Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK III: BREAD AND MEAT IN FRANCE - The Comedy of Protection
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BOOK III: BREAD AND MEAT IN FRANCE - Yves Guyot, The Comedy of Protection 
The Comedy of Protection, trans. M.A. Hamilton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906).
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BREAD AND MEAT IN FRANCE
CLAIMS OF THE FRENCH LANDED PROPRIETORS
In pursuance of the method I have been following to discover the incidence of Customs duties imposed to benefit a class of industries on the industries that employ their products, I now proceed to examine (1) the influence of protective duties to agriculture on the food of the French people, and (2) the precise manner in which these duties affect agriculture itself. The French landlords have shut their countrymen in behind a ring fence of high tariffs; having acquired the sole right they have also assumed the sole responsibility of furnishing their food supplies. What allowance, then, do they make? Does it spell sufficiency or penury? First of all, it is necessary to determine what is the normal ration, the type, by comparison with which one can judge whether a nation’s food supply is deficient or excessive.
PHYSIOLOGICAL DETERMINATION OF THE STANDARD RATION
I. Physiology of nourishment; Atwater’s standard—II. French soldier’s diet falls below this. Assimilation of animal and vegetable food—III. Necessary standard for the French nation. Lagrange’s formula. Reduction of the population by one-fifth. Correctness of the formula. Reduction to a quarter. Thirty millions of daily rations in France.
Physiology of Nourishment.
Ten years ago the Office of Experiment Stations of the United States Department of Agriculture began, under the direction of Mr. A. E. True, a series of inquiries into the nutritive value of certain foods and their cost. These inquiries were superintended by Mr. W. O. Atwater, Professor of Chemistry at the Wesleyan University of Middletown, assisted by first-rate collaborators. His books on “The Principles of Nutrition and the Nutritive Value of Food” give the conditions of human nourishment which I briefly summarise.
The human body is composed of fifteen to twenty elements, among which the most important are water and mineral elements, e.g., phosphates of lime, the bone-forming substance. Then in the proportion of 18 per cent. to the weight of the average man come proteids, in two groups: (1) albuminous, e.g., such substances as white of egg, lean meat, casein of milk, gluten in wheat; (2) gelatinous, such as form the connecting tissues, the tendons, the skin, the periosteum of the bones. These constitute the human body; they are also fuel, for they are burned to create energy and transformed again into fat. Sugar and starch can both be stored up as fat in the body; fat forms 15 per cent. of the weight of an average man. Carbohydrates comprise sugar, starch, and cellulose, and are found most in milk, cereals, and potatoes, but they only form 1 per cent. of the tissues of the human body. Sugar and starch form a chief constituent of energy; they are readily transformed into fat. There are certain waste products, bones, fish-bones, eggshells, and fruit skins, which are not eatable. Food should (1) form new tissue and repair waste; (2) maintain bodily heat and supply energy for action. Thanks to the calorimeter, it is possible to measure in calories the amount of energy a man gives out. A calorie is the quantity of heat needed to raise the temperature of 2·2 lbs. of water 2·04° F.; transformed into mechanical power it is equivalent to about 930 foot-pounds. An adult man gives out about 2,400 calories in twenty-four hours; that is, 100 per hour. Moreover, he loses in various ways more than 147 cubic inches of water; and he exhales a quantity of carbonic acid containing 61-69 per cent. of oxygen and 23-26 per cent. of carbon: in all he gives off some 3,450 grains of the latter. In urine and fæces he loses some 330 grains of mineral salt, more than half being sea-salt. His food must, then, furnish the equivalent of this loss and, moreover, energy.
The following is Atwater’s table:—
Dr. Dunlop, from experiments made in Scotland, on prisoners employed eight hours a day at stone-breaking, found 3,700 calories to be necessary for an adult in moderately active work, and thus Atwater’s figures, far from being exaggerated, are probably rather below the mark.
Ration of the French Soldier.
