« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
as a necessary consequence, to a rise in that of labor, and a diminution of profits, in which the farmer, as a capitalist, participates. But this is rather an abstruse point; and as my wish is to consider this subject at present plainly and practically, I will not pursue it. The interest, too, of the landlord is contingent on the permanency of the high price; and if it be true that this system subjects the country to great fluctuation of price, the question assumes a very different shape, Whether I understand my own interest or not, I will not decide; but, as a landed proprietor, I hesitate not to affirm that it is not advanced by high prices, when with those high prices a principle of fluctuation is also introduced. High price gives me higher rent it is true, but then I have to pay dearer for nearly every article of my consumption; and I pay away with one hand a considerable portion of what I received with the other. This is an important consideration. The balance of advantage is, however, I own, on the side of the landlord; but then comes a period of agricultural distress, arising from a considerable fall of prices. What is the result? Why, great arrears, great abatements, considerable deterioration of property, and those embarrassments which arise from an anticipation of income to meet engagements already contracted. Perhaps there is nothing more injurious to an individual than the being led to calculate on a larger income than he actually receives; it almost invariably gives rise to great pecuniary embarrassment, and this is the consequence of prices high generally, though liable to great variations. The clergy are in some respects placed in a similari condition to the landlord; but with this es. sential difference, that they feel not, in any thing like the same degree, the consequences of the deterioration of land contingent on periods of agricultural distress. Buildings, gates, hedges, as we well know, suffer at such times from neglect, and these fall entirely on the landlord. . There is another point, too, in which the interest of these classes is like that of the rest of the community, seriously affected by the system pursued with respect to corn, and that is, its effect on the burden of taxation. I mean not the amount of revenue collected, but the pressure with which it falls on individuals : that pressure is clearly dependent on the wealth of the people, in other words, on the amount of capital a nation possesses. Ireland, with a population of six or seven millions, groans under a taxation of three or four millions ; Great Britain, with a population of at most fourteen millions, pays, without difficulty, fifty millions. Why is this? Because Ireland is miserably poor, and Great Britain very rich. Supposing it necessary to keep up the same amount of revenue, how can the pressure be lightened to the tax payer? Clearly in no other way than by augmenting the wealth of the
community, by increasing the national capital: in proportion as you do this, in the same proportion do you alleviate the burden of taxation, each branch of the revenue yields more; taxation, there. fore, may be reduced without any diminution of the national revenue. That this increase of means wherewith to meet taxation would be produced by a low price of grain rather than a high one, will be evident from the following considerations. A high price of grain benefits, as I have shown, the landlord and clergy alone; all other classes suffer from it, because it is from the pocket of the consumer that this increase of high price proceeds. Foreigners, of course, contribute not to it. Neither the Dutch nor the Spaniards will buy dear corn in England, when they can get cheap corn from the Baltic or America; and as it is abundantly clear that there must be a source from whence this high price proceeds, it is no less clear it must come out of the pockets of individuals residing in the country where it prevails. Now, if this were a mere transfer of wealth from the pockets of one class to that of the other, it is probable the revenue would not be affected by it. The manufacturer and artisan would contribute less to it, while the landlord and clergy would contribute so much more as to make up the difference; but the misfortune is, it is not a mere transfer, but a most bungling mode of taxation, by which, perhaps, not one-third of the sum taken from the contributors is paid into the hands of the receivers. A permanent rise in the price of wheat of 10s. per quarter, communicating as it would do a corresponding rise to all other articles of agricultural produce, is a tax on the community of little short of fifteen millions annually; and I believe I overstate the benefit to the landed interest, when I assume that it puts five millions into their pockets. The remainder is lost in the seed sown, the food given to animals, and the extra prices of labor.
This view of the subject is, I am aware, at direct variance with one of the popular arguments of the agriculturists. They insist on the necessity of high prices on account of high taxation. The national debt is constantly their theme, as a justification of the corn-laws, when the impolicy of the system is demonstrated; but surely they can hardly have considered the rationale of their own argument. All general taxation must be borne by the nation at large; no individual can escape from it; it mingles, in some form or other, with the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and almost the air we breathe, in its various direct and indirect shapes. Some of our imposts are, it is true, local and partial; but the remainder of our taxation--the great bulk of it-can never be fairly pleaded as a reason for protection to any one interest, because borne by all.
But there are other considerations to be taken into account; a
benefit, care strictions on darling porsease of the n ame for
Paul herein ite repeat, dan does moto other stency, de
monopoly in corn leads to monopolies in other articles; it is the plea always used in favor of restrictions on commerce, and it is commonly urged successfully. When the majority of the legislators are monopolists, they cannot but look with a favorable eye on the monopoly system ; every increase of that leads to an acces. sion of allies to their darling portion of it; indeed, they who maintain restrictions on one branch of commerce to be a national benefit, can hardly, with any semblance of consistency, deny that it is equally beneficial when applied to other objects. Crime begets crime; no less surely does monopoly create monopoly. Monopoly, I again repeat, derives its advantage solely from the nation wherein it exists :' to be of any value it must rob Peter to pay Paul, and both Peter and Paul reside in the same country. Here, again, it is not a simple transfer; the common effect of monopoly is to deaden exertion, not to stimulate to greater effort. Peter is robbed, not that Paul may be more rich, but more idle ; or that he may waste his strength in producing that which might be purchased much better and cheaper from some one else. Thus it is that all monopolies diminish national wealth; but they also produce a more permanent effect, by retarding the accumulation of capital, and it is in that accumulation that national wea.th consists. None produce this effect more than the monopoly in corn; it raises the price of labor, and diminishes profits from whence such accumu. lation proceeds. But neither is this all the evil; if profits are reduced at home by a high price of corn, in vain will you attempt to prevent capital seeking for itself a more beneficial employment else. where. The difficulty of transferring it from one part of the world to another is not great ; and private interest is too sharp-sighted to be long blind to its own advantage. This is a fearful consideration. The wealth, the power, the credit of the country, are all at issue in such a case ; and to no interest is this of such momentous import as to the agriculturist. Land has no wings, as riches have, wherewith to fly to other regions; it must remain and await whatever of weal or of woe betides the nation.
