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´╗┐Title: Letter to the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Melbourne on the Cause of the Higher Average Price of Grain in Britain than on the the Continent
Author: Grant-Suttie, George, 1797-1878
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Libraries.)



LETTER
TO
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
LORD VISCOUNT MELBOURNE,
ON THE CAUSE OF THE
HIGHER AVERAGE PRICE OF GRAIN
IN
BRITAIN THAN ON THE CONTINENT.

By SIR GEORGE GRANT SUTTIE,
BARONET, OF PRESTON GRANGE.

EDINBURGH:
PUBLISHED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS.
1839.

EDINBURGH:
Printed by Andrew Shortrede, Thistle Lane.



LETTER.


The average price of grain in Britain has, for a long series of years,
been higher than in the neighbouring countries of Europe. It is of the
utmost importance to ascertain the cause or causes of this higher price.
The following appear to be the principal:--1st, Scarcity, the effect of
monopoly; 2d, The higher rate of taxation in this than in the
neighbouring nations; 3d, The higher rate of the real wages of labour in
this than in the other countries of Europe.

If it can be proved, that the first is the only cause of the higher
average price of grain in Britain, there can be no doubt that it is the
interest of every class in the community to have it removed: If the
second cause, the higher rate of taxation in Britain, has the slightest
influence on the price of grain, the question assumes a very different
aspect: And if the third cause, the higher real wages of labour in
Britain, has any connection whatever with the higher average price of
grain in Britain, the question of the Corn Laws would then evidently
connect itself with the best interests of the country. Those who
advocate the abolition of the Corn Laws, assume it to be proved, that
the higher average price of grain in Britain arises from scarcity, the
effect of monopoly: as, therefore, the cause of the higher price of
grain in Britain would be removed by the abolition of the Corn Laws,
they assert that the price here would be brought nearly to a level with
the price on the Continent, and that the evils which they consider
Britain labours under from a scarcity of food would be removed. Now, I
believe it will be admitted, that at no period of the history of Britain
has the average price of grain so far exceeded the price on the
Continent as during the present century; and I think it will also be
admitted, that at no period of the history of Britain, or of any other
nation, has so rapid an increase taken place in the amount of the
population, in the wealth, and, above all, in the amount of taxation
actually levied from the people. The state of the case is this: It is
asserted, that, for the last thirty-eight years, the inhabitants of
Britain have been labouring under the evil effects of a scarcity of
food, as proved by the higher average price of grain in Britain, when
compared with the price on the Continent. During the same period, the
population has increased in a greater degree than during any former
period; and the wealth of the country has increased to such an extent as
to excite the wonder and envy of the world; and the substantial nature
of this wealth is proved by the amount of the revenue raised from it by
taxation, greatly exceeding the revenue of any other country. This view
of the question must, I think, dispose any dispassionate person to
doubt, that an absolute scarcity of food for the last thirty-eight years
in Britain has been the sole cause of the higher average price of grain
during that period. In order to prove that a certain effect is produced
by a given cause, it is desirable to shew, that the same effect could
consider how far the higher average price of grain in Britain may arise
from the other two causes. I think it is admitted, even by those who
advocate the abolition of the Corn Laws, that the price of grain is
influenced by taxation in the same way, but only to the same extent, as
the price of manufactures. They admit that the wages of the labourers
must be increased in proportion to the increase by taxation on the price
of commodities consumed by them; and the great leading cause of
complaint at the present moment on the part of the abolitionists and
manufacturers, is, that in all articles requiring much manual labour,
Britain is at present, and must continue to be, undersold in future by
the cheaper labour of the Continent. Now, it will not be denied, that
manual labour enters to an infinitely greater extent into the production
of food than into the production of any other manufacture. If, therefore
the manufacturers complain, with justice, that the higher rate of
taxation, by raising wages, prevents them from competing with
continental manufacturers, the same argument applies to the
agriculturist, only with infinitely greater force, in proportion to the
trifling assistance which machinery has as yet afforded to manual labour
in the production of food. The whole population of Britain would not be
able to do for the manufacturers in a year what the steam engine does
for them in a day; but coal, the food, or moving power of the steam
engine is absolutely cheaper in Britain than in any country in the
world. If it is admitted that the higher rate of taxation has any
influence whatever in raising or maintaining the price of grain in this
country, it must also be admitted, that some degree of protection is
just and necessary. With respect to the higher real wages of labour, if
there should appear the slightest ground for thinking that a higher rate
of real wages has any tendency to raise or maintain the average price of
grain in Britain above the average price of the Continent, any attempt
to reduce that price by enabling foreign grain to supplant that of
British growth in the home market, must be deprecated as an experiment
of the most dangerous nature for the labouring classes of the community.
I am aware that I am not entitled to assume, that the real wages of
Britain are higher than the real wages of the Continent. Those who
advocate abolition of the Corn Laws, point unceasingly to the difference
in price between the principal continental markets, such as Hamburgh,
Danzig, Berlin, and this country. I might, in the same way, point to the
wages in Britain as being at least four times the wages of these
countries; but neither would be a fair mode of arriving at the true
state of the case. Divide the quarter of wheat, at the average price of
each country, by the wages of each country, that will give the real
wages of each. Fortunately, Mr Jacob's report on the Corn Trade affords
the most satisfactory means for instituting a comparison both as to the
price of grain and the rate of real wages _in Britain and in those
countries_. From his report it appears that the average price of the
quarter of wheat for five years, ending with 1824, was 27s. in Prussia.
The average price of Britain was, for the same period, 55s. The wages of
Prussia are stated to be 2s. 6d. per week, and of Britain, 10s. per
week. The real wages, therefore, the quantity of wheat the labourers
could purchase, was double in Britain what it was in Prussia. In a
national point of view, labour is the true standard of value; if it is
admitted that labour in Britain exchanges for a greater quantity of
grain than it does in Prussia, it follows that grain is cheaper in
Britain.

