David Ricardo (1817)

On The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation

Chapter 22: Bounties on Exportation, and Prohibitions of Importation

A BOUNTY on the exportation of corn tends to lower its price to the foreign consumer, but it has no permanent effect on its price in the home market.

Suppose that to afford the usual and general profits of stock, the price of corn should in England be £4 per quarter; it could not then be exported to foreign countries where it sold for £3 15s. per quarter. But if a bounty of 10s. per quarter were given on exportation, it could be sold in the foreign market at £3 10s., and consequently the same profit would be afforded to the corn grower, whether he sold it at £3 10s. in the foreign, or at £4 in the home market.

A bounty then, which should lower the price of British corn in the foreign country, below the cost of producing corn in that country, would naturally extend the demand for British, and diminish the demand for their own corn. This extension of demand for British corn could not fail to raise its price for a time in the home market, and during that time to prevent also its falling so low in the foreign market as the bounty has a tendency to effect. But the causes which would thus operate on the market price of corn in England would produce no effect whatever on its natural price, or its real cost of production. To grow corn would neither require more labour nor more capital, and, consequently, if the profits of the farmer's stock were before only equal to the profits of the stock of other traders, they will, after the rise of price, be considerably above them. By raising the profits of the farmer's stock, the bounty will operate as an encouragement to agriculture, and capital will be withdrawn from manufactures to be employed on the land, till the enlarged demand for the foreign market has been supplied, when the price of corn will again fall in the home market to its natural and necessary price, and profits will be again at their ordinary and accustomed level. The increased supply of grain operating on the foreign market, will also lower its price in the country to which it is exported, and will thereby restrict the profits of the exporter to the lowest rate at which he can afford to trade.

The ultimate effect then of a bounty on the exportation of corn, is not to raise or to lower the price in the home market, but to lower the price of corn to the foreign consumer - to the whole extent of the bounty, if the price of corn had not before been lower in the foreign, than in the home market - and in a less degree, if the price in the home had been above the price in the foreign market.

A writer in the fifth vol. of the Edinburgh Review, on the subject of a bounty on the exportation of corn, has very clearly pointed out its effects on the foreign and home demand. He has also justly remarked, that it would not fail to give encouragement to agriculture in the exporting country'. but he appears to have imbibed the common error which has misled Dr Smith, and, I believe, most other writers on this subject. He supposes, because the price of corn ultimately regulates wages, that therefore it will regulate the price of all other commodities. He says that the bounty, 'by raising the profits of farming, will operate as an encouragement to husbandry; by raising the price of corn to the consumers at home, it will diminish for the time their power of purchasing this necessary of life, and thus abridge their real wealth. It is evident, however, that this last effect must be temporary: the wages of the labouring consumers had been adjusted before by competition, and the same principle will adjust them again to the same rate, by raising the money price of labour, and, through that, of. other commodities, to the money price of corn. The bounty upon exportation, therefore, will ultimately raise the money price of corn in the home market; not directly, however, but through the medium of an extended demand in the foreign market, and a consequent enhancement of the real price at home: and this rise of the money price, when it has once been communicated to other commodities, will of course become fixed.'

If, however, I have succeeded in shewing that it is not the rise in the money wages of labour which raises the price of commodities, but that such rise always affects profits, it will follow that the prices of commodities would not rise in consequence of a bounty.

But a temporary rise in the price of corn, produced by an increased demand from abroad, would have no effect on the money price of labour. The rise of corn is occasioned by a competition for that supply which was before exclusively appropriated to the home market. By raising profits, additional capital is employed in agriculture, and the increased supply is obtained; but till it be obtained, the high price is absolutely necessary to proportion the consumption to the supply, which would be counteracted by a rise of wages. The rise of corn is the consequence of its scarcity, and is the means by which the demand of the home purchasers is diminished. If wages were increased, the competition would increase, and a further rise of the price of corn would become necessary. In this account of the effects of a bounty, nothing has been supposed to occur to raise the natural price of corn, by which its market price is ultimately governed; for it has not been supposed, that any additional labour would be required on the land to insure a given production, and this alone can raise its natural price. If the natural price of cloth were 20s. per yard, a great increase in the foreign demand might raise the price to 25s., or more, but the profits which would then be made by the clothier would not fail to attract capital in that direction, and although the demand should be doubled, trebled, or quadrupled, the supply would ultimately be obtained, and cloth would fall to its natural price of 20s. So, in the supply of corn, although we should export 2, 3, or 800,000 quarters annually, it would ultimately be produced at its natural price, which never varies, unless a different quantity of labour becomes necessary to production.

