Benson John Lossing.

Harper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) online

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Despite the low wages of the Continent, test alike the inferences and the facts
we broke down every protective wall and which he presents. My contention on this
flooded the country* (so the phrase then head will be twofold. First, he has been
ran) with the corn and the commodities misled as to the actual rate of wages in
of the whole world; with the corn of England. Secondly, the question is not
America first and foremost. But did our whether that rate is lower than the
rates of wages thereupon sink to the level rate in America, nor even whether the
of the Continent? Or did it rise steadily American workman (and this is a very
and rapidly to a point higher than had different matter) is always better off
been ever known before? than the workman in England. It is,

That the American rate of wages is What are English wages now under free

higher than ours I concede. Some, at trade, compared with what they formerly

least, of the causes of this most grati- were under protection?

lying fact I shall endeavor to acknowl- And first, as to the actual rates in par-



ticular cases to which he has referred, I I am assured, had any existence. The
must draw a line between the case of the temperature in Rosebridge mine, which he
English chain-makers, on which he has states at 93, does not exceed 70. The
dwelt, and the case of the great coal wages of men are not 3s. a day, but vary
industry, of which he has taken the town from a minimum of 3s. 3d. up to the sum
of Wigan as a sample. of 4s. Gd. The minitnum for women on
In an old society like this, with an in- the bank is not Is., but Is. 6d., and the
definite variety of occupations, there are maximum not Is. 9d., but 2s. Yards such
usually some which lie, as it were, out as he estimates at 45 inches wide are for-
of the stream, and which represent the bidden by by - laws of the local board
traditions of a former time, or pecu- issued in 1883, and similar laws issued
liarities of circumstance, not yet touched in 1860 require that cottages shall have
by that quickening breath of freedom in an open space, at the rear or side, of not
trade and labor under which I shall show less than 150 square feet. Barrows are riot
it to be unquestionable that an over- in use for wheeling coal underground. In
whelming proportion of our population a word, so far as the only place I have
have found their way to a great and, in- been able to make the subject of exami-
deed, extraordinary improvement. In par- nation is concerned, the accuracy of the
ticular, we may expect to find a lam- supposed statements of fact is contested
entable picture in those cases where hand all along the line by persons on the spot,
labor is destined to be supplanted by ma- whom I know to be of the highest trust-
chinery, but where the transition, though worthiness and authority,
at hand, has not yet taken effect. These We are, however, happily in a condi-
chain-makers are represented as earning, tion to bring upon the arena evidence of
man and wife together, $4 per week, far higher moment than assertions or
Small as is this amount, it would not denials founded upon a few rapid glances
have drawn on that account the least of a traveller, even had he not been laden
notice in the days when humanity took with a foregone conclusion, or than de-
its standards from the facts supplied by nials offered against those assertions. So
protection. Under the present circum- far as Great Britain is concerned, it is
stances, it happens to have attracted obvious enough to what point we should
marked attention in Parliament, and else- address our inquiries, if they are to be
where, and I believe that it is at this of any serious force in determining by re-
very time the subject of public inquiry, suits the controversy upon the respective
But the true answer to the argument merits of protection and free trade. We
from isolated cases is that there is no must endeavor to ascertain the general
relation whatever between the condition rate of wages now, in comparison with
of this or that small, antiquated, and what it was under the protective system.
solitary employment, and the general con- and with constant regard to the cost of
dition of our wage-earning population. living as exhibited by the prices of corn-
It is otherwise, however, with reference modities.

