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4-264 (Raw)

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author,male,Wise, B.R.,un addressee
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Clark, 1975
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Broadly speaking, the old Free Trade movement was an assertion on the part of the middle classes of their rights as consumers; while the Protectionist movement of to-day is an effort on the part of the manufacturing classes to obtain privileges as producers.
This difference is illustrated by a comparison of the composition of the Anti-Corn Law League in England, and that of the Protectionist party in Australia and America. The League was in its origin a movement of the manufacturers and middle classes, which gradually attracted to itself the more intelligent among the artisans, In Australia and America, however, the purses of the manufacturers support Protection, and the working classes, who were at first inclined to follow their employers, are gradually returning to Free Trade. Nor is this the only point of contrast between the new and the old Protectionism. In England, it was only the aristocracy of labour which became Free Traders; while the "residuum," under the leadership of Feargus O'Connor, furiously denounced the Anti-Corn Law League.
In Australasia and America, on the contrary, the aristocracy of labour, as represented by the Trade Unions, is inclined to be Protectionist, while disorganised labour leans more towards Free Trade. [272] Lastly - strangest contrast of all- - the farmers and landlords, who in England were the backbone of Protection are in Australasia and America its weakest adherents. [What follows is printed as a footnote.] During the last three years there has been a tendency in New South Wales and Tasmania, on the part of land-owners of all classes, to support Protectionist candidates. But this attitude is not owing to any dislike of Free Trade, but to a belief on the part of the great land-owners that Free Trade involves direct taxation with a view to agricultural settlement; and, on the part of the small farmers, that Protection will enable them to retaliate on the neighbouring colony of Victoria. The Free Trade movement in Victoria is almost exclusively confined to farmers. Out of thirty-five agricultural associations, thirty have, up to the present date (June, 1890), declared in favour of a return to Free Trade. A Free Trade Democratic Association has now been started in Melbourne, and will soon make its influence felt in the politics of the colony.
The reason for this change in the composition of the two parties is easily found.
The manufacturers and artisans of Australasia and America look upon a different side of the question of Free Trade from that which was perceived in England. It is not with them a question of obtaining cheap raw materials - these they have always to their hands - but a question of establishing new industries. They desire to create, while the Englishman desired to develop what was already created. Consequently, the classes which in England encouraged the competition of foreigners, because only foreigners could offer them the necessary raw material, wish now, in Australasia and America, to exclude the same competition, for fear it may destroy their infant industries.
[In Australasia] Labour is scarce, land is cheap, capital abundant. The spectacle is consequently presented of the simultaneous existence of high wages and large profits, so that the foundation is laid for the misleading argument, that such a country cannot compete against another country of low wages and small profits. This at once gives risk to the cry, that Protection is required to prevent wages and profits from sinking to the European level. Such a cry attracts the working classes, and gains the ear of the philanthropist. The Protectionist appears to be the patriot who is desirous of developing the resources of his native land, and trying to prevent a national stagnation. He is the man who would guard the well paid "native" against the competition of the ill-paid European, and who, by legislative interference, would maintain that union of high wages and large profits, which is the striking feature of a young country. The activity of the state in a young country is extended, so that the idea that legislation can accomplish this result, arouses no misgiving in the minds of men who ardently desire it. [273] Nor is it of any avail in a young country, where wages are high, to urge that Protection must increase the price of Articles in daily use. An intelligent Protectionist would reply at once that he admits this fact, but that he is prepared to undergo a private inconvenience for the public benefit. He would say, as the Ballarat digger said to Sir Charles Duke, that "he preferred to pay dearer for his jacket and moleskins, because by so doing he aided in building up in the colony such trades as the making of clothes, in which his brother and other men, physically too weak to be diggers, could gain an honest living."
It is certain that an error has been made by many Free Trade writers in approaching the question of Protection from the wrong side, and contemplating it in a different aspect from that which is regarded by Protectionists themselves. Most of these writers deal almost exclusively with the influence of Free Trade upon the production of wealth, while the Protectionists chiefly direct their attention to the influence of a fiscal policy upon the distribution of wealth. The consequence has been that the arguments and illustrations of Free Traders have failed to appeal, as effectively as they deserve, to the mass of Protectionist voters.
The reason for thus changing the point of view is the alteration which has been made in recent years in the centre of political power. In the days of Cobden and the Anti-Corn Law League, when the middle classes formed the bulk of English voters, it was politic to dwell upon the influence of Free Trade in cheapening the price of goods; but in young countries and at the present time in England where the electorates are controlled by working men, the voters wish to understand the influence of that policy in raising wages. Accordingly, although the old arguments remain quite true, it is desirable now, if we wish to arrest general attention, to lay them aside for a time, and bring out others which are more attractive to working men. 
Unfortunately Free Traders have been slow to recognise that, under the altered circumstances of an extended suffrage, they must change the popular presentment of their views. As a rule they deal only with the figures of production. They tell us, for example, that the trade of England has advanced by leaps and bounds; that since Free Trade was introduced, the income-tax returns are ten times what they were; that the quantity of funded wealth is daily growing larger, and the population is increasing with an unsurpassed rapidity. They point to the tables of exports, to the growing cities, to the decline of pauperism and of crime, and to the many signs of English industry and enterprise in every quarter of the globe, and, rolling out their columns of magnificent statistics, they expect the world to be convinced! [274] But working men, particularly in Australasia and America, know well that this is not the last word upon the subject! 'The matter of concern to them is not so much that goods should be produced in plenty, as that they should have an opportunity to use their skill; and, even in England, the working classes care more for a policy which promises high wages than for one which promises cheap goods. It is hardly reasonable to expect that a man who has but six-pence in his pocket, should be greatly moved by hearing that the price of silk has been reduced to half-a-crown!
