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CONSIDERATIONS ON THE CORN LAWS*.
By what causes the necessaries of life have risen to a price, at which a great part of the people are unable to procure them, how the present scarcity may be remedied, and calamities of the same kind may, for the future, be prevented, is an inquiry of the first importance; an inquiry, before which all the considerations which commonly busy the legislature vanish from the view.
The interruption of trade, though it may distress part of the community, leaves the rest power to communicate relief: the decay of one manufacture may be compensated by the advancement of another: a defeat may be repaired by victory a rupture with one nation may be balanced by an alliance with another. These are partial and slight misfortunes, which leave us still in the possession of our chief comforts. They may lop some of our superfluous pleasures, and repress some of our exorbitant hopes; but we may still retain the essential part of civil and of private happiness-the security of law, and the tranquillity of content. They are small obstructions of the stream, which raise a foam and noise, where they happen to be found, but, at a little distance, are neither seen nor felt, and suffer the main current to pass forward in its natural course.
But scarcity is an evil that extends at once to the whole community that neither leaves quiet to the poor, nor
These Considerations, for which we are indebted to Mr. Malone, who published them in 1808, or rather to his liberal publisher, Mr. Payne, were, in the opinion of Mr. Malone, written in November, 1766, when the policy of the parliamentary bounty on the exportation of corn became naturally a subject of discussion. The harvest in that year had been so deficient, and corn had risen to so high a price, that in the months of September and October there had been many insurrections in the midland counties, to which Dr. Johnson alludes; and which were of so alarming a kind, that it was necessary to repress them by military force.
safety to the rich; that, in its approaches, distresses all the subordinate ranks of mankind; and, in its extremity, must subvert government, drive the populace upon their rulers, and end in bloodshed and massacre. Those who want the supports of life will seize them wherever they can be found. If in any place there are more than can be fed, some must be expelled, or some must be destroyed.
Of this dreadful scene there is no immediate danger; but there is already evil sufficient to deserve and require all our diligence and all our wisdom. The miseries of the poor are such as cannot easily be borne; such as have already incited them, in many parts of the kingdom, to an open defiance of government, and produced one of the greatest of political evils-the necessity of ruling by immediate force.
Cæsar declared, after the battle of Munda, that he had often fought for victory, but that he had, that day, fought for life. We have often deliberated, how we should prosper; we are now to inquire, how we shall subsist.
The present scarcity is imputed, by some, to the bounty for exporting corn, which is considered as having a necessary and perpetual tendency to pour the grain of this country into other nations.
This position involves two questions: whether the present scarcity has been caused by the bounty? and whether the bounty is likely to produce scarcity in future times?
It is an uncontroverted principle, that " sublata causa tollitur effectus;" if, therefore, the effect continues when the supposed cause has ceased, that effect must be imputed to some other agency.
The bounty has ceased, and the exportation would still continue, if exportation were permitted. The true reason of the scarcity is the failure of the harvest; and the cause of exportation is the like failure in other countries, where they grow less, and where they are, therefore, always nearer to the danger of want.
This want is such, that in countries where money is at a much higher value than with us, the inhabitants are yet
desirous to buy our corn at a price to which our own markets have not risen.
If we consider the state of those countries, which, being accustomed to buy our corn cheaper than ourselves, when it was cheap, are now reduced to the necessity of buying it dearer than ourselves, when it is dear, we shall yet have. reason to rejoice in our own exemption from the extremity of this wide-extended calamity; and, if it be necessary, to inquire why we suffer scarcity, it may be fit to consider, likewise, why we suffer yet less scarcity than our neighbours.
That the bounty upon corn has produced plenty, is apparent:
Because, ever since the grant of the bounty, agriculture has increased; scarce a sessions has passed without a law for enclosing commons and waste grounds:
Much land has been subjected to tillage, which lay uncultivated with little profit:
Yet, though the quantity of land has been thus increased, the rent, which is the price of land, has generally increased at the same time.
That more land is appropriated to tillage, is a proof that more corn is raised; and that the rents have not fallen, proves that no more is raised than can readily be sold.
But it is urged, that exportation, though it increases our produce, diminishes our plenty; that the merchant has more encouragement for exportation than the farmer for agriculture.
This is a paradox which all the principles of commerce and all the experience of policy concur to confute. Whatever is done for gain, will be done more, as more gain is to be obtained.
Let the effects of the bounty be minutely considered. The state of every country, with respect to corn, is varied by the chances of the year.
Those to whom we sell our corn, must have every year either more corn than they want, or less than they
want. We, likewise, are naturally subject to the same varieties.
When they have corn equal to their wants, or more, the bounty has no effect; for they will not buy what they do not want, unless our exuberance be such as tempts them to store it for another year. This case must suppose that our produce is redundant and useless to ourselves; and, therefore, the profit of exportation produces no inconvenience.
When they want corn, they must buy of us, and buy at a higher price: in this case, if we have corn more than enough for ourselves, we are again benefited by supplying them.
But they may want when we have no superfluity. When our markets rise, the bounty ceases; and, therefore, produces no evil. They cannot buy our corn but at a higher rate than it is sold at home. If their necessities, as now has happened, force them to give a higher price, that event is no longer to be charged upon the bounty. We may then stop our corn in our ports, and pour it back upon our own markets.
It is, in all cases, to be considered, what events are physical and certain, and what are political and arbitrary.
The first effect of the bounty is the increase of agriculture, and, by consequence, the promotion of plenty. This is an effect physically good, and morally certain. While men are desirous to be rich, where there is profit there will be diligence. If much corn can be sold, much will be raised.
The second effect of the bounty is the diminution by exportation of that product which it occasioned. But this effect is political and arbitrary; we have it wholly in our own hands; we can prescribe its limits, and regulate its quantity. Whenever we feel want, or fear it, we retain our corn, and feed ourselves upon that which was sown and raised to feed other nations.
It is, perhaps, impossible for human wisdom to go further, than to contrive a law of which the good is certain
and uniform, and the evil, though possible in itself, yet always subject to certain and effectual restraints.
This is the true state of the bounty upon corn: it certainly and necessarily increases our crops, and can never lessen them but by our own permission.
That, notwithstanding the bounty, there have been, from time to time, years of scarcity, cannot be denied. But who can regulate the seasons? In the dearest years we owe to the bounty that they have not been dearer. We must always suppose part of our ground sown for our own consumption, and part in hope of a foreign sale. The time sometimes comes, when the product of all this land is scarcely sufficient: but if the whole be too little, how great would have been the deficiency, if we had sown only that part which was designed for ourselves!
"But, perhaps, if exportation were less encouraged, the superfluous stores of plentiful years might be laid up by the farmer against years of scarcity."
This may be justly answered by affirming, that, if exportation were discouraged, we should have no years of plenty. Cheapness is produced by the possibility of dearOur farmers, at present, plough and sow with the hope that some country will always be in want, and that they shall grow rich by supplying. Indefinite hopes are always carried by the frailty of human nature beyond reason. While, therefore, exportation is encouraged, as much corn will be raised as the farmer can hope to sell, and, therefore, generally more than can be sold at the price of which he dreamed, when he ploughed and sowed.
The greatest part of our corn is well known to be raised by those, who pay rent for the ground which they employ, and of whom, few can bear to delay the sale of one year's produce to another.
It is, therefore, vain to hope that large stocks of grain will ever remain in private hands: he that has not sold the corn of last year, will, with diffidence and reluctance, till his field again; the accumulation of a few years would end in