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THE NEW CORN LAW 1827 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IV - Essays on Economics and Society Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IV - Essays on Economics and Society Part I, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).
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THE NEW CORN LAW
Westminster Review, VII (Jan., 1827), 169-86. Unsigned; not republished. Original heading: “Art. IX.—A Catechism on the Corn Laws; with a List of Fallacies, and the Answers. By a Member of the University of Cambridge. Third Edition, with additions. London. Ridgway. 1827. pp. 60.” (JSM seems, for the most part, to have been using the 2nd edition of T. Perronet Thompson’s Catechism; see 816 below.) Running head: “New Corn Law.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “An article on the New Corn Bill, which appeared in the 13th number of the Westminster Review” (MacMinn, 8). In his Autobiography there is only the general reference cited above (46) to the corn laws as one of his special subjects. Identified in the Somerville College copy, without corrections or variants.
The New Corn Law
ministers have at length produced their long-expected proposition for the amendment of the Corn-laws.[*] It has already been once altered, and, we need scarcely say, made worse, in the House of Commons. How much worse it will be made before it passes, or whether it will pass at all, we are unable, as yet, to conjecture; but, even in its original shape, it was almost futile, and would not have effected any one of the ends which it pretended to aim at. Let those be disappointed who looked for any thing better: we confess that our hopes were never very sanguine. It would argue little experience of human affairs to expect from monopolists the abandonment of a monopoly; from landlords the voluntary abatement of rent. And we should almost feel inclined to sit down content with whatever may be obtained, and to thank our masters for giving any thing, when they might have withheld all, were we not aware that what they have yielded has been yielded to their fears alone, and that greater fears may in time obtain for us those greater concessions which they have taught us not to expect from their benevolence, or from their patriotism.
A system of duties is to be substituted for a system of prohibition. If the proposed bill should pass, corn may lawfully be imported at all times. This, certainly, is something gained, at least in point of principle. But coals, likewise, may lawfully be carried to Newcastle, and steam-boats to the moon. Nominal permission is fruitless if coupled with conditions which amount to a real prohibition. It makes little difference to the consumer whether the law forbids corn to be imported, or so orders matters that is never shall.
The vices of the existing Corn-law have so often been made the subject of discussion, both in other publications and by ourselves, that we may presume them to be distinctly in the recollection of our readers. It is sufficient to say, that they all adhere to the proposed law, and in an almost equal degree. Except in name, the trade in corn will not, practically, be more free, the average price materially lower, nor the fluctuations less extensive or less violent, than heretofore.
The correctness of this representation it will be for the reader to estimate. We will lay the grounds of it before him.
The principle of the new Corn-law is briefly as follows. When wheat (to which we shall for the present confine ourselves) is at 60s. per quarter, the duty on importation is to be 20s.; and for every shilling by which the price exceeds 60s. the duty is to abate two shillings. This is to continue until the price reaches 70s., at which, and all higher prices, the duty is to remain stationary at one shilling per quarter. The following scale exhibits the rates of duty in a clearer form.
On the other hand, when the price is below 60s., for every shilling by which it falls short of that mark, the duty is to increase two shillings. Thus at 59s. the duty will be 22s.; at 58s. 24s., and so on.
Amid all this complication, the only material question is, at what price this new system will enable us to commence importing. This point may, fortunately, be ascertained. From the data which we have exhibited in former articles,* and which every authentic statement since given to the world has tended very strongly to confirm, it is established, that 52s. per quarter or thereabouts is the lowest return which will indemnify the merchant for importing corn into this country. When the price is 64s. the duty will be 12s., which leaves exactly 52s. to the importer. Until, therefore, the price rises to 64s., there can be no importation; except in the casual contingency of an unusually abundant harvest abroad. Against this contingency we must set that of an unusually scanty one, which would prevent us from importing, even at that price.
These results suggest two material observations: First, that we shall not, even now, be a regularly importing country. Mr. Canning stated, when he brought forward his measure, that the average price for the last four years, including no particular vicissitudes, and likewise for the last twelve years, which include very great vicissitudes, had been about 60s.[*] At this price the duty will be 20s.; which will leave the importer no more than 40s.; altogether an insufficient remuneration. The lowest price, therefore, which will admit of importation, is considerably above the price of British corn in average years.
The second observation is, that a law which virtually fixes the importation price at 64s. is not much better than the existing law, which fixes it at 70s. By the Corn-law passed in 1822, 70s. is the importation price. If Mr. Canning had contented himself with proposing that 64s. should hereafter be the importation price instead of 70s. would he not have incurred the ridicule, not merely of all men of sense for doing so little, but of all the world for pretending to have done so much? Whatever advantage there would be in simply reducing the importation price to 64s., that, and no more, is there in the measure which Mr. Canning has proposed.* But because he has dressed it out with a complicated apparatus of figures, which cannot be distinctly comprehended without some little trouble; because he has overawed the public by the ostentatious accuracy of a graduated scale, and soothed them with flattering visions of a very low duty when corn is very high, he has succeeded in his immediate purpose, and it seems not unlikely that a majority of the public will, for the present, be satisfied with perceiving that the Corn-laws have been altered, and will wait for specific experience to learn, that the alteration has been very nearly nugatory.
