Sunday, April 3, 2016

Commerce, Christianity, and Civilization Vs. British Free Trade: Henry Carey's replies to the London Times, February 1876

In January 1876, an editor of The Times of London penned an attack on the protectionist policies of the United States, which Commissioners in Canada were considering adopting for their country. The policy of free trade, the editor wrote, is "the cardinal doctrine of English political economy, which is held in this country as an unquestionable scientific truth, to question which must indicate ignorance or imbecility." Opposition to free trade and a protectionist policy, he wrote, "could not be honestly held by an intelligent person."

The Times editor excoriated by name Henry C. Carey, the leading USA economist of the time, a staunch protectionist who had written the economic policy planks of the 1860 Republican Party platform on which Abraham Lincoln ran for President. But American protectionism was much more than simply a rejection the concept of comparative advantage. Michael Hudson explains in the Preface to his 2010 book America’s Protectionist Takeoff: The Neglected American School of Political Economy:
The protectionist doctrine that shaped America's industry and agriculture... went beyond the narrow boundaries of today's economics discipline by deeming public policy and technology central to economic theorizing, not "exogenous." Analyzing what was needed to increase productivity, the American School emphasized that wages and prices had to be high enough to sustain rising living and educational standards for labor, and investment in rising energy mobilization by capital."
But the American School even went beyond that. Carey and other American School economists always kept in view the ultimate goal of economic policies: the establishment and enhancement of civilization.

In the Conclusion to his 1851 book, The Harmony of Interests: Agricultural, Manufacturing & Commercial, Carey wrote that the British system of free trade "looks to pauperism, ignorance, depopulation, and barbarism," while the American School aims "to increasing wealth, comfort, intelligence, combination of action, and civilization."
Such is the true MISSION of the people of these United States. To them has been granted a privilege never before granted to man, that of the exercise of the right of perfect self-government; but, as rights and duties are inseparable, with the grant of the former came the obligation to perform the latter. Happily their performance is pleasant and profitable, and involves no sacrifice. To raise the value of labour throughout the world, we need only to raise the value of our own. To raise the value of land throughout the world, it is needed only that we adopt measures that shall raise the value of our own. To diffuse intelligence and to promote the cause of morality throughout the world, we are required only to pursue the course that shall diffuse education throughout our own land, and shall enable every man more readily to acquire property, and with it respect for the rights of property. To improve the political condition of man throughout the world, it is needed that we ourselves should remain at peace, avoid taxation for the maintenance of fleets and armies, and become rich and prosperous. To raise the condition of women throughout the world, it is required of us only that we pursue that course that enables men to remain at home and marry, that they may surround themselves with happy children and grand-children. To substitute true Christianity for the detestable system known as the Malthusian, it is needed that we prove to the world that it is population that makes the food come from the rich soils, and that food tends to increase more rapidly than population, vindicating the policy of God to man.... (pp.228-29) 
In his letters to The Times of London, Carey reviewed in detail the results of free trade policies in Britain, with the results of protectionist policies in France (an excerpt of this comparison is below). He then reviews the results of British free trade policies in China and India, detailing the ruin those unfortunate countries had been driven into by the so-called "Christian" traders of Britain. The fifth letter, in particular, throbs with Carey's moral outrage as he describes how Britain deliberately set about poisoning the people of China with opium. At a later date, we will provide a large extract from that letter.

For now, here is a smaller excerpt from the much tamer third letter, dated Feb. 18, 1876, comparing the economic policies of Britain, France, and the United States.

Excerpt from Commerce, Christianity, and Civilization, Versus British Free Trade. Letters in Reply to the London Times, by Henry C. Carey. Philadelphia, Collins, 1876.

In the sixty years that have passed since the close of the great war, France has, as I believe, never once attempted to interfere in our affairs; nor, so far as I can recollect, have the French people sought in any manner to influence our legislation. She and they have been content to allow us to determine for ourselves our commercial arrangements, confident that, whatsoever might be their form, French skill and taste would so far triumph over such obstacles as might be raised as to enable France to participate in supplying the great market the Union now presents. 

Widely different from this, British interference has been persistent throughout this whole period, increasing in its force as the danger to British interests became more clearly obvious. On one  occasion, some five and twenty years since, your then minister  had the bad taste, if not even the impertinence, to send to our Department a lecture on the folly of protection, accompanied by a strong remonstrance against increase in the duties on British iron. Of the course that has been since pursued some idea may be formed after a study of the exhibit, made in a document herewith of the discreditable proceedings of the Canadian Commissioner in reference to that, so-called, Reciprocity Treaty whose adoption he then was urging; these things having been done under the eye, and, as we have every reason to believe, with the sanction of the minister under whose roof the commissioner was then residing.  The corruption then and there practiced may be taken as the type of the whole British action in this country; agents being sent out  to lecture on the advantages of free trade; journalistic correspondents being purchased; Cobden Club publications being gratuitously distributed; and our domestic affairs being in every possible manner interfered with; with simply the effect of proving that there reigns abroad great fear that the Union may speedily achieve an industrial independence and thus emancipate itself from the system described more than a century since by Joshua Gee when assuring  his countrymen that more than three-fourths of the products of these colonies were absorbed by British traders, and that the share allowed  to the colonists scarcely sufficed to purchase clothing for their families and themselves.

Turn now, Mr. Editor, to your own journal of the 25th alt., and  re-read the inquiry there made as to "what possible outlet we can  have for our produce in the event of such an important purchaser  being lost to us permanently;" following this up by study of your  answer to the effect, that "the high tariff so long maintained by  the United States has at length brought her producing powers up  to her requirements," and that, therefore, "we cannot but great!" fear that the crisis of depression is by no means past, and it is not  improbable that the list of works that have closed for want  of orders will be augmented, and many more workmen be thrown  out of employment before the year is out." Turn next to your  report of the Address of the President of the Sheffield Chamber of  Commerce, and find him admitting that although "they had argued  during the term of the free trade agitation that protected industries  failed, that the quality deteriorated, and the enterprising manufacturers began to stagnate, that did not seem to apply to American  manufacturers;" the general result at which the speaker had arrived  being precisely that which you yourself had just before suggested,  to wit, that the American market had been lost, and had been so  because of a protective tariff such as you have now denounced.

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