I shall now advert to what may almost be termed a fourth cause for the
higher average price of grain in Britain--the cultivation of poor land.
This the abolitionists maintain to be the necessary and natural
consequence of monopoly. It would be an arduous task to enumerate all
the pamphlets that have been written to prove the immense extent of poor
lands at present cultivated in Britain, that must be thrown out of
cultivation, in order to supply the labouring population with cheaper
bread. It must be borne in mind that Britain, for the last thirty-eight
years, has been on a starving system, as proved by the higher average
price of grain during that period. The abolitionists being, however, a
little startled at the fact, that a people in a state of starvation, as
compared with Prussia or Poland, should have increased in population, in
wealth, and in the ability to bear taxation, call to their aid the
theory of the cultivation of poor lands. They say the people have not
been absolutely starved, but their food has been raised on poor land by
an immense and unnecessary expenditure of labour, and their infallible
remedy is to throw these poor lands, amounting to a half, a third, or a
fourth of the soils of Britain, according to the theory of the different
writers, out of cultivation. Import, they say, the cheap grain, the
produce of the fertile soils of Prussia and Poland, which being cheaper
must be the produce of much less labour. Though volumes have been
written to prove the evil effects of cultivating the poor soils of
Britain, no one has yet, that I am aware of, devoted a single sentence
to prove the fact. It is much easier to take the fact for granted, and
then proceed to argue on it. The only argument I have ever heard adduced
in favour of the theory, that poorer lands are cultivated in Britain
than in Prussia or elsewhere, is, that the average price of grain is
higher; but I never can admit the force of an argument deduced from such
premises as these, that corn is high because poor land is cultivated,
and that poor land is cultivated because corn is high.