Further, although 64s. be a sufficient price to remunerate the foreign grower, it by no means follows that, under the system now proposed, there will be importation at that price. We have before observed, that 64s. is considerably above the average price; there will, therefore, be no importation in ordinary years: but the foreigner will not raise corn for our market unless he has the prospect of being enabled to sell it to us in ordinary years. In the event, therefore, of a failure of our own crops, we must bribe the foreigner to afford to us a part of the supply which he has raised for the consumption of his own countrymen. It is universally known that the price of food is enormously affected by a trifling deficiency of supply, or a small extra demand. Suppose the advance of price on the occurrence of a demand to be 12s. per quarter (and all who are conversant with the corn-trade will allow that this is far from being an immoderate supposition); the importing merchant, to be remunerated, must then obtain 64s. free of duty. To afford this, the price must be 68s. (the duty at that price being 4s.); a price which wheat has not reached since the great year of importation, 1819. Without insisting upon the strict accuracy of a computation in which some of the quantities are conjectural, we think we have said enough to show what sort of a “free trade” we are likely to enjoy, and how much a father of a family will save, in his yearly expenses, by the permission to purchase foreign corn.
When it is shown that the average price of corn will not be materially diminished by the substitution of the new system for the old one, it follows, as an obvious consequence, that it will still remain liable to the same fluctuations as heretofore. These fluctuations, the range of which, during the last twelve years, has been from 112s. to 38s., were wholly occasioned by our high average price as compared with that of other countries.
We can bestow little praise upon what is probably considered the great merit of this Corn-bill as compared with former ones; the rapid diminution of the duty as the price rises. This is the popular feature of the plan. It is in appearance a boon, and a great one, conferred upon our own countrymen. But, in truth, it is precisely the reverse: it is a boon conferred upon the foreigner at their expense. A low duty is only then a benefit to the buyer, when it occasions a low price. When a low duty accompanies a high price, it is a benefit to the seller. A few words will render our meaning clear. When the people of Great Britain are made to pay 64s. per quarter, for corn which they might constantly obtain at 52s., they are evidently taxed to the extent of 12s. per quarter; a tax which, in so far as they consume homegrown corn, is partly wasted in useless labour on ungrateful soils, partly gained by the landlords, in the manner so often explained; but in so far as it falls upon imported corn, it comes into our own treasury, because the importation duty at 64s. is exactly 12s. Thus, when the price is 64s.: but what if the price rises to 70s. before the first ships arrive in port? In that case, the people of England are taxed no longer 12s. per quarter, but 18s.; and the Custom-house, instead of taking the whole 18s., as it would have taken the 12s., contents itself with one shilling per quarter. The remaining 17s. are not saved to the consumer; for he, by the supposition, is paying 70s. per quarter. They are, therefore, given away; gratuitously given away to the importer, and lost to the community. If this bounty were retained by the importing merchants, who may be our own countrymen, the evil would not be so great. But it is self-evident that this large accession to their profits will only enable them to give a higher price to the Polish farmer; that their mutual competition will oblige them to do so, and that the benefit intended to be conferred upon our own consumers by the gradually decreasing scale of duties from 12s. downwards, will be reaped principally, if not wholly, by foreigners.
The only reason which can be pleaded for giving this bonus to the foreigner, and we are willing to allow that it may be justly pleaded, is, that we could not otherwise obtain a sufficient supply; that the producer can obtain a remunerating price from his own countrymen, and, unless we outbid them, unless we hold out extraordinary advantages to the foreigner, unless, in short, we tax ourselves for his benefit, we shall not be able to obtain corn enough when we absolutely require it. We fear that there is too much truth in this statement. We prevent foreigners from raising corn for us, by refusing to take it in ordinary years; and the consequence is, that when their corn is necessary to our existence, we cannot obtain it without giving them a bounty for starving their own countrymen to feed us. This is a case of necessity, we admit; but who created the necessity? Our own unjust and foolish laws. If we fixed the duty so low as would enable us to be a regularly importing country, though it were to ever so small an extent, the foreigner would acquire a habit of calculating upon our demand. A few years’ experience would inform him how much corn our market would carry off in an ordinary year: by this standard he would regulate his cultivation; and the quantity which would remain on his hands when we had a better harvest than usual, would supply our extra demand when we had a worse. His own countrymen need not then be starved for our benefit, and we ourselves might trust to the natural course of events, and not to bounties, for our foreign supply.
