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British Commerce

Karl Marx



During the late extraordinary session of the British Parliament, Lord Derby declared in the House of Lords that, for the last three years the value of British imports had exceeded that of British exports to the amount of £160,000,000[a]. This statement gave rise to a controversy, out of doors, some private individuals applying to Lord Stanley of Alderley, President of the Board of Trade, for information as to the correctness of Lord Derby's statement. The President of the Board of Trade, in a letter addressed to his interrogators, replied:

"The assertion made by Lord Derby in the House of Lords, that the value of our imports during the last three years had exceeded that of our exports by £160,000,000, is incorrect, and arises from Lord Derby having taken the total value of our imports, including our imports from the Colonies and foreign countries, while he has excluded the re-export of merchandize which has been received from the Colonies and foreign countries. Thus Lord Derby's calculation shows:

"Importations            £468,000,000
Exports308,000,000
Difference
£160,000,000
  Whereas it should be:
Importations£468,000,000
Exports371,000,000
Difference
£97,000,000[b]"

The President of the Board of Trade substantiates this assertion by adding to it a comparative statement of the value of the exports and imports of the United Kingdom during the years 1855, 1856 and 1857. This highly interesting document, which is not to be found in the London newspapers, we reprint below. First it will be seen that the case might be put in a shape confirmatory of Lord Derby's assertion, viz.:

Total imports£468,000,000
British exports308,000,000
Excess of imports over British exports£160,000,000
Re-exports of foreign produce63,000,000
Balance of trade against Great Britain£97,000,000

Thus, there is actually an excess of foreign imports over British exports of 160,000,000, and after the re-export of 63,000,000 of foreign productions, there remains a balance of trade against Great Britain, as stated by the President of the Board of Trade himself, of 97,000,000, or more than 32,000,000 for the average of the three years, 1855, 1856, and 1857. Hence, the recent complaint of The London Times:

"The actual losses sustained by the nation have been going on for the last five or six years, and it is only now that we have found them out."[c]

These losses, however, arise not from the excess of imports over exports, but from the specific character of a great part of the exports.

The fact is, one-half the re-exports consists of foreign raw materials used in manufactures serving to increase foreign rivalry against the British industrial interests, and, to some extent, returned to the Britishers in manufactured goods for their home consumption. The decisive point, however, to be kept in view, is this, that the large re-exports of raw materials, resulting from the competition of Continental manufactures, enhanced the price of the raw material so much as almost to absorb the profit left to the British manufacturer. On a former occasion, we made some statements in this sense with respect to the British Cotton industry.

As at the present moment the industrial crisis rages most violently the British Woolen districts, where failure follows upon failure, anxiously concealed from the general public by the London press, it may be opportune to give at this place some figures showing into what effective competition for raw wool the manufacturers of the European Continent were entering with the British onesa competition which led to the unparalleled enhancement in the price of that raw material, ruinous to the manufacturer, and fostering the now blown-up speculations in that article. The following statement comprises the first nine months of each of the last five years[d]:

Imports
Years     ForeignColonialTotal
1853£37,586,199£46,277,276£83,863,475
185427,006,17350,187,69277,193,865
185517,293,84253,896,17371,190,015
185622,377,71462,148,46784,526,181
185727,604,36463,053,10090,657,464

Year     ForeignColonialTotal
1853£2,180,410£5,243,166£7,723,576
18545,993,36613,117,10219,110,468
18558,860,90412,948,56121,809,465
18565,523,34514,433,95819,957,303
18574,561,00025,068,78729,629,787

The quantities of foreign and colonial wools returned for British home consumption appear, therefore, to have been, in the years:

Wool
Year.Pounds.
185376,139,899
185458,083,397
185549,380,550
185664,568,878
185761,027,677

On the other hand, the quantities of British home-grown wool exported were:

1853lb 4,755,443
18549,477,396
185513,592,756
185611,539,201
185713,492,386

By deducting from the quantity of foreign wools imported into the United Kingdom, first the quantity re-exported and next the quantities of English wools exported, we find the following real quantities of foreign wool available for British home consumption:

1853lb 71,384,456
185448,606,001
185535,787,794
185653,029,677
185747,535,291

While, therefore, the import into the United Kingdom of colonial wool increased from 46,277,276 lbs. in the first nine months of 1853 to 63,053,100 lbs. in the same period of 1857, and the total imports of all kinds from 83,863,475 lbs. to 90,657,464 lbs. during the same respective periods, such, in the mean time, had been the increase in the demand for the European Continent, that, in regard to the foreign and colonial wools, the quantities returned for British consumption diminished in the five years from 76,139,899 lbs. in 1853 to 61,027,677 lbs. in 1857; and taking into account the quantities of English wools exported, there took place an aggregate reduction from 71,384,456 lbs. in 1853 to 47,535,291 lbs. in 1857. The significance of these statements will be better understood when attention is called to the fact avowed by The London Times, in a money article, that, simultaneously with this increase in the export of wool from the United Kingdom, the import of Continental woolen manufactures, especially French ones, was increasing.

