agriculturist himself. He must of course adapt his supply to the demand. This is obviously the only cure. The abolition of rent, of tithes, of taxes, of every other out-going foreign to the expenses of cultivation, can have no possible effect, till this necessary condition is fulfilled. For if the supply be greater than the demand of any article that must necessarily be brought to market within a given time, the price must of course sink below the cost of production, whatever that cost may be. The farmer would not gain one-half penny by getting rid of all those out-goings; but the price of corn would maturally sink, in the first instance, till it reached that point in the scale of loss, at which the most distressed cultivator should find himself obliged to dispose of his produce. It would in fact, however, soon sink much lower; for the ruin of the owners of the rent, of the tithes, of the taxes, who are the public creditors, would successively take so many consumers out of the market, that the forementioned point in the scale of loss would be continually lowering, until the gradually contracting supply should be no more than barely sufficient to answer the gradually decreasing demand in the market. But it is difficult to say, how many retrograde steps in the progress of society the country must in the mean time have made. Now I think there are many circumstances which lead to the conclusion, that the growth of corn in the United Kingdom has been in excess above the demand for the last two years. In the first place, the quantity of foreign corn brought into it, in addition to an abundant domestic supply, before the Corn Bill of 1815 began to operate, must have decreased quoad hoc the demand for grain of English growth. In the next place, the demands of government for the army and navy, for the maintenance of prisoners of war, and the necessary waste of food in all the transfers of it incident to the operations of war, all of which have constituted very material items in the demand for many years past, and have therefore operated long enough to produce their effect on the agriculture of the kingdom, have on a sudden either partially or entirely ceased. And as the difficulties thrown in the way of the free circulation of corn by the continental system and our disputes with America obliged us to draw upon our domestic agriculture for the greater part of the abovementioned demands, the supply no longer wanted now preponderates as a dead weight on the unfavourable side of the balance in the market. Without entering into minute calculations of the quantities of corn thrown upon the market by the cessation of these demands, the fact that they have produced a surplus is capable of demonstration. For if the agriculture of the country was previously sufficient without material assistance to supply the wants of the domestic population as well as the foreign demands just alluded to, which is proved by the small amount of grain imported of late years, then it follows as an incontrovertible conclusion that, when the last quantity is added to the first in the home market, there must be upon the whole an excess of supply above the demand; and this excess being proved, I apprehend no man will hesitate in admitting that it can only be cured by reducing the supply to the demand. This necessary alteration of system is only one among many effects of the complete revolution in almost every course

of transactions, public and private, which has been induced by the sudden transition from an habitual state of war with almost all the world to a general state of free and liberal intercourse. If England be true to her principles, if she show as much vigour, wisdom, and perseverance, in meeting the first difficulties of peace, without departing from the principles upon which her permanent prosperity must always rest, as she exhibited during the protracted difficulties of war without departing from her principles of moral and political integrity, the transition will be made without danger, and in a short period she may sit quietly down to enjoy her reward. The elements of mischief, in the mean time, however, must be expected to work busily: doubtless, in many cases without any bad intent among those who may call them into action. General principles will probably be applied to particular circumstances, with as much eagerness and confidence on the corn question as we recollect them to have been urged on the bullion question. But the natural good sense of the country will meet them in the same manner, and the result of experience will in this case, as it did in that, tend to the confusion of the interested and ill-intentioned, and the conviction of the candid and sober-minded disputant. In the case immediately before us, of a market overstocked by excessive growth, it is easy to foresee how the cultivators themselves will apply the remedy. Finding grain a drug in the market, they will be induced to diminish the breadth of land sown, and to convert it to other purposes of cultivation, until the price of grain again rises in the market; and, as the present cheapness of food will probably give an impulse to the increase of population, a further demand will soon occur, which will restore the profitable cultivation of grain to the lands now diverted from it. This alternating process will certainly produce a fluctuation in the price of corn; and, generally speaking, it is certainly true that, after the agricultural state of society is passed, an independent supply of grain cannot be raised upon inferior soil, without some fluctuation of price in the market. It is the rise of prices which produces further cultivation, and the consequent production which again depresses the price till increasing population calls for a further produce. But these fluctuations will never be very great, in the natural course of things, in any free and industrious country possessing plenty of capital. A trifling rise in price is a sufficient indication to the capitalist where he can lay out his money to advantage; and in a rich and flourishing community the competition is usually rather among the possessors of capital for its profitable investment, than among the possessors of profitable employments for the use of capital. A small rise in the price of grain would always carry a corresponding portion of capital to the soil, and the quick returns will prevent that trifling rise from being aggravated into a high price. The fluctuations of price can never therefore be very great in the ordinary course of things, where the distribution of capital is left to its free course: and it would be plainly absurd to ascribe the great fluctuations of the present moment to any causes, which ought to influence the legislature in the adjustment of the permanent interests of agriculture as connected with those of the other classes of society. So great a

depreciation in the value of produce could never have occurred without the violent revulsion produced by the sudden stoppage of the demands created by a protracted war. To argue therefore upon the inconveniences arising from such an unnatural fluctuation as the ground for recurring to a system of supply permanently dependant upon other countries, a system, too, which would be occasionally" subject to fluctuations still greater, and to consequences infinitely more fatal, is as I have ventured to assert, plainly absurd. It was just the sort of argument used upon the bullion question, and its application rests on grounds very analogous. A sudden effect wrought by violent and temporary causes was presumed to have arisen from the regular and matural operation of general principles; and a remedy was recommended arising out of those principles, which would evidently have been ruinous, if its advocates were (as they now confess themselves to have been) to a considerable extent mistaken in the cause of the evil.

Just in the same manner we now find a crowd of writers ascribing the present unnatural fluctuations of price to the system of forcing an independent supply of food from inferior soil, as if they were the natural and unavoidable consequences of that system, and contrasting with it what they are pleased to call the steady and uniform prices of a supply dependant upon importation from foreign countries. It is really edifying to behold the coolness and courage with which these oeconomists come to the conclusion—that it would now be expedient to throw away all thecapital which has been expended upon our domestic soil of inferior staple, to ruin past recal the large class of general consumers who subsist upon its cultivation, and

« ForrigeFortsett »