Hyndman, May 1916

The Emigration Madness

Source: English Review, xxii May 1916, pp. 470-7;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

“Fewness of people is real poverty; and a nation wherein are eight millions of people is more than twice as rich as the same scope of land wherein are but four.” “There needs be no beggars in countries where there are many acres of unimproved, improvable land to every head as there are in England!” It is well now and then to go back to the shrewd common sense of the father of modern political economy, especially at a time when the old fallacies about “over-population” and the advantages of emigration are again being forced upon us.

Although nobody who has any knowledge of the subject disputes that the land of Great Britain is, and long has been, “starved for labour,” one of the principal suggestions for dealing with our soldiers who are discharged after the war is to ship them off to our Colonies as emigrants. Sir H. Rider Haggard has already gone on a tour to those Colonies, in order to arrange as speedily as possible for this systematic transportation for life of some of our most useful workers. It is, to my mind, an utterly fatuous policy. Sir William Petty, if he could return to these shores, after an absence of two hundred years or so, would be the first to denounce such removal of by far the most valuable portion of our people as a direct injury to this nation.

Over-population is a possible phenomenon: excess of parasites over producers is a dangerous state of things for any country; but never in history, with a constantly progressive increase of the power of man to create wealth, have too many people been found existing on a large scope of territory. It is this last which has to be proved in relation to the island of Great Britain, before any Englishman can wish to see emigration encouraged, merely on the plea that there will be a difficulty in reorganising labour as a whole when peace is concluded. If our population is really too dense, obviously the non-producers, from Dukes, Bishops and Peers to domestic servants, might be most conveniently spared.

Sir William Petty, whom I have quoted, was himself by no means a revolutionist, for he founded the House of Fitzmaurice, now represented and “illustrated” by his descendant, Lord Lansdowne. But Petty goes the length of suggesting that we could very satisfactorily dispense with the services of “numbers of lawyers, physicians, merchants, and such folk who properly and originally earn nothing for the public, being only a kind of gamesters who play with one another for the labours of the poor; yielding of themselves no fruit at all otherwise than as veins and arteries to distribute forth and back the blood and nutritive juices of the body politic, namely, the product of husbandry and manufacture.” A vehement Social-Democrat of the twentieth century could not better this. Let Lord Reading and Lord Haldane, Lord Rothschild, Sir Ernest Cassel, and Mr. Lloyd George lead the way to the Colonies. Would they – I ask the question from the point of view of political economy – be greatly missed? On the other hand, what is the actual value of a sound, capable, able-bodied man, trained in the open air, and accustomed to co-operate with his fellows – such men as are most of our soldiers returning from the Front? I hate the idea of estimating the worth of such a splendid human being in hard cash. I have always protested against our habit of allowing ourselves to be dominated by the sordid money fetish in this and similar matters. But, unfortunately, pounds, shillings, and pence considerations still so completely bemuse our intelligence that nothing short of some pecuniary calculations seem to impress the public mind. Well, then, I remember that, in the flood-tide of European immigration into North America, the mere value in dollars and cents to the Great Republic of the United States of each able-bodied male colonist who landed on its shores was estimated at some three thousand dollars, or six hundred pounds. I myself should put the figure much higher than this.

But let us be content with taking the average pecuniary value of any healthy vigorous male adult on the other side of the Atlantic at six hundred pounds – where does that assumption land us? I take it for granted that a person of this sort, having the means of using his physical and mental faculties to the best advantage, under the highly developed economic conditions which prevail in this island, is not worth less to Great Britain than to the United States or Canada. If he is, that is due to our own incapacity and ignorance, as well as to the contemptible laissez-faire system of our Government.

What does it all mean? That if Sir H. Rider Haggard and his committee, in conjunction with our Colonies, succeed in transporting even 100,000 men across the seas, this island will be the loser to the extent, measured in money, of 60,000,000. I should myself consider the loss as much greater. For these 100,000 men, supposing their labour to be thoroughly well organised in any department, would produce wealth which, though it ought not to be evaluated in terms of money at all, would exceed a revenue of at least 200 a year per head, after providing fairly well for themselves and their families. On this reckoning, the sum of six hundred pounds represents only three years’ purchase of their surplus labour power embodied in commodities. Cheap, surely!

