With considerable show of optimism and hopeful gesticulation, Statesmen Herriot, MacDonald, and Bennett are planning their trips to this country to confer with President Roosevelt concerning reciprocal tariff reductions. It is understood that the main purpose of the meeting will be to reach some sort of "understanding" as a basis for the World Economic Conference this summer. This problem of finding a general success which can be also a particular success for each party concerned, presents difficulties which may be found insuperable.
The need for tariff reductions is perfectly apparent. Since the end of the World War, the economic walls have been rising steadily, both here and abroad. Balkanized Europe is a house divided against itself into scores of increasingly high partitions. England, which has previously been the citadel of Free Trade, has surrendered the position and taken to building an Empire preference unit. And the disease is as cumulative a one as the matter of armaments. If France raises her import or export duties, the other countries feel compelled to follow suit. Faced by such absurd but deliberate attempts to destroy all the advantages of the division of labor, it would seem to many that the nations would realize their folly and put an end to it. One might think that "if they all meet around the council-table, face to face, and discuss the matter quietly and sensibly, things could be arranged to the satisfaction of everyone." It is this hope that will be aired frequently as the Washington parley, and later, the World Economic Conference, draw near.
But such optimism is probably quite unwarranted. Tariffs, quotas, duties of all sorts, are essentially the grant of monopoly privileges to national industries. While the reduction of import and export barriers might result in an increase in the general welfare, it would not be welcomed by the present protected concerns, since it means outside competition. As the depression has deepened, the struggle for internal markets has become sharper, and home corporations have demanded the right to what little business is left in the country. While this necessity remains in each nation, the possibility of tariff reductions is remote. The conclusion is inescapable that the coming conferences will offer a small amount of trade to the transportation lines, but little else.