Images de page

yet these quantities do not nearly contain the whole number brought to London, which for want of such taxes as at Paris, can be discovered with no certainty. The consumption of Brest is registered for the year 1778, when 22,000 people, in 1900 houses consumed 82,000 boiseau, each 150lb. of corn of all sorts; 16,000 bariques of wine and brandy, and 1000 of cider and beer.* This consumption amounted to pèr headcorn 24 septiers, of 240lb. per annum; wine, brandy, beer, and cyder, one-third of a quart per head per diem. Nancy, in 1733, when it contained 19,645 souls, consumed,

Oxen 2402. Calves 9073. Sheep 11,863. Total 23,338.

It consumed, therefore, more than one of these pieces per head of its population. In 1738, when it contained 19,831 souls, it consumed,

Oxen 2309. Calves 5038. Sheep 9549. Total 16,896;†

above three-fourths each. The consumption of Paris is three-fourths of one of these beasts per head of population. As the finest cattle in the kingdom are sent to the capital, the proportions in number ought to be less; but the wealth of that capital would have justified the supposition of a still greater comparative consumption.


OF all subjects, there is none comparable to the police of corn, for displaying the folly to which men can arrive, who do not betray a want of common sense in reasoning on other topics. One tells us (I confine myself chiefly to French authorities, engaged as I am at present in researches in that kingdom) that the price is in exact proportion to the quantity of corn, and to the quantity of money at the same time in the kingdom; and that when wheat sells at 36 livres the septier, it is a proof there is not half enough to last till harvest. He proposes to have magazines in every market, and to prohibit under severe penalties, a higher price than 24 livres. This would be the infallible method to have it very soon at 50, and perhaps 100 livres. That the price of corn does not depend on the quantity of money, is proved by the sudden rise proceeding from alarms, of which this author might have known an instance in the year he printed; for M. Necker's memoir to the National Assembly was no sooner dispersed, than the price rose in one week 30 per cent. ; yet the quantity in the kingdom both of money and corn, remained just as before that memoir was published. But it has already been sufficiently proved, that a very small deficiency of the crop will make an enormous difference in the price. I may add that the mere apprehension of a deficiency, whether ill or well founded, will we the same effect. From this circumstante, I draw a conclusion of no trifling import to all governments; and that is, never to express publicly any apprehension of a want of corn; and the only method by which government can express their fears, is by proclamations against export: prohibitions; ordinances of regulation of sale; arrets, or laws against monopolizers; or vain and frivolous boasts, like those of Mons. Necker, of making great imports from abroad; all these measures have the same tendency; they confirm amongst the people the apprehension of want; for when it is found amongst the lowest orders, that government is alarmed as well as they themselves, their own fears augment; they rise in a rage against monopolizers, or speculators, as they ought rather to be called, and then every step they take has the never

*Encyclop. Methodique Marine, tom. i. part 1. p. 198.

↑ Descrip. de la Lorraine, par M. Durival, 3 tom. quarto, 1778, t. ii. p. 5. Consid. sur la Cherte des Grains, par M. Vaudrey, 1789, octavo, p. 5.

Ib. p. 7, 8, 19.

