AN OUTCOME OF PROTECTION
Victorian Ministers seem to be driven to their wits’ end to justify or palliate the extreme measures to which their Protectionist policy has driven them. Slowly it is dawning upon them that it is possible to have too much of a good thing; but their supporters are naturally greedy for more, for Protection, like other evil weeds, “grows by what it feeds on.” Recently the Chief Secretary (Mr Deakin) unburdened his mind on the subject at a “ banquet ” of the Locomotive Engineers, Drivers, and Fire-
men’s Association in Melbourne. It was certainly after dinner that he spoke; but then we all know the old proverb —ln vino veritas. A greater number of contradictory inconsistencies were surely never strung together in a single speech. The Parliament has evidently gone farther on the down-hill track of Protection than Mr Deakin or his Ministry approve. Whether the great egg question was rankling in his mind, or the contemplation of future enhanced prices for bread and horse feed troubled him, is uncertain; but something of the kind must have been in his thoughts, for he spoke discouragingly of the increased protection accorded to the agricultural interest. “It was,” he said, “ a new “ application of doctrine to learn “ that Protection was asked for, not “against the cheap labor of the Old “ World, but against the well paid “ labor of neighbors across the border.” He might have added neighbors across the sea; for New Zealand is equally interested with the other Australasian colonies in this matter. He found, however, a remarkable solace in the consideration that “the imposition of duties on agricultural “ produce would prove but a ,tem- “ porary benefit to the farmer.” And again: “It appeared to him inevitable “ that the internal competition within “ their own (Victorian) borders would, “ in a short time, reduce the prices of “agricultural products, so that the “ farmers would find they had reaped “ but a temporary benefit; and by the “ imposition of duties on these articles “ they endangered other markets which “they possessed across the borders.” If there is any principle at all involved in Protection, what is true of one industry must hold good of all. It follows that protected manufacturers also can only expect a temporary benefit ; and, indeed, factories are already being closed in Victoria because of the losses incurred through excessive competition. Here, then, Mr Deakin and his co-Protectionists find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. His argument amounts to this: Protection will temporarily increase prices; increased prices will cause increased production; and increased production will bring prices down again. Who will be the gainer, or what will be the ultimate benefit to the State from this unnatural, feverish, forcing policy ? But this is not all There is the question of wages to be considered. Mr Deakin managed to still further entangle himself when he tried and failed —to elucidate this problem. He justified the imposition of “ duties which would maintain the “ higher prices when it was shown that “ the prices were occasioned by the “ higher wages paid.” And in absolute contradiction to this he declared that “it could be readily shown that protective duties would lower prices” But remembering, perhaps, what company he was in, he added: “At the same time, he desired no decrease in the rate of wages.” This is a fair sample of the illogical clap-trap indulged in by the Protectionists. Mr Deakin seems to have a glimmering of the fact that wages and prices must always bear a corresponding relation to each other. Both are high, or both are low, as the case may be. It cannot be otherwise, because high wages compel high prices, or production ceases. The question is not how many coins of nominal value a man gets for his labor, but how much he can obtain for them. A sovereign or a shilling, like everything else, is worth just what it will fetch. It is, therefore, a manifest absurdity to talk of keeping wages up and bringing prices down. But Mr Deakin not only expects to perform this impossible feat, but uses the plea of high wages in justification of high prices resulting from the imposition of protective duties ; and in almost the same breath declares that protective duties will lower prices. In which case, what becomes of his argument? Why the farmers should always be ignored in the consideration of fiscal questions it is not easy to understand, except that they are the most easygoing and least troublesome class in the community. In England they were sacrificed to Freetrade, and in the colonies they are sacrificed to Protection. The motive in both cases was and is the same. Cheap food is a prime necessary of life. And this explains the position in Victoria. All trades and manufactures were extensively protected, but the agriculturist—the food provider—only to a moderate extent, so as to ensure the Protectionist’s dream of cheap living and high wages—for himself. But at last the farmers mustered up courage enough to demand that they should be placed on an equal footing with mechanics and manufacturers. And during last session they successfully carried their point. Hence these tears. Protection has been extended to its utmost limit ; and the result will be a reduction in the value of the workman’s shilling until at last the increase of production, which Mr Deakin
prophesies will happen, brings clown the price of food again. In the meantime, without the new tariff increased rates, wheat is from Is to IsGdperbushel dearer in Melbourne than in Sydney, and flour £2 per ton higher, to say nothing of horse feed, which is proportionately more costly in Victoria than in New South Wales. When the new duties are imposed our Victorian neighbors will begin to understand the beauty of Protection equally applied to all sections of the community. Por, as is, and must necessarily always be, the case, the consumer will have to pay the difference. And those “ other markets,” to which Mr Deakin so feelingly alluded, will be closed more tightly than ever against the Victorian manufacturer.
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AN OUTCOME OF PROTECTION, Evening Star, Issue 8043, 21 October 1889
AN OUTCOME OF PROTECTION Evening Star, Issue 8043, 21 October 1889
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