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destitute is the business of the State; few people dispute that the care of the public health, the protection of the individual against violence, either intentional or through negligence; the provision of education, whether elementary or advanced, is the business of the State. Is it, then, too much to assert that the provision (if it be possible) of work for the unemployed, for those for whom private enterprise finds no use, is also the business of the State? That it would have to be undertaken with care goes without saying; what is wanted is, I think, to deal with the residuum, not to revolutionise the whole industrial system, and great care would be needed to find employment for the residuum without disorganising the whole of our industries. Nevertheless, I believe it could be done-I believe such work could be found that, while it provided in the end a valuable increment to the nation's assets, no injury was in the present inflicted on the rest of the nation, except, perhaps, a temporary increase of taxation, which would be almost met by the relief from high poor rates, and the necessity for private charity which now exists.
It is objected, and sometimes rightly objected, that for the State to turn producer would be to seriously and unfairly interfere with other producers. Take in a small way, for instance, goods produced with convict labour. If prisoners in gaol make brushes or mats or any articles of that sort, the sale of such goods is unfair competition against other manufacturers who employ free labour. If the State were to undertake to find work for the unemployed in England by hiring or buying land and putting all the unemployed to raise wheat, it is conceivable that it might lower the price of wheat all round, and so affect the wages of those at present in work, or throw more of them out of work, and so increase the very evil it was intended to cure. Despite Carlyle's forcible asseveration that with thousands of bare backs it is absurd to talk of over-production of shirts, as a practical matter the manufacture by the Government with unemployed labour, of shirts to cover these backs might very seriously interfere with the legitimate and normal industry of shirt-making, and have disastrous results. The problem, then, is to find some method in which the waste labour of the unemployed might be turned to useful account without disorganising industries which are at present beneficially employing a large amount of labour. Now, I do not believe this is impossible, even in England, though the problem there has reached huge dimensions. Surely there are some things like harbour works, road improvements, water conservation, drainage of waste land, redemption of ground from the sea, and so on, which might be undertaken in order to provide work when other work is not obtainable, and which, in the end, would yield a very considerable asset to the national wealth without in the meantime in any way interfering with the normal industries of the country. Labour so employed would form a most valuable industrial reserve, from which workmen could always be obtained when the condition of other industries rendered more labour in them necessary, as public works of the kind I have indicated could easily be abandoned for a time whenever, or if
ever, there were sufficient employment elsewhere-to be resumed again when a surplus of labour again occurred. Both employers and employed would be benefited by the establishment of such industrial reserves.
But it is perhaps not our business to teach England how to manage her affairs or how to deal with her unemployed, so I will not pursue that any further. It is our business to put our own house in order and prevent the evils of extensive pauperism in this country, if it be possible, and it is to the South African aspect of the question that I shall devote the few remaining words I have to say.
Till comparatively lately there has been but little real poverty in this country; the demand for labour in a new country is usually greater than the supply, and except for the complication introduced by the race problem, there would probably have been, and still be, plenty of work for everyone. Still, even here the "Poor White" is not a product of yesterday, and I fear, unless we can find some sound means of dealing with him, will not be a thing of the past to-morrow. Moreover, we are developing, nay, I fear, have already developed, a loafer class very nearly akin to the class we all know well at Home. Some of you will perhaps say, There you are, that is the impossibility of the problem. The Poor White is ignorant and lazy, and will not do manual work or let his children, because that is Kaffir work and beneath the dignity of a white man-while as to the English loafer he is just as hopeless." Yes, I am afraid you are quite right if you look only to the full-developed specimen. I doubt if your well-matured individual Poor White, or your thoroughlydeveloped loafer can be reclaimed, but there is always this comfort about him, that though you cannot even get rid of him by means of the lethal chamber, time will get rid of the individual all right by-and-bye; it is not the cure of these wasters that is the important thing, it is to see that you do not go on manufacturing more and more of them. The Poor White and the loafer, though perhaps both incurable, are, unlike the poet, made, not born; they are the direct result of the circumstances under which they exist. Alter the environment, change your system of dealing with the children, and you will find them grow into very different adults.
How is this to be done? Education is the panacea generally advocated, and I should certainly be the last to disparage education. But the teaching of the three R's, or even the rudiments of classics and mathematics is not going to solve the problem. What you need is work; there and there only lies the solution. Is it then possible to find work for these people on the lines I have already indicated? That is, work which in the end will produce an asset to the country equivalent to, or, at least, approximately equivalent to, its cost; work which will not interfere with the industry of those already employed; work which will not be unnecessarily costly by requiring a large expenditure on machinery or plant in addition to the wages paid out; work which is not derogatory to the dignity of a white man?
