« AnteriorContinuar »
When they have corn equal to their wants, or more, the bounty has no effect : for they will not buy what they do not want, unless our exuberance be such as tempts them to store it for another year. This case must suppose that our produce is redundant and useless to ourselves ; and therefore the profit of exportation produces no inconvenience.
When they want corn, they must buy of us, and buy at a higher price : in this case, if we have corn more than enough for ourselves, we are again benefited by supplying them.
But they may want when we have no superfluity. When our markets rise, the bounty ceases; and therefore produces no evil. They cannot buy our corn but at an higher rate than it is sold at home. If their necessities, as now has happened, force them to give an higher price, that event is no longer to be charged upon the bounty. We may then stop our corn in our ports, and pour it back upon our own markets.
It is in all cases to be considered, what events are physical and certain, and what are political and arbitrary
The first effect of the bounty is the encrease of agriculture, and by consequence the promotion of plenty This is an effect physically good, and morally certain. While men are desirous to be rich, where there is profit there will be diligence. If much corn can be sold, much will be raised.
The second effect of the bounty is the diminution by exportation of that product which it occasioned. But this effect is political and arbitrary : we have it wholly in our own hands : we can prescribe its limits, and regulate its quantity. Whenever we
feel want, or fear it, we retain our corn, and feed ourselves upon that which was sown and raised to feed other nations.
It is perhaps impossible for human wisdom to go further, than to contrive a law of which the good is certain and uniform, and the evil, though possible in itself, yet always subject to certain and effectual restraints.
This is the true state of the bounty upon corn : it certainly and necessarily encreases our crops, and can never lessen them but by our own permission.
That, notwithstanding the bounty, there have been from time to time years of scarcity, cannot be denied. But who can regulate the seasons ? In the dearest years we owe to the bounty that they have not been dearer. We must always suppose part of our ground sown for our own consumption, and part in hope of a foreign sale. The time sometimes comes, when the product of all this land is scarcely sufficient : but if the whole be too little, how great would have been the deficiency, if we had sown only that part which was designed for ourselves.
“ But perhaps, if exportation were less encouraged, the superfluous stores of plentiful years might be laid up by the farmer against years of scarcity.”
This may be justly answered by affirming, that, if exportation were discouraged, we should have no years of plenty. Cheapness is produced by the possibility of dearness. Our farmers at present plough and sow with the hope that some country will always be in want, and that they shall grow rich by supplying. Indefinite hopes are always carried by the frailty of human nature beyond reason. While therefore exportation is encouraged, as much corn
will be raised as the farmer can hope to sell, and therefore generally more than can be sold at the price of which he dreamed, when he ploughed and sowed.
The greatest part of our corn is well known to be raised by those who pay rent for the ground which they employ, and of whom few can bear to delay the sale of one year's produce to another.
It is therefore vain to hope that large stocks of grain will ever remain in private hands : he that has not sold the corn of last year will with diffidence and reluctance till his field again : the accumulation of a few years would end in a vacation of agriculture, and the husbandman would apply himself to some more profitable calling.
If the exportation of corn were totally prohibited, the quantity possible to be consumed among us would be quickly known, and being known, would rarely be exceeded : for why should corn be gathered which cannot be sold? We should therefore have little superfluity in the most favourable seasons; for the farmer, like the rest of mankind, acts in hope of success, and the harvest seldom outgoes the expectation of the spring. But for droughts or blights, we should never be provided ; any intemperature of seasons would reduce us to distress, which we now only read of in our histories : what is now scarcity, would then be famine.
What would be caused by prohibiting exportation, will be caused in a less degree by obstructing it, and in some degree by every deduction of encouragement: as we lessen hope, we shall lessen labour ; as we lessen labour, we shall lessen plenty.
It must always be steadily remembered, that the good of the bounty is certain, and evil avoidable : that by the hope of exportation corn will be encreased, and that this encrease may be kept at home.
Plenty can only be produced by encouraging agriculture; and agriculture can be encouraged only by making it gainful. No influence can dispose the farmer to sow what he cannot sell; and if he is not to have the chance of scarcity in his favour, he will take care that there never shall be plenty.
The truth of these principles our ancestors discovered by reason, and the French have now found it by experience. In this regulation we have the honour of being masters to those, who, in commercial policy, have been long accounted the masters of the world. Their prejudices, their emulation, and their vanity, have at last submitted to learn of us how to ensure the bounties of nature ; and it forms a strange vicissitude of opinions, that should incline us to repeal the law which our rivals are adopting.
It may be speciously enough proposed, that the bounty should be discontinued sooner. Of this every man will have his own opinion; which, as no general principles can reach it, will always seem to him more reasonable than that of another. This is a question of which the state is always changing with time and place, and which it is therefore very difficult to state or to discuss.
It may however be considered, that the change of old establishments is always an evil; and that therefore, where the good of the change is not certain and constant, it is better to preserve that reverence and that confidence which is produced by consistency of conduct and permanency of laws.
That, since the bounty was so fixed, the price of money has been much diminished : so that the bounty does not operate so far as when it was first fixed, but the price at which it ceases, though nominally the same, has, in effect and in reality, gradually diminished.
It is difficult to discover any reason why that bounty, which has produced so much good, and has hitherto produced no harm, should be withdrawn or abated. It is possible, that if it were reduced lower, it would still be the motive of agriculture, and the cause of plenty ; but why we should desert experience for conjecture, and exchange a known for a possible good, will not easily be discovered. If by a balance of probabilities, in which a grain of dust may turn the scale-or by a curious scheme of calculation, in which, if one postulate in a thousand be erroneous, the deduction which promises plenty may end in famine ;-if, by a specious mode of uncertain ratiocination, the critical point at which the bounty should stop, might seem to be discovered : I shall still continue to believe that it is more safe to trust what we have already tried ; and cannot but think bread a product of too much importance to be made the sport of subtilty, and the topick of hypothetical disputation.
The advantage of the bounty is evident and irrefragable. Since the bounty was given, multitudes eat wheat who did not eat it before, and yet the price of wheat has abated. What more is to be hoped from any change of practice ? An alteration cannot make our condition better, and is therefore very likely to make it worse.