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RIGHT HON. FREDERICK J. ROBINSON,
PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE;
THE PRESENT DEPRESSED STATE OF
IN WHICH THE FOLLOWING POINTS ARE DISCUSSED
The excess of agricultural produce, which is supposed to exist over the average of former years.
The diminution which is said to have taken place in the consumption of this produce.
The effect produced on the price of British grain by the importation of foreign corn.
The expediency of prohibiting this importation.
The advantages to be expected from the imposition of an importation duty, on a scale regulated by the gradations in the price of British produce.
ON THE PRESENT DEPRESSED STATE OF
PERMIT me to submit to your consideration, as a member of the committee appointed to investigate the present depressed state of agriculture, a few observations on this important subject, which seem to me at least to merit attention.
With respect to the existence of that distress which now presses upon the agricultural part of the community no difference of opinion can, I conceive, exist with respect to its extent, and the disastrous consequences which must result from it, if not removed, there appears also to be a general concurrence of opinion among those, who, from their situation, possess the best means of obtaining information on the subject. But although there is a pretty general agreement in the sentiments entertained as to the existence and extent of this distress, yet when an attempt is made to investigate its causes, and to point out remedies by which it may be removed, or at least alleviated, there appears to be as many opinions as there are men to form and maintain them.
A few years back the difficulties of the community in general were ascribed exclusively to the sudden transition which had then recently taken place, from the active and wasteful operations of war to the quiet pursuits and economical habits of peace; there were many who seemed to be of opinion, that a man carrying a pike or musket must have consumed a much larger portion of the necessaries of life than would be required for the sustenance of the same individual handling a pick-axe or a spade.
But when it was at length discovered that the effect did not cease within the reasonable time during which such a cause might be supposed to operate, it became necessary to examine the subject again with more care and attention, and to find out some other cause to which the difficulties, which still continued to be felt, might be ascribed and the same individuals who had once deceived themselves and others, nothing daunted by their previous disappointment, would now persuade the public to believe that they have at last discovered the true reasons which have occasioned the depreciation which has taken place in the money price of agricultural produce, and involved the grower in the difficulties which are now ready to crush him.
There is, however, hardly any conceivable ground of embarrassment which has not been advanced, by turns, as the cause of the difficulties against which the occupiers of land are at present forced to contend. One party maintains that they are to be ascribed principally, if not exclusively, to an excess of produce over the average of former years. Supported by a document (see end of the pamphlet) which proves, beyond dispute, that the consumption of every article subject to excise duties-that the consumption of beer, of spirits, of wine, of tea, of candles, of sugar, &c.-between the month of January, 1820, and the month of January, 1821, has been larger than the average consumption of the same articles in any of the three preceding years, they infer, and it must be acknowledged with much apparent justice, that if the consumption of these articles, of which alone an account can be obtained, has increased, an equal increase must have taken place in the consumption of wheat, of which no account can be procured. If the consumption of beer has increased it does certainly appear an inference which cannot be resisted, that the consumption of barley, from which beer is made, must have increased in a proportionate ratio; and if more beer and barley are found to have been consumed in any given period than in any preceding period of equal duration, it is impossible not to conclude, that if an account could have been taken, of the quantity of wheat consumed within the same period, a similar increase of consumption would be found to have taken place.
This reasoning must be acknowledged to be perfectly conclusive against those who maintain that the distress which presses upon agriculture arises from a diminished consumption. The party which holds this singular opinion asserts that the consumption of agricultural produce has materially decreased during the last three years, compared with that of the three preceding years, and that the reduction which has taken place in the money price of
corn, as well as meat, is not to be ascribed either to an excess of home produce, or to the importation of foreign corn, but to the diminution of demand produced by a diminished scale of consumption. They maintain, if I understand them correctly, that the quantity of wheat and other agricultural produce consumed in the year 1820, was less than the quantity of the same articles consumed in the year 1815, 1816, or 1817; and that the present low money price, which the corn grower obtains for his produce, is the effect, not of an excessive supply, but of a diminution in the demand. The statement, however, argued upon by the advocates of excessive supply, seems to render it indisputable that there has been a greater actual consumption of every article which may be eaten or drank in the year 1820, than the average of the preceding years which it embraces; it must therefore absolutely destroy the assumption of those who assert, that the difficulties which press upon agriculture arise from a lessened demand for its produce. It is perfectly clear that the consumption of agricultural produce has not diminished-nay, that it has even increased; some other cause must therefore exist for the difficulties in which the agriculturist is at present involved.
Assuming it then as a fact placed beyond the reach of cavil- by the document laid on the table of the House of Lords, to show the consumption of articles subject to excise duties, and to which I have already alluded-that the consumption of agricultural produce has increased in England since the close of the year 1818; does it therefore follow, that the difficulties of the agriculturist arise from an excess of production, and that the quantity of British agricultural produce consumed in the year ending the 5th January, 1820, must have increased in a proportion equal to the increase of the duties levied on exciseable articles? Does it follow, that because the agriculture of this country is in a depressed state, and because there was a greater consumption of agricultural produce in the year ending in the 5th January, 1821, than the average consumption of any one of the three preceding years, the difficulties of the agriculturists must therefore arise from an excess of production? Undoubtedly such a conclusion does not follow from these premises when granted in their fullest extent. To prove this fact it would be necessary to show, not only that an increase has taken place in the consumption of agricultural produce, but to prove farther, that the articles consumed were of home production; for although an increased consumption, when proved to exist, will prove the existence of an increase of the whole produce brought to the market-still this fact will by no means show what portion of this produce is of British growth, and what portion is of foreign importation. It must be evident, that while foreign corn may be imported, the
whole consumption of wheat in England may be doubled, while the portion, which is of home production may be reduced one half. The agriculturists, in fact, do not contend that consumption has not increased; they acknowledge that it has increased, but they contend that although the consumption of agricultural produce has increased much, still the quantity of this produce in the British market has increased more. They contend farther, that this increase in the quantity of agricultural produce consumed in England, in the year 1820, did not arise from an excess of the average home production, but from an excessive increase in the quantity of foreign corn imported during that and the previous year.
Those who maintain that the difficulties of the land-occupier, arise from an excessive supply of agricultural produce, proceed in their reasoning in this manner:-"We have proved by a document of unquestionable authority, that during the year 1820, an increase has taken place in the consumption of exciseable articles; and from this increase we infer that a proportionable increase has taken place in the consumption of corn; as the depreciation, which has taken place in the value of corn, does not proceed as some imagine, from a diminution of demand, it must therefore proceed from an excessive supply: your produce then being depreciated in value, because the supply of corn exceeds the demand for it, the only method of remedying this evil is to lessen the quantity which you grow, or to consider the excess of the quantity which you have to sell as an equivalent for the reduction which has taken place in its money price." To this the agriculturists reply-That they acknowledge the depreciation in the money value of corn to proceed from an excess of supply, but they maintain that this excess of supply is not of home growth, that it is entirely of foreign production. They assert, that the quantity of corn grown in England, in the year 1820, did not exceed an average crop. They prove that a large increase has taken place in the quantity of foreign wheat imported during that and the previous year; and having proved this, they assert that the excess of supply, which was naturally followed by an excess of consumption in 1820, was entirely and exclusively of foreign growth: they therefore conclude, that the depreciation which has taken place in the money price of home agricultural produce, has been brought about solely by the importation of foreign corn. Having thus, as they conceive, pointed out the cause of the distress of which they complain, and the existence of which is universally acknowledged, they petition for the removal of the cause which has produced this distress. They demand of the legislature, the prohibition-or at least the further restriction-of the importation