STATE OF TRADE.
IN the Leeds Mercury of Saturday last, we find some remarks upon an article on the state of trade, which appeared in the Spec- tator of this day fortnight. The Mercury says- " Our contemporary, the Spectator, quotes the articles in our paper of the 16th inst. on the cotton speculation and the distress of the Leeds Stuff-weavers, to support a foregone conclusion of his own; namely, that the commercial pros- perity which the Report of the Commons' Committee on Manufactures and Commerce seemed to establish, was more apparent than real, and had, at all events, been extremely short-lived. The facts we stated do not warrant the con- clusion drawn 'from them."
The main facts which the Report of the Committee on Manu- factures and Commerce seemed to establish. were these—that al- though profits were low, the condition of trade was sound and healthy, and the wages of the operators sufficient for their coin- thrtable support. The Ministerial journals throughout the country, having received the key-note from the leader, the Edinburgh Re- view, harped almost incessantly on this string for three weeks to- gether. Their hymns of exultation were followed by a wail of dis- tress from the manufacturing districts; and then the discovery was made, that the outward signs of unusual prosperity were owing to " mad speculations," not to the sound and healthy condition of trade. In this respect, therefore, it cannot be denied that, whether designedly or not, the Report of the Committee gave an untrue account of the actual state of commerce. This is the point which we endeavoured to establish in the article which the Leeds paper comments upon. We never denied that much business had been done in the spring and summer : we admitted that there was a "fair natural demand for our manufactures ;" but we argued that, as this demand had been artificially increased by speculations, the result of which is very heavy loss to a large portion of the mercantile community, it was a deception to hold out to the country that its trade was in a sound and healthy condition—the prosperity being more apparent than real. The Leeds paper says, that " the distress in the cotton district arose from the mad specu- lative pranks of some large capitalists." Here we have an ad- mission of all that we stated in regard to the cotton trade,—first, as regards the existence of distress; secondly, the cause of it.
But the evil, we are told, " has cured itself."
"The price of the raw material has fallen again ; and this week our accounts from Lancashire state that the cotton-mills are working full hours, and the hand-loons wearers are fully employed. The distress of the Leeds stuff- weavers is owing solely to the high price of wool, which raises the price of ma- nufactured goods so much as to check the demand. But the high price of wool is the effect of a real inadequacy of the supply to the increased consumption of the manufacturers, which is an evidence of extended trade. The distress is not the less real so long as it lasts ; but there is infinitely more hope of its removal than if it had arisen from the distressed state of the country. On the whole, ice see no reason to doubt the general truth of the statements made with so much confidence by witnesses admirably qualified to judge,—namely, that trade is in a sound and healthy state, and that the condition of the country is prosperous."
As to the alleged revival of the cotton trade, we think we shall be able to show, from the Mercury's own columns, that it is a very partial one. But, supposing it to be a general and extensive re- vival, still, this would not affect our argument, nor our contempo- rary's own admission, that marl speculation in the spring and summer had been succeeded by extensive ruin in the autumn. This is the report of the state of trade in Lancashire.
"The cotton band-loom weavers at Oldham, Royton, and several other neighbouring towns, have full employment ; but wages are eery low—hands cannot earn more, on an average, than 5s. 6d. per week. The cotton factories have begun to work full time ; cotton having fallen to a moderate price. The silk-weaving ten miles round Manchester is yet very dull ; a great number of hands are without employment, but the manufacturers hold out hopes that there will be a revival after Christmas."
Now to the wool trade.
TRADE or LEEDS.—There has been less business done in the Cloth- halls this week than for some time past, and the sales by the merchants in finished goods have been limited ; there being but few buyers in the town. Prices re- main stationary. " BRADFORD MAREET.—We regret that it is not in our power to commu- nicate any improvement whatever in this market. Trade has been decidedly flat in all its branches throughout the day. " HALIFAX MARKEL—The demand for stuff goods at this market, last Sa- turday, was slack, and the prices stationary; but an improvement in both is expected to take place soon after Christmas, in our customary exportations to Belgium and America."
The Mercury says that the high price of wool is owing to inade- quacy of supply, occasioned by increased consumption. Let us grant this, and admit that there was little or no speculation in wool, and that while the prices of cotton, iron, Sec. were raised by " mad speculative pranks," the wool trade did not partake of the general excitement: does this affect our main point, that trade was falsely represented to be in a sound and healthy condition ? Certainly not; for when the raw material is so high in price that it cannot be manufactured at a profit, and consequently the opera- tives are unemployed and business at a stand, it is clear that there is something very wrong at work; and that it is a gross mockery
in any set of men to assert that such a state of things is a sound and healthy one.
The flannel market at Rochdale is said to be better; and there is a gradual improvement in the trade of Birmingham. These are exceptions to the general rule—which is that of very low wages and very small profit in Lancashire, and of a general stagnation in Yorkshire.
But the Mercury, while it admits the distress to be severe as long as it lasts—that it affects the two great branches of our ma-
nufactures, wool and cotton—and that, moreover, it was occasioned in the cotton districts by " mad speculative pranks"—yet maintains, notwithstanding, that " trade is in a sound and healthy state, and that the condition of the country is prosperous !" It is maintained that the distress did not arise from the distressed state of the country ; which is much the same as saying that distress is not created by distress. The speedy appearance of distress in those very branches of trade which were represented to be in a state of permanent prosperity, was the fact to which
we directed attention. It mattered little to our argument whence that distress immediately sprung,—though we did attribute it in a great measure to speculation, and artificial means, not to general suffering throughout the country.
We are far from denying, what we hope and believe to be true, that the existing embarrassments and dulness in trade will have a brief duration ; and that they will be succeeded by a brisk de- mand, full employment, and reasonable profits. We have no sympathy with the croakers ; and do not put faith in the stories of a general decline of the power and prosperity of England. But we shall always be on the alert to expose the Ministerial charla- tanerie, which would trick us into the belief, that a temporary excitement, produced by speculation, is evidence of a sound and healthy condition of things. It would be an excellent apology for opposing the repeal of the Corn-laws, could it be proved that the manufactures and commerce were prosperous notwithstanding their operation. It would certainly be a good argument against those who urge the necessity of severe retrenchment in our expenditure,
to say—" We are notspending more than we can afford ; the country is in a flourishing condition : read the Report of our Com- mittee, and you will see that all your complaints about distress are mere fudge;' let us go on as we are." If the Report which has formed the subject of these remarks had been published during the last session of Parliament, how many triumphant re- ferences would have been made to its pages by Messrs. STANLEY and SPRING RICE ! If facts which cannot deceive, and are now perforce admitted, had not given the lie to its assertions and prognostications, how useful they would be to the placeholding enemies of retrenchment next session ! As it is, however, this document has lived its day, though it can scarcely be said to have served its turn ; and will be suffered to lie amidst a mass of simi- lar productions, undisturbed by Treasury orators and scribes.