Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

who receive the sums from him, in such objects. Rent, wages, wear and tear, tithe, taxes, and at least the interest of the farmer's capital, are in a considerable portion so expended. The sum, therefore, paid by the general consumer in the price of raw produce is circulated, till a large portion of it is conveyed to the merchant or manufacturer, in the price of his commodity: and the circulation of it, with its return to the farmer through the agency of the manufacturing labourers, promotes industry and comfort among all classes of society. But let us suppose the farm lying waste, and the outgoings from it consequently annihilated; the whole of this circulation is of course at an end. The existing labourers receive no wages, and can therefore spend none, but must be supported by a tax on the manufacturer so long as he is able to support them; the landlord receives no rent, consequently he can purchase no commodities. The clergyman receiving no tithe is in the same predicament. So are all those whose industry and employments were promoted by the expenses of the farmer. Now supposing the produce formerly raised on the farm to be imported at a cheaper rate, what compensation does the merchant or manufacturer obtain for the above-mentioned loss of his domestic market, and of property to the state? I will grant that he is enabled to export his manufacture at a somewhat cheaper rate; yet surely he can never expect permanently to do this to the extent of converting the labourers and farmers, previously employed as cultivators, into manufacturers; nor to that of compensating to himself the loss he has sustained by expelling them from the domestic market. To say nothing of the precarious nature

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

of foreign trade, especially of the market for exported manufactures, it cannot be too often repeated that, in a highly commercial state of society, a very large portion of the cultivators are employed on in. ferior land, and must therefore be ruined by a free competition with the cultivators of the purely agricultural countries. Their disappearance then from the manufacturer's market is at once a certain and enormous loss: and I am persuaded that nothing but the difficulty of procuring an accurate estimate of the comparative value of manufactures sold in the foreign and domestic markets respectively could ever lead the manufacturer to suppose, that this certain loss could be permanently compensated by his eventual success in the foreign market. If therefore the alternative were that he must lose one or the other, it is presumed that he ought not to hesitate. But is this, in fact, the alternative? Certainly the sacrifice of the cultivators of inferior lands is a great and certain loss to the commercial and manufacturing market at home. But does the high price of produce, necessary to the maintenance of that cultivation, as certainly deprive the merchant and manufacturer of their success in the foreign market? I will cite an authority better than my own upon this subject. (See Malthus' Grounds of an Opinion on the Policy of restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn, p. 31.)

“ It may be said, perhaps, that a fall in the price of our corn and labour affords the only chance to our manufacturers of retaining possession of the foreign markets; and that though the produce of the country may not be increased by the fall in the price of corn, such a fall is necessary to prevent á positive diminution of it. There is some weight

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

undoubtedly in this argument. But if we look at the probable effects of returning peace to Europe, it is impossible to suppose that, even with a considerable diminution in the price of labour, we should not lose some markets on the continent, for those manufactures in which we have no peculiar advantage; while we have every reason to believe that in others, where our colonies, our navigation, our long credits, our coals, and our mines, come in question, as well as our skill and capital, we shall retain our trade in spite of high wages. Under these circumstances, it seems peculiarly adviseable to maintain unimpaired, if possible, the home market, and not to lose the demand occasioned by so much of the rents of land, and of the profits and capital of farmers, as must necessarily be destroyed by the check to our home produce.

“ But in whatever way the country may be affected by the change, we must suppose that those who are immediately engaged in foreign trade will benefit by it. As they, however, form but a very small portion of the class of persons living on the profits, of stock in point of number, and not probably above a seventh or eighth in point of property, their interests cannot be allowed to weigh against the interests of so very large a majority.

“ With regard to this great majority, it is impossible that they should not feel very widely and severely the diminution of their nominal capital by. the fall of prices. We know the magic effect upon industry of a rise of prices. It has been noticed by Hume, and witnessed by every person who has attended to subjects of this kind. And the effects of a fall are proportionately depressing. Even the

foreign trade will not escape its influence, though here it may be counterbalanced by a real increase of demand. But, in the internal trade, not only will the full effect of this deadening weight be experienced, but there is reason to fear that it may be accompanied with an actual diminution of home demand. There may be the same or even a greater quantity of corn consumed in the country, but a smaller quantity of manufactures and colonial produce; and our foreign corn may be purchased in part by. commodities which were before consumed at home. In this case, the whole of the internal trade must severely suffer, and the wealth and enjoyments of the country be decidedly diminished. The quantity of a country's exports is a very uncertain criterion of its wealth. The quantity of produce permanently consumed at home is, perhaps, the most certain criterion of wealth to which we can refer.”

Many other writers have expressed their opinion that the effects of a high price of labour, on the export of manufactures, will be more than counteracted by the superior skill, capital, and industry, of which high wages are one necessary consequence. Those, who have done me the honour occasionally to look into the tracts which I have published, well know that I am no advocate for gratuitously establishing such an elevation in the price of labour as shall put the foreign commerce of a country unnecessarily even to the slightest risk. An important part of my argument on the Poor Laws (see Short Inquiry, &c.) rests upon the effects which they have in favour

ng foreign commerce, by preventing the inordinate rise of wages during a brisk demand for hands. But

when the question is, not whether a gratuitous sacrifice shall be made, but whether, in an alternative presenting unequal risks, that side shall not be embraced where the chance of injury is undoubtedly the least, it is certainly gratifying to find political economists of high character agreeing in opinion, that where the injury to be apprehended is undoubtedly the least, there it will, in all probability, turn out to be none at all: and that if the domestic capital, skill, labour, and enterprise of a nation are kept flourishing and entire, its commerce and the export of its manufactures will rest upon a principle of vigour more than sufficient to overcome the competition of any rival country, possessing an advantage only in the single article of low wages.

I think, then, that I am authorized in concluding that it is both consistent with the interests, and within the power of a free country far advanced into the commercial and manufacturing state of society, to preserve its agriculture in a flourishing condition, by securing to the cultivators an increasing price for raw produce in proportion to the expenses they must incur in bringing inferior land into cultivation. Such a price is evidently the natural effect of the progress of society and of population, and can only be prevented by permitting the policy and resources of countries, in other states of society, to flourish at the expense of the country in question, and to amalgamate themselves too closely with its interests; a permission always problematical in politics, and, in nine cases out of ten, decidedly injurious. A fair commercial intercourse between rival nations is a bond of union; but with them, as with individuals, too close an intimacy is apt to lead to dangerous

« ForrigeFortsett »