The theory of comparative advantage had shown that any two nations could gain by freeing up their trade with each other. The theory was seldom cited in political debate and, on its rare appearances in the Corn Laws controversy, contrived to look like a complicated irrelevance.1 No one disputed that Britain had an absolute advantage in manufacturing and disadvantage in corn. Still, the theory was there to be drawn on when needed, and provided a framework for discussing the more contentious question of whether a nation should drop its tariffs even against a rival who refused to reciprocate.
KeywordsPolitical Economy Free Trade Trade Surplus Parliamentary Committee Absolute Advantage
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- 1.For the limits on the role of any political economy in the Repeal debate, see A. Boyd Hilton, The Age of Atonement (CUP, 1988).Google Scholar
- 2.Mill did not publish the theory until 1844. See ‘On the Laws of Interchange Between Nations’ (1844) reprinted in J.M. Robson (ed.), The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Toronto, 1967, vol. 4, pp. 232–61.Google Scholar
- 3.Mill thought ‘considerations of reciprocity’ might be taken into account when a tariff was there, or was planned, in order to raise revenue. Was Mill being logical? As no one disagreed with tariffs in order to raise revenue in the first place, reciprocity would seem irrelevant. Perhaps Mill meant it should be used to choose between two alternative tariffs equally effective at raising revenue. See Douglas A. Irwin, Against the Tide: An Intellectual History of Free Trade, Princeton, NJ, 1996, p. 109.Google Scholar
- 4.Palmerston to Cowley, 30 January 1860, quoted in E.D. Steele, Palmerston and Liberalism, Cambridge, 1991, p. 97.Google Scholar
- 5.Gladstone to Lacaita, 1 December 1860, quoted in A. Howe, Free Trade and Liberal England, 1846–1946, Oxford, 1997, p. 173.Google Scholar
- 6.Hansard, 157, 314, 9 March 1860. However, even if Gladstone had been right in strictly economic terms, France had won an acceptance of her annexation of Nice and Savoy that Britain ‘would not have given so readily without a reduction in the French tariff’ (Peter Marsh, Bargaining on Europe: Britain and the First Common Market, 1860–1892, Yale, 1999, p. 12).Google Scholar
- 10.A. Howe, Free Trade and Liberal England, Oxford, 1997, p. 94.Google Scholar
- 15.This is not to dismiss the British businessmens’ contribution as insignificant. The Bradford Chamber of Commerce were particularly effective. In Peter Marsh’s words ‘their concrete criticisms … finally wore the French down’ so that most textiles ended up with a much lower duty than France had first proposed (Bargaining on Europe, p. 17f.). Moreover such deputations were there at the enthusiastic invitation of the French government, to rebut French protectionist manufacturers whom the French minister of commerce believed had ‘lied wholesale to the Emperor and the members of the Commission’ (Cobden’s diary, 26 April 1860, quoted in Dunham, The Anglo-French Treaty of Commerce, p. 127).Google Scholar
- 41.For an excellent account of Lowe’s position on the issue as Chancellor, see A. Iliasu, The Role of Free Trade Treaties in British Foreign Policy, 1859–1871, Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1965, Chapter 7.Google Scholar
- 46.R. Lowe, ‘Reciprocity and Free Trade’, Nineteenth Century, vol. 5, June 1878, p. 995.Google Scholar
- 51.R. Lowe, ‘A New Reform Bill’, Fortnightly Review, 22, 1 October 1877, p. 449.Google Scholar
- 57.R. Lowe, ‘The Past Session and the New Parliament’, Edinburgh Review, 105, April 1857, p. 553.Google Scholar
- 60.R. Lowe, Preface to Speeches and Letters on Reform, London, John Robert Bush, 1867, pp. 3–4.Google Scholar