صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني


the supply of labour in the market, and consequently raises wages, without clashing or interfering with any of the ordinary branches of industry.

It is with states as with individuals. A fortune of 10,0001. or 20,000l. expended in the course of a single year in magnificent fetes, and in maintaining coachmen, valets, liverymen, &c. would occasion a much greater demand for labour, and would conciliate infinitely more of the affection of the neighbourhood to its possessor, than would fall to the lot of the individual who had employed a fortune of equal amount in the construction of a machine fitted to yield a future annual revenue of 500l. or 1000l. But, what would be the relative situation of the parties at the expiration of the twelvemonth? The capital of the proprietor of the machine would be unim- , paired ;-he would have the same power as before to support himself in a state of comfortable independence-to give employment to the same number of labourers—and to contribute, as formerly, to the wants of the State; while the spendthrift would be reduced to the condition of a pauper, and the instruments of his dissipation left to seek elsewhere for the means of subsist

Les gens,' says one of the ablest of the French writers on Political Economy, 'qui ne sont pas habitués à voir les réalités au travers des apparences, sont quelquefois seduits l'attirail et le fracas d'un luxe brillant. Ils croient à la prosperité de l'instant où ils voient l'ostentation. Qu'ils ne s'y trompent: un pays qui decline offre toujours pendant quelque tems l'image de l'opulence. . Ainsi fait la maison d'un dissipateur qui se ruine. Mais cet éclat factice n'est pas durable ; et comme il tarit les sources de la reproduction, il est infailliblement suivi d'un état de gêne, de marasme politique, dont on ne se guérit que par dégrés, et par des moyens contraires à ceux qui ont amené le dépérissement.

· But, though this prodigious development of the powers and resources of industry, and though the depreciation of the currency, and the distracted state of the Continent, prevented taxation from exerting its full effect, and capital from escaping to other countries, still the insatiable rapacity of the Treasury proved more than a match for the united exertions of our merchants, capitalists, and artisans. Instead of the condition of the labouring classes being improved by the admirable inventions of Watt, Arkwright, and Wedgwood, the increase of taxation, and the destruction of capital, had, long previous to the termination of the war, changed it very much to the worse. We have already seen, that in the course


• Say, Traité d'Economie Politique, 3me Ed. p. 230.

of the twenty years from 1799 to 1813, the Poor's-rates had increased from two to eight millions; whereas, in the whole of the previous part of the century, they had only increased from one to two millions. This, of itself, is sufficient to show the effect of the privations arising out of the war, in depressing the condition of the lower classes. We may further mention, that according to the researches of Mr Young, to whom we are indebted for much valuable information respecting the rate of wages at different periods, the mean price of iabour in Europe, in 1767, 1768, and 1770, was very nearly Is. 3d. per diem: And he further states its mean price in 1810 and 1811, when wages were at the very highest, at about 2s. 5d., being a rise of nearly cent. per cent. on the former. But the price of wheat, according to the account kept at Eton College, during the first mentioned years, was 51s. a quarter; and during 1810 and 1811 its price was 110s., being a rise of 115 per cent.; and Mr Young estimates, that butcher's meat had in the same period risen 146, butter 140, and cheese 153 per cent.; being, on an average, a rise of 1984 per cent.; so that wages, as compared with these articles, had declined in the interval considerably more than onethird, or 38} per cent. ; and if the increased cost of tea, sugar, beer, leather, &c., besides the house-duty and window-tax, had been taken into account, the diminished power of the labourer over the necessaries and comforts of life, would have appeared still greater. How, then, can we be surprised at the excess of poverty and misery which has been experienced since the peace ? When all the factitious, exclusive, and unnatural advantages we enjoyed during the war, were not sufficient to enable us to bear up under the constantly increasing weight of our burdens, it was not to be expected that we should be able to sustain them when these advantages were at an end--when we had been deprived of many branches of commerce we had previously enjoyed, and been exposed to a dangerous competition in every other--when the rise in the value of the currency had really added from 25 to 30 per cent. to the already enormous weight of taxation--and when British capital was permitted to seek, in foreign investments, that beneficial employment it could no longer find at home.

We should, however, form but a very inadequate notion of the extent of the additional burdens imposed on the country during the late war, if we supposed them limited to those which have resulted from the direct increase of taxation. The Monopoly which the agriculturists have obtained of the home market, is, if possible, still more pernicious; for it is to this monopoly

tion. *

that the comparatively high price of Corn in this country is to be entirely ascribed. In ordinary years, the price of wheat at Dantzic scarcely ever exceeds 32s. the quarter; and its average price in France and the Netherlands is rather below 40s.; nor has there been any rise of price in France since the Revolu

It is clear, therefore, inasmuch as the expense of importing a quarter of wheat from France or Belgium does not exceed 3s. or 45., that, were it not for the restrictions on importation imposed in 1804 and 1815, we might, in ordinary years, obtain a sufficient supply of this most indispensable of all necessaries, at the average price of the period from 1770 to 1793, or at about 45s. the Winchester quarter. But, by prohibiting the consumption of foreign corn, unless when the home price exceeds 80s., we have been compelled, in order to supply the wants of our great manufacturing population, to have recourse to soils of very inferior fertility, requiring a comparatively great quantity of labour to yield the same amount of produce; and, in consequence, its price has been raised to nearly double its price previous to 1793, and to more than double its actual price in any other country,

