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foreign wheat, after the wants of each people had been satisfied, would be considerably reduced, if any remained. In such a case, how could the price of bread at home be prevented from reaching a famine price? It thus appears that, if we draw Cobden's data to their logical conclusions, he is not accurate in this part of the treatment of the subject. And it might seem to many that by picturing famine prices before the eyes of an angry crowd, he endeavoured, by means of the support they falsely acquired, to obtain another object which should redound to their benefit.1 Such an argument reflects upon the soundness of Cobden's method; but it does not affect the honesty of his ultimate motive. It is quite possible that, inasmuch as he believed the landlords to derive their rents in an unfair way,2 he used means just as unfair to prevent such rents from being any further raised.
The final result of this measure of free trade in corn is, in the year 1888, this: We derive two-thirds of the whole supply of our wheat from external sources. The gradually increasing imports control prices in the home markets. The disadvantage to the home producer is obvious. He has to compete with a rival whose surroundings are incomparably superior to his own.
1 This seems to be the characteristic of Cobden's procedure, to direct all his energy towards the attainment of the end-object (from which so much good was to flow), while he ignored the rectitude of the means by which he sought to obtain it. It was as if he had promised himself " free trade, and let us get it anyhow."
2 To make use of unfair means in procuring any object is to be morally delinquent. Such unfair means are bound to give rise to all kinds of collateral consequences, and these consequences may be the source of the exaggeration of political immorality, and do certainly continue that immorality.
The cultivation of wheat, therefore, labours under great disabilities. Attempts have been made to remove them or to reduce their intensity. But all have failed. And the growing of wheat ceases to be a remunerative occupation to the farmer.
Now it is this excessive importation of wheat which swells our imports to that volume which they nowadays present. Let us compare this adverse result with what was originally intended should take place, in the opinion of Sir Eobert Peel, Eichard Cobden, and John Bright. Sir Eobert Peel stated his policy to be such as shall ensure the great bulk of our supply being derived from our own soil. Eichard Cobden asserted we should grow one-fourth more of wheat — i.e., 20,000,000 quarters. John Bright said that our agriculture must continue prosperous, for no nation could be prosperous without a flourishing agriculture.
But in spite of Cobden's ridicule, valleys of corn, very unexpectedly, have appeared in the Western Hemisphere, capable of supplying our advancing population. This is said to increase at the rate of 374,000 yearly. And to meet the wants of this increment, there has to be added to our corn*account with foreign nations the annual sum of two millions sterling. As long as we are able to pay for this foreign supply of food, so long shall we be in a position to supply our wants, and perhaps our increasing wants. But when we compare year by year our exports and imports since 1875, we shall find that, while our exports have remained more or less stationary, our imports have gradually increased. And the interesting question arises, How do we pay for this surplus of imports over exports?
Before we proceed to a solution of this problem, let us observe some of the changes which our free-trade policy has effected in our national affairs.
It cannot be doubted that the more we import of foreign commodities, the greater the depression1 in the corresponding markets at home. But the depression in these markets is capable of being compensated by an increase in the activity of other markets. This, indeed, is nothing less than the expression of the free-trade doctrine, that labour and capital tend from less to more remunerative channels. If the foreigner gains one or more of our markets, we also obtain an ascendancy in one or more of his markets, if free trade were conducted as it was originally intended it should be, else what means the "swamping of foreign manufacturing industries," alluded to by Sir Bobert Peel and Bichard Cobden?
§ 29. Free trade does not tend to carry off surplus supplies in the best and cheapest fashion, as Cobden foretold. It allows whole markets to become acquired by our rivals. —On this hypothesis free trade means an exchange of markets, not a mere exchange of surplus commodities.2
1 The free-trade doctrine asserts that prices of foreign markets regulate the price of the home markets. In our own case we are aware of it. But suppose the British trader goes to the United States or to Germany, will he find the markets of those countries controlled by London prices? No. Then upon whose side is the advantage?
2 Cobden stated that free trade was the best means of carrying off surplus supplies. Each nation supplied itself so far as it could, and derived from others the equivalent of its surplus supplies. This was a wrong view, however. Take our corn supplies. Cobden said: '' Let the foreigner learn what our deficiencies are, and he will supply them at the cheapest rate." But free trade, instead of acquiring for us a "complement," has deprived us of our market.
Nations would become, if they were dependent the one upon another for necessaries, less inclined for warfare, and more prone to pursue the arts of peace. All commercial jealousies would then be removed at one stroke,, and the foundations of war sapped thereby. But it occurred to the foreigner to calculate what he would lose and what he would gain after such a hypothetical exchange of markets. What were his natural productions? Was he on the same advantageous footing with these resources nature had blest him with, as other nations were with theirs, and especially with England with her superior manufactures? Would the balance of trade be against him; not, perhaps, when his commerce with all his neighbours was considered, but when his trade with England alone was taken into the account? It was certain it would be. If, therefore, he became a free-trader, one result was sure to happen. England would gain at his expense; and if free trade became universal, the few countries with extensive natural resources would become the greatest gainers by the transaction. They would become richer, and therefore, from the political standpoint, the balance of power would become seriously affected.
But in the review which Cobden made of the blessings of mutual free trade, and in the dream which he dreamt of universal peace on earth, no place is given to those nations which did not possess any natural productions sufficiently advanced enough to compete with elder rivals in the markets of the world. What was to befall them? They are inland, and so could not enter into competition with seaport provinces in the cultivation of wheat, by reason of the fact that "cost of transit" would be greater. If they were able to buy manufactured goods, England would forthwith supply their markets with the cheapest articles. There would be nothing left to all those who did not find employment in the natural resources of their country (and being of secondary importance, they would not suffice to employ all the available labour) but to emigrate to other countries where they might possibly be fortunate enough to procure employment. But as an antecedent to their success, there must be demand for their labour. But what does the progress of manufacture tell us? We learn that with increased production the amount of labour bestowed upon it is reduced. Thus the demand for labour diminishes. But even go the length of supposing that all the labour that can be got is consumed in a special industry, what will happen when improvements are introduced to lessen the cost of production? The demand for labour will decrease. Thus does it seem unlikely that the normal phenomena of manufacturing progress would be affected by a policy of free trade. The course of manufacture has its own inherent blessings and defects, which neither protection nor free trade can alter. No alteration of policy1 can influence the certain displacement of labour when improvements facilitate the production of goods.
No one can decide, though there may be a multi
1 With reference to this point, the reader will be reminded that, after 1850, the emigration from this country was very considerably increased. What was the cause of it? Though our manufactures were being extended, still employment could not be found for all. There is, too, another factor in the consideration of this problem. Free trade ought to have materially decreased the number of paupers. But the fact is, that pauperism tends to increase.