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exceeds that of exports, a debt is necessarily created to the extent of the difference, whereas, ordinarily, the import is no more than the result of the export, augmented in value by the labor of transportation. The excess of imports over exports, in truth, usually shows the gains, not the losses, of trade; or, in a country that not only buys and sells goods, but employs ships in carrying goods also, it shows the profits of commerce, and the earnings of navigation. Nothing is more certain than that, in the usual course of things, and taking a series of years together, the value of our imports is the aggregate of our exports and our freights. If the value of commodities imported in a given instance did not exceed the value of the outward cargo, with which they were purchased, then it would be clear to every man's common sense, that the voyage had not been profitable. If such commodities fell far short in value of the cost of the outward cargo, then the voyage would be a very losing one; and yet it would present exactly that state of things, which, according to the notion of a balance of trade, can alone indicate a prosperous commerce. On the other hand, if the return cargo were found to be worth much more than the outward cargo, while the merchant, having paid for the goods exported, and all the expenses of the voyage, finds a handsome sum yet in his hands, which he calls profits, the balance of trade is still against him, and, whatever he may think of it, he is in a very bad way. Although one individual or all individuals gain, the nation loses; while all its citizens grow rich, the country grows poor. This is the doctrine of the balance of trade.
Allow me, Sir, to give an instance tending to show how unaccountably individuals deceive themselves, and imagine themselves to be somewhat rapidly mending their condition, while they ought to be persuaded that, by that infallible standard, the balance of trade, they are on the high road to ruin. Some years ago, in better times than the present, a ship left one of the towns of New England with 70,000 specie dollars. She proceeded to Mocha, on the Red Sea, and there laid out these dollars in coffee, drugs, spices, and other articles procured in that market. With this new cargo she proceeded to Europe; two thirds of it were sold in Holland for $ 130,000, which the ship brought back, and placed in the same bank from the vaults of which she had taken her original outfit. The other third was sent to the
ports of the Mediterranean, and produced a return of $ 25,000 in specie, and $ 15,000 in Italian merchandise. These sums together make $ 170,000 imported, which is $ 100,000 more than was exported, and is therefore proof of an unfavorable bal. ance of trade, to that amount, in this adventure. We should find no great difficulty, Sir, in paying off our balances, if this were the nature of them all.
The truth is, Mr. Chairman, that all these obsolete and exploded notions had their origin in very mistaken ideas of the true nature of commerce. Commerce is not a gambling among nations for a stake, to be won by some and lost by others. It has not the tendency necessarily to impoverish one of the parties to it, while it enriches the other; all parties gain, all parties make profits, all parties grow rich, by the operations of just and liberal commerce. If the world had but one clime and but one soil; if all men had the same wants and the same means, on the spot of their existence, to gratify those wants, - then, indeed, what one obtained from the other by exchange would injure one party in the same degree that it benefited the other; then, indeed, there would be some foundation for the balance of trade. But Providence has disposed our lot much more kindly. We inhabit a various earth. We have reciprocal wants, and reciprocal means for gratifying one another's wants. This is the true origin of commerce, which is nothing more than an exchange of equivalents, and, from the rude barter of its primitive state, to the refined and complex condition in which we see it, its principle is uniformly the same; its only object being, in every stage, to produce that exchange of commodities between individuals and between nations which shall conduce to the advantage and to the happiness of both. Commerce between nations has the same essential character as commerce between individuals, or between parts of the same nation. Cannot two individuals make an interchange of commodities which shall prove beneficial to both, or in which the balance of trade shall be in favor of both ? If not, the tailor and the shoemaker, the farmer and the smith, have hitherto very much misunderstood their own interests. And with regard to the internal trade of a country, in which the same rule would apply as between nations, do we ever speak of such an intercourse as prejudicial to one side because it is useful to the other? Do we ever hear that, because the intercourse between
New York and Albany is advantageous to one of those places, it must therefore be ruinous to the other ?
May I be allowed, Sir, to read a passage on this subject from the observations of a gentleman, in my opinion one of the most clear and sensible writers and speakers of the age upon subjects of this sort ?* “ There is no political question on which the prevalence of false principles is so general, as in what relates to the nature of commerce and to the pretended balance of trade; and there are few which have led to a greater number of practical mistakes, attended with consequences extensively prejudicial to the happiness of mankind. In this country, our Parliamentary proceedings, our public documents, and the works of several able and popular writers, have combined to propagate the impression, that we are indebted for much of our riches to what is called the balance of trade." “ Our true policy would surely be to profess, as the object and guide of our commercial system, that which every man who has studied the subject must know to be the true principle of commerce, the interchange of reciprocal and equivalent benefit. We may rest assured that it is not in the nature of commerce to enrich one party at the expense of the other. This is a purpose at which, if it were practicable, we ought not to aim; and which, if we aimed at, we could not accomplish.” These remarks, I believe, Sir, were written some ten or twelve years ago. They are in perfect accordance with the opinions advanced in more elaborate treatises, and now that the world has returned to a state of peace, and commerce has resumed its natural channels, and different nations are enjoying, or seeking to enjoy, their respective portions of it, all see the justness of these ideas; all see, that, in this day of knowledge and of peace, there can be no commerce between nations but that which shall benefit all who are parties to it.
