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enabling foreigners to buy our corn cheaper than we bought it ourselves. The early part of the present reign, however, being marked by scarcity and high prices, it was found necessary to resort to temporary suspensions of this Act, as well as to abrogate the absurd laws against middle-men; and at last, in 1773, the continued pressure of scarcity, the influence of Dr. Sinith's opinion, and the patriotic exertions of Mr. Burke, led to the memorable repeal of the prohibition on foreign grain. Yet this repeal could not be effected in the absolute manner which those enlightened men desired, and sound policy dictated, because the landed interest were too powerful to make a total surrender of a system which they conceived (although very erroneously) to be conducive to the increase of their rents: but the public distress was considerably mitigated, and a visible approximation was made to the adoption of a wiser policy. The provisions of this Act were that foreign corn might be imported, at a trifling duty, whenever British wheat was so high as 48s; and that a bounty should not be allowed on the export of British corn, unless the home-price was as low as 44s. The Act was founded on the assumption that the price of 485. was fair both for the grower and the consumer; and its object was to prevent deviation from that price, by calling in a foreign supply when our markets were likely to rise, and continuing to give a premium for export when they were likely to fall. Such has been the policy of our cornlaws ever since 1773. They have subsequently undergone two great alterations, in regard to the scale of prices: but these alterations have proceeded from the depreciation of money, and the principle of the law has remained unvaried. In 1791 the value of money was considerably lower than in 1773, and the importation of foreign wheat was discouraged, unless our home price should be as high as 54s.; and in 1804, a still farther depreciation of money having taken place, the importation of foreign corn was discouraged unless our own should be as high as 66s. This continues to be the law at present; and the general inference to be drawn from it, when connected with the regulations of bounty on export, is that, as far as it depends on Acts of Parliament, our average price of wheat shall not be higher than 66s. nor lower than 535.
Having thus laid before our readers, partly from our own sources of information, and partly from Mr. Comber's work, a narrative of our corn-laws, the next task which we proposed to ourselves was an analysis of Mr. C.'s speculations: but they are so much blended with other matter, and expressed with such an unfortunate prolixity, that we are obliged to desist from the attempt
attempt of presenting them in a connected view, and forced to confine our observations to detached points. In these we are disposed partly to accord with and partly to dissent from him. To the former class, we refer his remark (p. 112) that the small occupancies existing under the feudal system were unfavourable to the advancement of agricultural skill, and were accompanied by a want of economy in the essentials both of animal and human labour as well as his argument (page 148), that the frequent scarcities, during the prevalence of the bounty on export, shew the fallacy of the favourite plea of the landed interest, that to give a bounty on export is the best means of creating a regular superabundance of our home growth.' We farther agree with him (page 175) in condemning the warehouse duty of 2s. 6d. on foreign wheat imposed in 1791, and in lamenting (page 210) that our system of cornlaws should have so direct a tendency to create fluctuation and irregularity of price.' He exemplifies this observation very aptly by the state of the London market in 1801. Between the end of May and the middle of June of that year, wheat fell from 1565. to 100s; in July, it rose again to 1555.; and in the end of August, it fell to 74s. He maintains very justly (page 253), that to call the warehousing of foreign corn a discouragement to our own growth, is to infer that agriculture cannot be maintained without the occasional occurrence of scarcity and enormous prices; and he gives us salutary advice in recommending (page 321) the partial introduction of the use of other grain for bread in the place of wheat.' His remark also (page 216), that the enormous enchancement in the price of our corn, as well as other commodities, has been caused by our taxes,' is not the less deserving of approbation for being obvious; since a great part of the community ascribes this enhancement to the avarice of our landholders, and another part attributes it, with equal gravity, to an increase of national wealth.
After this enumeration in Mr. Comber's favour, and our testimony to the evident disinterestedness of his views, although writing on a subject connected with his own pursuits, we must in other respects pass a very different sentence on his book. Professing to give a history of our corn-laws only, he deviates perpetually into general reasonings on the history of our whole commerce: though an admirer of Dr. Smith, he is so little impressed with the extent of that philosopher's conclusions as to dwell seriously on the mercantile notion of a balance of trade, and to consider a decline in the rate of interest as no public advantage; and, after having cautioned us, in his preface, to distrust theories and look to facts, he affords us in his own work an example of a writer REV. SEPT. 1809. being
being led away, in almost every page, from the obvious track of narrative into the devious field of speculation. Such authors ought never to forget that, while speculation is to the wellstored mind the source of important discoveries, it is a pathless and barren waste to those whose knowlege is confined, and whose principles are not ascertained. Instead of yielding to a propensity to draw hasty conclusions of their own, let them meditate attentively the opinions of those who have preceded them; and instead of vainly grasping at early fame, let them be assured that the only way of obtaining reputation is to avoid coming before the public till their ideas are digested and- matured. Dr. Smith's works are both the fountain of knowlege in political economy, and an example of that careful execution which is indispensable to success.
Faulty as Mr. Comber's volume is, however, we would not be understood to discourage his future compositions. He has given evidence both of liberality in design and of industry in execution; and his Appendix contains a very useful abstract of our Acts of Parliament relative to the rate of interest, the price of labour, the export of grain, the encouragement of tillage, the price of provisions, forestallers, aliens, &c. We recommend its statements to the attention of many readers whom we could not advise to attempt the perusal of Mr. Comber's disquisitions; and the thanks of literary men are due to the writer who presents to them, in a convenient shape, that official information which it is so tedious to seek in the statute-book, or in the voluminous reports of Parliamentary Committees.
