The Principles of Political Economy

Henry Sidgwick

Book III

Chapter IV

Section 11

§11. I pass to consider the interference of Government in order to promote or regulate the migration of human beings from densely populated districts to others that are wholly or partially unoccupied. Such interference has sometimes been prompted by considerations not primarily economic; thus the colonization of a region forcibly annexed, or unable to resist the intrusion of strangers, has been fostered in order to facilitate or confirm a conquest of territory: on the other hand, in some countries the immigration of foreigners generally, or of persons, of alien race or religion, has been prohibited or hampered, in order to protect the native civilization from the intrusion of subversive elements; elsewhere, again, immigration of a certain kind has been encouraged in the interests of morality and social well-being---as (e.g.) when female immigration has been promoted to prevent a great inequality of the sexes in a new colony. The grounds and limits of such kinds of interference it is beyond my province to discuss: and the same may be said of the measures now taken by our Government to secure the sea-worthiness of ships, and the sufficiency of their supply of provisions, water, medicine, &c.; since these latter regulations belong to the class of interferences for other than strictly economic ends, which were briefly surveyed in the preceding chapter. Confining, ourselves to such governmental encouragement or control of emigration as has been undertaken or recommended on distinctly economic grounds, we may regard it generally as a case closely parallel to that of education, which we have just been considering: the principle of either kind of interference is that there is a possible gain to the community,---which laisser faire is not likely to realize,---through the increase of the efficiency of certain labourers, in the one case by developing their personal aptitudes, in the other by placing them in more favourable outward circumstances. In the case of emigration, however, the distribution of this common gain among the various classes of persons affected usually admits of being somewhat more definitely foreseen than in that of education. If the benefit consisted exclusively in an increase of income to the emigrants themselves, it would hardly, I conceive, be proposed to defray their expenses out of the general taxes. But this supposition is very unlikely to be realised in practice. In the first place, supposing the region of immigration and that of emigration to have the same government, the increased taxes subsequently paid by the immigrants, would generally yield the public a certain return on the cost of conveying them; against this, however, we have to set the increased expenditure required for the adequate fulfilment of the functions of Government towards the immigrants under their changed circumstances; and since it is generally reasonable to suppose that a certain portion of the assisted immigrants would have come at their own expense if they could have got no aid from Government, it would only be under very special circumstances that the increment of taxes really due to the outlay of Government in assisting them would amount to full interest on the outlay. But generally speaking, when emigration is successful, measurable advantages accrue from it, over and above this increment of taxation, to other members of the community, or to the community as a whole.

Here it is important to distinguish (1) the advantages gained by persons who employ the immigrating labourers, (2) the gain of those who exchange products with them, either as ultimate consumers or for purposes of trade and production, and (3) the relief obtained from overcrowding. In England, extensive schemes of governmental aid to emigration have often been strongly supported with a view to this last-mentioned benefit; but there is an obvious danger that the relief obtained by any one such measure would be merely temporary, and, if the aid were continually renewed, would produce comparatively little remedial effect, since it would operate mainly as a partial removal of the checks that normally keep down population in an overcrowded district. Nor can even temporary relief from overcrowding be thus secured, if free immigration is allowed into the district from which emigration is being promoted; unless the overcrowding has forced the remuneration of labour there to a level clearly below that of all other districts from which immigration thither is possible. Hence any large supply of governmental funds to emigrants, considered merely as a relief to the pressure of population in the region of emigration, is only to be recommended as an exceptional eleemosynary measure, in case of unexpected and abnormal distress. On the other hand, during the long sway of the `Colonial Policy' that Adam Smith assailed, the chief advantage derived by the mother country from colonization was generally understood to consist in the extension of trade that it brought about: and no doubt this gain, if the colony flourishes, is generally likely to be in the long run considerable; but it can rarely be sufficiently certain and definite to render it anything like a profitable outlay for a community to send out colonists at the public expense, for the sake of the profit of their trade to the mother country. There remains, as the clearest economic gain resulting from emigration to others besides the emigrants, that which accrues to the owners of land and employers of capital in the region of immigration; the resources of this region being supposed to be so far undeveloped, that considerable additions to the labour and capital employed in it may be made, with an increasing rather than diminishing return to both. At first sight this would seem to be a reason for leaving the business of introducing emigrants to the private enterprise of the landowners and capitalists who might obtain a full return for it in labour; but there is a serious obstacle to private enterprise in the uncertainty of the profit on such outlay to any individual capitalist, owing to the difficulty of enforcing labour-contracts for a considerable term of years,---especially in a very thinly inhabited country---without introducing something like temporary serfdom. Hence, supposing all such serfdom---even of criminals or men of lower race---to be excluded on moral or political grounds, the intervention of the public purse is likely to be necessary for the effective introduction of the required labour.

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