TO-DAY I propose to follow out the subject of our last two lectures by considering the economic effects of encouraging home industry, in reference to the circumstances of our own country. The question is one which has recently engaged no small share of public attention; and without discussing either the wisdom of the movement which has recently been made for the encouragement of Irish manufactures by a voluntary preference of their use, or estimating the probability of its permanence, it fairly falls within the limits I have laid down for our inquiries here, to investigate the effect which would be produced upon the condition of the country, if all our countrymen were to adopt the resolution, which we know some of them have, to give a preference to articles of Irish manufacture, and if all who adopt that resolution were to persevere in acting upon it.
You will not understand me as proposing formally to discuss the general question of protective duties for the produce of home industry. It may be, no doubt it will be, that many of the considerations that will suggest themselves to us, will have an important bearing upon all questions that relate to restrictions upon the importation of foreign produce. But upon the policy of any particular protective duty, there are always very many considerations applicable to particular circumstances, both of the duty and of the country in which it is imposed, that must influence our decision. I propose to-day to employ our time in endeavouring to trace the economic effect that would be produced upon our trade, the condition of our country, and the state of our labouring classes, by a general and successful movement, like that which has been recently attempted, to engage the people of this country, without any legislative interference, to give a preference to our home manufactures over those of other countries.
I have been induced to devote the last lectures of this term to this subject, not merely because the inquiries in which our preceding lectures have been engaged, have led us naturally to its consideration, but also because I have observed in many of the arguments which have been adduced against the encouragement of Irish manufacture, a use made of the science, or rather the name of the science of Political Economy, which no deductions from its established principles warrant. I am very far from saying, that all the arguments that have been used on the other side in support of the plan of encouraging our native industry, display very accurate notions on the sources of national wealth, or the nature of the channels of its distribution; but I am very sure, that the attempt to sneer down that plan by the affectation of scientific paradox, indicates still less of real knowledge of these subjects.
As I have already said that I purpose merely to consider the case of a preference among the people themselves, without directly considering the case of legislative interference, so I will confine myself to the consideration of the circumstances of our own country — a country which has this remarkable peculiarity, that it is constantly exporting, in large quantities, the necessaries of life, in the shape of agricultural produce, while our own people are in want of sufficient food.
I shall frequently be obliged, in our inquiry of to-day, to refer to questions which we have discussed in the preceding lectures of this term. I cannot always hope to make these references perfectly clear to those who have not been present at those lectures. I shall, however, in the first place, very briefly re-state some of the propositions which, in those lectures, we have fully discussed.
It is obvious that all commerce must be carried on by the exchange of the products of one country for the products of another. It is impossible for a country not containing gold or silver mines, permanently to pay for its imports in money. If its merchants do at any time send gold to pay for their purchases abroad, that gold must be replaced by giving in exchange for other gold some products of the country itself. If it were otherwise, trade would soon come to an end. There is no conceivable way in which commerce can be carried on — there is no way in which it is carried on except by the exchange, directly or indirectly, of the products of one country for those of another.
It follows from this, that so far as commerce, properly speaking, is concerned, the imports and exports of any country must generally balance each other. Occasional variations there may be, as one country, in the course of trade, may be for a short time a debtor or creditor of the other. But if we find a country permanently exporting to the rest of the world more than it imports from it, it is clear to demonstration that it either gives away its goods for nothing, or is sending them abroad to pay a debt due to individuals residing in other countries, who have, one way or other, a share in the revenues of the exporting country. It may be to absentees, who have a right to some of its revenues, and choose to spend them abroad — it may be in the shape of taxes — of subsidies from its government, or loans from individuals to foreign states it may be in maintaining some of its own people as travellers — as an army or navy — as a colonial establishment abroad; but in some way or other analogous to these, it must be that a permanent excess of exports over imports is to be accounted for.
The revenue of any country consists entirely in what is produced in that country itself. This, and this only, is the fund out of which all the wants of all classes in the community must be ultimately supplied.
Foreign commerce can create no portion of this revenue; it merely enables the nation advantageously to dispose of it. If foreign commodities find a market in any country, it is only because there are persons in that country who have home commodities to give in exchange for them — because there is, in the products of that country itself, a fund out of which those foreign commodities will be paid for. If wines, for instance, be imported into England, for which in return the hardware manufacture of Birmingham goes abroad, it is because there is in England itself a revenue sufficient to pay the workers in iron, and because those who have the command of that revenue choose to drink foreign wines — but the fund out of which the labourer is paid, is not the trade with Portugal, but the home fund that existed independent of that trade, however the existence of that trade may have directed its application.
We lay down, then, the proposition, that the revenue of a country, available for the supply of all the wants of all its people, consists in what the country itself and the persons in it produce; and that the advantage of foreign commerce is neither to create that revenue nor to add to it, but to enable us to lay it out with advantage.
