« AnteriorContinua »
of tobacco. Then when he has a glass of ale or a tot of whiskey with his dinner he may find a dubious pleasure in reflecting that he is performing a meritorious 'Free Trade' action in that he is contributing to the annual revenue of thirty-four millions sterling which must be obtained from beer and spirits in order to save the country, under our so-called Free Trade régime, from bankruptcy; and over his tea it is to be hoped he takes delight in pouring another libation to the fetish of Free Trade. Wherever he turns, whatever he drinks, and whatever food, with the exception of cereals, he consumes, the working man of this blessed 'Free Trade' country finds himself mulcted in heavy duties in order that an old and worn-out parrot cry may be honoured.
In no country competing with us in the markets of the world is the workers' food and drink as highly taxed as with us. On the 1st of March 1907 Count Posadowsky, the Prussian Minister of the Interior, stated that, as the result of very careful calculations' which he had made as to the relative burden of taxation per head of the population of Germany, Great Britain, and the United States, he had found that the sum per head in each country was as follows :--
d. 15 91 14 11.1. 10 6
No wonder this German Minister exclaimed in amazement, 'I would much like to know who invented the fairy tale that Great Britain is a Free Trade country!'
The British working man helps to build up a national revenue in food and drink and tobacco of nearly sixty-five millions sterling yearly, and yet there are orators who have the courage to impose upon the ignorance of the working classes of this country, people who call themselves ' Free Fooders,' and go round from town to town, and from village to village, preaching this gospel of ' Free Trade.'
The issue is not placed fairly or squarely before the electorate. An example of this sophistication may be found in the cartoons of the 'big and little loaf' which were sent broadcast throughout the country at the time of the last General Election. The people forget, if indeed they ever knew, that the repeal of the Corn Laws did not cheapen bread, but was followed by a period when it was dearer. They probably think it had an immediate cheapening effect, and that the little loaf and the big loaf represent the difference in the price of bread before and after repeal. As a matter of fact the average price of wheat was not reduced for many years. The abolition of the Corn Laws had the effect of steadying the market-an inestimable boon—but it did not cheapen the average price of bread. We owe cheap bread to the exploitation of new wheat-growing areas, to machinery and to low freights. The people of Great Britain are told that if they impose duties, however small, they will, under all circumstances, have to pay for them themselves, and they believe it. No other civilised community believes anything of the kind. The statement is false in theory and is disproved by facts. We had a small registration duty on wheat which brought in 2,346,7961. a year, and we imposed a tax of 1s. a ton on high-class export coal which produced 1,991,7671. annually; in all, 4,340,0001. in round figures. These duties were taken off, and with what result? We have lost nearly four and a half millions a year and have gained nothing. It is the irony of fate that a Government which won place and power largely as a result of the
big loaf and little loaf crusade 'should have had the mortification to see the price of bread steadily rise since it took office. In the past year the cost of bread in London has advanced by an amount varying from a halfpenny to a penny on the four-pound loaf according to the district. In other words the workman's loaf of to-day has shrunk to the extent of from 9 per cent. to 18 per cent. in comparison with the bigger loaf of a year ago. The price of coal has greatly risen also. I am far from attributing the rise in prices to the abolition of the small duties, but I have not the slightest doubt that if any change had been made in our fiscal arrangements in the direction of a small registration duty on corn in order to promote reciprocal trade within the Empire, the increase in the price of the loaf, or, to put it in other words, the transition from the big loaf to the little loaf, would have been attributed to tariff reform. The fact stares us in the face that the abolition of small duties does not necessarily decrease, and that, per contra, the imposition of small duties does not necessarily increase the price of the articles to which they apply. In reality, of course, prices are regulated by considerations of a totally different kind. The effect of small duties is to extract revenue from the foreigner, . not an undesirable thing, and to encourage production among British subjects. The 'big and little loaf' cry is a fraud, and it would be only decent to cease parading it before the people.
Simple facts will tell more with the average elector than abstruse arguments based upon unreliable statistics. When told that duties, however small, are paid by those who impose them, it will occur to him that since the abolition of a registration duty on wheat and of an export tax on coal the prices of bread and coal have greatly increased. When informed that no benefit can be conferred by a slight preference, he will remember that British trade with New Zealand has much improved since 1903, and he will recognise that the experience of New Zealand and of Canada disproves the tale; and he will begin to consider the merits of the case for himself.
Owing to fortuitous circumstances Great Britain as an industrial nation was first in the field, and owing in part also to the industry and skill of the British industrial worker Great Britain, down to a few years ago, enjoyed a period of rapidly increasing trade. Germany, the United States, and other rival countries were still industrially
in their infancy. In those years the trade of the United Kingdom flourished, and accordingly the standard of living and the rate of wages increased. The standard of living reached a height which has its parallel in few parts of the world. Now, however, rival countries have passed their period of infancy; they have raised tariff walls behind which, secure in their home markets, they have been able to develop their own industries. To-day they provide not only for their own wants, but they have a large surplus of goods with which they are able to food free-importing England and neutral markets. These goods are not produced under the model conditions which successive Governments by means of factory legislation, workmen's Compensation Acts, and other measures have enforced. Whatever the conditions under which production is carried on abroad, these foreign goods enter neutral markets and our own home markets without let, hindrance, or toll, and there compete on equal terms with the manufactures of the British working man. With one exception the standard of living in England is higher than in these protected countries, and infinitely higher than that obtaining among communities whose manufactures must sooner or later come into competition with ours, as for instance China or Japan. When goods produced under a high standard of living come into competition with similar goods produced under a low standard of living, producers under the former system must give way, struggle as they will. Nothing save them.
