Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/May 1899/Colonial Expansion and Foreign Trade

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FIFTY years have elapsed since the adoption of free trade by England. It was hoped that the free entrance of commodities extended to all the world would pave the way to an era of mutual peace and good will. But, judging by the political situation, and taking the armaments as an outward sign of good intentions, the era of peace and good will among nations is certainly far off. To get a trading advantage here and a concession from a semibarbarous country there is still the ambitious striving of the cabinets and the diplomacy of Europe. To give the striving emphasis, industry is taxed to the breaking point and labor to the starving point. Russia exhausts her resources in a railroad through the Siberian waste in her endeavor to obtain an outlet to the sea, which is jealously closed to her at the southwestern end of her dominions by England; The trader of Manchester, fearing for his markets, grows frantic at the prospect of Russian cotton goods being brought to China or to India. The mere acquisition of a port in Manchuria by Russia threatens to seal his doom. But he might look on with complacency. Russia's labor is very dear, capital is dear, wages are on the Asiatic level, famine still stalks through the land, intercommunication is made difficult by the lack of roads, and her wonderful natural resources lie unimproved because the eyes of greed, like those of the dog crossing the stream, are turned on the coveted piece of meat he sees reflected in the water, and to grasp which he drops the one he holds in his mouth. France bristles with bayonets, and is constantly at pains to increase her naval armaments, about whose seaworthiness her own minister of marine expresses suspicions, in obedience to a nervous restlessness for foreign acquisition. England, after her feat in civilizing savages and barbarians in the customary fashion, shown again at Omdurman, is ready to turn her war dogs on France, because the latter has the temerity to demand a slice of Soudanese territory. Well might she have given as hush-money, or for the mere grace of the action, a few thousand square miles of a country closed to access except by the permission of Great Britain, which has successfully pre-empted every desirable bit of land in sight.

Germany, instead of using her newly liberated energies at home in an endeavor to elevate the miserable condition of her working classes, taxes their bread and meat, never too freely supplied, to increase the size of her armies and the number of her battle ships. The defense and expansion of her colonial empire is her leading thought. A strange paradox: The workingman and the peasant are overburdened with taxes on the necessaries of life, so as to procure markets for a limited quantity of factory products outside of the field secured in open competition.

While professing friendship and brotherly love, they all have their eyes on their neighbor's throat, fearful only lest the other might clutch first.

As we are in danger of being drawn into this vortex, it is well to examine the range of possibilities and see what the trade amounts to, to obtain which the scientific intellect of Europe and America has been strained to its limits to discover new means of destruction for attack and defense unknown to the other brothers in the common bond of civilization.

It is a matter of course that trade among European nations does not come within this circle, nor of European nations with the United States. It does not depend on battle ships. In the annexed tables I have classified the countries in three classes: (1) Independent states; (2) colonies of European countries, populated by people of European stock; and (3) colonies and dependencies of European countries, but of non-European stock.

I have reduced the values of imports and exports of the different countries, published in their own currencies, to American dollars. As the values are paper currencies, silver currencies, or conventional values, and of fluctuating rates, I have in such instances taken a yearly average, which will be found in the footnotes of the tables.

I. Trade of Independent Countries other than of Europe and North America.

Names of Countries. Number of
Thousands of
Thousands of
per capita.
per capita.
Asia (1895).
China * 383,253 128,772 107,499 .34 .28
Japan † 42,270 90,681 62,443 2.14 1.47
All other states 27,000 30,000 32,000 1.10 1.18
Argentina ‡ 4,000 103,058 108,671 26.50 27.17
Brazil # 16,000 96,000 97,000 6.00 6.06
Chile ‖ 2,700 69,200 72,900 25.62 27.00
Peru △ 2,600 7,560 9,000 2.90 3.30
Mexico ◊ 12,600 42,000 22,000 3.32 1.76
Uruguay ⤈ 800 25,000 30,000 31.25 37.50
Venezuela ↕ 2,300 17,000 22,000 7.40 9.56
All other states 11,300 34,000 46,800 3.00 4.14
South Africa
Independent states 1,000 75,000 12,000 75.00 12.00
Total independent states 505,800 718,271 622,313
Asiatic states 452,500 249,453 201,942
American and South African 53,300 468,818 420,371
* Haikwan tael, 74.9 cents. † Yen, 52.9 cents. ‡ Peso, gold, 96.5 cents.
# Milreis, paper (1896), 20½ cents. ‖ Peso, gold. △ Soler, 43 cents.
◊ Dollar (47 cents) for exports, ⤈ Peso, $1. ↕ Bolivar, 19.3 cents.
gold dollar for imports.