I shall now proceed to state a few facts taken from Mr Jacob's report,
which prove the very reverse to be the truth. I may begin by observing,
that to any one who has travelled over the north of Germany or Poland,
any argument to prove that poorer land is cultivated in these countries
than in Britain is superfluous--the general aspect of these countries
being that of a sandy desert. Mr Jacob states, that the land in Prussia
is cultivated by a class of persons in some respects slaves, and, in
most respects, but little removed from that state; and that there is no
class in this country with whom their condition can be compared. He
states, that the average return of wheat, oats, barley, and rye, is four
for one--in Britain the same average is, at least, eight for one. He
states, that the stock of sheep and cattle, in proportion to the
surface, will be at least four times greater in Britain than in Prussia.
In a country such as Britain, maintaining four times the number of
cattle, and giving double the return of grain per acre, it is rather too
much to assume, without even an attempt at inquiry, that an immense
extent of poor and unprofitable land is cultivated. The cultivation of
poorer land in Britain than in other countries, being the key-stone of
the arch on which such a mass of argument rests, it seems most strange
that no attempt should ever have been made to establish the fact. The
higher price of grain may so clearly be produced by other causes besides
monopoly, and the consequent cultivation of poorer land, that the
abolitionists were bound to prove monopoly to be the sole agent. So far
from doing this, many of their own champions admit the force of other
causes, as being most efficient in maintaining the higher averages of
grain in Britain. Colonel Torrance, who, I believe, is considered a high
authority with the abolitionists, states, that if, by taxing our land,
we increase the expense of growing corn at home beyond the expense of
producing it in other countries, our prices will be higher than theirs.
In this opinion I fully agree with Colonel Torrance, though I do as
decidedly differ in an opinion he states immediately preceding that
above quoted, where he asserts that the happiest consequences follow
from leaving importation free. When what he terms artificial sterility
is produced by the pressure of taxation on the land, the Colonel does
not explain, in his elaborate work, how, if the cause of higher price is
taxation, the same amount of taxation is to be paid by the land, when
the value of its produce is reduced from the effects of importation. But
even if we admit that a great reduction in the value of the agricultural
produce in Britain would not make it more difficult to collect the
immense revenue required by this country, still the debt is considered
to press with sufficient weight on the energies of the country as it is.
As a permanent reduction in the value of the agricultural produce of
Britain would give the national creditor the power to purchase a much
larger quantity of it than he now enjoys, to that extent it would
increase the pressure of the debt, by adding most materially to its real
value. In short, the British labourer consumes, or has the power of
consuming, at least double the quantity of wheat that a Prussian or
Polish labourer has. The soil of Britain, in proportion to its
cultivated surface, produces double the quantity of grain, and maintains
four times the number of cattle that is maintained by the land in
Prussia or Poland. Taxation is admitted by all to raise the money price
of grain; and, according to Colonel Torrance, taxation will even produce
artificial sterility in land. The amount of the population engaged in
British agriculture is less in proportion to the amount engaged in
trade and manufactures than in any country in the world, yet this small
proportion of the people of Britain raises a larger supply of food for
the whole population than is enjoyed by any nation of similar magnitude:
the whole population consume, or has the power of consuming, double the
quantity of food that the Poles or Prussians have.

From these facts it is evident that the food of Britain is produced by
much less labour than the food of Poland or Prussia. Indeed, if this was
not the case, how could the immense population engaged in manufactures,
and concentrated in the large cities of the empire, be supported? I
hold, therefore, that I am justified in asserting that the higher rate
of taxation in Britain, and the higher rate of real wages, have a very
powerful influence in maintaining the higher average price of grain in
Britain as estimated in money; that the theory of the cultivation of
poorer land in Britain than in the countries from which it is proposed
we should obtain our supplies of grain, is utterly without foundation in
fact; and that, on the contrary, the agricultural produce of Britain is
the result of less labour than in the neighbouring countries of Europe;
that labour in Britain produces more grain, and also exchanges for more.
It therefore follows, that the mode of introducing foreign corn into
this country ought to be regulated so as not to interfere with the
extension of cultivation in Britain, or to prevent the produce from
increasing, as it has hitherto done, in proportion to the increase of
the population.


EDINBURGH:

Printed by ANDREW SHORTREDE, Thistle Lane.





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