THE GERMAN TARIFF DEBATE.
PBunyan's Mr. Facing-Both-Ways had turned his 1 thoughts from religion to politics, he might have made very much such a speech as that in which Count von Billow introduced the new German Tariff Bill on Monday. The Chancellor boldly set before himself the task of .pleasing both the great German interests,—the agricultural, and the industrial. Possibly if he could have arranged that each party should be present during one half of his speech and absent during the other, he might have achieved some measure of success. It is diffi- cult indeed to believe that the representatives of the great trading interests of Germany could have been wholly satisfied with the Chancellor's vague assurance that the Bill is intended to remedy the imperfections which expe- rience has gradually revealed in the present tariff, and to supply a better weapon for conducting the negotiations for future treaties of commerce. But had this assurance stood alone, it- might have yielded ground for hope that Count von Billow's face was at least turned in the right direction, and that he was beginning to realise, however faintly, that Germany is becoming a manu- facturing nation, and in that character needs, above all things, freedom of commercial intercourse. Unfor- tunately for the impression the Chancellor wished to produce, he was not able to divide his audience in this way. He had to speak to both parties at once, and so to disclose how unequally he stood affected. towards them. In the speech, taken as a whole, this disproportion is very evi- dent. The industrial interests come in, indeed, for a few polite phrases, and are even told that Germany "is neither exclusively an industrial nor an agrarian State; it is both at once.' But if this is a true description of the German State, it is in no sense a description of Ger- man. policy. That, as expounded by Count von Billow-, knows but of one interest. The purpose of the Tariff Bill is to "meet the wishes expressed by the agricultural interest in favour of increased protection." Its recom- mendation in the eyes of the Federated Governments is that it "furnishes a basis on which a good. system of pro- tection and a fair compromise may be founded." That the first of these claims is justified by the contents of the Bill no one need doubt. What is less evident is where the " fair compromise " comes in.. Count von Billow does not seem to have rea,d any of the recent evidence about com- mercial depression in Germany. It is only about agri- . culture that he feels any anxiety. Agriculture, he told the Reichsrath, "has long been in at difficult position," while industry and commerce have "by com- parison enjoyed a more favourable development.' Con- sequently it is the turn of industry and commerce to make sacrifices for the benefit of their ailing sister. The importance of agriculture is different in kind from that of other industries. It has to do with "the national defences and the food supply of the Empire." What its special relation to national defence is is not clear, but there can be no question as to its importance, under the proposed tariff, from the point of view of food supply. If you shut out foreign-grown food by high tariffs, agriculture must prosper, or the nation must take its chance of getting no food at all.
The meaning of the "fair compromise" is perhaps to be inferred from the speech of Count Schwerin-Loewitz. the President of the Agricultural Council. The Bill, he said, was a good. one in so far as it increased. the duties on corn; it was a bad one in so far as it did not increase them still further. He intends to move in Committee that this further increase should be granted, and. he announced that if this proposal is rejected the Conservative vote will be given against the Bill. By the side of this more sweeping policy the Government measure is, no doubt, a compromise,—in the sense that imprisonment is a compro- mise between a death sentence and acquittal. Count Schwerin-Loewitz's programme has the merit of ' per- fect frankness. "The first condition of agricultural prosperity in Germany" is protection against foreign competition. No kind of agricultural produce must enter Germany without paying duty at the frontier, and. though the Count did not define the precise limit of the duty, it is plain that he will not be content with anything less than one which is practically prohibitive. If the duty were low enough to enable a foreign product to be sold as cheaply as a German product, some unpatriotic citizen might be base enough to buy it. But even the worst patriot can be trusted. not to buy foreign goods when he can get Gerinsn goods for less money, and as soon as the German vendor discovers this he will send no more orders to foreign countries. No tariff that cannot be trusted. to have this result can be accepted by the agricultural part. Count Schwerin-Loewitz will have nothing to say to a "fair compromise." The very phrases in which the Chancellor wraps it up are in his eyes sufficient to condemn it. When he talks about giving so much protection as is consistent with "the fundamental conditions of the economic life of the country," and. securing for all classes "a share in the international exchange of commodities," he forgets that the fundamental condition of the economic life of Germany is that agriculture shall not be driven to desperation, and that the share that all classes ought to have in the "inter- national exchange of commodities" must be strictly limited. to such commodities as cannot be produced in Germany. "The German peasants, like their kinsmen Africa, will fight for their existence to the last gasp," and it is nothing less than their existence that is now at stake. It would be interesting to blow whether the German peasant really regards the Count as his representative, and if he does, why it is that cheap food has not for him the charm it has for his English brother.
Count von Billow maintains that German affairs must be discussed "with that national selfishness which it is our good. right to practise," and we have no wish to dispute his position. A nation must give the first place in its thoughts to its own interest. The utmost that other countries can expect of it is that it should not needlessly or thoughtlessly ignore their interests. But when this has been admitted, we are still a long way from a justification of the Tariff Bill. It is not other countries that have reason to complain of the measure, it is Germany itself. In one respect Count Schwerin-Loewitz's attitude is more respectable than the Imperial Chancellor's. The former is honestly convinced that the well-being of Germany is bound up with the prosperity of the agricultural interest, and he frankly says that, provided this is cared for, all, other interests may go to the wall. But Count von Billow, as this very speech shows, is under no such delusion. He knows that Germany is a commercial as well as an agricultural State. Count Schweriu-Loewitz knows nothing of the kind. The Chancellor knows that under a high tariff the only chance for the commercial and manufacturing element in the nation lies in the conclusion of commercial treaties ; Count Schwerin-Loewitz holds it to be inconceivable that • the existing treaties of commerce "should be prolonged, even for a single year." Why, then, does Count von Billow essay the impossible task of reconciling fire and water, Protection and Free-trade ? Why does not he make up his mind which of the two is better for Germany, and ask the Reichsrath to accept his decision ? It is no question between selfishness and self-sacrifice. No one asks Germany to reduce its Customs duties for the ,benefit of the nations which send goods to Germany. The sole question for the Chancellor to consider should be, —Is it to the benefit of Germany that she should get these goods at a less price ?• The sting of the whole transaction lies in the fact that in the Chancellor's mind economic considerations are probably subordinate to Parliamentary considerations, that the Customs duties are to be raised because the Government must keep its party together, and it cannot do this in the required strength if it loses the agricultural vote. Thus it is not a question of national selfishness, but of Ministerial selfishness. We may be wrong, indeed, in attributing thin view to Count von Billow. He may share Count von Posa- dowsky's view that the business of the German Government is to check the action of the natural forces which tend more and more to make freedom of commercial inter- course a necessity for German prosperity. But when all the objections to which the Bill is open are taken into account, it is hard to believe that Count von Billow would ever have made it his own if he could have commanded a majority on any other terms. The prosperity of German trade is treated as a mere pawn in the party game, to be played or thrown away as best suits the 'interest of the hoer.