4 NOVEMBER 1905, Page 6


Mr. Eltzbacher begins by a striking comparison between: the output of coal in France and in three other countries. Great Britain annually produces five and a half tons per head, the United. States four tons, Germany three tons, and France a fraction less than one ton. Even if we allow for coal exports, French consumption does not exceed. one and a quarter tons per head, and. we may judge from these figures how small a proportion of the wealth of France has its origin in her manufacturing industries. On the contrary, "it is almost wholly derived from her agricul- ture," and derived from it only of comparatively recent years. Before the Revolution a bad land system, arbitrary taxation, and oppressive game laws made French agricul- ture what Arthur Young painted it,—at least 76 per cent. worse than agriculture in England. The Revolution made short work of these positive disadvantages, though it could not relieve the peasant of his share in the burdens imposed upon the country by the Napoleonic Wars. But when they came to an end the progress of agriculture was rapid. The area under wheat grew from 4,591,677 hectares in 1815 to 7,934,087 hectares in 1869, and though it de- creased in the following years owing to the war of 1870 and the loss of two provinces, it had grown again in 1895 to 7,001,669 hectares. Since that year there has again been a decline ; but taking the fifteen years between 1875 and 1900, "the area under wheat in France has shrunk by only 1 per cent., while the British wheat area has shrunk by almost 50 per cent." Between 1815 and 1895 the yield of wheat per hectare increased 50 per cent. Since this latter year there has been a falling off in this respect, which, together with the shrinkage in the area, Mr. Eltzbacher attributes to the "sudden and apparently irresistible inrush of unlimited quantities of American wheat." That the area of wheat-growing should be lessened by this cause is intelligible enough, but it is. not equally clear why it should lead to diminished production in the area remaining under cultivation. The French Government has met this state of things by a large measure of Protection. Before 1885 the import-duty on wheat was only 6.20 francs per ton. By 1894 it had risen to 70 francs per ton, which Mr. Eltzbacher estimates as "equal to an impost of from 30 to 40 per cent. on wheat." The effect of this Protec- tive policy on agriculture has been "most satisfactory." In 1884 France exported agricultural produce to the value of 652,000,000 francs, and imported similar produce to the value of 1,094,000,000 francs. By 1902 the tables were completely turned, and the excess of exports over imports amounted to 212,000,000 francs. As we are not concerned with the relation, of agriculture to other industries, or of the French producer to the French con- sumer, we shall make no comment on the policy of successive French Governments beyond suggesting that it may supply one of the reasons why manufactures play so small a part in the aggregate of French wealth. One lesson, however, we may draw from these figures for the benefit of our own countrymen. The example of France shows how useless it is to expect that moderate duties on foreign cereals would really help the English farmer. If Protection is to set him on his legs, it must be Protection in good earnest. Even Mr. Chaplin might be trusted to tell him what chance he would have even under a Chamberlain Administration of getting from 30 to 40 per cent. levied on American wheat.

The experience of France cannot be appealed to in support of very small holdings. In 1895 the number of properties under 21 aeres amounted to only 2.68 per cent. of the whole rural area. Rather more than 50 per cent. was in the hands of men possessing from 21 to 100 acres, while something less than half consisted of properties averaging 400 acres. So far as these proportions change, it is to the advantage of the men who own from 121 to 50 acres. "In France, as in other countries on the Continent, it has been found that both very small peasant properties and very large farms are economically wasteful.' Agricultural success belongs rather to the substantial peasant. The very small holding seems only suited to districts where market-gardening pays, and it is probable that in England these would be harder to find than in Franco, owing to the fact that the English artisan eats more meat and fewer vegetables than his French comrade. That ownership is an indispensable condition of agricultural prosperity Mr. Eltzbacher feels no doubt, but the effect of this condition is more visible when the ownership is of moderate size. French Governments, however, have not left the peasant owner to the unassisted operation of the magic of property. They have done a great deal for him in various ways. Agricultural institu- tions are subsidised. Large sums are spent in agricultural prizes. Horse-breeding, irrigation, and drainage receive great encouragement. In all, more than £2,000,000 appear under these and similar heads in the Estimates of the Minister of Agriculture. But the French peasant is not content with waiting for others to help him ; he has a very good idea of helping himself. The introduction of labour-saving machinery gave the large proprietors a very great advantage, and for a time it was thought by many people that the small cultivators would share the fate of the hand-loom weavers. In 1883, however, the first Agricul- tural Co-operative Society was founded at Blois. Since then the number of these societies has increased every year, until in 1901 there were 2,529 of them. Co- operative dealing has made the peasants "stronger, richer, and more businesslike than the middlemen," and enabled them to hold out for higher prices. Besides these advan- tages, co-operation has brought the newest machinery and the best manures within the reach of. the peasant proprietors, and great improvements have been effected in the selection of seeds and in the collection and packing of agricultural produce. These societies now make about half the butter and cheese produced in France. The processes employed are more economical, and the finished article commands a readier sale at higher prices. The latest development in this direction is concerned with assurance, as the charges of the existing societies were higher than the small proprietors could pay. There are also 1,500 mutual loan societies, by means of which the peasant cultivator can borrow money at a very moderate rate of interest. The Banque de France, at the instance of the Government, has placed forty million francs at the disposal of these loan societies, and the peasant is in this way put on a level with the larger proprietor, who can command whatever capital he requires. The whole picture is a remarkable example of the judicious combina- tion of State-help and self-help.

Besides the interest that French agriculture has in itself, it has an important bearing on English agriculture. That, too, needs the help of the State in order to start it on the road towards helping itself. A Land Bill would not be an easy measure to draft, and it ought not, at all , events in the first instance, to go beyond removing the obstacles which now stand in the way of voluntary sale and purchase. These obstacles are of various _kinds, but they have in the aggregate a considerable adverse influence on the multiplication of properties of moderate size. If land could be more easily sold, it would probably find many more purchasers than it now does, and, in proportion as the process became familiar, to sell portions of his estate would become the obvious resource of a land- owner in want of money. At all events, we should learn , by this means what relation the supply of land held to the demand, and this knowledge would be of very great service as a basis for possible legislation of a more positive kind.