Of Population
Excerpted from A Manual of Political Economy, ch. 4, in John Bowring (ed.), The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3, Edinburgh, 1843

[section] 1. Sponte Acta

With regard to increase of population by births,(*) everything may be left to the spontaneous action of individuals.

[section] 2. Agenda

With regard to increase of population, next to nothing is required to be done by government: all that governments need do is to prevent decrease by deperition.([dagger])

To prevent deperition is to afford security - security against the extremity of all mischief, the destruction of man's life. The sources of danger are - external hostility, internal hostility, and calamity. With regard to the two first, the interference of government is required for the purposes of defence and police. The following are examples of institutions for preventing deperition from calamity: -

1. Hospitals for the use of curable sick and hurt among the poor.

2. Hospitals for the incurable sick and helpless.

3. Establishments for the occasional maintenance and employment of the able-bodied among the poor, viz. of such by whom either the one or the other is unobtainable from the ordinary sources. By their maintenance, population is preserved; by their employment, wealth may be increased or not: crimes of idleness are prevented.

4. Establishments for the prevention or mitigation of contagious diseases - establishments in former times for inoculation, now for vaccination. Much may be done on the part of government under this head, as well as so many others, by instruction: more or less requires to be done, in proportion as by the ignorance of the people, operations of this class are excluded from the class of sponte acta, and thence placed among the agenda.

[section] 3. Non-agenda

Institutions on the part of government, having for their end in view the causation of an increase of population by births, may best be characterized by a parallel example: institutions punishing men for not eating, or for eating food not sufficiently nourishing; institutions paying all mankind for eating, with premiums for those who eat most and oftenest.

Many volumes have been written upon the subject of population, because the means of promoting its increase have generally been the subject of examination. I shall be very short upon this subject, because I shall confine myself to showing that all these means are useless.

If anything could prevent men from marrying, it would be the trouble which is pretended to be taken to induce them to marry. So much uneasiness upon the part of the legislator can only inspire doubts respecting the happiness of this state. Pleasures are made objects of dread when converted into obligations.

Would you encourage population, - render men happy, and trust to nature. But that you may render men happy, do not govern them too much; do not constrain them even in their domestic arrangements, and above all, in that which can please only under the auspices of liberty: in a word, leave them to live as they like, under the single condition of not injuring one another.

Population is in proportion to the means of subsistence and wants. Montesquieu, Condillac, Sir James Stewart, Adam Smith, the economists, have only one opinion upon this subject. According to this principle, there is also a means of increasing population, but there is only one: it consists in increasing the national wealth, or, to speak more correctly, in allowing it to increase.

Young women, says Montesquieu, are sufficiently ready to marry. How should they not be? The pleasures, the avowed sentiments of love, are only permitted in this condition: it is thus only that they are emancipated from a double subjection, and that they are placed at the head of a little empire. It is the young men, he adds, who need to be encouraged.

But why? Do the motives which lead men to marry want force? It is only by marriage that a man can obtain the favours of the woman who, in his eyes, is worth all others. It is only by marriage that he can live freely and publicly with an honest and respectable woman, and who will live only for him. There is nothing more delightful than the hope of a family, where proofs of the tenderest affections may be given and received - where power blended with kindness may be exercised - where confidence and security are found - where the consolations of old age may be treasured up - where we may behold ourselves replaced by other selves - where we may say, I shall not entirely die. A man wants an associate, a confidant, a counsellor, a steward, a mistress, a nurse, a companion for all seasons: all these may be found united in a wife. What substitute can be provided?

It is not among the poor that there is any aversion to marriage; that is to say, it is not among the labourers - that class, in the increase of which alone the public is interested - that class which constitutes the strength and creates the wealth of a nation - that class which is the last in the senseless vocabulary of pride, but which the enlightened politician regards as the first.

It is in the country especially that men seek to marry. A bachelor does not there possess the resources he can find in a town. A husbandman, a farmer, require the assistance of a wife, to attend to their concerns at all the hours of the day.

The population of the productive classes is limited only by their real wants; that of the unproductive classes is limited by their conventional wants.

With regard to these, instead of inducing them to marry by invitations, rewards, and menaces, as did Augustus, we ought to be well pleased when they live in celibacy. The increase of the purely consumptive classes is neither an advantage to the state nor to themselves: their welfare is exactly in the inverse ratio of their numbers. If they should insensibly become extinct, as in Holland, where there is scarcely one citizen who does not exercise some occupation, where would be the evil? A workman may in a moment be converted into an idle consumer. A good workman is not so soon made: he needs skill and practice. Habits of industry are slowly acquired, if, indeed, after a certain age they can ever be acquired. On the other hand, when a consumer passes into the class of labourers, it is generally owing to a reverse in fortune, and he is in a state of suffering. When a labourer is transported into the class of consumers, he is exalted in his own eyes and in the eyes of others, and his happiness is increased. On all these accounts, it is desirable that the class of idlers be not increased: their own interest requires it, and it is also a great good when their number is diminished, whether by celibacy or their conversion into labourers. Convents have been constantly accused of hurting population. Poor convents, and the mendicant orders, injure it, without doubt, since they add to the number of idle consumers. It is not so with rich convents; they add nothing to this number. He who possesses the rent of land can command labour without working himself; but what matters it whether a fund, destined to the support of idlers, be transmitted from father to son, or from stranger to stranger?

