ECONOMIC, COMMERCIAL, AND INDUSTRIAL ASPECTS OF THE WAR.
The latest decision of the Coalition Government in conserving the supplies and resources of the nation to meet the strain of war was announced last week in the House of Commons by Mr. Redmond prior to the adjournment of the Parliamentary sitting. This took the shape of restrictions on certain imports in order to increase the carrying capacity of merchant ships covering cargoes of articles more vital to the needs and necessities of the nation. The articles on which restrictions will be imposed include paper-making materials, raw tobacco, fruit, furniture, building materials, &c. Of course it has been a foregone conclusion that trade and commerce in almost every direction must suffer, and suffer severely, as a result of the war, especially if protracted, and also a general shortage of supplies of all kinds must of necessity be expected, and hence the campaign for retrenchment in public services, encouragement of thrift, and the increased cultivation and tillage of land for the production of foodstuffs. But, as in the methods adopted for attaining these ends, there seems to be a certain amount of unfairness and inconsistency in selecting articles on which restrictions are to be imposed, without a sufficient corresponding advantage accruing to the country. Take the first-named article, the importation of which it is proposed to restrict, namely, paper-making material, it is worthy of recollection that the first interests to suffer as a result of the outbreak of hostilities were those associated with, or dependent upon, the manufacture and supplies of paper. The publishing firms have been badly hit, while newspapers were in many instances obliged to limit space and reduce the size issued to the public. The printing departments, particularly in this country, were also more or less crippled by the suspension of work required by public bodies consequent on the abandonment of elections and the revision and printing of vote’s lists, registers, &c, during the period of the war. All this of course led to dislocation of trade and unemployment: yet, now on the plea of making room for greater carrying capacity of other supplies by merchant vessels for the benefit and well-being of the general public, all these important interests are being further deliberately assailed by a restriction on the import of material on which they have to depend. And this notwithstanding the fact that it is the same general public for whose benefit this action is about to be taken, that the interests affected serve, and which will, therefore, be indirectly hit. In addition to a more meager news service to which the general public look forward as a necessity, not alone to keep posted and informed as to the progress of the war, but also as to the conditions of the markets and the ruling prices prevailing, all of which is essential to the business community, there is also the prospect of limited advertising at enhanced prices, and in several of her directions the general public is bound to be adversely affected by the policy outlined in Parliament. It is, we believe, unnecessary to labour the unfairness and inconsistency disclosed in this latest stroke for effecting economy, or to the many other interests, official and otherwise, that might with real advantage to the country be selected for restriction, not alone in expensive administration, but in actual squandering of those very needs and necessities to the nation for which the Government seek a larger import. The paper-making industry in Ireland has got a notable impetus in late years owing to the activity of the Industrial Development Association, and if, as a result of the proposed embargo, it led to further self-reliance in the production of the raw materials required for this purpose, it might to a certain extent compensate for the temporary loss involved. The same observation might apply to the effects of the restrictions on the importation of raw tobacco, as in late years the area given over to the cultivation of the tobacco plant has been greatly increased, and the manufacture of the finished article has led to much needed employment. Discussions on trade and commerce, suggestive as they are of the ways of peace and progress as to opposed to war and its barbarism, seem to be the very antithesis of everything relating to the roar of the battle-field, the rattle of rifles, and the booming of big guns: yet it is partly owing to questions of rivalry in trade and commerce that the continent of Europe is to-day swept by a devastating war. Two years before the war broke out, and when the feeling of district and suspicion between the British and Germans was, perhaps, at its height, the Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Laseelles, writing on the Anglo-German problem and the possibilities of war, said that this feeling was nothing new, and in fact existed ever since the proclamation of the German Empire in 1871. The rapid expansion of German commerce after the foundation of the empire caused a certain amount of surprise and easiness amongst the British traders who had previously enjoyed what was practically a monopoly of trade with certain countries, and notably with China. They, perhaps, not unnaturally, experienced some annoyance at being confronted in a domain which they regarded as exclusively their own, by rigorous and energetic rivals who would certainly share their profits, and might attempt to oust them altogether. Both countries sought new markets for their manufactures, and they both adhered to the principle of the open door; while each found in the other its best or nearly best customer, leading to a vast volume of trade flowing between them. It was hoped that this commercial intercourse must tend to peace, but as we know these hopes have been doomed to disappointment. We do not, however, assert that commercial considerations alone led to the war between Germany in England, as there were questions relating to the construction of the proposed railway to Bagdad in which France, Germany and England were to have a controlling power, and which led to a clashing of international interests. British suspicion and distrust of German influence at Constantinople or Asiatic Turkey led to irritation in Germany at the attitude adopted by Britain torwards the project. Tripoli and other African possessions, as well as rivalry in Colonial expansion were also fruitful sources of friction. Meanwhile the building up of the German Navy and other war-like preparations, accompanied by Colonial expansion, were not without significance, and when at last the crash came, and the murder of a Grand Duke led to war between Russia and Austria, England and Germany could no longer be restrained from engaging in a struggle, the outcome of which is still so much in doubt. The events immediately preceding the outbreak of hostilities were subsidiary contributory causes, but to obtain a thorough grasp of the larger issues at stake, one has to recall and review the international relations subsisting since 1871. So much for the economic and commercial aspects of the situation leading up to, and arising from, the war. There is one other aspect of the situation which, even though the end of the struggle is not yet in sight, must be a matter of the gravest concern to those who look to the future, and what it has in store. This relates to the problem of dealing with the return of three millions of soldiers to civil life. The dislocation, disorganisation, and confusion of trade, commerce, and industries following, upon the war will not be modified by the disbandment of this large number of men, and, therefore, timely preparation for this is imperative. It is reassuring however, to learn that steps have already been taken to cope with this difficulty. The War Office and many civil organisations in England had prior to the war suggested several ways and means by which this difficulty might be met, and conferences held since the outbreak of hostilities have considered these and formulated other schemes. The contention that preparation should be made for demobilisation while the war was in progress, was universally approved, and a committee has now been formed, entitled the “Demobilisation Committee of the Social Welfare Association of London,” which has issued a memorandum to the House of Commons suggesting a number of amendments to the Naval and Military War Pensions Bill. Amongst these are the control of the public funds available, and their expenditure by a central authority subject to direct public control, that the central authority should in the strictest and most direct sense be a Government body, and that the country would expect Parliament to undertake entire responsibility for the future care of soldiers and sailors broken by the war, instead of treating them as objects of charity. Furthermore, that at the end of the war local authorities, employers, and representatives of Labour will be called upon to make provision for able-bodied sailors and soldiers returning home. Those who must form the back–bone of the Committees to be set up under the present Bill will be the same men who must bear the chief responsibility throughout the Kingdom of dealing with the vast problem of demobilisation. It becomes imperative, therefore, that the new central authority, which is to undertake the responsibility for the training and employment of sailors and soldiers now being discharged from the Services through disablement, should be one fully competent to bear the burden of dealing with the able-bodied discharged sailors and soldiers later on, and should possess the confidence of all those bodies and persons who may be called upon to render assistance. The Bill containing these provisions has now been passed, and the Committee point out that while the optimists imagine that there will be no danger of unemployment or dislocation of the labour market, it is wise to consider and prepare for the reverse possibility, and the fact cannot be overlooked that historical data suggest that reaction and suffering always follow periods of economical waste.