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Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 3: Economic Sophisms and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen” [2017]

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Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 3: Economic Sophisms and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen.” Jacques de Guenin, General Editor. Translated from the French by Jane and Michel Willems, with a foreword by Robert McTeer, and an introduction and appendices by the Academic Editor David M. Hart. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2017).

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About this Title:

Vol. 3 of a 6 vol. collection of the works of the 19th century French political economist Frédéric Bastiat. This volume contains the complete collection of Economic Sophisms, a third of which have never been translated before; as well as a new translation of What is Seen and What is Not Seen. A detailed glossary and several Appendices contain information about the people, institutions, and ideological issues of his day.

Additional information about the Bastiat translation project can be found at the Bastiat Project Summary page.

Copyright information:

The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.

Fair use statement:

This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
Economic Sophisms and “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen”
Edition: current; Page: [ii]

The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat

Jacques de Guenin, General Editor

The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics

“The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850

Economic Sophisms and “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen”

Miscellaneous Works on Economics: From “Jacques-Bonhomme” to Le Journal des Économistes

Economic Harmonies

The Struggle against Protectionism: The English and French Free-Trade Movements

Edition: current; Page: [iii]

Frédéric Bastiat

Edition: current; Page: [iv] Edition: current; Page: [v]
Economic Sophisms and “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen”
frédéric bastiat
Jacques de Guenin, General Editor
Translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems
with a foreword by Robert McTeer
and an introduction and appendixes by Academic Editor David M. Hart
Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart
Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe
Liberty Fund
Edition: current; Page: [vi]

This book is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., a foundation established to encourage study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.


The cuneiform inscription that serves as our logo and as the design motif for our endpapers is the earliest-known written appearance of the word “freedom” (amagi), or “liberty.” It is taken from a clay document written about 2300 bc in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash.

© 2016 by Liberty Fund, Inc.

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16 17 18 19 c 6 5 4 3 2 1

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Bastiat, Frédéric, 1801–1850, author. | Guenin, Jacques de, editor. | Bastiat, Frédéric, 1801–1850. Sophismes économiques. English. | Bastiat, Frédéric, 1801–1850. Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas. English.

Title: Economic sophisms ; and, What is seen and what is not seen / Frédéric Bastiat; Jaques de Guenin, General Editor; translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems; with a foreword by Robert McTeer; and an introduction and appendixes by Academic Editor David M. Hart

Other titles: Economic sophisms. | What is seen and what is not seen.

Description: Indianapolis, Indiana : Liberty Fund, Inc., [2016] |

Series: The collected works of Frédéric Bastiat | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: lccn 2016015271 (print) | lccn 2016021940 (ebook) | isbn 9780865978874 (hardcover : alk. paper) | isbn 9780865978881 (pbk. : alk. paper) | isbn 9781614876502 (Mobi) | isbn 9781614879206 (pdf) | isbn 9781614872740 (epub)

Subjects: lcsh: Free trade. | Free enterprise. | Protectionism. | Economics.

Classification: lcc hb105.b3 a25 2016 (print) | lcc hb105.b3 (ebook) | ddc 330—dc23

lc record available at

Liberty Fund, Inc.

11301 N. Meridian St.

Carmel, Indiana 46032

Edition: current; Page: [vii]


  • Foreword by Robert McTeer, xi
  • General Editor’s Note, xv
  • Note on the Translation, xvii
  • Key Terms, xxxi
  • Note on the Editions of the Œuvres complètes, xxxv
  • Abbreviations, xxxvii
  • Acknowledgments, xli
  • A Chronology of Bastiat’s Life and Work, xliii
  • Introduction by David M. Hart, xlix
  • A Note on the Publishing History of Economic Sophisms and What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen by David M. Hart, lxxv
  • Map of France Showing Cities Mentioned by Bastiat, lxxxiii
  • Map of Southwestern France, lxxxiv
  • Economic Sophisms, 1
    • Economic Sophisms First Series, 3
      • [Author’s Introduction], 3
      • 1. Abundance and Scarcity, 7
      • 2. Obstacle and Cause, 15
      • 3. Effort and Result, 18
      • 4. Equalizing the Conditions of Production, 25
      • 5. Our Products Are Weighed Down with Taxes, 39
      • 6. The Balance of Trade, 44
      • 7. Petition by the Manufacturers of Candles, Etc., 49
      • 8. Differential Duties, 53
      • 9. An Immense Discovery!!!, 54 Edition: current; Page: [viii]
      • 10. Reciprocity, 57
      • 11. Nominal Prices, 61
      • 12. Does Protection Increase the Rate of Pay?, 64
      • 13. Theory and Practice, 69
      • 14. A Conflict of Principles, 75
      • 15. More Reciprocity, 78
      • 16. Blocked Rivers Pleading in Favor of the Prohibitionists, 80
      • 17. A Negative Railway, 81
      • 18. There Are No Absolute Principles, 83
      • 19. National Independence, 85
      • 20. Human Labor and Domestic Labor, 88
      • 21. Raw Materials, 92
      • 22. Metaphors, 100
      • Conclusion, 104
    • Economic Sophisms Second Series, 111
      • 1. The Physiology of Plunder, 113
      • 2. Two Moral Philosophies, 131
      • 3. The Two Axes, 138
      • 4. The Lower Council of Labor, 142
      • 5. High Prices and Low Prices, 146
      • 6. To Artisans and Workers, 155
      • 7. A Chinese Tale, 163
      • 8. Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc, 168
      • 9. Theft by Subsidy, 170
      • 10. The Tax Collector, 179
      • 11. The Utopian, 187
      • 12. Salt, the Mail, and the Customs Service, 198
      • 13. Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates, 214
      • 14. Something Else, 226
      • 15. The Free Trader’s Little Arsenal, 234
      • 16. The Right Hand and the Left Hand, 240
      • 17. Domination through Work, 248
    • Economic Sophisms “Third Series,” 255
      • 1. Recipes for Protectionism, 257
      • 2. Two Principles, 261 Edition: current; Page: [ix]
      • 3. M. Cunin-Gridaine’s Logic, 268
      • 4. One Profit versus Two Losses, 271
      • 5. On Moderation, 277
      • 6. The People and the Bourgeoisie, 281
      • 7. Two Losses versus One Profit, 287
      • 8. The Political Economy of the Generals, 293
      • 9. A Protest, 296
      • 10. The Spanish Association for the Defense of National Employment and the Bidassoa Bridge, 299
      • 11. The Specialists, 305
      • 12. The Man Who Asked Embarrassing Questions, 309
      • 13. The Fear of a Word, 318
      • 14. Anglomania, Anglophobia, 327
      • 15. One Man’s Gain Is Another Man’s Loss, 341
      • 16. Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill, 343
      • 17. A Little Manual for Consumers; in Other Words, for Everyone, 350
      • 18. The Mayor of Énios, 355
      • 19. Antediluvian Sugar, 365
      • 20. Monita Secreta: The Secret Book of Instructions, 371
      • 21. The Immediate Relief of the People, 377
      • 22. A Disastrous Remedy, 379
      • 23. Circulars from a Government That Is Nowhere to Be Found, 380
      • 24. Disastrous Illusions, 384
    • What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, or Political Economy in One Lesson, 401
      • [The Author’s Introduction], 403
      • 1. The Broken Window, 405
      • 2. Dismissing Members of the Armed Forces, 407
      • 3. Taxes, 410
      • 4. Theaters and the Fine Arts, 413
      • 5. Public Works, 419
      • 6. The Middlemen, 422
      • 7. Trade Restrictions, 427
      • 8. Machines, 432 Edition: current; Page: [x]
      • 9. Credit, 437
      • 10. Algeria, 439
      • 11. Thrift and Luxury, 443
      • 12. The Right to Work and the Right to Profit, 449
  • Appendixes, 453
    • Appendix 1. Further Aspects of Bastiat’s Life and Thought, 455
    • Appendix 2. The French State and Politics, 486
    • Appendix 3. Economic Policy and Taxation, 497
    • Appendix 4. French Government’s Budgets for Fiscal Years 1848 and 1849, 509
    • Appendix 5. Mark Twain and the Australian Negative Railroad, 517
    • Appendix 6. Bastiat’s Revolutionary Magazines, 520
  • Addendum: Additional Material by Bastiat, 523
    • “A Few Words about the Title of Our Journal The French Republic” (La République Française, 26 February 1848), 524
    • “The Subprefectures,” 29 February 1848, La République Française, 525
    • Bastiat’s Speech on “Disarmament and Taxes” (August 1849), 526
  • Glossaries, 533
    • Glossary of Persons, 533
    • Glossary of Places, 565
    • Glossary of Newspapers and Journals, 567
    • Glossary of Subjects and Terms, 572
  • Bibliographical Note on the Works Cited in This Volume, 585
  • Bibliography, 587
  • Index, 611
Edition: current; Page: [xi]


“The state is the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.”

from “the state” (1848), by frédéric bastiat

Claude Frédéric Bastiat was born in France in 1801. Two hundred years later, in 2001, I was invited to speak at his birthday celebration.1 I titled my remarks “Why Bastiat Is My Hero.” That was over ten years ago, but I do not have to look back into my notes to remember the reasons why Bastiat was and still is my hero.

During his brief life of forty-nine years, Bastiat fought for individual liberty in general and free trade in particular. He fought against protectionism, mercantilism, and socialism. He wrote with a combination of clarity, wit, and wisdom unmatched to this day. He not only made his arguments easy to understand; he made them impossible to misunderstand and to forget. He used humor and satire to expose his opponents’ arguments as not just wrong, but absurd, by taking them to their logical extreme. He noted that his adversaries often had to stop short in their arguments to avoid that trap.

My introduction to Bastiat as a student was snippets from his “Petition by the Manufacturers of Candles” in economics textbooks. The brilliance of this text still thrills and inspires me.2 In the petition, the candle makers call on the Chamber of Deputies to pass a law requiring the closing of all blinds and shutters to prevent sunlight from coming inside. The sun was unfair Edition: current; Page: [xii] competition to the candle makers and they needed protection. Protection from the sunlight would not only benefit the candle makers and related industries competing with the sun; it would also benefit unrelated industries as spending and prosperity spread. Bastiat anticipated Keynesian multiplier analysis, although for Bastiat it was satire with a very serious intent.

Bastiat wanted Economic Sophisms to serve as a handbook for free traders, and, indeed, when I was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, we used his writings in our economic education efforts. Throughout the book, Bastiat attacks protectionist sophisms, or fallacies, methodically and exhaustively; however, he identifies a major problem of persuasion, namely, that most sophisms contain some truth, usually a half-truth, but it is the half that is visible. As he writes in his introduction: “Protection brings together in one single point all the good it does and distributes among the wider mass of people the harm it inflicts. One is visible to the naked eye, the other only to the mind’s eye.”3

For example, we can see for ourselves imports and new technology destroying domestic jobs. We can see government spending creating jobs, and minimum wage laws raising wages. To get from these half-truths to the whole truth, however, requires considering what is not seen, except “in the mind’s eye.”

The fable of the broken window is Bastiat’s most famous illustration of the seen versus the unseen.4 The son of Jacques Bonhomme5 broke his window, and a crowd gathered. What a shame; Jacques will have to pay for another window. But wait. There is a silver lining. The window repairman will receive additional income to spend. Some merchant will then also have new income to spend, and so on. It’s a shame about the broken window, but it did set off a chain reaction of new spending, creating prosperity for many.

Hold on, cautions Bastiat. If Jacques didn’t have to replace his window, he would have spent or invested his money elsewhere. Then another merchant would have new income to spend, and so on. The spending chain initiated by the broken window happens and will be seen; the spending chain that would otherwise have happened won’t be seen. The broken window diverted spending; it didn’t increase spending. But the stimulus from the broken window was seen, and seeing is believing.

Edition: current; Page: [xiii]

The broken window fallacy sounds like a child’s fairy tale, yet nothing could be more relevant today. We’re told every day of the benefits of some government program or project, and most do some good. What we don’t see is how taxpayers might have spent their own money for their own good. Or, if the government spending is financed by borrowing, we probably won’t see the implications for the future burden of the additional debt, or for future inflation if the debt is monetized. We forget that governments can give to us only what they take from us.

Bastiat’s lectures on the half-truth versus the whole truth, the short run versus the long run, the part versus the whole, and the seen versus the unseen teach us the economic way of thinking. While he was steeped in classical economics, his views were also based on what he experienced empirically. All he had to do was walk around the port city of Bayonne where he was born to see firsthand the disastrous results of “protection.” The protection was protection from prosperity.

Bastiat was also influenced by the free-trade movement in England and its leader, Richard Cobden, who became a regular correspondent and firm friend for the last five years of Bastiat’s life. Bastiat wanted to do for France what Cobden was doing for England, so he became an activist, establishing free-trade associations. He entered politics and was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. Many of his speeches, pamphlets, and other articles were directed specifically to statements made by his opponents in that chamber. He named names, but he was ever the gentleman in his debates, attacking the argument rather than the person.

In debate, Bastiat not only proved his opponents wrong; he showed that their positions, when stripped to the core, were absurd. Their focus on the producer rather than the consumer led them to view less output as better than more, and more work to achieve a given end as better than less. Consumers have a stake in efficiency and productivity, and their goals are in harmony with the greater good. Producers, on the other hand, find merit in inefficiency and obstacles to productivity. They wanted to count jobs, while Bastiat wanted to make jobs count. He exposed the absurdity of the fallacy when he suggested allowing workers to use their left hands only and creating jobs by burning Paris.

Bastiat pointed out that the lawmakers who were also merchants or farmers held conflicting positions. Back home they value efficiency and productivity, trying to get the most output and income from the least labor. Yet, as legislators, they tried to make work by creating obstacles and inefficiency. Edition: current; Page: [xiv] They built roads and bridges to facilitate transportation and commerce, then put customs agents on the roads to do the opposite. He pointed out that if they farmed the way they legislated, they would use only hoes and mattocks to till the earth and eschew the plow.

The obvious question is, if Bastiat’s rhetoric was so effective, why didn’t he prevail in the Chamber? His opponents’ answer then, as now, is that these fancy notions may work in theory, but not in practice. “Go write your books, Mr. Intellectual; we are men of practical affairs.” We might, however, answer on behalf of Bastiat that, in the short term at least, the fight against protectionism was sidetracked by the outbreak of the 1848 Revolution and the rise of socialism during the Second Republic. Bastiat, like many of his free market colleagues, had other matters to attend to during this period. In the medium term, we might say that Bastiat’s free trade ideas did in fact have an impact. The signing of the Cobden-Chevalier Trade Treaty between England and France in 1860 is one important measure of the success of free trade ideas, at least in the middle of the nineteenth century. In the longer term, unfortunately, he, as do we today, underestimated the power that economic sophisms have over the popular mind in general and even over most of our legislators in particular. This confirms the importance of returning to Bastiat’s ideas, for the power of his economic arguments as well as for the enjoyment of his inimitable brilliant style. So, even after more than ten years, Bastiat remains “my intellectual hero.”

Robert McTeer
Edition: current; Page: [xv]

General Editor’s Note

The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat will be the most complete edition of Bastiat’s works published to date, in any country or in any language. The main source for this translation is the Œuvres complètes de Frédéric Bastiat, published by Guillaumin in the 1850s and 1860s.1

Although the Guillaumin edition was generally chronological, the volumes in this series have been arranged thematically:

  • The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
  • “The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850
  • Economic Sophisms and “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen”
  • Miscellaneous Works on Economics: From “Jacques Bonhomme” to Le Journal des Économistes
  • Economic Harmonies
  • The Struggle against Protectionism: The English and French Free-Trade Movements

There are three kinds of notes in this edition: footnotes by the editor of the Guillaumin edition (Prosper Paillottet), which are preceded by “(Paillottet’s note)”; footnotes by Bastiat, which are preceded by “(Bastiat’s note)”; and new editorial footnotes to this edition, which stand alone (unless they are commenting on Paillottet’s notes, in which case they are in square brackets following Paillottet’s note). Each sophism is preceded by a detailed publishing history which consists of (1) the original title, (2) the place and date of first publication, (3) the date of the first French edition as a book or a pamphlet, (4) the location in Paillottet’s edition of the Œuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854–55), and (5) the dates of the following English translations: the first Edition: current; Page: [xvi] English (England) translation, the first American translation, and the FEE translation.

In the text, Bastiat (and Paillottet in the notes) makes many passing references to his works, for which we have provided an internal cross-reference if the work is in this volume. For those works not in this volume, we have provided the location of the orignal French version in the Œuvres complètes (indicated in a footnote by “OC,” followed by the Guillaumin volume number, beginning page number, and French title of the work).

In addition, we have made available two online sources2 for the reader to consult. The first source is a table of contents of the seven-volume Œuvres complètes with links to PDF facsimiles of each volume. The second source is our “Comparative Table of Contents of the Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat,” which is a table of contents of the complete Liberty Fund series. Here the reader can find the location of the English translation of the work in its future Liberty Fund volume. These contents will be filled in and updated as the volumes come out and will eventually be the most complete comparative listing of Bastiat’s works.

In order to avoid multiple footnotes and cross-references, we have provided a glossary of persons, a glossary of places, a glossary of newspapers and journals, and a glossary of subjects and terms to identify those persons, places, historical events, and terms mentioned in the text. The glossaries will also provide historical context and background for the reader as well as a greater understanding of Bastiat’s work. If a name as it appears in the text is ambiguous or is in the glossary under a different name, a brief footnote has been added to identify the name as it is listed in the glossary.

Finally, original italics as they appear in the Guillaumin edition have been retained.

Jacques de Guenin
Saint-Loubouer, France
Edition: current; Page: [xvii]

Note on the Translation

Below we discuss some of the problems faced by translating a French work on political economy from the mid-nineteenth century into English. We begin with some general observations which are applicable to all the volumes in the Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. These are followed by some remarks which are specific to the matters covered in this particular volume.

Translation Matters of a General Nature in the Collected Works

Throughout the translation of this series, we have made a deliberate decision not to translate Bastiat’s French into modern, colloquial American English. Wherever possible we have tried to retain a flavor of the more florid, Latinate forms of expression which were common among the literate class in mid-nineteenth-century France. Bastiat liked long, flowing sentences, where idea followed upon idea in an apparently endless succession of dependent clauses. We have broken up many but not all of these thickets of expression for the sake of clarity. In those that remain, you, dear reader, will have to navigate.

Concerning the problematic issue of how to translate the French term la liberté—whether to use the more archaic-sounding English word “liberty” or the more modern word “freedom”—we have let the context have the final say. Bastiat was much involved with establishing a free-trade movement in France and to that end founded the Free Trade Association (L’Association pour la liberté des échanges) and its journal Le Libre-échange (Free Trade). In this context the word choice is clear: we must use the word “freedom,” because this is intimately linked to the idea of “free trade.” The English phrase “liberty of trade” would sound awkward. Another word is pouvoir, which we have variously translated as “power,” “government,” or “authority,” again depending on the context.

Edition: current; Page: [xviii]

A third example consists of the words économie politique and économiste. Throughout the eighteenth and for most of the nineteenth century, in both French and English, the term “political economy” was used to describe what we now call “economics.” Toward the end of the nineteenth century, as economics became more mathematical, the adjective “political” was dropped and not replaced. We have preferred to keep the term “political economy” both because it was still current when Bastiat was writing and because it better describes the state of the discipline which proudly mixed an interest in moral philosophy, history, and political theory with the main dish, which was economic analysis. In Bastiat’s day it was assumed that any économiste was a free-market economist, and so the noun needed no adjectival qualifier. Today one can be a free-market economist, a Marxist economist, a Keynesian economist, a mathematical economist, or an Austrian economist, to name a few. The qualifier before the noun is therefore quite important. This was not the case in Bastiat’s time.

A particularly difficult word to translate is l’industrie, as is its related term industriel. In some respects it is a “false friend,” as one is tempted to translate it as “industry” or “industrious” or “industrial,” but this would be wrong because these terms have the more narrow modern meaning of “heavy industry” or “manufacturing” or “the result of some industrial process.” The meaning in Bastiat’s time was both more general and more specific to a particular social and economic theory current in his day. The word “industry” had a specific meaning which was tied to a social and economic theory developed by Jean-Baptiste Say and his followers Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer in the 1810s and 1820s, as well as by other theorists such as the historian Augustin Thierry. According to these theorists, there were only two means of acquiring wealth, by productive activity and voluntary exchanges in the free market (i.e., industrie—which included agriculture, trade, factory production, services, and so on) or by coercive means (conquest, theft, taxation, subsidies, protection, transfer payments, or slavery). Anybody who acquired wealth through voluntary exchange and productive activities belonged to a class of people collectively called les industrieux, in contrast to those individuals or groups who acquired their wealth by force, coercion, conquest, slavery, or government privileges. The latter group was seen as a ruling class or as “parasites” who lived at the expense of les industrieux.

Bastiat uses the French term la spoliation (plunder) many times in his writings. Following from his view of “industry” as defined above, Bastiat believed that there is a distinction between two ways in which wealth can be acquired, Edition: current; Page: [xix] either through peaceful and voluntary exchange (i.e., the free market) or by theft, conquest, and coercion (i.e., using the power of the state to tax, repossess, or grant special privileges). The latter he described as “plunder.”

In Bastiat’s time, the word “liberal” had the same meaning in France and in the English-speaking worlds of England and America. In the United States, however, the meaning of the word has shifted progressively toward the left of the political spectrum. A precise translation of the French word would be either “classical liberal” or “libertarian,” depending upon the context, and indeed Bastiat is considered to be a classical liberal by present-day conservatives and a libertarian by present-day libertarians. To avoid the resulting awkwardness, we have decided to keep the word “liberal,” with its nineteenth-century meaning, in the translations as well as the notes and the glossaries.

Translation Matters Specific to This Volume

More specific to this volume are the words and phrases which will be discussed below. In many cases we have found it very helpful to consult the earlier translation of the first two series of Economic Sophisms made by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in 1964.1 Although we sometimes disagreed with their interpretation, we have found their notes and comments very informative and useful. We acknowledge in the footnotes when we have made use of their earlier work.


The very title economic “sophisms” poses a problem. Sophisme can be translated directly as “sophism,” preferred by the FEE translator in 1964, or as “fallacy,” which is the term preferred by nineteenth-century translators. We have sided with the FEE translator here in most instances. Bastiat uses the word in a couple of different senses. The term can refer to an obvious error in economic theory; that is, a “fallacy.” It can also refer to an argument that has an element of truth in which this partial truth is used speciously to make a case for one particular economic interest in a debate; that is, a piece of “sophistry.” In this latter sense, which makes up the bulk of this book, the word “sophism” is the preferred translation. The word “sophism” is also Edition: current; Page: [xx] used to refer to Bastiat’s essays in which he attacks these false or sophistical economic ideas, as in “In the sophism about the broken window Bastiat argues. . . . ” We hope the meaning is clear from the context.


Bastiat enjoyed creating neologisms in order to poke fun at his adversaries. These words were sometimes based on Latin words and sometimes on French words. We have tried to find English equivalents which capture the flavor of Bastiat’s originals and his intent. These are explained in the footnotes. Some examples are the two towns “Stulta” and “Puera” (“Stupidville” and “Childishtown”); the tax collector “M. Lasouche” (Mr. Blockhead); “M. Prohibant” (Mr. Prohibitor or Mr. Prohibitionist); and the two lobby groups the “Sinistrists” (the Left Handers) and the “Dexterists” (the Right Handers).

Another weapon in Bastiat’s lexical armory was parody. He liked to take government institutions or documents, or well-known works of literature, and write a parody of their structure and content. A good example of this is his creation of a “Lower Council of Labor” (for ordinary shopkeepers and workers) to make fun of the protectionist and establishment “Superior Council of Commerce.” Another is his mimicking of government “circulars” (or memoranda) issued in the early months of the Second Republic. As a deputy and vice president of the Finance Committee of the Chamber he would have seen many of these, and he is thus able to mimic their style wonderfully. But the supreme example of his skill as a writer is his parody of Molière’s parody of seventeenth-century doctors. He takes Molière’s acerbic commentary on the primitive medical practices of his day and turns it into a very sharp critique of the behavior of customs officers of his own day. These pose some difficulty for a modern translator; indeed, much has to be explained in the footnotes in order for these parodies to make sense, as he wrote his parody in “dog Latin” for which we have used the excellent translation made by FEE.2

Of all the challenges facing a translator, one of the hardest is explaining puns, which are usually unique to a given language. Bastiat liked to pun, as the footnotes will make clear. A good example is from the sophism “The Right Hand and the Left Hand” (ES2 16) in which the king is asked to expand the amount of work in the country (and thus increase “prosperity”) by forbidding people to use their right hands. Bastiat has a field day creating a Edition: current; Page: [xxi] new lobby group, the “Dexterists,” who campaign for the freedom to work with one’s right hand, and the “Sinistrists,” who lobby for the use of the left hand only. In Bastiat’s mind, all this is so much “gaucherie.” Another good example is the case of the customs barrier across the Bidassoa River, on the border with Spain, which legally permits trade (which is taxed) “over the river,” but which drives the black market in untaxed goods “under the river” (or “underground” as it were).3 He also puns on the names of the streets on which various lobby groups were located. For example, the main protectionist lobby group, the Association for the Defense of National Employment, had its headquarters on the rue de Hautville (Highville Street) and thus is an open target for puns on whether or not they are in favor of high prices or low prices.

Some of Bastiat’s funniest moments come with his frequent wordplay, which is especially hard for a translator to convey. We have attempted to do this without intruding too much on the reader’s patience. England was seen as both a real military enemy because of its role in the war against the French Republic and then Napoléon’s Empire, and as an economic enemy because of its advocacy of free trade. England was known as “Perfidious Albion” (Deceitful England), and so to show the absurdity of this idea Bastiat invents the notion of “Perfidious Normandy,”4 which threatens Paris because it can produce butter more cheaply.

French word order is also used to make a political point. In French an adjective can precede a noun or follow it without too much difference in meaning. In English this makes no sense. Bastiat has a protagonist argue with an opponent of free trade (libre-échange) who despises the very idea because it is English, but quite likes the idea of being free to buy and sell things because this is an example of échange libre (trade which is free).5

Plain Speaking

Bastiat was torn between using a more lighthearted style which used humor, puns, wordplay, and satire to make his important economic and political points, or using a more serious and sober style. He made a name for himself as a witty and clever economic journalist when he wrote for the free trade journal Le Libre-échange, which he edited between 1846 and early 1848, in Edition: current; Page: [xxii] which he pilloried his opponents.6 However, as the political and economic situation got worse in France, he seemed unable to make up his mind which was the best strategy and flip-flopped on the matter. A good example of this self-doubt appears in “Theft by Subsidy” (ES2 9), in which he called for an “explosion of plain speaking” and the avoidance of circumlocutions and euphemisms when describing government policies and their impact on ordinary taxpayers and consumers. We have tried to capture his outrage, anger, and sense of injustice at protectionism and government interventionism in our choice of words by not toning down his language, which is at times very harsh, even extending to curses. In this sophism Bastiat uses a variety of words in his attempt to speak plainly and brutally. Here is a list with our preferred translation for each: dépouiller (to dispossess), spolier (to plunder), voler (to steal), piller (to loot or pillage), raviser (to ravish or rape), filouter (filching), and variants, such as le vol de grand chemin (highway robbery).

There was also some debate in Bastiat’s time about what to call the compulsory conscription of young men into the French Army. It was called requisition in 1793, conscription in 1798, and, more euphemistically, recrutement, during the Restoration and the July Monarchy. Bastiat rejected the euphemism used during the 1840s, preferring to see it as a violation of individual liberty, and hence conscription was his preferred term.

The theory of plunder which Bastiat was working on in the last couple of years of his life, most notably in “The Physiology of Plunder” (ES2 1) and “Two Moral Philosophies” (ES2 2), is a good example of the application of his more brutal style to an analysis of how the state goes about extracting the revenue it needs to carry out its activities. Bastiat described taxation as nothing less than “plunder” (la spoliation), where the more powerful, the plunderers (les spoliateurs), use force to seize the property of others (the plundered) in order to provide benefits for themselves or favored vested-interest groups like the aristocracy or the church, resulting in what he termed “aristocratic” or “theocratic plunder.” He uses a number of closely linked expressions to describe this process of plunder: the plunderers (les spoliateurs) use a combination of outright coercion (la force), fraud (la ruse), and deception (la duperie) to acquire resources from ordinary workers and consumers. They also resort to the use of misleading and deceptive arguments (sophismes) to deceive ordinary people, the dupes (les dupes), and to convince them that these actions are taken in their own interests and not those of the ruling elites. We have Edition: current; Page: [xxiii] retained this language in our translation and have indicated in the footnotes when Bastiat is using this form of “plain speaking.”

At times Bastiat resorts to cursing, which we have not hesitated to translate as accurately as we can. His best-known example of this is his essay on money titled “Maudit argent!” (Damned Money!, 1849). Other examples include the expressions que Dieu maudisse (what God would damn, or God-damned),7 malédiction sur les machines! (a curse on machines!), le fesse-mathieu, which is a coarse expression for a usurer or moneylender,8 and où diable l’économie politique va-t-elle se nicher? (where the devil is political economy taking us?).

Opposition to Circumlocutions and Euphemisms

The use of the words “plunder” and “dupes” is not the only example of Bastiat’s attempts to avoid circumlocutions and euphemisms in describing government policies like taxation and tariff protection. In the sophism “The Tax Collector” (ES2 10), Bastiat makes a concerted effort to distinguish clearly between two types of “representation,” and we have tried to follow closely the specific set of terms he uses to describe each one. In the first type of representation, an individual contracts with another party, perhaps a business representative or a lawyer with power of attorney, to act on their behalf in a strictly limited manner. For this Bastiat uses phrases such as s’arranger directement (to engage in an exchange directly with a supplier of a good or service) or placer une procuration (to appoint someone to act with one’s power of attorney). He contrasts this with political représentation, where a voter (in the case of France before 1848 this was a very limited number of wealthy taxpayers—some 240,000 in a population of 36 million) could nommer pour député (nominate as one’s representative) or se faire représenter par quelqu’un (to be represented by somebody). The latter terminology is used by Mr. Blockhead (the tax collector) to try to persuade Jacques Bonhomme that his tax money is being wisely spent by responsible political representatives in the Chamber of Deputies. Jacques Bonhomme is very skeptical and is not persuaded. We have endeavored in the translation to bring out this very different understanding of the nature of “representation,” which was Bastiat’s intention in choosing this very specific terminology.

The language of war and battle was something that Bastiat wanted to banish Edition: current; Page: [xxiv] from all discussion of economic activity. In “Domination through Work” (ES2 17), he argued that it is dangerous to use metaphors drawn from war and the military to describe economic phenomena, as the former acquire wealth for a nation through violence, destruction, and killing, while the latter do it by peaceful, voluntary, and mutually beneficial exchange. He rejected such terms as invasion (of foreign goods), flood, tribute (to describe payment for foreign goods), domination (through trade), fight on equal terms, conquer, crush, be defeated (by one’s trade rivals), and machines that kill off work. He uses these military expressions throughout the sophisms in order to rebut the premises which lie behind their popular usage in the press and in debates in the Chamber, and we have followed his practice. His conclusion was unmistakable: “Bannissons de l’économie politique toutes ces expressions empruntées au vocabulaire des batailles: Lutter à armes égales, vaincre, écraser, étouffer, être battu, invasion, tribut” (Let us banish from political economy all the following expressions borrowed from a military vocabulary: to fight on equal terms, to conquer, to crush, to stifle, to be defeated, invasion, or tribute).9

Use of the Familiar “Tu” Form

As Bastiat oscillated between his more popular and humorous style of writing and his more serious and plain-speaking style, he would use quite different language. In the more lighthearted vein he would have ordinary people espouse opposing views in his constructed dialogues or plays. Sometimes he would use the familiar form of the word “you,” which in French is tu. For example, in his appeal to the workers on the streets of Paris in the early days of the 1848 Revolution, he would speak to them using tu, which we indicate in the footnotes.10

A quite interesting example is provided by the conversations between Robinson Crusoe and Friday on their island. Bastiat may have invented “Crusoe economics” as a way of making complex economic problems more understandable to ordinary readers. In their conversations about how to organize their time and labor most productively on the island, Bastiat has them address each other using tu, which suggests a certain friendship and equal status between the two, which is surprising given the historical context of European colonialism.11 We indicate in the footnotes when tu is being used. Edition: current; Page: [xxv] It is also interesting to note that Bastiat put the free trade arguments in the mouth of the native Friday and the protectionist ideas in the mouth of the European Crusoe.

Technical Economic Terms

In a work which relies so heavily on economic theory it is not surprising to come across many technical economic terms. We have tried to translate these terms consistently, but it is not always possible. A good example is the word travail, which could be translated in several ways, all of which are accurate in their own way. For example, one could use the following English words, depending on the context: “work,” “labor,” “production,” and “employment.” If there is any ambiguity, we indicate this in the footnotes.

Sometimes Bastiat makes a distinction between, on the one hand, les protectionnistes (the advocates of protectionism) and le régime de la protection (the protectionist system), and on the other hand, les prohibitionistes (the advocates of prohibiting imports) and le régime prohibitif (the system of import prohibition). He does this because French tariff policy was a mixture of numerous categories of goods the importation of which was prohibited outright in order to protect French manufacturers, and a complex system of tariffs which raised the price of imported goods to raise money for the French state as well as to give some economic advantage (protection) to French manufacturers. We have preserved Bastiat’s distinction wherever possible because it reveals the three-way split which existed in the French debate about tariffs between the free traders like Bastiat, the hard-core prohibitionists, and the protectionists.

Bastiat uses several terms for “money,” which can be confusing at times: numéraire (cash or gold coins), papier monnaie (paper money or notes), and argent (money). Bastiat makes a very clear distinction between paper money and cash (numéraire), as the European economies of his day were based upon the gold standard, and paper money was often viewed with suspicion as a result of the hyperinflation of the “assignat” paper currency during the Revolution.

There are also several different uses of the word prix (price) which need to be made clear. There is le prix d’achat (the purchase price), le prix de vente (the sale price), le prix courant (the market price), le prix de revient (the cost price), and le prix rémunérateur (the price which covers one’s costs). Very important for Bastiat is the idea of le prix débattu (the freely negotiated price), which is essential for the operation of the free market. This is a price which Edition: current; Page: [xxvi] is agreed upon by two voluntary participants in an exchange who “debate” or negotiate a price which is acceptable to both parties. Both are equally free to accept or to refuse the price by concluding the bargain or walking away. Also crucial to his argument is the idea that there is a difference between real economic wealth and the accounting device (the money price) used to measure it, and thus the prix absolus (nominal or money price) of a good or service is not a true measure of the amount of wealth in a society.

Bastiat uses the terms droit, tarif, and taxe, sometimes interchangeably and sometimes reserving different meanings to each one. We have tried to be consistent in translating them as “duty” (droit), “tariff” (tarif), and “tax” (taxe) in order to preserve these sometimes subtle distinctions. It should also be kept in mind that Bastiat, like many free-market economists of the period, distinguished between a tarif protecteur (protectionist tariff) and a tarif des douanes (fiscal tariff or duty). The former, which he opposed, was designed to provide a competitive advantage to a favored manufacturer at the expense of consumers. The latter, which he supported if it was at a low rate, like 5 percent, was purely for revenue-raising purposes.

Bastiat’s References to Laissez-Faire

“The Economists,” as mid-nineteenth-century political economists like Bastiat called themselves, embraced the physiocrats’ policy prescription of laissez-faire, which requires no translation. Where the term appears in this sense, of a recommended government policy, we have left it in the French. Sometimes Bastiat uses the word laissez (leave me free to do something) as a normal French verb but often with the intention of alluding to the free-market policy prescription; for example, laissez-les faire (let them do these things), laissez-le entrer (let it freely enter), and laissez-passer (leave them free to move about). Such occurrences are indicated in the footnotes.

Industry versus Plunder: The Plundered Classes, the Plundering Class, and the People12

The word classe is used sixy-five times by Bastiat in Economic Sophisms and What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen in at least four different senses, and the frequency of its use increases markedly during and after the 1848 Revolution, Edition: current; Page: [xxvii] as Bastiat responded to the socialist critique of French society. Bastiat had his own theory of class, but he also used the word “class” in the socialists’ sense when he was engaged in rebutting their ideas. We have indicated in the footnotes the various meanings of the word “class” and Bastiat’s use of them in order to keep these distinctions clear.

Bastiat uses the word classe in four different ways in the sophisms. First, he uses it as a neutral term to mean any group which has some aspect in common, such as les classes riches (the rich classes), la classe moyenne (the middle class), or la classe des propriétaires (the landowning class). His second way of using the word is in the socialist sense of class warfare. Bastiat was fighting two intellectual battles in the late 1840s, the first against the established elites who controlled the Chamber and who benefited from agricultural and manufacturing protection and subsidies, and the second against the rising socialist movement. As the socialist movement became more influential he began to confront its supporters more directly in debate and used the same expressions they did, such as l’aristocratie (the aristocracy), la bourgeoisie (the bourgeoisie), and la classe des travailleurs or la classe ouvrière (the working class) or les prolétaires (the proletarian class). “The people” (le peuple) was also becoming a more common phrase in socialist critiques of the French political system, and Bastiat uses this on occasion as well. He uses the socialists’ language of class and turns it around in order to show the errors in their thinking about the nature of property rights and the free market and how they have mistaken the true nature of exploitation and class in French society.

Bastiat’s third use of the word “class” is a political one, as in the expressions la classe électorale (the electoral class) and la classe des protégés (the protected class). By la classe électorale, Bastiat means the very restricted group of people (who had an “electoral monopoly,” as he called it) who were entitled to vote during the July Monarchy. On the eve of the 1848 Revolution, which reintroduced universal male suffrage, the electoral class numbered about 240,000 taxpayers.13 By la classe des protégés Bastiat meant the class of favored people given special privileges by state legislation such as tariff protection, industrial subsidies, or monopolies of a particular market. Another example of the use of “class” in a political sense is his discussion of the struggle between the aristocratic class and democracy in Britain in “Anglomania, Anglophobia” Edition: current; Page: [xxviii] (ES3 14), where he provides a lengthy analysis of the political power held by the English aristocracy.

The fourth use of the word is part of Bastiat’s own theory of class, which had its origins in the theory of “industrialism” developed by two thinkers who influenced Bastiat considerably in his intellectual development: Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer. In their theory the terms l’industrie (productive economic activity), les industrieux, les classes d’industrieux, and l’industriel (those engaged in productive economic activity) had very specific meanings which are not the same as their modern meanings. It would be wrong therefore to translate them always in the more narrow modern meaning of “heavy industry” or “manufacturing” or “the result of some industrial process.” Bastiat sometimes does use these words in the modern sense, but he also uses them in the broader sense of Dunoyer’s theory of industrialism, and we have indicated when Bastiat does this in the footnotes.

According to the theory of industrialism, the class of industriels played a very important role in the economy because there were only two means of acquiring wealth: by productive activity and voluntary exchanges in the free market (i.e., l’industrie, which included agriculture, trade, and factory production, as well as services) or by coercive means, what Bastiat called la spoliation (plunder), which included conquest, slavery, theft, taxation, subsidies, protection, and transfer payments. Anybody who acquired wealth through voluntary exchange and productive activities belonged to a class of people collectively called les industrieux, in contrast to those individuals or groups who acquired their wealth by force, coercion, conquest, slavery, or government privileges, or what Bastiat called la classe spoliatrice or les spoliateurs (the plundering class or the plunderers). The latter group was seen as “parasites” who lived at the expense of les industrieux (the productive class) or les classes spoliées (the plundered classes).

To give an idea of the importance Bastiat placed on his theory of plunder, the following frequencies of use should provide a clue: there are 55 instances of the term la spoliation (plunder), 12 of parasite, 10 of le spoliateur (the plunderer), 5 of spoliée (plundered), and 1 of spoliatrice (plunderous).

Bastiat’s Use of the Socialist Terms “Organization” and “Association”

As with the word classe, there are two other words which were widely used by socialists in the 1840s (such as Louis Blanc and Charles Fourier) and which became closely associated with their criticism of the free market and Edition: current; Page: [xxix] their demands for government regulation and even ownership of the means of production, namely l’organisation (organization of labor) and l’association (cooperative living and working arrangements). Bastiat frequently uses these words in the socialist sense, often with a capital O or A, in order to mock or criticize them, pointing out that supporters of the free market are also firm believers in “organization” and “association,” but only if they result from voluntary actions by individuals and are not the result of government coercion and legislation. A good example of this is Bastiat’s disparaging term la grande organization,14 by which he means the folly of believing that one individual or government could centrally plan or organize an entire economy, as many socialists of his day believed. We have indicated in the footnotes when Bastiat is using these words in this socialist sense.

The Difference between “Droit à” and “Droit de”

A third important socialist idea which emerged during the 1840s with which Bastiat had to contend was the idea of le droit au travail (the right to a job).15 In English one could well translate it as “the right to work” or “the right to a job,” which would miss the subtle distinction between the two. This idea of le droit au travail (the right to a job) came to the fore in the early days of the 1848 Revolution when the provisional government established a government unemployment relief program known as the National Workshops. It was based on the ideas of socialists like Louis Blanc and was an attempt by the government to guarantee every able-bodied French male a job paid for by the taxpayers. Bastiat warned about its economic unviability, and it eventually collapsed in June 1848, sparking rioting in Paris. In French, there is a distinction between le droit à quelque chose (the right to [have] something) and le droit de quelque chose (the right to [do] something). The Economists, including Bastiat, believed in le droit du travail (the right to engage in work) and not the socialist formulation. We indicate in the footnotes when this distinction is an issue.

Interestingly, Bastiat extends this distinction to the area of profits with his formulation of le droit au profit (the right to a [guaranteed] profit) and le droit de profiter (the right to seek profits). The protectionists wanted the former, meaning that the government should guarantee them a profitable Edition: current; Page: [xxx] return on their investments, whereas the Economists wanted the latter, that businesses should take their chances on the free market and make profits only if they adequately satisfied consumer demand.

Bastiat’s Translation of Adam Smith

In “Theft by Subsidy” (ES2 9), Bastiat translates a passage from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations on the tendency of businessmen to engage in conspiracies against the public whenever they get together.16 We have taken the unusual step of retranslating Bastiat’s translation back into English in order to show how much it differed from the original (which can be found in a footnote). Bastiat was often rather cavalier in his quoting from other texts, doing it from memory in many cases and sometimes getting it wrong or conflating different passages into one (as seems to have happened with the Smith quotation). We have checked as many of Bastiat’s quotations against the original texts as we could and indicate in the footnotes where he strays. Sometimes he is in error, other times he slightly changes the text to better make his point, for example, by changing the name of the king in order to bring the passage up to date.

French Names, Weights, Measures, and Currency; Use of English Words

We have retained the use of French names of people (like Jacques and Jean) instead of translating them into their English equivalents (Jack and John) because we wanted to keep a French flavor to the translation and believed that this would be readily understood by readers. We have also retained the use of French terms for land area (arpent), weight (kilogram), and currency (sou), as it seemed quite artificial to convert them into English or American terms. We have explained what they mean in the footnotes and several entries in the glossary.

Finally, now and again Bastiat uses English words in his essays, such as “cheapness,” “go on,” “meeting,” “free-trader,” “drawback,” and “budget.” We have indicated where this occurs in the footnotes.

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Key Terms

In addition to the longer discussion of economic terms in the Note on the Translation, we have added here a list of key terms most frequently encountered in the texts. We have provided a brief explanation of the different contexts in which Bastiat used these terms and how we translated them.

  • Association, Organization. When used with lowercase, Bastiat means any voluntary association which free individuals might create; when used with uppercase (as in Association), he is using the word in its socialist meaning of cooperative living and working arrangements.
  • Classe. The word can be used in a descriptive fashion, as in la classe moyenne (the middle class), but Bastiat usually uses it to describe groups which had some kind of political privilege, such as la classe électorale (the electoral class, i.e., the very small group of taxpayers who were legally allowed to vote and stand for election), or la classe spoliatrice (the plundering class).
  • Dupe, Duperie, Ruse. Bastiat believed that individuals were deprived of their property directly by means of la force (coercion or force) or indirectly by means of la ruse (fraud or trickery) or la duperie (deception). The beneficiaries of this force and fraud used les sophismes (misleading and deceptive arguments) to deceive ordinary people, whom he referred to as les dupes (dupes).
  • Économiste. The Economists were the group of free-market and free-trade political economists, as in Le Journal des économistes, for which Bastiat wrote.
  • Industrie, Industrieux. Sometimes used in the modern sense of manufacturing industry but also used to mean any productive activity which produced goods and services for exchange in the free market. Individuals who engaged in these productive activities were called les industrieux.
  • Laissez-faire. The policy prescription of laissez-faire favored by free-market economists like Bastiat requires no translation. However, Bastiat Edition: current; Page: [xxxii] uses it in a number of ways which require careful translation, such as laissez-les faire (let them do these things), laissez-le entrer (let it freely enter), and laissez-passer (leave them free to move about).
  • Liberté, Libéral. Liberté is usually translated as “liberty” except in cases such as la liberté des échanges (free trade), where the word “free” is more commonly used. Libéral has been translated as “liberal,” with the understanding that it should mean “classical liberal” and not “liberal” in the contemporary American sense of the word.
  • Monnaie. The word “money” is used in many senses by Bastiat, such as la numéraire (cash or gold or silver coins), la papier monnaie (paper money or notes), and l’argent (money in a general sense).
  • Prix. Bastiat uses many expressions to talk about price, such as le prix d’achat (the purchase price), le prix de vente (the sale price), le prix courant (the market price), le prix de revient (the cost price), le prix rémunérateur (the price which covers one’s costs), le prix débattu (the freely negotiated price), and le prix absolus (nominal or money price).
  • Prohibitioniste, Protectionniste. Les prohibitionistes referred to the advocates of prohibiting imports so that domestic manufacturers had a monopoly of the home market, whereas les protectionnistes referred to the advocates of protectionism who wanted high tariffs in order to help domestic manufacturers compete with foreign manufacturers. The two different systems to which these policies gave rise Bastiat termed le régime prohibitif (the system of import prohibition) and le régime de la protection (the protectionist system) respectively.
  • Régime. Often translated as “regime,” “society,” or “system,” as in le régime de la protection (the protectionist system) or le régime de la liberté (the system of liberty or a free society).
  • Spoliation. Translated here as “plunder.” There are several related terms, including spolier (to plunder), les spoliateurs (the plunderers), les spoliées (the plundered), la classe spoliatrice (the plundering class), les classes spoliées (the plundered classes), and the adjective spoliatrice (plunderous).
  • Taxe, Tarif, Droit. The payments which the government imposed on various goods and services, such as le droit (duty), le tarif (tariff), and la taxe (tax).
  • Travail. Many different words are used to translate travail, such as “work,” “labor,” “production,” and “employment.” Related words include le travailleur Edition: current; Page: [xxxiii] (worker or laborer) and la classe des travailleurs (the working or laboring class). Bastiat also carefully distinguished between these two different expressions involving work or labor: le droit au travail (the right to work or the right to a job), which was advocated by the socialists, and le droit du travail (the right to engage in work), which was advocated by the free-market economists.
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Note on the Editions of the Œuvres complètes

The first edition of the Œuvres complètes appeared in 1854–55, consisting of six volumes.1 The second edition, which appeared in 1862–64, was an almost identical reprint of the first edition (with only minor typesetting differences) but was notable for the addition of a new, seventh volume, which contained additional essays, sketches, and correspondence.2 In addition, the second edition contained a preface by Prosper Paillottet and a biographical essay on Bastiat by Roger de Fontenay (“Notice sur la vie et les écrits de Frédéric Bastiat”), both of which were absent in the first edition.

While the second edition of the Œuvres complètes was being printed, a three-volume edition of Bastiat’s selected works, Œuvres choisies, appeared in 1863 using the same plates as the Œuvres complètes. Volumes 1 and 2 of the Œuvres choisies were reproductions of volumes 4 and 5 of the Œuvres complètes (containing Economic Sophisms First and Second Series and the Petits pamphlets), and volume 3 of the Œuvres choisies was the fourth edition of Economic Harmonies. Economic Harmonies appeared the following year (1864) as volume 6 of the Œuvres complètes and was called the fifth edition.

Another difference between the first and second editions was in the sixth volume, which contained Bastiat’s magnum opus, Economic Harmonies. The first edition of the Œuvres complètes described volume 6 as the “third revised and augmented edition” of Economic Harmonies. This is somewhat confusing but does have some logic to it. The “first” edition of Economic Harmonies Edition: current; Page: [xxxvi] appeared in 1850 during the last year of Bastiat’s life but in an incomplete form. The “second” edition appeared in 1851, after his death, edited by “La Société des amis de Bastiat” (most probably by Prosper Paillottet and Roger de Fontenay) and included the second half of the manuscript, which Bastiat had been working on when he died. Thus the edition that appeared in the first edition of the Œuvres complètes was called the “third” edition on its volume’s title page. As noted above, volume three of the Œuvres choisies, which appeared in 1863, included as volume 3 the fourth edition of the Economic Harmonies. When the second edition of the Œuvres complètes was published between 1862 and 1864, it included as volume 6 the fifth edition of Economic Harmonies (1864). This practice continued throughout the nineteenth century, with editions of Economic Harmonies staying in print as a separate volume as well as being included as volume 6 in later editions of the Œuvres complètes; thus, by 1870–73, when the third edition of the Œuvres complètes appeared, the version of Economic Harmonies that appeared in volume 6 was titled the “sixth” edition of the work.

Other “editions” of the Œuvres complètes include a fourth edition, 1878–79; a fifth edition, 1881–84; if there was a sixth edition, the date is unknown; a seventh edition, 1893; and a final edition may have appeared in 1907.3

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Works in This Volume

Economic Sophisms First Series ES1 I Introduction: Author’s Introduction ES1 1 Abundance and Scarcity ES1 2 Obstacle and Cause ES1 3 Effort and Result ES1 4 Equalizing the Conditions of Production ES1 5 Our Products Are Weighed Down with Taxes ES1 6 The Balance of Trade ES1 7 Petition by the Manufacturers of Candles, Etc. ES1 8 Differential Duties ES1 9 An Immense Discovery!!! ES1 10 Reciprocity ES1 11 Nominal Prices ES1 12 Does Protection Increase the Rate of Pay? ES1 13 Theory and Practice ES1 14 A Conflict of Principles ES1 15 More Reciprocity ES1 16 Blocked Rivers Pleading in Favor of the Prohibitionists ES1 17 A Negative Railway ES1 18 There Are No Absolute Principles ES1 19 National Independence ES1 20 Human Labor and Domestic Labor ES1 21 Raw Materials ES1 22 Metaphors ES1 C Conclusion
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Economic Sophisms Second Series ES2 1 The Physiology of Plunder ES2 2 Two Moral Philosophies ES2 3 The Two Axes ES2 4 The Lower Council of Labor ES2 5 High Prices and Low Prices ES2 6 To Artisans and Workers ES2 7 A Chinese Tale ES2 8 Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc ES2 9 Theft by Subsidy ES2 10 The Tax Collector ES2 11 The Utopian ES2 12 Salt, the Mail, and the Customs Service ES2 13 Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates ES2 14 Something Else ES2 15 The Free Trader’s Little Arsenal ES2 16 The Right Hand and the Left Hand ES2 17 Domination through Work
Economic Sophisms “Third Series ES3 1 Recipes for Protectionism ES3 2 Two Principles ES3 3 M. Cunin-Gridaine’s Logic ES3 4 One Profit versus Two Losses ES3 5 On Moderation ES3 6 The People and the Bourgeoisie ES3 7 Two Losses versus One Profit ES3 8 The Political Economy of the Generals ES3 9 A Protest ES3 10 The Spanish Association for the Defense of National Employment and the Bidassoa Bridge ES3 11 The Specialists ES3 12 The Man Who Asked Embarrassing Questions ES3 13 The Fear of a Word ES3 14 Anglomania, Anglophobia ES3 15 One Man’s Gain Is Another Man’s Loss ES3 16 Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill ES3 17 A Little Manual for Consumers; In Other Words, for Everyone ES3 18 The Mayor of Énios ES3 19 Antediluvian Sugar ES3 20 Monita Secreta: The Secret Book of Instructions ES3 21 The Immediate Relief of the People ES3 22 A Disastrous Remedy ES3 23 Circulars from a Government That Is Nowhere to Be Found ES3 24 Disastrous Illusions
What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen WSWNS [Author’s Introduction] WSWNS 1 The Broken Window WSWNS 2 Dismissing Members of the Armed Forces WSWNS 3 Taxes WSWNS 4 Theaters and the Fine Arts WSWNS 5 Public Works WSWNS 6 The Middlemen WSWNS 7 Trade Restrictions WSWNS 8 Machines WSWNS 9 Credit WSWNS 10 Algeria WSWNS 11 Thrift and Luxury WSWNS 12 The Right to Work and the Right to Profit

Other Works Referred to in This Volume

  • CW: The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat
    • CW1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
    • CW2: “The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850
  • DEP: Dictionnaire de l’économie politique. 2 vols. Paris: Librairie de Guillaumin et cie., 1852–53.
  • Economic Harmonies, FEE edition: Economic Harmonies. Translated by W. Hayden Boyers. Edited by George B. de Huszar. Introduction by Dean Russell. Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1994.
  • Economic Sophisms, FEE edition: Economic Sophisms (First and Second Edition: current; Page: [xl] Series). Translated and edited by Arthur Goddard. Introduction by Henry Hazlitt. Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1964.
  • JDE: Le Journal des économistes
  • OC: Œuvres complètes de Frédéric Bastiat
  • Selected Essays, FEE edition: Selected Essays on Political Economy. Translated by Seymour Cain. Edited by George B. de Huszar. Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1968.
  • WSWNS, FEE edition: What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen. In Selected Essays on Political Economy, translated by Seymour Cain and edited by George B. de Huszar; introduction by F.A. Hayek, 1–50. Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1995.
  • “Budget Papers” refers to the summary data on government revenue and expenditure provided by the editor in appendix 4.
Edition: current; Page: [xli]


In addition to the guidance of the general editor, Jacques de Guenin, this translation is the result of the efforts of a team comprising Jane and Michel Willems; Dr. Dennis O’Keeffe, Professor of Social Science at the University of Buckingham and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, who carefully read the translation and made very helpful suggestions at every stage; Dr. David M. Hart, Director of the Online Library of Liberty Project and Academic Editor of the Bastiat translation series at Liberty Fund, who supplied much of the scholarly apparatus and provided the translation with the insights of a historian of nineteenth-century European political economy; Professor Aurelian Craiutu, Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, who read the final translation and contributed his considerable knowledge of nineteenth-century French politics to this undertaking; and Dr. Laura Goetz, senior editor at Liberty Fund, who organized and coordinated the various aspects of the project from its inception through to production. This volume thus has all the strengths and all the weaknesses of a voluntary, collaborative effort. We hope Bastiat would approve, especially as no government official was involved at any stage.