In time of peace the actual rations of the French soldier are 26 oz. of bread and 101/2 oz. of meat, without counting vegetables, sugar, and coffee; and over and above the ordinary bread ration pieces of 41/2 oz. are given out with the soup twice a day, thus increasing the ration to 35 ozs. There are certain substitutes, however, for the bread given out with soup. The meat ration of 101/2 oz. is uncooked and includes bones; from the weight one-fifth, or 20 per cent., must be deducted for bones. The account puts the meat, when cooked with the bones, at 46 per cent. The meat book of the Military Academy at Saint Cyr for February, 1905, runs: Paris meat of the best quality (i.e., the lower portions, neck, loin, ribs, and some portions of the cheek without bones, and flank portions), net weight 99 lbs., 75 per cent. being meat and 25 per cent. bones when uncooked. The cooked meat was 57 lb., bone 151/2 lb., 55 per cent. being the average for the high-class fare from which the above example is taken. Thus the average of cooked meat may be taken as 50 per cent.
On an average raw fresh meat contains 15 per cent. of proteids; multiplied by 101/2 oz. this gives us 11/2 oz. of proteids for the meat, and 2 lbs. of bread contain 31/3 oz. of proteids. This is a little above Atwater’s figure, but allowing one-fifth for bones, below it.
Even adding sugar and vegetables and allowing nothing for waste, the total can only be brought up to 3,400, i.e., the French soldier is on minimum ration. Vegetarians, of course, say that the place of meat can be taken by vegetable substitutes, but they forget the old dictum that nourishment does not depend upon what one eats, but on what one digests. Atwater’s final experiments give the coefficients of the different sorts of food as follows:—
These figures prove that vegetable foods consume without supplying fuel. They have the same defects as alcoholic foods.
Necessary Allowance for the French People.
Lagrange, in his “The Internal Needs of France—an Essay in Political Arithmetic,” reduced food to butcher’s meat including pork, and corn, under which he included wheat, rye, and barley. His basis was the military ration—28 oz. of bread and 1/2 lb. of meat. In estimating a family budget, Lagrange assumed that in a family consisting of a man, his wife, and three children under ten, the man would eat as much as the rest taken together. On the hypothesis that one-fifth of the population is under ten, he assumed that the consumption of this fifth, added to that of the women, is equivalent to that of the men; so that, while allowing for the lower consumption of the old, the consumption for the whole of France might be rated as four-fifths of that of a population of soldiers. Following his example in taking the peace ration of the soldier as the standard, I divide the population into general classes according to the Census returns of 1876-1896, so as to be able to work out the reduction involved in the lower consumption per head of children below fifteen, women from fifteen to fifty-nine inclusive, and old people above sixty; and I exaggerate the number in this class by estimating the number of children below one year of age at 20 per cent. instead of 16 per cent.
Physiologists estimate the food of a woman as three-fourths of that of a man, and equal to that of an old person; the food of a child as three-fourths of a woman’s. Leaving out the food of children below one year of age, the table of rations for 1,000 inhabitants is:—
The adults in the table are four-fifths of the population. Modern returns and investigations on the subject confirm Lagrange’s results exactly, and Atwater’s figures correspond very closely to them.
But I reduce to a fourth the proportion of the fifth, and if, to simplify the figures, I raise the population of France to 40 millions instead of 39, I have a total of 30 million rations.
By imposing a 2s. 10d. duty per cwt. on corn, and duties of 8s. per cwt. on live oxen, and 10s. per cwt. on live sheep, which raised the duty on the net weight of butcher’s meat to 14s., the capitalist landowners insured their monopoly of the French bread and meat supply. I now examine the extent to which they were capable of meeting demand.
BREAD IN FRANCE
Flour and bread—A hundredweight of corn equals a hundredweight of bread—Forty-three departments fall below the standard—Insufficiency of 29 per cent.—Importation—Substitutes.
The question is often put, “How much bread is there in a hundredweight of flour?” The answer is quite simple—a hundredweight, the rest is water. Thus when the Report on the Food of the Army estimates that good wheat flour sifted of 20 per cent. at 139/100, one is forced to the conclusion that this bread has too much water in it. This sifting is imperfect. MM. Aimmé Girard and Fleury prove that really nourishing bread should be made from the inside of the wheat, representing 55 to 65 per cent. of its total weight.