to Wigan. Employment at this im- And, in order to try the question for
portant centre is subject to the economical this country at large, whether free trade
currents of the time, and undoubtedly the has been a curse or a blessing to the peo-
facts it may exhibit must be held to bear pie who inhabit it, I shall repair at once
upon the general question of the condition to our highest authority, Mr. Giffen, of
of the people. But it so happens that I the board of trade, whose careful and
have the best means of obtaining infor- comprehensive disquisitions are before
mation about Wigan, and I had better the world, and are known to command, in
state at once that I am at issue with a very high degree, the public confidence.
Mr. McKay s report upon the facts. The He supplies us with tables which corn-
statements made by him have doubtless pare the wages of 1833 with those of
done their work; but it is still a mat- 1883 in such a way as to speak for the
ter of interest to clear up the truth. The principal branches of industry, with the
steeple, of which he declares that the exception of agricultural labor. The
parish church has been denuded, never, as wages of miners, we learn, have increased



in Staffordshire (which, almost certainly, laborer. He observes thai the aggregate
is the mining district of lowest incre- proportion of unskilled to skilled labor
ment) by 50 per cent. In the great ex- has diminished a fact which of itself
portable manufactures of Bradford and forcibly exhibits the advance of the labor-
Huddersfield, the lowest augmentations ing population as a whole. I will not en-
are 20 and 30 per cent., and in other ttr upon details; but his general conclu-
branches they rise to 50, 83, 100, and sion is this: the improvement is from 70
even to 150 and 160 per cent. The quasi- to 90 per cent, in the wages of unskilled
domestic trades of carpenters, bricklayers, non-agricultural labor. And again, com-
and masons, in the great marts of Glas- paring the laborer with the capitalist be-
gow and Manchester, show a mean in- tween 1843 and 1883, he estimates that,
crease of 03 per cent, for the first, G5 while the income from capital has risen in
per cent, for the second, and 47 per cent, this country from 190,000,000 to 400,-
for the third. The lowest weekly wage 000,000, or by 210 per cent., the working-
named for an adult is 22s. (as. against class income, below the standard which en-
17s. in 1833).. and the highest 36s. tails liability to income-tax, has risen from
But it is the relative rate with which 235,000,000 to 620,000,000, or at the rate
we have to do; and, as the American of 160 per cent. Within the same period
writer appears to contemplate with a pe- the prices of the main articles of popular
culiar dread the effect of free trade upon consumption have not increased, but havs
shipping, I further quote Mr. Giffen on certainly declined. The laborer s charges,
the monthly wages of seamen in 1833 except for his abode, have actually dimin-
and 1883, in Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool, ished as a whole. For his larger house-
and London. The percentage of increase, rent he has a better house. To the gov-
since we have passed from the protective eminent he pays much less than he did,
system of the navigation law into free and from the government he gets much
trade, is, in Bristol, 66 per cent.; in more; and "the increase of his money
Glasgow, 55 per cent. ; in Liverpool ( for wages corresponds to a real gain."
different classes), from 25 per cent, to Such, then, have been the economical re-
70 per cent.; and in London, from 45 per suits of free trade as compared with pro-
cent, to 69 per cent. Mr. Giffen has tection. Of its political, moral, and so-
given the figures in all the cases where cial results, at least so far as they regard
he could be sufficiently certain of exacti- the masses of the people, an account in
tude. No such return, at once exact and no way less satisfactory could be given,
comprehensive, can be supplied in the were this the proper occasion for entering
case of the rural workman. But here on the subject. If it be said that the tale
the facts &re notorious. We are assured I have told is insufficient, and that wages
that there has been a universal rise ought still to rise, this may be so; and
(somewhat checked, I fear, by the recent rise I hope they will: but protection had
agricultural distress), which Caird and no such tale to tell at all. For the work-
other authorities place at 60 per cent, ing population at large it meant stagna-
Mr. Giffen apparently concurs; and, so tion, depression, in many cases actual and
fur as my own personal sphere of obser- daily hunger and thirst, in some unques-
vation reaches, I can with confidence con- tionable and even gross degradation. I
firm the estimate and declare it to be will venture to say that, taking the case
moderate. Together with this increase of as a whole, it would be difficult to matcli
pay, there has been a general diminution in history the picture which Great Britain
of the hours of work, which Mr. Giffen now presents of progress, achieved main-
places at one-fifth. If we make this cor- ly through wise laws, from stinted means
rection upon the comparative table, we and positive want towards comfort and
shall find that the cases are very few in abundance for the people,
which the increment does not range as With a view to presenting the argument
high as from 50 and towards 100 per for leaving trade to the operation of nat-
cent. ural laws in the simplest manner, I shall
In a later essay, of January, 1886, Mr. begin with some postulates which I sup-
Giffen touches the case of the unskilled pose to be incapable of dispute.



