Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I: CUSTOMS STATISTICS - The Comedy of Protection
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CHAPTER I: CUSTOMS STATISTICS - Yves Guyot, The Comedy of Protection 
The Comedy of Protection, trans. M.A. Hamilton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906).
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I. The use of statistics—Ignorant use—What underlies the figures—Work of the International Statistical Institute—Major Craigie and international statistics for agriculture—Mr. Alfred Neymarck and statistics of income—II. Value and quantity: The Economist’s annual table—III. Determination of values—IV. Destination and place of origin—V. Customs House contempt for statistics—VI. Transit—VII. French and Belgian figures: their difference—VIII. Exotic national products—IX. Mysteries—X. Belgian and English systems—XI. Ignorant belief in the balance of trade.
The Use of Statistics.
When statistics are only used in support of some preconceived notion, figures are produced with a great air; but very often the unaccustomed instrument proves a two-edged weapon, and proves exactly the opposite of what is wanted. Thereupon statistics are dismissed as valueless.
Figures by themselves have no significance. Since 1887 the International Statistical Institute has done splendid work in attempting to unify and control statistics. The reports of Major Craigie, Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, show the difficulties involved in preparing agricultural statistics, and the lacunæ that remain there. A yearly report on the statistics of incomes is presented to the Institute by Alfred Neymarck. With their help Sir Alfred Bateman, who was at the head of the Board of Trade, has tried to attain such a unification of method as should permit of the establishment of statistics of international trade; but though some progress has been made, his 1903 report shows how far we still are from the desired end. Since 1903 an attempt has been made in England to classify the imports and exports in the Statistical Abstract in identical groups on the system employed in most countries, except the United States, where a different classification is employed for exports and imports; but tobacco is still classed under food. Pig-iron, which is classed with manufactures in England and the United States, is a raw material in France and Germany.
Value and Quantity.
It is not enough to know the amount of exports and imports in one year, and compare it with that of another year, unless we know the prices given for the two years in the returns, and the method by which they have been discovered.
Every year the Economist gives a table comparing the quantity and value of the trade of the year with that of the preceding year.
If England had paid the same price for her imports as she did in 1903, their value was £480,000,000—an increase of 11/2 per cent.; and so for exports, an increase of 2·8 per cent. Then taking imports and exports together, we find the actual figures for British trade to be:—
—a quantitative difference of £15,252,000, or 2 per cent.
Now turning to price, there is a difference of 0·62 per cent. on imports and 0·35 on exports:—
Thus in the net increase of trade for 1904, relative to 1903, more than 5/6, or £15,252,000, is accounted for by the increase in the quantity of imports and exports, and less than 1/6, or £2,780,000, by the rise in prices.
Determination of Value.
How do we get at the values given in the Customs Returns? Up till 1854 they were based, in England, on the prices of nearly two centuries back; between 1854-1870 the Board of Trade figures were taken from existing prices; after 1870 on the returns made by the merchants of their transactions, which could be relied upon, since there were no Customs duties, except in the case of some dozen articles, to prevent their making straightforward returns. And it is due to this freedom from fiscal pre-occupation that the English figures are more reliable than those of any other country. The English Customs House does not valuate; it merely registers declared values at the port of arrival or departure. The Board of Trade does not measure; it simply states. But even here an average has to be struck to allow for fluctuation in price and seasonal variation. The same positive system is followed in Russia and Portugal.
In Belgium there is a mixture of the two systems: in the case of goods subject to ad valorem duties the merchant makes a declaration, in other cases an annual Commission fixes the official values. These Commissions are too often composed of men who are personally interested in the prices they have to fix, as can be seen from the remarkable reports issued in France. In Greece and Holland revision only takes place at long intervals. The allowance for freight, insurance, and the difference between gross and net weight varies in different countries.
Destination and Place of Origin.
In neither case is determination always easy.
Customs House Contempt for Statistics.
The Customs House officer is a revenue agent, not a statistician. He has practically no control over the declaration of exporters; he is perfectly indifferent to them, since they are of no importance from the point of view of revenue.
Goods in course of transit are very difficult to place: in the United States and Spain they are not included in general trade at all, in England they are placed in a separate column.
French and Belgian Figures.
The returns furnished by the French and Belgian Customs Houses rank among the most reliable; but comparing them together we find that, while the Belgian returns give their exports to France at above £15,720,000, the French Customs House only estimates Belgian imports at £11,360,000, a discrepancy of £3,760,000, or more than 23 per cent., while there is a difference of 14 per cent. in the returns for French exports and Belgian imports.
Exotic National Products.
A further source of confusion lies in the fact that re-exports are sometimes included in exports and imports and sometimes not. For example, in 1903 £640,000 worth of indigo was included in French exports, whereas in Belgium the cotton imported for re-exportation is deducted from the imports.
There is a constant confusion between specific trade and general trade. The returns for general trade in France include the export of £445,360 worth of pearls, those for specific trade the export of £441,576 but pearls are not a national product; the word is not found at all in the Belgian list. In France the word “diamond” is not in the list, nor are diamonds included under the head of jewellery; apparently France neither imports nor exports diamonds. However, there is a note to the Belgian commercial return which explains the position: “The excessive value of diamonds in proportion to their small weight allows them to be imported and exported without the cognisance of the Customs House officer. . . . As a matter of fact the Antwerp merchants imported some £3,200,000 worth of uncut diamonds in 1905 and exported some £3,400,000 worth of cut stones.”
English and Belgian Systems.
I would have the Belgian Commercial Survey imitated by all other nations. It appears about June 15th. At the beginning are preliminary observations indicating the system according to which amount and prices have been estimated. Allowance made for the difference between gross and net value, the movement of currency assessed, and goods classified which have been temporarily admitted. A resumé is given of the total trade of Belgium with foreign countries since 1831; and a table showing the machinery and plant of the country, illustrated by graphs and diagrams. On the same page you can see imports and exports, specific and general trade, transit, quantity and value, and the measure of value employed. But what is the advantage of retaining the French system with its double columns for general trade? The English plan of giving the total of exports and distinguishing re-exports from exports of home goods is infinitely preferable. The Belgian figures are given as follows:—
As Pouyer-Quertier said, “If a friend comes into my house, and then goes out, that makes two, so when a ton comes in, and then goes out, that makes two tons.” According to the English method the table should stand:—
I have now shown the inaccuracy which may be involved in the use of Customs returns and the difficulty of comparison; they are useful, but it is absurd to regard them with superstitious reverence.
The Tables of Foreign Trade appeal most strongly to those who have not yet grasped the fact that if the Balance of Trade were really everything, to be rich would be a sign of ruin and to be in debt a mark of wealth.