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'produce of their allotment to depend upon, will fail to obtain 'a living.' (Evidence before Select Committee, 3367.)
But while the result of Mr. O'Connor's scheme, and of many similar experiments, would seem to indicate that the possession of small allotment of land any say under six or eight acres can rarely, in this country, enable the proprietor either to rise in life or to bring up a family in decency and comfort, unless he possesses some independent capital, or can combine his ownership with some other occupation; and is, therefore, an undesirable channel into which to divert the accumulations of frugality and forethought the case may probably be very different when land is dealt with in larger divisions. It seems possible enough that properties of 25 or 30 acres may be cultivated with success by those who bring to the task a reasonable amount of capital, and such zeal and devotion as ownership commonly brings with it. Accordingly, a scheme was proposed some years ago by Mr. William Bridges, and is now beginning to attract some degree of attention, by which parties of moderate means might be enabled to become purchasers and bonâ fide proprietors of estates of various sizes, in Ireland or elsewhere, by a happy union of the principle of life assurance with that of association. Assuming the desirability (either as a general good, or to meet a special social emergency,) of creating or facilitating the creation of a class of independent yeomen, we confess we have never met with a plan which appears so simple, so promising, and, in every point of view, so unobjectionable.
The nature of a freehold life assurance company (says Mr. Scratchley, p. 200.) may be easily and concisely explained. Suitable tracts of country being purchased from the existing proprietors, would, unless already in the desired state, be drained, fenced, and otherwise adapted for immediate profitable cultivation at the expense of the company, and, so improved, would be divided into allotments of the proper size [say from 30 to 100 acres], and furnished with the requisite buildings. These allotments would then be disposed of, by conveying the fee simple thereof to chosen persons (who could at once enter upon and profitably cultivate the same) subject to a terminable rent charge, a part of which would consist of the interest of the capital expended, and would be, in point of fact, a rent like that which in the usual relation of landlord and tenant, is paid for the hire of land; while the remainder would consist of premiums which, would be paid by the allottees, on the ordinary principles of life assurance, in order to secure for each the payment at his death of a sum equal to the estimated value of his particular allotment. On his death the sum assured would not be paid to his devisees or representatives; but in lieu thereof they become the absolute possessors of an unincumbered freehold estate.'
Land Assurance Companies.
. In other words, the purchaser is tenant during his life, and becomes absolute possessor on his death; or, to speak more ac curately, he at once enters on the full and entire ownership of the estate on the sole conditions of ensuring his life for a fixed sum, and paying a small rent till his death. We will suppose. him to purchase 30 acres at the price of 331. an acre, including all buildings &c. needful for the due cultivation of the land a rate at which vast quantities of good land may be purchased in different parts of the kingdom. The value of his allotment would thus be 1000l. If he enter upon it at the age of thirty, his annual payment will be as follows:
Rent, (or interest at 4 per cent. on the fee value 10007.)
Life Insurance 21. 5s. per cent.
In consideration, therefore, of paying for life, 627. 10s. a year, or 40%. to the company as landlord, and 227. 10s. to the company as an insurance office (which latter sum he may compound for by an equivalent payment down), he at once obtains possession, in absolute ownership, of an estate worth 1000%, and on his death it passes to his heir free from any payment or encumbrance whatever; so that, from the moment of his entrance, he can regard it with all the sentiments and affections of ownership, and can lay out money upon it in full security that the benefit will not be reaped by others- unless, indeed, he should fail in paying the 24 per cent. yearly premium.
It has not escaped the attention of reflecting men that a certain collateral consequence follows on the spread of saving habits among the poor, which should not be overlooked. In proportion as the custom of frugality and accumulation prevails through the community, will be the tendency of the rate of interest to decline. The greater the amount of savings seeking profitable investment, the greater will be the difficulty of finding such investments. If it be employed in benefit societies and sick clubs, the advantages offered by such societies will tend to diminish. If invested in Government securities, those securities. will rise. If laid out in the purchase of land, the price of land -already high-will be inordinately and injuriously enhanced. Moved partly by these considerations, and by others of more immediate force and more easy comprehension, many of the working classes and their friends have recently been endeavour
ing to find some more lucrative employment for their savings, than investments yielding simple interest can continue to offer. They wish to make their small capitals productive as well as profitable. They do not see why, in place of lending their money to others for employment, they should not themselves employ it in some branch of trade or industry with which they are familiar. It is true that a greater risk will probably be incurred in the latter case than in the former; but the additional profit to be realised is tempting, and the independence of the position offered is flattering and attractive. They do not see why they should not combine their several accumulations, and employ them in a business which they understand. Being capitalists as well as labourers, in virtue of their savings, they see no reason why they should not become their own employers; and thus unite the remunerations as well as the functions of the two classes.
From motives and reflections of this sort-stimulated in special cases by the wish to emancipate themselves from special grievances have sprung those Working Men's Associations,' of which we have heard so much of late; which are so numerous in France, and which now, aided by the zeal of certain benevolent theorists, are spreading in this country. Their object is perfectly legitimate; their constitutions are, generally speaking, based on fair and sound principles; the experiment they are trying is one which well deserves to be worked out; the zeal with which they have been taken up by the operative classes, is highly honourable to them; those of them whose rules have been drawn up by competent parties, infringe, so far as we are aware, no axiom of social philosophy, or of that branch of it which belongs to political economy; and we think that they are fairly entitled to the recognition and protection of the law.
