CONSIDERATIONS ON THE CORN LAWS.
By what causes the necessaries of life have risen to a price, at which a great part of the people are unable to procure them, how the present scarcity may be remedied, and calamities of the same kind may, for the future, be prevented, is an inquiry of the first importance; an inquiry, before which all the considerations which commonly busy the legislature vanish from the view.
The interruption of trade, though it may distress part of the community, leaves the rest power to communicate relief: the decay of one manufacture may be compensated by the advancement of another: a defeat may be repaired by victory: a rupture with one nation may be balanced by an alliance with another. These are partial and slight misfortunes, which leave us still in the possession of our chief comforts. They may lop some of our superfluous pleasures, and repress some of our exorbitant hopes; but we may still retain the essential part of civil and of private happiness–the security of law, and the tranquillity of content. They are small obstructions of the stream, which raise a foam and noise, where they happen to be found, but, at a little distance, are neither seen nor felt, and suffer the main current to pass forward in its natural course.
But scarcity is an evil that extends at once to the whole community: that neither leaves quiet to the poor, nor safety to the rich; that, in its approaches, distresses all the subordinate ranks of mankind; and, in its extremity, must subvert government, drive the populace upon their rulers, and end in bloodshed and massacre. Those who want the supports of life will seize them wherever they can be found. If in any place there are more than can be fed, some must be expelled, or some must be destroyed.
Of this dreadful scene there is no immediate danger; but there is already evil sufficient to deserve and require all our diligence and all our wisdom. The miseries of the poor are such as cannot easily be borne; such as have already incited them, in many parts of the kingdom, to an open defiance of government, and produced one of the greatest of political evils–the necessity of ruling by immediate force.
Caesar declared, after the battle of Munda, that he had often fought for victory, but that he had, that day, fought for life. We have often deliberated, how we should prosper; we are now to inquire, how we shall subsist.
The present scarcity is imputed, by some, to the bounty for exporting corn, which is considered as having a necessary and perpetual tendency to pour the grain of this country into other nations.
This position involves two questions: whether the present scarcity has been caused by the bounty? and whether the bounty is likely to produce scarcity in future times?
It is an uncontroverted principle, that “sublata causa tollitur effectus;” if, therefore, the effect continues when the supposed cause has ceased, that effect must be imputed to some other agency.
The bounty has ceased, and the exportation would still continue, if exportation were permitted. The true reason of the scarcity is the failure of the harvest; and the cause of exportation is the like failure in other countries, where they grow less, and where they are, therefore, always nearer to the danger of want.
This want is such, that in countries where money is at a much higher value than with us, the inhabitants are yet desirous to buy our corn at a price to which our own markets have not risen.
If we consider the state of those countries, which, being accustomed to buy our corn cheaper than ourselves, when it was cheap, are now reduced to the necessity of buying it dearer than ourselves, when it is dear, we shall yet have reason to rejoice in our own exemption from the extremity of this wide-extended calamity; and, if it be necessary, to inquire why we suffer scarcity, it may be fit to consider, likewise, why we suffer yet less scarcity than our neighbours.