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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

The Land Question (S346: 1882)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page three of The Times (London) issue of 3 January 1882. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S346.htm

To the Editor of The Times.

    Sir,--Will you permit me to say a very few words in your columns in reply to the gentlemen who have criticized my letters on this subject?

    Lord Borthwick puts a still more extreme case than mine, and supposes the earth to produce its fruits without labour of any kind. I accept this case, and maintain that, under our present system of land tenure, this great apparent blessing would in reality be a curse to the country. The crops, it is true, would still be there, ready to be consumed by the nation, while all persons now employed on the land would merge into other industries. In other words, the rural districts would become vast unpeopled tracts devoted to the profits and the pleasures of the rich landowners, while the whole population of the country would be massed into manufacturing towns and cities. This would be the inevitable result because it would be (even more than it is now) the landlord's intent to let no land for building but around densely peopled centres of industry, where it commands from ten to 100 times its value in the open country; and this unnatural crowding in towns and cities, with its innumerable evils and ever-increasing difficulties of sewage utilization and water supply, and all for the aggrandizement of one class, the landowners, is the necessary result of the extension of labour-saving appliances in agriculture under our present system of land tenure. Lord Borthwick's supposed case, then, so far from furnishing an argument against me, furnishes the most powerful illustration of the evil results of that system even under the most favourable conditions. The statement that the conditions supposed would lead to shorter hours of labour is so opposed to all the facts--the notoriously increased struggle and competition for a living during the last 40 years, the constant high pressure of modern business life, and the need for the vigilant enforcement of penal laws against overworking women and children--that it requires no further refutation.

    To Mr. Hardcastle I reply that his belief or supposition that labourers have now more land than formerly is totally opposed to the facts. The old cottages, with their ample gardens, have largely given place to rows of cottages in towns and villages, built by speculators and let to weekly tenants. Mr. Hardcastle takes two recent dates to show that pauperism has diminished. This is really trifling with the public. I can take two others, 1853 and 1880, which show that it has increased. I took the averages from the "Financial Reform Almanack" for the first and last 12 years of the 32 years of which statistics are there given, and though I find that I made a mistake in my actual figures (having divided by 10 instead of 12), yet my statement that the average pauperism of those two periods has somewhat increased is strictly correct. I also beg to call Mr. Hardcastle's attention to the fact that during the very period when our exports and imports were increasing most rapidly--from 1863 to 1873--reaching their maximum in the latter year, and when our commercial prosperity was at its very highest, our total number of paupers of all classes, as well as our able-bodied paupers taken separately, was at a maximum, a striking comment on the current opinion that commercial prosperity is a true test of national well-being.

    Of the same character as the comparison of the number of paupers at two fixed dates is Mr. Hardcastle's quotation of the statistics of incomes during the last five years, when the whole question under discussion refers to the progress of the country during the last 30 or 40 years. It is, of course, a necessary result of the long-continued commercial and agricultural depression that large incomes should diminish, and smaller incomes, many of which are fixed, should correspondingly increase, but what bearing this has on the question at issue it must puzzle your readers to discover.

    To avoid further misconception, I will add that I am as firm a believer in the value of the application of labour-saving machinery and improved methods to every department of human industry as any man can be; but the whole object of my letters has been to show that, under the present system of land tenure, the community at large has not derived an adequate benefit from the vast accessions to human power and the vast saving of human labour due to the progress of the arts and sciences during the last half-century, and therefore that the system stands condemned.

I am yours, &c., Alfred R. Wallace.
Godalming, Dec. 30.

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