It is with great sadness that we acknowledge here the deaths of two individuals who played a large role in the publication of The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat, namely the General Editor Jacques de Guenin and the Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe.

Jacques de Guenin, a retired French businessman, passed away in October 2015. He was instrumental in getting the Bastiat translation off the ground after it was first proposed at the bicentennial Bastiat Conference held in Mugron in 2001. It was he who organized the texts, arranged for the translation to be done, and wrote many of the footnotes and glossaries which accompany each volume. Unfortunately, he lived only long enough to see the first two volumes in print. In addition to working on Liberty Fund’s edition, Jacques also published the first French edition of Bastiat’s works in one hundred fifty Edition: current; Page: [xlii] years, as well as heading the Bastiat Cercle, which meets regularly in Bastiat’s home region to discuss topics which would have been of great interest to Bastiat as well. Jacques’s work in reviving interest in Bastiat’s economic and political ideas will be his lasting legacy.

The Translation Editor for the Bastiat project, the Anglo-Irish professor of sociology Dennis O’Keeffe, also passed away before the translation could be completed. He died in December 2014 after a long illness. Dennis translated two other works for Liberty Fund in addition to his work on Bastiat: Benjamin Constant’s Principles of Politics (2003) and Gustave de Molinari’s Evenings on the Rue Saint-Lazare (forthcoming). His wit and clever turn of phrase will be sorely missed.

It is with remembrance and thanks that we dedicate this volume to Jacques and Dennis.

Edition: current; Page: [xliii]

A Chronology of Bastiat’s Life and Work

1801 Born in Bayonne, 30 June. Grandfather establishes a trading business with his son Pierre and nephew Henri Monclar. 1808 Death of mother, 27 May. Trading business in Spain suffers difficulties. Moves to Mugron with father, grandfather, and Aunt Justine. 1810 Death of father, 1 July. Closing of the Bastiat-Monclar trading business. 1812 Attends school run by the Abbot Meilhan in Bayonne. 1813 Attends College of Saint-Sever for one year. 1814–18 Attends school at Sorèze. Does not graduate. Forms a close friendship with Victor Calmètes. 1819–25 Works in Bayonne for his Uncle Monclar and assists his grandfather in running a farm at Souprosse in the Landes (estate called “Sengresse”). Joins a Masonic lodge, La Zélée. Becomes a garde des sceaux in 1822 and an orateur in 1823. Participates in a demonstration of young liberals in support of Jacques Laffite, September 1824. Gives lectures on literary, religious, philosophical, and economic topics. 1825–30 Death of grandfather, 13 August. Inherits part of his estate. Attempts unsuccessfully to modernize the practices of his tenants on his estate. Expresses a desire to write on the protectionist system in France. 1830 Participates in protests in Bayonne in favor of the new regime (the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe), 3–5 August. Visits Bayonne garrison and successfully persuades the officers to support the revolution, 5 August. 1831 Marries Marie Clotilde Hiart, 7 February. Separates soon after; uses her dowry to expand his estate. Appointed justice of the peace in the canton of Mugron, 28 May. Unsuccessfully stands for election to the legislature of the arrondissement of Dax, 6 July. 1832 Unsuccessfully stands for election to the legislature in the arrondissement of Saint-Sever, 11 July. 1833 Elected to the General Council of the Landes, 17 November. 1837 Publishes five articles on a proposed canal next to the Ardour River. 1838 Publishes two articles on the Basque language. 1839 Reelected to the General Council of the Landes, 24 November. 1840 Travels to Spain and Portugal to explore setting up an insurance business. 1841 Has plans to create an “Association for the Defense of Viticultural Interests” and a journal to be called Le Midi (these do not come to fruition). 1842 Unsuccessfully stands for election to the legislature in the arrondissement of Saint-Sever, 9 July. 1843 Writes “Mémoire on the Viticulture Question,” 22 January. Plans to create a school for sharecroppers. Publishes three articles on “Free Trade. State of the Question in England” in La Sentinelle des Pyrénées, May / June. 1844 Publishes his first major essay in the JDE: “On the Influence of French and English Tariffs on the Future of the Two Peoples,” October. Begins corresponding with Richard Cobden, 24 November. Tells him he would like to start his own free-trade association in France. 1845 A dinner held in his honor by the Political Economy Society to welcome him to Paris, May. Travels to London, where he is met with enthusiasm by members of the Anti–Corn Law League, July. Publishes his first books: Cobden and the League (July 1845) and Economic Sophisms (First Series), November. Supports de Larnac, the center-left candidate to the local legislature, August–September. Joins the Society for Political Economy and begins attending their monthly meetings when in Paris. Offered editorship of JDE but turns it down. 1846 Elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, 24 January. Cofounder of the Free Trade Association in Bordeaux, 23 February. 10 May, National Association for Free Trade is formed in Paris, and Bastiat is made the secretary of the Advisory Board. Other Associations are established in Marseilles, Lyon, and Le Havre. Dinner in Paris to celebrate political victory of Cobden and the Anti–Corn Law League, 18 August. Speaks at free-trade meetings in Bordeaux (23 February) and Paris (29 September). Appearance of first issue of the weekly journal Le Libre-échange, 29 November. Resigns his position as justice of the peace in Mugron, 30 November. Debates with Lamartine and the editors of L’Atelier and Le Moniteur industriel. Publishes many articles on free trade in a number of journals. 1847 Chamber considers bill to liberalize tariffs and sends it to a committee dominated by protectionists, March to July. Begins lecturing on political economy at the School of Law in Paris, 3 July. Debates throughout the year with protectionists. 1848 Publication of Economic Sophisms (Second Series), 5 January. Gives up the editorship of Le Libre-échange for reasons of health, 13 February. Witnesses rioting in the streets of Paris and the killing of protesters by the army, 23–25 February. Publication of La République française, 26 February. Elected deputy in the Constituent Assembly representing the département of the Landes, 23 April. Appointed vice president of the Finance Committee. Nominated to the Chamber’s commission of inquiry into labor, May. Speech in the Chamber on free trade and against subsidies to the textile industry, 9 June. Publication of Jacques Bonhomme, 11 June. “June Days” uprising sparked by the closure of the National Workshops, 23–26 June. Votes against trying socialist Louis Blanc for his role in the “June Days” uprising, 26 August. Gives a speech in the Chamber in favor of postal reform, 24 August. Visits Cobden in England to talk about disarmament, September. Reelected to General Council of the Landes, September. Votes for new constitution and supports General Cavaignac for president, 4 November. 1849 Invited to banquet in Manchester to celebrate the final repeal of the Corn Laws but declines because of poor health and parliamentary duties, 9 January. Gives a speech in the Chamber on free trade and ending restriction on the importation of salt, 11 January. Gives a speech in the Chamber in support of legislation to prevent civil servants sitting as deputies in the Chamber, 10 March. Supports motion opposing expedition of French troops to Rome. Elected deputy in the Legislative Assembly representing the Landes on the “Social Democratic” list, 13 May. Attends Peace Congress in Paris presided over by Victor Hugo and gives a speech on “Disarmament and Taxes,” 22–24 August. Debate with Proudhon on credit and interest in La Voix du peuple, 22 October. Attends a Friends of Peace meeting in Bradford, England, 30 October. Gives speech in the Chamber supporting freedom to form trade unions and other associations, 17 November. Gives speech in the Chamber on free trade and the tax on alcohol, 12 December. 1850 Organizes campaign against the Falloux Law on education, 6 February. Last participation in Chamber of Deputies, 9 February. Death of wife, 10 February. Publication of the first (incomplete) part of Economic Harmonies, 1 February. Completes debate with Proudhon, which is published as Free Credit, 7 March. Returns to Mugron for rest, May. Publication of “The Law,” June. Publication of WSWNS, July. Attends a last meeting of the Political Economy Society to say farewell to his colleagues, 10 September. Departs for Rome. Dies in Rome, 24 December.

A list of the works of Bastiat is available on the Online Library of Liberty website, It is kept up to date as each volume is published.

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One man’s gain is another man’s loss.


Let me speak of a standard sophism, one that is the very root of a host of sophisms, one that is like a polyp which you can cut into a thousand pieces only to see it produce a thousand more sophisms, a sophism that offends alike against humanity, Christianity, and logic, a sophism that is a Pandora’s box from which have poured out all the ills of the human race, in the form of hatred, mistrust, jealousy, war, conquest, and oppression, and from which no hope can spring.

O you, Hercules, who strangled Cacus! You, Theseus, who killed the Minotaur! You, Apollo, who killed Python the serpent! I ask you all to lend me your strength, your club and your arrows, so that I can destroy the monster that has been arming men against one another for six thousand years!

Alas, there is no club capable of crushing a sophism. It is not given to arrows, nor even to bayonets, to pierce a proposition. All the cannons in Europe gathered at Waterloo could not eliminate an entrenched idea from the hearts of nations. No more could they efface an error. This task is reserved for the least weighty of all weapons, the very symbol of weightlessness, the pen.

bastiat, “one man’s gain is another man’s loss” (es3 15)

With his pen in hand, Frédéric Bastiat burst onto the Parisian political economy scene in October 1844 with the publication of his first major article, “De l’influence des tarifs français et anglais sur l’avenir des deux peuples” (On the Influence of French and English Tariffs on the Future of the Two Peoples) Edition: current; Page: [l] in Le Journal des économistes.1 This proved to be a sensation, and he was welcomed with open arms by the Parisian political economists as one of their own. This was followed soon after by Bastiat’s first visit to Paris and then England in order to meet Richard Cobden and other leaders of the Anti–Corn Law League. Bastiat’s book Cobden and the League appeared in 1845. The book was Bastiat’s attempt to explain to the French people the meaning and significance of the Anti–Corn Law League by means of a lengthy introduction and his translation of key speeches and newspaper articles by members of the League.2

It was in this context that Bastiat wrote a series of articles explicitly called “Economic Sophisms” for the April, July, and October 1845 issues of Le Journal des économistes. These became the first half of what was to appear in January 1846 as Economic Sophisms (First Series). As articles continued to pour from Bastiat’s pen during 1846 and 1847 and were published in his own free-trade journal, Le Libre-échange (founded 29 November 1846 and closed 16 April 1848), and in Le Journal des économistes, he soon amassed enough material to publish a second volume of Economic Sophisms, called naturally enough, Economic Sophisms (Second Series), in January 1848, just one month before the outbreak of the 1848 Revolution in Paris. As Bastiat’s literary executor and friend Prosper Paillottet noted in a footnote in the Œuvres complètes, which he edited, there was even enough material for a third series compiled from the short articles which had appeared between 1846 and 1848 in various organs such as Le Libre-échange, had Bastiat lived long enough to get them ready for publication. We have included this material in this volume as Economic Sophisms “Third Series.”

Thus, with Liberty Fund’s edition of Bastiat’s Collected Works we have been able to do what he and Paillottet were not able to do, namely, gather in one volume all seventy-five of Bastiat’s actual and possible Economic Sophisms. The selection criteria for the additional material were similarity to the other sophisms in style (short, witty, sarcastic, sometimes in dialog form) and in seeking to debunk widely held but false economic ideas (or “fallacies” or “sophisms”). We also include in this volume the pamphlet What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, which is also very much in the same style and format as the sophisms. We do not think Bastiat would mind our doing so.

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The Format of the Economic Sophisms

The Economic Sophisms in this volume were written over a period of five years, stretching from mid-1845 to mid-1850 (the year in which What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen was published a few months before Bastiat’s death). In writing these essays Bastiat used a variety of formats, which are listed below:

  • 1. Conversations, or “constructed” dialogues, between individuals who represented different points of view.
  • 2. Stand-alone economic tales and fables.
  • 3. Fictional letters and petitions to government officials and other documents.
  • 4. More formal or academic prose.
  • 5. Direct appeals to the workers and citizens of France.

These five different formats reveal the wide range of Bastiat’s writing, from informal to academic, and the equally wide range of audiences he was trying to reach in presenting his ideas. Whether he was appealing to prospective members of the French Free Trade Association, manufacturers who belonged to the protectionist Association for the Defense of National Employment, or workers rioting on the streets of Paris in February 1848, Bastiat believed that all would respond to his efforts to defend free trade and individual liberty.

Bastiat was quite innovative in his use of some of these formats and may have even invented one. His use of the “constructed dialogue” between an advocate of free trade and a skeptic can be traced back to earlier writings by Harriet Martineau, and his use of the “economic tale” can be traced back to the fables of La Fontaine, although his insertion of economic principles is probably unique to him. More original are his small plays3 in which he develops economic arguments at some length over several “acts” with characters like Jacques Bonhomme, the French “everyman,” who appears frequently in his stories. However, his most original invention is the use of Robinson Crusoe4 (and sometimes Friday) in a kind of “thought experiment,” which is used to illustrate the deeper underlying principles of economic theory, or what one might call “the pure theory of choice.” In these stories he discusses Edition: current; Page: [lii] the options facing Crusoe in choosing how to use his scarce resources and limited time, what is most urgent for him to do now, how will he survive if he wants to do something other than finding food, how does he maintain his capital stock of tools, and so on. Although this argument is standard modern textbook material today, it is possible that Bastiat used it for the first time in some of his sophisms.

The most appropriate style to use when writing the sophisms was something Bastiat could never settle on, whether he should use the amusing and satirical style for which he had a certain flair, or something more serious and formal. Bastiat was stung by a critical review of the First Series, which accused him of being too stiff and too formal, and so he was determined to make the Second Series more lighthearted and amusing. Yet during the course of 1847, when he was compiling the next collection of sophisms, which were to appear in January 1848, the defeat of the free traders in the Chamber by a better-organized protectionist lobby and the rising power of socialist groups on the eve of the Revolution of February 1848 led him to declare that the time for witty and clever stories was over and that more difficult times called for the use of “blunt” and perhaps even “brutal” language. Thus he oscillated between the two different approaches, never being able to decide which was better for his purposes. This is no better illustrated than in the turmoil he experienced when he was writing What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, which he lost once and rewrote twice, tossing one draft into the fire because it was too serious in style.

The Benthamite Origins of Bastiat’s Critique of Sophisms and Fallacies

It is interesting to ask where Bastiat got the idea of writing short, pithy essays for a popular audience in which he debunked misconceptions (“sophisms” or “fallacies”) about the operations of the free market in general and of free trade in particular.

The most likely source is Bentham’s Handbook of Political Fallacies (1824), which had originally appeared in French, edited by Étienne Dumont, in 1816 with the title Traité des sophismes politiques.5 Bastiat was an admirer of Bentham Edition: current; Page: [liii] and chose two passages from Bentham’s Théorie des peines et des récompenses (1811) as the opening quotation for both the First and Second Series of Economic Sophisms. In the opening paragraph of this work Bentham offers the following definition of “fallacy,” which Bastiat shared:

By the name of fallacy it is common to designate any argument employed or topic suggested for the purpose, or with the probability of producing the effect of deception, or of causing some erroneous opinion to be entertained by any person to whose mind such an argument may have been presented.6

Bentham’s purpose in categorizing and discussing the varieties of political fallacies which he had identified was to expose “the semantics of persuasion”7 used by conservative political groups to delay or prevent much-needed political reforms. Bentham organized his critique around the main sets of arguments which facilitated “the art of deception”8 and which caused a “hydra of sophistries”9 that permitted “pernicious practices and institutions to be retained.”10 “Reason,” on the other hand, was the “instrument”11 which would enable the reformer to create this new “good government” by a process of logical analysis and classification. As he stated:

To give existence to good arguments was the object of the former work [the Theory of Legislation]; to provide for the exposure of bad ones is the object of the present one—to provide for the exposure of their real nature, and hence for the destruction of their pernicious force. Sophistry is a hydra of which, if all the necks could be exposed, the force would be destroyed. In Edition: current; Page: [liv] this work, they have been diligently looked out for, and in the course of it the principal and most active of them have been brought in view.12

Bastiat shared Bentham’s view of “deception” as an ideological weapon used by powerful vested interests to protect their political and economic privileges. Bastiat saw that his task in writing the Sophisms was to enlighten “the dupes” who had been misled by la ruse, or the “trickery,” “fraud,” and “cunning” of the powerful beneficiaries of tariff protection and state subsidies.

Bentham recognized a variety of “sophistries” (or “sophisms”) which allowed pernicious government to protect itself from reform, but he believed that they all could be categorized into four classes based on the purpose or strategy the sophistry was designed to promote: the fallacies of authority, the fallacies of danger, the fallacies of delay, and the fallacies of confusion.13 Arguments from “authority” were designed to intimidate and hence repress the individual from reasoning through things himself; arguments about “imminent danger” were designed to frighten the would-be reformer with the supposed negative consequences of any change; arguments which urged caution and “delay” were designed to postpone discussion of reform until it could be ignored or forgotten; and arguments designed to promote “confusion” in the minds of reformers and their supporters were designed to make it difficult or impossible to form a correct judgment on the matter at hand.14

Bastiat, on the other hand, categorized the types of sophisms he was opposing along the lines of the particular social or political class interests the sophisms were designed to protect. Thus he recognized “theocratic sophisms,” “economic sophisms,” “political sophisms,” and “financial sophisms,” which were designed to protect the interests (the “legal plunder”) of the established Church; the Crown, the aristocracy, and elected political officials; the economic groups who benefited from protection and subsidies; and the bankers and debt holders of the government, respectively.15 Bastiat planned to address this broad range of “sophisms” in a book he never completed.16 Edition: current; Page: [lv] What he did have time to complete were two volumes exposing one of these sets of sophisms, namely “economic sophisms.”

Thus, it is quite likely that Bentham’s writing was the inspiration not only for the name “sophismes” (which is how Dumont translated Bentham’s term “fallacies” for the French edition) for the title of Bastiat’s essays and books, but also for his adoption of a purpose similar to Bentham’s, namely, to debunk “any argument employed which causes some erroneous opinion to be entertained by any person to whose mind such an argument may have been presented.” Furthermore, whereas Bentham focused on “political fallacies” used by opponents of political reforms, Bastiat’s interest was in exposing “economic fallacies” which were used to prevent reform of the policies of government taxation, subsidies to industry, and most especially protection of domestic industry via tariffs.17

Whereas Bentham uses relentless reasoning and classification to make his points, Bastiat uses other methods, such as humor, his reductio ad absurdum approach to his opponents’ arguments, and his many references to classical French literature, popular song, and poetry. Nevertheless, Bastiat’s modification of Bentham’s rhetorical strategy seems to describe Bastiat’s agenda and method in opposing the ideas of the protectionists in France in the mid-1840s quite nicely, and shows the considerable influence Bentham had on Bastiat’s general approach to identifying and debunking “fallacies.”

Bastiat on Enlightening the “Dupes” about the Nature of Plunder

Had Bastiat lived longer, he would have written at least two more books: the first to complete his main theoretical work on political economy, Economic Harmonies, which he left half-finished at his death; the second, on the history of plunder. The latter was mentioned by Paillottet as something that was very much on Bastiat’s mind in his last days in Rome on the eve of his death. Paillottet quotes Bastiat:

A very important task to be done for political economy is to write the history of plunder [la spoliation]. It is a long history Edition: current; Page: [lvi] in which, from the outset, there appeared conquests, the migrations of peoples, invasions, and all the disastrous excesses of force in conflict with justice. Living traces of all this still remain today and cause great difficulty for the solution of the questions raised in our century. We will not reach this solution as long as we have not clearly noted in what and how injustice, when making a place for itself among us, has gained a foothold in our customs and our laws.18

Perhaps realizing that his time was limited and that it was unlikely he could achieve his ambitious goals, Bastiat inserted the few sketches he had about the theory of plunder at the end of the First Series (dated 2 November 1845) and at the beginning of the Second Series (which appeared in January 1848). These sketches sit rather awkwardly with his other sophisms and look as if they were added at a late stage in the editing,19 as if Bastiat wanted to provide a broader theoretical framework for his sophisms which otherwise was lacking. Thus the “Conclusion” to the First Series and the first two chapters of the Second Series, “The Physiology of Plunder” (ES2 1) and “Two Moral Philosophies” (ES2 2), along with a few scattered remarks in footnotes in Economic Harmonies, can be seen as the theoretical excursus I think they are.20

In “Monita Secreta: The Secret Book of Instruction” (ES3 20), Bastiat wrote a satirical “guidebook for rulers” on how to go about deceiving (or duping) the consumers and undermining the lobbying efforts of the advocates of free trade, such as himself. There is a slight bitterness in some of his Edition: current; Page: [lvii] remarks, as they obviously were based on what he observed going on in the Chamber of Deputies when a free-trade bill was before the Chamber and which the advocates of protection were able to have defeated in committee between April and July 1847. This is where Bastiat’s job begins. As he states at the end of the First Series, the “sophistry” used by the ruling elite to hide their plundering ways must be exposed by economists like him so that the people will no longer be duped:

But at least in civilized nations, the men who produce the wealth have become sufficiently numerous and strong to defend it. Is this to say that they are no longer dispossessed? Not at all; they are just as dispossessed as ever and, what is more, they mutually dispossess each other.

Only, the thing which promotes it has changed; it is no longer by force but by fraud that public wealth can be seized.

In order to steal from the public, it is first necessary to deceive them. To deceive them it is necessary to persuade them that they are being robbed for their own good; it is to make them accept imaginary services and often worse in exchange for their possessions. This gives rise to sophistry. Theocratic sophistry, economic sophistry, political sophistry, and financial sophistry. Therefore, ever since force has been held in check, sophistry has been not only a source of harm, it has been the very essence of harm. It must in its turn be held in check. And to do this the public must become cleverer than the clever, just as it has become stronger than the strong.21

He believed it was highly unlikely that the powerful beneficiaries of state-organized “legal plunder” would give up their privileges voluntarily, so they needed to be persuaded by one or both of the “Two Moral Philosophies” (ES2 2) which were at hand. He was doubtful that “religious morality” would be strong enough for the task, but he believed that political economy had the tools required to bring the system of plunder to an end:

Let religious morality therefore touch the hearts of the Tartuffes, the Caesars, the colonists, sinecurists, and monopolists, etc. if it can. The task of political economy is to enlighten their dupes.

Edition: current; Page: [lviii]

Which of these two procedures works more effectively toward social progress? Do we have to spell it out? I believe it is the second. I fear that humanity cannot escape the necessity of first learning a defensive moral philosophy.

No matter how much I look, whatever I read or observe and whatever the questions I ask, I cannot find any abuse carried out on anything like a wide scale that has been destroyed through the voluntary renunciation of those benefiting from it.

On the other hand, I have found many that have been overcome by the active resistance of those suffering from them.

Describing the consequences of abuse is therefore the most effective way of destroying it. And how true this is, especially when it concerns abuses like protectionism, which, while inflicting genuine harm on the masses, nurture only illusion and disappointment in those who believe they are benefiting from them.22

Thus it was to begin enlightening “the dupes” about the real circumstances of their oppression by the organized plunderers that Bastiat used his pen, dipped in a mixture of angry denunciation and witty satire and devastating humor.

Bastiat’s Rhetoric of Liberty: Satire and the “Sting of Ridicule”

Bastiat’s goals in organizing a French free-trade movement, engaging in popular economic journalism, and standing for election can be summarized as follows: to expose the bad effects of government intervention in the economy; to uproot preconceived and incorrect economic ideas; to arouse a sense of injustice at the immoral actions of the government and its favored elites; to create “justified mistrust among the oppressed masses” of the beneficiaries of government privilege; and to open the eyes and stiffen the resistance of “the dupes” of government policies. The problem he faced was discovering the best way to achieve this for a popular audience who were gullible about the government’s professed motives in regulating the economy and who were largely ignorant of economic theory.

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A major problem Bastiat is acutely aware of is that political economy had a justified reputation for being “dry and dull,”23 and it was this reputation that Bastiat wanted to overcome with the style he adopted in the Sophisms. The issue was how to be appealing to popular readers whom he believed had become “the dupes” of those benefiting from the system of legal plunder. The means Bastiat adopted to achieve his political goals was to write in a style which ordinary people would find appealing, amusing, and convincing, and an analysis of the devices he used in composing his Sophisms reveals the great pains Bastiat took in trying to do this.

The style and the rhetorical devices Bastiat used in the individual sophisms show considerable variety and skill in their construction. Bastiat has been justly recognized for his excellent style by economists such as Friedrich Hayek and the historian of economic thought Joseph Schumpeter, but his methodology has not been studied in any detail. Schumpeter described Bastiat in very mixed terms as a brilliant economic journalist but as “no theorist” at all:

Admired by sympathizers, reviled by opponents, his name might have gone down to posterity as the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived. . . . I do not hold that Bastiat was a bad theorist. I hold that he was no theorist.24

Friedrich Hayek seems to agree with Schumpeter that Bastiat was not a major theorist but that he was “a publicist of genius” who did pioneering work in exposing economic fallacies held by the general public.25 Nevertheless, Schumpeter did acknowledge a key aspect of Bastiat’s style, noting that “[a] series of Sophismes économiques followed, whose pleasant wit . . . has ever since been the delight of many.” However, some contemporary economists reject this view and see Bastiat as fundamentally challenging the classical school of economics by attempting to go beyond its theoretical limitations, especially concerning Malthusian population theory (Bastiat believed that technological innovation and free markets would enable people to break free of the Malthusian trap) and the Ricardian theory of rent (Bastiat believed there was nothing especially productive about land and that it was just another form of an exchange of “service for service” as was profit and interest).

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His innovations in a number of areas suggest that had he lived long enough to complete Economic Harmonies he might have taken his insights into subjective value theory (predating the Marginal Revolution of the 1870s by twenty years) and public choice theory about the behavior of political actors (predating the work of James Buchanan and others by over a hundred years), into realms that were much ahead of their time.

A list of the rhetorical devices used by Bastiat in the Sophisms shows the breadth and complexity of what one might call his “rhetoric of liberty,” which he formulated to expose the follies of the policies of the ruling elite and their system of “legal plunder” and to undermine their authority and legitimacy with “the sting of ridicule”:

  • 1. A standard prose format which one would normally encounter in a newspaper.
  • 2. The single authorial voice in the form of a personal conversation with the reader.
  • 3. A serious, constructed dialogue between stock figures who represented different viewpoints (in this Bastiat was influenced by Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau; Gustave de Molinari continued Bastiat’s format in some of his writings in the late 1840s and 1850s).
  • 4. Satirical “official” letters or petitions to government officials or ministers, and other fabricated documents written by Bastiat (in these Bastiat would usually use a reductio ad absurdum argument to mock his opponents’ arguments).
  • 5. The use of Robinson Crusoe “thought experiments” to make serious economic points or arguments in a more easily understandable format.
  • 6. “Economic tales” modeled on the works of classic French authors, such as La Fontaine’s fables and Andrieux’s short stories.26
  • 7. Parodies of well-known scenes from French literature, such as Molière’s plays.
  • 8. Quoting scenes of plays where the playwright mocks the pretensions of aspiring bourgeois who want to act like the nobles who disdain commerce (e.g., Molière, Beaumarchais).Edition: current; Page: [lxi]
  • 9. Quoting poems with political content, such as Horace’s ode on the transience of tyrants.
  • 10. Quoting satirical songs about the foolish or criminal behavior of kings or emperors (such as Napoléon). Bastiat seems to be familiar with the world of the goguettiers (political song writers, especially Béranger) and their interesting sociological world of drinking and singing clubs.
  • 11. The use of jokes and puns (such as the names he gave to characters in his dialogues [Mr. Blockhead], or place names [Stulta and Puera], and puns on words such as Highville and gaucherie).

Our study of Bastiat’s Sophisms reveals a well-read man who was familiar with classic French literature, contemporary songs and poems, and opera. The sheer number and range of materials which Bastiat was able to draw upon in his writings is very impressive. It not only includes the classics of political economy in the French, Spanish, Italian, and English languages but also a very wide collection of modern French literature which includes the following: fables and fairy tales by La Fontaine and Perrault; plays by Molière, Beaumarchais, Victor Hugo, Regnard, Désaugiers, and Collin d’Harleville; songs and poems by Béranger and Depraux, short stories by Andrieux, odes by Horace, operas by Rossini, poems by Boileau-Despréaux and Viennet, and satires by Courier de Méré. The plays of Molière were Bastiat’s favorite literary source from which to quote, and he used Le Tartuffe, ou l’imposteur (Tartuffe, or the Imposter, 1664), Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope, 1666), L’Avare (The Miser, 1668), Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-Be Gentleman, 1670), and Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid, or the Hypochondriac, 1673).

Sometimes Bastiat goes beyond quoting a famous scene from a well-known classic work and adapts it for his own purposes by rewriting it as a parody. A good example of this is Molière’s parody of the granting of a degree of doctor of medicine in the last play he wrote, Le malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid, or the Hypochondriac), from which Bastiat quotes in “Theft by Subsidy” (ES2 9). Molière is suggesting that doctors in the seventeenth century were quacks who did more harm to their patients than good, as this translation of his dog Latin clearly suggests:

  • I give and grant you
  • Power and authority to Practice medicine,
  • Purge,
  • Edition: current; Page: [lxii]
  • Bleed,
  • Stab,
  • Hack,
  • Slash,
  • and Kill
  • With impunity
  • Throughout the whole world.27

Bastiat takes Molière’s Latin and writes his own pseudo-Latin, this time with the purpose of mocking French tax collectors. In his parody Bastiat is suggesting that government officials, tax collectors, and customs officials were thieves who did more harm to the economy than good, so Bastiat writes a mock “swearing in” oath which he thinks they should use to induct new officials into government service:

  • I give to you and I grant
  • virtue and power
  • to steal
  • to plunder
  • to filch
  • to swindle
  • to defraud
  • At will, along this whole
  • road

If a pattern emerges from the examples cited above, it is that Bastiat likes to use literary references to show his readers that economic issues need not be “dry and dull” and to help him expose the nature of politicians and the political and economic power they wield. Thus in a witty and clever way he induces readers to share his disdain for those who misuse their power and, through this unfiltered view of reality, to no longer think like “dupes.”

The Sophisms also reveal a man who has a very good sense of humor and an understanding of how humor can be used for political purposes as well as to make political economy less “dry and dull” for average readers. Sprinkled throughout the Sophisms are Bastiat’s own jokes, plays on words, and puns. For example, in “The Tax Collector” (ES2 10), Bastiat creates a dialogue Edition: current; Page: [lxiii] between Jacques Bonhomme (a wine producer like Bastiat himself) and a tax collector, a M. “Lasouche.” Lasouche is a made-up name which Bastiat creates to poke fun at his adversaries. In the FEE edition,28 “M. Lasouche” is translated as “Mr. Clodpate.” Since “la souche” means a tree stump, log, or plant stock, we thought “Mr. Blockhead” might be appropriate in our new translation.

It is interesting to speculate whether the strategy of using irony, sarcasm, parody, mockery, puns, and other forms of humor in Bastiat’s writing was an explicit and deliberate one, or one that just naturally arose out of his jovial personality. A clue comes from material written soon after the appearance of the First Series of Economic Sophisms. In an article in Le Journal des économistes of January 1846, “Theft by Subsidy” (later to become ES2 9), he opens with the following testy remarks:

People find my small volume of Sophisms too theoretical, scientific, and metaphysical. So be it. Let us try a superficial, banal, and, if necessary, brutal style. Since I am convinced that the general public are easily taken in as far as protection is concerned, I wanted to prove it to them. They prefer to be shouted at. So let us shout:

Midas, King Midas has ass’s ears! [In other words, the emperor has no clothes.]

An explosion of plain speaking often has more effect than the politest circumlocutions. Do you remember Oronte and the difficulty that the Misanthropist, as misanthropic as he is, has in convincing him of his folly?29

It seems that he was stung by some critical reviews of the First Series as “too theoretical, scientific, and metaphysical” and thus failing to achieve his major aim, which was to appeal to a broader popular audience. As a result he may well have decided deliberately to use more sarcasm, humor, and parody in future Sophisms. The essay “Theft by Subsidy” was unusually angry and bitter for Bastiat, as it contained some strong words about the need to call a spade a spade (or appeller un chat un chat, as the French would say) regardless of the sensitivities of common opinion; in this case he wanted to call most Edition: current; Page: [lxiv] government policies a form of theft and the protectionist system in France a form of “mutual theft”:30

Frankly, my good people, you are being robbed. That is plain speaking, but at least it is clear.

The words theft, to steal, and thief seem to many people to be in bad taste. Echoing the words of Harpagon to Elise, I ask them: Is it the word or the thing that makes you afraid?31

Bastiat’s Invention of “Crusoe Economics”

Modern readers of economics do not find it strange when an economist uses “thought experiments” to help simplify and clarify complex economic arguments. Members of the Austrian school resort to this process as a matter of course because it helps them establish the logic of “human action” which every economic actor must face when making decisions about what to produce or what to exchange. Bastiat, too, found it helpful to offer thought experiments that used the fictional figure of Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked on his Island of Despair, to show the obstacles he needed to overcome in order to achieve some level of prosperity, the opportunity costs of using his time on one task rather than another, the need to deprive himself of some comforts in order to accumulate some savings, and (when Friday and visitors from other islands appear on the scene) the benefits of the division of labor and the nature of comparative advantage in trade.

The relative simplicity of the choices Crusoe had to make (first just one person and then two with the arrival of Friday) makes this a useful device for economists when making “thought experiments” to illustrate basic economic principles, and Bastiat is one of the first economists (perhaps even the first) to make extensive use of “Crusoe economics” to do so. In a search of the economic works in the Online Library of Liberty32 for references to “Robinson Crusoe” in works written before 1847, we find that there are no references at all in the works of Adam Smith, in J.-B. Say’s Treatise on Political Economy, or in the works of David Ricardo. There are only single references scattered across the writings of economists who were writing in the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s, such as Jeremy Bentham, Jane Marcet, Thomas Babbington Edition: current; Page: [lxv] Macaulay, Richard Whately, and Thomas Hodgskin, and none of them uses the Robinson Crusoe analogy to express serious economic ideas. Whately firmly rejected the use of Crusoe in any discussion of the nature of political economy because in his view the study of economics was the study of “exchanges” and, since Crusoe did not engage in any exchanges, he was “in a situation of which Political-Economy takes no cognizance.”33 Thus, Bastiat’s extensive use of “Crusoe economics” between 1847 and 1850 may well be an original contribution to economic reasoning.34

Bastiat may have read Daniel Defoe’s novel The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner (1719) in English, but he would also have had access to several translations into French: one in 1817, one in 1827, one in 1836, and one in 1837. One of the translations which appeared in that year was by the romantic writer Pétrus Borel, who wrote, under the nom de plume of “Wolfman,” several stories published in the journal Le Commerce, which may have brought him to Bastiat’s attention.35 The second translation of 1837 was by the poet Mme Amable Tastu (1798–1885) and included a glowing essay on Defoe by the economist Louis Reybaud, who was known to Bastiat.36 Reybaud did not directly discuss the economic aspects of the Crusoe story but instead focused on the political and moral aspects of Defoe’s interesting and varied life. This makes Bastiat’s use of the economic predicament of Robinson Crusoe as an aid to thinking about economic decision making even more remarkable for its originality.

Bastiat uses Crusoe to make his points in both Economic Sophisms and Economic Harmonies.37 In an unpublished outline or sketch written sometime Edition: current; Page: [lxvi] in 1847, “Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill” (ES3 16), Bastiat uses Robinson Crusoe for the first time to simplify the economic arguments for free trade and provides an excellent statement of his methodology:

Let us run off to the island to see the poor shipwrecked sailor. Let us see him in action. Let us examine the motives, the purpose, and the consequences of his actions. We will not learn everything there, in particular not those things that relate to the distribution of wealth in a society of many people, but we will glimpse the basic facts. We will observe general laws in their simplest form of action, and political economy is there in essence.

Let us apply this method to just a few problems. . . .

In “Something Else” (ES2 14), Bastiat, as he often does, has created a conversation between two intellectual opponents (in this case a protectionist and a free trader) where the protectionist asks the free trader to explain the effects of protectionism. The free trader replies, “That is not easy. Before moving on to complicated examples, we would have to study it in its simplest form,” and launches into a discussion of how Crusoe made a plank of wood without a saw. After two weeks of intense labor chipping away at a log with an axe, Crusoe finally has his plank (and a blunt axe). The free trader then presents an alternative scenario: what if Crusoe had not commenced making his plank and saw that the tide had washed ashore a proper saw-cut plank (the new plank is an obvious reference to a cheaper overseas import which the protectionists believed would harm the national French economy). Bastiat puts some protectionist notions into Crusoe’s head, and Crusoe concludes that he can make more labor for himself (and therefore be better off according to the protectionists’ theory) if he pushes the plank back out to sea. The free trader exposes this economic sophism by saying that there is something that is “not seen” by the protectionist at first glance, namely, “Did Robinson not see that the time he saved he could devote to doing something else?

Bastiat then raises the level of complexity in his economic arguments by introducing a second and then a third person on Crusoe’s island. With the introduction of a second person, Friday, Crusoe now has someone with whom he can cooperate. They can pool their resources, plan their economic activities, develop a simple form of the division of labor, and even trade with each other. When a third person arrives from another island and proposes a Edition: current; Page: [lxvii] trading relationship whereby Crusoe and Friday trade their vegetables for the visitor’s game, Bastiat now can explore the benefits of international comparative advantage in trade. Bastiat uses this three-way conversation to make his points. Interestingly, he gives the European Crusoe the protectionist arguments; the native islander Friday is given the domestic free-trade arguments, and the visitor becomes an advocate of international free trade.

Bastiat’s Political Sophisms

Bastiat also wrote what might be called “political sophisms” in order to debunk fallacies of a political nature, especially concerning electoral politics and the ability of political leaders to initiate fundamental reforms. He had hinted in the “Conclusion” to the First Series that he had more in mind than the debunking of economic sophisms. He explicitly mentions four specific types of sophistry: theocratic, economic, political, and financial sophistry. Bastiat devoted most of his efforts to exposing economic sophisms, mentioning theocratic and financial sophisms only in passing if at all. He did, however, write a number of political sophisms which will be briefly discussed here.

The “economic” and “political” sophisms are closely related in Bastiat’s mind because the advocates of protectionism were able to get special privileges only because they controlled the Chamber of Deputies and the various councils which advised the government on economic policy. Bastiat wrote five sophisms which can be categorized as political sophisms. One he explicitly called “Electoral Sophisms” (undated but probably written during 1847), which is a Benthamite listing of the kinds of false arguments people give for why they might prefer voting for one candidate over another. Another is called “The Elections” (also written sometime in 1847) and is a dialogue in which a “countryman” (a farmer) argues with a political writer, a parish priest, and an electoral candidate.38

Two of the sophisms which appear in this volume, although they focus on significant economic issues, also deal with political matters and thus can be regarded as political sophisms. In “The Tax Collector” (ES2 10, ca. 1847) an amusing and somewhat convoluted discussion about the nature of political representation takes place between Jacques Bonhomme and a tax collector, wickedly called “Mr. Blockhead.” Bonhomme is merely confused by the Edition: current; Page: [lxviii] trickery of the tax collector’s euphemisms that portray the elected deputies in the Chamber as his true representatives. The second is “The Utopian” (ES2 11, January 1847), where Bastiat discusses the problems faced by a free-market reform-minded minister who is unexpectedly put in charge of the country. In the face of the utopian reformer’s many proposals, Bastiat presents the dilemmas and ultimate failure of top-down political and economic reform.

The fifth essay which might also be regarded as a political sophism is his famous essay “The State,” which appeared initially as a draft in the magazine Jacques Bonhomme (11–15 June 1848) and then in a longer form in Le Journal des débats (September 1848).39 Here he attempts to rebut the folly of the idea which was widespread during the first few months following the February Revolution that the state could and should take care of all the needs of the people by taxing everybody and giving benefits to everybody.

Bastiat the Revolutionary Journalist and Politician

With the failure of the free traders to get tariff reform successfully through committee in the Chamber of Deputies in the middle of 1847, Bastiat and his colleagues suffered a significant defeat. The outbreak of revolution in February 1848, the abdication of Louis-Philippe, and the creation of the Second Republic provided another opportunity for Bastiat to spread his ideas on free trade and free markets, which he seized with enthusiasm in spite of his rapidly failing health. This he did in part by immediately starting a magazine aimed at ordinary working people, La République française, which he, Hippolyte Castille, and Gustave de Molinari handed out on the streets of Paris two days after the revolution broke out.40

We include in this volume two short articles which appeared originally in the 12 March issue of La République française.41 In the Œuvres complètes Paillottet called them “Petites affiches de Jacques Bonhomme” (Small Posters by Jacques Bonhomme) because they were one-page articles designed as posters which could be pasted on walls at head height around the streets of Paris Edition: current; Page: [lxix] so they could be read by rioters and revolutionaries who walked the streets at all hours.42 These posters reveal another side of Bastiat the writer trying to appeal to the working class of Paris in the middle of a revolution. He addresses the people in the familiar tu form as he makes his case for limited government, free markets, and low taxes.

Bastiat wrote seventeen articles for La République française that we know about, four of which appear in this volume and thirteen of which have been published in a previous volume.43 He wrote on many topics which should not surprise us, such as the need for disarmament in order to lower taxes, the freedom of the press, freedom of education, the high level of taxation which fell on ordinary working people, the excessive size of the government bureaucracy, and so on. What is a bit surprising is the fervor of his republican sentiments which he expressed in a statement of principles in the first issue of the magazine.44

Needless to say, Bastiat was not successful. He did not manage to sway the masses to the cause of free trade and limited government in March 1848 and closed the magazine in order to concentrate on standing for the April elections, which he felt would offer him another opportunity to spread his ideas on free trade and free markets. On 23 April 1848 Bastiat was elected to the Constituent Assembly to represent the département of the Landes and served from 4 May 1848 until 27 May 1849. Given his expertise in economic matters, it is not surprising that he was chosen to serve on the Finance Committee, to which he was appointed vice president an extraordinary eight times. His job was to make periodic reports to the Chamber on Finance Committee matters. Politically, he supported General Cavaignac in the Chamber against Louis-Napoléon, but he sometimes voted with the left or the right depending on the specific issue. For example, he voted with the left on the right of citizens to form trade unions (which he saw as just another voluntary organization which individuals had the right to join or not join) but against the left when it came to taxpayer-funded unemployment relief in the National Workshops.

Bastiat’s activities in the Chamber still await their historian, but a summary Edition: current; Page: [lxx] of some of the issues on which he voted follows: for the banishment of the royal family, against the reintroduction of caution money for publishers, for postal reform and the ending of the government monopoly, against the arrest and trial of the socialist Louis Blanc for his role in the June Days rioting, against the reintroduction of corporal punishment, against the death penalty, against the declaration of martial law in Paris, against military intervention in Rome, and against allowing public servants to also sit in the Chamber as elected representatives.

While Bastiat was working in the Constituent Assembly, he took another opportunity to become engaged in revolutionary journalism on the streets of Paris, this time in his journal Jacques Bonhomme. The magazine was founded by Bastiat with the assistance of Gustave de Molinari, Charles Coquelin, Alcide Fonteyraud, and Joseph Garnier. It appeared approximately weekly in four issues between 11 June and 13 July, with a break between 24 June and 9 July because of the rioting during the June Days uprising.45 He wrote on the nature of freedom, laissez-faire economic policies, the fraudulent claims of the government to be able to give whatever the voters wanted, and most interestingly, a draft of what was to become one of his best-known essays, “The State.”46 As the June Days rioting became increasingly violent, Bastiat and his friends were forced to close the magazine.

Bastiat’s experiences in working on La République française and Jacques Bonhomme during two of the most tumultuous and violent periods of the 1848 Revolution reveal a man who was not merely an armchair economic and political theorist. He saw at first hand the anger and determination of the people to change French society, and he also saw how the government was prepared to defend itself by calling out the troops to shoot down the protesters. In a couple of subdued and understated letters to friends he describes being on or near the barricades when these events took place and even taking steps to use his influence as a deputy to call the troops off long enough to drag people to safety in the side streets. The following two brief Edition: current; Page: [lxxi] quotations, one from February and the other from June, should be sufficient to show how close Bastiat was to events:

As you will see in the newspapers, on the 23rd everything seemed to be over. Paris had a festive air; everything was illuminated. A huge gathering moved along the boulevards singing. Flags were adorned with flowers and ribbons. When they reached the Hôtel des Capucines, the soldiers blocked their path and fired a round of musket fire at point-blank range into the crowd. I leave you to imagine the sight offered by a crowd of thirty thousand men, women, and children fleeing from the bullets, the shots, and those who fell.

An instinctive feeling prevented me from fleeing as well, and when it was all over I was on the site of a massacre with five or six workmen, facing about sixty dead and dying people. The soldiers appeared stupefied. I begged the officer to have the corpses and wounded moved in order to have the latter cared for and to avoid having the former used as flags by the people when they returned, but he had lost his head.

The workers and I then began to move the unfortunate victims onto the pavement, as doors refused to open. At last, seeing the fruitlessness of our efforts, I withdrew. But the people returned and carried the corpses to the outlying districts, and a hue and cry was heard all through the night. The following morning, as though by magic, two thousand barricades made the insurrection fearsome. Fortunately, as the troop did not wish to fire on the National Guard, the day was not as bloody as might have been expected.

All is now over. The Republic has been proclaimed. You know that this is good news for me. The people will govern themselves.47

Cables and newspapers will have told you [Julie Marsan] all about the triumph of the republican order after four days of bitter struggle.

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I shall not give you any detail, even about me, because a single letter would not suffice.

I shall just tell you that I have done my duty without ostentation or temerity. My only role was to enter the Faubourg Saint-Antoine after the fall of the first barricade, in order to disarm the fighters. As we went on, we managed to save several insurgents whom the militia wanted to kill. One of my colleagues displayed a truly admirable energy in this situation, which he did not boast about from the rostrum.48

Eleven months after these events Bastiat was reelected to the Chamber, this time the newly created Legislative Assembly in which he sat from 28 May 1849 until he took a leave of absence on the grounds of ill health sometime in mid-1850. During this period he continued to work as vice president of the Finance Committee, but his activities in the Assembly were reduced because his deteriorating health meant that he was less able to speak in the Chamber. Nevertheless, he was able to write articles and pamphlets on matters before the Chamber which he distributed as pamphlets such as “Protectionism and Communism,” “Peace and Freedom,” “Damned Money!,” “Plunder and the Law,” “The Law,”49 and his last pamphlet, which appears in this volume: What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen. All the while, he continued to work on his magnum opus on economic theory, Economic Harmonies. Although he gave fewer speeches in the Assembly, he was present to vote for the abolition of the tax on alcohol, for the right to form and join unions, for free trade in the wine industry, and against the power of the National University to set the curriculum for all schools. On 9 February 1850 Bastiat made his last appearance in the Chamber, speaking on behalf of the Finance Committee. He later sought a leave of absence on the grounds of ill health and spent his time writing, most notably What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen and the second part of Economic Harmonies. On the advice of his doctor he decided to travel to Italy, and on 10 September he bade farewell to his friends in the Political Economy Society (Société d’économie politique) before heading to Rome, where he died on Christmas Eve 1850.

Economic Sophisms and the other writings in this volume show Bastiat at his creative and journalistic best: his skill at mixing serious and amusing ways of making his arguments is unsurpassed; the quality of his insights into Edition: current; Page: [lxxiii] profound economic issues is often exceptional and sometimes well ahead of his time; his ability to combine his political lobbying for the Free Trade Movement, his journalism, his political activities during the 1848 Revolution, and his scholarly activities is most unusual; and his humor, wit, and literary knowledge, which he scatters throughout his writings, demonstrate that he deserves his reputation as one of the most gifted writers on economic matters who still deserves our close attention today.

David M. Hart
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A Note on the Publishing History of Economic Sophisms and What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen

Establishing the publishing history of what was to become Economic Sophisms is somewhat difficult because the work appeared in three different formats during Bastiat’s lifetime and after his death (possibly four if one counts later editions and translations).

Economic Sophisms first appeared as short articles in various journals and newspapers which published Bastiat’s material, such as his free-trade journal, Le Libre-échange,1 and the main organ of the Parisian free-market political economists, Le Journal des économistes. In the second phase, some of the material was also published as stand-alone books or pamphlets, such as Economic Sophisms First and Second Series, which appeared in book form in early 1846 and 1848, respectively, in slightly reworked form. The third phase came after Bastiat’s death, in 1850, when his friend and literary executor, Prosper Paillottet, had access to Bastiat’s papers and from this and the previously mentioned published sources was able to edit and publish the first edition of Bastiat’s Œuvres complètes (1854).

In most cases Paillottet indicated in footnotes the place and date of the original publication of the essays, but in some cases he did not. Sometimes he wrote that the piece was an “unpublished draft” (presumably one he found in Bastiat’s papers), and at other times he simply said nothing, thus complicating the task of the researcher, as we no longer have access to Bastiat’s original papers. We have taken Paillottet’s word in every case, as he is the best and sometimes only source we have for this information, although at all times it must be recognized that he was a close friend and strong supporter of Bastiat, Edition: current; Page: [lxxvi] which surely must have colored his judgment. That being said, we have not found any instance where Paillottet has been wrong (except that the journal Jacques Bonhomme was published in June–July 1848, not March 1848);2 our main frustration is that his information is not as complete as we would like it to be.

Economic Sophisms, First Series

The First Series of Economic Sophisms was completed in November 1845 (Bastiat signed the conclusion, “Mugron, 2 November 1845”) and was probably printed in late 1845 or early 1846. The Bibliothèque nationale de France does not show an edition published in 1845, but there are two listed for 1846, one of which is called the second edition. Presumably the other is the true first edition which appeared in early (possibly January) 1846.

The first eleven chapters (of an eventual twenty-two) had originally appeared as a series of three articles in Le Journal des économistes in April, July, and October 1845 under the name “Sophismes économiques.” If chapters twelve to twenty-two were also published elsewhere, the place and date of original publication were not given by Paillottet.

The French printing history of the First Series is as follows: the first collection was published, according to Paillottet, at the end of 1845 (probably December), but all the printed copies bear the date 1846. The First Series continued to be published as a separate volume until 1851 and the appearance of a fourth edition (second edition in 1846, third edition in 1847).

