The Corn Laws and Social England

The Corn Laws and Social England

The Corn Laws and Social England

The Corn Laws and Social England

Excerpt

Now that it has been decided once again to tax or restrict the nation's bread, it seems not inappropriate to pass in review the circumstances under which in former times such taxes and restrictions were imposed and then repealed. In 1815, as to-day, Parliament feared the open taxation of foreign corn; and continued to fear it, despite the pronouncement, first of Ricardo and then of McCulloch, in favour of a fixed duty. In 1815 they got round the difficulty by a rigid scheme of alternative freedom and prohibition, so that between 1815 and 1828 it is literally true that there was no taxation of bread: instead, there were merely violent and disturbing restrictions on foreign supplies, which had evil repercussions on the export trade and on agriculture itself. In 1828 they still feared direct taxation, employing a sliding scale which appeared to promise free wheat when foreign supply was really needed. They had not thought of the wheat quota then. If they had known it, we may surmise that they would have employed it; because it supplies protectionists with an ingenious weapon for taxing food at the consumer's expense and in the same breath denying that they tax it at all. It would, however, be idle to pretend that the food problem of 1932 closely resembles that of 1842. We are not near to famine. Our need is an increase of industry and trade, which will bring an increase of employment. And if this can be ensured by imperial reciprocity, we are rich enough to pay the tax it may involve. The risk seems to be that by devices such as the quota we shall clog the course of commerce and involve ourselves in some of the hindrances and circumventions that clustered so thickly around the Corn Averages of an earlier day.

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