Front Page Titles (by Subject) PREFACE - The Comedy of Protection
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PREFACE - Yves Guyot, The Comedy of Protection 
The Comedy of Protection, trans. M.A. Hamilton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906).
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I could have given this book a grandiose title—“The Protectionist Tyranny,” or “The Protectionist Oligarchy”; or a tragic one in the vein of Book V., which describes the “Work of Death” on which most Protectionists embark. But I preferred a light and humorous title, “The Protectionist Comedy,” because there is much more food for laughter than anger in the behaviour of the Protectionists. Call them Méline or Chamberlain, their behaviour is always the same. They are men with a purpose disguised as something else: in their search for plausible pretexts they shrink from no absurdities, importing the miraculous into the hard facts of science. A long familiarity with deceit prevents their distinguishing truth from error, and though facts persistently give them the lie, they still call them to their aid: like the fairy godmother, they promise the riches of Golconda, and explain their failure to produce them as the influence of the evil genius of Free Trade. While they promote private interests inconsistent with the general good, they dub themselves patriots and benefactors, and declare that their opponents are traitorous robbers who have sold themselves to the foreigner; they devote all their energies to such fatuous tasks as the weighting of the balance of trade and the defence of a depreciated currency. In this they are all alike. One sees at a circus clowns giving themselves endless trouble to build up a mass of obstacles for themselves and others to overcome: when Protectionists jeer at such ridiculous labour they only prove their own ignorance, for this is exactly what they do themselves when they regard labour-saving processes carried on abroad as a grievance by which they try to prevent their countrymen from profiting. No doubt each of them has a sound reason for pursuing his end, but he hides it. While they talk about the defence of national labour, they keep their esoteric reasons for the initiate and put off the profane with public pleas. But whatever be the end he has in view, Tartuffe conceives that end by the same intellectual processes and employs the same means to realise it. When he is a Protectionist he says to the electorate, “I will make you rich by imposing a tax on you which brings in a profit to me.” Then the majority applauds lustily and hands over part of what it has to him—and he is almost always much richer than they are. And Tartuffe is so clever in exciting Orgon’s prejudices and using them for his own ends that Orgon actually imagines himself to be gaining.
The dupe is the more ridiculous that if he only opened his eyes he must see how crude and flimsy are the artifices by which he has been swindled.
The aim of the Protectionist in every country is to reduce imports and encourage exports. Since there can be no selling without buying, if he attained his end international trade would cease and each nation be self-sufficing. Now the exact contrary is the case: in a third of a century international trade has increased from 100 to 219, as the following table drawn up by M. de Foville proves:—1
In all countries which are not in debt, imports exceed exports in spite of the constant efforts of Protectionists in every country to reverse the relation.
The object aimed at in the application of science to industry, the use of steam and electricity, the organisation of postal telegraphic and telephonic communication, and the perfection of the banking system, is the reduction of the selling price of goods, i.e., cheapness. Protectionism raises its wall of tariffs and says, “I will make things dear.”
The first two steamers crossed the Atlantic in 1837; in 1842 a Home Industry Convention meeting at New York drew attention to the necessity of protecting the United States against ocean traffic by steam. When the Saint Gothard Tunnel was opened the South Germans demanded a raising of the tariff to protect them against the influx of Italian goods.1 In 1891 M. Teisserenc de Bort, in the name of the Limousin cattle-breeders, opposed the Havre and Rouen harbour works. All this was logical enough: a Protectionist who spends millions on a port and then builds a tariff wall to close it, and who digs tunnels instead of cutting the railway lines at each frontier, is involved in contradictions which prove the malady of his mind. When the first fire-engine appeared in Japan the carpenters asked to have it removed because it robbed workmen of the employment provided by fires. Bastiat himself never invented anything better.
Progress is in inverse ratio to the coercive action of man on man, in direct ratio to his command over things. The Protectionist, by trying to prevent his countrymen from consuming what they choose, wishes to remove them from the effects of all external progress, and when he gains his ends he may indeed find the most extravagant conceptions of Swift pale before the irony of his creation.
And there are other elements of comedy in the Protectionist question. A professor of economics at a great American University said to me, “In America there is not a single professor who is not a Free Trader, but you see how little effect our teaching has on Congress or the Government.” In England a manifesto in which Mr. Chamberlain’s proposals are confronted with economic truth has been signed by most of the professors in the subject. In Germany, to avoid any such conflict, Schmoller, in his inaugural address as Rector of Berlin University, ordered any professor who set the authority of Adam Smith above that of the Imperial rescripts of 1880 and 1890 to resign his chair. In France, M. Méline threatened professors who thought it their duty to teach the truth with the rigours of the law; but he has never taken up my challenge to him to formulate the doctrines which they are to teach. Indeed, Protectionists so seldom define what they mean by Protection, that I must borrow from a Protectionist journal published in Philadelphia—The American, of August 7, 1884: “The object of a protective duty is to divert a portion of the labour and capital of the population out of its natural channels into those favoured or created by the law.” That is, the aim of Protection is to substitute the will of the Government for that of the individual in the direction of his private affairs, by granting privileges to industries favoured by powerful influence at the expense of the unprivileged and those which only ask for freedom.