Whether they are likely to prosper, except in isolated instances and under peculiar circumstances, is a wholly different, and, for our present purpose, an irrelevant question. Whether the combination of functions which civilisation has hitherto tended to divide, be a retrograde or a forward step; whether the ruling and controlling hand-so essential to the prosperity of all undertakings can be made strong enough in such republican associations, for prompt and decisive action; whether an elected manager will be able to perform the functions which must be delegated to him, with the same efficient, untiring, uniform probity and zeal which mark the proceedings and ensure the success of the individual merchant, manufacturer, or tradesman; whether the necessary harmony is likely to reign where the
Working Men's Associations.
power to enforce subordination emanates from the mere will of a majority which will fluctuate under the influences of intrigue, caprice, or agitation; whether the people can find among themselves the intelligence and education necessary to take a comprehensive view of their interest and of all considerations which may bear upon it, or can purchase that intelligence at a cheaper rate than that at which the usual arrangements of society now supply it to them; all these are questions wholly beside and beyond the mark. We may be of opinion- perhaps we are-that disappointment will be the result of these undertakings; we may deem that experience will show their promoters that, under the arrangements which habitually prevail, the capitalist has not, as they imagine, so very undue a share of the profits of their joint exertions, and that they may find it impossible perfectly to fill his place, and to exercise his peculiar functions; we may even think that these associations contain within them seeds of almost certain failure, inasmuch as they presume upon the general prevalence of virtues which, unhappily, are still rare, and on the subjugation of frailties and passions which, alas! are still dominant and rampant. But these are not inquiries into which the Legislature is called upon to enter. The Legislature is not bound, nor is it entitled, to forbid Englishmen to enter into this or that industrial undertaking, because in its wisdom it deems it unlikely to be profitable. It does not lie within its duty even to inquire into this point. In the case of railway and similar great undertakings, the case is wholly different there Parliament is asked to accord to certain companies extraordinary privileges, one of which is that of limited liability, and another, that of taking land and buildings from other parties without their permission and against their will; it is, therefore, bound to ascertain what is the probability of success, and whether the gain to the public is likely to be such as should outweigh the violation of private rights. But no such plea can be urged in the case of associations which only ask for the protection of the law in exercising the undoubted privilege of every freeman - that of employing his money in whatever legitimate mode he, in his wisdom or his folly, may deem fit. For the Legislature to refuse this protection on the ground that the adventure will probably turn out a disadvantageous one, and that it ought to protect its subjects from the consequences of their own folly, is to arrogate to itself the functions, and at the same time to impose upon itself the obligations, of the 'paternal 'governments' of the Continent. All that Parliament is called upon to do is to ascertain that the investment or the undertaking proposes no noxious object, violates no moral law, in
vades no man's rights, is based upon no fraudulent representations, and threatens no public mischief. If the scheme can vindicate itself on all these points, then its promoters are as clearly entitled to the protection of the law, whether their object be the making of dolls' eyes, or the manufacture of cloth, or the construction of steam engines, as if they were great individual capitalists engaged in a recognised undertaking. The scheme may, it is probable, turn out disastrously;—but the people will not believe this on the assertion of their superiors; they will learn contentedly in no school but that of their own experience. The project may have failure written on its face; but it is the birthright of Britons to play at ducks and drakes with their money; it is one of the privileges they most value; one they take care shall not be lost non utendo; one, the curtailment or deprivation of which they would resent with especial anger. It is as dear and as indefeasible to the poor man as to the rich: he is entitled in these matters to judge for himself; and to prevent him from doing so by leaving him without any resource, except the Court of Chancery, against fraudulent associates or inevitable disputes, is to do that by a side wind which it is beyond the acknowledged province of English legislation to do directly.
We are at issue with Mr. Mill as to the probability of these Working Associations' commanding any general success; but we are glad to fortify ourselves by his authority as to the desirableness of allowing their experiment a fair trial. In his evidence before Mr. Slaney's Committee, he says:
'Even if it were quite clear that they would not succeed, it would be of the greatest importance that they should be allowed to try the experiment, and that they should have every facility given them, to convince those who were trying the experiment that it was tried fairly. Besides, even if such experiments failed, the attempt to make them succeed would be a very important matter in the way of education to the working classes, both intellectually and morally... The advantages which the possession of large capital gives, are-not from any intention on the part of the Legislature, but arising from causes into which intention does not enter at all to a great degree a monopoly in the hands of the rich; and it is natural that the poor should desire to obtain those same advantages by association, the only way in which they can do so. This seems to be an extremely legitimate purpose on the part of the working classes, and one that it would be desirable to carry out, if it could be effected.
You think then that it would be but just and politic to allow them, under reasonable safeguards, to carry out this experiment; so that if they are right they may receive the benefit, and if they are wrong they may be undeceived in their unreasonable expectations? Certainly; and there would be this great advantage, that, supposing