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strains at the gnat of a shilling registration duty on corn and swallows the camel of State socialism. I prefer the ripe experience of men who are engaged in commercial life, or who have travelled and worked abroad, to the hard-and-fast rules of professors of political economy. I will endeavour to present to you for what it is worth the reasoning which has induced me to declare myself a supporter of Mr. Chamberlain. Trade is the exchange of goods for other goods or money. It necessarily implies two parties. Free Trade means a system of exchange which leaves each party absolute liberty to seek his own interests in his own way. That is the practical freedom enjoyed by the members of the same community, who are subject to the same laws, liable to the same burdens, and enjoying no advantages the one over the other. That is the freedom of trade which we aim at, both for ourselves and for the benefit of our Colonial Empire. But our commercial system of free imports, falsely called Free Trade, aims at something far more than this. Its aim was international—the brotherhood of nations. In that aim it has failed, because all the world over the walls of protective tariff have been built high and broad, and behind these barriers foreign nations have trodden the Free Traders' certain road to ruin and found it led to commercial prosperity. If there is one outstanding feature in the world's history during the last half-century it is the growth of self-contained nationalities. Side by side with this has grown the idea that the State is an organism, and, what is more, a moral organism which has real functions to discharge in promoting the material welfare of the community and fostering the commerce and industry of its subjects. To both these ideas Free Trade is antagonistic. The liberation of intercourse between nations, in Mr. Gladstone's phrase, has never been accomplished. One great principle and promise of Free Trade, then, has failed from the first. The system, so far as trade with foreigners is concerned, comes to us discredited by an initial failure. No foreign nation has ever followed our example and adopted Free Trade. Free Traders would probably say, “So much the worse for foreign nations. Our system is the best.” Is it? Free Trade, as it was originally preached, was a system. With us it is so no longer. Let me ask you to look at two of the principles on which it is based. Both, as it seems to me, have been so profoundly modified by new ideas or recent legislation that both the organisation and the theory of the system are destroyed. The first principle is cheapness embodied in the maxim, “Buy in the cheapest market.” The second is individualism embodied in the maxim, “Let alone.” I have already touched on the fact that what working men want is not so much cheapness as the means of purchase. There is another side to the same subject. We are told that if foreign produce can be thrown on the market at cheaper prices than those which govern a domestic industry, the capital and labour employed in that home industry must be transferred to some more profitable business. This process presupposes that there are other industries available and that there is scope for the employment of all members of the community. When the theory was promulgated, in days when less capital was sunk in machinery and less skill required in labour, it was probably true that displaced labour could and did find profitable employment in other domestic industries. If a labourer, says McCulloch, is forced to change his business, the hardship is not a very material one. I dispute the truth of this maxim at any time, but especially now. We know that there are a mass of men unemployed. We know also that prodigious capital is now locked up in every industry, and that the high degree of skill required in each particular industry renders it difficult, often impossible, for untrained men to find employment. In fact a new condition of things has arisen which demands a radical modification of one of the fundamental maxims of Free Trade. If you buy in the cheapest market you undoubtedly save expenditure, but it means that the capital sunk in the displaced industries is irretrievably lost, and the displaced labour joins the mass of the unskilled and unemployed. There comes a time in the history of nations when to buy in the cheapest market, though it still continues to be a gain to the individual, has become a crime to the community. To Great Britain I believe that time has already come. The possibility of a surplus population, destitute and unemployed, had occurred to the mind of the orthodox scientific Free Trader, and he did not shrink from a logical solution remorseless as science itself. He strenuously opposed the Poor Law, and he suggested artificial means of checking the growth of population. Deny, he said, the right of the destitute to State support, and apply preventive checks to the natural increase of your people. Humanity has revolted from both solutions of the difficulty. But if the transfer of capital and labour has become so difficult as to be practically impossible, if there exists in our midst a mass of unemployed labour, what further proposals has the Free Trader to meet the most pressing problem of our time f The second principle of Free Trade is individualism, that is, the reliance on the enterprise of individuals without State encouragementor interference. What theorthodox FreeTradersays amounts to “Go as you please and let the Devil take the hindmost.” That is, let the capitalist employ his capital as self-interest dictates, let the labourer carry his labour into the open market, let both be governed by the iron laws of supply and demand and do not claim the right or the power to restrict the operation of those laws. Now I maintain that the whole trend of modern legislation is contrary to the individualism which is the very core of the Free Trade policy. When Tennyson wrote “The individual withers and the world grows more and more,” he correctly gauged the spirit of the coming age. Trade Unionism and municipal trading have destroyed individual freedom of contract. All our varied factory legislation, strenuously opposed in the first instance by orthodox Free Traders, by controlling the conditions or the hours of labour has reduced Free Trade