We select the following passage as a favourable specimen of Mr. Comber's reasoning:
The complaints of the farmers of the inadequacy of the prices in 103 and 1804, were such as to occasion a committee of the House of Commons to be appointed to take the subject into consideration, and to examine into the existing laws respecting the commerce of grain. The committee reported, "that the high prices had occasioned large tracts of waste land to be brought into cultivation, which, combined with the two last productive seasons, had depressed the value of grain so much as it was feared would greatly tend to the discouragement of agriculture; unless maintained by the support of parliament." The interpretation of this enigmatical report appears to be, that the prices which had already become depressed by an extension of growth at home, might become so much further depressed by the competition of the foreign grower, if it were not prevented, as to discourage the production of grain This is further explained by the committee, where they observe, that when the regulations were most favourable to the growers, the export of corn for more than sixty years together had produced annually 700,ocol. to the nation. But on the other hand, as the laws bore hard on the grower, impor 7
tations had increased, the balance had been turned against the nation, and in the last 13 years had amounted to 30 millions."
It is quite inconceivable that a committee of the House of Commons, under a grave examination into the causes of an apparent derangement in one of the most important branches of the domestic economy of the state, should adopt the language of a few superficial declaimers. It is always better to assign no reasons than such as are untenable. This is a very partial and uncandid statement of the account. In estimating the gain of the nation from the export of corn, they take credit for the whole proceeds of the corn sold, without any deductions whatever for rent of land, interest of money, or wages of labour, and without deducting, as they certainly ought, the sums paid by government for bounty to the grower; and in estimating the loss from importation, they debit the nation with the whole. cost of the grain, without making any allowance for the circumstances by which the price was so greatly raised beyond the usual rate, and the total amount so considerably augmented, and without taking credit for the rent of land, interest of money, or wages of labour, which would have been required for raising it at home. But the fact was, that we could not produce it at home, and therefore the importation became more a matter of necessity than choice, and certainly did not arise from the regulations being unfavourable to the grower; but as far it was at all occasioned by those regulations, arose from the injudicious attempts to promote his interest.
After the nation had so recently experienced the inconveniencies of scarcity, which in the estimation of every impartial man, can only be attributed to the unfavourableness of the seasons, combined with the want of encouragements to forming stores either of English or foreign wheat; we cannot but be surprized at the impatience of the nation under the first effects of the re-action of these causes. The cry of the agriculture of the country being endangered, is one of those stale tricks by which the interested impose upon the ignorant, or by which the powerful choose to colour their aggressions. An increase of tillage in consequence of high prices, was a natural effect of the return of the pendulum, and would have gradually corrected itself; to suppose that it should necessarily verge again to an opposite extreme implies that there exists no principle by which the production of grain will regulate itself to the demand. At all events, if the securing a certain price to the farmer was found necessary for this purpose, it would have been more candid and dignified to have stated this, than to have recurred to the exploded errors of the bounty system, or so the false statement of an ideal balance.
If the securing a higher price had become necessary, from any change in the circumstances of the society, either to afford the farmer a fair living profit, or even to enable the land-owner to maintain his rank in the society, the liberality of the nation would not have withheld its sanction to the measures for that purpose. It might, however, probably not have recurred to such as had already been found inconsistent with that regularity of supply and security against want, which the interests of every class in the society imperiously call for.
No part of Mr. Comber's book is less satisfactory than that in which he offers suggestions for amending our system relative to the import of foreign corn. These remarks occur in pages 248, 249, and 251; and they are really so little suited to the comprehensive views which ought to characterize an advocate for reform, that we decline to quote them. Our own opinion points to complete liberty, as well in the import as the export of all grain; and we recognize no reason for difference of regulation in regard to British and foreign grain. This opinion is not founded on the assumption that, because the land-holders are wealthy, they ought to be excluded from an indemnity for the taxes which they pay, but on a deliberate conviction that this stat of perfect freedom is equally conducive to the prosperity of the landed interest and to that of the public at large. The fundamental ground of this conviction is the fact that the price of food regulates the price of other things. An increase in the money-rent of land is speedily followed by a correspondent in crease in the price of other commodities; so that the addition to the land-holder is merely nominal, it being requisite that the amount of his expenditure should be proportionally augmented. An increase in the real value of his rent is to be found only in the general prosperity of the country, and the consequent multiplication of those articles which he purchases with his rent: but the ratio of this prosperity is greatly lessened by any measure which enhances food, and consequently the price of labour. Our power of competition with foreign countries is thus greatly diminished; a severe national loss is sustained; and of this loss, the land-holders, who possess so large a share of the public property, are certain of suffering their full proportion. The value of their incomes is lessened according as the abundance of those commodities, for which income is exchangeable, undergoes diminution; or, in other words, according as the general prosperity of the country is impaired.
In contradiction to the vulgar prejudice that the corn-dealers enter into combinations for enhancing grain, Mr. Comber very justly remarks that they are often buyers as well as sellers, and that in no class of merchants does a greater variety of opinions exist. It is estimated (page 197.) that the usual stock of English wheat in the kingdom, previously to the coming in of a new crop, is equal only to three months' consumption; and that one half of it, at least, is destined for seed. The prices of corn in the exporting countries, in Poland as well as America, are regulated, in dear seasons, by those of England; and it is a curious fact that, a century ago, in consequence of the cattle feeding on wastes and commons, instead of good pastures, the lambs, sheep, and calves weighed little more than a third, and