Economic Sophisms, Second Series

The French printing history of Economic Sophisms, Second Series is as follows: it was published, according to Paillottet, at the end of January 1848 and consisted of seventeen essays, seven of which had previously appeared in the newspaper Le Libre-échange (between December 1846 and July 1847), two in Le Journal des économistes (in January and May 1846), and one in Le Courrier français (in September 1846). For the other seven articles no previous publication details were given. Only one edition of the Second Series appeared as a separate volume, in 1848.

Edition: current; Page: [lxxvii]

The first edition to combine both the First and Second Series in a single volume was an edition of 1851, which appeared simultaneously in Paris and Belgium. Thereafter, the Second Series always appeared in print with the First Series.

Economic Sophisms, “Third Series”

We have collected together in this volume a number of other writings by Bastiat which might well have been drawn upon had he lived long enough to compile a third series of Economic Sophisms. This was also the thinking of Paillottet, who collected twenty-two pieces of what he called a nouvelle série de sophismes économiques (a new series of economic sophisms) for volume 2 of the Œuvres complètes.3 We decided to include them as well in this volume. Sixteen aticles come from Bastiat’s free-trade journal, Le Libre-échange (published between December 1846 and its closure in March 1848), two articles from Bastiat’s revolutionary magazine La République française (March 1848), one from Le Journal des économistes (March 1848); for the remaining five articles, no sources were given.

What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, or Political Economy in One Lesson

There is also another pamphlet which we think deserves to be included in our expanded collection of Economic Sophisms because of its similarities of style and content, namely, What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.4 This is the last work (other than letters) which Bastiat wrote before his death, in 1850. In a footnote Paillottet provides us with these fascinating details.5

The importance which Bastiat must have placed on getting this work published is revealed by the enormous effort he expended in rewriting it Edition: current; Page: [lxxviii] from scratch twice at a time when his health was rapidly failing and when he was under considerable pressure to complete Economic Harmonies, which remained unfinished at his death. What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen was eventually published as a small stand-alone pamphlet of seventy-nine pages in July 1850 by Guillaumin. Another edition appeared in 1854 (possibly the second edition) in volume 5 of Paillottet’s Œuvres complètes; another two in 1863 (possibly the third edition) in volume 5 of Œuvres complètes, as well as in volume 2 of Œuvres choisies (pp. 336–92). The fourth edition of 1869 and the fifth edition of 1879 were both stand-alone books.

The Post-1850 Publishing and Translation History of Economic Sophisms and What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen

In French, Economic Sophisms and What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen remained in print throughout the nineteenth century as part of Bastiat’s Œuvres complètes. Once the Œuvres complètes appeared in 1854, it does not seem that Economic Sophisms was ever printed again in French as a separate title. The same is not true for What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, which was printed as a separate book by Guillaumin and by other publishers as well. In Paris, Henri Bellaire issued an edition with a biographical introduction and numerous notes (1873).6 In Belgium an edition even appeared (which also included the essay “The State”) on the eve of the outbreak of World War I (1914).7

The international interest in Bastiat’s work can be partially gauged by the speed with which it was translated and the variety of languages in which it was published. For example, an English translation of Economic Edition: current; Page: [lxxix] Sophisms appeared in 1846;8 in 1847 German, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian translations appeared;9 1848 saw a Danish edition10 as well as an American edition with an introduction by Francis Lieber.11 The Francis Lieber edition contained both the First and Second Series. Another American edition of Economic Sophisms (which also included both series) appeared in Chicago in 1869 as part of a movement against the post–Civil War tariffs which resulted from the Morrill tariff of 1861.12 The first British edition containing both series appeared in 1873 in Edinburgh.13

When the debate about protective tariffs resurfaced in Britain and America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Bastiat’s essays were again used in the intellectual battle, with several reissues being made by groups such as the Cobden Club, which used titles that made it very clear on what side of the fence they stood.14 In North America the American Free Trade League issued two editions (in 1870 and 1873),15 and an “adaptation designed for the American reader” appeared in 1867 and 1874.16

The translation history of What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen is similar to that of Economic Sophisms. It was translated very quickly into other languages soon after it appeared in French in 1850, with a Dutch translation appearing in 1850, Danish in 1852, and German in 1853.17 The first English translation, in 1852 by William Hodgson, appeared in the Manchester Examiner and Times before being published as a pamphlet in the same year.18 Another edition appeared in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle a short time later.19 Of considerable interest is the “People’s Edition” by an unnamed translator, which was intended to be distributed among working people.20 It went through at least four editions between 1853 and the late 1870s.

Until the Foundation for Economic Education published new translations of some of Bastiat’s major works in the mid 1960s, there was very little interest in Bastiat’s free-trade ideas after the First World War. From this period we have been able to find only two editions of his Economic Sophisms, a 1921 reprint of an English edition from 190921 and an American edition which appeared toward the close of World War II, in 1944. The latter is noteworthy because of the introduction by the American libertarian author Rose Wilder Lane.

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This edition was published by Raymond Cyrus “R. C.” Hoiles, who had moved from Ohio to run a daily newspaper in California, the Santa Ana Register, in 1935. Around this time he discovered the work of Bastiat and used his newspaper’s printing presses to publish a series of works by Bastiat using the nineteenth-century English translations by Patrick James Stirling, which had been published in the 1860s and 1870s.22 Hoiles adapted them for an American audience by commissioning new forewords or by making his own compilations of Bastiat’s writings to be used in his battle against the New Deal.

The new foreword to what was now called Social Fallacies was by the libertarian journalist and writer Rose Wilder Lane, who described Bastiat as “one of the leaders of the revolution whose work and fame, like Aristotle’s, belong to the ages. . . . What modern science owes to Aristotle, a free world will someday owe to Bastiat.”23 Hoiles in his “Publisher’s Statement,” which introduces the Social Fallacies, explained why he thought reprinting Bastiat in 1944 was warranted:

The reason for republishing Bastiat’s “Economic Sophisms” (which we have called “Social Fallacies”) is that we believe Bastiat shows the fallacy of government planning better than any other writer of any period. Since he wrote a century ago, his work cannot be regarded as party-policies now. It deals with fundamental principles of political economy which out-last all parties.24

In the years immediately following the end of the Second World War, Bastiat’s ideas found an American supporter in the economic journalist Henry Hazlitt (1894–1993), who wrote for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. In 1946 Hazlitt published a popular defense of free-market ideas titled Economics in One Lesson in which he acknowledged the influence of Bastiat by taking Bastiat’s subtitle for What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen as the title for his own book. He noted in his introduction that, like Bastiat, he wanted to debunk the economic sophisms he saw around him:

My greatest debt, with respect to the kind of expository framework on which the present argument is being hung, is to Edition: current; Page: [lxxxi] Frédéric Bastiat’s essay Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas, now nearly a century old. The present work may, in fact, be regarded as a modernization, extension, and generalization of the approach found in Bastiat’s pamphlet.25

In postwar America Bastiat’s works were made available to a new generation of readers with new translations of his key works published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, under the direction of Leonard Reed. The project began with the translation and publication of Bastiat’s pamphlet “The Law” in 1950, exactly one hundred years after its first appearance in June 1850. Other works were translated with the assistance of the William Volker Fund, and these appeared in 1964 along with a new biography of Bastiat written by Dean Russell in 1965.26 The trilogy of works which the Foundation for Economic Education published in 1964—Selected Essays on Political Economy (including “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen”), Economic Sophisms, and Economic Harmonies—have remained the backbone of Bastiat studies in America ever since.27

With regard to French-language editions of Bastiat’s work, after a hiatus of nearly seventy years since the appearance of the Belgian edition of Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas in 1914, a revival of interest in Bastiat in the early 1980s led to the reprinting of a number of his works, beginning in 1983 with a reissue of two of his pamphlets, “Property and Law” (Propriété et loi) and “The State” (L’état), by the Economic Institute of Paris,28 as well as a collection of Bastiat’s economic writings edited by Florin Aftalion (which included excerpts from Economic Sophisms).29 This was followed in 1994 by the reissue of Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas by Alain Madelin30 and another in 2004 by Jacques Garello.31 Michel Leter has edited two volumes of Bastiat’s writings for the publisher Les Belles Lettres in a series called La bibliothèque classique de la liberté (The Classic Library of Liberty). Leter’s Edition: current; Page: [lxxxii] edition of Economic Sophisms appeared in 2005,32 and his collection of Bastiat’s pamphlets, which included What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, was published in 2009.33

To commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Bastiat, an international conference was held in Bayonne in June 2001 under the auspices of the Cercle Frédéric Bastiat and M. Jacques de Guenin. It was here that Liberty Fund’s project of translating the collected works of Bastiat was conceived. Concurrent with Liberty Fund’s publishing project, Jacques de Guenin and the Institut Charles Coquelin are publishing a seven-volume French-language edition, the first volume of which appeared in late 2009.

David M. Hart
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Map of France Showing Cities Mentioned by Bastiat


Cartography by Mapping Specialists, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Map of Southwestern France


Cartography by Mapping Specialists, Madison, Wisconsin.

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Economic Sophisms and “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen”

Economic Sophisms First Series1

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Author’s Introduction to Economic Sophisms


Original title: No title given.
Place and date of first publication: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 1–5.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

In political economy there is a lot to learn and very little to do. (Bentham)2

In this small volume, I have sought to refute a few of the arguments against the deregulation of trade.

This is not a conflict that I am entering into against protectionists. It is a principle that I am attempting to instill into the minds of sincere men who hesitate because they doubt.

I am not one of those who say: “Protection is based on interests.” I believe that it is based on error or, if you prefer, on half-truths. Too many people fear freedom for this apprehension not to be sincere.

This is setting my sights high, but I must admit that I would like this small work to become in some way a manual for men called upon to decide between the two principles. When you do not possess a long-standing familiarity with the doctrine of freedom, protectionist sophisms will constantly Edition: current; Page: [4] come to one’s mind in one form or another. To release it from them, a long effort of analysis is required on each occasion, and not everyone has the time to carry out this task, least of all the legislators. This is why I have tried to do it all at once.

But, people will say, are the benefits of freedom so hidden that they are apparent only to professional economists?

Yes, we agree that our opponents in the debate have a clear advantage over us. They can set out a half-truth in a few words, and to show that it is a half-truth we need long and arid dissertations.

This is in the nature of things. Protection brings together in one single point all the good it does and distributes among the wider mass of people the harm it inflicts. One is visible to the naked eye, the other only to the mind’s eye.3 It is exactly the opposite for freedom.

This is so for almost all economic matters.

If you say: Here is a machine that has thrown thirty workers out into the street;

Or else: Here is a spendthrift who will stimulate all forms of industry;

Or yet again: The conquest of Algiers4 has doubled Marseilles’s trade;

Or lastly: The budget assures the livelihood of one hundred thousand families.

You will be understood by everyone, and your statements are clear, simple, and true in themselves. You may deduce the following principles from them:

Machines are harmful;

Luxury, conquest, and heavy taxes are a blessing;

And your theory will have all the more success in that you will be able to support it with irrefutable facts.

We, on the other hand, cannot stick to one cause and its immediate effect. We know that this effect itself becomes a cause in its turn. To judge a measure, it is therefore necessary for us to follow it through a sequence of results up to its final effect. And, since we must give utterance to the key word, we are reduced to reasoning.

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But right away here we are, assailed by these cries: “You are theorists, metaphysicians, ideologues, utopians, and in thrall to rigid principles,” and all the prejudices of the public are turned against us.

What are we to do, therefore? Call for patience and good faith in the reader and, if we are capable of this, cast into our deductions such vivid clarity that the truth and falsehood stand out starkly in order for victory to be won either by restriction or freedom, once and for all.

I must make an essential observation at this point.

A few extracts from this small volume have appeared in the Journal des économistes.

In a criticism that was incidentally very benevolent, published by the Vicomte de Romanet5 (see the issues of Le Moniteur industriel dated 15 and 18 May 1845),6 he assumed that I was asking for customs dues to be abolished. M. de Romanet is mistaken. What I am asking for is the abolition of the protectionist regime. We do not refuse taxes to the government; what we would like, if possible, is to dissuade those being governed from taxing each other. Napoléon said: “Customs dues ought not to be a fiscal instrument, but a means of protecting industry.”7 We plead the contrary and say: “Customs dues must not be an instrument of mutual plunder in the hands of workers, but it can be a fiscal instrument that is as good as any other.” We are so far, or Edition: current; Page: [6] to involve only me in the conflict, I am so far from demanding the abolition of customs dues that I see in them a lifeline for our finances.8 I believe that they are likely to produce huge revenues for the Treasury, and if my idea is to be expressed in its entirety, at the snail’s pace that sound economic doctrine takes to circulate, I am counting more on the needs of the Treasury than on the force of enlightened public opinion for trade reform to be accomplished.

But finally what are your conclusions, I am asked.

I have no need of conclusions. I am opposing sophisms, that is all.

But, people continue, it is not enough to destroy, you have to build. My view is that in the destruction of an error the truth is created.

After that, I have no hesitation in expressing my hope. I would like public opinion to be persuaded to ratify a customs law that lays down terms of approximately this order:

Objects of prime necessity shall pay an ad valorem duty of 5 percent Objects of normal usefulness 10 percent Luxury objects 15 or 20 percent

Furthermore, these distinctions are taken from an order of ideas that is totally foreign to political economy as such, and I am far from thinking that they are as useful and just as they are commonly supposed to be. However, that is another story.

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1.: Abundance and Scarcity


Original title: “Abondance, disette.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 11 (April 1845): 1–8.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 5–14.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

What is better for mankind and society, abundance or scarcity?

What, people will exclaim, is that a question to ask? Has it ever been stated or is it possible to assert that scarcity is the basis of man’s well-being?

Yes, that has been claimed; yes, it has been asserted. It is asserted every day, and I have no fear in saying that the theory of scarcity is by far the more popular. It is the subject of conversation in the journals, books, and on the rostrum, and although this may appear extraordinary, it is clear that political economy will have fulfilled its task and its practical mission when it has popularized and made irrefutable this very simple proposition: “Mankind’s wealth lies in the abundance of things.”

Do we not hear this every day: “Foreigners are going to swamp us with their products”? We therefore fear abundance.

Has M. de Saint-Cricq1 not said: “Production is too high”? He therefore feared abundance.

Do workers not smash machines? They are therefore terrified of excess production or, in other words, abundance.

Has M. Bugeaud2 not pronounced these words: “Let bread become expensive Edition: current; Page: [8] and farmers will be rich!”? Well, bread can become expensive only if it becomes scarce; therefore M. Bugeaud was recommending scarcity.

Has not M. d’Argout3 used the very fact of the productive capacity of the sugar industry as an argument against it? Has he not said: “Beetroot has no future, and its cultivation could not be expanded, since if just a few hectares per département were allocated to it this would meet the entire consumption needs of France.” Therefore, in his eyes, good lies in lack of production, or scarcity, and harm in fertility and abundance.

Do La Presse, Le Commerce, and the majority of daily newspapers4 not publish one or more articles each morning to demonstrate to the Chambers and the government that it would be sound policy to raise the price of everything by law through the operation of tariffs? Do the three powers of state5 not comply every day with this injunction from the regular press? Now tariffs raise the price of things only because they decrease the quantity offered in the marketplace! Therefore the papers, the Chambers, and the government put into practice the theory of scarcity, and I was right to say that this theory is by far the most popular one.

How has it come about that in the eyes of workers, political writers, and statesmen abundance is shown as something to be feared and scarcity as being advantageous? I propose to go back to the source of this illusion.

We note that men become rich to the extent that they earn a good return from their work, that is to say, from what they sell at the highest price. They sell at the highest price in proportion to the rarity, that is to say, the relative shortage, of the type of good their efforts produce. We conclude from this that, as far as they are concerned at least, scarcity makes them rich. When this reasoning is applied successively to all people who work, the theory of scarcity is thereby deduced. From this we move to its application, and in order to benefit all these people, high prices and the scarcity of all goods are provoked artificially by means of prohibition, restriction, the suppression of machines, and other similar means.

This is also true for abundance. We observe that when a product is plentiful Edition: current; Page: [9] it is sold at a low price and therefore producers earn less. If all producers are in this situation, they all become poor, and it is therefore abundance that ruins society. And, since all beliefs attempt to become reality, in a great many countries, we see laws made by men combating the abundance of things.

This sophism, expressed as a general statement, would perhaps have little effect; but when it is applied to a particular order of facts, to such and such a branch of production, or to a given class of workers, it is extremely specious, and this can be explained. It is a syllogism that is not false but incomplete. Now, whatever truth there is in a syllogism is always and necessarily available to cognitive inspection. But the incomplete element is a negative phenomenon, a missing component which is very possible and even very easy not to take into account.

Man produces in order to consume. He is both producer and consumer. The reasoning that I have just set out considers him only from the first of these points of view. From the second, the opposite conclusion would have been reached. Could we not say in fact:

The consumer is all the richer when he buys everything cheaply. He buys things cheaply the more abundant they are; therefore abundance makes him rich. This reasoning, when extended to all consumers, would lead to the theory of abundance!

It is the way in which the concept of trade is imperfectly understood that produces these illusions. If we look to our own personal interest, we will recognize immediately that it has a twin nature. As sellers, our interest is in things being expensive and consequently that things should be scarce; as buyers, what counts is low prices or what comes to the same thing, that things should be abundant. We cannot therefore base a line of reasoning on one or the other of these interests without having established which of the two coincides and is identified with the general and constant interest of the human race.

If man were a solitary animal,6 if he worked exclusively for himself, if he consumed the fruit of his labor directly, in a word, if he did not trade, the theory of scarcity would never have been able to infiltrate the world. It is only too obvious that abundance would be advantageous to him, from wherever it arose, either as the result of his industry or the ingenious tools or Edition: current; Page: [10] powerful machines that he had invented or through the fertility of the soil, the generosity of nature, or even a mysterious invasion of products which the waves brought from elsewhere and washed up on the beach. Never would a solitary man, seeking to spur on his own work or to secure some support for it, envisage breaking tools that spared him effort or neutralizing the fertility of the soil or throwing back into the sea any of the advantageous goods it had brought him. He would easily understand that work is not an aim but a means, and that it would be absurd to reject the aim for fear of damaging the means. He would understand that if he devotes two hours a day to providing for his needs, any circumstance (machine, fertility, free gift, or anything else) that spares him one hour of this work, the result remaining the same, makes this hour available to him, and that he may devote it to increasing his well-being. In a word, he would understand that sparing people work is nothing other than progress.

But trade clouds our vision of such a simple truth. In a social state, with the division of labor it generates, the production and the consumption of an object are not combined in the same individual. Each person is led to consider his work no longer as a means but as an end. With regard to each object, trade creates two interests, that of the producer and that of the consumer, and these two interests are always in direct opposition to each other.

It is essential to analyze them and study their nature.

Let us take a producer, any producer; what is his immediate interest? It lies in these two things, 1. that the smallest possible number of people should devote themselves to the same work as him; 2. that the greatest possible number of people should seek the product of this work; political economy explains this more succinctly in these terms: supply should be very restricted and demand very high, or in yet other terms: that there should be limited competition with limitless markets.

What is the immediate interest of the consumer? That the supply of the product in question should be extensive and demand restrained.

Since these two interests are contradictory, one of them has of necessity to coincide with the social or general interest while the other runs counter to it.

But which should legislation favor as being the expression of public good, if indeed it has to favor one?

To know this, you need only examine what would happen if the secret desires of men were accomplished.

As producers, it must be agreed, each of us has antisocial desires. Are we vine growers? We would be little displeased if all the vines in the world froze, except for ours: that is the theory of scarcity. Are we the owners of foundries? Edition: current; Page: [11] We would want there to be no other iron on the market than what we brought to it, whatever the needs of the public might be, and with the deliberate intention that this public need, keenly felt and inadequately met, would result in our receiving a high price: that is also the theory of scarcity. Are we farm workers? We would say, with M. Bugeaud, “Let bread become expensive, that is to say, scarce, and the farmers will get on with their business”: this is the same theory of scarcity.

Are we doctors? We could not stop ourselves from seeing that certain physical improvements, such as the improvement in a country’s health, the development of certain moral virtues such as moderation and temperance, the progress of enlightenment to the point that each person was able to take care of his own health, the discovery of certain simple drugs that were easy to use, would be so many mortal blows to our profession. Given that we are doctors, our secret desires are antisocial. I do not mean to say that doctors formulate such desires. I prefer to believe that they would joyfully welcome a universal panacea; but this sentiment reveals not the doctor but the man or Christian who, in self-denial, puts himself in the situation of the consumer. As one who exercises a profession and who draws his well-being from this profession, his consideration and even the means of existence of his family make it impossible for his desires, or if you prefer, his interests not to be antisocial.

Do we manufacture cotton cloth? We would like to sell it at a price most advantageous to us. We would readily agree that all rival factories should be prohibited, and while we do not dare to express this wish publicly or pursue its total achievement with any chance of success, we nevertheless succeed to a certain extent through devious means, for example, by excluding foreign fabrics in order to reduce the quantity on offer, and thus produce, through the use of force, a scarcity of clothing to our advantage.

We could go through all forms of industry in this way, and we would always find that producers as such have antisocial views. “Merchants,” says Montaigne, “do good business only when young people are led astray; farm workers when wheat is expensive; architects when houses are ruined; and officers of justice when court cases and quarrels between men occur. The very honor and practice of ministers of religion are drawn from our death and vices. No doctor takes pleasure in the health even of his friends nor soldiers in peace in the town, and so on.”7

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It follows from this that if the secret wishes of each producer were realized the world would regress rapidly into barbarism. Sail would outlaw steam, oars would outlaw sail and would soon have to give up transport in favor of carts, carts would yield to mules, and mules to human carriers of bales. Wool would exclude cotton and cotton exclude wool and so on, until a scarcity of everything had made man himself disappear from the face of the earth.

Let us suppose for a moment that legislative power and public force were put at the disposal of the Mimerel Committee,8 and that each of the members making up this association had the right to require it to propose and sanction one little law: is it very difficult to guess to what codes of production the public would be subjected?

If we now consider the immediate interest of the consumer we will find that it is in perfect harmony with the general interest and with what the well-being of humanity demands. When a buyer enters the market, he wants to find it with an abundance of products. That the seasons are propitious to all harvests, that increasingly wonderful inventions bring a greater number of products and satisfactions within reach, that time and work are saved, that distance dissolves, that a spirit of peace and justice allows the burden of taxes to be reduced, and that barriers of all sorts fall: in all this the immediate interest of the consumer runs parallel with the public interest properly understood. He may elevate his secret desires to the level of illusion or absurdity without his desires ceasing to be humanitarian. He may want bed and board, hearth and home, education and the moral code, security and peace, and strength and health to be obtained effortlessly, without work or measure, like dust in the road, water in the stream, the air or the light that surrounds us, without the achievement of such desires being contrary to the good of society.

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Perhaps people will say that if these desires were granted, the work of the producer would be increasingly restricted and would end by ceasing for lack of sustenance. Why, though? Because, in this extreme supposition, all imaginable needs and all desires would be completely satisfied. Man, like the Almighty, would create everything by a single act of will. Would someone like to tell me, on such an assumption, what would there be to complain about in productive economic activity?

I imagined just now a legislative assembly made up of workers,9 of which each member would formulate into law his secret desire as a producer, and I said that the code that would emerge from this assembly would be systematic monopoly, the theory of scarcity put into practice.

In the same way, a Chamber in which each person consults only his immediate interest as a consumer would lead to the systematic establishment of freedom, the suppression of all restrictive measures, and the overturning of all artificial barriers, in a word, the realization of the theory of abundance.

From this it follows:

That to consult the immediate interest of production alone is to consult an antisocial interest;

That to make the immediate interest of consumption the exclusive criterion is to adopt the general interest.

May I be allowed to stress this point of view once more at the risk of repeating myself?

There is radical antagonism between sellers and buyers.10

Sellers want the object of the sale to be scarce, in short supply and at a high price;

Buyers want it to be abundant, available everywhere at a low price.

The laws, which ought at least to be neutral, take the side of sellers against buyers, of producers against consumers, of high prices against low prices,11 and of scarcity against abundance.

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They act, if not intentionally, at least in terms of their logic, according to this given assumption: A nation is rich when it lacks everything.

For they say: “It is the producer we should favor by ensuring him a proper market for his product. To do this, we have to raise its price. To raise its price, the supply has to be restricted, and to restrict the supply is to create scarcity.” And look: let me suppose that right now when these laws are in full force a detailed inventory is taken, not in value but in weight, measures, volumes, and quantities of all the objects existing in France that are likely to satisfy the needs and tastes of her inhabitants, such as wheat, meat, cloth, canvas, fuel, colonial goods, etc.

Let me further suppose that on the following day all the barriers that prevent the introduction into France of foreign products are overturned.

Lastly, in order to assess the result of this reform, let me suppose that three months later, a new inventory is taken.

Is it not true that we would find in France more wheat, cattle, cloth, canvas, iron, coal, sugar, etc. on the second inventory than at the time of the first?

This is so true that our protective customs duties have no other aim than to prevent all of these things from reaching us, to restrict their supply and to prevent a decrease in their price and therefore their abundance.

Now, I ask you, are the people better fed under the empire of our laws because there is less bread, meat, and sugar in the country? Are they better clad because there is less yarn, canvas, and cloth? Are they better heated because there is less coal? Are they better assisted in their work because there is less iron and copper, fewer tools and machines?

But people will say: if foreigners swamp us with their products, they will carry off our money.

What does it matter? Men do not eat money; they do not clothe themselves with gold, nor heat themselves with silver. What does it matter if there is more or less money in the country, if there is more bread on the sideboard, more meat on the hook, more linen in the cupboards, and more wood in the woodshed?12

I will continue to confront restrictive laws with this dilemma:

Either you agree that you cause scarcity or you do not agree.

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If you agree, you are admitting by this very fact that you are doing the people as much harm as you can. If you do not agree, then you are denying that you have restricted supply and caused prices to rise, and consequently you are denying that you have favored producers.

You are either disastrous or ineffective. You cannot be useful.13

2.: Obstacle and Cause


Original title: “Obstacle, cause.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 11 (April 1845): 8–10.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 15–18.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

The obstacle taken for the cause—scarcity taken for abundance: this is the same sophism under another guise. It is a good thing to examine it from all sides.

Man originally lacks everything.

Between his destitution and the satisfaction of his needs there is a host of obstacles, which it is the purpose of work to overcome. It is an intriguing business trying to find how and why these same obstacles to his well-being have become in his eyes the cause of his well-being.

I need to transport myself a hundred leagues away. But between the points of departure and arrival there are mountains, rivers, marshes, impenetrable forests, evildoers, in a word, obstacles, and in order to overcome these obstacles I have to make a great deal of effort or, what comes to the same thing, others have to make a great deal of effort and have me pay the price for this. It is clear that in this respect I would have been in a better situation if these obstacles did not exist.

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To go through life and travel along the long succession of days that separates the cradle from the tomb, man needs to assimilate a prodigious quantity of food, protect himself against the inclemency of the seasons, and preserve himself from or cure himself of a host of ills. Hunger, thirst, illness, heat, and cold are so many obstacles that lie along his way. In his solitary state, he will have to combat them all by means of hunting, fishing, growing crops, spinning, weaving, and building houses, and it is clear that it would be better for him if there were fewer of these obstacles, or even none at all. In society, he does not have to confront each of these obstacles personally; others do this for him, and in return he removes one of the obstacles surrounding his fellow men.

It is also clear that, taking things as a whole, it would be better for men as a group, that is, for society, that the obstacles should be as insignificant and as few as possible.

However, if we examine social phenomena in detail, and the sentiments of men as they have been altered by trade, we soon see how they have managed to confuse needs with wealth and obstacles with causes.

The division of labor, a result of the ability to trade, has meant that each person, instead of combating on his own all the obstacles that surround him, combats only one, and this, not for himself but for the benefit of all his fellow men, who in turn render him the same service.

Now, the result of this is that this person sees the immediate cause of his wealth in the obstacle that it is his job to combat on other people’s account. The greater, more serious, more keenly felt this obstacle is, the more his fellow men will be ready to pay him for removing it, that is to say, to remove on his behalf the obstacles that stand in his way.

A doctor, for example, does not occupy himself in baking his bread, manufacturing his instruments, weaving, or making his clothes. Others do this for him, and in return he does battle with the illnesses that afflict his patients. The more numerous, severe, and recurrent these illnesses are, the more willing or even obliged people are to work for his personal advantage. From his point of view, illness, that is to say, a general obstacle to people’s well-being, is a cause of individual well-being. All producers reason in the same way with regard to things that concern them. Shipowners make their profit from the obstacle known as distance, farmers from that known as hunger, cloth manufacturers from that known as cold. Teachers live on ignorance, gem cutters on vanity, lawyers on greed, notaries on the possibility of dishonesty, just as doctors depend on the illnesses suffered by men. It is thus very true that each Edition: current; Page: [17] occupation has an immediate interest in the continuation or even the extension of the particular obstacle that is the object of its efforts.

Seeing this, theoreticians come along and develop a theory based on these individual sentiments. They say: “Need is wealth, work is wealth; obstacles to well-being are well-being. Increasing the number of obstacles is to give sustenance to production.”

Next, statesmen come along. They have the coercive power of the state at their disposal, and what is more natural than for them to make use of it to develop and propagate obstacles, since this is also to develop and propagate wealth? For example, they say: “If we prevent iron from coming from those places in which it is plentiful, we will create an obstacle at home to our procuring it. This obstacle will be keenly felt and will make people ready to pay to be relieved of it. A certain number of our fellow citizens will devote themselves to combating it, and this obstacle will make their fortune. The greater it is, the scarcer the mineral or the more it is inaccessible, difficult to transport, and far from the centers of consumption, the more all this activity, with all its ramifications, will employ men. Let us keep out foreign iron, therefore; let us create the obstacle in order to create the work of combating it.”

The same reasoning will lead to machines being forbidden.

People will say: “Here are men who need to store their wine. This is an obstacle; here are other men whose occupation is to remove it by manufacturing barrels. It is thus a good thing that this obstacle exists, since it supplies a part of national work and enriches a certain number of our fellow citizens. However, here comes an ingenious machine that fells oak trees, squares them and divides them into a host of staves, assembles these and transforms them into containers for wine. The obstacle has become much less and with it the wealth of coopers. Let us maintain both through a law. Let us forbid the machine.”

In order to get to the bottom of this sophism you need only say to yourself that human work is not an aim but a means. It never remains unused. If it lacks one obstacle, it turns to another, and the human race is freed from two obstacles by the same amount of work that removed a single one. If ever the work of coopers became superfluous, they would turn to something else. “But with what,” people will ask, “would it be paid?” Precisely with what it is paid right now, for when one quantity of labor becomes available following the removal of an obstacle, a corresponding quantity of money also becomes available. To say that human labor will be brought to an end for lack Edition: current; Page: [18] of employment you would have to prove that the human race will cease to encounter obstacles. If that happened, work would not only be impossible, it would be superfluous. We would have nothing left to do because we would be all-powerful and we would just have to utter a fiat for all our needs and desires to be satisfied.1

3.: Effort and Result


Original title: “Effort, résultat.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 11 (April 1845): 10–16.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 19–27.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

We have just seen that there are obstacles between our needs and their satisfaction. We manage to overcome them or to reduce them by using our various faculties. In a very general way, we may say that production is an effort followed by a result.

But against what is our well-being or wealth measured? Is it on the result of the effort? Is it on the effort itself? There is always a ratio between the effort employed and the result obtained. Does progress consist in the relative increase of the second or of the first term of this relationship?

Both of these theses have been advocated; in political economy, they divide the field of opinion.

According to the first thesis, wealth is the result of output. It increases in accordance with the increase in the ratio of the result to the effort. Absolute perfection, of which the exemplar is God, consists in the infinite distancing of two terms, in this instance: effort nil; result infinite.

The second thesis claims that it is the effort itself that constitutes and measures wealth. To progress is to increase the ratio of the effort to the result. Edition: current; Page: [19] Its ideal may be represented by the effort, at once eternal and sterile, of Sisyphus.1,2

Naturally, the first welcomes everything that tends to decrease the difficulties involved and increase the product: the powerful machines that add to human powers, the trade that enables better advantage to be drawn from the natural resources spread to a greater or lesser extent over the face of the earth, the intelligence that makes discoveries, the experience that verifies these discoveries, the competition that stimulates production, etc.

Logically, by the same token, the second willfully summons up everything whose effect is to increase the difficulties of production and decrease the output: privileges, monopolies, restrictions, prohibitions, the banning of machines, sterility, etc.

It is fair to note that the universal practice of men is always directed by the principle of the first doctrine. Nobody has ever seen and nobody will ever see anyone working, whether he be a farmer, manufacturer, trader, artisan, soldier, writer, or scholar, who does not devote the entire force of his intelligence to doing things better, faster, and more economically, in a word, to doing more with less.

The opposite doctrine is practiced by theoreticians, deputies, journalists, statesmen, and ministers, in a word, men whose role in this world is to carry out experiments on society.

Again it should be noted that, with regard to things that concern them personally, they, like everybody else in the world, act on the principle of obtaining from work the greatest number of useful results possible.

You may think I am exaggerating, and that there are no real Sisyphists.

If you mean that, in practice, the principle is not pushed to the limit of its consequences, I would readily agree with you. Actually, this is always the case when people start from a false principle. It soon leads to results that are so absurd and harmful that one is simply forced to abandon it. For this reason, very practical productive activity never accepts Sisyphism: punishment would follow errors too closely for them not to be revealed. However, with regard to speculative theories of industrial activity, such as those developed Edition: current; Page: [20] by theoreticians and statesmen, a false principle may be followed for a long time before people are made aware of its falsity by complicated consequences of which moreover they are ignorant, and when at last they are revealed, and action is taken in accordance with the opposing principle, people contradict themselves and seek justification in this incomparably absurd modern axiom: in political economy there is no absolute principle.3

Let us thus see whether the two opposing principles that I have just established do not hold sway in turn, one in actual production and the other in the legislation regulating production.

I have already recalled something M. Bugeaud has said; however, in M. Bugeaud there are two men, one a farmer and the other a legislator.

As a farmer, M. Bugeaud tends to devote all his efforts to this twin aim: to save on work and to obtain bread cheaply. When he prefers a good cart to a bad one, when he improves the quality of fertilizer, when in order to break up his soil he substitutes the action of the atmosphere for that of the harrow or the hoe as far as he can, when he calls to his assistance all the procedures in which science and experiment have shown their effectiveness, he has and can have one single goal: to reduce the ratio of the effort to the result. Actually, we have no other way of recognizing the skill of the farmer and the quality of the procedure other than measuring what they have saved in effort and added to the result. And since all the farmers around the world act according to this principle, it may be said that the entire human race aspires, doubtless to its advantage, to obtaining bread or any other product more cheaply and to reducing the effort required to have a given quantity available.

Once account has been taken of this incontrovertible tendency in human beings, it ought to be enough to show legislators the real principle of the matter, that is, show them how they should be supporting productive economic activity (as far as it lies within their mission to support it), for it would be absurd to say that human laws ought to act in opposition to the laws of providence.

Nevertheless, the deputy, M. Bugeaud, has been heard to exclaim, “I do not understand the theory of low prices; I would prefer to see bread more expensive and work more plentiful.” And as a result, the deputy for the Dordogne has voted for legislative measures whose effect has been to hamper trade precisely because it indirectly procures us what direct production can supply us only at a higher cost.

Well, it is very clear that M. Bugeaud’s principle as a deputy is diametrically Edition: current; Page: [21] opposed to that of M. Bugeaud as a farmer. If he were consistent with himself, he would vote against any restriction in the Chamber or else he would carry onto his farm the principles he proclaims from the rostrum. He would then be seen to sow his wheat on the most infertile of his fields, since he would then succeed in working a great deal for little return. He would be seen to forbid the use of the plough, since cultivation using his nails would satisfy his double desire of making bread more expensive and work more plentiful.

The avowed aim and acknowledged effect of restriction is to increase work.

It also has the avowed aim and acknowledged effect of raising prices, which is nothing other than making products scarce. Thus, when taken to its limit, it is pure Sisyphism as we have defined it: infinite work, product nil.

Baron Charles Dupin,4 said to be a leading light among the peers in economic science, accuses the railway of harming shipping, and it is clear that it is the nature of a more perfect means to restrict the use of a means that is comparatively rougher. However, the railway can harm shipping only by diverting transport to itself; it can do so only by carrying it out more cheaply, and it can carry it out more cheaply only by reducing the ratio of the effort used to the result obtained, since this is what constitutes the lower cost. When, therefore, Baron Dupin deplores this reduction of work for a given result, he is following the lines of the doctrine of Sisyphism. Logically, since he prefers ships to rail, he ought to prefer carts to ships, packhorses to carts, and backpacks to all other known means of transport, since this is the means that requires the greatest amount of work for the least result.

“Work constitutes the wealth of a people,” said M. de Saint-Cricq, this minister of trade who imposed so many impediments to trade. It should not be believed that this was an elliptical proposition which meant: “The results of work constitute the wealth of a people.” No, this economist genuinely meant to say that it is the intensity of labor that measures wealth, and proof of this is that, from one inference to another, one restriction to another, he led France and considered he was doing a good thing in this, to devote twice as much work to acquire the same amount of iron, for example. In England, iron then cost 8 fr.; in France it cost 16 fr. If we take a day’s work to cost 1 fr., it is clear that France could, through trade, procure a quintal5 of iron for eight days taken from national work as a whole. Thanks to M. de Saint-Cricq’s Edition: current; Page: [22] restrictive measures, France needed sixteen days of work to obtain a quintal of iron through direct production. Double labor for identical satisfaction, therefore double wealth; here again wealth is measured not by outcomes but by the intensity of the work. Is this not Sisyphism in all its glory?

And so that there is no possible misunderstanding, the minister is careful to take his idea further, and in the same way as he has just called the intensity of labor wealth, he is heard calling the abundance resulting from production, or things likely to satisfy our needs, poverty. “Everywhere,” he says, “machines have taken the place of manpower; everywhere, there is an overabundance of production; everywhere the balance between the ability to produce and the means of consumption has been destroyed.” We see that, according to M. de Saint-Cricq, if France was in a critical situation it was because it produced too much and its production was too intelligent and fruitful. We were too well fed, too well clothed, too well provided for in every way. Production was too fast and exceeded all our desires. An end had to be put to this scourge, and to this end we had to force ourselves, through restrictions, to work more to produce less.

I have also recalled the opinion of another minister of trade, M. d’Argout. It is worth our spending a little time on it. As he wished to deliver a terrible blow to sugar beet, he said,

Growing sugar beet is doubtless useful, but its usefulness is limited. It does not involve the gigantic developments that people were happy to forecast for it. To be convinced of this, you just have to note that this crop will of necessity be restricted to the limits of consumption. Double or triple current consumption in France if you want, you will always find that a very minimal portion of the land would be enough to meet the needs of this consumption. (This is certainly a strange complaint!) Do you want proof of this? How many hectares6 were planted with sugar beet in 1828? There were 3,130, which is equivalent to 1/10540 of the cultivatable land. How many are there now that indigenous sugar7 has taken over one-third of consumption? There are 16,700 hectares, or 1/1978 of the cultivatable land, or 45 square meters [centiares] per commune. If we suppose that indigenous Edition: current; Page: [23] sugar had already taken over the entire consumption, we would have only 48,000 hectares planted with beetroot, or 1/680 of the cultivatable land.8,9

There are two things in this quotation: facts and doctrine. The facts tend to establish that little land, capital, and labor is needed to produce a great deal of sugar and that each commune in France would be abundantly provided with it if it devoted one hectare of its territory to its cultivation. The doctrine consists in seeing this situation as disastrous and seeing in the very power and fruitfulness of the new industry the limit of its usefulness.

I have no need to make myself the defender of sugar beet or the judge of the strange facts put forward by M. d’Argout,10 but it is worth examining in detail the doctrine of a statesman to whom France entrusted for many years the fate of its agriculture and trade.

I said at the beginning that there was a variable ratio between productive effort and its result; that absolute imperfection consists in an infinite effort with no result: that absolute perfection consists in an unlimited result with no effort; and that perfectibility consists in a gradual reduction in the effort compared to the result.

But M. d’Argout informs us that death is where we believe we are glimpsing life and that the importance of a branch of production is a direct result of its impotence. What, for example, can we expect from sugar beet? Do you not see that 48,000 hectares of land and a proportional amount of capital and manpower will be enough to provide all of France with sugar? Therefore it is an industry with limited usefulness, limited, of course, with regard to the input of labor it requires, the only way, according to the former minister, Edition: current; Page: [24] in which an industry can be useful. This usefulness would be much more limited still if, because of the fertility of the soil or the richness of the sugar beet, we harvested from 14,000 hectares what we could obtain only from 48,000. Oh! If twenty or a hundred times more land, capital, or labor were needed to achieve the same result, fair enough, we might build a few hopes on this new industry and it would be worthy of the full protection of the state, since it would offer a vast opportunity for national work. But to produce a lot with a little! That would be a bad example, and it is right for the law to establish order in this regard.

But what is the truth with regard to sugar cannot be a falsehood with regard to bread. If, therefore, the usefulness of an industry is to be assessed, not by the satisfaction it can provide through a given quantity of work, but on the contrary through the development of the work it requires to meet a given amount of satisfaction; what we ought obviously to want is that each hectare of land should produce little wheat and each grain of wheat little food. In other words, our territory should be infertile, since then the mass of land, capital, and labor that we would need to mobilize to feed the population would be much more in comparison. It might even be said that the market open to human labor will be in direct proportion to this infertility. The desires of MM. Bugeaud, Saint-Cricq, Dupin, and d’Argout will be granted. Bread will be expensive, work plentiful, and France will be rich, rich as these men understand the term.

What we ought to want in addition is for human intelligence to grow weaker and die out, for as long as it exists, it will constantly seek to increase the ratio of the end to the means and the product to the labor. It is actually in that, and only in that, that it consists.

Thus, Sisyphism is the doctrine of all the men who have been responsible for our economic development. It would not be just to blame them for this. This principle directs the ministers only because it holds sway in the Chambers; it holds sway in the Chambers only because it is sent there by the electorate, and the electorate is imbued with it only because public opinion is saturated with it.

I think I should repeat here that I am not accusing men such as MM. Bugeaud, Saint-Cricq, Dupin, and d’Argout of being absolutely and in all circumstances, Sisyphists. They are certainly not that in their private transactions; each one of them certainly obtains by exchange what it would cost him more to obtain through direct production. However, I say that they are Sisyphists when they prevent the country from doing the same thing.

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4.: Equalizing the Conditions of Production


Original title: “Égaliser les conditions de production.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 11 (July 1845): 345–56.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 27–45.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964

It is said . . . but, so that I am not accused of putting sophisms into the mouths of protectionists, I will let one of their most vigorous athletes speak for himself.

It has been thought that protection in our country ought to be simply a representation of the difference that exists between the cost price of a commodity that we produce and the cost price of a similar commodity produced by our neighbors. . . . A protective duty calculated on these bases ensures nothing more than free competition. Free competition exists only where conditions and charges are equal. In a horse race, the weight that each runner has to bear is weighed and the conditions are equalized; without this, they are no longer competitors. In matters of trade, if one of the sellers is able to deliver at lower cost, he ceases to be a competitor and becomes a monopolist. If you abolish this protection that represents the difference in cost, as soon as foreigners invade your market, they have acquired a monopoly in it.1

Each person has to want, for himself as for the others, the production of the country to be protected against foreign competition, wherever this can supply products at a lower price.2

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This argument recurs constantly in articles written by the protectionist school. I propose to examine it carefully, that is to say, I will be asking for the attention and even the patience of the reader. I will first deal with the inequalities that result from nature and then those that result from the differences in taxation.

Here, as elsewhere, we find the theoreticians of protection situated in the producers’ camp, whereas we are taking up the cause of these unfortunate consumers whom they refuse to take into account. They compare the field of industry to the race track.3 However, the race track is simultaneously the means and the end. The public takes no interest in the competition outside the competition itself. When you start your horses with the sole aim of knowing which is the best runner, I can understand that you make the weights equal. But if your aim is to ensure that a major and urgent item of news reaches the post, could you with impunity create obstacles for the one that might offer you the best conditions of speed? This is, however, what you are doing to economic production. You are forgetting the result sought, which is well-being. You leave this out of the account, and even sacrifice it through completely begging the question.

But since we cannot bring our opponents around to our point of view, let us adopt theirs and examine the question from the point of view of production.

I will seek to establish:

  • 1. That leveling the conditions of production is to attack the very basis of trade;
  • 2. That it is not true that production in one country is stifled by competition from more favored countries;
  • 3. That even if this were true, protectionist duties do not make production conditions equal;
  • 4. That freedom levels these conditions as far as they can be leveled;
  • 5. Lastly, that it is the countries that are least favored that gain the most from trade.

I. Leveling the conditions of production is not merely hampering a few transactions; it is attacking the very principle of trade, since it is based precisely Edition: current; Page: [27] on this diversity, or, if you prefer, on these inequalities of fertility, aptitude, climate, or temperature that you wish to wipe out. If the Guyenne sends wine to Brittany and Brittany wheat to the Guyenne, it is because these two provinces are situated in different conditions of production.4 Is there a different law for international trade? Once again, to hold against them the inequality of conditions that motivates and accounts for their actions is to attack their very raison d’être. If the protectionists had enough logic and power on their side, they would reduce men, like snails, to total isolation. Besides, there is not one of their sophisms that, when subjected to the test of rigorous deduction, does not end in destruction and annihilation.

II. It is not true in fact that the inequality in conditions between two similar productive enterprises necessarily leads to the fall of the one that is the less well endowed. At the race track, if one runner wins the prize, the other loses it, but when two horses work to produce useful commodities, each produces to the extent of its strength, and because the stronger provides the more services, it does not follow that the weaker provides none at all. Wheat is grown in all the départements of France, although there are huge differences of fertility between them and if, by chance, there is one that does not grow wheat, it is because it is not good, even for that département, to grow it. In the same way, a similar argument tells us that, under the regime of freedom, in spite of differences like these, wheat would be produced in all the kingdoms of Europe, and if there were one which had decided to abandon this crop it would be because, in its own interest, it had found a better use for its land, capital, and labor. And why does the fertility of a département not paralyze farmers in neighboring départements that are less favored? Because economic phenomena have a flexibility, elasticity, and, so to speak, a capacity for leveling that appears to escape the grasp of the protectionist school totally. The latter accuses us of being prisoners of a system, but it is its own members who are rigid to the highest degree, if the spirit of such consists in building arguments based on a single fact rather than on a set of facts. In the example above, it is the difference in the value of the land that compensates for the difference in its fertility. Your field produces three times as much as mine. Yes, but it has cost you ten times more and I can still compete with you. This is the question in a nutshell. And note that superiority in some Edition: current; Page: [28] respects brings about inferiority in others. It is precisely because your land is more fruitful that it is more expensive, in such a way that it is not accidental, but necessary for a balance to be established or to tend to become established. And can it be denied that freedom is the regime that favors this trend the most?

I have quoted one branch of agriculture, but I could have quoted a branch of manufacturing just as well. There are tailors in Quimper,5 and that does not prevent there being tailors in Paris, even though rent, furnishings, workers, and food cost Paris tailors much more. But they also have a very different class of customers, and this is enough not only to restore the balance but also even to tilt it in their favor.

So when we talk about balancing the conditions of work, we have at least to examine whether freedom does not do what we are asking arbitrary rule to do.

This natural leveling out of economic phenomena is so important functionally and at the same time so worthy of our admiration for the providential wisdom that presides in the egalitarian governance of our society, that I ask your permission to dwell on it for a moment.

You protectionists say that such and such a people have the advantage of cheap coal, iron, machines, and capital over us; we cannot compete with them.

This statement will be examined from other points of view. For the present I am limiting myself to the question whether, when superiority and inferiority confront one another, they do not carry within themselves, in the latter case, a natural tendency to rise and in the former to descend, such as to bring them back to a fair balance.

Here we have two countries, A and B. A has all sorts of advantages over B. You conclude from this that labor would be concentrated in A and that B is powerless to do anything. A, you say, sells a great deal more than it purchases, while B purchases much more than it sells. I might dispute this, but I align myself with your viewpoint.

In this hypothetical circumstance, the demand for labor is high in A and it soon becomes more expensive.

Iron, coal, land, food, and capital are in high demand in A and they soon become more expensive.

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At the same time, labor, iron, coal, land, food, capital, and everything else are in very low demand in B and soon become much cheaper.

That is not all. As A still continues to sell and B continues to purchase, money passes from B to A. It is plentiful in A and scarce in B.

But where there is an abundance of money, this means that you need a great deal to buy anything else. Therefore, in A, to the high real prices which result from very active demand must be added the high nominal money prices due to the excess supply of precious metals.6

Scarcity of money means that little is needed for each purchase. Therefore in B, low nominal money prices combine with low real prices.

In these circumstances, production will have all sorts of reasons, reasons that are, if I may put it this way, raised to the fourth power, to leave A and establish itself in B.

Or, to stick to literal truth, let us say that production would not have waited up to now, that sudden moves are contrary to its nature and that, from the outset under a free regime, it would have gradually divided and distributed itself between A and B in accordance with the laws of supply and demand, that is to say, in accordance with the laws of justice and usefulness.

And when I say that, if it were possible for production to concentrate at a single point, an irresistible force for decentralization would arise within it for this very reason, I am not speaking hypothetically.

Listen to what a manufacturer had to say in the chamber of commerce in Manchester (I am omitting the figures he used to support his demonstration):

In former times we exported fabrics, then this activity gave way to the export of yarn, which is the raw material of fabric, and then to the export of machines, which are the tools of production for yarn, and later to the export of capital, with which we built our machines, and finally to the export of our workers and our industrial genius, which are the source of our capital. All these changes in production succeeded one another in moving to where they might be exercised to greatest advantage, where the cost of living was lowest and life easier, so that now we can see in Prussia, Austria, Saxony, Switzerland, and Italy huge factories established with English capital, operated using English workers and directed by English engineers.

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You can see clearly that nature, or rather providence, which is more ingenious, wise, and farsighted than your narrow and rigid theory supposes, did not want this concentration of work, this monopoly of all the forms of superiority that you argue to be an absolute and irremediable fact, to continue. It made it possible, using means that are as simple as they are infallible, for there to be dispersion, dissemination, solidarity, and simultaneous progress, all things that your restrictive laws paralyze as far as they can, since, by isolating peoples, they tend to make their differences in living conditions much more entrenched, to prevent leveling out, obstruct intermingling, neutralize counterbalancing tendencies, and entrap nations in their respective superiority or inferiority.

III. In the third place, to say that through a protectionist duty the conditions of production are equalized is to use an inaccurate turn of phrase to put across an error. It is not true that an import duty brings the conditions of production into balance. After the imposition of an import duty, these conditions remain what they were before. All that this duty balances at most are the conditions of sale. It will perhaps be said that I am playing with words, but I will throw this accusation back at my opponents. It is for them to prove that production and sale are synonymous, and unless they do so, I am entitled to blame them, if not for playing with words, at least for mixing them up.

Let me give an example to illustrate my idea.

Let me suppose that a few Parisian speculators have the bright idea of devoting their time to the production of oranges. They know that Portuguese oranges can be sold in Paris for 10 centimes, whereas they, in view of the conservatories and greenhouses they need because of the cold that often undermines their cultivation, cannot demand less than 1 franc in order to cover their costs. They demand that oranges from Portugal should be subject to a duty of 90 centimes. Through this duty, the conditions of production, as they say, will be balanced and the Chamber when giving way as usual to this line of reasoning, adds an import duty of 90 centimes for each foreign orange to the customs tariffs.

Well then, I say that the conditions of production have not changed in the slightest. The law has removed nothing from the heat of the sun in Lisbon nor the frequency or intensity of the frosts in Paris. Oranges will continue to mature naturally on the banks of the Tagus and artificially on the banks of the Seine, that is to say, that it will require much more human work in one country than in the other. What will be balanced are the conditions of sale: the Portuguese will have to sell us their oranges at 1 franc, including 90 Edition: current; Page: [31] centimes to pay the tax. Obviously, the tax will be paid by French consumers. And look at the oddity of the result. On each Portuguese orange consumed, our country will lose nothing, for the 90 centimes more that are paid by the consumer will go to the treasury. There will be displacement but no loss. However, on each French orange consumed, there will be 90 centimes or thereabouts of loss, since the purchaser will certainly lose this and the seller, also certainly, will not earn this since, according to the hypothesis itself, he will have earned only the cost price. I leave the protectionists to draw the right conclusion.

