The Economic History of Steelmaking, 1867-1939: A Study in Competition

By Duncan Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter XII
"THE RIDDLE OF THE TARIFF"

"It is the fashion to make much of the differences among economists", wrote The Times in 1902, supporting, in a leader, Alfred Marshall's plea for an Economics Tripos at Cambridge. "These differences and this uncertainty hide only from the superficial observer the value, indeed the increasing value, of the study of the wealth of nations. Never perhaps were the charlatan, the quack and the adventurer in this field in such force and with such effrontery as now. . . . There is need, as there rarely was before, of a scientific reserve likely to stem rushes of ignorance and enthusiasm, and not to be swept away by popular stampedes."

When after the lapse of a year the chief adventurer was Chamberlain, a different tune was called, and a letter sent to the journal over the signatures of most of the leading British economists (among them the erstwhile "high authority" Marshall), expressing the views that a little tariff would be the prelude to a big one, that tariffs were always associated with political jobbery and corruption, that rising imports do not necessarily mean rising unemployment, and that a food tax would lower real wages, gave occasion for an exhibition of The Times' versatility. "There was really something pathetic in the spectacle of these fourteen dervishes emerging from their caves and chanting in solemn procession their venerable incantations against the rising tide of inquiry." Outside the "charmed circle in which they wield a conventional authority . . . their chief claim to attention was the oddity of their garb and the archaic character of their speech". They were not even "consistent with other very eminent teachers of their science", and "the public were forced to perceive how great a part of political economy consists merely of personal appreciations of complicated phenomena and obscure tendencies". "A more scientific con-

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