The possibility, too, of preserving high prices is clearly contingent on the possession of capital employing a large population : thence proceeds the demand, and without the demand we know well price cannot be raised. It were an act little short of insanity to run any risk on this subject. Neither is it a simple but a compound inducement we hold out to capitalists to seek employ
· The exceptions to this doctrine are few in number, consisting chiefly of products which, like certain wines, are in high request, and can be grown only in particular situations. I am not aware that any of the products of Great Britain come within this exception.
ment elsewhere ; in proportion as our price is raised by the exclusion of foreign corn, we diminish its cost to foreigners. Great Britain is in this, as in all other things relating to commerce, the grand regulator of the world; if her markets are open to foreign corn, its price is generally raised --if closed, it falls as generally; and that is, in a great measure, the secret of the very low prices abroad, at which the agricultural interest is so much alarmed. What is the result of this ? why, that foreign manufactures are established in competition with our own,—that ships are built by foreigners, and manned and victualled by foreigners, to the exclusion of those of British build. The ship-owners complain loudly of this ; they, as usual, cry out against theories, against innovation. They invoke the spirit of the old navigationlaws, and conceive that to the changes which have taken place in them their distress is to be attributed : changes positively forced on us, and without which we should have exposed our commercial marine to infinitely greater hazard, but they omit to remark, that, with such a system of corn-laws as ours, their interest must be one of the first to suffer. The trade of the ship-builder derives little or no benefit from machinery, which counteracts for a time the effect of cheap labor-all with them is manual labor and food. Let us take warning by the effect we have produced in this interest; deservedly one of the most cherished by Englishmen, because ministering to our most constitutional and most efficient act of power. Other interests will soon suffer equally,—with English capital and English skill, English machinery can soon be erected in the United States of America, or Germany, or Poland ; and then, when perhaps it is too late, we shall awake from our fit of obstinate blindness and torpor, but awake only to contemplate the peril of our situation, and the advantages we have so wantonly thrown away.
But the agriculturists assert that this fluctuation and anticipated high range of price is all imaginary-very good in theory, but disproved by practice ; and they quote the aggregate average of the last three years as a proof of this assertion. True it is, that such an average for the years 1823, 24, and 25, amounts to 59s. 7d.; and that no very great fluctuation of price appears to have taken place during that period ; nothing more at least than might be accounted for by natural causes. Did the case rest here, I admit it would be a strong one; but a little consideration will, I think, show how superficial is such a view, and how inadequate as a defence of the present law. In the first place, when we examine the period, thus, for the sake of argument brought forward, we shall find that a much greater degree of fluctuation has prevailed within it, than an average so struck would at first sight lead us to
imagine. The price of wheat in the quarter ending 15th February 1823, was 40s. 7d. : it gradually rose during that and the following year, until on the 15th May 1825 it had reached the point of 67s. 11d.; since that period it has been on the decline ; and the average of the last three or four months will range somewhere between 55s. and 57s.
But that which, in my opinion, completely defeats the argument I am combating, is, that it is not owing to the existence of the law, and a confidence in its continuance, that this state of things is to be attributed, but to the very reverse of these ; to its infraction, and to a growing conviction on the minds of all persons, whose opinion and operation in the market regulate prices, that the time was not distant when the law now in force would be repealed, or essentially altered. With respect to the infraction of the law, I need only appeal to the acts of the two last sessions of Parliament : as a proof of this, these acts were passed with a view of preventing the full effects of the law being felt; and admitted, as every one knows, the corn in bond at the time of the passing the act, as well as the grain the produce of Canada, into the English markets. One of the objects too of the last act, was to empower Ministers to admit a large quantity of foreign corn into home consumption, amounting to 500,000 quarters, if circumstances should occur to render this desirable. It is evident these are all decided infractions of the law; and it really is idle to talk of a law producing a given effect, when that effect may be traced much more to its infraction than to its observance. Neither were the quantities thus admitted into our markets inconsiderable. The wheat admitted in 1825, including that from Canada, amounted to 497 quarters, and the wheat flour to upwards of 100,000 cwt. This year it has amounted, including flour, to, I believe, nearly 300,000 quarters. There has consequently been admitted into the English markets in each of the years 1825 and 1826, an average of about 400,000 quarters : now this, as I shall show shortly, is not much below the average import of any given number of years when the trade was unshackled.
But there is a consideration of still more potency bearing on this part of the subject, and that is, the effect of opinion on the state of the market. It is obvious to any one who pays even a slight attention to matters of this nature, that the demand and supply which are said to regulate prices, are not to be taken with reference only to the consumption of the day, week, or month, in which they prevail, but naturally embrace a much larger period. One, and not unfrequently two or more years' consumption, enter into the calculations of those whose business it is to aid in the distribution of commodities by interposing between the producer