The Corn Laws and the CAP
Just 150 years ago, the anniversary which we now commemorate, the Corn Laws were repealed. A certain irony attaches to the celebration, because today we have ‘Corn Laws’ back with us, now Western Europe-wide, thanks to the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union (henceforth CAP and EU respectively). This chapter takes advantage of that irony to compare and contrast the effects of agricultural protection on manufacturing ‘competitiveness’, as they existed in the first half of the nineteenth century, and as they exist now at the end of the twentieth century. What those effects may be, and what economists perceive them to be, are of course not necessarily the same. A tendency for agricultural protection to depress manufacturing exports, which would be one interpretation of a competitiveness effect, has not for the most part received the leading emphasis from economic writers. Thus David Ricardo, whose ideas are discussed more fully below, placed more emphasis on the effect on
manufacturing profits than on the level of exports, although such an effect is implicit in his model. Similarly, Howarth (1992), in an essay pitched strongly against the CAP, lays stress on costs to consumers and taxpayers, while making no mention of adverse consequences on European manufacturing exports. In the nineteenth century the Anti-Corn Law League did claim explicitly that the ‘bread tax’ inhibited exports. However, particularly in Manchester, industrial prosperity and export success were virtually synonymous.