Radicals and political economists had always said, that if we did not choose to take the corn of foreigners in common years, we should not easily obtain it in uncommon ones. This was always indignantly denied, “agriculture” affirming that stores of corn had been accumulated in foreign granaries, sufficient, if the ports were opened, to sink the price almost to zero. It is true that this assertion of “agriculture” was contradicted both by reasoning and by facts; but when did “agriculture” regard facts or reasoning? Ministers, however, knew that what the landlords so strenuously denied was true. They knew and felt the difficulty of obtaining corn in one year from those from whom we will not take it in another; and what do they propose? A rate of duty which would enable us to import in all years was the obvious expedient; but this “agriculture” forbade. Instead of this, therefore, they tax the British consumers in the price of their bread, for the purpose of bribing the foreigner to part with his corn in those years in which “agriculture” thinks fit to let us buy it. But the people of Great Britain must be passive and quiescent indeed, if, besides paying one tax to “agriculture” in order to swell its rents, and another to be wasted in growing ten quarters of corn with labour the produce of which would purchase twelve, they will now consent to pay a third tax to foreigners in order to obtain foreign corn in those cases of absolute necessity, in which “agriculture” no longer ventures to shut it out.
From the foregoing remarks, it perhaps may be supposed, that we anticipate no advantage whatever from the pending bill. This, however, is not the case. The admission of corn from Canada, at a fixed duty of five shillings,* is something gained; rather, however, for the colony than for the mother country: since, the very limited capital of Canada not permitting her at present to export so much corn as will materially affect our prices, the Canadian producers will enjoy the benefit of our high prices and their own low expenses. Until the laws are repealed, which, under the mistaken idea of favouring Canada, drive her capital into a trade not suited to her circumstances (see an article in our present Number on the Timber-trade),[*] our agriculturists have little reason to dread the competition of Canada.
It is something, also, to render the importation of corn always lawful, even under such restrictions as will inevitably prevent it from taking place. The very inefficacy of the change will not be without its use, if it tends to tranquillize fears. The landlords who are in an agony of apprehension lest the present bill should reduce them to penury, the landlords who imagine that foreigners produce corn at no expense, and give it gratis, or nearly so, will have experimental proof, when this bill passes, of the unreasonableness of their alarm; and may perhaps be induced to hear with less terror of a second alteration at some future period.
We have read the late debates on this subject with some attention, unwilling that any symptom of improved virtue or intelligence in the arbiters of our destiny should escape our notice. Although we had not the satisfaction of making any such discovery, a few remarks occurred to us in the course of our labours, which, perhaps, may be worth the trouble of communicating.
The first of these is, that it has become fashionable, on both sides of the question, to treat with utter scorn the notion that there can be any difference of interest on the subject of the Corn-laws between the landlords and the other classes of society. Mr. Brougham, in particular, represented the person who could harbour such a notion as a proper object not only of contempt but detestation.[†] If this was said in order to soothe the landlords, and persuade them that it is not their interest to resist the march of improvement, the purpose at least was laudable; and not the less so, although the proposition is manifestly false. Doubtless, so far as the gratification of benevolent feelings is included in the word interest, it is the interest of all, that what is most beneficial to all should take place. But if pecuniary interest be meant, it really appears to us very idle to deny that the landlords have a different interest from the community, when the simple question is, whether or not the community shall be taxed for their benefit. If the whole of what the consumers lose is not gained by the landlords, a part of it is: the consumer cannot lose a shilling, but the landlord gains at least sixpence by the loss.
Mr. Canning, proceeding on the same scheme of, what we suppose he would term, conciliation, commenced his speech by declaring, that the conflicting opinions did not differ so widely as was commonly supposed, and that the question was only a question of degree. In this we cannot altogether concur with him; nor can we think that the difference between being taxed, and not being taxed, is no more than a question of degree. He proceeded to explain himself by saying, that no person advocated a perfectly free trade in corn; that the necessity of some protection to agriculture was universally acknowledged, and that the only question was how much. We respect Mr. Canning’s honest intentions, and admire his eloquence; but really, when we find him uttering with a grave face the above assertion, we can neither give him credit for much knowledge of the subject, nor even for much acquaintance with the commonest writings upon it. We will take upon ourselves to affirm, that not only some, but almost all the writers against the Corn-laws, have advocated, and do advocate, a perfectly free trade in corn. From Adam Smith to the author of the tract which we have prefixed to this article, they have universally represented any tax on the necessaries of life as among the most impolitic and injurious of all modes of taxation. They add, indeed, that if we are so unwise as to tax the corn which is grown at home in such a manner as to enhance its price to the consumer, we ought to tax imported corn in the same degree; not, however, for the purpose of protecting agriculture, which they regard as only a politer phrase for robbery; but in order not to compel, by a system of unequal taxation, the importation of corn which the powers of nature would enable us to produce cheaper at home.
Protection to agriculture is a phrase somewhat like Protestant ascendancy: interpreted literally, they mean nothing but what is altogether harmless, and rather desirable than otherwise. When turned into watchwords, and applied, the one to the Corn-laws, the other to the Catholic question, they mean something highly mischievous, but which, whether mischievous or not, is totally different from what the words themselves import. The expressions, therefore, are fraudulent.
Before we offer up our substance to an allegorical idol, let us hear what title it has to our worship. What is this “agriculture,” of which you speak? When you say that no country was ever prosperous without agriculture, do you mean, that no country was ever prosperous without procuring food? If this be all, the truth of the proposition is not very likely to be disputed. But if you mean that no country was ever prosperous unless it procured food by digging and ploughing, instead of procuring it by spinning and weaving, your assertion is altogether destitute of truth: since the Dutch republic, which procured the greater part of its food without digging or ploughing was one of the most prosperous communities which the world ever saw.
