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Digression concerning the Corn Trade and Corn Laws 1 - Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Cannan ed.), vol. 2 
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, edited with an Introduction, Notes, Marginal Summary and an Enlarged Index by Edwin Cannan (London: Methuen, 1904). Vol. 2.
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Digression concerning the Corn Trade and Corn Laws1
I CANNOT conclude this chapter concerning bounties, withoutThe corn bounty and corn laws are undeserving of praise observing that the praises which have been bestowed upon the law which establishes the bounty upon the exportation of corn, and upon that system of regulations which is connected with it, are altogether unmerited. A particular examination of the nature of the corn trade, and of the principal British laws which relate to it, will sufficiently demonstrate the truth of this assertion. The great importance of this subject must justify the length of the digression.
The trade of the corn merchant is composed of four different branches,There are four branches of the corn trade which, though they may sometimes be all carried on by the same person, are in their own nature four separate and distinct trades. These are, first, the trade of the inland dealer; secondly, that of the merchant importer for home consumption; thirdly, that of the merchant exporter of home produce for foreign consumption; and, fourthly, that of the merchant carrier, or of the importer of corn in order to export it again.
I. The interest of the inland dealer, and that of the great body ofI. The Inland Dealer, whose interest is the same as that of the people, vis., that the consumption should be proportioned to the supply available. the people, how opposite soever they may at first sight appear, are, even in years of the greatest scarcity, exactly the same. It is his interest to raise the price of his corn as high as the real scarcity of the season requires, and it can never be his interest to raise it higher. By raising the price he discourages the consumption, and puts every body more or less, but particularly the inferior ranks of people, upon thrift and good management. If, by raising it too high, he discourages the consumption so much that the supply of the season is likely to go beyond the consumption of the season, and to last for some time after the next crop begins to come in, he runs the hazard, not only of losing a considerable part of his corn by natural causes, but of being obliged to sell what remains of it for much less than what he might have had for it several months before. If by not raising the price high enough he discourages the consumption so little, that the supply of the season is likely to fall short of the consumption of the season, he not only loses a part of the profit which he might otherwise have made, but he exposes the people to suffer before the end of the season, instead of the hardships of a dearth, the dreadful horrors of a famine. It is the interest of the people that their daily, weekly, and monthly consumption, should be proportioned as exactly as possible to the supply of the season. The interest of the inland corn dealer is the same. By supplying them, as nearly as he can judge, in this proportion, he is likely to sell all his corn for the highest price, and with the greatest profit; and his knowledge of the state of the crop, and of his daily, weekly, and monthly sales, enable1 him to judge, with more or less accuracy, how far they really are supplied in this manner. Without intending the interest of the people, he is necessarily led, by a regard to his own interest, to treat them, even in years of scarcity, pretty much in the same manner as the prudent master of a vessel is sometimes obliged to treat his crew. When he foresees that provisions are likely to run short, he puts them upon short allowance. Though from excess of caution he should sometimes do this without any real necessity, yet all the inconveniencies which his crew can thereby suffer are inconsiderable, in comparison of the danger, misery, and ruin, to which they might sometimes be exposed by a less provident conduct. Though from excess of avarice, in the same manner, the inland corn merchant should sometimes raise the price of his corn somewhat higher than the scarcity of the season requires, yet all the inconveniencies which the people can suffer from this conduct, which effectually secures them from a famine in the end of the season, are inconsiderable, in comparison of what they might have been exposed to by a more liberal way of dealing in the beginning of it. The corn merchant himself is likely to suffer the most by this excess of avarice; not only from the indignation which it generally excites against him, but, though he should escape the effects of this indignation, from the quantity of corn which it necessarily leaves upon his hands in the end of the season, and which, if the next season happens to prove favourable, he must always sell for a much lower price than he might otherwise have had.
The interest of a monopoly might perhaps be to destroy a portion of the crop, but corn cannot be monopolised where the trade is freeWere it possible, indeed, for one great company of merchants to possess themselves of the whole crop of an extensive country, it might, perhaps, be their interest to deal with it as the Dutch are said to do with the spiceries of the Moluccas, to destroy or throw away a considerable part of it, in order to keep up the price of the rest.2 But it is scarce possible, even by the violence of law, to establish such an extensive monopoly with regard to corn; and, wherever the law leaves the trade free, it is of all commodities the least liable to be engrossed or monopolized by the force of a few large capitals, which buy up the greater part of it. Not only its value far exceeds what the capitals of a few private men are capable of purchasing, but supposing they were capable of purchasing it, the manner in which it is produced renders this purchase altogether impracticable. As in every civilized country it is the commodity of which the annual consumption is the greatest, so a greater quantity of industry is annually employed in producing corn than in producing any other commodity. When it first comes from the ground too, it is necessarily divided among a greater number of owners than any other commodity; and these owners can never be collected into one place like a number of independent manufacturers, but are necessarily scattered through all the different corners of the country. These first owners either immediately supply the consumers in their own neighbourhood, or they supply other inland dealers who supply those consumers. The inland dealers in corn, therefore, including both the farmer and the baker, are necessarily more numerous than the dealers in any other commodity, and their dispersed situation renders it altogether impossible for them to enter into any general combination. If in a year of scarcity therefore, any of them should find that he had a good deal more corn upon hand than, at the current price, he could hope to dispose of before the end of the season, he would never think of keeping up this price to his own loss, and to the sole benefit of his rivals and competitors, but would immediately lower it, in order to get rid of his corn before the new crop began to come in. The same motives, the same interests, which would thus regulate the conduct of any one dealer, would regulate that of every other, and oblige them all in general to sell their corn at the price which, according to the best of their judgment, was most suitable to the scarcity or plenty of the season.
Dearths are never occasioned by combination, but always by scarcity and famines are always caused by the supposed remedies for dearths applied by government.Whoever examines, with attention, the history of the dearths and famines which have afflicted any part of Europe, during either the course of the present or that of the two preceding centuries, of several of which we have pretty exact accounts, will find, I believe, that a dearth never has arisen from any combination among the inland dealers in corn, nor from any other cause but a real scarcity, occasioned sometimes, perhaps, and in some particular places, by the waste of war, but in by far the greatest number of cases, by the fault of the seasons; and that a famine has never arisen from any other cause but the violence of government attempting, by improper means, to remedy the inconveniencies of a dearth.
In an extensive corn country, between all the different parts ofScarcities are never great enough to cause famine. which there is a free commerce and communication, the scarcity occasioned by the most unfavourable seasons can never be so great as to produce a famine; and the scantiest crop, if managed with frugality and œconomy, will maintain, through the year, the same number of people that are commonly fed in a more affluent manner by one of moderate plenty. The seasons most unfavourable to the crop are those of excessive drought or excessive rain. But, as corn grows equally upon high and low lands, upon grounds that are disposed to be too wet, and upon those that are disposed to be too dry, either the drought or the rain which is hurtful to one part of the country is favourable to another; and though both in the wet and in the dry season the crop is a good deal less than in one more properly tempered, yet in both what is lost in one part of the country is in some measure compensated by what is gained in the other. In rice countries, where the crop not only requires a very moist soil, but where in a certain period of its growing it must be laid under water, the effects of a drought are much more dismal. Even in such countries, however, the drought is, perhaps, scarce ever so universal, as necessarily to occasion a famine, if the government would allow a free trade. The drought in Bengal, a few years ago, might probably have occasioned a very great dearth. Some improper regulations, some injudicious restraints imposed by the servants of the East India Company upon the rice trade, contributed, perhaps, to turn that dearth into a famine.
Governments cause famines by ordering corn to be sold at a reasonable price.When the government, in order to remedy the inconveniencies of a dearth, orders all the dealers to sell their corn at what it supposes a reasonable price, it either hinders them from bringing it to market, which may sometimes produce a famine even in the beginning of the season; or if they bring it thither, it enables the people, and thereby encourages them to consume it so fast, as must necessarily produce a famine before the end of the season. The unlimited, unrestrained freedom of the corn trade, as it is the only effectual preventative of the miseries of a famine, so it is the best palliative of the inconveniencies of a dearth; for the inconveniencies of a real scarcity cannot be remedied; they can only be palliated. No trade deserves more the full protection of the law, and no trade requires it so much; because no trade is so much exposed to popular odium.
The corn merchant is odious to the populace,In years of scarcity the inferior ranks of people impute their distress to the avarice of the corn merchant, who becomes the object of their hatred and indignation. Instead of making profit upon such occasions, therefore, he is often in danger of being utterly ruined, and of having his magazines plundered and destroyed by their violence. It is in years of scarcity, however, when prices are high, that the corn merchant expects to make his principal profit. He is generally in contract with some farmers to furnish him for a certain number of years with a certain quantity of corn at a certain price. This contract price is settled according to what is supposed to be the moderate and reasonable, that is, the ordinary or average price, which, before the late years of scarcity, was commonly about eight-and-twenty shillings for the quarter of wheat, and for that of other grain in proportion. In years of scarcity, therefore, the corn merchant buys a great part of his corn for the ordinary price, and sells it for a much higher. That this extraordinary profit, however, is no more than sufficient to put his trade upon a fair level with other trades, and to compensate the many losses which he sustains upon other occasions, both from the perishable nature of the commodity itself, and from the frequent and unforeseen fluctuations of its price, seems evident enough, from this single circumstance, that great fortunes are as seldom made in this as in any other trade. The popular odium, however, which attends it in years ofand this deters respectable people from entering the trade. scarcity, the only years in which it can be very profitable, renders people of character and fortune averse to enter into it. It is abandoned to an inferior set of dealers; and millers, bakers, mealmen, and meal factors, together with a number of wretched hucksters, are almost the only middle people that, in the home market, come between the grower and the consumer.
