Imatges de pàgina
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fect of the Corn laws. When the rate of wages is raised, in consequence of a rise in the price of raw produce, the rate of profit is universally reduced. The incomes of the capitalists being thus diminished, their means of amassing additional capital and employing fresh labourers are proportionally reduced, at the same time that an overwhelming temptation is created to transfer capital to other countries where profits are higher. There can be no manner of doubt that a large proportion of the loans lately made in this country to the Continental States and the South American Republics, must be ascribed to this principle, or to the operation of the Corn laws in depressing profits: and the bankruptcy and ruin that have been occasioned by these loans, and the injury done to the working classes by sending abroad so large an amount of capital, or of the funds destined for the employment of labour, are of themselves conclusive reasons why the Corn laws should be abolished.

Although, therefore, it were true that the landlords really made the sum of four or five millions a year by the existing Corn laws, we cannot but think that they would rather consent to relinquish it, than continue to cling to a system fraught with so much injustice and ruin. But instead of gaining by it, we are most firmly persuaded that this system is no less hostile to their real and lasting interests than to those of the rest of the community. Provided prices could be kept steady, they would certainly gain for a while the advantage we have supposed. But this is plainly an impossible condition : Prices can never be steady under this system; and we are quite sure, that every landlord who will dispassionately consider the subject must admit, that it would be more for his interest to be secured in the regular payment of a somewhat lower average amount of rent, than to be perpetually exposed, as he must be during the continuance of the restrictive system, to the non-payment of the high rents that may be promised him in highpriced years. It is, moreover, in every point of view, the extreme of folly to suppose, that a system, which is so essentially injurious to the other classes of the community, can be really beneficial to those who have so deep an interest in the public prosperity as the landlords. Whatever advantage they may derive from it, can only be fleeting and illusory: for it must of necessity be purchased at the expense of those with whom their own interests are inseparably and indissolubly connected. If prices were steady, the landlord's rents would also be steady. His estate would not be ruined by over-cropping, and by the breaking up of old grass land and meadows in high priced years; nor would it be thrown on his hands without the possibility of letting it, when prices sink below the cost of production.* Instead of being deluded by expectations of augmented revenue, which, so long as the present system lasts, can never be realized for four years in succession, he would be able to form a precise notion of the extent of his income and resources, and would be able to proportion his expenditure to his means; and above all, he would have the pleasing consciousness that he had regained his proper place in society and in the public estimation; that he was no longer regarded as a monopolist, and that his interests, instead of being opposed, as is at present the case, to those of his neighbours, were identified with theirs.

But it is a mistake to suppose that the abolition of the restrictions on importation would be merely innoxious to the landlords. The truth is, that it would be greatly and signally beneficial to them. Not only would the landlords gain by the general improvement that would infallibly result from the freedom of the corn trade, but they would also be relieved from a burden, which, at this moment, presses heavily on their estates, and threatens, at no distant period, to absorb the whole of their rents. It is almost unnecessary to say, that we allude to the Poor- rates. Were it not for the extreme variations in the price of corn, the payments to able-bodied labourers, which constitute full three-fourths of the total assessment, might be entirely dispensed with. long as we continue to act on a system, which necessarily occasions the most tremendous fluctuations of price, it is quite visionary to think of getting rid of this burden. Wages, though they are ultimately regulated by the price of necessaries, do not vary immediately with their variations. Prices, and consequently wages, are reduced by a succession of abundant harvests; but wages do not, and cannot rise the moment the harvest becomes deficient, and prices attain the famine level. And if, under such circumstances, the labourers of a densely peopled country like England, where their condition can never be very prosperous, were not partly provided for by extrinsic assistance, the probability, or rather, we should say, the certainty, is, that rebellion and intestine commotion would ensue, and that the security of property would be completely subverted.

* We are acquainted with a very fine farm in the South of Scotland that was let in 1811 for 735l. a year. It was over-cropped; and, on being relet for three years in 1816, it only brought 591. a year! Innumerable instances of a similar description might be pointed out. And notwithstanding all that has been said and written to the contrary, we are most decidedly of opinion, that it is something worse than absurd to suppose that a system productive of such results can be beneficial to the landlords.

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Those, therefore, who are really desirous of freeing the country from the great and constantly increasing burden of poorrates, ought above all to direct their efforts to procure the abolition of those restrictions which, by causing excessive fluctuations in the price of necessaries, expose the poor to misery and famine, and disable them for providing for themselves. Abolish the Corn laws, and the abolition of all rates levied on account of the able-bodied poor may be carried with equal facility and security.

But if the landlords will not consent to the establishment of a system of freedom, let them not deceive themselves by supposing that the pressure of the poor-rates will ever be effectually diminished. If they will have monopoly, they must take all its consequences along with it; and they must neither murmur nor repine, should every shilling of their rents be ultimately required for the support of workhouses and beggars.

