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Friedrich Bülau's Call for a Market-Oriented Solution to the Problem of Poverty in Germany (1834)

In his 1834 analysis of Germany’s economic problems, Leipzig economist Friedrich Bülau (1805-1859) argues that only free market solutions, not government restrictions, were capable of remedying poverty, stagnation, and the lack of productivity. In espousing these views, Bülau parted ways with the impoverished population, which generally opposed economic deregulation.

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Overpopulation and the Inability to Provide for Basic Needs [Nahrungslosigkeit]

Malthus assumed that the bulk of the population’s means of subsistence was capable of multiplying only up to a certain point, and only at an inferior rate, but that the population itself could multiply at a much faster rate, so that consequently, sooner or later, once there were no unnatural obstacles working against the population, a disparity between these two elements, population and production, would arise in every land and, ultimately, throughout the earth. Now he certainly did not deny that nature has offered remedies for the tragic consequences of this law of relative increase. But just as he painted the phenomenon itself in the darkest colors, he also saw help in only the most disastrous moments. It requires a thunderstorm, a gale, to purify the air impregnated with pernicious fumes. Poverty, misery, vice, and illness counteract the all-too rapid increase in population. Nature helps [remedy] this excess growth with plague-like epidemics, disastrous wars, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, in brief, with dreadful upheavals that are terrible in character and benevolent in their consequences. In order to spare nature this tragic effort and to maintain the balance it desires in a more peaceful way, Malthus certainly had methods to propose, but these were methods from which he himself hardly expected sufficient results, and ones whose lawfulness and practicality were not beyond the reach of solid objections. He wanted to counter the physical drive with a moral power, to unite reason and egoism into a voluntary resolve to renounce any rash reproduction of their lineage. His proposals were directed against the marriages of the poor. Certainly – and here was the Briton speaking – nobody should be denied entrance into marriage, but the conclusion of every marriage union should be preceded by a solemn account of the dubious prospects it opened up for the offspring of frivolous marriages, and by a declaration that the children produced by a union initiated after a preliminary warning of this sort may not make any claim on the state in the case of their impoverishment. – A warning that will not deter frivolous persons. Even if it did have urgent impact in a serious moment, and did prevent a marriage union, it would be hard for the lovers, in the rash hours of temptation, to remember that moment, and the consequence would then be that one had simply prevented the well-ordered and therefore least harmful relationship of marriage, [only] to see the same results emerge to greater disadvantage from an out-of-wedlock tie. Who, furthermore, is watching out for the unexpected blows of fate? The young married couple approached the altar with reasonable prospects. Knowledge, diligence, and health guaranteed them the means to establish some moderate good fortune. An unfavorable economic situation robs [them of] opportunity, a lengthy illness of the energy to work, and, abandoned to impoverishment, they see their children affected by the dire consequences of a step they had dared to take in good faith! What, ultimately, is the point of a threat that morally cannot be carried out? As long as a feeling for humanity still lives in the human breast, as long as one still grants sympathy even to the person at fault (not to mention the blameless person) and helps where one is capable of helping, the unfortunate children of nature will not be ostracized by humanity, abandoned, surrendered to death from starvation, the unhappy offspring of carelessness and misfortune will not be punished for the errors or setbacks of their parents. If the children are there in the first place, the state cannot allow them to starve. [ . . . ]

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