From the time of Lagrange a pound of bread has been recognised as the equivalent of a pound of corn. Lagrange said, “Wheat loses a quarter of its weight in grinding and the separation of the bran, but flour is increased by a third weight by the addition of water.” Then, since we have taken the military ration as our standard we will adhere to it, assuming with the Customs Tariff that 1 cwt. of wheat = 1 cwt. of bread.
The Agricultural Inquiry of 1892 gives Eure-et-Loire with a production of 2,491 bushels for 100 inhabitants as the department in which the proportion of corn grown is greatest relatively to the population. 2,491 bushels = 1,560 cwt.; allowing for the fact that only 75 per cent. of the population needs the ration of 26 ozs. of bread per day, 1,750 cwt. for 100 inhabitants. The standard ration allows 790 lbs. per head per year; this allowance, therefore, at 1,925 lbs. per head per year, gives an excess of 1,133 lbs. Going through the same calculation for the other departments, we find that any district producing less than 9 bushels per head must either have too little food or else import it from other departments, and half the departments—43 out of 87—are in this position.
In wheat the average supply, allowing for seed sowing, for the last ten years was 7,500,000 tons. Then, according to our formula, 35 ozs. of bread per day = 790 lbs. per year, and for 30,000,000 inhabitants = 10,800,000 tons—i.e., there is a deficiency in supply of 3 million tons, nearly 29 per cent. There are, indeed, certain inferior grains which can be used for human food. The annual average for 1893-1902 gives 1,590,000 tons of rye; 971,000 tons of barley, which, however, is little use for food; 4,115,000 tons of oats, and 554,000 tons of buckwheat, neither of which is a desirable food. The potato harvest was 12,148,000 tons during the decennial period, but 5 million tons go for cattle-feeding, distilleries, and sowing. And according to M. Armand Gautier’s table, the proportion of albuminoids is 12·64 per cent. in fresh grain, home or foreign grown, while in potatoes it is only 1·3 per cent. In a word, for the same amount of albuminous matter, 972 tons of potatoes go to 100 tons of wheat.
The corn harvest is 29 per cent. below what is needed. Including rye and buckwheat as 2 million tons, and potatoes as 1 million, this deficit is practically made good. Vegetables cannot be regarded as substitutes for wheat.
In spite of all the stimuli given to corn production, the surest proof that France needs foreign corn is that importation continued in spite of the 2s. 10d. duty per cwt. imposed in 1904.
When the harvests are abundant, the effect of the duty is felt only in a limited degree. Internal competition is active, and prices are cut down to a minimum. As soon as there is any threat of a shortage, prices rise in the protected country above the selling price of the same quality in the free markets.
PROTECTION AND THE PRICE OF BREAD
The effect of a protective tax in inverse ratio to the abundance of the harvest—Raw materials and the price of bread—Bread tax.
The following table taken from the Memoranda of the Board of Trade proves what I have stated:—
In the last year of the Liberal régime of 1861 English and German prices rose above French. In 1883 the duty was raised to 3 francs; then:—
A fall in the price of corn sends down prices in England, the United States, and Germany; in 1882 the difference relative to Great Britain was in our favour—it is now nearly 3s. against us. In 1887 the duty was raised to 5 francs in France and 5 marks in Germany.
In 1894 the duty was 7 francs. Germany lowered her tariff to 3 marks 90. Result:—
The 7-franc duty per quintal (i.e., 2s. 10d. per cwt.) represents 12s. 21/2d. per imperial quarter. In 1897, when the harvest failed, the duty had more than its full effect, raising the price from 30s. 2d. to 43s. 9d., i.e., 13s. 7d. On May 4, 1898, M. Méline was obliged to suspend it—declaring “in a few days prices had risen from 12s. to 13s. 21/2d. and even 13s. 71/2d.”
On May 1, 1903, the price of wheat was 20s. (25 francs) in Paris; 13s. 2d. (16·50) in London; 13s. 31/2d. (16·80) in Vienna; 13s. 11/2d. (16·40) in Buda Pesth; 13s. 2d. (16·50) in Antwerp; 12s. 10d. (15·94) in New York. The difference between London and Paris was, therefore, 6s. 10d. instead of 5s. 61/2d. (8·50 instead of 7 francs).
