Page images

is the theory that his goods will be undersold in the foreign, or even in the home market, by rivals who, paying their workmen lower money wages, manufacture their commodities at a smaller cost, and can, therefore, afford to sell them for a lower price. But whoever asserts that a foreigner fabricates commodities at a smaller cost than the English manufacturer, because the former pays his workmen lower wages, maintains a gross fallacy. The reduction which the application of machinery makes in the quantity of labour required to manufacture a given quantity of wrought goods is kept entirely out of sight. To produce a certain quantity of manufactured commodities, the foreigner, having few mechanical means for the abridgment of labour, requires the service of twenty workmen, while the English manufacturer, having it in his power to avail himself of the assistance of the most efficient machines, can produce an equal quantity of commodities by employing only five workmen. Although it be true that the foreigner pays his workmen individually lower wages, it is not, therefore, true that he can manufacture at a lower, or even at an equal, cost. The additional number of hands which the want of machinery obliges him to employ, more than overbalances the advantage which he derives from the lower rate of wages which he is called upon to pay to each workman: and the relative cost of manufacturing commodities in two different countries should be calculated, not in money, but in the quantity of corn which money will purchase, multiplied by the number of workmen that must be employed in executing a given task.

To rebut the force of this observation, it will, perhaps, be contended that, as one man can imitate anything which another man can make, the foreign manufacturer will, at least by degrees, possess himself of machines of power and efficiency equal to those which are used in this country; and that whenever this takes place, the low-rate wages paid to his workmen will give him, even upon our own principles, an advantage over the English manufacturer. Our manufacturers may, and probably must, be deprived, by degrees, of the superiority which they derive from the application of more skill and more efficient machinery. But England supplies, we apprehend, some local and natural requisites for manufactures which no other country can furnish-at least, in an equal degree. Considered with respect to its effect in abridging labour employed in manufactures, the most important event of modern times is, the discovery of the steam-engine. The country which cannot command a constant and permanent supply of coals will derive no assistance from the employment of this most powerful agent and it is well known that in very few districts on the con tinent can an adequate supply be procured of an article which is


thus become an indispensable ingredient in manufacturing operations. In another indispensable requisite an adequate supply of water our manufacturers possess an incalculable advantage over any competitors with whom they may be called upon to enter the lists. It is true that we boast of no rivers which, in point of magnitude, can rival the Danube, the Rhine, the Elbe, the Vistula, or many others which could be easily named. It should, however, be remembered that there are few manufactures which can be carried on advantageously on the banks of large rivers. Large rivers pass with a slow current through flat and level districts; this circumstance renders it physically impracticable for the art of man to draw aside any portion of their water to be applied to manufacturing purposes. Even in this country the banks of our larger rivers, insignificant as they are when measured with those of the continent, are seldom found to be the seats of many manufactures. Passing by these places, which nature has rendered inapplicable to their views, our manufacturers spread their establishments along the banks of our lesser rivulets and streams, which they can impound, release, or divert at their pleasure. To this it should be added, that the continental brooks and rivers are frozen during their long winters, and the former utterly dry through the greater part of the summer; whilst of England the characteristic is, 'Her streams unfailing in the summer's drought.' One of the most powerful and most useful of the natural elements becomes thus, in the hands of the manufacturer, a pliant instrument, which, at his own will and pleasure, he can manage and render subservient to his views and purposes. Trivial as these circumstances may at first sight appear, they will, on more mature reflection, assume an aspect of no ordinary importance.

Assuming, then, that the manufacturers of other countries should by degrees possess themselves of steam-engines, jennies, and other machines equal in power and efficiency to those which are used in our own manufactories, still, if they cannot command similar advantages of fire and water to put these engines and machines in motion, we have no reason to dread their rivalry in manufacturing industry. Until the manufacturers of this country lose these advantages of fire and water which nature has conferred upon them, they cannot be undersold in any market by continental competitors.

But with the view of calming the fears of the manufacturing classes, we shall venture still further, and advance a proposition which may perhaps be considered as wearing the appearance of a paradox. We are inclined to suspect, that the high price of corn, and the consequent high rate of wages, in England, when compared with the price of corn and the rate of wages in other countries, furnish the strongest proof that English manufactures have nothing


to fear from foreign competition. It would not be difficult to show that the money-price of corn has been always highest among those nations who have been most conspicuous for manufacturing industry. Of this, Holland, during the first half of the last and the whole of the preceding century, furnishes a striking illustration. During the whole of that period corn in Holland was generally fifty per cent. dearer than it was in this country; and yet at that time England was immeasurably surpassed by Holland in the extent and variety of its manufactures. As soon as the inhabitants of this country established manufactures of their own, and began to fabricate at home the goods which they had been accustomed to import from the Low Countries, the price of corn began to increase in the markets of England. And its price is now higher here than in any other known country, because the extent and energy of our manufacturing operations render the demand for it both more intense and more constant than it is found anywhere else; and because the skill, science, and machinery, used by our manufacturers, enable them to convert a given quantity of corn into a greater quantity of wrought goods than it could be converted into in any other country. It is well known that those countries in which the price of corn approaches most nearly to its price in the English market are our most formidable rivals in manufactures. The countries which are likely to enter most successfully into competition with the English manufacturer are precisely those in which the price of corn comes nearest to its price in our markets. From the rivalry of Poland and Russia, the regions of cheap corn and low wages, we have nothing to fear probably for centuries to