Let us again ask: when you speak of the necessity of protecting agriculture, do you mean the necessity of protecting the mere turning up of the ground? or the necessity of protecting the procuring of food for the people? If you mean the first, show us, if you can, any reason for desiring to procure food by turning up the ground, when we can procure more with the same quantity of labour in any other way. But if, by protection to agriculture, you mean protection to procuring food, there is no dispute about that. We are as desirous as you are, to afford protection to the procuring of food; provided always, that the procuring of food needs protection. But what is this contrivance of yours for protecting it? Simply this: to force the people to obtain ten bushels of corn by turning up the ground, when with the same degree of labour they might obtain twelve by growing it in their looms and in their cotton mills. If this be protection (which it is not, but privilege) it is protection only to the owners of the ground. A prohibition of gas-lights might be called, without any great impropriety, protection to the oil-companies; but would the oil-companies be permitted to term it protection for lighting? Yes; if lighting be protected by being rendered more expensive and more difficult. No, if this be, as it evidently is, the very reverse of protection. If agriculture means only turning up the ground, it deserves no protection. Turning up the ground is not a bonum per se. If it means procuring food, it is protected by excluding cheap corn, precisely in the same manner as the lighting of the streets of London would be protected by imposing a heavy duty upon gas.
Mr. Canning, in the course of a very humble apology for his intended measure, laid great stress upon one of its supposed merits, which we find it very difficult to understand. He said, that it gave the balance of price to agriculture, and that of principle to trade. We invite our readers to try, among all the meanings of the words balance, principle, and price, whether there be one which will make English or sense of this eulogium. If Mr. Canning means that he has given the name of an advantage to the consumer, and all the reality to the agriculturist, this, unhappily, is but too true. If he means any thing else, we should be glad to be informed what principle is concerned in the matter, except that of buying at the lowest price? If, in saying that he has given the balance of price to agriculture, he means that he has secured to the landlords as high a price as they had before, this is very true; but where is then the principle which he has conceded to trade? Let us further ask, why concede to trade, or concede to agriculture, at all? Are trade and agriculture the end, or only the means? And how happens it that our practical statesmen talk so much of the agricultural interest, so much of the trading interest, and so little of the general interest? It is of no consequence to the public whether it obtains its food by trade, or by agriculture. The sole concern of the public in regard to food, is how to obtain the most of it, and at the cheapest rate.
Perhaps, however, in looking out for a meaning, we are trying this passage by a test which it never was intended to bear. Words are often employed, and with effect too, for other purposes than that of conveying a meaning. Words frequently exercise a strong persuasive power by their mere sound; and such was possibly the intention in this instance. It may have been thought that this phrase might help to persuade both parties that something had been conceded to each of them, and to render more secure the game of compromise which ministers had resolved to play. No one can be more ready than we are to make allowance for the dependent condition of ministers under a constitution like the British. We are aware that men in their situation are often under a necessity to compromise, in order to be permitted to effect any good whatever. We, on our part, being under no such necessity, shall endeavour to expose compromise wherever we find it: in Whig, Tory, or Radical; Lord Eldon, or Mr. Canning; a friend, or an enemy. If it be the purpose of ministers to do all the good they can, we shall most effectually aid their intentions, by pointing out the cases in which they have not done enough. If, on the other hand, they desire to do good only so far as they find it personally convenient, it may possibly happen that, by unmasking their fallacies, we may render it convenient to them to do more.
The word fallacies recalls our attention to the little tract[*] at the head of the present article; which we have thus far omitted to notice, not because it was not highly deserving of our attention, but because we were desirous, in the first place, to express our sentiments on the subject of immediate interest, the present state of the Corn Question. The author (who signs himself T. Perronet Thompson)* has given, after some prefatory matter, of which we do not think so highly as of the work itself, an enumeration of a hundred and sixty fallacies on the Corn-laws; or, to speak more accurately, ten or twelve fallacies exhibited in a hundred and sixty different shapes; with a sentence, or at most two or three sentences, in answer to each. Mr. Thompson is master of his subject, and has disposed of the fallacies with great philosophical accuracy, and considerable clearness, conciseness, and felicity of expression. As this mode of combating those Proteus-like fallacies, which are formidable less from their native strength than from the multiplicity of shapes in which they appear, seems to us to have peculiar advantages, we shall make room for the exposure of some of the most potent among these instruments of deception:—
That the manufacturers want great consumers; and therefore they should let the landlords consume.—A. The manufacturers want only great payers; and it is the same thing to them whether they find them in England or Poland. They have not the smallest wish that the landlords should consume for nothing, or for less than could be had from other people.
That the operatives are a lazy race, and seldom go to work before Wednesday.—A. The landlords never go to work at all. (P. 29.)
