Page images

difference. The long series of abundant harvests in England, from 1715 to 1765, increased the wages of labor about one half. In the fifteenth century, a similar series of good harvests produced a like result. "Under Henry VII., workmen earned from two to three times as much corn as they did a century later." It would probably be not far from the truth to say that laborers receive a constant proportion of the annual income of the nation; at any rate, this proportion is much more nearly constant than the absolute amount they receive.

In very low stages of civilization, wages, using the word in an extended sense, are almost coextensive with the annual product - which, however, is small. So, in any country, if all workmen were engaged in producing only articles consumed by workmen, and if no articles of luxury were imported, nearly the whole annual income of the nation would be divided among them as wages. A nation ordering its industry thus, has been, and is, an ideal very attractive to many thinkers. Sir Thomas More thought that if every one were engaged in really useful business, enough to supply the wants of the people could be produced by produced by a very moderate amount of labor on the part of each. Subsequent speculators have worked out this idea, some with very startling results. Mr. William Hoyle, for instance (who is not a Socialist), has calculated that, if each citizen were to contribute his share to the necessary work of society under a scientifically organized system, and with the highly-developed machine-power at present in use properly applied, the working day might be reduced to less than two hours. But surely much more than half of the people able to work do work now ten hours a day, and much less than half of the labor is expended in producing luxuries. Admitting, however, that many people would be better off, we still have no right to conclude that the nation as a whole would be better off in the long run. A question arises whether such a nation would be pro

gressive, or retrogressive, or stationary. At present, the spectacle of one man in ten thousand winning a great prize stimulates others to struggle. "There can be no doubt. that the talent of the American people for invention is due in large part to the few great fortunes which have been made under the protection of our patent laws." Experience has proved that there is far greater eagerness to enter the military service of a country where the higher positions are rewarded munificently, - provided they are made attainable by all,-and where the lower ones are paid in a very niggardly way, than where the pay is made more uniform. A nation constituted after the ideal cannot be compared with those which now exist, because one of the terms of the comparison is wanting; the world has not yet had experience of such a nation.

Benjamin Franklin went so far at one time as to maintain that high wages made the laborer indolent. Subsequently, however, he modified this opinion. It has in many cases been found that highly-paid labor, owing to its greater efficiency, is actually cheaper than ill-paid, and some writers are eager to generalize this into a law. One author, in demonstrating the greater cheapness of one well-paid workman, who receives as much wages and does as much work as two badly-paid, observes that "his childhood costs less, and his burial is not so expensive."

Obviously the best distribution of a nation's income is that which contributes most to the enjoyment of the whole people, and to the continued increase of the annual product. All sorts of plans have been proposed, and many tried, to effect this desideratum; such as fixing by law prices and the rate of wages, fixing an "equitable" minimum of wages, taking by taxation a large share of the national income, and disbursing it according to the wisdom of the Government, compelling people to buy goods only in domestic markets or imposing a fine upon them if they buy elsewhere. All these plans and others similar to them

are useful as showing what should not be done. Governments have been the greatest agencies thus far discovered for the inequitable distribution of goods, and a large share of history is taken up in recounting the evils they have thus caused. That nation is certainly very unfortunate in which natural causes do not tend toward an endurable apportionment of wealth, for if they do not, there is small hope for that nation. Without doubt, the distribution of property which prevailed contributed to the downfall of Greece and Rome. At Athens, by the census-constitution imposed by Antipater, it was found that, in a population of 21,000 citizens, only 9,000 had a property of 2,000 drachmae, or more. In Sparta, when the governing class finally numbered only 700 families, 100 of these owned all the land. In Rome, when the census showed a population of 1,500,000, it was claimed that not over 2,000 citizens had any property. The large fortunes in the latter place, at any rate, were amassed by the aid of the government, by extortion in the provinces and by privileges in the city. An unequal distribution of wealth would not necessarily be an evil; it is conceivable that it might be employed more to the advantage of the nation by a class of rich men than it would be if distributed among the mass; but an inequitable distribution, the evidence warrants us in asserting, is disastrous. In Greece, in Rome, and in medieval Italy, we have instances of one extreme; the other extreme would be the perfectly equal distribution dreamed of by some. Both extremes have this in common, that they involve injustice; is it too much to assert that justice would secure a healthy distribution?

[ocr errors]


The course of the framers of the tariff bill, now before Congress, is, perhaps, consistent with the protectionist claim, that a protective tariff reduces the prices of protected articles. If this be true, it might conceivably be held that the higher the

duty, the lower the price. Here is a reason which will account for all cases in which duties have been raised; but, if admitted, it raises a difficulty in cases where duties have been lowered. Moreover, what becomes of the claim that high duties cause high wages? We are told that high prices are necessary, in order that high wages may be paid, and if this is so, there seems to be an inconsistency in the claim that a protective tariff produces low prices and high wages. The assertion that free trade produces low wages and low prices, while protection produces high wages and low prices, may be effective as a campaign cry; astute politicians would not make it, if it were not; but that such an assertion should be swallowed by the American people is certainly a commentary upon their intelligence.

