Free Trade and Protection


Ananda K. Coomaraswamy



Says Sir George Birdwood:

"Formerly, ... a great industry in gold embroidered shoes flourished at Lucknow. They were in demand all over India, for the native kings of Oudh would not allow the shoemakers to use any but pure gold wire on them. But when we annexed the kingdom, all such restrictions were removed, and the bazaars of Oudh were at once flooded with the pinchbeck embroidered shoes of Delhi, and the Lucknow shoemakers were swept away for ever by the besom of free trade."

And thus we see at work the degradation of standard, which is undermining alike the crafts of the East and of the West. "Under British rule," says Sir George Birdwood," the authority of the trade guilds in India has necessarily been relaxed, to the marked detriment of those handicrafts the perfection of which depends on hereditary processes and skill." Modern individualism, in fact, whether we call it "Laissez Faire" in Manchester, or the introduction of "Free Western Institutions" into India, hesitates to interfere with a man's sacred individual liberty to make things as badly as he likes, and to undermine the trade of his fellows on that basis a basis of competition in cheapness, not in excellence; and the result we know. Surely a strange product of civilization this!

Perhaps it is necessary to explain that in thus contrasting "Free Trade" with the status of "protected" industries, I do not intend at all to advocate "Protection" as commonly understood. The "Protection" which is here advocated is the protection of standard; this must be carried out in most cases not by the taxation of imports, but by the absolute prohibition of the importation of any goods whose quality falls below the standard established. The hall-marking of gold and silver is almost the only survival of this power formerly exercised by the trade guilds in England, and here it is only quality of material that is considered, not of design. In recent times, the principle has been put in practice in the prohibition of aniline dyes by Kashmir. The principle, however, requires great extension, if standard is to be maintained; and it is best done by restoring to the guilds that power of control which they formerly possessed. For the State to merely tax, and profit by, the importation of the inferior goods "Protection" as ordinarily understood would be quite futile from the present point of view. Equally foolish would be the taxation of goods which for one reason or another can better be made in another country than one's own. Each country should excel in its own special productions, and protect their standard ruthlessly.



This is an excerpt from The Indian Craftsman, Chapter IV: Standard and Regulation


Published by Probsthain & Co., London, 1909