Dear Prudence: W.F. Lloyd on Population Growth and the Natural Wage

By White, Michael V. | History of Economics Review, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Dear Prudence: W.F. Lloyd on Population Growth and the Natural Wage


White, Michael V., History of Economics Review


Abstract: This paper examines the explanation for a long-period or natural wage given by W. F. Lloyd, the third Drummond professor of political economy at Oxford University (1832-37). In the aftermath of the Captain Swing disturbances and continuing debates over the Poor Law, Lloyd argued that the natural wage would settle at a subsistence level because of the high population growth rate. The behaviour of the 'labouring class' in having more children was, however, a reasoned response, in conditions of ignorance and uncertainty, to the perceptions and incentives generated by the contemporary institutional setting. This underpinned Lloyd's references to the importance of property rights for understanding poverty and the role of the Poor Law. While Lloyd owed a good deal to T. R. Malthus, his analysis was quite different in the type of reasoning attributed to the mass of the population. Lloyd's position was also markedly different from that of his predecessors in the Drummond chair, Nassau Senior and Richard Whately.

1 Introduction

[T]hough the interest of the labourer is strictly connected with that of the society, he is incapable either of comprehending that interest, or of understanding its connection with his own. His condition leaves him no time to receive the necessary information, and his education and habits are commonly such as to render him unfit to judge even though he was fully informed. In the publick deliberations, therefore, his voice is little heard and less regarded ...

Adam Smith ([1776) 1976a, I, xi, p. 266)

The Reverend William Forster Lloyd, Student of Christ Church and former lecturer in mathematics, was elected as the third Drummond professor of political economy at Oxford University in February 1832. Following the requirements of the university statute which established the chair, Lloyd published two of his 1832 lectures, concerning 'the checks to population', in the next year (Lloyd 1833). Having read that pamphlet, the radical Francis Place wrote to Lloyd because they were both 'fellow labourers for the benefit of the people'. Place had concluded that Lloyd followed Thomas Robert Malthus and Thomas Chalmers in recommending 'late marriages[,] the parties in the meantime living chastely', as the cure for excessive population growth and hence the condition of 'the working people'. Citing a lecture by the surgeon, Dr. Michael Ryan, Place argued, however, that 'women who refrain from sexual intercourse' until they were 28 or 30 years of age 'are with few exceptions free from horrifying and disturbing complaints of the organs of generation'. Those 'disorders have ... another lamentable consequence in rendering women unfit to produce healthy children ... Could the recommendation of Mr Malthus be carried into practice it seems probable that the great body of people would be physically deteriated [sic] and that if the practice were universal and continuous the human race might be extinguished'. There was, however, a remedy and a 'small pamphlet originally published in New York by Mr Robert Dale Owen will be left for you at Mess. Rivingtons shop in Waterloo Place'. Owen, like Place, was an advocate of birth control and the pamphlet was probably Moral Physiology, published in England in 1832, which 'Place at once adopted ... for the furtherance of his views' (Field 1911, p. 230; Owen 1831). (1)

Place presumably chose 'Mess. Rivingtons shop' because the title page of Lloyd's pamphlet recorded that it was sold by the London bookselling firm of J. G. and F. Rivington, one of whose premises was in Waterloo Place, Pall Mall. As the Rivingtons were booksellers for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge at the time, it might be suspected that they would have been less than enthusiastic had they known about the material that Place intended to leave for Lloyd. Rivingtons had also distributed a pamphlet written by Thomas Perronet Thompson which contained a vitriolic attack on Place.

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