All the professed economists holding chairs in America, and some in France, expound the absurdity of the Fiscal Policy of their respective Governments. In France, in most of the examinations for administrative posts there are papers in economics in which the candidates know that they must choose between the truth and the chance of an appointment. The Government requires a subservient political economy. In the name of liberty of conscience I demand the secularisation of economic science; for the conflict between Protection and economic science is the same in character as that between science and religion. When the State establishes an orthodox creed it makes lying a system and condemns its agents and officials to hypocrisy.
One cannot insist too often on the greatness of the work done by England in 1846, when, in basing her Fiscal Policy on science, she brought it into harmony, instead of contradiction, with industrial progress, and thus acquired a start of half a century over other nations. As a result her condition was that of a man in good health whose organs perform their functions without his being aware of it: she became so thoroughly adapted to the benefits of Free Trade as to be hardly conscious of them. It was not until Mr. Chamberlain and his friends threatened her with amputation and mutilation that she realised the advantages of that healthy economic life in which economic competition is not replaced by the lobbying and back-stairs intrigues, the coalitions of corrupt vested interests, the pressure of trusts and cartels, characteristic of political competition.
Truths once acquired cannot be lost: there are abuses whose recurrence experience has made impossible. Neither Bismarck nor Méline nor the agrarian party in any country has been able to return to the system of prohibition and taxes on raw materials existing before 1860.
In the following pages the absurdity of certain Protectionist propositions will be demonstrated. The insufficiency of the diet of the French population is shown by a comparison with that of the army. I am waiting for some Protectionist to get out of this argument for Free Trade by proposing to reduce the soldier’s ration. In 1904 the value of a ton of French exports was about £17 3s., of imports £7 15s. Taking the value of a ton of imports as £100, that of exports is £253. The cheaper we buy, the greater our marginal benefit on selling dear. Protection, by raising the price of imports, tries to reduce this margin; no Protectionist can disprove this. The effects of sugar legislation justifies the remark of The Economist, “France and Germany have the sugar industry, England gets the sugar.”
I wrote a book called “The Sugar Question in 1901.” On March 5, 1902, the Brussels Convention was signed, proving once more the truth of William of Orange’s remark, “One must not wait to hope to undertake.”
While Government is absorbed in Protection and the Church, it has no time for the general interests of the country. England’s strength has lain in her comparative freedom from these preoccupations. In France the Protectionists have persuaded the electorate that expansion must be sought in colonies acquired and retained at an immense cost; and as a corollary France has had to enter into conflict with England in every quarter of the globe, has had to sacrifice a customer who took 30 per cent. of our exports for the sake of a set of discontented officials or soldiers or poor natives who after twenty-five or thirty years only take 10 per cent. And this policy led to Fashoda. It is high time that those who assume the direction of foreign affairs should know rather more than they do of economics: politics must gradually be more and more directed by economic considerations, but not in the sense of a return to commercial wars, as is held by too many Protectionists who accept this view. For the present I will give one instance of what I mean. While every one is thinking of Morocco, and public opinion in France plays with the notion of the partition of the Austrian Empire and a German occupation of Trieste, the Customs Union of Germany and the Low Countries, mooted in 1900, and a first step to political union, is passed by unnoticed. Holland is the emporium for Germany, Rotterdam is the port for the Rhine, in spite of all attempts to make the united navies go up as far as Cologne or make a port of Emden, where there is never anything but a few dredges and fishing-smacks. The project is supported in two newspapers, the Hague Courant and the Avondpost, though it is dangerous in the last degree to Dutch independence, and in 1901 and 1902 a number of German pamphlets by Messrs. Stubmann, von Hale, and Anton advocated the scheme. Fortunately there are great economic difficulties in its way. The Low Countries are Free Trade, and the union would involve the adoption of the German Customs tariff, with free ports like Hamburg and Bremen. It threatens the very existence of Holland as a nation. It can only be saved by an alliance between France and England to support Holland against any attempt on the part of Germany to win it over by bribery or threats, which must be checked by some such fiscal union as I am laying before the House, i.e., “The abolition by France of surtaxes on extra European goods introduced from a European country and the reduction by England of duties on wines.”
“The Elements of a Nation’s Economic Balance” (International Statistical Institute, 1905).
“Protectionism”—by Graham Sumner.