This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
We have said that legal protection may be imposed from one or more of four general reasons.
We have discussed the first two; viz.,—
To raise a revenue.
To encourage the growth of certain commodities at home.
We now come to the remaining reasons, which will demand but little attention, as their principles have already been developed.
To support existing manufactures.
Here we leave the expediency of founding special industries by a system of protection, and confine ourselves to the question, whether, such industries having been begun and developed under high tariffs, capital having become so engaged, labor having become so employed, it is not necessary to continue the protection.
So far as this acknowledges a moral obligation on the government to save from loss those who have followed the guidance of its laws, it is a question for the statesman. But the economist can urge, that, if the burden of such bad investments must be borne by the public, it would be preferable to have it assumed in the shape of direct relief to the manufacturers, rather than by a system which is sure to multiply such unfortunate enterprises, and perpetuate their weakness. That great caution and forbearance are, necessary, in removing even a false institution, is not a maxim which economy has to teach politics.
And here we come face to face with the great practical difficulty of protection in our country; that which, if all its principles were triumphantly proved in general reasoning, should still throw it out of our legislation. If it were proved harmless, if it were proved beneficial, there is a strong reason against ever attempting to realize it here. That difficulty resides in the varying politics of our country. Injurious as protection is to the best interests of the country, any system of it, however severe, would be prefer- able to the " open-and-shut" policy, absolutely unavoidable in a government like ours. It is not within the bounds of reason to suppose that the alternate successes of parties will not continue to convulse our national legislation; and therefore it is with emphasis true, that a consistent system of protection is only possible in a government with great conservative force and great central powers. A representative body, embracing the most opposite interests, swayed by such influences and intrigues as notoriously possess such an organization, and changed in all its parts every few years, is not the place in which to adjust accurately and dispassionately the economical parts of a nation, and distribute the agencies of production.
It is our felicity, that our well-being does not depend on such counsels, but that great Nature has fixed the forces of industry in perfect harmony, and to the most beneficent ends.
To secure commercial independence. True commercial independence is attained by any nation, when its natural resources are so developed and cultivated that it becomes a power in the world, can command the products of the industry of every clime, because it can furnish that which all others want. This is independence in commerce. Independence of commerce is the independence of the savage, or of undiscovered countries. To assume that such independence of all mutual helpfulness is desirable, outrages the earliest sense of humanity.
But it is claimed that such a separation from all offices of kindness is necessary to protect nations in war.
So far as the state urges the claims of its own safety, the principles of economic science must be silent. But this interference with the laws of value, for the preservation of the national life, must be strictly limited to the absolute necessities of war.
There are many reasons to suppose, that this interference is rarely, if ever, necessary. There are very few states which could not, on occasion, supply from their own soil the means of warfare. It would be much better that nations should, by anticipation, secure from abroad a sufficient amount of material, than by indirect efforts distort their industry to an extent many times greater than would be involved in obtaining beforehand, by commerce, whatever might be necessary.
But finally and decisively, if it is alleged, under any circumstances, to be essential that a nation should possess within itself the means of war, we answer that it should undertake the manufacture by a special government agency, not by changing the entire industry of a people to produce this as an incidental result. Such is, in fact, the procedure of most, if not all, civilized nations, and leaves no force in the plea for national independence. But the argument for protection from the necessities of war has almost disappeared in the intenser light of our growing civilization. The independence of each nation in commerce, existing harmoniously with its dependence on commerce, forms the best hope of peace and tranquillity for the future. It may be safely assumed, that the probabilities of war between any two peoples are inversely as their commercial relations. The great reason against war, in the present age, is not the expense of maintaining armies, nor the destruction of life, but the interruption of trade. This not only puts peacemakers in the councils at home, but makes all nations mediators between the parties at variance.