That the agriculturist is the manufacturer’s best friend.—A. The manufacturer’s best friend is he that will give him the most of what he wants, in return for his goods.
That the manufacturers, by selling their goods to foreigners, destroy their home market.—A. They destroy it, by selling for two bushels of corn abroad instead of one at home. (P. 30.)
That the manufacturers want a market, but not particularly a foreign market. They may sell to the inhabitants of Staffordshire, or Wales, as well as to the Poles or the Swedes.—A. The manufacturers want the market where they can get two bushels of corn for their goods, and not the market where they can get one. (P. 31.)
That we are altogether in an artificial state, and therefore must go on as we are.—A. This only means, that the community is losing by a great many hurtful monopolies instead of one. Men are agreeing to vote for a general famine, for the promise of a halfpenny roll a-piece to themselves. Each sees the mischief of his neighbour’s bargain, but fears to lose his own; and so all suffer like fools together. (P. 32.)
The following passage we recommend to the particular attention of monopolists of all denominations:—
That if every thing was cheap, every body would be ruined.—A. The great fallacy of the enemies of free trade. When the traders in any particular branch obtain high prices, they get rich; what then so plain, as that if the traders in all branches get high prices from one another and from the public, they must all get rich; and the contrary?
This is the blunder of teaching a man to get rich by filling his purse out of his waistcoat pocket. If he fills either his purse or his pocket by itself, he may get rich; but not if he fills one out of the other. If John Adams, in his residence on Pitcairn’s island, was to propose, for example, to get rich by making and keeping a canoe himself, when he could obtain yams cheaper by paying the natives of some neighbouring island for bringing them in canoes of their own, and was to set down the increased expense bestowed on his canoe as a gain to the shipping interest of John Adams, it would be plain that it was only John Adams making himself creditor by himself, and that whatever was the flourishing appearance of his shipping account, the real fact was, that he and his family lost and threw away all that might be saved by employing the cheaper mode. The case is the same in greater communities; except that it is one set of individuals that gain the shilling, and another that lose the pound.
If one man should be allowed to take a halfpenny a-piece from every individual in the united empire, he would get rich. But if all people had liberty to do the same, they would not all get rich. Some men cannot understand this, and therefore go on crying out, ‘The shipping interest will be ruined, and the silk trade will be ruined, and you will all be ruined together, by giving over filling your pockets at the expense of one another, and trying to fill them by having more of every thing than you want.’ And at the bottom of the whole will be found the land-owners, who are the only persons who have any thing really at stake in keeping up the delusion.
A time will come when the public will wake as from a dream, and ask who it was that persuaded them, that the way to be rich was for every body to give as much as possible for every thing. In the meanwhile there is nothing to be done, but to wait till the progress of knowledge makes men ashamed of being impoverished by such a fallacy. (Pp. 32-3.)
The following are highly deserving of attention:—
That we cannot have the blessings of civilization and wealth, and the cheapness of provisions which is found in unimproved countries.—A. We cannot have them both at once from our own soil; and there was never any question of doing it. The question was, whether cheap corn is not the best, wherever it may come from.
That the countries where cheap corn is found, are very miserable.—A. The question is not whether those countries are happy, but whether having their corn would make us happy. The objection is like saying, ‘On no account let your ladies wear furs. You have no idea what wretches the North-Western Indians are; and, above all, their women.’ The misery of the people quoted, proceeds neither from having corn nor having furs; but from totally different causes, which our buying their corn or furs is one step towards removing. They have all the qualities required in customers; which are, to want what we have, and have what we want. (Pp. 34-5.)
That an expense has been incurred on the inferior soils, and it would be waste to throw it away.—A. If some unwise gentleman, by raising grapes in hot-houses, had contrived to make wine equal to Port at the price of Tokay, the best thing his friends could recommend to him, would be to burn his hot-houses whatever had been the outlay, and take to drinking Port at four and sixpence like his neighbours. There is no doubt that the outlay will be lost; and the sooner, the better.
That the landlords who have made the outlay, and the people who are to benefit by its being thrown away, are different individuals, and therefore one has a claim to compensation from the other.—A. If the gentleman supposed, had built his hot-houses in consequence of the existence of a law prohibiting the introduction of foreign wine, the case would certainly be altered. The first question then would be, ‘Had the gentleman any hand in making the law himself?’ If he had originated the plan, and voted in parliament after parliament for its support, he would clearly have no claim. (P. 35.)
That there is no limit to the corn that can be produced at home, if people will pay for it.—A. This is like saying, that there is no limit to the milk which can be produced from a single cow, if people will only pay for the keep. There may never be a time when it is impossible to obtain another drop. But in the first place, it is clear that the quantity is limited after all. And next, that there is no reason why people should pay for feeding a cow on green peas, when by sending across the brook they may have good milk produced by one fed on straw.
That the produce of Great Britain and Ireland is equal to the support of their inhabitants.—A. This is only saying, that there are never more inhabitants than are fed. It would have been equally true, if nine-tenths of the present inhabitants had been starved. (Pp. 37-8.)