Perhaps in no part of Adam Smith's justly celebrated work, are his conclusions more liable to objection, than in the chapter on bounties. In the first place, he speaks of corn as of a commodity of which the production cannot be increased, in consequence of a bounty on exportation; he supposes invariably, that it acts only on the quantity actually produced, and is no stimulus to further reduction. 'In years of plenty,' he says, 'by occasioning an extraordinary exportation, it necessarily keeps up the price of corn in the home market above what it would naturally fall to. In years of scarcity, though the bounty is frequently suspended, yet the great exportation which it occasions in years of plenty must frequently hinder, more or less, the plenty of one year from relieving the scarcity of another. Both in the years of plenty and in years of scarcity, therefore, the bounty necessarily tends to raise the money price of corn somewhat higher than it otherwise would be in the home market.'(51*)

Adam Smith appears to have been fully aware, that the correctness of his argument entirely depended on the fact, whether the increase 'of the money price of corn, by rendering that commodity more profitable to the farmer, would not necessarily encourage its production.'

'I answer,' he says, 'that this might be the case, if the effect of the bounty was to raise the real price of corn, or to enable the farmer, with an equal quantity of it, to maintain a greater number of labourers in the same manner, whether liberal, moderate, or scanty, as other labourers are commonly maintained in his neighbourhood.'

If nothing were consumed by the labourer but corn, and if the portion which he received was the very lowest which his sustenance required, there might be some ground for supposing, that the quantity paid to the labourer could, under no circumstances, be reduced, - but the money wages of labour sometimes do not rise at all, and never rise in proportion to the rise in the money price of corn, because corn, though an important part, is only a part of the consumption of the labourer. If half his wages were expended on corn, and the other half on soap, candles, fuel, tea, sugar, clothing, &c., commodities on which no rise is supposed to take place, it is evident that he would be quite as well paid with a bushel and a half of wheat, when it was 16s. a bushel, as he was with two bushels, when the price was 8s. per bushel; or with 24s. in money, as he was before with 16s. His wages would rise only 50 per cent though corn rose 100 per cent; and, consequently, there would be sufficient motive to divert more capital to the land, if profits on other trades continued the same as before. But such a rise of wages would also induce manufacturers to withdraw their capitals from manufactures, to employ them on the land; for whilst the farmer increased the price of his commodity 100 per cent, and his wages only 50 per cent, the manufacturer would be obliged also to raise wages 50 per cent, whilst he had no compensation whatever, in the rise of his manufactured commodity, for this increased charge of production; capital would consequently flow from manufactures to agriculture, till the supply would again lower the price of corn to 8s. per bushel, and wages to 16s. per week; when the manufacturer would obtain the same profits as the farmer, and the tide of capital would cease to set in either direction. This is in fact the mode in which the cultivation of corn is always extended, and the increased wants of the market supplied. The funds for the maintenance of labour increase, and wages are raised. The comfortable situation of the labourer induces him to marry - population increases, and the demand for corn raises its price relatively to other things - more capital is profitably employed on agriculture, and continues to flow towards it, till the supply is equal to the demand, when the price again falls, and agricultural and manufacturing profits are again brought to a level.

But whether wages were stationary after the rise in the price of corn, or advanced moderately, or enormously, is of no importance to this question, for wages are paid by the manufacturer as well as by the farmer, and, therefore, in this respect they must be equally affected by a rise in the price of corn. But they are unequally affected in their profits, inasmuch as the farmer sells his commodity at an advanced price, while the manufacturer sells his for the same price as before. It is, however, the inequality of profit, which is always the inducement to remove capital from one employment to another; and, therefore, more corn would be produced, and fewer commodities manufactured. Manufactures would not rise, because fewer would be manufactured, for a supply of them would be obtained in exchange for the exported corn.