The ancient policy of Europe, instead of discountenancing thisThis popular odium was encouraged by legislation. popular odium against a trade so beneficial to the public, seems, on the contrary, to have authorised and encouraged it.
By the 5th and 6th of Edward VI. cap. 14. it was enacted, That whoever should buy any corn or grain1 with intent to sell it again, should be reputed an unlawful engrosser, and should, for the first fault suffer two months imprisonment, and forfeit the value of the corn; for the second, suffer six months imprisonment, and forfeit double the value; and for the third, be set in the pillory, suffer imprisonment during the king’s pleasure, and forfeit all his goods and chattels. The ancient policy of most other parts of Europe was no better than that of England.
Our ancestors seem to have imagined that the people would buyMany restraints were imposed on traders. their corn cheaper of the farmer than of the corn merchant, who, they were afraid, would require, over and above the price which he paid to the farmer, an exorbitant profit to himself. They endeavoured, therefore, to annihilate his trade altogether. They even endeavoured to hinder as much as possible any middle man of any kind from coming in between the grower and the consumer; and this was the meaning of the many restraints which they imposed upon the trade of those whom they called kidders or carriers of corn, a trade which nobody was allowed to exercise without a licence ascertaining his qualifications as a man of probity and fair dealing.1 The authority of three justices of the peace was, by the statute of Edward VI. necessary, in order to grant this licence. But even this restraint was afterwards thought insufficient, and by a statute of Elizabeth,2 the privilege of granting it was confined to the quarter-sessions.
Endeavours were made to force the farmers to be retailers, though manufacturers were forbidden to be so.The ancient policy of Europe endeavoured in this manner to regulate agriculture, the great trade of the country, by maxims quite different from those which it established with regard to manufactures, the great trade of the towns. By leaving the farmer no other customers but either the consumers or their immediate factors,3 the kidders and carriers of corn, it endeavoured to force him to exercise the trade, not only of a farmer, but of a corn merchant or corn retailer. On the contrary, it in many cases prohibited the manufacturer from exercising the trade of a shopkeeper, or from selling his own goods by retail. It meant by the one law to promote the general interest of the country, or to render corn cheap, without, perhaps, its being well understood how this was to be done. By the other it meant to promote that of a particular order of men, the shopkeepers, who would be so much undersold by the manufacturer, it was supposed, that their trade would be ruined if he was allowed to retail at all.
The manufacturer, however, though he had been allowed to keep a shop, and to sell his own goods by retail, could not have undersold the common shopkeeper. Whatever part of his capital he might have placed in his shop, he must have withdrawn it from his manufacture. In order to carry on his business on a level with that of other people, as he must have had the profit of a manufacturer on the one part, so he must have had that of a shopkeeper upon the other. Let us suppose, for example, that in the particular town where he lived, ten per cent. was the ordinary profit both of manufacturing and shopkeeping stock; he must in this case have charged upon every piece of his own goods which he sold in his shop, a profit of twenty per cent. When he carried them from his workhouse to his shop, he must have valued them at the price for which he could have sold them to a dealer or shopkeeper, who would have bought them by wholesale. If he valued them lower, he lost a part of the profit of his manufacturing capital. When again he sold them from his shop, unless he got the same price at which a shopkeeper would have sold them, he lost a part of the profit of his shopkeeping capital. Though he might appear, therefore, to make a double profit upon the same piece of goods, yet as these goods made successively a part of two distinct capitals, he made but a single profit upon the whole capital employed about them; and if he made less than this profit, he was a loser, or did not employ his whole capital with the same advantage as the greater part of his neighbours.
What the manufacturer was prohibited to do, the farmer was in some measure enjoined to do; to divide his capital between two different employments; to keep one part of it in his granaries and stack yard, for supplying the occasional demands of the market; and to employ the other in the cultivation of his land. But as he could not afford to employ the latter for less than the ordinary profits of farming stock, so he could as little afford to employ the former for less than the ordinary profits of mercantile stock. Whether the stock which really carried on the business of the corn merchant belonged to the person who was called a farmer, or to the person who was called a corn merchant, an equal profit was in both cases requisite, in order to indemnify its owner for employing it in this manner; in order to put his business upon a level with other trades, and in order to hinder him from having an interest to change it as soon as possible for some other. The farmer, therefore, who was thus forced to exercise the trade of a corn merchant, could not afford to sell his corn cheaper than any other corn merchant would have been obliged to do in the case of a free competition.
The dealer who can employ his whole stock in one single branch ofThe dealer confined to one branch of business can sell cheaper. business, has an advantage of the same kind with the workman who can employ his whole labour in one single operation. As the latter acquires a dexterity which enables him, with the same two hands, to perform a much greater quantity of work; so the former acquires so easy and ready a method of transacting his business, of buying and disposing of his goods, that with the same capital he can transact a much greater quantity of business. As the one can commonly afford his work a good deal cheaper, so the other can commonly afford his goods somewhat cheaper than if his stock and attention were both employed about a greater variety of objects. The greater part of manufacturers could not afford to retail their own goods so cheap as a vigilant and active shopkeeper, whose sole business it was to buy them by wholesale, and to retail them again. The greater part of farmers could still less afford to retail their own corn, to supply the inhabitants of a town, at perhaps four or five miles distance from the greater part of them, so cheap as a vigilant and active corn merchant, whose sole business it was to purchase corn by wholesale, to collect it into a great magazine, and to retail it again.
Laws preventing the manufacturer from being a shopkeeper and compelling the farmer to be a corn merchant were both impolitic and unjust, but the latter was the most pernicious.The law which prohibited the manufacturer from exercising the trade of a shopkeeper, endeavoured to force this division in the employment of stock to go on faster than it might otherwise have done. The law which obliged the farmer to exercise the trade of a corn merchant, endeavoured to hinder it from going on so fast. Both laws were evident violations of natural liberty, and therefore unjust; and they were both too as impolitic as they were unjust. It is the interest of every society, that things of this kind should never either be forced or obstructed. The man who employs either his labour or his stock in a greater variety of ways than his situation renders necessary, can never hurt his neighbour by underselling him. He may hurt himself, and he generally does so. Jack of all trades will never be rich, says the proverb. But the law ought always to trust people with the care of their own interest, as in their local situations they must generally be able to judge better of it than the legislator can do. The law, however, which obliged the farmer to exercise the trade of a corn merchant, was by far the most pernicious of the two.
by obstructing the improvement of land.It obstructed not only that division in the employment of stock which is so advantageous to every society, but it obstructed likewise the improvement and cultivation of the land. By obliging the farmer to carry on two trades instead of one, it forced him to divide his capital into two parts, of which one only could be employed in cultivation. But if he had been at liberty to sell his whole crop to a corn merchant as fast as he could thresh it out, his whole capital might have returned immediately to the land, and have been employed in buying more cattle, and hiring more servants, in order to improve and cultivate it better. But by being obliged to sell his corn by retail, he was obliged to keep a great part of his capital in his granaries and stack yard through the year, and could not, therefore, cultivate so well as with the same capital he might otherwise have done. This law, therefore, necessarily obstructed the improvement of the land, and, instead of tending to render corn cheaper, must have tended to render it scarcer, and therefore dearer, than it would otherwise have been.
Corn merchants support the farmers just as wholesale dealers support the manufacturers.After the business of the farmer, that of the corn merchant is in reality the trade which, if properly protected and encouraged, would contribute the most to the raising of corn. It would support the trade of the farmer, in the same manner as the trade of the wholesale dealer supports that of the manufacturer.
Wholesale dealers allow manufacturers to devote their whole capital to manufacturing.The wholesale dealer, by affording a ready market to the manufacturer, by taking his goods off his hand as fast as he can make them, and by sometimes even advancing their price to him before he has made them, enables him to keep his whole capital, and sometimes even more than his whole capital, constantly employed in manufacturing, and consequently to manufacture a much greater quantity of goods than if he was obliged to dispose of them himself to the immediate consumers, or even to the retailers. As the capital of the wholesale merchant too is generally sufficient to replace that of many manufacturers, this intercourse between him and them interests the owner of a large capital to support the owners of a great number of small ones, and to assist them in those losses and misfortunes which might otherwise prove ruinous to them.
An intercourse of the same kind universally established between theSo corn merchants should allow farmers to devote their whole capital to cultivation. farmers and the corn merchants, would be attended with effects equally beneficial to the farmers. They would be enabled to keep their whole capitals, and even more than their whole capitals, constantly employed in cultivation. In case of any of those accidents, to which no trade is more liable than theirs, they would find in their ordinary customer, the wealthy corn merchant, a person who had both an interest to support them, and the ability to do it, and they would not, as at present, be entirely dependent upon the forbearance of their landlord, or the mercy of his steward. Were it possible, as perhaps it is not, to establish this intercourse universally, and all at once, were it possible to turn all at once the whole farming stock of the kingdom to its proper business, the cultivation of land, withdrawing it from every other employment into which any part of it may be at present diverted, and were it possible, in order to support and assist upon occasion the operations of this great stock, to provide all at once another stock almost equally great, it is not perhaps very easy to imagine how great, how extensive, and how sudden would be the improvement which this change of circumstances would alone produce upon the whole face of the country.
