« AnteriorContinuar »
BALANCE OF TRADE.
In the science of Political Economy, there are no errors so inveterate as those relating to foreign commerce. It is but a few years since it was the fashion to regard the books of the custom-house as the only standard by which the prosperity of the nation could be measured. If the imports exceeded the exports, it was said that the balance of trade was against us; that we were running in debt to foreign nations, and that poverty and ruin were overtaking us. As the balance of trade, in this sense, has always been against the United States, it would seem to be difficult to reconcile our acknowledged prosperity with the correctness of the principle. But though better opinions begin to prevail, they are not universally received. We still hear predictions of ruin, because our imports are greater than our exports. It may be worth while to examine the reasons for this apprehension.
In the case of an individual, nothing can be plainer than that his imports should exceed his exports. How can a
man become rich, but by receiving more than he parts with? It is the same with a nation. If the United States, by exporting sixty millions annually can import sixty-four millions, it it apparent that nearly the whole difference has been profit.
The error has arisen from estimating the value both of imports and exports at our own custom-house, instead of estimating their value in the foreign country where the exchange is actually made. An inquirer learns at the customhouse that sixty-four millions have been received, and that only sixty millions have been sent to pay for it; and he naturally asks how the difference is to be supplied. If he is not acquainted with the course of trade, he naturally supposes that a debt of four millions has been incurred; and he shudders at the thought of having all the gold and silver drawn from the United States to pay it.
Yet slight attention to the course of domestic trade would show him that his apprehensions were groundless. In some of our distant settlements, corn is fifty cents a bushel, and salt is one hundred. If a farmer, from one of these settlements, were to come to market with thirty bushels of corn, he might sell it for sufficient to purchase thirty-seven bushels of salt. If the value of these articles is to be estimated at his own door, he has exported fifteen dollars, and imported thirty-seven dollars. But unless the expenses of his journey have exceeded twenty-two dollars, he has made a profit by the exchange. Now the custom-house returns give just as correct a view of the trade of the nation, as an account kept at a farmer's door of his out-goings and in
comings would give of the state of his business. These returns are valuable and necessary-but for a very different purpose.
The great fallacy of arguments drawn from the customhouse returns, will be apparent from considering only one branch of the trade of this town, namely, the freighting business. In the course of the last year, we have had twenty-seven ships and twelve brigs employed in this trade; several of which have made two voyages. It will therefore be perfectly within the truth, to make a calculation upon forty voyages in the year. These vessels generally took with them hay and lumber sufficient to pay their port charges in the Southern States, say one thousand dollars each, or forty thousand dollars for the year. They receive, upon an average, one thousand pounds sterling each, in Europe, or one hundred and seventy-seven thousand six hundred dollars. Deducting from this sum, their port charges in Europe, there are brought home in salt and iron, or left behind to be brought home by others, one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The whole of this sum appears on the books of the custom-house as imports, without one cent of exports to balance it. But, as from this sum the merchant keeps his ship in repair, pays his seamen, and purchases the outfits of the voyage, it consists of interest and reimbursement of capital, wages of labor, and profit; in the same manner as the price, which the manufacturer receives for a piece of broadcloth, consists of interest and reimbursement of capital, wages of labor, and profit.
A merchant, sending his ship to sea, must charge against his voyage not only the first cost of his cargo, but all the outfits, provisions, and wages advanced to the seamen; his own or agent's services, and the premium of insurance. On the return of the vessel, he must again charge the adventure with the seamen's wages, and all the expenses attending the landing and sale of the goods. In order to know, then, whether the balance of trade is for or against the country, the imports of the merchant must be placed against all these charges, and if it exceed the aggregate amount, we may conclude that his business can be continued with profit to himself and benefit to the country. The exports of this part of the country are bulky and of small value; in many cases not constituting one half the consideration that produces the imports; yet this is all that appears on the books of the custom-house.
Another error, still more inveterate, is the opinion that the exportation of specie is injurious to the country. Almost the whole of our specie currency is Spanish coin. We received it in foreign ports in exchange for the products of our labor. It was received and brought home, because it was more advantageous at the time to receive it, than to barter our merchandise for that of the foreign country. We export it for the same reason; because it is more advantageous at the time, to make our purchases with it, than to send merchandise to be bartered. Apply the principle once more to an individual. He becomes richer or poorer, by the terms of the contracts he makes; not by the mere fact of bartering, or of buying and selling for money. If
he sells to A for money, and employs that money to purchase of B, he is not necessarily poorer than if he exchanged his merchandise, at once, with B. If it would be profitable to the United States to export the products of agricultural industry,-grain, provisions, and lumber,-to the East Indies and China, and then to exchange them for sugars and teas, it does not necessarily follow that the trade is ruinous, because the merchandise is sent to the West Indies, there exchanged for dollars, and the dollars are afterwards sent to China. The only difference is the expense of the intermediate voyage, which may or may not be repaid by the profit of the first adventure, or by that of the final ship
Principles are best tried by familiar examples. A hatter, who pays his shoemaker with money, is an exporter of specie. He must previously have imported it by the sale of hats. Whether he gains or loses by the mode of payment, depends upon the fact of his getting better shoes or not, by paying in money instead of paying in hats. If he gains by purchasing with money, he will generally be anxious to sell for money, that he may employ it in his purchases. That is, he will import specie, that he may afterwards export it. The case is precisely the same with a nation. If money is not exported, it is perfectly certain it will not be imported. In this, as in every thing else, it is the demand that produces the supply.
Again; the quantity of money in a country is no certain mark of its prosperity. We do not estimate the wealth of an individual by the number of silver dollars actually in his