The direct advantage of any particular trade consists entirely in the addition to the comfort of any class of the people that is made by the importation of the article with which it supplies us. The advantage of our trade with Portugal is, that our gentry drink port wine instead of cider and beer with China, that we have tea instead of sage. They exaggerate the advantages of commerce who state them as higher than this. It is possible, indeed, for the existence of any particular foreign trade, to alter, either for the better or for the worse, the distribution of the revenues we have at home. But, generally speaking, we say that the direct advantage of any foreign trade is to be estimated according to the advantage of its imports, the comforts of civilization which it enables us to enjoy. No one will say that it is the claret that is imported from Bordeaux that pays the wages of the Birmingham or Sheffield cutler. Were the trade in wine extinguished tomorrow, the fund out of which they are ultimately paid would remain unaltered. The destination of it might, perhaps, be changed, if the articles that would, in the expenditure of the rich, be substituted for wine, required a different appropriation of the industry of the country. Individual suffering might — in this case, not by any means a certain one — be for a time the consequence; but the ability of the country to maintain labour would remain unaffected. The permanent privation would be to the drinkers of wine. It would depend upon the new direction that the portion of the industry of the country which is now directed to the purposes of that trade would receive — whether the working classes of the country would be in any degree either gainers or losers by the change, and this only as it might affect the question of distribution.
These general views of the advantages of foreign trade, reflection will, I think, satisfy you, are founded in reason and good sense. The real fund of which the revenue of the country consists, is the product either of the natural resources of the country, or of the industry of the people; out of this fund must all that is used by all who draw their income from the country be provided or paid for. Foreign commerce does not create that fund: it enables those who own it, advantageously to dispose of it; and the advantage of that commerce is to be estimated by the benefit derived from the articles it supplies to us: the class that is benefitted being the class that uses the articles it supplies.
The revenue of all the people of this kingdom of Ireland consists chiefly, if not entirely, of its agricultural produce. Of manufactures we have but little — with the exception of the remnant of the northern linen trade, and some few factories in the neighbourhood of Belfast and Clonmel — we might say none. Whatever may be the resources of the country, its revenue consists almost entirely of its agricultural produce. This is the fund that must support us all-out of this fund the wants of all classes of our countrymen must be supplied, so far as they are supplied; out of the produce of this fund we must all, who depend upon Irish resources, be fed and clothed, and enjoy our comforts and our luxuries; out of this fund we must pay for all that we use of the productions of other countries, and we must pay for it by an exportation of the only thing the country has to give — our agricultural produce. No matter from what apparent source our income is derived whether from the rent of an estate, the gains of a shop, the hard-earned wages of the artizan, or the equally hard-earned remuneration of professional toil, no man who depends upon Irish resources for his income, has for that income, more or less, than his share in the great revenue of the country — the only fund that constitutes the income of all its people — the agricultural produce that is raised within it. From this fund landlords and farmers, clergymen, lawyers, doctors, labourers, shopkeepers, beggars, merchants, artizans — those who are supported by the high rewards of science, and those who live by ministering to the vices of others — ‘all sorts and conditions of men,’ who depend upon Irish resources — no matter how different their sources of income—no matter how varied the mode of their expenditure — all must derive their income; and by the disposition of this fund, and of no other, must all that any of them chose to spend upon the produce either of home or foreign manufacture, be ultimately paid for.
Wealth is the power of directing to such purposes as the owner of it chooses, a certain proportion of the revenue, and, consequently upon this, of the productive powers of the country. It involves the practical power of appropriating to the enjoyment of one individual, the labours of many. This is the allotment of God’s Providence on earth, who has willed inequality of possessions, and with whose ordinances it becomes not us to quarrel. But wealth is this — it is the power of appropriating to one’s own use a large portion of the revenue of the country — it is the power of monopolizing to the purposes, and the enjoyments, and the luxuries of one, the labour and the resources of production that might, under a different distribution, be employed in ministering to the comforts or the necessities of many. In a country circumstanced like Ireland, the revenue of whose inhabitants consists of the food they are able to raise, it is the power of appropriating to one’s own use the food that might feed many; and if that food be exported to pay for the commodities of other countries, for the use of an individual, it is to all persons in Ireland exactly the same, as if the person to supply whose foreign tastes it is so exported, had himself — according to the old fable — actually devoured the same amount of corn and beef.
We now draw no inference from this; we say not whether this be right or wrong, but we state as a proposition from which there is no escape, which is as capable of demonstration as any proposition in mathematics, that in a country like Ireland, of which the produce and the revenue is human food, every man who uses the commodity of another country, which is, and must be paid for in food, per forms an act which has exactly the same effect upon the other inhabitants of that country, as if he had himself, in his own person, by an appetite miraculously enlarged, consumed the exact quantity of food that paid the price of that commodity. He has withdrawn that food from the country, and he has appropriated it to his own use.
We mean not by this statement of the stern, but inevitable conclusion of science, to imply more than the statement conveys. We charge no moral criminality in the act — an act, more or less inseparable from the state of society in which we live. It is possible, consistent with this statement of its economic effect — that the subtraction of this food might be merely of that which would be superfluous — it would be so, if all the other people in the country were well supplied. It may be, that this spending upon one’s self, even of food, is but an inevitable result of the inequalities of condition in human society. Enough for us now to state without note or comment, the indisputable proposition we have laid down.
