Economic Annals of the Nineteenth Century

By William Smart | Go to book overview

specially in cottons and woollens, and that many recently out of employment were now in full work -- in Glasgow, most of the weavers were again engaged.

Finally, Castlereagh adopted Robinson's position that the. political hostility of the honourable and learned gentleman was so mixed up with his commercial propositions -- which, otherwise, the Government would have been very willing to discuss -- that he could not expect from ministers their concurrence in his resolutions, and the orders of the day were read by 118 to 63.1


NOTE ON INDUSTRIAL CYCLES.
It will probably strike the reader that we are, to-day, not very much nearer to any recognised and authoritative explanation of the recurrent "depression of trade" than our ancestors were when this debate took place. I have given considerable space to the discussion which the unexpected economic phenomena of 1817 called forth, and I hope, in future volumes, to follow the same procedure on each recurring depression. Meanwhile it may not be out of place for one who was a manufacturer of the same article, cotton thread, both in free trade England and in protected America, for many years before he became an economist, to state shortly his own explanation.

It is that of Jevons. For want of systematic study of economic history since the "factory system" began, it has never been sufficiently noticed that, during the nineteenth century, industry has described a cyclical movement. A table drawn up by me for the recent Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress shows that, within every ten or eleven years since 1815 -- that is, since England became a manufacturing country and ceased to be affected by the abnormal phenomena attending the great war -- there has been a time of deep depression and a time of active trade, and that the movement between the recurrence of these points has described an almost constant ebb and flow. From 1815 to 1842, the country was trying the great experiment of universal Protection, the difficulty of dealing even-handed favour to differing and often warring interests increasing with each year. Even after Free Trade came, there were disturbances from outside, like the potato and the cotton famine, and from inside, like the banking crises, which

____________________
1
Hansard, xxxv. 1004. In the course of the debate two extraordinary statements were made, one of fact, one of theory. (1) Castlereagh said that very considerable exports had been made to America, where, in consequence, of a distress similar to that which prevailed in Europe, the power of purchasing had diminished, and that the goods, after lying for a while in warehouses, were re-exported to this country. This produced a surplus in the home market and a consequent depression of prices. (2) Finlay, the member for Glasgow, said that the distress did not proceed from a diminished demand for our manufactures. The goods were disposed of, but the evil lay in the low state of wages; for "when prices of labour became thus reduced, the workman found it necessary to work a greater number of hours to enable him to maintain his family; and this additional work threw a new quantity of labour into the market and aggravated the distress." Brougham knew enough of economic science to suggest mildly that the low wage was an effect rather than a cause, and asked if it was not because the exports were sold for little or no profit, or at a loss, that the manufacturer could not afford to pay even moderate wages (ibid.1067, 1064, 1073).

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