The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51
16. By threatening to impose import duties on foreign commodities we shall induce foreign countries to reduce, or remove, their present import duties on ours
16. By threatening to impose import duties on foreign commodities we shall induce foreign countries to reduce, or remove, their present import duties on ours.
To such a threat the foreigner might probably reply to this effect, "You urge Free Trade on us, gentlemen! Good. But do you urge it upon us as being a benefit or an injury? If you really and sincerely deem Free Trade to be a benefit, then you certainly will not carry out your threat of adopting Protection if we decline your proposal. If, on the other hand, you believe it to be an injury, then your proposal is—well, self-answered." We cannot just now find the proper repartee to this. Meanwhile, the Protectionists may exclaim, "It is not fair for foreign nations to saddle our productions with Customs' duties while we admit their free." Why not? When we adopted Free Trade it was with a view to our own interests, and not in order to please or favour foreigners. On what plea, then, can you ask them to discard their own policy (good or bad) in order to please or favour you? We can imagine the foreigner answering you thus, "If you, O Englishmen! prefer Free Trade, be it so. We do not seek to control you. We do not come to you, and threaten that unless you adopt Protection we will lower our import duties and become Free-Traders. That would be casting a stigma on the sincerity of our belief in Protection. Like the fox in the fable, you have cut off your tail, and you now want us also to cut off our own; but the very urgency with which you press us begets the suspicion that you yourselves repent the operation. If you do repent having Free Trade, your remedy is easy—replace your tail—re-enact Protection; but do not be so inconsistent as to threaten us that unless we participate with you in what you assert to be the benefits of Free Trade, you will participate with us in what you assert to be the evils of Protection."
This is all very fine," you will say, "but this Free Trade of ours is one-sided. We buy freely at the world's shop, while the world refuses to buy at ours." Divest yourself of this error. The world buys of you just as much, neither more nor less, as you buy of the world. No trade can pos- page 44 sibly be one-sided. The essence of trade is to give and take. All commerce is barter. If you buy freely from the world, the world is compelled, from the very nature of things, to buy just as freely from you. It cannot help itself. The goods you buy will and must be paid for, directly or indirectly, in the goods you sell. The debts due to or by a country by or to other countries, whether for goods, or loans, or interest, or anything else, are not—never were—and cannot be—paid in gold. But this has been demonstrated so repeatedly and so clearly before that we need not further dwell on it.
What Protection does is, not to sell more to us than we sell to the protected world (for that is impossible), but to prevent each protected nation from selling as much to the rest of the world (by preventing it from buying as much from the rest of the world) as it would do under Free Trade. International exchanges, which constitute foreign commerce, and by which both parties would profit, are discouraged, checked, and curtailed. The loss of that profit is not one sided but two-sided. The protected nation and the rest of the world are both equal losers; and the evil is due to Protection, not to Free Trade. The curtailment of those mutually beneficial international exchanges would become all the greater if we ourselves adopted Protection. By so doing we should no doubt punish the protected countries, but we should punish ourselves in the same degree. We should diminish their foreign commerce, but at the same time diminish our own. Surely the very worst way of increasing international exchanges must be to adopt the very system which we complain of in others as curtailing them.
As to what are the foreign articles that are to be taxed, in the improbable case of the Fair Traders, alias Protectionists, getting their own way, they are by no means agreed among themselves; and no wonder. The people at large decidedly object to have their food taxed, the manufacturing classes decidedly object to have their raw materials taxed, and the general consumers decidedly object to have the miscellaneous articles taxed. What is to be done? Well, as the general consumers are a long- page 45 suffering and patient race, let us suppose that they are sacrificed, and miscellaneous articles of foreign manufacture are to be selected for taxation in order to constrain foreign countries "to reduce or remove their present import duties on our commodities." But here comes another difficulty. The amount of foreign manufactures imported by us from each country is too small to afford the required leverage. They consist of about 2,000 various articles, coming from about fifty different countries, and ranging in amount and importance from silks down to sarsaparilla. They constitute in value about one-tenth of our total importations; or, as some make it, by rating such things as confectionery, and works of art as manufactures, about one-eighth : it matters very little which. The aggregate value of these 2,000 foreign taxable articles is from £40,000,000 to £50,000,000 annually, which amount is cut up into small portions, not only by its distribution among a multiplicity of articles, but by its further subdivision as coming from various countries. The idea of frightening foreign nations into making a change in their fiscal policy by taxing, or threatening to tax, such comparative trifles, is sublimely ridiculous.
The Protectionists also talk of introducing differential duties, to be less on the productions of some countries and more on those of others; and these would occasion fresh subdivisions and complications which it would require an army of Custom-house clerks and revenue officers to detect and apportion. The practical difficulties of assessing and collecting duties on these fragmentary objects of minute taxation would bewilder the greatest financier of the age, Mr. Gladstone himself; and the Fair Traders, alias Protectionists, would have to evolve a Chancellor of the Exchequer of 10-Gladstone-power to cope with them. To sum up, the truth is that To Threaten Foreign Countries that we shall Adopt their Fiscal Policy Unless they Adopt ours, is to leave to the Decision of others whether we are (Rightly or Wrongly) to Adhere to Free Trade or Revert to Protection.