Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V: FOOD - The Comedy of Protection
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CHAPTER V: FOOD - Yves Guyot, The Comedy of Protection 
The Comedy of Protection, trans. M.A. Hamilton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906).
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I. Wheat—II. Free Trade and cheapness—III. Animal food—IV. Price of meat—V. The Free Breakfast Table—VI. Meat ration in the United Kingdom—VII. Agrarian policy—Back to the land—VIII. The profit of the few at the expense of the many—IX. Fiscal Reform and Colonial Markets—X. Profits to landlords—XI. Conclusions.
The memorandum drawn up by Sir Alfred Bateman, at the request of Mr. Chamberlain and his friends, gives three very instructive tables:—
These tables show a constant diminution in the proportion borne by home-grown wheat to our food supply. The only way to reverse this state of things would be to impose such a heavy tax on foreign corn that those who bought it would have to reduce their consumption about four-fifths.
Between 1898 and 1902 the United States were the chief source of our food supply. Mr. Chamberlain and his friends denounced this invasion by American corn, and demanded that the English market should be reserved for Canadian wheat. But since 1904, almost the day after Mr. Chamberlain and the other agrarians were thundering against the American Peril, the imports from the States fell from 60 to 15 per cent. of the whole. In 1904 the United Kingdom imported 118,000,000 cwt. of foodstuffs, of which the U.S.A. were only responsible for 18,500,000; their place was taken by India with 25,500,000 cwt.; Russia with 23,700,000, and Argentina with 21,800,000.
The following table, drawn up by Major Craigie, showing the various sources of English food supply during the last five years, proves the advantage which a country possesses when it can go to the world market for its provisions, and is not exposed to the variations of local harvests.
Sir Howard Vincent, the incarnation of all Protectionist prejudices, saw how large an area Canada occupies on the map, and on June 23, 1905, he said at the Imperial Industries Club, “Canada could produce 5 million quarters of wheat; it has 20 million acres of virgin soil capable of producing 25 bushels of wheat per acre.”
But as matter of fact, no more land is devoted to growing wheat in Canada than in the United Kingdom:—
It is not enough to have vast territories suitable for wheat-growing; to work them an adequate supply of men and capital is needed. The immense area of Canada produced in 1902, a year when the harvest was good, 9,875,000 imperial quarters; the little British Isles in the same year 7,285,000 quarters only 26 per cent. less.
Free Trade and Cheapness.
The opponents of the Cobden Club, in spite of all their efforts to prove that its optimism has not always been justified, have not been able to fasten upon the promise that Free Trade would abolish bad harvests or charm away spring frosts, droughts, excessive rains, and other meteorological accidents, against which, as Galiani puts it, the farmer stakes his all. But Free Trade has allowed the English to buy foodstuff in any market and get it cheaper than any other nation in the world.
According to the Report on Agricultural Returns the price of wheat in 1839, 1840, 1841, was more than 8s. a bushel. In 1846 the Corn Laws were repealed; in the famine year which followed wheat rose 8s. and 8s. 6d.; how high would it have risen if the Corn Laws had not been repealed? In 1848 it fell to 6s. 33/4d., in 1849 5s. 61/4d., 1850 5s. 01/4d., 1851 4s. 93/4d., 1852 5s. 1d.; rising again during the war with Russia—at that time the great centre of the wheat supply—only to fall immediately afterwards to 5s. 61/4d.; and except for one year, 1867, it never rose again to 8s. In 1894-5 it fell to below 3s., and since then has varied between 3s. and 4s. a bushel. The Returns give a table showing the monthly prices of home-grown and imported wheat in England, compared with the prices in France, where it pays a duty of 2s. 10d. per cwt., and Belgium, where it is admitted free.
In 1904 in England the price of a quartern loaf was:—
This is white bread made of the best flour.
Mr. Chamberlain, however, calls the cry of dear bread “an imposture,” the Times “an appeal to ignorant prejudice.” M. Méline used the same sort of language in 1887 when he taxed wheat but not bread; afterwards seeing that there is a relation between the price of a product and that of its raw material, he put a duty on bread equal to that on wheat.
Mr. Ritchie replied to those who said that the duty of 3d. per cwt. on wheat which he had repealed, did not affect consumers, by saying, “It is very extraordinary that two and a half millions can be collected without any one’s feeling it; it is a political economy that I cannot comprehend.”
England practically imports none of her live stock from Europe.
The contribution of the different Colonies is as follows:—
Of the different foreign countries as follows:—
That is to say the British Colonies and Possessions only send one-fifth of the animal food supply; in meal as in corn the share coming from each country varies from year to year.
