Billeder på siden

their sense of this, they have afforded decisive evidence by the violent clamour they have raised, or attempted to raise, on the subject in the manufacturing districts during the last few months. That it is a subject involved in much obscurity, and on which the ablest statesmen and political economists have long differed, is matter of universal notoriety. That it is a subject on which the great bulk, both of the Commons and Lords, are adverse to any change is proved both by the large majorities of each house who have thrown out any measure for any alteration since the Reform Act passed, and the general quiescence which has prevailed on the subject until the recent rise of prices rendered it an agitating subject to the working classes. If, then, a branch of our institutions, framed with so much care-fortified by such arguments-supported by such interests, is at once to give way, not before the accumulated weight of intellect developed among the intelligent by years of discussion, but before the fierce passion roused among the populace by months of privation, it will afford an argument against the recent change in the constitution more powerful than was ever broached during the heat of the contest by its worst enemies. How, in the words of the Duke of Wellington's famous question, is the Queen's Government to be carried on under the Reform Bill, if a branch of our laws, on which, till the pressure began, both houses of Parliament were, by large majorities, decidedly adverse to any change, is at once to give way before a fierce war-cry raised among the masses of the community? And what security have we that any part of our institutions will stand the shock of adverse fortune, if one of the most important of themthat with which the great interests of national subsistence and national independence are wound up, is swept away, not by the progressive accumulation of national thought in periods of calm consideration, but by the vehement outery or imaginary terrors occasioned by the first rainy season which occurred after the passing of the Reform Bill?

in the substantial objects of agitating the masses, and inspiring terror in the holders of property. They no longer support "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill." Maxima Charta has already run its course; six years have done for it what six hundred years had not done for the Charter of Runnymede. Discarding altogether the ladder on which they climbed up to power, rivalling the most furious Tories in the invectives which they pour out upon the Reform Bill; denouncing their condition, under the tyranny of the middle classes, as far worse than it was under the Boroughmongers, the Radicals now openly clamour for the objects which we all along maintained they alone had at heart during the Reform mania; they publicly admit that not participation in, but exclusive possession of, supreme power, is the object of their desire, and that unless they immediately get Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, Vote by Ballot, and the Repeal of the Corn Laws, all that they have hitherto obtained is a mere mockery and an aggravation of their sufferings. The people's charter is the best commentary on the objects and the effects of the Reform Bill.

The argument which is constantly maintained against the Corn Laws is shortly as follows.

Wheat, it is said, can be raised in Poland at from twenty-one to twentyfive shillings a quarter, and it may be laid down at any time at any harbour in Great Britain at from twenty-five to thirty shillings. If, then, the harbours were permanently opened we should obtain provisions at little more than half the price which we at present pay for them. The advantages of such a change would be incalculable; every poor man would find himself suddenly in possession of double his income. The large surplus which would remain at the disposal of all classes, after providing for their necessary wants, would immensely increase their general comfort, and proportionally augment the quantity of the luxuries and conveniences of life they would be enabled to purchase. The home market for our manufacturers would thus increase with the prosperity of all the industrious classes. The foreign vent for our manufacturing industry would be equally extended by the vast impulse which would be

The Radicals, however, will probably care very little for the discredit which such a precipitate convulsion would bring upon their favourite measure of Reform, provided they succeed

given to foreign agriculture by the increased demand for its productions in this country, and the increased wealth which our extensive purchases of their produce would diffuse through foreign states. The agricultural classes, or labourers, who might be thrown out of employment in the British islands, in the first instance, would speedily find a more profitable occupation for themselves and their families by engaging in the manufacturing establishments, to whom this auspicious change would communicate an unheard of degree of activity and extension. All classes will in the end be benefited who really deserve encouragement-few, even for a time, injured in the disposal of their industry. None, in the long run, will suffer but the selfish aristocrats who have hitherto saved themselves from insolvency by levying an enormous tax upon the other classes of the community.