Accordingly, Free Trade must be justified in young countries and to working men in quite another way than by a catalogue of its effects upon production. It must be shown that Free Trade has also an effect in raising wages; that, whilst suggesting desires, it gives means to satisfy them by cheapening most articles of common use, and by bringing about the conditions which are most favourable to a fairer distribution of wealth, and most conducive in any community to a lasting rise in the average standard of comfort. In making this investigation, the real effect on wages of any fiscal policy will have to be considered, and the futility of attempting to raise wages by merely altering a customs tariff ought to be made plain. It is certain that, until such an inquiry is attempted, the Free trade arguments will fly above the heads of those whom it is intended to convince.
Partly in consequence of having directed so much attention to the effect of Free Trade upon capital, and partly for other reasons to be mentioned, Free Traders have incurred the charge of being hostile to the working-classes. No one, who has lived in a country where the fiscal controversy is active, can have failed to notice the strong and bitter feeling with which Free Traders are denounced by those who aspire to a political position by the aid of the working-classes. This feeling is, no doubt, to a great extent fictitious. It is necessary at times for the "friend of the working man" - and "friendship for the working man" is a recognised profession in most English-speaking countries - to use strong language if he would not have his sincerity suspected. Free Trade and Free Traders offer a convenient object of attack, the more so that Free Trade has been identified with an unpopular party both in Australasia and America. The Free Traders in Victoria, where the fiscal battle was first fought, were land-monopolists and Tories. The Free Traders in America were Southern slave-owners. It has taken a whole generation in both countries to dissociate Free Trade from these unpopular causes.
Independently, however, of these local causes of ill-feeling, there is a more general ground for the popular idea that Free Traders have no sympathy with the aspirations of the working-classes. [275] This arises from the attitude which has been adopted by many Free Trade writers towards the measures of reform demanded by the working-classes.
Most of those whom the public regard as the champions of Free Trade, from Ricardo to Professor Fawcett (with the two notable, but often unperceived, exceptions of Richard Cobden and John Stuart Mill), have been pedantically attached to that declining school of political thought which would restrict the action of the State within the narrowest bounds. In consequence of this, Free Trade has come to be identified with the general principle of "Laisser faire." Indeed, so deeply rooted is this confusion of ideas, that it is not uncommon, even in Radical journals, to find Trade Unions denounced as a violation of Free Trade principles, and a system of unregulated competition between masters and men justified by an appeal to the same authority.
Rightly or wrongly, however, working-men have believed that their condition could never be permanently bettered until the Government should interfere actively and widely upon their behalf; and they have accordingly demanded and obtained a long series of Acts of Parliament, to regulate and protect labour, of which the Factory Acts are the best-known examples.
All these measures have been opposed in the name of Free Trade, although (as will be shown later in these pages,) Free Trade is an influence which works in the field of Production, and offers no argument either for or against the interference of Government within the field of Distribution. What wonder, then, that workingmen, when they have found Free Traders confronting them at every effort to alleviate their lot by law, have ceased to take an interest in the promised benefits of Free Trade, and have regarded it as a middle-class doctrine, comforting enough to the well-to-do, but offering no help to them in their especial needs.
If therefore, we would justify Free Trade to working-men, we must break away from the ancient argument and show the true relation of Free Trade to a general scheme of government. This will be attempted later in these pages. At present the misconception which exists upon this point is only mentioned as one reason for the prevalent mistrust of Free Trade doctrines, and as a special reason for their discredit among working-men.
Not less dangerous to the influence of Free Trade than its supposed hostility to the interests of the working classes, has been its supposed indifference to the evils of the competitive system.
Philanthropists and writers of the type of Mr. Ruskiff have exhausted themselves in denunciation of the immorality and narrowness of the Free Trade system. .
It is needless to say that these denunciations have been for the most part ignorant and misdirected. But they have had so much influence on a large class of benevolent people, who do not reason closely or at all on economic questions, that it is necessary to give them a passing attention. [276]
It is said that Free Trade is indifferent to everything except material wealth, and that its last word is "to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market."
This is a charge which, from the modicum of truth which it contains, has been peculiarly destructive.
The last cause which may be mentioned as having had an influence in the revival of Protectionism, is the discontent with existing industrial conditions, which is a prevalent sign of the times.
It is not easy to trace this cause in actual operation, but no reader of Protectionist literature can fail to recognise its presence. The jealousy of wealth, the dislike of "laisser faire," the pressure of the competitive system, all give rise to a profound dissatisfaction with existing social conditions. The evils of the day are felt to be intolerably irksome, until it seems as if the wished-for blessing might be found in any change of policy. There can be no question that, as the labour party in America, under the leadership of Henry George, is turning against Protectionism, so in England and Australia, discontent creates antagonism towards Free Trade.
It ought to be needless to point out that the remedy for the evils which create this discontent lies altogether outside the influence of Protection or Free Trade. Neither Free Trade nor Protection is a panacea for industrial evils, nor will either policy satisfy the wants of working men. Irregular employment, crowded homes, an existence without pleasure, an insecure old age - these are causes of complaint which cannot be removed by any changes in a fiscal policy. No mere tariff reform will give the poorer workmen regular employment, nor build them healthy dwellings near their work, nor find them openings for secure investment, nor relieve the monotony of their dull existence. All that can be done by the agency of taxation is to mitigate as far as possible the evils which exist, and to guard against creating others. Free Traders hold, that under their policy the remedial agencies will work with the greatest force; but they do not say that Free Trade has of itself the power to remove industrial grievances.