IV. If I have stressed this distinction between the conditions of production and the conditions of sale, one which the protectionists will doubtless find paradoxical, it is because it will lead me to afflict them once more with another paradox that is even stranger, which is this: Do you really want to balance the conditions of production? Then let trade be free.

Oh! people will say, that is too much at this time, and an abuse of intellectual games. Well then, if only through curiosity, I ask the protectionists to follow my line of argument to the bitter end. It will not take long. Let me go back to my example.

If you agree to suppose for a minute that the average, daily earnings of each Frenchman come to 1 franc, it will ineluctably follow that to produce one orange directly in France will require one day’s work or its equivalent whereas to produce the exchange value of one Portuguese orange only one-tenth of a day’s work is needed, which means nothing other than that the sun does in Lisbon what work does in Paris. Well, is it not obvious that, if I can produce an orange or what amounts to the same thing, the means to buy one, with one-tenth of a day’s work, my position with regard to this production is subject to the same conditions as the Portuguese producer himself, except for the transport costs, which I must incur? It is therefore apparent that freedom balances the direct or indirect conditions of production, as far as they can be balanced, since it leaves only one remaining inevitable difference, that of transport.

I will add that freedom also balances the conditions of enjoyment, satisfaction, and consumption, which are never taken into account and which are nevertheless essential, since in the end consumption is the final aim of all our productive efforts. Through free trade we would enjoy the Portuguese sun just as Portugal herself does and the inhabitants of Le Havre, like those of London and under the same conditions, will have access to the advantages that nature has conferred on Newcastle with respect to its mineral resources.

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V. Gentlemen of the protectionist persuasion, you think me full of paradox! Well, I want to go even further. I say, and I think this quite sincerely, that if two countries are placed in unequal conditions of production, it is the one of the two which is less favored by nature that has the more to gain from free trade. To prove this, I will have to digress a little from the form this article should take. I will nevertheless do this, first of all because this is the nub of the matter and also because it will give me the opportunity of setting out a law of economics of the greatest importance which, when correctly understood, seems to me to be destined to bring back into the fold of science all the sects that these days seek in the land of illusion the social harmony that they have been unable to discover in nature. I wish to speak about the law of consumption, which the majority of economists may be blamed for having too long much neglected.

Consumption is the end, the final purpose of all economic phenomena, in which purpose consequently lies their final, definitive solution.

Nothing favorable or unfavorable can stop permanently at the producer’s door. The advantages that nature and society have heaped on him, like the disadvantages that afflict him, slide over him,7 so to speak, and tend to be unconsciously absorbed by, mingled with, the community, understood from the point of view of consumption. We have here a law that is admirable in its cause and its effects alike, and the man who succeeds in describing it properly will have, I think, the right to say, “I have not spent time on this earth without contributing something to society.”

Any circumstance that encourages production is welcomed joyfully by the producer since its immediate effect is to put him in a position to provide even more services to the community and to demand greater remuneration from it. Any circumstance that hampers production is received with disappointment by the producer since its immediate effect is to limit his services and therefore his remuneration. It was necessary for the immediate gains and losses resulting from fortunate or unfortunate circumstances to be the lot of the producer, so that he would be irresistibly drawn to seeking the former and avoiding the latter.

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In the same way, when a worker succeeds in improving his output, he receives the immediate benefit of this improvement. This was necessary for him to be motivated to work intelligently; it was proper because an effort crowned with success ought to bring its reward with it.

But I hold that these good and bad effects, although permanent in themselves, are not so for producers. If this were so, a principle of gradual and subsequently infinite inequality between men would have been introduced, and this is why these favorable and unfavorable events are soon absorbed into the general fortunes of the human race.

How does this work? I will give a few examples to help it to be understood.

Let us go back to the thirteenth century.8 The men who devoted themselves to the art of copying received for their services payment that was governed by the general level of profits. Among them, there happened to be one who sought and discovered the means to increase the copies of the same book rapidly. He invented printing.

In the first instance, one man became richer and many others grew poorer. At first glance, however marvelous the discovery was, people hesitated as to whether it was not more disastrous than useful. It seemed that it was introducing into the world, just as I said, an element of indefinite inequality. Gutenberg made money with his invention and extended his invention using this money, and did this ad infinitum until he had ruined all other copiers. As for the public, the consumers, they gained little, for Gutenberg took care to decrease the price for his books to no more than was necessary to undercut his rivals.

But the thought that put harmony into the movement of the heavenly bodies was also able to insert it into the internal mechanisms of society. We will see the economic advantages of the invention escape from one individual and become the common and eternal heritage of the masses.

In the event, the procedure ended up by becoming known. Gutenberg was no longer the only printer; others imitated him. Their profits were at first considerable. They were rewarded for being the first to go down the path of imitation, and this was still necessary in order to attract them and so that they could contribute to the great result we were approaching. They earned a great deal, but less than the inventor, since competition had begun to work. The price of books continued to decrease. The profits of the imitators decreased as Edition: current; Page: [34] the date of the invention receded, that is to say, as imitation became less meritorious. Soon the new industry reached its normal state, in other words, the pay given to printers was no longer exceptional and, as for scribes in former times, it was governed only by the general level of profitability. Thus production, as such, returned to what it had been at the beginning. The invention was, nevertheless, no less of a boon; the saving in time, work, and effort for a given result, for a determined number of items, was nonetheless achieved. But how does it manifest itself? Through the low price of books. And for whose benefit? For the benefit of consumers, society, and the human race. Printers, who now have no exceptional merit, no longer receive exceptional remuneration. As men and consumers, they are doubtless beneficiaries of the advantages that the invention has bestowed on the community. But that is all. As printers and as producers, they are once again subject to the common conditions governing all producers in the country. Society pays them for their work, and not for the usefulness of the invention. The invention itself has become part of the common heritage and free to the entire human race.

I admit that the wisdom and beauty of these laws have struck me with admiration and respect. I see Saint-Simonist doctrines9 in them: To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to his work. I see communism in them, that is to say, the tendency for property to become the common heritage of men. But this is a Saint-Simonism and a communism governed by infinite farsightedness, and not in the slightest abandoned to the fragility, passions, and arbitrary rule of men.

What I have said about printing can be said about all the tools of work, from the hammer and nail to the locomotive and electric telegraph. Society benefits from everything through the abundance of the things it consumes, and benefits from these freely, for their effect is to reduce the price of objects; and the entire portion of the price that has been abolished and that represents fully the contribution of the invention in the production process obviously makes the product free to this extent. All that remains to be paid for is the human work, the work done now, and this is paid for regardless of the Edition: current; Page: [35] resulting benefit of the invention, at least where it has gone through the cycle I have just described and which it is destined to go through. I call a workman to my home; he arrives with a saw, I pay two francs for his day’s work, and he produces twenty-five planks. If the saw had not been invented, he would probably not have made a single plank and I would not have paid him any less for his day’s work. The usefulness produced by the saw is therefore a free gift of nature to me; or rather it is a portion of the heritage I have received, in common with all my fellows, from the intelligence of our ancestors. I have two workers in my field. One holds the handles of a plough, the other the handle of a spade. The result of their work is very different, but their day’s pay is the same since pay is not subject to the usefulness produced but to the effort or the work required.

I call upon the reader’s patience and beg him to believe that I have not lost sight of commercial freedom. Let him just remember the conclusion that I have reached: Remuneration is not in proportion to the useful contributions that the producer brings to the market but to his work.10

I have taken my examples from human inventions. Let us now talk about natural advantages.

All products incorporate a contribution from both nature and man. However, the portion of usefulness contributed by nature is always free. Only that portion of usefulness resulting from human work is subject to exchange and consequently to remuneration. This doubtless varies a great deal because of the intensity of the work, the skill required, its promptness, its relevance, the need for it, the temporary absence of competition, etc., etc. But it is no less true in principle that the contribution of natural laws, which belong to everyone, does not enter into the price of the product.

We do not pay for the air we breathe, although it is so useful to us that we would not be able to live for two minutes without it. In spite of this, we do not pay for it because nature supplies it to us without any human intervention. If, however, we wish, for example, to separate out one of the gases that make it up to carry out an experiment, we have to make a certain effort or, if we have someone else make the effort, we will have to sacrifice to him an equivalent amount of effort that we have put into another product. In this way we see that there is an exchange in pain, effort, and work. It is not really Edition: current; Page: [36] for oxygen that I am paying, since it is available to me everywhere, but for the effort required to separate it out, work that I have been spared and which I need to compensate. Will I be told that other things, such as expenses, materials, or apparatus, need to be paid for? Once again, it is the work contained in these things that I am paying for. The price of the coal used represents the work that has needed to be done to extract and transport it.

We do not pay for sunlight since nature lavishes it on us. But we pay for the light obtained from gas, tallow, oil, or wax because this includes human work that requires remuneration. And note that the remuneration is so closely proportioned to the work done and not to its usefulness, that it may well happen that one of these sources of light, even though it is much brighter than the others, is nevertheless less expensive. For this to happen, all that is necessary is for the same quantity of human work to produce more.

When a water carrier comes to supply my house, if I paid him according to the absolute usefulness of the water, my entire fortune would not be enough. However, I pay him according to the trouble he has taken. If he demanded more, others would take over, and in the end, if need be, I would take the trouble myself. Water is not really the subject of our bargain, but in reality the work involved in relation to the water. This point of view is so important and the consequences I am going to draw from it so illuminating, with regard to international free trade, that I feel I have to elucidate my ideas with other examples.

The quantity of nourishment contained in potatoes does not cost us very much because we obtain a great deal with very little work. We pay more for wheat because, in order to produce it, nature requires a great deal of human work. It is obvious that, if nature behaved in the same way for one as for the other, their prices would tend to level out. It is not possible for wheat producers to earn much more on a regular basis than potato producers. The law of competition prevents this.

If, by a happy miracle, the fertility of all arable land happened to increase, it would not be the farmer but the consumer who would reap the advantage of this phenomenon, because the result would be abundance and cheap prices. There would be less labor incorporated in each hectoliter of wheat11 and the farmer would be able to trade it only for less labor incorporated in another product. If, on the contrary, the fertility of the soil suddenly decreased, the contribution by nature to production would be less, the contribution Edition: current; Page: [37] of work more, and the product would be more expensive. I was therefore right to say that it is in consumption, in the human race, that all economic phenomena are resolved in the long run. As long as we have not followed their effects to this point, as long as we stop at the immediate effects, those that affect one man or one class of men, as producers, we are not being economists, any more than someone who, instead of monitoring the effects of a potion on the whole of the organism, merely limits himself to observing how it affects the palate or throat in order to judge it, is a doctor.12

Tropical regions are highly suited to the production of sugar and coffee. This means that nature carries out the majority of the task and leaves very little work to be done. Who then reaps the advantages of this generosity of nature? It is not at all these regions, since competition means that they receive payment only for their work; it is the human race, since the result of this generosity is called low prices, and they belong to everyone.

Here we have a temperate zone in which coal and iron ore are on the surface of the land and you have only to bend down to pick it up. In the first instance, the inhabitants benefit from this happy circumstance, I agree. But soon, competition will start and the price of coal and iron will decrease to the point where the gift of nature is free to everyone and human work alone is remunerated in accordance with the general level of profitability.

In this way, the generosity of nature, like the advances made in production processes, is or constantly tends to become the common and free heritage of consumers, the masses, and the human race, in accordance with the law of competition. Therefore the countries that do not have these advantages have everything to gain from trading with those that do, because it is work which is exchanged, setting aside the natural utilities that work encompasses; and obviously the countries that are most favored have incorporated the most of these natural utilities in a given amount of production. Their products, since they represent less work, fetch lower prices; in other words, they are cheaper, and if all the generosity of nature results in cheapness, obviously it is not the producing country but the consuming country that receives the benefit.

From this we see the immense absurdity of this consumer country if it Edition: current; Page: [38] rejects a product precisely because it is cheap; it is as though it were saying: “I do not want anything that nature provides. You are asking me for an effort worth two in order to give me a product that I can create only with work worth four; you can do this because in your country nature has accomplished half of the work. Well then! I for my part will reject it and I will wait until your climate has become more inclement and forces you to require work worth four from me, so that we may trade on an equal footing.

A is a favored country. B is a country ill-treated by nature. I say that trade is beneficial to both of them and especially to B since the trade is not in utilities for utilities but in value for value. Well, A includes more utilities in the same value, since the utility of the product encompasses what nature has contributed to it as well as what work has contributed, whereas the value corresponds only to what work has contributed. Therefore, B strikes a bargain that is wholly to its advantage. In paying the producer in A simply for his work, it receives more natural utilities that it gives over and above the trade.13

Let us set out the general rule.

A trade is an exchange of values; since the value is reduced by competition to the work involved, trade is thus an exchange of equal work. What nature has provided to the products being traded is given from one to the other freely and over and above the trade, from which it strictly follows that trade with the countries most favored by nature are the most advantageous.

The theory whose lines and contours I have tried to trace in this article needs to be developed more fully. I have discussed it as it relates to my subject, commercial freedom. But perhaps an attentive reader will have perceived the fertile seed, the growth and spread of which will necessarily stifle protection, along with protectionism, Fourierism,14 Saint-Simonism, communism, and all the schools whose object is to exclude the law of competition from the governance of the world. Considered from the point of view of producers, Edition: current; Page: [39] competition doubtless upsets our individual and immediate interests, but if you consider it from the point of view of the general aim of all production, of universal well-being, in a word, of consumption, you will find that competition accomplishes the same role in a moral world as equilibrium does in a material one. Competition is the foundation of genuine communism, true socialism, and the equality of well-being and conditions, so longed for these days, and if so many sincere political writers, so many reformers of good faith, demand this equality from arbitrary government power, it is because they do not understand freedom.

5.: Our Products Are Weighed Down with Taxes


Original title: “Nos produits sont grevés de taxes.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 11 (July 1845): 356–60.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 46–52.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

This is the same sophism. People demand that foreign products be taxed in order to neutralize the effects of the taxation that burdens our national products. This too, then, is about equalizing the conditions of production. The only observation we would want to make is that tax is an artificial obstacle with exactly the same result as a natural obstacle: it forces prices to rise. If this rise reaches the point at which a greater loss is incurred in creating the product itself than there is in bringing it in from outside and creating a countervalue for it, let it happen.1 Private interest will be fully capable of choosing the lesser of two evils. I could therefore refer the reader back to the preceding argument, but the sophism that I have to combat here recurs so often in the complaints and appeals, I might almost say the pressing claims, of the protectionist school, that it is well worth discussing it separately.

If we want to discuss one of those special taxes to which certain products Edition: current; Page: [40] are subject, I will readily agree that it is reasonable to subject foreign products to these also. For example, it would be absurd to exempt foreign salt from tax, not that from an economic point of view France loses anything, on the contrary. Whatever we say about this, principles are constant, and France would gain, just as she will always gain from avoiding a natural or artificial obstacle. However, here the obstacle has been established with a fiscal aim. This aim has to be achieved, and if foreign salt were to be sold in our market free of duty, the treasury would not recover its hundred million and would have to exact this amount from some other form of taxation. It would quite evidently be contradictory to put in the way of a specific policy an obstacle calculated to prevent it. It would have been better to address this other tax first of all and not tax French salt.2 These are the circumstances that I accept for inflicting a duty that is not protectionist but fiscal on a foreign product.

But to claim that a nation has to protect itself through tariffs against competition from a rival because it is subject to heavier taxes than a neighboring country, this is where the sophism lies, and this is what I intend to attack.

I have said several times that I intend only to set out a theory and go back, as far as I am able, to the sources of the protectionists’ errors. If I were indulging in polemics, I would say to them, “Why are you aiming tariffs principally against England and Belgium, the countries in the world that are most burdened with taxes? Am I not entitled to see in your argument only a pretext?” However, I am not one of those who believe that people are protectionist through interest and not through conviction. Protectionist doctrine is too popular not to be sincere. If the majority had faith in freedom, we would be free. Doubtless it is private interest that causes our tariffs to weigh down on us so heavily, but this is after it has acted on our convictions. “Will,” said Pascal, “is one of the principal organs of belief.”3 However, belief is no less real for having its roots in will and in the secret inspiration of egoism.

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Let us return to the sophism derived from taxation.

The state can make good or bad use of taxes; it makes good use of them when it provides the public with services that are equivalent to the flow of revenue the public contributes to it. It makes bad use of them when it squanders these resources without giving anything in return.

In the first case, to say that taxes put the country that pays them in a less favorable position with regard to production than one that does not pay them is a sophism. We pay twenty million for law and the police,4 it is true, but we have law and the police, the security they provide us, and the time they save us, and it is highly probable that production is neither easier nor more active in those nations, if they exist, where everyone carries out law and order for himself. We pay several hundred million for roads, bridges, ports, and railways, I agree.5 But we have these railways, ports, and roads, and unless we claim that we are making a bad bargain in building them, nobody can say that they make us inferior to those peoples who, it is true, do not contribute to a budget for public works but do not have any public works either. And this explains why, while accusing taxes of being one of the causes of inferior industrial capacity, we aim our tariffs precisely against those nations that are the most taxed. It is because taxes, when used well, far from damaging them, have improved the conditions of production of these nations. So we always come to the same conclusion, that protectionist sophisms not only depart from the truth but are also contrary, are the direct opposite, to the truth.

As for taxes that are unproductive, abolish them if you can. The strangest conceivable way of neutralizing their effects, however, is surely to add specific individual taxes to public ones. Spare us any such compensation! The state has taxed us too much, you say. Well then, all the more reason for our not taxing each other any further!

A protectionist duty is a tax aimed against a foreign product but which falls, and let us never forget this, on the national consumer. Now, the consumer Edition: current; Page: [42] is a taxpayer. And is it not ludicrous to say to him: “Since taxes are heavy, we are going to raise the prices of everything to you; since the state takes a part of your income, we are going to pay another part to the monopoly”?

But let us probe further a sophism so esteemed by our legislators, although it is rather extraordinary that it is precisely those who maintain unproductive taxes (the proposition I am drawing your attention to now) who are attributing our alleged industrial inferiority to them in order to make this good subsequently through other taxes and restrictions.

It appears obvious to me that, without changing its nature and effects, protection might have taken the form of a direct tax raised by the state and distributed through indemnity subsidies to privileged industries.

Let us assume that foreign iron can be sold in our market at 8 francs and no lower and French iron at 12 francs and not below this.

Under such circumstances, the state has two ways of ensuring that the national producer retains a dominant position in the market.

The first is to subject foreign iron to a duty of 5 francs. It is clear that foreign iron would be excluded since it could now be sold only at 13 francs, 8 francs being the cost price and 5 francs the tax, and that at this price it would be chased out of the market by French iron, which we have taken to cost 12 francs. In this case, the purchaser, the consumer, will have paid all the costs of this protection.

The state might also have imposed a tax of 5 francs on the public and given it as a subsidy to ironmasters. The protectionist effect would have been the same. Foreign iron would have been equally excluded, since our ironmaster would have sold at 7 francs which, with the subsidy of 5 francs, would give him his profitable price of 12 francs. However, faced with iron at 7 francs, foreigners would not be able to deliver theirs at 8.

I can see only one difference between these two systems: the principle is the same and the effect is the same, except that in one case protection is paid for by a few and in the other by all.

I admit frankly my preference for the second system. It seems to me more just, more economic, and more straightforward. More just because if society wants to give handouts to a few of its members, everyone has to contribute; more economic because it would save a great deal in collection costs and would cause a great many restrictions to disappear; and finally, more straightforward since the public would see clearly how the operation worked and what they were being made to do.

If the protectionist system had taken this form, however, would it not be rather risible to hear it said, “We pay heavy taxes for the army, navy, law and Edition: current; Page: [43] order, public works, the university, the national debt, etc., and this exceeds a billion.6 For this reason, it would be a good thing if the state took another billion from us to ease the situation of these poor ironmasters, these poor shareholders of Anzin,7 these unfortunate owners of forests, and these cod fishermen who are so useful.”

If you look closely, you will see that this is what the significance of the sophism I am combating is reduced to. Whatever you do, sirs, you can give money to some only by taking it from others. If you genuinely wish to drain taxpayers dry, go ahead, but at least do not mock them and say to them, “I am taking from you to compensate you for what I have already taken from you.”

We would never reach the end of it if we wished to note everything that is false in this sophism. I will limit myself to three considerations.

You win acceptance for the fact that France is burdened with taxes in order to infer that such and such an industry ought to be protected. But we have to pay these taxes in spite of protection. If therefore an industry comes forward and says, “I contribute to the payment of taxes; this raises the cost price of my products and I demand that a protectionist duty should also raise the sales price,” what else is it demanding than to discharge its tax onto the rest of the community? It claims to be recouping the increase in tax it has paid by raising the price of its products. So, as all taxes have always to be paid to the treasury, and as the masses have to bear this increase in price, they pay both their taxes and those of this industry. “But,” you will say, “everyone is being protected.” Firstly, this is impossible and, even if it were possible, where would the relief be? I am paying for you and you for me; but the tax still needs to be paid.

In this way, you are being fooled by an illusion. You want to pay taxes to have an army, a navy, a religion, a university, judges, roads, etc., and then you want to relieve of its share of taxes first one industry, then a second, and then a third, always by sharing the burden among the masses. But you are doing nothing other than creating interminable complications, with no other result than these complications themselves. Prove to me that the increase in price resulting from protection falls on foreigners, and I will be able to see something specious in your argument. But if it is true that the French public paid Edition: current; Page: [44] the tax before the law and that after the law it paid both the protection and the tax, then I really do not see what it gains by this.

I will even go much further; I say that the heavier our taxes are, the more we should be in a hurry to open our ports and frontiers to foreigners who are less taxed than us. Why? In order to pass on to them a greater part of our burden. Is it not an undeniable axiom in political economy that, in the long run, taxes fall on the consumer? The more our trading transactions are increased, the more foreign consumers will reimburse us the taxes included in the products we sell them, while we would have to make them in this respect only a lesser restitution, since according to our hypothesis their products are less taxed than ours.

In sum, have you never asked whether these heavy taxes that you use in argument to justify the protectionist regime are not caused by this regime itself? I would like to be told what the great standing armies and the powerful navies would be used for if trade were free8 . . . But this is a question for politicians,

  • And let us not confuse, by going too deeply,
  • Their business with ours.9

6.: The Balance of Trade


Original title: “Balance du commerce.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 12 (October 1845): 201–4. Edition: current; Page: [45]
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 52–57.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

Our opponents have adopted a tactic which we cannot help feeling embarrassed about. Are we getting our views across? They accept them with the utmost respect. Are we attacking their fundamental approach? They abandon it with the best grace in the world. They ask for only one thing, which is that our views, which they hold to be true, should be relegated to books and that their approach, which they acknowledge to be faulty, should reign over the carrying out of business. Leave them the handling of tariffs and they will not dispute your having the domain of theory.

“Certainly”, said M. Gaulthier de Rumilly1 recently, “none of us wants to resurrect the old theories on the balance of trade.” Very well, but M. Gaulthier, it is not enough just to administer a slap in the face to error as you pass by; you must also desist from reasoning immediately afterward and for two hours at a time as though this error was the truth.

Talk to me about M. Lestiboudois.2 Here is someone who reasons consistently, a logician who can debate. There is nothing in his conclusions that is not in his premises: he asks nothing of practice that he cannot justify in theory. His basic ideas may be false, and that is indeed the dispute. But at least he has some basic ideas. He believes and proclaims loudly that if France pays ten to receive fifteen it is losing five, and he quite straightforwardly makes laws in this light.

“What is important,” he says, ”is that the figure for imports is constantly increasing and exceeds that for exports, that is to say, each year France purchases more foreign products and sells fewer products produced nationally. The figures are there to prove it. What do we see? In 1842, we see imports Edition: current; Page: [46] exceed exports by 200 million.3 These facts appear to me to prove with utter clarity that national work is not sufficiently protected, that we let foreign work take care of our needs and that competition from our rivals is beating our industry down. The law currently in force appears to sanction the fact that it is not true, contrary to what economists say, that when we buy we sell of necessity a corresponding portion of goods. It is obvious that we can buy things, not with our customary products, not with our income, not with the fruit of ongoing production but with our capital, with products that have been accumulated and saved and those used for making more, that is to say, we can spend and dissipate the profits of previous savings, that we can grow poorer and march toward our ruin and that we can consume the national capital in its entirety. This is exactly what we are doing. Each year, we give 200 million to foreigners.

Well then, here is a man with whom we can agree. His language contains no hypocrisy. The balance of trade is set out clearly. France imports 200 million more than it exports. Therefore, France is losing 200 million a year. And the remedy? To prevent imports. The conclusion is irreproachable.

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It is therefore M. Lestiboudois whom we are going to attack, for how can we combat M. Gaulthier? If you say to him, “The balance of trade is a mistake,” he will reply to you, “That is what I have put forward in my introductory remarks.” If you exclaim, “But the balance of trade is a truth,” he will reply to you, “That is what I have stated in my conclusions.” The Economist School4 will doubtless criticize me for debating with M. Lestiboudois. Combating the balance of trade, I will be told, is like tilting at windmills.

Take care, however; the balance of trade is neither as old, nor as sick, nor as dead as M. Gaulthier wishes to tell us, for the entire Chamber, including M. Gaulthier himself, aligned themselves with M. Lestiboudois’s theory through their vote.

However, in order not to tire the reader, I will not go into this theory. I will content myself with subjecting it to the test of facts.

Our principles are constantly being accused of being correct only in theory. But tell me, sirs, do you believe that the account books of businessmen are correct in practice? It seems to me that, if there is anything in the world that has practical authority when it is a question of ascertaining profits and losses, it is commercial accounting. Apparently all the traders on earth have not agreed down the centuries to keep their books in such a fashion that profits are shown as losses and losses as profits. Truly, I would prefer to believe that M. Lestiboudois is a bad economist.

Well, when one of my friends, who is a trader, completed two operations with very contrasting results, I was curious to compare the accounts of the warehouse with those of the customs service, interpreted by M. Lestiboudois with the sanction of our six hundred legislators.

M.T. shipped from Le Havre to the United States a cargo of French goods, in the majority products known as articles de Paris,5 for an amount of 200,000 fr. This was the figure declared to the customs. When it arrived in New Orleans, it was found that the cargo had incurred 10 percent of costs and paid 30 percent in duty, which made it worth 280,000 fr. It was sold at a profit of 20 percent, or 40,000 fr., and produced a total of 320,000 fr., which the consignee converted into cotton. These cotton goods further had to bear 10 percent costs for transport, insurance, commission, etc., so that, when it entered Le Havre, the new cargo was worth 352,000 fr., and this was the figure recorded in the registers of the customs. Lastly, M.T. made another Edition: current; Page: [48] 20 percent profit on this return shipment, or 70,400 fr.; in other words, the cotton goods were sold for 422,400 fr.

If M. Lestiboudois requires it, I will send him an excerpt from M.T.’s books. He will see there under the credits of the profit and loss account, that is to say as profits, two entries, one for 40,000, the other for 70,400 fr., and M.T. is totally convinced that in this respect his accounts are not misleading him.

However, what do the figures that the customs have recorded regarding this operation tell M. Lestiboudois? They tell him that France has exported 200,000 fr. and that it has imported 352,000 fr., from which the honorable deputy concludes “that it has spent and dissipated the profits of previous savings, that it has impoverished itself, that it is marching toward ruin, and that it has given 152,000 fr. of capital to foreigners.

A short time afterward, M.T. shipped another cargo of nationally produced goods worth 200,000 fr. But the unfortunate ship foundered on leaving the port, and M.T. was left with no alternative but to record in his books two short entries, as follows:

Various goods debited to X for 200,000 fr. for the purchase of various articles shipped by the boat N.

Profit and loss due to various goods 200,000 fr. for the total and final loss of the cargo.

In the meantime, the customs had recorded for its part 200,000 fr. on its export table, and since it will never have anything to record on the imports table, it follows that M. Lestiboudois and the Chamber will see in this shipwreck a clear, net profit of 200,000 fr. for France.

One more consequence has to be drawn from this, which is that according to the theory of the balance of trade, France has a very simple way of doubling its capital at every moment. To do this, once it has passed it through the customs, it just has to throw it into the sea. In this case, exports will be equal to the amount of its capital; imports will be nil and even impossible, and we will gain everything that the ocean has swallowed up.

This is a joke, the protectionists will say. It is impossible for us to say such absurd things. However, you are saying them and what is more, you are doing them; you are imposing them in practice on your fellow citizens, at least as far as you are able.

The truth is that the balance of trade would have to be taken backward and national profit in foreign trade calculated through the excess of imports over exports. This excess, with costs deducted, is the genuine profit. But Edition: current; Page: [49] this theory, which is the correct one, leads directly to free trade. I hand this theory to you, sirs, like all the others that were the subject of the previous chapters. Exaggerate it as much as you like, it has nothing to fear from such a test. Assume, if that amuses you, that foreigners swamp us with all sorts of useful goods without asking us for anything; if our imports are infinite and our exports nil, I challenge you to prove to me that we would be the poorer for this.6

7.: Petition by the Manufacturers of Candles, Etc.


Original title: “Pétition des fabricants de chandelles, etc.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 12 (October 1845): 204–7.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 57–62.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

By the manufacturers of tallow candles, wax candles, lamps, candlesticks, street lamps, snuffers, extinguishers, and producers of tallow, oil, resin, alcohol, and in general everything that relates to lighting

To Honorable Members of the Chamber of Deputies


You are doing all right for yourselves. You are rejecting abstract theories; abundance and cheapness are of little account to you. You are concerned most of all with the fate of producers. You want them to be free from foreign competition, in a word, you want to keep the domestic market for domestic labor.

We come to offer you a wonderful opportunity to apply your . . . what will we call it? Your theory? No, nothing is more misleading than theory. Your doctrine? Your system? Your principles? But you do not like doctrines, you Edition: current; Page: [50] have a horror of systems, and as for principles, you declare that none exists in the economic life of society. We will therefore call it your practice, your practice with no theory and no principle.

We are suffering from the intolerable competition of a foreign rival whose situation with regard to the production of light, it appears, is so far superior to ours that it is flooding our national market at a price that is astonishingly low for, as soon as he comes on the scene, our sales cease, all consumers go to him, and a sector of French industry whose ramifications are countless is suddenly afflicted with total stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging such a bitter war against us that we suspect that it is instigated by perfidious Albion (good diplomacy in the current climate!), especially as it treats this proud island in a way which it denies us.1

We ask you to be good enough to pass a law which orders the closure of all windows, gables, shades, windbreaks, shutters, curtains, skylights, fanlights, blinds, in a word, all openings, holes, slits, and cracks through which the light of the sun is accustomed to penetrate into houses to the disadvantage of the fine industries that we flatter ourselves that we have given to the country, which cannot now abandon us to such an unequal struggle without being guilty of ingratitude.

Deputies, please do not take our request for satire and do not reject it without at least listening to the reasons we have to support us.

Firstly, if you forbid as far as possible any access to natural light, if you thus create a need for artificial light, what industry in France would not bit by bit be encouraged?

If more tallow is consumed, more cattle and sheep will be needed, and consequently we will see an increase in artificial meadows, meat, wool, leather, and, above all, fertilizer, the basis of all agricultural wealth.

If more oil is consumed, we will see an expansion in the cultivation of poppies, olive trees, and rapeseed. These rich and soil-exhausting plants will Edition: current; Page: [51] be just the thing to take advantage of the fertility that the rearing of animals will have contributed to our land.

Our moorlands will be covered with coniferous trees. Countless swarms of bees will gather from our mountains scented treasures which now evaporate uselessly like the flowers from which they emanate. There is thus no sector of agriculture that will not experience significant development.

The same is true for shipping. Thousands of ships will go to catch whales, and in a short time we will have a navy capable of upholding the honor of France and satisfying the patriotic susceptibility of us who petition you, the sellers of tallow candles, etc.

But what have we to say about Articles de Paris?2 You can already picture the gilt work, bronzes, and crystal in candlesticks, lamps, chandeliers, and candelabra shining in spacious stores compared with which today’s shops are nothing but boutiques.

Even the poor resin tapper on top of his sand dune or the poor miner in the depths of his black shaft would see his earnings and well-being improved.

Think about it, sirs, and you will remain convinced that perhaps there is not one Frenchman, from the wealthy shareholder of Anzin to a humble match seller, whose fate would not be improved by the success of our request.

We anticipate your objections, sirs, but you cannot put forward a single one that you have not culled from the well-thumbed books of the supporters of free trade. We dare to challenge you to say one word against us that will not be turned instantly against yourselves and the principle that governs your entire policy.

Will you tell us that if we succeed in this protection France will gain nothing, since consumers will bear its costs?

Our reply to you is this:

You no longer have the right to invoke the interests of the consumer. When the latter was in conflict with the producers, you sacrificed him on every occasion. You did this to stimulate production and to increase its domain. For the same reason, you should do this once again.

You yourselves have forestalled the objection. When you were told: “Consumers have an interest in the free introduction of iron, coal, sesame, wheat, and cloth,” you replied: “Yes, but producers have an interest in their exclusion.” Well then, if consumers have an interest in the admission of natural light, producers have one in its prohibition.

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“But,” you also said, “producers and consumers are one and the same. If manufacturers gain from protection, they will cause agriculture to gain. If agriculture prospers, it will provide markets for factories.” Well then, if you grant us the monopoly of lighting during the day, first of all we will purchase a great deal of tallow, charcoal, oil, resin, wax, alcohol, silver, iron, bronze, and crystal to fuel our industry and, what is more, once we and our countless suppliers have become rich, we will consume a great deal and spread affluence throughout the sectors of the nation’s production.

Will you say that sunlight is a free gift and that to reject free gifts would be to reject wealth itself, even under the pretext of stimulating the means of acquiring it?

Just take note that you have a fatal flaw at the heart of your policy and that up to now you have always rejected foreign products because they come close to being free gifts and all the more so to the degree that they come closer to this. You had only a half reason to accede to the demands of other monopolists; to accede to our request, you have a complete reason and to reject us precisely on the basis that we are better founded would be to advance the equation + x + = −; in other words, it would be to pile absurdity on absurdity.

Work and nature contribute in varying proportions to the production of a product, depending on the country and climate. The portion provided by nature is always free; it is the portion which labor contributes that establishes its value and is paid for.

If an orange from Lisbon is sold at half the price of an orange from Paris, it is because natural and consequently free heat gives to one what the other owes to artificial and consequently expensive heat.

Therefore, when an orange reaches us from Portugal, it can be said that it is given to us half-free and half-paid for, or in other words, at half the price compared to the one from Paris.

Well, it is precisely its being half-free (excuse the expression) that you use as an argument to exclude it. You say, “How can domestic labor withstand the competition of foreign labor when domestic labor has to do everything and foreign labor only half of the task, with the sun accomplishing the rest?” But if this matter of things being half-free persuades you to reject competition, how will things being totally free lead you to accept competition? Either you are not logicians or, in rejecting half-free products as harmful to our domestic economy, you have to reject totally free goods a fortiori and with twice as much zeal.

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Once again, when a product, coal, iron, wheat, or cloth, comes to us from abroad and if we can acquire it with less work than if we made it ourselves, the difference is a free gift bestowed on us. This gift is more or less significant depending on whether the difference is greater or lesser. It ranges from one-quarter to half or three-quarters of the value of the product if foreigners ask us only for three-quarters, half, or one-quarter of the payment. It is as total as it can be when the donor asks nothing from us, like the sun for light. The question, which we set out formally, is to know whether you want for France the benefit of free consumption or the alleged advantages of expensive production. Make your choice, but be logical, for as long as you reject, as you do, foreign coal, iron, wheat, and cloth, the closer their price gets to zero, how inconsistent would it be to accept sunlight, whose cost is zero, throughout the day?

8.: Differential Duties


Original title: “Droits différentiels.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 12 (October 1845): 207–8.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 62–63.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

A poor farmer in the Gironde had lovingly cultivated a vine. After a lot of tiring work, he finally had the joy of producing a cask of wine, and he forgot that each drop of this precious nectar had cost his forehead one drop of sweat. “I will sell it,” he told his wife, “and with the money I will buy some yarn with which you will make our daughter’s trousseau.” The honest farmer went to town and met a Belgian and an Englishman. The Belgian said to him, “Give me your cask of wine and in exchange I will give you fifteen reels of yarn.” The Englishman said, “Give me your wine and I will give you twenty reels of yarn, for we English spin more cheaply than the Belgians.” However, a customs officer who happened to be there said, “My good man, Edition: current; Page: [54] trade with the Belgian if you like, but my job is to prevent you from trading with the Englishman.” “What!” said the farmer, “you want me to be content with fifteen reels of yarn from Brussels when I can have twenty from Manchester?” “Certainly, do you not see that France would be the loser if you received twenty reels instead of fifteen?” “I find it difficult to understand this,” said the wine producer. “And I to explain it,” went on the customs officer, “but this is a fact, for all the deputies, ministers, and journalists agree on this point, that the more a people receive in exchange for a given quantity of their products, the poorer they become.” He had to conclude the bargain with the Belgian. The farmer’s daughter had only three-quarters of her trousseau, and these honest people still ask themselves how it can be that you are ruined by receiving four instead of three and why you are richer with three dozen napkins than with four dozen.

9.: An Immense Discovery!!!


Original title: “Immense découverte!!!”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 12 (October 1845): 208–11.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 63–67.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

At a time when all minds are occupied with searching for savings on various means of transport;

At a time when, in order to achieve these savings, we are leveling roads, canalizing rivers, improving steamships, and linking all our frontiers to Paris by an iron network, by traction systems that are atmospheric, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, etc.;1

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Finally, at a time when I simply have to believe that everyone is enthusiastically and sincerely seeking the solution to the following problem:

“To ensure that the price of things at their place of consumption is as close as possible to their price at their place of production.”

I would feel guilty toward my country, my century, and myself if I kept secret any longer the marvelous discovery I have just made.

For while the inventor’s illusions may well be legendary, I am as certain as I can be that I have found an infallible means that ensures that products from around the world reach France and vice versa with a considerable reduction in their prices.

Infallible! This is just one of the advantages of my astonishing invention.

It requires neither a drawing, an estimate, nor preliminary studies, nor any engineers, machine operators, entrepreneurs, capital, shareholders, nor help from the government!

It offers no risk of shipwreck, explosion, shocks, fire, or derailment!

It can be put into practice in less than a day!

Lastly, and this will doubtless recommend it to the public, it will not cost the budget one centime, far from it. It will not increase the numbers of civil servants and the requirements of bureaucracy, far from it. It will not cost anyone his freedom, far from it.

It is not by chance that I have come about my discovery; it is through observation. I have to tell you now what led me to it.

This in fact was the question I had to solve:

“Why does something made in Brussels, for example, cost more when it reaches Paris?”

Well, it did not take me long to see that this is a result of the fact that there are several types of obstacles between Paris and Brussels. First of all, there is distance; we cannot cover this without a certain difficulty and loss of time, and we either have to subject ourselves to this or pay someone else to. Next come the rivers, the marshes, the lay of the land, and the mud; these are so many difficulties to be overcome. We do this by constructing roadways, building bridges, cutting roads, and reducing their resistance through the use Edition: current; Page: [56] of cobbles, iron bands, etc. But all this has a cost, and the object being carried must bear its share of these costs. There are also thieves on the roads, which necessitates a gendarmerie, a police force, etc.

Well, among these obstacles, there is one that we have set up ourselves, and at great expense, between Brussels and Paris. This is the men lying in ambush all along the frontier, armed to the teeth and responsible for placing difficulties in the way of the transport of goods from one country to the other. We call them customs officers. They act in exactly the same way as mud or ruts in the road. They delay, hinder, and contribute to the difference we have noted between the cost of production and the consumer price, a difference which it is our problem to decrease as far as possible.

And now we have solved the problem. Reduce tariffs.

You will have built the Northern railway line without it having cost you a penny. Furthermore, you will save heavy expenditure and you will begin to put capital in your pocket right from the first day.

Really, I ask myself how it was possible for enough strange ideas to have gotten into our heads that we were persuaded to pay many millions with a view to destroying the natural obstacles lying between France and foreign countries and at the same time to pay many other millions to substitute artificial obstacles for them which have exactly the same effect, so that the obstacles created counteract those destroyed, things go on as before and the result of the operation is double expenditure.

A Belgian product worth 20 fr. in Brussels fetches 30 when it reaches Paris, because of transport costs. A similar product of Parisian manufacture costs 40 fr. So what do we do about it?

First, we put a duty of at least 10 fr. on the Belgian product in order to raise its cost price in Paris to 40 fr., and we pay a host of supervisors to ensure that it does not escape this duty, with the result that during the journey 10 fr. is charged for transport and 10 fr. for tax.

Having done this, we reason thus: transport from Brussels to Paris, which costs 10 fr., is very expensive. Let us spend two or three hundred million on railways, and we will reduce it by half.2 Obviously, all that we will have obtained is that the Belgian product will be sold in Paris for 35 fr., that is to say:

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20 fr. its price in Brussels 10 fr. duty 5 fr. reduced transport by rail 35 fr. total, or the cost price in Paris

Well, would we not have achieved the same result by lowering the tariff to 5 fr.? We would then have:

20 fr. its price in Brussels 5 fr. reduced duty 10 fr. transport by ordinary road 35 fr. total, or the cost price in Paris

And this procedure would have saved us the 200 million that the railway costs, plus the cost of customs surveillance, since these are bound to decrease as the incentive to smuggle decreases.

But, people will say, the duty is necessary to protect Parisian industry. So be it, but then do not ruin the effect with your railway.

For if you persist in wanting the Belgian product to cost 40 fr. like the Parisian one, you will have to raise the duty to 15 fr. to have:

20 fr. its price in Brussels 15 fr. protectionist duty 5 fr. transport by rail 40 fr. total with prices equalized.

Then my question is, from this point of view, what is the use of the railway?

Frankly, is it not somewhat humiliating for the nineteenth century to prepare a spectacle of childishness such as this for future ages with such imperturbable seriousness? To be fooled by others is already not very pleasant, but to use the huge system of representation in order to fool yourself is to fool yourself twice over and in a matter of arithmetic, this is something to take down the pride of the century of enlightenment a peg or two.

10.: Reciprocity


Original title: “Réciprocité.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 12 (October 1845): 211. Edition: current; Page: [58]
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 67–70.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

We have just seen that everything that makes transport expensive during a journey acts to encourage protection or, if you prefer, that protection acts to encourage everything that makes transport expensive.

It is therefore true to say that a tariff is a marsh, a rut or gap in the road, or a steep slope; in a word, an obstacle whose effect results in increasing the difference between the prices of consumption and production. Similarly, it is incontrovertible that marshes or bogs are genuine protective tariffs.

There are people (a few, it is true, but there are some) who are beginning to understand that obstacles are no less obstacles because they are artificial and that our well-being has more to gain from freedom than from protection, precisely for the same reason that makes a canal more favorable than a “sandy, steep and difficult track.”1

But, they say, this freedom has to be mutual. If we reduced our barriers with Spain without Spain reducing hers with us, we would obviously be stupid. Let us therefore sign commercial treaties on the basis of an equitable reciprocity, let us make concessions in return for concessions, and let us make the sacrifice of buying in order to obtain the benefit of selling.

It pains me to tell people who reason thus that, whether they realize it or not, they are thinking along protectionist lines, the only difference being that they are slightly more inconsistent than pure protectionists, just as pure protectionists are more inconsistent than absolute prohibitionists.2

I will demonstrate this through the following fable:

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Stulta and Puera3

Once upon a time there were, somewhere or other, two towns, Stulta and Puera. At great expense, they built a road between the two. When it was completed, Stulta said to itself, “Now Puera is flooding us with its products; we had better look into it.” As a result, it created and paid a Corps of Obstructors,4 so called because their mission was to place obstacles in the path of convoys that arrived from Puera. Soon afterward, Puera also had a Corps of Obstructors.

After several centuries had passed, and enlightenment had made considerable progress, such was the growth of Puera’s awareness that it had grasped that these reciprocal obstacles must necessarily be mutually detrimental. It sent a diplomat to Stulta, who, though his words were couched in official terms, effectively said: “We built a road and now we are obstructing it. This is absurd. It would have been better for us to have left things in their original state. First of all, we would not have had to pay for the road, and secondly for the obstacles. In the name of Puera, I have come to suggest to you, not that we suddenly abandon the setting up of mutual obstacles between us, which would be to act in accordance with a principle and we despise principles as much as you do, but to reduce these obstacles a little, taking care to balance our respective sacrifices in this respect equitably.” This was what the diplomat said. Stulta asked for time to consider this. It consulted in turn its manufacturers and its farmers. Finally, after a few years, it declared that the negotiations had broken down.

At this news, the inhabitants of Puera held a council. An old man (who had always been suspected of being secretly bribed by Stulta) stood up and said: “The obstacles created by Stulta damage our sales, and this is terrible. The ones we have created ourselves damage our purchases, and this is Edition: current; Page: [60] also terrible. We cannot do anything about the first situation, but the second is in our power. Let us at least free ourselves of one since we cannot get rid of both. Let us abolish our Corps of Obstructors without demanding that Stulta do the same. One day, it will doubtless learn to do its sums better.”

A second councilor, a practical man of action who had no theoretical principles and was imbued with the experience of his ancestors, replied: “Do not listen to this dreamer, this theoretician, this innovator, this utopian,5 this economist, this Stulta-lover.6 We would all be ruined if the obstacles on the road were not equal, in equitable balance between Stulta and Puera. There would be greater difficulty in going than in coming and in exporting than in importing. Compared with Stulta, we would be in the inferior position that Le Havre, Nantes, Bordeaux, Lisbon, London, Hamburg, and New Orleans are in compared with the towns situated at the sources of the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, the Tagus, the Thames, the Elbe, and the Mississippi, for it is harder to go up rivers than to go down them.” (A voice observed that towns at the mouths of rivers were more prosperous than those at their sources.) “That is not possible.” (The same voice: But it is true.) “Well then, they have prospered contrary to the rules.” Such conclusive reasoning shook the assembly. The speaker succeeded in convincing it by referring to national independence, national honor, national dignity, national production, the flood of products, tributes, and merciless competition; in short, he carried the day for maintaining the obstacles and, if you are interested in this, I can take you to certain countries in which you will see with your own eyes the Corps of Road Builders7 and the Corps of Obstructors working with the best information available to them, in accordance with a decree issued by the same legislative assembly and at the expense of the same taxpayers, the former to clear the road and the latter to obstruct it.

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11.: Nominal Prices


Original title: “Prix absolus.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 12 (October 1845): 213–15. This chapter was originally numbered 12 in the JDE but became chapter 11 in the book version of Economic Sophisms and incorporated chapter 11, “Stulta et Puera,” from JDE 12: 211–12.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 70–74.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

Do you wish to assess the merits of freedom and protection? Do you wish to understand the effects of an economic phenomenon? Then look for its effects on the abundance or scarcity of things and not on whether prices rise or fall. Be careful of thinking only about nominal prices;1 this will lead you into an inextricable labyrinth.

After establishing that protection makes things more expensive, M. Mathieu de Dombasle adds:

“The increase in prices raises living expenses and consequently the price of labor, (but) each person is compensated for the increase in their expenses by the increase in prices for the things they produce. Thus, if everybody pays more as a consumer, everybody also receives more as a producer.”2

It is clear that this argument can be turned on its head, and we can say: “If everybody receives more as a producer, everybody pays more as a consumer.”

Well, what does that prove? Nothing other than that protection moves wealth about uselessly and unjustly. This is just what plunder does.

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Moreover, to accept that this vast apparatus results in simple mutual compensations, we have to agree with M. de Dombasle’s word “consequently” and be sure that the price of labor rises in line with the price of protected products. This is a question of fact that I pass back to M. Moreau de Jonnès;3 let him please look into whether pay rates have moved upward in line with Anzin mining shares. For my part, I do not think so, because I believe that the price of labor, like all the others, is governed by the relationship between supply and demand. Now, I can quite see that restriction decreases the supply of coal and consequently increases its price, but I see rather less clearly that it increases the demand for labor to the extent of increasing rates of pay. I see this all the less clearly in that the quantity of labor demanded depends on the capital available. Protection may well cause capital to move and shift from one industry to another, but it cannot increase it by an obole.4

Besides, this highly interesting question will be examined elsewhere. I will return to nominal prices and say that there are no absurdities that cannot be made plausible by reasoning like M. de Dombasle’s.

Imagine that an isolated nation that had a given quantity of cash took pleasure in burning half of what it produced each year, and I will take it on myself to prove, using M. de Dombasle’s theory, that it will not be a whit the less rich.

In effect, following the fire, everything will double in price and inventories taken before and after the disaster will show exactly the same nominal value. But in this case, who will have lost? If Jean buys cloth at a higher price, he will also sell his wheat at a higher price, and if Pierre loses on his purchase of wheat, he will make good on the sale of his cloth. “Each person is compensated (I say) for the increase in the amount of their expenses by the increase in the price for the things they produce; and if everybody pays more as a consumer, everybody receives more as a producer.”

All this is a tissue of confusion rather than science. The truth expressed in its simplest form is this: whether men destroy cloth and wheat by fire or through use, the effect will be the same with respect to the price but not with respect to wealth, for it is precisely in the use of things that wealth or well-being consists.

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In the same way, restriction, while decreasing the abundance of things, may increase their price so that, if you like, in purely monetary terms, each person may be just as rich. But in an inventory, does a record of three hectoliters of wheat at 20 francs or four hectoliters at 15 francs come to the same thing from the point of view of satisfying need because the result is still 60 francs?

And it is to this point of view of consumption that I will incessantly bring protectionists back, since this is the purpose of all our efforts and the solution to all problems.5 I will always say to them: “Is it not true that by hampering trade, by limiting the division of labor, and by forcing labor to grapple with the difficulties of location and temperature, restriction ultimately decreases the quantity produced by a given amount of effort?” And what does it matter that the lesser quantity produced under a protectionist regime has the same nominal value as a larger quantity produced under the regime of freedom? Man does not live by nominal values, but by real products, and the more he has of these products, at whatever price, the richer he is.

When writing the foregoing, I did not expect ever to meet an anti-economist who was sufficiently good as a logician to contend explicitly that the wealth of peoples depends on the monetary value of things irrespective of their abundance. But just look what I have found in the book by M. de Saint-Chamans (page 210):6

“If 15 million francs worth of goods sold abroad is taken from normal production, estimated to be 50 million, the remaining 35 million worth can no longer meet normal demand and will increase in price and will reach a value of 50 million. Then the revenue of the country will be 15 million more. . . . There will therefore be an increase in wealth of 15 million for the country, exactly the amount of the cash which is imported.”

Is that not ridiculous! If during the year a nation makes 50 million francs’ worth of harvested products and goods, it just has to sell a quarter abroad Edition: current; Page: [64] to be a quarter richer! Therefore, if it sold half, it would increase its fortune by half, and if it trades for cash its last wisp of wool and last grain of wheat, it would raise its wealth to 100 million! Producing infinitely high prices through absolute scarcity is a very strange way of becoming wealthier!

Anyway, do you want to assess the merits of the two doctrines? Subject them to the exaggeration test.

According to the doctrine of M. de Saint-Chamans, the French would be just as rich, that is to say, as well provided with everything with a thousandth part of their annual output, since it would be worth a thousand times more.

According to ours, the French would be infinitely rich if their annual output was infinitely abundant and consequently was of no value at all.

12.: Does Protection Increase the Rate of Pay?


Original title: “La protection élève-t-elle le taux des salaires?”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 74–79.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

An atheist was railing against religion, against priests, and against God. “If you continue,” said one of the audience, himself not very orthodox, “you are going to reconvert me.”

Thus, when we hear our beardless scribblers, romantic writers, reformers, rose-scented and musky writers of serials, gorged on ice cream and champagne, clutching in their portfolios shares of Ganneron, Nord, and Mackenzie1 or having their tirades against the egoism and individualism of the Edition: current; Page: [65] century heaped with gold; when we hear them, as I say, railing against the harshness of our institutions, wailing about the wage-earners and the proletariat;2 when we see them raise to the heavens eyes that mourn the sight of the destitution of the working classes, destitution that they never visit save to conjure up lucrative pictures of it, we are tempted to say to them: “If you continue in this way, you will make me indifferent to the fate of the workers.”

