Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/715

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

large have very erroneous ideas as to the actual results of a protective policy. Most think that, in some mysterious way, protection confers a benefit upon all. It is notorious that in many "protected" occupations wages are at a minimum; it is certain that multitudes suffer from their enforced exclusion from foreign markets; and it is a conspicuous fact that private fortunes are on the increase both in number and in average amount: yet still the delusion is cherished that protection is making the nation, as a whole, richer and more prosperous. Mr. Atkinson says distinctly that "there is a vastly greater proportion of farmers and farm laborers whose home market depends upon the export trade than there is of those who might possibly be harmed if, through imports of foreign articles, the demand for their own products were reduced." He ridicules, and with good reason, the idea that Congress is fit to choose occupations for the people. "What an absurdity!" he exclaims. "As if the people were not bigger than any Congress that ever existed, and could not manage their own affairs vastly better than the average member." With all respect to our valued contributor, we do not think he strikes quite the right note here. There is no need to flatter the people at the expense of Congress, which, after all, is elected by the votes of the people, and contains just as much wisdom and patriotism as the people care to put into it. The point is not that the people are wiser on the average than Congress, for that is not certain; but that no individual is wise enough to undertake to interfere with the natural laws of supply and demand, or to substitute artificial adjustments of his own devising for those naturally existing in the economic sphere. We would not trust all the wisdom in the country to undertake such a task. There is this, too, to be considered: that each private individual feels for himself the pressure and influence of surrounding conditions upon his business, and adapts himself thereto as best he can; whereas the Legislature deals with business generally—the business of the whole country—upon more or less abstract principles. In this sense the action of the average individual is apt to be wiser than the action of Congress—not because he is wiser than the average Congressman, but because he is dealing with a problem more or less level with his powers, whereas Congress undertakes to deal with one wholly beyond its powers.

A strong point made by Mr. Atkinson is his demonstration that even "infant industries" do not need to be nursed by a tariff when they are properly located and have large markets open to them. The instance he cites is that of our own iron and other manufacturing interests in the Southern States. On the principles we constantly hear maintained by protectionists, the manufacturing industries of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts should have crushed out any attempt at competition in the South, the latter being unable to "protect" itself by a tariff; but nothing of the kind has happened, and Southern industries are yearly increasing in volume and importance. This is an argument to which there is no answer. If the industries of the South could maintain and develop themselves in the face of the competition of heavily subsidized industries, commanding vast capital and fully organized, in the North, will any one pretend that our national industries, so far as they were in any way suited to the country, could not have maintained and developed themselves in the face of foreign competition?

We can not but believe that the common sense of the country will see before long that this, the youngest of nations, instead of leading the van in the application of sound and progressive principles of economic policy, has been hugging to its bosom the narrowest