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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/467

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463
TARIFF REVISION

TARIFF REVISION FROM THE CONSUMER'S STANDPOINT
By JESSE F. ORTON

REFORM CLUB, NEW YORK CITY

EX-REPRESENTATIVE Charles H. Grosvenor, of Ohio, while addressing the Ways and Means Committee, December 2, on tariff revision, used this language: "It is an unfortunate reference that is constantly being made to the wants and anxieties of the consumer. . . . The prosperity of the consumer goes hand-in-hand with the prosperity of the manufacturer." We have long been accustomed to the view that the consumer's interest is a subordinate one; but now mere reference to it is "unfortunate"; perhaps it will soon be criminal, or at least an act calling for social ostracism.

The majority members of the ways and means committee did not in terms echo General Grosvenor's sentiment, that the "wants and anxieties of the consumer" should be tabooed, but most of them showed their sympathy by action throughout the hearings. Representative Boutell, of Illinois, from the very first, set out to ascertain from witnesses what effect the lowering of duties would have on what he termed "the ultimate consumer"; and this phrase soon became a standing joke with the committee. One would have thought that surely there could not be, among the constituents of these congressmen, a single person so insignificant and vulgar as this same "consumer" must be. As most of the witnesses were protected manufacturers, they easily agreed that the consumer would not be helped by any reduction of duties, that the wicked importers would take all the benefits. When witnesses thought duties should be increased, as they frequently did, they were sure that consumers would not feel the "infinitesimal" burden that would be added, if indeed any were added. There seemed to be a sort of division of labor among the committee members, and it was Mr. Boutell's task to show that the misguided consumers of the country had no need for "anxiety," that they could not be helped by removing taxes or harmed by putting taxes on. Unfortunately, a few tax-paying goats were mingled among the tax-eating sheep that appeared before the committee, and their answers were not satisfactory to Mr. Boutell; they were very sure that the consumer was hurt by taxing the things he must buy and would be relieved by reducing the taxes; but the good representative from Illinois quickly forgot the discordant notes and went on calmly stating, day after day, that the unanimous opinion of witnesses was that the consumer would not benefit, etc., and expressing a hope that, before the hearings closed, the committee might discover