The American System Vs. The British System · Henry C. Carey
April 7, 2014 • 2:41PM

Henry C. Carey (1793-1879), economist

Below are excerpts from American System economist Henry C. Carey's book, The Harmony of Interests, written in 1851, in which he elaborates the difference between the American System and the British System. Henry Carey, the son of Mathew Carey, who had begun his career as an agent of Benjamin Franklin in Ireland during America's revolution against the British, became the leading economist within Abraham Lincoln's new Republican Party and the intellectual author of Lincoln's program to save the Union and defeat the British-backed civil war. The "American System" embodied the principles of physical economy and credit founded by Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.

"Two systems are before the world; the one looks to increasing the proportion of persons and of capital engaged in trade and transportation, and therefore to diminishing the proportion engaged in producing commodities with which to trade, with necessarily diminished return to the labour of all; while the other looks to increasing the proportion engaged in the work of production, and diminishing that engaged in trade and transportation, with increased return to all, giving to the labourer good wages, and to the owner of capital good profits. One looks to increasing the quantity of raw materials to be exported, and diminishing the inducements to the import of men, thus impoverishing both farmer and planter by throwing on them the burden of freight; while the other looks to increasing the import of men, and diminishing the export of raw materials, thereby enriching both planter and farmer by relieving them from the payment of freight. One looks to compelling the farmers and planters of the Union to continue their contributions for the support of the fleets and armies, the paupers, the nobles and the sovereigns of Europe; the other to enabling ourselves to apply the same means to the moral and intellectual improvement of the sovereigns of America. One looks to the continuance of that bastard freedom of trade which denies the principle of protection, yet doles it out as revenue duties; the other to extending the area of legitimate free trade by the establishment of perfect protection, followed by the annexation of individuals and communities, and ultimately by the abolition of custom-houses. One looks to exporting men to occupy desert tracts, the sovereignty of which is obtained by aid of diplomacy or war; the other to increasing the value of an immense extent of vacant land by importing men by millions for their occupation. One looks to increasing the necessity for commerce; the other to increasing the power to maintain it. One looks to underworking the Hindoo, and sinking the rest of the world to his level; the other to raising the standard of man throughout the world to our level. One looks to pauperism, ignorance, depopulation, and barbarism; the other in increasing wealth, comfort, intelligence, combination of action, and civilization. One looks towards universal war; the other towards universal peace. One is the English system; the other we may be proud to call the American system, for it is the only one ever devised the tendency of which was that of elevating while equalizing the condition of man throughout the world.

"Such is the true mission of the people of these United States.... To raise the value of labour throughout the world, we need only to raise the value of our own.... To improve the political condition of man throughout the world, it is that we ourselves should remain at peace, avoid taxation for maintenance of fleets and armies, and become rich and prosperous.... To diffuse intelligence and to promote the cause of morality throughout the world, we are required only to pursue the course that shall diffuse education throughout our own land, and shall enable every man more readily to acquire property, and with it respect for the rights of property. To substitute true Christianity for the detestable system known as the Malthusian, it is needed that we prove to the world that it is population that makes the food come from the rich soils, and food tends to increase more rapidly than population, thus vindicating the policy of God to man."

Carey attacked British Free Trade economics as a system that destroys national agro-industrial productivity, reduces consumption, destroys freedom, and causes war:

"Two systems are before the world: on the one hand, that which is denominated protection, and on the other that which is denominated free-trade.

"A great error exists in the impression now very commonly entertained in regard to national division of labour, and which owes its origin to the English school of political economists, whose system is throughout based upon the idea of making England `the workshop of the world,' than which nothing could be less natural. By that school it is taught that some nations are fitted for manufacturers and others for the labours of agriculture, and that the latter are largely benefitted by being compelled to employ themselves in the one pursuit, making all their exchanges at a distance, thus contributing their share to the maintenance of the system of 'ships, colonies, and commerce.' The whole basis of their system is conversion and exchange, and not production, yet neither makes any addition to the amount of things to be exchanged. It is the great boast of their system that the exchangers are so numerous and the producers so few, and the proportion which the former bear to the latter, the more rapid is supposed to be the advance towards perfect prosperity. Converters and exchangers, however, must live, and they must live out of the labour of others: and if three, five, or ten persons are to live on the product of one, it must follow that all will obtain but a small allowance of the necessaries or comforts of life, as is seen to be the case.

"The object of free-trade is proclaimed to be the increase of commerce, but commerce withers under it.

"We thus have here, first, a system that is unsound and unnatural, and second, a theory invented for the purpose of accounting for the poverty and wretchedness which are its necessary results.

"The object of what is now called free-trade is that of securing to the people of England the further existence of the monopoly of machinery, by aid of which Ireland and India have been ruined, and commerce prostrated. Protection seeks to break down this monopoly, and to cause the loom and the anvil to take their natural places by the side of the food and the cotton, and that production may be increased, and that commerce may revive....

"The object of protection has been, and is, to restore the natural tendency by which industrial manufacturing takes its place by the side of the producer of food (national self-sufficiency), thus reducing substantially transportation fees and middle men sales costs and bringing about the stabler self-sufficient communities and nations."