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That which is given by retail dealers to unproductive consumers is, no doubt, to the excess to which it is carried, a considerable evil. This, however, is only true of large, and especially of long, credits; for there is credit whenever goods are not paid for before they quit the shop, or, at least, the custody of the seller; and there would be much inconvenience in putting an end to this sort of credit. But a large proportion of the debts on which insolvency laws take effect, are those due by small tradesmen to the dealers who supply them: and on no class of debts does the demoralization occasioned by a bad state of the law, operate more perniciously. These are commercial credits, which no one wishes to see curtailed; their existence is of great importance to the general industry of the country, and to numbers of honest, well-conducted persons of small means, to whom it would be a great injury that they should be prevented from obtaining the accommodation they need, and would not abuse, through the omission of the law to provide just remedies against dishonest or reckless borrowers.
But though it were granted that retail transactions, on any footing but that of ready money payment, are an evil, and their entire suppression a fit object for legislation to aim at; a worse mode of compassing that object could scarcely be invented, than to permit those who have been trusted by others to cheat and rob them with impunity. The law does not generally select the vices of mankind as the appropriate instrument for inflicting chastisement on the comparatively innocent: when it seeks to discourage any course of action, it does so by applying inducements of its own, not by outlawing those who act in the manner it deems objectionable, and letting loose the predatory instincts of the worthless part of mankind to feed upon them. If a man has committed murder, the law condemns him to death; but it does not promise impunity to anybody who may kill him for the sake of taking his purse. The offence of believing another's word, even rashly, is not so
heinous that, for the sake of discouraging it, the spectacle should be brought home to every door, of triumphant rascality, with the law on its side, mocking the victims it has made. This pestilent example has been very widely exhibited since the relaxation of the insolvency laws. It is idle to expect that, even by absolutely depriving creditors of all legal redress, tho kind of credit which is considered objectionable would really be very much checked. Bogues and swindlers are still an exception among mankind, and people will go on trusting each other s promises. Large dealers, in abundant business, would refuse credit, as many of them already do: but in the eager competition of a great town, or the dependent position of a village shopkeeper, what can be expected from the tradesman to whom a single customer is of importance, the beginner, perhaps, who is striving to get into business? He will take the risk, even if it were still greater; he is ruined if he cannot sell his goods, and he can but be ruined if he is defrauded. Nor does it avail to say, that he ought to make proper inquiries, and ascertain the character of those to whom he supplies goods on trust. In some of the most flagrant cases of profligate debtors which nave come before the Bankruptcy Court, the swindler had been able to give, and had given, excellent references.*
• The following extracts from the French Code of Commerce, (the translation is that of Mr. Fane,) show the great extent to which the just distinctions are made, and the
£ roper investigations provided for, by French >w. The word banqueroute, which can only be translated by bankruptcy, is, however, confined in France to culpable insolvency, which is distinguished into simple bankruptcy and fraudulent bankruptcy. The following are cases of simple bankruptcy :—
"Every insolvent who, m the investigation of his affairs, shall appear chargeable with one or more of the following offences, shall be proceeded against as a simple bankrupt.
"If his house expenses, which he is bound to enter regularly in a day-book, appear excessive.
"If he has spent considerable sums at play, or in operations of pure hazard.
"If it shall appear that he has borrowed largely, or resold merchandize at a loss, or below the current price, after it appeared by
OP INTERFERENCES OF GOVERNMENT GROUNDED OH ERRONEOUS THEORIES.
§ 1. From the necessary functions of government, and the effects produced on the economical interests of society by their good or ill discharge, we proceed to the functions which belong to what I have termed, for want of a better designation, the optional class; those which are sometimes assumed by governments and sometimes not, and which it is not unanimously admitted that they ought to exercise. ,
Before entering on the general principles of the question, it will be advisable to clear from our path all those cases, in which government interference works ill, because grounded on false views of the subject interfered with. Such cases have no connexion with any theory respecting the proper limits of interference. There are some things with which governments ought not to meddle, and other things with .which they ought; but whether right or wrong in itself, the interference must work for ill, if government, not
his but account-taking that his debts exceeded his assets by one-half.
"If he has issued negotiable securities to three times the amount of his available assets, according to his last accounttaking.
"The following may also be proceeded against as simple bankrupts:—
"He who has not declared his own insolvency in the manner prescribed by law:
"He who has not come in and surrendered within the time limited, having no legitimate excuse for his absence:
"He who either produces no books at all, or produces such as have been irregularly kept, and this although the irregularities may not indicate fraud."
The penalty for "simple bankruptcy" is imprisonment for a term of not less than one month, nor more than two years. The following are cases of fraudulent bankruptcy, of which the punishment is compulsory labour (the galleys) for a term:
"If he has attempted to account for his property by fictitious expenses and losses, or if he does not fully account for all his receipts: I
understanding the subject which it meddles with, meddles to bring_ about a result which would be mischievous. We will therefore begin by passing in review various false theories, which have from time to time formed the ground of acts of government more or less economically injurious.