Oh, such affectation! This is the sickening disease of our time! Workers, if a serious man, a sincere philanthropist, reveals a picture of your distress or writes a book that makes an impression, a rabble of reformers immediately seizes this prey in its claws. It is turned one way and another, exploited, exaggerated, and squeezed to the point of disgust and ridicule. All that you are thrown by way of a remedy are the high-sounding words, organization and association. You are flattered and fawned upon, and soon workers will be reduced by this to the situation of slaves: responsible men will be ashamed to take up their cause publicly, for how will they be able to introduce a few sensible ideas in the midst of such bland protestations?

But I refuse to adopt this cowardly indifference that is not justified by the affectation that triggers it!

Workers, your situation is strange! You are being robbed, as I will shortly be proving . . . No, I withdraw that word. Let us banish from our discourse all violent and perhaps misleading expressions, seeing that plunder, clad in the sophisms that conceal it, is carried out, we are expected to believe, against the will of the plunderer and with the consent of those being plundered. But when all is said and done, you are being robbed of the just remuneration for your work and nobody is concerned with achieving justice for you. Oh! If all that was needed to console you were noisy calls for philanthropy, impotent charity, and degrading alms, and if high-sounding words like organization, communism, and phalanstery3 were enough, you would have your fill. But Edition: current; Page: [66] nobody thinks of ensuring that justice, simple justice, is rendered to you. And yet, would it not be just for you, when you have been paid your meager salary following a long and hard day’s work, to be able to exchange it for as many forms of satisfaction as you can obtain voluntarily from any man anywhere in the world?

One day, perhaps, I too will speak to you about association and organization, and we will then see what you can expect from these illusions that have led you down the garden path.4

In the meantime, let us see whether people are doing you an injustice when they pass laws which determine from whom you are permitted to buy the things you need, such as bread, meat, linen, and cloth, and, as it were, at what artificial price you will have to pay for them.

Is it true that protection, which, it is admitted, makes you to pay a high price for everything and thus causes you harm, raises your rate of pay proportionally?

On what do rates of pay depend?

One of your people has said this forcefully: “When two workers pursue an employer, earnings decrease; when two employers pursue one worker, they rise.”5

Allow me, in short, to use this statement, which is more scientific but may be less clear: “Rates of pay depend on the ratio of the supply of and the demand for labor.”

Well, on what does the supply of labor depend?

On the number in the marketplace, and on this initial element, protection has no effect.

On what does the demand for labor depend?

On the national capital available. But has the law that says: “We will no longer receive such and such a product from abroad, we will manufacture Edition: current; Page: [67] it internally,” increased this capital? Not in the slightest. The law has withdrawn the product from one area to place it in another, but it has not increased the product by one obole. Therefore the law does not increase the demand for labor.

A factory is shown off with pride. Has it been established and maintained with capital from the moon? No, capital has had to be withdrawn either from agriculture, shipping, or the wine-producing industry. And this is why, while there are more workers in our mineshafts and in the suburbs of our manufacturing towns since protectionist duties became law, there are fewer sailors in our ports and fewer workers and wine producers in our fields and hills.

I could continue on this theme for a long time. I prefer to try to make you understand my thought with this example.

A farmer had twenty arpents of land,6 which he developed, with a capital of 10,000 francs. He divided his domain into four parts and established the following rotation: first, corn; second, wheat; third, clover; fourth, rye. He and his family needed only a small part of the grain, meat, and milk that the farm produced, and he sold the excess to purchase oil, flax, wine, etc. All of his capital was spent each year on wages and other payments owed to neighboring workers. This capital was returned through sales and even increased from one year to the next, and our farmer, knowing full well that capital produces nothing unless it is put to use, made the working class benefit from these annual surpluses which he used for fencing, land clearance, and improvements to his farm equipment and buildings. He even invested some savings with the banker in the neighboring town, who did not leave the money idle in his coffers but lent it to shipowners and entrepreneurs carrying out useful work, so that it continued to generate wages.

However, the farmer died, and his son, as soon as he had control of the inheritance, said: “It must be confessed that my father was a fool all his life. He purchased oil and thus paid tribute to Provence while our land could at a stretch grow olive trees. He bought wine, flax, and oranges and paid tribute to Brittany, the Médoc, and the islands of Hyères, while vines, jute, and orange trees could, more or less, provide a small crop on our land.7 He paid tribute to millers and weavers while our domestic servants could well weave Edition: current; Page: [68] our linen and grind our wheat between two stones. He ruined himself, and in addition he had foreigners earning the wages that were so easy for him to spread around him.”

Using this reasoning, our scatterbrain changed the rotation of the domain. He divided it into twenty small strips of land. On one he grew olive trees, on another mulberry trees, on a third flax, on a fourth vines, on a fifth wheat, etc., etc. He thus managed to provide his family with everything and become independent. He took nothing from general circulation and, it is true, paid nothing into it either. Was he any richer? No, for the land was not suitable for growing vines, the climate was not conducive to the prospering of olive trees, and in the end the family was less well provided with these things than at the time when his father obtained them through trade.

As for the workers, there was no more work for them than in the past. There were indeed five times as many strips to cultivate, but they were five times smaller. Oil was produced but less wheat; flax was no longer purchased, but rye was no longer sold. Besides, the farmer could not pay more than his capital in salaries, and his capital, far from increasing through the new distribution of land, decreased constantly. The majority of it was tied up in buildings and countless items of equipment that were essential for someone who wanted to do everything. As a result, the supply of labor remained the same, but the means to pay these workers declined and there was of necessity a decrease in wages.

That is a picture of what happens in a nation that isolates itself through a prohibitionist regime. It increases the number of its industries, I know, but it decreases their size; it provides itself, so to say, with a rotation of industries8 that is more complicated but not more fruitful, far from it, since the same capital and workforce have to attack the job in the face of greater natural difficulties. Fixed capital absorbs a greater portion of working capital, that is to say, a greater part of the funds intended for wages. What remains of the fund for wages may well be diversified, but that does not increase the total amount. It is like the water in a lake that people thought they had made more abundant because, having been put into many reservoirs, it touches the ground on more spots and offers a greater surface to the sun. They do not Edition: current; Page: [69] understand that it is precisely for this reason that it is absorbed, evaporated, and lost more quickly.

With a given amount of capital and labor, a quantity of output is created that decreases in proportion to the number of obstacles it encounters. There is no doubt that, where barriers to international trade in each country force this capital and labor to overcome greater difficulties of climate and temperature, the general result is that fewer products are created or, which comes to the same thing, fewer needs of people are satisfied. Well, workers, if there is a general decrease in the number of needs satisfied, how can your share increase? I ask you, would those who are rich, those who make the law, have arranged things so that not only would they suffer their fair share of the total reduction in the needs that can be satisfied, but that even their already reduced portion would decrease still further, they say, by everything that is to be added to yours? Is that possible? Is it credible? Oh! This generosity is suspect and you would be wise to reject it.

13.: Theory and Practice


Original title: “Théorie, pratique.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 79–86.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

People accuse us, advocates of free trade, of being theoreticians and not taking sufficient account of practical aspects.

“What a terrible prejudice against M. Say,”1 said M. Ferrier,2 “is this long Edition: current; Page: [70] line of distinguished administrators, this imposing line of writers, all of whom have seen things differently from him,” a point M. Say does not hide from himself! Listen to him:

It has been said, in support of old errors, that it is necessary to have some foundation for the ideas so generally adopted by every nation. Should we not be suspicious of observations and reasoning that overturn what has been taken to be constant up to now, what has been taken to be certain by so many leading figures to whom their enlightenment and intentions give credence? This argument, I admit, is worthy of making a profound impression and might cast doubt on the most incontrovertible points if we had not seen in turn the most erroneous opinions, now generally acknowledged to be such, accepted and professed by everyone for many centuries. It is not so long ago that every nation, from the coarsest to the most enlightened, and all men, from street porters to the most learned philosophers, recognized four elements. Nobody thought of disputing this doctrine, which is nevertheless false, to the extent that today there is no assistant biologist who would not be decried if he considered the earth, water, and fire as elements.

At which point, M. Ferrier makes the following observation:

If M. Say thinks that he has answered the strong objection put forward, he is strangely mistaken. That men, who were nevertheless highly enlightened, have been wrong for several centuries on some point of natural history is understandable and proves nothing. Were water, air, earth, and fire, whether elements or not, any the less useful to man? Errors like this are inconsequential; they do not lead to upheavals; they do not cast doubt into people’s minds and above all do not harm any interests, and for this reason they might be allowed to last for thousands of years without mishap. The physical world therefore moves forward as though they did not exist. But can this be Edition: current; Page: [71] so for errors that attack the moral world? Can we conceive of an administrative system that is totally false and consequently harmful being followed for several centuries and in several nations with the general consent of all educated men? Could we explain how a system like this could be allied to the increasingly great prosperity of nations? M. Say admits that the argument he is combating is worthy of making a profound impression. Yes, certainly, and this impression remains, for M. Say has argued more in its favor than destroyed it.

Let us listen to M. de Saint-Chamans:3

It was scarcely before the middle of the last century, the eighteenth century in which all subjects and every principle without exception were subject to discussion by writers, that these suppliers of speculative ideas, applied to everything without being applicable to anything, began to write on the subject of political economy. Before that, there was an unwritten system of political economy that was practiced by governments. Colbert, it was said, was its inventor, and it was the rule for all the states in Europe. The strangest thing about it is that it is still so, in spite of anathema and scorn and in spite of the discoveries of the modern school. This system, which our writers called the mercantile system, consisted in . . . obstructing, through prohibition or import duties, foreign products that might have ruined our factories by competing with them. . . . This system was declared by economist writers of all schools4 to be inept, absurd, and likely to impoverish any country; it has been banished from all books, reduced to taking refuge in the practice of all peoples, and we cannot conceive that, with regard to the wealth of nations, governments have not drawn their counsel from scholars Edition: current; Page: [72] rather than from the long-standing experience of a system, etc. . . . Above all we cannot conceive that the French government . . . is determined to resist the progress of enlightenment with regard to political economy and to retain the practice of old errors that all of our economist writers have pointed out. . . . But this is dwelling too much on this mercantile system which has only facts in its favor and which is supported by no writer!5

Hearing this, will some people not say that when economists call for each person to have the free disposal of his property, they have given birth, like the followers of Fourier, to a new social order, fanciful, strange, a sort of phalanstery that is unprecedented in the annals of the human race? It seems to me that if there is anything in all this that has been invented, contingent, it is not freedom, but protection; it is not the ability to trade but indeed the customs service, which is applied to upsetting artificially the natural order of income.

But it is not a question of comparing or judging the two systems. The question for the moment is to know which of the two is based on experience.

Thus, you monopolists claim that facts are on your side and that we have only theories to support us.

You even flatter yourselves that this long series of public acts, this old experience of Europe’s that you invoke, appeared imposing to M. Say, and I agree that he has not refuted you with his customary sagacity. For my part, I do not yield the domain of fact to you, for you have in your support only exceptional and restrained facts, while we have in opposition the universal facts, the free and voluntary acts of all men.

What are we saying and what do you say?

We say:

“It is better to purchase from others what it would cost more to produce ourselves.”

You, on the other hand, say:

“It is better to make things ourselves even though it costs less to purchase them from others.”

Well, sirs, leaving theory, demonstration, and reasoning, all things that appear to nauseate you, to one side, which of these two statements has the approval of universal practice on its side?

Edition: current; Page: [73]

Just pay a visit to fields, workshops, factories, and stores, look upward, downward, and around you, scrutinize what is being done in your own households, observe your own everyday acts, and tell us what principle is governing all these laborers, workers, entrepreneurs, and merchants. Tell us what your personal practice is.

Do farmers make their own clothes? Do tailors produce the grain they consume? Does your housekeeper not stop making bread at home as soon as she finds it cheaper to purchase it from the baker? Do you mend your own boots instead of writing, in order not to pay tribute to the cobbler? Does the entire economy of society not rest on the separation of occupations, the division of labor, in a word, on exchange? And is trade anything other than this calculation that makes us all, whatever we are, cease direct production when indirect acquisition saves us both time and trouble?

You are thus not men of practice, since you cannot show us a single man anywhere in the world who acts in accordance with your principle.

But, you will say, we have never heard of our principle being used as a rule for individual relations. We fully understand that this would disrupt social links and force men to live like snails, each in his shell. We limit ourselves to claiming that it dominates de facto the relations established between groups in the human family.

As it happens, this assertion is also false. Families, communes, cantons, départements, and provinces are so many groups which all, without exception, reject in practice your principle and have never even given it a thought. All of these obtain by means of exchange what would cost them more to obtain by production. Every nation would do likewise if you did not prevent it by force.

It is therefore we who are the men of practice and experience, for in order to combat the prohibition that you have specially placed on some international trade, we base ourselves on the practice and experience of every individual and every group of individuals whose acts are voluntary and thus can be quoted as evidence. You, however, begin by coercing and preventing and then you seize upon acts that are forced or prohibited to claim: “You see, practice justifies us!”

You rise up against our theory and even against theory in general. But when you posit a principle that is antagonistic to ours, did you ever by chance imagine that you were not indulging in theory? No, no, cross that out of your papers. You are indulging in theory, just like us, but between yours and ours there is this difference:

Edition: current; Page: [74]

Our theory consists only in observing universal facts, universal sentiments, universal calculations and procedures, and at the very most classifying them and coordinating them in order to understand them better.

It is so little opposed to practice that it is nothing other than practice explained. We watch the actions of men driven by the instinct of self-preservation and progress and what they do freely and voluntarily; it is exactly this that we call political economy or the economics of society. We constantly repeat that each man is in practice an excellent economist, producing or trading depending on whether there is more to gain from trading or producing. Each one through experience teaches himself this science, or rather, science is merely this same experience scrupulously observed and methodically set out.

You, however, make theory in the disparaging meaning of the word. You imagine and invent procedures that are not sanctioned by the practice of any living man under the heavens and then you call coercion and prohibition to your assistance. You have indeed to resort to force since, as you want men to produce what it is more advantageous to purchase, you want them to abandon an advantage and you require them to act in accordance with a doctrine that implies a contradiction even on its own terms.

Thus, I challenge you to extend, even in theory, this doctrine that you admit would be absurd in individual relationships, to transactions between families, communes, départements, or provinces. On your own admission, it is applicable only to international relations.

And this is why you are reduced to repeating each day:

“Principles are never absolute. What is good in individuals, families, communes, and provinces is bad in nations. What is good on a small scale, that is to say, purchasing rather than producing when a purchase is more advantageous than production, is the very thing that is bad on a large scale; the political economy of individuals is not that of peoples,” and more nonsense ejusdem farinae.6

And what is the reason for all this? Look closer. To prove to us that we the consumers are your property! That we belong to you, body and soul! That you have an exclusive right over our stomachs and limbs! That it is up to you to feed us and clothe us at a price set by you whatever your incompetence, rapacity, or the inferiority of your situation!

Edition: current; Page: [75]

No, you are not men of practice; you are men of abstraction . . . and of extortion.

14.: A Conflict of Principles


Original title: “Conflit de principes.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 86–90.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

There is something that confuses me, and it is this:

Sincere political writers studying the economy of societies from the sole point of view of the producer have reached the following two policies:

“Governments ought to make the consumers who are subject to their laws favor national industry.”

“They ought to make foreign consumers subject to their laws in order to make them favor national industry.”

The first of these policies is called Protectionism; the second is called opening up foreign markets.

Both of them are based on the fundamental idea known as the balance of trade:

“A people grows poorer when it imports and wealthier when it exports.”

For if any purchase from abroad is tribute paid out and a loss, it is very simple to restrict and even prohibit imports.

And if any sale abroad is tribute received and a profit, it is only natural to create markets for yourself, even through force.

Protectionist systems, colonial systems: these are therefore just two aspects of the same theory. Preventing our fellow citizens from purchasing from foreigners and forcing foreigners to purchase from our fellow citizens are just two consequences of an identical principle.

Well, it is impossible not to recognize that, according to this doctrine, if Edition: current; Page: [76] it is true, general interest is based on monopoly, or internal plunder, and on conquest, or external plunder.

I enter one of the chalets clinging to the slopes of our Pyrénées.

The head of the household has received only a meager wage for his work. A glacial wind makes his scantily clad children shiver, the fire is out and the table empty. There is wool, wood, and corn on the other side of the mountains, but these goods are forbidden to the family of the poor journeyman, as the other side of the mountains is no longer France. Foreign pine will not cheer the chalet’s fireplace, the shepherd’s children will not learn the taste of Basque bread,1 and Navarre wool will not warm their frozen limbs. If this is what the general interest wants: fine! But let us agree that in this instance it is contrary to justice.

To command consumers by law, to force them to buy only in the national market, is to infringe on their freedom and to forbid them an activity, trade, that is in no way intrinsically immoral; in a word, it is to do them an injustice.

And yet it is necessary, people say, if we do not want national production to halt, if we do not want to deal a deathblow to public prosperity.

Writers of the protectionist school therefore reach the sorry conclusion that there is radical incompatibility between Justice and the Public Interest.

On the other hand, if every nation is interested in selling and not purchasing, a violent action and reaction will be the natural state of their mutual dealings, for each will seek to impose its products on everyone and everyone will endeavor to reject the products of everyone else.

A sale, in effect, implies a purchase, and since, according to this doctrine, selling is making a profit just as purchasing is making a loss, every international transaction implies the improvement of one nation and the deterioration of another.

On the one hand, however, men are inexorably drawn to whatever brings them a profit, while on the other they instinctively resist anything that harms them, which leads to the conclusion that every nation carries within itself a Edition: current; Page: [77] natural impulsion to expansion and a no less natural impulsion to resistance, both of which are equally harmful to everybody else, or in other words, antagonism and war are the natural condition of the human race.

Thus, the theory I am discussing can be summarized by these two axioms:

Public Interest is incompatible with Justice within the country.

Public Interest is incompatible with Peace abroad.

Well then! What astonishes and disconcerts me is that a political writer or a statesman, who has sincerely adopted an economic doctrine whose basic ideas are so violently contrary to other incontrovertible principles, can have even one instant of calm and peace of mind.

For my part, I think that, if I had gone into science through this particular door, if I had not clearly perceived that Freedom, Public Interest, Justice, and Peace are things that are not only compatible but closely linked with each other and, so to say, identical, I would endeavor to forget everything I had learnt and tell myself:

“How could God have wished men to achieve prosperity only through injustice and war? How could He have decreed that they should renounce war and injustice only by renouncing their well-being?

“Is the science that has led me to the horrible blasphemy implied by this alternative not misleading me with false flashes of insight, and do I dare to take it on myself to make it the basis for the legislation of a great nation? And when a long line of illustrious scholars has gathered more reassuring results from this same science, to which they have devoted their entire life, when they state that freedom and public interest can be reconciled with justice and peace; that all these great principles follow infinite parallel paths without conflicting with each other for all eternity; do they not have on their side the presumption that results from everything we know of the goodness and wisdom of God as shown in the sublime harmony of physical creation? Am I casually to believe, faced with such beliefs and on the part of so many imposing authorities, that this same God took pleasure in instilling antagonism and discord in the laws governing the moral world? No, no, before holding as certain that all social principles conflict with each other, crash into and neutralize each other, and are locked in an anarchical, eternal, and irremediable struggle; before imposing on my fellow citizens the impious system to which my reasoning has led me, I wish to review the entire chain and reassure myself that there is no point on the route at which I have gone astray.”

If, after a sincere examination, redone twenty times, I continued to reach this frightful conclusion, that we have to choose between the Right and the Edition: current; Page: [78] Good,2 I would reject science in my discouragement, I would sink into willful ignorance, and above all I would decline any participation in the affairs of my country, leaving men of another stamp the burden and responsibility of such a painful choice.

15.: More Reciprocity


Original title: “Encore la réciprocité.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 90–92.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

As M. de Saint-Cricq said: “Are we sure that foreigners will purchase as much from us as they sell to us?”

M. de Dombasle says: “What reason have we to believe that English producers will come to us rather than any other nation in the world in search of the products they may need and products whose value is equivalent to their exports to France?”

I am amazed that men who above all call themselves practical reason in a way divorced from all practicality!

In practice, is there one trading operation in a hundred, a thousand, or perhaps even ten thousand that is a direct exchange of one product for another? Since money first came into the world, has any farmer ever said to himself: “I want to buy shoes, hats, advice, and lessons only from a shoemaker, milliner, lawyer, or teacher who will buy wheat from me for exactly the equivalent value”? And why would nations impose this obstacle on themselves?

How are things really done?

Let us imagine a nation that has no foreign trade. One man has produced Edition: current; Page: [79] wheat. He sells it in the national market at the highest price he can obtain and receives in exchange . . . what? Écus,1 that is to say, money orders, goods which can be split up indefinitely, which will permit him to take from the national market the goods which he needs or wants at a time he judges suitable and up to the amount he has at hand.2 All said and done, at the end of the operation he will have withdrawn from the total the exact equivalent of what he has put into it and in value, his consumption will be exactly the same as his production.

If this nation’s external trade is free it is no longer in the national flow of goods but in the general flow of goods that each person places his products, and it is from that flow that he withdraws his consumption. He does not have to worry whether what he puts into this general circulation is bought by a fellow citizen or a foreigner, whether the money orders he receives come from a Frenchman or an Englishman, whether the objects for which he later trades these money payments, according to his needs, have been made on this or that side of the Rhine or the Pyrénées. What remains true is that there is for each individual an exact balance between what he puts in and what he takes out of the great common reservoir, and if this is true for each individual, it is also true for the nation as a whole.

The only difference between the two cases is that, in the second, each is facing a market that is wider for his sales and purchases and has consequently more opportunity to do well on both fronts.

The following objection is made: If everyone joins forces in order not to withdraw from the circulation the products of a given individual, he will not be able to withdraw anything in turn from the overall flow. This is the same for a nation.

Reply: If this nation cannot withdraw anything from the general circulation, it will not put anything into it either; it will work for its own account. It will be forced to submit to what you wish to impose on it at the outset, that is to say, isolation.

And that will be the ideal of the prohibitionist regime.

Is it not ludicrous that you are already inflicting this regime on the nation for fear that it will run the risk of reaching it one day without you?

Edition: current; Page: [80]

16.: Blocked Rivers Pleading in Favor of the Prohibitionists


Original title: “Les fleuves obstrués plaidant pour les prohibitionists.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 92–93.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

A few years ago I was in Madrid.1 I went to the cortès.2 They were discussing a treaty with Portugal on improving the bed of the Douro.3 A deputy stood up and said: “If the Douro is channeled, transport will cost less. Portuguese grain will be sold cheaper in Castile and will provide formidable competition for our national production. I reject the project unless the ministers undertake to raise customs duties so as to reestablish the balance.” The assembly had no answer to this argument.

Three months later I was in Lisbon. The same question was put before the Senate. A noble hidalgo4 said: “M. President, the project is absurd. You are putting guards at huge expense on the banks of the Douro to prevent the invasion of grain from Castile into Portugal and, at the same time, you want, also at huge expense, to make this invasion easier. Let the Douro be passed to our sons in the same state as our fathers left it to us.”

Later, when it was a question of improving the Garonne,5 I remembered Edition: current; Page: [81] the arguments of the Iberian speakers and said to myself: “If the deputies in Toulouse were as good economists as those from Palencia and the representatives of Bordeaux were as skilled logicians as those of Oporto,6 the Garonne would surely be left ‘to sleep to the pleasing sound of its tilting urn,’7 for the channeling of the Garonne would encourage the invasion of products from Toulouse to the detriment of Bordeaux and the flooding of products from Bordeaux to the detriment of Toulouse.”

17.: A Negative Railway


Original title: “Un chemin de fer negative.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 93–94.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.
Edition: current; Page: [82]

I have said that when, unfortunately, we took the point of view of the producers’ interest, we could not fail to clash with the general interest,1 since producers, as such, demand only effort, needs, and obstacles.

I have found a remarkable example of this in a Bordeaux journal.

M. Simiot2 asks himself this question:

Should the Paris-to-Spain railway be offered to Bordeaux with a complete fracture in the line?3

He answered it in the positive with a host of reasons that it is not my place to examine but which include the following:

The railway between Paris and Bayonne should be completely broken in two4 at Bordeaux so that goods and passengers forced to stop in the town would contribute revenue to boatmen, packmen, commission agents, shippers, hoteliers, etc.

It is clear that this is once again a case of the interest of producers being put ahead of the interest of consumers.

But if Bordeaux can be allowed to profit from this break in the line, and if this is in keeping with the public interest, Angoulême, Poitiers, Tours, Orleans, and more, all intermediary points, Ruffec, Châtellerault, etc., etc., must also demand breaks in the line in the general interest, that is of course in the Edition: current; Page: [83] interest of national production, since the more breaks there are, the more consignments, commissions, and transshipping there will be all along the line. With this system, we will have created a railway made up of consecutive segments, a negative railway.

Whether the protectionists want this or not, it is no less certain that the principle of trade restriction is the same as the principle of breaks in the line: the sacrifice of the consumer to the producer and of the end to the means.

18.: There Are No Absolute Principles


Original title: “Il n’y a pas de principes absolus.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 94–97.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

You cannot be too surprised at the ease with which men resign themselves to ignoring what they need most to know, and you can be sure that they are determined to fall asleep in their ignorance once they have come to the point of proclaiming this axiom: There are no absolute principles.

You enter the legislative chamber. The question before the house is to ascertain whether the law will forbid or free up international trade.

A deputy stands up and says:

“If you allow this trade, foreigners will flood you with their products, the English with cloth, the Belgians with coal, the Spanish with wool, the Italians with silk, the Swiss with cattle, the Swedish with iron, and the Prussians with wheat, so that no industry will be possible in this country.”

Another replies:

“If you forbid this trade, the various benefits that nature has showered on each geographical region will be nonexistent for you. You will not share in the mechanical skills of the English, the richness of the Belgian mines, the fertility of Polish soil, the fruitfulness of Swiss pastures, the cheapness Edition: current; Page: [84] of Spanish labor, or the heat of the Italian climate, and you will have to satisfy your demand with goods produced under awkward and difficult conditions instead of with goods obtained by trading with those who can produce things more easily.”

It is certain that one of these deputies is wrong. But which one? It is nevertheless worthwhile taking the trouble to find out, as it is not just a matter of opinion. You are faced with two paths and you have to choose; and one inevitably leads to poverty.

To escape from this quandary, people say: There are no absolute principles.

This axiom, so fashionable today, in addition to nodding to laziness, is also suited to ambition.

If the theory of prohibition won, or else if the doctrine of freedom triumphed, a very small law would encompass our entire economic code. In the first case, it would say: All foreign trade is forbidden and in the second: All foreign trade is free, and many leading figures would lose their importance.

But if trade does not have its own proper nature, if it is not governed by any natural law, if it is capriciously useful or disastrous, if it does not find its stimulus in the good it does and its limit in the good it ceases to do, and if its effects cannot be appreciated by those who carry it out; in a word, if there are no absolute principles, oh! It would then be necessary to weigh, balance, and regulate transactions, to equalize the conditions of labor, and to set the level of profits; a colossal task, but one well suited to be given to those who enjoy high remuneration and wide influence.

On entering Paris, which I had come to visit, I said to myself: Here there are a million human beings who would all die in a few days if supplies of all sorts did not flood into this huge metropolis. The mind boggles when it tries to assess the huge variety of objects that have to enter through its gates tomorrow if the lives of its inhabitants are not to be snuffed out in convulsions of famine, uprisings, and pillage. And in the meantime everyone is asleep, without their peaceful slumber being troubled for an instant by the thought of such a frightful prospect. On the other hand, eighty departéments1 have worked today without being in concert and without agreement to supply Paris. How does it happen that every day what is needed and no more or less is brought to this gigantic market? What is thus the ingenious and secret power that presides over the astonishing regularity of such complicated movements, a regularity in which everyone has such blind faith, although well-being and life depend on it? This power is an absolute principle, the principle Edition: current; Page: [85] of free commerce.2 We have faith in this intimate light that Providence has placed in the hearts of all men to whom it has entrusted the indefinite preservation and progress of our species, self-interest, for we must give it its name, that is so active, vigilant, and farsighted when it is free to act. Where would you be, you inhabitants of Paris, if a minister took it into his head to substitute the arrangements he had thought up, however superior they are thought to be, for this power? Or if he took it into his head to subject this stupendous mechanism to his supreme management, to gather together all these economic activities in his own hands, to decide by whom, how, or under what conditions each object has to be produced, transported, traded, and consumed? Oh! Although there are a good many causes of suffering within your city, although destitution, despair, and perhaps starvation are causing more tears to flow than your ardent charity can stem, it is probable or, I dare to say, even certain, that the arbitrary intervention of the government would infinitely increase these sufferings and extend to you all the misfortunes that are only affecting a small number of your fellow citizens.

Well then! Why, when we have faith in a principle when it relates to domestic transactions, do we not have the same faith in this principle when it is applied to international transactions, which are certainly fewer in number and less difficult and complicated? And, if it is not necessary for the Prefecture of Paris to regulate our industries, balance our opportunities, profits, and losses, concern itself with the depletion of our money, and equalize the conditions governing our labor in domestic commerce, why is it necessary for the customs service to aspire to exercise protective action, which is beyond its fiscal mission, with regard to our foreign commerce?

19.: National Independence


Original title; “Indépendance nationale.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846). Edition: current; Page: [86]
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 97–99.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

Among the arguments put forward in favor of protectionism, we should not forget the one based on national independence.

“What will we do in case of war,” people say, “if we are subject to England’s discretion with regard to iron and coal?”

Monopolists in England, for their part, unfailingly proclaim:

“What would become of Great Britain in time of war if she were dependent on France for her food?”

We tend to disregard one fact, which is that this type of dependence resulting from trade and commercial transactions is mutual. We cannot be dependent on foreigners without these foreigners being dependent on us. This is the very essence of society. Breaking off natural relationships does not make us independent, but isolated.

And note this well: we isolate ourselves because of an expectation of war, but the very act of isolating ourselves is the first step to war. It makes it easier, less of a burden, and, because of this, less unpopular. If nations are constant markets for each other, if their relationships cannot be broken off without inflicting on them the twin suffering of deprivation and oversupply, they will no longer need the powerful navies that are ruining them and the massive armies now crushing them, the peace of the world will not be compromised by the caprices of M. Thiers1 or Lord Palmerston,2 and war will disappear for lack of incentive, resources, reasons, pretexts, and popular favor.3

Edition: current; Page: [87]

I am fully aware that I will be blamed (for this is the current fashion) for resting fraternity between nations on self-interest, vile and prosaic interest. People would prefer fraternity to be rooted in charity and love, with even a little self-sacrifice, and in hurting men’s material well-being, to possess the merit of generous sacrifice.

When will we ever be rid of this puerile moralism? When will we finally banish hypocrisy from science? When will we drop this sickening contradiction between our writings and our actions? We boo at, we shout down self-interest, that is to say, what is useful and good (since to say that all nations are interested in a thing is to say that this thing is intrinsically good), as though self-interest was not a necessary, eternal, and indestructible motive to which Providence has entrusted human progress! As if we were all angels of disinterestedness? As if the public was not beginning to see, and with disgust, that this affected language is blackening the very pages for which the public is expected to pay so dearly? Oh, such affectation! This is really the disease of this century.

What! Because well-being and peace are closely allied, because God was pleased to establish this fine harmony in the moral world, you do not want me to admire and adore his decrees and accept with gratitude laws that make justice a condition of happiness? You do not want peace unless it is to the detriment of well-being, and freedom weighs heavy on you because it does not impose sacrifice on you? And, if self-sacrifice has such attraction for you, what stops you including it in your private actions? Society would be grateful to you if you did, for at least someone would reap the benefit from it, but to wish to impose it on humanity on principle is the height of absurdity, for the self-sacrifice of all is the sacrifice of all and constitutes misfortune raised to the status of a theory.

But thank heaven we can write and read a great number of these ranting speeches without the world ceasing to obey its driving force, which is self-interest, like it or not.

After all, it is rather strange to see sentiments of the most sublime self-denial invoked in support of plunder itself. This is what this ostentatious disinterestedness leads to! These men, who are so poetically delicate that they do not want peace itself if it is based on men’s vile self-interests, are putting their hands into other people’s pockets, especially those who are poor, for what article of the tariff protects the poor? Yes, sirs, do whatever you like with what belongs to you, but likewise let us do what we want with the fruit from the sweat of our brows, to use it ourselves or to trade it. Make speeches on self-renunciation, for that is fine, but at the same time at least be honest.

Edition: current; Page: [88]

20.: Human Labor and Domestic Labor


Original title: “Travail humain, travail national.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 100–105.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

Smash the machines,1 reject foreign goods; these are two acts generated by the same doctrine.

We see men who clap when a great invention is revealed to the world and who nevertheless support protectionism. Such men are very inconsistent!

What is their objection to free trade? That it results in our having things made by foreigners who are more skillful or better situated than we, which otherwise we would produce ourselves. In a word, it is accused of damaging domestic labor.

By the same token, should these critics not be blaming machines for accomplishing through natural agents a production, which, without them, would fall to manual effort and consequently for damaging human labor?

Foreign workers who are better situated than French ones are veritable economic machines that crush the latter through their competition. Similarly, a machine that carries out an operation at a lower cost than a given number of hands is, with regard to this labor, a genuine foreign competitor that paralyzes them with its competition.

If therefore it is appropriate to protect domestic labor against competition from foreign labor, it is no less so to protect human labor against competition from mechanical labor.

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So, if he has an ounce of logic in his brain, anyone who supports a protectionist regime should not stop at forbidding foreign products; he ought to forbid even more the products of the shuttle and the plough.

And this is why I much prefer the logic of those men who, speaking out against the invasion of goods from far distant lands, at least have the courage to speak out as well against overproduction due to the inventive power of the human mind.

One of these is M. de Saint-Chamans. “One of the strongest arguments,” he says, “against free trade and the overuse of machines, is that many workers are deprived of work either by foreign competition that closes factories down or by equipment that takes the place of men in the workshops.” (On the Tax System, page 438.)2

M. de Saint-Chamans has accurately seen the analogy, let us go further, the identity existing between imports and machines. This is why he forbids them both; and truly, there is some pleasure in facing intrepid debaters who, even when they are wrong, take their line of reasoning to its limit.

But look at the difficulty in store for them!

While it is a priori true that the domains of invention and labor can expand only at the expense of one another, it is in those countries in which there are the most machines, for example, in Lancashire, that we ought to see the fewest workers. And if, on the contrary, we see in fact that machines and workers coexist to a greater degree in rich nations than in uncivilized ones, we have to conclude that these two forces are not mutually exclusive.

I cannot explain to myself how a thinking soul can have a moment’s rest when faced with this dilemma:

Either the inventions of man do not damage his labor, as the general facts demonstrate, since there are more of both among the English and French than among the Hurons and Cherokees, and, in this case, I have gone wrong, although I do not know either where or how I have gone astray. I would be committing treason against humanity if I introduced my mistake into the legislation of my country.

Or the discoveries of the human mind reduce manual labor, as certain facts appear to indicate, since every day I see a machine being substituted for twenty or one hundred workers, in which case I am obliged to identify a flagrant, eternal, and incurable antithesis between man’s intellectual and physical power, between his progress and his well-being. I cannot refrain Edition: current; Page: [90] from saying that the author of man was bound to give him the gift of either brain or brawn, either moral strength or brute force, and that in the event he has played a trick on him by conferring on him, simultaneously, mutually destructive powers.

This is a pressing difficulty. Well, do you know how to solve it? By this strange maxim:

In political economy, there are no absolute principles.

In common, intelligible parlance, this means:

“I do not know where truth or falsehood lies and am ignorant of what constitutes general good or evil. I do not let this trouble me. The immediate effect of each measure on my personal well-being is the sole law I agree to acknowledge.”

There are no principles! This is as though you were saying: “There are no facts, for principles are only formulae that sum up an entire order of well-known facts.”

Machines and imports certainly have effects. These effects are either good or bad. People can have differing opinions in this respect. But whichever one you adopt is formulated using one of these two principles: machines are good or machines are bad. Imports are advantageous or imports are harmful. But to say there are no principles is certainly the lowest degree of humiliation to which the human mind can descend, and I admit that I blush for my country when I hear such a monstrous heresy enunciated before the French Chambers with their assent, that is to say, before and with the assent of the elite of our fellow citizens, and all this to justify themselves for imposing on us laws in total ignorance.

But in the end, I will be told, destroy the sophism. Prove that machines do not damage human labor and that imports do not damage domestic labor.

In an essay of the present kind, such proofs could not be very detailed. My aim is rather to establish the difficulties than to solve them and to arouse reflection rather than to satisfy it. No convictions are ever firmly anchored in the human mind other than those that result from its own work. I will nevertheless endeavor to set it along this path.

What misleads the opponents of imports and machines is that they judge them by their immediate and transitory effects instead of going to their general and definitive consequences.3

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The immediate effect of an ingenious machine is to render a certain amount of manual labor superfluous for a given result. However, its action does not in the slightest stop there. For the very reason that this given result is achieved with less effort, it is made available to the public at a lower price, and the sum of the savings thus realized by all purchasers enables them to satisfy other wants, that is to say, to encourage manual labor in general by precisely the amount saved by those manual laborers working in the recently improved industry. In short, the level of work has not decreased, although that of satisfaction has been increased.

Let us use an example to make this set of effects clearer.

Let us imagine that 10 million hats costing 15 francs are consumed in France. This provides the hat industry with a turnover of 150 million. A machine is invented that enables the hats to be sold at 10 francs. The turnover for this industry is reduced to 100 million, assuming that consumption does not increase. However, the 50 million is not lost to human labor for all that. Having been saved by the purchasers of hats, it will be used to satisfy other needs and consequently to remunerate the entire industrial system by the same figure. With the 5 francs he has saved, Jean will buy a pair of shoes, Jacques a book, Jérôme an item of furniture, etc. The human labor, taken as a whole, will thus continue to be encouraged up to a level of 150 million; this sum will provide the same number of hats as before, plus all the other satisfactions corresponding to the 50 million that the machine will have saved. These satisfactions are the net product that France would have gained from the invention. This is a free gift, a tribute that man’s genius has imposed on nature. We do not deny that, during the transformation, a certain mass of labor will have been displaced, but we cannot agree that it has been destroyed or even diminished.

This is also true for imports. Let us return to the hypothesis.

France manufactured 10 million hats at a cost price of 15 francs. Foreigners invaded our market, supplying us with hats at 10 francs. I say that domestic labor will not be decreased in the slightest.

For it will have to produce up to 100 million to pay for 10 million hats at 10 francs.

And then each purchaser will have 5 francs left that he has saved on each hat, or a total of 50 million that he will pay for other pleasures, that is to say, for other things produced by labor.

Therefore the total amount of labor will remain the same as it was and the additional pleasures, representing the 50 million saved on the hats, will be the net profit from the imports or from free trade.

Edition: current; Page: [92]

And people must not try to terrify us with the picture of the suffering that, according to this reasoning, will accompany the displacement of labor.

For if protectionism had never occurred, labor would have rearranged itself in line with the laws of trade and no displacement would have taken place.

If, on the other hand, protectionism has led to an artificial and unproductive structure of labor, it would be this, and not freedom, that is responsible for the inevitable displacement in the transition from bad to good.

Unless it is claimed that, because an abuse cannot be destroyed without upsetting those who benefit from it, its existence for just a moment ensures that it will last forever.

21.: Raw Materials


Original title: “Matières premières.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 105–15.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

It is said: “The most profitable of all trades is the one in which manufactured goods are exchanged for raw materials. For the raw materials supply domestic labor.

And from this the following conclusion is drawn:

That the best customs law would be the one that did the most to facilitate the importation of raw materials and which would put the greatest number of obstacles in the path of goods which had undergone some level of manufacture.1

Edition: current; Page: [93]

In political economy, there is no sophism so widespread as this one. It is the talk of not only the protectionist school but also and above all the allegedly liberal school, and this is a trying circumstance, for the worst thing for a good cause is not to be competently attacked but to be badly defended.

Commercial freedom will probably suffer the fate of all freedoms; it will be introduced into our laws only once it has gained possession of our minds. But if it is true that a reform has to be generally understood in order to be solidly established, it follows that nothing can delay it more than anything which misleads public opinion; and what is more likely to mislead it than articles that demand freedom by using the doctrines of monopoly to support them?

A few years ago, three large cities in France, Lyons, Bordeaux, and Le Havre, rose up against the protectionist regime.2 The country and the whole of Europe were moved at seeing what they took to be the flag of freedom being raised. Alas! It was still the flag of monopoly! A monopoly that was a little more sly and a lot more absurd than the one they seemed to want to overthrow. Thanks to the sophism which I will attempt to unveil, the petitioners did nothing more than reproduce the doctrine on the protection of domestic labor, while adding one more inconsistency to it.

What in fact is protectionism? Let us listen to M. de Saint-Cricq:

“Labor constitutes the wealth of a people, since it alone creates the physical things that our needs call for, and universal prosperity consists in the abundance of such things.” Such is the crux of the argument.

“But it is necessary for this abundance to be the product of the nation’s activity. If it were the product of foreign activity, national output would come to a sudden stop.” Here is the error. (See the preceding sophism.)3

“What therefore should an agricultural and manufacturing country do? Keep its market for the products of its own territory and industry.” Here is the aim.

“And to do this, restrict through duties and prohibit if necessary the products of the territory and industry of other peoples.” Here are the means.

Let us compare these arrangements with those of the petition from Bordeaux.

It divided goods into three classes.

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“The first covers foodstuffs and raw materials that are devoid of any human labor. In principle, a wise economy would require this class to be exempt from taxes.” Here, no labor, no protection.

“The second is made up of goods which have undergone some processing. This processing allows us to impose some duty on it.” Here protection starts because, according to the petitioners, here begins domestic labor.

“The third covers finished goods which cannot be used in any way in domestic production; we consider these to be the most liable to taxes.” Here labor, and protection with it, reach their peak.

As we can see, the petitioners claimed that foreign labor damages domestic labor. This is the error of the protectionist regime.

They demanded that the French market be reserved for French labor; that is the aim of the protectionist regime.

They demanded that foreign labor be subject to restrictions and taxes. That is the means of the protectionist regime.

So what difference can we therefore discern between the petitioners from Bordeaux and the leader of the protectionist chorus?

Just one: the wider or narrower range of interpretation of the meaning of the word labor.

M. de Saint-Cricq extends it to everything. He therefore wants to protect everything.

“Labor constitutes the entire wealth of a nation,” he says, “protecting agriculture, the entire agricultural sector, manufacturing, the entire manufacturing sector, this is the cry that will always echo around this Chamber.”

The petitioners consider manufacturing alone as constituting labor; for this reason they accord only this sector the favor of protection.

“Raw materials are devoid of any human labor. In principle they should not be taxed. Manufactured goods can no longer be used for further productive activity in the domestic market; we consider them to be the most proper to be subject to taxes.”

It is not a question here of examining whether protection for domestic labor is reasonable. M. de Saint-Cricq and the petitioners from Bordeaux agree on this point and we, as has been seen in previous chapters, differ from both in this respect.

The question is to know who is giving the proper meaning to the word labor, M. de Saint-Cricq or the petitioners from Bordeaux.

Well, on this terrain, it has to be said that M. de Saint-Cricq is right a thousand times, for the following is the dialogue that they might have with each other:

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M. de Saint-Cricq: “You agree that domestic labor has to be protected. You agree that no foreign products can be introduced into our market without destroying an equal amount of our domestic production. The only thing is that you claim that there are a host of products that contain value, since they sell, and which are nevertheless devoid of any human labor. And you list, among other things, wheat, flour, meat, cattle, bacon, salt, iron, copper, lead, coal, wool, skins, seed, etc.

“If you prove to me that the value of these things is not due to labor, I will agree that they do not need to be protected.

“However, if I also demonstrate to you that there is as much labor involved in one hundred francs’ worth of wool as in 100 francs’ worth of cloth, you will have to admit that protection is due as much to the one as to the other.

“Now, why is this bag of wool worth 100 francs? Is it not because that is its cost price? And is its cost price anything other than what has to be paid in wages, earnings, and the costs of manpower, labor, and interest to all the laborers and capital providers who contributed to producing the object?”

The Petitioners: “It is true that you might be right with regard to wool. But is a sack of wheat, an ingot of iron, or a quintal4 of coal the product of labor? Is it not nature that has created them?”

M. de Saint-Cricq: “There is no doubt that nature has created the elements of all these things, but it is labor that has created their value. I myself was mistaken when I said that labor creates physical objects, and this flawed expression has led me into many other errors. It is not in man’s power to create and to make something out of nothing, any more for manufacturers than for farmers; if by production we meant creation, all of our projects would be nonproductive and yours, as traders, more so than all the others, except perhaps for mine.

“A farmer, therefore, cannot claim to have created wheat, but he can claim to have created its value, by this I mean to have transformed into wheat, through his own labor and that of his servants, cow herders, and harvesters, substances which did not resemble it in the slightest. In addition, what do the millers do who convert it into flour, or the bakers who bake it into bread?

“In order for men to be able to clothe themselves in woolen cloth, a host of operations is necessary. Before any human labor intervenes, the genuine raw materials of this product are air, water, heat, gaslight, and the salts that Edition: current; Page: [96] have to go to making it up. There are the raw materials that are genuinely devoid of any human labor, since they have no value and I do not envisage protecting them. However, an initial act of labor converts these substances into fodder, a second into wool, a third into yarn, a fourth into cloth, and a fifth into garments. Who would dare to say that everything in this operation is not labor, from the first cut of the plough that starts it to the last stitch that terminates it?

“And because, for greater speed and perfection in the accomplishment of the final operation, a garment, the labor is divided among several classes of industrious workers,5 do you want to establish, through arbitrary distinction, that the order of carrying out of this labor is the sole basis for their importance, so that the first does not even merit the appellation of labor and the last, labor par excellence, is the only one worthy of the favors of protection?”

The Petitioners: “Yes, we are beginning to see that wheat is not, any more than wool, altogether devoid of any human labor, but at least the farmer has not, like the manufacturer, done everything himself or with the assistance of his laborers; nature has helped him and if there is labor, everything in wheat is not labor.”

M. de Saint-Cricq: “But all its value is labor. I agree that nature has contributed to the physical forming of the grain. I even agree that this is exclusively its own work, but you must admit that I have forced it to do so through my labor, and when I sell you wheat, you have to note this clearly, I am not making you pay for the labor of nature but for mine.

“And, in your opinion, manufactured goods would not be the products of labor either. Are manufacturers not assisted by nature as well? Do they not use the weight of the atmosphere through their steam engines just as I use its humidity when plowing? Have they created the laws of gravity, the transmission of force, or the nature of chemical bonding?”

The Petitioners: “Very well, we agree for wool, but coal is certainly the work and the sole work of nature. It is truly devoid of any human labor.

M. de Saint-Cricq: “Yes, nature has made coal, but labor has created its value. Coal had no value for millions of years when it was buried and unknown one hundred feet underground. Men had to go to look for it: that is labor. It had to be taken to market: that is another form of labor, and once Edition: current; Page: [97] again, the price you pay for it in the market is nothing other than payment for these jobs of extraction and transport.”6

We can see that up to now M. de Saint-Cricq has won the argument; that the value of raw materials, like that of manufactured materials, represents the cost of production, that is to say, of the labor; that it is not possible to imagine an object that has value and that is devoid of any human labor; that the distinction made by the petitioners is futile in theory and that, as the basis of an unequal distribution of political favors it would be iniquitous in practice, since its result would be that one-third of French citizens who labor in factories would obtain the advantages of monopoly because they produce things through labor, while the other two-thirds, that is to say, the farming population, would be abandoned to face competition on the pretext that they produce things without laboring.

I am sure that people will insist and say that there is a greater advantage for a nation to import so-called raw materials, whether or not they are the product of labor, and export manufactured goods.

This is an opinion that is widely held.

“The more raw materials are abundant,” says the petition from Bordeaux, “the more factories will increase in number and flourish vigorously.”

“Raw materials,” it says elsewhere, “leave a limitless scope for the work of the inhabitants of those countries into which they are imported.”

“As raw materials,” says the petition from Le Havre, “are the raw elements of labor, they have to be subjected to a different regime and imported immediately at the lowest customs rate.

This same petition wants protection for manufactured goods to be reduced not immediately, but after an undetermined period and not at the lowest rate, but at 20 percent.

“Among other articles whose low price and abundance are a necessity,” says the petition from Lyons, “manufacturers include all raw materials.

All this is based on an illusion.

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We have seen that all value represents labor. Now, it is very true that the process of manufacturing multiplies by ten or sometimes a hundred the value of a raw product, that is to say, it spreads out ten or a hundred times more income around the nation. This being so, the reasoning goes as follows: the production of a quintal of iron earns only 15 francs for all categories of contributors. The conversion of this quintal of iron into watch springs raises their various incomes to 10,000 francs, and would you dare to say that it is not of more interest to the nation to ensure itself 10,000 francs’ worth of labor than 15 francs’ worth?

People forget that international trade does not function by weight or measure, any more than individual exchanges. You do not trade one quintal of iron for one quintal of watch springs, nor a pound of still greasy wool for a pound of cashmere wool, but a certain value of one of these things for an equal value of another. Well, to exchange equal value for equal value is to exchange equal labor for equal labor. It is therefore not true that a nation that gives 100 francs’ worth of cloth or springs makes more than one that delivers 100 francs’ worth of wool or iron.

In a country in which no law can be voted, no taxation imposed without the consent of those who are to be governed by this law or subjected to it, the public can be robbed only by being misled in the first place. Our ignorance is the raw material of any extortion that is exercised over us, and we can be certain in advance that any sophism is the herald of plunder. Good people, when you see a sophism in a petition, put your hand over your pocket, for it is certainly that which is being aimed at.

Shall we not therefore look at the secret thought that the shipowners of Bordeaux and Le Havre and the manufacturers of Lyons are hiding in this distinction between agricultural goods and manufactured goods?

“It is mainly in this first class (the one that includes raw materials, devoid of any human labor) that we find the principal maintenance of our merchant navy,” say the petitioners of Bordeaux. “In principle, a wise economy would require this class not to be taxed. . . . The second (goods which have undergone some processing) may be taxed. The third (goods which require no further modification) we consider to be the most taxable.

The petitioners from Le Havre say, “Considering that it is essential to reduce the tax on raw materials immediately to the lowest rate so that manufacturing industry may successively put to work the naval forces that provide it with its primary and essential means of the employment of its labor. . . .”

The manufacturers could not be any less polite to the shipowners. For this Edition: current; Page: [99] reason, the petition from Lyon requested the free entry of raw materials “to prove,” as it said, “that the interests of manufacturing towns are not always in opposition to those of those on the coast.”

No, but it has to be said that both, understood as the petitioners understand them, are totally opposed to the interests of the countryside, agriculture, and consumers.

This, sirs, is what you wanted to say! This is the aim of your subtle economic distinctions! You want the law to prevent finished goods from crossing the ocean in order for the much more expensive transport of raw and dirty materials, including a lot of waste, to provide more cargo for your merchant navy and put your shipping to greater use. This is what you call a wise economy.

What! Why do you not also ask for Russian pines to be shipped with their branches, bark, and roots? For Mexican gold in its mineral state and leather from Buenos Aires still attached to the bones of stinking carcasses?

Soon, I expect, railway shareholders, however small their majority in the Chambers, will pass a law forbidding the production in Cognac of the brandy drunk in Paris. Would not to decree by law the transport of ten casks of wine for one cask of brandy provide the essential income for their labor to manufacturers in Paris and at the same time set the powers of our locomotives into action?

For how long more will people close their eyes to such a simple truth?

The purpose of manufacturing, of shipping, and of labor is the general good, the public good. Creating industries that serve no purpose, encouraging superfluous transport, and supporting unnecessary labor, not for the public good but at public expense, is to achieve a genuine contradiction in terms.7 It is not labor that is intrinsically desirable but consumption. Any labor that yields no output represents a loss. To pay sailors to carry useless refuse across the sea is as though they were being paid to make pebbles skip across the surface of the water.8 We therefore come to the conclusion that all Edition: current; Page: [100] economic sophisms, in spite of their infinite variety, have this in common: they confuse the means with the end and develop one at the expense of the other.

22.: Metaphors


Original title: “Métaphores.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 115–19.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

Sometimes sophisms expand and penetrate the entire fabric of a long and heavy theory. More often they contract, reduce in size, and become a principle, entirely hidden in one word.