The statute of Edward VI., therefore, by prohibiting as much asAccordingly the statute of Edward VI. endeavoured to annihilate a trade which is the best palliative and preventative of a dearth. possible any middle man from coming in between the grower and the consumer, endeavoured to annihilate a trade, of which the free exercise is not only the best palliative of the inconveniencies of a dearth, but the best preventative of that calamity: after the trade of the farmer, no trade contributing so much to the growing of corn as that of the corn merchant.
Its provisions were moderated by later statutes down to 15 Car II., c. 7.The rigour of this law was afterwards softened by several subsequent statutes, which successively permitted the engrossing of corn when the price of wheat should not exceed twenty, twenty-four, thirty-two, and forty shillings the quarter.1 At last, by the 15th of Charles II. c. 7, the engrossing or buying of corn in order to sell it again, as long as the price of wheat did not exceed forty-eight shillings the quarter, and that of other grain in proportion, was declared lawful to all persons not being forestallers, that is, not selling again in the same market within three months.2 All the freedom which the trade of the inland corn dealer has ever yet enjoyed, was bestowed upon it by this statute. The statute of the twelfth of the present king, which repeals almost all the other ancient laws against engrossers and forestallers, does not repeal the restrictions of this particular statute, which therefore still continue in force.3
which is absurd, as it supposes,This statute, however, authorises in some measure two very absurd popular prejudices.
(1) that engrossing is likely to be hurtful after a certain price has been reached,First, it supposes that when the price of wheat has risen so high as forty-eight shillings the quarter, and that of other grain in proportion, corn is likely to be so engrossed as to hurt the people. But from what has been already said, it seems evident enough that corn can at no price be so engrossed by the inland dealers as to hurt the people: and forty-eight shillings the quarter besides, though it may be considered as a very high price, yet in years of scarcity it is a price which frequently takes place immediately after harvest, when scarce any part of the new crop can be sold off, and when it is impossible even for ignorance to suppose that any part of it can be so engrossed as to hurt the people.
(2) that forestalling is likely to be hurtful after a certain price has been reached.Secondly, it supposes that there is a certain price at which corn is likely to be forestalled, that is, bought up in order to be sold again soon after in the same market, so as to hurt the people. But if a merchant ever buys up corn, either going to a particular market or in a particular market, in order to sell it again soon after in the same market, it must be because he judges that the market cannot be so liberally supplied through the whole season as upon that particular occasion, and that the price, therefore, must soon rise. If he judges wrong in this, and if the price does not rise, he not only loses the whole profit of the stock which he employs in this manner, but a part of the stock itself, by the expence and loss which necessarily attend1 the storing and keeping of corn. He hurts himself, therefore, much more essentially than he can hurt even the particular people whom he may hinder from supplying themselves upon that particular market day, because they may afterwards supply themselves just as cheap upon any other market day. If he judges right, instead of hurting the great body of the people, he renders them a most important service. By making them feel the inconveniencies of a dearth somewhat earlier than they otherwise might do, he prevents their feeling them afterwards so severely as they certainly would do, if the cheapness of price encouraged them to consume faster than suited the real scarcity of the season. When the scarcity is real, the best thing that can be done for the people is to divide the inconveniencies of it as equally as possible through all the different months, and weeks, and days of the year. The interest of the corn merchant makes him study to do this as exactly as he can: and as no other person can have either the same interest, or the same knowledge, or the same abilities to do it so exactly as he, this most important operation of commerce ought to be trusted entirely to him; or, in other words, the corn trade, so far at least as concerns the supply of the home market, ought to be left perfectly free.
The popular fear of engrossing and forestalling may be comparedThe fear of engrossing and forestalling is as groundless as that of witchcraft. to the popular terrors and suspicions of witchcraft. The unfortunate wretches accused of this latter crime were not more innocent of the misfortunes imputed to them, than those who have been accused of the former. The law which put an end to all prosecutions against witchcraft, which put it out of any man’s power to gratify his own malice by accusing his neighbour of that imaginary crime, seems effectually to have put an end to those fears and suspicions, by taking away the great cause which encouraged and supported them. The law which should restore entire freedom to the inland trade of corn, would probably prove as effectual to put an end to the popular fears of engrossing and forestalling.
Still, the 15 Car. II., c. 7, is the best of the corn laws, as it gives the inland corn trade all the freedom it possesses,The 15th of Charles II. c. 7, however, with all its imperfections, has perhaps contributed more both to the plentiful supply of the home market, and to the increase of tillage, than any other law in the statute book. It is from this law that the inland corn trade has derived all the liberty and protection which it has ever yet enjoyed; and both the supply of the home market, and the interest of tillage, are much more effectually promoted by the inland, than either by the importation or exportation trade.
The inland trade is much more important than the foreign.The proportion of the average quantity of all sorts of grain imported into Great Britain to that of all sorts of grain consumed, it has been computed by the author of the tracts upon the corn trade, does not exceed that of one to five hundred and seventy. For supplying the home market, therefore, the importance of the inland trade must be to that of the importation trade as five hundred and seventy to one.1
The average quantity of all sorts of grain exported from Great Britain does not, according to the same author, exceed the one-and-thirtieth part of the annual produce.2 For the encouragement of tillage, therefore, by providing a market for the home produce, the importance of the inland trade must be to that of the exportation trade as thirty to one.
I have no great faith in political arithmetic, and I mean not to warrant the exactness of either of these computations. I mention them only in order to show of how much less consequence, in the opinion of the most judicious and experienced persons, the foreign trade of corn is than the home trade. The great cheapness of corn in the years immediately preceding the establishment of the bounty, may perhaps, with reason, be ascribed in some measure to the operation of this statute of Charles II., which had been enacted about five-and twenty years before, and which had therefore full time to produce its effect.
A very few words will sufficiently explain all that I have to say concerning the other three branches of the corn trade.
II. The Importer, whose trade benefits the people and does not really hurt the farmers and country gentlemenII. The trade of the merchant importer of foreign corn for home consumption, evidently contributes to the immediate supply of the home market, and must so far be immediately beneficial to the great body of the people. It tends, indeed, to lower somewhat the average money price of corn, but not to diminish its real value, or the quantity of labour which it is capable of maintaining. If importation was at all times free, our farmers and country gentlemen would, probably, one year with another, get less money for their corn than they do at present, when importation is at most times in effect prohibited; but the money which they got would be of more value, would buy more goods of all other kinds, and would employ more labour. Their real wealth, their real revenue, therefore, would be the same as at present, though it might be expressed by a smaller quantity of silver; and they would neither be disabled nor discouraged from cultivating corn as much as they do at present. On the contrary, as the rise in the real value of silver, in consequence of lowering the money price of corn, lowers somewhat the money price of all other commodities, it gives the industry of the country, where it takes place, some advantage in all foreign markets, and thereby tends to encourage and increase that industry. But the extent of the home market for corn must be in proportion to the general industry of the country where it grows, or to the number of those who produce something else, and therefore have something else, or what comes to the same thing, the price of something else, to give in exchange for corn. But in every country the home market, as it is the nearest and most convenient, so is it likewise the greatest and most important market for corn. That rise in the real value of silver, therefore, which is the effect of lowering the average money price of corn, tends to enlarge the greatest and most important market for corn, and thereby to encourage, instead of discouraging, its growth.
By the 22d of Charles II. c. 13, the importation of wheat, wheneverThe Act of 2 Car. II., c. 13, imposed very high duties on importation the price in the home market did not exceed fifty-three shillings and four pence the quarter, was subjected to a duty of sixteen shillings the quarter; and to a duty of eight shillings whenever the price did not exceed four pounds.1 The former of these two prices has, for more than a century past, taken place only in times of very great scarcity; and the latter has, so far as I know, not taken place at all. Yet, till wheat had risen above this latter price, it was by this statute subjected to a very high duty; and, till it had risen above the former, to a duty which amounted to a prohibition. The importation of other sorts of grain was restrained at rates, and by duties, in proportion to the value of the grain, almost equally1 high.2 Subsequent laws still further increased those duties.
The distress which, in years of scarcity, the strict execution of thosebut its operation was generally suspended in years of scarcity. laws might have brought1 upon the people, would probably have been very great. But, upon such occasions, its execution was generally suspended by temporary statutes,2 which permitted, for a limited time, the importation of foreign corn. The necessity of these temporary statutes sufficiently demonstrates the impropriety of this general one.
These restraints upon importation, though prior to the establishmentRestraint was necessary on account of the bounty. of the bounty, were dictated by the same spirit, by the same principles, which afterwards enacted that regulation. How hurtful soever in themselves, these or some other restraints upon importation became necessary in consequence of that regulation. If, when wheat was either below forty-eight shillings the quarter, or not much above it, foreign corn could have been imported either duty free, or upon paying only a small duty, it might have been exported again, with the benefit of the bounty, to the great loss of the public revenue, and to the entire perversion of the institution, of which the object was to extend the market for the home growth, not that for the growth of foreign countries.
III. The trade of the merchant exporter of corn for foreign consumption,III. The Exporter, whose trade indirectly contributes to the plentiful supply of the home market. certainly does not contribute directly to the plentiful supply of the home market. It does so, however, indirectly. From whatever source this supply may be usually drawn, whether from home growth or from foreign importation, unless more corn is either usually grown, or usually imported into the country, than what is usually consumed in it, the supply of the home market can never be very plentiful. But unless the surplus can, in all ordinary cases, be exported, the growers will be careful never to grow more, and the importers never to import more, than what the bare consumption of the home market requires. That market will very seldom be overstocked; but it will generally be understocked, the people, whose business it is to supply it, being generally afraid lest their goods should be left upon their hands. The prohibition of exportation limits the improvement and cultivation of the country to what the supply of its own inhabitants requires. The freedom of exportation enables it to extend cultivation3 for the supply of foreign nations.