Experience, then, justifies the conclusion that wheat duties cannot raise the price to its full extent in years of good harvest, while they raise them by more than the full amount in years of scarcity. Dealers in the protected country wait, not daring to buy; in France they are always afraid that the duties will be suspended, and so by not supplying the market they invite the high prices which lead to suspension. On May 4, 1898, the day after the suspension of the duties, there was a rush on the market; coinciding with Leiter’s speculations at Chicago, this sent prices up with a bound; by May 10th the export price in New York was nearly 8s. per bushel. When the full effect of a duty of 2s. 10d. per cwt. is felt, it raises the price of a pound of bread 3/10d.
I am aware that in 1887, when the duty on corn was 2s. a cwt., Méline refused to put a tax on bread, stating that the middlemen, i.e., the bakers, would bear the burden of the duty. This involved the supposition that, if the 2s. 10d. duty produced its full effect on the 14,000,000 cwt. on the market, the bakers—small tradesmen for the most part—were to make a present of £19,600,000 to the landowners. If they had been inspired by any such altruistic sentiments, the prospect of bankruptcy would in most cases have prevented their acting upon them. But M. Méline’s delightful theory was immediately disproved by the action of the Belgian bakers in sending bread to France, and by the French bakers who removed to Belgium. Bread was sent in in tons to an ever-widening circle. M. Méline had to accept the evidence of his senses and impose a tax on bread equal to that on corn.
The baker then transfers to his customers the price of the corn plus the duty. When the price of bread was raised 1/4d. to 1/2d. per pound, every family in France was affected. They turned to the Government—and rightly enough, for it was responsible for the dearness due to the Customs. Instead, however, of demanding no more intervention, they asked for more; they asked that the bakers should be forbidden to raise the price of bread by the amount of the rise in the price of corn; in the country they implored the mayors, in Paris the Prefect, to put in force Article 30 of the Law of July 19-22, 1791. This Article, provisionally inserted in the law guaranteeing freedom to labour, had stood for 115 years; it gave to mayors the right of taxing bread and meat; and mayors were now found ready to force the bakers to sell their products cheaper than the raw material of which they were made. But no tradesman exercises his trade to ruin himself; when the mayors prepared to put these suggestions into operation the bakers lowered the quality of their flour; and, knowing that a sphere, as presenting the smallest surface for its size, delays evaporation, they made their loaves round.
Farmers and consumers denounced the bakers for starving them; but what were their profits? In the Agricultural Returns for 1903 the price of a hundredweight of corn is 8s. 11d., and that of white bread—a 1-lb. loaf—is 11/4d.; the 3/10d. per lb. difference—29 per cent.—has to cover the cost of grinding, general expenses of the milling and baking, the bakers’ risks, which are very considerable, since, in times of crises, the baker is the poor man’s banker. It can be said, then, that while the duty is incapable of affording complete protection to corn in times of abundance, it becomes a crushing burden when prices rise, and a burden that falls upon the working classes, the least able to bear it, whose diet is the least varied, and who, since they are employed in manual labour, require a diet not only adequate for supporting life but to sustain effort.
MEAT IN FRANCE
I. Total meat consumption—41 per cent. of the standard ration—Substitutes—Deficit of 50 per cent.—II. Increased consumption—Increase in the town population—Falling off in consumption of meat.
Total Meat Consumption.
Taking the figures of the Agricultural Year Book for 1892—
in round numbers 850,000 tons.
Now we want to supply 101/2 oz. of meat (including bones) for 360 days to 30 million people 101/2 × 360 × 30 million = 113,400 million oz. = 3,240,000 metric tons.
Adding pork, 461,000 tons, there still remains a deficit of 1,930,000 tons, or 59 per cent.; where 100 lbs. of meat are needed, the supply is 41.
