The Principles of Political Economy

Henry Sidgwick

Book 3

The Art of Political Economy

Chapter 3

The Relations of Government to Industry

§3. Let us now consider separately each of the indispensable functions above enumerated. Under the first head, of Defence against Foreign enemies, the most important economic questions relate chiefly to the best way of securing an adequate supply of the personal services, materials, or instruments required for war; and will therefore be more fitly discussed later, when we come to treat of the theory of the provision for national wants. Here I would only point out that the needs of war may furnish decisive considerations in favour of measures which would otherwise be inexpedient---although they are not unlikely to be advocated on other than military grounds. Thus a government may reasonably undertake for military reasons the construction of railways commercially unremunerative; or may control the arrangement of a system of railways which it would otherwise leave to unrestricted private enterprise. Again, similar reasons have often been urged for the protection of native industry in certain departments; and certainly, where there is a reasonable probability that a government would find serious difficulty in obtaining, should it be involved in war, any part of the supply of men or things required for the efficient conduct of the war, it is obvious that some kind of provision should be made in time of peace for meeting this difficulty: and we cannot say a priori how far it will in any particular case be better to meet it directly, by a more extensive and costly orTanization of the army or navy, or indirectly by the encouragement of certain branches of private industry. Thus, for instance, it may be questioned whether Adam Smith was right in commending the English Navigation Laws of his time which ``endeavoured to give the sailors and shipping of Great Britain the monopoly of the trade of their own country''; but the question cannot be answered without a careful investigation of details. The restrictions thus imposed on trade must of course have increased the cost of foreign commodities to the English consumers; but they may nevertheless have been the least burdensome mode of securing a due supply of sailors and shipping for our maritime wars. On similar grounds we cannot say positively that it can never be expedient for a country situated as England is to secure itself by protection to native agriculture against the danger of having its necessary supply of food cut off by a maritime blockade.

[Back to:] [Forward to:] [Up to:]