The year is 1896, and where a different one is taken it is so marked against the country in the table. The figures only represent the direct merchandise trade. All specie and bullion shipments are eliminated from the account.

II. Trade of India and Dependencies and of Colonies and other Possessions of the
United Kingdom (Year ending March, 1897).

Names of Colonies and other
Number of
of dollars.
of dollars.
per capita.
per capita.
India and its dependencies * 290,690 284,026 378,732 .97 1.30
Cape Colony 1,820 91,800 39,000 50.04 20.15
Natal 778 18,000 6,500 23.15 8.20
Gold Coast and other Central African possessions 36,700 19,000 17,000 .52 .46
Canada 5,125 118,000 121,000 23.05 24.04
West Indies 3,614 30,000 25,000 8.33 6.94
Australasia and Oceanica 4,793 204,500 210,000 42.65 43.75
Trade of all countries under British flag 343,520 765,326 797,232
Trade of colonies with white population 16,130 461,320 411,584
Trade of Asiatic dependencies 290,690 284,026 378,732
  • Rupee, 32 cents. For Straits Settlement and Ceylon, Mexican dollars @ 47 cents.

In examining these tables carefully the reader can form an idea as to how the world's trade is divided, and see what the world is arming to its teeth about.

The only Asiatic country about whose trade the possibilities of war may be entertained is China. Japan has shown her teeth and

III. Trade of Foreign Possessions of all other Countries than the United Kingdom.

Countries and their Colonial Possessions. Number of
in thou-
in thou-
sands of
in thou-
sands of
per capita.
per capita.
A. France (1894).
Asia 21,821 16,000 25,000 .73 1.14
Africa, outside of Algeria and Tunis 24,500 13,000 22,000 .53 .50
America and Oceanica 460 145,000 12,600 31.50 27.40
B. Germany (1897).
Africa 10,200 2,189 1,078 .21 .10
New Guinea 400 72 50 .18 .12
C. Italy.
Africa 400 5,600 3,000
D. Netherlands (1895).
East India 34,000 61,000 89,600 1.80 2.63
Philippines 7,600 11,000 20,000 1.50 2.63

claws. The history of Poland, Port Arthur, or Kiao-tchow is not likely to find repetition on her territory. Only the defenseless tempt the avidity of the civilizing nations. The import trade of China, an empire with one fourth the population of the entire world, is but half as much again as that of Japan, with but one ninth of the population of the Celestial Empire. Japan's trade has trebled within the last dozen years. Her imports of merchandise are over two dollars per capita. Those of China are thirty-four cents. It will be said

Summary of Statistical Tables of the Trade of Colonies and Dependencies of European States and of Independent States other than of Europe and the United States.

Names of Divisions by
Countries, Colonies,
and Races.
Number of
in thousands.
of dollars.
tions. Thousands
of dollars.
ants. Per
cent to
Per cent
to total.
Per cent
to total.
Totals of tabulations I, II, and III 1,584,099 1,587,758 1,540,858 100 100 100.0
Under British flag 343,520 765,320 797,232 36 48.3 50.0
Under all other flags 605,180 818,779 790,527 64 51.7 49.8
Peoples of European descent 69,430 909,020 831,984 7.3 57.4 52.4
Peoples of other races 879,271 675,079 755,774 92.7 42.6 47.6
Anglo-Saxon 17,130 519,300 407,584 1.8 32.8 25.7
Latin-American 52,300 389,700 424,400 5.5 24.6 26.7
Asiatic races 806,611 618,079 706,274 85.0 39.0 44.0
African races 72,500 57,000 49,500 7.7 3.6 3.6
States and colonies, wool chief export 11,100 441,300 394,500 1.2 27.8 24.9