A bounty, if it raises the price of corn, either raises it in comparison with the price of other commodities, or it does not. If the affirmative be true, it is impossible to deny the greater profits of the farmer, and the temptation to the removal of capital, till its price is again lowered by an abundant supply. If it does not raise it in comparison with other commodities, where is the injury to the home consumer, beyond the inconvenience of paying the tax? If the manufacturer pays a greater price for his corn, he is compensated by the greater price at which he sells his commodity, with which his corn is ultimately purchased.

The error of Adam Smith proceeds precisely from the same source as that of the writer in the Edinburgh Review; for they both think 'that the money price of corn regulates that of all other home-made commodities.'(52*) 'It regulates,' says Adam Smith, 'the money price of labour, which must always be such as to enable the labourer to purchase a quantity of corn sufficient to maintain him and his family, either in the liberal, moderate, or scanty manner, in which the advancing, stationary, or declining circumstances of the society oblige his employers to maintain him. By regulating the money price of all the other parts of the rude produce of land, it regulates that of the materials of almost all manufactures. By regulating the money price of labour, it regulates that of manufacturing art and industry; and by regulating both, it regulates that of the complete manufacture. The money price of labour, and of every thing that is the produce either of land and labour, must necessarily rise or fall in proportion to the money price of corn.'

This opinion of Adam Smith, I have before attempted to refute. In considering a rise in the price of commodities as a necessary consequence of a rise in the price of corn, he reasons as though there were no other fund from which the increased charge could be paid. He has wholly neglected the consideration of profits, the diminution of which forms that fund, without raising the price of commodities. If this opinion of Dr Smith were well founded, profits could never really fall, whatever accumulation of capital there might be. If, when wages rose, the farmer could raise the price of his corn, and the clothier, the hatter, the shoemaker, and every other manufacturer, could also raise the price of their goods in proportion to the advance, although estimated in money they might be all raised, they would continue to bear the same value relatively to each other. Each of these trades could command the same quantity as before of the goods of the others, which, since it is goods, and not money, which constitute wealth, is the only circumstance that could be of importance to them; and the whole rise in the price of raw produce and of goods, would be injurious to no other persons but to those whose property consisted of gold and silver, or whose annual income was paid in a contributed quantity of those metals, whether in the form of bullion or of money. Suppose the use of money to be wholly laid aside, and all trade to be carried on by barter. Under such circumstances, could corn rise in exchangeable value with other things? If it could, then it is not true that the value of corn regulates the value of all other commodities; for to do that, it should not vary in relative value to them. If it could not, then it must be maintained, that whether corn be obtained on rich, or on poor land, with much labour, or with little, with the aid of machinery, or without, it would always exchange for an equal quantity of all other commodities.

I cannot, however, but remark that, though Adam Smith's general doctrines correspond with this which I have just quoted, yet in one part of his work he appears to have given a correct account of the nature of value. 'The proportion between the value of gold and silver, and that of goods of any other kind, DEPENDS IN ALL CASES,' he says, 'upon the proportion between the quantity of labour which is necessary in order to bring a certain quantity of gold and silver to market, and that which is necessary to bring thither a certain quantity of any other sort of goods.' Does he not here fully acknowledge that if any increase takes place in the quantity of labour, required to bring one sort of goods to market, whilst no such increase takes place in bringing another sort thither, the first sort will rise in relative value. If no more labour than before be required to bring either cloth or gold to market, they will not vary in relative value, but if more labour be required to bring corn and shoes to market, will not corn and shoes rise in value relatively to cloth, and money made of gold?

Adam Smith again considers that the effect of the bounty is to cause a partial degradation in the value of money. 'That degradation,' says he, 'in the value of silver, which is the effect of the fertility of the mines, and which operates equally, or very nearly equally, through the greater part of the commercial world, is a matter of very little consequence to any particular country. The consequent rise of all money prices, though it does not make those who receive them really richer, does not make them really poorer. A service of plate becomes really cheaper, and every thing else remains precisely of the same real value as before.' This observation is most correct.

