Sunday, April 10, 2016

Commerce, Christianity and Civilization Vs. British Free Trade: Henry Carey on the British Forcing Opium on China

A week ago, I posted an excerpt from Commerce, Christianity, and Civilization, Versus British Free Trade. Letters in Reply to the London Times, by Henry C. Carey. Philadelphia, Collins, 1876. Though Carey today is rarely mentioned in economics textbooks, he was the leading USA economist of the mid-nineteenth century, a staunch protectionist who was probably the single greatest proponent of what was then called the American School of Political Economy.

If I may repeat part of what I posted last week: American protectionism was much more than simply a rejection of 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. And unlike the competing British School of Adams, Ricardo, and Mill, a central element of the American School was morality. Note the heavy tone of scorn and sarcasm Carey uses in his fifth letter to the editors of the Times of London, as he reviews the British opium trade and its disastrous consequences for China.


Having thus, for the present at least, disposed of the material side of the question now before us, I have here to ask your attention to the moral one, as follows: —

Early in the free-trade crusade it was announced in Parliament that the smuggler was to be regarded as "the great reformer of the age," and from that hour to the present all the aid in the power of that body to give him has been rendered; Gibraltar, Malta, Nova Scotia, Canada, and other possessions, having been chiefly valued for the facilities they have afforded for setting at defiance the laws of nations with which Britain has professed to be at peace. It is, however, to a larger field, that of Eastern Asia, Mr. Editor, that I now invite your attention, to the end that you may be enabled fully to appreciate the manner in which the "great reformer" has done and is now doing his appointed work.

Prior to the close of the last century, the Chinese government had been accustomed to regard opium as a mere medicine whose use was beneficial rather than otherwise. Eminent and observing men, however, having remarked a steady increase in its consumption and very injurious consequences thence resulting, the matter was brought to the emperor's notice, with the effect of inducing him, in the first year of the present century, to issue a proclamation absolutely forbidding its import, and ordering the infliction of heavy penalties upon such as might be led to act in violation of the law. Nevertheless, despite every effort at its enforcement, smuggling steadily increased until, as early as 1824, it had attained a value of $8,000,000.

Nine years later, in 1833, the East India Company's charter was renewed, an express understanding having first been arrived at that opium smuggling should not in any manner be interfered with, the home government thus making itself responsible for all the infamies attendant upon a trade since described by the editor of the Friend of India as follows: —

"All the iniquities of bribery, fraud, perjury, and violence, which are inseparably connected with smuggling, are practiced; and, occasionally, bloody collisions occur between them and the native authorities. Sometimes, with a perfect understanding on both sides, a sham fight is got up between the smugglers and mandarins, in order to display greater vigilance and activity, thereby deceiving the government agents."

Thus sanctioned by the royal head of the English Church, and by those of its illustrious members who then filled high positions in his government, the trade moved forward with great rapidity, the export of 1837 amounting to 40,000 chests and making a demand on China for no less than £25,000,000, or thrice that made but thirteen years before. Alarmed at this, the emperor's councillors were urgent with him to sanction domestic cultivation of the poppy and thus stop a demand that was draining the country of all the silver at its command. To this his answer was given in the memorable words that follow, to wit : "It is true," said he, "I cannot prevent the introduction of the flowing poison; gain-seeking and corrupt men will, for profit and sensuality, defeat my wishes; BUT NOTHING WILL INDUCE ME TO DERIVE A REVENUE FROM THE VICE AND MISERY OF MY PEOPLE."

So much for a barbarian sovereign for the conversion of whose unenlightened subjects to the pure doctrines of Christianity so much anxiety is felt by many of those eminent Britons whose votes have invariably been given in behalf of the "great reformer of the age," wheresoever found; whether on the shores of the China seas or on those of these United States.

The five and thirty years which since have followed, present the facts that follow, to wit: —

1st. An earnest effort at suppression of the trade by means of seizure and confiscation of all the opium that had been introduced in violation of the law. 2d. A bombardment of Canton attended with great destruction of property and life, followed by a treaty by which the poor Chinese were required to pay $21,000,000 for having been so long compelled to submit to the humiliation of being plundered and maltreated by the "great reformer;" and further, to cede Hong Kong, at the mouth of the Canton River, to the end that it might be used as a smuggling depot throughout the future. 3d. The war of 1857, so entirely unprovoked on the part of the Chinese government or people, that it has never yet, as I think, found a defender even in the English press; closing, however, with a treaty by the terms of which the Chinese government, despite of all remonstrance, was compelled to legitimize an annual introduction, counting by millions of pounds, of a commodity that in Britain itself was treated as a poison whose sale was to be subjected to close restriction, and to whose exclusion from Japan the British government had itself agreed.