Liberty of exportation was made complete in 1700,By the 12th of Charles II. c. 4. the exportation of corn was permitted whenever the price of wheat did not exceed forty shillings the quarter, and that of other grain in proportion.1 By the 15th of the same prince,2 this liberty was extended till the price of wheat exceeded forty-eight shillings the quarter; and by the 22d,3 to all higher prices. A poundage, indeed, was to be paid to the king upon such exportation. But all grain was rated so low in the book of rates, that this poundage amounted only upon wheat to a shilling, upon oats to four pence, and upon all other grain to six pence the quarter.4 By the 1st of William and Mary,5 the act which established the bounty, this small duty was virtually taken off whenever the price of wheat did not exceed forty-eight shillings the quarter; and by the 11th and 12th of William III. c. 20. it was expressly taken off at all higher prices.
The trade of the merchant exporter was, in this manner, not only encouraged by a bounty, but rendered much more free than that of the inland dealer. By the last of these statutes, corn could be engrossed at any price for exportation; but it could not be engrossed for inland sale, except when the price did not exceed forty-eight shillings thethough the interest of the exporter sometimes differs from that of the people of his country. quarter.6 The interest of the inland dealer, however, it has already been shown, can never be opposite to that of the great body of the people. That of the merchant exporter may, and in fact sometimes is. If, while his own country labours under a dearth, a neighbouring country should be afflicted with a famine, it might be his interest to carry corn to the latter country in such quantities as might very much aggravate the calamities of the dearth. The plentiful supply of the home market was not the direct object of those statutes; but, under the pretence of encouraging agriculture, to raise the money price of corn as high as possible, and thereby to occasion, as much as possible, a constant dearth in the home market. By the discouragement of importation, the supply of that market, even in times of great scarcity, was confined to the home growth; and by the encouragement of exportation, when the price was so high as forty-eight shillings the quarter, that market was not, even in times of considerable scarcity, allowed to enjoy the whole of that growth. The temporary laws, prohibiting for a limited time the exportation of corn, and taking off for a limited time the duties upon its importation, expedients to which Great Britain has been obliged so frequently to have recourse,1 sufficiently demonstrate the impropriety of her general system. Had that system been good, she would not so frequently have been reduced to the necessity of departing from it.
Were all nations to follow the liberal system of free exportation andThe bad policy of some great countries may sometimes render it necessary for small countries to restrain exportation free importation, the different states into which a great continent was divided would so far resemble the different provinces of a great empire. As among the different provinces of a great empire the freedom of the inland trade appears, both from reason and experience, not only the best palliative of a dearth, but the most effectual preventative of a famine; so would the freedom of the exportation and importation trade be among the different states into which a great continent was divided. The larger the continent, the easier the communication through all the different parts of it, both by land and by water, the less would any one particular part of it ever be exposed to either of these calamities, the scarcity of any one country being more likely to be relieved by the plenty of some other. But very few countries have entirely adopted this liberal system. The freedom of the corn trade is almost every where more or less restrained, and, in many countries, is confined by such absurd regulations, as frequently aggravate the unavoidable misfortune of a dearth, into the dreadful calamity of a famine. The demand of such countries for corn may frequently become so great and so urgent, that a small state in their neighbourhood, which happened at the same time to be labouring under some degree of dearth, could not venture to supply them without exposing itself to the like dreadful calamity. The very bad policy of one country may thus render it in some measure dangerous and imprudent to establish what would otherwise be the best policy in another. The unlimited freedom of exportation, however, would be much less dangerous in great states, in which the growth being much greater, the supply could seldom be much affected by any quantity of corn that was likely to be exported. In a Swiss canton, or in some of the little states of Italy, it may, perhaps, sometimes be necessary to restrain the exportation of corn. In such great countries as France or England it scarce ever can. To hinder, besides, the farmer from sending his goods at all times to the best market, is evidently to sacrifice the ordinary laws of justice to an idea of public utility, to a sort of reasons of state; an act of legislative authority which ought to be exercised only, which can be pardoned only in cases of the most urgent necessity. The price at which the exportation of corn is prohibited, if it is ever to be prohibited, ought always to be a very high price.
The corn laws are like the laws on religion.The laws concerning corn may every where be compared to the laws concerning religion. The people feel themselves so much interested in what relates either to their subsistence in this life, or to their happiness in a life to come, that government must yield to their prejudices, and, in order to preserve the public tranquillity, establish that system which they approve of. It is upon this account, perhaps, that we so seldom find a reasonable system established with regard to either of those two capital objects.
IV. The Merchant Carrier, whose trade contributes to the plentiful supply of the home market.IV. The trade of the merchant carrier, or of the importer of foreign corn in order to export it again, contributes to the plentiful supply of the home market. It is not indeed the direct purpose of his trade to sell his corn there. But he will generally be willing to do so, and even for a good deal less money than he might expect in a foreign market; because he saves in this manner the expence of loading and unloading, of freight and insurance. The inhabitants of the country which, by means of the carrying trade, becomes the magazine and storehouse for the supply of other countries, can very seldom be in want themselves. Though the carrying trade might thus contribute to reduce the average money price of corn in the home market, it would not thereby lower its real value. It would only raise somewhat the real value of silver.
British law in effect prohibited the carrying trade in corn.The carrying trade was in effect prohibited in Great Britain, upon all ordinary occasions, by the high duties upon the importation of foreign corn, of the greater part of which there was no drawback1 ; and upon extraordinary occasions, when a scarcity made it necessary to suspend those duties by temporary statutes, exportation was always prohibited. By this system of laws, therefore, the carrying trade was in effect prohibited upon all occasions.
The prosperity of Great Britain is not due to the corn bounty, but to the security of enjoying the fruits of labour.That system of laws, therefore, which is connected with the establishment of the bounty, seems to deserve no part of the praise which has been bestowed upon it. The improvement and prosperity of Great Britain, which has been so often ascribed to those laws, may very easily be accounted for by other causes. That security which the laws in Great Britain give to every man that he shall enjoy the fruits of his own labour, is alone sufficient to make any country flourish, notwithstanding these and twenty other absurd regulations of commerce; and this security was perfected by the revolution, much about the same time that the bounty was established. The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition, when suffered to exert itself with freedom and security, is so powerful a principle, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often incumbers its operations; though the effect of these obstructions is always more or less either to encroach upon its freedom, or to diminish its security. In Great Britain industry is perfectly secure; and though it is far from being perfectly free, it is as free or freer than in any other part of Europe.
Though the period of the greatest prosperity and improvement ofThat the greatest prosperity has been subsequent proves nothing. Great Britain, has been posterior to that system of laws which is connected with the bounty, we must not upon that account impute it to those laws. It has been posterior likewise to the national debt. But the national debt has most assuredly not been the cause of it.
Though the system of laws which is connected with the bounty, hasSpain and Portugal are poorer than Great Britain because their bad policy is more effectual, and not counteracted by general liberty and security. exactly the same tendency with the police of Spain and Portugal; to lower somewhat the value of the precious metals in the country where it takes place;1 yet Great Britain is certainly one of the richest countries in Europe, while Spain and Portugal are perhaps among the most beggarly. This difference of situation, however, may easily be accounted for from two different causes. First, the tax in Spain, the prohibition in Portugal of exporting gold and silver,2 and the vigilant police which watches over the execution of those laws, must, in two very poor countries, which between them import annually upwards of six millions sterling,3 operate, not only more directly, but much more forcibly in reducing the value of those metals there, than the corn laws can do in Great Britain. And, secondly, this bad policy is not in those countries counter-balanced by the general liberty and security of the people. Industry is there neither free nor secure, and the civil and ecclesiastical governments of both Spain and Portugal, are such as would alone be sufficient to perpetuate their present state of poverty, even though their regulations of commerce were as wise as the greater part of them are absurd and foolish.
The 13 Geo. III., c. 43,The 13th of the present king, c. 43. seems to have established a new system with regard to the corn laws, in many respects better than the ancient one, but in one or two respects1 perhaps not quite so good.
opens the home market at lower prices,By this statute the high duties upon importation for home consumption are taken off so soon as the price of middling wheat rises to forty-eight shillings the quarter; that of middling rye, pease or beans, to thirty-two shillings; that of barley to twenty-four shillings; and that of oats to sixteen shillings; and instead2 of them a small duty is imposed of only six-pence upon the quarter of wheat, and upon that of other grain in proportion. With regard to all these different sorts of grain, but particularly with regard to wheat, the home market is thus opened to foreign supplies at prices considerably lower than before.3
stops the bounty earlier,By the same statute the old bounty of five shillings upon the exportation of wheat ceases so soon as the price rises to forty-four shillings the quarter, instead of forty-eight, the price at which it ceased before; that of two shillings and six-pence upon the exportation of barley ceases so soon as the price rises to twenty-two shillings, instead of twenty-four, the price at which it ceased before; that of two shillings and six-pence upon the exportation of oatmeal ceases so soon as the price rises to fourteen shillings, instead of fifteen, the price at which it ceased before. The bounty upon rye is reduced from three shillings and six-pence to three shillings, and it ceases so soon as the price rises to twenty-eight shillings, instead of thirty-two, the price at which it ceased before.4 If bounties are as improper as I have endeavoured to prove them to be, the sooner they cease, and the lower they are, so much the better.
and admits corn for reexport duty free,The same statute permits, at the lowest prices, the importation of corn, in order to be exported again, duty free, provided it is in the meantime lodged in a warehouse under the joint locks of the king and the importer.5 This liberty, indeed, extends to no more than twenty-five of the different ports of Great Britain. They are, however, the principal ones, and there may not, perhaps, be warehouses proper for this purpose in the greater part of the others.1
So far this law seems evidently an improvement upon the ancientwhich are improvements, system.
