« ForrigeFortsæt »
Waits on the Elections for its Policy.
they did not expect that the Protectionist Waterloo would be crowned by a good duty on corn.
Our belief is, that the present Ministry, if it acted upon its opinions, would be essentially reactionary and retrograde; and that, in point of enlightenment, it is about on a par with the administration of Mr. Perceval. At the same time, as everything is adjourned until the next Parliament, and as the elections are to decide the policy of the Government, it is difficult to affirm anything of such shifty and flexible politicians. The question of Protection is ostensibly remitted for decision to the hustings; but, in reality, the country has already made up its mind on the subject. The elections may collect and enforce the decision, but the decision is already formed. The Navigation Laws are finally given up: the further reduction of the sugarduties on the 5th of July next is acquiesced in. On corn alone can a stand be made, and this is the subject on which the opinion of the great body of the people is most inexorable.* Of this fact, the Government are doubtless fully conscious, and as they have shown so laudable a desire to guard against dangerous accidents, and have exhibited so strong an instinct of selfpreservation, we acquit them of all serious intention of attempting a return to protective duties on the great articles of food.
* As Mr. Disraeli, in his speech to his constituents, quoted Mr. M'Culloch as an authority in favour of reimposing a duty on corn, we regret that he did not cite the following remarks of Mr. M'Culloch on the subject:
In 1846 the question was open, and we had to consider under what conditions and securities it was to be disposed of. But having been settled, though, as it would seem, without due precaution, to reopen it would be a very difficult and a very hazardous proceeding. Such an attempt would lead to the most violent contentions; the population of the towns would be arrayed against that of the country; the sufferings of the agriculturists would be denied, and they would be stigmatised as endeavouring to extort an unjust boon to themselves, at the cost and to the injury of the other classes. And supposing, of which there is no probability, that a duty of 6s. or 7s. a quarter were laid on foreign corn, could any one say that it would be permanent? that it would last for three, five, or seven years? The pernicious trade of agitation would be revived. Misrepresentations and falsehoods of all sorts would be more abundant than ever. And the sense of insecurity would be such that neither landlords nor farmers would make any outlay, or enter into any engagements, on the supposition that the new arrangement would be maintained. The country would be convulsed without any advantage accruing to any one; and the duty would be sure to be swept off on the first occurrence of anything approaching to a scarcity.' (A Treatise on Taxation and the Funding System, 2d ed. p. 200.)
If, indeed, they cntertained any such intention, how could they send candidates to the boroughs, who declare themselves supporters of Lord Derby's Government, but hostile to the reimposition of a duty on corn? If the intentions, as well as the opinions, of the Government, were really Protectionist, those supporters, when returned, would soon find themselves in active opposition.
The most remarkable result of the Repeal of the Corn Law has been, not the reduction of prices, but the large quantity of the importations. The prices of grain have, in certain years, been lower under the system of Protection than they are at the present time; but the quantity imported under the old Law never came near the present amounts. The quantities of all sorts of grain imported into the United Kingdom in the last three years, compared with the year 1845, are as follows:
Now those who talk about rendering the country independent of foreign supplies, and who wish to starve us during peace, in order that we may be well fed during war, must show that the admission of this vast quantity of foreign grain is substituted for home-grown grain, and, therefore, diminishes the native production. Notwithstanding the audacious assertions of the Solicitor-General at Harwich, no such proof can be furnished, and therefore this argument for Protection falls to the ground. The truth is, that Free Trade has done far more than Protection for increasing the produce of our soil. It is unquestionable, that at no period of equal length, has so much been effected for improving the cultivation of the land, and increasing its produce, as during the last five years. The agricultural produce of Great Britain is, beyond all doubt, greater now than at any previous time. So that if foreign supplies of corn were impeded or diminished by a war, our native supplies would have been not diminished, but positively increased, by Free Trade. Lord Derby has said, that he does not understand why a duty should not be imposed on corn, as well as on other sorts of food. As our tariff is at present constructed, we levy no duty on articles of food in the raw state (with the exception of fruit), which can be produced in the country.* The great duties on food are those on tropical and Asiatic products, as
*Fish of foreign taking, when imported from foreign places, in other than fishing vessels, are also subject to a small duty. Wheat, barley, oats, rye, peas, and beans, pay a duty of 1s. per quarter.
1852. Productiveness of a Duty of 5s. a Quarter on Wheat. 581
sugar, coffee, and tea; to which tobacco may be added. Now, if Lord Derby really sees no difference between a duty on corn and duties on other sorts of food- if his opinion is practical and not merely speculative—we recommend him to try the experiment of an excise tax on bread. Nothing would be easier than to arrange the details of an excise inspection of the bakers' trade. We venture to say that Mr. John Wood will, if required, prepare the outline of a plan in less than a week. A mere customs duty on corn is liable to the objection that as corn is not, like sugar or coffee, grown exclusively abroad, a large portion of the produce would escape the tax-gatherer. An excise duty on bread would satisfy every condition, and would render a customs duty superfluous. If Lord Derby should adopt our suggestion, and try the experiment, perhaps he will discover, practically, if not logically, that there is a distinction between a tax on corn and taxes on other sorts of food.
