The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas, et Prevalebit. MONDAY, DECEMBER 12, 1881. Free Trade and Protection.
TOWN EDITION. [issued at 4. CO p.rh.j
The boast of those who are advocates of what is called “ Protection to native industry,” that they have made and are making numerous converts to their views in the Australasian colonies, is a well-grounded one. The alteration may be for the worse, but there it is. The latest illustration of this change of sentiment is that of Mr Ballance, who has lately publicly avowed himself a Protectionist, though until recently, a Free Trader. Now Mr Ballance is not an eminent statesman, but even a straw will indicate in which way the wind is blowing. And it is a phenomenon which is well worthy of attention that in any British community there should be at least within the lifetime of a veneration, which has known the discussions on the repeal of the Corn Laws in England, a change of opinion in that direction. It seems very much like a change of sentiment with regard to the i applicability of the law of gravitation to a newly-peopled colony. And yet this, like every other aberration of the human intellect, has jts explanation. First' of all, the phrase “ protection to native industry,” though a complete misnomer, is a very attractive title, and, Miss Juliet’s opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, there is a good deal in a name. Lord Beaconfield’s friends, Tadpole and Taper, were, quite right in the importance they attached at election time to a good popu lar cry. At least half the electors on the rolls never go further than that in deciding how to act. 1 hey are not likely to consider that all the protection that industry requires, protection from external violence, is already afforded by our army, navy, and police force. What is really done by that which is falsely called protection to native industry is the imposition of taxes on the industry of the large part of the community in order to increase the earnings of the smaller part. Our farmers, squatters, and miners cannot by any conceivable process get their industry protected, which means subsidised by taxation, because if import duties of 1,000 per cent, were imposed on all the foreign wheat, oats, wool, and gold we import, these classes in the community would not be a penny the richer. What would really denote that which is done by the imposition of protective duties is subsidising of the mdustty of incompetent at tizans at the expense of the competent. We do not use the word incompetent in any opprobrious sense, but merely as denoting those who are not competent unaided to bring to market the particular produce they think they excel in making at a rate which will yield them a living. To confound the “ protection ” which they require at the hands of the State with the protection of a child by its parents, is, as we have seen, a complete confusion of ideas. The correct and exact analogy is that of teaching men to swim by the aid of corks. It has been urged quite lately by the converts to the so-called protectionist views that all the other great civilised nations of the whole world, the United States of America, and many of the British colonies as well, have adopted the new programme, or
adhered to it as an old one. This is quite true, but there is a very good reason for it. In all the old countries of the world, and in the United States fiscal questions are not regarded as they are in Great Britain as mere questions of fiscal science, of what will bring in most revenue and least interference with the financial progress of their own respective countries. Elsewhere another question is always in the back ground, and that is what import and export duties will most injure their neighbors. The defence of their own territory from encroachment, and the power of increasing it by aggressions on their neighbors have quite as much to do with the duties imposed as the mere requirements of the State in the way of revenue. Whatever weakens a neighbor is regarded as so much gained, and to the good. In the colonies, on the other hand, another motive, but also a selfish one, interferes with some fiscal arrangements. The desire to be particularly “ smart,” and to gain some special advantage at the expense of those engaged in some other trade, and particularly at the expense of that unknown and unloved person—-the foreigner or British exporter —increases even the delight at the acquisition of special gains by the policy of the State. In Great Britain, and in Great Britain alone among the larger States of the civilised world— Turkey being left out of the question, as a power more Asiatic than European—the sound and cosmopolitan doctrine prevails that trade is a matter of mutual advantage in the long run, that what benefits the buyer benefits the seller, and that the converse of this is equally true.