But by the same law a bounty of two shillings the quarter is givenbut it gives a bounty on the export of oats, for the exportation of oats whenever the price does not exceed fourteen shillings. No bounty had ever been given before for the exportation of this grain, no more than for that of peas or beans.2
By the same law too, the exportation of wheat is prohibited so soonand prohibits exportation of grain at prices much too low. as the price rises to forty-four shillings the quarter; that of rye so soon as it rises to twenty-eight shillings; that of barley so soon as it rises to twenty-two shillings; and that of oats so soon as they rise to fourteen shillings. Those several prices seem all of them a good deal too low, and there seems to be an impropriety, besides, in prohibiting exportation altogether at those precise prices at which that bounty, which was given in order to force it, is withdrawn.3 The bounty ought certainly either to have been withdrawn at a much lower price, or exportation ought to have been allowed at a much higher.
So far, therefore, this law seems to be inferior to the ancient system.It is as good a law as can be expected at present With all its imperfections, however, we may perhaps say of it what was said of the laws of Solon, that, though not the best in itself, it is the best which the interests, prejudices, and temper of the times would admit of. It may perhaps in due time prepare the way for a better.4
OF TREATIES OF COMMERCE
Treaties of commerce are advantageous to the favoured,WHEN a nation binds itself by treaty either to permit the entry of certain goods from one foreign country which it prohibits from all others, or to exempt the goods of one country from duties to which it subjects those of all others, the country, or at least the merchants and manufacturers of the country, whose commerce is so favoured, must necessarily derive great advantage from the treaty. Those merchants and manufacturers enjoy a sort of monopoly in the country which is so indulgent to them. That country becomes a market both more extensive and more advantageous for their goods: more extensive, because the goods of other nations being either excluded or subjected to heavier duties, it takes off a greater quantity of theirs: more advantageous, because the merchants of the favoured country, enjoying a sort of monopoly there, will often sell their goods for a better price than if exposed to the free competition of all other nations.
but disadvantageous to the favouring country.Such treaties, however, though they may be advantageous to the merchants and manufacturers of the favoured, are necessarily disadvantageous to those of the favouring country. A monopoly is thus granted against them to a foreign nation; and they must frequently buy the foreign goods they have occasion for, dearer than if the free competition of other nations was admitted. That part of its own produce with which such a nation purchases foreign goods, must consequently be sold cheaper, because when two things are exchanged for one another, the cheapness of the one is a necessary consequence, or rather is the same thing with the dearness of the other. The exchangeable value of its annual produce, therefore, is likely to be diminished by every such treaty. This diminution, however, can scarce amount to any positive loss, but only to a lessening of the gain which it might otherwise make. Though it sells its goods cheaper than it otherwise might do, it will not probably sell them for less than they cost; nor, as in the case of bounties, for a price which will not replace the capital employed in bringing them to market, together with the ordinary profits of stock. The trade could not go on long if it did. Even the favouring country, therefore, may still gain by the trade, though less than if there was a free competition.
Treaties have been concluded with the object of obtaining a favourable balance of trade,Some treaties of commerce, however, have been supposed advantageous upon principles very different from these; and a commercial country has sometimes granted a monopoly of this kind against itself to certain goods of a foreign nation, because it expected that in the whole commerce between them, it would annually sell more than it would buy, and that a balance in gold and silver would be annually returned to it. It is upon this principle that the treaty of commerce between England and Portugal, concluded in 1703, by Mr. Methuen,e.g., the Methuen treaty, has been so much commended.1 The following is a literal translation2 of that treaty, which consists of three articles only.
His sacred royal majesty of Portugal promises, both in his own name, and that of his successors, to admit, for ever hereafter, into Portugal, the woollen cloths, and the rest of the woollen manufactures of the British, as was accustomed, till they were prohibited by the law; nevertheless upon this condition:
That is to say, that her sacred royal majesty of Great Britain shall, in her own name, and that of her successors, be obliged, for ever hereafter, to admit the wines of the growth of Portugal into Britain: so that at no time, whether there shall be peace or war between the kingdoms of Britain and France, any thing more shall be demanded for these wines by the name of custom or duty, or by whatsoever other title, directly or indirectly, whether they shall be imported into Great Britain in pipes or hogsheads, or other casks, than what shall be demanded for the like quantity or measure of French wine, deducting or abating a third part of the custom or duty. But if at any time this deduction or abatement of customs, which is to be made as aforesaid, shall in any manner be attempted and prejudiced, it shall be just and lawful for his sacred royal majesty of Portugal, again to prohibit the woollen cloths, and the rest of the British woollen manufactures.
The most excellent lords the plenipotentiaries promise and take upon themselves that their above-named masters shall ratify this treaty; and within the space of two months the ratifications shall be exchanged.
which is evidently advantageous to Portugal and disadvantageous to Great Britain.By this treaty the crown of Portugal becomes bound to admit the English woollens upon the same footing as before the prohibition; that is, not to raise the duties which had been paid before that time. But it does not become bound to admit them upon any better terms than those of any other nation, of France or Holland for example. The crown of Great Britain, on the contrary, becomes bound to admit the wines of Portugal, upon paying only two-thirds of the duty, which is paid for those of France, the wines most likely to come into competition with them. So far this treaty, therefore, is evidently advantageous to Portugal, and disadvantageous to Great Britain.
Portugal sends much gold to EnglandIt has been celebrated, however, as a masterpiece of the commercial policy of England. Portugal receives annually from the Brazils a greater quantity of gold than can be employed in its domestic commerce, whether in the shape of coin or of plate. The surplus is too valuable to be allowed to lie idle and locked up in coffers, and as it can find no advantageous market at home, it must, notwithstanding any prohibition, be sent abroad, and exchanged for something for which there is a more advantageous market at home. A large share of it comes annually to England, in return either for English goods, or for those of other European nations that receive their returns through England. Mr. Baretti was informed that the weekly packet-boat from Lisbon brings, one week with another, more than fifty thousand pounds in gold to England.1 The sum had probably been exaggerated. It would amount to more than two millions six hundred thousand pounds a year, which is more than the Brazils are supposed to afford.2
Our merchants were some years ago out of humour with the crownat one time nearly the whole of this gold was said to be on account of other European nations. of Portugal. Some privileges which had been granted them, not by treaty, but by the free grace of that crown, at the solicitation, indeed, it is probable, and in return for much greater favours, defence and protection, from the crown of Great Britain, had been either infringed or revoked. The people, therefore, usually most interested in celebrating the Portugal trade, were then rather disposed to represent it as less advantageous than it had commonly been imagined. The far greater part, almost the whole, they pretended, of this annual importation of gold, was not on account of Great Britain, but of other European nations; the fruits and wines of Portugal annually imported into Great Britain nearly compensating the value of the British goods sent thither.
but even if it were not so, the trade would not be more valuable than another of equal magnitude.Let us suppose, however, that the whole was on account of Great Britain, and that it amounted to a still greater sum than Mr. Baretti seems to imagine: this trade would not, upon that account, be more advantageous than any other in which, for the same value sent out, we received an equal value of consumable goods in return.
It is but a very small part of this importation which, it can be supposed,Most of the gold must be sent abroad again and exchanged for goods, and it would be better to buy the goods direct with home produce instead of buying gold in Portugal. is employed as an annual addition either to the plate or to the coin of the kingdom. The rest must all be sent abroad and exchanged for consumable goods of some kind or other. But if those consumable goods were purchased directly with the produce of English industry, it would be more for the advantage of England, than first to purchase with that produce the gold of Portugal, and afterwards to purchase with that gold those consumable goods. A direct foreign trade of consumption is always more advantageous than a round-about one;1 and to bring the same value of foreign goods to the home market, requires a much smaller capital in the one way2 than in the other. If a smaller share of its industry, therefore, had been employed in producing goods fit for the Portugal market, and a greater in producing those fit for the other markets, where those consumable goods for which there is a demand in Great Britain are to be had, it would have been more for the advantage of England. To procure both the gold, which it wants for its own use, and the consumable goods, would, in this way, employ a much smaller capital than at present. There would be a spare capital, therefore, to be employed for other purposes, in exciting an additional quantity of industry, and in raising a greater annual produce.
Britain would find little difficulty in procuring gold even if excluded from trade with Portugal.Though Britain were entirely excluded from the Portugal trade, it could find very little difficulty in procuring all the annual supplies of gold which it wants, either for the purposes of plate, or of coin, or of foreign trade. Gold, like every other commodity, is always somewhere or another to be got for its value by those who have that value to give for it. The annual surplus of gold in Portugal, besides, would still be sent abroad, and though not carried away by Great Britain, would be carried away by some other nation, which would be glad to sell it again for its price, in the same manner as Great Britain does at present. In buying gold of Portugal, indeed, we buy it at the first hand; whereas, in buying it of any other nation, except Spain, we should buy it at the second, and might pay somewhat dearer. This difference, however, would surely be too insignificant to deserve the public attention.
