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THIS is not an attempt at a learned book on the
1 vexed subject of free trade against protection. It is an attempt to interest the average American citizen in the subject, to show him what free trade is (meaning thereby a tariff for revenue only) and its advantages; and what protection is and its disadvantages. Statistics have been avoided as much as possible, as well as any elaborate citation of authorities for statements made. Entertaining a feeling of contempt for protection, I mean to be outspoken in denunciation of its pretensions, follies, absurdities, inconsistencies, arrogance, charlatanry and humbuggery. In my opinion, it is a fertile source of fraud and corruption, and its elimination as soon as is practicable, with due regard to the interests that have been fostered under its baneful influence, has now become a moral necessity. Detrimental to the interests of the consumer, it is also injurious to the producer, by inducing him to lean upon the government for “protection," instead of relying upon his own resources and powers. .
My book is controversial, aggressive, and contemptuous, for it has been my purpose to give my protectionist antagonists the same treatment they give free traders (meaning always by free traders those who stand for a tariff for revenue only).
If it be objected that I repeat myself over and over again, I admit it, and I reply that I have done so of set purpose, because through reiteration I hope to drive home my argument.
We Americans pride ourselves on our country, its size, its magnificent dual form of government, its wonderful natural resources in coal, iron, copper, gold, silver, forests, mountains, plains, prairies, lakes that are inland seas, the opportunities we offer to every comer, our public school system, our constructive and business ability, our great railroad systems, our inventive genius, our telegraphs and telephones, our banks, immense wealth, enormous volume of business, our cotton, wheat, corn, tobacco, etc., and, in general, our ability to take the lead and to beat the world in anything we choose to undertake. Indeed, we are credited not only with having this very high opinion of ourselves, but also with a certain measure of success that shows our claim is well founded.
Yet it is a certain source of satisfaction to foreigners when they find that, in spite of all these extravagant claims and success in establishing them, a majority of Americans admit that we cannot stand up against the inferiorities of the rest of the world unless we “protect" ourselves against them.
The remarkable part of this admission is that the weaker the foreigner, the more ignorant he is, the less capacity or skill he has, the greater the necessity for protection against him. I confess I have never been able to get over the surprise with which I first learned of the absolute necessity as a sine qua non, if a country would succeed, of this kind of protection of the strong against the weak of this earth. I had always supposed that the weak needed protection from the strong, but I learned that the stronger and abler and more efficient a nation becomes, the greater is the necessity for “protecting" it against the inefficiency and incompetency of the weak. Mark Twain is the only writer who could have done justice to the logic of such a doctrine, and I will not pursue the subject further.
I maintain that the violent shock to importation by the Embargo Act and the War of 1812-15, with the legislation following that war, gave an impetus to the textile industries of cotton and wool and to the iron and steel industries that were all the protection they needed, if they ever needed any, which I deny; that they were successfully established businesses in 1846, when the Walker tariff was adopted, and long before that time, and from that day to this have never needed protection even if protection be sometimes allowable in such a case as that laid down by Mill.*
* Principles of Political Economy, bk. V, Ch. 10, $1.
I contend that the protection given by the tariff since the war has been a very saturnalia of protection, and that at this time this country is the last one in the world that needs protection or in which any good reason can be given why it should be continued.
With the expenses of the Civil War there came, necessarily, taxation to met those expenses. Everything was taxed, and, under the name of internal revenue, excise taxes were imposed. So long as the excise tax was equivalent to the import duty on the same article it made no difference to the country, nor to the consumer, whether the home-made article or the imported one was bought and used. The consumer paid the same price for either and the tax on either went into the treasury of the United States. But this balance was disturbed when the duty remained unchanged, and the excise tax was reduced and finally abolished. This was equivalent to increased protection, just as if the duty had been raised and the excise tax had remained as it was. Excise taxes were odious to our people and there was a clamor for their reduction and removal. Protectionists were adroit enough to see what an advantage they would gain by the course taken, and, so far as I am able to learn, no one pointed out adequately the wrong done, by reducing excise duties without equivalent reduction of import duties. : :
Had the proper relation between the two been preserved we might have been during all these years,