Large cities are decried: they are the gulphs, it is said, in which the population of the country is lost. That which is furnished to the towns is visible to all the world: what is received from them, is less apparent. It is the ancient quarrel of the belly and the members. Cultivation increases in proportion to the consumers. People live longer in the country; but that a greater number of persons may be born there, it is necessary that the capital of the towns, which animates labour, should be sent thither.

This imaginary evil, the increase of towns, has excited the most extravagant fears. Absurdity has been carried so far, as to make rules for limiting their bounds: they should rather have been made for extending them. Contagious disorders would thus have been prevented; the air would have been rendered more salubrious. The opposite regulations do not diminish the number of inhabitants, but oblige them to heap themselves up within close habitations, and to build one city upon another.

Are emigrations disadvantageous to a state? Yes, if the emigrants could have found employment at home; - no, if they could not. But it is not natural that labourers should exile themselves, if they could live at home. However, if they desire so to do, ought they to be prevented? Cases must be distinguished. It is possible that this desire may have been produced by some momentary distaste, by some false idea, some whim, which may mislead a multitude of men before they have leisure to undeceive themselves. I will not therefore affirm, that circumstances may not happen in which emigration may not be forbidden by a law of short duration: but to convert this prohibition into a perpetual law, is to change the country into a prison - is to publish, in the name even of the government itself, that it is not good to live there. It would be proper that such a law should commence thus - "We, &c., ignorant of the art of rendering our subjects happy, and well assured that, if we give them an opportunity to escape, they will go in search of countries less oppressed, hereby prohibit," &c.

Would not this be to aggravate the evil? Could all the frontiers of a great country be guarded? Louis XIV with all his authority, could he accomplish it? As many persons as were thus enchained, so many discontented and unhappy persons, who would be looked upon with distrust - whom it would be necessary perhaps to repress by violence, and who would become enemies when they found themselves treated as such. Others, who had never thought of quitting their country, would become uneasy when they found themselves obliged to remain; whilst others, who might have thought of establishing themselves there, would take care not to do it. For those individuals retained against their will, you lose those who would have come among you voluntarily.

England has sustained temporary losses of men and capital, by emigrations to America. But what has happened? She has received from that country, a mass of productions which have more than compensated the loss. The men and capitals carried away, employed upon new lands, have produced a benefit more considerable for England itself, than if they had been employed upon her own. To exhibit this clearly, would require a multitude of facts and calculations; but it may be presumed to be the case, from the vast extent of this new commerce.

On the subject of emigration, the wisest part, then, is to do nothing. Under the guidance of liberty, the benefit is certain; under the guidance of constraint, it is uncertain.

After this, the advantages of immigration are easily estimated. In order to people a country as yet untilled, it will be advisable to invite thither strangers who depend upon their labour alone. It may even be advantageous to make them advances for their support, in order to establish them.

In respect to methods of preventing the destruction of the species, they belong to that branch of police which is employed about the means of subsistence and the public health. We may be tranquil, therefore, upon the subject of population. There will be everywhere an abundance of men, provided they are not deprived, by a hard and tyrannical government, of what is necessary for subsistence and enjoyment, of which contentment constitutes a part.(**)

* Increase of population is desirable, as being an increase of - 1. The beings susceptible of enjoyment; 2. The beings capable of being employed as instruments of defence. It results of course from the increase of the means of subsistence, and cannot be carried beyond them.

Of population, nothing is said by Adam Smith: yet of what use is wealth, but with reference to population? - and how can either be considered in any comprehensive point of view without the other? since, quantity of wealth being given, degree of opulence is inversely as population.

[dagger] deperition = perishing, complete wasting away [ed.]

** I have under my eyes a large political work of M. Beausobre, counsellor to the King of Prussia, in which, at the article Population, he gives no less than twenty recipes for increasing it. - The nineteenth is as follows: - "It is proper to watch during the fruit season, lest the people eat that which is not ripe." He ought to have provided the means for carrying this regulation into execution; to have indicated the number of inspectors who should judge of the ripeness of fruit, the watchmen who should be stationed over it, and the magistrates who were to judge of its infractions.

Another method consists in "hindering men from marrying very disagreeable women." He neither says to what judge he would remit this delicate inquiry, nor upon what principles he would have the ugliness of women proved; nor the degree of inquiry which ought to be permitted, nor the fees that ought to be paid. The remainder is very nearly in the same taste.

Hindering the marriage of old men with young women - that of young men with women much older than themselves - hindering the marriage of persons not likely to have children: there are other recipes of this political pharmacopoeia little less ridiculous, but not less useless.

His complaints respecting prostitution are reasonable. if they had for their object the misery of the class of courtesans, victims of a constrained celibacy: they are of no force as respects population, which suffers nothing. I refer to what has been said upon this subject in Vol. I, Principles of Penal Law, Part III, Ch. V, p. 541, Prob. 2, to make such arrangements that a given desire may be satisfied without prejudice, or with the least possible prejudice.