That if the manufacturers are already in such a state of distress as calls for emigration, to throw a number of agriculturists out of work must increase the evil.—A. Not if for every man thrown out of employment in agriculture, ten men are brought into employment in other ways. (P. 39.)
That if we receive corn from other countries, we are not sure that they will receive our manufactures in return.—A. They will receive what we have to give, or else not give us corn.
That it is the interest of a country to support its own population with the produce of its own soil.—A. Not if it can support them better with the produce of another. It might as well be said that it was the interest of the country, to supply its wine-drinkers with the produce of its own soil by means of hot-houses. (P. 40.)
That the proprietors of land have a right to the protection of the state.—A. They have a right to sell their produce to all who choose to buy it, and to let others do the same. If by protection they mean a protecting duty, a protecting duty means every where, giving men other people’s money which they have no right to. It means giving a tailor two and sixpence for his work instead of two shillings, for the tailor’s convenience. (Pp. 44-5.)
That if the result of free trade is the impoverishment and distress of the people, it will be ill compensated by an adherence to philosophical maxims and sentimental conceptions.—A. The philosophical maxims are, that every man has a right to sell the produce of his labour. The sentimental conceptions, that one man ought not to be starved, to please another.
That we ought not to follow the conceits of theory.—A. Conceits of theory mean, believing that two from four leaves two. (P. 45.)
In the following passage, the fallacy of remunerating price is happily exposed:—
That the question is, whether the country shall be cultivated or not?—A. The question is, whether the country shall be cultivated to the extent which is for the interest of the community, or whether it shall be cultivated to a greater extent for the advantage of the landlords and the injury of every body else? The counterpart of the fallacy would be, if the manufacturers had got a duty on English corn, and said, ‘The question is, whether the country shall have manufactures or not?’ (P. 47.)
That the man who made two blades of grass grow where there was one before, was always held to be a public benefactor.[*] —A. The thing really meant is, making two bushels of corn to exist where there might have been four.
That the landlords will suffer by the permission of a free trade in corn; and no man ought to suffer.—A. When the question is, whether one man must suffer by a return to the rule of justice, or ten for want of it, the last must carry it. (P. 48.)
That the farmers and servants in husbandry, who are unquestionably real labourers, will suffer also.—A. It is true that some of them must change their occupation. But it is impossible to condemn ten men to the privation of the common right of all men to sell the produce of their own labour, that one may not be obliged to change the mode of his. The fallacy of bringing forward the sufferings of the agricultural labourers from change, consists in keeping back the fact, that ten times as many are unjustly suffering much more for want of it. And the suffering altogether is only part of the consequences of the original injustice. It is in the nature of injustice to produce suffering, both during its continuance and at its removal; but this is not a reason why injustice should not be removed.
That the petty shopkeepers and others, who have the custom of the occupiers of land, must be ruined.—A. Not if they have an equal chance of selling to somebody else instead. (Pp. 48-9.)
That the manufacturing interest ought to be conciliatory.—A. It is not conciliation that is wanted, but justice. When Thomas is kept from selling in the market to please John, there is no use in telling Thomas he ought to be conciliatory. Give him justice, and the common right of all men. He must be an idiot if he licks John’s feet, to obtain permission to sell the fruit of his labour to such as choose to buy it. (P. 51.)
That the French Revolution was introduced by calling for a free trade in corn.—A. All popular revolutions begin with an opposition to some crying injustice; which is a reason why crying injustices should be removed; not why they should not. If there was not something of this kind, there could be no revolution. The people never began an unnecessary revolution in the world; though some have been carried beyond the point of necessity after they were begun.
That all the mischief proceeds from defects in the system of currency.—A. The system of currency may be good, or evil; but its effects in either way cannot alter the fact, that the land-owners are putting restrictions on the industry of the community. A man may have suffered by bad shillings, but that was not what broke his leg. (P. 54.)
That the extreme opinion on one side is, that there should be a constant prohibition, the extreme opinion on the other, that there should be none; and that the point of justice and moderation lies somewhere between.—A. The extreme opinions are mis-stated. The statement is, that the extreme opinion on one side is, that John should keep Thomas out of the market; the extreme opinion on the other, that he should not; and therefore what justice and moderation require is, that he should keep him out every other day. The extreme opinions truly stated, would be, on one side, that the agriculturist ought to have a duty against the manufacturer; on the other, that the manufacturer ought to have a duty against the agriculturist; and therefore the just medium is, that each should sell for what he can get, without having a duty against the other at all. The way to examine the position is, to see how it would look if the same statement, mutatis mutandis, were advanced on the part of the manufacturers.
That we must reconcile conflicting interests—A. There can be no conflict on a wrong. When the question is of a purse unjustly taken, it is a fallacy to say we must reconcile conflicting interests, and give the taker half.
That the differences between the parties are infinitely less wide than they are stated to be in argument.—A. Whatever may be the absolute magnitude of the difference, the principle is not the less important. If the question were whether the takers of purses should be allowed to keep the half or none, it would be no answer to say, the whole sums taken in a twelvemonth were under six millions. (Pp. 55-6.)