You will perceive, however, how different upon Ireland would be the effect, if, instead of devoting that portion of his income to the purchase of the productions of other countries, he were to spend the same in the employment of Irish labourers at home — even in works that could serve no end, but to minister to his own personal caprice. In this case he would equally spend or squander his income upon himself, but the effect would be very different in its disposition. Irish labourers would, in the latter supposition, eat the food, which, on the former, went abroad to those of another country. On mankind at large, the effect, perhaps, might be the same; on the Irish labourer, the effect would be very different, indeed. Thus, there is in the ordinary operations of the social system, a compensating element to the monopolising power of wealth. The man whose wealth gives him a command over the resources of society, has the power, it is true, of appropriating and directing to his own purposes, the labour of many, but he purchases that labour by supporting them. In the natural process of the economic system, he can only thus employ his superfluous wealth. Hundreds of masons may labour for years, not upon anything that will be of use to the multitude, but upon erecting the lordly castle that is to be the residence of the great territorial owner. But these workmen he feeds. If he takes to himself the largest share of the produce of many an acre, it is not that he may spend that produce directly upon himself, but that he may distribute it to others — purchasing, it is true, therewith, the right to their labour for himself. Women may spend days and nights of toil, not in weaving the coarse drugget that might make comfortable many a poor family, but squandering the labour that might have supplied clothing to many, upon embroidering the magnificent robe that is to be worn, perhaps, but for one night, by one; but in all this there is the working of the principle of compensation; those for whom they work must feed them. It is in the power of those whose wealth makes them monopolisers of the produce of the country, to divert the labours of thousands, to minister to their own personal enjoyment, but it is not in their power to consume upon themselves the wages of that labour.
I have termed this an element of compensation. In some degree, it mitigates the inequality of possession; it is the merciful dispensation by which the great Father of all preserves, to those who have nothing but their labour, some share in those blessings which the selfishness of riches, do what it will, cannot altogether appropriate. It is that by which the poor can still silently assert their right to the mercy of the primeval sentence: — “In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread.”
We cannot now pause to enquire how, in the progress of society, and the growth of civilization, this principle of compensation may be interfered with. It is possible, at least, to conceive that improvements in civilization may be teaching to the rich men possibilities of spending their riches on themselves, without the necessity of distributing them in wages to those around them. It is obvious, that, with every creation of such possibility, the monopoly of wealth is freed from a check that mitigated its oppression to the poor; and it is worth more than a passing thought, whether any nation be justified in leaving altogether, or nearly altogether, to the operation of this principle, to determine the share which those, who have nothing but their labour — no property but their ability and willingness to work — may be able to obtain of that general stock, which is the property of the community at large; but which the laws of society consign, of necessity, to individual ownership and control.
But let us not deceive ourselves by imagining, that even where the principle of compensation has its fullest play, the appropriation of great masses of wealth to one individual, is not in its first and immediate result, a withdrawal of so much from ministering to the comforts of the many. The rights of property need no such fallacies to protect them; even were all the income of an individual expended upon himself in those modes which involve the most entire expenditure of wages, the labour that he purchases is monopolized for the gratification of one, instead of being distributed to works that would be of advantage to many. The masons who have been employed in erecting the castle might, under a different direction of the very same labour, and with payment out of the very same fund, have studded a whole countryside with warm and comfortable farm-houses, to replace the wretched hovels in which too many of our countrymen now scarcely find a miserable shelter from the elements. The workers who have been employed embroidering one lady’s robe might, by a different application of the same labour, receiving still the same remuneration, have wrought up coarse materials for the clothing of many a poor family. We cannot escape from the truth, that even under the circumstances most favourable to compensation, the selfishness of man makes the owner of wealth appropriate to himself the labour that might give comfort to many. True, the rich man gives wages for the labour he employs, but the wages are his property; the labour which he purchases becomes so; the results of that labour are for his personal enjoyment. We might conceive a state of society, under which a different distribution might take place, and the very same labour might still receive the very same reward; but its occupation and its result be, to provide for the necessities of the many, and not minister to the luxuries of the few.
Were Ireland, then, surrounded with a wall of brass, to use the illustration of the great and good Bishop Berkeley, the inequalities of wealth would still enable one man to divert to his own use and enjoyment the labour, perhaps, of hundreds. While rich and poor continue, this must be the case. And he who would set about to rectify this inequality, by attempting to make a different allotment of property, would soon discover in the shaking of all faith, the disturbing of all possession, and the derangement of all industry that would ensue, that he might, by violent interference, make the rich poor, but could not by robbery make the poor rich. Within the wall, then, the rich man might still nay, he must still have many men working for his enjoyment. But within the wall the principle of compensation must apply. He must share with them their wages — these he cannot consume upon himself. His monopoly would be of the direction of their labour, not of their wages.
Let us suppose, however, the wall of brass to be removed. Let the great proprietor be an absentee, and apply the rents of his Irish estate to building his castle, not on his Irish property, but in another country — let the embroidered garment be wrought, not in the looms of our own country, but in the manufactories of Flanders or France. The change is exactly this — as far as Ireland is concerned, the compensating principle is destroyed — the possibility is discovered for the rich man of spending his superfluous wealth without sharing it, in the shape of wages, with one single Irishman. The labour of hundreds of workmen who work at the castle, or in the manufacture, is monopolised to his individual gratification, but so is the food of hundreds of Irishmen.
Then it is that it becomes impossible to escape from the conclusion that to Ireland the effect is exactly the same as if he destroyed in the fire, or consumed personally, the provisions he causes to be exported; and there can be but one answer to the question which Bishop Berkeley put a century ago a question still more applicable now than it was then: —
“Whether an Irish lady, set out with French silk and Flanders lace, may not be said to consume more beef and butter than a hundred of our labouring peasants?”