International commerce is based, not
upon arbitrary or fanciful considerations,
but upon the unequal distribution among
men and regions of aptitudes to produce
the several commodities which are neces
sary or useful for the sustenance, com
fort, and advantage of human life.

If every country produced all commodi
ties with exactly the same degree of facil
ity or cheapness, it would be contrary to
common-sense to incur the charge of send
ing them from one country to another.

But the inequalities are so great that
(for example) region A can supply region
B with many articles of food, and region
B can in return supply region A with
many articles of clothing, at such rates
that, although in each case the charge of
transmission has of necessity been added
to the first cost, the respective articles
can be sold after importation at a lower
rate than if they were home-grown or
home - manufactured in the one or the
other country respectively.

The relative cost, in each case, of pro
duction and transmission, as compared
with domestic production, supplies, while
all remain untrammelled by state law, a
rule, motive, or main-spring of distribu
tion which may be termed natural.

The argument of the free-trader is that
the legislator ought never to interfere, or
only to interfere so far as imperative fiscal
necessity may require it, with this natural
law of distribution.

All interference with it by a government
in order to encourage some dearer method
of production at home, in preference to a
cheaper method of production abroad, may
fairly be termed artificial. And every
such interference means simply a diminu
tion of the national wealth. If region A
grows corn at home for 50s. with which
region B can supply it at 40s., and region
B manufactures cloth at 20s. with which
region A can supply it at 15s., the na
tional wealth of each is diminished by
the 10s. and the 5s. respectively.

And the capitalists and laborers in each
of these countries have so much the less to
divide into their respective shares, in that
competition between capital and labor
which determines the distribution between
them of the price brought in the market
by commodities.

In my view, and I may say for my

countrymen in our view, protection, how
ever dignified by the source from which it
proceeds, is essentially an invitation to
waste, promulgated with the authority of
law. It may be more violent and pro
hibitory, or it may be less ; but, up to the
point to which it goes, it is a promise
given to dear production to shield it
against the competition of cheap produc
tion, or given to dearer production to hold
it harmless against cheaper ; to secure for
it a market it could not otherwise hold,
and to enable it to exact from the con
sumer a price which he would not other
wise pay.

Protection says to a producer, Grow
this or manufacture that at a greater nec
essary outlay, though we might obtain it
more cheaply from abroad, where it can be
produced at a smaller necessary outlay.
This is saying, in other words, waste a
certain amount of labor and of capital ;
and do not be afraid, for the cost of your
waste shall be laid on the shoulders of a
nation which is well able to bear it. So
much for the waste unavoidably attach
ing to dearness of production. But there
are other and yet worse descriptions of
waste, as to which I know not whether
America suffers greatly from them, but I
know that in this country we suffered
from them grievously under the sway of
protection. When the barrier erected by
a protective duty is so high that no for
eigner can overleap it, that duty enables
the home manufacturer not only to charge
a high price, but to force on the consumer
a bad article. Thus, with an extravagant
duty on foreign corks, we had for our own
use the worst corks in Europe. And yet
again, protection causes waste of another
kind in a large class of cases. Suppose
the natural disadvantages of the home pro
ducer to equal 15 per cent., but the pro
tective duty to be 30. But cheapness re
quires minute care, economy, and despatch
at all the stages through which production
has to pass. This minute care and thrift
depend mainly on the pressure of com
petition. There were among us, and there
may be elsewhere, many producers whom
indolence tempts to neglect; who are not
sufficiently drawn to resist this inertia by
the attraction of raising profit to a maxi
mum ; for whom the prospect of advan
tage is not enough without the sense of



