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Dear Corn injurious to the Labourer.
history tell us was the real working of this more restrictive law? The scale it established was a duty on wheat of 24s. 3d. per quarter when the price should be under 50s.; of 2s. 6d, when the price should be between 50s. and 54s.; and of 6d. per quarter whenever the price exceeded 54s. At the date of its enactment, and for three years after, the supply of wheat of home growth was so abundant that we spared considerable quantities for exportation; but in 1795, there set in a cycle of bad harvests, and prices rose far beyond the rate at which importations could take place under the nominal duty of 6d., a state of things which continued throughout the war; so that the act of 1791 cannot be said to have been at any time in practical operation.
In answer to the assertion so constantly made, not only by Sir Edward Lytton, but by all who take up the same side of the question, that low prices of food must act injuriously upon the labouring class by lowering wages, we may point to the experience of the past two years, and not of those years only, but of every period when food has been abundant and therefore cheap throughout the kingdom. In every instance where this has occurred, the condition of the labourers, and especially of the farming labourers, has been one of comparative comfort. At various times since the introduction of that system of Corn-laws which began with 1815, and since the monopoly of the home market was secured to the native farmer either by actual prohibition until grain should reach a famine price, or by rates of duty nearly equivalent to prohibition, we have had a series of inquiries by Committees of either House of Parliament into the causes of Agricultural Distress; but in all these inquiries farming labourers were proved to be in possession of increased rather than diminished means. In 1847, by reason of the failure of the potato crop, and the consequent great demand for other descriptions of food, prices rose exorbitantly in comparison with the prices of immediately preceding years; the state of the independent labouring population, and especially of those employed in agriculture, became in consequence one of great trial, so that in many cases they found it impossible to live upon their earnings, and incurred debts for the absolute necessaries of life. We have since had two years of Free Trade and moderate prices; and although these same labourers in agriculture have been forced in some counties to submit to a reduction of their money wages, their condition is improved notwithstanding; not only is their food more abundant, and their clothing more decent, than it had been in their power previously to command, but we know that they have been able to liquidate the debts which the necessities of 1847 had forced
them to incur. In all other descriptions of employment there has been no talk of reducing wages; quite the contrary,- to such an extent, indeed, that it needs no argument to show, that the condition of the working men must be most substantially bettered: And in the present state of information among them it is equally superfluous to say that they know the reason why.' It is doubtless the conviction of this fact which induces the advocates for Protection to Agriculture' to argue in favour of Protection also to other branches of industry. In this, however, they reckon without their host. The working men in our cities and seats of manufacture not only know the reason why they and their families are better fed and better clothed, and why they have less cause for anxiety lest employment should fail them; they also know, that no protective duties could be of the slightest benefit to them, but that, on the contrary, under a system which should limit the demands of foreign markets, they would have less certainty of employment,- that thus they might be driven to accept of lower wages, and with lighter purses have to meet the heavier demands of the baker. Neither is the great value of the home market, a point much insisted on by Protectionists, any secret to those whose industry is put in requisition to supply it: but they know also that this home market is never so extensive nor so good, as when the masses of their fellow countrymen, having abundant, and therefore, cheap supplies of food, have something to spare for other necessaries as well as for some of the conveniences of life. Assuredly, the cause of Protection need not look for allies among the working classes of England.
In the endeavour to show the value of Protection to manufactures, Sir Edward has paraded a few sentences drawn from the writings of professed Free-traders, which he endeavours to pass off as admissions of the value of the system which they write to oppose. With this view, he has pressed into his service passages from Mr. Porter's work on The Progress of the Nation,' which, taken from their context, have the appearance of favouring the cause of Protection, but which, when read from the volume itself, have no such tendency. Sir Edward says (p. 24.), with reference to the exclusion of silk manufactures which was enforced until 1824,- What does Mr. Porter himself remark on 'this head? "By this prohibitory law, the English silk manu"facturers were legally secured in the exclusive possession of "the home market, from which, in the then imperfect con"dition of the manufacture, they would have been driven by "the superior fabrics of foreign looms." Sir Edward omits, however, the reasons which Mr. Porter assigns for this state of
English Silks: French Cotton and Iron.
things- viz., the heavy duties imposed on the importation of raw and thrown silk, and still more the want of all stimulus to improvement, by reason of such legal monopoly; and he omits to quote from the following page the statement that, through the withdrawal of this monopoly, and the improvements in the manufacture rendered necessary in consequence, English silks are now produced at prices and of qualities which enable us successfully to compete in foreign markets with goods produced abroad. Even the English farmer would be a better swimmer now, if he had never been incumbered with,-what must have always been to him unnecessary, the aid of corks.
