The great mass of mankind, now as ever, live from hand to mouth, without forethought. They can live only when they work - if they stop for a day there is instant distress. It is the animal way - but it is human, too, none the less. Want constantly presses from behind - and if the pressure lets up, idleness brings decay. This all seems hard and brutal, but it is nature's only way of keeping us alive. No writer ever realizes this one law of nature, and they all think that we can end the poverty and want which keep us healthy, but a moment's thought shows the impossibility of ending it. A wild animal must hunt every day - if he cannot, he dies, and even in zoological gardens the death rate is high. With man, the death is slower, and that is the sole difference.
The struggle for existence is now necessary to keep the organism in health, for it is built for such exertion, and must keep it up. As soon as the "strenuous life" ceases, through any cause, atrophy sets in and deterioration goes on to extinction, consequently, we depend on overpopulation for our existence.
* "Life and Labors in London," I, p. 152.
It follows that if we suddenly relieve the stress of overpopulation so that it is easier to make a living, idleness results and great disturbances follow with misery and suffering until the food supply is reduced to such a point that there is not enough for all, and the struggle for existence brings about healthy activity - or, in other words, until the land, though holding fewer people, is again overpopulated. This is beautifully illustrated in the history of England, in 1348, when the great plague killed off half the people. There was such a scarcity of labor that its price rose, and though the price of food rose also, the laborers, becoming so important, indulged in an outburst of self-indulgence, refused to work, and crops rotted in the ground. "As personal services died away it became the interest of the lord to unite the small holdings on his estate into larger ones. The evictions consequent upon this course threw many laborers upon the market, and the sheep farms (established in place of agricultural farms owing to the need of fewer laborers) diminished the number required, while the smaller amount of holdings devoted to agriculture increased the price of food. And so it is not surprising that within the course of a comparatively few years, instead of a scarcity there was a glut of labor; that pauperism increased, and social discontent continued, that vagabondage, with its dangers to society at large, became a difficult problem. The whole lower class in England, down to the time of Elizabeth, stood looking into the face of want."* Here, then, was a terrible readjustment by lessening food production, so that even after half the people were destroyed, the population was too great for the lessened supplies of food; that is, there was overpopulation.