As a specimen of popular protectionist argumentation, take the following from the leading newspaper of that faith in New England :

"We pay annually from $21,000,000 to $23,000,000 for imported tin plates, every pound of which, under favoring conditions, could be made in this country. According to the free traders, this state of things ought to continue. More than that, they would take off the present duty, and thus enable the British monopoly to advance prices and pocket the difference."

Supposing the writer of the above to have been thoroughly sincere, consider the utterly hopeless darkness of that man's intellect — a darkness which not all the light that proceeds from the Throne of God can ever illumine; for there is no medium there capable of receiving the luminous vibrations. At present, instead of investing in the tinplate industry, capital and labor sufficient to produce, say, $30,000,000 of goods, we exchange $23,000,000 of goods for what tin plate we want. And this policy is regarded as very un-American. "According to free traders, this state of things should continue" - should continue as long as we can find more profitable employment for our labor and capital than making tin plate. Perhaps the most remarkable thing,

though, is the child-like faith in the goodnatured charity of the "British monopoly," evinced in supposing that it sells us tin plate more cheaply because our government imposes a duty upon the article. That would be a commercial conformance to the command, "Bear ye one another's burdens," which is hardly to be looked for in this generation

The only reason why nations trade with one another is that each gains some advantage. A nation which could not engage in trade without suffering loss, probably would not have much foreign commerce. The chief utility of international trade must be in what is imported; certain commodities may be obtained with less expenditure of labor and capital than would be required for their domestic production. More labor and capital will thus be left free to be applied to the production of other things, and the total amount of wealth which may be consumed or saved will be increased. Suppose two countries, in one of which all goods are cheaper than they are in the other; does it follow that, with perfect freedom of exchange, the second would import everything, and produce nothing? Evidently not, unless it has an unlimited amount of gold and silver to pay for its imports with. Again, would the more fortunate country share its superior advantages with its neighbor, until the two were on an equality? It would hardly require a government edict to prevent that. Each man, in his transactions with men from the other country, would insist upon getting as much value as he gave; and if the other party were unable to supply this, there would be no trading. Lastly, would the absence of restrictions upon exchanges of goods between the countries produce an equalization of wages? The free migration of laborers from one to the other, would seem much more likely to effect this. If migration were permitted, and the laborers were actuated solely by the rate of wages, it seems certain that they would continue to come to the country where the rate was

higher, until an equality was reached. But restriction of immigration is not a part of the protectionist theory.

There is not any one country in which all things are cheaper than they are in this; but in the whole world we can find a place where any given article is cheaper than it is here, except, perhaps, gold and silver, -and gold is probably cheaper in Australia. There is, therefore, no industry which, under free trade, would not be exposed to foreign competition; but it does not follow that wages would be reduced. For certainly no exchanges would, in general, be made with foreign countries, which did not tend to increase the total income of the nation; there would thus be a larger income to be distributed, and the laborers' share would consequently be larger, unless the advantages were all monopolized by other classes; but the whole evidence goes to show that protection, and not free trade, tends to produce an unequal distribution of goods.

There has been no perfectly protected country since China opened her ports. According to Cæsar, the Germans of his time had the true protectionist sentiment. These, he tells us, permitted merchants to come to them, more in order to get rid of their surplus products than because they desired any imports. A tariff, in so far as it excludes foreign articles, simply cuts off a nation from the advantages of international trade; it causes the people to obtain certain goods at a greater cost by producing them directly, when they could obtain them more cheaply indirectly by producing other goods to exchange for them.

The cost of a tariff is, of course, much greater than the amount of duties paid. For example: last year the dutiable imports of this country were about $485,000,000, and the duties paid, about $219,000,000; but to estimate, even in a rough way, the full cost of the tariff to us during that year, we should need to know how much it enhanced the prices of the dutiable articles which were inanufactured here.

There is a popular impression that our tariff renders manufacturing more profitable than other branches of business. No doubt, however, the contention of protectionists is sound, that, with free, domestic competition, the profits of manufacturing cannot be permanently higher than those of other industries. Capital will be drafted into manufacturing until profits are equalized. But a sudden increase of the duty upon any article is profitable to those engaged in its production when the increase is made. Time is required for other capital to be attracted to the business, and during this time, prices may be raised and large profits secured.

It does not follow, however, that the tariff does no injury because it does not enable a class to make excessive profits. By hypothesis, it costs more to manufacture the protected articles here than it does abroad, otherwise there would be no occasion for imposing duties upon them; persons engaged in other industries must, therefore, give a greater amount of their products to obtain a given amount of manufactures. This effect of our tariff upon agriculture is strikingly set forth in a communication of a western correspondent to an agricultural paper:

"It now takes a load of potatoes to buy a pair of boots. A big fat steer buys a very plain suit of clothes for every-day wear, and it takes a good cow to buy an overcoat of the same grade; a load of corn supplies cap and mittens, and a load of oats might furnish a suit of under-clothing. So, about as cheaply as the farmer can dress, as he starts for town he will carry on his person the cash value of a big steer, a good cow, and thirty bushels or more of corn, oats, and potatoes. When one figures up the cost of labor represented by these farm products, and remembers that the raw material of nearly the entire suit comes from the backs of three or four sheep, he is prepared to look back upon the spinningwheels and looms of his ancestors with some degree of longing."