So far, there seems no difficulty in arriving at the conclusion that in a country like Ireland exporting articles of food, while many of her own people have not enough to eat, every importation from other countries must tend to increase that exportation; and if it be produced by withdrawal of employment and wages from our labourers at home, is a direct withdrawal from them of the support of human life. It is said, however, that agricultural produce is itself raised by labour, and that if we were to cease exporting that produce, the same quantity would not be raised, or the labour paid for. This argument proceeds upon very incorrect notions, both of the resources of the country and of the nature of exportation and trade. The price which any of us is about to give for manufactured goods can by no possible confusion of thought be imagined to form a part of the fund that exists in the country for the payment of agricultural labour. The manner in which that price is disposed of, in no respect varies the amount of that fund. If, indeed, I transferred it from the employment I proposed to myself, to the employment of agricultural labour, the fund would be increased; but assuming its destination to be for the purchase of manufactures, its disposition leaves the funds in the country for the payment of agricultural labour unaltered.
It is proposed to call into existence manufacture at home — a manufacture which we may admit, for the sake of argument, is not equal to competition with those of other countries, and which, therefore, requires a voluntary protection on the part of our people. I cannot see how the creation of such a manufacture would diminish the amount of agricultural produce that we would raise. It appears to be matter of demonstration that it would increase it. The quantity of agricultural produce that we now raise is not produced on account of the demand for imported manufacture in this country. We are able, indeed, to pay for the manufactures we import, because we do raise our present amount of agricultural produce; but from this it is not possible to argue the converse that we are able to raise the produce because we import the manufactures. Our ability to raise the produce depends, and must depend, upon resources at home. The manner in which we shall apply that produce rests with ourselves.
So far as our exportation is the result of commerce between us and other countries, it gives us, no doubt, the opportunity of disposing of our revenue to advantage — that is, to the advantage of those who possess a share of that revenue. We must not be led astray by general terms. The advantage is to those, and those only, who have some of that revenue to dispose of; and this is just where the claims of our own countrymen intervene. A certain class of Irishmen have the disposal of a revenue, consisting of the produce of our country which is food for man: in return for this we want manufactured goods; we want to employ that revenue in paying artizans to work upon these goods. We have the choice — we can exercise the choice, whether we will apply that revenue in paying the starving, because unemployed, artizan of our own country, or send it abroad to pay those of another.
If the manufacture produced be higher in price, or inferior in quality, to that which we could import from abroad, we do indeed, by using it, diminish the quantity, or deteriorate the quality of the goods we receive in return for our revenue; but we do nothing more the revenue itself is not, and cannot be, diminished — our ability to pay for these goods remains just as it was before. The effect of our using Irish instead of imported manufacture would be, to leave all the present ability of paying for labour undisturbed — to leave, therefore, the amount of our produce the same, but to turn that produce from exportation to feeding our own people.
The effect of this upon the country would be, that as a nation we would have both the agricultural produce and the goods. The addition to the revenue of the entire nation would be the value of the goods, the manufacture of which we had so created at home; all which would be a clear addition to the revenue of the entire country, after deducting from it the loss that might be sustained by their inferiority to those we had been in the habit of importing; or to express the same result in other terms, the national revenue would be increased by the entire amount of the agricultural produce we would retain, deducting from it the difference between the goods we obtained for it at home, and those which we might import for it from abroad. The latter is obviously the entire loss upon the change; the retention of the agricultural produce, now exported for payment of these manufactures, is the gain. That is — the loss is, that those who use the manufactures would put up with coarser materials and inferior fabrics; the gain would be, that multitudes of our artizans, who are now starving, would be fed.
The source of national wealth, from which this addition to the national revenue would be obtained, would be the labour of our now unemployed artizans, who would then become producers. This argument, no doubt, would apply to many other cases of protection for home industry; but this does not prove it to be unsound. If, in any case, the effect of obtaining commodities from abroad, be to leave labour or resources unemployed at home, it is perfectly clear that in every such case, it does not follow that you add to the entire revenue of the country, by resorting to other countries for what you require, even though you may obtain it cheaper or better than at home. There must be a calculation of profit and loss; the profit is the measure of superiority of what you import over what you could raise at home, but the loss is the entire value of what you must export, to pay for it. This argument is unanswerable in every instance in which, by resorting to foreign countries, either labour or resources are made unprofitable at home. If the labour or the resources that are so disengaged, are turned to other purposes of production, the loss must obviously be diminished by the value of the product, which in their new employment they will yield.
In many arguments, however, upon the subject of protection, considerations of this nature, obvious as they appear to be, are wholly overlooked. The general proposition that commerce enables us to apply the revenue of the country to the best advantage, is considered as decisive against all protection to, or preference for home industry; the fallacy being overlooked, that this cannot, and does not embrace any question of advantage to those who, by the change, will have none of the revenue of the country to dispose of. So dangerous is it in political economy, to argue from general propositions, that is, propositions which we fancy to be general. So difficult to apply general principles to the complicated and ever varying relations with which, in the questions of this science, we have to deal.
In the immediate case we are considering, the application of the argument is too plain for doubt. We have in this very city, a large and most competent manufacturing population wholly unemployed; they are now worse than useless to all purposes of national production. When it is proposed, in supplying us with goods, to substitute their labour for that of the workmen of other countries, and to give them the food which we are now exporting to pay the labours of strangers, the dullest intellect must see, that, supposing us to spend the same amount that we do now in manufactured goods, the goods which they would supply to us, must be, beyond all possible calculation, inferior to those which we would import, or their employment in the revival of home manufacture would be a direct and positive addition to the sum total of the national revenue; while in the important point, too often overlooked by political economists, of the distribution of that increased revenue, advantages would be secured to the country, which no mere addition to the amount of its annual produce could confer.
