The National System of Political Economy

Friedrich List
List, Friedrich
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J. Shield Nicholson, ed. Sampson S. Lloyd, trans.
First Pub. Date
London: Longmans, Green, and Co.
Pub. Date
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THAT List should reject the idea of protective duties on corn and agricultural produce as being in any degree beneficial to a country like Germany, is easy to understand. Her agriculture at the time when he wrote (1841) not only amply provided for the wants of her population, but yielded then, and had yielded for a long previous period, a large and steady surplus for export to other countries. No other European nation could profitably export such produce to her, while the high rates of freight then prevalent and the non-existence of ocean steam transport rendered such export to her from more distant countries impossible.


Whether, as a mere question of policy, the free importation of agricultural produce be approved or not, his contention, thus laid down by him as a sort of universal axiom, but apparently based on the circumstances of his own country and time, can scarcely be deemed consistent with some other arguments on which his general theory of national economy is based. Nor can it be deemed (of itself) conclusive as a solution of the question which is presented to Great Britain at the present time, viz. whether, under circumstances in which the necessary result of a policy of unrestricted importation of agricultural produce is to throw a large portion of the land of the nation out of cultivation, to deprive those who cultivated it of their accustomed employment, and to render the nation dependent for the major part of its food on foreign supplies, the nation's best interests are most effectually promoted by such a policy, or by one of such moderate protection of native agriculture as may retain in cultivation the national land, and greatly lessen the nation's dependence for its food on foreign importation. His contention leads rather to the inference that what may be good for one nation may be undesirable for another which exists under very different conditions, and still more to show that what may be beneficial to a people at one stage of their national history may be injurious at another time—an opinion which the present German Government appears to sanction by its recent reversion to a protectionist policy as respects the import of agricultural produce.


A policy of moderate protection appears to be advocated by those who approve it as a sort of mutual assurance to the industrious producers of the nation against the competition in its own markets of producers who do not belong to the nation. It is further advocated as an impost levied on the foreign producing competitor in the shape of a contribution by him to the revenue of the nation which imposes it, and as the condition on which he is permitted to compete in the markets of the latter nation with the native producers, who are subjected to much taxation to which the foreigner does not otherwise contribute. It is noteworthy that Adam Smith himself expresses approval of protective duties for the latter purpose in case the foreign imported products are believed to be subjected to less taxation than similar home products. ('Wealth of Nations,' Book IV. chapter ii.)


If those views can be deemed sound in their application to manufacturing industry, our author does not appear to have clearly stated the reasons why that industry which, as he admits, is the most important of any, and which employs more capital and population than any other, should not (if its successful prosecution requires it) receive moderate protection as well as manufacturing industry.


Whether, however, the principle of protective duties (either generally or limited in their application to manufacturing industry alone) be admitted or not, two inferences seem to be fairly deducible from the teaching of Adam Smith and not to be disproved by that of List: firstly, that if the home agriculturist is required (in the interest of the nation) to be exposed to free competition by the foreigner in the home market, he is entitled to be relieved from all such taxation, whether local or imperial, as at all specially or disproportionately oppresses him; secondly, that differential duties are justifiable on imports from those nations who impose restrictions on our export to them as compared with imports from those nations who impose no such restrictions.—TRANSLATOR.

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