From the figures furnished by Lord Stanley of Alderley we have abstracted the following tabular statement, showing the degree in which the balance of trade with Great Britain was favorable or unfavorable to different countries:

Balance of Trade against England
for
1855, 1856. 1857.
1.United States£28,571,764
2.China22,675,433
3.East Indies19,605,742
4.Russia16,642,167
5.Prussia12,842,488
6.Egypt8,214,941
7.Spain7,146,917
8.Br. West Indies6,906,314
9.Peru6,282,382
10.Sweden5,027,934
11.Cuba & Porto Rico4,853,484
12.Mauritius4,672,090
13.New-Brunswick3,431,303
14.Denmark3,391,144
15.Ceylon3,134,575
16.France2,696,291
17.Canada1,808,454
18.Norway1,686,962
19.Africa (Western)1,432,195
20.Portugal1,283,075
21.Two Sicilies1,030,139
22.Chili693,155
23.Buenos Ayres107,676

Balance of Trade in favor of England
for
1855, 1856, 1857.
1.Hanse Towns18,883,428
2.Australia17,761,889
3.Turkey6,947,220
4.Brazil7,131,160
5.Belgium2,214,207
6.Holland1,600,904
7.Cape of G. Hope59,661

The simple fact of the excess of British imports over exports, amounting in three years to £97,000,000 would by no means warrant the cry now raised by the Britishers "of carrying on their trade at a yearly sacrifice of £33,000,000," and benefiting by that trade foreign countries only. The enormous and increasing amount of British capital invested in all parts of the world must be paid for in interest, dividends and profits, all of which are to be remitted to a great extent in the form of foreign produce, and consequently go to swell the list of British imports. Beyond the imports corresponding to their exports, there must be a surplus of imports, remitted not in payment for commodities, but as revenue of capital. Generally speaking, the so-called balance of trade must, therefore, always be in favor of the world against England, because the world has yearly to pay to England not only for the commodities it purchases from her, but also the interest of the debt it owes her. The really disquieting feature for England of the statements above made is this, that she is apparently at a loss to find at home a sufficient field of employment for her unwieldy capital; that she must consequently lend on an increasing scale, and similar, in this point, to Holland, Venice and Genoa, at the epoch of their decline, forge herself the weapons for her competitors. She is forced, by giving large credits, to foster speculation in other countries in order to find a field of employment for her surplus capital, and thus to hazard her acquired wealth in order to augment and conserve it. By being obliged to give large credits to foreign manufacturing countries, such as the Continent of Europe, she forwards herself the means to her industrial rivals to compete with her for the raw produce, and thus is herself instrumental in enhancing the raw material of her own fabrics. The small margin of profit thus left to the British manufacturer, still reduced by the constant necessity for a country the very existence of which is bound up with the monopoly of forming the workshop of the world, constantly to undersell the rest of the world, is, then compensated for by curtailing the wages of the laboring classes and creating home misery on a rapidly-enlarging scale. Such is the natural price paid by England for her commercial and industrial supremacy.

