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the ports being thrown open to the free importation of wheat charged with a duty of 5s. or 6s., we should not only be exempted from those ruinous fluctuations of price that are inherent in the restrictive system, but that the average price of wheat would not in ordinary years exceed 53s., and other grain in proportion. Now, it is an incontrovertible proposition, that every additional shilling added to the price of the FORTY-EIGHT millions of quarters consumed in the Empire, by means of the
lition, in the clearest point of view. It is difficult at this moment (10th September), to collect any precise information with respect to the productiveness of the harvest that has just been concluded. We do not think, however, that there can be any doubt that oats and barley, and probably also potatoes, will be very deficient : And if so, it is clear that a large proportion of the poorer classes will be involved in great distress, although the wheat crop is understood to be rather above an average. Had it not been for the restrictions on importation, we should now have been importing oats from all quarters.
We subjoin, for the convenience of our readers, an account of the average prices of the principal species of grain in Great Britain, from 1800 to 1825, abstracted from the Parliamentary Paper, No. 227, Sess. 1824-5. Bay
Peas, average average average
average average price per price per price per price per
price per Years.
Quarter, Quarter. Quarter. Quarter. Quarter.
S. d. 110 5 72 3
43 7 67 1801 1802 1803 1804 1805 1806 1807 1808 1809 1810 1811 1812 1813 1814 1815 1816 1817 1818 1819 1820 1821
31 1 1822
20 3 1823
30 11 1824
40 2 1825
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prohibition against importation, is really equivalent, in its effects on the consumer, to a tax of 2,400,000l. laid directly on corn: And estimating the difference between the average price of all sorts of grain for the last eight or ten years, and its average price were the ports thrown open, at 8s, a quarter, this would make a total aggregate loss to the consumer, of not less than NINETEEN MILLIONS SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS STERLING a year!
It is of the greatest importance to mark the dilemma in which the advocates of agricultural monopoly are placed by this statement. If, on the one hand, they say that we have understated the price at which foreign corn could be imported, and that we should not really be able to obtain it, with a duty of 5s. or 6s. a quarter, for less than 60s. or 65s., then it is plain their present monopoly can be of scarcely any value to the agriculturists ; * and that its only effect is to shut us out from participating in the provision made by nature for equalizing the variations in the harvests of particular countries by means of commerce, and consequently to occasion those destructive oscillations of price, which are at least as ruinous to the farmer as to either the manufacturer or merchant: And if, on the other hand, the advocates of monopoly should accuse us of having overstated, as we suspect will be the case, the price at which foreign corn could be imported—if prices, for example, instead of declining 8s. after the ports were thrown open, would decline 10s. a quarter; then it is clear that the Corn laws must be a much greater nuisance than we take them for, and that, instead of occasioning a loss of 19,700,0001. to the consumers, they must really occasion a loss of 24,000,0001. : and if the price of corn should, on an average, decline 155. a quarter, it follows that the annual loss occasioned by the Corn laws to the consumers cannot amount to less than the enormous sum of THIRTY-SIX MILLIONS !
But believing, for the reasons already stated, that the loss really sustained by the consumers of corn, in consequence of the restrictions on importation raising its average price 8s. a quarter above what it would be were they abolished, may be fairly and moderately estimated at about twenty millions, it is of the utmost importance to inquire what becomes of this ima mense sum.
The common opinion is, that the whole of it goes to swell the rent-roll of the landlords: But this is an obvious mistake. It
* The average price of wheat for the six years ending with 1825, in Great Britain, was as low as 578. 3d. a quarter.
is doubtful, in fact, whether the entire rental of England and Wales amounts at this moment to twenty-four millions. The truth is, that the monopoly created by the Corn laws is not like any other monopoly. It does not occasion a mere transfer of wealth from one portion of the community, who are its rightful owners, to another portion, who have no just claim to it. If the monopoly enjoyed by the landlords and corn-growers were like that enjoyed by the East India Company-if its effect was only to occasion an unnatural distribution of the wealth of the country-to plunder and impoverish nine-tenths of the population to enrich the other tenth, it would be comparatively harmless. But it is of the very essence of this question to observe, that the corn laws occasion the destruction of much more wealth than they transfer. We do not exaggerate when we affirm, that of every five hundred thousand pounds of excess of price drawn from the pockets of the consumers, scarcely one hundred thousand, finds its way into the pockets of the landlords ! The other four hundred thousand are absolutely and totally lost to the country; they are expended en pure perte, and without contributing in the smallest degree to increase the comforts or enjoyments of any individual whatever. We admit that this is rather a startling statement; but if we succeed in establishing its perfect accuracy, it cannot be necessary to add another word to show the vast advantages that would result from the abolition of the Corn laws.