'But that degradation in the value of silver, which being the effect either of the peculiar situation, or of the political institutions of a particular country, takes place only in that country, is a matter of very great consequence, which, far from tending to make any body really richer, tends to make every body really poorer. The rise in the money price of all commodities, which is in this case peculiar to that country, tends to discourage more or less every sort of industry which is carried on within it, and to enable foreign nations, by furnishing almost all sorts of goods for a smaller quantity of silver than its own workmen can afford to do, to undersell them, not only in the foreign, but even in the home market.'

I have elsewhere attempted to shew that a partial degradation in the value of money, which shall affect both agricultural produce, and manufactured commodities, cannot possibly be permanent. To say that money is partially degraded, in this sense, is to say that all commodities are at a high price; but while gold and silver are at liberty to make purchases in the cheapest market, they will be exported for the cheaper goods of other countries, and the reduction of their quantity, will increase their value at home; commodities will regain their usual level, and those fitted for foreign markets will be exported, as before.

A bounty, therefore, cannot, I think, be objected to on this ground.

If then, a bounty raises the price of corn in comparison with all other things, the farmer will be benefited, and more land will be cultivated; but if the bounty do not raise the value of corn relatively to other things, then no other inconvenience will attend it, than that of paying the bounty; one which I neither wish to conceal nor underrate.

Dr Smith states, that 'by establishing high duties on the importation, and bounties on the exportation of corn, the country gentlemen seemed to have imitated the conduct of the manufacturers,' By the same means, both had endeavoured to raise the value of their commodities. 'They did not, perhaps, attend to the great and essential difference which nature has established between corn, and almost every other sort of goods. When by either of the above means, you enable our manufacturers to sell their goods for somewhat a better price than they otherwise could get for them, you raise not only the nominal, but the real price of those goods. You increase not only the nominal, but the real profit, the real wealth and revenue of those manufacturers you really encourage those manufactures. But when, by the like institutions, you raise the nominal or money price of corn, you do not raise its real value, you do not increase the real wealth of our farmers or country gentlemen, you do not encourage the growth of corn. The nature of things has stamped upon corn a real value, which cannot be altered by merely altering its money price. Through the world in general, that value is equal to the quantity of labour which it can maintain.'

I have already attempted to shew, that the market price of corn would, under an increased demand from the effects of a bounty, exceed its natural price, till the requisite additional supply was obtained, and that then it would again fall to its natural price. But the natural price of corn is not so fixed as the natural price of commodities; because, with any great additional demand for corn, land of a worse quality must be taken into cultivation, on which more labour will be required to produce a given quantity, and the natural price of corn will be raised. By a continued bounty, therefore, on the exportation of corn, there would be created a tendency to a permanent rise in the price of corn, and this, as I have shewn elsewhere,(53*) never fails to raise rent. Country gentlemen, then, have not only a temporary but a permanent interest in prohibitions of the importation of corn, and in bounties on its exportation; but manufacturers have no permanent interest in establishing high duties on the importation, and bounties on the exportation of commodities; their interest is wholly temporary.

A bounty on the exportation of manufactures will, undoubtedly, as Dr Smith contends, raise for a time the market price of manufactures, but it will not raise their natural price. The labour of 200 men will produce double the quantity of these goods that 100 could produce before; and, consequently, when the requisite quantity of capital was employed in supplying the requisite quantity of manufactures, they would again fall to their natural price, and all advantage from a high market price would cease. It is, then, only during the interval after the rise in the market price of commodities, and till the additional supply is obtained, that the manufacturers will enjoy high profits; for as soon as prices had subsided, their profits would sink to the general level.

