Page images
PDF
EPUB

sequence of its first application ;-and it is at this moment a question of infinite importance, whether the taxes are likely to yield the same, or any thing like the same revenue, with a currency of the legal value, that they have yielded, up to this time, with one so greatly depreciated. For our own part, we cannot help apprehending that prices must still come down much lower than they now are; in which case, we take it to be pretty obvious, that a great falling off in the Revenue will necessarily follow. It appears from tables of prices, of the best authority, that, from about the year 1636, when the discovery of the American mines had produced their full effect on the value of the precious metals, up to the year 1797, when the Bank Restriction tack place, little or no change had occurred in the value of the precious metals, or in the general prices of commodities. The price of the quarter of wheat, of 9 bushels, from 1636 to 1701, was 5ls. 1 d.; from 1700 to 1765, 40s. 6d. ; *~from 1764 to 1794, the quarter of 8 bushels. was 44s. 7d. + The following prices of other things, for the period from 1728 to 1798, are taken from the Appendix to the Lords' Bank Report., Those items have been selected which are the least affected by direct taxation. S. D.

S. D Flesh per cwt. was • 29 1 Bricklayers' wages per day 2 6 Butter per lib. • . 0 53 Masons' ditto . 2 8 Cheese per lib. - - 0 31 Plumbers' ditto . . 2 10

It is worthy to be remarked, that the price of the quartern loaf, previous to 1797, varied from 4d. to 6d.;--and very few instances had occurred of its having exceeded the latter sum.

Now, let us see what have been the prices, since 1797, of the same commodities. · For eight years, from 1797 to 1805, the quarter of wheat was 73s. 6d.; from 1804 to 1813, 88s. 11d. ; and the general average price of the whole period, from 1797 to 1819, has been 84s. 8d. I $. D.

S. DE Flesh per cwt., for this

Bricklayers' wages per period, has been - 66 1 day • • • 4 31 Butter per lib. .. - 1 0} Masons' ditto . 5 2

0 7 Plumbers' ditto - - 5 2 If the prices of a hundred, or a thousand other commodities, were taken, it would be found that they had all of them ad

* Wealth of Nations, I. 358.'
+ Report, Corn Committee, 1813,
$ Lords' Bank Report,

vanced in the same ratio; and the comparison gives this general result, that the prices of the last 22 years have exceeded those of the preceding 161 years by about 100 per cent.

From this state of things, the two following questions arise; first, What have been the causes of this great rise ? and, second, What grounds are there for supposing, that these new and high prices will revert to the old rates, which had continued, without any great interruption, for so many years previous to 1797 ?

To the first question it may be answered, That the rise of prices, since 1797, has been occasioned, 1st, by taxation; 2dly, by an increasing demand for commodities, arising from the increasing wages of labour, giving the people the means of paying larger sums for what they desired to have; 3dly, by a depreciation of the currency. To the second question it will be safe to reply, Thạt prices will fall, or remain high, in proportion as these three causes cease or continue to operate in time to come. Now, the effect of depreciation has in a great measure ceas. ed, and also the effect of the high wages of labour; there fore, taxation alone remains as a permanent cause to keep them high. If we could exactly ascertain in what proportion each of these three causes operated originally to produce the rise, we should have no great difficulty in determining, now, how far prices will still fall; but as we have no data for such an equation, we shall content ourselves with saying, that, in our apprehension, the restoration of a metallic currency will have a greater effect in producing such a fall than bas generally been imagined, or may seem proportionate to the estimated amount of the depreciation. To account for this, we must beg leave to remind our readers, that about the same time that this country had recourse to a paper money, it appears, from the evidence before the Bank Committees, that all Europe and North America did exactly the same thing; and that, in this way, a prodigious quantity of gold was thrown into the bullion market. It is generally supposed that 30 millions of gold was withdrawn from circulation in this country alone; and as this great supply occurred at the time when the demand for gold to be made into coin had nearly ceased, it must be presumed that a considerable fall in its real value must have been the consequence; in which case, our bank paper must not only have been of less value than in 1797, by the amount of its depreciation below the value of gold, but also by the diminution which had actually taken place in that of gold itself. But it also appears, from the evidence already referred to, that other countries are, at this very time, tracing back their steps, as well as ourselves, from a paper to a metallic currency; and therefore, it can scarcely fail to follow, that the demand for gold will be greatly increased, and that its value will rise, in all probability, up to its original level : the consequence of which must be, a still further depression of prices, and an increased difficulty in pay-, ing the numerical amount of our great permanent taxation.

Having thus cursorily examined the three great finance measures of the war, which served each, for its day, to persuade the public that the resources of the country were inexhaustible, we shall proceed to compare the actual state of those resources with their condition at the beginning of that war in 1793, And here we are exempted from any risk of error, by being enabled to refer throughout to the successive Reports of two Committees of the House of Commons, on the State of the Income and Expenditure. First, then, as to the public Income, it appears, from the Report of 1791, that the Permanent Taxes, at that time, produced 13,472,2861., and that the annual taxes produced 2,558,000l. ; making the whole of the income of 1790 16,030,2861. † And now it appears, from the Ist Report of the Committee of Finance of the last Session, that the total income of Great Britain, excluding Ireland, in 1818, was 48,982,9601.: So that the taxes are now greater than they were in 1791, by 32,952,674l., or something more than two-thirds. Secondly, in respect to the Public Expenditure, the comparison appears from the following statement, taken from the same Reports, to stand thus

1790. 1819. Interest and charges of the public )

debt, including the annual mil- L. 10,317,972 L. 44,940,834

lion for the sinking fund Unfunded debt

260,000 - 2,000,000 Civil list

898,000 - 1,190,692 Other charges on the consolidated

105,385 - 1,269,274 fund • Navy

2,000,000 - 6,436,781 Army, including Militia .

