Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Colonel Torrens, Nassau Senior and the controversy over commercial policy and free trade

Arthmar Rogério, Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo
Hisamatsu Taro, Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan

The repeal of the Corn Laws by Britain in 1846 was preceded by fierce debates within and outside Parliament. Among political economists, the controversy was sparked by Colonel Torrens’s plea for retaliatory duties against those countries applying restrictions to British manufactured articles. Otherwise, believed Torrens, unilateral free trade would hurt the kingdom by worsening its terms of exchange through the loss of gold and a serious deflationary crisis. The proposal aroused contempt among free trade advocates, particularly Perronet-Thompson, Herman Merivale, Nassau Senior and Anthony Lawson, who, among other things, accused the Colonel of preaching old mercantile ideas. Besides that, Torrens’s theory was deemed totally unrealistic and its dire conclusions cast-off as easily avoidable by Britain via roundabout exchanges with third countries. In this debate, Say’s Law, as put forward by Ricardo, proved to be a key element for the free trade camp, as well as Adam Smith’s idea that the system of natural liberty was the best way to promote the general interest.

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Keywords: free trade, protection, price-specie flow, deflation, Say’s Law

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