So far from interfering unfavourably with our trade with England, the encouragement of a home manufacture must act most favourably for this country upon that trade. Those who remember the principles which we last week examined, as regulating the exchange of commodities between two countries, will have no difficulty in tracing this. While our demand for English manufactures would be lessened, the disposition of the English people to take our produce, and their ability to give us something in exchange for them, would remain just the same. It might be, indeed, that by the change in our habits, the manufactures that are now produced for our use, would, to the extent of our market, cease to be raised; and so far as the labour and resources engaged in that manufacture became unprofitable, the revenue of England would be lessened, and their ability, though not their dispositions, to take our produce would be diminished. If the effect would be totally to extinguish that labour, and those resources, our remaining trade with England would be carried on exactly as before. This, however, we cannot suppose to be the case; and upon the general principles we have formerly adverted to, the effect would be, that for all the goods we would export to England, in the fair way of exchange, we would obtain more of the commodities, which we would take in return; and as to that exportation which must be carried on without any return, we would pay our absentee rents, and our share of the general expenses of the empire abroad with a less actual amount of our produce.
You will remember, that in investigating what has been termed the balance of trade, we saw clearly, that whatever tends to make one country owe a debt to another, which it must pay in the exportation of its commodities, has a tendency to lessen the quantity of goods of that other country, which the debtor country can obtain in exchange for any given quantity of its own. We saw that this was equally the effect of what is termed absenteeism, or of any other cause which imposes upon us the necessity of sending our produce abroad, and that the loss does not fall entirely upon those who create that necessity, as some eminent political economists have supposed, but falls upon all those who, from any cause, have any interest in the quantity of the produce of other countries that may be exchanged for any given quantity of our own. If the demand for produce in England continues the same, while our demand for their manufactures is lessened, and if this were not at once indicated by the increased price of Irish produce in the home market, the effect would obviously be, that the exportation would go on as usual; but when the English provision merchants came to make their remittances, they would find the number of persons in Ireland, upon whom English merchants would be entitled to draw, sensibly diminished. Bills on Ireland would be at a premium; that is, a bill on Ireland, which would in Ireland command 100 sovereigns, or goods at the market price of the country to that amount, would in England command 100 sovereigns, and the exchange or goods in the market price of that country to that amount. The effect of this would be, in trade to give to us a larger share of English goods, for the goods that would be purchased by 100 sovereigns at home. In the case, however, of the creation of a home market from produce, this process would be anticipated by the immediate rise in its price. The full effect of this upon our trade with England, would depend upon their demand for our goods, resulting from their taste, or their necessity, the degree in which they wished for, or required our produce. If our produce was to them a matter of vital necessity, and they had not the means of supplying themselves upon cheaper terms elsewhere, the effect upon our trade, and upon our industry would be, that by the creation of an Irish manufacture, we opened a double market for the produce of our fields. Without, however, calculating the possible or probable consequence, it is obviously true, that whatever decreases the debt which one country owes to another, tends to make its trade with that country be carried on, on more advantageous terms. Whatever, in fact, diminishes the necessity for exportation, and this would be of peculiar importance to a country circumstanced like Ireland, in which so many causes combine to force us to export, in which the nature of our produce in the market of the world, is exposed to the depreciating influence of so many causes, that by making our people debtors to other countries, depress the character of our trade.
It is very possible then, that in the increased value of our home produce — in the increased quantity of goods in the market of the world, which we will be able to command for any given quantity of our exports, even those upon whom this protection to our native manufactures, might, at first, appear to press — those who have a share in the revenue of the country, which they might dispose of to their own countrymen, with less returns than they would to strangers, might ultimately find much more than a compensation, even estimating the value of their income, entirely by the amount of luxuries it can command.
This, however, is beside the argument I have been urging in reply to the supposed objection — an argument, the force of which depends, in no degree, upon these considerations. If we resolve on using our own manufactures, in preference to those of other countries, we will not, we cannot diminish the amount of agricultural produce at home. And even the extinction of our entire trade by the creation of a home market, would not deprive us of the means of paying manufacturing labour, but would turn those means in another direction.
Neither would it deprive us of the means of paying for agricultural labour, as it certainly would not deprive us of the soil. The wages of agricultural labour, like the income of all other classes of the country, must consist of their share of what is raised in the country. So far, indeed, as they now convert any portion of their share of that revenue into the manufactured goods of other countries, the exclusion from our markets of these identical goods, would affect their condition exactly as far as the substitution of goods of Irish manufacture would cause them to use goods inferior in quality or lesser in quantity, but it would affect them no further. The fund out of which they are to get the means of paying for manufactured goods would remain unaltered, their share of that fund would not be diminished. As a matter of fact, I believe, the entire exclusion of the manufactures of other countries from the Irish market, would not at all affect the condition of the Irish agricultural labourer; he uses so little of them in the year, that it would make no perceptible difference in his condition; but it is quite clear, that were all the higher classes of the country to substitute, in the articles which they use, home for foreign manufacture, the ability of the country to pay for agricultural labour would be unchanged, the remuneration of that labour would not be diminished — our agricultural produce would remain the same — but a portion of it that now goes to feed the work men of another country, would be applied to the feeding of our own.
This admits, that our exportation would be diminished; and this is assumed by some as a conclusive proof, that such a system would be injurious to the country. That it would, and to a very great extent, diminish our exportation, is the very advantage which we would confidently calculate on, as resulting from the protection of our home industry, and we would look to this as a blessing, because the very food that we now export, is very grievously wanted at home.
