Drink is the cause of most of the poverty,” said Slyme….
“Yes,” said Crass, agreeing with Slyme, “an ’thers plenty of ‘em wot’s too lazy to work when they can get it. Some of the b—s who go about pleading poverty ‘ave never done a fair day’s work in all their bloody lives….”
“There’s no need for us to talk about drink or laziness, “ returned Owen, impatiently, “because they have nothing to do with the matter. The question is, what is the cause of the life-long poverty of the majority of those who are not drunkards and who do work? Why, if all the drunkards and won’t-works and unskilled or inefficient workers could be by some miracle transformed into sober, industrious and skilled workers tomorrow, it would, under the present conditions, be so much the worse for us, because there isn’t enough work for all now and those people by increasing the competition for what work there is, would inevitably cause a reduction of wages and a greater scarcity of employment. The theories that drunkenness, laziness or inefficiency are the causes of poverty are so many devices invented and fostered by those who are selfishly interested in maintaining the present states of affairs, for the purpose of preventing us from discovering the real causes of our present condition.”…
“It can’t never be haltered,” interrupted old
Linden. “I don’t
see no sense in all this ‘ere talk. There’s always been rich and poor in
the world, and there always will be.”…
“What do you mean by poverty, then?” asked
“What I call poverty is when people are not able to secure for themselves all the benefits of civilization; the necessaries, comforts, pleasures and refinements of life, leisure, books, theatres, pictures, music, holidays, travel, good and beautiful homes, good clothes, good and pleasant food”.
Everybody laughed. It was so ridiculous. The idea of the likes of them wanting or having such things! Any doubts that any of them had entertained as to Owen’s sanity disappeared. The man was as mad as a March hare.”
Robert Tressel: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1909)