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

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In recent times, one has returned to the methods of old and is recommending emigration as the only way to get rid of excess population in a manner beneficial to both sides. At least this provides an opportunity for our anxious rich to get the poor out of sight! Freedom to emigrate should certainly remain, because without this the state would be a dungeon. But the decision to leave the homeland of one’s fathers – the places in which one dreamed one’s youthful dreams, in which everyone has enjoyed at least a few moments of happiness, found at least something that is near and dear to him – is a major decision, and it should not be expected that many will freely seize this opportunity. It would also be at least unworthy of the state to use its institutions to drive part of the population out of the country, regardless of what fate holds for it abroad. With the exception of extraordinary strokes of luck, this can only prove favorable if the emigrant possesses capital assets or skills that he was not able to utilize at home but can certainly exploit abroad. Nobody is glad to see those with the former [capital assets] emigrate. With respect to the latter, it should be incumbent upon the state to create advance opportunities for the useful pursuit of these same [skills] at home. Should the state encourage emigration, support the emigrants, provide them with funds? Apart from the fact that this would involve a shameful confession, it might easily absorb sums that could be used at home to arrive at the same goal. [ . . . ]

One can only call a country overpopulated when it has more inhabitants than it is capable of supporting after all of the resources of nature and human strength have been fully developed. And a population is supported when it is possible for everyone to satisfy his basic needs through an exertion of effort. If the latter is not the case – if many among the people have to do without admittedly basic needs, e.g., healthy, nourishing food, comfortable, warm, and practical clothing, spacious living quarters, a truly educational upbringing, yes, if they languish in distress and poverty and even proceed to crime – then all of this offers still no proof of overpopulation, as long as it has not actually been demonstrated that all of the help at the disposal of a country has been exhausted or that the distress of the many does not have its basis in the affluence of the few. The condition of overpopulation is fundamentally different from the situation in which a population cannot supply its basic needs [Nahrungslosigkeit], in which the population – in its entirety or just in part – is unable to support itself because it cannot develop all of the resources at its disposal. Both conditions are similar in their symptoms and consequences, [but] in their causes and hence their remedies infinitely different. [ . . . ]

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