The National Dividend and the National Welfare
To some it might seem that this reasoning should be brushed aside as irrelevant to political practice. The business of the Government, it might be said, is to forward the general interest of the whole community and not to concern itself with the special interest of a part. In confirmation of this view, the financial ideals of Mr. Gladstone might be cited. H We have been steadily endeavouring," that statesman declared on one occasion, "to extricate ourselves from the vicious habit of looking to the supposed claims and supposed separate and rival interests of classes, and to legislate simply and exclusively for the interest of the country at large. . . . I believe that legislation for the benefit of a class is a mistake of the first order. . . . It is a betrayal of our duty to the nation, whose trustees we are without
distinction of class." I Eloquent and impressive, however, as this passage undoubtedly is, any demurrer to our reasoning founded upon it is altogether beside the point. It is certainly the duty of statesmen to consider the interests of the whole, but those interests are not necessarily advanced by an augmentation of the National Dividend, if this augmentation involves a change of distribution unfavourable to the poor. It is clear, for instance, that a community need not become more prosperous if its rich men add a million pounds to their incomes at a cost of, say, half a million of wages to the labouring population. Consequently, Mr. Chamberlain's contention is not irrelevant, but demands careful investigation. The arguments commonly employed in support of it are twofold, partly statistical, partly economic. These I shall pass in review before submitting the conclusions at which I have myself arrived.