Even the roughest, unskilled labour is enormously important, and its withdrawal may have far-reaching consequences. There is plenty of evidence of this. Thus, when the economic policy of Russia towards Germany was in process of change before the war, Russia decided to prohibit the yearly migration-of the 250,000 Poles who went every summer from Russian Poland into East Germany as agricultural labourers. This was all to come to an end in 1917. The landholders of Prussia viewed the prospect of this withdrawal of their indispensable “hands” with great dismay; since it was impossible for them to replace the labour of these Poles in Germany. There was in this case no question of virgin soil to be taken up and cultivated, nor of special facilities for cheap and easy transport. Yet, by the loss of these passing yearly immigrants, Germany would lose hundreds of millions of marks annually. And this vast amount Russia would obviously gain, if her agriculture were only managed with ordinary, German sagacity: Such is the value of rude labour: such is the magic of unskilled toil.

It is no accident that, at the present moment, under the stress of war, and with the certainty of crushing economic and financial pressure in every country after the peace, all European nations are looking to settlement on the soil and agricultural improvement, as well as to home development in every department of industry, for the essentials of security and independence. Germany, which has taught her neighbours so many lessons as to what to do and what to avoid, was first to learn, and to act upon, the truth that foreign emigration, however advantageous it might be to individual emigrants, was injurious to the Fatherland itself. The hundreds of thousands of Germans who annually took their departure for foreign lands carried with them in their own persons the means of making wealth, far more valuable to the Colonies of their adoption than even the considerable amounts of capital which they transferred to foreign banks.

It is strange to recall how, a few years ago, comparatively, Germans at home were witnessing with sorrow the loss of such vast crowds of their best people by this rush to the West. Careful attention to home production of all kinds, and protection for German industry and agriculture, while the transformation was being brought about, completely changed the situation. The drain of Teutonic manhood was almost immediately staunched, and now German emigration has become of trifling importance, while the population of the Empire has very greatly increased.

Simultaneously, as other nations found to their cost, by keeping her population at home engaged in useful occupations, which otherwise would have been found abroad, Germany became, within a generation, the best organised, and, on the whole, the most efficient industrial power in the world. During the same period she became, also, the most powerful and threatening military nation ever known. The contrast between the Germany of yesterday, shipping off her population by the million to the United States to build up the strength of the great American Republic, and the Germany of to-day, within an ace of being more than a match for the tremendous combined force of the Allied Powers, ought to be sufficient evidence of the fallacy of emigration, even if we had not the story of old Spain to teach us the same lesson.

The hope that our emigrant soldiers, when dismissed change from the country they have defended, will go only to British Colonies, does not in the least change the situation from the economic standpoint. Presuming them to be personally successful, they in no wise compensate the Mother Country for their loss, nor do they help us in any way to solve our pressing problems of home production. However close we may draw our relations to our Colonies – and I myself have always done my utmost to advocate Federation both before and after my long visit to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada forty-seven years ago – nothing will change the fact that we must in future depend more and more upon our domestic resources, especially for food. The prospect of universal peace and the limitation of submarine warfare is too remote for us to view with other than alarm the permanent dependence of our population for four-fifths of its sustenance upon remote sources of supply. To encourage the emigration of the flower of our people under such conditions is surely the height of folly.

But other countries besides Germany are appreciating this truth. Italy, for example. It is a long time since Professor Mantegazza wrote the series of articles on the advantages which Italian cultivators might derive from settling in the Argentine Republic that led his countrymen to emigrate in large numbers to Santa Fe and other provinces. Italians have also been going by tens of thousands to the United States for many years. These emigrants have, as a whole, done very well for themselves. Their heavy remittances “home,” moreover, have had two effects: they have enabled the poverty-stricken Italian agriculturists to make head against the fatal domestic taxation of their own Government; and they have turned the exchanges in favour of Italy so completely that, before the war, the notes of the Bank of France were actually selling at a discount in Rome.

But now Italy, awakening, it may be hoped, from Imperialistic hallucinations in Africa, has begun to regret the expatriation of millions of her most valuable citizen. They are wanted in the peninsula for the purposes domestic development. So the leading reviews and journals are demanding home colonisation, for reasons different, but none the less pressing, from those which drive us English to the discussion of similar schemes at the present time. Spain, also, which saw her best blood drained away from her to South America and Mexico four centuries ago, is now declaring that, unless radical measures are taken to retain her people at home, Spain herself, one of the richest countries in the world, will be ruined.

