The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51
Chapter V. — 11. As to dependence on foreigners. 12. Free Trade a boon to the nation, whether others adopt it or not. 13. As knowledge spreads so will Free Trade
11. As to dependence on foreigners. 12. Free Trade a boon to the nation, whether others adopt it or not. 13. As knowledge spreads so will Free Trade.
11. Protection renders a country independent of foreigners.
This is only another form of that principle of isolation which, if fully carried out, would convert the various nations of the world into so many hostile tribes. In what possible way could mankind be benefited if each country were really to be commercially independent of every other? The evils and privations which all would suffer from such mutual estrangement are too obvious to require pointing out, but what would be the counterbalancing advantages? We can see but this solitary one—that, in case of war, the country that had no commercial intercourse with other countries would be free from any inconvenience that might be caused by hostile interference with such intercourse. This might, perhaps, hold good if every nation were perpetually at war with every other nation. But such a state of things never did and never could exist. Even under the present very imperfect system of international relations, wars are only occasional, and are never universal. Where, then, is the wisdom of a nation voluntarily inflicting on itself for all time the evils and inconveniences of isolation merely to avoid their possible temporary infliction by an enemy in case of war at some future uncertain period? It is thus that the coward commits suicide from fear of death. Is a man to deny himself all present enjoyments because he may some day or page 35 other be deprived of them by illness or misfortune? Are you never to carry about you in the streets a watch, or a purse, or a handkerchief, because it is possible that, sooner or later, they may be purloined by a pickpocket? If the mere fear of some future war is to divest us for ever of the benefits of commercial intercourse with other nations, it is one more to be added to the long train of evils which the war system inflicts on mankind.
Moreover, it is to be noted that full and free commercial intercourse does not imply the dependence of one country on the rest—it implies the mutual and equal interdependence upon each other of all countries. Interchanges presuppose benefit to both parties, or they would not be entered into. In the same way, the interruption which war would cause to such interchanges would prove equally injurious to both parties—to one just as much as to the other. The stronger the ties of mutual interest and the more numerous the points of pleasant and profitable contact, the greater will be the interdependence of nations upon each other. But that mutual interdependence does not place anyone of them at special disadvantage as compared with the rest. If there be any disadvantage when war supervenes, it will be common to all. They will occupy in this respect the same relative positions which they would have occupied if they had, during all the time that they were at peace, deprived themselves of the advantages of foreign trade. It is true that the more nations are knit together by the ties of mutual interest, the greater will be the reluctance to break through them, and the more they will all lose by substituting hostile collision for peaceful commerce. But the reluctance will be felt, and the loss will be shared alike by all of them. If there be a shade of difference between them, it may perhaps consist in this. The more largely and closely a nation is in connection with the rest of the world, the more independent will that nation be, supposing that its foreign commerce were partially disturbed by war with one or more other countries. That commerce would still continue, and would be carried on partly through its old and partly through fresh channels. What articles it might no longer procure from its enemies would, through its organised intercourse with neutrals, be page 36 abundantly poured in by the latter. Either from them or through them its wants would be supplied; and either by them or through them its productions would be taken in exchange.
In reference to this subject, we may quote a speech delivered by Macaulay in 1842. In answer to the argument that England ought only casually to be dependent on other countries, for food supply, he said that he "preferred constant to casual dependence, for constant dependence became mutual dependence . . . . As to war interrupting our supplies, a striking instance of the fallacy of that assumption was furnished in 1810, during the height of the continental system, when all Europe was against us, directed by a chief who sought to destroy us through our trade and commerce. In that year (1810) there were 1,600,000 quarters of corn imported, one-half of which came from France itself." Napoleon's Berlin decrees were far more oppressive and intolerable to the continental nations from which they nominally emanated than they were to England, against whom they were directed.
Thus that "independence of foreigners," on which Protectionists lay such stress, is a privilege acquired at an immense sacrifice of annual wealth, and which, when war supervenes to test its value, is found to be worthless. To secure it we are, according to this doctrine, to do without foreign trade during peace in order to teach us to do without it during war. We are to forego it when we can reap its benefits in order to inure us to the privation when we cannot. To sum up, the truth is that Independence of Foreigners Really means Commercial Isolation, which Nullifies International Division of Labour, Discourages Production, and Foments a Hostile Spirit Among Nations.
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.page 37
(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.
13. Other countries are too wise to follow the example of England, and adopt Free Trade.
We submit that for the words "too wise," we ought to substitute "not wise enough." But, indeed, "wisdom" has had little to do with the discussion of the subject abroad. The great bulk of the people composing civilised nations have never studied, never considered, and perhaps hardly ever heard the name of, Free Trade; and yet it is the great bulk of the people who are most interested in it, and to whose welfare it would most conduce. Of the wealthier and more leisured classes, part are the capitalists who have embarked their fortunes in, and identified their interests with, the protected industries, and all their influence is directed against any change; while the rest are, for the most part, indifferent to the sub- page 39 ject, absorbed in other pursuits, and averse to trouble them-selves with dry questions of political economy. As to the governing classes, they chiefly devote their attention to those topics which more immediately press on them—such as party triumphs or defeats, foreign politics, financial devices, religious contentions, dynastic intrigues, and other matters of statecraft As to whether the people they govern would prosper better under Free Trade than under Protection, why should they trouble themselves about that, since the people, who are the greatest sufferers, do not move in it? Why should they lose votes, and perhaps power, to introduce changes which the many whom these changes would benefit do not ask for, and the few whom they would inconvenience loudly cry against?
Nevertheless, from all these various social strata there come forth in every nation a certain number of thoughtful, truth-seeking men who do study the subject, and whom that study has made Free Traders. These men, whose convictions are founded on research, are by no means inactive in promulgating the truth. But they are as yet comparatively few, and their voice only reaches a small part of the multitude itself, whose earnings are being clipped and pared by protective taxes. Gradually and steadily, however, nations are becoming leavened by Free Trade doctrines. A small but increasing number of active politicians in every country are clustering into a compact Free Trade party, and their labours in the cause are entitled to our warmest appreciation and sympathy. They have up-hill work before them. In their endeavours to benefit their countrymen they meet with apathy on the part of those whom they wish to serve, with obloquy on the part of those interested in the abuse which they wish to correct, and with neglect on the part of the rulers whose policy they wish to influence. All honour to their glorious efforts! This passing tribute is amply due from us, who have gone through the struggle, to our brother Free Traders in protective countries who are going through it. That they will succeed in breaking through the barriers of ignorant indifference and interested opposition, no one who sees how irresistibly the wave of progress is rolling onward throughout the world, can for a moment doubt. To page 40 sum up, the truth is that The Moment the Mass of the People in other Countries shall become aware that Protection Taxes the many for the Benefit of the few, Free Trade will become Universal.