State of the Union Address Part III (1911)

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THE WHITE HOUSE, December 20, 1911.

To the Senate and House of Representatives:

In my annual message to Congress, December, 1909, I stated that under section 2 of the act of August 5, 1909, I had appointed a Tariff Board of three members to cooperate with the State Department in the administration of the maximum and minimum clause of that act, to make a glossary or encyclopedia of the existing tariff so as to render its terms intelligible to the ordinary reader, and then to investigate industrial conditions and costs of production at home and abroad with a view to determining to what extent existing tariff rates actually exemplify the protective principle, viz., that duties should be made adequate, and only adequate, to equalize the difference in cost of production at home and abroad.

I further stated that I believed these investigations would be of great value as a basis for accurate legislation, and that I should from time to time recommend to Congress the revision of certain schedules in accordance with the findings of the Board.

In the last session of the Sixty-first Congress a bill creating a permanent Tariff Board of five members, of whom not more than three should be of the same political party, passed each House, but failed of enactment because of slight differences on which agreement was not reached before adjournment. An appropriation act provided that the permanent Tariff Board, if created by statute, should report to Congress on Schedule K in December, 1911.

Therefore, to carry out so far as lay within my power the purposes of this bill for a permanent Tariff Board, I appointed in March, 19li, a board of five, adding two members of such party affiliation as would have fulfilled the statutory requirement, and directed them to make a report to me on Schedule K of the tariff act in December of this year.

In my message of August 17, 1911, accompanying the veto of the wool bill, I said that, in my judgment, Schedule K should be revised and the rates reduced. My veto was based on the ground that, since the Tariff Board would make, in December, a detailed report on wool and wool manufactures, with special reference to the relation of the existing rates of duties to relative costs here and abroad, public policy and a fair regard to the interests of the producers and the manufacturers on the one hand and of the consumers on the other demanded that legislation should not be hastily enacted in the absence of such information; that I was not myself possessed at that time of adequate knowledge of the facts to determine whether or not the proposed act was in accord with my pledge to support a fair and reasonable protective policy; that such legislation might prove only temporary and inflict upon a great industry the evils of continued uncertainty.

I now herewith submit a report of the Tariff Board on Schedule K. The board is unanimous in its findings. On the basis of these findings I now recommend that the Congress proceed to a consideration of this schedule with a view to its revision and a general reduction of its rates.

The report shows that the present method of assessing the duty on raw wool—this is, by a specific rate on the grease pound (i. e., unscoured)—operates to exclude wools of high shrinkage in scouring but fine quality from the American market and thereby lessens the range of wools available to the domestic manufacturer; that the duty on scoured wool of 33 cents per pound is prohibitory and operates to exclude the importation of clean, low-priced foreign wools of inferior grades, which are nevertheless valuable material for manufacturing, and which can not be imported in the grease because of their heavy shrinkage. Such wools, if imported, might be used to displace the cheap substitutes now in use.

To make the preceding paragraph a little plainer, take the instance of a hundred pounds of first-class wool imported under the present duty, which is 11 cents a pound. That would make the duty on the hundred pounds $11. The merchantable part of the wool thus imported is the weight of the wool of this hundred pounds after scouring. If the wool shrinks 80 per cent, as some wools do, then the duty in such a case would amount to $11 on 20 pounds of scoured wool. This, of course, would be prohibitory. If the wool shrinks only 50 per cent, it would be $11 on 50 pounds of wool, and this is near to the average of the great bulk of wools that are imported from Australia, which is the principal source of our imported wool.

These discriminations could be overcome by assessing a duty in ad valorem terms, but this method is open to the objection, first, that it increases administrative difficulties and tends to decrease revenue through undervaluation; and, second, that as prices advance, the ad valorem rate increases the duty per pound at the time when the consumer most needs relief and the producer can best stand competition; while if prices decline the duty is decreased at the time when the consumer is least burdened by the price and the producer most needs protection.

Another method of meeting the difficulty of taxing the grease pound is to assess a specific duty on grease wool in terms of its scoured content. This obviates the chief evil of the present system, namely, the discrimination due to different shrinkages, and thereby tends greatly to equalize the duty. The board reports that this method is feasible in practice and could be administered without great expense. The scoured content of the wool is the basis on which users of wool make their calculations, and a duty of this kind would fit the usages of the trade. One effect of this method of assessment would be that , regardless of the rate of duty, there would be an increase in the supply and variety of wool by making available to the American market wools of both low and fine quality now excluded.

The report shows in detail the difficulties involved in attempting to state in categorical terms the cost of wool production and the great differences in cost as between different regions and different types of wool. It is found, however, that, taking all varieties in account, the average cost of production for the whole American clip is higher than the cost in the chief competing country by an amount somewhat less than the present duty.

