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We have chosen for our comparative exhibit the dull season of the opening year, because, for obvious reasons, many of the perturbing influences which often derange supply and demand are then more quiescent than usual, so that the normal level of prices may be expected to be more nearly reached than at any other uniform periods a year apart. Let us now see what the review teaches us. And, first, it shows that with the exception of wheat, cotton, rosin, iron, and a few other articles, whose fluctuations in the market are partly due to causes that are not far to seek, the general course of prices was steadily upward from the commencement of the paper money era, in January, 1862, until the issues reached their highest aggregate in 1864. This rise in prices, though often explained, is still misunderstood in some quarters. It was produced in accordance with the well-known law that “redundant money is depreciated money.”. When a forced issue was made of paper dollars, these dollars gradually sunk in value, and of course prices were proportionately larger when expressed in such dollars. To illustrate this, we may suppose that the excessive issue had been carried, as it was in the rebel States, as well as in the War of Independence, to such a point that the dollars were only worth a dime; then it is obvious that prices would be expressed in these small depreciated dollars by a removal of the decimal point, so that $10.00 in coin would be equivalent to $100.00. All bistory and all experience proves the uniformity of this general law, that prices rise under a depreciated currency, whether the dilution and loss of value be produced by a debasing of the coin, as in ancient Rome under the tribunes, and in modern France during John Law's daring financial manipulations--or whether, as in more recent days, the same end has been reached by redundant issues of irredeemable paper money. This last experiment has been tried in Prussia, in France, in Austria, in England, as well as on this continent, and always with the uniform result that in proportion as the currency is overloaded and redundant it loses its purchasing power, more of it is wanted to make a given purchase, or, in other words, prices universally advance. It has been observed, however, that this advance is not uniform. Some commodities rise more rapidly than others, and sooner float on the rising current of inflation. The earliest movement is usually in gold, which is the most sensitive commodity in the market, next follow stocks, and other easily convertible property; afterwards the various necessaries and luxuries of living, then the wages of labor, and last of all real estate, with other fixed investments. Such, in brief, is an account of the effects of inflated currency on prices wbich was given by one of the leading writerson finance in England during the paper money period at the beginning of this century. And it reads very much like a history of what has taken place among ourselves during the last five years. But, secondly, the phenomena of advancing prices wbich we have endeavored to analyse are not developed without numerous spasms and violent oscillations. These are aggravated by the speculative manoeuvres of shrewd men, who combine in powerful cliques to make gain by the mutations of values, and do not scruple, with that view, to resort to mischievous expedients that they may precipitate a fall or “rig the market” for a rise. În our own case, other perturbations of prices, as we have repeatedly shown, arose during the last ibree or four years from our excessive and badly adjusted taxation, as well
as from a number of causes wbich, during the war, either increased the cost of production, or gave a monoply to a few persons, or deranged in some other way the equilibrium of supply and demand.
Let us now turn to the other side of the picture. As prices rise when the currency is expanded, so they fall as it is contracted, only with this difference, that there is very much more. danger of the spasms and violent movements in prices during a season of contraction, because of the derangement of public confidence and the mischief which is caused in the money-market whenever the contraction is not made skilfully, slowly and at the right time. In view of this fact there are not a few persons who look for violent fluctuations during the current year in the value of many speculative commodities, especially of such securities as are the most speculatively dealt in at the Stock Exchange. As such stormy oscillations in prices offer chances by which a large class of persons in Wall street and elsewhere hope to make large fortunes, influences are ever at work to induce the Secretary of the Treasury, the members of committees, and the leading members of Congress, to propose something which shall seem likely to unsettle financial affairs, and to provoke alternate fears and hopes as to the policy of the Treasury and its effect on the money market.
The only suggestion we shall offer as a deduction from the whole of *these facts is that the people need and must have a fixed financial policy. Congress is held responsible by the country. Let the policy of gradual safe contraction, of wise remission of oppressive taxation, of publicity in all the doings of the Treasury, be settled and fixed so that every man may know what to expect in the immediate future, and then the descent from our inflated values to safer and more legitimate prices may perhaps be so slowly and gradually effected that our public interests will not be sacrificed nor our public prosperity long interrupted. Or if this is too much to realize, the present intolerable uncertainty and suspense would at least be at an end.
A SOLDIER'S REASONS AGAINST EQUALIZING BOUNTIES.
Of course a soldier's reasons bave no need of a preamble.