Our manufacturers, in their nervous trepidation, fix their eye on the wrong object. They run over a statement of foreign prices, and see wheat set down at 20s. per quarter in one place, and 30s. per quarter in another; and their minds are instantly filled with the most disquieting dread of foreign competition. They need not, however, look with terror to the countries in which prices and wages are low. The competitors whom they should really fear are the inhabitants of the countries in which the price of corn and the rate of wages are high: that state of things proves the existence of manufacturing industry, producing a demand for labour, and, con sequently, for the food necessary to sustain the labourers; the opposite state of things proves the reverse. We should be inclined to fix upon the price of corn as the means of constructing a scale whereby to ascertain the progress which different nations may have made in manufacturing-industry: the nations among whom corn fetches the highest price will take the foremost rank; and those who most nearly approach them in this


respect will, if we are not greatly mistaken, prove their most formidable rivals. The cause which excites at present the fears of our own unreflecting manufacturer constitutes, in truth, the very best ground of his security.

In forming a permanent system of corn-laws, it must never be forgotten that from physical causes of universal operation, England becomes every day, in the proportion that tillage extends itself over the surface of the island, less exposed to fluctuation in the average quantity of corn grown on the whole of its cultivated land than any other country in the world. This is a most valuable advantage, which it derives from the variety of soil and climate included within its limits. Large continents generally abound in widely extended plains, either not at all intersected with mountains, or with such as are too highly elevated for cultivation. Hence results a greater uniformity of soils and climate over extensive districts, and the aggregate produce of those countries is found annually to vary in the degree in which the state of the atmosphere may have been favourable or unfavourable to vegetation in the most prevalent soils. In England things are somewhat different. Here we have an astonishing variety of soils in very limited districts, and at almost every conceivable degree of altitude above the level of the sea. Whether the season be, therefore, wet or dry, one part or other of this country derives an advantage from it proportioned to the disadvantage which is inflicted upon another part. When vegetation, for instance, withers and droops from excess of heat, and lack of moisture in one district, it flourishes with additional vigour derived from this very cause in another part of the kingdom which receives a greater fall of rain, and in which the soil is more retentive of moisture. Hence England, from its happy natural situation, possesses much of that useful adjusting property, which certain economists ascribe to the world at large. When a deficiency in the crop of corn takes place in one part of the island, it is sure to be balanced by a superfluity in another district; the average supply over the whole becomes thus in some degree equalised; and the more cultivation is pushed into new districts, possessing a different variety of soil, climate, and exposure, the more nearly will this adjusting property reach an exact equilibrium.

That the system which is to regulate the future admission of foreign corn into the markets of this country should be settled upon some certain, firm, and permanent basis appears to us indispensable; not merely to allay the irritation which is periodically excited by the discussion of this agitating question; but to protect the best interests of this country from a deep and irreparable injury. We feel convinced, that more harm would accrue


to every other class of the community from an impolitic disregard even of the prejudices of the agriculturists, than could possibly spring from conceding their most unreasonable demands. It is vain to attempt persuading the English farmer that the introduction of foreign corn would not prove permanently injurious to his interest; it is vain to tell him that his fears on this score are ill-founded; for, whether these alarms of the British cultivator be or be not well-founded, the moral influence which they produce upon his conduct is still the same. As long as these alarms exist, and exist they will, in spite of all that the ablest economists may say and write for the next hundred years-in spite equally

Of patriots bursting with heroic rage, And placemen all tranquillity and smiles'his exertions in tilling his farm will be paralyzed; he will slacken his industry and withhold his capital from the land on which it would be otherwise spread. And if the corn question should be disposed of, without regard to the wishes, or even the prejudices of the class engaged in agriculture, we are convinced that the result would be an alarming reduction in the quantity of grain annually grown in this country. The uncertainty created by the dread of undefined changes has, we apprehend, already been attended with much of this injurious effect; and, coupling the influence of these alarms with that of the enormous actual losses sustained by the agricultural classes within the last ten or twelve years, we have little doubt that the gross produce of land in this country at this time falls much short of what it would have been under more encouraging circumstances. Any uncertainty or alarm, which harasses the mind of the farmer, injures tillage. Like the worm, which works invisibly and silently in his fields, it will gradually undermine the prosperity of agriculture; and the effect of this relaxed energy, in calling forth the productive powers of the soil, must very soon reach the other classes of society. Whenever a reduction is effected in the quantity of grain and grass produced in the fields of the disheartened farmer, there must necessarily take place a diminution in the weight of bread, beef, and mutton which can fall to the share of the industrious artisan and working manufacturer.

[ocr errors]

Most of those who recommend the application of the freetrade theory to the corn question seem to consider the English farmer just as inaccessible to the impulses of hope and fear, as the team which he drives in his plough. They argue upon the assumption, that, although the foreign corn-grower be permitted to enter into the most open competition with him in the home


« PreviousContinue »