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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

Chapter V. — Inferences as to the Future—Summing up and General Remarks

Chapter V.

Inferences as to the Future—Summing up and General Remarks.

It now remains to inquire what are the inferences as to the future that may be drawn from the facts and reasonings that precede? Of course, the immediate future, as far as this inquiry is concerned, must depend on the nature of the harvests in the United Kingdom during the next two or three seasons. These may prove to be (1) about the same as that of 1884, or (2) inferior to it, and only about equal to the average of those of 1880-1-2-3. Or (3) they may be abundant and in excess of page 21 the harvest of 1884 to the extent, say, of 10 to 15 millions of pounds sterling in value. Let us take each of these hypothetical cases in turn.

And, first, we will assume what is perhaps the most probable of the three suppositions, viz., that the harvests of the United Kingdom for the next three years will be about equal on the average to that of 1884. If that be so, we shall, in the course of 1885, require an importation of cereals, about equal to that which we required in 1884, and therefore, from that source, there will be no further decline in our importations. We shall want as much and take as much grain from abroad as in 1884, but no more. There is, on the other hand, a certain natural and normal annual increase in our Imports, corresponding to our natural and normal annual increase in population and wealth, as well as to our growing productive and consumptive power. We may, therefore, expect that instead of Imports continuing to decrease, they will begin to increase. As a natural consequence, we may in due time look for a proportionate expansion in our Exports, but not quite so quickly. For, as we have before shown at p. 11, our Exports, being, not immediately, but only after a certain interval, influenced by the course of our Imports, the former have not up to this time (July, 1885) suffered a diminution corresponding to that of the Imports, and, therefore, some further diminution in them must be looked for. To sum up, we may infer that, under the hypothesis that the harvest of 1885 will be about equal to that of 1884, there will in the latter part of this year be a gradual increase, month by month, in our Imports, accompanied, for some months, by a decrease in our Exports, but followed after that time by a proportionate increase in them. In other words, we may anticipate, under the given hypothesis, that for the next few months, Imports will gradually increase, while Exports will diminish. But that the turning-point for Exports will shortly have been reached, and after that, not only will the Imports continue to increase, but the Exports will also follow that increase in due proportion.

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Secondly, let us assume that the harvest of 1885, instead of being equal to that of 1884, shall prove to be only equal to the average of the years 1880 to 1883. It is clear that we shall then have to import cereals of the annual value of about £15,700,000 more than we imported in 1884, and as a necessary consequence, there will be a renewed and sudden demand for shipping to convey to our shores additional cereals to that amount from abroad. Ship-owning, ship-building, and all the other interests specially connected with foreign trade, will receive a fresh impetus, and revive into fresh activity, in which, with close sympathy, our Export trade will participate. On the other hand, our home trade will proportionately suffer from the deficient productiveness of our agricultural labour and capital. There will be more interchanges between ourselves and the world at large, and fewer between the various members of bur own community.

And thirdly, let us take the supposed case of the harvests of 1885 or 1886 proving so abundant that we shall require still smaller importations of cereals than we did in 1884, say from 10 to 15 millions of pounds sterling in value less. Under those circumstances, our foreign trade would again fall off by that amount, less any normal increase which might meanwhile have accrued. Shipping, &c., and the industrial interests cognate thereto, would again suffer temporary depression, while the home trade proportionately improved, and the fresh addition to our national wealth would conduce to the welfare of the people and the general prosperity of the country.

Pity, no doubt, that the blessings of an abundant harvest should not prove an unalloyed good, and that while contributing to the general benefit, it should bring with it transient evil to certain classes. But every change in human affairs, however much for the better it may be, has for immediate effect to transfer demand away from certain forms of labour and capital on to some other newer forms thereof. Thus, all scientific discoveries and labour-saving inventions, while productive of page 23 the greatest permanent benefit to mankind, temporarily displace labour and capital from some of their accustomed channels. They occasion local and temporary suffering until the displaced labour and capital get re-absorbed into the fresh and more fructifying channels which these discoveries and inventions open to them. Instances of such displacement are constantly occurring, and must ever recur unless means were found of arresting all change and of, as it were, stereotyping the existing form of human affairs. A consummation as devoutly to be deprecated, as it is impossible of attainment; for, while it would prevent decadence, it would also stop all improvement, and would condemn mankind to final acquiescence in its present incomplete and unsatisfactory status.

It may be observed that throughout these pages we have taken as basis of comparison the value and not the volume of our Imports and Exports. We fully recognise the action on prices of the varying relations between merchandise, &c., the represented, and gold, the representative; whether those variations arise from the constantly increased volume of the former, or from the falling-off in the production of the latter, or from both combined. But that action is slow, uniform, and gradual, and totally inadequate to account for the sudden and abrupt catastrophe of 1884. It is like the irresistible, but silent and imperceptible, advance of the glacier which has no causal connection with the sudden fall of the avalanche. The gradual declension of prices had not prevented the gradual advance of our Imports and Exports to £731,000,000 in 1883, the highest point that they ever reached. How then could it possibly cause the sudden collapse to £685,000,000 in 1884?

We have now completed to the best of our ability the task which we had undertaken. If, as we hope, we have succeeded in pointing out the real causes of the "recent and present" depression of trade, we may then venture to remark how superfluous it must be to appoint Royal Commissions or Parliamentary Committees to search for causes that are already ascertained. It is like employing expensive, cumbersome, and page 24 slow-moving machinery to dig deep into the soil in order to get at objects that lie on the surface.

In obedience to the inevitable law of correlation between Imports and Exports, an immense national blessing has caused some partial and transient trade disturbances. But if, as maybe hoped, we shall for a cycle of some few years, be favoured with fair average harvests, not only will our home trade flourish, but our foreign trade will gradually, through the normal and legitimate growth that it will derive from our ever-growing population, wealth and industry, speedily rally from the low point to which it will have been reduced. In this way, while the agricultural classes will be freed from the depression which successive bad harvests had inflicted on them, our Imports and Exports will also, year after year, expand; not, let us hope, by "leaps and bounds" swiftly leading to ruinous reaction, but in that steadily progressive course which is the straightest, surest, and safest road to national prosperity.

Forest Hill, S.E.