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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/541

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531
EXPENDITURE OF THE WORKING CLASSES.

they did themselves." These figures show, at any rate, the possibilities of greatness in the economic progress which may result from attention to the humblest details of domestic life.

Economics, like other sciences, lies under a great debt of obligation to French pioneers. The physiocrats, or économistes, of the eighteenth century, were the first school of writers to make it worthy of the name of a science. In Cournot, France gave us a giant of originality in pure theory. In Comte, we have a philosopher fruitful in suggestion to the narrower economist. In Le Play, we have a writer as yet little known in England, but to whom recognition and respect are gradually coming for his early perception of the importance of ascertaining the facts of consumption, and it is to Le Play's 'family budgets' the receipts and expenses of workmen's families, that I desire especially to call attention. I have given elsewhere an account of his life and work.[1] Broadly speaking, he sets himself by the comparative study of workmen's families in different countries of Europe to arrive at the causes of well-being and of misery among the laboring classes. The subject was too large to lead him in many directions to very precise conclusions. We are reminded in reading him of an incident at a dinner of the Political Economy Club in 1876, when Mr. Robert Lowe propounded the question: "What are the more important results which have followed from the publication of the 'Wealth of Nations' just one hundred years ago?" Some of the most enthusiastic admirers of Adam Smith were present, Mr. Gladstone and M. Léon Say among the number; and Mr. Lowe trenchantly declared that it all came to this: "The causes of wealth are two, industry and thrift; the causes of poverty are two, idleness and waste." It was left to Mr. W. E. Forster to make the rugged remark: "You don't want to go to Adam Smith for that—you can get that out of the Proverbs of Solomon." And Le Play's conclusions frequently go still further back, to the Decalogue. There are, however, many observations, suggestive and original, upon the material facts, the economic life, of the families he brought under review. And we are now concerned rather with his method than with his conclusions. Given half a dozen Le Plays applying their minds to the study of the consumption of wealth among the working classes of England, we might expect soon to see a greater advance in comfort, a greater rise in the standard of life, than improved arts of production alone are likely to yield in a generation. Certain English writers had, indeed, prepared family budgets before Le Play arose. But their method was usually incomplete except for the specific purpose they had before them. David Davies and Sir F. Eden were chiefly concerned with the poor law, Arthur Young and Cobbett with agricultural poli-


  1. Harvard Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. iv., 1890; Journal of Royal Statistical Society, March, 1893; Palgrave's Dictionary of Political Economy, s. v. Le Play, 1896.