If any considerable proportion even of the considerations thus urged in favour of a radical change of the Corn Laws were well founded, we should be the last to contend for the maintenance of the existing order of things. But it is just because we are convinced that none of these effects will take place, but the very reverse ensue; and that the interests of all classes will suffer, and of none more than the manufacturers themselves, while the national independence will be irrevocably destroyed, and the means of maintaining our maritime superiority and foreign exports finally extinguished, that we so strenuously contend against an innovation fraught with such disastrous consequences.

their farm produce on richer soils, under finer climates, or with cheaper labour. But would this effect be permanent? Would the price of grain, at the end of five or seven years, remain at the low standard to which it had been reduced by the sudden influx of foreign competition? Nothing can be clearer than that it would not. The depression of price would immediately throw a large portion of British arable land out of tillage; the higher or inferior soils would cease to be cultivated, because they could not be cultivated for a profit; and heath or broom would resume their dominion over a large part of the now cultivated tracts in England. This effect would be inevitable; for although, in the end, rent and wages might be forced down by necessity to the lower level induced through the change of prices, yet we know by experience that this would only be the case after a protracted course of suffering on the part of both the agricultural labourers and farmers, and after the destruction of a large part of the capital now employed in the cultivation of the soil. In the interim, as the prices the farmer received for his grain and other produce had generally fallen, while his rent and expense of culture had undergone little or no diminution, he would be unable to continue his expenditure on the less productive soils, and be compelled to concentrate his efforts upon those to which nature has been most bountiful.

What, then, would be gained by such a change but an alteration in the class and the nation by whom our subsistence was to be furnished? The home-growers would be depressed as much as the foreign growers would be encouraged in their operations. The market would not in the end overflow; it would only be competently supplied, and depend in part on foreign instead of domestic industry. If Poland and Russia produce more for the British manufacturers, Great Britain and Ireland would produce less. Farming, to the extent of perhaps three millions of quarters annually, would be destroyed in the British isles, and farming to a similar extent would be called into existence on the banks of the Vistula or the Dnieper. But there could not be any permanent increase of the supply over the demand. Foreign competition would do for British agriculture what British

Is it, then, really certain that an unrestricted importation of foreign grain would, in the long run, lower the money price of provisions to the British labourers? We apprehend it is extremely doubtful whether it would have this effect after the lapse of a certain number of years. Nay, we have little doubt that the result in the end would be that the price of subsistence would be raised to the British consumer. It may safely be conceded that, in the first instance, the abolition of the Corn Laws would occasion a considerable fall in the price of British grain, because it would bring into competition with the British farmer an extensive class of producers who raise

manufactures would do, and have often done, when so admitted, to foreign manufacturing industry, viz., produce a total destruction of a large part of the deluged branch of industry. We might, according to Mr Canning's hyperbole, by so doing call a new world into existence to correct the balance of the old ; but would we not, in the perilous attempt, submerge, as he has done, the one continent, in proportion as we elevated the other?

The fundamental error of the opponents of the Corn Laws on this point is, that they suppose two things to continue which can never co-exist in the same country, or even in the same district of country, viz., permanently reduced prices, and a permanently overflowing supply. Common sense as well as universal experience, demonstrate that no such result can permanently take place. It may ensue, and often does ensue for a time, but such a state of things never has been, and never can be, lasting. The manufacturing classes are well aware of this on their own side of the question. Give us, they invariably say, a free importation, and we will, by the superior greatness of our manufactures, extinguish the production of every competing state. The main ground of their numerous and at present wellfounded complaints against the British Government is, that they have neglected to stipulate for the advantage of importation at moderate duties with the other countries with whom we have concluded reciprocity treaties. Yet, strange to say, they do not see, or affect not to see, that a similar result must ensue from the unrestricted importation of foreign grain into the British harbours, and that the same necessity which would compel the one half of the iron-masters of France to blow out their furnaces, if the hardware goods of Birmingham and Carron were admitted duty-free into the French harbours, must compel the British farmer to consign a large part of his fields to the heath-fowl and the plover, if Polish grain is admitted dutyfree to the British harbours.