that China parceled out to modern nations will vastly extend in trading opportunities. So it may. We have, however, national disposition to take into consideration. England has devoted her best efforts to India. After a century spent in bringing the various races to submission, the process of "benevolent assimilation" is helped along by a never-ending flow of capital from England. She has become the teacher and administrator of the people of Hither and Farther India. It is doubtful whether under existing conditions any better government for their three hundred millions could be devised by any outer force. Though England does her utmost, as she understands it, to make the people under her dominion happy and prosperous, although the rule of law and a degree of local independence are established, yet she finds small thanks from her wards. They have their own notions of happiness, and seem to prefer misery of their selection to the advantages of the white man's ordering. The fact is, the brown man and the yellow man have different notions and desires from the white man. No amount of jostling, pushing, and urging will make them take up our views, our tastes, our working methods, except in the due development of time. Our ideas as to necessaries of life and theirs are widely different. Their simple needs are easily supplied from native hands, who understand far better than our potters do the clay they have to deal with. The progress in trade will not be rapid, and will certainly be disappointing to those who expect to see it extend into general lines of merchandise. The import trade of India and its dependencies (1897) is $284,000,000, inclusive of Ceylon and the net trade of the Straits Settlements. This amount, directly catering to the wants of fully three hundred millions of people, is but about one third more than the net import trade of Australasia, with a population of less than five millions of people. The per-capita consumption of imported merchandise of the Asiatic possessions of England is ninety-seven cents; of Australasia, $41.66. I must say here in explanation that the values of importations of merchandise, as published in the English returns and lately reproduced by the Bureau of Statistics of the Treasury Department, Colonial Systems of the World, is $305,000,000, which would make a showing of $63.33 per capita. But in the English returns the intercolonial trade figures are included. The Treasury Bureau did not mention this in its publication, and gave thereby a basis for erroneous deductions. I have deducted all the intercolonial trade figures of imports and exports from the returns of each of the Australian colonies, so as to bring the figures to a basis of parity with the accounts of Canada, and other colonies and dependencies where no duplications of this kind are possible. The figures of importations remaining over are reduced by this process to £40,500,000, or about $200,000,000—$41.66 per capita. The inhabitants of the Anglo-Saxon colonies of the world number but seventeen million. Their net imports of merchandise are $460,000,000. The seven hundred and thirty millions of Hindu and Mongolian populations import $530,000,000. These are the lands of fabled wealth. Antiquity and the middle ages dreamed of riches inexhaustible in connection with their names. To-day still the popular belief is that the wealth of nations is dependent on the conduct of direct trade with the far East. The country can not be rich whose millions find happiness in a sufficient supply of millet or rice, whatever the wealth of a small favored class may be. But these nations were the teachers of the barbarians whose descendants now populate America and Europe. The disciples have improved on the masters. We have improved the tools which they invented and applied new forces of production. We have cheapened the processes of production. We have quintupled, we have decupled time. But whatever our improvements in the tools, they are still our masters in the work. Any one who would endeavor to substitute the product of our mills in cotton, in silk, in wool, in wood, iron, clay, in lacquer, cloisonné, or enamel, for theirs, and not see at a glance the hopelessness, would indeed prove his incapacity for grasping the situation. Our best producers study with profit the work of China and, chiefly, of Japan, and are grateful for the inspiration they derive from it. But they do not attempt to copy. Neither in color effect nor design could they stand the test of comparison. Five thousand years have been recovered from the sepulcher under which they had been sleeping. But the oldest traces unearthed in the valley of the Euphrates still take us back to the farthest East as the originator of what we cover by the term "civilization." The Mongolian shares the lot of all who have benefited the race.

If we can not expect great openings for our mill products in Asia, Africa is a new field for the civilizing efforts of Europe, and will repay cultivating, perhaps. The negro has neither factories nor workshops. There at least is an unlimited field for trade expansion. Germany, the latest comer, with the zeal of all fresh missionaries, is eagerly taking up her colonizing mission. The result is not very encouraging. There is a fine set of buildings with garden spots and harbor improvements in the settlement at Cameroon, and a well-stocked graveyard of what were once good German boys, victims of the deadly climate and of the expansion fever. So far this is the only net showing to the credit side of the ledger. The territory in Africa covers nearly one million square miles. The possession of such an empire is worth a sacrifice, apparently, and Germany is not parsimonious in this direction. The contribution of the German Government to the administration fund of the African colonies was $2,194,000 in 1896-'97. This does not include the expense of maintaining the military and naval forces stationed in the African settlements. The annual importations of all the colonies amounted (in 1897) to $2,261,000, inclusive of New Guinea. So it costs the Government more than one dollar to enable its citizens to do a dollar's worth of trade. The population is estimated at 10,200,000. What possibilities stretch out before us, if they could be made to wear shirts or uniforms like the native police force, which has been organized at Cameroon! The extent of the territory, however, precludes the possibility of successfully conducting the missionary effort to induce them to wear clothes. The question also remains open what return could be made, even if the recipients could be brought to appreciate the advantage of a fuller covering of their nakedness than the traditional one.