Canada has 4,264,000 cattle, of which a million are cows; but the United Kingdom supplies 11,376,600 cattle; and while Canada has 2,500,000 sheep, the United Kingdom has 30,000,000; Canada has 1,779,000 pigs, the United Kingdom 3,639,000. Canada cannot, therefore, feed Great Britain. And the same results are found in the other Colonies. Australia has 8,000,000 cattle less than the United Kingdom and the 73,700,000 sheep are only 140 per cent. to 100 in the United Kingdom. No preferential tariffs could so extend their production of wheat and meat as to enable them adequately to feed the United Kingdom. The tariff would have to be so high as to be prohibitive, and even so could not succeed; neither Canada nor Australia could, as soon as it was issued, produce the 80,000,000 men and the corresponding capital which form the productive power of the United States.
The Price of Meat.
Protectionists have a mania for unifying and generalising. To hear them speak one would think there was so much meat in the world that its price must keep falling.
There is no constant fall in price. The price of fresh meat is limited by that of imported frozen meats.
The Free Breakfast Table.
This was Mr. Gladstone’s ideal forty years ago, and except for tea it has been attained in England. The 3d. per cwt. duty on corn and the sugar duty were retrograde steps, but the latter was paid by the Anglophobes on the Continent, thanks to their bounties.
Mr. Chamberlain wants to tax the bread, butter, milk, and cold meat on the breakfast table, but he has not dared to touch bacon or ham, or to force an Englishman to get his fresh eggs from the Antipodes.
The Meat Ration.
The Reports of the Committee appointed in 1900 to inquire into the production and consumption of meat and milk in the United Kingdom by the Royal Statistical Society, give the following results, estimated on the five years ending May 31, 1903:—
If the inhabitants of the British Isles had to live on home-grown meat they would only have 67 lbs. per annum per head: imported meat brings the ration up to 121·77 lbs. To arrive at the ration of the French soldier, the population must be diminished or the ration increased by a quarter, which would give 135·34 lbs.; though this is superior to the diet of the French people by some 33 lbs., it still falls more than 83 lbs. below the standard, which is 218 lbs.
The consumption per head of certain classes is given:—
And those who do not eat meat do not make up the deficiency by milk or dairy produce per head per year:—
The duties on meat and dairy produce tend to reduce still further the already insufficient nourishment of three-quarters of the English population.
Back to the Land.
Mr. Chamberlain talked at first of the necessity of drawing closer together the bonds between the United Kingdom and the Colonies, but the projected taxes on foreign agricultural products were instantly hailed by Lord Harris and Mr. Brassey as protection to English agriculture. But do protective duties remove agriculture from the danger of crises? There were high duties in 1821, 1822, 1833, 1836, and 1837, when the House of Commons nominated the Commission to inquire into agricultural depression, and in France the groans of the landowners have been louder than ever since they have been given a monopoly of their countrymen’s food supply.
Mr. Chamberlain regards duties on food as likely to lead to a return to a country life. Are the workmen to be reduced to such wretchedness in the towns that they will be forced to migrate to the country? What will they do when they get there? Is that ideal to be the misery which Lord Rosebery has described as existing in the country under Protection? It shows a singular ignorance of history to suppose that the 25,054,000 people out of the population of 32,526,000 in England and Wales, and the 3,120,000 out of the population of 4,472,000 in Scotland who live in the towns can be transported to the country. It is equally mistaken to suppose that agriculture as an occupation has been abandoned. While all the textile professions only employ 1 in 17 of the active population, and the cotton trade only 1 in 30, agriculture employs 1 in 7.
Profit of the Few at the Expense of the Many.
As in France, a tax on food falling on the majority could be of advantage only to the great landowners in England. This is proved by the Returns as to the number and size of agricultural holdings in England instituted by Mr. Craigie. Leaving out of account the small holdings of one acre and less, the following table has been drawn up:—
Thus the holdings of between 1 and 20 acres represent half the total number of holders, but only some 6 per cent. of the acreage. Those of 100 acres and above, on the other hand, represent less than 20 per cent. of the number of holders, but 70 per cent. of the acreage. Fifty-two per cent. of the small holdings of 1 to 5 acres are grass: the proportion of pasturage relative to land under cultivation is 2 acres to 1. Above 100 acres the proportion is reversed, and in the holdings of between 500 and 1,000 acres cultivated land is 58 per cent of the whole.
Thus a duty on wheat and other cereals would fall on the many for the profit of a very few great landowners—it would be an argument in favour of land nationalisation. Lord Harris’s partisanship of Mr. Chamberlain’s programme was very imprudent.
Taking the division of the population into classes:
Under the term “unoccupied” are comprised retired officials, pensioners, people living on their incomes, and all whose profession is not specified. For all these people cheapness in the cost of living is important, except the very small number who could hope to increase the return of their land. Duties on food would injure 66·3 per cent., or two-thirds of the population. There remains the agricultural population. Even they, as was shown by Messrs. Ritchie and Balfour in their arguments for the repeal of the duty of 3d. per hundredweight on wheat, many of them need cheap wheat and meal to feed their cattle, many, being mere labourers, need cheap food for their own consumption.