If, however, instead of resorting to an excise tax on bread — which however unpopular, would at least be equitable and ductive he should attempt to impose a small customs duty on grain, what would it yield? The average quantity of wheat annually imported into the United Kingdom in the last three years, is 5,015,668 quarters. If the present duty of 1s. were raised to 5s., the importation would be diminished, and the additional revenue could not be safely estimated at more than 800,000l. a year, on an average. Assuming a duty of 5s. on wheat, the duty on barley could not be higher than 2s. 6d., and that on oats than 2s., while Indian corn would not bear a duty higher than 1s.; so that little additional revenue could be obtained from these articles. A duty of 5s. on wheat, with duties on other sorts of grain in proportion, could not be relied on to add to the present receipts in the Exchequer much more than 1,000,000l. a year; and by this sum, after it has been purchased by a civil convulsion, it is thought that all the taxes pressing on the farmer are to be repealed.
Such is the compound of insincere promises and impracticable projects with which the Protectionist party have deluded and misled the farmer. Instead of telling him the plain truth, that the Corn Law settlement cannot be disturbed, they have inflated his mind with false hopes, and soured it with vain regrets; they have done all in their power to repress his natural energy, and to prevent him from fitting himself for the enlarged competition; and have kept him, like Rogero in The Rovers,'' sitting beside the bottomless pool of despondency, angling for impossibilities.' The agriculturists were assured by their friends that they were ruined by the foreign competition beyond redemption;
that neither industry, nor skill, nor enterprise, nor capital, could save them; that they were deliberately sacrificed by a factious Parliament to the manufacturing interest; that all their energies ought to be directed, not to draining or manuring, or breeding and feeding, not to adjustments with the landlord, and to improvements in the cultivation of the soil, but to demanding the reversal of Free Trade, in an attitude and with a voice which Parliament would not dare to resist. They were assured that Free Trade was a visionary chimera, the disastrous effects of which would inevitably be developed by experience.
But as soon as the so-called Conservatives,' who organised this unscrupulous agitation, and promulgated these deceptive opinions, have obtained power, they are seized with a sudden fit of silence; they show no disposition to carry their former counsels into effect, and trust to equivocal language and conduct for perpetuating the delusion which has hitherto been so profitable to themselves, but for which, if we are not greatly mistaken, a day of reckoning will arrive.
The farmers are, indeed, more clear-sighted than their leaders believe. They have not only discovered that a return to Protection is impossible, but they also know that, however slight the change of the law might be, it would be made a ground for an increase of rent where an abatement had taken place, and for a refusal of abatement where none had been made. The truth is, that a small duty would prove a cause of strife between landlord and tenant, without conferring any real and permanent benefit on either. Its influence upon prices could never be brought to any certain test; whatever arrangement in relation to it was made between landlord and tenant, would infallibly be a cause of dissatisfaction to both parties.
The entire doctrine of Free Trade is a corollary from the simple proposition that, in every exchange, each party is, or believes himself to be, a gainer; and that no trade will be continued which is not profitable to both the parties engaged in it. The doctrine of Free Trade assumes that a person ought to be allowed to buy his goods of a foreign as well as of a native dealer, without any impediment from the Government. The doctrine of Protection assumes that the Government is justified in restricting the liberty of buying, and in compelling its subjects to buy their goods of natives, when they would, if left to themselves, buy their goods of foreigners. We trust that the
Transfer of Taxation.
time is not far distant when such dictation on the part of a Government with respect to the persons with whom its subjects are to trade, will be considered as inexpedient and unjust, as a similar dictation with respect to the choice of their religious opinions. Whenever this principle of legislation, or rather of abstinence from legislation, is fully recognised, we shall return to the natural and obvious belief, sanctioned by the experience of all ages and nations, that cheapness and abundance are blessings, and that dearness and scarcity are evils; and consequently that it is the duty of every Government to adopt all means in its power for widening the field of supply, and thus for lowering the prices of all articles, without any exception or limit. This is the nearest approach to the Golden Age which the positive conditions of humanity permit. We cannot expect to see a time when the earth will produce every thing spontaneously, without labour; but we may see a time when every person may be allowed to obtain every thing at the lowest price, without the interference of the Government for the purpose of making it dear. Virgil, in his image of a restored golden age, supposes all foreign trade to cease, but at the same time describes each country as yielding every sort of product:
Cedet et ipse mari vector, nec nautica pinus
Mutabit merces; omnis feret omnia tellus.
We cannot anticipate such a change in the order of Nature; but we may supply the deficiencies of each soil and climate by permitting the freest intercourse with all the rest of the world, and may thus approximate practically to the imaginary perfection conceived by the poet.
If, however, the approaching elections should prove― as we are convinced they will prove that the country is not prepared to reverse the policy of 1846, and to re-enter upon a system of protection for corn, then the present Government may propose some transfer of taxation, general or local, from the agricultural classes to the rest of the community. Now, if it can be shown that there are taxes or rates which press with undue severity on the agriculturist, and that, on the whole, he bears an unfair weight of taxation, this is undoubtedly a proper subject for consideration; and it is likely to be discussed with greater calmness and advantage, if the claim for protection is previously abandoned or rejected. We have now no space for a full discussion of this question, which, we presume, will turn mainly upon the incidence and operation of the local rates, such as poor-rate, county-rate, highway-rate, &c.; but we will offer upon it two brief remarks. In the first place, it cannot be shown that there is any real