Page images

the case of Poland ;-but he forgets America, which, by devoting her attention rather to agriculture than to commerce or manufactures, exhibits a case of rapid improvement wholly unexampled.

With these observations we shall take leave of the extraneous matter with which Mr Comber's book abounds, and we shall lay before our readers a short view of his opinions, as far as they relate to the subject on which he professes to write. We shall then subjoin a few observations on the policy of granting a bounty on corn; in which we shall occupy the attention of the reader for as short a time as possible, as we have already explained our sentiments at some length on that important question. *

Great part of the information which Mr Comber has detailed in his book respecting the corn laws, prior to the act of William and Mary granting a bounty on exportation, has either been already stated by former writers, or is of very little consequence. His statements relative to the bounty, though not always very accurate or consistent, are somewhat new, and therefore merit some attention.

The great benefits which the bounty has produced, are, according to its advocates, † both steadiness and lowness of price. This lowness of price, indeed, Dr Smith contends, must have happened in spite of the bounty; and, as a proof of the truth of his statement, he mentions, that, in France, where there was not only no bounty on exportation, but where exportation was prohibited, the prices fell in the course of the first sixtyfour years of the last century. We do not think Mr Malthus argues either quite accurately or conclusively upon this subject. He invariably assumes the money price of corn as an indication of its real value ; although it is evident, that its money price might fluctuate to any extent, without any change in its real value. And in point of fact, the fluctuations on which he grounds his argument appear to have arisen in a great measure from the state of the coin, or from the varying value of the precious metals. He compares the average price of corn for ninety-three years, before the year 1700, with its price for forty years previous to the year 1750. Now it is well known, that, during the first of these periods, the current coin of the kingdom was degraded in its value nearly one fourth, which must have ruined the nominal price of corn nearly in the same proportion. We have little doubt also, that the rise which has taken place, in later years, in the average price of corn, and in the prices also of all other commodities, can only be accounted for by the degradation of the value of the precious metals in the general market of


* See Number IX.


Europe, from whatever cause we suppose that degradation to have arisen.

With regard to the alleged steadiness of prices, we do not find that this is supported by facts; and, indeed, it is scarcely possible to conceive, how the granting of a bounty of 5s. on the exportation of corn, should have prevented the occasional visitation of scarcities. It appears, from the facts which Mr Comber has stat. ed, that scarcities and high prices were occasionally known be. fore the date of this bounty, as well as after it,—and that there were even frequent risings of the people to impede the transportation of grain, and to avenge their distresses on the corn-dealers. From an actual view of the prices, too, we see nothing of this steadiness. In the years 1709 and 1710, the price of wheat was 31. 185. 6d. or 31. 18., which was a higher price than any that had occurred since the years 1648 and 1649. Throughout the whole of the period alluded to, indeed, the price of corn seems to have varied from year to year, as it always must do, according to the state of the crop; and Mr Comber seems to think, with great appearance of plausibility, that the bounty, by encouraging exportation when the crop was deficient all over Europe, instead of palliating, often tended to aggravate the evil.

He ascribes another had effect to the bounty, namely, that by occasioning such great exportations of corn to France, it encouraged the manufactures of that country at the expense of our own. By giving them corn cheaper than it could be afforded at home, it enabled them, according to our author, to labour cheaper, and by this means to undersell us in our staple manufactures in the principal markets of the world. France and England, he informs us, were at that time pursuing quite opposite systems. France was endeavouring to promote, or rather to force manufacturing industry, by expedients the most violent and artificial ; and we were pursuing the same course with respect to agriculture, in order to raise a surplus quantity of corn to feed the manufacturers of France. That this was the object of those two different systems, we do not doubt; but we do not believe that those artificial devices produced the effects which their authors intended. It happens, not unfrequently, that the natural arrangements of society are calculated to effect the same objects which the shortsighted expedients of artificial policy are intended to assist and accelerate. The whole of the effect, however, is ascribed by statesmen to the wisdom of their boasted contrivances ; and they are thus fortified, by a fallacious experience, against more enlarged and liberal views. Such appears, to us at least, to have been the case in the present instance. We shall endeavour to show afterwards, that a bounty of 5s. on the quarter of wheat could not have produced those great exportations; and that the supposed steadiness and



lowness of price in consequence of the bounty is therefore merely imaginary.

