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1. The facts which have prompted me to write this book are simple. When, in the summer of 1918, I was asked by the authorities of the London School of Economics to prepare a set of Lectures upon Tariff Questions for the guidance of Consular students, I found to my very great surprise that the technical aspects of the subject had, so far as British writers were concerned, been almost completely neglected.1 There were no text-books to which the enquirer might be referred, and it seemed to me very strange that a question which had agitated political parties for so long a time should not have resulted in a more complete survey from the angle of impartial comment. It was with the idea of in some degree filling the gap thus discovered that I first began to write this book. Later on, the attraction of the subject led me to extend the scope of the book somewhat, and to adopt a more critical attitude than I had at first intended. The line between description and criticism is always a thin one, however, but I have attempted, so far as was possible, to avoid that discussion of the fundamental rightness of free trade or protection, which has for the last twenty years provided the politicians with so much declamatory material. As I have more fully shown below, the ultimate questions are beyond the power of the economist to settle. He may, it is true, analyse the presuppositions in each case, and show that the
1 An honourable exception is Mr. Higginson, whose “ Tariffs at Work" is an interesting and illuminating introduction to the subject.
results contemplated are in dissonance with these assumptions, but he cannot directly attack the validity of political ideals, however little he may himself be in sympathy with them. I hope, therefore, that this book may be read, not with the aim of discovering the author's attitude towards “the Fiscal Question," but with the recollection of the true object of the study in view-namely, the examination of the technical problems which the existence of tariffs necessarily brings with it.
2. In writing this book, I have had to face two sets of difficulties. In the first place, it has not always been easy to differentiate between a critical survey of the ground and a mere description of the institutions actually at work, comparatively treated. Thus, I have had to resist the temptation to rewrite the tariff history of the nineteenth century, though the temptation to adopt a chronological basis was at times great. In certain cases, as in the treatment of the colonial tariff policy of different Powers, an historical description seemed unavoidable. But in general I have selected illustrations without overmuch reference to time and place, as it suited the general scope of the subject. I make no apology for the introduction of what may appear at first sight an excessive amount of illustrative material. Though tariffs represent, perhaps, the most plentiful result of economic legislation, the collation of forms appeared to be indispensable. There has been far too much talk of tariffs in the abstract in this country already. The only way of giving the reader a sense of the great complexity of the subject was to give him the opportunity of judging the “raw material ” for himself. My main trouble was not the paucity of the material, but the necessity for selection.
3. The second difficulty was the question to what extent this book should deal with current topics of interest. I finally decided that it was desirable, as far as possible, to include matters of current concern. But I take this opportunity
of saying that it was not my intention to give a complete record of current events. Apart from the difficulty of doing so objectively, it would have been a departure from my main object, which was a description of tariffs in general. The current sources of information are easily accessible to all serious students, and my main effort has been to link up the present problems with tariff technology generally.
4. It is unnecessary at this stage to attempt to summarise the net results of the survey. One word may be permitted me however. The most casual reading of the book will be sufficient to justify the statement that there is no stage in the chain of events which leads from the legislative inception of the tariff down to the practical administration of its details which does not reveal unsuspected difficulties of choice between alternatives. The resolution of these difficulties is made easier by a consideration of the development of the tariff in the recent past. Without in any way committing oneself to the protectionist point of view, it is clear that if the United Kingdom ever adopts the principle of protection there are certain solutions which, on technical grounds, are not acceptable. Thus, the choice between specific and ad valorem duties has been, I venture to think, definitely determined in favour of the former. In the same way, there is simply no question as to the necessity for specialisation or differentiation between different grades of the same commodity. The naive idea of the uniform rate on simple categories, such as the “ Tariff Reformers' ” have so long been advocating, is quite untenable in view of the historical evolution through which the tariffs of other countries have gone. In the same way, I have tried to show that the demand for a Scientific Tariff involves very difficult questions of political and administrative expediency which cannot be shirked without possible disappointment to all concerned. Further, I have tried to show that the “ unlimited” or “ unconditional ” form of the MostFavoured-Nation Clause is quite capable of rational defence,
even on the assumption that in general a policy of protection is desirable.
5. One other remark in this connection may be permitted. At the moment of writing, there seems a growing agitation in favour of a “sliding scale" of duties in order to check
exchange dumping." The history of the sliding scale on wheat throws some light upon the difficulties of administering such a scale without increasing the very fluctuations it is desired to avoid. A fuller acquaintance with the past history of sliding scales would, I think, have modified the strength of the demand for their re-introduction.1
6. It is left for me to make grateful acknowledgments to Prof. A. J. Sargent, who has been good enough to read the whole book in MS., with the exception of the section dealing with Revenue Duties, and whose comments have been of the greatest value to me. Dr. Hugh Dalton has assisted the argument with criticism at several points. Those who know Mr. Headicar's grasp of the official and other literature stored in the Library of the School of Economics will realise what his help has meant in the accumulation of material. My thanks go to Miss H. Vernon-Jones for indexing the book.
THE LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE,
Clare MARKET, KINGSWAY, W.C. 2,
February 21st, 1921.
1 These difficulties have proved great enough to prevent the incorporation of the principle in the new Industries Preservation Bill, now passing its final parliamentary stages (August, 1921).