There is another circumstance which has not been noticed in the recent discussions with respect to the Corn laws, but which seems to us to be of the greatest importance in forming a right estimate of their operation-we mean the stimulus given by a high price of corn to the cultivation of potatoes. When there are two species of food obtainable in a country, it is obvious that an artificial rise in the price of the one, has really the same effect on the other as if a bounty were given on its consumption. We have been endeavouring to collect authentic accounts with respect to the cultivation of potatoes in Great Britain since 1795; and these, though imperfect, are sufficient to show that it has been at least tripled during the period in question. We have also been assured by those who have had the best means of forming a correct opinion on such a point, that the comparatively low range of prices since 1820, is to be in a very considerable degree ascribed to the increased consumption of tatoes. They have already become a more important article than corn in the subsistence of the labouring class in many very 'populous districts; and were a succession of bad harvests and high prices to take place for four or five years together, the stimulus they would give to the use of the potato would be so great, that it is doubtful whether our prices would not be, in consequence, permanently sunk below the level of those of the Continent. Surely, however, it cannot be necessary for us to say that these results cannot be too much deprecated. Should our people ever become habitually dependent upon the potato for the principal part of their food, they would unavoidably sink to the same miserable condition as the peasantry of Ireland. Under such circumstances, their wages being entirely regulated

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by the price of the cheapest species of food hitherto raised in Europe, would not enable them to obtain any thing else, when it was deficient; so that, whenever the potato crop failed, they would be left without the means of support; and dearth would be attended with all the horrors of famine!

For these reasons we hold it to be clear, that though foreign corn were for ever excluded from our markets, and though it were possible to prevent them from being overstocked with corn of our own growth, the stimulus that increased prices would give to the growth and consumption of potatoes would effectually prevent them from being maintained, for any considerable period, at a high elevation. We entreat the public to advert to this circumstance; and we feel confident that every landlord who does so, will agree with us in thinking, that it is of itself sufficient to show, that in attempting to keep up prices to an unnatural height, the agriculturists have engaged in an enterprise in which they cannot but fail ; and which must, under any conceivable circumstances, be productive alike of the most serious injury to themselves and their country.

The farmers have still less reason than the landlords to support the existing system; and it is indeed quite apparent, that if they had a clear perception of their own interest, they would join in petitioning for its abolition. Suppose it were possible to maintain the home prices steady at about 80s., still it is easy to see, that it would be infinitely better for the farmers were they to be allowed to settle at the fair and natural level of 50s. or 65s. If prices become stationary at the lower limit of 50s. or 55s., the rent, wages of labour, and other outgoings of the farmer, will all be proportionally adjusted; if they are raised to the higher limit of 80s., rent, wages, &c. will sustain a corresponding increase. It is impossible, however, as it has been repeatedly demonstrated, to raise wages without reducing profits ; so that it is unquestionably true, that instead of high prices being really advantageous to the farmer, they are distinctly and completely the reverse. The object of the farmer, as of all other producers, must always be to derive the greatest possible profit from his capital; and it is absolutely certain that profits invariably fall as prices rise, and rise as prices fall. The price of wheat in Illinois and Indiana does not amount to one-third of its price in England; and yet an Illinois or Indiana farmer, with a capital of 10001., would derive as much profit from it as an English farmer would derive from a capital of 3000l. or 40001. It appears, therefore, that the real and permanent interests of the farmers and consumers are precisely the same; and that a permanently high price of produce, supposing it

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could be maintained, would not be less injurious to the one class than the other.

• A farmer,' it has been justly said, “is as much a capitalist • as a shopkeeper, or a manufacturer, and the profits of farming

capital must, in the end, be lowered by any cause which lowers

the profits of other capital. It is the interest of all capitalists « to have the necessaries of life, and consequently corn among

the rest, cheap; because their labourers will then be content

ed with lower wages. A farmer's gain cannot be permanently greater than that of other capitalists. Even during the currency

of a lease, a rise in the price of corn is not always an advantage to him; for, if there be a general rise in the price of all other commodities also at the same time, he must

give a corresponding increased price for his coats, hats, • horses, sheep, cattle, &c.; and, unless during the currency of

a lease, he has no interest whatever in high prices; because

competition will effectually prevent him from deriving more • than a very temporary advantage from them. He has, how

ever, in common with all other capitalists, a very strong in

terest in high profits; and it is not possible that profits should • be high for a long period together, when the necessaries of • life are dear. A high price of corn, therefore, not only is not

beneficial to the farmer as such, but it is positively injurious

to him. He is injured in two ways; first, as a consumer of • corn in common with the rest of the community, by having to

consume a dear instead of a cheap commodity; and, secondly, he is injured in a still greater degree, as an owner of capital,

by being compelled to give high wages to all the labourers he ' employs.' *

We should never have done were we to attempt to recapitulate the various arguments that might be produced to show that the abolition of the Corn laws would be equally advanta, geous

to the landlords and farmers as to the other classes. It is unnecessary, however, to dwell at any greater length on this part of our subject, the arguments we have already brought forward being more than sufficient to establish this identity of interests. But suppose that we are wrong in this conclusion, and that the landlords and farmers would really suffer considerable injury from the abolition of the Corn laws, still we should not consider it as being on that account a

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*' Cheap Corn best for Farmers,' a letter to G. H. Sumner, Esq. M. P., by one of his Constituents—said to be Henry Drummond, Esq., one of our ablest economists, and the founder of the Chair of Political Economy in the University of Oxford. VOL. XLIV. NO. 88.

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