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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12

Does our liquor expenditure pay? A lecture delivered in the Athenaeum Hall, Balclutha, on 23rd May, 1877

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Does Our Liquor Expenditure Pay?

A Lecture Delivered in the Athenæum Hall, Balclutha, on 23rd May, 1877,

by Mr. John W. Jago,

Reprinted from the "Clutha Leader."

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Does our Liquor Expenditure Pay?

After a few introductory remarks the lecturer said that before proceeding to discuss the question which had been announced as the subject of the evening's lecture,. he wished to make one observation, the reason of which would appear afterwards. It was this: mere trading added nothing to the wealth of a people. In trading, commodities were exchanged, but not increased either in quantity or intrinsic value. Take an illustration:—A. had a sum of money, B. a watch, C. a suit of clothes. These three traded with each other. A. exchanged his money for B.'s watch; B. again went to C. and bought the suit of clothes, giving for them the money got from A. for the watch. Here there had been two trading transactions,. the money and goods had changed hands, but obviously the united wealth of the three individuals remained just as it was before any trading had taken place. This wealth was still represented by A.'s money, B.'s watch, and C.'s clothes. Trading was only indirectly profitable to a community. One individual engaged in trade could supply the requirements, gather together and re-distribute the necessities of a considerable number. It therefore paid the community better to allow one or more of their number to seek out and bring to them the varied articles they required, and for which they could exchange the produce of their industry, than for each individual to go hither and thither seeking these things for himself. They would now turn to a consideration of the question—"Does our Liquor Expenditure Pay?" The importance of this question, especially to men whose capital consisted only in health of body and vigour of mind, was very great. In discussing such a proposition as that before them, they naturally asked in the first place, what did their liquor cost? How much did they pay for their drink? The answer was found in the authoritative bluebooks: an approximate estimate of the profits of the liquor trade and the quantity and value of colonial beer. The estimate was made for the year 1874, but matters had not materially changed since then, and for all the purposes of a popular exposition, might be accepted as correctly representing our present expenditure. It appeared then from the estimate made—an estimate frequently published and referred to in Parliament and elsewhere, but the ac- page 4 curacy of which had never been questioned—that we in this Colony expend annually in strong drink, £2,000,000 sterling. To expend this very large amount of money there were in the Colony a total of 342,000 Europeans, or including Maoris, a total of 388,000. So that taking the population of this Colony at an average of five to a family, we were spending money on strong drink at the rate of ten shillings a week for every household in the land. This was obviously a very startling fact, and indicated an expenditure of a serious character. The enquiry now made was, does this expenditure pay? It is sometimes said, "The country is daily getting richer, and men can afford luxuries, and are able to spend the accumulations of their wealth on matters of mere enjoyment. That no such expenditure pays. It is not reproductive. Men, however, can afford to spend their money thus, and they have a right to do so without asking if the expenditure pays?" This might be true, and if it could be shown that this was the character of our liquor expenditure, there would be little to say against it. But such was not the case. Surely no one would affirm that this country could afford an expenditure at the rate of 10s per week for every family of five, on one article, the consumption of which was only pleaded for as a luxury. That such expenditure was not merely the outlaying of our surplus Wealth was evident from the fact, that while so spending our money at home, we had to go to a foreign market to borrow money for the carrying on of necessary reproductive works. Besides, they would see by-and-bye, that the article on which the money of the people was so extravagantly lavished, was not even a harmless luxury. It might now be interesting to enquire whence we got the money which was spent on drink. The sources of wealth in this country were its gold and other minerals, timber, flax, and gum; its grain, cattle, sheep, and such like. These things were by the expenditure of a consider able amount of labour by-and-bye brought to market and sold. The surplus value of these, after defraying the cost of production, and other necessary expenses, formed the sources of the country's wealth. Well, the returns for 1874 show us in that year we were able to send into the market commodities to the following value:—Gold, to the amount of £1.505,331; flax, £37,690; gum, £79,986; sundry other items, as tallow, timber, preserved meat, wheat. &c, £694,441. These are all our exports for that year, except wool, and together gave us a sum of £2,317.448. Of this sum, £2,000,000 was, as we have seen, spent on intoxicating liquors. Of the balance, £300,000 was spent on tobacco, an expenditure little less reckless and unprofitable than that on drink. It might be very safely assumed without further enquiry, that the expenditure of the returns from such a large proportion of our produce for an article of consumption not necessary to our individual or social wellbeing, must be most unprofitable and improvident. Still, in order to a full appreciation of the case, and an intelligent answer to the question discussed this evening, it is necessary to examine this liquor expenditure a little more in detail. Especially is this the case in the face of its many apologists. Well, an examination of the liquor expenditure shows that it may be distributed as follows £480,029 goes right out of the country page 5 for imported liqors; £502,800 is profit and charges on these imported drinks; £417,171 goes to the Government as duty; and £600,000 is spent on colonial beer. Looking at these figures, which may be taken as for all practical purposes sufficiently