A Comparative Statement
of the Value of the Imports and Exports of the United Kingdom
from and to the Principal Foreign Countries
and British Possessions in 1854, 1855, and 1856
.[e]
 IMPORTS.VALUE OF EXPORTS.
Countries.Years.Computed
real value
of Imports.
Declared
Value of
Produce
of the
United Kingdom.
Computed
Real Value
of Foreign
& Colonial
Produce.
Total.
££££
Foreign 
Russia18544,252,28854,30119,73874,039
1855478,169.........
185611,561,9241,595,2371,775,6173,370,854
Sweden18542,509,539334,518249,792584,310
18552,325,171545,384279,515824,899
18562,031,861629,697300,795930,492
Norway18541,369,440402,290106,244508,534
18551,099,642487,400102,551589,951
1856947,934488,489143,080631,569
Denmark18542,706,186758,228230,010988,238
18553,086,979756,967260,6241,017,591
18562,201,8311,033,142352,1731,385,315
Prussia18549,055,503798,4341,717,2852,515,719
185510,242,8621,100,0212,016,6503,116,671
18564,534,815933,715624,9081,558,623
Hanse Towns18546,221,5247,413,7152,720,27410,133,989
18554,816,2988,350,2283,344,41611,694,644
18565,302,73910,134,8133,260,54313,395,356
Holland18546,731,1414,573,0342,320,8776,893,911
18556,460,9324,558,2102,611,7677,169,977
18567,433,4425,728,2532,434,2788,162,531
Belgium18543,631,1611,406,9321,948,7403,355,672
18552,533,7321,707,6932,239,5143,947,207
18562,936,7961,689,9752,323,0424,013,017
France185410,447,7743,175,2903,21.6,1756,391,465
18559,146,4186,012,6584,409,22310,421,881
185610,386,5226,432,6504,038,42710,471,077
Spain18543,594,5011,270,464165,6421,436,106
18554,799,7281,158,800135,1921,293,992
18563,645,0831,734,483377,8202,112,303
Cuba and
Porto Rico
18543,369,4441,073,8614,7271,078,588
18552,332,7531,077,74522,9331,100,678
18562,654,5801,398,83725,1901,424,027
Portugal18542,101,1261,370,603148,9971,519,600
18551,962,0441,350,791184,5801,535,371
18562,164,0901,455,754433,4701,889,224
Two Sicilies18541,411,457563,033109,258672,291
18551,281,940921,220175,2211,096,441
18561,505,5821,202,183197,9251,400,108
Turkey Proper18542,21,9,2982,758,605317,4763,076,081
18552,294,5715,639,898419,1196,059,017
18562,383,0294,416,029291,9914,708,020
Egypt18543,355,9281,253,353113,8951,367,248
18553,674,6821,454,371117,2351,571,606
18565,753,5181,587,68243,1511,630,833
United States
(including California)
185429,795,30221,410,369923,03422,333,403
185525,741,75217,318,086744,51718,062,603
185636,047,77321,918,105698,77222,616,877
Brazil18542,083,5892,891,840119,9823,011,822
18552,273,8193,312,728128,5503,441,278
18562,229,0484,084,537179,9794,264,516
Buenos Ayres18541,285,1861,267,12532,5651,299,690
18551,052,033742,44226,383768,825
1856981,193998,32943,8921,042,221
Chili18541,380,5631,421,85543,5891,465,444
18551,925,2711,330,38556,6881,387,073
18561,700,7761,396,44664,4921,460,938
Peru18543,138,527949,28922,236971,525
18553,484,2881,285,16060,2781,345,438
18563,048,6941,046,01026,1541,072,164
China
(including Hong Kong)
18549,125,0401,000,71626,4001,027,116
18558,746,5901,277,94426,0521,303,996
18569,421,6482,216,12370,6112,286,734
W. C. of Africa
(exclusive of Br. & Fr. Pos.)
18541,528,896646,868174,073820,941
18551,516,729839,831219,8271,059,658
18561,657,375666,374223,842890,216
Total
Foreign Countries
1854118,239,55463,800,60515,645,61279,446,217
1855109,959,53969,524,47518,710,74988,235,224
1856129,517,56883,327,15420,035,442103,362,596
British Possessions 
Canada18544,007,0523,957,085180,5694,137,654
18552,296,2771,515,82390,2981,606,121
18563,779,7412,418,250123,5912,541,841
New-Brunswick18542,079,674863,70440,273903,977
18554,379,041370,56027,718398,278
18561,891,707572,54234,322606,864
British West
India Islands
18543,977,271*1,870,674166,6902,037,364
18553,978,2781,389,992136,0221,526,014
18564,157,0981,462,156180,7991,642,955
British Guiana18541,636,267...31,77931,779
18551,491,935421,39835,189456,587
18561,418,264411,24141,248452,489
British Settlements
in Australia
18544,301,86811,931,3521,474,63413,405,986
18554,500,2006,278,966942,6597,221,625
18565,736,0439,912,5751,759,81411,672,389
British East Indies185410,672,8629,127,556493,1549,620,710
185512,668,7329,949,154404,32110,358,475
185617,262,85110,546,190478,32811,024,518
Ceylon18541,506,646382,27631,228413,504
18551,474,251305,57620,321325,897
18561,304,174388,43522,660411,095
Mauritius18541,677,533383,21017,936401,146
18551,723,807303,17314,772317,945
18562,427,007420,18016,977437,157
Cape of Good Hope
& Brit. Pos. in S. Afr'a
1854691,352921,95763,309985,266
1855949,640791,31345,437836,750
18561,502,8281,344,33873,1271,417,465
Total of
British Possessions
185434,149,49933,384,1212,990,75436,374,875
185533,583,31126,163,6102,292,46628,456,076
185643,026,58632,499,7943,357,96335,857,757
Total ForeignCountries
and Br. Posses'ns.
1854152,389,05397,184,72618,636,366115,821,092
1855143,542,85095,688,08521,003,215116,691,300
1856172,544,154115,826,94823,393,405139,220,353
* Including British Guiana.





Written on about January 7, 1858
First published unsigned in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5238, February 3, 1858



Notes

[a] E. G. Derby's speech in the House of Lords, December 3, 1857, The Times, No. 22855, December 4, 1857.—Ed.

[b] J. Johnson's inquiry, made on the instructions of the Foreign Affairs Association, and J. G. Fanshawe's reply on behalf of the President of the Board of Trade were published in The Free Press, No. 26, December 23, 1857.—Ed.

[c] The Times, No. 22869, December 21, 1857 "Money-Market and City Intelligence".—Ed.

[d] Here and below Marx quotes from "The Supply and Consumption of Wool", The Economist, No. 741, November 7, 1857.—Ed.

[e] The data given here and below are taken from The Free Press, No. 26, December 23, 1857.—Ed.


Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 15 (pp.425-434), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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