That land and trade must wax and wane together.—A. True, as long as they go on honestly in company. Not true, if one is endeavouring to wax by the robbery of the other. [P. 56.]
That the manufacturing interest ought not to use harsh terms.—A. There is nothing like calling things by their right names. The manufacturers will eat their brown loaf if they are obliged to it; but the devil and St. Dominic will not make them call it a leg of mutton.
That it is dangerous and wrong, to tell men they are injured.—A. The danger and wrong, are in injuring them.
That agriculture ought to be held in honour.—A. The art of having corn ought to be held in honour. The agriculturist who can make inferior land produce corn, or good land produce an increased quantity, subject always to honest competition on the part of those who can produce corn out of their looms and their flatting-mills,—has the same claim to honour as Arkwright and Watt. If Arkwright and Watt had invented machines for making broad cloth at double the price that it might be had in other ways their claims to honour would have been like those of the modern agriculturists.
That wealth emanating from land has a right to certain privileges above that which emanates from other sources.—A. This amounts only to saying, that the wealth of the community should be diminished, that the wealth of the agriculturists may be increased by a fraction of the difference. (P. 56.)[*]
That money may as well be taken from the fund-holders as from the landlords.—A. This is saying, that it is the same thing to defraud a just creditor, and to prevent a shopkeeper from raising his prices by monopoly. (P. 53.)
The truths which are so happily expressed in the following passage, cannot be too often or too deeply impressed upon the public mind:—
That the fund-holders ought to be robbed.—A. To rob the fund-holders of their interest, after having spent their capital, would, besides all the evils of breach of contract, have the hardship of an ex post facto law, with the unique addition of being made in the teeth of the invitation of an existing law. The nation which should do it, would virtually declare itself incapable of contracting any national engagement, or performing any national act. A community must either acknowledge the possibility of being bound to-morrow by its act of to-day, or it must disband; for if it declares its own incompetency, it will be treated with as a community by nobody. And for any thing that could be gained by such a proceeding, it might as well be proposed to gain by robbing all the individuals who had red hair. The individual robbers might gain by it, but the community could not gain, because the red-haired men are themselves part of the community. If the principal expended could be called back again, it would be a different case. But nobody can seriously believe, that by what has been called applying a sponge to the national debt, the community would be one shilling the richer; or that by robbing one individual of five pounds per annum in order to put it into the pocket of another, the smallest progress would be made towards recovering the hundred which was spent thirty years ago. A man might as well try to repair the loss of a leg, by shifting the deficiency from one side to the other. If every individual was a fund-holder in the same proportion that he is a tax-payer, it would be clear that the attempt was only shifting the leg. And it is just as true, when the case is as it is, with the addition only that the fund-holders are the smaller party, and therefore might possibly be robbed.
And this is not the fallacy of saying that a national debt is no evil. It is a very great evil; and the worst thing about it is, that there is no getting rid of it. When a million is borrowed and expended, the evil is inflicted then; and not by the shifting of the interest from one pocket to another afterwards.
The magnitude of the evil or punishment is the same as if there had been inflicted a judicial necessity for throwing the amount of the interest annually into the Thames. For if the money had never been borrowed, the man who is now the fund-holder would have had the principal in his pocket, and the tax-payer would have saved the interest, which is the same to him as saving it from the Thames. But there is a special provision of Providence, that when money has been thus raised, no possible dishonesty shall get rid of the burthen. If the principal had been borrowed from Prester John, the community might possibly gain by cheating him of his interest. But since the interest is owed to a component part of the community, it is in the constitution of things, that the community, however inclined to the practice of larceny, can gain nothing by robbing itself. (Pp. 51-3.)
And the following passages throw a just ridicule upon the panegyrics which the landlords are so much in the habit of pronouncing upon themselves in order to show that they ought to be protected in injustice:—
That the race of English country gentlemen, English farmers, and English yeomen, is worth preserving.—A. Not if they are to be kept at the public expense. As long as they keep themselves, every body is glad to see them.
That a bold peasantry is their country’s pride.—A. The bold peasantry must keep their country, not the country them.
That the landlords are the Corinthian capital of society.—A. It is carrying the metaphor too far to say they must be supported by the rest.
That they are a source of light and knowledge to the lower orders.—A. They teach them what they are anxious they should learn; and others do the same.
That they have sound political principles.—A. They take the side which they think best for themselves; and other people do so too.
That they fought the battle against the Jacobins.—A. Which other people are paying for.
That all they get they expend.—A. Most other people do the same.
That they are supporters of the fine arts.—A. Wealth would produce the same effects in any other hands.
That they feed fat cattle.—A. And are paid for them.
That they keep up rural sports.—A. Men have no claim to be paid for amusing themselves as they like best.
That they kill foxes and others.—A. The mole-catcher would do it better.
That they sit at quarter-sessions.—A. And strange things they sometimes do there. For instance, in Buckinghamshire, they sentenced John Doe to five months’ imprisonment for intending to assault the lord’s hen-pheasant, and Richard Roe to three, for assaulting the serf’s daughter.