permanent reduction in the price of the necessaries of life to the working classes of Great Britain? Nothing seems clearer than that such an expectation would prove altogether illusory. The impetus given to foreign agriculture would immediately and considerably raise the price of foreign grain, while the same causes would in the same proportion lower that of British. Polish wheat would rise from twenty-five shillings a quarter to thirty-five or forty; British would fall from fifty-five to forty-five or forty. But would this effect continue when the produce of British agriculture, yielding to the effect of a competition which it could not withstand, was rapidly and progressively diminishing? It clearly would not. The foreign grower would gradually beat down the British, and get the monopoly of the British market into his own hands. The moment this auspicious state of things arrived, the competition being practically at an end, prices would gradually rise again; the foreign grower, finding himself relieved from the competition with the British one, would at once raise his prices. The banks of the Elbe and the Vistula would wave with abundant and luxuriant harvests, while those of the Thames, the Mersey, and the Clyde, would in great part be restored to the wilderness of nature; but it is by no means clear that the operative of Manchester or Glasgow would eat his bread cheaper, because he had practically come to depend upon the wheat growers of Poland instead of those of his own country.

Instances of the practical working of this principle are of every day's occurrence in the neighbourhood of every great town. If some essential article of consumption, such as coal, is raised in its immediate vicinity, as is the case in Birmingham, Newcastle, or Glasgow, and by the opening of a railway or canal, the same article is suddenly thrown into it in vast quantities from a more remote mineral district, where the cost of production is not a third of what it is in the crowded avenues to the city, the ultimate effect is, not that both parties continue their operations, and the citizens obtain the undiminished benefit of their continued competition, but that, after a short and severe struggle, one or other is driven out of the field. The party who can 2 T

Holding it, then, as clear that the necessary effect of the repeal of the Corn Laws would be a great increase of foreign, and a great diminution of British agriculture, the question is, would such a state of things afford any guarantee for a considerable or



produce the article cheapest in the end prevails, and the moment that he finds himself relieved from the pressure of his antagonist, he immediately raises the price upon the now defenceless consumer. Numerous have been the instances in which similar distant competition has been introduced by the steam communication of late years, in the supply of great cities with the staple articles of their consumption, and a great reduction of price has often, in the first instance, been the consequence; but no permanent alteration in the price of these articles has taken place. Eggs, poultry, and vegetables are brought profusion to the Glasgow market, by the steam-boats from Ireland and the Highlands; but these articles are just as dear in the Glasgow market now as they were before steam-power was applied to the purposes of navigation. The small farmers of Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire have been as much depressed by the change as those of Ireland and Argyleshire have been benefited. And it has been proved, in one memorable instance, running through a course of centuries, that a great people derive no permanent benefit in the form of a reduction of the prices of the necessaries of life, by a free importation of grain from distant states. By the extension of their power over all the nations adjoining the Mediterranean, as well as by the incessant clamours of the Roman populace for cheap bread, the Roman Government was early obliged to admit a free importation of grain from Sicily, Lybia, and Egypt, the great granaries of mankind in ancient times. And what was the result? Exactly what we contend would ensue from the application of a similar principle to the British islands. The Italian cultivation was destroyed as much as the African or Egyptian was increased; the price of grain underwent no diminution to the Roman populace, but was fully higher, on an average, than it has been in England for the last ten years, while the small arable farms of Italy, the nursery of the legions, were absorbed in great sweeps of pasture; the race of independent cultivators was destroyed; the strength of the vitals of the state was consumed; and at length the independence of the central provinces of the empire was destroyed, and the Mistress of the World,

as Gibbon has remarked, came to depend for her subsistence upon the floods of the Nile.

But suppose this effect not to take place: suppose that, in consequence of the unrestricted admission of foreign grain, the price of subsistence is permanently lowered to the British consumer, we deny that any benefit whatever would in the end accrue to the working classes of Great Britain. If, indeed, they could succeed in maintaining their money-wages at their present level, they would be very great gainers indeed by the change; although the withering effect of the destruction of the agricultural classes would, in the end, come to react on this temporary prosperity of the manufacturing classes. But could the manufacturing operatives, or any class of labourers, keep their money-wages up at their present level, if a perma nent reduction in the price of the necessaries of life had taken place? Nothing is clearer than that they could not. The money-rate of wages, wholly independent of the price of provisions from year to year, is entirely regulated by it, other things being equal, from ten years to ten years. If by the free importation of foreign grain the money price of it is reduced one-half, the ultimate result will be, that wages will fall one-half also. It is impossible it can be otherways; for even if the reduction did not ensue from any other cause, it would inevitably be brought about by the great impulse given to population, and consequent multiplication of labourers, under the influence of undiminished money-wages and augmented ease of circumstances, and an increased durable fall in the price of the necessaries of life.