This view of the question is entirely confirmed by the information we derive from Mr Comber's work. Owing to a course of unfavourable seasons, exportation had been so often prohibited, and importation allowed, that, in the five years following the year

1764, the average quantity imported exceeded what was exported by 114,000 quarters, and in the five following years by 52,000. This state of things led to an alteration of the law; and by the act of 1773, the price at which bounty was allowed, was reduced from 48s. to 415.; and importation, which had been formerly subjected to duties which amounted to a prohibition, was permitted, when the price exceeded 48s., at the low duty of 6d. per quarter.

Our author commends this law for fixing the price at which exportation should be permitted, and for not leaving it, as formerly, to the discretion of government; but, by the gradual rise which afterwards took place in the price of corn, this law virtually prohibited exportation. It seems also to have been thought too favourable to importation ; for, in 1791, a new law was made, raising the price at which importation was allowed at the low duty of 6d. to 54s. Under 54s. and above 50s., 25. 6d. per quarter was paid; and under 50s., 243. 3d., which amounted to a direct prohibition. Such indeed must have been the intention of the authors, or the law involved a gross absurdity. It is plain, that corn could not be imported into Britain at 50s. and pay a duty of 24s. 3d., unless the price was such as to repay to the importer the whole amount of the duty; in which case, importation would have been permitted by the same law, on paying the low duty of 6d. Foreign wheat was at the same time allowed to be landed, and stored under the King's locks, without paying any duty. It was subject, however, when it was sold, to a warehouse-duty of 2s.6d., besides the other duties to which it was liable at the time of sale.

Our author finds fault with this law, as adverse to importation ; and he blames also that clause by which the price is fixed for three months certain. It is of little consequence, however, to attend very particularly to the theory of the corn laws, when it has so little to do with the practice. The gradual rise of the money-price of corn, joined to the effect of bad crops, soon ren. dered it necessary not only to permit importation, but to encourage it by a very high bounty. In 1795, a bounty of 16ş. to 20s. was granted, according to the quality of the wheat, from the south of Europe, till the quantity imported should amount to 400,000 quarters, and from America, till it should amount to 500,000. quarters; from 12s. to 15s, from any other part of Europe, till it should amount to the same quantity; and from 8s. to VOL. XIII. NO. 25.

[ocr errors]

must regulate the profit of every other species of cultivation. If the profits of pasture were greater than the profits of cultivating corn, more land would be turned to pasture, and the profits would be reduced. There is a general level of profit to which all trades perpetually tend ; so that there is no way of employing capital, for any length of time, with any decided superiority of profit. Mr Comber has indulged in various other strange speculations on the balance of trade, exchange, &c.—which we do not think it worth while particularly to notice. He has also confounded capital with money; and supposes, that an increase of money has a tendency to diminish the rate of interest—an error adopted by Montesquieu, and refuted both by Hume and Dr Smith.

Our author next proceeds to the consideration of the act of 1804. By this act, the price at which importation was allowed on the low duty of 6d., was raised from 545. to 66s. Under this price, and above 63s., the middle duty of 2s. 6d. was payable ; and under 63s., the high duty of 245. 3d. The price on which bounty was allowed on exportation, was extended from 44s. to 48s.; and exportation without bounty from 46s. to 54s. There were four periods * in the year at which the price was fixed, which determined whether the ports should be opened or shut for the ensuing three months. Mr Comber's reasonings on the effects of this act appear to us to be confused and contradictory. He is afraid for the consequences of allowing the foreigner an unlimited competition with those who grow for home cona sumption ; and yet he is desirous of encouraging importation. He wishes that a surplus produce of corn should always be at his call when he wants it ; but that foreigners should be interdicted from taking advantage of our market, unless when the prices are very high. Although he is in general friendly to importation, and wishes to preserve a regular intercourse with the corn countries, yet he is always haunted with the apprehension lest the importation of foreign corn should reduce the prices so low as to discourage cultivation. There is no doubt that low prices tend to prevent the further extension of cultivation, and that high prices have a contrary effect. A constant scarcity would therefore give the most effectual encouragement to agricultural improve. ment. But is a whole community to be pinched and distress sed in order to forward the improvement of land ? When corn is in great abundance, this shows that there is no necessity for enclosing fresh land. If it is so abundant that it cannot be used, we know that this state of things can only be temporary ; O 2


* 15th February, 15th May, 15th August, and 15th November.

« PreviousContinue »