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certainly, but not more useless and chimerical than the old 'one.'
That great speculation still remains unrealised, except so far as Ireland is concerned. There the anticipations of Adam Smith have been fully justified. The breaking down of the tariff barriers between Great Britain and Ireland, which unfortunately was not completed till a quarter of a century after the Act of Union, has been a moral boon to the greater island, a material boon to the lesser. No Englishman or Scotchman is any longer tempted to suppress the industries of Ireland ; her people have reached a level of material prosperity never approached before. The silly fiction latterly put about that England adopted her present fiscal policy, the policy of free imports, regardless of the interests of Ireland, is absolutely without foundation. As it happens, the very earliest pamphlet that Cobden wrote in favour of free trade contained an account of his impressions of the poverty of Ireland ten years previously. It is sufficient to quote what he says of Dublin in 1825 : *
* The river Liffey intersects the city, and ships of 200 tons may anchor nearly in the heart of Dublin. The small number of shipping betrays their limited commerce. It is melancholy to see their spacious streets (in some of which the whole trade of Cheapside might with ease move to and fro) with scarcely a vehicle in their whole extent. While there is so little circulation in the heart can it be wondered that the extremities are poor and destitute !'
Nor ought it to be forgotten that Cobden's agitation for the abolition of the Corn Laws received the active support of many Irishmen, including the great Irish leader, Daniel O'Connell, who spoke at many of Cobden's biggest meetings, vehemently urging that the Corn Laws had driven the Irish people to destitution.† And even politicians with the shortest memories ought to be able to recollect that the final blow to the Corn Laws was the Irish potato famine. The story is told in a few concise sentences by an Irishman, who for many years led the Nationalist Party in the House of Commons, Justin McCarthy: 1
'In the autumn of 1845 the potato rot began in Ireland. .. The great cry all through Ireland was for the opening of the ports.
* Morley's 'Life of Cobden,' p. II.
† See, for example, O'Connell's speech at Manchester on Jan. 13, 1840, quoted in Prentice's' History of the Anti-Corn Law League.' I A Short History of Our Own Times, P. 74. VOL: 225. NO. 460.
The Mansion House Relief Committee of Dublin issued a series of resolutions declaring that the potato disease was expanding more and more, and the document concluded with a denunciation of the Ministry for not opening the ports or calling Parliament together before the usual time for its assembling.'
As Lord Morley writes in his ‘Life of Cobden': 'It was the 'rain that rained away the Corn Laws.'
Nor is there any ground for the assertion that Irish agriculture suffered any special and peculiar injury from the opening of the ports of the United Kingdom to the wheat of the world. On this point the testimony of another well-known Irishman, the late Judge Shaw, may be quoted. Writing in 1902 in the Saturday Review' for September 27th of that year, Judge Shaw said :
'I have lived all my life in Ireland, and I have been brought into close contact with all sorts and conditions of men in Ireland, both north and south. In my boyhood I used to hear the farmers of the County Down talk about the poverty, the struggles, and miseries they and their fathers endured between 1815 and 1845 when Protection was at its height. I have seen with my own eyes the prosperity which the same farmers enjoyed for thirty years after the Repeal of the Corn Laws. . . . It is true that since 1878 farming has not been so profitable in Ireland as it was for thirty years before. But the farmer is far from being ruined. He has at least maintained the standard of comfort and living which he acquired in his thirty years of great prosperity.
That was in 1902. In 1911 Mr. T. P. Gill, Secretary of the Irish Department of Agriculture, and formerly a prominent Nationalist Member of Parliament, called public attention in Dublin to the remarkable progress achieved by Ireland both in commerce and in agriculture.* In the same year Mr. T. W. Russell, M.P., a strong Home Ruler, speaking on November 3rd in Manchester, said : ‘People talk about
poor Ireland,” ' but I have the opinion that relatively Ireland is doing as well 'as any part of the Empire.' † Coming down to the year 1916, we find the Nationalist party in the House of Commons issuing to the world a manifesto in which they bear testimony to the general prosperity of Ireland, and in particular to the prosperity of the Irish labourer. $ The evidence is overwhelming that
* Irish News, August 8, 1911.
Ireland has, like the rest of the United Kingdom, grown in prosperity enormously during the free trade era. Doubtless certain Irish industries could be rendered even more profitable by a system of tariffs designed to give protection to those industries alone. If, for example, a heavy duty were imposed on the import of colonial and foreign wheat into the United Kingdom, it is probable that Irish farmers, in spite of their unsuitable climate, would turn again to wheat growing, and would reap handsome profits, even if they reaped poor harvests. But though every protectionist farmer or manufacturer instinctively assumes that protection is to be for him alone, in practice it never is so. The protection conceded to one industry is claimed by others, and when these others have been satisfied the original beneficiary may find himself worse off than he was without any protection at all. If, for example, the Irish linen spinners obtained a protective duty in their favour, the Irish flax-growers might demand and obtain a duty on imported flax, with disastrous consequences to the linen spinners.
