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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

Retrogression: Freetrade and Protection Nationalisation of the Land

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Freetrade and Protection Nationalisation of the Land.

Wellington: Printed at the Evening Press Office.


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It seems generally to be taken for granted that the Radical party is one of progress, but I propose to point out that it has drifted and is continuing to drift into one of retrogression. In my young days, whether one agreed with the Radical programme or not, one could not but admit that the party was virile, and progressive in its policy, but now a days it advocates a number of fads, which have practically reversed the policy, which is now in many respects retrogressive and tending to roll back civilization and the progress of the nation and of the world. At the head of the retrogressive projects we may place what is called the

Nationalization of the Land.

One would suppose from the pœans of the theorists who advocate this scheme, that such an idea had never been heard of before, but we have not far to go to find an example at our own doors. The old Maori tenure exactly fits the case, where the land was held by the tribe in common, and individual ownership was only given to the patch actually under cultivation at the time, which was protected from molestion by others of the tribe by the law of tapu. This is the general tenure among the natives of the South Seas. Is it seriously proposed that we shall revert to this barbarous tenure? Then we have examples in India and in Egypt, the effect being to raise a numerous population whose productions are divided between the Government and the cultivator, the latter getting for his share a bare subsistence, A people without power to assert their rights against the Government, their whole time taken up in providing for their daily wants on the most economical scale. It is held that the strength of a country depends upon the numbers of its population. In connection with cutting up land into small holdings, this statement must be taken with a qualification. If the means of the occupier of land are so limited by the smallness of his holding that all his time is taken up in keeping himself and his family alive, he can pay nothing to the state in money, nor can he go to the wars without abandoning the means of subsistence of his family. We have in England something similar to nationalization of the land in the estates of the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. The management of these estates has, I believe, been much improved of late years, but it has been notorious for jobbery, and is far behind that of the average of private estates. There is no encouragement to extend the system.

What effect the nationalization of the land would produce in New Zealand and other colonies may be seen at a glance, and by the light of sundry measures which have come before the New Zealand Parliament during the present session, there would be the most frightful jobbery. The Crown tenants would either get control over Parliament, or the latter would grind the former, as the Government does in India or Egypt. Where would be the benefit? Government would make no landlords improvements, page 3 would not build a house, nor plant a tree. If it tried that sort of thing there would be added the jobbery of contractors and hangers on. The whole idea of land nationalization is utter humbug. It is totally unsuited to a civilized and progressive community, it is rolling the country back into barbarism and confusion. A better tenure than the old fee simple has yet to be discovered. Land nationalization is a contradiction in terms. Land has never been denationalized in this nor in any other country. The immediate effect of establishing such a system in this colony would be to deflect the stream of immigration to countries where more sensible views prevailed, and the results would be disastrous. Merely mooting the question has already damaged the property of the colony, cutting up land into small holdings. This is called in France morcellement du terrain, and we have the example of France and other countries to throw a light on the subject.

In France, although there are large holdings, a great part of the country is cut up into such small fragments that only a peculiarly frugal and industrious people could manage to live on their small estates. Many of these are under an acre in extent, perhaps a rood only. If the holder is flourishing, and wishes to extend his operations, he is probably forced to purchase a new plot at some distance, perhaps a mile or two, from his original holding. One can hardly call the working of these small plots farming, and on the other band, it may not come under the definition of gardening. By dint of working early and late, and living on the most economical scale, the French peasant manages to make sufficient to keep the bodies of himself and his small family alive, but it is a life of constant toil, unrelieved by relaxation, and the people thus situated have no time for mental improvement, and are ignorant and prejudiced to the lowest degree. No sort of agricultural machinery can be used under that system, and the produce of cereals is far inferior to that in the inferior soils and climate of Great Britain. I wish to lay particular emphasis on this latter point, because assertions are constantly made to the contrary. It is to be admitted that near certain large cities in Belgium, where manure is readily procurable, the gross produce is high on small plots, but this only amounts to the fact that market gardens give a large produce, not that the general cultivation of a country where manure is not procurable in quantities gives a similar result. The system may answer after a fashion for the very frugal and industrious French peasant with his family of one or two, but is totally unsuited to the British or Irish cultivator, with more liberal views of spending money, and his large family of young children. It must also be borne in mind that over a large part of France, the culture of vines, olives, and other productions of a warmer climate prevail, producing articles of such value that the returns from a few acres may give a large annual return, This makes the moroellemcnt du terrain less injurious than it would be in the British Islands, where the cultivation consists of articles of inferior value, such as wheat, oats, etc. There is a medium in everything. In Great Britain the holdings may be too large, in France too small. The way to adjust the proper proportion is not to bring in revolutionary measures to adjust the division of land by Government, but to remove restrictions upon the alienation of land, and allow the required division to come about naturally. Some persons m that case will get small farms, others large ones, and everyone will be served with what he wants. It is often asserted that the advantage of the French subdivision is to make the bulk of the people conservative, and thus to check revolutions. It seems to me that this conservatism is not worth much, for the rural population never seems able to resist the revolutions got up by any collection of tramps in Paris, and knock under at once. Small holdings are not confined to France, They are common in Switzerland, parts of Germany, and other parts of Europe. In the Ionian Islands, a single olive tree may belong to several individuals. We ought, in this colony, when we try to evade Scylla, to avoid falling into Charybdis. Fiat experi- page 4 mentum cruris in corpore vili. Is New Zealand reduced to such a vile body that she is to be experimented upon by the shallowest political tinkering?

