Montesquieu

A man is not poor because he has nothing, but because he is not wor­king. The man who has no pro­perty and works is as com­for­ta­ble as the man who has a hun­dred crowns of income without wor­king. He who has nothing and has a trade is no poo­rer than the man who has ten acres of land of his own and must till them for his live­li­hood. The wor­ker who has taught his craft to his chil­dren as his legacy has left them an asset which has mul­ti­plied in pro­por­tion to their num­ber. The same is not true of the man who has ten acres of land to live on and divi­des them up among his chil­dren.

In tra­ding coun­tries, where many men have only their craft, the state is often obli­ged to pro­vide for the needs of the old, the sick, and the orphans. A well-run state draws this sub­sis­tence from the crafts them­sel­ves ; it gives to some the jobs of which they are capa­ble ; it tea­ches others to work, which itself cons­ti­tu­tes work.

Some alms offe­red to a naked man in the streets do not ful­fill the obli­ga­tions of the state, which owes all citi­zens an assu­red sub­sis­tence, food, sui­ta­ble clo­thing, and a sort of life that is not harm­ful to health.

Aurangzeb, who was asked why he did not build poo­rhou­ses, replied : “I will make my empire so rich it will not need poo­rhou­ses.”1 He ought to have said : First I shall make my empire rich, and then I will build poo­rhou­ses.

The wealth of a state sup­po­ses much indus­try. It is not pos­si­ble, with so many bran­ches of com­merce, for there not always to be one of them that suf­fers, and whose wor­kers conse­quently are under tem­po­rary stress.

It is then that the state needs to pro­vide swift assis­tance, either to pre­vent the peo­ple from suf­fe­ring, or to keep them from revol­ting : it is in this case that poo­rhou­ses are nee­ded, or some equi­va­lent sta­tute that can pre­vent this misery.

But when the nation is poor, indi­vi­dual poverty deri­ves from the gene­ral misery, and is, so to speak, the gene­ral misery. All the poo­rhou­ses in the world would be una­ble to heal this par­ti­cu­lar poverty ; on the contrary, the spi­rit of idle­ness which they ins­pire increa­ses the gene­ral poverty, and conse­quently indi­vi­dual poverty.

Henry VIII, in his inten­tion to reform the Church in England, eli­mi­na­ted the monks2 : an idle nation in them­sel­ves, one which main­tai­ned the idle­ness of others, because prac­ti­cing hos­pi­ta­lity, an infi­nite num­ber of idle men, gent­le­men and bour­geois, spent their lives run­ning from one convent to ano­ther. He fur­ther sup­pres­sed the poo­rhou­ses where the popu­lace found their sub­sis­tence, as the gent­le­men found theirs in the monas­te­ries. After these chan­ges, the spi­rit of com­merce and indus­try esta­bli­shed itself in England.

In Rome, thanks to the poo­rhou­ses, eve­ryone is well off, except those who work, except those who have some indus­try, except those who culti­vate the arts, except those who have land, and except those who engage in trade.

I have said that weal­thy nations nee­ded poo­rhou­ses because in them for­tune was sub­ject to a thou­sand vicis­si­tu­des ; but it is clear that pas­sing assis­tance would be much bet­ter than per­ma­nent esta­blish­ments. The pro­blem is tem­po­rary ; there must the­re­fore be assis­tance of the same nature, and appli­ca­ble to the par­ti­cu­lar hap­pens­tance.

See Chardin, Voyage de Perse, vol. VIII. [Chardin, VIII, 86 ; the quotation is only approximate.]

See Burnet, History of the Reformation of the Church of England.