This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
We said, "in the mere relief of poverty." But government charity has to do with other classes with which the rule of assistance is directly opposite. Hospitals for the disabled, asylums for the insane, schools for the blind,— these should be aggregated to secure the best scientific treatment and the greatest natural advantages.
4th, To what extent should charity be given?
To the full extent of the necessities of the subject. The destitute, whether maintained in their own homes or in houses devoted to that purpose, should be required to do all the work they are really able. This is just; for the government has the right to diminish its own burden. It is kind; because, by keeping up their habits of industry, it preserves self-respect and bodily vigor, and may in time enable them to return to a condition of self-support. To render any more assistance than is really necessary, is not to relieve pauperism, but to create it.
The English system includes two methods: 1st, The allotment, which is the cheap rental to the poor of certain portions of land, from which, by their own industry, to procure some of the necessaries of life; 2d, The parish allowance, which affords weekly assistance to a certain amount, — say, two shillings,— to eke out wages. These, in some circumstances, may give a real and permanent relief; but it is found in England, that this kind of charity is so general, that employers reduce wages still further, in expectation of it, and the laborer is soon brought to distress again. Such a state of things is a misfortune, arising, not from defects in the system of charity, but jointly from the want of independence and intelligence in the laboring class, and from the operation of vicious institutions, which lock up the natural means of subsistence, or take them away in excessive taxes.
It is in this failure — acknowledged equally by government and by scientific writers — of the English charitable system, under which one million families have been kept in substantial pauperism, while there was found at least another million "just above the paupers, always in peril, lest they should become paupers," *—it is here we reach the true principle of this matter of public charity.
* John Bright, 1865. 27
Poor-laws may be effective, to the full extent, in providing for all pauperism that results from natural or accidental disability of body or mind for self-support. Government may relieve every form of such distress with entire satisfaction of the individual need, and with perfect justice to the community. But, as soon as the necessities of a people bring able-bodied workmen within the scope of poor-laws, it is certain that, while temporary relief should be afforded, the remedy must be sought elsewhere. The reason is as follows: Charity to the disabled is simple gratuity, wholly outside the laws of value, and involving a definite expense; but charity to the laboring class is an absurdity, only explained by the wickedness of human institutions. It is an absurdity liable to indefinite repetition. It indicates that the point has been reached below which oppression and greed cannot go. The Creator of this bountiful order has made provision for the support, the comfort, and the gratification of all our kind. Poor-laws, permanently embracing in their charity able-bodied workmen, simply show that the gratification was long since abandoned; that comfort was afterwards denied by oppressive requirements or restrictions; and that now the lowest plane of injustice has been reached, in the inability of the laborer for self-support. There is no further descent; nor have poor-laws any virtue to bring back the right order of things. The great, the sole, regulating principle of economical life, viz. the entire self-sufficiency of labor, has been destroyed; and nothing but laws returning labor to its own full rights, not affording it charity, can restore health and harmony. There is no proper ground for charity but the inability to labor; and, when under the stress of government injustice and social falsehood, it departs from these limits, it begins a wandering that has no end. The pauperism of America is the result of accidents, and expires with its special causes. The pauperism of Europe is the effect of system, and perpetuates itself.
England will retain her million of pauper families; her other million of families, suspended over pauperism by a cotton thread; her three millions more, scantily subsisted and nourished, — until the axe is laid by giant hands at the root of the evil.
The quackery of the Middle Ages applied herbs and balms, not to the bleeding wound, but to the injurious sword. Such are poor-laws for pauper populations. It is not poor-laws, but rich-laws, that are needed. The relations of capital to labor, of government to the people, of the soil to the hand, need to be re-adjusted.
5th, In what form should charity be administered?
In deciding this question, we shall find it convenient to distinguish between two classes of recipients; viz., permanent paupers and those occasionally destitute. Of the former class we need hardly more than refer to the alternatives of in-door or out-door, mechanical or agricultural employment, of home-relief or poor-house maintenance. The habits and circumstances of each community must determine the methods of its charity. This class, being in the main composed of those hopelessly dependent, does not present such perplexing questions as arise, when, by national calamities or natural causes, great bodies of helpful industry are deprived of support. The famine of 1693 reduced twenty-five thousand in Paris alone to a starving condition, and for a while overwhelmed the laws relating to mendicancy. The great number of persons now dependent on government support,* throughout the Southern section of the United States, strikingly illustrate that class of calamities which may reduce a population almost to general beggary. These, when they come, must be promptly and amply provided for: labor must be saved at all expense, humanity out of the question.
* Winter of 1865-6.