from 1870 to 1880," he says, "Great Britain made average yearly exports of the value of £278,000,000, receiving in exchange imports to the amount of £371,000,000. She thus got full value for her exports and a profit of 33 per cent, besides." The last sentence he puts in italics. In like manner he shows that "the whole of Europe exchanged its exports for imports with a clear profit of 19 per cent." He overlooks, among other things, that the trade of Europe, and especially of England, with the eastern and western continents is mostly carried on in European vessels, and that the imports of Europe have accordingly to pay not only for European exports, but for the labour of building and working the vessels in which the trade is conducted. I have not access to the authorities from whom Mr. Keay takes his facts, and he does not Bay how the value of his imports is made up. On this point I may say that official reports are usually deficient in information, and it is entirely useless to compare the statistics of different countries unless it is known that they are framed on identical principles. Mr. Keay thinks India ought to receive from England imports to the value of £111,000,000 in return for exports valued at £83,000,000. But in the same principle England ought to receive fop the £111,000,000, imports valuing 33 per cent. more, or £148,000,000, in which case the value of the Indian exports ought again to be advanced 33- per cent., and so on ad infinitum. I mention this to show that these comparative values are purely local and conventional, and that everything depends upon the place and mode in which they are made up. In an official return, the private imports of India from 1880-1 are given at £59,297,348, and of exports at £76,694,333.

In the Statesman's Year Book for 1884, Mr. Keay's year, the total imports and exports of merchandise and treasure, excluding Government stores and treasures, are given as under:

Imports £63,456,197

Exports 84,281,723

This gives on the surface about Mr. George's twenty millions, but there is no information as to how the comparative values are made up. It may be said, however, that it is a matter of perfect indifference whether India receives Government stores, whether for civil or military uses, from England, or manufactures them at home. In either case the labour of producing the stores, or the produce which pays for them, brings as a return nothing but the stores. The area of British India is 863,244 English square miles. Its population in 1881 was 198,755,993. Its revenue, including public works, in the year ending 31st March, 1881, was £72,559,978, its expenditure £76,694,333. Thus the whole amount of its taxation, whether exported to England or expended at home, is much less than that of Great Britain with an area of 120,832 square miles, and a population of 35,000,000. Mr. Keay's charges are, therefore, simply false accusations.

But let us give Mr. George the benefit of his accusation, as amended by Mr. Keay, without examination. To what does it amount? "Whether thirty or sixty millions of the taxes of India go to England, what does it matter? The taxes of India, like the taxes of every country, are levied for services rendered. They are, as we have seen, not excessive; and it is unworthy of an economist to pretend that the prosperity of a country depends upon where the payments it makes for value received in any form are expended. The only serious argument of Mr. George's authorities is that India is BO poor that she cannot afford even the moderate taxation to which she is subjected; but how does this go to prove that her soil is rich enough to support an indefinite increase of population, if only this moderate taxation were remitted? How does it support Mr. George's contention that "the millions of India have bowed their necks beneath the yoke of many conquerors, but worst of all is the steady, grinding weight of English domination, a weight which is literally crushing millions out of existence?"

Mr. George says the case of China is similar to that of India, so it need not be gone into in detail.

Mr. George appends to his discussion of these cases a much-needed caution:

"Let me be understood. I do not mean that India or China could with a more highly-developed civilization maintain a larger population, for to this any Malthusian would agree . . . what I say is that . . . nowhere can want be properly attributed to the pressure of population against the power to procure subsistence."

Certainly not, if before admitting this you must find a country absolutely untaxed, and without any obligations between one class and another. One of Mr. George's own authorities, MacCulloch, could have told him that where there is a margin of means and energy, taxes, by exciting additional energy, often increase capital and resources. But if the whole exertions of a community are exhausted in providing a scanty maintenance, surely that is enough to show that, with its actual skill, its resources are inadequate.

If the exertions of a population of nearly 200,000,000 cannot provide a surplus of £20,000,000 to spend, whether at home or abroad, how are we to believe that they could provide for a growth of, say, two per cent, on the population?

The case Mr. George presents in relation to Ireland is precisely similar to that which he gives for India, except that his charges, which are equally reckless, are brought, not against the Government, but against the landlords. Here, again, MacCulloch would have informed Mr. George that whether money actually earned is spent in or out of the country in which it is earned, is to that country a matter of indifference. This may be an extreme view, but it is much nearer the truth than Mr. George's inflated account of the ruin wrought by absenteeism.

A landlord cannot take out of a country more than the proportion of rent which he uses out of the country. If any of his dependents remain in the country, their maintenance must remain with them. But what he takes away is not the maintenance of any class, not his dependents, who remain in the country. It is his own maintenance, and that of his dependents whom he has taken out of the country, or who never were there, and would still be spent on them were he to bring them into the country.

I do not wish to go into the details as to the case of Ireland, as it involves political controversies of too recent a date; but for the purposes of Mr. George's argument it may be summarily disposed of. Whether Ireland has been rack-rented or not, it is certain that rents there have in general been much lower than in England. If this is assumed to prove that the country is in the actual state of industrial skill and organization much less productive, the case is disposed of. If it is asserted that there is an indefinite margin of productiveness for the support of additional population, why is there not margin enough to support a small number of landlords at a moderate rent?


  1. The so-called induction, as I have shown in an article on Method, never reaches the dignity of a generalization, or scientific proposition till it has assumed the form of a deduction.