Editorial: The “Mountain and the Mouse”
We have often been told that what we need in Parliament are “good business men” with “practical knowledge and sound instincts.” So when the Conservative Party obtained a majority of seats at the last General Election they took the opportunity of Mr. Bonar Law’s ill-health to put one of the foremost “business men” of the country at the head of affairs. By all the accounts in the Conservative and Liberal press Mr. Baldwin not only possessed wonderful business qualities and acumen, but was fond of home hobbies, such as rearing pigs. Surely a paragon beyond compare.
Less than twelve months has been sufficient to expose the absurdity of these claims. The Liberal press for some time past has been denouncing Mr. Baldwin’s weakness in “giving way” to M. Poincairé over the Ruhr question and the support by the French of the “Separatist” gangs in the Rhineland. Now the “great genius,” baffled by the complexity of the problems and interests assailing him on all sides, can think of no better solution than throwing-up the sponge and dissolying Parliament.
The reason given out in public is that the Prime Minister wishes to be absolved from Mr. Bonar Law’s pledge to tranquillity, particularly in relation to the Fiscal system, so that he can tackle the problem of unemployment, which
“threatens to impair permanently the trained skill and the independent spirit of our workers, to disorganise the whole fabric of industry and credit and, by eating away the sources of revenue, to undermine the very foundations of our national and municipal life.”—(Mr. Baldwin’s address to his constituents. Observer, 18/11/1923.)
An appalling prospect truly ! And what has brought about this terrible predicament? We are told :—
“In large measure this state of affairs is due to the political and economic disorganisation of Europe consequent on the Great War.”
While further on it is stated :—
“The disorganisation and poverty of Europe, accompanied by broken exchanges and by higher tariffs all the world over, have directly and indirectly narrowed the whole field of our foreign trade.” (Ibid).
Here then is a situation so desperate that only giant remedies can be adequate. As Mr. Baldwin says, it is no time for palliatives. Let us turn then to his, and the Government’s, proposals on this tremendous problem, and see how “great business men” with the marvellously endowed brains so worshipped by the late W. H. Mallock, offer to solve the problem.
Were the position less serious, the proposals would arouse ribald laughter at their grotesque and childish character. A school child would be jeered at if it put forward such an idiotic “remedy.”
The main proposal is “to impose duties on manufactured goods” with the following objects :—
“(i.) To raise revenue by methods less unfair to our own home production, which at present bears the whole burden of local and national taxation, including the cost of relieving unemployment.
(ii.) To give special assistance to industries which are suffering under unfair foreign competition.
(iii.) To utilise these duties in order to negotiate for a reduction of foreign tariffs in those directions which would most benefit our export trade.
(iv.) To give substantial preference to the Empire on the whole range of our duties with a view to promoting the continued extension of the principle of mutual preference which has already done so much for the expansion of our trade, and the ‘development, in co-operation with the other Governments of the Empire, of the boundless resources of our common heritage.'”
Did ever such a mountain bring forth such a mouse? If the cause of the desperate situation is “the political and economic disorganisation of Europe,” how can a tax on manufactured goods entering one country, touch, let alone cure, that disorganisation? And what are “manufactured” goods?
Steel sections are manufactured goods of the steelworks, but are raw material for the shipbuilder, builder and engineer. Mr. Baldwin does not even tell us what manufactured goods are to be taxed. And the first object of the tax contains an insoluble contradiction.
If revenue is to be raised by the tax, then the goods must come into the country for this revenue to be realised. But if this occurs, then the unemployed in those branches will still remain unemployed. On the other hand, if the tax is high enough to keep out the goods, then there is no revenue from that source. There is no escape from this dilemma. Either the unemployed are not relieved from their workless situation, or there is no revenue from that tax.