Past history and present experience alike concur in demonstrating this important fact. In the time of the Norman Conquest the price of wheat was from three shillings and sixpence to five shillings a quarter: but nevertheless the labourers had not half the command of the necessaries and conveniences of life they have now, for the money-wages of labour were a halfpenny a-day during the remainder of the year, and a penny in harvest. Provisions are incomparably cheaper in Poland and in Russia than in this country; but are the Polish or Russian peasants half as comfortably fed,

lodged, or clothed, as the corresponding classes in this country? Every one knows that, so far from being so, or obtaining any benefit whatever from the cheap price of provisions in their own country, they are, in truth, the most miserable labourers in Europe, and feed upon miserable ryebread, in the midst of the splendid wheat crops which they raise for the more opulent consumers in this country. In the southern provinces of Russia, wheat is often only ten shillings a quarter, from the total want of any market. But what is the consequence? Why, that wages are so low that the Cossack horseman gets only eight shillings and sixpence a year of pay from Government. Wheat and provisions of all sorts are much cheaper in Ireland than in Great Britain; but, nevertheless, the Irish labourers do not enjoy one-half of the comforts or necessaries of life which fall to the lot of their brethren on this side of the Channel. Provisions of all sorts are extravagantly dear in all parts of America, Canada, and Australia; but, high as they are, the wages of labour, from the rapid growth of these colonies, are still higher, and the condition of the labouring classes is beyond all precedent prosperous and comfortable. The mere necessaries of life are sold almost for nothing in Hindostan and China, but, so far from obtaining any benefit from that low rate of prices, the labouring classes are so poor as to taste hardly any thing but rice and water; and wages are so low, seldom exceeding twopence a-day, that every sea-boy, foot-soldier, and horseman, has two, and every native three attendants to wait upon his person. Examples of this sort prove how extremely ill-founded is the common opinion, that permanent low prices must necessarily produce comfort to the working classes, and tend to show that Mr Smith was much nearer the mark when he said, " High prices and plenty are prosperity, low prices and want are misery."

which will be more readily conceded by the well-informed, and more obstinately resisted by the ordinary mass of observers. And the difficulty of acquiring just views on this subject is much increased by the fact, that, though the money-wages of labour in the long run necessarily sink with the fall in the price of provisions, and, consequently, the well-being of the population in the end has no connexion with the money price of provisions,-yet the density of the popula tion, and the capacity of the state to maintain in comfort an increase of inhabitants, are in a great degree dependent upon the fertility of the soil, and the money-price at which provisions can be obtained for the people. Other things being equal, unquestionably the plain of Lombardy, or the provinces of Brabant, will be more populous than the sands of Bourdeaux, or the heaths of Old Castile. But, without disputing that the capacity of the soil to yield an increase of subsistence is the most important element in considering the means of future increase which are afforded to the people, there is nothing more certain than that such capability is no test whatever either of their present or future prosperity. No further proof of this is necessary than is afforded by the Irish Catholics swarming in rags and poverty in one of the richest and most abundant soils in Europe, while the Scotch peasantry are living in comparative affluence and comfort on the churlish soil, and under the clouded skies, of Caledonia.

So much habituated are ordinary observers, however, to consider low prices as the invariable concomitant of prosperity, and so true is it that for a season, or even a course of seasons, which are particularly fine, the working classes obtain the full benefit of the reduction of prices, that there is no one proposition in political economy

As little is there any foundation for the opinion which commonly passes as an axiom incapable of dispute with the opponents of the Corn Laws, that a free trade in grain with the Continent would immensely extend the market that would be opened for our manufactures in the states benefited by our purchases of grain. For, in the first place, what security have we that these great grain countries, particularly Russia, Poland, and Prussia, which are at this moment entirely subject to the influence of the Czar, will ever make any concessions in return for the favour of their produce? All past experience demonstrates that they will gladly accept any relaxation on our part in favour of their agriculture, but as strenuously resist any relaxation on their part in favour of our

« ForrigeFortsæt »