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price of English goods becomes determined by the price of foreign goods.1 But what was the price regulated by, when our foreign rivals could not compete against us, both in neutral and our home markets? Clearly by the ability of the consumers to pay. It follows, therefore, so far as our free-trade exchanges are concerned, that home prices are only in process of becoming regulated by foreign prices. In the first period of his prosperity, the free-trade, merchant made his own prices. He grew rich upon the produce of his monopoly. But now, in the second period, he is having his price made for him, and with the ensuing consequences, not only do his profits get smaller and smaller, but the quantity of his goods is reduced. The free-trade merchant, therefore, is nowadays in the unhappy position of having the candle of his misfortunes burning at both ends! The second period of the free-trade merchant's career is thus consumed in the process of equilibration—we mean in his attempt to get on equal terms with protected rivals. But foreign export prices have become so low, that he can no longer stand up against them with profit to himself. We are thus arriving at the third period, in which he will have to propose a reduction of his labourer's wages; a measure which has already been advocated by the greatest living free-trade economist, Mr John Bright. And this is progress! We do not deny that the nation advanced commercially under the primary and moral influence of free trade, and the material conduct of other forces. What we assert is that this advance was not an equal advance, for it affected manufacture alone; and that free trade, and free trade alone, has destroyed our agriculture, while it has helped to elevate our manufacturers. But even this prosperity of manufacture was transitory. We have already seen its level of prosperity receding. What is the causation of that catastrophe? How shall we be able to afford stability to the superstructure when its foundations have been undermined? How support the labouring class, artificially enlarged by a transient influence, when the means of employing it are being still further reduced 1 The railway rates are reduced; the labourers' wages are going to be reduced, if they are not so already; and the British manufacturer has to seek markets anew, for protected countries do not like his goods, and neutral markets will not give the price which he demands for them. They can get them cheaper from protected countries. There must be a lesion lurking somewhere, it is clear. But it is not discerned by all; it resides in the cost of freetrade labour being too dear. While all else is cheap (there are but few exceptions), labour remains dear1 in
1 1. In the home market, because of the free entry of foreign produce, raw and manufactured. The importation of foreign corn has sent its price from 50s., which was the level Cobden anticipated (p. 73) to 30s. per quarter. Is this the lowest price at which corn can be grown abroad at a profit? The same tendencies exist in every imported article.
2. In neutral markets, the foreigner, if he cannot produce as cheaply as his English rival, is assisted by a bounty.
3. In rival markets, the English manufacturer is excluded from freetrade competition by heavy import duties.
1 The reader will recall the great increase in the rate of wages, excepting agricultural, about the year 1850. On account of the increased trade of our manufacturers, demand for labour increased and wages rose. On the other hand, bread was cheapened. Now, our trade relatively shrinking, and labour being at a discount, even with the reduction of wages ensuing upon competition of the labourers themselves, yet the wages of labour are very much larger than those of the foreigner. In the free-trade country. What is the result in protectionist States? Labour is cheap; prices of articles relatively dear. Which is the more favourable set of conditions for an export trade? It assuredly requires a considerable amount of self-restraint, when contemplating the many artifices employed to cajole the ignorant during the free-trade agitation, not to express in the liveliest manner the indignation which they call up. It was " protection and starvation " then. Why do we not cry out " free trade and scarcity" now?
Of the grand picture which Cobden painted—what remains? The supremacy of British manufacture, a flourishing agriculture, no possibility of being swamped with foreign corn, high wages, and food in abundance! It seems as if it had been drawn upon the sands of time, and that the advancing wave of the prosperity of foreign nations has removed all traces of its former existence. And even when they recede, we look in vain for its reappearance amongst ourselves. But all these elements, consider them as you will, are closely inter-related; they are all supported upon the same basis. Destroy that basis, and these elements are dispersed; they fly in opposite directions. The interest of the landed proprietors, the sons of England's former benefactors, whose ancestors in the distant past built up slowly but surely the foundations of the greatness of the people, was severed from the rest. The selfishness of the manufacturer required it.1 And now, what community of
this way the British free-trade manufacturer is handicapped! The present rate of wages of labour refer to a past period of prosperity.
1 "Our opponents have been fond of telling us that this is a middleclass agitation. 1 do not like classes, . . . but I believe that we interest have we as people of the same nation ?1 The manufacturer gets his food from abroad, because he pays less for it. But, said Cobden, under free trade we shall not produce one quarter less of corn than we do now (1843)! The labourers get their goods from Germany, instead of patronising the native industries of their country, because they can buy them at a cheaper rate. Yet Cobden said that the best customers of the manufacturer were the agricultural labourers.2 Thus is there a double force acting against the true interests of the nation. Instead of employing our own labour in full, we employ some of that of the foreigner. But not only does the nation suffer from a constant drain of its wealth in this pernicious procedure, but she is racked internally with opposing interests. Where before, there was harmony, now discord prevails. The master and man under protection found their interests working in unison; under free trade the labourer has already begun to learn that his interest is not that of his master. He has been accustomed to high wages; but these wages must, under present circumstances, be reduced, and therefore he opposes the action of the manufacturers.3 The influence of the trades-union in
have enough of the middle class and the propertied portion of the middle class, to beat the landlords at their own game."—Cobden's Speeches, p. 121.
1 "Non frater a fratre, non hospes a hospite, tutus."
a Speeches, p. 51: "The best customers of the farmers are the labouring and manufacturing classes."
P. 53: "The farmers will make up the deficiency in the value of agricultural produce by increasing the amount of production ; more labour will be employed; and consequently there will be a greater demand for manufactured goods."
3 There were, of course, discontents during protection, but they creases,1 and capitalists turn away from labour which demands a greater wage than they can afford to pay.
§ 5. Golden's errors.—We have already noticed one of Cobden's errors. It might appear to some that to err on the question of causation is of supreme gravity. To regard the effect as cause, and base a policy upon it, must in the long-run end in disaster. And we think the reason why Cobden's arguments have not been so narrowly examined as they deserve to be by those who applaud him most is close at hand. Any policy which opens with the flush of success, and which continues successful for a period of time overlapping two generations, is apt to be popular. And thus the free-trade policy became popular in England, not because it was framed upon a safe and secure basis, but because it was attended with a trade activity never equalled in this country. Under such circumstances it is clear that the ignorant crowd became prejudiced in its favour. But the strangest phenomenon of all is, that the wise, and those who wrote upon economy,2 should take it for granted that free trade and prosperity were inseparably
never assumed a serious aspect. The Chartist agitation was based on political, not on economical grievances. At first the Chartist leaders held aloof from the free-traders, as being likely to prejudice their cause. They were afterwards absorbed in the agitation for free trade.
1 "The principle of protection, extended to trades-unions so justly and so beneficially in England, should be extended to the Irish occupiers of lands, for the protection of their interests, when threatened by the vast and organised power that is paraded against them."—Rt. Hon. W. E. Gladstone, reported in 'Standard ' of July 9, 1883.
If the Irish occupier is to be protected from adverse (?) influences, why should not the British farmer?
2 John Stuart Mill, Professor Cairnes, Professor Jevons, Professor Fawcett.