« PreviousContinue »
which he describes as of great importance, we fhould only have to dismiss, he thinks, a small proportion of Turks; and the Greeks, who are even now a fine people, would gladly join us. The Sicilians are perfectly ripe for the same enterprize. The Spanish islands are in a similar condition. In short, Mr Leckie conceives there would be little difficulty in the undertaking, while the results would be glorious and sublime. He thinks persuasion, not force, should be used; but we are not sure that a little force does not enter into his plan, when his object cannot be accomplished with. out it.
Mr Leckie has lived chiefly abroad, in the countries, we should suppose, on the Mediterranean ; and is intiinátely acquainted, at least with Italy and Sicily. His style is more that of a foreigner, who is imperfectly acquainted with English, than of a Briton ; and he apologizes for his foreign idioms, by his long familiarity with the languages of other nations. He is a man of considerable knowledge, observation, and reflection; and though his remarks have little in them which is altogether new to the British reader, yet they bear the stamp of individual reflection; and having formed his opinions abroad, where he was little influenced by party feelings or popular contagion, he presents to the British public an instructive example of the manner in which the conduct of their government is regarded among men of information abroad,—even among. those who carry with them the prepoffeffions of British birth and education. As the moralists recommend to the individual the habit of surveying his conduct with the eye of an impartial stranger, so it is useful in, perhaps, a still higher degree, to nations, and to none more so than to the British, to survey their public proceedings with the eye of an impartial foreigner.
Art. XIII. An Inquiry into the State of National Subfiltence, as
connected with the Progress of Wealth and Population. By W. T. Comber. London. 1808.
There is nothing, we imagine, which renders a didactic work
. fo generally acceptable, as brevity and perspicuity; and it is precisely in those two effential qualities that the authors of the present day appear to us to be most remarkably deficient. Their object seems to be-not how to state a fact, or to enforce an argument, with the greatest effect --but, to show how long they can dwell upon it, and how many extraneous topics they can mingle in the discussion. Forgetting, also, that the science of political economy is almost as much distinguished by the precise
y hained wionsider the poc purp
ness of its language, as by the subjects on which it treats, they have adopted a strange jargon of phrases, which are either whol. ly unmeaning, or only half intelligible ; so that their readers, when they attempt an examination of their doctrines, are harassed, at every step, with cavilling and verbal disputation. It is by such arts that modern writers have been enabled to multiply and increase their productions; and that the public have been taxed, both in time and in money, for the laudable purpose of gratifying the vanity of authors, and filling the pockets of booksellers. It is really wonderful to consider how a subject, which might be very fully explained within the compass of a few pages, may be spun out, by the skill of an author, into a very decent sized octavo volume. It is needless to hint to such writers, that breyity heightens the relish of excellence, and is a sort of apology for badness. We are afraid it would do little good even to tell them, that prolixity is the fault most certain to rouse the malignity of the critic, and to sharpen his natural alacrity in discovering grounds of censure. · These remarks, though of very general application, have been forced from us by the labour of perusing the work before us. Its intention seems to be, to explain the nature and tendency of the laws which have been at different times passed in this country on the subject of corn ; and had Mr Comber kept this object in view, his work might have been of some utility. But he has unfortunately bewildered himself with the strangest dissertations on the Saxons, the Danes, the feudal system, and other topics of a like nature, commencing with the antient Britons, and concluding with the overthrow of social order>that standing theme of modern declamation. This work, therefore, is for the most part a strange medley of unconnected facts, relating to the history, commerce, and agriculture of Britain. These facts, however, are set down in chronological order; and he now and then intimates something about a famine, fearing, we suppose, lest his reader should forget that the book is written about corn. When Mr Comber adheres to his subject, he is rather more interesting ; he has evidently been at great pains to collect information ; and he shows considerable acuteness in combining a few plain facts. But his powers of reasoning do not extend further; he is seldom successful in appealing to principles; and he generally satisfies himself with doubtful assumptions, or with errors which have been long refuted. Like most superficial reasoners, he is apt to run into extremes ; and because Mr Malthus has, in his opinion, overrated the importance of agriculture, he labours very hard to prove, that an exclusive attention to agricultural industry debases the manners of the people. To confirm his argument, he quotes
the 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 shail 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, t 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 subjecta 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.
t Malthus on Population, Vol. II. p. 163. 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 stated, that scarcities and high prices were occasionally known before 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. 18s. 6d. or 31. 185., 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 bad 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 the a bounty of 5s, on the quarter of wheat could not have produced those great exportations ; and that the supposed steadiness and
thus to the wisde of the elity are i
lowness of price in consequence of the bounty is therefore mere ly 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 445, ; 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. .. i Qur 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 savourable 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., 2s. 6d. per quarterwas paid ; and under 50s., 24s. 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 perınitted 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 rendered it necessary not only to permit importation, but to encourage it by a very high bounty. In 1795, a bounty of 16s. 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. XII. NO, 25.