necessity, and whom nothing can spur to upon the net surplus left by the prices of
a due nimbleness of movement except the industrial products after defraying out
fear of not being able to sell their arti- of them the costs of production. To make
cles. In the case I have supposed, the this surplus large is to raise national
second 15 per cent, is a free margin wealth to its maximum. It is largest
whereupon this indolence may disport when we produce what we can produce
itself: the home producer is not only cheapest. It is diminished, arid the nation
covered for what he wastes through is so far impoverished, whenever and
necessity, but for what he wastes from wherever and to whatever extent, under
negligence or choice; and his fellow-conn- the cover of protective laws, men are in-
trymen, the public, have to pay alike for duced to produce articles leaving a
both. We suffered grievously from this smaller surplus instead of articles leaving
in England, for oftentimes the rule of the a larger one. But such is the essence of
producer is, or was, to produce not as well protection. In England (speaking rough-
as he can, but as badly as he can, and as ly) it made us produce more wheat at
well only as he must. And happy are you high prices instead of more tissues at
if, through keener energy or more trouble- low prices. In America it makes you
some conscience in production, you have produce more cloth and more iron at
no similar suffering in America. high prices instead of more cereals and

If protection could be equally distrib- more cotton at low prices. And your con-

uted all around, then it would be fair as tention is that by making production

between class and class. But it cannot thus costly you make wages high. To

possibly be thus distributed in any this question let us pass onward; yet not

country until we have discovered a without leaving behind us certain results

country which will not find its interest which I think you will find it hard to at-

in exporting some commodity or other, tack, unless it be in flank and rear. Such

For the price of that commodity at home as these: First, that extra price imposed

must be determined by its price in foreign on class A for the benefit of class B, with-

or unprotected markets, and therefore, out compensation, is robbery, and robbery

even if protective duties are inscribed on not rendered (in the abstract) more re-

the statute - book at home, their effect spectable because the state is the culprit,

must remain absolutely null, so far as Secondly, that protection means dear

this particular article is concerned. It production, and dear production means,

is beyond human wit and power to secure pro tanto, national impoverishment,
to the cotton-grower, or to the grower of But the view of the genuine protec-

wheat or maize in the United States, the tionist is the direct opposite of all this,

tenth part of a cent per bale or per bushel I understand his contention to be that

beyond what the price in the markets of protection is (as I should say freedom is)

export will allow to him. If, under these a mine of wealth; that a greater aggre-

circumstances, he is required to pay to gate profit results from what you would

the iron-master of Pennsylvania, or to call keeping labor and capital at home

the manufacturer at Lowell, an extra than from letting them seek employment

price on his implements or on his cloth- wherever in the whole world they can find

ing, for which he can receive no compensa- it most economically. But if this really

tion whatever, such extra price is at first is so, if there be this inborn fertility

sight much like robbery perpetrated by in the principle itself, why are the several

law. States of the Union precluded from ap-

If such be the ugly physiognomy pre- plying it within their own respective
sented, at the present stage of our in- borders? If the aggregate would be made
quiry, by this ancient and hoary-headed richer by this internal application of pro-
wizard in relation to the claim for equal tection to the parts, why is it not so ap-
dealing between class and class, the pre- plied? On the other hand, if the country
sumptive case is not a whit better in re- as a whole would by this device be made
gard to the aggregate wealth of the na- not richer, but poorer, through the inter-
tion. Wealth is accumulation; and the ference with the natural laws of produc-
aggregate of that accumulation depends tion, then how is it that by similar inter-



