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TAINED — LABOUR INTERESTS OF THIS COUNTRY INJURED BY THROWING LAND OUT OF CULTIVATION, BECAUSE (1) MANUFACTURING LABOUR MARKET BECOMES DISTENDED WITH UNEMPLOYED AGRICULTURAL LABOUR; AND (2) WAGES DECLINE AS THE PRICE OF WHEAT DECLINES—THE WANT OF INDIRECT TAXATION, FROM YIELDING CAPITAL NO SUPPORT, DRIVES IT OUT OF THE COUNTRY.
§ 23. Importance of the preservation of independent judgment, and of the treatment of each problem by itself, without being implicated in others with which it has no real concern.—The following comparison is worthy, we think, of the reader's close attention. The taxes on the raw materials of manufacture were remitted, and the manufacturers gained thereby, inasmuch as cost of production was decreased. The consumers of their goods had the benefit of cheaper prices, and not a single productive source of the country was injured. What suffered was the revenue; but as the country gained more than the revenue lost, the self-interest of the nation as a whole was advanced by the removal of these fetters on the trade of the country, as indirect taxes are indignantly called by the free-traders. But it is always a good point to inquire into the history of those taxes which are denounced as burdens upon trade, and obstacles in the way of the productive powers of the country. You will in most instances find three stages in the progress of these taxes. The first stage is that in which they exercised a beneficial influence; the second is a transitionary period; and the third is that in which they are capable of being proved to work virtual harm.1 Now the reason why a tax
1 In other words, according as the conditions surrounding certain industries varied with their growth, so was the regulating principle made to vary.
should at one time be useful, and at a subsequent period become virtually disadvantageous, is found in the change which gradually takes place in those surrounding conditions which influence its action. If all such changes could be predicted so easily as the partial free-traders evidently believed, there would be an end to all commercial legislation. But whatever mere hypothesis may inculcate, experience demonstrates that such is by no means the case. It may broadly be stated that no change in the condition of mutable factors, induced by any cause, will remain in that original state in which its authors left it; and the explanation of this in economy lies in the play of human desires. No constructor of any policy can determine with certainty the direction which such desires may take; neither can he estimate their intensity, nor can he foresee the means to be developed in the future of giving them effect. It is from this uncertainty, therefore, that our wisest legislators have trodden in beaten tracks, and have opened them by degrees when they could do so with the highest probability of good accruing from the change. And it is the natural consequence of such uncertainty that no alteration or reform should be projected in haste or with enthusiasm, lest but an incomplete survey of all the future possible developments of that alteration be grasped, and just those few possible occurrences left out of consideration which eventually take place. Enthusiasm in any form—and popular enthusiasm is the worst form, and the consequences of it are on the heads of those who create it—is antagonistic to clear and impartial judgment. It is upon the accuracy of that judgment that a nation depends for its future safety after the reforming measures of its leaders have come into operation.
The enthusiastic man is thus surrounded by the greatest dangers, for his judgment is contracted into a single groove. He can see only in one line. If the welfare of a people hangs upon such a precarious judgment, it is woe to them if that groove and that line lead from prosperity to adversity. In the affairs of human nature, as in other things, it is matter of probability as to whether the judgment of this man is best to be pursued. How necessary, then, is it to discern that that judgment is free both from personal prejudices and factious animosities. Given any man who is enthusiastic and a confident believer in the virtue of this or that principle to effect good,1 and for those very reasons he is to be feared; for his principle has no more virtue than another, and he cannot arrest the progress and the many changes which are sure to occur in those conditions which determine the direction which the action of his principle shall take. He cannot control the disposition of his fellow-creatures neither at home nor abroad. He may endeavour to do so, but the attempt will surely be involved in danger.
There is one feature which in particular characterised the free-trade agitation. It is shown in the develop
1 Before free trade the gradual progress of the people was in process of operation. But this was not rapid enough for the purposes of agitation. After free trade and the rise of wages, the progressive movement was ascribed to free trade, and former principles of progress were ignored. Thus it came to be asserted that without free trade there would have been no material progress. But with what regard to the true facts of the case?
ment of the public enthusiasm to an extent never known before in the history of this country. How ably it was supported from above, and how powerful it became in the hands of an enthusiast like Cobden, was recognised by the political leaders of the time. Well might Sir Robert Peel wince at the menaces which John Bright and Richard Cobden felt they were justified in using. For they were acting, according to their opinion, in the interests of the majority of the nation, against what was held up to opprobrium as the interests of a monopoly. Undoubted was the great pressure put upon both the parties in the State. Instead of the question being discussed from a purely economical point, it at once descended to the grounds of expediency. And thus, in order to save the State from other and worse, because immediate, consequences,1 concession was granted; and thus the growing democracy learnt that any concession might be obtained by a wellorganised agitation, led by wealthy and determined men.
But the value of such an example is questionable, as far as concerns the normal progress of society. You must not forget that the issue to be decided was not a simple one. There were not economical tendencies only in view, but political ones as well. And so it came about that many men, and amongst them Sir Robert Peel and M'Culloch, while they entertained particular ideas on each part of the complex problem as it was developed by Cobden, were yet compelled to weigh it as a whole, and act accordingly. And we
1 Cobden's words will be remembered: "You will concede us free trade, or you will concede us a good deal more."—P. 172.
have Sir Eobert Peel's testimony that it was this conduct which, according to his conviction, rescued the country from the horrors of civil war.1
Against the treatment, as a whole, of such complicated problems, too much cannot be said. It is open to all species of revolting traffic in interests. A political leader may thus declare that he cannot effect the reform you desire unless you give him your support on another question. But upon that question your opinion may be opposed to his. Nevertheless you are tempted with the bait, and may subordinate your judgment to profit.
Whether or not this is a wholesome feature in the "progress " of our politics, each must decide for himself. But the innovation was made by Cobden, and has been practised at times by his successors.2
It is easy to see that this innovation reigns supreme during a crisis, and that it is the desire, because it is to the interest, of some political leaders—those who lead
1 Vide ProfessorThorold Rogers, in 'Cobden and Political Opinion,' p. 118. "The outbreak of 1848 was a unique phenomenon in politics." "The English people felt only the quivering of the earthquake, though the Government was excessively alarmed at the Chartist demonstration of April 10. It is not a little remarkable—I have the story on Cobden's authority (see Cobden's Speeches, p. 581)—that when the news reached London of the downfall of Louis Philippe, and was brought to the House of Commons, Sir Robert Peel crossed over the floor of the House to the late Mr Joseph Hume and said, 'This is what would have happened in England if I had not repealed the Corn Laws, but had followed the advice of those people,' pointing with his hand to the back benches of the Conservative party." England was therefore saved from "political" disturbance by an "economical" reform, according to Sir Robert Peel.
2 E.g., the Welsh may have Disestablishment if they will support a Home Rule policy for Ireland.