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ART. VIII.-1. Labour and Life of the People, Edited by Charles Booth. 3 vols. London and Edinburgh, 1889– 1891.
2. Pauperism and the Endowment of Old Age. By Charles Booth. London, 1892.
3. The Aged Poor: Condition. By Charles Booth. London, 1894.
4. Plain Words on Out-Relief. London, n.d.
5. Outdoor Relief. By W. A. Hunter, M.P. (Contemporary Review, March 1894.)
6. The Statistics of Metropolitan Pauperism. By Charles S. Loch. London, 1894.
'MANY of us suppose that when we have got into statistics we | have got away from cheap fancy and sentimentalism. Never was any opinion more delusive. The arithmetical fancy, the passion for calculation and results, is one of the commonest forms of a Superficial imagination, and exercises a mysterious influence over half-educated minds. The temptation to calculate rather than to analyse, to fly at once to a mechanical process rather than pause for one which is laborious and demands original research, is active in many of the sciences, and, within the limits of a working hypothesis, it may have results of a certain very restricted value. . . . The pages of the late Professor de Morgan are full of examples that show how readily the handling of figures becomes the organ of the crudest superstition. The general principle which governs all argument by calculation is this, that figures, being only very mutilated abbreviations of fact, are wholly insignificant, except to those who by concrete experience know precisely and completely for what facts they stand.”
This criticism, at once trenchant and precise, from the pen of so thoughtful a writer as Mr. Bosanquet, gives cause to fear that the legitimate value of statistics is in danger of being discredited by the extravagances of some of its votaries, more especially in their manner of applying this method to the elucidation of social problems. A competent authority, the author of , the article on Statistics in the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ expresses himself to the same effect in more technical language:–
‘The statistical method, he says, “is essentially a mathematical procedure, attempting to give a quantitative expression to certain facts, and the resolution of differences of quality into differences of quantity has not yet been effected, even in chemical science. In sociological science the importance of differences of quality is enormous, and the effect of these differences on the conclusions to be drawn from figures is sometimes neglected, or insufficiently recognized even by men of unquestionable ability and good faith. The majority of politicians, social “reformers,” and amateur handlers of statistics generally are in the habit of drawing the conclusions that seem good to them from such figures as they may obtain, merely by treating as homogeneous, quantities which are heterogeneous, and, as comparable, quantities which are not comparable.’
* “The Civilization of Christendom, and other Studies.” By Bernard Bosanquet, formerly Fellow of University College, Oxford. - sociological change
So long as statistical enquiry is confined to questions of pure science, its method and its primary figures are subjected to the criticism of experts, and the danger of error is inconsiderable. When however we pass into the burning region of ‘Sociological Science, the atmosphere is altogether changed. Sociological Science is akin to politics, and politics is the business of the democracy and all its organs. Here the arithmetical fancy luxuriates, and a passion for definite results urges the statistician himself, and still more his less critical audience, to include in one category facts which in their nature are essentially dis. ferent, to distinguish and classify according to appearances which are only incidental, to mistake coincidence for cause and cause for coincidence. In such a subject-matter valuable results can only be obtained by the most careful analysis guided by the teaching of experience, for which no mechanical dexterity in the manipulation of figures can be a substitute,
We have placed at the head of this article a list of statistical works bearing on a question of great practical importance, and it may be well before proceeding further to say something of their history and of the controversy on which they purport to throw light.
Mr. Booth is evidently a born demographist, not easily to be restrained from the manipulation and decimal-pointing of all figures within his reach. He does not claim to have any practical experience of the administration of public relief. He sets out, obviously, with no preconceived opinions, but, as we venture to think, without realizing the elusive complexity and heterogeneous nature of the phenomena which he seeks to subject to his statistical processes. His good faith is above suspicion,-a fact that was the more readily acknowledge when it appeared that his book was designed to prove nothing in particular, and that the author had no views of his own. Mr. Booth's self-restraint did not, however, last for long. In the interval between his first and second volumes his imagina. tion appears to have been captured by some plausible panaco monger (we are putting our own gloss on Mr. Booth's sudden
change of method), and his established reputation as an industrious and impartial investigator has given unexpected currency to a proposal for universal pensions which has no obvious connexion with his statistical enquiry, and as to the merits of which an astronomer or a chemist is as well fitted to judge as a statistician. The desire to make all men happy by some dest stroke of legislation has to certain minds all the fascination which the squaring of the circle had for the ‘paradoxers,' whose fame Professor de Morgan has embalmed in his ‘Budget of Paradox.’ It must always be matter of regret that Mr. Booth has allowed himself to be put forward as the advocate of this utterly impracticable proposal. In his last volume Mr. Booth returns to his statistics, but, unless we are mistaken, he cannot lay aside the attitude of advocacy which he has now assumed. He promises us more books and more practical suggestions. It is time, therefore, to examine the foundations on which this superstructure rests. There are other types of statisticians whose efforts we shall have occasion to notice in the course of our criticism. The attitude which they have taken up is more controversial than that of Mr. Booth in the earlier stages, at all events, of his various publications. Their position is best made clear by a short historical recital. A long succession of Poor-law administrators have up to the present time endeavoured to carry out to their logical conclusion the maxims laid down by the Poor Law Commissioners of 1832. It has been their endeavour (to state the matter shortly) to render the influence of the Poor Law centrifugal rather than centripetal. In other words, it has been sought by a strict and careful administration to give the stream of pauperism a movement away from the Poor Law toward the more honourable condition of independence. The more advanced school of administrators have tried to attain this end by a restriction, in some cases by an abolition, of outdoor relief; that is, the relief given to people at their own homes. The opposite policy has been adopted in a few isolated cases; but though some unions may have moved in the opposite direction, the average shows that the general practice of guardians is tending toward the stricter system. Now, it is obvious that the adoption of this policy must necessarily reduce the number of persons receiving relief. The assertion of those who point out that, in any given union, the restriction of outdoor relief must reduce the number of paupers within that union, is incontestable. This admission of course is a very small point in the general controversy. Guardians may and do refuse their Vol. 179.-No. 358. 2 H COnsent consent to the proposition that this restrictive policy is just and humane and impartial. The scruples of such dissentients ought to receive the utmost deference. Their argument is a perfectly honest and straightforward one. They say in effect, ‘We may pay too high a price for the independence of the poor, we may inflict too great hardship if we hurry too fast the withdrawal of these facilities for relief.' For many years this controversy has gone on, outside the atmosphere of prac. tical politics. The contention, self-evident as it is—that a restriction or abolition of outdoor relief will reduce the number of paupers—had practically been conceded. A subsidiary and less important controversy as to the relative cost of the two systems seemed also to be settled. The erection of improved Poor-law establishments might in some cases make a temporary increase of cost; but inasmuch as out-relief is eagerly sought for, when obtainable, and indoor relief only accepted when absolutely necessary, it was being generally conceded that in the long run the indoor system was also the cheapest. The question of cost has never been felt to be of much moment, for the advocates of the strict system (with the consent, we may hope, of all reasonable men) argued that the cost was of secondary importance. Pauperism is a social evil, and society should be ready, if necessary, to pay highly for an instrument that would reduce its dimensions. Or, expressing it in figures, we should prefer, so the argument goes, to pay 1000l. for a system which would reduce our pauperism to one rather than 100l. for the maintenance of ten. The controversy whether the strict policy is just and humane remained and remains, Unions where the strict system has been adopted have been closely watched, and the success of the plan has been confidently asserted. Poor-law literature and Poor-law conferences for the last twenty years have dealt with very little else. The authority of the Local Government Board inspectors, with almost complete unanimity, has supported the stricter school. The text-books and the historians of the Poor Law are, we believe, absolutely unanimous on the same side. The London Charity Organization Society has, from the outset of its career, and of late years, with many signs of increasing conviction. used its influence in support of this view; and, by its practical work, it has enforced the argument that such relief as can be judiciously given to applicants at their own homes, is bes given from voluntary sources and private charity. Of recent wears the advance of these opinions has been indubitable. Though all did not absolutely agree as to the exact measure 0.
restriction to be used, those in favour of restriction of some kind kind included, it may be said without exaggeration, every one who had ever seriously and impartially considered the subject. The situation is now changed. The problem of the administration of the Poor Law is being dragged into the vortex of practical politics. It is all too evident that the rate devoted to the relief of the poor can be made an admirable electioneering fund. The débâcle has already begun. The Poor-law electorate before Mr. Fowler's Bill was by no means perfect. Electors who were not direct ratepayers abounded, but the anomaly was met to some extent by a counter-anomaly which gave a plural vote to the larger ratepayers, who in many unions were the only bondfide contributors to the poor-rate. By a barefaced disregard of every principle of constitutional government, the public purse has been put at the disposal of a local electorate, the majority of which is in many cases financially irresponsible. Attempts have been freely made from both sides of the House to purchase the Friendly Society vote by offering preferential terms of pauperism to members of these associations. On what grounds the man who has invested his savings in a Friendly Society, as distinguished from a depositor in a Savings Bank, should have this unsought-for privilege thrust upon him, does not appear, There is, however, a politician who does not argue. His idea of statesmanship is confined to attempts to win the support of different sections of the community by proposals for looting the rates in their interest. The débâcle is proceeding at an accelerated pace. The temptation to make political capital by advocacy of an outdoor relief policy is growing irresistible, though hitherto it has seemed too thoroughly disreputable even for the fin de siècle politician. At this juncture, therefore, it would be a godsend to a party on the look-out for a good political cry, if a man would come forward with argument and statistics, and his hand on his heart, to show that outdoor relief was an electioneering card that an honest man could play. The psychology of political conviction is inscrutable. Men find salvation in many ways. Far be it from us to say that Mr. Hunter and the author of an anonymous pamphlet entitled ‘Plain Words on Out-Relief’ are not honestly persuaded that a cry in favour of out-relief is not only not disreputable, but on the contrary the highest statesmanship. Every subject must have its “paradoxers,’ and at another time the line they have taken would have been a harmless eccentricity. As it is, Mr. Hunter's figures will be used to give a cloke of decency to electioneering devices from which respectable politicians have hitherto stood aloof. Already the London Reform Union 2 H 2 has