Chapter 2b of Book 4

Free importation

by Adam Smith

16 } Merchants and manufacturers derive the greatest advantage from this monopoly of the home-market.

The high duties on foreign wheat amount to a ban in times of moderate plenty.

  • These duties, with the ban on the importation of foreign cattle and salt, are not so advantageous to British graziers and farmers as other bans are to British merchants and manufacturers.

Manufactures, especially those of the finer kind, can be more easily transported than wheat or cattle.

Foreign trade is chiefly employed in the fetching and carrying of manufactures.

In manufactures, a very small advantage will enable foreigners to undersell our own workers, even in the home-market.

It will require a very great advantage in the rude produce to enable foreigners to undersell our farmers.

If the free importation of foreign manufactures were permitted, several of the home manufactures would probably suffer.

  • Perhaps some of them would go to ruin.
  • Their stock and industry would be forced to find other employments.

But the freest importation of the rude produce of the soil could have no such effect on the country’s agriculture.

17 For example, if the importation of foreign cattle were made free, so few could be imported that the British grazing trade could be little affected by it.

Live cattle are perhaps the only commodity which is more expensive to transport by sea than by land.

  • By land, they carry themselves to market.
  • By sea, their food and water must be carried with them.

The short sea between Ireland and Great Britain renders Irish cattle importation easier.

  • Their free importation was recently permitted for a limited time.
  • If it were made permanent, it would have no big effect on the interest of British graziers.

The parts of Britain which border the Irish Sea are all grazing lands.

Irish cattle could never be imported for their labour.

  • They must be driven through those extensive lands expensively and inconveniently, before they could arrive at their proper market.

Fat cattle cannot be driven so far. Lean cattle can only be imported. Such an importation would not interfere with the interest of the feeding or fattening lands. It would be advantageous to the breeding lands because it would reduce the price of the lean cattle it produces.

The free importation of Irish cattle can never affect the breeding lands of Great Britain.

This is proven by:

  • the few Irish cattle imported
  • the consistently good selling price of lean cattle

The common people of Ireland have sometimes violently opposed the exportation of their cattle. The exporters could have easily conquered this mobbish opposition if they found any great advantage in continuing the exportation.

18 The feeding and fattening lands must always be highly improved.

Breeding lands are generally uncultivated. The high price of lean cattle increases the value of uncultivated land. It is like a bounty against improvement. It would be more advantageous for highly improved lands to import its lean cattle than to breed them. Holland currently follows this maxim. The mountains of Scotland, Wales, and Northumberland are lands incapable of much improvement. They seem destined by nature to be the breeding countries of Great Britain. The only effect of the freest importation of foreign cattle is to hinder those breeding lands from taking advantage of the kingdom’s increasing population and improvement. It would prevent those breeding lands from= raising their prices laying a real tax on the more improved parts of the country

19 In the same way, the freest importation of salt provisions would have little effect on the interest of British graziers.

Salt provisions are a very bulky commodity. Foreign salt imports are of worse quality than fresh meat because they cost more labour and expence.

They could never:

  • compete with the fresh meat.
  • be any considerable part the people’s food

They might=

  • compete with the local salt
  • be used for victualling ships for distant voyages

The few salt provisions imported from Ireland is an experimental proof that our graziers do not have to worry about it. The price of meat was never sensibly affected by it.

20 Even the free importation of foreign wheat could affect the interest of British farmers very little.

Corn is a much more bulky commodity than meat. A pound of wheat at 1 pence is as dear as a pound of meat at 4 pence. A small amount of foreign wheat is imported even during times of the greatest scarcity. This can assure our farmers that they have nothing to fear from the freest importation. According to the well informed author of the tracts upon the wheat trade= The average quantity imported yearly is 23,728 quarters of all kinds of grain.

It does not exceed the 1/571 part of the annual consumption. The bounty on wheat increases wheat exports in years of plenty. Because of it, the plenty of one year does not compensate the scarcity of another. It increases wheat imports in years of scarcity. The bounty increases the average quantity of wheat exported and imported.

If there were no bounty, less wheat would be exported.

  • More wheat would remain.
  • Less wheat would be needed to be imported annually.

The wheat merchants are the fetchers and carriers of wheat between Great Britain and foreign countries. Without the bounty, they would have much less employment. They might suffer considerably.

But the country gentlemen and farmers could suffer very little.

Wheat merchants were very anxious for the continuation of the bounty, and not in the country gentlemen and farmers.

21 To their great honour, country gentlemen and farmers are least subjected to the wretched spirit of monopoly.

The owner of a big manufacture is sometimes alarmed if another work of the same kind is established within 20 miles. The Dutch woollen manufacturer at Abbeville stipulated that no work of the same kind should be established within 30 leagues of Abbeville.

On the contrary, farmers and country gentlemen promote, instead of obstruct, the cultivation and improvement of their neighbours’ farms. Unlike most manufacturers, they have no secrets. They are generally fond of communicating and extending to their neighbours any new advantageous practice they find.

Old Cato says “Pius quaestus, stabilissimusque, minimeque invidiosus; minimeque male cogitantes sunt, qui in eo studio occupati sunt.” [Farming is the most pious livelihood, the one least likely to provoke envy, and those engaged in it are the least dissatisfied.]

Country gentlemen and farmers are dispersed in the countryside.

  • They cannot easily combine as merchants and manufacturers.

Merchants and manufacturers are collected into towns.

  • They are accustomed to that exclusive corporation spirit which prevails in them.
  • They naturally try to obtain the same exclusive privilege which they have against the town’s people and use those privileges against them.

They were the original inventors of those restraints on foreign imports to secure them the home-market’s monopoly. British country gentlemen and farmers probably imitated them in demanding the exclusive privilege of supplying their countrymen with wheat and meat.

The country gentlemen and farmers forgot their own natural generosity. They put themselves on a level with the merchants and manufacturers who were disposed to oppress them. Perhaps they did not consider how the freedom of trade affected their interest much less than those of merchants and manufacturers.

22 In reality permanently prohibiting the importation of foreign wheat and cattle is enacting that the countryside’s population and industry shall never exceed what its rude produce can maintain.


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