1st. There is no honest, urgent demand for this measure. One of the sbrewdest maxims of the Legislature is to follow not lead. It some abuses to remain after their due time, but it saves an infinite amount political romancing and knight-errantry, far more mischievious. Walpole's principle, Quieta non movere, was sound and just ; and it was only his extension of it to oppose an actual public sentiment-probably the most powerful and unanimous that ever gathered against a British Minister -which cost him his place and so large a portion of bis past fame.
There are two reasons why such a public sentiment should be the condition precedent of legislation. The first, as expressed by Macbiavelli, is that, while a people make many mistakes, they make fewer than any individual. The second, and of peculiar force in a free Government, is that upon the acquiescence or support of the people must depend the value or even safety of such enactmenis.
Now, of such a public sentiment there is in the present case hardly a sign. The parties to it would be two, soldiers, and the citizens at large. The latter class have no desire to be taxed fifty or or seventy-five millions a year beyond the present enormous burdens, but are ready, in their
generosity and gratitude, to do anything that seems really necessary or just. Certainly no strenuous pressure can come rom them. Of the soldiers it may be said that no spontaneous, earnest demand has been made or will ever be, for the equalization of bounties. The writer went into service as an enlisted man of an infantry regiment. His acquaintance with all ranks of the army is as general as four years of campaigning would natura!ly make it,--and yet he never heard two soldiers talking together of the proposed bounty bill as of something which was right, and should be pressed through. Nor does he believe that there has been any considerable feel. ing among the actual soldiers of the republic, at the bottom of all the demonstrations that have been made. The whole movement has had its origin with demagogues, generally in local primary interests, in the hope of getting soldiers' votes. Our simple-hearted veterans have been approached by these pure patriots with suggestions that they might as easily as not obtain a few hundred dollars from the public purse, by making a claim for it. If any conduct was ever litigious in the worst sense, and deserved all the common law penalties against those who make strife to profit by it, theirs has been. The whole thing has been “ got up,” and looks so.
The men, who have urged the matter to its present point, are just as much friends of the soldier as those disreputable practitioners who excite lawsuits on shares, are friends of the community.
2d. The expense of such a donation.
I do not mean the large amount to be so distributed, but the cost over and above all the soldiers will get. This is the great argument against all unnecessary assumption by government, either of charity or business enterprise. Ancient Athens used to bestow on each citizen a largess, on Theatre days, of two oboli, the price of admission. The political economy of that date had not mastered the principle that the two oboli given, cost the reciptant three or four. The revenue of the city was derived, say, from customs taken on the Hellespont, but these raised the price of wheat at Athens far more than enough to compensate the gain. It would probably be a reasonable estimate that every dollar of taxes raised by this nation cost the consumer, in enhanced prices, two dollars. Hon. George Opdyke, in his treatise on Political Economy, (p. 211,) makes the expense of collecting revenue by custons (including the enhancement of profits
, &c., as merchandise passed through its several stages of exchange) • seventy-seven per cent. on the net amount collected by government." But this is only the first effect. The cost of foreign goods thus raised, the domestic producer, bimself a consumer of these, must put up his own prices somewhat to correspond. Without any attempt to determine exactly what the proportion is, there can be no doubt that the general exaggeration of prices throughout the community would be as great as has been stated. Now, a raising of prices is a good thing when it results from an enlarged demand and a widening market; but when it is caused either by taxation or speculation, its only effect on the healthful and permanent industries of the country must be evil, and thus continually.
It is, of course, a consideration of no small moment, whether the ad
vantage to be obtained from making such a donation to our soldiers will be at all commensurate with the sacrifice to the other interests of the community. I may be very glad to give a man a dollar, says Susan Nipper, but it does not follow that I shall if it is to cost me two.
3d. Another reason against this ill-timed generosity is, that while it costs twice as much as the soldiers get, no considerable portion of it will ever be applied to a useful purpose. This is a matter that appeals to common observation. If a man gets a gratuity, how does he commonly spend it? Does he not at once think of some little luxury, elegance or indulgence which he has long wanted, but which he never would have paid for had it come from his daily earnings ? What a man has no claim to, and has not expected, will always be looked at in this light. It is over and above his estimates of living, outside of his plans for the year; and will be very likely to go for some object, perhaps not hurtful, perhaps even well enough in its way, but certainly not of importance to demand that the laboring class should be more heavily burdened than at the present grievous times. And not only would the bounties (and they would be bounties indeed) be taken out of productive industry, but, in the case of each and every person receiving them, there would be a shock to the Principle of Frugality, which it is so desirable to cultivate, since from it is to arise the whole future wealth of the country. The same reason whiels makes it economically mischievous that a laborer should draw an hundred dollar prize in a lottery, would prove it injurious that six hundred millions should be distributed as a gratuity among any class in the community. This principle applies equally to all
, and is true of the best and most discreet of our soldiers. But we well know that there are thousands and scores of thousands of our veterans, generous, gallant fellows as they are, who with three hundred dollars put into their hands by Government, would imagine they saw the finger of Providence pointing to a barroom, and be burried away into one of those “good times which leave only repentance and disgrace. Can we afford to spend so much money in this way, to take a sum so gigantic from our factories and farms, to lavish it on places of idle or vicious amusement ?