Freetrade and Protection.

When times are bad there is always a cry for a change in legislation. If the country has hitherto had a Freetrade policy, there is a cry for Protection. It has been tied up with Protection, there is a cry for Free-trade. Anything for a change, by way of experiment. We see an excellent example of this in the case of South Australia. That colony is, upon the whole, essentially pastoral and agricultural, and has suffered from severe droughts for some years past by the effects of which many thousands of cattle and sheep have died, and many hitherto wealthy settlers have been ruined. The wheat crops have also either failed or have been wofully deficient in yield, One would have thought that the remedy for this state of affairs would have been to do something for the farmers if possible, such as making dams to couserve water, and sinking artificial or other wells, experimenting with crops suited to stand the consequences of dry weather, and so on, but instead of this, what do we find? A proposal to introduce Protection to manufac-factures! The ruined farmers ask for bread, and they are given a stone. The country is in a state of distress. Handicap it still more, and place it at the mercy of the town? Let us apply this lesson to ourselves. New Zealand has not suffered from drought like Australia, but it is suffering heavily from low prices of its produce. The farmers are distressed, and the remedies suggested are to distress them still more. I should wish the farmers of New Zealand to bear in mind that they cannot themselves be protected. They export wool, wheat, oats, potatoes, and other agricultural produce. What they import in that line is a trifle. Such products as maize are probably imported for the farmer's own use, and any duty upon these would still further handicap them. Parliament might place duties upon agricultural produce, but as little or none would be imported, the result would be nil. Therefore Protection to native industries means favoring the town at the expense of the country.

It is asserted by Protectionists that the adoption of their principles results in getting goods cheaper. They would make one disbelieve in the evidence of his senses. One has only to visit any Protectionist country to find that he is paying enhanced prices for everything. True, that prices have fallen since Protection was established in America and other countries, but Protection has had nothing to do with it. Iron, for instance, is now produced far cheaper than it was a few years ago, but that is caused by improved processes, and there is a general fall in prices all over the world, and the same result has occurred with other goods.

I am as much as any one in favor of establishing all manufactures which we can work to advantage. Agricultural implements, for instance, are made in New Zealand of a more suitable character than those imported, and I imagine require no protection to succeed. I would readily give more for a colonial double furrow plough than for an imported one, because the former will do the work much better than the latter. What woollen factories require is not protection to secure the Home market, but openings for their goods in Australia and elsewhere. Give more protection to these factories, and shut out the Australian market, and in the course of a year or two they will be ruining each other. Our population is altogether too small for the successful running of many factories. People talk of the success of protection in America, forgetting that the United States have a population of some 60,000,000, and a climate ranging from nearly arctic to tropical, with absolute freetrade within its borders, that it produces cotton, wool, and other raw materials, that it has perhaps the largest coal field in the world, and immense supplies of iron and other minerals, including the richest mines of gold, silver and copper. Therefore, the ill effects of protection are comparatively little felt. The expected results, however, which were to keep up the price of labor, do not appear to have had that page 5 result. I am informed that the average wage of mill hands in America does not exceed 2s 6d a day, and that 330,000 souls were lately unemployed, but fortunes have been made by manufacturers or by "rings," as might naturally be expected when the whole community is called upon to contribute to their enrichment.

Compare the surroundings of the manufacturers of the United States with that of the New Zealand Islands, with their united area, and population of 600,000 only. What we now require, and shall require still more in the immediate future, is an outlet for our manufactures, and this is not to be attained by a restrictive policy.

