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The History of Free Trade page 4

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It must be confessed, however, that the landlords were not the only class for whose assumed benefit these restrictions were so obstinately defended. There was a vast number of our home manufactures which were "protected" in a similar manner, on the false plea that British industry could not maintain its ground if brought into competition with the production of the foreigner. Wages being generally higher here than on the Continent, it was supposed that the foreigner could supply everything cheaper than our own people. Visions of a country purchasing everything it consumed of other nations, while its own population were idle and starving, rose before the view of the honest Protectionist at the mention of free trade. It was strangely forgotten that to buy of the foreigner means to send him our goods, as well as to take his, and that, therefore, buying with no selling is an impossibility. A glance at our tariff at any period will show that our foreign trade is not a mere system of importation - indeed, if the accounts could be relied on, the amount of goods taken of us by the foreigner exceeds what we buy of him. It is quite true that sudden changes might have been extremely injurious to the workmen of any particular trade. If, for instance, the people of England had found out that it was cheaper to get all the boots they wear by buying them of the French, with our cottons and woollens, the employment for weavers and spinners of cottons and woollens might be enormously increased, but English boot-making must come to an end. This, however, could, at most, be only a plea against effecting too suddenly a change which, in the end, must be beneficial to all parties. It is clearly better that our own population should be employed in making those things, for which we have the greatest natural facilities, than that we should make articles of necessity artificially dear, for the benefit of a class of producers who might be gradually absorbed into other and more profitable trades.

On the other hand, it must be confessed that the "protection" afforded by our tariff to the manufacturers, though scarcely less injurious in its effects, was wanting in those peculiar features which rendered the bread laws so odious in the eyes of thinking men. The rents of landlords were undoubtedly increased by the prohibition of foreign produce, because, the land of the country being limited in extent, they had a virtual monopoly of the means of supplying food. The profits of manufacturers, however, could never have been really augmented by the laws which shielded them from foreign competition, because they had no monopoly at all. To add to the number of acres of land in the country was impossible; but to double the number of manufactories in any particular trade only required the diversion of an additional portion of the national capital - a result which would inevitably have followed, if the profits of the protected manufacturers had been exceptionally high. In fact, it was seen by the advocates of free trade that the prohibition of foreign manufactures, while it took money from the pockets of the people, brought nothing to the English producer, who was simply paid more than the foreigner, when it really cost him more to produce the article. The case was the same as if our Government should prohibit the people from purchasing oranges brought from abroad. Some oranges would, probably, in that case, be produced in English, hothouses, and sold at prices enormously high; but of course these high prices would not render the cultivation of oranges in England more profitable than other businesses. The price, in fact, would only recompense the grower for the great expense and labour he had been put to in raising oranges in a climate naturally unfitted for their production. Considered from an economical point of view, this species of protection was even more objectionable than the landlord's taxes, because the high price benefited no class, and represented, in fact, mere waste; but it was, at least, free from that selfishness of monopoly which maintained the restrictions on supplies of food amid all the distress of severe winters, with limited employment.

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