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(SUBSECT. 111.]–Of the Trade carried on by the Merchant
Exporter of Corn for Foreign Consumption.
That this trade does not contribute directly to the plentiful supply of the home market is abundantly evident. Its influence, however, is not the less real, that the process by which it operates is indirect and circuitous.
The supply of the home market can never be plentiful, unless the surplus can, in all ordinary cases, be exported; a prohibition to export necessarily limiting the improvement and cultivation of the country, to what the consumption of its own inhabitants requires. The freedom of exportation enables it to extend cultivation for the supply of foreign nations.*
The effectual encouragement which a free exportation gives to agriculture, and of consequence its indirect tendency in process of time to reduce prices, are well illustrated by an anecdote mentioned by the author [Charles Smith] of the Three Corn Tracts, on the authority of a friend who was an eye-witness of the facts.?
“In Turkey, the Grand Vizier, about twenty or thirty years ago,"—the Corn Tracts, I believe, were first published [at London] in the year 1758,-“ suffered a more general exportation of corn to be carried on, and more openly than any of his predecessors had done, insomuch that three hundred French vessels, from twenty to two hundred tons, were, on one day, seen to enter Smyrna Bay to load corn, and wheat was then sold for less than seventeenpence, English, a bushel, with all the expenses in putting the same on board, included.
" From these open proceedings the Janizaries and people took the alarm, pretending that all the corn was going to be exported, and that they, in consequence, must be starved; and in Constantinople grew so mutinous, that they could not be appeased till the Vizier was strangled, and his body thrown out to them.
*Wealth of Nations, Book IV. chap. v.; Vol. II. p. 313, seq., tenth edition.]
1 P. 33.—[Lond. ed. 1766; p. 29, Edin. ed. 1758.]
“ His successor took particular care not to split on the same rock, and would suffer no exportation at all; many of the farmers, who looked on the exportation as their greatest demand, neglected tillage, to save their rents, which in that country are paid either in kind, or in proportion to their crops, to such a degree, that in less than three years the same quantity of corn which, in time of export, sold for not quite seventeenpence, was worth more than six shillings, and the distresses of the people in Smyrna were such, that every bakehouse and magazine of corn was obliged to have a military guard, which took care that no one person should have more than a fixed quantity; and so strictly was this order observed, that an English ship, in the Turkey trade, was detained for sailing some time for want of bread.
“The ill consequences of these proceedings were not removed in many years, and to this day the fate of the Vizier, as an unfortunate good man, is lamented.”
(Interpolation from Notes.)—In such small states as those of Italy or Switzerland, an unlimited exportation might perhaps be attended with danger, though even there it may be questioned whether this would be the case, were it not for the extraordinary demand from other countries, occasioned by their absurd regulations with respect to the Corn-trade. In such agricultural regions as Great Britain and France, exportation can never furnish a ground for any serious alarm. To a case of absolute necessity, indeed, if such case should ever occur, all other considerations must of course give way. But it is only in such a case that the statesman can have any apology to plead for violating that sacred principle of justice, which entitles the farmer, like any other merchant, to send his commodity to the most profitable market. In our own country, however, the general tendency of our regulations has plainly been to increase agriculture, by not only permitting exportation, but by rewarding it with a bounty when prices are low, checking, at the same time, the importation of corn by heavy duties; and, on the other hand, to prevent a scarcity, by prohibiting exportation when prices are high, and allowing importation at an easy duty. Of our regulations on this subject, the last permanent one was that of 1791, by which the whole maritime part of England was divided into twelve districts, for the purpose of regulating the imports and exports of corn, and the various rates of duties; the maritime part of Scotland being in like manner divided into four districts, making in all sixteen. This statute further enacted, that the exportation and importation of corn at the port of London should be regulated by the prices at the Corn Exchange, and that an inspector of corn returns should be appointed.