The factitious direction which has thus been given to a very large proportion of the capital and skill of the country would, under any circumstances, have been highly injurious. But it is not of the forcing a vast stock into a comparatively disadvantageous employment, that we have to complain, so much as of the heavy burden which it has entailed on every class of the community, -with the exception of landlords. The total consumption of the different kinds of grain in the United Kingdom, inclusive of seed, has been estimated, apparently on good grounds, at about 40 millions of quarters. Taking it, however, at only 35 millions, it is evident, that every advance of a shilling per quarter in the price of corn, caused by the restrictions on importation, is really equivalent, in its effects on the consumers, to a direct tax of 1,750,0001. ! On many accounts, it would be extremely desirable to ascertain the precise extent of the burden which the Coru-Laws have in this manner entailed on the country. But without affecting minute accuracy, to which, on such a subject, it is impossible to attain, we believe we shall be considerably within the mark, if we estimate, with Dr Colquhoun, the price of the different kinds of grain annually consumed in Great Britain and Ireland at

* See article · Corn-Laws and Trade,' Supplement to Encyclopædia Britannica, and the authorities there quoted.

73,734,0001. ; * and we shall be equally within the mark if we suppose, that, in the event of the restrictions on the trade in corn being abolished, the same quantity of produce might be obtained for two-thirds of this price, or for 49,156,0001. This statement, we are convinced, is not liable to the charge of exaggeration; and it shows, that the restrictions on the importation of foreign grain are really equivalent to a tax on corn which should yield an annual revenue of 24,578,0001.-a tax, it will be remembered, which had no existence in 1793, and which is, of itself, nearly double the entire expenditure of the Government, including the interest of the public debt at that epoch!

We are not left to infer from general principles, however well established, what must be the effect of thus forcibly enhancing the price of the prime necessary of life, and the chief regulator of wages. The example of Holland--an example pregnant with instruction-ought to have warned us to abstain from so fatal an experiment. Notwithstanding the laudable economy of its Government, the public debt of tbat Republic became so enormous, that, in order to raise the sums required to pay the interest, heavy duties were imposed on the most indispensable necessaries; and, among others, on flour and meal when ground at the mill, and on bread when it came from the oven. In lieu of a part of these imposts, the country people of Holland paid an annual composition of so much a head, according to the sort of bread they consumed. Those who made use of wheaten bread, paid about 6s. 9 d., and those who lived on oats, rye, &c. paid proportionable sums. † The consequences were such as might have been anticipated. In a very valuable and authentic Memoir, · On the Means of Redressing and Amending the Trade of the Republic,' drawn up from information communicated by the best informed merchants, by order of William IV., Prince of Orange, and presented to the States-General in 1751, it is expressly stated, that oppressive taxes must be placed at the head of the various causes which have co-operated to the prejudice and discouragement of the commerce of Holland: And it may justly be said, that it can only be attributed to those taxes, that the trade of this country has been diverted out of its channel, and transferred to our neighbours, and must daily be still more and more alienated and shut out from us, unless the progress thereof be stopt by some quick and effectual remedy: Nor is it difficult to see, from these contemplations on the state of our trade, that the same can be effected by no other means than a diminution of all duties.'+

* Wheat 9,170,000 quarters, at 70s. 6. Barley 6,335,000

375. Oats 16,950,000

29s. Rye 685,000

43s. 10d. Beans & Peas 1,860,000

38s. 10d.


11,719,750 24,577,500 1,501,291 3,611,500


35,000,000 + Wealth of Nations, iii. 340.

It would be easy to add innumerable proofs to those given in the Memoir just quoted, to show that excessive taxation was the real cause of the decline of the commercial greatness of Holland. • Tel est l'effet,' says the well informed author of the Richesse de la Hollande, published in 1778, · du haut prix de la main d'œuvre que le système de l'impôt a produit. Les guerres ont forcé des emprunts, et les emprunts ont exigé des impôts pour en payer les intérêts, ou faire des remboursements. Mais étoit-il indispensable d'étendre les impôts sur les choses les plus necessaires à la vie, sur toutes les denrées de premiere nécessité ? L'augmentation dư prix de la main d'ouvre dévoit necessairement suivre de cet direction de l'impôt, et porter avec elle la destruction de la source même de l'impôt.' And, farther on, he observes, . L'augmentation successive des impôts, que les payments des intérêts, et les remboursements ont rendue indispensable, a détruit une grande partie de l'industrie, a diminué le commerce, a diminué ou fort altéré l'état florissant étoit autrefois la population, en resserrant chez le peuple les moyens de subsistence.' I It is to the same cause-to the rise of wages occasioned by the increase price of necessaries resulting from excessive taxation, that the fall in the rate of profit, and the transfer of Dutch capital to every country in Europe, is to be ascribed. The author of the Richesse de la Hollande states, that, in 1778, the capitalists of Holland had above 1500 millions of livres tournois invested in the public funds of France and England, for which, owing to the decline of industry, they were no longer able to obtain any advantageous employment at home.

But the system of taxation which was productive of these fatal effects in Poland, was, in reality, much less oppressive than that to which this country is now subjected. For example, a British workman might, if he were permitted to buy his food in the cheapest market, purchase a quarter of wheat for 45s., or at most 50s. ; but the prohibition against importation, by raising its price to 80s., has precisely the same effect, as if

+ See p. 27. of the English Translation, published in London, 1751.

Richesse de la Hollande, tome ii. pp.39 & 179.

« السابقةمتابعة »