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of labourers employed in 1850. On each farm, if under cultivation, there is less labour employed, though at a higher wage than under protection: result, agricultural labour contracted to one-third, wages slightly increased.1 But against this increase there has to be placed the rise in the price of all agricultural produce, with the single exception of bread, and the rise in rent. Assume, however, the condition of the remnant of our agricultural labour to be nowadays prosperous, because they have a higher wage; is it a secure prosperity? There is not a single individual in the whole length and breadth of this island who can affirm it!
To effect an increased prosperity (but it is questionable whether there has been "so great " an increase in material wellbeing as to justify the boasts of the freetraders)—to ensure the temporary increased wellbeing of a third of our agricultural labourers, the major part have been driven out of employment. Let the protectionist admit that a part has advanced; the free-trader also cannot deny that it has been at the expense of the whole. Such an advance may correspond with "progress" as it is defined by ideal economists and politicians, who leave stability out of all their calculation. Does it tit in with the notions of improvement which the comprehensive and impartial mind entertains?
But the interminable argument is ever presented. The labourers of the country found it to their interest
1 The reader will reflect upon the great injury done to the agricultural labourers collectively in the attainment of a small rise of wages. Nor will he forget that this rise has been neutralised by increased prices and increased rent. The question offers, Has more harm than good resulted from the supposed beneficial reform?
to flock to the towns, because the wages of manufacture offered greater inducements to them.
The ideal economist tells us that labour was thus diverted from less to more remunerative employments.1 But Cobden did not desire that the "country " should be stripped of its inhabitants. It may be affirmed, without any fear of contradiction, that such an event was not his ultimate purpose, whatever other motive he may have had (but not expressed) as to the beneficent influence on the growth of our manufacturing towns, if such a result did actually happen. His notion was that there would be induced in this way a greater competition for labour between the farmers and the manufacturers; and that, therefore, wages would rise all the more from such competition.
If such be the case, this competition did not turn out so equal as it was conceived to be. It was all in favour of the manufacturers; for they still retained a certain sort of monopoly, during the first period of free trade, in which agriculture was subjected to competition from without. This competition was assuming such an adverse direction that had it not been for the campaign in the Crimea the agricultural industry would have long since been crushed. But, as one of the results of that war, the farmers became the gainers of the magnificent sum of £300,000,000 sterling;2 and it was
1 The opportunity existed, and the agricultural labourers strove to take advantage of it, But, as the result of all large disturbances, they overrated the demand for labour in the towns. They left the substance and pursued the shadow. Thus, instead of pauperism being swept out of the towns by free trade, according to Cobden, it tended, on the contrary, to be increased by it.
2 Fallacies, Political, Commercial, and Agricultural, by W. W.
by this adventitious support that they were enabled to protract their final extinction as corn-growers.
"But not only did the rise in the wages of the farmlabourer happen, as Cobden predicted, but increased demand for labour in the towns occurred, as the same authority declared would be the case." We have analysed the causes of that increased demand, and we have attempted to ascribe its proper share to free trade. Yet there is a dominant inclination amongst those who allow themselves still to be ruled by a once powerful authority to regard the free-trade principle as the chief factor in the causation of a past and unparalleled prosperity. To show that such is not the fact requires but a glance at all the elements then in operation; for the free-traders steadily fix their gaze upon one. To arrive, however, at a true conclusion, you must comprehend all the data contained in it. Of those forces, then, acting with unequal intensity, you will find that one was of a constant, while free trade was of a fluctuating action. The railway system must always have been of advantage to our trade and commerce. This could have been said with certainty; but not so certainly was the influence of free trade itself to be inferred. The railway, by reducing the cost of transit, enabled the manufacturer to supply a greater foreign as well as internal demand.
Good (page 347): Edward Stanford, Charing Cross, 1866. Mr Good shows that there had been withdrawn or withheld from agriculture by the operation of free trade in corn (1850-1865) the sum of £425,000,000. During the same period there had been a reduction of taxation (from which agriculture had received no appreciable relief) to the extent of £270,000,000; and yet the farmers had to pay an income-tax on a fixed sum—"not one farthing of which," he says, "in many years had ever been made."
Nothing outside us could interfere with the operation of this factor, and encroach upon our area of demand. But external forces might interfere with the action of free trade. And such contingencies were easily within the range of the constructive imagination; but they were not heeded.
Now it cannot be denied nowadays that the principle of free trade has fluctuated in its action, and that other nations only suffered the entry of our goods so long as it was to their self-interest to do so. For a brief space of time the railway and free trade1 combined in very different proportions to effect prosperity. But with one force acting in an uncertain fashion, this prosperity could in no sense be regarded as ensured. Nor did the varying action of the free-trade principle affect merely its own course; its adverse consequences spread to the other force (in operation to benefit manufacture), with this result, that it lessened its efficacy. For, by our partial free-trade system, the fields of our internal and foreign demand have become contracted. Hence our supplies are reduced, and their cost of transit relatively increased.2
All this has fallen out because, in the first instance, a false view was conceived of the virtues of free trade.
1 Our system of free imports tended to increase our exports; but at first only so far as corn was concerned. It is certain that our large exports during 1850-73 were not paid for by corn alone. Hence another cause must have been at work, and that was reduced prices of goods, and the resulting underselling of foreign rivals. It was the railway which mostly brought this about.
2 It is important to notice this, as the explanation of the present excessive railway rates. Why were not the rates excessive in 1873? Because our trade was not trammelled, and profits continued high.
Sufficient attention was not paid to security and stability. Too much was allowed to rest upon anticipations which have not been realised.
§ 34. Ricardo's theory of international trade criticised. — Increased demand for labour in the towns was regarded, so far as the future was concerned, as a constant factor. But the fallacy underlying the whole of the free-trade predictions is discovered in Eicardo's 'Theory of International Trade.' This theory was used, and skilfully used, by Cobden. It is this. Of two nations, both the producers of hats and boots, but the one able to produce hats more cheaply, and the other boots at a less cost than her neighbour, it is to the advantage of both parties or nations to agree that the one shall supply the other exclusively with hats or boots, according as she can produce these commodities at the least price to the consumer.
We shall presently inquire upon what grounds this trade doctrine is elevated to the dignity of being styled "international."1 At the first view it will be evident that it is framed simply with regard to the benefit of the consumer. He gets his commodities cheaper in this way. But the producer gains as well, inasmuch as reduction in price is, within certain limits, followed by increased demand. So the doctrine decides. He makes more hats or boots, as the case may be; and as increased production is attended with a diminishing cost, his profits are raised.
Now, let us see how this arrangement affects the
1 It is so called by Professor Cairnes in his' Logical Method of Political Economy.'