Notwithstanding the strong and obvious objections to which these very complicated arrangements are liable, few legislative acts have received higher panegyrics from a particular description of writers than the Corn Act of 1791. “ All the elaboration of diligence,” says Mr. George Chalmers, (who, by the way, is understood to have had a chief share in preparing the statute,) “ and all the wisdom of experience, were employed in forming this Corn Act.”* And yet the same writer acknowledges in the last edition of his Political Estimate, that “a continued succession of unfavourable seasons had rendered nugatory its judicious enactments." +
Without entering into any statement of details on this particular subject, I shall mention only the very striking contrast which our policy of late presents to what it formerly was; forcing importation into an island from which exportation was so long rewarded with a premium. In consequence of a change in our national circumstances, which I shall not here stop to investigate, those considerations which influenced the Legislature at the period when the bounty was first established no longer exist; and the apprehensions lest our landed gentlemen and farmers should lose by a superabundant produce, have been converted into an alarm lest they should be undersold in our own markets by foreign farmers, cultivating their lands at a smaller expense. Though, however, this change of circumstances renders the laws relating to exportation of less interest * (Political Estimate, Chap. xii. p. 264, edit. 1812.]
than they formerly were, a history of them, and the inquiries with which they are connected, must be at all times interesting. I therefore shall make no apology for stating a few facts and observations relative to a branch of trade which has given rise to so much discussion, both at home and abroad.
The idea of rewarding exportation with a bounty, seems first to have occurred during the reign of Charles II., although it has been very generally referred to a period somewhat later, (12th Charles II., 15th Charles II., and 25th Charles II.) By the 1st William and Mary, the bounties on the several sorts of grain were established on the same footing on which they subsisted till the year 1773. Dr. Campbell in his Political Survey of Great Britain, says, that " though this statute is generally considered as the first Bounty Act, the regulations which it contains are the very same with those of the 25th Charles II.”* Its evident design was to raise the price of corn, which, indeed, is expressly stated in the Act to be too low; and it is commonly understood to have been passed as a return to the landed interest, for their exertions in placing the crown on the head of King William. As the bounty, too, was confined to corn exported in English ships, it operated in increasing the shipping and sailors of the country; and, in fact, while the exportation continued, gave employment, from the quantity and bulk of corn, to a much greater number of vessels than any other trade. In conformity with this last view of the Bounty Act, the Abbé Galiani, who is sometimes disposed, like many other foreigners, to discover reasons of remote expediency for English enactments, which really did not influence the Legislature, says, that it was to encourage our shipping that this Act was passed.
The high price of corn in 1751, occasioned much tumult and riot in different parts of the island, and gave a new turn to the speculations of the politician on this department of trade, particularly with regard to the expediency of the bounty. The popular clamour became still louder in the years 1765, 1766, and 1767; and in every instance of dearth, these disturbances
* [Book II. chap. ir. ; Vol. II. p. 67, footnote.] VOL. IX.
have gone on increasing in violence to the present times. Two remarkable alterations of our law in this matter deserve particular notice. The first of these is the Act 1773, which was conducted through the House of Commons by Mr. Burke. With respect to this Act, it has been justly observed, that it effected a virtual repeal of the Bounty Act, though it retained the language of that statute, in compliance with the prevailing opinions, which it is sometimes easier to betray than to conquer. It has accordingly been pronounced by Mr. Smith, in conformity with his own system, to be like the laws of Solon, if not the best in itself, the best which the temper and situation of the times would admit. The second of these Acts, the Corn Bill of 1804, plainly implies a dereliction of those general principles which influenced the Legislature in passing the Act 1773.
The policy of the statute encouraging exportation by a bounty, has been the subject of so much controversy since the year 1751, that I shall enter very slightly into the discussion, more especially, as the actual circumstances of the country now render it of comparatively little importance. It is highly extolled by the French Economists, by the author of the Tracts on the Corn-trade, by Mr. Arthur Young, and by Mr. Dirom. Mr. [Adam] Smith has exerted great ingenuity on the other side of the question, and has found a very able supporter in Mr. Howlett,* who, after having yielded to the prevailing opinions concerning its expediency, confesses himself a complete proselyte to the doctrines of Mr. Smith. An examination of the reasonings of this part of the Wealth of Nations will be found in Dr. Anderson's Observations on the Means of Promoting National Industry, in the Supplement to Mr. Dirom's Inquiry, by Mr. Mackie of Ormiston, and in the last two editions of the Essay on Population by Mr. Malthus, [1803 and 1806.] This last author is by far the ablest advocate for the bounty who has appeared since the publication of the Wealth of Nations; and although I am by no means prepared to adopt implicitly his own conclusion in favour of the wisdom of the measure, yet I think it must be admitted, that
* [Dispersion of the Gloomy Apprehensions, &c., 1797, p. 37, seq.]