correct, need we ask you working men, and working men's wives, Does this expenditure pay? Look at the first item, nearly half a million of money sent out of the country every year for grog. With infinite toil and labour, our follow colonists break up the land, raise their crops, tend their cattle and sheep, while others submit to the hard rough life of the bushman, the miner, the gum hunter, or the flax-dresser. At the end of their year of toil they find they have, after supplying their own actual necessities, a certain amount of material left. What do they do with it? Give it for grog. £480,029 of the amount given right away to the foreign producer. The lecturer said he was not of the number of those who deprecated the sending of money out of the country so long as we received in return articles of value, articles either to supply our necessities or minister to our true comfort or legitimate enjoyment. But here we were sending out of the country nearly halt a million of money a year and receiving, as would be shown presently, that which emphatically was not bread, and that which satisfieth not. Surely that item of our liquor expenditure did not pay. Hut it was urged, "Though it might not profit us much to send out of the country nearly half a million a year for liquor, this was only about twenty-five per cent, of the expenditure, and the balance might be a profitable investment of the peoples money." Let us examine the next item, £502.800, another hall-million given as profit and charges to merchants and retailers. Here we would be told of the numerous population maintained by this expenditure; the men, women, and children who are fed, housed, and clothed by means of the circulation of this money, and of the advantages which accrue therefrom to the whole community. In reply to this we fall back on the important principle we announced at the opening of this lecture—mere trading does not pay. True, there are a large number of people maintained by the annual contribution of half a million of money made by the liquor drinkers as profits on the trade. But the important question here arises, what return does the trade make to the country for this liberal support? Does the article supplied satisfy any necessary requirement of the people? Is it necessary to their comfort or wellbeing, to their physical health, their material prosperity, or their intellectual development? Does this commodity minister to the æsthetics of society; does it promote refinement of manner, purity of taste or a love of the beautiful in morals, literature, or art? We need not pause for an answer. The outcome of our liquor expenditure has to be looked for in another direction. Then it would follow that our liquor traders were, as such, mere drones in this great human hive, living on the produce of other people's industry, and yielding to them nothing in return. But it would still be urged, was net the circulation of the money by the liquor traders a direct benefit to the community? They, as it is often said in their defence, do not store up the money they get as the profit of their trading, but spend it liberally, and the expenditure by them is advan- page 6 tageous and profitable to all. Our reply is: We, working men and women—we, the producers of the country's wealth—do not require the help of the publican to distribute our money for us. It is a monstrous proposition that we should be asked to maintain a whole army of men and women and their families just to spend our money for us. And that, according to the defence of the trade we are just considering, is all they do for the £502,800 annually realised as the profit on the distribution of imported liquors in New Zealand. But this is not the whole case. There is yet much work of a profitable reproductive character to be (lone in New Zealand. Were the thousands of able-bodied men and women now sustained by the grog trade not engaged in that business, their labour would be available for some reproductive industry, so that the country not only sustains the trade without any profitable return for so doing, but loses, further, the value of the profitable labour in which they should be, but are not, engaged. There is yet another illustration of the unprofitable character of the expenditure under review. How does it affect the employment of labour. Let us suppose us shoemaker in want of a job. A customer passes badly in want of a new air of boots, and the money in his pocket wherewith to buy them. is all the same to the shoemaker whether the customer gives him the order and the money to pay him for his labour when done, or passes it over to a publican that it may come to the shoemaker through him? The flip-pint apologist for the grog trade will say the publican will want boots as well as his customer, and it is all the same to the shoemaker whom he works for. Is it? Will the money which would have given the shoemaker employment and the customer boots pay for boots for the publican? Certainly not. The publican has to be fed and clothed and housed, and the liquor he has supplied must be paid for, and it is necessary that many of the customers of the shoemaker shall go with their toes looking out on the ground, before the publican will have the price of his boots out of the profit of his grog. Examine this subject on all sides, turn it over and over, view it from any standpoint you will, and it will be seen that the expenditure on strong drink is in every view and from every standpoint unprofitable, reckless, and improvident. The lecturer then proceeded to show that the only one consolatory thought in connection with this question was that the Government intercepted so large an item of the liquor expenditure as £417,171, but dwelt on the improvidence of spending two shillings in order to pay sixpence into the coffers of the State. He also showed that the £600,000 expended on Colonial beer was so much money withdrawn from the labour-employing capital of the State, quoting in support of his argument the statement of Mr Whitaker in a late number of Macmillan's Magazine, that after a twelvemonth's use of drink, the position of the nation is this: Capital, labour, and material of a certain class have been employed in producing drink; that drink is swallowed, and the nation is not one iota better for it, either materially or morally; not an article has been produced, not a fraction of wealth created, that would not have been quite as well if not better done if the liquor had not been