Lagrange estimated the total consumption of meat in France at about 80 lbs. per head; at the end of the century we find 86 lbs. per head. Is this increase in the consumption of meat in proportion to a century’s progress in civilisation? The total consumption of other sorts of meat—goats, horseflesh, fowls, geese, ducks, turkeys, and rabbits—is only some 2 or 3 per cent. at the highest estimate. From the 300,000 tons of fish about 40,000 tons must be subtracted for export, leaving only some 250,000 tons, and even estimating the consumption at 300,000 tons, and allowing that the nutritive value of fish is equal to that of meat—which is exaggerating its value by one-third—the total is only 1,608,000 tons, leaving a deficit, compared with the standard, of 1,632,000 tons—i.e., 53 per cent. Our animal food is only 47 per cent. of what it ought to be. Even taking into account all possible substitutes, such as eggs, cheese, and butter, there remains a deficiency of some 50 per cent. Animal food in France is only half what it ought to be.
Increase in the Town Population, and in the Consumption of Animal Food.
An increased consumption of animal food is a sign of comfort. If the consumption of meat in the towns has not increased in proportion to the increase in population it is due to the high price of meat, of which the main cause is the Customs duties, which have risen steadily since 1881. In Paris the consumption of butcher’s meat has diminished relative to the population. While the population has increased 33 per cent. between 1880-1903, the consumption has only increased 8 per cent., and the fall from 10 per cent. in 1902 to 8 per cent. in 1903 was largely due to the Customs Act of July, 1903.
The rise in the consumption of pork was less than the rise in population until 1903, when it was slightly above it, probably because in a number of households pork has been substituted for butcher’s meat as being cheaper. The consumption of fish has remained stationary between 1880-1903. Only in the case of chicken and game has the consumption increased more than in proportion to the population; but it is a luxury. The annual ration of a Parisian is only 191 lbs. of meat, instead of the 227 lbs. of the soldier’s fare: it has gone back.
I have made an inquiry from the mayors of the towns in France whose population has most rapidly increased, comparing the development in the consumption of butchers’ meat and other animal food. With the exception of Angoulême there is no increase in the consumption of animal food except in the case of towns where the consumption was very low; and except in Bordeaux, Angoulême, and Nîmes there is no case where the consumption reaches the standard of the military ration. In Toulouse the smallness of the consumption of meat is astounding: 61/4 lbs. per head! I know that it is said that a country man coming to the town eats less meat than the native town-dweller, and that this might explain why the consumption of meat should not keep pace with the increase in numbers. But even so, the discrepancy is so striking in some towns, e.g., Lyons and Marseilles, that it is difficult not to believe that consumption has absolutely diminished, and that there is some connection between this result and the rise in the price of meat. In this rise an element is the Customs duties. Between 1863 and 1881 the importation of fresh meat was free of duty; on November 3, 1881, a duty of 1s. 3d. was imposed. The law of January 11, 1892, raised the tax to 10s. per cwt. on beef, 13s. on mutton, and 5s. on pork; the law of April, 1898, raised the duty on pork to 7s. 2d.; the law of July, 1903, to 14s. on beef and mutton and 10s. on pork.
The average price of meat at the Vilette market on August 1, from 1900-1904, taking an average of the three qualities, was as follows:—
Only in the case of pork does the price show a slight tendency to fall.
FOOD IN FRANCE, ACCORDING TO THE LABOUR BUREAU
I. Wages returns; cost of food and housing for bachelors and families; relation to wages—II. Wages, food, and rent; penury and relief—III. Effect of Protection; effect of Customs duties on wages in inverse proportion to their amount; difference between prices in London and Paris.
Wages and the Cost of Food.
I am now going to check these results by the information supplied in a Blue Book published in 1902 by the Labour Bureau on Wages Returns, containing the results of an inquiry made among instructed experts as to the monthly board paid by unmarried workmen and the cost of living of families of four.
The following tables give the cost of board and lodging, per month, paid by single workmen:—
It averages, then, in industrial towns, from £2 16s. to £3 11s. Taking wages, in Paris, as 3s. 111/2d. a day for 25 days—rather a high figure (£5 per month)—this cost represents 65 to 70 per cent. of the wages; for the skilled workman, who earns 5s. 101/2d. a day (35s. 3d. per week), it is 50 to 55 per cent. In the provinces it is more nearly 80 per cent.
