The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51
Chapter XII. — Concluding Remarks
Sometimes objections are made to free trade, not founded on any imperfection in the theory itself, but arising from altogether extrinsic considerations. But such objections are quite irrelevant. Each science has its own province of inquiry, and its conclusions are confined to the topics that form the special objects of its investigation. The purpose of political economy is to ascertain the laws under which human industry can produce the most ample results, and the "wealth of nations" be best developed. It is no impugnment of the truths which it propounds to contend that there are considerations foreign to the science itself which render it inexpedient to act on its conclusions. In an æsthetical point of view, factories may be objects too hideous to be tolerated, and it may be better to leave a coal-mine unworked than to destroy the lovely trees which adorn its surface. In a political point of view, it may be better that each country should keep itself independent of foreign commerce, so as to be prepared, at any moment, without feeling its loss, to wage war with other nations. Or, in a theological point of view, it may be better for men not to devote too much attention to such subjects, as tending to seduce their minds into mammon-worship. But it is the business of the statesman, not of the political economist, to examine these allegations, and allow them practically such weight as they may deserve. The mission of political economy is confined to the elucidation of economic principles and their application to plutology or the science of wealth; and it is no refutation of the truth of its conclusions that objections may be raised to their practical adoption, which arise out of a quite different order of considerations.
We have confined ourselves, in these pages, to some of the most salient points connected with the antagonism be- page 44 tween free trade and protection. There are, however, a variety of subsidiary and collateral topics that might furnish ample matter for contrasting the two principles. To quote only a few instances, we might enlarge on the tendency of hostile tariffs to excite and maintain feelings of irritation between one country and another, and on the contrary tendency of large international dealings, through free trade, to bind nations together by a strong community of interests, and thus to check and discourage war. We might advert to the beneficial operation of free trade in partially obviating "gluts," that is, the over-production of some articles as compared with others, and in rendering the commercial world far more sensitive than it now is to variations in supply and demand, so that incipient fluctuations would be quickly checked, and would never reach the extreme range which they now attain. We might point out that free trade would tend to equalise prices throughout the world, and would pave the way to many important improvements, such as the general unification of weights, measures, and coins; perhaps even to the assimilation and codification of the laws which now in each country variously affect commerce. But we must refrain from dwelling on these matters, for this does not pretend to be an exhaustive treatise on free trade; it is simply a rough sketch of its principal features as they practically affect the commerce of the world.
We shall now proceed to examine the relation in which free trade stands to the commerce of the United Kingdom, and see how far the present depression of trade may or may not be connected with its adoption here about thirty years ago.