Billeder på siden


which much labour' is employed, have been replaced by those of raw and partially-manufactured materials, in which 'little labour' is required. To Northern Europe we exported cotton manufactured goods to the value of 4,651,299. in 1820, and, in 1838, our exports of the same goods only amounted to 1,607,990l.; but while the value of cotton twist (a half-manufactured article) exported to the same quarter, in 1820, was 1,961,554l., it amounted to 5,378,455l. in 1838. The same kind of change has taken place in the other great branches of manufacture. It is stated that The quantity of cotton twist exported, if made into goods in this country, would give employment to nearly double the number of handloom and double the number of power-loom weavers at present engaged in making cotton goods for exportation.' But the necessity of the proposed revision was unequivocally demonstrated by the unsuccessful attempt in 1840 to increase the revenue by additional taxes. On the assessed taxes, which cannot be evaded, the increase was realised; but on articles of daily consumption scarcely any additional revenue was obtained. The energies of the country were already too much depressed, and they had lost that elasticity which had carried it through so many difficulties. To restore its resources to their former vigour is the object of the proposed change in the corn-laws."

It is evident that Mr. Platt is hostile to our existing system of corn-laws, as well as to that of restriction throughout the whole of our present commercial code; and no doubt he would support the Whig propositions, according to the principles inculcated by his historical sketch, which carries to our mind far more weight than declamation or the abuse of any party can ever do; and we shall now follow his dispassionate example in our statement of the alleged injuries and evils of a corn-law, as dwelt upon by the repealers; and next of the benefits and good which are said by the landowners to result from such a law in the circumstances of this country.

Without a question the most important and yet difficult British subject of political economy of the present day is that which concerns the supply of corn. Like other weighty matters, it happens that such a variety of interests are deeply involved in the subject, and by many treated as competing, that it has been surrounded with much irritating extraneous stuff, so as to divert the mind of the plain thinker from its merits, and to obscure its bearings. Still, there seems to be a possibility of placing it, in the course of a few paragraphs, in certain strong practical lights, whereby the mind may come to a tolerably good decision upon its merits, as a general question at least, whatever may be the sort of exception which this country presents in existing circumstances.

It cannot be denied that corn or bread made from some kind of grain is the cheapest species of food which man can rear; in other words, it is the prime article for the sustenance of the human race in almost

all countries. Any law, therefore, that directly tends to restrict its supply must raise its price and render it more scarce than it would be if trade in it were entirely unfettered. The greatest number of men have to labour for their bread, or are poor, so as to be forced to earn a livelihood by the sweat of their brows. If, then, such persons are denied a sufficient supply of the abundance which the earth yields, the direct injury must be great both to health and productive capability. Labourers in England are now, more than those of almost any other country, in need of having the grain of all other countries, at the price it can be imported for; because England is no longer dependent on agriculture and the home trade alone. The home market is not sufficiently extensive to give full activity to the productive powers and industry of the country; and the markets of the world are necessary to ensure our prosperity and the supply of those necessaries in the way of food and luxuries which the non-agricultural portion of the population require in return for the products of their extraordinary skill in other departments, and the mighty manufactures by means of machinery.

But the direct tendency of restriction in respect of bread, the repealers argue, does not show us the whole of the disastrous consequences of a corn-law. Wide and ramified are the workings of every regulation which limits the supply of the chief article of food; for it raises the price of every other necessary or comfort, be it in the shape of furniture, clothing, or anything else which can be made or sold. No man will lay out money for himself or family upon luxuries, nay, upon what in ordinary cases would be regarded as indispensable things, when it takes all he earns and is worth to procure the grand necessary of life. He will not eat butcher's meat, if he has not the means to buy bread; and then think how the farmer is thence indirectly affected; for he again will not rear cattle when there is not a sufficient market for what his fields would yield in the way of grazing and feeding. Every class is indeed affected by a restriction of bread. If the farmer cannot find a market for the most profitable objects of culture for which his land is fitted, his landlord must in time participate in the loss. The manufacturers, too, cannot produce goods for exportation at an encouraging profit, nor upon a scale equal to their ability, when those countries which grow corn far beyond their domestic consumption cannot get our people to take it in return. When merchants and manufacturers come thus to be hampered they must reduce their establishments, dismiss hands, and even economize in every relation of life.

We have already said that the agriculturists themselves and their landlords are affected perniciously by the operations of the cornlaws, although it remains to be considered whether the counterbalancing benefits do not neutralize the injuries. They must, for

instance, even when their returns for grain are raised, pay like all other classes, higher prices for everything else which are occasioned by the scarcity of the staple of life. Less of all other articles will be consumed by them. Minutely, but in a far-reaching manner, society is thus touched and reduced. General poverty makes advances; discontent and immorality increase; and more and more frightful does the picture become the further we trace its lines, the more closely we scan its shades.

But not only do poverty and discontent make advances in this country under a prohibitory system in respect of corn, and consequently of all other products, natural as well as artificial; but foreign states are kept poorer and are rendered more jealous of us by the restrictions. And then should a bad harvest occur, and we are obliged to import, gold has to be paid for what we require, or are capable of purchasing; bullion finds its way to foreign countries; the Bank of England is drained; numerous failures and a general depression of trade take place; and national bankruptcy is the terrible thing which many contemplate; while multitudes of the working classes live upon the brink of starvation for want of employment or adequate wages.