Neither combination, nor co-operation, nor municipal control, nor State control will
control will avail against immutable laws. Without self-protection in some form or other
against unfair competition our producers must reduce the standard • of living or be ousted out of the trade. If the British workman is to compete against the dumped products of other countries, and insists upon remaining faithful to what are called “ Free Trade' principles, he must make up his mind to accept lower wages while paying a higher price for the commonest luxuries of life, and his employment and wages will be precarious. Steadiness is essential to good trade. An average derived from violent fluctuations in the values of goods and labour is not compatible with prosperity. Natural changes due to good times and bad times are inevitable; but, under our suicidal system, we are liable to the artificial overturning of natural equilibrium through the intrusion of dumped goods. Of this we are likely to receive an unpleasant object lesson if the threatened dumping operations on our steel trade are carried out. We acknow. ledge these facts in part. We object to the actual presence among us of the cheapest foreign labour, though in that case we should benefit by the circulation in the country of the wages the workers eam. We do not object to the introduction of the products of the cheapest foreign labour. Can anything be more absurd ? Well, perhaps our whole existing system of taxation is more absurd. We have to
raise revenue, but insist that it must be raised under such conditions as cannot possibly give the smallest advantage to the British working man in competing with the foreigner even in British markets. Not only do we conscientiously carry out this maxim, but we actually give the foreign worker a bonus. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says, in effect, to the foreign populations of the world :
See how good I am to you! I tax to the extent of nearly sixty-five millions sterling a year the food, drink, and tobacco of the British working man, and I refuse by any system of toll or impost upon your manufactured goods to cause you to contribute one shilling to the revenue. I am so determined that the British working man shall have no advantage over you that while I place this heavy burden on the necessaries of life upon the cottage homes of England I refuse to entertain any proposal to place a tax upon your manufactured goods entering the United Kingdom lest I should be taking something out of your pockets, and might be giving some encouragement to British industry.
We are not content with maintaining this attitude ; we go a step further. We have a monopoly in the best steam coal, a coal essential to our navy, and to foreign navies which conceivably might be hostile to us. We raised revenue by placing a tax upon this unique fuel. That, under the circumstances, the tax is paid by the importer is clear in theory and is proved true in practice; for neither the British householder nor the manufacturer has gained any advantage by the removal of the tax; both are paying to-day a higher price for their fuel, and everyone feels the brunt of the increase in higher railway fares and in many other ways. But in order to do a little play acting by masquerading as Free Traders and to guard against the terrible calamity of receiving any contribution to our revenue from the foreigner we removed the tax.
The German Minister for the Interior has referred to British Free Trade as a fairy tale. He might well have alluded to our fiscal system as a childish game of make-believe.
It cannot be supposed that even the most pronounced Free Trader still believes in the possibility of universal Free Trade in the only true sense, that of free exchange. He must admit that the expression ‘Free Trade'as applied to us is a misnomer, and that our system consists of taxed selling and free buying modified by duties for revenue purposes on the common luxuries of life. Such a method of raising money is hard upon the poor; how hard it is may be evidenced by the case of Ireland. In Great Britain taxation is pretty evenly divided between direct and indirect taxes; but in Ireland 70 per cent. of the revenue derived from that unfortunate country comes from indirect taxation, from taxes on such common luxuries that they may fairly be styled the necessaries of life. It is to this insane method of raising revenue that the choking over-taxation of Ireland according to her relative capacity to bear taxation is largely due. Can we continue to exist under this extraordinary and illogical system ? It is related of a hypothetical Irishman that he endeavoured to accustom his horse to live upon one straw a day, and that undoubtedly his experiment would have been successful had not the animal most unfortunately died during the process of proof. This sad event is typical of the fate in store for us.
Free Traders should be logical. They should have the courage to follow their theory to its inevitable conclusion. There is really nothing wrong with it if humanity and nationality could be eliminated from our consideration. The laisser faire theory, the doctrine that labour must accommodate itself to circumstances, and that the weakest must go to the wall, was and is a necessary corollary of Free Trade. But labour cannot adjust itself. It takes generations to convert a ploughman into a cotton-spinner or a riveter into an agricultural labourer. In the meantime displaced labour starves and objects to the process. The weakest do not like going to the wall, and the State interferes to prevent that 'Free Trade' operation. We have hedged about manufacturing labour with a variety of safeguards, all adding to cost of production. Labour endeavours to protect itself by standardising wages and working short time, but it must eventually fail. How can men earning high wages and working half-time compete with men earning low wages and working full time ? Under the conditions in which we are living, trading, and manufacturing * Free Trade' cannot have fair play.
Imports are naturally balanced, they say. We must and do pay for what we get. Yes; but how do we pay? We export coal to the value of upwards of 40,000,0001. Very satisfactory no doubt; but coal is irreplaceable, it is capital. Shipping brings in 90,000,0001. Very satisfactory also, and it would be entirely satisfactory were our ships engaged in carrying a larger proportion of our own manufactures. Unfortunately they are, to a considerable extent, filled with the manufactures of other people. We are exporting wage-earners to the extent of about one hundred thousand of them a year. Our income from foreign investments is vaguely estimated at 90,000,0001. We are balancing expenditure by income derived from foreign investments, an excellent plan were it not for the fact that capital is enticed abroad by the superior advantages of protected markets, or is forced abroad by the naked conditions of our home markets ; by the profits on the carrying trade, an entirely legitimate source of income, but precarious, for foreigners will make every effort to deprive us of it; by the exportation of human beings, an undesirable method; and by capital, a mode of balancing expenditure as certain to lead to the bankruptcy of a nation as of an individual. We are becoming a people living upon capital and foreign investments, and by peddling other people's goods. The capital will last a long time; the peddling business will last just so long as we can hold it against subsidised and therefore unfair competition. Income from foreign investments will continue to flow here so long as London remains the great centre of exchange,