Page images
PDF
EPUB

tural distress in order of time, and associate them together as being cause and effect. Agricultural distress, it is true, may have had some influence in accounting for t\ie depression of the home markets; but the fact that it was not the sole cause1 of that depression is shown in the circumstance that manufacture was depressed while agriculture was in a nourishing state. These coexistences were also observed by Cobden. And he pictured the progress of our chief industries as being in perpetual antagonism, so that when the one prospered, the other was depressed. But he never mentioned the state of the money market as tending to induce those excessive speculations, which Sir Eobert Peel adduced as the principal factor in the causation of the manufacturers' distress. So far as he was concerned, the latter had no faults; it is certain that he never alluded to them.

But if Cobden unwittingly destroyed the influence of speculation in the corn markets, without any doubt he increased it in the markets of the manufacturers. He might succeed in destroying the place in which selfinterest was exerted, and sometimes exerted wildly and disastrously. But he could not destroy the motive. The motive of self-interest was diverted into the manufacturing markets, and exercised there a predominant sway. Capital, which would have been directed towards cultivating the soil, was gradually diverted to the promotion of manufacture. Hence arose that gigantic consumption

1 Besides, its magnitude must be taken into consideration as well. Cobden tells us that tho agricultural labourers expended on home manufactures but a million and a half. The reader is to suppose that cheap bread was demanded only to convert this into two millions.

of labour which characterised the manufacturing pursuits of the country between 1850 and 1866. Was speculation destroyed in the markets of the merchant? There is no need to fear speculation which concerns the actual existence of goods. But was over-speculation prohibited ?1 We call the evidence recently delivered before the Eoyal Commission to inquire into the Depression of Trade. The present depression is due to an overstocking of the markets, caused by over-production. There has been, therefore, some error in adjusting the amount of supply to demand. How was this overstocking brought about? In this way. The artificial demand created by free trade has gradually disappeared. That demand now is, in greater part, supplied by the foreigner himself. He has been stimulated to do so by the rapacity of the British manufacturer. But this artificial demand was the outcome of free trade. It certainly does not exist now, else there would be no depression of trade. Depression has been caused by the gradual disappearance of an artificial foreign demand.2 But for the distress which existed during protection,—and let the reader remember how much and how severe any depression of our markets could be so long as our exports went on advancing—let him compare it with the present depression, in which our exports

1 Protection, Cobden averred, if it caused prosperity, caused a fictitious prosperity. We exported goods; but these goods woro not immediately paid for. Now free trade was to create a real prosperity. We were to buy our corn and other imports with the produce of our manufacture. Do we, as matter of fact?

2 And also by the former home demand for manufactured goods on the part of tho agricultural labourers, now very considerably reduced in numbers.

F

have been stationary practically for the last ten years, —Cobden blamed not only the landlords, who kept up a high price of bread, but also the farmers, who did not spend enough capital upon their farms, and therefore did not produce enough to satisfy the wants of the country. Is it difficult to be convinced, from what has been adduced, that he blamed entirely the wrong cause, and to perceive that the corn merchants were alone to blame, if blame was to be bestowed upon the authors of excessive prices? What would Cobden blame today as the cause of the present decline? What do the free-traders bring forward as a cause? It is over-production, they say. Then whose fault is it that such a phenomenon should appear? It must be the merchant's fault. For it is evident that agriculture cannot be blamed; nor yet the money market, since the circulation has been reduced to a metallic one. But why did he over-produce? Because his expectation led him to believe that he would still be able to find a market for his goods. Upon what was that expectation based? Upon the evidence which the assumed prosperous period of free trade in this country afforded him. Now, what is to blame for such a disappointment of expectation? Is there any other cause than an unequal free trade? But the free-traders retort, "Our trade under protection had the faculty of recovering from these paroxysmal depressions from which it suffered periodically. Now, when we introduced free trade, what we really did was to unfetter the industries of the country. Our legislation was framed to advance, not to retard. If, therefore, our industries recovered from depression under protection, what is there to prevent them from recovering equally under free trade?" The answer, we think, is simple. We could predict, during the period of protection, because we had certain experience to go upon. But in the case of free trade we had yet to learn from experience. Besides, there are very many different circumstances existing now to what obtained then. Is it logical to infer that because depression was remediable under protection, that it is also remediable under free trade? Does not such a conclusion assume the very point which is under discussion—the nature of the present depression? But there is no difference, it appears, between the method employed by Cobden and that held by his successors; a method which consists in the practice of analogous reasoning, when there is not the least foundation for the assumed analogy. If the free-trader asserts that the present depression is like those which happened under free trade, he is bound to show it. We assert that the various surrounding conditions in the two instances of depression compared are entirely different. How, then, can you infer from one to the other? But if the free-trader desires to be reminded of some of those differences to which we have alluded in surrounding conditions, then we will refer him to the continuous investments of capital in this country under protection. Capital was then applied for the purpose of the advancement of the labour interests of the people, because it was sure of reaping an adequate reward. But nowadays capital is driven away from the country, because there is less security for its occupation than abroad. In other words, the outlook of the progress of all our industries, without exception, is dark under free trade; there is no bright star shining ahead, whose appearance Sir Robert Peel so often predicted; while under protection past experience showed there was no cause for alarm, and, in spite of the depression, capitalists only awaited a favourable opportunity to embark again in their trades. What does our experience under free trade teach us? That our export trade has become stationary. Did it ever become stationary under protection, no matter how long and severe were the periods of depression? But no .comparison can be drawn between the period of depression under free trade and any one occurring during the course of protection. Protective distress may have been sharp, but it was never as prolonged as the period of free-trade depression. Besides, the revival of trade under protection was associated with its general advancement. Take the revival of trade in 1881; compare it with the greatest prosperity we experienced under free trade while it continued prosperous. And what will you discover as the result of that comparison? That, although our export trade, and our trade as a whole, was greater than in the few previous years, yet it did not reach the remarkable level of 1873. Now, what is there to be learnt from this? That even when we experience a revival, yet that the whole bulk of our trade is on the wane. It is pursuing that downward path which we have pictured in another place1 with fluctuations of minor degrees of prosperity, but the last of which, we make bold to predict, will never reach the level of the one that preceded it.

It is this anticipation, founded upon what we have

1 Free Trade : An Inquiry into the Nature of its Operation, p. 225. Published by Messrs Blackwood k Sons. Edinburgh: 1887.

« PreviousContinue »