from a scientific system to a mass of inconsistencies. “Let alone" is a maxim on which humanity has turned its back. All other nations have disavowed it, and we ourselves have practically repudiated it. Cobden, the great Free Trader and friend of labour, would have had a short way with Trades Unions. “Depend upon it,” he wrote, “nothing can be got by fraternising with Trades Unions. They are founded upon principles of brutal tyranny and monopoly. I would rather live under a Dey of Algiers than a Trades Committee.” Personally I have no objection to Trades Unions if they would only publish their accounts. If time allowed, I might mention many points in which Free Trade is inconsistent with itself, but I must limit myself to one. One indisputable advantage of foreign trade is that nations are able by its means to interchange commodities for the production of which each is especially adapted. To the Protectionist it would seem to be common sense to tax the foreign imports which compete with those articles that we can ourselves produce, and admit freely those foreign imports for the production of which our country is unfitted. The Free Trader adopts a contrary principle. He admits into this country freely the made-up window frames which compete with the work of our carpenters. He imposes a tax on the tea, coffee, tobacco and wine of other countries, which cannot be produced in Great Britain, and do not compete with its trade. He might have paused in his rectitude to remember that after all tea is a British industry, practically dependent on British capital and enterprise. For purposes of revenue the Free Trader, the friend of the working classes, thinks it right to tax tea, coffee, and tobacco, articles indispensable for the poor, and admits free silks and satins, furs and laces, the luxuries of the rich
I have put before you some of the reasons which force me to the conclusion that Free Trade, as pursued in this country at the present moment, has no claim to be regarded as a scientific system of commercial policy, and that some of its fundamental principles are shattered by sentiment, riddled by contradictions, and honeycombed with inconsistencies. We are waging a war of isolated free imports against universal Protection. We are fighting the battle as a crowd of detached individuals, without union or concert, against States which concentrate on the contest the whole of their organised and highly disciplined forces in an elaborate combination. We are fighting in the open, singly or in small parties, ignorant of our rivals' movements, each man with one hand tied behind his back by reason of social legislation and Trade Unionism, and in the other hand wielding the first weapon he can provide at his own expense. Our opponents are nations working behind impenetrable lines, moving in unison, armed with the most scientific weapons that the State can provide, and furnished with all the information its unceasing vigilance can supply. Against such odds and under a commercial policy such as I have described, it would be a marvel if we were holding our own.
As a proof of our present prosperity, Free Traders point with exultation to the increased amount of the savings of our working classes. They are jubilant over the fact that the amount invested in savings banks has risen largely from 1871 to 1902. But in this question we must look at figures from a relative and not from an absolute standpoint. The whole question is international and comparative.
SAviNGs BANKs IN ELEven Countries, 1900
Country. Per head of Population.
A. s. d.
The only country, therefore, which allows free imports stands
at the bottom of the list. Free Traders derive comfort from comparing the lot of our
working classes with that of Germany, France, and other European countries. I am quite ready to do so, but I think there is a closer analogy between the British Empire and the United States. I will not weary you with comparative statements, and will only mention a few facts taken from the Blue Book of the Board of Trade : (1) Wheat was cheaper in protectionist America in 1902 than it was in Free Trade England; (2) An American workman spends 17s. 8+d, on the food of himself and family per week. In Great Britain the average is 15s. 8d. But the average level of industrial wages in the United Kingdom is not far from one and a half times that of the United Kingdom. Perhaps these facts explain why it is that our manufacturers and artisans find it advantageous to take their capital and labour abroad to America, and that the immigrants into Great Britain are recruited from the destitute and pauper population of the Continent. Even if our trade were barely holding its own as compared with thirty years ago, that fact, in view of our increased improvements and numbers, would afford ground for serious alarm. It is open to doubt whether we are holding our own, and it is beyond all doubt that we, as a manufacturing nation, are not now in a position to say how we will take payment for our exports. We want payment in the shape of raw material and food. We have to take it in the shape of competitive manufactured goods. We have to export what our rivals are pleased to take—coal, china, clay, machinery, and ships. We have to take what it pleases them to send. Nor can any thinking citizen contemplate without foreboding our entire dependence upon the foreigner for our daily supply of food. It is unwise to rely for our bread on the granary of the world when we know that the key is not in our own pocket. America could starve us into submission without firing a shot if we were engaged in war with Russia, because America would have complete control of the strings of our food bag. Let me remind you that we remained a Protectionist country up to 1861. What we were at the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851 that we had become under the system of Protection. Under the system of Protection we had established our naval supremacy. We enjoyed a practical monopoly of the trade of the world. We had developed our natural resources of coal and iron. Our manufactures of every description were in a flourishing condition that in 1851 defied competition. Free Traders claim that the burst of prosperity which this country enjoyed from 1850 to 1874 was the direct result of Free Trade. But, if we look at the history of the world, we