|... beneath the seas:|
It is not agreeable to reflect on this state of things. At least half of the vast multitudes of uncivilized peoples, on whom our gigantic manufacturing system, enormous capital, and intense competition force the produce of our looms and workshops, would be not a whit worse off physically, and would certainly be improved morally, if all the articles with which we supply them were double or treble their present prices. If at the same time the difference of cost, or a large portion of it, could find its way into the pockets of the manufacturing workmen, thousands would be raised from want to comfort, from starvation to health, and would be removed from one of the chief incentives to crime. It is difficult for an Englishman to avoid contemplating with pride our gigantic and ever-increasing manufactures and commerce, and thinking everything good that renders their progress still more rapid, either by lowering the price at which the articles can be produced, or by discovering new markets to which they may be sent. If, however, the question that is so frequently asked of the votaries of the less popular sciences were put here—"Cui bono?"—it would be found more difficult to answer than had been imagined. The advantages, even to the few who reap them, would be seen to be mostly physical, while the wide-spread moral and intellectual evils resulting from unceasing labour, low wages, crowded dwellings, and monotonous occupations, to perhaps as large a number as those who gain any real advantage, might be held to show a balance of evil so great, as to lead the greatest admirers of our manufactures and commerce to doubt the advisability of their further development. It will be said: "We cannot stop it; capital must be employed; our population must be kept at work; if we hesitate a moment, other nations now hard pressing us will get ahead, and national ruin will follow." Some of this is true, some fallacious. It is undoubtedly a difficult problem which we have to solve; and I am inclined to think it is this difficulty that makes men conclude that what seems a necessary and unalterable state of things must be good-that its benefits must be greater than its evils. This was the feeling of the American advocates of slavery; they could not see an easy, comfortable way out of it. In our own case, however, it is to be hoped, that if a fair consideration of the matter in all its hearings shows that a preponderance of evil arises from the immensity of our manufactures and commerce-evil which must go on increasing with their increase-there is enough both of political wisdom and true philanthropy in Englishmen, to induce them to turn their superabundant wealth into other channels. The fact that has led to these remarks is surely a striking one: that in one of the most remote corners of the earth savages can buy clothing cheaper than the people of the country where it is made; that the weaver's child should shiver in the wintry wind, unable to purchase articles attainable by the wild natives of a tropical climate, where clothing is mere ornament or luxury, should make us pause where we regard with unmixed admiration the system which has led to such a result, and cause us to look with some suspicion on the further extension of that system. It must be remembered too that our commerce is not a purely natural growth. It has been ever fostered by the legislature, and forced to an unnatural luxuriance by the protection of our fleets and armies. The wisdom and the justice of this policy have been already doubted. So soon, therefore, as it is seen that the further extension of our manufactures and commerce would be an evil, the remedy is not far to seek.—Alfred Russel Wallace recuperating in the then seasonal trading centre of Dobo, Aru Islands, eastern Indonesia, May-June 1857.