Profiteering. Growers, Sellers, and the State
GROWERS, SELLERS, AND THE STATE.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, — Perhaps you will kindly allow me to say one more word upon this subject. I have nothing to withdraw, and a good deal to add. The profiteers in the wholesale trade endeavour to throw dust in our eyes by claiming that they work upon commission. As a matter of fact they seem to work both ways, as suits them best. But a commission may be as onerous as a direct payment, and it avoids any tiniest element of risk. In a bill which lies before me (it is from Spitalfields Market, but it is a system, not a locality, which I am attacking), the small grower has been charged 40 per cent, commission, so that where his bundle of rhubarb realized 5s. he received 3s. Out of this 3s. he has to pay his rent, his labour, his expenses, while the man who has done nothing at all, save hand the goods across, gets nearly the same remuneration. I can forward this document for your inspection but these middlemen appear to be bullies, and it is not safe for the producer to cross them. "We might as well shut down our gardens at once," says one of my informants.
In the list of prices given by Mr. Ravenhill one can only wonder at his moderation, for since it has no connexion, with actual shop prices he might have adopted any scale. A lady with a small income, and her breadwinner killed in the war, writes to me from Ladbroke-street :- "I cannot get a cabbage under from 8d. to 1s., and the smallest cauliflowers are 1s." The date of the letter is July 11. It was on the same date that the hotelkeeper informed me that he could not get cabbages in wholesale lots under 6d. And yet we have Messrs. Ridley, Bradnum, Lewis, Mason, and the other leaders of the trade assuring the public that they are "highly indignant" with me for exposing these facts. Unless these gentlemen get to work and reform their rotten trade they may find that the public "highly indignant" with them.
The State is, I am convinced, incurring a grave danger by its complacence towards wholesale profiteers, and towards the voracious retailers who are making fortunes by starving their fellow countrymen. I have always been an optimist during the war, as my numerous letters in your columns will testify, but there are some signs now which overshadow me. One patriotic Socialist desired to bring the question of profiteering before a democratic meeting, and was earnestly persuaded not to do so. "If the price of things only keeps the present level until the winter the chance we have been waiting for for 50 years has come," so said the more extreme man, who wished nothing done to restrain the profiteers. And we are courting these dangers, which may undo our victory in the field, for the sake of allowing a handful of men to intervene for their own illicit gain between the man who grows the food and the man who eats it. Immediate and drastic legislation is imperatively called for.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, July 15.