It is said that all our gold comes from Portugal, but if it did not come from Portugal it would come from other countries.Almost all our gold, it is said, comes from Portugal. With other nations the balance of trade is either against us, or not much in our favour. But we should remember, that the more gold we import from one country, the less we must necessarily import from all others. The effectual demand for gold, like that for every other commodity, is in every country limited to a certain quantity. If nine-tenths of this quantity are imported from one country, there remains a tenth only to be imported from all others. The more gold besides that is annually imported from some particular countries, over and above what is requisite for plate and for coin, the more must necessarily be exported to some others; and the more that most insignificant object of modern policy, the balance of trade, appears to be in our favour with some particular countries, the more it must necessarily appear to be against us with many others.
If the attempt of France and Spain to exclude British ships from Portuguese ports had been successful, it would have been an advantage to England.It was upon this silly notion, however, that England could not subsist without the Portugal trade, that, towards the end of the late war,1 France and Spain, without pretending either offence or provocation, required the king of Portugal to exclude all British ships from his ports, and for the security of this exclusion, to receive into them French or Spanish garrisons. Had the king of Portugal submitted to those ignominious terms which his brother-in-law the king of Spain proposed to him, Britain would have been freed from a much greater inconveniency than the loss of the Portugal trade, the burden of supporting a very weak ally, so unprovided of every thing for his own defence, that the whole power of England, had it been directed to that single purpose, could scarce perhaps have defended him for another campaign. The loss of the Portugal trade would, no doubt, have occasioned a considerable embarrassment to the merchants at that time engaged in it, who might not, perhaps, have found out, for a year or two, any other equally advantageous method of employing their capitals; and in this would probably have consisted all the inconveniency which England could have suffered from this notable piece of commercial policy.
The great annual importation of gold and silver is neither for theThe great importation of gold and silver is for foreign trade purpose of plate nor of coin, but of foreign trade. A round-about foreign trade of consumption can be carried on more advantageously by means of these metals than of almost any other goods. As they are the universal instruments of commerce, they are more readily received in return for all commodities than any other goods; and on account of their small bulk and great value, it costs less to transport them backward and forward from one place to another than almost any other sort of merchandize, and they lose less of their value by being so transported. Of all the commodities, therefore, which are bought in one foreign country, for no other purpose but to be sold or exchanged again for some other goods in another, there are none so convenient as gold and silver. In facilitating all the different round-about foreign trades of consumption which are carried on in Great Britain, consists the principal advantage of the Portugal trade; and though it is not a capital advantage, it is, no doubt, a considerable one.
That any annual addition which, it can reasonably be supposed, isVery little is required for plate and coin. made either to the plate or to the coin of the kingdom, could require but a very small annual importation of gold and silver, seems evident enough; and though we had no direct trade with Portugal, this small quantity could always, somewhere or another, be very easily got.
Though the goldsmiths trade be very considerable in Great Britain,New gold plate is mostly made from old. the far greater part of the new plate which they annually sell, is made from other old plate melted down; so that the addition annually made to the whole plate of the kingdom cannot be very great, and could require but a very small annual importation.
It is the same case with the coin. Nobody imagines, I believe, thatNew coin is mostly made from old, as there is a profit on melting good coin. even the greater part of the annual coinage, amounting, for ten years together, before the late reformation of the gold coin,1 to upwards of eight hundred thousand pounds a year in gold,2 was an annual addition to the money before current in the kingdom. In a country where the expence of the coinage is defrayed by the government, the value of the coin, even when it contains its full standard weight of gold and silver, can never be much greater than that of an equal quantity of those metals uncoined; because it requires only the trouble of going to the mint, and the delay perhaps of a few weeks, to procure for any quantity of uncoined gold and silver an equal quantity of those metals in coin. But, in every country, the greater part of the current coin is almost always more or less worn, or otherwise degenerated from its standard. In Great Britain it was, before the late reformation, a good deal so, the gold being more than two per cent. and the silver more than eight per cent. below its standard weight. But if forty-four guineas and a half, containing their full standard weight, a pound weight of gold, could purchase very little more than a pound weight of uncoined gold, forty-four guineas and a half wanting a part of their weight could not purchase a pound weight, and something was to be added in order to make up the deficiency. The current price of gold bullion at market, therefore, instead of being the same with the mint price, or 46 l. 14 s. 6 d. was then about 47 l. 14 s. and sometimes about forty-eight pounds. When the greater part of the coin, however, was in this degenerate condition, forty-four guineas and a half, fresh from the mint, would purchase no more goods in the market than any other ordinary guineas, because when they came into the coffers of the merchant, being confounded with other money, they could not afterwards be distinguished without more trouble than the difference was worth. Like other guineas they were worth no more than 46 l. 14 s. 6 d. If thrown into the melting pot, however, they produced, without any sensible loss, a pound weight of standard gold, which could be sold at any time for between 47 l. 14 s. and 48 l. either in gold or silver, as fit for all the purposes of coin as that which had been melted down. There was an evident profit, therefore, in melting down new coined money, and it was done so instantaneously, that no precaution of government could prevent it. The operations of the mint were, upon this account, somewhat like the web of Penelope; the work that was done in the day was undone in the night. The mint was employed, not so much in making daily additions to the coin, as in replacing the very best part of it which was daily melted down.
A seignorage raises the value of coin above that of bullion of equal weight,Were the private people, who carry their gold and silver to the mint, to pay themselves for the coinage, it would add to the value of those metals in the same manner as the fashion does to that of plate. Coined gold and silver would be more valuable than uncoined. The seignorage, if it was not exorbitant, would add to the bullion the whole value of the duty; because, the government having every where the exclusive privilege of coining, no coin can come to market cheaper than they think proper to afford it. If the duty was exorbitant indeed, that is, if it was very much above the real value of the labour and expence requisite for coinage, false coiners, both at home and abroad, might be encouraged, by the great difference between the value of bullion and that of coin, to pour in so great a quantity of counterfeit money as might reduce the value of the government money. In France, however, though the seignorage is eight per cent. no sensible inconveniency of this kind is found to arise from it. The dangers to which a false coiner is every where exposed, if he lives in the country of which he counterfeits the coin, and to which his agents or correspondents are exposed if he lives in a foreign country, are by far too great to be incurred for the sake of a profit of six or seven per cent.
The seignorage in France raises the value of the coin higher thanas in France in proportion to the quantity of pure gold which it contains. Thus by the edict of January 1726, the1 mint price of fine gold of twenty-four carats was fixed at seven hundred and forty livres nine sous and one denier one-eleventh, the mark of eight Paris ounces. The gold coin of France, making an allowance for the remedy of the mint, contains twenty-one carats and three-fourths of fine gold, and two carats one-fourth of alloy. The mark of standard gold, therefore, is worth no more than about six hundred and seventy-one livres ten deniers. But in France this mark of standard gold is coined into thirty Louis-d’ors of twenty-four livres each, or into seven hundred and twenty livres. The coinage, therefore, increases the value of a mark of standard gold bullion, by the difference between six hundred and seventy-one livres ten deniers, and seven hundred and twenty livres; or by forty-eight livres nineteen sous and two deniers.
A seignorage will, in many cases, take away altogether, and will, inIt diminishes or destroys the profit obtained by melting coin. all cases, diminish the profit of melting down the new coin. This profit always arises from the difference between the quantity of bullion which the common currency ought to contain, and that which it actually does contain. If this difference is less than the seignorage, there will be loss instead of profit. If it is equal to the seignorage, there will neither be profit nor loss. If it is greater than the seignorage, there will indeed be some profit, but less than if there was no seignorage. If, before the late reformation of the gold coin, for example, there had been a seignorage of five per cent. upon the coinage, there would have been a loss of three per cent. upon the melting down of the gold coin. If the seignorage had been two per cent. there would have been neither profit nor loss. If the seignorage had been one per cent. there would have been a profit, but of one per cent. only instead of two per cent. Wherever money is received by tale, therefore, and not by weight, a seignorage is the most effectual preventative of the melting down of the coin, and, for the same reason, of its exportation. It is the best and heaviest pieces that are commonly either melted down or exported; because it is upon such that the largest profits are made.
The abolition of seignorage in England was probably due to the bank of England,The law for the encouragement of the coinage, by rendering it duty-free, was first enacted, during the reign of Charles II.1 for a limited time; and afterwards continued, by different prolongations, till 1769, when it was rendered perpetual.2 The bank of England, in order to replenish their coffers with money, are frequently obliged to carry bullion to the mint; and it was more for their interest, they probably imagined, that the coinage should be at the expence of the government, than at their own. It was, probably, out of complaisance to this great company that the government agreed to render this law perpetual. Should the custom of weighing gold, however, come to be disused, as it is very likely to be on account of its inconveniency; should the gold coin of England come to be received by tale, as it was before the late recoinage, this great company may, perhaps, find that they have upon this, as upon some other occasions, mistaken their own interest not a little.
but the bank would have lost nothing by a seignorage whether it equalled the depreciation,Before the late recoinage, when the gold currency of England was two per cent. below its standard weight, as there was no seignorage, it was two per cent. below the value of that quantity of standard gold bullion which it ought to have contained. When this great company, therefore, bought gold bullion in order to have it coined, they were obliged to pay for it two per cent. more than it was worth after the coinage. But if there had been a seignorage of two per cent. upon the coinage, the common gold currency, though two per cent. below its standard weight, would notwithstanding have been equal in value to the quantity of standard gold which it ought to have contained; the value of the fashion compensating in this case the diminution of the weight. They would indeed have had the seignorage to pay, which being two per cent. their loss upon the whole transaction would have been two per cent. exactly the same, but no greater than it actually was.