Former writers on political economy have found it needful to devote much trouble and space to this department of their subject. It has now nappily become possible, at least in our own country, greatly to abridge this purely negative part of our discussions. The false theories of political economy which have done so much mischief in times past, are entirely discredited among all who have not lagged behind the general progress of opinion; and few of the enactments which were once grounded on those theories still help to deform the statute-book. As the principles on which their condemnation rests, have been fully set forth in other
"If ha has fraudulently concealed any sum of money or any debt due to him, or any merchandize or other moveables:
"If ha has made fraudulent sales or gifts of bis property:
"If he has allowed fictitious debts to be proved against his estate:
"If he has been entrusted with property, either merely to keep, or with special directions as to its use, and has nevertheless appropriated it to his own use:
"If he has purchased real property in a borrowed name:
"If he has concealed his books.
"The following may also be proceeded against in a similar way:—
"He who has not kept books, or whose books shall not exhibit his real situation as regards his debts and credits.
"He who, having obtained a protection (tauf-conduit), shall not have duly attended."
These various provisions relate only to commercial insolvency. The laws in regard to ordinary debts are considerably more rigorous to the debtor.
parts of this treatise, we may here content ourselves with a few brief indications.
Of these false theories, the most notable is the doctrine of Protection to Native Industry; a phrase meaning the prohibition, or the discouragement by heavy duties, of such foreign commodities as are capable of being produced at home. If the theory involved in this system had been correct, the practical conclusions grounded on it would not have been unreasonable. The theory was, that to buy things produced at home was a national benefit, and the introduction of foreign commodities, generally a national loss. It being at the same time evident that the interest of the consumer is to buy foreign commodities in preference to domestic whenever they are either cheaper or better, the interest of the consumer appeared in this respect to be contrary to the public interest; he was certain, if left to his own inclinations, to do what according to the theory was injurious to the public.
It was shown, however, in our analysis of the effects of international trade, as it had been often shown by former writers, that the importation of foreign commodities, in the common course of traffic, never takes place, except when it is, economically speaking, a national good, by causing the same amount of commodities to be obtained at a smaller cost of labour and capital to the country. To prohibit, therefore, this importation, or impose duties which prevent it, is to render the labour and capital of the country less efficient in production than they would otherwise be; and compel a waste, of the difference between the labour and capital necessary for the home production of the commodity, and that which is required for producing the things with which it can be purchased from abroad. The amount of national loss thus occasioned is measured by the excess of the price at which the commodity is produced, over that at which it could be imported. In the case of manufactured goods, the whole difference between the two prices is absorbed in indemnifying the producers
for waste of labour, or of the capital which supports that labour. Those who are supposed to be benefited, namely the makers of the protected articles, (unless they form an exclusive company, and have a monopoly against their own countrymen as well as against foreigners,) do not obtain higher profits than other people. All is sheer loss, to the country as well as to the consumer. When the protected article is a product of agriculture—the waste of labour not being incurred on the whole produce, but only on what may be called the last instalment of it —the extra price is only in part an indemnity for waste, the remainder being a tax paid to the landlords.
The restrictive and prohibitory policy was originally grounded on what is called the Mercantile System, which representing the advantage of foreign trade to consist solely in bringing money into the country, gave artificial encouragement to exportation of goods, and discountenanced their importation. The only exceptions to the system were those required by the system itself. The materials and instruments of production were the subjects of a contrary policy, directed however to the same end; they were freely imported, and not permitted to be exEorted, in order that manufacturers, eing more cheaply supplied with the requisites of manufacture, might he able to sell cheaper, and therefore to export more largely. For a similar reason, importation was allowed and even favoured, when confined to the productions of countries which were supposed to take from the country still more than it took from them, thus enriching it by a favourable balance of trade. As part of the same system, colonies were founded, for the supposed advantage of compelling them to buy our commodities, or at all events not to buy those of any other country: in return for which restriction, we were generally willing to come under an equivalent obligation with respect to the staple productions of the colonists. The consequences of the theory were pushed so far, that it was not unusual even to give bounties on exportation, and induce foreigners to buy from us rather than from other countries, by a cheapness which we artificially produced, by paying part of the price for them out of our own taxes. This is a stretch beyond the point yet reached by any private tradesman in his competition for business. No shopkeeper, I should think, ever made a practice of bribing customers by selling goods to them at a permanent Iobs, making it up to himself from other funds in his possession.