made; therefore the money annually spent on drink page 7 is a dead drain on the wealth of the country, and is so much taken from its labour-employing capital." The reason of the unprofitableness of our liquor expenditure was found in the nature of the article traded in. That was an article utterly useless, not to say positively hurtful. Money to be profitably expended must be spent on something which will enable the purchaser to produce more money, or, if it is surplus wealth he is spending, then it must be expended on that which will; as we have already indicated, minister to his legitimate enjoyment and rational pleasure. But alcohol does none of these. We are aware the labouring man spends his shilling (say) on grog with the idea that the grog will qualify him the better or the easier to earn another shilling and more, and that in this way his expenditure pays him. Does it? Let us see. Suppose a man goes forth to his work in the morning; he has one shilling in his pocket, and has within him the vital energy equal to the earning, without severe strain or weariness, say ten shillings more. But before he starts to his work he invests his shilling in grog. What is then necessary in order to his being repaid for the expenditure of that shilling" Obviously one of two things. The grog consumed must enable him to earn the ten shillings he could have earned without the grog, with such a conservation of vital energy as will be worth to him the shilling expended; or must enable him to earn eleven shillings with no more weariness or fatigue than would have been necessary to have earned his ten shillings had he kept his first shilling in his pocket. One or other of these alternatives is necessary to repay him the shilling and put him in as good a position as if he had not spent it; before he gets a profit on his expenditure, either alternative must go a degree further and show a surplus. But are either of these the result of the use of alcohol? Certainly not. The experience of all lands and all time demonstrates to the contrary. The man who starts his work with a morning dram will do less work of less value than if he had not taken it. He will not only lose the money he spent on drink in the vain hope of being enabled thereby to do more or better work, but he or his employer will certainly lose also the money he would have earned had he not taken the drink. Take an illustration or two. Mr Brassy, the great engineer, stated in the House of Commons, or to a Committee of the House, that "on the great Northern Railway there was a celebrated gang of navvies who did more work in a day than any other gang on the line, and always left off work an hour and a half earlier than any other men. Every man in the gang was a teetotaler." Again, Dr Carpenter, one of the highest authorities living on questions of physiology, states in his admirable essay on the physiology of temperance and total abstinence, that he was informed by Captain Petherick, the manager, that in the copper mines of Knockmahon, "more than one thousand persons are daily employed, of whom eight hundred have taken the total abstinence pledge. Since doing so, the value of their industry has increased by nearly £5000 per annum; and not only are they able to put forth more exertion, but their work is done better and with less fatigue to themselves. Besides this, they save at least £6000 every year, which had been previously ex- page 8 pended in the use of alcholic liquors." But a more remarkable illustration was given by our Brother, the Hon, S. D. Hastings. He stated that "in Ames' manufactory it had been proved that the work of 400 partly moderate drinkers was eight per cent, less productive than that of 387 total abstainers. This difference was equal to 75,000,000 dollars on the productive industry of the State of Massachusetts." But yet one case more, as this question was one of eminently practical importance to us all. A Scotch employer recently furnished to Professor Kirk the following illustration of the advantages of total abstinence over moderate drinking to working men. A workman took the pledge and kept it for eight weeks. On referring to the wages' book it appeared that during those eight weeks the man earned £13 14s 8d, while in the eight weeks preceding he earned only £10 14s 4d, and in the eight weeks following only £10 15s. That is, as an abstainer he earned just £3 more, or 7s 6d per week, than as a moderate drinker. Add to this for drink saved, 5s more, as an average, and we have an estimate of a not improbale bonus on teetotalism of 12s 6d a week,—say £30 a year. Much more might be said on this subject, but time would fail. The reason of these effects of strong drink was found in the authoritative utterance of science that alcohol is a poison, and therefore necessarily unfit for use by man as an ordinary beverage. Science gave the physiological reason for the economic fact just mentioned. It was found in the effect of alcohol on the heart. By alcohol the nerves which should regulate and control the heart's action are paralysed, and the result is, as stated by Dr Richardson, similar to the effect produced on the action of a clock by taking off the pendulum, Science states that the work in a day done by the heart of an ordinary healthy man is equal to the lifting of 122 tons one foot. One fluid ounce of alcohol, equal to two glasses of wine, or one of whisky, will cause the heart to beat 4300 times more in a day than in a normal condition it would do, being; work in excess equal to the lifting of 3½ tons one foot. This being true, it was dear vital force could not be expended two ways at once; if it was required to sustain the excessive work of the heart it could not be utilised in any other way.

The lecturer concluded by urging on all the duty of making themselves intelligently acquainted with that phase of the great temperance controversy, the outskirts of which he had just touched, when they would see that the expenditure on strong drink was draining the resources of the country, and, worse still, giving them in exchange for their money disease, crime, pauperism, and insanity. They would learn, if this Colony is to be spared many evils which have fallen on the Old Country as the direct result of its liquor expenditure, the liquor trade must be stamped out as the only means of stemming an expenditure which was not only reckless and improvident, but absolutely ruinous.

Printed at the "Clutha Leader" Office, Balclutha.