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degree of gain and the same degree of loss to the nations engaged in it. Hence the practical reason that commercial treaties are allowed to run for a certain number of years. On paper, it is not an arduous task to show that the policy, if once successful, must always be successful. But the paper argument of ideal economists is torn asunder by the experience of the practical man. He is conscious of the fact that the original conditions which determined any particular policy are liable to fluctuation. It is to the self-interest of each of the contracting parties to gain as much as they possibly can by always adhering to the letter and spirit of the treaty. How some of these original elements assume such gigantic proportions as scarcely to have even been dreamt of by the framers of the policy, is known to all whose business is related to fluctuating phenomena. Cobden never for a moment supposed that within the small space of forty years his own countrymen would be fed, to the extent of two-thirds of their corn supplies, by the foreigner. And yet this effect, so contrary to his expectations, is the present consequence of a free trade in corn. What the final consequence of that free trade will be simply depends upon the possibility of the further reduction of one factor; and that factor is, the cost of cultivating foreign soil. The tendency for this to decrease has been in operation for some time; and the question to decide is, " Have foreign cultivators reached the lowest cost ?"1
1 We assume, of course, that we shall continue to be able to pay for all the imported corn we require. With reference to the uncertainty of action of principles, this is what Huskisson said (ii. 328): '' It was impossible for me not to feel that, in the application of
It can be safely asserted that Cobden did not expect that the fall in the price of bread would assist the British manufacturer in the way it has done. You are agreed that this fall in the price of corn could not by any means aid the manufacturer in the primary period of free-trade action, for the reason that it did not take place. But it was of some real benefit to the British manufacturer and labourer when the career of the former in foreign markets began to be checked. We have to consider at what expense this real benefit was achieved.
While a free trade in corn, which was subsequently, by the extension of a free-trade policy effected by Mr Gladstone, followed by free trade in all other articles, except those few the duties on which are collected to assist the revenue, did not immediately benefit the manufacturer, it opened up to the whole world the corn markets of our country. On the supposition that this free intercourse in corn had been the sole and direct means of conferring an unparalleled iirosperity on the nation, a free intercourse in other commodities was carried out. Thus all our markets became open to the attacks of the foreigner. But why was such a course of action pursued? Because there was no fear of our being undersold at home. That was the very essence of the motive which urged a free-trade policy. Cobden tells us so. But the reason why the manufacturers were formerly afraid of the competition of their foreign rivals in foreign and neutral markets, now becomes a little clearer. It was "immediate" danger they
principles, the result, from unforeseen causes, may sometimes disappoint our expectations."
anticipated (in 1845) from the increasing growth of Continental manufacture.
But the old free-traders laughed at the idea of our being undersold in our own markets, even when the conditions leading to such a catastrophe were made as favourable as possible. It is evident they did not imagine a state of affairs, in which, while every foreign market was protected against the rivalry of the British manufacturer, our own markets would be free to the reception of all goods that could be poured into them.1
It would take time for the manufacturing industries of the Continent and America to assume considerable dimensions. But they would have their stimulus of development; they would have a constant demand for all their produce. They would increase constantly, but slowly, and then an epoch must arrive when not only would they be able to supply all the demands of their own markets, but would be able to divert their surplus produce into surrounding ones. The most favourable would obviously be free markets. Towards these the foreign manufacturer would divert his energies, because there the least resistance is opposed to him.
And now the young free-traders may look in dismay on the impossible phenomena of their predecessors.
In the second stage, when the British supplies were being cut short, because foreign ones were increasing, the hope of our manufacturers lay in the cheapness of bread.
While they were calculating the results of vain expectations, the agricultural industry was beginning to
1 For the plain reason that they thought no Continental manufacture would ever become so powerful as to do them an injury.
wane.1 But this was taken to be favourable to the interest of the manufacturers, because their labourers got their bread cheap. The tendency, then, to a displacement of labour in agriculture was beginning to be felt. There was nothing to hinder that tendency from gaining strength. It did gain strength, while British manufacturers experienced a loss in their profits. But this was not the only tendency in operation, though it was the only one which gave signs in demonstration of its existence. Another tendency was rapidly increasing in strength; a tendency which directly counteracted, not the growth, but the very maintenance of British manufacturing activity. When foreign markets were self-supplied, and there was no check to their growth, their surplus would be diverted into other markets. Now it is this tendency, created by the old free-traders, stimulated by the extraordinary productions of England's manufacturers between 1850-1866, that has at last become characterised by actual signs.
The third stage of that series of changes inaugurated by a free-trade policy has been reached. In that stage we are supplied, to the extent of two-thirds, by foreign corn. During the transitionary period ending in this ratio, if it does end here, more than two and a half millions of acres of com land have been sent out of cultivation; and, of course, a corresponding number of agricultural labourers sent out of employment. In
1 At first the manufacturers themselves would not be seriously inconvenienced by an arrest in the growth of their industries. But the labour interest was bound to be so; not only because the same extent of industry was open to an increasing labouring population, but also because the agricultural labourers thrown out of employment competed with the town labourers, the result being " a reduction of wages."
1885, the number that were divorced from the soil is computed at 200,000. But the consequences of this alteration are not summed up in a mere displacement of labour. For that displacement of labour has its effects. And these are — (1) an increased supply of labour, thus tending to reduce wages; and (2) an increase in the number of the poor in large towns, resulting in an increase in the number of unemployed.
But in this stage of decline we have the produce of our manufactures limited, and in a twofold manner. For not only is there less external demand for our goods, but a certain amount of manufacturing labour is displaced by the circulation of foreign articles of manufacture. Why? Because these goods can be produced at a cheaper rate abroad. But these nations are protectionists, and they can produce at a cheaper rate than the free-trade nation!
It was the intention of the free-traders, by reducing the price of food, to make free-trade goods cheaper than the goods of protective nations. This was the pressure Cobden and the English manufacturers imposed upon the already existing burdens of protection. We now perceive how that pressure—not a real one— has been overcome. We learn from that circumstance that Cobden, and those who worked with him, did not interpret the causation of events aright. If Cobden had only for a moment entertained the opinion that foreign nations would remain protective, it is impossible that he should have left the trade and commerce of his country in so ill-regulated, disordered, and weakened a state.
Now it is in this stage of decline that the free