Fiscal Reform and the Colonial Market.
If, however, Mr. Chamberlain did get a tax imposed for the benefit of the great landowners in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, it must be an effective tax, and what could be the effect of one of 2s. a quarter on wheat and 5 per cent. on meat and dairy produce? The advantage which wheat might derive from Protection must not be calculated upon the whole harvest, but only on that on the market. The annual average of wheat put on the market in the United Kingdom between 1900 and 1904 was 2,400,000 quarters; multiplied by 2s. that gives £240,000. During the same period the average acreage sown with wheat was 1,600,000 acres. If the tariff produced the maximum advantage for the English landowners and farmers they would reap a profit of 3s. per acre. Allowing 3 quarters of wheat for 2 of flour in reckoning breadstuffs or foodstuffs, the average importation over the five years 1900-1904 from the British Colonies and Possessions has been 5,700,000 quarters, representing at 2s. a quarter a yield of £570,000. From abroad the average import of 17,300,000 quarters, representing £1,730,000. Thus the English consumer would have to pay:—
And of this sum the Treasury would receive £1,730,000, or 72 per cent., the farmers and cultivators 9 per cent., and the Colonial farmers 19 per cent. But does Mr. Chamberlain expect to revive English agriculture with £240,000? And does he think £570,000 enough to cement the dissolving unity of the Empire? Imperialism is cheap at that. True he adds a 5 per cent. duty on meat.
According to the Annual Statement for 1904 the average annual total import of meat is—
In this total pork, ham, &c., is included, amounting to £1,900,000 from abroad, and from the Colonies £30,000. Subtracting, then, £1,900,000 from £38,700,000, since Mr. Chamberlain exempts pork, &c., 5 per cent. on an importation, in round numbers of £37,000,000, will bring in £1,850,000 to the Treasury.
In the home market 662,000 tons of beef at 52s. per cwt.—the price in 1904—work out at £34,500,000, and 313,000 tons of mutton at an average price of 65s. per cwt. at £20,000,000.
If the 5 per cent. duty produced its full effect the English landowners would gain £2,725,000, while the Colonial owners touched £500,000. Moreover, Canada sends us four million pounds’ worth of cheese, one million of butter; Australia and New Zealand two millions of butter—a total of seven millions, which at 5 per cent. would give £350,000. Then the result of Mr. Chamberlain’s magnificent scheme would be:—
The total revenue of the Colonies is valued:—
Mr. Chamberlain’s Imperialism, then, would add a bonus of £1,400,000 to this purchasing power of 1,200 millions; to add one guinea for every £1,000 of revenue of the British Colonies and Possessions. This guinea is to rivet the Colonies to the Mother Country and enlarge the Colonial market for our manufactures: a grand result from so small a cause!
Such a disproportion between promises and reality makes one marvel at the ignorance of the creator of the programme and the simplicity of those who support it.
Profits to English Landowners.
Wheat and meat have been dealt with; dairy produce remains: it is estimated in Mr. R. H. Rew’s Report at 168,000 tons of cheese at an average price of 8d. per lb., 160,500 tons of butter at 1s. per lb., and 620,000,000 gallons of milk at 31/2d. per quart or 1s. 2d. per gallon. Then—
This being the value of the total production at 5 per cent. it would give £3,250,000. But part of this produce is consumed at home; a third is a low estimate for this. Allowing for it the yield of the duties, and the measure of their advantage to the home products would be:—
In 1902-1903 the gross income from agriculture in the United Kingdom was £85,000,000. Consequently if Mr. Chamberlain’s programme produced its maximum effect it would add 5·64 per cent. to this income. The tax on food would bring in more to the British landowner than to the Colonies, and thus the magnificent Imperial policy would be no more than a cloak for unscrupulous agrarianism. Even so, however, it could not attain its ends, since Protection, like reduction, only succeeds where it is considerable.
1. The basis of Mr. Chamberlain’s Fiscal Reform was a Customs duty on foreign wheat, meat, and dairy produce.
2. This duty was to raise the price of home and Colonial wheat, meat, and dairy produce by the full amount of the tax.
3. The profits resulting from it to the British Colonies and Possessions by increasing their purchasing power would increase their market for our manufactures.
4. In return for this preferential treatment the Colonies were to grant favourable tariffs for English manufactures.
5. While at the same time the taxes on wheat, meat, and dairy produce were to revive English agriculture and attract part of the urban population back to the land.
6. To obtain this result Fiscal Reform imposed a tax on all English consumers of bread, meat, and milk for the benefit of 98,000 estates of more than 100 acres, representing 70 per cent. of the arable land of the country, and for the benefit of the Colonial landowners.
7. In only daring to propose a 2s. duty per quarter on wheat and 5 per cent. on meat and dairy produce, Mr. Chamberlain himself nullified the promised results.