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to soar to any height? Before answering hypothetical questions it is well to look at the facts. Let it be constantly borne in mind that the level of food prices cannot be considered to any purpose apart from the general price-level of all commodities, for the disappearance of gold from the currency and the flotation of huge loans, among many other factors, have diminished the value of money, and what matters is not how much money the producer gets for his products, but what amount of other commodities and services he can get in exchange for the money he receives. The 'Economist' index number for all commodities in May 1917 shows an increase of 114 per cent. over the wholesale prices of July 1914, and a corresponding increase for food products of 123 per cent. The Board of Trade Labour Gazette gives the average increase in the retail price of all the items ordinarily entering into working-class family expenditure (including rent, which has not risen at all) as between 70 and 75 per cent., and of food alone as 102 per cent. Food, then, has gone up very little more than other commodities. When one remembers the manufacturing self-sufficiency of Great Britain and her agricultural dependence, remembers, too, how agriculture has for long years been at a discount in Great Britain because of the greater profitableness of manufacture, and reflects upon the fact that British agriculture has, with the difficulties and increased cost of sea transport, for the first time in a long period come into its own, it is a matter for surprise and satisfaction that food prices have not increased to a far greater extent. To jeopardise food-production and penalise food-producers by compelling foodstuffs to be sold at a relatively lower price than other commodities is, with such facts at hand, blatant folly and rank injustice.
The argument most frequently put forward in support of maximum-price legislation is that high food-prices entail special hardship on people of small means, and particularly on the very poor. That is true ; but economic inequality is not a war phenomenon : it is one of the age-long problems of our whole political, social, and economic system; and the remedy for it, even the emergency remedy in war-time, is not to make food disproportionately cheap, but to abolish penury. If we are going to allow the contention that the prime necessaries of life must for charitable reasons be kept down by Act of Parliament, or social pressure, at a price below their real exchange value, then we must either reward the food-producer in some indirect way or see him for ever at a disadvantage as compared with the producers of amenities and luxuries. That all production should come to be looked upon as a form of public service is a consummation to be wished; but that in the meantime the food-producer should be singled out for the rôle of a public benevolent institution is neither fair nor salutary. If we deny him the market price of his labour and skill, in what coin are we prepared to make good his loss ? In honour ? In gratitude ? '... and none so poor to do him reverence.'
Up to now our food administrators have hovered confusedly between penalising the food-producer, out of tenderness for the poor, and spoon-feeding him to the greater prosperity of agriculture. At one moment he must sell his milk for less than it is worth; at another he must have a bounty if the bottom falls out of the grain market. Yesterday he must not receive more per ton for the remnant of his frost-killed and disease-perished potato harvest than he would have got had his stocks remained intact; to-day he must have a maximum price changed to a minimum price, apparently on the ground that 'he seems somehow keen on it, and, any
how, it's only a matter of two letters.' In the Corn Production Bill an attempt is made to reconcile these two conflicting objects by allowing grain prices to take their course and compensating the farmer out of public funds in case of prices falling below a certain level. It is an ingenious scheme; but since it hinges on money-prices to the entire disregard of food and nonfood exchange values it is beside the point. Still, if the farmer really derives confidence from the assurance that in the event of the moon turning into green cheese he will receive a small solatium that he may not be able to keep, paid in money of indeterminate value-why, so be it; but let us not leave the rehabilitation of British agriculture at that. For the rest, it would be well if the Food Control and Food Production Ministries could get together a little more and decide which, if either, is to be called upon to make sacrifices on behalf of the other : the food-producer, or the nation as the guardian of the poor. Meanwhile, the producer of food might advantageously be left to work out his own salvation.
There remains the problem of the 'profiteer.' What is to be done about the people who come in between the retail purchaser and the producer, who snatch private gains out of public necessities? It would make for clarity if 'profiteer' were defined. Is a 'profiteer' one who in the ordinary course of business is able to secure a margin of profit on the goods he acquires from the producer and places at the disposal of the consumer ? If so, will those who denounce profiteering be prepared to compensate the profiteer if and when the market turns against him and he suffers a loss? Or is the term confined to the pure gambler who by plunging into this or that market tries to turn a speculative penny out of the national need ? If the latter be all that is meant it is surely worth while before proceeding any farther to inquire what is the actual magnitude of the evil of profiteering. On this point it is instructive to observe that committees of inquiry, however strong be the representation of able and vigilant labour men upon them, hardly, if ever, find evidence of any material amount of pure speculation. Nor is it easy to discover any net injury to the nation. We hear much of the speculators who gain, nothing of those who lose; probably the losses are not very far from offsetting the gains. If anyone believe the contrary, let him tiy his luck in and around the produce exchanges with such a sum as he can command.
Until some definite proof has been furnished of real national injury resulting from what the mob orator calls' profiteering' we should do wisely to keep clear of the gigantic evils that result from any attempt on the part of the State to control the machinery of commerce. Of these evils the experience of Germany since the war began furnishes endless examples. Yet no attempt has been made by our Government to take warning from Germany's mistakes. Not one of the blunders made by our Food Controller in the past six months but was made two years earlier by the German Government, only to be repaired at great cost. We have, however, up to now been more fortunate than Germany in that we have managed to check ourselves in mid-career down the slope of food-price regulation. It is to be hoped that we may still retain this relative good fortune.
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But it will not be easy. The fixing of prices for one commodity almost inevitably necessitates the fixing of prices for another, and yet another, until the entire trade of the country is bound up in an inextricable tangle of official regulations. The resulting lack of correlation between demand and supply then compels a rationing system. That in turn, as the experience of Germany demonstrates, involves long queues of people wasting hours of valuable time while they wait for their allotted rations ; it involves countless clerks and officials, masses of printing and paper, and all the interminable delays that accompany official action; it also involves endless frauds, including the wholesale forgery of food tickets, together with a general lowering of the moral standards of the community. We may congratulate ourselves and our late Food Controller that so far we have been saved this fate.
1. The Colonising Activities of the English Puritans. By A. P.
NEWTON. Yale Historical Publications. 1914. 2. British Colonial Policy, 1754-1765. By G. L. Beer. New
York. 1907. 3. The Genesis of the United States. By ALEXANDER BROWN.
London. 1890. 4. The Navigation Laws. By JOHN W.GULLAND. Lord Rector's
Prize Essay. Edinburgh. 1884.
"D ETRIBUTION.—Repayment. Return accommodated to
Il “the action' is Dr. Johnson's definition of a word we have taken to using in a far narrower sense. But it is lawful to return to our ancient freedom, and after due warning to speak of the 'retributions' which the Colonies have made and are making to the actions of the Mother Country. The word was so used by White of Dorchester in his · Planters' Plea,' published in 1630 on behalf of the Massachusetts Company, and we will take leave to follow his example.
The all-enveloping war in which we now live has brought -and we must resign ourselves to know that it will continue to bring-suffering and the call for sacrifice. But it has also given us the long-deferred fulfilment of old hopes, and has justified the schemes of ancient wisdom. For the first time in our history the Colonies have all come forward spontaneously to range themselves by the side of the Mother Country, and to fight the same battle with her in a spirit of Imperial patriotism. There have been many cases in which colonists have taken a share in wars, but it was when some advantage was to be gained, some danger was to be averted on their own borders. What is new is the voluntary combined action in a common cause when the enemy was distant, and the peril might conceivably appear to be remote, or even not to exist. How came it that we have waited so long ?
A little more than three hundred years have passed since our first permanent settlement was made in Virginia. Raleigh's