I think it is possible. We have in this country abundance of unused land, though, I regret to say, little unowned land; we have abundance of water running away uselessly every year; we have already a large number of unemployed. Surely here is Economic Waste! Waste land, waste water, waste labour; bring the three together, and we shall be a long way on the road towards solving the problem of what to do with our Poor White population, what to do with our out-of-works who have not yet degenerated into hopeless loafers. A few well-considered schemes for conserving water would employ a large amount of labour with comparatively little expense for materials or machinery. It is work that any able-bodied man could do it is work that even the Poor White who is not yet fit only for the lethal chamber, I believe would do, if you so arranged things that he was not asked to work along with Kaffir labour. I have seen plenty of poor Dutchmen working hard at dam-building with no one but their own sons to help them, and if they will do this on a small dam they would do it on a big one, too. You could justly hold out to them the hope that if they would work honestly at the irrigation works they should have an opportunity of hiring such portion of the land to be eventually irrigated as they could work with their own labour-some small amount of their wages possibly being retained as deferred pay to help them later in starting for themselves as peasant cultivators. Doubtless, in addition to the original cost of the work for conserving water, and the purchase of suitable tracts of ground for irrigation, some expense would have to be incurred in nursing your colony of peasant cultivators for a time, and doubtless it would be a long time before any adequate return could be secured from the capital so invested; but with wisdom and patience and a proper understanding of the right way to give out such ground, so as to secure a fair return to the cultivator, while securing to the State a fair share of the ultimate benefit, I believe in the end the State would reap a substantial advantage. This ultimate advantage, too, would be quite apart from the immediate benefit of saving our waste labour from steadily deteriorating as well as increasing and becoming a terrible incubus on the whole community. Time forbids my saying more about the system of tenure that would be advisable, than that probably a modified metayer system, with the State retaining the title to the soil, would be the best.
There will, of course, be endless objections to this suggestion, which I cannot possibly attempt to answer in this paper, but two difficulties which will rise at once in many people's minds I must deal briefly with.
The first of these is, What are you going to do with your produce? Where are your markets for it? You cannot grow vegetables for Johannesburg or Kimberley unless you are close to the railway line, and if you could, you would only flood these markets and ruin the people who are already supplying them. You cannot grow corn, because it will cost you more to do so on your irrigated lands than you can import it for from abroad! Granted, but you can do
something else altogether with your ground. Everyone who knows this country at all, knows that if artificial food could be obtained at a reasonably low price for some three or four months in the year, the amount of stock the country would carry could be easily doubled. Let any farmer now attempt to put on his farm as much stock as it will carry in the best part of the year, he will lose half of it by sheer starvation when the winter comes on or when the dry season is unusually prolonged; find him fodder for a few months, and he might safely double the amount of his stock. I am not simply theorising, though I am no farmer, for the experience of England has proved this clearly enough—with the introduction of root crops for winter fodder, farms in England were enabled to carry a very much larger amount of stock than had previously been possible, and the same result would unquestionably follow in South Africa if artificial feeding for part of the year became practicable. Whether the crop to be raised on the irrigable lands I have advocated should be root or lucerne or what, is not for me to say-that is a question which would soon be solved. But that a market would be readily found for the produce is, I think, clear enough, while an enormous advantage to the whole country would accrue from the increased amount of live stock, which could be reared and maintained.
The second difficulty is the cost. "Sheer nonsense,' I can hear some people say, "with the country verging on bankruptcy to even suggest such a thing-of course, it is impossible." If I were seeking a seat in Parliament I should perhaps be ill-advised to put the suggestion in my election address, or to expatiate on it from the hustings, but I trust that an Association for the Advancement of Science is capable of taking a broader view of things than the average elector, and of looking farther ahead than the ordinary ratepayer. It is just when a country is at its worst that it is most important to take stock of its assets and see if the best is being made out of them that could be done. Are we making the best out of our waste land, out of our waste water, out of our waste labour-are we even making the best we can out of our grazing ground? If we are not, should we not then seriously consider how we can use them to greater advantage? Suppose such a scheme as I have indicated did mean some increased taxation for a time, could we not possibly stand it, even hard up as we all are? A little less whiskey, a little less tobacco, a few less nights at the theatre, a star or two less on tour from England, a few less new dresses for our wives, our own dresssuits or tall hats a little less up to date-would any or all of these things be impossible to bear if we felt that the ultimate good of the whole country, and the immediate salvation of our destitute poor, demanded it of us?
If we had to face a costly war to save our Colony or the Empire from danger, we should not hesitate about the cost; can we not face the cost for such an object as I have indicated? Or was I right in my pessimistic suggestion that most wars were not philanthropic or patriotic, but commercial? And even if I was right, surely if we can face the enormous expense of war for commercial reasons, we
should not shrink from the cost of a peaceful experiment which, if successful, would bring with it more blessings and more prosperity than the most successful war.
I have finished, because my time, not my subject, is exhausted. You may disagree with every word I have said, you may disprove almost every statement I have made, but you cannot get away from the fact that this problem of what to do with our unemployed is one of the most important, if not the most important, problem with which we have to deal. And as such I make no apology for thrusting it before you and saying think about it, look at it fairly and earnestly, and see if nothing can be done. The gold output, Chinese labour, the Customs tariff, the prospects of the share market, may be of extreme interest to some of us personally, but the problem of the unemployed is one which affects us all, and on the solution of which the prosperity or otherwise of unborn generations depends. Many of the greatest advances made in the last century, and particularly in the latter half of the century, have been due to the discovery of the means of utilising various waste products of industry. It is for this century to find the means of utilising that waste product of our industrial system as a whole, unemployed labour," and so put an end to the misery and degradation, almost inevitable for those who "out of work,' are as well as to the present enormous Economic Waste.