failing effect of increasing the evil; the price rises still higher, as it must do inevitably, when such furious obstructions are thrown on the interior trade in corn, as to make it a matter of great and serious danger to have any thing to do with it. In such a situation of madness and folly in the people, the plenty of one district cannot supply the want of another, without such a monstrous premium, as shall not only pay the expence of transport, but insure the corn, when lodged in granaries, against the blind and violent suspicions of the people. To raise this spirit, nothing more is necessary than for government to issue any decree whatever, that discovers an alarm; the people immediately are apprehensive of famine; and this apprehension can never take place without creating the reality in a great measure. It is therefore the duty of a wise and enlightened government, if at any time they should fear a short provision of corn, to take the most private and cautious measures possible, either to prevent export, by buying up the corn that is collected for exportation, and keeping it within the kingdom, a measure easy to be done through individuals, or to encourage import, and to avoid making any public decree or declaration. The history of corn, in France, during the year 1789, was a most extraordinary proof of the justness of these principles. Wherever I passed, and it was through many provinces, I made inquiries into the causes of the scarcity; and was every where assured, that the dearness was the most extraordinary circumstance in the world: for, though the crop had not been great, yet it was about an average one; and consequently that the deficiency must certainly have been occasioned by exportation. I demanded, if they were sure that an exportation had taken place? They replied, no; but that it might have been done privately: this answer sufficiently shewed, that these exports were purely ideal. The dearness, however, prevailed to such a degree, in May and June particularly (not without being fomented by men who sought to blow the discontents of the people into absolute outrage) that Mons. Necker thought it right not only to order immense cargoes of wheat, and every other sort of corn, to be bought up all over Europe, but likewise in June, to announce to the public, with great parade, the steps that he had taken, in a paper called Memoire Instructif, in which he stated, that he had bought, and ordered to be bought, 1,404,463 quintaux of different sorts of grain, of which more than 300,000 were arrived. I was a personal witness, in many markets, of the effect of this publication; instead of sinking the price, it raised it directly, and enormously. Upon one market day, at Nangis, from 38 livres to 43 livres the septier of 240lb.; and upon the following one to 49 livres, which was July 1st; and on the next day, at Columiers, it was taxed by the police at 4 livres 5s. and 4 livres 6s. the 25lb.; but as the farmers would not bring it to market at that price, they sold it at their farms at 5 livres, and even 6 livres, or 57 livres the septier. At Nangis it advanced, in fourteen days, 11 livres a septier; and at Columiers a great deal more. Now, it is to be observed, that these markets are in the vicinity of the capital, for which Mons. Necker's great foreign provision was chiefly designed; and consequently if his measures would have had any where a good effect, it might have been expected here; but since the contrary happened, and the price, in two markets, was raised 25 per cent. we may reasonably conclude, that it did good no where; but to what was this apparent scarcity imputable? Absolutely to Mons, Necker's having said in his memoir, à mon arivee dans la ministere je me hatai de prendre des informations sur le produit de la recolte & sur les besoins des pays etrangers.* It was from these unseasonable inquiries in September

* He has introduced a tissue of the same stuff in his Memoir sur L'Administration de M. Necker, par lui meme, p. 367, where he says, with the true ignorance of the prohibitory system, "Mon systeme sur l'exportation des grains est infiniment simple, ainsi que j'ai eu souvent l'occasion de le developper; il se borne a n'en avoir aucun d'immuable, mais a defendre ou permettre cette exportation

1788, that all the mischief was derived. They pervaded the whole kingdom, and spread an universal alarm; the price in consequence arose; and when once it rises in France, mischief immediately follows, because the populace, by their violence, render the internal trade insecure and dangerous. The business of the minister was done in a moment; his consummate vanity, which, from having been confined to his character as an author, now became the scourge of the kingdom, prohibited the export for no other reason, than because the archbishop of Sens had the year before allowed it, in contradiction to that mass of errors and prejudices which M. Necker's book upon the corn trade had disseminated. It is curious to see him, in his Memoir Instructif, asserting, that France, in 1787, etoit livree au commerce des grains dans tout le royaume, avec plus d'activite, que jamais & l'on avoit envoye dans l'etranger une quantite considerable de grains. Now, to see the invidious manner in which this is put, let us turn to the register of the Bureau General de la balance du Commerce, where we shall find the following statement of the corn trade for 1787:

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

"selon le

selon le temps & selon les circonstances." When a man starts upon a rotten foundation, he is sure to flounder in this manner; the simplicity of a system to be new-moulded every moment, temps & selon les circonstances!" And who is to judge of these seasons and circumstances? A minister? A government? These, it seems, are to promulgate laws, in consequence of their having made inquiries into the state of crops and stocks on hand. What presumption! what an excess of vanity must it be, which impels a man to suppose, that the truth is within the verge of such inquiries; er, that he is one line, or one point nearer to it, after he has made them before he began. Go to the intendant in France, or to the lord lieutenant of England, and suppose him to receive a letter from government directing such inquiries; pursue the intelligence, follow him to his table for conversation on crops, or in his ride among the farmers (an idea that may obtain in England, but never was such a ride taken by an intendant in France) in order to make inquiries; mark the desultory, broken, and false specimens of the intelligence he receives, and then recur to the simplicity of the system that is to be founded on such inquiries. Mons. Necker writes as if we were ignorant of the sources of his information. He ought to have known that ministers can never procure it; and that they cannot be so good an authority for a whole kingdom, at a country gentleman, skilled in agriculture, is for his -own parish; yet what gentleman would presume to pronounce upon a crop, to the 360th part of its amount, or even to the 20th? But it must be observed, that all Mons. Necker's simple operations, which caused an unlimited import, at an unlimited expence, affected not one twentieth part of a year's consumption by the people, whose welfare he took upom him to superintend. If this plain fact, the undoubted ignorance of every man what the crop is, or has been, in such fractions as, 30, and much more, be well considered, it will surely follow, that an absolute and unbounded liberty in the corn trade is infinitely more likely to have effect, than such paltry, deceitful, and false inquiries as this minister, with his system of complex simplicity, was forced, according to his own account, to rely upon. Let the reader pursue the passage, p. 369, the prevoyance of government; application; hater le mouvement du commerce; attrait prochain; calculs. A pretty support for a great nation! Their subsistence is to depend on the combination of a visionary declaimer, rather than on the industry and energy of THEIR OWN exertions. Mons. Necker's performance deserves an attentive perusal, especially when he paints pathetically the anxieties he suffered on account of the want of corn. I wished that those who read it would only carry in their minds this undoubted fact, that the scarcity which occasioned those inquietudes was absolutely and solely of his own creating; and that if he had not been minister in France, and that government had taken no step whatever in this affair, there would not have been such a word as scarcity heard in the kingdom. He converted, by his management, an ordinarily short crop into a scarcity; and he made that scarcity a famine; to remedy which, he assumes so much merit, as to nauseate a common reader.

This account shews pretty clearly how well founded the minister was, when he attempted to throw on the wise measure of his predecessor the mischiefs which arose from his own pernicious prejudices alone; and how the liberty of commerce, which had taken place most advantageously in consequence of the free trade in 1787, had been more an import trade than an export one; and of course, it shews, that when he advised his sovereign to prohibit that trade, he acted directly contrary even to his own principles; and he did this at the hazard of raising a general alarm in the kingdom, which is always of worse consequence than any possible export. His whole conduct, therefore, was one continued series of such errors, as can, in a sensible man, be attributed only to the predominant vanity that instigated him to hazard the welfare of a great nation to defend a treatise of his own composition. But as this minister thought proper to change the system of a natural export and import; and to spread, by his measures, an alarm amongst the people, that seemed to confirm their own apprehensions, let us next examine what he did to cure the evils he had thus created. He imported, at the enormous expence of 45,543,697 livres (about 2,000,000 sterling) the quantity of 1,404,465 quintaux of corn of all sorts, which, at 240lb. make 585,192 septiers, sufficient to feed no more than 195,064 people a year. At three septiers per head, for the population of 26 millions of mouths, this supply, thus egregiously boasted of, would not, by 55,908 septiers, feed France even for three days; for her daily consumption is 213,700 septiers, nor have I the least doubt of more persons dying of famine, in consequence of his measures, than all the corn he procured would feed for a year. So absolutely contemptible is all importation as a remedy for famine! and so utterly ridiculous is the idea of preventing your own people from being starved, by all owing an import which, in its greatest and most forced quantities, bears so trifling a proportion to the consumption of a whole people, even when bribed, rather than bought from every country in Europe! But a conclusion of much greater importance is to be deduced from these curious facts, in the most explicit confirmation of the preceding principles, that all great variations in the price of corn are engendered by apprehension, and do not depend on the quantity in the markets. The report of Mons. Necker's measures we have found, did not sink, but raised the price providing France with less than three days bread, when blazed forth with all the apparatus of government, actually raised the price in the markets, where I was a witness, 25 per cent. Of what possible consequence was three days provision added to the national stock, when compared with the misery and famine implied, and which actually took place in consequence of pushing the price up so enormously, by Mons. Necker's measures? Would it not have been infinitely wiser never to have stopped the trade, which I have proved to have been a trade of import? Never to have expressed any solicitude? Never to have taken any public steps, but to have let the demand and supply quietly meet, without noise and without parade? The consequence would have been, saving forty-five millions of the public money, and the lives of some hundred thousands, starved by the high price that was created, even without a scarcity; for I am firmly persuaded, that if no public step whatever had been taken, and the archbishop of Sens' edict never repealed, the price of wheat in no part of France would have seen, in 1739, so high a rate as 30 livres, instead of rising to 50 and 57 livres. If there is any truth in these principles, what are we to think of the first minister hunting after a little popularity, and boasting

At a moment when there was a great stagnation in every sort of employment, a high price of bread, instead of a moderate one, must have destroyed many; there was no doubt of great numbers dying for want in every part of the kingdom. The people were reduced in some places to eat bran and boiled grass. Journal de l'Alp Nat. tom. i.

