wages. The preparation of the fine flax by rotting is noxious, and can only be worked at the lowest possible rates of wages paid for mere manual labor. We can better afford to raise flax for the seed and burn the stalks rather than to force American labor into un-American lines of work, in the preparation of the fiber by the existing noxious methods.
All these matters must be considered, and when considered they prove how futile, how impossible it is for a Congress composed of men who have little or no knowledge of the practical affairs of life, to attempt to regulate prices and wages, directly or indirectly, by the enactment of revenue acts.
I have named several articles which are necessary in the processes of our domestic industry, in which some other countries possess an advantage over us, such as tin plates, burlaps, and the treatment of flax. These advantages exist especially in respect to crude materials to which machinery has not yet been applied to any great extent; and of manufacturing processes in which the greater part of the work is done by hand. In hand-work the rate of wages may be, and often is, a fair standard of the cost of production. Hand-work here and elsewhere is that which earns least and can not be protected by any system of taxation of any kind.
We annually import, free of duty, $120,000,000 worth of articles of food, and $140,000,000 worth of crude or partly manufactured articles which are made use of in our domestic manufactures, because we can not yet afford to do the work which would be required in the production of these articles, since our own workmen can do so much better than to undertake the kind of work required.
But we also annually import, aside from sugar and molasses, $40,000,000 worth of the most necessary articles of food; and $130,000,000 worth of articles in a crude or partly manufactured condition which are absolutely necessary in the processes of our domestic industry, on which we impose duties or taxes amounting to about $50,000,000 a year. To that extent our workmen are placed at a disadvantage as compared with the workmen of other manufacturing countries in which most of these articles are admitted free.
The saving of this tax of about $50,000,000 a year would be but a very small matter were it not for the effect of this tax on foreign imports on the prices of many domestic products. Out of the $50,000,000 a year which has been collected on crude materials, about $4,000,000 has been gained to the Government from duties on iron ore and pig iron. An addition of twenty-five cents on each barrel of beer now produced would yield the same amount of revenue. If it were assessed upon the beer, the entire tax that the people pay would be secured by the Government, and the exact cost would be $4,000,000 revenue, with three per cent for the cost of collection by means of stamps.