Flour speculation — the State of Affairs further South.
There is a great deal of feeling — amounting even to an alarm — at present, concerning the supply of breadstuffs for the Confederacy
in general, and for our own city in especial; and apprehensions are felt that there may not be enough of them in the country to last until harvest.
We propose to look into this subject a little.
The Mobile Register
, a most reliable paper, gives a statement of the speculation in flour further South than Richmond
, which shows how the extortion in that article is worked:
There is now included within the Confederate
lines a population of about 4,700,000 whites and 2,750,000 blacks, or a total of 7,450,000 inhabitants.
This includes — not to estimate too closely, and giving and taking fractions in different places — the States of North
and South Carolina
, and Texas
, two thirds of Virginia
, and half of Louisiana
, (in population,) and half of Tennessee
The total population of those entire States in 1860 was 7,274,000, which figures come so near the estimate above that, for the purposes for which we propose to use them, the statistics of 1860 may be adopted without reduction.
In 1860 these States produced 17,791,761 bushels of wheat, which — allowing 30 pounds of flour to the bushel — would furnish a years supply of five ounces a day to the entire white population.
The army ration is 20 ounces, and that was fixed on the basis of Northern flour, whereas it has been proved by comparative trials that Southern flour makes one-third more bread, (even a higher proportion has been claimed for it,) so that 15 ounces would be a fair equivalent for the old army rations.
Planters, who are good feeders, allow their negro men a peck and a half, the women a peck, and the children half a pace of meal a week.
Adopting the same proportion, and allowing the men and women oath to constitute one fourth of the population, we should require an average of 8¾ ounces to the entire population.
Now, when it is in mind--1st, that a great part of our people use corn bread from preference, and that it forms a large proportion of the bread of the masses--2d, that an unusual breadth of land was sown in wheat in 1861--and 3d, that no little amount of flour has been obtained from portions of the country now in the possession of the enemy; where we ask, is ground left for the belief that there is such an absolute scarcity of flour as some would have us suppose?
Let us look at the figures for our own city.
No complaint was made of the scarcity of flour here a year ago — nothing, at least, to compare with the present outcry.
Even if the present price should be attributed to the depreciation of the currency, gold a year ago was quoted at 160 and flour at $15. Now gold is 400, which would give $87.50 a barrel for flour, while the actual price is $30. The additions price, then, must be owing to the increased scarcity.
The actual fact is, that the receipts of flour for the season are 28,194 barrels against 22,230 last year; an excess of 6,504 barrels, or 29½ per cent. This excess has accumulated in the last three months, the receipts on the 13th of December having been 12,787 barrels against 12,360 a year previous, and the receipts since that dace averaging 1,231 barrels a week against last year.
If we ask what has become of this surplus — where is the vast army that has consumed it, (and let it be borns in mind what an army there was here a year ago, and how they fared comparatively with the rations of the present Army of Mobile,) the people all declare that it is stored away by speculators--6,510 barrels of flour held by them at $500,000; but when it is borns in mind that the high price has, for the last three months and more, obliged all our people to dispense with flour in part, and many of them entirely, it will readily be believed that 10,000 barrels, at $150,000, would be nearer the truth.
Again, if you ask what these speculators were about last year, that they were not practicing the same thing, the answer is that they were practicing the same thing but in a smaller way, and upon minor matters.
They had not then the means to control an article of such vital importance.
But week by week, as their gains increased, they were able to embrace additional branches of business, and as soon as they felt themselves able they laid hold of the life-food of the people, and the stock which they now have on hand has been purchased with the exorbitant profits wrung by them from the necessaries of the country.
There is there must be, not less than 900,000 barrels of flour in that part of the Confederate States
not occupied by the enemy, and the greater proportion of it is held by speculators, at prices varying from $80 to $100 a barrel according to the distance from the place of production the isolation of the points where it is held, and the amount of pretences they are able to accumulate for their extortion.
How many millions of dollars it represents it is impossible to estimate, but it is safe to say that every dollar of it has been accumulated within a twelvemonth past.
It is useless for the speculators to deny it.--Everybody knows that there is not a man in the land engaged in the produce trade but is richer now than he was a year ago. Let them say that every dollar they hold is worth only twenty-five cents, and even then they will be obliged to admit that they never before did so profitable a year's business.
But we have shown that the deprecation of the currency does not account for half the price.
We might go further — but it would extend this article to too great a length — and show that affects the price in but a slight degree.
It is useless for them to allege impediments in transportation.
Nobody believes that it costs $65, or even a considerable proportion of that amount, to bring a barrel of flour from its place of production to Mobile
Besides, when the impediments to transportation have been temporarily removed thre has been no corresponding relaxation of price; its progress has been up ward, still upward, constantly betraying, by unmistakable, signs, the hand of the engrosser.
It is useless to pretend that the advance in price is owing to the higher price of wheat.--Wheat
, a year ago worth $2 a bushel in Mobile
; no producer now asks a price which with transportation added would be equivalent to $.--Nor need they allege the actual advance in the price of wheat, whatever that may be; for they know, and everybody knows, that the advance is due to two causes: First, the exorbitant prices which this same speculating course in everything — not flour alone — compels he producer to charge, in order that he may purchase what he actually needs; second, and chiefly, his disposition, perfectly natural, and therefore not altogether blamable, to obtain a share of the enormous profits which he sees that others are making off the fruits of his industry.
Besides, they have never attempted to check the demand of the producer.
It is the usual course of trade to buy as cheap as possible, and not always to cell as dear as possible, but sometimes to endeavor to allure custom by underselling one's competitors.
But the illegitimate trade which is now being carried on all over our country, ignores all such customs.
No matter what the producer may ask, the engrosser pays it cheerfully, for if it is more than he paid yesterday it furnishes an additional pretence for advancing his selling prices to-morrow in a double ratio.
Neither does he fear competition, for he knows that if he puts his flour a dollar higher than his neighbor across the street, that neighbor will charge a corresponding price as soon as he hears of it, and that he will hear of it in ten minutes.
To leave the speculators, and return, before closing, to the question of the supply.
There are yet about sixteen weeks before us until the growing crop shall be harvested and begin to come into market — probably it is hardly so long — and we think we have shown that there is enough flour in the country to supply the demand for that time.--During the corresponding period last year, the receipts at Mobile
were 33,917 barrels; but it must be borne in mind that a large proportion of that was for the army at Corinth
The receipt of the sixteen preceding were 11,391 barrels; that quantity sufficed for the subsistences of the city then, and the same quantity, minus
6,500 barrels, or an average of about 300 barrels a week, ought to suffice now. There has not been so small an amount received here in any week since last October, nor is there any reason, that we can discover, for apprehension that there will be a deficient supply during any part of the four months to come.
This would furnish a supply, on the scale of rations previously cited, for a population of 36,000, to the exclusion of all other breadstuffs.
How the people will be able to pay for it is another question, and one which we did not propose to discuss;--our only business was with facts and figures.