in his Memoire, that the king allowed only bread of wheat and rye mixed to be served at his own table? What were the conclusions to be looked for in the people, but that if such were the extremities to which France was reduced, all were in danger of death for want of bread. The consequence is palpable; a blind rage against monopolizers, hanging bakers, seizing barges, and setting fire to magazines; and the inevitable effect of a sudden and enormous rise in the price, wherever such measures are precipitated by the populace, who never are truly active but in their own destruction. It was the same spirit that dictated the following passage, in that Memoire Instructif, "Les accaparemens sont la premiere cause a laquelle la multitude attribue la cherte des grains, & en effet on souvent eu lieu de se plaindre de la cupidite des speculateurs."* I cannot read these lines, which are as untrue in fact as erroneous in argument, without indignation. The multitude never have to complain of speculators; they are always greatly indebted to them. There is no such thing as monopolizing corn but to the benefit of the people. And all the evils of the year 1789 would have been prevented, if monopoli

*This is pretty much like his sending a memoir to the national assembly, which was read October 24, in which the minister says, Il est donc urgent de defendre de plus en plus l'exportatoin en France; mais il est difficile de veiller a cette prohibiton. On a fait placer des cordons de troupes sur les frontiers a cette effect. Journal des Etats Generaux, tom. v. p. 194. Every expression of this nature becoming public, tended to inflame the people, and consequently to raise the price.

† I am much inclined to believe, that no sort of monopoly ever was, or ever can be injurious without the assistance of government; and that government never tends in the least to favour a monopoly without doing infinite mischief. We have heard in England of attempts to monopolize hemp, allum, cotton, and many other articles: ill-conceived speculations, that always ended in the ruin of the schemers, and eventually did good, as I could shew, if this were the proper place. But to monopolize any article of common and daily supply and consumption to a mischievous degree, is absolutely impossible: to buy large quantities, at the cheapest season of the year, in order to hoard and bring them out at the very dearest moment, is the idea of a monopolizer or accapereur: this is, of all other transactions, the most beneficial towards an equal supply. The wheat which such a man buys is cheap, or he would not buy it with a view to profit: What does he do then? He takes from the market a portion, when the supply is large; and he brings that portion to the market when the supply is small; and for doing this you hang him as an enemy. Why? Because he has made a private profit, perhaps a very great one, by coming in between the farmer and the consumer. What should induce him to carry on his business, except the desire of profit? But the benefit of the people is exactly in proportion to the greatness of that profit, since it arises directly from the low price of corn at one season, and the dearness of it at another. Most clearly any trade which tends to level this inequality is advantageous in proportion as it effects it. By buying great quantities when cheap, the price is raised, and the consumption forced to be more sparing: this circumstance can alone save the people from famine; if, when the crop is scanty, the people consume plentifully in autumn, they must inevitably starve in summer; and they certainly will consume plentifully if corn is cheap. Government cannot step in and say, you shall now eat half a pound of bread only, that you may not by and by be put to half an ounce. Government cannot do this without erecting granaries, which we know, by the experience of all Europe, is a most pernicious system, and done at an expence which, if laid out in premiums, encouraging cultivation, would convert deserts into fruitful corn-fields. But private monopolizers can and do effect it; for by their purchases in cheap months they raise the price, and exactly in that proportion lessen the consumption; this is the great object, for nothing else can make a short crop hold out through the year: when once this is effected, the people are safe; they may pay very dear afterwards, but the corn will be forth-coming, and they will have it though at an high price. But reverse the medal, and suppose monopolizers; in such a case, the cheapness in autumn continuing, the free consumption would continue with it: and an undue portion being eaten in winter, the summer would come without its supply: this was manifestly the history of 1789; the people enraged at the idea of monopolizers, not at their real existence (for the nation was starving for want of them) hung the miserable dealers, on the idea of their having done what they were utterly unable to do. Thus, with such a system of small farms as empty the whole crop into the markets in autumn, and make no reserve for summer, there is no possible remedy, but many and great monopolizers, who are beneficial to the public exactly in proportion to their profits. But in a country like England divided into large farms, such corn dealers are not equally wanted; the farmers are rich enough to wait for their returns, and keep a due reserve in stacks to be threshed-in summer; the best of all methods of keeping corn and the only one in which it receives no damage.

« PrécédentContinuer »