The principle of the Mercantile Theory is now given np even by writers and governments who still cling to the restrictive system. Whatever hold that system has over men's minds, independently of the private interests exposed to real or apprehended loss by its abandonment, is derived from fallacies other than the old notion of the benefits of heaping up money in the country. The most effective of these is the specious plea of employing our own countrymen and our national industry, instead of feeding and supporting the industry of foreigners. The answer to this, from the principles laid down in former chapters, is evident. Without reverting to the fundamental theorem discussed in an early part of the present treatise,* respecting the nature and sources of employment for labour, it is sufficient to say, what has usually been said by the advocates of free trade, that the alternative is not between em- i ploying cur own people and foreigners, but between employing one class and another of our own people. The imported commodity is always paid for, directly or indirectly, with the produce of our own industry: that industry being, at the same time, rendered more productive, since, with the same labour and outlay, we are enabled to possess ourselves of a greater quantity of the article. Those who have not well considered the subject are apt to suppose that our exporting an equivalent in our own produce, for the foreign articles we consume, depends on contingencies—on the consent of foreign
• Supra, pp. 49-65.
countries to make some corresponding relaxation of their own restrictions, or on the question whether those from whom we buy are induced by that circumstance to buy more from us; and that, if these things, or things equivalent to them, do not happen, the payment must be made in money. Now, in the first place, there is nothing more objectionable in a money payment than in payment by any other medium, if the state of the market makes it the most advantageous remittance; and the money itself was first acquired, and would again be replenished, by the export of an equivalent value of our own products. But, in the next place, a very short interval of paying in money would so lower prices as either to stop a part of the importation, or raise up a foreign demand ibr our produce, sufficient to pay for the imports. I grant that this disturbance of the equation of international demand would be in some degree to our disadvantage, in the purchase of other imported articles; and that a country which prohibits some foreign commodities, does, cceteris paribus, obtain those which it does not prohibit, at a less price than it would otherwise have to pay. To express the same thing in other words; a country which destroys or prevents altogether certain branches of foreign trade, thereby annihilating a general gain to the world, which would be shared in some proportion between itself and other countries—does, in some circumstances, draw to itself, at the expense of foreigners, a larger share than would else belong to it of the gain arising from that portion of its foreign trade which it suffers to subsist. But even this it can only be enabled to do, if foreigners do not maintain equivalent prohibitions or restrictions against its commodities. In any case, the justice or expediency of destroying one of two gains, in order to engross a rather larger share of the other, does not require much discussion : the gain, too, which is destroyed, being, in proportion to the magnitude of the transactions, the larger of the two, since it is the one which capital,
left to itself, is supposed to seek by preference.
Defeated as a general theory, the Protectionist doctrine finds support in some particular cases, from considerations which, when really in point, involve greater interests than mere saving of labour; the interests of national subsistence and of national defence. The discussions on the Corn Laws have familiarized everybody with the plea, that we ought to be independent of foreigners for the food of the people; and the Navigation Laws were grounded, in theory and profession, on the necessity of keeping up a "nursery of seamen" for the navy. On this last subject I at once admit, that the object is worth the sacrifice; and that a country exposed to invasion by sea, if it cannot otherwise have sufficient ships and sailors of its own to secure the means of manning on an emergency an adequate tleet, is quite right in obtaining those means, even at an economical sacrifice in point of cheapness of transport. When the English navigation laws were enacted, the Dutch, from their maritime skill and their low rate of profit at home, were able to carry for other nations, England included, at cheaper rates than those nations could carry for themselves: which placed all other countries at a great comparative disadvantage in obtaining experienced seamen for their ships of war. The Navigation Laws, by which this deficiency was remedied, and at the same time a blow struck against the maritime power of a nation with which England was then frequently engaged in hostilities, were probably, though economically disadvantageous, politically expedient. But English snips and sailors can now navigate as cheaply as those of any other country; maintaining at least an equal competition with the other maritime nations even in their own trade. The ends which may once have justified Navigation Laws, require them no longer, and afforded no reason for maintaining this invidious exception to the general rule of free trade.
With regard to subsistence, the plea
of the Protectionists has been so often and so triumphantly met, that it requires little notice here. That country is the most steadily as well as the most abundantly supplied with food, which draws its supplies from the largest surface. It is ridiculous to found a general system of policy on so improbable a danger as that of being at war with all the nations of the world at once; or to suppose that, even if inferior at sea, a whole country could be blockaded like a town, or that the growers of food in other countries would not be as anxious not to lose an advantageous market, as we should he not to be deprived of their corn. On the subject, however, of subsistence, there is one point which deserves more especial consideration. In cases of actual or apprehended scarcity, many countries of Europe are accustomed to stop the exportation of food. Is this, or not, sound policy? There can bo no doubt that in the present state ot international morality, a people cannot, any more than an individual, bo blamed for not starving itself to feed others. But if the greatest amount of good to mankind on the whole, were the end aimed at in the maxims ot international conduct, such collective churlishness would certainly be condemned by them. Suppose that in ordinary circumstances the trade in food were perfectly free, so that the price in one country could not habitually exceed that in any other by more than the cost of carriage, together with a moderate profit to the importer. A general scarcity ensues, affecting all countries, but in unequal degrees. If the price rose in one country more than in others, it would be a proof that in that country the scarcity was severest, and that by permitting food to go freely thither from any other coun try, it would be spared from a less urgent necessity to relieve a greater. Wnen the interests, therefore, of all countries are considered, free exportation is desirable. To the exporting country considered separately, it may, at least on the particular occasion, bo an inconvenience: but taking into account that the country which is now