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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/321

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GOVERNMENTAL INTERFERENCE.

ernmental interference with the natural course of industries, second in importance only to that afforded by the experience of sugar.

Thus, to accomplish the purpose above noted, the French Government offered in 1881 to give a bounty of $12 a ton on all ships built in French yards of iron and steel; and a subsidy of $3 per 10 tons for every 1,000 miles sailed by French vessels; and as they did not desire to put any inhibition on the citizens of France buying vessels in foreign countries and making them French property, in case they desired to do so, they proposed to give one half the latter subsidy to vessels of foreign construction bought by citizens of France and transferred to the French flag.

At the outset, as was the case with the sugar bounties, the scheme worked admirably. New and extensive steamship lines were organized with almost feverish haste, and the construction of many new and large steamers was promptly commenced and rapidly pushed forward in various French ports, and also in the ship-yards of Great Britain and other countries. The Government paid out a large amount of money, and it got the ships. In two years their tonnage increased from a little over 300,000 to nearly 700,000 tons for steamers alone; while the tonnage engaged on long voyages increased in a single year from 3,000,000 to over 4,700,000 tons.

It was probably a little galling to the French to find out after two years' experience that most of the subsidies paid by the Government were earned by some 200 iron steamers and sailers, and that over six tenths of these were built and probably owned in large part in Great Britain; so that the ship-yards on the Clyde got the lion's share of the money. But as all the vessels were transferred to and sailed under the French flag, and were regarded as belonging to the French mercantile marine, everything seemed to indicate that the new scheme was working very well, and that the Government had really succeeded in building up the shipping of France. But the trouble was that the scheme did not continue to work. The French soon learned by experience the truth of the economic maxim, that ships are the children and not the parents of commerce; and that while it was easy to buy ships out of money raised by taxation, the mere fact of the ownership of two or three hundred more ships did no more to increase trade, than the purchase and ownership of two or three hundred more plows necessarily increased to a farmer the amount of arable land to plow; or, in other words, the French found that they had gone to large expense to buy a new and costly set of tools, and then had no use for them.

And, what was worse, they found, furthermore, that while they had not increased trade to any material extent, they had increased the competition for transacting what trade they already possessed. The result has been that many French shipping-companies that before the subsidy system were able to pay dividends are now no longer able; fortunes that had been derived from the previous artificial pros-