The rent of a country consists as we have shown again and again, of the excess, or the value of the excess, of the produce obtained from the superior soils under cultivation, above that which is obtained from the worst. But when, by excluding ourselves from the cheapest markets for corn, we force recourse to be had to poorer soils, we not only increase the magnitude and value of that portion of the produce of the country received by the landlord as rent, but we also increase the value of that portion which is required to indemnify the farmer for his expenses,-a portion which is invariably much larger than the other. According to answers made to queries circulated by the Board of Agriculture, and the evidence taken before the Committees of the Houses of Lords and Commons in 1814 and 1821, the average proportion which the rent paid to the landlords in England and Wales, bears to the whole produce of the soil, does not exceed A FIFTH. But let us take the proportion as high as A FOURTH: it is plain, that, when prices rise because of restrictions on importation from abroad, or any other cause, the landlords receive such additional price only for that one fourth part of the produce of the country which belongs to them as rent. This is a point about which it is evidently impossible there can be two opinions. And it is hardly less obvious, that neither the farmer nor any other individual reaps the smallest advantage from the rise in the price or value of the three-fourths, which do not go to the landlord. For, it must be observed, that when the price of corn rises, the wages of the labourers which the farmer employs, must sooner or later be raised in a corresponding proportion; at the same time that the expenses of seed, of the keep of horses, of the maintenance of his own family, &c., are all equally and immediately increased. If the rise of price, occasioned by the exclusion of foreign corn, could be confined to that portion of the produce which belongs to the landlord, he would receive the whole extra sum forced by the exclusion out of the pockets of the consumer. But this is not, and cannot possibly be the case. There cannot be two prices of the same commodity at the same time and in the same market. The monopoly system, which gives a greater value to that one-fourth part of the produce of the country which goes to the landlords as rent, equally raises the value of the other three-fourths, which are partly cast into the soil as seed, and partly consumed by the men, horses, and oxen employed by the farmer.
It appears, therefore, from reasonings directly deduced from the statements of the most intelligent agriculturists, that to whatever extent the Corn laws raise the price of corn above what it would be were these laws repealed, not more than onefourth part of that sum finds its way into the pockets of the landlords; and that the remaining three-fourths are absolutely and entirely lost or destroyed. It has been contended, indeed, that although a very large proportion of that increased price, which the present system obliges the consumers of corn to pay for it, is not received either by the landlord or farmer, it is paid as wages to the labourers employed in its production, and cannot, therefore, be said to be wholly lost. But this is plainly a most feeble and impotent attempt to bolster up a worthless system, by still more worthless arguments. We ask, first, whether it is possible to deny that the increased value which the restrictive system gives to the corn used as seed, and in the feeding of horses, is not absolutely and totally lost ? Can it be said that seed is more productive when it costs 70s, or 80s. a quarter, than when it costs only 50s. or 55s.? Or, is it really true, that the strengh and swiftness of our horses are augmented when they are made to feed on dearer corn? But, even if all the produce which is not received by the landlord were to be expended in the maintenance of labourers, it would be of no consequence to our argument. It is true, that if we were to purchase our food in the cheapest market, a considerable number of persons now engaged in the cultivation of bad soils would be thrown out of that employment. But it is no less true that they would be employed in some other way. If the consumers of corn were able to obtain the same supply of that necessary for two-thirds or three-fourths of the sum which it now costs, they would most unquestionably have the other third or fourth of this sum to expend on some thing else. The total effective demand of the country for the produce of labour, and consequently the rate of wages, and the power of obtaining employment, would therefore continue the same; while its wealth would be augmented by the produce of the labour of all the hands which had been set free from the production of corn. Suppose we require, under the existing system, the labour of two millions of people to raise forty-eight millions of quarters of corn, and that, by throwing the ports open, we obtain as large a supply by the labour of one million and a half; then, as the means by which the consumers paid the labour of the two millions of hands could not be diminished in consequence of this increased facility of production, it is clear to demonstration, that, after the fall of prices, the surplus half million of hands would be employed in some other pursuit; and consequently, that the produce of their labour would be so much clear gain--so much of positive addition to the previous wealth and riches of the country.
It may therefore be concluded, that of the enormous sum of about TWENTY millions, which the restrictions on the corn trade take, in ordinary years, from the consumers, not more than five find their way into the pockets of the landlords. The other fifteen millions are entirely lost, or, which is the same thing, are entirely swallowed up by the increased expenses attending the cultivation of the bad soils to which the Corn laws force us to have recourse. Instead, then, of its being true, as has sometimes been alleged, that the Corn laws assist in enabling the country to make good the taxes necessary to pay the interest of the public debt, and the expenses of the peace establishment, it is obvious that they form, of themselves, by far the greatest of all the burdens We have to sustain! No people was ever before subjected to such a scourge. The Corn laws do not, like an ordinary tax, transfer wealth from one portion of the public to another; but, on the most moderate estimate, they occasion a positive destruction a dead annual loss to the public of not less then FOURTEEN or FIFTEEN millions !
Bad, however, as this must certainly appear, it is not perhaps the most unfavourable view of the operation and practical ef