No mistake could be greater, than to argue from the mere fact of a country having a large export trade, that it is therefore in a prosperous condition. In every case the mere fact of exportation is in its own nature an evil — it is the act by which the country parts with its wealth. It may, or it may not lead to greater wealth coming into the country in return, according to the circumstances under which it is sent away, but the advantage is in the returns; the act of exportation is, in itself, and without reference to its resulting importation, a loss. No mistake could be greater than to pause in the inquiry upon the simple fact, that we find a nation sending away its substance, and this is all an export trade can evidence. An island of slaves toiling under the lash, for the benefit of task-masters in another country, and retaining nothing for themselves but what the regulations of the driver allows them, would have their harbours filled with the vessels that were to carry away, to other countries, the products of their toil. Had the land of Goshen been separated from Egypt, by the sea, the children of Israel, according to this theory, would have carried on a very thriving export trade in the products of the brick-kiln, when they were bound to supply a certain quantity to their task-masters. Innumerable instances might be adduced of the absurdity of such reasoning. A country bound to pay a subsidy to a foreign state, would be most prosperously affected by such subsidy, if this argument be true. We have already seen, in the very case of Ireland an instance of its utter untruth. A large portion of the provisions that are annually exported from Ireland, is sent abroad, in the direct shape of a subsidy, to pay the rent of absentee landlords — as a debt, it is true, which by the rights of property we owe, and must justly pay — but with just as little advantage to the country from the act of exportation, as, in the case we have supposed, the Israelites would have derived from the exportation of their bricks.
The true test of the prosperity of a country is not what is sent out of it, but what is used in it. I mean by the prosperity of a country, the comforts which the great mass of its inhabitants enjoy. To ascertain this so far as it is influenced by its trade, we must look not to the exports, but to the imports not to what is sent out of the country, but to what is brought into it; and not merely to the value, but to the nature of the imports, and the classes by whom they are to be used. The importation of one valuable diamond might largely swell the value of Irish imports in one year — the wealth of the country, in the technical cant of our science, would be increased; but no one will surely tell me that this would be an addition to the prosperity of Ireland, or that our export trade was flourishing, because the food of thousands had been exported to pay for the stone. The importation of a thousand Geneva watches is just the same. If I look to the trade of the country for evidence of its condition, I look, I repeat, not to the exports, but the imports; and not merely to their aggregate value, but to the nature of the articles by which that value is made up. A country is prosperous, and its people comfortable, not according to what it exports — not even according to what is raised in it but according to what is used in it: and no mistake could be greater — none more fatal in its consequences upon all our reasonings and all our feelings upon subjects of national finance — than in estimating the prosperity of a country, even by the true test of what is used in it — to be content merely with an ascertainment of its value, without carefully inquiring what is its distribution.
These principles seem obvious enough; they need no authority to support them — they are too manifestly founded in common sense to be capable of being controverted by any authority however high. Yet those who have studied the subject of Political Economy will not need to be told that there are many able arguments in which they have been overlooked. The very demand that every science makes upon us to generalise our propositions, is, in Political Economy, a most dangerous one — by leading us with all the care we can use, to forget, at every new application of our general propositions, the qualifications which would make the reasoning upon which the general proposition is supported, inapplicable to the case in which we assume it as proved. Some present may remember that on a former occasion I advised you never to apply, in Political Economy, a general proposition to a new case, without first going over the reasonings by which it is proved, and thus testing its complete application. We have, I think, by this plodding precaution, detected some subtle fallacies. To the generality of all reasonings about value; or, perhaps, to speak more correctly, to the fact that some political economists have confined their very definition of the science to propositions about value that almost all have practically limited their reasonings to this view — we may, I think, trace many erroneous conclusions — at least erroneous in the sense in which they afterwards use them — to which writers of these subjects have arrived.
These are the dangers which attend us in the effort to reduce the principles which regulate the economic process to a science — dangers, to avoid which requires the closest discipline of mind, as all who have in their own minds reasoned on these subjects will, by a recollection of their own mistakes, attest. Equally dangerous, however, are mistakes into which persons fall who are willing to content themselves with general notions, without any attempt at accurate reasoning at all. Perhaps to many persons in this room, my proposition that an export trade is not in itself a good, has been a startling one. Obvious, indeed, its truth is to a little reflection; but it was a matter upon which many, even of well informed and intelligent persons, have never reflected at all. You were content, without examination, with the general notion that an export trade was a great good. You have probably walked along our quays, and associating the idea of commercial activity — of men employed, and bustle and industry — with the trade, you have borne away the impression that it must be a national blessing. Besides, the fact of all this produce being sent away is evidence that it has been raised. It is proof of the existence of so much Irish produce, and of the capabilities of our country, and the mind resting, and justly resting, with satisfaction on this evidence, does not distinguish between the two facts that this exportation equally testifies — the fact that this produce exists, and the fact equally evidenced that it is sent away.
The fallacy, too, is aided by the impression, not unnaturally produced upon the mind, that this produce is sent away because it is the best way in which it can be disposed of; and it is, therefore, the interest of our people that it should be so. We acquiesce, like the political economists, in this general and most vague proposition, without examining the reasons by which it is supported, or even fixing very accurately the meaning of the terms it contains. We neither know accurately what we mean by “best,” nor when we speak of the interests of our “people,” have we any precise notion of who they are that are included in the term.