There are, as it happens, few parts of the Empire which have a greater interest in Free Trade than Ireland. She is a small country quite incapable of supplying all her own wants from her own resources. Her prosperity must depend on the activity of her export industries, and no export industry can benefit by an import duty except so far as that duty enables the controllers of the industry to sell cheaper abroad by selling dearer at home. In a large country like Germany that policy is feasible for a limited number of industries; in a little country like Ireland it would be quite impracticable. When Irishmen talk of the advantages of protection, what they really mean is protection for Irish industries and agriculture at Great Britain's expense.
The same confusion of thought underlies a great deal that is said and written about the larger problem of imperial preference. There are a few keen imperialists in Great Britain who cherish Adam Smith's conception of internal free trade throughout the Empire, but there seems little prospect of their hopes being realised in any near future. Both here and in the Dominions the large majority of the advocates of imperial preference are strongly opposed to inter-imperial free trade. They have the word preference on their lips, but the spirit of protection is in their hearts. For this reason the apparent agreement between the advocates of preference at home and in the Dominions is altogether delusive. They use the same phrase, but they do not mean the same thing. The colonist who asks the British Government to establish a preferential tariff pictures a tariff which will let in colonial goods free, or almost free, and will exclude foreign goods; the Englishman or Scotchman who makes the same verbal demand picturcs a tariff which will give the Mother Country adequate protection both against colonial and against foreign goods, with a slight concession in favour of the colonies. The latter is exactly the type of preferential tariff established in some of the Dominions. Its inadequacy from the point of view of the Mother Country was frankly explained by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain at the Colonial Conference of 1902. He then said :
'But so long as a preferential tariff, even a munificent preference, is still sufficiently protective to exclude us altogether, or nearly so, from your markets, it is no satisfaction to us that you have imposed even greater disability upon the same goods if they come from foreign markets.'
But it is certain that so long as the protectionist theory predominates in colonial politics, the colonies will not freely open their ports to the manufactures of the Mother Country ; it is equally certain that if the protectionist theory should obtain predominance in Great Britain the ports of the Mother Country, which are now wide open to colonial products, will be partly closed against them.
The moment the preferentialists from different parts of the Empire sit down to discuss details they will discover that they are fundamentally in disagreement, and, if they attempt to give any wide application to their respective theories, instead of binding the Empire closer together, they will create elements of disunion. Moreover, so far as the policy of preference is successful in confining the trade of the Empire within the Empire, to that extent will the fundamental disagreement between colonial and home producers become aggravated. As long as all parts of the Empire are free to trade where they will they can afford to be tolerant of domestic differences with one another ; but if they are to be limited to the 'tied house' conception of commerce the conditions of inter-imperial trade will become matters of vital importance and of rancorous controversy. Some indication of the kind of temper that will be aroused can be gathered from the fierce indignation excited in Lancashire by the action of the present Ministry in definitely sanctioning the adoption of a protectionist policy by the Government of India.
It cannot be too strongly insisted, in considering the great problem of imperial unity, that the protectionist spirit is in itself an element of discord, because it is finally based upon selfishness. That statement does not mean that free traders are personally exempt from the vice of selfishness. What it does mean is that the thing for which the free trader asks is something which he has to share with everybody else ; whereas the protectionist asks for a tariff privilege for himself to hold against others. That privilege can only be obtained through the State, and thus the protectionist spirit leads directly to conflicts between States. That such trade conflicts should arise between different countries is a sufficiently grave evil; that they should also arise between different parts of the same Empire is an aggravation of the evil which we ought to strive our utmost to avoid. It has been avoided in the United States and in the German Empire by the establishment of complete fiscal unity. The United States is the largest single free trade area within the world. From the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific coast, from the Canadian borders to the borders of Mexico, trade is free. Goods may be carried over the whole of that vast area without requiring any permit or let-pass,
without being subject to question, visit, or examination.' In exactly the same way complete free trade prevails thioughout the numerous States of the German Empire.
The difficulties in the way of establishing similar fiscal unity throughout the British Empire are both material and mental. On the material side the divergent economic conditions prevailing in the different portions of our far-flung Empire make complete fiscal unity almost impossible, and certainly undesirable. Where the conditions of life are totally different an arbitrary uniformity of law is not an advantage but an inconvenience. It is inconceivable that the same system of taxation which suits London and Edinburgh could be made to suit a tropical or semi-tropical dependency of the Empire. For example, the United Kingdom derives an enormous customs revenue from a high duty, about 1000 per cent., levied upon imported tobacco; it would be impossible to levy the same duty in India, for tobacco can be and is grown almost everywhere throughout India. Nor would there be the slightest