« ZurückWeiter »
some curious particulars. A great number of them are petitions from the inhabitants of &c. &c., complaining of the present distress, and praying for the repeal of the duties affecting malt and beer. Now, whatever may be the suffering in other parts of the country, these petitioners let slip the fact, that the repeal of the malt tax was the end that procured their signatures, and that the cry of distress was used as a means to forward their purpose, Others, again, are petitions, apparently pretty snugly got up, which complain, in general terms, of the state of the nation, the pressure of taxation, the burdens of the army and navy, and so forth, being the usual form of such compositions, but which have no distinguishing peculiarity, and which very little, if at all, exceed in number those presented in the average of sessions, though, for the above-mentioned reasons, they attract unusual attention. When the Catholic question was before the public, the whole nation seemed to unite in subscribing to petitions ; the same was the case with the free-trade system, and with various other questions of importance. But on the question of the distress of the country we have no such mass of evidence or opinion. On comparing the petitions and signatures of the present day with those of previous times, we cannot but see that the latter are much superior to the former both in weight and character. Yet, surely, if the distress were such as has been by some represented, we should be overwhelmed with the accumulation of addresses to Parliament. Is it probable that those who have taken so much trouble on questions of abstract legislation, and of decrees by which they were not themselves to be benefitted, should remain in passive silence, when their own personal interests were at stake and their own fortunes affected ? :-“ Men do sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony,” says Machiavel, and we confess that the petitions which have been laid before Parliament, instead of proving the state of things which some members would indicate, are to ourselves a confirmation of the opinion, that the present distress is partial in its extent, and will be temporary in its duration.
Then as to the remedies which have been proposed for our relief, Each political quack prescribes his favourite nostrum, and assures us of its infallible success. Some would resort to the dubious trial of an alteration in our currency, which is the aim of the pamphlet at the head of this article; others, more bold, hint at the expediency of extracting a benevolence from the national creditor; while another (we speak in the singular number, for there is only one such), proposes pouncing at once on army, navy, ambassadors, ministers of state, and all that sort of thing," giving a sly remark as he passes on the expense of having a king, and, for anything we know, sighing for the blessings of a cheap anarchy. To these various gentlemen we would repeat the Hindoo fable, of an elephant that came into a village where all the inhabitants were blind, and baffled their attempts at discovering his true nature: the man who had felt his trunk thought that he must be like a plantain-tree, another who had felt his leg thought that he must be like a column, while a third, who had felt his ear, thought that he inust be like a winnowing fan. So, each of these gentlemen may be very well acquainted with the isolated views of their propositions, but be much mistaken as to their united effect and practical importance.
The two assertions in the King's Speech, relative to the distress of the country, which have given rise to debate; are,—that the distress is partial, and that it is beyond the operation of legislative enactment. The validity of the former opinion, we thipk that the attempts of various members have been unable to shake; and the truth of the latter is, in our judgment, established by the fact that all the leading members have each separate plans for our restoration to prosperity, and each condemns the system of the other as baneful and inefficient. For ourselves, we believe that the present distress arises from a variety of unconnected causes, which in a singular manner began to take effect at about the sanie time, and then the dulness of many branches of trade acting reciprocally, á result has ariseñi which; to a superficial examiner, appears truly alarming, but which a minuter discrimination can discover to contain grounds for present regret, but not for future dešpondency. The minds of many men have presented the affair with a kind of kaleidoscope illusion, by giving to a number of disjointed facts the appearance of belonging to a regular systèm ; let not us participate in the deception.
Upon observation and enquiry, we find that the basis of the present complaints is, that although the transfer of goods are nearly the same now aš in former times, yet upon these transfers there is not the same degree of profit to be obtained. Now every tyro in Adam Smith must be aware that a diminution of profit is the na. tural effect of increased national capital; and all who are conversant with the passing events of their own times, cannot fail to know that although the incomes of men are now reduced, according to a numerical standard, yet that, by the improvement of machinery and competition of capitals, a much greater range of comforts and luxuries can be enjoyed by the majority of the nation at present than at any former period. Let a comparison be instituted between the manner of living of an individual possessing a thousand a year now, and fifteen hundred a year twenty years ago, and we believe that the balance will be in favour of the former, as far as regards his command of the comforts and elegancies of life.
When we say that a thing is “ bad;" we mean that it is “worse” than something else with which we mentally compare it. Thus, in speaking of “ bad trade," we mean that trade is worse than it has been at some former period. But at what former period ? Has trade been less profitable in 1829 than in 1828, or
in any year since 1825 ? In 1825 trade glowed with the unnatural excitement of disease; everything wore the bilarity of intoxication, and the succeeding depression was an unavoidable consequence. But with this intermediate exception, let us compare the trade of 1829 with that of any period since the war. 'We shall find that the competition of capital has been effecting a gradual reduction in the rate of profits, which we allow to have been smaller, but not disproportionally, in the last than in preceding years; we shall find that one of those temporary stagnations in some of the manufacturing districts, arising from over-production, and almost periodical in their occurrence, has, last year, harrassed many of our traders ; but we cannot find, nor has any one been able to point out, symptoins which can threaten national declension, or which can indicate greater national malady than disease in some members, such as has frequently before occurred, such as seems inseparable from the nature of commerce, and such as time has never failed to remedy.