France is in possession of territories in Africa, the population of which is on a more advanced status. The territories of the Senegal have been under French dominion for a period of two hundred years and more, and trade relations with the Senegal and Soudan have been assiduously cultivated. In Asia, Tonquin and Annam were to open the road to a very active trade with China. She has held undisputed lodgment since 1814 in Pondicherry and other towns in India that remained over to her from her East Indian empire conquered by Dupleix and abandoned by Louis XV's weak policy. Still, with all the tender care and an expenditure for the colonial service, as per budget of 1898, of about 80,000,000 francs, and not counting the colonial expense état of the ministry of war and of the navy, the entire export trade of France to her Asiatic possessions is 35,000,000 francs; to her African dominions, outside of Algiers, 22,000,000 francs; and to her American possessions, with barely five hundred thousand inhabitants, 35,000,000 francs. The territories to which this trade caters have a population of about twenty-two million in Asia and twenty-five million in Africa. If we include the French islands in America and French Guiana, the exports of French merchandise to all her colonies amount to about 95,000,000 francs. If we include the allowance for colonial service from the naval and military budget, France has an expense that exceeds the amount of her colonial export trade. How much better off France would be if she would drop this burden! She could do the same trading and save her money, annually wasted, and her men annually slaughtered to the mania of colonial expansion.

The forty-five millions peopling the French possessions in Asia and tropical Africa consume altogether about $30,000,000 worth of foreign imports. The French share of this is about $11,000,000, or a little over one third—eleven millions of trade against fourteen millions of direct expense. The contributions to the American colonies are but $2,000,000, inclusive of about $1,000,000 to the penal establishment at Cayenne.

Italy's demonstration of the extent to which this madness can carry otherwise sane statesmen is fresh in everybody's memory. Outside of Russia, the poor—meaning the working classes—are in no country of Europe as poor as in Italy. If we take the production per acre in all the cereals as a gauge of interior development, then no European country west of Russia, not excepting Spain, is in a more backward state. Wise statesmanship would have found here a field for cultivation sufficiently large to tax all its energies. The peaceful acquisitions of industry did not satisfy the ambition of the Government. Conquests in equatorial Africa were deemed more essential to the kingdom's material welfare, but lately freed from the deadening grasp of clericalism and absolutism, than the improvement of opportunities lavishly present at home. What she has cultivated at an enormous expense of blood and treasure has borne the ordinary harvest of failure and disaster. The entire import trade of Massowah, to which the whole world contributed, and which is largely a transit trade, amounts to about $5,000,000. The expenditure on account of her Red Sea possessions for the year 1895-'96 is given in the Statesman's Year Book as 123,738,064 lires ($24,000,000). The contribution to the maintenance of this her "white man's burden," from 1882 to 1895, was 303,905,926 lires. At present (1897-'98), after the sobering lesson received in 1896, the net expense is about $3,500,000 (17,000,000 lires).

The three powers—France, Italy, and Germany—point a lesson of unmistakable significance. The figures speak for themselves. No amount of expense can make the African and the Asiatic consume an appreciable amount of European merchandise. No amount of cultivation can make the tropics endurable to the northern man. Labor and exertion on his part under the rays of a deadly sun and a miasma-breeding soil are entirely out of the question. Those who would make the endeavor in the manner of the temperate zone would only succeed the sooner in reaching the end of white man's settlement in the tropics, disease and death.

Many point to the Dutch East India settlements as a successful commercial enterprise. But, taking the best construction given to the story from the trader's point of view, the present satisfactory conditions have been reached after a great deal of disappointment, loss, and bloodshed. A large revenue is acquired from Government sales of colonial produce; still, with all this added to the other revenues from land tax, excise, and other duties, the Government has a deficiency of over 10,000,000 florins a year in her East India possessions. The budget for 1898 shows an expense état of 146,150,164 florins, which is met by a revenue from all sources of but 135,204,203 florins.

