Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/261

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251
COLONIES AND THE MOTHER COUNTRYI.

template this enormous pile of public indebtedness in young and scantily peopled communities with the same feelings as made alarmists foresee impending ruin in the growing augmentation of the gigantic public debt of the United Kingdom. It is commonly said that while the imperial debt has been accumulated as the cost of "just and necessary wars," or of wars that were neither just nor necessary, the colonial debt has been contracted for the execution of reproductive public works. This is not altogether so. Eleven million pounds of the public debt of New Zealand were contracted to carry on war with the Maoris, who were defending their territory. The Seven Years' War, which was begun on the part of England to gain possession of the Ohio Valley and thus increase the extent of her colonies, doubled her public debt. Where is the difference between the two classes of expenditure? Then most of the self-governing colonies have expended large sums in fortifying ports, some in partly supporting a fleet, and one at least in purchasing war ships of its own. Nor has all the remainder been reproductively expended. The building of schools is a wise way of spending money, one's own or another's, but it can not be called a materially reproductive way. Governors' and ministerial residences, parliamentary and departmental buildings, are indispensable, but they can not be called 'assets,' especially if built of perishable and inflammable timber. Even railways, most profitable of public works, are not always true assets. In many of the colonies they are light railways, and when traffic increases and a higher speed is required they will have to be built over again and new rolling stock procured. Not a few of them, too, are 'political railways,' running through a sparsely populated country no-whither, and built to capture votes. Roads are only less valuable, but they were made (sometimes by graduates and men of scientific antecedents who were afterward cabinet ministers) at the wage rate of from two guinas to four pounds ten per week, and are an inadequate return on the outlay. Last century British loans were issued as prizes to friends of ministers, and a much reduced amount found its way to the treasury. Deduct an analogous, though not quite similar, item of waste in colonial loans, add this to all the other non-reproductive elements, and the genuinely reproductive proportion will shrink considerably. Every one of the colonies, even with the fee simple of territories only less than Europe in extent in their hands, would have sunk under the increasing burden. Happily or not, the ever-growing wealth of England has so cheapened money that the interest charge on the whole Australasian indebtedness sank in five years (1890-'96), mainly through conversion of loans, from fourteen millions to twelve and a quarter. It may be added that the colonies which have borrowed most recklessly have not been the most populous or those with largest resources, but rather the socialistic colonies with big schemes on hand.