Such is but a very hasty index of the evils which naturally result from a restricted supply of bread. On the other hand, the advocates for a corn-law maintain that the benefits conferred upon that great national interest, the agricultural, completely counterbalance the evils we have indicated; or, at least, that we are not in a condition at present to declare that the policy which has so long been pursued can be safely changed.

There are those who take this high ground, that the principles which ought to regulate the trade in corn, no matter what the independent state to which that trade belongs, should be of a prohibitory and restrictive character against importation from foreign countries. They maintain that without such a law a nation can have no sure reliance upon a domestic market, no certainty of its permanence; and that, without a market supported and guarded by positive enactments, England, for example, might suddenly become dependent on other countries. Now, the answer to the first of these assertions as given by the repealers is, that the permanent prosperity said to be secured by a corn-law to the home market, can only mean that restriction benefits the agricultural interest solely, or rather the receivers of the rent of farms, at the expense of the rest of the community; and again, since the scarcer and dearer that corn is rendered by restrictive operations, the dearer does everything else become, at the same time that the people grow the poorer, and therefore the less able to purchase even the first necessary of life; and that this contradiction is involved in the argument or assertion referred to, viz., that the prosperity of

the home market is concurrent with increased general poverty, since all classes must be viewed as constituting the resorters to the home market. No one can dispense with food, and the cheapest species will be called for by the poor; and consequently it is maintained that the natural effects of a restrictive corn-law is to spoil the home market, seeing that it sends a multitude of impoverished consumers to make purchases; even the merchant as well as the manufacturer's opportunity for employing his capital and skill to advantage being hampered so as in a variety of ways to injure the home market, were it merely by preventing their operations in it, and the wealth they would bring to it. No country, the repealers say, had ever its industrial capacities stimulated, or adequately developed, without resorting to foreign trade; and when a commodity can be obtained at a cheaper rate from abroad than that at which it can be manufactured at home, the nation neglects its true interests if it continue to waste its energies in such a direction as would suppose an unprofitable competition. It is held to be impossible to render a country prosperous by cramping its industry. We have an immense non-agricultural population, owing to whose skill, aided by the wondrous power of machinery, we ought to be able to procure the comforts and luxuries which nature has bestowed on other countries but are denied to this, giving it instead unlimited mineral wealth, a fortunate geographical position, and a people whose admirable qualities never have been surpassed. Even, to use Mr. Platt's precise words, "if a portion of the population could, by any possibility, be annihilated and cut down to a proportion which would be fully employed in satisfying the domestic demand, the energies of the diminished portion would soon need a wider field for their unfettered exercise, and would require the removal of the artificial barriers which limited their powers, and diminished their prosperity."

The restrictive party sometimes argue that a corn-law tends to encourage domestic agriculture, and to increase home-grown grain. To this it is not only answered that inferior and waste lands, in an old country, where all the best, and even the moderately fertile soils, have long been brought under the plough, might be a very unprofitable labour, and instead of alleviating the distress of the population, hasten its poverty and degradation; but it is asserted that the removal of competition has never yet rendered men more industrious.

With regard to the independence which it is alleged this country must preserve in respect of foreign supplies, the anti-corn-law party answer, that, even as the enactments stand, we are not independent of foreign grown grain; and that sometimes we are largely indebted to imported supplies. Besides, according to the commercial principle founded upon human nature and that of things, the

advantages of trade between two independent nations are mutual, and as necessary to the one as to the other; so that the very relations begotten in this way afford a strong guarantee against the sudden outbreak of war in their case; whereas one of the bad effects, it is maintained, of restrictive laws, is to prevent foreign powers from becoming wealthy, and thereby to produce jealousies and the occasions for quarreling; that real and permanent independence can only be created and preserved by encouraging domestic enterprise and industry so as to have a preference in foreign markets that will abundantly serve those at home, and render the people really contented and powerful. In short, the free-trade doctrine is, that independence does not consist in being able to dispense with all which our neighbours possess and can dispose of, but of being in that condition that they have more need of what we can supply than we have of their aid; and that no other party can furnish them in a way so much to their mind. In such a case a foreign power would either love or dread us more than we could require to feel towards it in return.

Such are some of the answers that have been made to those who argue upon general and broad grounds that a corn-law is essential to the prosperity of our home markets, and the upholding of our national independence in relation to foreign states.

Other ideas of a practical character are often urged on the cornlaw question, which we have not room, neither think there is much occasion to notice; seeing that we have indicated what we believe to be the plainest and most direct bearings of the chief arguments on both sides. A great deal has been said of the very peculiar position of this country as compared with foreign states where taxation is so much lighter, that it is by many believed we cannot admit their corn duty free without destroying the agriculture and the prosperity of England. Others see special difficulties at the present moment, and are keenly afraid that any sudden and sweeping interference with the existing system would be dangerous or disastrous. As these points are likely to be contested in Parliament in a few days from the time we write, we shall not further remark upon them, than to observe, that if it be true that a restrictive cornlaw impoverishes a nation, and cannot fail but to cramp its energies and industry, there can be no good argument for continuing the system, in order either to provide a sufficient revenue, protect the landed interest (that is, one class of the community at the expense of all other classes), nor for dreading a national or more than a temporary discontent on account of modification.

« ForrigeFortsæt »