Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII: FRENCH AGRICULTURE AND THE INCIDENCE OF THE CUSTOMS—DEFICIENCY IN PRODUCTION - The Comedy of Protection
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CHAPTER VII: FRENCH AGRICULTURE AND THE INCIDENCE OF THE CUSTOMS—DEFICIENCY IN PRODUCTION - Yves Guyot, The Comedy of Protection 
The Comedy of Protection, trans. M.A. Hamilton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906).
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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.
THE PROTECTIONIST OLIGARCHY