The Free Trade Debate
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Free Trade Debate
Sir, — We Tariff Reformers had no occasion to complain of our treatment by our opponents at this meeting. Mr. Chamberlain's views were continually travestied, and a dummy Mr. Chamberlain was badly knocked about, but that is so in political warfare all the world over. We did feel, however, that there was something jarring in Mr. Aitken's final remarks. He took the extraordinary line that a grave moral question was involved in the contest between free imports and tariff reform. He might with as much truth have said that it was a moral question whether one bought jam at the grocer's or made it from one's own fruit. Does Mr. Aitken seriously contend that such men as Charles Booth — who has spent his life among the London poor — or Alfred Moseley — who took the commission to America at his own expense — are of a low moral calibre? Both of these gentlemen are strong supporters of Mr. Chamberlain — or does he mean to imply that we stand upon a higher moral plane than our forefathers in the days of Protection? Let him look, not only at the United States and at Germany, but at such countries as Switzerland, Sweden and Holland. Does he find that the moral standard in these countries is lower than ours? Where then does the moral question come in?
A German friend of mine remarked that the Boers began the war "by commandeering the Almighty." It seems to me to be the habitual practice of a certain section of British politicians. We have already seen it in connection with education rates and with Chinese labour — now it appears even in tariff reform. I do not myself believe that the Higher Powers are always on the side of the opposition.
I would utter a mild word of protest also against the harshness of Mr. Aitken's observations concerning an alleged misstatement which he claimed to have discovered in the remarks of Mr. Hutchinson. Mr. Hutchinson's argument so far as I followed it, was that German wages had increased at a quicker ratio than British. Mr. Aitken waved a Blue Book, and asserted that this was not so. If he had cast his eyes to the bottom of the very page from which he was quoting he would have seen printed in large letters "It will be seen that the table indicates a rise in wages in all four countries. The rise is greatest in Germany, and least in the United States." It must be admitted that the difference is very slight, and that there is little political capital for either side to make out of it, but the incident does not appear to justify the severe remarks which Mr. Aitken thought proper to make.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
December 2nd, 1905