If the seignorage had been five per cent. and the gold currency onlyexceeded it, two per cent. below its standard weight, the bank would in this case have gained three per cent. upon the price of the bullion; but as they would have had a seignorage of five per cent. to pay upon the coinage, their loss upon the whole transaction would, in the same manner, have been exactly two per cent.
If the seignorage had been only one per cent. and the gold currencyor fell short of it two per cent. below its standard weight, the bank would in this case have lost only one per cent. upon the price of the bullion; but as they would likewise have had a seignorage of one per cent. to pay, their loss upon the whole transaction would have been exactly two per cent. in the same manner as in all other cases.
If there was a reasonable seignorage, while at the same time theNor would it lose if there were no depreciation coin contained its full standard weight, as it has done very nearly since the late re-coinage, whatever the bank might lose by the seignorage, they would gain upon the price of the bullion; and whatever they might gain upon the price of the bullion, they would lose by the seignorage. They would neither lose nor gain, therefore, upon the whole transaction, and they would in this, as in all the foregoing cases, be exactly in the same situation as if there was no seignorage.
When the tax upon a commodity is so moderate as not to encourageA seignorage is paid by no one, smuggling, the merchant who deals in it, though he advances, does not properly pay the tax, as he gets it back in the price of the commodity. The tax is finally paid by the last purchaser or consumer. But money is a commodity with regard to which every man is a merchant. Nobody buys it but in order to sell it again; and with regard to it there is in ordinary cases no last purchaser or consumer. When the tax upon coinage, therefore, is so moderate as not to encourage false coining, though every body advances the tax, nobody finally pays it; because every body gets it back in the advanced value of the coin.
A moderate seignorage, therefore, would not in any case augmentand could not have augmented the expense of the bank. the expence of the bank, or of any other private persons who carry their bullion to the mint in order to be coined, and the want of a moderate seignorage does not in any case diminish it. Whether there is or is not a seignorage, if the currency contains its full standard weight, the coinage costs nothing to any body, and if it is short of that weight, the coinage must always cost the difference between the quantity of bullion which ought to be contained in it, and that which actually is contained in it.
The government loses and nobody gains by the absence of seignorageThe government, therefore, when it defrays the expence of coinage, not only incurs some small expence, but loses some small revenue which it might get by a proper duty; and neither the bank nor any other private persons are in the smallest degree benefited by this useless piece of public generosity.
Supposing the coin should again become depreciated, a seignorage would preserve the bank from considerable loss.The directors of the bank, however, would probably be unwilling to agree to the imposition of a seignorage upon the authority of a speculation which promises them no gain, but only pretends to insure them from any loss. In the present state of the gold coin, and as long as it continues to be received by weight, they certainly would gain nothing by such a change. But if the custom of weighing the gold coin should ever go into disuse, as it is very likely to do, and if the gold coin should ever fall into the same state of degradation in which it was before the late recoinage, the gain, or more properly the savings of the bank, in consequence of the imposition of a seignorage, would probably be very considerable. The bank of England is the only company which sends any considerable quantity of bullion to the mint, and the burden of the annual coinage falls entirely, or almost entirely, upon it. If this annual coinage had nothing to do but to repair the unavoidable losses and necessary wear and tear1 of the coin, it could seldom exceed fifty thousand or at most a hundred thousand pounds. But when the coin is degraded below its standard weight, the annual coinage must, besides this, fill up the large vacuities which exportation and the melting pot are continually making in the current coin. It was upon this account that during the ten or twelve years immediately preceding the late reformation of the gold coin, the annual coinage amounted at an average to more than eight hundred and fifty thousand pounds.2 But if there had been a seignorage of four or five per cent. upon the gold coin, it would probably, even in the state in which things then were, have put an effectual stop to the business both of exportation and of the melting pot. The bank, instead of losing every year about two and a half per cent. upon the bullion which was to be coined into more than eight hundred and fifty thousand pounds, or incurring an annual loss of more than twenty-one thousand two hundred and fifty pounds, would not probably have incurred the tenth part of that loss.
The revenue allotted by parliament for defraying the expence ofThe saving to the government may be regarded as too trifling, but that of the bank is worth consideration. the coinage is but fourteen thousand pounds a year,1 and the real expence which it costs the government, or the fees of the officers of the mint, do not upon ordinary occasions, I am assured, exceed the half of that sum. The saving of so very small a sum, or even the gaining of another which could not well be much larger, are objects too inconsiderable, it may be thought, to deserve the serious attention of government. But the saving of eighteen or twenty thousand pounds a year in case of an event which is not improbable, which has frequently happened before, and which is very likely to happen again, is surely an object which well deserves the serious attention even of so great a company as the bank of England.
Some of the foregoing reasonings and observations might perhaps have been more properly placed in those chapters of the first book which treat of the origin and use of money, and of the difference between the real and the nominal price of commodities. But as the law for the encouragement of coinage derives its origin from those vulgar prejudices which have been introduced by the mercantile system; I judged it more proper to reserve them for this chapter. Nothing could be more agreeable to the spirit of that system than a sort of bounty upon the production of money, the very thing which, it supposes, constitutes the wealth of every nation. It is one of its many admirable expedients for enriching the country.
[1 ] [This heading is not in ed. 1.]
[1 ] [Not a misprint for ‘enables’. There are two knowledges, one of the state of the crop and the other of the daily sales.]
[2 ] [Above, vol. i., p. 159; below, p. 135.]
[1 ] [‘Any corn growing in the fields, or any other corn or grain, butter, cheese, fish or other dead victuals whatsoever’. But grain was exempted when below certain prices, e.g., wheat, 6s. 8d. the quarter.]
[1 ] [This and the preceding sentence are misleading. The effect of the provisions quoted in the preceding paragraph would have been to ‘annihilate altogether’ the trade of the corn merchant if they had been left unqualified. To avoid this consequence 5 and 6 Ed. VI., c. 14, § 7, provides that badgers, laders, kidders or carriers may be licensed to buy corn with the intent to sell it again in certain circumstances. So that the licensing of kidders was a considerable alleviation, not, as the text suggests, an aggravation.]
[2 ] [5 Eliz., c. 12, § 4.]
[3 ] [Ed. 1 reads ‘the consumer or his immediate factors’. It should be noticed that under 5 and 6 Edward VI., c. 14, § 7, the kidder might sell in ‘open fair or market’ as well as to consumers privately.]
[1 ] [Diligent search has hitherto failed to discover these statutes.]
[2 ] [§ 4 incorrectly quoted. The words are ‘not forestalling nor selling the same in the same market within three months’. Under 5 and 6 Ed. VI., c. 14, a person buying and selling again ‘in any fair or market holden or kept in the same place or in any other fair or market within four miles’ was a regrator, while a forestaller was one who bought or contracted to buy things on their way to market, or made any motion for enhancing the price of such things or preventing them going to market.]
[3 ] [12 Geo. III., c. 71, repeals 5 and 6 Ed. VI., c. 14, but does not mention 15 Car. II., c. 7, which is purely permissive. If 15 Car. II., c. 7, remained of any force in this respect it must have been merely in consequence of the common law being unfavourable to forestalling.]
[1 ] [Eds. 1 and 2 read ‘attends’.]
[1 ] [Charles Smith, Three Tracts on the Corn Trade and Corn Laws, 2nd ed., 1766, p. 145. The figures have been already quoted above, vol. i., p. 426.]
[2 ] [‘The export is bare one thirty-second part of the consumption, one thirty-third part of the growth exclusive of seed, one thirty-sixth part of the growth including the seed.’—Ibid., p. 144; quoted above, p. 10.]
[1 ] [This was not the first law of its kind. 3 Ed. IV., c. 2, was enacted because ‘the labourers and occupiers of husbandry within this realm of England be daily grievously endamaged by bringing of corn out of other lands and parts into this realm of England when corn of the growing of this realm is at a low price,’ and forbids importation of wheat when not over 6s. 8d., rye when not over 4s. and barley when not over 3s. the quarter. This Act was repealed by 21 Jac. I., c. 28, and 15 Car. II., c. 7, imposed a duty of 5s. 4d. on imported wheat, 4s. on rye, 2s. 8d. on barley, 2s. on buckwheat, 1s. 4d. on oats and 4s. on pease and beans, when the prices at the port of importation did not exceed for wheat, 48s.; barley and buckwheat, 28s.; oats, 13s. 4d.; rye, pease and beans, 32s. per quarter.]
[1 ] [Ed. 1 reads ‘restrained by duties proportionably’.]
