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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

12. Free Trade would be a special boon to England if all nations adopted it; but till then it is a disadvantage to us

12. Free Trade would be a special boon to England if all nations adopted it; but till then it is a disadvantage to us.

We maintain, on the contrary (1) that if all nations adopted Free Trade it would be, not a special boon to England, but a general and equal boon to all mankind; and (2) that meanwhile, till other nations adopt Free Trade, it is a special boon to us. Let us examine these propositions.

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(1) Free Trade simply means unrestricted, and therefore far more frequent and extensive commercial interchanges than at present, between the various populations that tenant this globe of ours. Now, all such interchanges, whether they be few or many, are quite voluntary. None need either buy or sell unless he reaps, or hopes to reap, some benefit from the transaction. Self-interest guides both parties in every commercial dealing. Both expect and believe that they are gainers by it. To forbid, or to curtail, or to discourage commercial interchanges, is to deprive both the parties (not one of them only) of the advantages which they would, if left alone, reap from them. To remove all impediments to such interchanges between the people of all countries, and to leave to the parties dealing together full and free scope for their operations, is to allow both these parties (not one of them only) to reap the advantages which such operations afford. How, then, can this latter policy be said to be a boon to anyone country? We know that such a notion does exist; but it is none the less an absurd, misleading, and pernicious error. England can only share with other nations, and not one jot more than other nations, the benefits which these extended interchanges would confer.

It may be said that, if Free Trade were universally adopted, England would export more goods to the world at large. Very true; but the world at large would at the same time export more goods to England. For what could England take in return for her increased exports? Gold? Certainly not. It has been demonstrated over and over again that specie only migrates from country to country in homoeopathic quantities as compared with the amount of commercial dealings. It would be goods, then, that England would take in exchange. In that case the foreign producers, sellers, and exporters of those goods would reap at least as much profit from them as the English would from the goods for which they would be exchanged. Where is the special boon to England? A policy by which all parties benefit equally is a universal boon to all—not a special boon to anyone of them.

(2) While other nations are debarring themselves from the advantages of Free Trade, those advantages are being specially page 38 enjoyed by ourselves. From a number of such advantages thus accruing to us, we shall content ourselves with specifying three, (a) Cheapness of living to our people, who, while they earn higher wages than their continental comrades, have their wants supplied at a cheaper rate, (b) Cheapness of production; for as all the materials which we work upon or work with come to us untaxed, we can undersell our rivals in all neutral markets, and thus secure all but a monopoly in these, (c) Cheapness in naval construction and equipment, which gives to us another all but monopoly of the lucrative ocean-carrying trade. Lack of space prevents us from detailing the numerous other direct and indirect advantages which we enjoy through our present monopoly of Free Trade. Indeed, some able men have argued that we derive greater advantages from being the only Free Trade country than we should enjoy if all other nations were also to become Free Traders. While dissenting from this view, it is undeniable that, under the present system of Free Trade here and Protection everywhere else, we have secured an unexampled pre-eminence in international commerce. Our foreign trade (combined imports and exports) now forms no less than one-fourth of the total foreign trade of the world at large. To sum up, the truth is that Free Trade would be a General Boon to all Nations if they did Adopt it; and meanwhile it is a Special Boon to England, that has Adopted it.