Turning to the cost of maintenance of a family, the type selected is that commonest in France, the family of four. It has been shown that for a family of this class necessary foodstuffs are represented, per month, in the following quantities:—
In addition, drink consists, according to the district, of 10 gallons of wine, 19 of beer, or 22 of cider.
Dividing these figures by three, to give the consumption per head, and multiplying by twelve, to find the annual figure, the amount of bread is 440 lbs., instead of the standard ration of 790 lbs., that of meat 122 lbs., instead of the standard of 360 lbs.
Now to discover the cost of this food relatively to wages. Taking the quantities given above as fixed and the current local prices, a table of results can be given for four groups:—
Of course there are variations between towns, but the average variation, for the smallest boroughs and the largest towns is not more than 15 per cent. In the figures neither sugar, coffee, grocery, nor vegetables (except potatoes) are included.
Taking now the Labour Bureau average for manual labour, fr. 2·75 a day (2s. 21/2d.): multiply it by 300—though this is an exaggerated estimate, for it makes no allowance for unemployment, stoppage, seasonal disturbance, or illness; and take as the average cost of food per month 55 fr. (44s.). Then:—
Adding for the cost of drink £6 16s. a year, the total is:—
Therefore the wages of a labourer, even if he were never out of work, would be inadequate for the insufficient budget returned by the inquiry.
The results for skilled labour are as follows:—
Wages: Cost of Food and Rent.
According to the Wages Inquiry, the ordinary rent of a workman’s family is £4 per annum all over France and £14 5s. in Paris.
The results, then, are:—
The net results, then, are: Taking the provinces as a whole, the wages of labour are not adequate even to supply the normal budget of the Labour Bureau; and they do not supply it: numbers of families in France never taste beef. Even in the case of skilled labour 84 per cent. of wages must go in food, and there is not enough left over for rent.
Even taking the low figures given, only in Paris is it possible for the workman to live on his wages; even there the cost of living takes 87 per cent. of the wages of manual labour.
The condition of things indicated by these results cannot be normal; there follows one of the following alternatives, which are often found in one and the same household—namely, that the wife and children are also wage-earners, and poverty entails distress and charitable relief. The family taken by the Labour Bureau consists of a man, his wife, and two children. This is a very small family. But even where the husband is a skilled workman, unless the wife and children are also bread-winners, the condition of the family is one of extreme discomfort.
Effect of Protection.
Leaving drink out of account, though it is also affected by the Customs, let us now examine the effects of Protection on food.
Then deducting the Customs duties from the price of food:—
The effect of the duties on wages is in inverse ratio to the amount of wages: for the labourer with low wages privation is inevitable.
Of course the duty does not always produce its full effect; but even so it involves a more than equivalent rise in the price of other articles.1 M. des Essars made a list of prices of 46 articles from the catalogues of two great grocery stores in London and Paris. Supposing the buyer to have purchased a unit in each case, he would have spent 109 fr. 95 in Paris and 84 fr. ·09 in London—i.e., exactly 30·78 per cent. more in Paris than in London. In the French prices 11 fr. 34 must be allowed for Customs duties, only 1 fr. 57 in the English. The net difference between the prices is, then, 19 per cent. to the disadvantage of Paris.
Of course in the 30·78 per cent. of difference between London and Paris prices there is more than the 11·66 per cent. of duty to allow for; but the effect of Protection is, by hampering commerce and forcing goods from the protected into the free markets, to compel dealers to advance the duty, on which they take their profit, as they do on the price of the goods themselves.
A comparison of the prices of bread and meat in France and other countries shows the extent of the burden imposed by our fiscal system.
FRENCH AGRICULTURE AND THE INCIDENCE OF THE CUSTOMS—DEFICIENCY IN PRODUCTION
Duties on Corn and Meat.
Two conclusions can be drawn from these facts:
I. Agriculture in France is absolutely incapable of supplying the minimum ration necessary for an adult engaged in moderately active work.
