« ForrigeFortsett »
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 com; 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 pernaanent 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 natural 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 economists come to the conclusion that it would now be expedient to throw away all the capital 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
to transfer their industry and resources to rival na: tions ! Even if their premises were true, their con. clusions would scarcely be admissible, since, for rea. sons given in a former part of this book, the fluctu, ations consequent upon their system would be greater and more frequent than those we have lately wito nessed. 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 es
ential an article as food, with infinitely less security than small commercial republics; and that it will be exposed to much greater fluctuations from political
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 ? 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 to 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 fur