Instead of agreeing, therefore, with Adam Smith, that the country gentlemen had not so great an interest in prohibiting the importation of corn, as the manufacturer had in prohibiting the importation of manufactured goods, I contend, that they have a much superior interest; for their advantage is permanent, while that of the manufacturer is only temporary. Dr Smith observes, that nature has established a great and essential difference between corn and other goods, but the proper inference from that circumstance is directly the reverse of that which he draws from it; for it is on account of this difference that rent is created, and that country gentlemen have an interest in the rise of the natural price of corn. Instead of comparing the interest of the manufacturer with the interest of the country gentleman, Dr Smith should have compared it with the interest of the farmer, which is very distinct from that of his landlord. Manufacturers have no interest in the rise of the natural price of their commodities, nor have farmers any interest in the rise of the natural price of corn, or other raw produce, though both these classes are benefited while the market price of their productions exceeds their natural price. On the contrary, landlords have a most decided interest in the rise of the natural price of corn; for the rise of rent is the inevitable consequence of the difficulty of producing raw produce, without which its natural price could not rise. Now, as bounties on exportation and prohibitions of the importation of corn increase the demand, and drive us to the cultivation of poorer lands, they necessarily occasion an increased difficulty of production.

The sole effect of high duties on the importation either of manufactures or of corn, or of a bounty on their exportation, is to divert a portion of capital to an employment, which it would not naturally seek. It causes a pernicious distribution of the general funds of the society - it bribes a manufacturer to commence or continue in a comparatively less profitable employment. It is the worst species of taxation, for it does not give to the foreign country all that it takes away from the home country, the balance of loss being made up by the less advantageous distribution of the general capital. Thus, if the price of corn is in England £4 and in France £3 15s. a bounty of 10s. will ultimately reduce it to £3 10s. in France, and maintain it at the same price of £4 in England. For every quarter exported, England pays a tax of 10s. For every quarter imported into France, France gains only 5s., so that the value of 5s. per quarter is absolutely lost to the world, by such a distribution of its funds as to cause diminished production, probably not of corn, but of some other object of necessity or enjoyment.

Mr Buchanan appears to have seen the fallacy of Dr Smith's arguments respecting bounties, and on the last passage which I have quoted, very judiciously remarks: 'In asserting that nature has stamped a real value on corn, which cannot be altered by merely altering its money price, Dr Smith confounds its value in use with its value in exchange. A bushel of wheat will not feed more people during scarcity than during plenty; but a bushel of wheat will exchange for a greater quantity of luxuries and conveniences when it is scarce, than when it is abundant; and the landed proprietors, who have a surplus of food to dispose of, will, therefore, in times of scarcity, be richer men; they will exchange their surplus for a greater value of other enjoyments, than when corn is in greater plenty. It is vain to argue, therefore, that if the bounty occasions a forced exportation of corn, it will not also occasion a real rise of price.' The whole of Mr Buchanan's arguments on this part of the subject of bounties, appear to me to be perfectly clear and satisfactory.

Mr Buchanan, however, has not, I think, any more than Dr Smith, or the writer in the Edinburgh Review, correct opinions as to the influence of a rise in the price of labour on manufactured commodities. From his peculiar views, which I have elsewhere noticed, he thinks that the price of labour has no connexion with the price of corn, and, therefore, that the real value of corn might and would rise without affecting the price of labour; but if labour were affected, he would maintain with Adam Smith and the writer in the Edinburgh Review, that the price of manufactured commodities would also rise; and then I do not see how he would distinguish such a rise of corn, from a fall in the value of money, or how he could come to any other conclusion than that of Dr Smith. In a note to page 276, vol. i. of the Wealth of Nations, Mr Buchanan observes,, but the price of corn does not regulate the money price of all the other parts of the rude produce of land. It regulates the price neither of metals, nor of various other useful substances, such as coals, wood, stones, &c.; and as it does not regulate the price of labour, it does not regulate the price of manufactures; so that the bounty, in so far as it raises the price of corn, is undoubtedly a real benefit to the farmer. It is not on this ground, therefore, that its policy must be argued. Its encouragement to agriculture, by raising the price of corn, must be admitted; and the question then comes to be, whether agriculture ought to be thus encouraged?' - It is then, according to Mr Buchanan, a real benefit to the farmer, because it does not raise the price of labour; but if it did, it would raise the price of all things in proportion, and then it would afford no particular encouragement to agriculture.

It must, however, be conceded, that the tendency of a bounty on the exportation of any commodity is to lower in a small degree the value of money. Whatever facilitates exportation, tends to accumulate money in a country; and, on the contrary, whatever impedes exportation, tends to diminish it. The general effect of taxation, by raising the prices of the commodities taxed, tends to diminish exportation, and, therefore, to check the influx of money; and on the same principle, a bounty encourages the influx of money. This is more fully explained in the general observations on taxation.

