Thoughts on Commercial Subjects By Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, 22 November 2003 12:04 AM GMT

Contributed by: Rima Marshall


In inland countries, remote from the sea, and whose rivers are small, running from the country, and not to it, as is the case of Switzerland, great distress may arise from a course of bad harvests, if public granaries are not provided and kept well stored. Anciently, too, before navigation was so general, ships so plenty, and commercial transactions so well established, even maritimecountries might be occasionally distressed by bad crops. But such is now the facility of communication between those countries, that an unrestrained commerce can scarce ever fail of procuring a sufficiency for any of them. If indeed any government is so imprudent as to lay its hands on imported corn, forbid its exportation, or compel its sale at limited prices, there the people may suffer some famine from merchants avoiding their ports. But wherever commerce is known to be always free, and the merchant absolute master of his commodity, as in Holland, there will always be a reasonable supply.

When an exportation of corn takes place, occasioned by a higher price in some foreign countries, it is common to raise a clamour, on the supposition that we shall thereby produce a domestic famine. Then follows a prohibition, founded on the imaginary distresses of the poor. The poor, to be sure, if in distress, should be relieved; but if the farmer could have a high price for his corn from the foreign demand, must he, by a prohibition of exportation, be compelled to take a low price, not of the poor only, but of every person that eats bread, even the richest? The duty of relieving the poor is incumbent on the rich; but by this operation the whole burden of it is laid on the farmer, who is to relieve the rich at the same time. Of the poor, too, those who are maintained by the parishes have no right to claim this sacrifice of the farmer; as while they have their allowance, it makes no difference to them whether bread be cheap or dear. Those working poor, who now mindbusiness only five or four days in the week, if bread should be so dear as to oblige them to work the whole six required by the commandment, do not seem to be aggrieved, so as to have a right to public redress. There will then remain, comparatively, only a few families in every district, who, from sickness, or a great number of children, will be so distressed by a high price of corn, as to need relief; and these should be taken care of by particular benefactions, without restraining the farmer's profit.

Those who fear that exportation may so far drainthe country of corn as to starve ourselves, fear what never did nor never can happen. They may as well when they view the tide ebbibg towards the sea, fear that all the water will leave the river. The price of corn, like water, will find its own level. The more we export, the dearer it becomes at homer; the more is received abroad, the cheaper it becomes there; and, as soon as these prices are equal, the exportation stops of course. As the seasons vary in different countries, the calamity of a bad harvest is never universal. If, then, all ports were always open, and all commerce free, every maritime country would generally eat bread at the medium price, or average of all the harvests; which would probably be more equal than we can make by our artificial regulations, and therefore a more steady encouragement to agriculture. The nation woulkd all have bread at this middle price; and that nation, which at any time inhumanly refuses to relieve the distresses of another nation deserves no compassion when in distress itself.

History and News