Yet is it not manifest that were that state of things so changed that these provisions which we thus see before our eyes collected for the purpose of exportation should be withdrawn altogether from trade — were they distributed to be used upon the farms upon which they have been raised — among the people from whom they were taken — were the cattle driven no further than the market towns next to the pasture upon which they were fed, and there brought to the shambles for the food of the artizans, these men from one year’s end to another never taste flesh-meat — this would evidence in our country a more prosperous condition than its present, although our export trade were extinguished altogether — though droves of cattle no longer crowded our quays, and the bustle and confusion of their embarkation were succeeded by a silence, and a desolation as complete as that which now reigns in these quarters of our city that were once the cheerful and busy abodes of the shuttle and the loom.
But, it is said, that this exportation is the disposal of our surplus produce, and, as such, is an advantage to the country. To this argument, gentlemen, there is but one answer which, in the present circumstances of our country, any man ought to give. I know of no surplus produce until all our own people are fed. The surplus produce of a country is that which it has to spare after supplying the necessary wants of all its own people. I use the words with deliberation, and with a deep and solemn sense of their import. The surplus produce of a country is that which remains for the rich to spend upon luxuries, after provision is made for supplying the necessities of all.
These are questions not entirely within the province of the cold and abstract science by which we investigate the laws which regulate the distribution of wealth. Answer enough to the argument, it might be, for our present inquiry, to say, that we shew by the clearest demonstration, that the effect of using the manufactures of other countries, is to send out of the country provisions, by which, if we substituted for such manufactures, the produce of our own markets, our starving artizans would be fed. It might, I say, be sufficient for our present purpose to answer, that we have demonstrated this proposition, and leave it to the reason and conscience of every man to judge, what was the meaning or the value of the argument which urges, that it is only our surplus produce that is sent away.
I do not so answer the argument. I have given to it the answer by which I believe it ought boldly to be met. There is a principle involved in this statement of a surplus produce, which is just one of the points upon which I have told you, on a former occasion, the inquiries of the economist must come in contact with those of the moralist and politician. In which, just as the anatomist must sometimes bring his inquiries into the organization of the human frame, to bear upon the subjects that belong in part to other considerations of human nature — so he who investigates the means by which the physical wants of the great social system are supplied, what may be termed the physical framework of nations, must sometimes come in contact with inquiries, which constitute, so to speak, the physiology of the social state — and while, I trust, no one who occupies this chair, will ever forget the broad line of demarcation which separates politics and political economy, yet, when questions of the character I have adverted to, arise, he ought not to shrink from bringing them before the minds of his auditory within those walls; this would be to deprive its science of all its dignity, and in doing so, to take from its inquiries more than half their value.
I do not hesitate, then, to say, that to the contemplation of the Christian moralist or economist, there can be no such thing as a surplus produce, until the wants of all classes in the country are supplied. The surplus produce, I will add the disposable labour of a country, is that which after providing for the wants and I include in the wants, the reasonable comforts of all who are willing to give to society their labour — society may permit to be directed to the luxuries or the vanities of the rich. This is that portion of the income of the community which we have to spend upon matters of ornament, of taste, or of caprice. But the first care in the direction of the resources of the country, should be that all may be fed. The poor have their rights as well as the rich. Every man in this country is born a member of a great and powerful society; and we never hesitate to act towards him on the supposition, that his being so born gives that society rights to be enforced against him. Equally true is it that he has a birthright by being born a member of society. One pennyworth of property he may not inherit; his parents may not leave him one foot of the earth on which he may freely walk — one chattel article that the conventional laws of society may permit him to call his own. All that he sees may be appropriated to others’ use; but yet, as a member of our community, born by God’s ordinance subject to its laws, and owing, independently of any choice of his own, an allegiance to its authority, he has a birthright as sacred and as indefeasible as the right by which the sovereign inherits the crown, the peer his privilege, or the lord of broad acres his estate. In the words of the greatest of political philosophers, he has “a right to all that society, with all its combinations of skill and capital can do in his favour.” In the words of one greater than man — the words in which is recorded the primeval sentence of our race — a sentence which contains at once the hard lot of the labouring man, and the great charter of his rights — a charter prior to the authority of states or the rights of property, he has a right “IN THE SWEAT OF HIS BROW TO EAT BREAD.”
If, indeed, there be any one who, on any fancied rights of the poor, demands to be maintained in idleness — such a claim should be at once, and peremptorily, rejected. “If any man work not, neither let him eat.” Starvation itself is not too hard a lot for him who would be a burden to the community in which he lives. But this is not the claim of which we speak — we speak of the claims of him who is willing to dig, and who to beg is ashamed — the claims of him who is ready to give society all that his labour can produce, and who asks in return the means of living; of the claims of such a man we speak, when we assert, as sacred and indefeasible, the rights of the labouring man.
That society has forgotten its duties, in which such a claim as this is not answered, in the social or economic system of that country in which men are willing to work, and cannot earn their bread, there is something essentially and radically wrong. The right of every man in the land, is to the utmost of all the power of the society that claims him as a member, to have the power of earning a livelihood secured to him. This is the first, the elder duty of society. It is vain to speak of the blessings of increasing national wealth, if to this you sacrifice the comforts of the poor. Better, far better for the country would be the state of things which would give to every working man in the country the assurance that his industry would command for its reasonable exertion, the means of livelihood, than the most brilliant prospects which could be opened of wealth to our merchants, of magnificence to our nobles, or aggrandizement to our manufacturers.