The injurious effects of the mercantile system have been fully exposed by Dr Smith; the whole aim of that system was to raise the price of commodities, in the home market, by prohibiting foreign competition; but this system was no more injurious to the agricultural classes than to any other part of the community. By forcing capital into channels where it would not otherwise flow, it diminished the whole amount of commodities produced. The price, though permanently higher, was not sustained by scarcity, but by difficulty of production; and, therefore, though the sellers of such commodities sold them for a higher price, they did not sell them, after the requisite quantity of capital was employed in producing them, at higher profits.(54*)

The manufacturers themselves, as consumers, had to pay an additional price for such commodities, and, therefore, it cannot be correctly said, that 'the enhancement of price occasioned by both, (corporation laws and high duties on the importations of foreign commodities,) is every where fully paid by the landlords, farmers, and labourers of the country.'

It is the more necessary to make this remark, as in the present day the authority of Adam Smith is quoted by country gentlemen, for imposing similar high duties on the importation of foreign corn. Because the cost of production, and, therefore, the prices of various manufactured commodities, are raised to the consumer by one error in legislation, the country has been called upon, on the plea of justice, quietly to submit to fresh exactions. Because we all pay an additional price for our linen, muslin, and cottons, it is thought just that we should pay also an additional price for our corn. Because, in the general distribution of the labour of the world, we have prevented the greatest amount of productions from being obtained, by our portion of that labour, in manufactured commodities, we should further punish ourselves by diminishing the productive powers of the general labour in the supply of raw produce. It would be much wiser to acknowledge the errors which a mistaken policy has induced us to adopt, and immediately to commence a gradual recurrence to the sound principles of an universally free trade.(55*)

'I have already had occasion to remark,' observes M. Say, 'in speaking of what is improperly called the balance of trade, that if it suits a merchant better to export the precious metals to a foreign country than any other goods, it is also the interest of the State that he should export them, because the State only gains or loses through the channel of its citizens; and in what concerns foreign trade, that which best suits the individual, best suits also the State; therefore, by opposing obstacles to the exportation which individuals would be inclined to make of the precious metals, nothing is done, than to force them to substitute some other commodity less profitable to themselves and to the State. It must, however, be remarked, that I say only in what concerns foreign trade; because the profits which merchants make by their dealings with their countrymen, as well as those which are made in the exclusive commerce with colonies, are not entirely gains for the State. In the trade between individuals of the same country, there is no other gain but the value of an utility produced; que la valeur d'une utilité produite.'(56*) Vol. i. p. 401. I cannot see the distinction here made between the profits of the home and foreign trade. The object of all trade is to increase productions. If for the purchase of a pipe of wine, I had it in my power to export bullion, which was bought with the value of the produce of 100 days' labour, but Government, by prohibiting the exportation of bullion, should oblige me to purchase my wine with a commodity bought with the value of the produce of 105 days' labour, the produce of five days' labour is lost to me, and, through me, to the State. But if these transactions took place between individuals, in different provinces of the same country, the same advantage would accrue both to the individual, and through him, to the country; if he were unfettered in his choice of the commodities, with which he made his purchases; and the same disadvantage, if he were obliged by Government to purchase with the least beneficial commodity. If a manufacturer could work up with the same capital, more iron where coals are plentiful, than he could where coals are scarce, the country would be benefited by the difference. But if coals were no where plentiful, and he imported iron, and could get this additional quantity, by the manufacture of a commodity, with the same capital and labour, he would in like manner benefit his country by the additional quantity of iron. In the 7th Chap. of this work, I have endeavoured to shew that all trade, whether foreign or domestic, is beneficial, by increasing the quantity, and not by increasing the value of productions. We shall have no greater value, whether we carry on the most beneficial home and foreign trade, or in consequence of being fettered by prohibitory laws, we are obliged to content ourselves with the least advantageous. The rate of profits, and the value produced, will be the same. The advantage always resolves itself into that which M. Say appears to confine to the home trade; in both cases there is no other gain but that of the value of an utilité produite.

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