The report shows that the duties on noils, wool wastes, and shoddy, which are adjusted to the rate Of 33 cents on scoured wool are prohibitory in the same measure that the duty on scoured wool is prohibitory. In general, they are assessed at rates as high as, or higher than, the duties paid on the clean content of wools actually imported. They should be reduced and so adjusted to the rate on wool as to bear their proper proportion to the real rate levied on the actual wool imports.

The duties on many classes of wool manufacture are prohibitory and greatly in excess of the difference in cost of production here and abroad.

This is true of tops, of yarns (with the exception of worsted yarns of a very high grade), and of low and medium grade cloth of heavy weight.

On tops up to 52 cents a pound in value, and on yarns of 65 cents in value, the rate is 100 per cent with correspondingly higher rates for lower values. On cheap and medium grade cloths, the existing rates frequently run to 150 per cent and on some cheap goods to over 200 per cent. This is largely due to that part of the duty which is levied ostensibly to compensate the manufacturer for the enhanced cost of his raw material due to the duty on wool. As a matter of fact, this compensatory duty, for numerous classes of goods, is much in excess of the amount needed for strict compensation.

On the other hand, the findings show that the duties which run to such high ad valorem equivalents are prohibitory, since the goods are not imported, but that the prices of domestic fabrics are not raised by the full amount of duty. On a set of 1-yard samples of 16 English fabrics, which are completely excluded by the present tariff rates, it was found that the total foreign value was $41.84; the duties which would have been assessed had these fabrics been imported, $76.90; the foreign value plus the amount of the duty, $118.74; or a nominal duty of 183 per cent. In fact, however, practically identical fabrics of domestic make sold at the same time at $69.75, showing an enhanced price over the foreign market value of but 67 per cent.

Although these duties do not increase prices of domestic goods by anything like their full amount, it is none the less true that such prohibitive duties eliminate the possibility of foreign competition, even in time of scarcity; that they form a temptation to monopoly and conspiracies to control domestic prices; that they are much in excess of the difference in cost of production here and abroad, and that they should be reduced to a point which accords with this principle.

The findings of the board show that in this industry the actual manufacturing cost, aside from the question of the price of materials, is much higher in this country than it is abroad; that in the making of yarn and cloth the domestic woolen or worsted manufacturer has in general no advantage in the form of superior machinery or more efficient labor to offset the higher wages paid in this country The findings show that the cost of turning wool into yarn in this country is about double that in the leading competing country, and that the cost of turning yarn into cloth is somewhat more than double. Under the protective policy a great industry, involving the welfare of hundreds of thousands of people, has been established despite these handicaps.

In recommending revision and reduction, I therefore urge that action be taken with these facts in mind, to the end that an important and established industry may not be jeopardized.

The Tariff Board reports that no equitable method has been found to, levy purely specific duties on woolen and worsted fabrics and that, excepting for a compensatory duty, the rate must be ad valorem on such manufactures. It is important to realize, however, that no flat ad valorem rate on such fabrics can be made to work fairly and effectively. Any single rate which is high enough to equalize the difference in manufacturing cost at home and abroad on highly finished goods involving such labor would be prohibitory on cheaper goods, in which the labor cost is a smaller proportion of the total value. Conversely, a rate only adequate to equalize this difference on cheaper goods would remove protection from the fine-goods manufacture, the increase in which has been one of the striking features of the trade’s development in recent years. I therefore recommend that in any revision the importance of a graduated scale of ad valorem duties on cloths be carefully considered and applied.

I venture to say that no legislative body has ever had presented to it a more complete and exhaustive report than this on so difficult and complicated a subject as the relative costs of wool and woolens the world over. It is a monument to the thoroughness, industry, impartiality, and accuracy of the men engaged in its making. They were chosen from both political parties but have allowed no partisan spirit to prompt or control their inquiries. They are unanimous in their findings. I feel sure that after the report has been printed and studied the value of such a compendium of exact knowledge in respect to this schedule of the tariff will convince all of the wisdom of making such a board permanent in order that it may treat each schedule of the tariff as it has treated this, and then keep its bureau of information up to date with current changes in the economic world.

It is no part of the function of the Tariff Board to propose rates of duty. Their function is merely to present findings of fact on which rates of duty may be fairly determined in the light of adequate knowledge in accord with the economic policy to be followed. This is what the present report does.

The findings of fact by the board show ample reason for the revision downward of Schedule K, in accord with the protective principle, and present the data as to relative costs and prices from which may be determined what rates will fairly equalize the difference in production costs. I recommend that such revision be proceeded with at once.

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