God preserve us, Paul-Louis1 said, from cunning men and metaphors! And in fact, it would be difficult to say which of the two causes the most harm to our planet. It is the devil, you say; he puts in all of us, such as we are, the spirit of plunder in our hearts. Yes, but he leaves the repression of abuses completely up to the resistance of those that suffer from them. It is sophism that paralyzes this resistance. The sword that malice places in the hands of attackers would be powerless if sophism did not shatter the shield on the arms of those under attack, and Malebranche was right in inscribing the following sentence on the frontispiece of his book: Error is the cause of human misery.2

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And look at what happens. Ambitious hypocrites have a sinister interest,3 for example, in sowing the seed of national hatred in the mind. This disastrous seed may develop and lead to general conflagration, cause civilization to stop, spill torrents of blood, and draw down the most terrible of all scourges on the country, invasion. In any case, before these events occur, these feelings of hatred diminish us in the eyes of other nations and reduce those people in France who have retained some vestige of a love of justice to blush for their country. These are certainly great evils, and in order for the public to be protected against the intrigues of those who want to run the risk of such events, it would be enough for them to have a clear view of the matter. How does it happen that this clear view is clouded? Through metaphor. The meaning of three or four words is altered, strained, and degraded, and this says it all.

Take the word invasion itself.

A French ironmaster says: “May we be preserved from an invasion of iron from England.” An English landlord exclaims: “Let us reject the invasion of wheat from France!” And they propose that the barriers between the two peoples be raised. Barriers constitute isolation, isolation leads to hatred, hatred to war, and war to invasion. “What does it matter?” say the two sophists, “is it not better to be exposed to the risk of invasion than to accept certain invasion?” And the people believe them and the barriers remain.

And yet, what analogy is there between an exchange and an invasion? What similarity can be established between a warship which comes to vomit shells, fire, and devastation on our towns and a merchant ship that comes to offer us the opportunity of exchanging goods for other goods freely and voluntarily?

I would say the same for the word flood. This word normally has a negative meaning because the common characteristics of floods are to ravage fields and crops. If nevertheless they leave greater value on the land than they remove, as do the floods of the Nile, we ought to bless and deify them, following the example of the Egyptians. Well then, before railing against the Edition: current; Page: [102] floods of foreign goods, before erecting obstructive and costly obstacles in their path, do people ask themselves whether these are floods that ravage or those that fertilize? What would we think of Mehemet Ali4 if, instead of raising dams across the Nile at huge expense to extend the range of its floods, he spent his piastres digging a deeper bed for it so that Egypt would no longer be soiled by this foreign silt brought down from the Mountains of the Moon?5 We are showing precisely this degree of wisdom and reason when, with the support of millions, we wish to preserve our country . . . from what? From the benefits with which nature has endowed other climates.

Among the metaphors that conceal an entire and disastrous theory, there are none more commonly used than the one that uses the words tribute, tributary.

These words have become so commonplace that they have become synonyms of purchase and purchaser and the two sets of words are now used indiscriminately in place of one another.

However, there is as much distance between a tribute and a purchase as between a theft and an exchange, and I would as much like to hear it said that Cartouche6 had broken into my strongbox and purchased a thousand écus, as to hear it said repeatedly to our deputies: “We have paid the tribute to Germany for a thousand horses that it has sold to us.”

For what makes the action of Cartouche not a purchase is that he has not placed in my strongbox, with my consent, an equivalent value to the one he has taken.

And what makes the payment of 500,000 francs that we have made to Germany not a tribute, is exactly that it has not received this money for no return but because it has delivered to us in exchange one thousand horses that we ourselves estimated were worth our 500,000 francs.

Should we therefore in all seriousness bring up such abuses of language Edition: current; Page: [103] again? Why not, since they are very seriously bandied about in both journals and books?

And let us not imagine that they slip out from a few writers whose ignorance extends to their use of language! For every one who refrains from this, I will quote you ten who indulge in it and who belong to the upper classes as well, such as Argout, Dupin, Villèle,7 and assorted peers, deputies, ministers, that is to say, all men whose word is the law and whose most shocking sophisms are used as the basis for the country’s administration.

A famous modern philosopher8 has added to the categories of Aristotle the sophism that consists in begging the question within a single word. He quotes several examples. He might have added the word tributary to his list. In effect, it is a question of knowing whether purchases made abroad are useful or harmful. They are harmful, you say. Why so? Because they make us tributaries of foreigners. This is certainly a word that begs the question under discussion.

How has this misleading trope slipped into the monopolists’ rhetoric?

Écus leave the country to satisfy the rapacity of a victorious enemy. Other écus also leave the country to pay for goods. The analogy between the two cases is established, taking account only of the circumstance that causes their resemblance and disregarding the one by which they differ.

Nevertheless this circumstance, that is to say, the nonreimbursement in the first case and the freely agreed reimbursement in the second, establishes between them a difference so great that it is actually not possible to classify them in the same category. To hand over 100 francs as a result of force to someone who has his hands around your neck or voluntarily to someone who is giving you the object of your desires are truly things that cannot be compared. It would be as true to say that throwing bread into the river is the same as eating it since the bread is in both cases destroyed. The fallacy of this reasoning, like that which is encompassed in the word tribute, would consist in establishing full similarity between two cases through their points of resemblance and disregarding what makes them differ.

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Original title: “Conclusion.”
Place and date of first publication: Dated Mugron, 2 November 1845. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (First Series) (1846).
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 119–26.
Previous translations: 1st English ed., 1846; 1st American ed., 1848; FEE ed., 1964.

All the sophisms that I have combated up to now relate to a single matter, the protectionist system; even so, out of pity for the reader, I have left out some of the best:1 acquired rights, inconveniences, depletion of the currency, etc., etc.

But social economy is not limited to this narrow circle. Fourierist doctrine, Saint-Simonian doctrine, communism, mysticism, sentimentalism, bogus philanthropy, affected aspirations to illusionary equality and fraternity, questions relating to luxury, to wages, to machines, to the alleged tyranny of capital, to colonies, markets, conquests, population, association, emigration, taxes and loans: these have cluttered the field of science with a host of parasitic arguments, sophisms that call for the hoe and harrow of a diligent economist.

It is not that I do not acknowledge the flaw in this plan or rather the lack of a plan. To attack one by one so many incoherent sophisms that sometimes clash and most often are included in one another, is to condemn oneself to a disorganized and capricious struggle and to expose oneself to perpetual repetition.

How I would prefer to say quite simply what things are, without having to pay attention to a thousand aspects through which ignorance sees them! To present the laws according to which societies prosper or decline is virtually to destroy all sophisms at a stroke. When Laplace2 described what we are able Edition: current; Page: [105] to know of the movements of the heavenly bodies up to now, he dissipated without even mentioning them by name, all the astrological musings of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Hindus with greater surety than he could have done if he had refuted them directly in countless volumes. Truth is unitary; the book that provides an exposition of it is an imposing and durable edifice.

  • It defies greedy tyrants
  • bolder than the Pyramids
  • and more durable than brass.3

Error is multifarious and ephemeral by nature; the work that combats it does not carry within itself any principle signifying grandeur and longevity.

But if I have lacked the force and perhaps the opportunity to proceed in the same way as people such as Laplace and Say,4 I cannot help believing that the form I have adopted also has its modest uses.5 Above all, it seems to me to be well proportioned to the needs of the century and the fleeting moments it is able to devote to study.

A treatise doubtless has clear superiority but only on one condition, that it is to be read, reflected upon, and deepened. It addresses an elite audience only. Its mission is initially to set and then expand the circle of knowledge acquired.

The refutation of commonly held prejudices cannot have this elevated range. It aspires only to clear the way for the march of truth, to prepare men’s Edition: current; Page: [106] minds, redirect the public moral sense, and destroy dangerous weapons in impure hands.

It is above all in social economy that this constant struggle and these constantly reborn battles with popular error have genuine practical use.

The sciences can be divided into two categories.

Strictly speaking, the first can be known only by scholars. These are the ones whose application occupies some specialists. Ordinary people receive the fruit of these in spite of their ignorance; although they do not know about mechanics and astronomy, they still enjoy the use of a watch, they are still transported by locomotives or steamboats given their faith in engineers or pilots. We walk in accordance with the laws of equilibrium without knowing them, just as M. Jourdain6 spoke prose without knowing it.

But there are also sciences that exercise on the public an influence only in proportion to the enlightenment of the public itself, which draw their entire effectiveness not from the accumulated knowledge in a few exceptional heads but from the knowledge disseminated among the general public. They include morals, hygiene, social economy, and, in those countries in which men are their own masters, politics. It is of these sciences that Bentham might have said in particular: “What broadcasts them is more valuable than what advances them.”7 What does it matter that a great man, a God even, has promulgated the moral law, as long as men, imbued with false notions, take virtues for vices and vices for virtues? What does it matter if Smith, Say,8 and, according to M. de Saint-Chamans, the economists of all schools proclaim, with reference to commercial transactions, that freedom is superior to coercion, if those who make the laws and for whom laws are made are convinced of the contrary?

These sciences, which have been appropriately named social, also have the particular characteristic that for the very reason that they are in common use, nobody admits to knowing nothing about them. Do we need to solve a Edition: current; Page: [107] question of chemistry or geometry? We do not pretend to be steeped in the science; we are not ashamed to call upon M. Thénard; we have no problem in opening Legendre or Bezout.9 However, in social sciences, we acknowledge scarcely any authorities. As each of us every day acts in accordance with good or bad morals, hygiene, economy, or reasonable or absurd politics, each of us feels able to find fault with, discuss, decide, and lay down the law on these matters. Are you ill? There is no old woman who will not tell you from the outset what the cause and remedy of your ailment is: “It is because your fluids are out of sorts,” she states; “you must be purged.”10 But what are these fluids? And are there such things? This is something she does not trouble herself about. I involuntarily think of this dear old woman when I hear all the social ills being explained by these banal statements: It is the overabundance of products; it is the tyranny of capital; it is too many producers and other idiocies of which it cannot even be said verba et voces, praetereaque nihil,11 for they are just so many disastrous errors.

Two things result from what has gone before: 1. That the social sciences, more than the others, have to abound in sophisms because they are the ones in which everyone consults only his own judgment or instincts; 2. That it is in these sciences that sophism is particularly damaging because it misleads public opinion on a subject in which public opinion constitutes power and is taken as law.

Two sorts of books are therefore needed for these sciences: those that expound them and those that propagate them, those that reveal the truth and those that combat error.

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It seems to me that the inherent defect in the aesthetic form of this pamphlet, repetition, is what constitutes its principal usefulness.

In the subject I have discussed, each sophism doubtless has its own formula and range, but all have a common root, which is the overlooking of men’s interests as consumers. To show that this sophism is the originator of a thousand paths of error12 is to teach the general public to recognize it, understand it, and mistrust it in all circumstances.

After all, my intention is not exactly to lay the ground for deeply held convictions but to sow the seeds of doubt.

My hope is that when the reader puts the book down he will not exclaim, “I know”; please heaven, but that he might sincerely say, “I do not know!”

“I don’t know, because I am beginning to fear that there might be something illusory in the alleged mild effects of scarcity.” (Sophism I.)

“I am no longer so convinced of the supposed charms of obstacles to economic activity.” (Sophism II.)

“The effort which produces no result seems no longer to me to be as desirable as the result which requires no effort.” (Sophism III.)

“It could well be that the secret of commerce, unlike that of combat (according to the definition given by the fencing instructor in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme),13 does not consist in giving and not receiving.” (Sophism VI.)

“I understand that a good increases in value to the degree that it has been worked upon; but in an exchange, do two goods of equal value cease to be of equal value because one comes from a plough and the other from a Jacquard loom?”14 (Sophism XXI.)

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“I admit that I am beginning to find it strange that mankind might be improved by fetters or enriched by taxes; and frankly I would be relieved of a great burden and I would feel pure joy if it could be demonstrated to me, as the author of the Sophisms assures me, that there is no contradiction between well-being and justice, between peace and liberty, between the expansion of labor and the progress of knowledge.” (Sophisms XIV and XX.)

“Thus, without claiming to be satisfied with his arguments, which I don’t know if I should call reasons or paradoxes, I will explore further the works of the masters of economic science.”

Let us end this monograph on sophistry with a final and important thought:

The world is not sufficiently aware of the influence that sophistry exercises on it.

If I have to say what I think, when the right of the strongest was dethroned, sophistry handed empire to the right of the most subtle, and it would be difficult to say which of these two tyrants has been the most disastrous for the human race.

Men have an immoderate love for pleasure, influence, esteem, and power; in a word, for wealth.

And at the same time, they are driven by an immense urge to procure these things for themselves at the expense of others.

But these others, who are the general public, have no less an urge to keep what they have acquired, provided that they can and they know how to.

Plunder, which plays such a major role in the affairs of the world, has thus only two things which promote it: force and fraud,15 and two things which limit it: courage and enlightenment.

Force used for plunder forms the bedrock upon which the annals of human history rest. Retracing its history would be to reproduce almost entirely the history of every nation: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Goths, the Francs, the Huns, the Turks, the Arabs, the Mongols, and the Tartars, not to mention the Spanish in America, the English in India, the French in Africa, the Russians in Asia, etc., etc.

But at least in civilized nations, the men who produce the wealth have become sufficiently numerous and strong to defend it. Is this to say that they Edition: current; Page: [110] are no longer dispossessed? Not at all; they are just as dispossessed as ever and, what is more, they mutually dispossess each other.

Only the thing which promotes it has changed; it is no longer by force but by fraud that public wealth can be seized.

In order to steal from the public, it is first necessary to deceive them. To deceive them it is necessary to persuade them that they are being robbed for their own good; it is to make them accept imaginary services and often worse in exchange for their possessions. This gives rise to sophistry. Theocratic sophistry, economic sophistry, political sophistry, and financial sophistry. Therefore, ever since force has been held in check, sophistry has been not only a source of harm, it has been the very essence of harm. It must in its turn be held in check. And to do this the public must become cleverer than the clever, just as it has become stronger than the strong.

Good public, it is with this last thought in mind that I am addressing this first essay to you, although the preface has been strangely transposed and the dedication is somewhat belated.16,17

end of the first part
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Economic Sophisms Second Series1

What industry asks of government is as modest as the plea of Diogenes to Alexander: “Get out of my sunlight.”


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1.: The Physiology of Plunder1


Original title: “Physiologie de la Spoliation.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition: Œuvres complètes vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 127–48.
Previous translation: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

Why should I persist in this arid science, Political Economy?

Why? The question is reasonable. All work is sufficiently repellent by nature for us to have the right to ask where it is leading.

So let us examine the matter.

I am not addressing the philosophers who make a profession of adoring poverty, if not in their own name, at least in the name of humanity.

I am speaking to those who consider Wealth as something worthwhile. Let us understand by this term, not the opulence of a few but the prosperity, well-being, security, independence, education, and the dignity of all.

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There are only two ways of acquiring the things that are necessary for the preservation, improvement, and betterment of life: production and plunder.

Some people say: “plunder is an accident, a local and transitory abuse, stigmatized by moral philosophy, condemned by law, and unworthy of the attentions of Political Economy.

But whatever the benevolence and optimism of one’s heart, one is obliged to acknowledge that plunder is exercised on too vast a scale in this world, that it is too universally woven into all major human events, for any social science, above all Political Economy, to feel justified in disregarding it.

I will go further. What separates the social order from a state of perfection (at least from the degree of perfection it can attain) is the constant effort of its members to live and progress at the expense of one another.

So that, if plunder did not exist, society would be perfect and the social sciences would be superfluous.

I will go even further. When plunder has become the means of existence of a large group of men mutually linked by social ties, they soon contrive to pass a law that sanctions it and a moral code that glorifies it.

You need name only a few of the most clear-cut forms of Plunder to show the place it occupies in human affairs.

First of all, there is war. Among savage peoples, the victor kills the vanquished in order to acquire a right to hunt game that is, if not incontestable, at least uncontested.

Then there is slavery. Once man grasps that it is possible to make land fertile through work, he strikes this bargain with his fellow: “You will have the fatigue of work and I will have its product.”

Next comes theocracy. “Depending on whether you give me or refuse to give me your property, I will open the gates of heaven or hell to you.”

Lastly, there is monopoly. Its distinctive characteristic is to allow the great social law, a service for a service, to continue to exist, but to make force part of the negotiations and thus distort the just relationship between the service received and the service rendered.

Plunder always carries within it the deadly seed that kills it. Rarely does the majority plunder the minority.2 In this case, the minority would immediately Edition: current; Page: [115] be reduced to the point where it could no longer satisfy the greed of the majority, and Plunder would die for want of sustenance.

It is almost always the majority that is oppressed, and Plunder is also destined in this case as well to receive a death sentence.

For if the use of Force is Plunder’s agent, as it is for War and Slavery, it is natural for Force to go over to the side of the majority in the long run.

And if the agent is Fraud, as in Theocracy and Monopoly, it is natural for the majority to become informed on this score, or intelligence would not be intelligence.

Another providential law that has planted a second deadly seed in the heart of Plunder is this:

Plunder does not only redistribute wealth, it always destroys part of it.

War annihilates many things of value.

Slavery paralyzes a great many human abilities.

Theocracy diverts a great deal of effort to puerile or disastrous purposes.

Monopoly also moves wealth from one pocket to another, but a great deal is lost in the transfer.

This law is admirable. In its absence, provided that there were a stable balance of power between the oppressors and the oppressed, Plunder would have no end. Thanks to this law, the balance always tends to be upset, either because the Plunderers become aware of the loss of so much wealth, or, where this awareness is lacking, because the harm constantly grows worse and it is in the nature of things that constantly deteriorate to come to an end.

In fact, there comes a time when, in its gradual acceleration, the loss of wealth is so great that Plunderers are less rich than they would have been if they had remained honest.

An example of this is a nation for which the cost of war is greater than the value of its booty;

A master who pays more for slave labor than for free labor;

A Theocracy that has so stupefied the people and sapped their energy that it can no longer wring anything out of them;

A Monopoly that has to increase its efforts to suck consumers dry as there is less to be sucked up, just as the effort needed to milk a cow increases as the udder dries up.3

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As we see, Monopoly is a Species of the Genus Plunder. There are several Varieties of it, including Sinecure, Privilege, and Trade Restriction.

Among the forms it takes, there are some that are simple and naïve. Such were feudal rights. Under this regime the masses were plundered and knew it. It involved the abuse of force and perished with it.

Others are highly complex. In this case, the masses are often plundered unaware. It may even happen that they think they owe everything to Plunder: what is left to them, as well as what is taken from them and what is lost in the operation. Further than that I would propose as time goes on, and given the highly ingenious mechanism of custom, many Plunderers are plunderers without knowing it and without wishing it. Monopolies of this type are generated through Fraud, and they feed on Error. They only disappear with Enlightenment.

I have said enough to show that Political Economy has an obvious practical use. It is the flame that destroys this social disorder which is Plunder, by unveiling Fraud and dissipating Error. Someone, I believe it was a woman4 and she was perfectly right, defined political economy thus: It is the safety lock on popular savings.


If this small volume were intended to last for three or four thousand years, to be read, reread, meditated upon, and studied sentence by sentence, word by word, and letter by letter by one generation after another like a new Koran, if it were bound to attract avalanches of annotations, explanations, and paraphrases in all the libraries around the world, I would be able to abandon to their fate the foregoing thoughts with their slightly obscure precision. But Edition: current; Page: [117] because they need to be commented upon, I consider it prudent to do this myself.

The true and just law governing man is “The freely negotiated exchange of one service for another.” Plunder consists in banishing by force or fraud the freedom to negotiate in order to receive a service without offering one in return.

Plunder by force is exercised as follows: People wait for a man to produce something and then seize it from him at gunpoint.

This is formally condemned by the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal.

When it takes place between individuals, it is called theft and leads to prison; when it takes place between nations, it is called conquest and leads to glory.

Why is there this difference? It is useful to seek its cause. It will show us an irresistible power, Opinion, which, like the atmosphere, envelops us so completely that we no longer notice it. For Rousseau never spoke a truer word than when he said, “A great deal of philosophy is needed to observe facts that are too close to us.”5

A thief, by the very fact that he acts alone, has public opinion against him. He alarms everyone who surrounds him. However, if he has a few accomplices, he brags to them of his achievements and we start to see in this the force of Opinion, for he needs only the approval of his accomplices to free him of any feeling of shame for his wicked acts and even to make him proud of his ignominy.

A warrior lives in another environment. The Opinion that reviles him is elsewhere, in the nations that have been conquered; he does not feel pressure from them. However, the Opinion that is around him approves and supports him. His companions and he feel keenly the solidarity that binds them. The fatherland, which created enemies and dangers for itself, needs to exalt the courage of its children. It confers on the boldest of these, those who extend Edition: current; Page: [118] its frontiers and bring back the most plunder to it, honors, renown, and glory. Poets sing of their exploits and women weave them wreaths. And such is the power of Opinion that it removes the idea of injustice from Plunder and strips away the very awareness of their wrongs from plunderers.

Opinion which rejects military plunder is not located among those doing the plundering but among those being plundered, and therefore exercises very little influence. However, it is not totally ineffective, and still less when nations have relations with one another and understand each other more. From this angle, we see that a study of languages and free communication between peoples tends to lead to the predominance of opinion against this type of plunder.

Unfortunately, it often happens that the nations surrounding the plundering people are themselves plunderers whenever they can be and are henceforth imbued with the same preconceived ideas.

If this is so, there is only one remedy, time. Nations have to learn by hard experience the huge disadvantage there is in plundering each other.

Another brake may be mentioned: raising moral standards. However, the aim of raising moral standards is to increase the number of virtuous actions. How then will it restrict acts of plunder when such acts are raised by Opinion to the rank of the highest virtues? Is there a more powerful means of raising the moral standards of a nation than religion? Has there ever been a Religion more disposed toward peace and more universally accepted than Christianity? And yet, what have we seen in the last eighteen centuries? We have seen men fighting, not only in spite of Religion but in the very name of Religion.

A conquering nation does not always carry out an offensive war. It also has bad times. Its soldiers then defend their homes and hearths, property, families, independence, and freedom. War takes on an aura of sanctity and greatness. The flag, blessed by the ministers of the God of Peace, represents all that there is sacred on earth; people adhere to it as to the living image of the fatherland and honor, and warlike virtues are exalted above all the other virtues. But once the danger has passed, Opinion remains, and the spirit of revenge (which is often confused with patriotism) gives rise to the natural response of people who love to parade their beloved flag from city to city. It appears that it is in this way that nature might have prepared the punishment of the aggressor.

It is the fear of this punishment and not the progress of philosophy that Edition: current; Page: [119] keeps weapons within arsenals for, it cannot be denied, the most advanced and civilized nations make war and take little notice of justice as long as they have no reprisals to fear. Examples of this are the Himalayas,6 the Atlas mountains,7 and the Caucasus.8

If religion has been powerless, if philosophy is powerless, how will we put an end to war?

Political economy shows that, even when you consider only the victors, war is always waged in the interest of a minority and at the expense of the masses. All that is needed therefore is that the masses see this truth clearly. The weight of opinion, which is still divided, will come down totally in favor of peace.9

Plunder exercised by force takes yet another form. People do not wait for a man to have produced something to snatch it from him. They take hold of the man himself; he is stripped of his own personality and forced to work. Nobody says to him, “If you take this trouble on my behalf, I will take this trouble for you” but instead, “You will have all the fatigue of labor and I will have all the enjoyment of its products.” This is Slavery, which always involves the abuse of force.

Well, it is a profound question to ascertain whether or not it is in the nature Edition: current; Page: [120] of an incontestably dominating force to always take advantage of its position. As for me, I do not trust it, and would as much expect a falling stone to have the power to halt its own fall as entrust coercion to set its own limit.

I would like at least to be shown a country or an era in which Slavery has been abolished by the free and gracious will of the masters.

Slavery supplies a second and striking example of the inadequacy of religious and philanthropic sentiments in the face of a powerful sense of self-interest. This may appear a source of regret to certain modern schools that seek the reforming principle of society in self-denial. Let them begin then by reforming the nature of man.

In the Antilles,10 the masters have professed the Christian religion from father to son from the time slavery was instituted. Several times a day, they repeat these words: “All men are brothers; loving your neighbor is to fulfill the law in its entirety.” And yet they have slaves. Nothing seemed to them to be more natural and legitimate. Do modern reformers hope that their moral principles will ever be as universally accepted, as popular, with as much authority and as often heard on everyone’s lips as the Gospel? And if the Gospel has been unable to pass from lips to hearts over or through the great defensive wall of self-interest, how do they hope that their moral principles will accomplish this miracle?

What then! Is Slavery therefore invulnerable? No, what founded it will destroy it; I refer to Self-Interest, provided that, in order to reinforce the special interests that created the wound, the general interests that have to cure it are not thwarted.

Another truth demonstrated by political economy is that free labor is essentially dynamic and slave labor is of necessity static. For this reason, the triumph of the former over the latter is inevitable. What has happened to the cultivation of indigo by black people?11

Free labor applied to the cultivation of sugar will make the price decrease Edition: current; Page: [121] more and more. As this happens, slaves will be less and less profitable for their masters. Slavery would have collapsed a long time ago of its own accord in America, if the laws in Europe had not raised the price of sugar artificially. We therefore see the masters, their creditors, and delegates actively working to maintain these laws, which now form the pillars of the edifice.

Unfortunately, they still have the sympathy of the populations within which slavery has disappeared, which shows us once again that Opinion is still sovereign here.

If it is sovereign, even in the context of power, it is even more so in the world of Fraud. To tell the truth, this is its real domain. Fraud is the abuse of knowledge; the progress of Opinion is the progress of knowledge. The two powers are at least of the same nature. Fraud by a plunderer involves credulity in the person being plundered, and the natural antidote to credulity is truth. It follows that to enlighten minds is to remove the sustenance from this type of plunder.

I will review briefly a few of the forms of plunder that are exercised by Fraud on a grand scale.

The first to come forward is Plunder by theocratic fraud.

What is this about? To get people to provide real services, in the form of foodstuffs, clothing, luxury, consideration, influence, and power, in return for imaginary ones.

If I said to a man, “I am going to provide you with some immediate services,” I would have to keep my word, otherwise this man would know what he was dealing with, and my fraud would be promptly unmasked.

But if I told him, “In exchange for your services, I will provide you with immense services, not in this world but in the next. After this life, you will be able to be eternally happy or unhappy, and this all depends on me; I am an intermediary between God and his creation and can, at will, open the gates of heaven or hell to you.” Should this man believe me at all, he is in my power.

This type of imposture has been practiced widely since the beginning of the world, and we know what degree of total power Egyptian priests achieved.

It is easy to see how impostors behave. You have to only ask yourself what you would do in their place.

If I came, with ideas like this in mind, amongst an ignorant clan and succeeded by dint of some extraordinary act and an amazing appearance to be Edition: current; Page: [122] taken for a supernatural being, I would pass for an emissary of God with absolute discretion over the future destiny of men.

I would then forbid any examination of my titles. I would go further; since reason would be my most dangerous enemy, I would forbid the use of reason itself, at least when applied to this awesome subject. I would make this question, and all those relating to it, taboo, as the savages say. To solve them, discuss them, or even think of them would be an unpardonable crime.

It would certainly be the height of skill to set up a taboo as a barrier across all the intellectual avenues that might lead to the discovery of my deception. What better guarantee of its longevity is there than to make doubt itself a sacrilege?

However, to this fundamental guarantee I would add ancillary ones. For example, in order that enlightenment is never able to reach down to the masses, I would grant to my accomplices and myself the monopoly of all knowledge. I would hide it under the veils of a dead language and a hieroglyphic script and, so that I would never be taken by surprise by any danger, I would take care to invent an institution which would, day after day, enable me to enter into the secret of all consciences.

It would also not be a bad thing for me to satisfy some of the genuine needs of my people, especially if, by doing so, I was able to increase my influence and authority. Given that men have a great need of education and moral instruction, I would take it upon myself to dispense this. Through this, I would direct the minds and hearts of my people as I saw fit. I would weave morality and my authority into an indissoluble chain; I would represent them as being unable to exist without each other, so that if a bold individual attempted to raise a question that was taboo, society as a whole, unable to live without a moral code, would feel the earth tremble beneath its feet and would turn in anger against this daring innovator.

Should things reach this pass, it is clear that this people would belong to me more surely than if they were my slaves. Slaves curse their chains, while my people would bless theirs, and I would have succeeded in imprinting the stamp of servitude not on their foreheads, but in the depths of their conscience.

Opinion alone is capable of tearing down an edifice of iniquity like this, but how will it set about this if each stone is taboo? It is a question of time and the printing press.

God forbid that I should wish to undermine here the consoling beliefs that link this life of trials to a life of happiness! No one, not even the head of Edition: current; Page: [123] the Christian church,12 could deny that the irresistible urge which leads us to these beliefs has been taken advantage of. There is, it seems to me, a sign by which we can see whether a people have been duped or not. Examine Religion and priest alike; see whether the priest is the instrument of Religion or Religion the instrument of the priest.

If the priest is the instrument of Religion, if he thinks only of spreading its morals and benefits around the world, he will be gentle, tolerant, humble, charitable, and full of zeal. His life will reflect that of his divine model. He will preach freedom and equality among men, peace and fraternity between nations; he will reject the attractions of temporal power, not wishing to ally himself with what most needs to be restricted in this world. He will be a man of the people, a man of good counsel and gentle consolation, a man of good Opinion and a Man of the Gospel.

If, on the other hand, Religion is the instrument of the priest, he will treat it as some people treat an instrument that is altered, bent, and turned in many ways so as to draw the greatest benefit for themselves. He will increase the number of questions that are taboo; his moral principles will bend according to the climate, men, and circumstances. He will seek to impose it through studied gestures and attitudes; he will mutter words a hundred times a day whose meaning has disappeared and which are nothing other than empty conventionalism. He will peddle holy things, but just enough to avoid undermining faith in their sanctity, and he will take care to see that this trade is less obviously active where the people are more keen-sighted. He will involve himself in terrestrial intrigue and always be on the side of the powerful, on the sole condition that those in power ally themselves with him. In a word, in all his actions, it will be seen that he does not want to advance Religion through the clergy but the clergy through Religion, and since so much effort implies an aim and as this aim, according to our hypothesis, cannot be anything other than power and wealth, the definitive sign that the people have been duped is when priests are rich and powerful.

It is very clear that one can abuse a true Religion as well as a false one. The more its authority is respectable, the greater is the danger that it may be improperly used. But the results are very different. Abuse always revolts the healthy, enlightened, and independent sector of a nation. It is impossible for Edition: current; Page: [124] faith not to be undermined, and the weakening of a true Religion is more of a disaster than the undermining of a false one.

Plunder using this procedure and the clear-sightedness of a people are always in inverse proportion one to the other, for it is in the nature of abuse to proceed wherever it finds a path. Not that pure and devoted priests are not to be found within the most ignorant population, but how do you prevent a swindler from putting on a cassock and having the ambition to don a miter? Plunderers obey Malthus’s law: they multiply in line with the means of existence, and the means of existence of swindlers is the credulity of their dupes. It is no good searching; you always find that opinion needs to be enlightened. There is no other panacea.

Another type of Plunder by fraud is commercial fraud, a name that I think is too limited since not only are merchants who adulterate their goods and give short measure guilty of this, but also doctors who get paid for disastrous advice, lawyers who overcomplicate lawsuits, etc. In these exchanges of services, one is done in bad faith, but in this instance, as the service received is always agreed upon voluntarily in advance, it is clear that Plunder of this kind is bound to retreat as public clear-sightedness increases.

Next comes the abuse of government services, a huge field of Plunder, so huge that we can only cast a glance at it.

If God had made man to be a solitary animal, each would work for his own benefit. Individual wealth would be in proportion to the services that each person rendered to himself.

However, as man is sociable, services are exchanged for one another, a proposition that you can, if you like, construct in reverse.

In society, there are needs that are so general and universal that its members supply them by organizing government services. An example of this is the need for security. People consult with each other and agree to tax themselves in order to pay with various services those who supply the service of watching over common security.

There is nothing in this that is outside the scope of political economy: Do this for me and I will do that for you. The essence of the transaction is the same; the procedure of paying for it alone is different, but this difference is of far-ranging importance.

In ordinary transactions, each person remains the judge either of the service he receives or of the service he renders. He can always either refuse the exchange or make it elsewhere, which gives rise to the necessity of bringing into the market only services that will be voluntarily agreed upon.

This is not so with regard to the state, especially before the arrival of representative Edition: current; Page: [125] governments. Whether we need its services or not, whether they are good or bad quality,13 the State always obliges us to accept them as they are supplied and pay for them at the price it sets.

Well, all men tend to see the services they render through the small end of the telescope and the services they receive through the large end,14 and things would be in a fine state if we did not have the guarantee of a freely negotiated price in private transactions.

We do not have or scarcely have this guarantee in our transactions with the government. And yet the State, made up of men (although these days the contrary is insinuated), obeys the universal trend. It wants to serve us a great deal, indeed with more than we want, and make us accept as a genuine service things that are sometimes far from being so, in order to require us to supply it with services or taxes in return.

The state is also subject to Malthus’s law. It tends to exceed the level of its means of existence, it expands in line with these means, and what keeps it in existence is whatever the people have. Woe betide those peoples who cannot limit the sphere of action of the State. Freedom, private activity, wealth, well-being, independence, and dignity will all disappear.

For there is one fact that should be noted, and it is this: of all the services we require from the State, the principal one is security. In order to guarantee this to us, it has to have a force capable of overcoming all other forces, whether individual or collective, internal or external, which might compromise it. If we link this thought with the unfortunate tendency we have noted in men to live at the expense of others, there is a danger here that leaps to the eye.

This being so, just look at the immense scale on which Plunder has been carried out throughout history by the abuse and excesses of the government. One might well ask what services were provided to the people and what services were exacted by governments in the Assyrian, Babylonian, Roman, Persian, Turkish, Chinese, Russian, English, Spanish, and French states! The mind boggles at this huge disparity.

Eventually, the representative system of government was invented, and Edition: current; Page: [126] a priori it might have been thought that the disorder would disappear as though by magic.

In practice, the operating principle of these governments is this:

“The population itself will decide, through its representatives, on the nature and extent of the functions that it considers appropriate to establish as government services and the amount of revenue it intends to allocate to these services.

The tendency to seize the goods of others and the tendency to defend one’s own were thus brought face to face. It was bound to be thought that the latter would overcome the former.

Certainly I am convinced that in the long run this outcome will prevail. But it has to be said that up to now it has not done so.

Why? For two very simple reasons: governments have understood things only too well and the populace not well enough.

Governments are very wily. They act methodically and consistently according to a plan that has been well thought out and constantly improved by tradition and experience. They study men and their passions. If they see, for example, that they have an inclination to war, they whip up and excite this deadly tendency. They surround the nation with dangers through the actions of their diplomats, and very naturally, as a result, they require the nation to provide soldiers, sailors, arsenals, and fortifications;15 often they have little trouble in having these supplied to them: after all, they have honors, pensions, and positions to hand out. They need a great deal of money for this, and taxes and loans exist for this purpose.

If the nation is generous, governments take it upon themselves to cure all the ills of humanity. They will revive commerce, they say; they will bring prosperity to agriculture, develop factories, encourage arts and letters, abolish poverty, etc., etc. All that is needed is to create some new government functions and pay for some new functionaries.

In a word, the tactic consists in presenting as real services things that are only hindrances; the nation then pays, not for services but for disservices. Governments take on gigantic proportions and end up absorbing half of the total revenue. And the people are surprised at having to work so hard, at hearing the announcement of astonishing inventions that will infinitely increase Edition: current; Page: [127] the number of products and . . . to always be like Gros-Jean and never learn.16

This is because, while the government is displaying such skill, the people are showing very little. Thus, when called upon to choose those who will wield authority, those who will have to determine the sphere and remuneration of government action, whom do they choose? Government officials. They make the executive power responsible for setting the limits on its own action and requirements. They imitate the Bourgeois Gentilhomme17 who, in choosing the style and number of his suits, relies on the advice of . . . his tailor.18

Meanwhile, things go from bad to worse and the people’s eyes are at last opened, not to the remedy (they have not yet reached this stage), but to the illness.

Governing is such a pleasant job that everyone aspires to it. The councilors of the people therefore constantly tell them, “We see your suffering and we deplore it. Things would be different if we were governing you.”

This period, normally very long, is that of rebellion and uprising. When the people have been conquered, the cost of the war is added to their burdens. When they are the conquerors, the people in government change and the abuses remain.

And this continues until at last the people learn to recognize and defend their true interests. We therefore always reach this point: The only option lies in the progress of Public Reasoning.

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Certain nations appear to be astonishingly well disposed to becoming the prey of government Plunder. They are the ones in which men, totally disregarding their own dignity and energy, think that they would be lost if they were not being administered and governed in every sphere. Although I have not traveled a great deal, I have seen countries in which it is thought that agriculture could not make any progress if the State did not keep experimental farms, that there would soon be no more horses if the State did not have a stud farm, that fathers would not bring up their children or would have them taught only immoral things if the State did not decide what was fit to be learned, etc., etc. In a country like this, revolutions may follow one another in quick succession and governments fall one after the other. But those being governed will be no less governed to within an inch of their lives (for the disposition I am pointing out here is the very stuff of which governments are made) until the point is reached at which the people finally see that it is better to leave as many services as possible in the category of those that interested parties exchange for a freely negotiated price.

We have seen that society is based on an exchange of services. It ought to be just an exchange of good and honest services. But we have also noted that men had a great interest and consequently an irresistible urge to exaggerate the relative value of the services they rendered. And in all truth, I cannot see any other limit to this pretension than leaving the people to whom these services are offered the freedom to accept or refuse them.

From this it results that certain men have recourse to the law to reduce the natural prerogatives of this freedom for others. This type of plunder is called Privilege or Monopoly. Note well its origin and character.

Everybody knows that the services he brings to the general marketplace will be all the more appreciated and remunerated the scarcer they are. Everyone will therefore beg for the law to intervene to remove from the marketplace all those who come to offer similar services or, what amounts to the same thing, if the use of a tool is essential for the service to be rendered, he will demand from the law its exclusive possession.19

Since this type of Plunder is the principal subject of this volume, I will not dwell on it here and will limit myself to one observation.

When monopoly is an isolated occurrence, it is sure to make the person empowered by the law rich. It may then happen that each class of workers Edition: current; Page: [129] claims a similar monopoly for itself, instead of working toward the downfall of this monopoly. This characteristic of Plunder, reduced to a system, then becomes the most ridiculous hoax of all for everyone, and the final result is that each person thinks that he is gaining more from a general market that is totally impoverished.20

It is not necessary to add that this strange regime also introduces universal antagonism between all classes, professions, and peoples; that it requires constant but uncertain interference from the government; that it abounds in the abuses described in the preceding paragraph; it puts all areas of production into a position of irremediable insecurity and accustoms men to attributing the responsibility for their own existence to the law and not themselves. It would be difficult to imagine a more active cause of social unrest.21


People will say: “Why are you using this ugly word, Plunder? Apart from the fact that it is crude, it is upsetting, irritating, and turns calm and moderate men against you. It poisons the debate.”22

I will declare loudly that I respect people. I believe in the sincerity of almost all the advocates of Protection, and I do not claim the right to suspect the personal probity, scrupulousness, and philanthropy of anyone at all. I repeat once more that Protection is the work, the disastrous work, of a common error of which everyone, or at least the great majority, is both victim and accomplice. After that, I cannot stop things being what they are.

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Imagine a sort of Diogenes23 sticking his head outside his barrel and saying: “People of Athens, you have yourselves served by slaves. Have you never thought that you are exercising over your brothers the most iniquitous type of plunder?”

Or again, a tribune in the Forum saying: “People of Rome, you have based all of your means of existence on the repeated pillage of all other peoples.”

They would certainly be expressing only an incontrovertible truth. Should we then conclude that Athens and Rome were inhabited only by dishonest people? That Socrates and Plato, Cato24 and Cincinnatus,25 were despicable men?

Who could entertain such a thought? However, these great men lived in an environment that robbed them of any awareness of their injustice. We know that Aristotle was unable even to entertain the idea that a society could live without slavery.

In modern times, slavery has existed up to the present time without generating many scruples in the souls of plantation owners. Armies have been the instruments of great conquests, that is to say, great forms of plunder. Is this to say that they are not full of soldiers and officers who are personally just as scrupulous and perhaps more scrupulous than is generally the case in careers in industry, men whom the very thought of theft would cause to blush and who would face a thousand deaths rather than stoop to a base act?

What is condemnable are not individuals but the general milieu that carries them along and blinds them, a milieu of which society as a whole is guilty.

This is the case of monopoly. I accuse the system and not individuals, society as a whole and not any particular one of its members. If the greatest philosophers have been able to delude themselves over the iniquity of slavery, how much more reason have farmers and manufacturers to be mistaken with regard to the nature and effects of the protectionist regime?

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2.: Two Moral Philosophies


Original title: “Deux morales.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 148–56.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

At the end of the preceding chapter, if the reader has reached that far, I can well hear him cry:

“Well then! Are we mistaken in blaming economists for being dry and cold? What a picture of humanity! If they are right, plunder would be a disastrous force, one that is virtually taken for granted, taking all forms and exercised under all types of pretext, both outside the law and by the law, abusing the holiest of things, exploiting weakness and credulity in turn and advancing as these two sources of nourishment flourish around it! Can a darker picture of this world be painted?”

The question is not to know whether the picture is dark but whether it is true. History is there to tell us this.

It is rather strange that those who decry political economy (or economism, as they like to call this science), because it studies man and the world as they are, take pessimism very much further than it does, at least with regard to the past and present. Open their books and journals and what do you see? Bitterness, a hatred of society to the extent that the very word civilization is in their eyes synonymous with injustice, disorder, and anarchy. They have come to curse freedom, so low is their confidence in the development of the human race resulting from its natural organization. Freedom! This is what, according to them, is impelling us inexorably toward the abyss.

It is true that they are optimistic with regard to the future. For if humanity, incapable on its own, has been going the wrong way for six thousand years, a prophet has come to show it the path of salvation, and if only the Edition: current; Page: [132] flock obeys the shepherd’s crook it will be led into this promised land in which well-being is achieved without effort and where order, security, and harmony are the easy prize of improvidence.

All humanity has to do is to agree to reformers’ changing its physical and moral constitution, in the words of Rousseau.1

Political economy has not taken on the mission of seeking to ascertain what society would be like if God had made man otherwise than it pleased him to do. It is perhaps tedious that Providence forgot to call upon a few of our modern organizers for advice at the beginning.2 And, as celestial mechanics would have been quite different if the Creator had consulted Alphonse the Wise,3 and equally if he had not neglected Fourier’s advice, social order would bear no resemblance to the one we are forced to breathe, live, and move in. But, since we are here, since in eo vivimus, movemur et sumus,4 all we can do is to study it and learn its laws, especially since its improvement essentially depends on this knowledge.

We cannot prevent insatiable desires from springing up in the heart of man.

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We cannot arrange things so that no work is required for these desires to be satisfied.

We cannot avoid the fact that man’s reluctance to work is as strong as his desire to have his needs satisfied.

We cannot prevent the fact that, as a result of this state of affairs, there is a constant effort by men to increase their share of enjoyment while each of them tries by force or by fraud to throw the burden of labor onto the shoulders of his fellows.

It is not up to us to wipe out universal history, to stifle the voice of the past that attests that things have been like this from the outset. We cannot deny that war, slavery, serfdom, theocracy, abuse by government, privileges, frauds of all kinds, and monopolies have been the incontrovertible and terrible manifestations of these two sentiments that are intertwined in the hearts of men: attraction to pleasure, avoidance of pain.

“By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” But everyone wants as much bread and as little sweat as possible. This is the conclusion of history.

Thank heaven, history also shows that the distribution of pleasures and pains among men tends to occur in an increasingly even way.

Short of denying the obvious, we have to admit that society has made some progress in this regard.

If this is so, society therefore has within it a natural and providential force, a law that increasingly causes the principle of iniquity to retreat and the principle of justice to be realized.

We state that this force is within society and that God has placed it there. If it were not there, we, like the Utopians,5 would be reduced to seeking it in artificial means, in arrangements that require the prior alteration of the physical and moral constitution of man, or rather, we would believe this search to be useless and vain, since we cannot understand the action of a lever if it has no fulcrum.

Let us therefore endeavor to identify the beneficent force that tends to overcome little by little the malevolent force we have called Plunder, whose presence is only too clearly explained by reason and noted by experience.

Any malevolent action has of necessity two components, the source from which it comes and the place at which it ends; the person who carries out the action and the person on whom the action is carried out, or as one might Edition: current; Page: [134] have put it in a grammar class at school, the subject and the object of the sentence.6

There are therefore two opportunities for a malevolent action to be eliminated: the voluntary abstention of the active being and the resistance of the passive being.

Hence there are two moral philosophies that, far from contradicting each other, work together: a morality based on religion or philosophy, or one which I will permit myself to call economic.

A religious moral philosophy addresses the author of a malevolent action, man as the initiator of plunder,7 in order to eliminate it. It tells him, “Reform yourself, purify yourself, stop committing evil and do good. Overcome your passions, sacrifice your personal interest, cease to oppress your neighbor whom it is your duty to love and care for. Be just above all and then charitable.” This moral philosophy will always be the finest, the most touching, and the one that reveals the human race in all its majesty, the one that most encourages flights of eloquence and generates the most admiration and sympathy in men.

An economic moral philosophy aspires to achieve the same result but above all addresses men as victims of plunder. It shows them the effects of human actions and, by this simple demonstration, stimulates them to react against the actions that hurt them and honor those that are useful to them. It endeavors to disseminate enough good sense, enlightenment, and justified mistrust in the oppressed masses to make oppression increasingly difficult and dangerous.

It should be noted that economic morality cannot help but also act on oppressors. A malevolent act has good and evil consequences: evil consequences for those who suffer it and good consequences for those who carry it out; otherwise it would not occur. But it is a long way from being compensatory. The sum of evil always outweighs the good, and this has to be so, since Edition: current; Page: [135] the very fact of oppression leads to a depletion of strength, creates dangers, provokes retaliation, and requires costly precautions. A simple revelation of these effects is thus not limited to triggering a reaction in those oppressed; it rallies to the flag of justice all those whose hearts have not been corrupted and undermines the security of the oppressors themselves.

But it is easy to understand that this moral philosophy, which is more implicit than explicit and which is after all just a scientific demonstration; which would even lose its effectiveness if it changed character; which is not aimed at the heart, but the mind; which does not seek to persuade, but to convince; which does not give advice, but proof; whose mission is not to touch the emotions, but to enlighten and whose only victory over vice is to deprive it of sustenance: it is easy, I say, to understand that this moral philosophy has been accused of being dry and dull.

This objection is true but unjust. It amounts to saying that political economy does not state everything, does not include everything, and is not a universal science. But who has ever put forward such an exorbitant claim on its behalf?

The accusation would be well-founded only if political economy presented its procedures as being exclusive and had the effrontery, as we might say, to forbid philosophy and religion from using all their own direct means of working toward the progress of mankind.

Let us accept therefore the simultaneous action of morality proper and of political economy, with the first casting a slur on the motives and evident ugliness of malevolent acts and the second discrediting them in our beliefs by giving a picture of their effects.

Let us even admit that the triumph, when it occurs, of religious moralists is finer, more consoling, and more radical. But at the same time it is difficult not to acknowledge that the triumph of economic science is easier and more sure.

In a few lines that are worth more than a host of heavy volumes, Jean-Baptiste Say has already drawn to our attention that there are two ways of stopping the conflict introduced into an honorable family by hypocrisy: correcting Tartuffe or teaching Orgon the ways of the world.8 Molière, a great Edition: current; Page: [136] painter of the human heart, seems to have had the second of these procedures constantly in view as being the more effective.

This is just as true on the world stage.

Tell me what Caesar did and I will tell you what the Romans of his time were like.

Tell me what modern diplomacy is accomplishing and I will tell you what the moral state of nations is like.

We would not be paying nearly two billion in taxes if we did not hand over the power to vote for them to those who are gobbling them up.9

We would not have all the problems and expenses of the African question10 if we were as fully convinced that two and two are four in political economy just as they are in arithmetic.

M. Guizot would not have the opportunity of saying, “France is rich enough to pay for its glory11 if France had never fallen in love with false glory.

This same Statesman would never have said, “Freedom is sufficiently precious for France not to trade it away” if France fully understood that a swollen budget and freedom are incompatible.12

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It is not the monopolizers, as is widely believed, but those who are monopolized who keep monopolies in place.

And, where elections are concerned, it is not because there are corruptors that there are those who can be corrupted. It’s the opposite; and the proof of this is that it is those who can be corrupted who pay all the costs of corruption. Would it not be up to them to put a stop to it?

Let religious morality therefore touch the hearts of the Tartuffes, the Caesars, the colonists, sinecurists, and monopolists, etc. if it can. The task of political economy is to enlighten their dupes.

Which of these two procedures works more effectively toward social progress? Do we have to spell it out? I believe it is the second. I fear that humanity cannot escape the necessity of first learning a defensive moral philosophy.

No matter how much I look, whatever I read or observe and whatever the questions I ask, I cannot find any abuse carried out on anything like a wide scale that has been destroyed through the voluntary renunciation of those benefiting from it.

On the other hand, I have found many that have been overcome by the active resistance of those suffering from them.

Describing the consequences of abuse is therefore the most effective way of destroying it. And how true this is, especially when it concerns abuses like protectionism, which, while inflicting genuine harm on the masses, nurture only illusion and disappointment in those who believe they are benefiting from them.

After all this, will this type of moral persuasion succeed by itself in achieving all the social progress that the attractive nature of the human soul and the noblest of its faculties gives us leave to hope for and foresee? I am far from claiming this. Let us assume the total diffusion of this defensive moral philosophy, which is, after all, nothing other than a recognition of well understood interests that are in accordance with the general good and with justice. A society like this, although certainly well ordered, might well fail to be very attractive, one in which there were no more rascals simply because there were no more dupes, in which vice would be constantly latent, numbed by famine, so to speak, and merely waiting for sustenance to revive it, and in which the prudence of each person would be governed by the vigilance of all, a society, in a word, in which reform regulating external acts would be only skin deep, not having penetrated to the depths of people’s consciences. A society like this sometimes appears to us reflected in men who are strict, Edition: current; Page: [138] rigorous, just, ready to reject the slightest encroachment of their rights and skilled in avoiding being undermined in any way. You hold them in esteem and perhaps admire them; you would make them your deputy but not your friend.

Let these two moral philosophies, therefore, work hand in hand instead of mutually decrying one another, and attack vice in a pincer movement. While economists are doing their job, opening the eyes of the Orgons, uprooting preconceived ideas, stimulating just and essential mistrust, and studying and exposing the true nature of things and actions, let religious moralists for their part carry out their more attractive but difficult work. Let them engage iniquity in hand-to-hand combat. Let them pursue it right into the deepest fibers of the heart. Let them paint the charms of benevolent action, self-denial, and self-sacrifice. Let them open the source of virtues where we can only turn off the source of vice: that is their task, and one that is noble and fine. Why then do they dispute the usefulness of the task that has fallen to us?

In a society that, while not being intrinsically virtuous, is nevertheless well ordered because of the action of economic morality (which is the knowledge of the economy which the society possesses), do the opportunities for progress not open up for religious morality?

Habit, it is said, is a second nature.

A country where for a long time everyone is unaccustomed to injustice simply as a result of the resistance to this of a general public that is enlightened, may still be unhappy. However, in my view, it would be well placed to receive a higher and purer form of education. Being unaccustomed to evil is a great step toward good. Men cannot remain stationary. Once they have turned away from the path of vice, which no longer leads anywhere save to infamy, they would be all the more attracted to virtue.

Perhaps society has to pass through this prosaic state in which people practice virtue through calculation in order to lift itself up to that more poetic region where they would no longer need this motive.

3.: The Two Axes


Original title: “Les deux haches.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms Edition: current; Page: [139] (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 156–59.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

A petition from Jacques Bonhomme,1 Carpenter, to M. Cunin-Gridaine,2 Minister of Trade.

Minister and Manufacturer,

I am a carpenter like Jesus; I wield an axe and an adze to serve you.

Now, while chopping and hewing from dawn to dusk on the lands of our lord the king, the idea came to me that my work is just as national as yours.

And this being so, I do not see why protection should not extend to my worksite as it does to your workshop.

For, when all is said and done, if you make sheets, I make roofs. Both of us in different ways shelter our customers from the cold and rain.