That they are the unpaid magistracy.—A. If they demand to be kept, they are not.
That they are good moral characters.—A. Other men are so too. But it is impossible for all moral men to be kept.
That they are generous, brave, and humane.—A. All Englishmen from time immemorial, by their own account, have been so too.
That nobody could do without them.—A. Nobody could do without every body. But every body cannot be kept at the public expense. (Pp. 56-7.)
We have quoted enough to justify us in pronouncing this to be one of the most useful works which have appeared on this subject during the present controversy. We observe with pleasure that it has attracted the attention of lord King, who has fought the battle of free trade in the House of Lords nobly, and with weapons very similar to those of the present author. We think that it would be a speculation worthy the attention of a bookseller, to make a collection of all which lord King has said on this subject in parliament since it began to be discussed in 1825, and print it in a pamphlet, as a companion to the tract before us. Every thing which is most noxious and most offensive in the spirit of aristocracy has rarely received such hard and well-directed blows. The exertions of Mr. Whitmore and of lord Milton deserve no less praise; and their merit is enhanced by the disgraceful reception, disgraceful even in the eyes of indifferent spectators, which they have experienced from the House. But their country will weigh them and their opponents by a different standard, and will esteem and venerate them as deeply for having set at defiance the fury of the band of enraged monopolists by whom they have been insulted, as it would have despised them if they had stooped, with the vulgar herd of public men, to court the applause of those monopolists by the sacrifice of the best interests of their country.
[[*] ]Eventually amended by 7 & 8 George IV, c. 57.
[* ]Westminster Review, Nos. VI. and XII. [Mill, J. S. “The Corn Laws,” Westminster Review, III (Apr., 1825), pp. 394-420 (i.e., that printed above, pp. 47-70); Mill, James. “State of the Nation,” ibid., VI (Oct., 1826), pp. 249-78.]
[[*] ]See Hansard, 1 March, 1827, col. 768.
[* ]It will be said, that, under the law of 1822, although the ports open at 70s. corn is not admitted unless charged with a duty of 17s. But this does not prevent importation from taking place at 70s.; for when the price is 70s., a duty of 17s. still leaves 53s. to the importer, which is more than a remunerating price.
[* ]Up to 55s. at which price the duty changes to sixpence.
[[*] ]Roebuck, John Arthur. “Timber Trade,” Westminster Review, VII (Jan., 1827), pp. 126-46.
[[†] ]See Hansard, 1 March, 1827, cols. 784-5.
[[*] ]A Catechism on the Corn Laws. 2nd ed. London: Ridgway, 1827.
[* ]Mr. Thompson has published another pamphlet, entituled “An Exposition of Fallacies on Rent, Tithes, &.” [London: Hatchard; Rivington, 1826] which has recently been advertised under the title of “The true Theory of Rent, in opposition to Mr. Ricardo and others.” This pamphlet appears to us a striking exemplification of the mistakes of an ingenious, but not thoroughly informed mind, more accustomed to think in solitude, than to discuss, and compare its ideas with those of other men. Mr. Thompson does not perceive that his theory of rent differs from that of Mr. Ricardo only in the expression. There is no difference in the principle, and we cannot but think, that, even in the mode of stating it, Mr. Ricardo has decidedly the advantage. Moreover, if the case were otherwise, and if Mr. Thompson’s theory were a real discovery, whatever merit it might possess is by no means his own, since all that he has brought forward had been said previously in a single paragraph, and much more clearly, by the Quarterly Review, No. 50, pp. 475-6, in an able article attributed to the present Professor of Political Economy in the University of Oxford [Senior, Nassau William. “Report—On the State of Agriculture,” Quarterly Review, XXV (July, 1821), pp. 466-504]. Mr. Thompson’s opinions on tithes and other taxes on the land, are indeed different from those of Mr. Ricardo. But if he will read Mr. Ricardo’s work again carefully, and reflect more, and, above all, converse more, on the subject with instructed and thinking men, he will perceive that his opinions on these topics are not corollaries from his doctrine of rent, but from a peculiar and altogether erroneous opinion on profits, which he conceives to be regulated, like wages, by the proportion between numbers and demand. We have not space to be more explicit, nor can we venture to refer any but the very laborious reader to Mr. Thompson’s work; for, erroneous as we deem its conclusions, it is to the full as difficult of comprehension as it could be if it were the quintessence of pure reason; and if it be deficient in the sterling merit of profundity, it does not atone for the deficiency by the agrément of superficiality. Nor is this to be ascribed to any defect in the author’s style. On the contrary, our copious extracts from his “Catechism on the Corn Laws” afford sufficient proof that he possesses an uncommon talent for explaining whatever he understands. The obscurity of the other tract is therefore owing entirely to an original confusion of ideas on one or two fundamental points.
[[*] ]Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels, in Works, XII. Ed. Walter Scott. Edinburgh : Constable, 1814, p. 176.
[[*] ]This, and the preceding three “Fallacies“ are not in the 2nd ed. of Thompson’s Catechism; they occur in the 3rd ed. at p. 47. See p. 816 below.