The Society of To-morrow: A Forecast of Its Political and Economic Organisation

Gustave de Molinari
Molinari, Gustave de
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P. H. Lee Warner, trans.
First Pub. Date
New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons
Pub. Date
Appendix by Edward Atkinson, Introduction by Hodgson Pratt, Prefatory letter by Frédéric Passy.
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Part III, Note D

Costs and Profits of State Colonisation


The majority of the European States allege industrial and commercial considerations, the need of new markets, to support their conquest and annexation of territory belonging to so-called inferior races. The intention is sufficiently praise-worthy, but involves a question of the cost and profit derived from these undertakings. Now it is an unfortunate fact that Spain was ruined by her colonial aspirations, and few recent programmes of the same kind have improved the financial position or augmented the wealth either of conqueror or conquered. The manufacturer or merchant, who spent ten thousand a year in trade incidentals in order to sell ten thousand pounds' worth of goods, would be justly regarded as wanting in sanity, and his family would rightly place him under restraint, at least remove him from the control of a business. State colonisation is, meanwhile, conducted on this futile basis, as will be evident from a glance at the following figures from an article by M. Paul Louis in the Indépendance Belge:—


Figures of the Cost of French Colonies.—5,000,000 francs in 1820; 7,000,000 in 1830; 20,000,000 in 1850; 21,000,000 in 1860; 26,000,000 in 1870.


The year 1880 marks the eve of great expansion in Asia and Africa, and the budget leaps to 32,000,000, rising to 59,000,000 in 1890. The Soudan, Dahomey, and Madagascar, soon proceed to double it, so that it reaches 86,000,000 in 1892. The relative decline to 89,000,000 in 1896 is fictitious and only apparent, for loans and supplementary estimates of this year raise it to a final 100,000,000, and 102,000,000 in 1897. The estimates for 1898-1899 were respectively 81,000,000 and 86,000,000, but the figures are purely nominal and were largely overspent.


The colonial balance of France in these last years stands thus, and this without taking any account of Algeria:—

Costs to the home country more than francs 100,000,000
Exports by the home country about " 100,000,000
Profit, nil.


This statement ignores the costs of conquest and of the initial settlement!


The same article continues: "The major portion of this task has no doubt been achieved in certain cases, but in many of the more important it is only begun. The simple period of conquest necessitated 284,000,000 for Cochin China; 269,000,000 for Tonkin; the Soudan claimed at least 200,000,000 between 1881 and 1898; Madagascar devoured 150,000,000. Between 1892 and 1898 Dahomey added from 70,000,000 to 75,000,000.


"It is probably understating, rather than magnifying, the figure, if we assert that the Third Republic, by embarking on a series of grand conquests, has cost France at least 1,500,000,000 francs (£60,000,000)."


The cost of Algeria up to the year 1898 was more than 4,000,000,000 francs or £160,000,000, and the annual deficit, which is met by the French taxpayer, varies between 20,000,000 and 30,000,000 francs—an average of £1,000,000. And there is yet another account to be met. The protectionist party subjected the French Colonies to the same tariffs as France, thus closing markets which were becoming highly profitable to other countries, England in particular. Ill-feeling was thus engendered—a feeling embittered by, if it did not occasion, the Fashoda incident, and the cause of inevitable extra expenditure on account of the army and navy. The colonies of France are bought at an entirely exorbitant price, and it is quite maintainable that the slight enlargement of markets which they secure is more than countervailed by the consequent loss in the world's markets. The colonies take a few imports, attract a very few colonists, and afford an immense field for the multiplication of officials. The Reporter of the Colonial Budget in the Senate adduced the following figures, which are not without interest in this regard:—

Annam and Tonquin 1396 officials 447 colonists
Cochin China 1966 " 262 "
Senegambia 521 " 367 "
Ivory Coast 111 " 52 "
The Congo 254 " 20 "


Colonisation, conducted on this principle, is simply State-protection of the official at the expense of the remainder of the State.


The apologists of this system acknowledge that colonies are costly both to obtain and to maintain, but they cite the example of England to prove the future greatness and wealth to be acquired by their aid. England, say these men, has acquired most of her wealth and power by this means. This is the view of the Greater Britain party, headed by Mr. Chamberlain, in that country, but it is by no means the view of the free traders. The eminent writer Lord Farrer, in an article in the Contemporary Review, gives a moderate and conservative estimate of British colonial trade. The foreign trade of England in 1895 was valued at £643,000,000, of which only 25.8 per cent., just a quarter, went to her colonies—£166,000,000. Most of this colonial trade went to colonies, or possessions, such as India, New Zealand, and Australia, which give no sort of tariff preference to England. Indeed it is Canada alone, of all English possessions, which gives such a preference, and that only of late years. It is therefore probable that, were England to lose her empire to-morrow, her colonial trade would suffer little if any diminution. The loss might injure national pride, certainly that of the jingo, but it would reduce the costs of production and so secure an actual profit to English industry.


The actual colonial budget of the British Empire is not large, being little more than half that of France, but her enormous expenditure on the army and navy is largely due to the demands of colonies scattered over every portion of the globe. It is the cost of protecting these colonies which causes an appreciation in British production and handicaps her as a competitor on those world's markets which are ruled by the pure laws of competition. Militaryism, protectionism, bureaucracy, and colonialism, are the order of to-day, but their very excesses are already hastening the inevitable approach of their end.*26

Notes for this chapter

Journal des Economistes—Yearly Summary for 1898.

Part III, Note E

End of Notes

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