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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 14

The Present Position

The Present Position.

To come now to consider our present position. There can be no doubt that our progress has been much retarded by the serious fall in the price-level of our wool and wheat in European markets, and we have not made that headway which our previous experience has accustomed us to look for as a matter of course. We find ourselves with a foreign debt, on 31st March, 1886, of £31,688,349, the interest upon which has to be paid in gold, notwithstanding that its purchasing power as compared with our products has appreciated from 25 to 40 per cent, since the bulk of the money was borrowed. And it is here that a finger of warning should be held up, as until there is some certainty of a substantial advance in the foreign values of our leading products, and consequently an expansion in the value of our exports, it is absolutely necessary that our legislators should—to use the words of the Premier—"taper off" our future borrowings, or we may find that we have moulded a concrete debt difficult to liquidate. So long as our borrowings are strictly confined to really reproductive works there is not much to fear, but we cannot disguise the fact that in the past-the irretrievable past—anormous sum of money have been squandered for which we got no return, and no thoughtful observer can regard the results otherwise than with great concern. We in New Zealand are not, however, alone in having incurred a heavy public burden, as is shown by the striking increase of the national debts of the world during page 8 the past thirty odd years. In 1848 the national debts of the twenty-four leading countries in the world amounted to a total of 1650 millions sterling. In 1880 they had increased to 5750 millions. In fact the national engagements of France have, it is estimated, risen from 223 millions in 1854 to 1434 millions sterling on 1st July, 1885; and those of Italy from 36 millions in 1848 to 438 millions in 1884; whilst the United Kingdom and her Dependencies now owe 1100 millions, The ratio of debt per capita in New Zealand has, however, slightly decreased of late, as on 31st March, 1881, the population was 482,019 against a debt of £27,108,269 or £56 4s 9d per head, while on 31st March, 1886, the population was 578,283 and the debt £31 688,349, thus reducing the ratio to £54 15s 11d per head. At the same time there is little doubt that foremost in the future troubles of New Zealand will be the question of further borrowing, as there are masses in this country who, reckless of the after consequences, demand the expenditure of borrowed money simply that labor may be paid for at a fictitious value, and would-be popular legislators are too apt to pander to this pressure in order to curry favor with a certain class of voters. The present has, however, been aptly termed the "age of hope," and doubtless it is this feeling that animates and encourages us to believe that without the aid of "heroic remedies," but with ordinary prudence and self denial, the recuperative powers of New Zealand are sufficiently great to enable us to put our finances on a solid footing, if we only make the effort to do so. The recent property-tax assessment returns strengthen this opinion, as, notwithstanding the many reverses we have suffered during the past four or five years, there is still a balance in our favor on the past three years' operations. The misfortune is that the balance is not nearly so much as it should be, considering the large sums of public and private money which have been spent in improving our "real estate" in the interval. The following figures however may perhaps encourage many of us to renew our efforts:—