Bad as was all this, it was scarcely worse than the injury and insult resulting from the fact, that the empire was in a great degree thrown open to the incursions of British agents and travelers, "manifesting," said Sir Frederick Bruce in a dispatch to Earl Russell, "an insolence and disregard to Chinese feelings," greatly exceeding even that which is so usual with those of them who travel  in other countries. Confirming this, Lord Elgin tells his readers that he had seldom in the East "heard a sentence which was reconcilable with the hypothesis that Christianity had come into the world. Detestation, contempt, ferocity, and vengeance," as he continues, "whether Chinamen or Indians be the object."

Unceasing outrages provoking on the part of the poor Chinaman occasional resistance, we find this but three years later, in I860, made the occasion of another war in which the rapid growth of civilization was manifested in the burning of the wonderful winter palace, and the distribution of its treasures, as loot, among the captors.

The treaty of Tientsin provided for its own revision at a future date, which arrived in 1869. On that occasion the Chinese government was urgent for such increase of duty upon opium as would repress its consumption, and to this the British minister consented; but the home government, with Mr. Gladstone at its head, refused its assent, and the duty remained unchanged.

Most anxious, the Chinese commissioners, with Prince Kung at their head, addressed to the minister a communication so affecting in its appeals for mercy to be granted to a great people now becoming financially and morally demoralized by use of a poison the cost of which to the ultimate consumers can scarcely be less than $200,000,000, that I am induced to ask your attention to a portion of it here given, as follows: —
"From Tsungli Yamen to Sir R. Alcock, July, 1869. The writers have, on several occasions, when conversing with his excellency the British Minister, referred to the opium trade as being prejudicial to the general interests of commerce. The object of the treaties between our respective countries was to secure perpetual peace, but if effective steps cannot be taken to remove an accumulating sense of injury from the minds of men, it is to be feared that no policy can obviate sources of future trouble.

* * * If it be desired to remove the very root, and to stop the evil at its source, nothing will be effective but a prohibition to be enforced alike by both parties. Again, the Chinese merchant supplies your country with his goodly tea and silk, conferring thereby a benefit upon her, but the English merchant empoisons China with pestilent opium. Such conduct is unrighteous. Who can justify it ? What wonder if officials and people say that England is wilfully working out China's ruin, and has no real friendly feeling for her? The wealth and generosity of England is spoken of by all. She is anxious to prevent and anticipate all injury to her commercial interest. How is it then she can hesitate to remove an acknowledged evil? Indeed it cannot be that England still holds to this evil business, earning the hatred of the officials and people of China, and making herself a reproach among the nations, because she would lose a little revenue were she to forbid the cultivation of the poppy! The writers hope that his Excellency will memorialize his government to give orders in India and elsewhere to substitute the cultivation of cereals or cotton. Were both nations to rigorously prohibit the growth of the poppy, both the traffic in and the consumption of opium might alike be put an end to. To do away with so great an evil would be a great virtue on England's part; she would strengthen friendly relations, and make herself illustrious. How delightful to have so great an act transmitted to after ages ! This matter is injurious to commercial interests in no ordinary degree. If his Excellency the British Minister cannot, before it is too late, arrange a plan for a joint prohibition (of the traffic), then no matter with what devotedness the writers may plead, they may be unable to cause the people to put aside all ill feeling, and so strengthen friendly relations as to place them for ever beyond fear of disturbance. Day and night, therefore, the writers give to this matter most earnest thought, and overpowering is the distress which it occasions them. Having thus presumed to unbosom  themselves, they would be honored by his Excellency’s reply."
Compare, now, I pray you, Mr. Editor, the conduct of these barbarians, willing to surrender a revenue of $8,000,000 derivable from the import of opium, or, indeed, to make almost any other sacrifice in the interests of humanity, with that of those Christian gentlemen of her majesty's council who, with a certificate in their hand from the minister just then returned from China, of his belief in the absolute good faith and sincerity of the Chinese authorities, declined to make any answer whatsoever to this solemn appeal in behalf of civilization.
To be continued....

No comments:

Post a Comment