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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XXXV. — Pauperism

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Chapter XXXV.

English Pauperism.—The Problem of the Poor.—The Sturdy Beggar.—Political Bribery.—National Pauperism.—Help from Jupiter.—A Helpful Community.—Lives Simple, Wants few.—Borrowing Policy altered all that.—The Borrowing Epidemic.—All Classes and all Colonies affected.—'Borrow and Conquer.'—Industry Disorganized.—People Demoralized.—Fever abating.—Feast and Music ended.—The Piper to Pay.—Prodigals becoming Sensible.—Going to Work.—The Unemployed.—Pauperism and Waste.—How the Money goes.—Adversity the School of Wisdom.—True lines of Progress.

In this Chapter I do not propose to treat of English pauperism, of the hundreds of thousands of the very poor of London and of other large cities in the United Kingdom, who, if not actually living under public relief, are so near the verge of it, that when one day's food has been consumed, they often do not know, where the next day's food is to come from, and whom nothing but the noble independence so often found amongst the humble poor, prevents from sinking beneath the meanness and degradation of pauperism.

The settlement of this part of the 'problem of the poor' belongs to Nations already made.

I intend to treat of another kind of pauperism— page 319the sturdy beggar kind—which more nearly concerns the Making of this young New Zealand Nation.

To scheme for the making of a road, bridge or railway; to demand employment at the cost of other people; and to obtain these objects by political trickery or electoral bribery, or by the power of votes, are forms of pauperizing influences affecting large sections of New Zealand and Australian Colonists. To beg, to bribe, to threaten the Government of the day to grant the demands of a petty, personal, local, mercenary character, under the stimulating influence of borrowed millions, has become so much the fashion in every Australasian Colony, as to threaten the extinction of the manly traits characteristic of Englishmen. In any difficulty or emergency, whatever its cause, it is too much the custom to follow the example of the lazy carter of old, and appeal to Jupiter for help, in the shape of the Government. Not until borrowing ceases will Jupiter's advice 'to put his own shoulder to the wheel,' be much regarded by the latter-day kin of the lazy drayman of old.

Before the advent of the 'borrowing policy' in 1870, New Zealand Colonists were a hardy, helpful, industrious community, without any great amount of this world's goods or conveniences, poor indeed, but yet so far rich, that what they had was their own. Neither pauperism, nor the spirit of pauperism was to be found in the Colony. Their lives simple, their wants few, page 320the early Colonists called no pawnbroker, banker, or English, or other money-lender, Lord.

Nearly twenty years under the 'borrowing policy' have passed. Let us see how the account stands.

The public debt of New Zealand to-day, is 37,000,000l. That of the rest of the Australasian Colonies may be taken at a further sum of 135,000,000l., or 172,000,000l. in all. Notwithstanding the warning offered by New Zealand, a reckless spirit of borrowing still pervades the Australian Colonies, which will probably impel them to continue to borrow as long as English capitalists will lend. What that limit may be, time will tell; possibly a further 100,000,000l. By that time, the Australian Colonies will have become wise by their own experience, and like New Zealand, will cease to borrow, when they can borrow no more.

The demoralizing influence, direct and indirect, of the 'borrowing policy,' running like an epidemic from Colony to Colony, has infected large sections of Colonial communities with a despicable taint of pauperism, which will require desperate remedies before it is eradicated. The evil has not been confined to any one class. Wealthy squatters, large landowners, merchants, storekeepers, publicans and large sections of the working classes have alike been sinners. Town and country vied with each other in their support of the policy of borrowing and spending. The working classes throughout New Zealand degraded the great principle of universal suffrage, by using their votes to page 321promote a spirit of almost universal pauperism. When Sir Julius Vogel propounded his 'borrowing policy' in 1870, it might well have been said, that 'he came he borrowed, he conquered.' The Newspaper Press of the Colony, with few exceptions, suppported him Before the bold financier's dazzling schemes Parliament itself, with some exceptions, fell under the magician's spell, and joined in the general cry for borrowed millions, railways, and high wages. If, at any political meeting a warning voice were raised, it was drowned by cries of

'Railways, high wages, millions and Vogel for ever.'

So the game went on. Lured by the high wages the borrowed millions enabled the Government to give, the working classes rushed from the farm, the forest, and the mine, even from the sea, until the industrial system of the Colony was disorganized, and in some instances destroyed.

Nearly twenty years have passed, and the borrowing fever has abated. The Colony has had its dance. It has now to pay the piper. The borrowed millions have vanished. The feast is over. The husks remain.

Like the prodigal of old, the Colony has come to its senses. It is now going to work, not without some just flouting by its respectable elder English brother. For the present, the robes, rings and fatted calves are in the distance.

If we are not very merry under these circumstances, we are at least trying to be wise. Our horse being gone, we have resolutely shut the stable door.

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The borrowed millions have gone. The pauper spirit they have engendered will die hard. Depression and hard times are not very pleasant medicines, but they are the best of all remedies, and will eventually help the Colony to recover its natural health and vigour.

In the meantime, borrowing having ceased, Public Works practically came to an end, with the result, that large numbers of wage earners were thrown out of employment, and the cries and demands of the unemployed were heard in the land. For such a degrading exhibition, it is easy to blame the working classes. They have however been quite as much sinned against, as they have sinned. The Colonial Governments have reaped as they sowed. They have fostered pauper dependence, and greatly weakened manly self-help.

The difficulty was met by various expedients. In New Zealand, large sums have been expended in providing employment, often on unnecessary works. So great has been the deterioration of the old manly English character, that portions of the Colony heretofore regarding themselves as being specially English and wealthy, have stooped to beg or demand the expenditure of sums for relief, quite disproportionate to their legitimate requirements. That this reckless expenditure for the 'unemployed' has not been confined to New Zealand, will be evident from an instance occurring in a neighbouring Colony, where 250,000l. of Public money was expended in a few months, mainly on road-making on private property, or on other page 323works practically useless to the general public, and expended without proper supervision and without even the necessary vouchers being duly furnished.

Is it possible to doubt, that under such a system, the manly independence characteristic of the English race, is in danger of decaying in the Colonies? Nation Making on such lines is impossible.

Necessity and adversity are sometimes the school of wisdom. They have so far influenced New Zealand, that the Colonists have resolved that borrowing shall not be resumed, and that this wise course, and settlement on the lands, are the true lines of safety and progress.