The matter of first importance to any people is that wealth shall be applied reproductively. Upon this depends happiness, security, self-respect. Do we promote or hinder frugality by equalizing bounties?
41h. It would go far to render our National debt a perpetuity.
This is the great economical evil before us. If the people can be brought rightly to regard a national debt, which is always and only a national curse, it is now entirely practicable by strenuous effort and rigid economy to remove in a single generation tbe monstrous incubus which weighs upon our industry. Then all our interests may develop freely and strongly, political corruption will be materially lessened, and the condition of the lalaboring classes would more and more approach that of the ideal state.
But a glance will show that the addition of some hundreds of millions to the debt would make it far more hopeless, and would greatly discourage every effort to throw it off, except, indeed, by that way which ruins good name and fair prospects at once, repudiation. We need all the arguments we can urge, all the incentives we can apply, to bring the people to submit to that severe and painful taxation which alone can save them from the dismal financial condition of Europe. With such an addition to the debt as is here contemplated, escape would be almost impossible.
5th. It would bring in other waste of the public money. It would help every weak and foolish scheme of appropriation. As far as it has been discussed in the National or State legislatures, thus far, it bas managed almost invariably to associate itself with some other attacks on the Treasury. In Congress, it went through with that savory item by which self
ying members raised their own pay seventy odd per cent at a stroke. In the Massachusetts General Court, it took along a comrade through every stage of the passage. Nor is this association accidental. Wherever it goes it will bave a crowd around. It is the very restoration of the Jews to every lobby agent in Washington. This is the curse of our posities. One wasteful appropriation is an argument for another, just as much as rolling half way down hill is an argument for rolling to the bottom. There is a league between all that seek the public crib, not the less formidable that it arises not from contract but from instinct. There is notsoever the relief competition about it, since logrolling only increases to become more costly. Every plunderer thinks well of any other scheme for bleeding Uncle Sam. " There is honor among thieves "-ten times as much, indeed, as between honest men-for the interests of honest men may and do lie apart, but the pleasure of seeing “ kindred and friends agree” may be had at any time for only looking into the Congressional lobbies.
At the present time, and with our American politics, a great danger lies before us. Extravagance and corruption were never more powerful and threatening than now. All good citizens, all honest men, all substantial property-holders should unite to condemn and defeat every scheme of public appropriation that does not show a sufficient and convincing reason for itself, to condemn and defeat their authors, agents and sympa. thizers at every point in their political career.
We have accumulated five reasons against paying out so many hundreds of millions for bounties, although we are aware that an influential weekly of New York has just discharged a new cannon of criticism; that no human institution or policy “is subject to more than two, or, in extreme cases, three or four sound logical objections." Five counts, it seems, are fatal to a scientific indictment. What a relief it would have been to “ meetin’-goers” in the olden time to have known as much as this, and choke the minister off at his “ fourtbly” with a stern “thus far and no further." Live and learn. Meanwhile, our readers may cross out just which one of our reasons they can best spare, to make up the sacred number four, and give validity to the remainder.
No! Let the unbought men of 1861 be content with their proud preeminence among the soldiers of the Union. To accept a bounty for the service they have rendered would be to accept something of degradation, at least something of derogation. “ Three hundred dollars and a cow" are not needed to make up their recompense. They bear it about in their hearts. They shall surely find it in the congratulations of their country. men. All that the nation can give without iinpoverishment and its moral and social evils should be given, not as bounty, but as pension; not promiscuously to the discharged, but with discrimination to the disabled and bereaved. Double, quadruple, if you please, the scanty dole on which the shattered veterans of the war must subsist, or which only half stops the mouths of an hundred thousand orphans; but save the country this waste. ful, purposeless extravagance, having its beginning in the arts of the demagogue, and its end in no good whatever.