“Oh, the other’s of course the awful poverty—the twelve millions that haven’t got enough to do with. I expect it’s an outside figure and it covers all sorts of qualifying circumstances; but it’s the one the Free Fooders quote, and it’s the one Wallingham will have to handle. They’ve muddled along until they’ve got twelve million people in that condition, and now they have to carry on with the handicap. We ask them to put a tax on foreign food to develop our wheat areas and cattle ranges. We say, ’Give us a chance and we’ll feed you and take your surplus population.’ What is to be done with the twelve million while we are growing the wheat? The colonies offer to create prosperity for everybody concerned at a certain outlay—we’ve got the raw materials—and they can’t afford the investment because of the twelve millions, and what may happen meanwhile. They can’t face the meanwhile—that’s what it comes to.”
“Fine old crop of catchwords in that situation,” Mr Williams remarked; and his eye had the spark of the practical politician. “Can’t you hear ’em at it, eh?”
“It scares them out of everything but hand-to-mouth politics. Any other remedy is too heroic. They go on pointing out and contemplating and grieving, with their percentages of misery and degeneration; and they go on poulticing the cancer with benevolence—there are people over there who want the State to feed the schoolchildren! Oh, they’re kind, good, big-hearted people; and they’ve got the idea that if they can only give enough away everything will come right. I was talking with a man one day, and I asked him whether the existence of any class justified governing a great country on the principle of an almshouse. He asked me who the almsgivers ought to be, in any country. Of course it was tampering with my figure—in an almshouse there aren’t any; but that’s the way it presents itself to the best of them. Another fellow was frantic at the idea of a tax on foreign food—he nearly cried—but would be very glad to see the Government do more to assist emigration to the colonies. I tried to show him it would be better to make it profitable to emigrate first, but I couldn’t make him see it.
“Oh, and there’s the old thing against them, of course— the handling of imperial and local affairs by one body. Anybody’s good enough to attend to the Baghdad Railway, and nobody’s too good to attend to the town pump. Is it any wonder the Germans beat them in their own shops and Russia walks into Thibet? The eternal marvel is that they stand where they do.”
“At the top,” said Mr Williams.
“Oh—at the top! Think of what you mean when you say ‘England.’”
“I see that the demand for a tariff on manufactured goods is growing,” Williams remarked, “even the anti-food-tax organs are beginning to shout for that.”
“If they had put it on twenty years ago,” said Lorne, “there would be no twelve million people making a problem for want of work. and it would be a good deal easier to do imperial business today.”