Thursday, 22 March 2012

Napier: The central question

Proceeding through the evidence from the Napier Commission at Edinburgh, I came across this discussion between George Auldjo Jamieson and the Commission.The central question is: is there not a duty from the State to keep the people on the land. In other words, the clearances are against the interests of the state... Mr Jamieson does not agree.

45430. The people were useful, you say, and the landholders never thought of removing them from the land; but may the time not come when the State may think it proper to retain those people for certain purposes ?
—That assumes that the State is to take charge of these people, as the Highland proprietors took charge of their population.

45431. Any way you choose to put it. May not the exigencies of the State render it right that the State should take some means to protect the people and keep them in their own land, if they have no hold on the soil at present ?
—I can see no such duty devolving on the State with reference to any part of its population. And if you say that that devolves upon the State, as regards part of the population, it seems to me to lead up to a system of direct communism—you have no halting-place. I cannot, and I don't think you would propose that a distinction should be made by the State in favour of any section of its citizens at the expense of the rest, —that it should subsidize crofters out of the taxes paid by other labourers.

45432. It would be a pity if there were any mistake upon the question. I am merely following out your own statement that, in former times the large landholders did not think it necessary; in fact, it was their wisdom to keep the people on their estates. Now, I want to carry that farther; may the time not come when it may be necessary for the State, for the purpose of preserving the people in the country, to keep them just as the Highland proprietors did before ?
—Certainly not; and that would be coercing the laws of nature instead of co-operating with them. Economic laws are are just as powerful and irresistible as those of physics, and you may just as well attempt to stem the ocean as to stem the progress of events and social circumstances; they are equally beyond control, and the wise policy is to co-operate with and not to thwart them.

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