The fiscal policy of the Australasian colonies is of the most antiquated and what may be called old Tory description, and reminds me of the system in vogue on the Continent of Europe some 40 or 50 years ago, where one was pestered by an examination of baggage perhaps several times during a day's journey. "Protection" was then in full force, even in Great Britain, and the results were certainly not agreeable. Commerce was hampered, enterprise was checked, people were starving, bread riots were common. There may be hard times now, but in no measure so hard as they were then. The sooner that all barriers to trade between the Australasian colonies are thrown down the better. New Zealand then could freely send wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, fat cattle and sheep, and manufactures, and receive in return maize, fruit, wine, &c. Trade would doubtless soon extend to other articles. New Zealand ought to supply Australia with beer if the brewers would make a marketable article, but made safe in their profits by a protective duty they inflict an inferior liquid upon their long suffering customers. Instead of helping the farmers by using malt and hops, I suppose they patronize the foreigner by brewing from sugar, mixed with other compounds. Of course I except those brewers who make good beer. I observed lately some one called for a protective duty upon wine! This shows what we might come to, viz., to be expected to drink New Zealand wine! The fact is that the wine duties are far too high already, Wine should be treated as a necessity for the general public as in France and other countries, and not as a luxury for the rich, and then there might be hope for temperance, and the natural exchange would be New Zealand beer for Australian wine.

If we are to do a large trade with Australia we must be prepared to receive Australian commodities in exchange for our products, and not erect artificial barriers. No large trade can exist without an exchange of commodities. Look at the state of trade between Australasia and the kindred race in the United States. With the 60,000,000 inhabitants of the latter conutry, the trade of the former is of the most limited character, and this of course arises from the exclusion of Australasian staples by the high protective duties of America. If "protection" were true in theory then Great Britain ought to levy corresponding duties upon our produce, and then our amount of trade with Europe would dwindle to a similar amount. Where should we be then, with our surplus wool, tallow, wheat, &c? We might revel in a superabundance of produce, but we should have no money. We could then neither pay our public nor our own private debts. We should be an insolvent community with no hopes of getting out of the mud. I should wish everyone to bear in mind the great axiom of Free Trade, viz., that there is no import without a corresponding export, directly or indirectly. Thus commerce balances itself automatically if left alone. Those countries in which the imports apparently exceed the exports, happen always to be the most prosperous. Your protectionist is always watching the imports with fear and trembling, fearing that they may exceed the exports. If he ceased to bother his head about it he would save himself a great deal of trouble. He may, however, do his best to increase the exports, and that will of necessity increase the imports also. In fact that is what the country wants at present—more variety and greater quantity of exports.

There is one aspect of protection on which I give my opinion with diffidence. The causes of the depression which has page 6 now lasted so long over all the world are considered to be very obscure, and no doubt may be various, but I venture to suggest that one cause of the depreciation of our staples, viz., wool, tallow, wheat, &c., may be the adoption of "Protection" by' numerous populous States in Europe, by the United States, Canada, and Victoria. These countries all go in, more or less, to exclude English goods, consequently England has not the means of paying for the raw staples at the old figure. How can she do so if her means of payment are excluded? In consequence down falls the price to a figure which she can afford to pay by the exchange of commodities.

If my theory is correct, then Victoria loses upon the fall in price of her staples far more than the profits derived by a small minority of her population from the protection of her manufactures. The loss to her general population is great and absolute, the profit is limited to a handful of her people.

New Zealand is essentially made by nature for a commercial country, and to progress in a natural way she only requires to be left alone and excluded from the experiments of political and economical heresy. My remarks are called for because both these baneful influences are in the air, and a policy of an antiquated and old Tory principle is strongly advocated. I am an old sailor, and I want to see the ship go ahead instead of astern, which is sure to follow if a retrogressive policy should carry the day.

Lest it should be said that I propound nothing for the good of the farmer, I request attention to the following remarks. Anyone who reads the Australasian must be struck with the gigantic efforts which are being made to promote irrigation in Victoria, and within the next few years I think we shall see an enormous accession of wealth to that colony from the operations now contemplated or in progress. I must say it "riles" me to see the intelligent application of skill in that colony and its total absence in this.

I have at various times advocated the introduction of irrigation on a large scale in New Zealand, and have usually been met with the remark that we have plenty of rain. There is plenty of rain in England, but no farming there pays better than an irrigated meadow. We might double and treble our produce by means of irrigation, and some districts, such as the Waikato and the sands of the Manawatu, we could make fertile by its use. I hope my Auckland friends will be grateful for the suggestion. Not that irrigation can provide the phosphates if these are deficient, but by growing clovers and other leafy plants a supply of nitrogen can be given to the soil. Our supply of water is enormous, whereas the Victorian supply is not so.

What I propose need not involve any Government outlay whatever. Victoria has contracted with Messrs Chaffey Bros, to provide large tracts of land, which the latter are to irrigate and settle with population, and it has legislated to allow other districts to form Boards for irrigation purposes. If our Parliament and Government were to devote their energies to the irrigation question for some years to come, they might get the colony out of its difficulties, and keep themselves out of mischief.