II. The Board of Trade statistics on wages and the cost of food prove that the actual wages of the head of a family of four are not sufficient to support them, even on a budget much below the standard. Now add the solid weight of Protection, a tax on the bread and meat of the French people. The object of the wheat tax was to raise the price of every hundred-weight of wheat on the market by the full amount of the tax—2s. 10d. And 2s. 10d. added to the price of wheat is 2s. 10d. added to the price of bread. Estimating the market at 140,000,000 cwt. of wheat the consumers pay a surtax of £19,600,000. If the average surtax is 2s., according to M. des Essars’ estimate, the whole surtax, taking good years with bad, is £14,000,000, and it falls upon all those who have to buy bread in proportion to the quantity which they consume.
In 1892 the duties on oxen, bullocks, and cows were 4s. the hundredweight on the live weight. There was no minimum tariff. There was a duty of 4s. 10d. on calves, 6s. 3d. on sheep, and 3s. on pigs. There was a duty of 12s. 4d. on mutton, 4s. 10d. on fresh pork, 10s. on salt pork, 12s. on salted beef and other meats. In 1892 MM. Méline and Viger found these duties high enough, as they certainly were, when, under pretence of sanitary regulations, neither foreign live stock nor meat was admitted at all. In 1903, when a good understanding with Italy had been arrived at, M. Debussy, a member of the House, declared with charming frankness that it would be a good thing to replace the sanitary regulation by a higher duty. “If Italian live stock came into France the price of native stock would fall to £4 a head, which would involve a loss to French breeders of not less than £28,000,000.” One of the members, M. Fayot, who voted for the duty, urged it upon grounds which ought to have ensured its rejection: “100 lbs. of live weight, in the case of an animal of average quality, give 50 lbs. of meat. Leaving out of account the fifth quarter, worth some £2 to £3 3s. 11d., the tax proposed on the minimum tariff amounts to some 21/2d. per net lb. of meat.” This calculation was confirmed by the tariff which raised the tax to 14s. per cwt. of fresh meat, including bones, and making no distinction for quality. At the time of the discussion on the Bill the breeders charged about £1 12s. per cwt. for live stock: the duty was thus 25 per cent. The tariff of July, 1903, was:—
Thus the tariff taxed fresh meat at £14 5s. a ton: rating 1,300,000 tons it brought in £18,200,000—which is still £9,800,000 below the loss which M. Debussy aimed at compensating. Adding 14 millions for cereals and 18 millions for live stock, there is a total of 32 millions raised on bread and meat, by means of the Customs. These 32 millions go to join the 120 millions paid in taxes to the Treasury; but mysteriously incorporated in the price of things which the housekeeper buys every morning, and whose use no one can control, they do not go to assist expenditure on common purposes, but, as a private tax, to the safeguarding and increase of the income or profit of a small number of individuals who succeed, in a country governed under universal suffrage, a country where more than a century ago feudal rights were abolished by revolution, in maintaining for their own advantage the confusion between sovereignty and property. These duties made real wages something very different from nominal ones, the nominal wage being swollen by the private feudal taxes levied for the advantage of the landowners and the protected manufacturers. A number of great landowners calling themselves agriculturists, with as much reason as the house-owner who calls himself a grocer when he lets a shop to one, cried out that without duties on cereals and meat the land must lie fallow and agriculture be ruined, agricultural labourers out of work; and yet they were for ever complaining of the dearth of labour. These arguments were refuted by the state of agriculture at the time of the 3d. duty on wheat.
Loss, and Shifting it on to others.
Admitting that the French capitalists would not have been capable of doing what the Danes did under pressure of competition; admitting that, if the 2s. 10d. duty had not existed, the owners who produced enough corn to sell it would have lost the £14,000,000 paid to them by the people who bought corn, and so by the consumers of bread; admitting that without the 10s. duty on fresh meat raised in 1903 to 14s. they would have lost not the £28,000,000 estimated by M. Debussy, but £18,000,000—that would have involved a net loss for the producers of corn and live stock of £32,000,000. The whole question is, Who is to bear the loss? If the cause of a loss be rain or drought, the dearness of pasture or the cheapness of produce, internal or external competition, ignorant or unscientific cultivation:—ought that loss to fall upon those immediately concerned—in this case the landowners, who also have the chance of increase in rent—or on those who, without any share in the direction of their business, have no more interest in their chances of gain than in their risks of loss? Perhaps the legislators who imposed the corn duties were themselves convinced, and convinced public opinion, ill-informed on economic questions, that they could charm away the loss resulting from foreign competition? No; they light-heartedly confined themselves to transferring the loss to the consumers, and to that largest class of consumers whose diet is the least varied, the wage-earners of every sort; by cutting down the meat-ration of those on whom the creation of a new population depends, with the connivance of the law they put their hands into the pockets of the class whose daily labour has to support themselves and their families, and whose wages have to extend to some provision for the future, and they gave what they took to the class who, over and above their personal gains, possess an assured revenue in the land.
