By J. R. Wordie
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Additional resources for Agriculture and Politics in England, 1815–1939
3d. a quarter, little more than half the price. 6d. per quarter in freighting and distribution costs to the Prussian figure, and reduced the remaining price difference by 50 per cent, to allow for the effects of English demand on Prussian price levels. 4d. a quarter, was then 19 per cent lower than the actual average price of wheat from 1815 to 1827. On the J. R. Wordie 45 same basis of calculation, Prussian wheat could have sold in England at 17 per cent below the actual average price level in England between 1828 and 1841.
32 Any explanation of the silence of the workers on this issue must therefore go deeper than a suggestion that the Corn Laws were ignored on the assumption that they were ‘not working’. One might also point to the sheer complexity of the Corn Laws: to the fact that they had always been there in one form or another from 1660, and that they had always been incomprehensible to the mass of the population. The fact that the laws of 1815 were somewhat less favourable to the consumer than had been the equally incomprehensible laws of 1804 or 1791 was probably very dimly perceived, if it was perceived at all, by the semi-literate masses.
40 A more important point, however, is that under free trade, Prussia and the Baltic would not have supplied the bulk of our cereal imports in any case. Black Sea wheat was even cheaper than Prussian wheat, and potentially more abundant. British importers were forced to look to the Baltic only, rather than elsewhere, in ‘dear years’ precisely because of the Corn Laws. As Dr Fairlie explains, Under the Corn Laws, merchants who could be reasonably sure of making a profit on imports from ports and depots in north-western Europe when conditions warranted it hesitated to engage in the Black Sea and America even when near famine conditions at home might make this a social duty.
Agriculture and Politics in England, 1815–1939 by J. R. Wordie