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To the eye of plain reason, which looks straight forward to the established concatenations of events, it does appear strange policy in the legislature of any country, to pass laws for the express purpose of making provision scarce; that is, to retard the increase both of its wealth and of its population; and to render it less great and less prosperous than it would otherwise become.
The established order of events we should imagine to be so obvious as to suggest itself to the thoughts of every one, and to be placed far beyond the reach of controversy. Men can live only by food. They can multiply only in proportion as it is increased. Food can be procured only by labour, and a community of men enjoy comforts exactly in proportion as their necessary food can be supplied by means of a greater or a less proportion of their labour; in other words, as a greater or less proportion of that labour, after providing for the supply of food, can be spared for providing a supply of comforts. If we suppose a situation in which the whole of the labour of the whole community is required to procure the necessary supply of food, that community must be deprived of comforts; and if, on the other hand, we suppose a situation, in which necessary food were spontaneously supplied to the community, the whole of its labour would be devoted to the multiplication of comforts.
The argument is so clear and so conclusive, that it seems hardly necessary to put it in words. The law which imposes any burthen upon the importation of corn, is a law, the undisputed effect of which, is to make a greater quantity of labour requisite for the acquisition of the necessary quantity of food; it is, therefore, a law to diminish the amount of comforts to the community. But the diminution of comforts is not the only result. If there be a proportion of the community already deprived of comforts, whose labour can barely procure sustenance, it will deprive them of a part of that sustenance, and afflict them with the miseries of want. And further, if there be now a proportion of the community whose labour is actually insufficient to provide them with necessary food, it will deprive them of a still greater part of the necessary quantity, and unless they are supplied by charity, will reduce them to the most deplorable of deathsdeath by famine.
This is a view of the subject which does indeed to us appear calculated to strike the hearts of men more regardless of the interests of their fellow-creatures, as compared with their own, than are the owners of the land in Great Britain. The two classes of persons, consisting of those whose labour is now barely sufficient, and of those whose labour is not sufficient, to supply them with necessary food, form by far the greater proportion of the community, almost the whole of the labouring and produc
tive classes. Every event, therefore, which renders additional labour necessary for the acquisition of a given quantity of food, deprives that greater proportion of the community of a part of that necessary food, and plunges them into the miseries of want. When we hear it said, as we do hear it so often and so loudly said, that a free importation of corn will diminish the landowner's rent, and the farmer's profit, and when we hear the necessity proclaimed of a law for the prevention of these deplorable effects, we ask for the voices which are raised in behalf of the infinitely more numerous classes of persons, whose loaf will be diminished, not their rent or profit, by a law to increase the quantity of labour necessary for the acquisition of bare sustenance. Is there no difference to the feelings of the individual, between a diminution of rent, and a deficiency of necessary food? between the diminution of the rent of a number of persons comparatively very small, and the deficiency of the necessary food of a number comparatively very great? Who, in a civilized country, could endure, for one moment, a man who could treat, as upon a footing of equality, the evils of a diminished rent-roll, and the evils of an insufficient quantity of food? And if so, what can be thought of a law, which, to keep up the rent-roll of one man, deprives thousands of bread.
Much has been lately said to excite in our breasts as strong sympathy as possible, for those who, we are told, will suffer a diminution of rent and profits. The owners of rent and profits have an advantage ground; they can make their voices be heard; and they have never been slow in making them be heard on the score of their own grievances. They are, moreover, the law-makers; and it is no wonder that, in the ages of darkness which are past, the case of those whose bread, and the bread of whose children, is apt to be cut short by a law which strikes at the supply of food, has been but little regarded in the places where laws have been made. It is only the progress of civilization, the progress of knowledge and of humanity, which gives the interests of the most numerous, the most needy class, and the class the most easily injured, a chance of equal treatment in the hands of legislators. This progress, in our own country, has already done much. Never, during any former age, were the interests of the most numerous order attended to by the legislature in any degree equal to what they are at present. The gradual pressure of knowledge will daily augment that happy regard, and could we only remove some deplorable obstructions, the procedure would be very rapid, and the beneficial results numerous and important. Never has a corn law, which was intended to obstruct, for the benefit of the land-holder, the supply of food, met with so much opposition as
the present. Never, we may rest well assured, will it, from this time forward, be possible, in this country, to make another.
The hollowness of the cause of those who have pressed forward a law for obstructing the supply of food, is sufficiently betrayed by the contradictory nature of their pleas and pretexts. The following may be taken as an example. The present low prices, they say, will ruin the farmer: we must have a law to prevent that ruin :-that is to say, they must have a law to make corn dearer. Again, they say,-Be not alarmed by sinister auguries respecting the operation of our corn law; the effect will be to make corn more plentiful, and consequently cheaper. Thus, we see, that, to meet all tastes, they make their corn law productive of contradictory effects, according as their occasions present a demand for them. But let us not, at any rate, be deluded by so gross a treatment as this. If this bill is beneficial to the farmer, it must raise the prices, and if it raises the prices, it cannot lower them. It is avowedly for the sake of raising them, of keeping them up at a higher pitch than they would otherwise attain, that the law is avowedly proposed. They cannot, however, be kept up, except at the expense of all that misery, and all that national loss which we have just described. The law to keep them up is a law to produce gain to a small proportion of the community, by producing loss to the whole, and misery to the greater part.