However, I pursue customers while customers pursue you. You have been perfectly successful in forcing them to do so by preventing them from being supplied elsewhere, whereas my customers can go where they please.

What is surprising in this? M. Cunin the Minister has remembered M. Cunin the weaver, and that is only natural. But alas! My humble trade has not given a minister to France, even though it gave a God to the world.

And this God, in the immortal code he bequeathed to men, has not slipped into it the slightest little word that would authorize carpenters to grow wealthy, as you do, at the expense of others.

Look at my position, then. I earn thirty sous a day except for when the day is a Sunday or public holiday. If I offer you my services at the same time as a Edition: current; Page: [140] Flemish carpenter who offered a one-sou discount, you would prefer giving him the business.

However, do I need to clothe myself? If a Belgian weaver lays out his woolen cloth side by side with yours, you throw him, and his woolen cloth, out of the country.

This means that, since I am forced to come to your shop, which is more expensive, my poor thirty sous are in effect worth only twenty-eight.

What am I saying? They are not even worth twenty-six, for instead of throwing the Belgian weaver out at your own expense (this would be the least you could do), you make me pay for the people who, in your interest, you order to drive them away!3

And, since a great many of your colegislators, with whom you are in perfect collusion, all take one or two sous from me on the pretext of protecting, this one, iron, another coal, others oil or wheat, so at the end of the day I find that I have barely been able to keep fifteen sous of my thirty from being plundered.4

You will doubtless tell me that these small sous, which move with no compensation from my pocket to yours, provide a living for people around your chateau and enable you to live in grand style. To which I would reply, if you allowed me to do so, that they would provide a living for people around me.

Be that as it may, Minister and Manufacturer, knowing that I will receive short shrift from you, I will not come to demand, as I have every right to do, that you abandon the restriction that you place on your customers; I prefer to follow the common route and claim a small slice of protection for myself as well.

At this point you will place a difficulty in my way. “Friend,” you will say, “I would like to protect you and your fellow men, but how can I confer Customs favors on the work of carpenters? Will we have to prohibit the import of houses by land and sea?”

That would be somewhat laughable, but by dint of pondering it, I have Edition: current; Page: [141] discovered another way of granting favors to the sons of Saint Joseph, and you would be all the more ready to welcome this, I hope, in that it differs not a whit from the means that constitutes the privilege you vote each year in your favor.

This marvelous means is to forbid the use of sharpened axes in France.

I say that this restriction would be no more illogical or arbitrary than that to which we are subject with regard to your woolen cloth.

Why do you chase Belgians away? Because they sell cheaper than you. And why do they sell cheaper than you? Because as weavers, they have a superiority of some sort over you.

Between you and the Belgians, therefore, there is just about the same difference as between a dull and sharp axe.5

And you force me, as a carpenter, to buy the product of the dull axe!

Think of France as a worker who, through his work, wants to buy himself all sorts of things, including woolen cloth.

He has two ways of doing this:

The first is to spin and weave the wool.

The second is to manufacture clocks, wallpaper, or wine, for example, and deliver them to Belgians in return for woolen cloth.

Whichever of these two procedures gives the best result may be represented by the sharp axe and the other by the dull one.

You do not deny that we currently obtain a length of cloth from a loom in France with more work and effort (that is the dull axe) than from a vine (that is the sharp axe). You absolutely cannot deny it because it is exactly through consideration of this extra effort (which in your scheme of things constitutes wealth) that you recommend, and what is more, you require that we use the worse of the two axes.

Well then! Be consistent and impartial, if you wish to be just, and treat poor carpenters as you treat yourselves.

Pass a law that says:

“No one can use anything other than beams and joists produced by dull axes.”

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See what would happen immediately.

Where we once gave one hundred blows of the axe, we now give three hundred. What we once could do in an hour now requires three. What a powerful incitement to work! There would no longer be enough apprentices, guild craftsmen, and masters. We would be sought after, and therefore well paid. Whoever wanted to have a roof would be obliged to submit to our demands, just as those who want cloth are obliged to submit to yours.

And if these theoreticians in favor of free trade ever dare to call into question the usefulness of the measure, we will know very well where to turn for a triumphant refutation. Your parliamentary inquiry of 18346 is there. We will beat them with it, for in it you have admirably pleaded the cause of prohibition and dull axes, which are one and the same.

4.: The Lower Council of Labor


Original title: “Conseil inférieur du travail.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 160–63.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

“What! You have the nerve to demand for every citizen the right to sell, purchase, barter, exchange, and give and receive services for services and allow him to judge for himself on the sole condition that he does not infringe honesty and that he satisfies the public Treasury? You therefore want to snatch work, pay, and bread from the workers?”

Edition: current; Page: [143]

This is what we are being told. I know what to think of this, but I wanted to find out what the workers themselves think.

I had an excellent tool available for carrying out surveys.

It was not at all one of the Superior Councils of Industry1 in which large landowners who call themselves ploughmen, powerful shipowners who think they are sailors, and rich shareholders who claim to be workers carry out the sort of philanthropy we all know about.

No, these were proper workers, serious workers, as they are now called, joiners, carpenters, masons, tailors, shoemakers, dyers, blacksmiths, innkeepers, grocers, etc., etc., who founded a mutual aid society2 in my village.

Using my own authority, I transformed this into a Lower Council of Labor3 and obtained from it an inquiry which is every bit as good as any other although it is not stuffed with figures and swollen to the size of a quarto volume printed at State expense.4

It took the form of questioning these fine people on the way they are, or believe they are, affected by the protectionist regime. The Chairman pointed out to me that this was something of an infringement on the conditions for the existence of the association. For in France, this land of freedom, people who form an association give up any right to discuss politics, that is to say, any discussion of their common interest.5 However, after much hesitation, he included the question on the agenda.

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The assembly was divided into as many commissions as there were groups of various trades. Each one was given a chart that it had to complete after two weeks of discussion.

On the due date, the venerable Chairman took his seat on the official chair (this is a formal expression since it was just an ordinary chair) and found on the desk (another formal expression since it was a table made of poplar wood) about fifteen reports, which he read in turn.

The first was from the tailors. Here is a copy of it that is as accurate as if it were a facsimile.

THE EFFECTS OF PROTECTION—THE REPORT FROM THE TAILORS Disadvantages Advantages 1. Because of the protectionist regime, we pay more for bread, meat, sugar, wood, yarn, needles, etc., which amounts to a considerable reduction in earnings for us; None1 2. Because of the protectionist regime, our customers also pay more for everything, which leaves them less to spend on clothes, from which it follows that we have less work and therefore less profit; 3. Because of the protectionist regime, fabrics are expensive and people make their clothes last longer or go without. This is also a reduction in work, which forces us to offer our services at a discount. 1. No matter how we took our measurements, we found it impossible to find any way whatsoever in which the protectionist regime is advantageous to our business.
Edition: current; Page: [145]

Here is another table:

THE EFFECTS OF PROTECTION—THE REPORT FROM THE BLACKSMITHS Disadvantages Advantages 6In 1849 the income the French government received from taxes and tariffs on salt was fr. 25.6 million and from the monopoly on mail fr. 49.8 million, out of total income of fr. 1.4 billion. The total revenue from tariffs and customs duties was fr. 156.8 million. See L’Annuaire de l’économie politique et de la statistique (1850), p. 24. 1. The protectionist regime inflicts on us a tax, which does not go to the Treasury, each time we eat, drink, heat ourselves, or dress ourselves; None 2. It inflicts a similar tax on our fellow citizens, who are not blacksmiths, and since they are poorer by this amount most of them make wooden nails and door latches from string, which deprives us of work; 3. It keeps iron at such a high price that in the countryside no one uses it in carts, grills, or balconies, and our trade, which is capable of providing work for so many people who have none, is lacking work for us ourselves; 4. What the tax authorities fail to raise on goods that are not imported is taken on our salt and letters.6

All the other tables, which I will spare the reader, echoed the same refrain. Gardeners, carpenters, shoemakers, clog makers, boatmen, and millers all expressed the same complaints.

I deplored the fact that there were no farm laborers in our association. Their report would certainly have been very instructive.

But alas! In our region of the Landes,7 the poor farm laborers, as protected as they are, do not have a sou, and, after they have seen to the welfare of their own cattle, they themselves cannot join any mutual aid societies. The Edition: current; Page: [146] alleged favors of protection do not stop them from being the pariahs of our social order. What shall I say about vine growers?

What I noted above all was the common sense with which our villagers saw not only the direct harm that the protectionist regime was doing them but also the indirect harm which, as it affected their customers, ricocheted or flowed on8 to them.

This is what, I said to myself, the economists of Le Moniteur industriel appear not to understand.

And perhaps those men who are dazzled by a little protection, in particular the tenant farmers, would be ready to give it up if they saw this side of the question.

Perhaps they would say to themselves, “It is better to provide for oneself surrounded by prosperous customers than to be protected surrounded by impoverished ones.”

For wanting to enrich each industry in turn by creating an economic void around them is as vain an effort as trying to jump over your shadow.

5.: High Prices and Low Prices


Original title: “Cherté, bon marché.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 25 July 1847, no. 35, pp. 273–74, with supplement from 1 August 1847.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 163–73.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

I think I have to put forward to the reader a few remarks that are, alas, theoretical, on the illusions that arise from the words high prices and low prices. Edition: current; Page: [147] At first sight, I realize that these remarks will be taken to be somewhat subtle, but subtle or not, the question is to determine whether they are true. Now, I think they are perfectly true, and above all just the thing to make the many people who sincerely believe in the effectiveness of protectionism, engage in a bit of reflection.

Whether we are partisans of freedom or defenders of trade restriction, we are all reduced to using the words high prices and low prices. Partisans of freedom declare themselves in favor of things being cheap with an eye on the interests of consumers; defenders of restriction advocate high prices, taking care of producers above all. Other people intervene, saying: “Producers and consumers are one and the same,” which leaves up in the air the question of knowing whether the law ought to pursue low prices or high ones.

At the center of this conflict, there appears to be just one path for the law to take, and that is to allow prices to find their level naturally. However, in this case the sworn enemies of laissez faire appear.1 Above all they want the law to act, even if they do not know in which direction it should act. No decision having been reached, it would seem to be up to the person who wants to use the law to generate artificially high prices or unnaturally low ones, to set out the reason for his choice and convince others of its validity. The onus probandi2 is exclusively on his shoulders. From which it follows that freedom is always deemed to be good until proven otherwise, since leaving prices to establish themselves naturally constitutes freedom.

However, the roles have changed. The partisans of high prices have caused their model to triumph, and it is up to the defenders of natural prices to prove the worth of theirs. Both sides argue using just two words. It is thus essential to know what these words encompass.

Let us note first of all that there are several facts which are likely to disconcert the champions of both camps.

To make things expensive, those in favor of trade restriction obtained protective duties, and low prices, which are inexplicable to them, have come to dash their hopes.

To get cheap things, free traders have on occasion secured the triumph of freedom and, to their great astonishment, the result has been rising prices.

For example: In France, in order to stimulate agriculture, foreign wool has been subjected to a duty of 22 percent, and what has happened is that French wool has been sold at a lower price after this measure than before.

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In England, to relieve consumers, foreign wool was exempted and finally freed from tax, and the result has been that local wool has been sold more expensively than ever.

And these are not isolated facts, for the price of wool does not have a nature of its own which exempts it from the general law governing prices. This same fact has recurred in all similar circumstances. Against all expectations, protection has instead led to a fall and competition to an increase in the prices of products.

This being so, confusion in the debate reached its height, with protectionists saying to their opponents: “The low prices you boasted about to us have been achieved by our system.” And their opponents replied: “The high prices you found so useful have been generated by freedom.”3

Would it not be amusing to see low prices becoming the watchword in rue Hauteville and high ones lauded in the rue Choiseul?4

Obviously, there is a misunderstanding in all this, an illusion that has to be destroyed. This is what I will try to do.

Let us imagine two isolated nations, each made up of one million inhabitants. Let us agree that, all other things being equal, there is in one of them double the quantity of all sorts of things as in the other, twice as much wheat, meat, iron, furniture, fuel, books, clothes, etc.

We would agree that the first of these nations would be twice as rich.

However, there is no reason to assert that nominal prices5 would be different in these two nations. They might even be higher in the richer. It is possible that in the United States everything is nominally more expensive Edition: current; Page: [149] than in Poland and that people there are nevertheless better supplied with everything, from which we can see that it is not the nominal price of products but their abundance that constitutes wealth. When, therefore, we want to compare trade restriction and freedom, we should not ask ourselves which of the two generates low or high prices, but which of the two brings abundance or scarcity.

For you should note this: products are traded for one another, and a relative scarcity of everything and a relative abundance of everything leave the nominal price of things exactly at the same point, but not the condition of people.

Let us go into the subject in greater detail.

When increases and decreases in duties are seen to produce such opposite effects to those expected, with lower prices often following the imposition of a tax and higher prices sometimes following the removal of a tax, political economy has had to find an explanation for a phenomenon that overturned preconceived ideas, since whatever we say, any science that is worthy of the name is only the faithful exposition and accurate explanation of facts.

Well, the one we are highlighting here is very well explained by a circumstance that should never be lost to sight.

It is that high prices have two causes and not one.

This is also true of low prices.

It is one of the most accepted points of political economy that price is determined by the state of Supply compared to that of Demand.

There are therefore two terms that affect price: Supply and Demand. These terms are essentially variable. They may combine in the same direction, in opposite directions, and in infinite proportions. This leads to an inexhaustible number of price combinations.

Prices rise either because Supply decreases or because Demand increases.

They drop either because Supply increases or because Demand decreases.

This shows that high prices have two natures, and so do low prices.

There is a bad sort of high prices, that resulting from a decrease in Supply, since this implies scarcity and privation (such as that experienced this year for wheat),6 and there is a good sort of high prices, resulting from an Edition: current; Page: [150] increase in demand, since this presupposes an increase in the level of general wealth.

In the same way, there is a desirable sort of low prices, arising from abundance, and a disastrous version, resulting from a decrease in demand and the destitution of customers.

Now, note this: trade restriction tends to trigger simultaneously the bad sorts both of high and low prices; bad high prices in that it decreases Supply, and this is even its expressed aim, and the bad sort of low prices in that it also decreases Demand, since it gives a wrong direction to capital and labor and burdens customers with taxes and hindrances.

With the result that, with regard to price, these two trends cancel one another out, and this is why this system, by restricting Demand at the same time as Supply, does not even in the long run achieve the high prices which are its aim.

But, with regard to the condition of the people, they do not cancel one another out. On the contrary, they contribute to making it worse.

The effect of freedom is just the opposite. Its general result may not be the low prices it promised either, for it too has two trends, one toward desirable low prices through the expansion of Supply or abundance, the other toward noticeably higher prices through the increase of Demand or general wealth. These two trends cancel one another out with regard to nominal prices, but they combine with regard to improving the condition of men.

In a word, under protectionism and to the extent that it is put into effect, people regress to a state in which both Supply and Demand weaken; under free trade, they progress to a state in which these develop equally without the nominal price of things necessarily being affected. This price is not a good measure of wealth. It may well remain the same whether society is descending into the most abject poverty or rising toward greater prosperity.

May we be allowed to apply this doctrine in a few words?

A farmer in the South-East of France thinks that he has struck it rich Edition: current; Page: [151] because he is protected by duties against competition from abroad. He is as poor as Job, but this does not matter; he is no less convinced that protection will make him rich sooner or later. In these circumstances, if, as the Odier Committee has done, he is asked the following question worded thus:

“Do you or do you not wish to be subjected to foreign competition?” His instinctive reaction is to reply: “No.” And the Odier Committee gives this response an extremely enthusiastic reception.

However, we must delve a bit more deeply into the matter. Doubtless, foreign competition and even competition in general is always a nuisance, and if a branch of activity were able to break free of it on its own, it would do good business for a time.

But protection is not an isolated favor; it is a system. If it tends to produce scarcity of wheat and meat, to the advantage of this farmer, it also tends to produce scarcity of iron, cloth, fuel, tools, etc. to the advantage of other producers; in other words, the scarcity of everything.

Well, if the scarcity of wheat works toward making it more expensive by decreasing supply, the scarcity of all the other objects for which wheat is traded works toward lowering its price by decreasing demand, with the result, in a word, that it is by no means certain that wheat is more expensive by one centime than under a free regime. The only thing that is certain is that since there is less of everything in the country, each person must be less well provided with everything.

The farmer ought well to be asking himself whether it would not be better for him for a little wheat or meat to be imported from abroad and on the other hand for him to be surrounded by a prosperous population able to consume and pay for all sorts of agricultural products.

Imagine that there is a certain département in which men are covered in rags, live in hovels, and eat chestnuts. How do you expect farming to flourish there? What do you make the land produce in the reasonable hope of receiving a fair return? Meat? Nobody eats it. Milk? People drink only water from springs. Butter? That is a luxury. Wool? People do without it as much as they can. Does anyone think that all these objects of consumption can be abandoned by the masses without this abandonment having a downward effect on prices at the same time as trade protection acts to raise them?

What we have said with reference to a farmer can also be applied to a manufacturer. The manufacturers of cloth insist that foreign competition Edition: current; Page: [152] will decrease the price by increasing Supply. Maybe, but will these prices not be raised by an increase in Demand? Is the consumption of cloth a fixed and invariable quantity? Is each person as well provided for as he could and should be? And if general wealth increased through the abolition of all these taxes and restrictions, would not the population instinctively use it to clothe themselves better?

The question, the eternal question, is therefore not to ascertain whether protection favors this or that particular area but whether, after all costs and benefits have been calculated, restriction is, by its very nature, more productive than freedom.

But nobody dares to support this. This even explains the admission that we are constantly being given: “You are right in principle.”

If this is so, if restriction benefits each particular activity only by doing greater harm to general wealth, let us therefore understand that prices themselves, taking only these into consideration, express a relationship between each particular productive activity and production in general, between Supply and Demand, and that in accordance with these premises, this remunerative price, the aim of protection, is more damaged than favored by it.


Under the title High Prices and Low Prices we published an article, which generated the following two letters. We follow them with a reply.

Dear Editor,

You are upsetting all my ideas. I was producing propaganda in favor of free trade and found it very convenient to highlight low prices! I went everywhere saying: “Under freedom, bread, meat, cloth, linen products, iron, and fuel will decrease in price.” That displeased those who sell these things but pleased those who buy them. Now you are casting doubt on the claim that free trade will result in low prices. But what use will it be, then? What will the people gain if foreign competition, which might hurt their sales, does not help them in their purchases?

Dear Free Trader,

Please allow me to tell you that you have only half-read the article that generated your letter. We said that free trade acted in exactly the same way as Edition: current; Page: [153] roads, canals, and railways, and like everything that facilitates communications and destroys obstacles. Its initial tendency is to increase the abundance of the article freed from duty and consequently to lower its price. But since at the same time it increases the abundance of all the things that are traded for this article, it increases demand for it, and its price rises as a result of this aspect. You ask us what the people will gain. Let us suppose that they have a set of scales with several trays, in each of which they have for their own use a certain quantity of the objects you have listed. If a small quantity of wheat is added to a tray, it will go down, but if you add a little woolen cloth, a little iron, and a little fuel to the other trays, the balance will be maintained. If you look at the evil consequence only, nothing will have changed. If you look at the people, you will see that they are better fed, better clothed, and better heated.

Dear Editor,

I am a manufacturer of woolen cloth and a protectionist. I must admit that your article on high prices and low prices has given me food for thought. There is a certain plausibility there that needs only to be properly proved to achieve a conversion.

Dear Protectionist,

We say that your restrictive measures aim at an iniquitous result, artificially high prices. But we do not say that they always achieve the hopes of those who advance them. They certainly inflict on consumers all the harm of high prices, but it is not clear that they achieve any benefit for producers. Why? Because although they decrease Supply, they also decrease Demand.

This proves that there is a moral force in the economic arrangement of this world, a vis medicatrix, a healing power which ensures that in the long run unjust ambition is confronted with disappointment.

Please note, Sir, that one of the elements of the prosperity of each particular branch of production is general wealth. The price of a house does not depend only on what it cost but also on the number and fortune of its tenants. Do two houses that are exactly alike necessarily have the same price? Certainly not, if one is situated in Paris and the other in Lower Brittany. We should never talk about price without taking account of location and note well that there is no attempt that is more vain than that of wishing to base Edition: current; Page: [154] the prosperity of certain parts on the ruin of the whole. This is nevertheless to what restrictive regimes aspire.

Competition has always been and will always be unfortunate to those who suffer from it. For this reason, we have always seen, in every age and place, men striving to escape it. We know (as do you, perhaps) of a municipal authority in which resident traders wage a bitter war against peddlers. Their missiles are city taxes on the movement of goods, fees to be able to set up their stalls in the market, fees to display their goods, road and bridge tolls, etc., etc.

Just consider what would have become of Paris, for example, if this war had been successful.

Let us suppose that the first shoemaker who set up shop there had succeeded in routing all the others, and that the first tailor, the first mason, the first printer, the first watchmaker, the first hairdresser, the first doctor, or the first baker had been as successful. Paris would still be a village of 1,200 to 1,500 inhabitants today. This has not happened. Everyone (except for those you are still chasing away) has come to exploit this market, and this is exactly what has made it grow. This has been nothing but a long series of upsets for the enemies of competition and, through one upset after another, Paris has become a town of one million inhabitants. General wealth has doubtless gained from this, but has the individual wealth of shoemakers and tailors lost out? In your eyes, this is the question. As competitors arrived, you would have said: “The price of boots will decrease.” Has this been so? No, for while Supply has increased, so has Demand.

This will also be true for cloth, Sir; let it come in.7 You will have more competitors, that is true, but you will also have more customers, and above all, customers that are richer. What then! Have you never thought of this during the winter on seeing nine-tenths of your fellow citizens deprived of the cloth you make so well?

This is a very long lesson to learn. Do you want to prosper? Then let your customers prosper.

But when it has been learned, everyone will seek his own benefit in the general good. Then jealousies between individuals, towns, provinces, and nations will no longer trouble the world.

Edition: current; Page: [155]

6.: To Artisans and Workers1


Original title: “Aux artisans et aux ouvriers.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Courrier français, 18 September 1846.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 173–82.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

Several journals have tried to lower my standing in your eyes. Would you like to read my defense?

I am a trusting soul. When a man writes or says something, I believe that his words reflect his thoughts.

Even so, however much I read and reread the journals to which I am replying, I seem to find in them some sorry tendencies.

What was it all about? To find out what you prefer, trade restriction or freedom.

I believe it is freedom. They believe it is trade restriction. Let each prove his case.

Is it necessary to insinuate that we are the agents of England, of the Midi,2 or of the government?

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Note how easy, if these are the grounds of debate, recrimination would be for us.

We are, they say, the agents of the English, because some of us have used the words meeting and free-trader!

But do they not themselves use the words drawback and budget?3

We imitate Cobden and English democracy!

But don’t they parody Bentinck4 and the British aristocracy?

We borrow the doctrine of freedom from perfidious Albion!

And they, do they not borrow from her the quibbles of protection?

We follow the impulses of Bordeaux and the Midi!

And they, do they not serve the greed of Lille and the North?

We favor the secret designs of the government, which wants to distract attention from its policy!

And they, do they not favor the views of the Civil List,5 which gains more than anyone in the world from protectionism?

You can thus see clearly that, if we did not scorn this campaign to denigrate others, we would not lack the weapons to engage in it.

But that is not the question.

The question, and I will not lose sight of it, is this:

What is better for the working classes, to be free or not to be free to purchase from abroad?

Workers, you are being told: “If you are free to purchase things from abroad that you are now making yourselves, you will no longer be making them. You will have no work, no pay, and no bread. Your freedom is therefore being restricted for your own good.”

Edition: current; Page: [157]

This objection comes under multiple forms. For example, it is said: “If we dress in English cloth, if we make our ploughs with English iron, if we slice our bread with English knives, if we wipe our hands on English napkins, what will become of French workers and national production?

Workers, tell me, if a man stood in the port of Boulogne and said to each Englishman who came ashore: “If you will give me these English boots, I will give you this French hat?” Or “If you will let me have this English horse, I will give you this French Tilbury?”6 Or “Will you trade this machine from Birmingham for this clock from Paris?” Or again: “Does it suit you to trade this coal from Newcastle for this Champagne?” I ask you, assuming that our man exerted some judgment in his proposals, can we say that our national output, taken overall, would be affected?

Would it be more affected if there were twenty people offering services like this in Boulogne instead of one, if one million trades were being made instead of four, and if traders and cash were brought in to facilitate them and increase their number infinitely?

Well, whether one country buys wholesale from another in order to sell retail or retail to sell wholesale, if the affair is followed right to its end, it will always be found that commerce is just a series of barter exchanges, products for products and services for services. Therefore, if one barter exchange does not damage national production since it implies an equal amount of national work given for the foreign work received, one hundred thousand million exchanges would not damage it to any greater extent.

But, you will say, where is the profit? The profit lies in making the best use of the resources of each country so that the same amount of work provides more satisfaction and well-being everywhere.

Some people use a strange tactic with you. They begin by agreeing that the free system is better than the prohibitive system, doubtless so as not to have to defend themselves on this subject.

Then they observe that in the transition from one system to the other there will be some displacement of labor.

Next, they will dwell on the suffering that this displacement will bring in its wake, according to them. They exaggerate it and magnify it and make it the prime subject in the matter; they present this suffering as the sole and final result of the reform and strive thus to win you over to the flag of monopoly.

Moreover, this is a tactic that has been used for all sorts of abuse, and Edition: current; Page: [158] one thing that I must acknowledge quite straightforwardly is that it always embarrasses those in favor of reform, even those reforms most useful to the people. You will soon understand why.

When an abuse exists, everything is organized around it.

Some people’s lives depend on it, others depend on these lives, and still others depend on these latter ones, making a huge edifice.

If you try to lay a hand on it, everyone cries out and, note this well, those who shout loudest always appear at first sight to be right, as it is easier to show the disadvantages that accompany reform than the advantages that follow it.

Those in favor of the abuse quote specific facts; they name individuals and their suppliers and workers who will be upset, while the poor devil of a reformer can refer only to the general good which is due to spread gradually through the masses. This is far from having the same effect.

So, does the question of abolishing slavery arise? “You unfortunate people,” the black people are told, “who will feed you in the future? The foreman distributes lashes with his whip, but he also distributes manioc.”

And the slaves miss their chains and ask themselves, “Where will I obtain manioc?”

They do not see that it is not the foreman who feeds them but their own work, which also feeds the foreman.

When the monasteries were reformed in Spain,7 the mendicants were told: “Where will you find soup and robes? The Prior is your Providence. Is it not very convenient to call upon him?”

And the mendicants said, “It is true. If the Prior goes away, we clearly see what we will be losing but not what will take his place.”

They were not mindful that although monasteries distributed alms, they also lived on alms, to the extent that the people had to donate more than they received.

Edition: current; Page: [159]

Workers, in just the same way, monopoly places imperceptible taxes on all of your shoulders and then, with the product of these taxes, it gives you work.

And your false friends tell you, “If there were no monopoly, who would give you work?”

To which you answer, “That is true, very true. The work provided to us by the monopolists is certain. The promises of freedom are uncertain.”

For you do not see that money is being squeezed out of you in the first instance and that subsequently you are being given back part of this money in return for your work.

You ask who will give you work? You will give each other work, for heaven’s sake! With the money that will no longer be taken from you, the shoemaker will dress better and will give work to the tailor. The tailor will replace his shoes more often and give work to the shoemaker. And so on for all of the trades.

It is said that with freedom there will be fewer workers in the mines and spinning mills.

I do not think so. But if that happened, of necessity there would be more people working freely at home or out in the sun.

For if the mines and spinning mills are supported only, as people say, with the help of the taxes imposed for their benefit on everyone, once these taxes are abolished, everyone will be better off, and it is the prosperity of all that provides work for each person.

Forgive me if I linger awhile on this argument. I would so much like to see you on the side of freedom!

In France, the capital invested in industry produces, I suppose, 5 percent profit. But here is Mondor,8 who has invested 100,000 fr. in a factory, which is losing 5 percent. The difference between loss and gain is 10,000 fr. What do people do? They spread among you very subtly a small tax of 10,000 fr., which they give to Mondor. You do not notice it because it is skillfully disguised. It is not the tax collector who comes to ask you for your share of the tax, but you pay it to Mondor, the ironmaster, each time you buy your axes, trowels, and planes. You are then told: “If you do not pay this tax, Mondor will not provide any work, and his workers Jean and Jacques will be unemployed.” Heavens above! If you were given back the tax, would you not put yourselves to work and even start your own businesses?

And then, be reassured. When he no longer has this nice cushion of a Edition: current; Page: [160] higher price through taxes, Mondor will think up ways of converting his loss into profit, and Jean and Jacques will not be dismissed. Then there will be a profit for all.

Perhaps you will dwell on this and say: “We understand that after the reform there will generally be more work than before, but in the meantime, Jean and Jacques will be on the street.”

To which I reply:

1. When work shifts only in order to increase, anyone who is ready and willing to work does not remain on the street for very long;

2. Nothing prevents the State from having a small reserve fund to cover any unemployment during the transition, although, for my part, I do not think it will happen;

3. Lastly, if in order to get out of the rut and achieve conditions that are better for everyone and above all more just, it is absolutely essential to face up to a few difficult moments, and workers are ready for this, or I am mistaken in them. Please God, may entrepreneurs be able to do the same!

What then! Just because you are workers, are you not intelligent or morally upright? It seems that your alleged friends are forgetting this. Is it not surprising that they discuss a question like this in front of you, talking about wages and interests without once mentioning the word justice? They know, however, that protection is unjust. Why then do they lack the courage to warn you of this and say: “Workers, an iniquity is widespread in the country, but it benefits you and must be given support.” Why? Because they know that your answer will be “No.”

But it is not true that this iniquity benefits you. Let me have a few moments more of your attention, and see for yourselves.

What are we protecting in France? Things that are made by major entrepreneurs in huge factories: iron, coal, woolen cloth, and fabric, and you are being told that this is not in the interest of the entrepreneurs but in yours, and in order to ensure that you have work.

However, each time that products made with foreign labor come into our market in a form that can cause you damage but which is useful to the major entrepreneurs, are they not allowed to enter?

Are there not thirty thousand Germans in Paris making suits and shoes?9 Edition: current; Page: [161] Why are they allowed to set up shop next to you, when cloth is being rejected? Because cloth is made in huge factories that belong to manufacturers who are also lawmakers. But suits are made at home by outworkers. These people do not want any competition for their changing wool into cloth because it is their trade, but they are all too willing to accept competition for the converting of cloth into suits because it is yours.

When the railways were built, English rails were rejected but English workers were brought in. Why? It is very simple: because English rails compete with the major factories and English labor competes only with yours.

We for our part do not ask for the expulsion of German tailors and English diggers. What we ask for is that cloth and rails be allowed to come in. We ask for justice for all and equality for all before the law!

It is laughable that they tell us that Customs restrictions have your benefit in mind. Tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, joiners, masons, blacksmiths, merchants, grocers, watchmakers, butchers, bakers, upholsterers, and milliners, I challenge you to quote me one single instance where restriction benefits you, and whenever you want I will quote you four which cause you harm.

And, at the end of the day, see how credible is this self-sacrifice that your journals attribute to monopolists.

I believe that we can call the natural level of wages the one which is naturally established under the regime of freedom. When, therefore, you are told that trade restriction benefits you, it is as though you were being told that it adds a supplement to your natural wages. Well, an extranatural supplement to wages has to come from somewhere; it does not fall from the moon, and it has to be taken from those who pay it.

You are thus led to the conclusion that, according to your alleged friends, protectionism was created and brought into the world so that capitalists could be sacrificed to the workers.

Tell me, is this likely?

Where then is your seat in the Chamber of Peers? When did you take your seat in the Palais Bourbon?10 Who has consulted you? Where did you get the idea of setting up protectionism?

I hear you reply: “It is not we who established it. Alas! We are neither Edition: current; Page: [162] peers, deputies, nor Councilors of State. The capitalists were the ones who set it up.”

God in Heaven! They were very well disposed that day! What! The capitalists drew up the law and established the prohibitionist regime just so that you, the workers, might gain profit at their expense?

But here is something that is stranger still.

How is it that your alleged friends, who now talk to you about the goodness, generosity, and self-denial of the capitalists, constantly plead with you not to take advantage of your political rights? From their point of view, what use could you make of them? The capitalists have the monopoly of legislation,11 that is true. Thanks to this monopoly, it is also true that they have allocated to themselves the monopoly of iron, cloth, canvas, coal, wood, and meat. But now your alleged friends claim that by acting in this way, the capitalists have robbed themselves without being obliged to do so in order to enrich you without your having any right to this! Certainly, if you were electors and deputies you could not do a better job; you would not even do as well.

If the industrial organization that governs us is established in your interest, it is therefore deceitful to claim political rights for you, for these democrats of a new type will never extricate themselves from this dilemma: the law, drawn up by the bourgeoisie, gives you more or gives you less than your natural earnings. If it gives you less, they deceive you by asking you to support it. If it gives you more, they are still deceiving you by encouraging you to claim political rights, while the bourgeoisie are making sacrifices for you which you, in your honesty, would never dare to vote for.

Workers, please God that this article will not have the effect of sowing in your hearts the seeds of resentment against the wealthy classes! If interests that are badly understood or sincerely alarmed still support monopoly, let us not forget that it is rooted in the errors that are common to both capitalists and workers. Far from whipping them up against one another, let us work to Edition: current; Page: [163] bring them together. And what do we need to do to achieve this? If it is true that natural social tendencies contribute to abolishing inequality between men, all that is needed is to leave these tendencies to act, to remove the artificial obstructions that delay their effect and leave the relationships between the various classes to establish themselves on the principle of justice which, in my mind at least, is combined with the principle of freedom.

7.: A Chinese Tale


Original title: “Conte chinois.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 182–87.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

People are crying out at the greed and selfishness of this century!

For my part, I see that the world, and especially Paris, is peopled with so many Deciuses.1

Open the thousand volumes, the thousand journals, and the thousand literary and scientific articles that publishers in Paris spew out over the country every day; is all this not the work of little saints?

What verve is used to paint the vices of our day! What touching tenderness is shown for the masses! With what liberality are the rich invited to share with the poor, if not the poor to share with the rich! How many plans for social reform, social progress, and social organizations are put forward! Is there a writer, however humble, who does not devote himself to the well-being of the working classes? All you need is to give them an advance of a Edition: current; Page: [164] few écus for them to purchase the time to indulge in their humanitarian lucubrations.

And then we dare to speak of the selfishness and individualism of our time!

There is nothing that is not claimed to be serving the well-being and moral improvement of the people, nothing, not even the Customs Service. Perhaps you believe that this is a tax machine, like city tolls or like the toll booth at the end of the bridge? Not at all. It is an institution that is essentially civilizing, fraternal, and egalitarian. What can you do? It is the fashion. You have to instill or pretend to instill sentiment and sentimentalism everywhere, even in the inspection booth with its “anything to declare?

But to achieve these philanthropic aspirations, the Customs Service, it must be admitted, has some strange procedures.

It sets up an army2 of managers, deputy managers, inspectors, deputy inspectors, controllers, checkers, customs collectors, heads, deputy heads, agents, supernumeraries, aspiring supernumeraries, and those aspiring to become aspirants, not counting those on active service, and all of this to succeed in exercising on the productive output of the people the negative action summarized by the word prevent.

Note that I do not say tax, but quite precisely prevent.

And prevent, not those acts condemned by tradition nor those that are contrary to public order, but transactions that are agreed to be innocent and even such as to encourage peace and union between peoples.

Humanity, however, is so flexible and adaptable that, in one way or another, it always overcomes such impediments. This requires additional work.

If a people are prevented from bringing in their food from abroad, they produce it at home. This is more difficult, but they have to live. If they are prevented from crossing the valley, they go over the peaks. This takes longer, but they have to get there.

This is sad, but there is something pleasant about it too. When the law has Edition: current; Page: [165] created a certain number of obstacles in this way, and when in order to circumvent them humanity has diverted a corresponding amount of work, you have no right to demand a reform to the law, for, if you point out the obstacle, you will be shown the amount of work it gives rise to, and if you say: “That is not created work but diverted work,” you will be given the answer published in L’Esprit public: “Impoverishment alone is certain and immediate; as for enrichment, it is more than hypothetical.”3

This reminds me of a Chinese tale, which I will now tell you.

Once upon a time, there were two major towns in China, Chin and Chan. They were linked by a magnificent canal. The Emperor thought it a good thing to throw huge boulders into it to make it unusable.

When he saw this, Kouang, his Prime Mandarin, said to him: “Son of Heaven, you are making a mistake.”

To which the Emperor replied: “Kouang, you are talking nonsense.”

You will understand, of course, that I am reporting only the gist of the conversation.

Three moons later, the Heavenly Emperor called the mandarin and said to him: “Kouang, look at this.”

And Kouang, opening his eyes wide, looked.

And he saw, some distance from the canal, a host of men working. Some were digging, others were filling, this group was leveling and that one paving, and the highly literate mandarin said to himself: “They are making a road.”

After a further three moons, the Emperor called Kouang and said to him: “Look!”

And Kouang looked.

And he saw that the road had been finished, and he noted that all along the way, from one end to the other, inns had been built. A host of pedestrians, carts, and palanquins were going to and fro, and countless Chinese, worn out with fatigue, carried heavy burdens hither and thither from Chin to Chan and from Chan to Chin. And Kouang said to himself: “It is the destruction of the canal that is giving work to these poor people.” However, the notion that this work had been diverted from other employment did not occur to him.

Edition: current; Page: [166]

And three moons passed, and the emperor said to Kouang: “Look!”

And Kouang looked.

And he saw that the inns were constantly full of travelers and that, as these travelers were hungry, shops for butchers, bakers, pork butchers, and sellers of swallows’ nests had grown up around them. And as these honest artisans could not remain unclothed, tailors, shoemakers, the sellers of parasols and fans also set up shop, and since nobody could sleep in the open, even in the Heavenly Empire, carpenters, masons, and roofers had migrated there too. Then came police officers, judges, and fakirs; in a word, a town grew up with suburbs around each hostelry.

And the Emperor said to Kouang: “What do you think of this?”

And Kouang replied: “I would never have believed that the destruction of a canal could create so much work for the people,” for it never occurred to him that this was not created work but diverted work, that travelers ate when they journeyed along the canal just as much as they later did when forced to go by road.

However, to the great astonishment of the Chinese, the Emperor died, and this Son of Heaven was laid in the ground.

His successor summoned Kouang and said to him: “Clear the canal.”

And Kouang said to the new Emperor: “Son of Heaven, you are making a mistake.”

To which the Emperor replied: “Kouang, you are talking nonsense.”

But Kouang persisted and said: “Sire, what is your intention?”

“My intention,” said the Emperor, “is to facilitate the traffic of people and goods between Chin and Chan, to make transport less expensive so that the people obtain tea and clothing more cheaply.”

But Kouang was prepared for this. He had received a few issues of Le Moniteur industriel, a Chinese journal, the previous day. Having learnt his lesson well, he requested permission to reply and, having received it, after bowing his forehead to the parquet floor nine times, he said:

“Sire, you are aiming, by facilitating transport, to reduce the cost of consumer products in order to make them affordable by the people, and to do this, you have begun by removing from them all the work that the destruction of the canal had generated. Sire, in political economy, nominally low prices4 . . . The Emperor interrupted: “I think you are reciting from memory.” Edition: current; Page: [167] Kouang said: “That is true. It would be easier for me to read.” And, unfolding L’Esprit public, he read:

In political economy, nominal cheapness of consumer products is a secondary matter. The problem lies in a balance between the price of work and that of the objects that are necessary to life. Abundance of work is the wealth of nations, and the best economic system is the one that gives them the greatest amount of work possible. Do not ask whether it is better to pay 4 cash units or 8 cash units for a cup of tea or 5 taels or 10 taels for a shirt. These are childish considerations that are unworthy of a serious mind. No one queries your proposition. The question is to determine whether it is better to pay more for products and, through the abundance and higher price of work, have more means to acquire them, or whether it is better to reduce the opportunities for work, diminish the total amount of national production,5 transport consumer products more cheaply by water, admittedly at lower cost, but at the same time deny some of our workers the possibility of buying them, even at these reduced prices.

As the Emperor was not fully convinced, Kouang said to him: “Sire, deign to wait awhile. I can also quote from Le Moniteur industriel.

But the Emperor cut him short:

“I have no need of your Chinese journals to know that to create obstacles is to shift labor from one side to another. This, however, is not my mission. Go on, clear the canal. Then we will reform the Customs Service.”

And Kouang went away, tearing out his beard and crying: “Oh Fô! Oh Pê! Oh Lî! And all the monosyllabic and circumflexed gods in Cathay, take pity on your people, for we have been given an Emperor of the English School,6 and I can see that, in a little while, we will be short of everything, because we will no longer have any need to make anything.”

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8.: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc1


Original title: “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 6 December 1846, no. 2, p. 11.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 187–89.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

The most common and most erroneous lines of reasoning.

Genuine suffering is appearing in England.

This fact follows two others:

  • 1. The reform of tariffs;2
  • 2. The loss of two successive harvests.3

To which of these last two circumstances should the first be attributed?

Protectionists do not fail to cry: “It is this cursed freedom that is doing all the harm. It promised us milk and honey; we welcomed it, and see how the factories are closing and the people are suffering: Cum hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Commercial freedom distributes the fruit provided by Providence for the work of man in the most uniform and equitable way possible. If this fruit is removed in part by a plague, it no less governs the proper distribution of what remains. People are doubtless less well provided for, but should freedom be blamed for this or the plague?

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Freedom acts on the same principle as insurance. When an accident happens, it distributes over a great number of people, over many years, damage that, without insurance, would fall on one nation and one time. Well, has anyone ever thought of saying that fire has ceased to be a plague since the advent of insurance?

In 1842, 1843, and 1844, taxes began to be reduced in England.4 At the same time, harvests there were plentiful, and we came to think that these two circumstances contributed to the unheard-of prosperity observed in this country during this period.

In 1845 there was a bad harvest; in 1846, it was worse still.

The price of food increased; the people spent their savings to feed themselves and restricted their other expenditures. Clothing was in less demand, the factories less busy, and pay showed a tendency to decrease. Happily, in this same year, as restrictive barriers had once again been lowered, an enormous mass of foodstuffs was able to come onto the English market. Without this circumstance, it is almost certain that a terrible revolution would have spilled blood in Great Britain.

And yet people come forward to accuse freedom of the disasters that it prevents and puts right, at least in part!

A poor leper lived in solitude. Whatever he touched, nobody else wanted to touch. Reduced to meeting his own needs, he led a miserable existence in this world. A great doctor cured him. Here now, we have our hermit in full possession of freedom to trade. What fine prospects opened out before him! He delighted in calculating the fine share that, thanks to his relationships with other men, he would be able to earn through his strong arms. He then broke both of them. Alas! His fate was even more terrible. The journalists in this country who witnessed his misery, said: “See what the freedom to trade has done to him! Truly, he was less to be pitied when he lived alone.” “What!” exclaimed the doctor. “Do you not take any account of his two broken arms? Have they had no part to play in his sad fate? His misfortune is to have lost his arms, and not to have been cured of leprosy. He would be much more to be pitied if he were armless and a leper to crown it all.”

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc: be suspicious of this sophism.

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9.: Theft by Subsidy


Original title: “Le vol à la prime.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 13 (January 1846): 115–20.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 189–98.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

People find my small volume of Sophisms too theoretical, scientific, and metaphysical. So be it. Let us try a mundane, banal, and, if necessary, brutal style. Since I am convinced that the general public are easily taken in as far as protection is concerned, I wanted to prove it to them. They prefer to be shouted at. So let us shout:

Midas, King Midas has ass’s ears!1

An explosion of plain speaking often has more effect than the politest circumlocutions. Do you remember Oronte and the difficulty that the Misanthropist,2 as misanthropic as he is, has in convincing him of his folly?

Edition: current; Page: [171]

We risk playing the wrong character.


Are you trying to tell me by that that I am wrong in wanting . . .


I am not saying that, but . . .


Do I write badly?


I am not saying that, but in the end . . .


But can I not know what there is in my sonnet . . . ?


Frankly, it is fit to be flushed away.

Frankly, my good people, you are being robbed. That is plain speaking, but at least it is clear.

The words theft, to steal, and thief seem to many people to be in bad taste.3 Echoing the words of Harpagon to Elise,4 I ask them: Is it the word or the thing that makes you afraid?

“Whosoever has fraudulently taken something that does not belong to him is guilty of theft” (Penal Code, Article 379).

To steal: To take something furtively or by force (The Dictionary of the Academy).

Thief: A person who exacts more than is due to him (Ditto).5

Well, is not a monopolist who, through a law he has drafted, obliges me to pay him 20 fr. for something I can buy elsewhere for 15, fraudulently taking away 5 fr. that belongs to me?

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Is he not taking it furtively or by force?

Is he not exacting more than is due to him?

He withdraws, takes, or exacts, people will say, but not furtively or by force, which is what characterizes theft.

When our tax forms show a charge of 5 fr. for the subsidy that is withdrawn, taken, or exacted by the monopolist, what can be more furtive, since so few of us suspect it? And for those who are not taken in by it, what can be more forced, since at the first refusal we have the bailiffs at our heels?

Anyway, let monopolists rest assured. Theft by subsidy or tariff does not violate the law, although it transgresses equity as much as highway robbery does; this type of theft, on the contrary, is carried out by law. This makes it worse but does not lead to the magistrate’s court.

Besides, whether we like it or not, we are all robbers and robbed in this connection. It is useless for the author of this volume to cry thief when he makes a purchase; the same could be shouted at him when he sells;6 if he differs considerably from his fellow countrymen, it is only in this respect: he knows that he loses more than he gains in this game, and they do not know this; if they did, the game would cease in a very short time.

What is more, I do not boast that I am the first to give this situation its real name. More than sixty years ago, Smith said:7

“When businessmen get together, we can expect a conspiracy to be woven against the pockets of the general public.”8 Should we be surprised at this, since the general public pays no attention to it?

Edition: current; Page: [173]

Well then, an assembly of businessmen officially has discussions under the authority of the General Councils.9 What goes on there and what is decided upon?

Here is a highly abridged version of the minutes of a meeting.

A Shipowner:

Our fleet is on the ropes (aggressive interruption). This is not surprising because I cannot build without iron. I can certainly find it at 10 fr. on the world market but, according to the law, French ironmasters force me to pay them 15 fr.; therefore 5 fr. is being taken from me. I demand the freedom to buy wherever I like.

An Ironmaster:

On the world market, I can find transport at 20 fr. By law, shipowners demand 30 for this; they are therefore taking 10 fr. from me. They are looting me, so I loot them, and everything is just fine.

A Statesman:

The shipowner’s conclusion is very rash. Oh! Let us cultivate the touching unity which gives us our strength; if we remove one iota of the theory of protectionism, the entire theory will go by the board.

The Shipowner:

But protection has failed us; I repeat that the fleet is on the ropes.

A Sailor:

Well then! Let us raise a surtax and let shipowners who take 30 from the public for freight take 40.

A Minister:

The government will push the excellent device of the surtax to the limit, but I am afraid that it will not be enough.10

Edition: current; Page: [174]
A Civil Servant:

You are all worrying about nothing. Does our salvation lie only in tariffs, and are you forgetting taxation? If consumers are generous, taxpayers are no less so. Let us burden them with taxes, and let shipowners be satisfied. I propose a subsidy of 5 fr. to be taken from public taxes to be handed over to builders for each quintal of iron they use.

Mixed cries:

Hear! Hear! A farmer: Let me have a subsidy of 3 fr. per hectoliter of wheat! A weaver: Let me have a subsidy of 2 fr. per meter of cloth! etc., etc.

The Chairman:

This is what has been agreed. Our meeting has given birth to the system of subsidies, and this will be its eternal glory. What industry will be able to make a loss in the future, since we have two very simple means of changing losses into profits: Tariffs and subsidies? The meeting is at an end.

Some supernatural vision must have shown me in a dream the next apparition of the subsidy (who knows even whether I had not put the thought into the mind of M. Dupin) when I wrote the following words a few months ago:

It appears obvious to me that, without changing its nature and effects, protection might have taken the form of a direct tax raised by the state and distributed through indemnity subsidies to privileged industries.

And, after comparing protectionist duties with subsidies:

I admit frankly my preference for the second system. It seems to me more just, more economic, and more straightforward. More just because if society wants to give handouts to a few of its members, everyone has to contribute; more economic because it would save a great deal in collection costs and would Edition: current; Page: [175] cause a great many restrictions to disappear; and finally, more straightforward since the public would see clearly how the operation worked and what they were being made to do.”11

Since the opportunity has so kindly been offered to us, let us examine theft by subsidy. What can be said of it applies just as well to theft by tariffs, and while theft by tariffs is slightly better disguised, direct filching12 will help us understand indirect filching. The mind moves forward in this way from the simple to the compound.

What then! Is there no type of theft that is simpler still? Oh, yes, there is highway robbery: all it needs is to be legalized, monopolized, or, as we say nowadays, organized.13

Well, this is what I have read in a traveler’s account:

When we arrived in the kingdom of A., all branches of production claimed to be in difficulty. Agriculture wailed, manufacturing complained, commerce grumbled, shipping groused, and the government did not know whom to listen to. First of all, it thought of levying heavy taxes on all those who were discontented and handing out the product of these taxes to them after taking its share: that would have been a lottery, just as in our beloved Spain. There are a thousand of you, the State will take one piastre from each of you; it then subtly pilfers 250 piastres and distributes 750 in lots that vary in size between the players. Forgetting that he has given a whole piastre, the upright Hidalgo who receives three-quarters of a piastre cannot contain his joy and runs off to spend his fifteen reals in the bar. This would have been similar to what is happening in France. Be that as it may, as barbarous as this country was, the government did not think that its inhabitants were stupid enough to accept Edition: current; Page: [176] such strange forms of protection, so it thought up the following scheme.

The country was criss-crossed with roads. The government measured them accurately and said to the farmers: “Everything that you can steal from passers-by between these two posts is yours; let it serve as a subsidy, protection, and motivation for you.” It then assigned to each manufacturer and shipowner a section of road to exploit in accordance with this formula:

  • Dono tibi et concedo14 [I give to you and I grant]
  • Virtutem et puissantiam [virtue and power]
  • Volandi [to steal]
  • Pillandi [to plunder]
  • Derobandi [to filch]
  • Filoutandi [to swindle]
  • Et escroquandi [to defraud]
  • Impune per totam istam [at will, along this whole]
  • Viam [road]15

Well, it so happened that the natives of the kingdom of A. are now so familiar with this regime and so accustomed to take account only of what they steal and not of what is stolen from them, so essentially inclined to regarding pillage only from the point of view of the pillager, that they see the tally of all individual thefts as profits to the nation and refuse to abandon a system of protection outside of which, they say, there is no form of production capable of surviving.

Edition: current; Page: [177]

Are you astounded? It is not possible, you say, that an entire nation should agree to see what the inhabitants steal from one another as an increase in wealth.

Why not? We are certainly convinced of this in France, and every day we organize and perfect here the mutual theft that goes under the name of subsidies and protective tariffs.

Even so, let us not exaggerate. Let us agree that viewed from the angle of the method of collection and taking account of the collateral circumstances, the system in the kingdom of A. might be worse than ours, but let us also say that as far as the principles and necessary effects are concerned, there is not an atom of difference between all these types of theft that are legally organized to provide additional profit to producers.

Note that if highway robbery has several disadvantages as to its execution, it also has advantages that are absent from theft by tariffs.

For example: with highway robbery, an equitable share can be given to all the producers. This is not so for customs duties. These by their very nature are powerless to protect certain sectors of society, such as artisans, merchants, men of letters, lawyers, soldiers, odd-job men, etc., etc.

It is true that theft by subsidy also provides opportunities for an infinite number of subdivisions, and from this angle it is no less perfect than highway robbery. On the other hand, however, it often leads to such strange, idiotic results that the native inhabitants of the kingdom of A. might very justifiably laugh at them.

