THE OCEAN AND THE FOOD "PROFITEER."
[To THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."]
MIL—Over the initials "G. C. L. H." there appears last week in your columns the substance of a number of articles pub- lished in an obscure New South Wales journal violently attacking the Premier, Mr. Holman, for his Government fish ships and shops. Your correspondent commences his letter to you "In the Nineteenth Century for December, 1:/17, was heralded the birth of a Government Fishing Fleet in New South Wales," and this fiction his letter expands to show how this Fishing Fleet (of three vessels) has in two years lost New South Wales 423,000, a sum which works out at perhaps five- pence per capita for that wealthy Province. The writer has referred to the 1917 article under review, and finds that as a portent of the times he instanced three Governments, those of New South Wales, of California and Ontario, which were attempting to check food "profiteers" by opening fish-shops. In no one of these eases was there any suggestion of trading for profit, but, just as we lucre are subsidizing the loaf, there also Mr. Holman hoped to check what I described in the review as " a profiteer combination -which had been holding up the prices of beef, mutton, and poultry in Sydney." I said nothing in
favour of such economics. I merely noted these novel develop- ments as an attempt to bring in the Great Waters to restore the balance of prices on land—a balance terribly upset. The result of selling fish at less than its cost inspires a fine freniy in "G. C. I.: H.," and we have a threnody of the usual kind against "The State in business." New South Wales in two years owns up to a loss of £23,000; argal, in view of our popu- lation, if our State is to take a hand "time British taxpayer may be called on to foot an annual bill for £1,440,009 loss on this enterprise." This sort of stuff is in its proper place in the Visit Tiade Gazette, which last week has, I notice, a couple of columns of the same sort and evidently by the same writer; hut I hope the editor of the Spectator will verify the references of these Billingsgate champions. Of course they are and will be " agin the Government." The best of all worlds for them is the present world with a ninepenny sale for a penny purchase, as witness mackerel last week!
That Mr. Holman's fish shops and ships have lost £23,000 is certified by the State auditor; but it is not within the province of that official to tell us whether the taxpayer's meat and poultry bill may have been reduced by half-a-million. These are the " invisibles" in the case of such "Government trading" and are impossible to earmark. Here in England we have now much the same uproar, partly fair and partly ridiculous. The State here loses many millions 'on loaves instead of, as there, a few thousands on fishes. The " loss "'on running our railways is trumpet-tongued at sixty millions. It never seems to occur to these ardent individualists that if it
costs a -pound to carry me to London and the fare is fifteen
shillings, what the State loses I gain.' I remember Mr. Gladstone once retorting on a heckler in Midlothian : "Sir, I can furnish you with reasons but not with brains." I was in Hungary a quarter of a century ago when the State first introduced its "zone-system" of fares and cut fourth-class fares from a penny per mile to a penny per three miles. The first year there was of course a heavy loss such as would con- vulse the company shareholder, but the third year after, travel had so expanded that the Hungarian State railways turned into the revenue a " record " increase, which was perhaps the least of the economic benefits of the " cut."
So I hope you will bespeak fair consideration for Premier Holman and his ocean economics, because it takes a brave man in polities to fight vested interests in such a case as this, where, while his expenditure and his losses are placarded on the walls of the hustings, the gains to his community are matter of conjecture and pass and must pass quite unrecog- nized; and again because we here may learn something from New South Wales and from California, nor will the knowledge even cost us fivepenee.
But this problem of the control of the prices of necessaries by a few thousands of State expenditure has nothing whatever to do with the question you have ventilated, " the wonderful wealth of the ocean," and which for Billingsgate looms black on the near horizon—namely, whether with State cold storage widely distributed, the consumer can be cheaply fed, and also large revenues can reach the State by profit-sharing the ocean harrest.—I am, Sir, &c.,
THE WRITER OF THE " NINETEENTH CENTURY" ARTICLE.