Cooke's argument was that "another advantage to every community, where all Hands are provided with an Employ, is this, That it enlarges Trade according to the number of the Hands imployed." This is an ambiguous claim and much weaker than Josiah Tucker's "infallible maxim" that "one Man's Labour creates Employment for another." Cooke summarized Graunt's argument and then presented his objection:
The Ingenious Observator of the Bills of Mortality, tho he hath furnished us with many excellent and useful Observations, hath yet one that extreamly Labours, and he seems at once to be mistaken in his Charity, and his Politicks. He tells us that it were better for the State to keep the multitude of Beggars at a publick Stock, tho they earn’d nothing, then let them be maintain’d as they are, by the voluntary Contributions of charitable and pious Persons; and having made this assertion, he explains himself, having begg’d the question, that if there be but a certain proportion of work to be done, which be already done by the not Beggars, as he stiles them, then the imploying the Beggars in this work were but transferring the want from one hand to another, in which the latter by spoiling it, would do more hurt than good.
But this is limiting Men's Labour to one particular imploy, of which indeed he gives an instance, which the curious may have recourse to, which is all the strength of that argument: But our Modern States Men look much further than this Gentleman's Observations. ‘Tis true as to our exported Trade of Manufactures there must be some Limitation and restraint; for we must make no more, then we have demand for, and the Dutch as he very well observes and since them the French, having run away with a considerable part of the Antient English Trade, we will easily allow him, that should all Hands be employed that way only, they would be too many. But when we confider the vast quantities of Forreign Manufactures imported, which are consumed by our own Inhabitants, and the many thousand Families that might be plentifully maintained by the Manufactures of those very Commodities, Should they be brought over unwrought, methinks the Avarice of our Merchants, and the Pride of our Inhabitants Should not be able to prevail against that common good, which the limiting of those Manufactures to our own People would produce…Unless I am mistaken in reading Cooke's proposal, he was advocating import substitution, relying on the establishment of compulsory workhouses for the poor to manufacture the substituted goods. I'm not inclined to argument the merits of Cooke's scheme but simply want to point out that it is hardly what one would consider a laissez faire, free-market, free-trade proposition.
In fairness to Cooke, his economic case for workhouses was only a secondary consideration. His main argument was a religious one, resting on selected Biblical citations and furious exhortations against the depravity of sloth. His published sermon was crowned with a big shout-out to 2 Thessalonians 3: 10:
A passage in Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson suggests that Graunt's commentary on employing beggars had become somewhat of a commonplace by the late 18th century. Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755) made frequent reference to Graunt's Bills of Mortality for examples of usage of words. The following quote is attributed to Johnson in 1780:
It may be questioned, whether there is not some mistake as to the methods of employing the poor, seemingly on a supposition that there is a certain portion of work left undone for want of persons to do it; but if that is otherwise, and all the materials we have are actually worked up, or all the manufactures we can use or dispose of are already executed, then what is given to the poor, who are to be set at work, must be taken from some who now have it, as time must be taken for learning, (according to Sir William Petty's observation,) a certain part of those materials that, as it is, are properly worked up, must be spoiled by the unskillfulness of novices.