If it were necessary, Mr. Chairman, I might ask the attention of the committee to refer to a document before us, on this subject of the balance of trade. It will be seen by reference to the accounts, that, in the course of the last year, our total export to Holland exceeded two millions and a half; our total import from the same country was but seven hundred thousand dollars. Now, can any man be wild enough to make any inference from this as to the
Mr. Huskisson, President of the English Board of Trade. VOL. III.
gain or loss of our trade with Holland for that year? Our trade with Russia for the same year produced a balance the other way; our import being two millions, and our export but half a million. But this has no more tendency to show the Russian trade a losing trade, than the other statement has to show that the Dutch trade has been a gainful one. Neither of them, by itself, proves any thing.
Springing out of this notion of a balance of trade, there is another idea, which has been much dwelt upon in the course of this debate; that is, that we ought not to buy of nations who do not buy of us; for example, that the Russian trade is a trade disadvantageous to the country, and ought to be discouraged, because, in the ports of Russia, we buy more than we sell. Now allow me to observe, in the first place, Sir, that we have no account showing how much we do sell in the ports of Russia. Our official returns show us only what is the amount of our direct trade with her ports. But then we all know that the proceeds of another portion of our exports go to the same market, though indirectly. We send our own products, for example, to Cuba, or to Brazil; we there exchange them for the sugar and the coffee of those countries, and these articles we carry to St. Petersburg, and there sell them. Again; our exports to Holland and Hamburg are connected directly or indirectly with our imports from Russia. What difference does it make, in sense or reason, whether a cargo of iron be bought at St. Petersburg, by the exchange of a cargo of tobacco, or whether the tobacco' has been sold on the way, in a better market, in a port of Holland, the money remitted to England, and the iron paid for by a bill on London? There might indeed have been an augmented freight, there might have been some saving of commissions, if tobacco had been in brisk demand in the Russian market. But still there is nothing to show that the whole voyage may not have been highly profitable. That depends upon the original cost of the article here, the amount of freight and insurance to Holland, the price obtained there, the rate of exchange between Holland and England, the expense, then, of proceeding to St. Petersburg, the price of iron there, the rate of exchange between that place and England, the amount of freight and insurance at home, and, finally, the value of the iron when brought to our own market. These are the calculations which
determine the fortune of the adventure; and nothing can be judged of it, one way or the other, by the relative state of our imports or exports with Holland, England, or Russia.
I would not be understood to deny, that it may often be our interest to cultivate a trade with countries that require most of such commodities as we can furnish, and which are capable also of directly supplying our own wants.
This is the original and the simplest form of all commerce, and is no doubt highly beneficial. Some countries are so situated, that commerce, in this original form, or something near it, may be all that they can, without considerable inconvenience, carry on. Our trade, for example, with Madeira and the Western Islands has been useful to the country, as furnishing a demand for some portion of our agricultural products, which probably could not have been bought had we not received their products in return. Countries situated still farther from the great marts and highways of the commercial world may afford still stronger instances of the necessity and utility of conducting commerce on the original principle of barter, without much assistance from the operations of credit and exchange. All I would be understood to say is, that it by no means follows that we can carry on nothing but a losing trade with a country from which we receive more of her products than she receives of ours. Since I was supposed, the other day, in speaking upon this subject, to advance opinions which not only this country ought to reject, but which also other countries, and those the most distinguished for skill and success in commercial intercourse, do reject, I will ask leave to refer again to the discussion which I first mentioned in the English Parliament, relative to the foreign trade of that country.“ With regard,” says the mover of the proposition,“ to the argument employed against renewing our intercourse with the North of Europe, namely, that those who supplied us with timber from that quarter would not receive British manufactures in return, it appeared to him futile and ungrounded. If they did not send direct for our manufactures at home, they would send for them to Leipsic and other fairs of Germany. Were not the Russian and Polish merchants purchasers there to a great amount? But he would never admit the prin
* The Marquess of Lansdowne.