So, whichever way we look, we discover that the craze for emigration, which reached its height a few years ago, is dying down. Petty’s dictum, recorded long before steam, electricity, chemical discoveries, and mechanical appliances had so incredibly enhanced the power of human labour to create wealth, is seen to be a hundredfold more true now than it was in his day. The absurdities of Parson Malthus are dead and buried. Vigorous, trained men are the most valuable products of the planet. Yet there are still people who clamour for “assisted emigration!”

There is, moreover, a reason specially applicable to the sociology of this island which renders the advocacy of male emigration little short of a crime against the community. Before the war, females outnumbered males in Great Britain by upwards of 1,200,000. Regard the matter as we may, this is a very serious state of things, accompanied as it is by a steadily decreasing birth-rate. The total loss in killed, died from disease, and permanently ruined in health during the war I probably understate at 500,000. Thus the disparity between males and females will be still further expanded by forty per cent. at least. If the emigrationists succeed in what I regard as their fatal policy, to the degree they hope for and expect, we shall find ourselves with little short of two millions more females than males in Great Britain. Does any Minister propose to introduce a measure in favour of legalised polygamy as a partial corrective of this social danger? I presume not. But it cannot be to the advantage of the country to permit a further drain of our male population under such circumstances. Men have been prevented from leaving Great Britain during war. There are still stronger reasons for obstructing their exodus in peace.

If, indeed, there was ever a time when the loss of able-bodied workers would be more severely felt by this nation than another it is the period into which we have drifted. The cost of the war has been enormous in every way. The neglect of the ordinary course of production in consequence of the pressing demand for the means of destruction cannot be repaired for many years. A large section of the non-producing majority will not suffice to fill the gaps our struggle has left. A heavy strain will be put upon every class of the community. Already the more thoughtful among the rich recognise that a new era has opened, in which production of wealth for use instead of production of commodities for profit will steadily make way. Parasites are at a discount.

The sooner we make up our minds to face the truth that our neglect to organise national production is calculated to ruin Great Britain permanently the sooner shall we undertake the task of making the best possible use of every capable adult for the purpose of creating wealth. But, as a portion of this reorganisation, the necessity for establishing better conditions of existence for the mass of our people becomes more clear each day. The excuse for fostering emigration is, chiefly, that this cannot be done at home, and that therefore we must hasten to send away those who could most effectively help in this transformation for the benefit of all. But, as already argued, this is a bootless assumption, put forward to defend a ruinous policy. The well-being of the whole people can be secured if the dominant class will discard the systematic indifference to the health, strength, and general development of the producers. If likewise the producers decide to shake off the apathy they displayed in regard to their own interests when they rushed into the army, without any bargaining, in order to defend a country which certainly takes little care of its champions in peace.

Thus to take one department of our social conditions alone. The slums of Great Britain are unequalled for extent, misery, and horror in the civilised world, Certainly our enemy, Germany, can show nothing at all comparable in degradation to what is to be found in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, and our other great industrial centres. I have known Lancashire pretty well since I was a lad of sixteen, now fifty-eight years ago, and those who are contented with the “improvement “ made in that county during the past two generations must be very easy to please. In London there is the same terrible state of things to be faced and dealt with after as before the war. In order to make even a beginning, whole districts of hovels must be cleared away and healthy homes for the producers must be constructed. If we can afford to spend 5,000,000 a day for the purpose of war, while such wholesale squalor obtains in our midst, it is the bitterest irony to put the old question, “Where is the money to come from?” when a demand is made for reasonable housing after the peace.

But for whatever purpose female labour may be suitable, it is not well adapted for the breaking-down of insanitary slums, or the building up of healthy dwellings. That is quite certain. Yet the general opinion is that the building trade and all its associated industries, which call specially for male labour, will be very active so soon as peace is proclaimed. In this direction, as in others, consequently, we can less afford, as a community, to dispense with adult male labour, capable of being trained for this sort of work, than at any period in our history. We have not only to cope with the ordinary demand for construction, but with the exceptional requirements which will then have to be met for better homes by the men who have been fighting, and the women who have been working, to win the war.

On every ground, therefore, the strongest possible opposition should be made to any attempt to deprive Great Britain, by schemes of emigration to our Colonies, of the men who have fought for our country and have a right to live in it as their own. Under any reasonable system of organisation which makes use of the means at our disposal, there is plenty of room for every man and woman of our population to lead a healthy, enjoyable, intelligent, and beneficial existence. From the point of view even of capitalist finance, which is not mine, we shall need every effective adult in the country to pay interest upon the huge debt we have piled up. Emigration solves no problem and may easily rouse ugly passions.