1,844,153 - 8,900,000 Ordnance

375,000 - 1,191,000 Miscellaneous services, including

168,668 - 1,851,301 appropriated duties

[blocks in formation]

+ Calculated upon the average produce of the last three years, and exclusive of any additional allowance for the Teas imported in 1789, or for the increase upon Tobacco.

From this statement it appears, that the annual charge for the Funded and Unfunded debt is greater now, than it was in 1790, by 36,362,8621.; and that the Peace establishment for the army, navy, ordnance, and miscellaneous services for 1819, exceeds that for 1790 by 13,991,2611. Thirdly, and lastly, as to the Public Debt, it will be found, by reference to official doeuments, that in the year 1792, the whole debt was 238,231,218l.; and that it amounted, excluding Ireland, to 700,000,000l, at the beginning of last year.

The following may be considered as an accurate exposition of the actual state of our income and expenditure at the commencement of 1819. The total income of the United Kingdom for this year, taking the produce of the taxes as in 1818, would be

For Great Britain - - - L.48,982,960
For Ireland

• - 4,588,977

L.53,571,937
The Lottery

240,000
Produce of Naval Stores sold - - 250,000

Total . L 54,061,937 + Which sum, set against the expenditure of 67,779,8821., makes the Deficiency of the income 13,725,9451. for the year 1819.

In this state of things, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the course of last Session, proposed the three following resolutions to the House of Commons. * 1. That the existing re• venue applicable to the supplies, cannot be estimated at more 6 than 7,000,0001., leaving the sum of 13,500,0001. to be rais

ed by loan, or other extraordinary resources. 2. That the sinko ing fund applicable to the reduction of the national debt, in the

present year, may be estimated at about 15,500,000l.; exceed. ing the above sum necessary to be raised for the service of the 6 year, by about 2,000,0001. only. 3. That to provide for the * exigencies of the public service, to make such progressive re• duction of the national debt, as may adequately support pub? lic credit, and to afford to the country a prospect of future re• lief from a part of its present burthens, it is absolutely neces

sary that there should be a clear surplus of the income of the « country, beyond the expenditure, of not less than 5,000,000l.: ' and that, with the view to the attainment of this most import• ant object, it is expedient now to increase the income of the

+ 1st Report, Committee of Finance, 1819.
* Debates, Vol. XL. p. 915...

6 country, by the imposition of taxes to the amount of three 6 millions per annum.' These resolutions were adopted by Parliament; and bills were passed, framed upon them: So that the grand result of all our finance plans is shortly this First, that instead of being relieved by the Peace from taxation, by the repeal of all war taxes, Customs war duties have been made permanent to the amount of 2,760,000l.; Excise war duties have been continued to 1821, to the amount of 3,500,0001.; and they also must be also made permanentto accomplish the object of these resolutions: while, in addition to these war taxes so continued, new taxes have been imposed, estimated to pay in to the Exchequer the net sum of 3,190,000l. Secondly, that instead of an efficient sinking fund of 22,195,9001., * to reduce the national debt, we have one, on paper, of 5,000,0001., but, according to the probable production of the revenue, one which will fali very far short of this sum.

Under all these circumstances, it becomes a question of infinite importance to determine, What can, or ought to be done, to restore our finances; for we take it for granted, that no man of sound understanding can suppose that they should remain where the finance plan of the last Session has placed them. Let us just glance calmly and dispassionately at a few of its items, First, there is our Peace Establishment, amounting to 18,000,000l. a year. Will any candid man say, that it is really impossible to reduce it to a much smaller sum? It is true, no doubt, that the question involves that of the whole policy of our Government: For if Catholic eñancipation were granted to Ireland, 20,671 men could not be necessary to assist the civil power, in tinies of acknowledged tranquillity; and if public opinion were at all consulted in Great Britain, and such concessions made to it as the state of the country obviously requiresy 29,895 men could not be necessary to induce us to obey the laws:-Nor, if the defence of our colonies were entrusted to our Navy, could 30,275 men be wanted for their garrisons. We are persuaded, therefore, that very great and material reductions might be made under this head, by the simple policy. of recurring to a government that will condescend to rule 'upons the old cheap system of the Constitution. In respect to our Navy, whether it is because this service is no longer in fashion, or that it is not applicable to the existing system of domestic government, there has been no difficulty in reducing the num

* The income of the sinking fúnd has been reduced 7,632,9691. by the operation of Mr Vansittart's plan of finance of 1813-Parl. Papers, 1819, No. 68. p. 10.-See 53 Geo. III. c:95.

« PreviousContinue »