This is the richest part of the Malay world, and for centuries has been in the possession of Europe's most enlightened people. The results, if the per-capita unit of imports and exports is taken as a criterion, are not different from those shown in the account of the Philippines, governed for centuries by Spain. The loss of their colonies is ascribed to the oppressive rule which the Spaniards exercised. The Netherlands, devoting all their efforts to the development of the resources of the islands, at least during the greater part of this century, do not show much better results. The imports per capita of the Dutch possessions are $1.80, and the exports $2.63. The imports of the Philippines are $1.50 and the exports $2.63 per capita.

From this we may be permitted to deduce that the Malay Islands are not likely to prove a more thankful field for cultivation by our traders than to the extent indicated in the trade reports set forth above.

Under the conditions here delineated, it would be inviting all the risks and dangers connected with expansion and colonization, while nothing is to be gained in a commercial sense that can not be realized by the means now in our hands.

All the ends of trade can be attained without territorial expansion. The trade in the hands of peoples under English sovereignty is open to all commerce on equal terms. Not even the sovereign country, except in the recent concessions by Canada, receives a preference. The protection of the British flag is tendered gratis to the colonies and dependencies. The imports of these countries cover about one half of the trade of all the world, outside of Europe and the United States. Though they have but 4.67 per cent of the population, the Anglo-Saxon colonies do sixty-nine per cent of the trade of all the colonies and dependencies of the British Empire.

South and Central America absorb about one fourth—24.6 per cent of imports and 26.7 per cent of exports—of the world's trade here summarized. The colonies peopled by Anglo-Saxon population and the Latin-American states together, though but 7.3 per cent of the inhabitants, do an importing trade of 57.4 per cent of the trade of the world here reviewed. The countries trading under the protection of the British flag and the Latin-American states combined have about seventy-three per cent of that trade among them. All this trade, as well as by far the greatest part of the rest, is incontestably accessible to-day on an equal basis to all the world. The key to it lies in the best terms, the best value. The trader and not the admiral governs the field. Prince Heinrich will not succeed better than Admiral von Diederichs in convincing China of the advantages Germany can offer if Mr. Carnegie's rails are cheaper than Mr. Krupp's. A whole fleet of American battle ships will not convince the Asiatics that our cotton goods are as desirable as the English so long as the latter make goods suitable to their markets, and the Americans offer only products calculated to cover the home demands.

The golden rule is a more effective trade opener than the cannon's mouth. Fair and square dealing among nations does not entail expense, but brings in good returns. Our national policy, however, has been one studiously calculated to array the world against us. Like every policy in behalf of a selfish interest, it injures the foreign people against which it is directed far less than the nation which devises it.

The trade of Australasia, Argentina, and Uruguay, and the Cape is based chiefly on wool and hides. The imports of these countries, numbering but eleven million inhabitants, amount to $440,000,000, equaling in amount the trade of China, Japan, Persia, and India, with their seven hundred and fifty million inhabitants. Though but 1.2 per cent of the population of the world (outside of Europe and the United States), their imports are 27.8 per cent of the totals of the figures in the tables. In exports they do about $400,000,000, or 24.9 per cent of the total sum of exports here given. It would be worth cultivating friendly relations with them. They are inhabited by people of European stock, and come nearer to the standard of life of Americans than any of the other nations of the globe. Our latest effort to draw them closer to us was the Dingley tariff, with its duty of eleven cents a pound on greasy wool and of fifteen per cent on raw hides. The action can not be construed as a very friendly one. But neither is the effect as calculated by the wise heads who insisted on the provisions of the wool tariff, the woolen and worsted manufacturers of the East, and the wool raisers of the West. The wool and woolen trade of America has suffered many vicissitudes during the thirty-five years of high tariffs. It has gone through many periods of depression. But it is doubtful whether at any time more disastrous conditions existed than have marked the twelve months ending at this writing (March, 1899).

The situation can be appreciated from the fact that wool, imported prior to the passing of the Dingley tariff, is being reshipped to England, where it is bringing better prices than can be obtained here under the ægis of the protective duty of eleven cents a pound. Three and a half million pounds were shipped in the seven months ending January 31st.

We should profit by this experience, try to cultivate friendly relations in parts of the world where advantageous trade connections can be established, instead of following the ignis fatuus of Asiatic expansion.