صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

occasions the greater difficulty or expense of producing a particular commodity in one country than in another; our object is, or ought to be, to permit every member of our community to procure all commodities as easily as possible; if, from any cause, he can procure silks more easily from France, let him avail himself of that facility. But, in truth, the taxes are not the cause. If under equal taxes, we are the cheapest manufacturers of cotton, and not the cheapest weavers of silk, the cause of the difference must be found elsewhere than in the taxes, in those physical circumstances which we have already rejected as the grounds of protection.

It does not appear to us that there is any case in which general taxation can be taken into account, either in establishing or apportioning a protective duty. If, in reference to “

existing interests,” a protective duty is adopted, as an exception to the general rule, the question is, what, in point of fact, will be a protection; and in estimating this, the cost of production will doubtless be considered. That cost will be affected, probably, by wages and prices, which general taxation may have operated to enhance; but the point of inquiry, supposing the principle of " adequate protection” to be admitted, is, what the cost is, not how it came so.

We therefore reject taxation altogether, as a ground for exception to the general principle of non-interference.

We are aware that in thus dismissing taxation as a ground for restriction, we sin against popular opinion. Our financial system is artificial, how can we bear freedom in commerce ? To expect an Englishman, loaded with debt, to compete with a Frenchman, is to require, of a man in fetters, that he should dance with the freedom of a naked savage.”

We cannot answer in the same epigrammatical style; but if compelled to continue the metaphor, we would ask, how does the allegation, that we suffer under one burthen, justify the imposition of another ? Let it be shown that the one weight will counterbalance the other, well: we say it will only augment the weight, and render the burthen quite intolerable. Again, how is a man whose ancles are shackled, to be relieved by manacles upon his wrists?

We now return to the petitioners, who proceed with stating their general arguments against the restrictive system :

“ The artificial protection of one branch of industry, or source of protection against foreign competition, is set up as a ground of claim by other branches for similar protection; so that if the reasoning upon which these restrictive or prohibitory regulations are founded, were followed out consistently, it would not stop short of excluding us from all foreign commerce whatsoever.”

[ocr errors]

We entirely agree in this representation of the tendency of the reasoning against free trade; abstractedly, always, from existing interests. It would go certainly to justify the prohibition of all foreign articles, which can, at any cost, be produced in England, or for which substitutes, however inadequate or expensive, can be provided. We really do not think that there is any exaggeration here.

There is, it appears to us, an inconsistency in what follows; the petitioners, pursuing their argument ad absurdum, urge that " the same train of argument might be brought forward to justify the re-enactment of restrictions upon the interchange of productions among the kingdoms of the same union, or among the counties of the same kingdom.'

This is not correct as applied to the reasoning by which the protection of native productions is upholdeu as an original system of policy; it is more correct as applied to the protection of existing interests, because those interests may be, and every day are, as seriously affected by the rivalry of the residents in other provinces, as by foreign importation; but it would probably be admitted, by the opponents of free trade, that against such encroachments they ask for no protection; and the distinction is perfectly admissible in principle. It is not on the face of it absurd, though we may be able to show that no real difference exists.

Yet it would be difficult to avoid remarking here, that although it is only against foreign competition that protection is avowedly claimed, that claim is often urged when the successful rival is, in truth, a resident in another province of Great Britain.

The petitioners then notice “ the strong presumption that the distress which then (1820) so generally prevailed, was considerably aggravated by the restrictive system,

The very able man who presented the petition, has, on several recent occasions, ascribed to the petition an occasional character entirely unwarranted by its contents. Mr. Baring has reconciled his support of the petition with several recent instances of opposition to its principles, by asserting that it merely arose out of the circumstances of the times, and the numerous additional and vexatious restrictions imposed upon trade during the war, under the advice of Mr. George Rose. The support of Mr. Baring to the principles which we uphold is too important to permit our leaving his error unnoticed. The above is the only passage in which any reference is made to ephemeral or even to local circumstances. Every other paragraph is applicable to all times and countries. And it is certain that all, or nearly all, of the alterations made during the war, in our commercial system, were on the side of relaxation. They were founded perhaps less upon a principle of freedom than upon the necessity of the times, but they certainly do not justify Mr. Baring’s position. In the speech with which Mr. Baring introduced the petition, he treated with ridicule most of the doctrines of the old system, and stopped very little short of the general recommendation of the petitioners.

The topic to which the petitioners next advert leads to the consideration of a third ground of exception, occasional or adventitious. They refer to the effect of our restrictions upon the proceedings of Foreign States; they urge that foreign manufacturers have adduced our practice as an argument with their governments for the establishment of restrictions; and they contend that if our arguments are good in defence of our system, they are also good against us. " Foreigners,” they add, “ insist upon our superiority in capital and machinery, as we do upon their comparative exemption from taxation; and with equal foundation."

They urge that a more conciliating policy on our part would tend to counteract the commercial hostility of foreign states: but they argue that " although as a mere matter of diplomacy, it may sometimes answer to hold out the removal of prohibitions or high duties as depending upon corresponding concessions by other states in our favour, it does not follow that we should maintain our restrictions in cases where the desired concessions on their part cannot be obtained. Our restrictions would not be the less prejudicial to our own capital and industry, because other governments persisted in maintaining impolitic regulations.