[2 ] Before the 13th of the present king, the following were the duties payable upon the importation of the different sorts of grain:
These different duties were imposed, partly by the 22d of Charles II. in place of the Old Subsidy, partly by the New Subsidy, by the One-third and Two-thirds Subsidy, and by the Subsidy 1747. [The table of duties in this note is an exact copy of that in Charles Smith, Three Tracts on the Corn Trade, 2nd ed., 1766, p. 83. That author professes to have taken the figures from ‘Mr. Saxby, in his Book of Rates’ (i.e., Henry Saxby, The British Customs, containing an Historical and Practical Account of each branch of that Revenue, 1757, pp. 111-114), but besides rounding off Saxby’s fractions of a penny in an inaccurate and inconsistent manner, he has miscopied the second duty on barley, the first on pease and the third on wheat. The ‘Old Subsidy’ consisted of the 5 per cent. or 1s. poundage imposed by 12 Car. II., c. 4, on the values attributed to the various goods by the ‘Book of Rates’ annexed to the Act. According to this, imported beans, barley and malt were to be rated at 26s. 8d. the quarter when the actual price at the place of importation did not exceed 28s. When the actual price was higher than that they were to be rated at 5s. the quarter. Oats and pease were to be rated at 4s. the quarter. Rye when not over 36s. was to be rated at 26s. 8d., and when over that price at 5s. Wheat when not over 44s. was to be rated at 40s., and when over that price at 6s. 8d.
So under the Old Subsidy:—
Beans, barley and malt at prices up to 28s. were to pay 1s. 4d., and when above that price 3d.
Oats and pease to pay 2·4d.
Rye up to 36s. to pay 1s. 4d., and when above, 3d.
Wheat up to 44s. to pay 2s., and when above, 4d.
The Act 22 Car. II., c. 13, took off these duties and substituted the following scheme:—
Beans to 40s. to pay 16s., and above that price, 3d.
Barley and malt to 32s. to pay 16s., and above, 3d.
Oats to 16s. to pay 5s. 4d., and above, 2·4d.
Pease and rye the same as beans.
Wheat to 53s. 4d. to pay 16s., then to 80s. to pay 8s., and above that price, 4d.
Buckwheat to 32s. to pay 16s.
But 9 and 10 Will. III., c. 23, imposed a ‘New Subsidy’ exactly equal to the Old, so that duties equal to those of 12 Car. II., c. 4, were superimposed on those of 22 Car. II., c. 13. By 2 and 3 Ann., c. 9, an additional third, and by 3 and 4 Ann., c. 5, an additional two-thirds of the Old Subsidy were imposed, and by 21 Geo. II., c. 2, another amount equal to the Old Subsidy (‘the impost 1747’) was further imposed. So between 1747 and 1773 the duties were those of 22 Car. II., c. 13, plus three times those of 12 Car. II., c. 4. This gives the following scheme:—
Beans to 28s. pay 20s. and after till 40s. pay 16s. 9d. then 1s.
Barley to 28s. pays 20s. and after till 32s. pays 16s. 9d. then 1s.
Oats to 16s. pay 5s. 11·2d. and then pay 9·6d.
Pease to 40s. pay 16s. 7·2d. and then pay 9·6d.
Rye to 36s. pays 20s. and after till 40s. pays 16s. 9d. then 1s.
Wheat to 44s. pays 22s. and after till 53s. 4d. pays 17s. then 9s. till 80s., and after that 1s. 4d.
Saxby’s figures are slightly less, as they take into account a 5 per cent. discount obtainable on all the subsidies except one. The note appears first in ed. 2.]
[1 ] [Eds. 1 and 2 do not contain ‘subsequent laws still further increased those duties,’ and read ‘the distress which in years of scarcity the strict execution of this statute might have brought’.]
[2 ] [These do not seem to have been numerous. There were cases in 1757 and 1766. See the table in Charles Smith, Three Tracts upon the Corn Trade and Corn Laws, 2nd ed., pp. 44, 45.]
[3 ] [Eds. 1 and 2 read ‘extend its cultivation’.]
[1 ] [Earlier statutes are 15 Hen. VI., c. 2; 20 Hen. VI., c. 6; 23 Hen. VI., c. 6; 1 and 2 P. and M., c. 5; 5 Eliz., c. 5. § 26; 13 Eliz., c. 13; and 1 Jac., c. 25, §§ 26, 27. The preamble of the first of these says ‘by the law it was ordained that no man might carry nor bring corn out of the realm of England without the King’s licence, for cause whereof farmers and other men which use manurement of their land may not sell their corn but of a bare price to the great damage of all the realm’. Exportation was therefore legalised without licence when grain was above certain prices.]
[2 ] [C. 7.]
[3 ] [C. 13.]
[4 ] [The ‘Book of Rates’ (see above, p. 38, note) rated wheat for export at 20s., oats at 6s. 8d., and other grain at 10s. the quarter, and the duty was a shilling in the pound on these values.]
[5 ] [1 W. and M., c. 12. The bounty was to be given ‘without taking or requiring anything for custom’.]
[6 ] [Because as to inland sale 15 Car. II., c. 7 (above, p. 34), remained in force.]
[1 ] [The Acts prohibiting exportation were much more numerous than the others. See above, p. 39, note 2, and the table in Charles Smith there referred to.]
[1 ] [Ed. 1 does not contain ‘of the greater part of which there was no drawback’.]
[1 ] [According to the argument above, p. 15.]
[2 ] [See above, p. 13.]
[3 ] [Above, vol. i., pp. 207-209.]
[1 ] [Ed. 1 reads ‘in one respect’.]
[2 ] [Ed. 1 reads only ‘By this statute the high duties upon importation for home consumption are taken off as soon as the price of wheat is so high as forty-eight shillings the quarter, and instead’.]
[3 ] [In place of this sentence ed. 1 reads ‘The home market is in this manner not so totally excluded from foreign supplies as it was before.’]
[4 ] [Ed. 1 reads (from the beginning of the paragraph) ‘By the same statute the old bounty of five shillings upon the quarter of wheat ceases when the price rises so high as forty-four shillings, and upon that of other grain in proportion. The bounties too upon the coarser sorts of grain are reduced somewhat lower than they were before, even at the prices at which they take place.’]
[5 ] [Ed. 1 reads ‘The same statute permits at all prices the importation of corn in order to be exported again, duty free; provided it is in the meantime lodged in the king’s warehouse.’]
[1 ] [Ed. 1 contains an additional sentence, ‘Some provision is thus made for the establishment of the carrying trade.’]
[2 ] [This paragraph is not in ed. 1.]
[3 ] [Ed. 1 reads (from the beginning of the paragraph) ‘But by the same law exportation is prohibited as soon as the price of wheat rises to forty-four shillings the quarter, and that of other grain in proportion. The price seems to be a good deal too low, and there seems to be an impropriety besides in stopping exportation altogether at the very same price at which that bounty which was given in order to force it is withdrawn.’]
[4 ] [These two sentences are not in ed. 1.]
[1 ] [E.g., in the British Merchant, 1721, Dedication to vol. iii.]
[2 ] [With three small exceptions, ‘British’ for ‘Britons’ and ‘law’ for ‘laws’ in art. 1, and ‘for’ instead of ‘from’ before ‘the like quantity or measure of French wine,’ the translation is identical with that given in A Collection of all the Treaties of Peace, Alliance and Commerce between Great Britain and other Powers from the Revolution in 1688 to the Present Time, 1772, vol. i., pp. 61, 62.]
[1 ] [Joseph Baretti, Journey from London to Genoa, through England, Portugal, Spain and France, 3rd ed., 1770, vol. i., pp. 95, 96, but the amount stated is not so large as in the text above: it is ‘often’ from ‘thirty to fifty and even sixty thousand pounds,’ and not ‘one week with another’ but ‘almost every week’. The gold all came in the packet boat because it, as a war vessel, was exempt from search.—Raynal, Histoire philosophique, Amsterdam ed. 1773, tom. iii., pp. 413, 414.]
[2 ] [Above, vol. i., pp. 208, 209.]
[1 ] [Above, vol. i., p. 349.]
[2 ] [Ed. 1 does not contain ‘way’.]
[1 ] [In 1762.]
[1 ] [See above, vol. i., p. 43.]
[2 ] [Above, vol. i., p. 285, note.]
[1 ] See Dictionaire des Monnoies, tom. ii. article Seigneurage, p. 489. par M. Abot de Bazinghen, Conseiller-Commissaire en la Cour des Monnoies à Paris. [Ed. 1 reads erroneously ‘tom. i.’ The book is Traité des Monnoies et de la jurisdiction de la Cour des Monnoies en forme de dictionnaire, par M. Abot de Bazinghen, Conseiller-Commissaire en la Cour des Monnoies de Paris, 1764, and the page is not 489, but 589. Garnier, in his edition of the Wealth of Nations, vol. v., p. 234, says the book ‘n’est guere qu’une compilation faite sans soin et sans discernement,’ and explains that the mint price mentioned above remained in force a very short time. It having failed to bring bullion to the mint, much higher prices were successively offered, and when the Wealth of Nations was published the seignorage only amounted to about 3 per cent. On the silver coin it was then about 2 per cent., in place of the 6 per cent. stated by Bazinghen, p. 590.]
[1 ] [‘An act for encouraging of coinage,’ 18 Car. II., c. 5. The preamble says, ‘Whereas it is obvious that the plenty of current coins of gold and silver of this kingdom is of great advantage to trade and commerce; for the increase whereof, your Majesty in your princely wisdom and care hath been graciously pleased to bear out of your revenue half the charge of the coinage of silver money’.]
[2 ] [Originally enacted for five years, it was renewed by 25 Car. II., c. 8, for seven years, revived for seven years by 1 Jac. II., c. 7, and continued by various Acts till made perpetual by 9 Geo. III., c. 25.]
[1 ] [Ed. 1 reads ‘tear and wear’.]
[2 ] [Above, p. 51.]
[1 ] [Under 19 Geo. II., c. 14, § 2, a maximum of £15,000 is prescribed.]