The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51
Having safely passed our "pons" we will now, by the help of what this has taught us, examine what our Neo-Protectionists call One-sided Free Trade.
I hold it to mean that while every nation has a free sale for its products in our home markets, we are excluded more or less from some of the great markets of the world by hostile and prohibitory tariffs. This is the truth, but the inferences and conclusions drawn therefrom by our Neo-Protectionists are as false and absurd as their notions about our adverse balance of trade.
They suppose that Great Britain is the principal if not the only sufferer from this state of things; and they assert that while Protection is advancing the prosperity of other countries, Free Trade is destroying ours.
Free Traders deny these propositions, and, on the contrary, affirm that Free Trade has been, and is, a source of vast prosperity, and an unmitigated blessing to the country, and that Protection has been, and is, a source of loss to those countries which have established it
Let us now see what we, as a nation, have done under our one-sided Free Trade.
First, let us try and understand the meaning of the com-plaint that every nation has a free sale for its products in our home markets. From the terms used, it must be evident that every nation which produces anything, and wishes page 15 to sell it to us, has to compete with every other nation wishing to do the same thing. It is therefore impossible for us to get the commodities we want cheaper than we do through this universal competition.
No other nation enjoys the advantages which flow from this state of things. We find constantly that commodities are cheaper here than in the countries which produce them. The poor among us are thus enabled to fight the battle of life on the most favourable terms possible. Our labourers are thus fed, housed, and clothed, as cheaply as possible. They are thus enabled to produce cheaply, more cheaply than any other workers; so cheaply that they have become the dread of every Protectionist nation:—so cheaply that ad valorem duties of 50 to 200 per cent on their productions are inadequate to keep them out of Protectionist markets; so cheaply, that we almost monopolise, as a matter of cheapness, every neutral market; so cheaply that we have managed to obtain nearly five-eighths of the world's ocean carrying trade, and are daily driving out of employment such of the remaining vessels as belong to Protectionist nations.
Our one-sided Free Trade has done all this for us, at all events. And no Protectionist nation can divest us of what we have thus got. And of the advantages we enjoy we cannot be deprived except in one way—by other nations becoming also Free Traders.
It must be clear, that so far as our one side goes, it is a very good side, and cannot be improved. Ought we not to be extremely careful how we touch it? I am going to ask presently why we should touch it? The Neo-Protectionist would probably say, "because we want to get the other side also."
Are we quite sure this other side will be as good as that we have? I doubt it.
The complaint is that by hostile tariffs, our productions are excluded from the principal markets of the world. This is true, and on cosmopolitan grounds, and in the interests of humanity, this state of things is to be regretted. But we are not now considering the interests of humanity, we are trying to see how we can advance the particular interests of Great Britain.page 16
There are good reasons for supposing that the existing state of things is not to be regretted by us from the selfish national point of view.
I am not sure, as some are, that Great Britain would in the long run be a gainer by universal Free Trade, and I now start this as a question worthy of calm discussion.
If universal Free Trade existed, its vital and energetic principle, division of labour, would, of course, have full play, and mankind would by its means achieve the maximum of production at the minimum of cost
I am not quite certain that, as a nation, we should, under it, be absolutely, or comparatively, as well off as we are now.
Let us for a moment imagine all hostile tariffs suddenly abolished.
Has any one ever seriously considered the possible effects, immediate, and remote, which might arise?
|1.||A sudden and vast demand for labour at home.|
|2.||A sudden and a great increase in wages.|
|3.||A rapid increase in the number of our factories, work-shops, mills, furnaces, &c.|
|4.||A rampant speculation in everything connected with trade and manufactures.|
|5.||A general rise in prices distressful to those with fixed incomes.|
|6.||A rush of population from home and abroad to our manufacturing centres.|
|7.||A stimulus given to marriage and population.|
|8.||A demoralisation of our labouring classes.|
|9.||Strikes for an increase of wages.|
|10.||The culmination of the foregoing.|
|11.||The beginning of a reaction owing to the commencement of foreign competition.|
|12.||The commencement of a fall in prices.|
|13.||Labour disputes, and strikes against the fall.|
|14.||Progress of the fall in prices.|
|15.||Failures of mill owners and manufacturers; closing of mills and factories, and blowing out of furnaces.|
|16.||Labourers thrown out of employment, and consequent increase of pauperism and crime.page 17|
|17.||Extreme depression takes place.|
|18.||The usual healing courses have to be followed.|
|19.||After some years of suffering things settle down pretty much as they were.|
All this is based on the sudden opening of foreign ports. A gradual opening would, of course, modify the process, but the ultimate result would not be different. One of the results which would most probably happen is, that our population might be increased by two or three millions more than it otherwise would be. But then several questions arise, such as:—" Would the nation then be absolutely or comparatively better off? "
Free Trade introduced into Protectionist countries would disorganise their industries—ruin some of them—and cause a general displacement of capital and labour. Effects the converse of those described as happening with us would take place with them. At last a basis would be found. Then would arise everywhere a real and keen competition with us. Is it quite certain we should come out of it victorious? Take such industries as these: Our cotton and wool manufactures, our iron manufactures, our ocean-carrying trade.
The United States grow cotton, and in Alabama this cotton is adjacent to the iron and coal which are produced there and in the neighbouring states. Would our cotton lords and ironmasters view with equanimity the contest with our cousins which would commence on the morrow of the opening of their ports? It might turn out that these cousins might find out some way of making cotton goods and iron as cheap as, or cheaper than, we can. If the competition of foreigners be keen now, notwithstanding the weight they carry in the shape of enhanced cost of production, arising out of Protectionist tariffs, what would it be should the weight be removed? What would become of our shipbuilding and ocean-carrying trade? What would become of our trade with the States? What would become of us in neutral markets? What would become of us in our own markets?
At present, as regards cheapness of production, we stand supreme everywhere in all these things. Protection, in this page 18 respect, handicaps and kills our competitors. Free Trade would breathe life into them. I say, therefore, speaking selfishly as an Englishman, we had better remain as we are, and "let sleeping dogs lie."
But I want to know what it is our Neo-Protectionists have to lay at the door of Free Trade, even one-sided Free Trade.
Let us do a little more national stock-taking, for there is no other way of seeing how we get on.
Under the head "Imports and Exports," I gave figures which show the grand external results of our one-sided free trade. Let us now look at our internal condition, and see whether we can recognise any moral and material progress.
Let us take—1. Population. 2. Pauperism. 3. Crime. 4. Education. 5. Thrift. 6. Bankruptcy. 7. Taxation. 8. National Debt. 9. Banking. 10. Railways. 11. Agriculture.