Gainers by the Duties.
In this way, to the prejudice of all consumers of bread and meat, capital was diverted to the profit of the proprietors of 138,000 rural estates of more than 96 acres, and of the owners of 711,000 estates of between 24-96 acres, although in neither classes did all the land grow wheat—to the profit, that is, of a very small minority, for the owners of estates of less than 24 acres could barely market corn. The 138,000 great estates comprise 20,691,720 acres of land fit for cultivation, an average of 180 acres; the 711,000 moderate estates, 20,483,200 acres, an average of 261/2 acres. By following a triennial rotation of crops the latter class could cultivate some 10 acres with wheat and harvest 90 cwt., of which they could sell about 70 cwt. So much for the two classes of landed proprietors who sold their corn; but the 2,617,000 owners of land of from 2 to 24 acres had among them only 15,969,600 acres of land fit for cultivation, i.e., less than 71/3 acres each, of which at most 21/2 acres could be sown annually to produce in good years some 11 to 12 cwt. per acre, of which two-thirds had to be reserved for home consumption. As for the 2,235,000 small proprietors with less than 2 acres of ground, and only 1,870,000 acres among them, they buy wheat instead of selling it. Nowadays, even among farmers who do sell wheat, many, instead of making their bread at home of their own wheat, buy from the baker. So doing, they are sure to lose the effect of the protective duty on their wheat, for the baker not only sells the bread at a price which includes the whole of the duty; but the miller and the baker each has to make his profit over and above the rise in the price of wheat due to the tax; and in the price it is not possible to distinguish the excess which is due to the tariff from normal profit. If on a hundredweight of wheat the duty is 2s., and the wheat merchant makes 10 per cent., the flour merchant 10 per cent., and the baker 10 per cent., the farmer who buys his bread has to pay 30 per cent. on 2s. for his protection, that is 71/2d.
Did M. Debussy really raise duties on meat in the interests of public health? In the interests of large families? Of those who since they spend their days in giving out energy, need solid food? Was it in the interest of “the agricultural labourers,” as M. Guilloteaux, the member for Morbihan, declared, although in his own division many of these wretches did not know fresh meat except by sight? No. It was all done in the interest of the owners of the 138,000 big estates, comprising 4,893,600 acres of pasture, and the owners of the 711,000 moderate estates, comprising 5,343,200 acres of pasture, for the small owners possessed only 4,980,000 acres of pasture.
Thus the middling and large owners hold more than two-thirds of the pasture land, and nearly three-fourths of the arable land. It is but one more among so many proofs that the taxes on live stock gave a profit to the territorial aristocracy at the expense of the town and country proletariate, and that was all.
1. Protection is always oligarchic—established for the advantage of a privileged minority, at the expense of the majority.
2. Protection to agriculture is the more oppressive in France because the food of the people already falls below the standard fixed by the soldier’s rations in time of peace to the extent of nearly 30 per cent. for cereal matter and 50 per cent. for meat.
3. Not one of the agriculturalists or health specialists who have disagreed with this standard, has dared to suggest that the military ration should be lowered: therefore in so far as the civil ration falls below it, it is manifestly inadequate.
4. Agricultural protection can be of advantage only to the great landowners.
5. The cost of food is higher in France than in England.
6. Many of those who most require a nourishing diet have less than enough to eat.
7. The relative decrease in the consumption of meat in most of the big French towns prove the evil results of the Customs duties which actually increase its price 13/4d. per lb.
Journal of the Statistical Society of Paris, 1901.