Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/229

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By the Right Hon. LEONARD COURTNEY, M. P.

BY the beginning of the present reign the study of political economy in this country had worked itself free from earlier errors, and it had come to be believed that the secret of social regeneration lay in the utmost allowance of freedom of action to every individual of the community, so far at least as that action affected himself, coupled with the most complete development of the principle of self-reliance, so as to bring home to every member, freed from legal restraint on his liberty of action, the moral responsibility of self-support and of discharging the duties, present and to come, of his special position. Such was the theory more or less openly expressed by economic thinkers when the British Association was founded, and the same theory lay at the base of Jevons's address in 1870. Can we hold it now or must it be recast? Since 1870 primary education has practically been made gratuitous. The legislature had an opportunity for abolishing the mischief of doles, but showed no inclination to make use of it, and there were even traces of a feeling of favor for the maintenance of these bequests of the past. The indiscriminate multiplication of so-called charitable institutions has in no way been reformed, and there is as great activity as ever in the zeal of those who would mitigate or relieve the effects of improvidence without touching improvidence itself. Codes of regulations have been framed for the supervision of the conduct of special industries, and their sphere has been extended so as to embrace at no distant period, if not now, the whole industrial community. The reformed Poor Law, which was regarded as a great step in the education of the workman, especially of the agricultural laborer, in independence, stands again upon its trial, and proposals are at least in the air for assuring to the aged poor a minimum measure of support without any regard to the circumstances of their past lives or to the inevitableness of their condition. The suggestions made by responsible statesmen have indeed been more limited and cautious, but it will be acknowledged of those, as of the German system, from which they may be said to be in some measure borrowed, that they involve a great departure from the ideal of individual development. Add to this that there is a movement, which has become practical in many large cities and towns, for the community itself to engross some forms of industrial activity and to undertake in respect of them to meet the wants of their inhabitants.

  1. From the presidential address before Section F, Economic Science and Statistics, of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.