Other quotations respecting the cotton manufacture of France and Germany are made from the same author, and with about the same degree of candour. Using per-centages instead of actual quantities, Sir Edward would lead his readers to infer that the cotton manufacture under the system of strict protection in France has thriven in a greater degree than the same manufacture in Great Britain under that of freedom. For this purpose he selects the years between 1812 and 1826, and again between 1833 and 1843, and compares the increase during each of those periods in the respective countries. It so happens that in France the quantity consumed in 1812 was unusually low, and in 1826 as unusually high: the increase between the two years thus appears to be fifty-six millions of pounds. If an equal period of time had been selected only one year later — viz., between 1813 and 1837-the increased quantity would have been forty-four millions of pounds, or twelve millions less. In England, between 1812 and 1826, the increase was above 101 millions of pounds. Next, during the ten years from 1833 to 1843, it is inferred that the French manufacturers gained upon their English competitors; but what is the fact? In France, the increase in weight of cotton used between those years was fifty-four millions of pounds, while in England during the same period it was 287 millions of pounds!
It is a favourite plea with the advocates of protecting duties, that by their means great branches of industry are fostered in a more backward country, until such a degree of skill has been acquired in them as will enable it to stand its ground against foreign competition. This is altogether a delusion. It would not be possible to point out any considerable branch of manufacture in any country, success in which is attributable to such a cause. Under this plea, however, the Government of France has hitherto succeeded in persuading the French nation, that it is for their ultimate advantage to pay for iron of home manufacture more than double the price for which they could
import it from abroad. M. Michel Chevalier, one of the ablest economists of the present day, a professor in the College de France, has computed, that since the peace of Paris, the direct loss thus sustained by the French people has amounted to 1,200 millions of francs, or forty-eight millions sterling; a sum which, if employed at common interest, would yield in perpetuity a revenue sufficient to buy, year by year in this country, a quantity of iron equal to the whole of that metal which, under the shadow of protecting duties amounting to 100% per cent., has been produced in France.
The common watch-word, or cuckoo-note, of the advocates of restriction in affairs of trade is, 'protection to native industry.' In the principle fairly involved in this motto we cordially agree. We are as anxious as the most vehement advocate for high import duties on foreign products can be, that the industry of our fellow countrymen should be protected. We only differ as to the means. Their theory of protection is, to guard against competition those branches of industry which, without such extraneous help, could never be successfully pursued: ours, is that of enlarging to the uttermost those other branches, for the prosecution of which our countrymen possess the greatest aptitude: and of thereby securing for their skill and capital the greatest possible return. This protection is best afforded by governments, when they leave without interference the productive industry of the country to find its true level; for we may be certain, that the interest of individuals will always lead them to prefer those pursuits which they find most gainful. There is, in fact, no mode of interference with entire freedom of action which must not be in some degree hurtful; but the mischief which follows upon legislation in affairs of trade in any given country is then most noxious, when it tends to foster branches of industry for which other countries have a greater aptitude.
As often as foreign productions are excluded from our markets, through the imposition of import duties, the effect must clearly be, to cause the consumers here to pay more dearly for productions of our own of the same description; while the producers of other articles which we have the means of producing more advantageously, are deprived of the protection which is naturally their due, by being thereby excluded from the markets they would otherwise find in return for the foreign articles which we are so studious to shut out. How, it may be asked, is a country to be profited by such an interference with the course of action which the nature of things has pointed out? A. can make in England for 20s., an article which he can sell in France for 25s., and B. can make in France an article for 20s., which he can sell in England
True Protection versus False Protection.
for 25s. It is clear that by this interchange both countries must profit, since neither France nor England would consent to pay 25s. to foreigners for that which they could make for less at home. But the English Government is seized with the desire of protecting English makers of the article which is more cheaply made in France, and places upon it a duty of 10s. In case, then, the English manufacturer can make this article for any price below the cost in France, plus the duty, he will have the monopoly of the supply in his own market, and will cause his countrymen to pay more dearly for it than if they had been left to deal with France. If the evil rested here it would be no trifling evil, but it does not rest here. France being deprived of an accustomed market for the sale of a given amount of its products, is no longer able to purchase the goods which used to be furnished by A., the English manufacturer. A. thus loses the profit which he had formerly gained; for his 'protection' in the production and disposal of which he has a far juster claim than his fellow countryman, who can only carry on his monopoly trade by means of the sacrifices of his customers. It cannot be held that the trade thus unjustly fostered brings a greater amount of profit into the country than that from which Protection is thus withdrawn:- the very reverse of this is the fact. Neither can it be said, that those who are tempted through the virtual monopoly that has been created, to embark their capitals in a business which, without such restriction, could have no existence, are enabled to realise any rate of profit greater than that which, on the average, is realised in the country since such a result would immediately attract further capital into the same business, by which the markets would be more abundantly supplied, and prices, and consequently profits, would be lowered. In this manner, what at best must prove a very evanescent advantage to a few individuals, is purchased at the cost of depriving an equal number of their fellow countrymen of the only 'pro'tection' which in affairs of trade it is the province of a government to furnish; while the nation at large is impoverished by being made to pay more than it need have paid for that which it consumes. Examine as closely as you please into the history of any trade which is, according to the common meaning of the wordprotected,' and you will find that this is, and must be, the result.
It is surprising, that the opponents of Free Trade should allow themselves to fall into so obvious an error as the opinion which they usually take for granted,-that freedom of trade is identical with the total absence of customs' duties. The only conditions. necessary to the establishing of Free Trade are, first, that govern