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PROGRESS OF TRADE INVOLVED IN POLITICAL AND SOCIAL REFORMS —THOROLD ROGERS SAYS, "PRINCIPLES OF COMPETITION ARE BETTER KNOWN IN OUR TIME :" YES; BY OTHER NATIONS—THE POSITION OF CHEAP BREAD WITH REFERENCE TO THE COURSE OF MANUFACTURE.
§ 19. Fluctuations in price of corn not adverse to manufacture: tendency to lower prices under protection.—Under protection, therefore, there were ample means, without a free intercourse in corn, in the manufacturer's power, capable of advancing more successfully the national industries. These means, too, in no way interfered with the principle which regulated our commerce, and they admitted of the same conclusions being drawn after as before their introduction. Very different was the case when free trade was developed. You could not base upon experience, for there was none. Hypothesis alone was the mainstay of free-traders. And it is a little remarkable to find that the free-trade leaders drew their conclusions as to what free trade would effect from the experience which had been acquired under a protective code.
But it may be as well, perhaps, at this juncture to remind all those who endeavour to take an impartial view of this intricate question of the following fact. The price of corn, which had previously been subject to very extensive fluctuations,1 was tending to become steady, under the operation of Sir Eobert Peel's slidingscale. Certainly the variations of the twelve years antecedent to 1846 were not greater than those which
1 Owing to the extensive alteration in our agriculture, consequent on the great war. Associated with these changes were many gambling transactions, noticed by Huskisson.
characterised the twelve years subsequent to 1849. Our trade was prosperous with these variations, both under protection and free trade. Thus the mere fact of a variation in the price of corn is not incompatible with trade progress.
But the manufacturers thought, or said it was, opposed to the best interests of the country. And for this end, Cobden aimed at getting a reduced but fixed price of corn. During the first part of the enormous trade which our manufacturers conducted, subsequent to the introduction of free trade, the price of corn fluctuated 1 just as extensively as under the slidingscale. But there were disturbing causes to account for this fluctuation, exclaim the free-traders. Were there not also the same disturbing causes in operation under protection? The free-trader cannot blink the matter. Where is the difference, then? If this fluctuation in the price of corn assisted in preventing the manufacturers from extending their powers of production under protection, how could it possibly aid them when our commerce was carried on under the principle of free trade ?2 And yet they extended their markets enormously, and increased their profits at an unparalleled rate! It is certain, therefore, from the above consideration, that the repeal of the Corn Laws had not that omnipotent influence which has been ascribed to
1 It is quite clear that a variation in the price of corn, within certain limits, is not injurious to trade operations.
2 The average price of corn during ten years, 1830-1840, was 56s. The average price, 1850-1860, was 54s. That is to say, so far as the low price of bread was concerned, the labourer gained something less than 2s. during the year. And yet Cobden asserted that the high price of bread prevented labour from being occupied.
it in the induction of prosperity. What was the amount of influence which it had, in effecting the increase of trade prosperity, is a problem which must be left to the free-trader to solve.1 It is quite clear to those who advocate protectionist views, that its influence could only become apparent when the price of corn actually became reduced, and continued to be reduced; but the attentive reader will observe that, when the price of bread in this country began to decline, our whole trade tended to become stationary. Under the circumstances, undoubtedly the reduction in the price of bread was a boon to the manufacturer who found his hold upon the foreign markets becoming less firm. If, however, the careful observer proceeds further, he will find that, with the continued decline in the price of corn, the trade of the country has already become, and is still becoming, less and less remunerative.
The abnormal state of commercial affairs referred to by the Eoyal Commission appointed to inquire into the present depressed state of trade is this—while the volume of our trade has remained stationary (there is no reference to the increment in it corresponding to the annual increase in population), its value has progressively diminished. But what is this sign but the prelude to the reduction of the bulk of our industries? Prices fall: there is less incentive for the enterprising manufacturer to increase his productions; and if he cannot find a remunerative market, he diverts, according to the free-trade doctrine, his capital from less to
1 It is important to observe as well, that during the Crimean war, when the price of corn was considerably raised, the increase had no depressing influence upon our export trade.
suffice only to convince those who are free-traders by tradition; when they distort facts, and adduce partial and minor causes; when they shun the consideration of principles of action or forces created by free trade, and rely upon a series of statistics, which are dexterously managed so as to mislead,—then the impartial observer discovers the weakness of a position which they strive to conceal from the public view.
But you cannot take this " fall in prices" absolutely, and reach the true cause of depression. The rational treatment of the argument is paramount even to freetrade sophistry. Thus it becomes essential that you take this phenomenon of the fall of prices relatively. You must consider the sequence of phenomena in which this fall in prices holds a place. And not only is it necessary to comprehend this sequence, but you have as well to reflect upon all those causes which determined the various phenomena in it. You will then be in a position to ascertain the true cause of the last link in that chain of commercial events which ends in a "fall of prices." Nor will this be the termination of your labours. You have discovered causes in operation which have produced a fall in prices. And that fall has been progressive. But those great causes are still acting. And if they continue to operate—as it is certain they will—what will be the final result? It is thus that you can predict the appearance of the next succeeding phenomenon. After the fall in prices, there will appear a diminution in the bulk of our trade. It is a question whether or not that diminution has not already appeared. But for the purposes of this argument, which relates to the discovery of the true cause or