In Defense of Free Trade
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, March-April
I wish to take issue with Peter D. Haley's statements in his Con, in
the free trade discussion appearing in your last number. The
declaration that "tariffs have nothing to do with our relation to
the land" is untrue. As Henry George himself says, "the
tariff question is but another phase of the land question".
It is not true that conditions for the working masses were better in
protectionist Germany than in Free Trade England previous to the war
of '14. During the Free Trade era in England wages were constantly
higher than in any other European country. In Germany, socialized
control made it possible for a man to starve to death in a sanitary
way. That was all.
The expansion of industry subsequent to the passage of the repeal of
the Corn Laws and the relief by higher wages and increased opportunity
was one of the most striking things in English, if not world, history.
I doubt whether there has ever been a similar expansion. Mr. Haley's
doctrine that "trade is the food which feeds the maw of rent
collectors," is not appreciated by the British landlords, who as
a class are about as acutely conscious of their privileges and how to
protect them as any that ever existed. They seem always to play a
brand of ball that is a little too fast for us. And so it is a fact
that utterly unconscious of this Maw dictum they opposed Cobden and
Bright in the repeal of the Corn Laws and the present landlord
parliament as practically its first act put England on a Protectionist
"The Tariff," says the Con author again, "has nothing
to do with man's relationship to the land." I refer him to the
files of Land and Liberty of London as to the increase in land values
barring men from the land that has occurred since England's partial
free trade has been abandoned. I refer him also to the rise in prices
of every article of consumption, particularly food, since that savage
backward step was taken. Tariffs of course cut men off from the rest
of the earth outside as well as within their own boundaries.
It should be apparent that the effect of a protective tariff is to
restrict production of those goods that are "protected,"
thus increasing the demand for these lands and increasing rents and
land values. A spurious form of land values based on a kind of bastard
speculative rent can be obtained through obstructive monopoly-creating
laws, and the protective tariff is one of these. That is the reason
the land- lord Parliament quite conscious that international trade is
not the food that feeds the maw of the rent collector rescinded
partial free trade. They of course as usual "knew their onions"
as they always have, and very intimately. They of course were acutely
conscious that when the production of basic food stuffs, etc., was
confined to the soil of England their land values would be raised.
They made one error though in their hard-boiled thinking. It was no
accident nor was it due to purely sentimental motivation that England
had most of the World on her side in the Great War. The hard economic
fact that Britain's trade relations with the world were free, and that
the tendrils of free trade had penetrated all nations, had a large
part in the united support the world gave her.
This war is obviously different. Allies do not flock to the standard
of Britain. The world looks at her battle for "Freedom" with
a cautious eye. The alienation of her potential allies by a protective
tariff has been a large factor in the shifting of good will to
As a matter of fact, free trade is as much a part of the Georgean
philosophy as the removal of any other taxes on labor made products. I
am inclined to believe that it is probably the 'most important phase
of our movement, as it opens the whole Earth to mankind. It is the
only way that we in the United States could attack through joint free
trade spurious land values, with their distortion of the economic
structure, in other countries than our own. It is only through free
trade that we can draw freely upon the resources of the world beyond
our own boundaries.
As an instance of what I am driving at, I relate the following: The
sixteen landlords who, through the ownership of about fifty million
acres of timber land, dominate the economic structure of the Pacific
Coast, succeeded in passing a law taxing the importation of Canadian
logs. Some of these outfits had mills of their own and wished a
monopoly for them. Of course, after it was impossible to obtain logs
from Canada, the price to the independent non-landowning saw-mill
operator went up, and so did the price of timber lands. The
independents, except in a few instances disappeared. In the face of
this, can anyone say that the tariff is no part of the land question?
The most important aspect of free trade is its capacity as a
Peacemaker. Henry George and all other economists of note agree that
free trade is a necessary foundation for peace. The sum total of what
we are forced to pay through all kinds of taxation for war is far
greater than the whole of economic rent in these United States. If
free trade would solve the problem of war or contribute to that
solution it would remove from the back of labor a burden even greater
than the sum total of economic rent. Thus it is apparent that free
trade is just as important to our philosophy as the land question
itself. Free trade is one phase of the land question.