The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51
Does Protection Protect?
Does Protection Protect?
Q. It is constantly affirmed that if this system of taxation is not maintained, the United States will be subjected to a flood of foreign imports; and that their labourers will be defrauded of opportunity of employment, and be reduced thereby to distress and pauperism. Is there any good basis for such assertions?
A. They are mere pretence and humbug.
Q. How can this be demonstrated? Can high-priced American labourers compete in the same occupations with foreign paupers?
A. Paupers in one place are the same as paupers everywhere. Their labour is always unskilful, slovenly, poor, and costly. They are not dreaded in competition by working-men at home; and for the same reason pauper labour is not to page 15 be dreaded (if any such exists) in the manufacturing industries of Europe.
Q. Is there no other answer to this stock argument of the protectionists?
A. Yes; the real answer is to be found in the indisputable fact, that nearly every branch of work which is conducted in the United States, either of agriculture, manufactures, or mining, is done here, because it must be; because it is necessary that it should be; because no one will or can do it for us.
Q. Under what conditions, then, do the arts and manufactures of the United States exist?
A. Nine-tenths of all the arts and manufactures of the country exist by reason of necessity, and not by reason of any system of revenue laws; not by any discrimination in the imposition of duties; not from any cause which it is the power of legislators to promote, except by assuring personal safety, the enforcement of contracts, and an honestly-earned dollar as the unit of money.
Q. What branches of domestic industry owe their existence to a protective tariff?
A. There is not a single great branch of domestic manufactures which had not been established in some form in the United States long before a protective tariff had been or could have been imposed. The manufacture of iron is nearly as old as the history of every colony or territory in which there is any iron ore. The manufacture of woollens is as old as the country itself, and was more truly a domestic manufacture when our ancestors were clothed in homespun than it is now. The manufacture of cotton is almost as old as the production of the fibre on our territory. So also of the manufactures of leather, boots and shoes, hardware, furniture, wooden-ware, paper, spirituous liquors, &c., &c. And when you go beyond these, there is left only a comparatively few persons employed on glass, pottery, and silk.
Q. What articles can be specifically mentioned that cannot by any possibility be directly benefited by a protective tariff?
A. First, our great agricultural staples : our corn and our wheat, our beef and our pork, our lard and our tallow, our butter and cheese, our cotton and hay, and our fresh and canned fruits and vegetables. We export all these products, page 16 and anything which can be exported regularly, and sold in competition in foreign countries with similar foreign products cannot be directly benefited by any tariff legislation. Secondly, an immense variety of the products of our other industries—our petroleum, turpentine, and rosin; nearly all building materials and constructions of wood, including vessels; our products of gold, silver, and copper; our stoves, tinware, shovels, axes, nearly all agricultural machines and implements, and most articles of common hardware; boots and shoes, and sole leather; coarse cotton and woollen fabrics, starch, refined sugar, distilled spirits and alcohol, most fermented liquors, waggons, carts, most carriages, harnesses, rail-road cars, sewing machines, all ordinary confectionery, the cheaper papers and paper hangings, photographs, picture frames, pianos, india-rubber goods, toys, watches, guns, fixed ammunition, newspapers, buttons, brooms, gas, clocks, and a great variety of other articles, not one of which, if the tariff was entirely abolished, would be imported to any considerable extent; and most of which, under free trade, would be manufactured and exported in vastly larger quantities than at present.
Q. What are other practical illustrations of the absurdity of the assertion of protectionists, that in default of a high tariff American industries would be wrecked by foreign pauper labour?
A. The whole number of persons who were engaged in the manufacture (including the mining of coal and ore) of a little less than 4,000,000 tons of pig iron in the United States in 1880, was less than 100,000. Their average annual earnings were £61 each.
Q. What would it have cost if England had supplied us in 1880 with this quantity of iron, in respect to the single items of freight, insurance, and other necessary charges, and had transported it to the centre of population or of the use of iron in this country?
A. It would have cost a sum equivalent to more than half the sum of all the wages paid to the whole force of labourers employed in the United States for 1880, in making pig iron; and in respect to iron mines and furnaces west and south of the Alleghanies, the natural protection created by distance and the cost of transportation would have been greater than the entire sum paid for making pig iron at these works.page 17
Q. Is there, therefore, any pretext for the assertion that a high tariff is necessary to maintain the wages of the American coal and iron miners or the men in our blast furnaces, at a high rate?
A. It is simply an impertinent pretext, whose acceptance depends on the general ignorance of the people as to the true facts in the case.
Q. What proportion does the whole value of the annual pig iron product and of the annual wool clip of the country sustain to the value of its entire product of all articles?
A. Less than two per cent.; and yet the representatives of these two interests assume, for the sake of private interest, to dictate the entire commercial policy of the whole country. The value of the annual product of pig-iron in the United States for 1884 is estimated at £18,000,000, and of the wool product of the country for the same year at £12,800,000, total £30,800,000. During the same year the value of the poultry product of the country—poultry and eggs—was estimated at £36,000,000.
Q. If nine-tenths of all the industries of the country exist and flourish by reason of natural circumstances, how does the remaining tenth manage to exist?
A. By the taxation of the other nine-tenths.
Q. What is the greatest resulting evil of such a system?
A. The burden of taxation—direct and indirect—is most heavy, but the great natural resources of the United States and the energies of its people have thus far enabled the country to bear it and still prosper. A greater and unmeasurably more disastrous evil is, that in the effort to protect a fraction of our industries through taxation and restrictions on exchanges, the cost of all the products of our entire industry is enhanced to such an extent, that as a nation, we cannot export our manufactured products, and so extend our markets and increase our opportunities for domestic employment, except in those cases where our natural advantages for production are so great, as in the case of agriculture, as to overcome the increase of cost of all domestic production, thus unnaturally and artificially created. Hence the periodical glut of our markets and suspension of our industries, and the consequent wrong done to labour. Hence the evils of the so-called "over-production," which is simply a wrong name for mis directed production.page 18
Q. What proportion of the articles imported by the United States from foreign countries are articles of necessity, used in our domestic industries, or as the food, and for the comfort of our operatives?
A. Of articles of the above character it is estimated that we annually import above £32,000,000 in value, on which we collect from ten to twelve millions of duties or taxes; and these duties raise the cost of the manufactures into which they enter at least £20,000,000 higher than they need be.
Q. Is such a policy protection to American or foreign industries?
A. Twenty million pounds is ten per cent, on two hundred millions' worth of product, and we accordingly grant a bounty of ten per cent. 011 the exportation from Europe of £200,000,000 worth of finished products, by a useless tax of 2,000,000; and to this extent make war upon our own labourers.