Many of our mercbants recollect, and those who do not recollect have heard of, the large profits and splendid fortúnes that were made during the war; and it is to this glorious period that they turn their thoughts, and contrasting them with the present times, complain of the dylness of trade in the latter, and thence infer the declining state of the nation. The war certainly gave an extraordinary impulse to many branches of commerce and manufactures. Our Davies swept the seas, where none but a British vessel was secure; in commerce England was paramount mistress; our merchants transacted the business not only of their own country but of half the world ; and our manufacturers could force their productions on those who must either have British goods or nöne at all. Such a state of things could not continue when the conclusion of the war deprived us of its unnatural support. Nor let it ever be forgotten, that our country during the war resembled a spendthrift, who, by broaching his capital, dazzles the world for awhile by his profusion, but entails certain difficulty on his descendants. Of the millions which were annually raised by the funding system, some part went abroad to pay our troops and defray our other continental expences, and, even thence, much returned to purchase British manufactures ; but a very large proportion was expended at home, and the capital of the country was thus made to give an artificial prosperity to the whole of our internal system. Immense profits were made, and prodigious fortunes were amassed, by individuals; and comparing the present times with those of the war, it must be allowed that our merchants and manufacturers had then opportunities which they now enjoy no longer. But we must not consider one class alone, we must look at the whole nation, and we shall then see that it is as unreasonable to wish for such “ good old times,” as it is to wish for a return to the restrictive system, or any other plan that benefits a small class at the expense of the whole conmunity.
• We have said that the present distress, arises from a variety of unconnected causes. In the first place we would remark, that the competition of capitalists has diminished the rate of profit to a very low standard. Formerly, a much greater extent of business was carried on by merchant speculators. Of late years, every probability of fluctuation in price has been so eagerly watched, and so speedily anticipated, that this branch of traders have found their incomes rapidly diminishing ; a great part of the business formerly transacted in this manner, is now carried on by the method of consignment. But by this alteration, although individuals are injured, the public generally, who thereby procure their merchandise at a cheaper rate, are obviously benefitted. The extent of business is much the same now as in former years, but it has, in many instances, changed hands, and those who have suffered by the alteration, are now raising a cry of national distress, while those who are gainers by the change keep their own secret. .
Another great cause of the present want of profit to our merchants, and consequent cry of dull trade, is one little known, namely, that they are, in many branches, superseded by the shopkeepers. This class of men now forms the most flourishing part of the community. Let those, who say that distress is felt among all classes indiscriminately, look to the profits of our retail traders. After a good deal of minute investigation and careful inquiry, we are led to believe that the average rate of profit to most London shopkeepers is about thirty per cent. on every transaction; an enormous sum, which we at first esteemed incredible, but which we are now convinced is correct. In many of the staple commodities of life fifty per cent. is obtained. The power which such profits give of accumulating capital is of course immense, and the shopkeeper, after increasing his retail trade as far as circumstances permit, finds himself possessed of capital which he cannot employ in his shop. Formerly, the merchant used to bring goods from abroad, which he or the manufacturer sold to the wholesale dealer, and the wholesale dealer to the shopkeeper. The first step, then, of the shopkeeper was to supersede the wholesale dealer, by purchasing his goods directly of the merchant, or manufacturer, thereby securing to himself the profits of the wholesale dealer. When the latter class of men suffered by this alteration, there was just as much reason for complaint, as there is now, when, by a still further increase of opulence, the shopkeepers are enabled to import their own goods from abroad, and, in some instances that we have found, to become shipowners also, and the merchants are thus driven from many parts of the markets, which are now occapied by the shopkeepers, who thus secure the merchants' profits in addition to their own.
It is obvious that such merchants are greatly injured by these alterations, and that they must seek some other channel for the employment of their capital. Most probably the capital of several of these men will be invested in shop-keeping, and the public will then be still further benefitted by the profits of this part of trade being lowered by competition, and the price of retail articles reduced accordingly. It is unnatural that the profits of any branch of trade should long continue higher than those of any other branch. The present prejudice against the name of “tradesman” will, undoubtedly, keep many from becoming retailers, but many will not be detained by such scruples. When a man, with a wife and family, finds that he has the option of being poor as a merchant, or of becoming opulent as a shopkeeper, it will not be long before his pride allows him to pursue the latter alternative; and such is the actual state of the case with inany men at the present moment.
These, and similar secondary causes, are, in our opinion, the points to which we must look for explanation of our present cry of distress. As to our manufacturers, the opinion of their distress is now so generally fading away, under the influence of late accounts, that we feel it unnecessary to do more than refer the sceptical to the examination of facts. In this branch of trade, the variations of activity and depression are so frequent, as to be naturally expected by all who are concerned, and we believe that the manufacturers themselves were the people least surprised by their late reverses. The occurrence, however, of distress in their department, at the same time with the distress in other branches of trade, induced many, not generally inclined to be dejected, to believe that radical disease existed in our national constitution. Over production occasioned a glut in the market, and the manufacturers no longer produced ; and they themselves, and the artisans in their employ, did not mourn in silence. But consumption was still going on, and the stocks on hand having now diminished, a demand for goods is again created ; and we at present bear, from most parts of the country, that the manufacturers are again at work, and trade resuming its wonted briskness.
We have made diligent inquiries among practical men, and we find that trade is every where experiencing a reviving inpulse. It seems, indeed, to be an opinion gaining ground among wellinformed men, that the return of spring will see a termination of the frozen stillness which still hangs over some portion of our trade. That season, as usual, will bring a demand to the shopkeepers, who again must apply to the manufacturers, and business will resume its usual train. For those who seem to take pleasure in believing that our nation is on the verge of ruin, we cannot do better than refer them to the speech of the Duke of Wellington, on the 13th of February, in reply to Lord Holland :-"I firmly believe, that, notwithstanding the distress which at present afflicts the country, it never was in a state in which it could embark in a war with so many advantages”—.“ even to what they were when all Europe was arrayed against us.”