William L. Langer – The Social Question

Langer’s article, titled The Social Question, is about the questioning the impacts of industrialism, specifically targeting the issues of the rise of poverty, hunger, and disease in England during the 1800’s. England had gone through a lot of change during this time after enduring an agricultural revolution followed by an urbanization and subsequent industrialization. The author is writing in the mid-twentieth century at the least yet he pulls many sources from writers during this time that offer different explanations to the rise of pauperism.

Langer asserts that the advent of the great, metaphorical machine industry was not the cause for Britain’s social woes. Lamentably, the level of poverty for the common man was the same in both the rural and urban areas of the country. This entire point harkens to Thomas Malthus’ idea that mankind had a propensity to utilize abundance for population growth rather than for maintaining a high standard of living. After an inflated population ravished post agricultural revolution England, businesses didn’t have to compete with other businesses to as great extents today with regard to employment. With lower wages all around the country, one could assume that the standard of living drastically dropped for the common man. However, the article presents a conflict about this, saying that new modernists could reap the new fruits of the economy that previously weren’t available while presenting evidence that urbanites suffered from a rushed, unplanned urbanization that displaced many otherwise desirable workers. In addition, the cost of living in England rose dramatically due to the coming of tenement building in urban areas. Whereas before, rural farmers could enjoy a relatively stable negotiation with their landlord over renting land, landlords in the city had become a new facet of urbanization. Tenements buildings were crowded, ill cleaned, and had non negotiable prices, leaving the people displaced by the agricultural revolution with little to no option. Even then, 60 to 70% of a workers income was spent on food across the board. Child labour became a staple and both children and women were paid less for the same job a man could do, leading to a great increase in women and children being more desirable workers than men.


One thought on “William L. Langer – The Social Question

  1. tejas says:

    Good job. Your summary was very informative and connected several different factors to explain the low living standards of people in england. The point about how mankind has a propensity to utilize abundance for population growth rather than for forming a high standard of living plays a major role in your argument.

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