This certainly indicates a monstrous state of affairs, even after due allowance has been made for exaggeration — that, in conseque. ce of the enormous duties upon woollen goods, those engaged in producing

them are able to absorb the whole advantage of cheaper methods of production.

A few years ago there would have been no exception to be taken to the assertion that domestic competition would keep prices of protected commodities within measurable distance of their domestic cost of production. Lately, however, there has been. invented a plan of getting the full advantage of the tariff. I am aware that the assertion is commonly made that trusts flourish as well in England as in this country; but an English writer in the Contemporary Review, in an article on trusts in the United States, speaks of trusts as a peculiarly American institution, and does not seem to be aware that England is "plastered over" with them. What would be thought of a writer in the Forum, say, who should speak of trusts as if they did not exist in the United States? The inference seems to be unavoidable that this statement about trusts, like so many protectionist statements about things English, does not tally very well with facts. There is, to be sure, the Standard Oil Trust, and there is no duty upon petroleum; but then there is no foreign competition in the production of petroleum. So with cotton oil and a few other articles produced under the control of trusts. By far the greater number are dependent upon the tariff; and the trust, backed by the tariff, is an engine of extortion which has seldom been surpassed by government-given monopolies. And yet over half of the principal articles on which it is proposed to raise duties in the bill now before Congress, are produced under the control of trusts. It is likely that any despotic government would treat the people much worse in this respect?

It is very easy to see why. Even when there are no trusts, protected industries, like the horse-leech's daughter, are continually crying for more: namely, because the profits of those industries will be increased for a time. And if the protected industries are under the control of trusts, the reason for desiring an increase of the tariff is still


more apparent. According to Prof. Laughlin, the word "tariff" is derived from Tarifa, an island at the entrance of the Mediterranean, on which lived the robbers who exacted toll from ships going through the Strait of Gibraltar." This derivation is much more appropriate than the one from the Arabic, because having called trusts into existence, the tariff is closely allied to robbery.


Verres is related to have said that he would be satisfied if he could retain the first year's booty which he extorted from his province; that during the second year he collected for his defenders, and during the third for his judges. Such an anecdote reveals much as to the administration of justice in Rome during the closing years of the Republic. It is an interesting question why, in this country at the present time the judicial branch of the government is so much less corrupt than the other branches. We are accustomed to bribery at elections, bribery of legislators, corruption on the part of administrations, State, national, and municipal, but there have been very few instances in our history of corruption in the courts. The courts may not be very efficient in the administration of justice, the delays of the law are proverbial, but there is no complaint that justice or injustice may be bought.

It has been regarded as a striking proof of the extent to which venality existed in Greece, that Thucydides praises even Pericles for his incorruptibility. But if, two thousand years hence, any one reads the newspaper eulogies which were written upon Roscoe Conkling, in which the facts that as a public man he was not in the habit of selling himself, and that he did not steal public money, are dwelt on as remarkable virtues in a man who had the chances that he had, will not these eulogies be held as indicating the existence of considerable venality among ourselves in the nineteenth

century? Two or three generations after Thucydides, Demosthenes said of his contemporaries that it excited envy when any one was bribed, laughter when he confessed it, that he who was convicted of it was pardoned, and he who blamed it, hated. Perhaps in the twentieth century we may be as advanced in our views of bribery as were the Greeks in the days of Demosthenes. The prediction has been made that in fifty years the United States will be more corrupt than Rome under Caligula, than the Church under Leo X., than France under the Regent.

To many, the only thing needful to check movement in this direction is more severe laws; but when it is the law-making power itself that is corrupt, such a remedy is not very promising. At Rome, laws were continually enacted against bribery, and de repetundis, against the spoliation of prov inces by governors, but they proved of no avail. The reform, if there is to be any, must result from action on the part of the people; and if the people have become corrupt, there is little hope; we have no instance of a whole people becoming corrupt, and then reforming themselves.

Popular government - government by agents selected from a people by the people themselves, as it occurs in this country, in England, and Germany-is a very recent experiment. There were the so called Greek Republic, the Roman Republic, the Italian Republics, but they were, in reality, most of them, oligarchies; the number of citizens who had a voice in the government was a very small part of the whole. These Republics, therefore, were not well adapted to serve as models for the modern. It was to be expected that mistakes would be made; that when practically all of a people. engaged in making a government, they should believe themselves able to make one capable of doing things and securing benefits which no government will ever be able to do well, and which a popular governmen is worst of all fitted to perform. In respect to what matters is there most corruption of

« PreviousContinue »