It really shows a strange confidence in our ignorance to suppose it possible that we should avoid seeing this. It is implied in the very supposition, that we should import corn if we were not prevented. For why should we import it rather than raise it at home. If we import, we must pay for what we import, with the produce of a portion of our labour exported. But why not employ that labour in raising the same portion at home? The answer is, because it will procure more corn by going in the shape of commodities to purchase corn abroad, than if it had been employed in raising it at home. The national labour is thus more efficient. A quantity of it less considerable, is required for the supply of necessary food. And a quantity of it more considerable, remains for the production of other commodities; for augmenting the comforts of the people, and the population and wealth of the state. The reasoning is so plain that any farther illustration of it may appear almost superfluous. For, suppose we have it at our option to buy corn either at home or abroad, the desire of the nation will be to purchase or acquire it where it is cheapest. It can be purchased at home only by cultivating the ground. It can be purchased abroad only by sending goods to pay for it. The cultivation of the ground is performed by a portion of labour. The goods also which are sent abroad are provided by a portion of labour. In fact, then,
it is by labour, and by labour alone, that the food is purchased in both cases. And where freedom exists, it will be raised at home, or imported from abroad, just as the same quantity of labour will produce a greater quantity of food, by cultivating the ground, or preparing manufactures to pay for imported corn. It is the quantity of labour necessary to provide a quantity of corn at home, that constitutes the price of corn raised at home. And it is the quantity of labour necessary to pay by goods for an equal quantity of corn imported, that constitutes the price of imported corn. But it is manifest, that it is only when the price abroad is less than the price at home, that corn will be imported. A law, therefore, to prevent the importation of corn, can have only one effect,-to make a greater portion of the labour of the community necessary for the production of its food. And whatever may be the value of that additional quantity of labour, that is to say, whatever be the quantity of goods, if applied to the manufacture of them, which that portion of labour would have produced, a law to prevent the importation of corn, is exactly the same as a law annually to burn or to throw into the sea an equal quantity of the matter of wealth, as the annual produce of the community; and thus burning or throwing away, to take the greatest part by far of the goods so destroyed from the mouths of the poorest of the people, none from the landlords and farmers, whose circumstances, on the other hand, are improved by a tax laid upon the rest of the community.
Having thus seen, by evidence which is quite irresistible, what are the necessary effects of a law to prevent the importation of corn, it is necessary to examine the pretexts by which the advocates for diminished food have endeavoured to withdraw our attention from these effects, and to fix it upon certain imaginary results of their own fabrication.
The strongest ground which they have taken, is the pretence of making a provision against uncertainty of supply. They have represented, that a nation which derives a portion of its subsistence from another nation, becomes dependent upon that nation for that subsistence; and if the nation upon which you have thus become dependent, should choose to forbid the exportation of its corn, or to forbid the exporting of it to you, in this case you become deprived of a portion of your supply, and reduced, at the will of other nations, to all the disadvantages of scarcity. Upon this point of the subject, we observe, that much use is made of the words 'dependence upon other nations,' and 'independence upon other nations;' and the reason is plain, -they are words to which popularity and unpopularity are strongly attached. Dependence!' and dependence for our food! this is a state of things from which our imaginations are expected to revolt. But before we permit our minds to be finally
carried away by the sound, let us consider for a little, the sense. What, in this case, they mean, is, that the portion of its supply which a nation derives from foreign countries, is more precarious and uncertain than that which it raises at home; is more apt to be deficient at one time, and plentiful at another, than the home supply; and that if a nation wholly provides its own corn by its own growth, it is more secure of an equable provision and steadiness of price, than when it receives any portion from abroad.
The very reverse is, in reality, the truth. If a wise nation were to proceed to make laws for producing the greatest possible regularity in the supply of food, and the greatest possible steadiness in the price of corn, so far from using extraordinary endeavours to make it draw the whole of its supply from any one country, it would rather endeavour, where no special reason dissuaded, to make it draw its supply from several countries; from as great a number as the balance of other advantages and disadvantages would permit. It would consider it as useful, at least, in a fully-peopled country, to prevent the whole of its food from being provided at home; and would desire that a very considerable proportion of it should be imported from abroad. The reason is obvious. The crop of any one country is, to a vast extent, dependent upon the seasons : fluctuating from the medium standard to nearly one half above, or one half below. This variation in point of plenty and want, in point of dearness and cheapness, is prodigious; and must be productive of great inconveniences. To prevent these inconveniences, (always excepting peculiar cases, such as that of a nation with a vast supply of new land in proportion to its popu lation,) the only effectual expedient is to derive a considerable proportion of the regular annual supply from foreign countries, when the quantity imported, being always a voluntary quantity, will always accommodate itself with great exactness to the demand.
The facts, about which no one thinks of raising any dispute, are these. Though from the variety of the seasons, the crop of one nation is perpetually uncertain, perpetually varying to the extent of one fourth, one third, or one half of the whole, the produce of several nations taken altogether, varies little or nothing from year to year; because the fluctuations of one country counterbalance those of another; when the one has a defective, another enjoys a plentiful crop; and the total amount is almost always very nearly the same. In order, therefore, to enjoy any thing like an equable supply of grain, it is necessary for a nation to draw from an equable source; necessary at least for highly peopled countries to draw a proportion of their supply from abroad, and such a proportion as may be sufficient to counterbalance the fluctuations of the home growth by the