At the present moment the ship of State is in a perilous position, and the question seems to be on which tack she shall go. If she goes on the lines of a restrictive policy we shall be close hauled for years to come, in the faint hope of weathering the breakers. The right tack and the true policy is to contend for a Customs Union of Australasia. Then we should place ourselves in a similar position to the people of the United States. If we have not 60,000,000 people for a market we shall have 3,000,000 or 4,000,000, with a rapidly increasing population, and, as this increases, our trade and manufactures would increase also.

In the immediate future it is not the competition of the "down trodden serfs" of Europe which we have to fear, but it is that of the down-trodden serfs" of New Zealand. I trust it will be observed that the above is a quotation. Most of us have heard it or read it before With the mills at present running, and those in prospect, and in default of an outlet beyond the colony, the "down trodden serfs" of Mosgiel, of Kaiapoi, of Ashburton, of Welling- page 7 ton, and I suppose we may now say of Auckland, will soon figuratively be at each other's throats.

When I consider the large internal trade which might be done in Australasia it puts me altogether out of patience to sec steps taken to make a Customs Union impracticable.

Wellington, of all places, should look to its trade.

I am at a loss to understand the sudden howl for Protection. Our manufactures have been protected from foreign import all along. The present import of 15, or as some say 16½ per cent, is ample. Where is the cause for increasing it even from the Protectionist point of view. If that game is once commenced there is no knowing where it may end. The manufacture of steel began in the United States with a Protective duty of 15 per cent, and gradually rose to 150 per cent! Think of that, oh ye people! Think of being put under the thumb of "rings" and syndicates who will squeeze 150 per cent out of you! Unfortunately we must look on our 15 per cent impost as hanging round our necks for many years to come. Our finances demand the sacrifice—let our manufacturers rest and be thankful.

Analogy Between Ireland and Canada.

The Irish question is one which should naturally be avoided in the colonies, but when one hears people advise that Ireland should be granted a constitution like Canada, or other colonies which possess a Parliament, one is astounded with the extreme simplicity of the suggestion.

Professor Gold win Smith and others have clearly pointed out that there is no analogy between the cases, and one would have thought that any one who had considered the subject would have come to the same conclusion.

Supposing that Ireland had a constitution like Canada, and England was forced into war by Russia or France, would it not be almost a certainty, under present circumstances, that a vote of the Irish legislature would go against the war. Any paper provisos giving the power of peace or war to the British Government would be simply waste paper. It would in that case be perhaps impossible to hold India, or to keep the colonies within the Empire, and the Old Country would sink to the level of Holland or Scandinavia, and Ireland into utter insignificance.

It is impossible to understand the "insane hatred" of England which seems to inspire a great body of the Irish, and of the Irish Americans. One would think they might be proud of belonging to the freeest nation in the world, with all its employments and objects of ambition open to them. I do not except the United States, where personal freedom is less than in Great Britain, and where the country is governed and the vote controlled by "rings."

The progress of modern States is marked by concentration, not by dispersion. France took many centuries to consolidate, but now forms the most homogeneous country in Europe. The Peninsula also was once divided into several kingdoms of which Portugal is the only independent survival of a small state, Italy and Germany have consolidated within the last few years. In all these events progress is marked. It is now proposed to break up the British Empire. This is not progress but retrogression. Supposing the enemies of the Empire to succeed in their wish and that the Sovereignty of the seas passed from Great Britain, what would be the effect on the colonies? That they would be open to attack and possible conquest from any of the large states of Europe. The defences which are now considered ample to secure our position would then be almost useless. Instead of an attack from a hostile cruiser or small squadron, what might then be expected would be the arrival of a fleet, escorting transports with an army on board. Let us suppose that Victoria was the point of attack. There would be no necessity to attack Melbourne in front. Some small port, such as Portland, would be selectee for the landing, and the army would march from there, and take Melbourne in rear, when the capture of its defences would only be a matter of time. page 8 New Zealand could be treated in similar fashion. If people have no pride in the glory of the Old Country, they might at least see that mere self interest would lead them to uphold her power, at all events until the colonies are some ten times more populous and wealthy than they are now. It does not follow that France or Russia would attack Australasia, even should Great Britain be reduced to impotence, but the temptation would be very great and hard to be resisted. Even peaceful Germany might see the prospect of an outlet for her surplus population, and might find it in sparsely peopled Australia, if our hostile factions should open the door by breaking up the integrity of the Empire. If we had separate legislatures in Ireland, in Scotland, in Wales, how could the central Government in London act with the promptitude required to keep together such an Empire as ours? It would be a simple impossibility. The collapse would soon come, and the Empire would resolve itself into chaos. This certainly would not be progress, it would be retrogression.