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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

Freedom of Commerce—The East and the West

Freedom of Commerce—The East and the West.

Freetrade, Direct Taxation, Collection of Taxes by the Municipal Bodies were the custom of antient Greece and Rome; and the three combined form the Ottoman Empire and is religiously sanctioned by the Koran. The contrast of the customs duties under the Arabian law with the laws of Europe is great. The former are only five per cent for tributaries, four for Mussulmen, and three for foreigner who are regarded as guests; while in England trade is cow sidered as free if a duty be levied only for the sake of revenue, even though that duty amount to six hundred par cent.

The wide discrepancy that exists between the freetrade notions of political economists and the practical freetrade of page 23 he East cannot better be shown than by conducting the Eastern merchant into England, and setting him to carry on his traffic here by the same rule of substantial and palpable exchange of value for value.

Suppose him then preparing for his journey to England, He looks over a list of goods in request in England, and fixes on silks; he looks over some samples from England, and their prices; be sees that there is some reeled in the Piedmontese manner in Turkey equal to silk bearing the highest price in England; he makes his venture in this.

His silk warehoused in London, he inquires where the silk manufacturers are, and wishes to proceed thither to sell his goods; but he soon finds himself entangled in a web of routine, habits, prejudices, conflicting interests, and interested misrepresentations. He is instructed in the mysteries of the subdivision of labor; he finds that brokers and speculators possess the threads of communication, and in a hundred ways thwart all his attempts of free agency. He is informed that no Turkey silk such as his is esteemed in the market, that only the coarse has been in demand for ribands, etc.; indeed, that, instead of his silk fetching a higher price than the country-reeled, he would be very lucky if he got even that price. The poor distracted and alarmed man concludes a disadvantageous bargain.

He goes down to the manufacturing districts to select goods for the Turkey market. While making his assortment of cotton, for which every facility is afforded him, in which he is as much delighted by the intelligence and frankness of the manufacturers as he was shocked with the selfishness of the brokers, he is naturally led to speak of his unfortunate speculation in silk. He exhibits some specimens; the manufacturers are struck with them, admire them, declare them equal to anything from Italy. On tracing the after circulation of his own silk he finds that, as Piedmontese, it had realised a high price.

He now begins to doubt the advantages of the principle of division of labor in mercantile concerns, however applicable to manufacturers, and wonders much how English industry can flourish under such a system.

However the purchases he has made in cottons bring him back to Turkey with an equal capital to that with which he page 24 left it. On the value, say £5000, he pays to the Turkish government as duty (or for permission to dispose of his wares) £150; after all charges he makes twenty-five per cent, or £1250, and determines to return to England.

He had seen tobacco of inferior quality selling at enormous prices; he determines then to invest his original capital in tobacco, and to reserve his profits for expenses, resolved this time not to abandon his profits to middlemen, but to carry samples of his tobacco to the retail traders, or to dispose of it at the public market as in Turkey.

He arrives in the docks with £5000 value; the same value of English goods had been charged in Turkey £150. He is now informed that he cannot dispose of his tobacco unless he pays £30,000 to the customs.

He has the mortification of seeing his tobacco bought from him for sixpence per pound, charged three shillings duty; (and therefore costing the broker or speculator but three shillings and sixpence,) and selling in the shops in London at ten, twelve, and sixteen shillings per pound.

Is it to be expected that this man will spare our commercial system in comparing it with that of Turkey? Can the Turkish Government be expected to listen even with patience, to our disinterested suggestions of moderation and amelioration, when for equal value to be disposed of in English and Turkish markets, on the same terms and with equal facilities, he requires the employment of £5150 for the disposal of the English value, and £35,000 for the disposal of (he Turkish. In oilier words for £100 of English manufactures, (Turkish produce,) England exacts £(300!

This is not, it will be understood, the method any merchant would pursue, still it is the course that commerce has to follow. The obstacles which render it impossible for the same met chant to complete the exchange as in Turkey are of course overcome, but certainly at a considerable sacrifice. My object is merely to show in the strongest contrast the operation of the two systems.

(Urquhart, 1834.)