27 DECEMBER 1919, Page 11

[To THE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR."] SIR,—Many people, desirous

of reducing the inefficiency and loss of health resulting from the pushing of the drink traffic. hesitate when they learn that a necessary first step is the elimination of private profit, and that this, if effected with honesty, will " saddle the country with a new debt of not less than 350 millions, and possibly much more." The reply ia, of course, that the transaction will automatically supply the country with the means, not only to pay the interest on that debt, but also completely to discharge the debt itself within a measurable period; but this reply, though true and effective, is countered by the hesitator with a triumphant dilemma either the trade will flourish as at present, and then where's the advantage of all this departure, or it will drop, and thee how's the debt to be paid?

The traffic, when in public ownership, but subject to local option and control, will undoubtedly not continue as at present; its sales will drop, and in many parts drop heavily. The saving in expenses arising from suppression of overlapping, both in production and in selling, will be very great; but so, judging from experience, will be the increases in expense arising from bureaucratic control; however, the opinion of competent investigators is that the savings will greatly out- weigh the increases; and apart from this estimate, the annual sum required for interest and sinking fund on a Government " loan " will be far smaller than the profit secured by the present private ownership. It must be remembered that the " Ioan " itself will not, except as to a minute proportion of it, be new money raised from the general public and paid to the present owners; it will be Government security to fixed amounts given to the present owners in exchange for their trade securities or their trade itself, so that the disturbance of the money market will be minimized.

This reply to the dilemma is a sound one, though to prove its correctness would occupy more space than you can spare, or your readers will carefully scan. When convinced of its soundness, the hesitant retires to his last trench. Times will ho very hard, every source of public income must be pumped as dry as is safe, and we shall have an army of officials exploiting the traffic to the utmost under official sanctioe, instead of an army of private owners, working under official restrictions. Where can be the advantage? The Trade, anxious to retain its large profits and accustomed to ignore the results on the nation, knows the value of this trench, which is accordingly well equipped; and very many, hesitating, are to be found lining it.

State Purchase, coupled with Local Option and Control, is the scheme we now press for eliminating the ills arising from private ownership. State Purchase, and State security for the purchase price, will minimize the annual expense, and remove the temptation from local bodies to exploit the trade for its profit which Municipal Purchase would offer. Local Option and Leval Control, thus removed from temptation, will enable each locality to consult its own advantage in the carrying on of the traffic without fear of local loss of profit. Each locality v. ill then have such opportunities as have never yet been avail- :We, and it will now for the first time be the locality's own fault if that advantage is not secured;local option involving not merely the power to vote for Prohibition or non-Prohibition, but for reduction on lines to be locally defined, and for improved eenduct of the traffic generally.—I am, Sir, &c.,