Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

to transfer their industry and resources to rival nations ! Even if their premises were true, their conclusions would scarcely be admissible, since, for reasons given in a former part of this book, the fluctuations consequent upon their system would be greater and more frequent than those we have lately witnessed. But their premises being plainly false and exaggerated, inasmuch as the fluctuation is the consequence not of the present system, but of a violent interference with it, arising out of extraordinary causes;—it should seem that their argument fails in all its parts: and, if there be any truth in the propositions maintained in this and the preceding chapters, the application of their argument in practice would certainly lead to national ruin. I shall perhaps be asked by the advocates for steady and regular prices of corn, Are we then to give up all hopes of this great desideratum, attended as it is by uniformity in the price of other articles, by a steady rate of wages, an even tenour in the value of capital, and the general comfort which flows from these effects among all classes of the community ? I answer, that perfect uniformity in the price of raw produce appears to be a mere phantom of the imagination, after the agricultural state of society has been passed, and inferior soils begin to be cultivated. If the people depend upon a domestic growth, the variation of the seasons upon a supply sufficient on the average must sometimes produce cheapness as the consequence of an abundant harvest—at other times dearness as the consequence of a deficient crop. If they depend upon the growth of foreign countries, the variation of the seasons there, the uncertainties of commerce, the impediments of war, the prohibi

tions of hostile governments to export an article from its bulk not easily smuggled, will always introduce more or less of precariousness in the supply, and consequently of fluctuation in the price. And if the demand extend to a large portion of the people's food, the disorders introduced by these interruptions may be very fatal to the peace and good order of society. It should always be recollected in this argument, that a country possessing political power liable to excite general jealousy, ventures permanently to depend upon the foreign supply of so essential an article as food, with infinitely less security than small commercial republics; and that it will be exposed to much greater fluctuations from political CauSeS. Since then some fluctuations must be expected under either system, the question is—Under which system will they be the least, after a country begins to subsist upon the produce of its inferior soils 2 Now I apprehend that an independent supply from the native soil, and the encouragement of domestic cultivation, by fixing the price at which foreign corn may be imported at that point which is just necessary on the average to remunerate the grower of domestic produce for the clearing and cultivation of soils of the staple of those last broken up, will best effect the object in view. As society advances, this price must of course rise in proportion to the necessity for cultivating soils of still inferior quality te those last occupied. But we must recollect also that the advancement of society is necessarily accompanied by an abatement in the progress of population : so that before the period when none but the worst soils remain unoccupied, the demand for further production recurs at intervals successively more distant. We may too, I think, always be reminded, in reference to the effects upon commerce and manufactures, of the high price at which these last supplies from the worst soils can be procured, that the principal object of commerce and manufactures for export being to realize capital for investment at home, and to assist in carrying on a people in a healthy career of industry and cultivation; it follows that, in proportion as a country advances to a fulness of population and production, external commerce and the export of manufactures become comparatively of less importance to them. In proportion as England shall be peopled and cultivated towards the utmost point, its commercial intercourse with other countries may perhaps be profitably confined to the mere exchange of commodities for mutual comfort and convenience, without any view to the realization of fresh capital. The main springs of her wealth would then be found to be almost exclusively in her internal trade. But to return from this digression. I have stated that the protection of domestic agriculture, by an importation price just high enough to remunerate the cultivator of soils of the staple of those last broken up, seems to be the most effectual method of preventing great fluctuations in the price of produce under the ordinary course of things, in a commercial and manufacturing country; indeed of confining all fluctuation within the limits necessarily set by Providence in its regulation of the seasons. I think that this will appear to be true, when we £onsider that the price can scarcely ever rise materially higher; because it will be so very far above that which corn bears in the exporting countries, or any of the other countries with which they have dealings, that the instant the ports of the highly commercial country are open, corn must almost necessarily flow into them, as to the most profitable market to which it can be carried : of course this is predicated of ordinary times, and the chances of war and other similar impediments are excepted in the argument. Neither will the price ever sink very far below the importation price, except in very plentiful harvests at home, when the excess in quantity will remunerate the grower at the reduced price. For under the ordinary circumstances of the country, inferior lands will not be broken up without a demand for the produce raised upon them. And upon the first indication given by sinking prices, that such demand is supplied, the progress of breaking up such soils will of course be checked. In plain terms, men will not cultivate without such a price for the produce as will pay the cost of production ;-at which price foreign corn comes into competition and checks a further rise. By these means, therefore, all material fluctuation is prevented, and it is reduced to an alternation between such low and moderate prices, on the one hand, as result from plentiful and average crops; and on the other such a moderately increased price as a scanty crop, notwithstanding the depression caused by imported corn, may be supposed to cause. In this last case, indeed, the grower will not be entirely remunerated, but must take his share with the rest of his countrymen in the infliction of Providence. But, upon the whole, the progress of agriculture will be maintained; the system least liable to fatal interruptions will be pursued; and fluctuations in price as far prevented, as can be supposed possible during the advanced

stages of society in a production of so precarious a nature as the growth of corn.

« ForrigeFortsett »