Considering the general interest in the tariff question, a strangely small audience gathered in Sever 11 last evening to listen to the debate on "Resolved, that a reduction of the tariff would hurt the wage-earner." The discussion was opened for the affirmative by Mr. C. M. Thayer, '89. He said: We can see what would result from a reduction of the tariff by taking the wire industry as an example. In this country about ninety per cent. of the cost of production goes to the laborer. The raw material costs about as much as it does abroad. If the tariff is removed wages must fall or the industry cease. Why, it costs but seventeen and a half per cent. more for the needs of life here than in England, while wages are sixty-two and a half per cent. higher. Clearly no reduction of the tariff could be made which would keep the proportion between wages and cost of living so favorable as now.
Mr. Heseltine rejoined that it was a pure assumption to say that wages would fall if tariff were taken off. A tariff is a tax on consumers-laborers and all. At their expense money is now being piled up in the treasury. Protectionists try to show that a tax produces wealth. Wealth depends on three things, natural advantages, ability of laborers, effective machinery. If tariff helps these it is good, otherwise vicious. In fact, it counteracts natural advantages by diverting industry from its natural channels, and makes machinery far more expensive than it should be, thus cutting us off from great industries. Reduction of tariff would open new industries and so provide for the men thrown out of wire industries. The present tariff has killed many industries, notably our shipping.
Mr. Platt replied: The decline of American shipping was not caused by the tariff, but by the bad management of our bills and by the introduction of iron. A reduction of the tariff would cause great present loss to laborers, by forcing them to compete for employment in new industries.
Mr. Warren said the protectionist's position is a paradox. High wages are made by protection, and because wages are high more protection is needed, they say. A high tariff does not make high wages. There are due to the greater capacity and productive of the laborer. Now, if tariff does not make high wages, a reduction does not make low. If this were so, this is just what the manufacturers would want. The trouble is it would reduce not wages but profits. With raw materials free, the cotton and every trade would be extended and wages would not fall certainly.
The question was then thrown open to the house, and Williams, L. S., Williams, '88, Nickerson, '89, and Naumberg, '89, Nickerson, '89, all spoke in favor of reducing the tariff.
The affirmative won the debate by a vote of 15 to 14.