What is “unfair” competition? Every manufacturer in this country will argue that all foreign competition is “unfair.” Those suffering from German competition will denounce the “low” wages of Germany as “unfair,” while others, beaten by the Americans, will vigorously denounce American “high” wages as “unfair.” So to meet their wishes “special assistance” will have to be given to all of them? This at least has the merit of simplicity.
On the other hand, “the greatest and most important of our national industries” is not to be protected by a tax !
Wonderful logic ! For, says the Government:—
“It is not our intention, in any circumstances, to impose any duties on wheat, flour, oats, meat (including bacon and ham), cheese, butter or eggs.” (Ibid.)
However, to escape the awkward dilemma this declaration produces, the farmer of arable land is to receive a bounty of £1 per acre per annum, on the condition that he pays his “able-bodied” labourers—whatever they may be—at least 30s. a week. This £1 per acre is to come from the tax that won’t be raised by keeping out “manufactured” goods.
That section of the capitalists which desires a Tariff hopes, by keeping details secret till after the Election, to be returned to power, so that behind the Tariff—if it is effective— they may raise prices in the home market. The workers, who are constantly told that high prices are due to high wages, will then find that their low wages will form no effective barrier against prices going up, which may cause them to wonder which is which.
Mr. Churchill, in a speech at Manchester (18/11/1923) gave eight points of the Liberal programme as follows :—
“Free Trade, the immediate reform of our electoral system on the lines of proportional representation, the strengthening and improvement of National Insurance, housing, land reform, agricultural reform and organisation, the development of the Empire, and, last but not least, peace abroad.”
He omitted the point of abuse which has filled so large a portion of the Liberal leaders speeches up to the present, or it may be that he considered his own efforts in this direction rendered any further emphasis unnecessary.
On the marvels wrought, and to be wrought, by Free Trade, one may quote from a famous epitaph and say “Look around.” If the present condition of things is the result of over 70 years of Free Trade it could hardly be surprising to find numbers of the workers turning to the equally fallacious nostrum of “Protection” in the hope that it may bring a better result.
And what a splendid remedy for unemployment is proportional representation. Think of the awful strain the brilliant brains of the Gallipoli gambler (in other men’s lives) must have undergone to have made this wonderful discovery ! Will not a strengthening of National Insurance provide the European markets with that purchasing power they so sadly lack to-day? Housing, land reform, agricultural reform—are not these promises at least as old—and as futile —as Free Trade? But then red herrings have to be very stale before they lose their scent. No doubt if returned to power the Liberals will develop the Empire—or promise to do so—before the winter is out. How that will settle unemployment we are not told. Peace abroad is certainly desirable, though how the Liberals will deal with their friends the French and the latter’s Monarchist intrigues in Central Europe, we are left to guess.
The Labour Party denounces the Government for their inadequate programme of winter work for the unemployed, and puts forward an elaborate list of proposals ranging from Electric Power Supply to Afforestation and Housing. But these things will cost money while the Labour Party promises relief for the Taxpayer, Is this a dilemma? Not at all. To pay for these schemes and relieve the taxpayer the Labour Party proposes to raise fresh taxes. Simplicity itself.
This Party had nearly succeeded in burying “The Capital Levy” when the Election was suddenly announced. The Capital Levy was hastily dug up again, but looked so shabby and mouldy that it was decided to dress it up in a new coat called “The Non-recurring graduated War Redemption Levy.”
If this title fails to sink it, the Levy will be laid on all individual fortunes in excess of £5,000. In its original form the amount of the fortune was lower than the sum above. But it was found that many of the Labour leaders’ war fortunes come within that zone, and so the amount had to be raised.
The superficial issues of this Election— Free Trade versus Ambiguous Protection —are of no interest to the working class. Whichever side wins they will still remain slave to the master class, because the private ownership of the means of life—the cause of the workers’ enslavement—will still continue. When the workers understand their slave position they will organise to contest an Election for the purpose of taking control of political power with the object of attaining their emancipation and establishing Socialism.
(Editorial, Socialist Standard, December 1923)