When explaining elsewhere the difference between the systems of “ Reciprocity” and “ Free Trade," we have in some degree anticipated this argument.

If the rule be, that every person may purchase what he wants, of a countryman or of a foreigner, the soundness of that rule is not impugned by the refusal of that foreigner to purchase what he wants from natives of this country.

The petitioners make the fullest allowance for this consideration which it requires, when they admit that a restriction affecting a foreign nation, may be used as a weapon in diplomacy.

It certainly requires some nicety of observation and judgment, to determine how long it may be politic to abstain from beneficial measures, with a view of inducing foreigners to adopt others, which will also be beneficial. We are certain that those who have contended for the propriety of adjusting our measures by the conduct of foreigners, have neither argued, nor acted, reasonably or satisfactorily. “It would be all very well,” they say, " to adopt free trade, if other nations would do the same; but why admit their manufactures, while they reject yours?" We have already exposed the fallacy by which it is represented, that foreign goods are received for the benefit of the foreigner, not for our own benefit. But, we admit, that freedom of exportation would be an additional advantage to the country which allows free importation; and that there is nothing unreasonable in arguing that it may be politic to postpone the one benefit for the sake of obtaining the two. There are two ways in which our admission of foreign goods may operate upon a foreigner. It may operate by example, which is the mode on which Mr. Huskisson relied, and on which he justified his immediate adoption of the free principle: or, it may operate by stipulation; and this is the favourite with those, who, professing to approve of free trade, only desire that it should be mutual. Let us follow this out.

France is usually selected, as the country upon which we have conferred a great advantage in admitting her silks, and, recently, her wines; while she prohibits, or taxes highly, our hardware and other commodities, in which we excel. It would appear that these gentlemen would be quite satisfied if France would stipulate to admit our razors at a duty only corresponding to that which we impose_upon her silk stockings. Now, what is the principle here? The complaint is that the silk manufacturers of England are ruined, and English workmen thrown out of employ by the admission of French silks. Would this evil be remedied by the reception of our razors in France? This cannot be pretended; unless it be upon the true principle that extended intercourse is beneficial for all. To the silk-man his imperceptible share of the general benefit would be a poor compensation; and his reclamations would be as loud as ever. This then cannot be the principle of the arguers for reciprocity, if they are at the same time the upholders of the interests, vested in the existing manufactures. It may be said, in passing, that as to silk we have strict reciprocity, or more. English silks are admitted in France at a duty lower than that at which we receive those of France. Obviously, we use this fact only in the argument ad homines. We have admitted * that direct exportation is the more valuable. This consideration may add to the importance of “ Reciprocity,” but does not affect the position that, even without it, freedom is advantageous. Will it then be said, that these partial interests are to give way to the common good ? Here is again sound principle; but why is it to be applied to the particular advantage to be derived from the export of our razors, and not applied to the general advantage obtained, through cheapness of

See the note in page 77. Since Colonel Torrens made the speech to which that note referred, be bas contended still further for the necessity of reciprocity. We shall notice hereafter his argument of July 2.

a

foreign commodities, or even of silks and wines only-commodities interesting certainly to a much larger portion of the community than that which manufactures razors?

It would thus appear, that however beneficial to the common interest of the nation a stipulation for reciprocity of importation with France, or any other country, might be, it would not take from the freer importation of silks and other rival manufactures, any part, or certainly not the main part, of the objections which have been made to the measures actually adopted. Ruinous competition, capital annihilated, industry destroyed, workmen starving, all these sad consequences of “ Free Trade,” which have been depicted by Mr. Robinson of Worcester, and Mr. Sadler, would be equally prevalent, though Mr. Villiers and Dr. Bowring were to succeed, in effecting a reciprocal arrangement with France.

While a complete reciprocity, or rather, the adoption of a liberal system by all countries, would have been more extensively beneficial than its adoption by England only, it would not have exempted the ministers who adopted it from the clamors or complaints of native manufacturers.

The utmost that we can concede to those who dwell so much upon reciprocity, is this. It might perhaps have been as well to commence liberal measures by inviting all the powers of Europe and America to a general change of commercial policy. Yet to this course there would have been two objections. First, we could not have entered upon a complete or satisfactory discussion with foreign powers without bringing into question our corn-laws, which parliament had recently determined to maintain; and secondly, we must have incurred one of these dangers: we must either have made our change of policy dependant upon the conduct of foreigu powers, thus possibly depriving ourselves of a great good, because we could not obtain a greater; or, we must have adopted, absolutely, a policy which we had professed to make conditional. For unless we had begun by declaring that our intentions were provisional only, we could not have operated with any effect upon a foreigner.

A foreigner will hardly be induced to alter his own policy, by a promise on our part to do that, which he knows to be consistent with our policy, and likely to be done without any reference to him.

We have binted, in our former article, * at the embarrassment to which a system of commercial treaties might expose us.

If all foreign countries had adopted a perfectly free policy, and had granted entire freedom of import and export, without exception,

Vol. ix. p. 287.

« السابقةمتابعة »