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THE RECIPROCITY CRAZE.


I.

INTRODUCTION.

For some time past incessant attacks have been made on our Free Trade policy. At first these attacks were made doubtingly, hesitatingly; but lately, speakers and writers have become emboldened, the banner of "Protection to Native Industry" has once more been unfurled, and the air resounds with cries for "Reciprocity or Retaliation." This is an astonishing phenomenon to those who understand and appreciate what Free Trade has done, and is doing, for this country. The most striking feature about the agitation is, to their minds, its extraordinary inopportuneness; the time chosen for it being just that moment when the clouds of depression are dispersing, and we seem to be once more floating on the rising wave of prosperity. We have now had thirty-five years' experience of Free Trade, with their ups and downs of inflation and depression. In the course of these years we have witnessed all sorts of political and social changes. We have seen the overthrow of dynasties, the uprising of peoples, and wars waged on an unprecedented scale. Railways and telegraphs have obviated to a great extent the inconveniences of distance and time. Great perturbations in the standard of value have occurred, the gold discoveries at first causing a general rise in prices. Of late years, however, an increasing demand for the metal, and a diminishing supply, accompanied by a partial demonetisation of silver, have caused a disturbance of values in the opposite direction of a general fall in prices. During all these years, England alone among the nations has maintained a system of free ports, the only changes in her fiscal policy being in the direction of greater freedom, while other nations, such as the United States, France, and Germany, have raised round themselves the barriers of prohibitory tariffs. With one exception, every conceivable economical condition that could constitute a test of the principles and practice of Free Trade has occurred, the one condition untried being universal Free Trade. In these circumstances, and with all this varied experience, one would suppose that there was not much room for differences of opinion as to the results achieved, and as to our national condition at the end of the ordeal. Yet, from what is passing around, we cannot but see that extreme divergences exist. While, on the one hand, the Free Trader contemplates with satisfaction the position which his country has attained by her commercial policy, and appeals with confidence to the facts which abound on every side, and which, to his mind, verify to the fullest the theories he has embraced; on the other we find a school of neo-protectionists lamenting what seems to them to be the decadence of their country, and appealing also to facts which appear to them to bear out their views. But, the most astounding thing is, that some of the very same facts which are appealed to by one party as evidence of our abounding prosperity, are held up by the other as the certain proofs of our decay! A crucial example of this is to be found in the various conclusions drawn from the figures which appear in our Board of Trade Returns under the head of "Imports and Exports." The views of the writer upon this and other cognate subjects are, of course, those of the Free Trader. They are set forth in the following chapters in a manner which, it is hoped, will be sufficiently clear. They may perhaps aid the candid inquirer in a search for the truth, and tend to dissipate the "craze."