ference the aggregate of the States; the trade. 1 do not think the argument

great commonwealth of America, can be would be unfair. It really is the logical

made, in its general balance-sheet, not corollary of all your utterances on the

poorer, but richer? high wages which (as you believe) pro-

What is the value of this argument tection gives in America, and on the low
about keeping capital at home, by means wages which (as you believe) our free
of protection, which, but for protection, trade, now impartially applied all round,
would find its way abroad? The conten- inflicts upon England. But I refrain from
tion seems to be this: capital which would pressing the point, because I do not wish
be most profitably employed abroad ought to be responsible for urging an argument
by legal inducement to be inveigled into which tends to drive the sincere protec-
remaining here, in order that it may be tionist deeper and deeper into, not the
less profitably employed at home. Our mud, but (what we should call) the mire,
object ought to be, not to pursue those But now I suppose the answer might
industries in which the return is the be that the case which I have put is an
largest when compared with the outlay, extreme case; and that arguments are not
but to detain in this country the largest well judged by their extremes. In some
quantity of capital that we can. Now, matters, for instance in moral matters,
here I really must pursue the argument where virtue often resides in a mean, this
into its hiding-places by testing it in may be so. But the laws of economy,
extremes. If the proper object for the which we are now handling, approach
legislator is to keep and employ in his much more to the laws of arithmetic; and
country th p greatest possible amount of if your reasoning is that we ought to
capital, then the British Parliament prefer, among the fields for the invest-
( exempli gratia) ought to protect not ment of capital, what is domestic to what
only wheat but pineapples. A pineapple is profitable, it is at least for the pro-
is now sold in London for 8s. Gd., which tectionist to show and he never lias
before we imported that majestic fruit shown why it is worth a nation s while
from the tropics, would have sold for 2. on this account to lose 5s. in the pound,
Why not protect the grower of pineapples but not to lose (say) 10s. or 15s.
at 2 by a duty of 400 per cent.? Do I will, however, instead of relying on
not tell me that this is ridiculous. It is an unanswered challenge, push the war
ridiculous upon my principles; but upon into the enemy s country. I shall boldly
your principles it is allowable, it is wise, contend that the whole of this doctrine
it is obligatory as wise, shall I say? as that capital should be tempted into an
it is to protect cotton fabrics by a duty area of dear production for the sake or
of 50 per cent. No; not as wise only, under the notion of keeping it at home
but even more wise, and therefore even is a delusion from top to bottom. It says
more obligatory. Because according to to the capitalist, Invest (say) $1,000,-
this argument we ought to aim at the 000 in mills or factories to produce yarn
production within our own limits of those and cloth which we could obtain more
commodities which require the largest ex- cheaply from abroad that is, be it re-
penditure of capital and labor to rear membered, which could be produced
them, in proportion to the quantity pro- abroad and sent here at a smaller cost of
duced ; and no commodity could more am- production, or, in other words, with less
ply fulfil this condition. waste; for all expenditure in production

If protection be, as its champions (or beyond the measure of necessity call it
victims) hold, in itself an economical what we may is simple waste. To in-
good, then it holds in the sphere of pro- duce him to do this, you promise that he
duction the same place as belongs to truth shall receive an artificial instead of a
in the sphere of philosophy, or to virtue natural price; and, in order that the for-
in the sphere of morals. In this case, you eigner may not drive him from the mar-
cannot have too much of it ; so that, while ket, this artificial price shall be saddled,
mere protection is economical good in em- through the operation of an import duty,
bryo, such good finds its full develop- upon the competing foreign commodity;
ment only in the prohibition of foreign not in order to meet the wants of the



state, which is the sole justifying pur- reason upon the assumption that this is

pose of an import duty, but in order to effected. And I ask indeed, by the force

cover the loss on wasteful domestic pro- of argument I may almost require you

duction, and to make it yield a profit, to make an admission to me which is of

And all this in order, as is said, that the the most serious character namely, this,

capitalist may be induced to keep his that there is a great deal of capital un-

capital at home. But, in America, be- doubtedly kept at home by protection,

sides the jealously palisaded field of dear not for the purpose of dear production,

production, there is a vast open expanse which is partial waste, but for another

of cheap production, namely, in the whole kind of waste, which is sheer and abso-

mass (to speak roughly) of the agricult- lute and totally uncompensated. This is

ural products of the country, not to men- the waste incurred in the great work of

tion such gifts of the earth as its mineral distributing commodities. If the price of

oils. In raising these, the American capi- iron or of cotton cloth is increased 50

Online LibraryBenson John LossingHarper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) → online text (page 69 of 76)