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The Grounds of an Opinion on the Policy of Restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn: intended as an appendix to "Observations on the corn laws"   By: (1766-1834)

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The Grounds of an Opinion on the Policy of Restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn; intended as an Appendix to "Observations on the Corn Law"

by the Rev. T.R. Malthus,

Professor of History and Political Economy in the East India College, Hertfordshire.

London: Printed for John Murray, Albermarle Street, and J. Johnson and Co., St. Paul's Church Yard, 1815.

Grounds, &c.

The professed object of the Observations on the Corn Laws, which I published in the spring of 1814, was to state with the strictest impartiality the advantages and disadvantages which, in the actual circumstances of our present situation, were likely to attend the measures under consideration, respecting the trade in corn.

A fair review of both sides of the question, without any attempt to conceal the peculiar evils, whether temporary or permanent, which might belong to each, appeared to me of use, not only to assist in forming an enlightened decision on the subject, but particularly to prepare the public for the specific consequences which were to be expected from that decision, on whatever side it might be made. Such a preparation, from some quarter or other, seemed to be necessary, to prevent those just discontents which would naturally have arisen, if the measure adopted had been attended with results very different from those which had been promised by its advocates, or contemplated by the legislature.

With this object in view, it was neither necessary, nor desirable, that I should myself express a decided opinion on the subject. It would hardly, indeed, have been consistent with that character of impartiality, which I wished to give to my statements, and in which I have reason to believe I in some degree succeeded.(1)

These previous statements, however, having been given, and having, I hope, shewn that the decision, whenever it is made, must be a compromise of contending advantages and disadvantages, I have no objection now to state (without the least reserve), and I can truly say, wit the most complete freedom from all interested motives, the grounds of a deliberate, yet decided, opinion in favour of some restrictions on the importation of foreign corn.

This opinion has been formed, as I wished the readers of the Observations to form their opinions, by looking fairly at the difficulties on both sides of the question; and without vainly expecting to attain unmixed results, determining on which side there is the greatest balance of good with the least alloy of evil. The grounds on which the opinion so formed rests, are partly those which were stated in the Observations, and partly, and indeed mainly, some facts which have occurred during the last year, and which have given, as I think, a decisive weight to the side of restrictions.

These additional facts are

1st, The evidence, which has been laid before Parliament, relating to the effects of the present prices of corn, together with the experience of the present year.

2dly, The improved state of our exchanges, and the fall in the price of bullion. And

3dly, and mainly, the actual laws respecting the exportation of corn lately passed in France.

In the Observations on the corn laws, I endeavoured to shew that, according to the general principles of supply and demand, a considerable fall in the price of corn could not take place, without throwing much poor lad out of cultivation, and effectually preventing, for a considerable time, all further improvements in agriculture, which have for their object an increase of produce.

The general principles, on which I calculated upon these consequences, have been fully confirmed by the evidence brought before the two houses of Parliament; and the effects of a considerable fall in the price of corn, and of the expected continuance of low prices, have shewn themselves in a very severe shock to the cultivation of the country and a great loss of agricultural capital.

Whatever may be said of the peculiar interests and natural partialities of those who were called upon to give evidence upon this occasion, it is impossible not to be convinced, by the whole body of it taken together, that, during the last twenty years, and particularly during the last seven, there has been a great increase of capital laid out upon the land, and a great consequent extension of cultivation and improvement; that the system of spirited improvement and high farming, as it is technically called, has been principally encouraged by the progressive rise of prices owing in a considerable degree, to the difficulties thrown in the way of importation of foreign corn by the war; that the rapid accumulation of capital on the land, which it had occasioned, had so increased our home growth of corn, that, notwithstanding a great increase of population, we had become much less dependent upon foreign supplies for our support; and that the land was still deficient in capital, and would admit of the employment of such an addition to its present amount, as would be competent to the full supply of a greatly increased population: but that the fall of prices, which had lately taken place, and the alarm of a still further fall, from continued importation, had not only checked all progress of improvement, but had already occasioned a considerable loss of agricultural advances; and that a continuation of low prices would, in spite of a diminution of rents, unquestionably destroy a great mass of farming capital all over the country, and essentially diminish its cultivation and produce... Continue reading book >>

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