This is not the language of enthusiasm — it is the cold, the deliberate, perhaps the stern language of truth. That nation deserts its duty, in which there are people willing to work, who cannot, by any exertion, earn their bread. If the great right of the poor to dwell in the land and be fed — to earn, by their labour, the means of living — can, in the ordinary process of the social system, without legislative interference, by leaving all things to their free and natural development — be fully and amply vindicated, it is well; but if there be a state of society, in which this great right is in abeyance — if there be a state of society, in which men are willing to work, and yet cannot earn their bread, interference with such a state there ought to be. How best such interference may be effected, it would be very far from the object of this lecture to discuss. Into one mode of such interference, indeed, we have been inquiring; but we have contrasted it with no other — we have compared it with the state of things now existing. We have seen, in the particular case of our own country, that by this interference bread might be given to some of our people who now want it; and so far as such interference can attain the end, we have been led into general observations to vindicate the justice of the general principle that demands it. Enough for us now to state that general principle, that if there be in our own land a state of society in which men are willing to work, and cannot find the opportunity of exchanging their labour for bread, and if the community in which this occurs have resources enough at its command, by the best and most carefully contrived combination of all its skill and power to find bread for all its people, there ought to be an effort made to bring about that result. To this end, if it can be attained, there is no taxation that might be necessary to accomplish it that ought not cheerfully to be borne —there is no sacrifice from those who own the revenue of the country, too great to demand. In the progress of society, the masses of the people ought surely to have their share. They must not be left to toil with diminished remuneration, and increasing demands upon their energies — they must not, still worse, be left to see themselves thrown out of employment altogether — their skill superseded — their industry become useless their appeals be permitted to work vain, and then be told that this is — that the revenue of the country may be disposed of to the best advantage.
These principles and these reasonings may fall strange upon the ear of some present. Be assured, the time is coming when they shall not be so. The poor shall not always be forgotten. The question of protection to the claims of labour is one that every year of our national existence — I speak not now of Ireland — I speak of the British islands — with an increasing population, will make of deeper interest. That the larger proportion of the population of the country should be kept in a state in which they cannot, by exertions that will not overtask them, earn a livelihood comfortable and independent, is a proposition in which no man, who brings right feelings of heart to the consideration of such questions, will contentedly acquiesce. The claims of the labouring classes to a just share in the products of the country’s resources, even upon lower consideration, press themselves upon the attention of the politician and the economist. The social system in which they are disregarded, cannot for ever rest safe upon the terrible foundation upon which it must be built. Perilous, indeed, is that social fabric in which the poor must regard themselves, pent up, as it were in one mighty workhouse, the ergastulum of the ancients, to toil upon the least possible remuneration, to heap up wealth for their lords, whether they be landlords or manufacturers. All is not well in the land from whose mines, or whose factories, or whose corn-fields, or the garrets and alleys of its great towns, the cries of ill-requited labour ascend to heaven, or the groans of the man who seeks employment, and cannot find it, and therefore cannot give his children bread, and all this it may be close by the side of splendid palaces, and mansions filled with every luxury that foreign climates can yield. All is not well in the land whose economists talk of exporting surplus produce, while its own people have not food.
The truth must be told, he would ill-discharge his duty to his country, who saw that truth, and did not tell it. That nation does not its duty by its poor and its labouring population, which permits one of us in this room to gratify our vanity by wearing a coat of fine materials, when coarser cloth would answer us for all real purposes equally well, while there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of men in this very city, who would gladly give days and nights of toil to earn a meal for their children, and cannot. And if the nation have the wisdom to see this duty, and the courage to discharge it — if we were to call the wisdom of our most prudent statesmen, the skill of our most distinguished financiers, to review our economic system, and to devise means, be they of what kind they may, by which there might be full and adequate remuneration for every labourer in the land who was willing honestly to work — to secure a good day’s wages for everyone who would give a good day’s work. If we were to lay it down that to attain this end, no tax upon those who have means, could be too oppressive — no sacrifice too costly to be made — no prospect of what is termed national aggrandizement, too brilliant to be foregone — were measures to raise the condition of the labouring population to make even a large demand upon the national resources, do you think we would be poorer, as a nation, in the end? Would Ireland or England either, be a country less pleasant to live in? Would even those who would be called on for the sacrifices, in a few years be the worse of having made them? Would we not, even on the lowest calculation, be more than repaid all that this national duty would individually cost; and in the increased productiveness of our country’s resources — in the blessings that would spring from our people’s contentment in the consciousness that we were leaving our children to dwell in a settled state, and a country contented, we would experience that in this, as in every other instance, the observance of moral obligations would bring with it consequences that would more than compensate for the sacrifice their fulfilment cost; and of nations even more than of individuals it would be found true that “he who giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord, and look, whatsoever he layeth out it shall be repaid him again.”
These general reflections, however suggested by the question we are discussing, do not, perhaps, immediately belong to it. But the truth is, it is impossible to discuss any question relative to wealth without meeting this great question of the claims of labour in our investigation. Of that which I firmly believe ought to be the chief object of every attempt to regulate the economic process of a community, I have been led to state the views which deliberate conviction leads me to entertain. In estimating these views, I ask of you but to reflect upon two questions as questions of fact: —
Is it a fact that in this country, or in England, there are men willing to give to society the utmost extent of labour which men are fitted to endure, and who cannot find the means of earning their bread?
Is it a fact that there might be a disposition of the resources of the great and powerful community into which the three British nations are united, which would by all the exertions of that community secure the means of livelihood to all its members?
If you decide these questions in the affirmative, it is at least worth reflection whether any measure that will tend to produce such a disposition be not so far a good.
The further consideration of our immediate subject of investigation we must reserve until another day.