In every civilised State the problem of poverty is one which presses for solution. In some European countries it has, at times, locally assumed a critical and menacing form, threatening the very foundations upon which society is based. Revolutions have sprung from the fact that people needed food and could not obtain it; and, even in our own “highly favored” land, honest, industrious men are often driven to despair because they can neither get work nor food.
Occasional outbreaks and demonstrations, however, are by no means the true measure of national poverty. Beneath the glittering surface of society there lies a seething mass of want and misery. The victims suffer in silence and make no sign, but their existence constitutes a permanent danger to the general welfare. Destitution is in numberless instances the parent of crime and prostitution, with their chain of disastrous consequences; overcrowding, semi-starvation and squalor are the fruitful sources of disease which scruples not to travel beyond its birthplace and to infect the homes of the wealthy. Modern society may be fitly compared to a magnificent palace reared in a miasmatic swamp, which fills the air with its death-dealing exhalations. No cunning artifices of builders or engineers can afford protection in such a case. In like manner, society cannot hope to escape from the influences which make for corruption and ultimate dissolution whilst it suffers poverty to remain in its midst.
It is, indeed, unnecessary to insist upon the evils and the national dangers arising from poverty; for they are admitted upon all hands. The problem is: How can poverty be abolished? Upon this vital point opinions differ widely. The evil is so complex and many-sided that observers are apt to be misled by a partial view of the symptoms. For example, a total abstainer, concentrating his attention upon instances in which poverty has been brought about by excessive indulgence in alcoholic liquors, urges that drink is the “cause of poverty.” The Socialist asks “Why are the many poor?” and answers that the remedy consists in the nationalisation of land and the instruments of production, the abolition of competition, etc. Others attribute the existence of poverty to idleness or to want of thrift amongst the workers. In no case, however, is the alleged cause equal to the palpable effect; and it is necessary to extend the enquiry in another direction if we are to discover the cause which, above and beyond all others, produces the want and misery that everybody desires to remove.
The purpose of this little work is, first, to show that an excessive increase of population is the source from which these evils arise. In the second place, the means by which population may be kept under control will be explained, for it is useless to warn people of a danger if they are kept in ignorance of the means by which it may be avoided. Above all, it is to the poor that this knowledge must be conveyed, for, as we shall show in the following pages, the indigent class multiplies far more rapidly than the well-to-do, and it is upon themselves that the consequent misery necessarily falls.
Experience teaches that almost all the ills which afflict mankind can be obviated by a careful study of nature and by conduct based upon due observance of natural laws. In the darkness of ignorance men must stumble into many pitfalls; but in the clear light of reason and knowledge they can discern the path which leads to freedom and happiness.