What the person robbed loses in highway robbery is gained by the robber. At least the object stolen remains in the country. However, under the sway of theft by subsidy, what is taken from the French is often given to the Chinese, the Hottentots, the Kaffirs, or the Algonquins, in the following way:

A piece of cloth is worth one hundred francs in Bordeaux. It is impossible to sell it below this price without making a loss. It is impossible to sell it for more because competition between merchants prevents this. In these circumstances, if a Frenchman comes forward to obtain this cloth, he has to pay one hundred francs or do without it. But if an Englishman comes along, then the government intervenes and says to the seller: “Sell your cloth and I will see that you are given twenty francs by the taxpayers.” The merchant, who does not want nor is able to obtain more than one hundred francs for his cloth, hands it over to the Englishman for 80 francs. This sum, added to the 20 francs, produced from the theft by subsidy, makes his price exactly. It is exactly as though taxpayers had given 20 francs to the Englishman on condition Edition: current; Page: [178] that he buy French cloth at a discount of 20 francs, at 20 francs below production cost and 20 francs below what it costs us ourselves. Therefore, theft by subsidy has this particular characteristic, that those robbed are in the country that tolerates it and the robbers are spread out over the surface of the globe.

It is truly miraculous that the following proposition continues to be held as proven: Anything that an individual steals from the whole is a general profit. Perpetual motion, the philosopher’s stone, or the squaring of the circle have fallen into oblivion, but the theory of Advancement through theft is still in fashion. However, a priori, we might have thought that of all forms of childishness, this is the least viable.

There are some who tell us: “Are you then in favor of laissez passer?16 Economists of the outdated school of Smith and Say? Do you therefore not want work to be organized?17 Well, Sirs, organize work as much as you like. We, for our part, will see that you do not organize theft.

A greater number repeat: “Subsidies and tariffs have all been used excessively. They have to be used without being abused. Wise freedom combined with a moderate form of protection is what is being claimed by serious and practical men.18 Let us beware of absolute principles.19

According to the Spanish traveler, this is precisely what was being said in the kingdom of A. “Highway robbery,” said the wise men, “is neither good nor bad; it all depends on the circumstances. It is just a question of weighting things correctly and paying us, the civil servants, for the work involved in this moderation. Perhaps too much latitude has been given to pillage and perhaps not enough. Let us look at, examine, and weigh in the balance the accounts of each worker. To those who do not earn enough, we will give an extra length of road to exploit. To those who earn too much, we will reduce the hours, days, or months of pillage.”

Those who said these things acquired a great reputation for moderation, prudence, and wisdom. They never failed to attain the highest positions in the state.

As for those who said: “Let us repress all injustices as well as the lesser Edition: current; Page: [179] forms of injustice. Let us not tolerate theft, half-theft, or quarter-theft,” these were taken for ideologues, boring dreamers always repeating the same thing. The people, in any case, find their reasoning too easy to understand. How can you believe what is so simple?

10.: The Tax Collector


Original title: “Le Percepteur.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition: OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 198–203.
Previous translation: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

Jacques Bonhomme, Wine Producer

Mr. Blockhead,1 Tax Collector


2 You have harvested twenty barrels3 of wine?


Yes, with much trouble and sweat.


Be so good as to deliver six of the best ones.

Edition: current; Page: [180]

Six barrels out of twenty! Good heavens! Do you want to ruin me? To what use are you going to put them, if you please?


The first will be sent to the creditors of the State. When we have debts, the least we can do is to pay them interest.4


And where has the capital gone?


It would take too long to tell you. Part in the past was placed into cartridges that produced the finest smoke in the world. Another part paid the men who were crippled on foreign soil after having ravaged it. Then, when this expenditure had attracted to our country our friends the enemy, they refused to leave without taking money, which had to be borrowed.


And what is my share today?


The satisfaction of saying:

  • How proud I am of being French
  • When I look at the column!5
Edition: current; Page: [181]

And the humiliation of leaving my heirs an estate encumbered by rent in perpetuity. In the end, we have to pay what we owe whatever crazy use has been made of it. I agree to give one barrel, what about the five others?


One must pay for public services, the Civil List, the judges who restore to you the field that your neighbor wants to take possession of, the gendarmes who hunt thieves while you sleep, the road mender6 who maintains the road that takes you to town, the parish priest who baptizes your children, the teacher who raises them, and my good self, none of whom works for nothing.7


That is fair—a service for a service. I have no objection to that. I would rather sort things out directly with my parish priest and schoolteacher,8 but I will not insist on this. I agree to give another barrel, but there is a long way to go to six.


Do you think it is asking too much for two barrels as your contribution to the cost of the army and navy?


Alas, it is not much in comparison with what they are costing me already, for they have already taken from me two sons that I loved dearly.


We have to maintain the balance of power in Europe.


My God! The balance would be the same if these forces were reduced everywhere by half or three-quarters. We would preserve both our children and our revenue. All we need to do is agree on this.


Yes, but we do not agree.

Edition: current; Page: [182]

That is what astonishes me. For in the end everyone suffers.


You wanted this, Jacques Bonhomme.


You are joking, Mr. Tax Collector. Do I have a say in the matter?


Who have you voted for as your deputy?9,10


An upright army general who will shortly become a marshal if God gives him a long enough life.11


And on what does this good general live?


On my barrels, I imagine.


And what would happen if he voted for a reduction in the army and your contribution?


Instead of becoming a marshal, he would be retired.


Do you now understand that you have yourself . . .


Let us move on to the fifth barrel, if you please.


That goes to Algeria.12


To Algeria! And we are assured that all Muslims are wine-haters, what barbarians! I have often asked myself whether they know nothing of Médoc because they are infidels or infidels because they know nothing of Médoc.13 Besides, what services do they do me in return for this ambrosia that has cost me so much work?

Edition: current; Page: [183]

None. For the reason that it is not intended for Muslims but for the good Christians who spend their time in Barbary.


And what are they going to do there that will be useful to me?


Carry out incursions and be subjected to them; kill and be killed; catch dysentery and return for treatment; excavate ports, construct roads, build villages, and people them with Maltese, Italians, Spanish, and Swiss nationals who will live off your barrel and many other barrels which I will come to ask you for later.


Mercy on us! This is too much and I refuse outright to give you a barrel. A wine producer who indulged in such folly would be sent to Bicêtre.14 Driving roads through the Atlas! Good heavens! And to think I cannot leave my own home! Excavating ports in Barbary when the Garonne is silting up more every day! Taking the children I love from me in order to torment the Kabyls!15 Having me pay for the houses, seed, and horses that are delivered to Greeks and Maltese when there are so many poor people around us!


Poor people, that is the point! The country is being relieved of this surplus population.


Thank you very much! By keeping them alive in Algeria on capital that would enable them to live here.16

Edition: current; Page: [184]

And then you are establishing the bases for a great empire; you are bringing civilization to Africa and bedecking your country in immortal glory.17


You are a poet, Mr. Tax Collector, but I am a wine producer and I refuse.


Just think that in a few thousand years, you will be repaid your advances a hundredfold. This is what those in charge of the enterprise tell us.


And in the meantime, they used only at first to ask for one cask of wine to meet the costs, then it was two, then three, and here I am being taxed a whole barrel. I continue to refuse.


You no longer have any time to do this. Your political delegate18 has stipulated a toll19 for you of one barrel or four full casks.


That is only too true. Cursed be my weakness! I also thought that by giving him my mandate20 I was being rash, for what is there in common between an army general and a poor wine producer?


You can see clearly that there is something in common between you, if only the wine that you produce and that he votes for himself in your name.


Make fun of me, I deserve it, Mr. Tax Collector. But be reasonable with it; leave me at least the sixth barrel. The interest on the debts has been paid, the Civil List provided for, public Edition: current; Page: [185] services assured, and the war in Africa perpetuated. What more do you want?


You cannot bargain with me. You should have made your intentions clear to the general. Now he has disposed of your harvest.


Damned Bonapartist Guardsman!21 But in the end, what are you going to do with this poor barrel, the flower of my cellars? Here, taste this wine. See how smooth, strong, full-bodied, velvety, and what a fine color . . .


Excellent! Delicious! Just the job for M. D . . .22 the cloth manufacturer.


M. D . . . the cloth manufacturer! What do you mean?


That he will get a good share of it.


How? What is all this? I am blowed if I understand you!


Do you not know that M. D . . . has set up an enterprise that is very useful to the country, and which, in the end, makes a considerable loss each year?


I pity him wholeheartedly. But what can I do?


The Chamber has understood that if this continued M. D . . . would face the choice of either having to operate his factory better or closing it.


But what is the connection between faulty business dealings on M. D’s part . . . and my barrel?


The Chamber considers that if it delivered to M. D . . . some of the wine from your cellar, a few hectoliters of wheat from your neighbors, and a few sous subtracted from the earnings of the workers, his losses would be transformed into profits.


The recipe is as infallible as it is ingenious. But, heavens above, it is terribly iniquitous! What! M. D . . . is to cover his debts by taking my wine from me?

Edition: current; Page: [186]

No, not exactly your wine but its cost. This is what we call incentive subsidies. But you are totally speechless! Do you not see what a great service you are rendering to the country?


You mean to M. D . . . ?


To the country. M. D . . . ensures that his industry prospers, thanks to this arrangement, and in this way, he says, the country gets richer. This is what he told the Chamber of which he is a member, in the last few days.


This is rank dishonesty! What! An ignoramus sets up an idiotic enterprise and loses his money, and if he extorts enough wine or wheat to cover his losses and even achieve some profit this will be seen as a gain for the entire country!


As your authorized representative23 has judged this to be so, you have no option but to hand over to me your six barrels of wine and sell as best you can the fourteen barrels I am leaving you.


That is my business.


You see, it would be very unfortunate if you did not get a high price for them.


I will see to it.


For there are a lot of things that this price has to cover.


I know, Sir, I know.


First of all, if you purchase iron to replace your shovels and ploughs, a law has decided that you will pay twice as much as it is worth to the ironmaster.


Is that so? We must be in the Black Forest!24


Then, if you need oil, meat, canvas, coal, wool, or sugar, each of these, according to the law, will cost you double their worth.


But this is terrible, frightful, and abominable!

Edition: current; Page: [187]

What is the use of complaining? You yourself, through your authorized representative,25 . . .


Leave my mandate26 alone! I have given it in an odd way, it is true. But I will no longer be hoodwinked and will have myself represented27 by a good, upright member of the peasantry.


Nonsense! You will reelect28 the good general.


I! I will reelect the general to distribute my wine to Africans and manufacturers?


You will reelect him, I tell you.


That is going a bit far. I will not reelect him if I do not wish to do so.


But you will want to and you will reelect him.


Just let him come here looking for trouble. He will see with whom he has to deal.


We will see. Good-bye. I will take your six barrels and divide them up in accordance with the general’s decision.

11.: The Utopian1,2


Original title: “L’Utopiste.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 17 January 1847, pp. 63–64. Edition: current; Page: [188]
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 203–12.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

“If only I were one of His Majesty’s Ministers! . . .”

“Well, what would you do?”3

“I would begin by . . . by . . . goodness me, by being highly embarrassed. For when it comes down to it, I would be minister only because I had a majority; I would have a majority only because I had made myself one, and I would have made myself one, honestly at least, only by governing in accordance with their ideas. . . . Therefore, if I undertook to ensure that my ideas prevailed by thwarting theirs, I would no longer have a majority, and if I did not have a majority I would not be one of His Majesty’s Ministers.”

“Let me suppose that you are a minister and that consequently having a majority is not an obstacle for you; what would you do?”

“I would seek to establish on which side justice was to be found.”

“And then?”

“I would seek to establish on which side utility was to be found.”

“And next?”

“I would seek to find out whether they were in agreement or in conflict with one another.”

“And if you found that they were not in agreement?”

  • “I would say to King Philip:
  • Take back your portfolio.
  • The rhyme is not rich and the style outdated.
  • But do you not see that that is much better
  • Edition: current; Page: [189]
  • Than the transactions whose common sense is just a murmur,
  • And that honesty speaks these in its purest form?4

“But if you acknowledge that justice and utility are one and the same?”

“Then I would go right ahead.”

“Very well. But to achieve utility through justice, a third element is needed.”

“Which is?”


“You have given it to me.”


“A short time ago.”


“By granting me a majority.”

“No wonder it seemed to me that this concession was highly risky, since in the end it implies that the majority clearly sees what is just and what is useful and clearly sees that they are in perfect harmony.”

“And if it saw all these things clearly, good would be done, so to speak, automatically.”

“This is where you are constantly leading me: to see the possibility of reform only through the general progress of reason.”

“Which is like saying that as a result of this progress all reform is certain.”

“Perfectly put. However, this preliminary progress takes rather a long time to be implemented. Let us suppose it has been accomplished. What would you do? The fact is, I cannot wait to see you at work, doing things, involved in the actual practice.”

“Firstly, I would reduce the postage tax to 10 centimes.”5

“I had heard you mention before 5 centimes.”6

Edition: current; Page: [190]

“Yes, but since I have other reforms in view, I must advance prudently in order to avoid a deficit.”

“Good heavens! What prudence! You are already in deficit to the tune of 30 million!”

“Then I would reduce the salt tax to 10 fr.”7

“Good! Here you are now, with a deficit of 30 million more. Doubtless you have invented a new tax?”

“God forbid! Besides, I do not flatter myself that I have a sufficiently inventive mind.”

“But you need one . . . Ah! I am with you! What was I thinking of? You will simply reduce expenditure. I did not think of that.”

“You are not the only one—I will come to that, but for the moment that is not what I am counting on.”

“Oh yes! You are reducing revenue without reducing expenditure and you will avoid a deficit?”

“Yes, by reducing other taxes at the same time.”

(Here the questioner, placing his index finger on the side of his forehead, nods his head, which may be translated thus: He is off his head.)

“I do believe that this is an ingenious maneuver! I pay 100 francs to the Treasury, you save me 5 francs on salt and 5 francs on postage, and in order for the Treasury to receive no less than 100 francs, you are saving me 10 francs on some other tax?”

“Shake my hand, you have understood me.”

“The devil take me if I have! I am not even sure I have heard you correctly.”

“I repeat that I will balance one reduction in tax with another.”

“Heavens above! I have a few minutes to spare; I might as well listen to your development of this paradox.”

“This is the entire mystery. I know of a tax that costs you 20 francs and of which not a sou comes into the Treasury. I save you half of it and direct the other half to the rue de Rivoli.”8

Edition: current; Page: [191]

“Really! You are a financier of a rare variety. There is only one problem. On what, may I ask, am I paying a tax that does not reach the Treasury?”

“How much has this suit cost you?”

“One hundred francs.”

“And if you had brought in the cloth from Verviers,9 how much would it have cost you?”

“Eighty francs.”

“Why then did you not order it from Verviers?”

“Because it is forbidden.”10

“And why is this forbidden?”

“In order for the suit to cost me 100 francs instead of 80.”

“This prohibition will therefore cost you 20 francs?”

“Without doubt.”

“And where do these 20 francs go?”

“Where do they go? To the cloth manufacturer.”

“Well then! Give me 10 francs for the Treasury, I will lift the prohibition, and you will still save 10 francs.”

“Oh, oh! I now begin to see. Here is the Treasury account: it loses 5 francs on the post, 5 francs on salt, and gains 10 francs on woolen cloth. It is thus quits.”

“And here is your account: you save 5 francs on salt, 5 francs on the post, and 10 francs on woolen cloth.”

“A total of 20 francs. I quite like this plan. But what will become of the poor manufacturer of cloth?”

“Oh! I have thought of him. I am arranging compensation for him, still through tax reductions that provide profit for the Treasury, and what I have done for you with regard to cloth, I will do for him with regard to wool, coal, machines, etc., so that he will be able to reduce his price without losing out.”

“But are you sure that things will remain in balance?”

“The balance will be in his favor. The 20 francs I save you on cloth will be Edition: current; Page: [192] increased by the sums I will also save you on wheat, meat, fuel, etc. This will become quite considerable, and savings like this will be made by the thirty-five million of your fellow citizens. There will be enough there to buy out the supplies of cloth from Verviers and Elbeuf11 alike. The nation will be better dressed, that is all.”

“I will think about this, as it is becoming quite confused in my mind.”

“After all, with regard to clothing, the essential thing is to be clothed. Your limbs are your own property and not the property of the manufacturer. Protecting them from freezing is your business and not his! If the law takes his side against you, the law is unjust, and you have allowed me to reason on the premise that anything that is unjust is harmful.”

“Perhaps I have been too bold, but please continue to set out your financial plan.”

“I will therefore promulgate a law on Customs duties.”

“In two folio volumes?”12

“No, in two articles.”

“This time, no one will be able to say that the well-known saying, ‘No one is supposed to be ignorant of the law,’ is a fiction. Let us see what your tariffs will be.”

“Here they are:

“‘Article 1. All goods imported will pay a tax of 5 percent on their value.’”13

“Even raw materials?

“Unless they have no value.

“But all of them have some value, more or less.

“In this case they will pay more or less.

“How do you expect our factories to compete with foreign factories that have raw materials duty free?”

Edition: current; Page: [193]

“Given the expenditure of the State, if we close down this source of revenue, another will have to be opened up; this will not reduce the relative inferiority of our factories, and there will be one more administrative department to create and pay for.”

“That is true. I was reasoning as though it was a question of abolishing the tax and not of displacing it. I will think about this. Let us have your second article . . .”

“‘Article 2. All goods exported will pay a tax of 5 percent of their value.’”

“Good heavens, Mr. Utopian! You are going to be stoned, and if necessary I will throw the first stone.”

“We have agreed that the majority is enlightened.”

“Enlightened! Do you maintain that an export duty will not be a burden?”

“Any tax is a burden, but this is less of a burden than others.”

“A great deal of eccentric behavior is to be expected at carnival time.14 Be so good as to make this new paradox plausible, if you can.”

“How much have you paid for this wine?”

“One franc a liter.”

“How much would you have paid for it outside the tollgates?”15

“Fifty centimes.”16

“Why is there this difference?”

“Ask the city tolls, which have levied 10 sous on it.”

“And who set up the city tolls?”

“The Commune of Paris, in order to pave and light the streets.”

“It is therefore an import duty. But if the bordering communes had set up the city tolls for their benefit, what would have happened?”

Edition: current; Page: [194]

“I would still pay 1 franc for my 50-centime wine, and the other 50 centimes would pave and light Montmartre and the Batignoles.”17

“So that in the end, it is the consumer who pays the tax.”

“There is no doubt about this.”

“Therefore, by imposing an export tax, you make foreigners pay for your expenditure.

“I have caught you out. That is no longer justice.

“Why not? For a product to be made, the country has to have education, security, and roads, things that cost money. Why should foreigners not pay for the charges generated by this product since they, in the long run, are the ones who will be consuming it?”

“This runs counter to established ideas.”

“Not in the slightest. The final purchaser has to reimburse all the direct or indirect production costs.”

“Whatever you say, it is crystal clear that a measure like this would paralyze commerce and close off our markets.”

“That is an illusion. If you paid this tax on top of all the others, you would be right. But if the 100 million raised by this avenue saved them from paying as much by way of other taxes, you would reappear on foreign markets with all your previous advantages, and even more, if this tax generated fewer restrictions and less expenditure.”

“I will think about this. So, now we have settled salt, the postal services, and customs duties. Is this all?”

“I have scarcely begun.”

“I beg you, let me into your other Utopian plans.”18

“I have lost 60 million on salt and the postal services. I have recovered them on Customs duties, which have given me something even more precious.”

“And what is that, if you please?”

“International relationships based on justice, and the likelihood of peace, which is almost a certainty. I would disband the army.”19

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“The entire army?”

“Except for some specialized divisions, which would recruit voluntarily just like any other profession. And as you can see, conscription would be abolished.”20

“Sir, you should say recruitment.”

“Ah, I was forgetting! I admire the ease with which in certain countries it is possible to perpetuate the most unpopular things by giving them a different name.”21

“It is just like combined duties which have become indirect contributions.22

“And gendarmes who have adopted the name municipal guards.

“In short, you are disarming the country based on a Utopian faith.”

“I said that I was disbanding the army and not that I was disarming the country.23 On the contrary, I intend to give it an invincible force.”

“How are you going to sort out this heap of contradictions?”

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“I will call on the services of all citizens.”24

“It is really not worth the trouble of discharging a few of them in order to call up everyone.”

“You did not make me a Minister for me to leave things as they are. Therefore, when I come to power I will say, like Richelieu:25 ‘The maxims of the State have changed.’ And my first maxim, which will form the basis of my administration, will be this: ‘Every citizen must know two things: how to provide for his own existence and how to defend his country.’”

“At first sight, I really think that there is a spark of common sense in this.”

“Following this, I would base national defense on a law with two articles:

“‘Article 1. All eligible citizens, without exception, will remain under the flag for four years, from the ages of 21 to 25, in order to receive military instruction.’”

“That is a fine saving! You dismiss 400,000 soldiers and you make 10 million of them!”

“Wait for my second article.

“‘Article 2. Unless they can prove at the age of 21 that they have successfully attended a training unit.’”

“I was not expecting this outcome. It is quite certain that, to avoid four years of military service, there would be a terrific rush in our youth to learn ‘by the right, quick march’ and ‘in double quick time, charge.’ The idea is very odd.”

“It is better than that. For finally, without causing grief to families and without upsetting the principle of equality, would it not simply and cheaply ensure the country 10 million defenders capable of meeting a coalition of all the standing armies in the world?”

“Truly, if I were not on my guard, I would end up by being interested in your fantasies.”

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The Utopian becomes excited: “Thank heavens; my budget has been reduced by 200 million!26 I will abolish city tolls, I will reform indirect taxes, I . . .”

“Just a minute, Mr. Utopian!”

The Utopian becomes increasingly excited: “I will proclaim the freedom of religion27 and freedom of education.28 New projects: I will purchase the railways,29 I will reimburse the debt,30 and I will starve stockjobbing of its profits.”31

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“Mr. Utopian!”

“Freed from responsibilities which are too numerous to mention, I will concentrate all of the forces of government on repressing fraud and distributing prompt and fair justice to all, I . . .”

“Mr. Utopian, you are taking on too much, the nation will not follow you!”

“You have given me a majority.”

“I withdraw it.”

“About time, too! So I am no longer a Minister, and my plans remain what they are, just so many utopias.”

12.: Salt, the Mail, and the Customs Service


Original title: “Le Sel, la poste, et la douane.”
Place and date of first publication: JDE 14 (May 1846): 142–52.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 213–29.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

A few days ago,1 people expected to see the machine of representative government give birth to a totally new product, one that its cogwheels had not yet managed to churn out: the relief of taxpayers.

Edition: current; Page: [199]

Everyone was paying attention: the experiment was as interesting as it was new. No one had any doubts as to the capacity of this machine to suck up resources. From this point of view, the machine works admirably, whatever the time, the place, the season, or the circumstance.

By contrast, with regard to reforms that tend to simplify, equalize, and relieve charges on the public, nobody yet knows what it is capable of doing.

People said, “Wait and see: this is the right time. It is the work of the fourth session,2 a time when popularity is worth courting; 1842 brought us the railway; 1846 is going to bring us a reduction of the tax on salt and postal services; 1850 promises us a reorganization of customs duties and indirect taxes.3 The fourth session is the jubilee year of the taxpayer.

Everyone was therefore full of hope, and everything appeared to favor the experiment. Le Moniteur4 had announced that from one quarter to the next the sources of revenue were constantly increasing, and what better use could we make of these unexpected inflows than to allow villagers an extra grain of salt for their warm water or one more letter from the battlefield on which their sons were risking their lives?

But what happened? Like those two sugary substances which, it is said, mutually prevent each other from crystallizing, or like the two dogs whose fight was so bitter that only two tails remained, the two reforms devoured Edition: current; Page: [200] each other. All that is left for us are the tails, that is to say, a host of draft laws, dissertations on the arguments, reports, statistics, and appendices in which we have the consolation of seeing our sufferings philanthropically appreciated and homeopathically calculated. As for the reforms themselves, they have not crystallized, nothing has emerged from the crucible, and the experiment has failed.

Soon the chemists will come before the jury to explain this misfortune, and they will say,

First chemist: “I had put forward a postal reform, but the Chamber wished to reduce the salt tax and I had to withdraw it.”

Second chemist: “I had voted for the reduction of the salt tax, but the government put forward postal reform and the vote came to nothing.”

And the jury, finding the reasons excellent, will start the tests on the same data again and refer the work back to the same chemists.

This proves to us that, in spite of the source, there may be something reasonable in the custom that has been introduced in the last half-century on the other side of the Channel and which consists, from the public’s point of view, in pursuing only one reform at a time.5 This is a long and boring business, but it leads to something.

We have a dozen reforms in hand; they are crowding one another like the souls of the departed at the gate of oblivion, and not one of them gets through.

  • Ohimè! che lasso!
  • Una a la volta, per carità.6

This is what Jacques Bonhomme said in a conversation with John Bull7 on postal reform. It is worth quoting.

Edition: current; Page: [201]

Jacques Bonhomme and John Bull

Jacques Bonhomme:

Oh! Who will deliver me from this hurricane of reforms! My head is bursting. I believe that more are being invented every day: university reforms, financial reforms, health reforms and parliamentary reforms, electoral reforms, commercial reforms and social reforms, and here we now have postal reform!

John Bull:

The latter is easy to do and so useful, as we have found over here, that I dare to recommend it to you.8


It is nevertheless said that it has gone badly in England and that it has cost your Exchequer ten million pounds.


Which have generated one hundred million for the public.


Is this really certain?


Look at all the signs of public satisfaction. See the nation, Peel and Russell9 at their head, giving Mr. Rowland Hill substantial tokens of gratitude in the British fashion. See the ordinary people putting their letters into circulation only after they have made their feelings known in writing, in the form of seals bearing the motto: To postal reform, a grateful people. The leaders of the League declare in full parliamentary session that, without postal reform, they would have needed thirty years to accomplish their great enterprise to set the food of the poor free. The officers of the Board of Trade declare that it is unfortunate that English currency does not allow a more radical reduction still in the cost of posting letters. What more proof do you want?


Yes, but the Treasury?


Are the Treasury and the general public not in the same boat?

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Not exactly. And incidentally, is it really certain that our postal system needs to be reformed?


That is what it needs. Let us see for a moment how things are done. What happens to letters that are posted?


Oh! The mechanism is admirably simple: the manager opens the box at a certain time and takes out, let us say, one hundred letters.


And then?


He then inspects them one by one. With a geographical table under his gaze and a set of scales in his hand, he tries to find the category to which each one belongs from the twin considerations of distance and weight. There are only eleven zones and the same number of categories of weight.


That makes a good 121 combinations for each letter.


Yes, and you have to double this number since a letter may or may not be subject to the rural service charge.10


You therefore have to look up 24,200 possibilities for the hundred letters. What does the manager do next?


He writes the weight on a corner and the tax right in the middle of the address under the drawing of a hieroglyph agreed upon by the administrative department.


And then?


He stamps and divides the letters into ten packets depending on the post offices to which the letters have to be sent. He adds up the total of the tax for the ten packets.


And then?


Then he writes the ten amounts lengthwise in a register and crosswise in another.


And then?


Then he writes a letter to each of the ten postmasters to inform them of the accounting item that concerns them.


What if the letters are prepaid?

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Oh! Then I admit that the service becomes a little complicated. The letter has to be received, weighed, and measured. As before, it has to be paid for and change given. A suitable stamp has to be selected from the thirty available. On the letter has to be written clearly its order number, weight, and tax. The full address has to be transcribed in one register, then another, and then a third, and then onto a separate slip. The letter is then wrapped in the slip and sent, properly tied up with string, to the postmaster, and each of these steps has to be noted in a dozen columns selected from the fifty that line the record books.


And all that for forty centimes!


Yes, on average.


I can see that in effect the sending is quite simple. Let us see what happens on arrival.


The postmaster opens the mail bag.


And then?


He reads the ten notices from his respective postmasters.


And then?


He compares the total shown for each notice with the total that results from each of the ten packets of letters.


And then?


He totals the totals and knows what overall amount he will make the postmen responsible for.


And then?


After this, with a table of distances and a set of scales in his hand, he checks and corrects the tax on each letter.


And then?


He enters from register to register, from column to column, depending on countless factors, the excess payments and the underpayments he has found.


And then?


He writes to the ten postmasters to point out the errors of ten or twenty centimes.

Edition: current; Page: [204]

And then?


He reorganizes all the letters received to give them to the postmen.


And then?


He totals the taxes for which the postmen are responsible.


And then?


The postman checks and they discuss the meaning of the hieroglyphs. The postman pays the amount in advance and leaves.


Go on.11

Edition: current; Page: [205]

The postman goes to the recipient. He knocks on the door and a servant comes. There are six letters for this address. The taxes are added, separately at first and then together. A total of two francs seventy centimes is calculated.


Go on.


The servant goes to find his master who checks the hieroglyphs. He misreads the 3s for 2s and the 9s for 4s, he is not sure about the weight and distances; in short, he has the postman brought up and while waiting tries to decipher the signatory of the letters, thinking that it would be wise to refuse to accept them.


Go on.


The postman arrives and pleads the cause of the postal service. They discuss, examine, weigh, measure, and in the end the recipient accepts five letters and refuses one.


Go on.


Now it is just a matter of the payment. The servant goes to the grocer to obtain change. Finally, after twenty minutes the postman is free and runs off to start the same ritual again at each door.


Go on.


He returns to the office. He counts and recounts with the postmaster. He hands over the letters that have been refused and is paid back his advance payments. He reports the objections of the recipients with regard to the weights and distances.


Go on.


The manager looks for the registers, record books, and special slips in order to account for the letters refused.


Go on, if you please.


Goodness me, I am not a postmaster. We now come to the accounts for the tenths, twentieths, and ends of the months, to the means thought up not only to establish but also to check such a detailed accounting system, one that covers fifty million francs resulting from the average taxes of forty-three centimes and 116 million letters, each of which may belong to 242 categories.12


This is a very complicated simple system. It is clear that the man who has solved this problem must have had a hundred times more talent than your M. Piron13 or our Rowland Hill.


Now you, who seem to be laughing at our system, explain yours.


In England, the government sells envelopes and postal wrappers at one penny apiece in all the places it considers to be useful.


And then?


You write your letter, fold it into four, put it into one of the envelopes, and drop it off or send it to the post office.


And then?


Then, that is all. There are no weights, no distances, no excess payments nor underpayments, no refusals, no slips, no registers, no record books, no columns, no accounts, no checks, no change to be given and received, no hieroglyphs, no discussions and interpretations, no urging to accept, etc., etc.


That really sounds simple. But is it not too simple? A child would understand it. Reforms like this stifle the genius of Edition: current; Page: [206] great administrators. For my part, I prefer the French way. What is more, your uniform tax has the worst of all faults; it is unjust.




Because it is unjust to make people pay the same for a letter delivered to a neighboring address as for one delivered a hundred leagues away.


In any case, you will agree that the injustice is contained within the confines of one penny.


What does that matter? It is still an injustice.


It can never extend to more than a halfpenny, since the other half covers fixed costs that apply to all letters whatever their distance.


Whether it is a penny or a halfpenny, there is still a principle of injustice.


In the end this injustice which, at the very most, cannot exceed a halfpenny in a particular instance, is averaged out for each citizen over all his correspondence, since everyone writes letters that are sometimes to distant addresses and sometimes local.


I still maintain my position. The injustice is reduced to infinity if you like; it is imperceptible, infinitesimal, and minute, but it is still there.


Does the State make you pay more for a gram of tobacco that you buy in the rue de Clichy than for the gram you receive at the Quai d’Orsay?14


What is the connection between the two objects of comparison?


It is that in either case, there have been transport costs. Mathematically, it would be fair for each dose of tobacco to be more expensive in the rue de Clichy than the Quai d’Orsay by some millionth of a centime.


That is true; you should want only what is possible.


You should add that your postal system is only apparently just. Two houses are next to one another, but one is outside and the other inside the area. The first will pay ten centimes more than the Edition: current; Page: [207] second, exactly the same as the entire delivery of the letter costs in England. You can see that, in spite of appearances, there is injustice in your system on a much larger scale.


That appears to be very true. My objection is not worth much, but there is still a loss of revenue.

At this point, I stopped listening to the two conversationalists. It appears, however, that Jacques Bonhomme was totally convinced for, a few days later when M. de Vuitry’s report had appeared,15 he wrote the following letter to the honorable legislator:

Jacques Bonhomme
Bonhomme, Jacques
de Vuitry
de Vuitry

J. Bonhomme to Mr. de Vuitry, Deputy, Reporting Chairman of the Committee Responsible for Examining the Draft Law on Postal Taxes16


Although I am fully aware of the extreme disfavor that is created around anyone who sets himself up as an advocate of an absolute theory, I believe that I should not abandon the cause of a single tax that is reduced to the simple reimbursement of the service rendered.

In addressing you, I am surely doing you a good turn. On the one hand, a hothead, a closet reformer who talks about overturning an entire system at one fell swoop with no transition, a dreamer who perhaps has never set eyes on the mountain of laws, orders, tables, appendices, and statistics that accompany your report, in a word, a theoretician, and on the other, a lawmaker who is serious, prudent, and moderate, who has weighed and compared, who keeps various interests happy, who rejects all systems or, what amounts to the same, constructs one from elements he has garnered from all the others; the outcome of the struggle could not be in any doubt.

Nevertheless, for as long as the question is pending, strongly held ideas have the right to be presented. I know that mine is sufficiently clear-cut to bring a mocking smile to the lips of readers. All that I dare to expect from them is that they produce this smile, if it is produced, as much as they like, after and not before having listened to my reasons.

Edition: current; Page: [208]

For I, too, in the end can invoke experience. A great nation has tested this. What is its verdict? It cannot be denied that the British handle these matters adroitly, and their judgment carries some weight.

Well then, there is not a single voice in England that does not bless postal reform. I have evidence of this in the open subscription in favor of Mr. Rowland Hill; I have evidence of this, from what John Bull has told me, in the novel way in which the people express their gratitude; I have evidence of this in the admission so often repeated by the League:17 “Never would we have developed the public opinion that is now overturning the protectionist system without the penny post.” I have evidence of this in something I have read in a work written by an official pen:

The tax on letters has to be set not with a fiscal aim but with the sole object of covering expenditure.

To which Mr. Mac-Gregor18 adds:

It is true that since the tax has been reduced to our smallest coin, it is not possible to lower it further, although it provides revenue. However, this revenue, which is constantly increasing, should be devoted to improving the service and developing our steam packets on every sea.19

This leads me to examine the commission’s fundamental thought, which on the contrary is that the tax on letters should be a source of revenue for the State.

Edition: current; Page: [209]

This thought dominates your entire report, and I must admit that, under the sway of this preoccupation, you could not reach a conclusion that was either grand or comprehensive; it would be fortunate, indeed, if, by wanting to reconcile every system, you did not combine all their disadvantages.

The first question that presents itself is therefore this: Is correspondence between individuals a good subject for taxes?

I will not go back to abstract principles. I will not point out that, as society exists only because of the communication of ideas, the aim of every government ought to be to encourage and not hinder such communication.

I will examine the existing facts.

The total length of royal, departmental, and local roads is one million kilometers. Assuming that each has cost 100,000 francs, this makes a capital of 100 billion spent by the State to encourage the movement of goods and people.

Well, I ask you, if one of your honorable colleagues put forward to the Chamber a draft law that said:

From 1st January 1847, the state will collect from all travelers a tax that is calculated, not only to cover the expenditure on the roads but also to generate four or five times the amount of this expenditure for its coffers. . . .

Would you not find this proposal antisocial and monstrous?

How is it that this concept of profit, what am I saying, of simple remuneration, has never occurred to anyone when it is a matter of the circulation of goods, and yet it appears so natural to you when it is a question of the circulation of ideas?

I dare to say that it is a matter of habit. If it were a question of creating the postal service, it would certainly seem monstrous to base it on the principle of raising revenue.

And please note that in this instance oppression is more clearly visible.

When the State opens a road, it does not force anyone to use it. (Doubtless it would do so if the use of the road were taxed.) But since the existence of the royal post, nobody can any longer write using another avenue, even if it were to his mother.

Therefore, in principle, the tax on letters should be remunerative only, and for this reason, uniform.

If this concept is used as a starting point, how can we fail to marvel at the facility, the beauty and simplicity of the reform?

Edition: current; Page: [210]

Here it is in its entirety and, subject to editing, formulated as a draft law:

Article 1. From 1st January 1847, envelopes and stamped postal wrappers to the value of five (or ten) centimes will be on sale everywhere considered to be useful by the postal services.

Article 2. Any letter placed inside one of these envelopes and which does not exceed the weight of 15 grams or any journal or printed matter placed within one of these wrappers and which does not exceed . . . grams, will be carried and delivered without cost to its address.

Article 3. The accounting system of the postal services will be totally abolished.

Article 4. All criminal legislation and penalties with regard to the carriage of letters will be abolished.

This is very simple, I admit, much too simple, and I am expecting a host of objections.

While we can assume, however, that this system has disadvantages, this is not the question; we need to know whether yours does not have still more serious ones.

And in good faith, can it in any way (except for revenue) bear comparison for an instant?

Let us examine them both. Let us compare them from the points of views of ease, convenience, speed, simplicity, orderliness, economy, justice, equality, increased volume, customer satisfaction, intellectual and moral development and its civilizing effect, and then say, with our hands on our hearts, that it is possible to hesitate for a second.

I will take care not to expand on each of these considerations. I have given you the headings of a dozen chapters and leave the rest blank, convinced that there is nobody better placed than you to fill them in.

But since there is just one objection, revenue, I do have to say a word about this.

You have drawn up a table from which it is apparent that a single tax, even at 20 centimes, would constitute for the Treasury a loss of 22 million.

At 10 centimes, the loss would be 28 million, and at 5 centimes, 33 million, extrapolations so terrifying that you do not even formulate them.

But allow me to say that the figures in your report cavort with a little too much abandon. In all of your tables and calculations you imply the following Edition: current; Page: [211] words: all other things being equal. You assume the same costs with a simple administrative structure as with a complex one, the same number of letters with an average tax of 43 as with the single tax of 20 centimes. You limit yourself to this rule of three: 87 million letters at 42½ centimes have produced so much. Half as many have yielded such and such. Therefore at 20 centimes, they will produce so and so; accepting nevertheless some differences where these run counter to the reform.

To evaluate the real loss to the Treasury, we first need to know what would be saved by the service; next, to what extent the volume of correspondence would increase. Let us take into account just this latter information, since we may assume that the savings achieved on expenditure would come down to the fact that the current staff would be confronted with a service on a larger scale.

Doubtless it is impossible to set a figure for the increase in circulation of letters, but in this type of question, a reasonable analogy has always been accepted.

You yourself say that in England a reduction of 7/8 in the tax has led to an increase of 360 percent in correspondence.

Over here, a reduction of the tax, which is currently at an average of 43 centimes, to 5 centimes would also be a reduction of 7/8. It is therefore possible to expect the same result, that is to say, 417 million letters instead of 116 million.20

But let us base our calculations on 300 million.

Is it an exaggeration to agree that with a tax that is half as much, we would reach eight letters per inhabitant, where the English have reached thirteen?

Well, 300 million letters at 5 centimes give 15 million 100 million journals and printed matter at 5 centimes 5 Travelers on the mail-coaches 4 Shipments of money 4 Total receipts 28 million Current expenditure (which might be reduced) is 31 million To be deducted, expenditure on steam-packets 5 Outstanding on mail bags, travelers, and money shipments 26 million Net result 2 Currently, the net result is 19 Loss, or rather a reduction in profit 17 million

Now I ask if the state, which makes a positive sacrifice of 800 million per year to facilitate the circulation of people free of charge, ought not to make a negative sacrifice of 17 million for failing to make money on the circulation of ideas?

But in the end, I know that the tax authorities are people of habit, and just as they easily adopt the habit of seeing revenue increase, by the same token they are habitually uneasy to see revenue decrease by an obole. It appears that they are provided with those admirable valves that, in our bodies, allow blood to flow in one direction but prevent it from retracing its flow. So be it. The tax man21 is a bit old for us to be able to change its behavior. Let us not hope, therefore, to persuade it not to act. But what would its staff say if I, Jacques Bonhomme, showed them a means that was simple, easy, convenient, and essentially practical for doing considerable good to the country without it costing them a centime!

The post pays the Treasury gross 50 million Salt 70 Customs duties 160 Total for these three services 280 million

Well then! Set the tax on letters at a uniform rate of 5 centimes.

Decrease the tax on salt to 10 francs per quintal, as voted for by the Chamber.

Give me the authority to modify the rate of tariff duties so that i will be formally prohibited from raising any duty, but that i will be free to decrease them as i see fit.

And I, Jacques Bonhomme, guarantee you not 280 but 300 million. Two hundred bankers in France will be my guarantors. As my premium, I ask only for anything in excess of 300 million that these three taxes produce.

Now, do I need to list the advantages of my proposal?

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  • 1. The people will receive all the benefits of the cheapness in the price of a product of vital necessity, salt.
  • 2. Fathers will be able to write to their sons and mothers to their daughters. The affections, feelings, and outpourings of love and friendship will not, as they are today, be buried in the depths of people’s hearts by the hand of the tax man.
  • 3. The carriage of letters from one friend to another will no longer be recorded in our records as though it were a criminal action.
  • 4. Trade will blossom again with freedom; our merchant navy will rise from its humiliation.

The tax man will initially gain twenty million, and subsequently, all the savings made by each citizen on salt, letters, and objects on which duties have been decreased, will pour into the other streams of taxation.

If my proposal is not accepted, what should I deduce from this? Provided that the company of bankers that I represent offers sufficient guarantees, on what pretext will my offer be rejected? It is impossible to invoke the balancing of budgets. The budget will certainly be unbalanced, but in the sense that revenue will exceed expenditure. This is not a question of theory, of a system, a statistic, a probability, or a conjecture; it is an offer, like that from a company that is asking for the concession for a railway. The tax men tell me what they take from the postal services, salt, and customs duties. I offer to give them more. The objection cannot therefore come from them. I offer to decrease the tariff on salt, postal services, and customs services and undertake not to raise them; the objection cannot therefore come from taxpayers. Where then does it come from? The monopolists? It remains to be seen whether their voice is to stifle that of the State and that of the people in France. To be reassured in this connection, would you be so good as to forward my proposal to the Council of Ministers.

Jacques Bonhomme.

P.S. This is the text of my offer:

“I, Jacques Bonhomme, representing a company of bankers and capitalists who are ready to give any form of guarantee and deposit all the sureties necessary;

“Having learned that the State draws only 280 million from the Customs Service, the Postal Service, and from salt by means of the duties as currently set,

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“I offer to give them 300 million of gross product for these three services,

“Even though it will decrease the tax on salt from 30 francs to 10 francs;

“Even though it will decrease the tax on letters from an average of 42½ centimes to a single and uniform tax of 5 to 10 centimes;

“On the sole condition that I will be permitted, not to raise (this I will formally be prohibited from doing) but to lower customs duties as far as I choose.

“Jacques Bonhomme.”

“You are crazy,” I said to Jacques Bonhomme, who sent me his letter; “you have never known how to do things by halves. The other day you were shouting about the hurricane of reforms and here you are, asking for three, making one the condition for the two others. You will be ruined.” “Do not worry,” he answered. “I have done all my calculations. Please God, let them agree! But they will never do so.” On this we left each other with our heads bursting, his with figures and mine with thoughts which I will spare the reader.

13.: Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates1


Original title: “La Protection ou les trois échevins.”
Place and date of first publication: No date given. First published in book form.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851. Also published as “La Protection ou les trois échevins. Démonstration en quatre Edition: current; Page: [215] tableaux,” in L’Annuaire de l’économie politique et de la statistique (1847), pp. 266–70.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 229–41.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

A staged argument in four scenes.

Scene 1

(The scene takes place in the townhouse of Pierre, a municipal magistrate. The window gives a view of a beautiful park; three people are sitting around a table near a good fire.)


I say! A fire is very welcome when the Inner Man2 is satisfied! You must agree that it is very pleasant. But, alas! How many honest people, like the King of Yvetot,3

  • For lack of wood, blow
  • On their fingers.

What unfortunate creatures! Heaven has inspired a charitable thought in me. Do you see these beautiful trees? I want to cut them down and distribute the wood to the poor.

Paul and Jean:

What! Free of charge?


Not exactly. My good works would soon be over if I dissipated my assets in this way. I estimate that my park is worth twenty thousand livres; by cutting it down I will get even more.

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You are wrong. Your wood left standing is worth more than neighboring forests because it provides more services than they can provide. If it is cut down, like its neighbors it will just be good for heating and will be worth not a denier more for each load.4


Ha, ha! Mr. Theoretician, you have forgotten that I am a practical man. I thought that my reputation as a speculator was well enough established to protect me against being accused of stupidity. Do you think I am going to pass the time selling my wood at the low prices charged for wood floated down the Seine?5


You will have to.


What a naive person you are! And suppose I prevent the wood floated down the river from reaching Paris?


That would change the picture. But how will you manage this?


This is the whole secret. You know that wood floated down the river pays ten sous per load on entry. Tomorrow, I will persuade the Municipal Magistrates to raise this duty to 100, 200, or even 300 livres, high enough to ensure that not a single log comes through. Well, do you follow me? If the good people do not want to die of cold, they will have to come to my yard. People will fight to have my wood; I will sell it for its weight in gold, and this well-organized charity will enable me to do other good works.


Good heavens! What a fine scheme! It makes me think of another in the same vein.


Let us see, what is it? Is philanthropy also concerned?


What did you think of this butter from Normandy?


It is excellent!


Ah ha! It seemed all right just now, but do you not find that it sticks in your throat? I want to make better butter in Paris. I will have four or five hundred cows; I will distribute milk, butter, and cheese to the poor.

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Pierre and Paul:

What! Free of charge?


Bah! Let us always highlight charity! It has such a pretty face that even its mask is an excellent passport. I will give my butter to the people, and the people will give me their money. Is this known as selling?


No, according to the Bourgeois Gentilhomme,6 but call it what you like, you will ruin yourself. Can Paris compete with Normandy in raising cows?


I will have the saving on transport in my favor.


So be it. But even if they pay for transport, the Normans are in a position to beat the Parisians.7


Do you call it beating someone to deliver goods to him at low prices?


That is the accepted term. It is still true that you, for your part, will be beaten.


Yes, like Don Quixote. The blows will fall upon Sancho. Jean, my friend, you are forgetting city tolls.


City tolls! What have they to do with your butter?


Right from tomorrow, I will claim protection; I will persuade the commune to prohibit butter from Normandy and Brittany. People will have to go without or buy mine, and at my price.


By all that is holy, sirs, I find your philanthropy fascinating.

People learn to howl with the wolves, said someone.

My mind is made up. It will not be said that I am an unworthy Municipal Magistrate. Pierre, this crackling fire has inflamed your soul: Paul, this butter has loosened up the springs of your Edition: current; Page: [218] mind; well then, I also feel that this salted pork is stimulating my intelligence. Tomorrow, I will vote for the exclusion of pigs, alive or dead, and get it voted for too. Once this is done, I will build superb sties in the center of Paris,

For the disgusting animal that is forbidden to Jews.

I will make myself a swineherd and pork butcher. Let us see how the good people of Lutecium8 will avoid coming to buy from my shop.


Not so fast, Sirs! If you make butter and salted meat so expensive, you will eat into the profit I am expecting from my wood.


Heavens! My speculation will not be so marvelous any more if you hold me for ransom with your logs and hams.


And what will I gain from making you pay over the odds for my sausages if you make me do likewise for my bread and faggots of wood?


Well, I declare! Are we going to quarrel about this? Let us rather join forces. Let us give each other mutual concessions. Besides, it is not good to listen only to the base voice of self-interest; humanity is there, should we not ensure that the people are heated?


That is true. And people need butter to spread on their bread.


Without doubt. And they need bacon to put in their stew.

In Chorus:

Charity to the fore! Long live philanthropy! Tomorrow! Tomorrow! We will make an assault on city tolls.


Ah, I was forgetting. Just a word, and this is essential. My friends, in this century of selfishness, the world is mistrustful and the purest intentions are often misinterpreted. Paul, plead in favor of wood; Jean, defend butter; and for my part, I will devote myself to local pigs. It is a good thing to anticipate nasty suspicions.

Paul and Jean (leaving):

Goodness! There is a clever man!

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Scene 2

The Council of Municipal Magistrates


My dear colleagues, every day, piles of wood come into Paris, which causes piles of cash to leave. At this rate we will all be ruined in three years, and what will become of the poor? (Cheers!) Let us prohibit foreign wood. I am not speaking for myself, since all the wood I possess would not make a toothpick. I am therefore perfectly disinterested in this matter. (Hear! Hear!) But here is Pierre, who has a stand of trees; he will ensure heating for our fellow citizens who will no longer have to depend on the charcoal makers of the Yonne.9 Have you ever thought of the danger we run of dying of cold if the owners of foreign forests took it into their heads not to send wood to Paris? Let us therefore prohibit their wood. In this way, we will prevent our cash from running out, create a logging industry, and create a new source of work and pay for our workers. (Applause)


I support this proposal, which is so philanthropic and, above all, so disinterested, as the honorable gentleman who has just spoken himself has said. It is time we stopped this insolent laissez passer,10 which has brought unfettered competition into our market, with the result that there is no province reasonably endowed for whatever form of production it may be, that is not coming to flood us and sell it to us at rock-bottom prices, thus destroying jobs in Paris. It is up to the State to make production conditions level through wisely weighted duties, to allow only those goods that are more expensive than in Paris to enter and thus protect us from an unequal conflict. How, for example, do people want us to be able to produce milk and butter in Paris when faced with Brittany and Normandy? Just think, Sirs, that Bretons have cheaper land, hay closer to hand, and labor at more advantageous rates. Does common sense not tell us that we have to make opportunity more equal through a city toll set at a protective rate? I request that duty Edition: current; Page: [220] on milk and butter should be raised to 1,000 percent and more if necessary. People’s breakfast will be slightly more expensive, but how their earnings will rise! We will see barns and dairies being built, butter churns increasing in number, and new industries being established. It is not that there is the slightest self-interest in my proposal. I am not a cowherd, nor do I want to be. I am moved merely by the desire to be useful to the working classes. (Movement of approval)


I am happy to see in this assembly Statesmen that are so pure, so enlightened, and so devoted to the interests of the people. (Cheers!) I admire their selflessness and cannot do better than to follow such noble examples. I support their motion and add one to prohibit pigs from Poitou.11 It is not that I wish to become a swineherd or pork butcher; in this case my conscience would make it my duty to abstain. But is it not shameful, Sirs, that we should pay tribute to these peasants from Poitou who have the audacity to come into our own market and take work that we could be doing ourselves and who, after swamping us with sausages and hams, perhaps take nothing in return? In any case, who tells us that the balance of trade is not in their favor and that we are not obliged to pay them a remainder in cash? Is it not clear that, if industry from Poitou was transferred to Paris, it would create guaranteed openings for Parisian jobs? And then, Sirs, is it not highly possible, as M. Lestiboudois12 said so well, that we are buying salted meat from Poitou not with our income but with our capital? Where is this going to lead us? Let us therefore not allow avid, greedy, and perfidious rivals13 to come here and sell goods cheaply, making it impossible for us to make them ourselves. Municipal Magistrates, Paris has given us its trust, and we should justify this. The people are without work; it is up to us to create it, and if salted meat costs them slightly more, we would at least be conscious of the fact that we have sacrificed our interests in favor of those of the masses, just as any good municipal magistrate ought to do. (Thunderous applause)

Edition: current; Page: [221]
A Voice:

I hear a great deal being said about the poor, but on the pretext of giving them work, people begin by taking away from them what is worth more even than work: wood, butter, and soup.

Pierre, Paul, and Jean:

Let us vote! Let us vote! Down with Utopians, theoreticians, and those who speak in generalities! Let us vote! Let us vote! (The three proposals are approved.)

Scene 3

Twenty years later

The Son:

Father, you must decide, we have to leave Paris. We can no longer live here. Jobs are scarce and everything is expensive.

The Father:

My child, you do not know how much it costs to abandon the place where we were born.

The Son:

What is worst of all is to die of hunger.

The Father:

Go, my son, and find a more hospitable land. For my part, I will not leave the grave in which your mother, brothers, and sisters have been laid to rest. I am longing to find in it at last the peace at their side that has been refused me in this town of desolation.

The Son:

Take courage, good father, we will find work away from home, in Poitou, Normandy, or in Brittany. It is said that all the industries of Paris are being gradually transferred to these far-off regions.

The Father:

It is only natural. As they can no longer sell us wood and foodstuffs, they have ceased to produce anything over their own needs; whatever time and capital they have available, they devote to making themselves the things we used to supply them with in former times.

The Son:

In the same way that in Paris, people have ceased to make fine furniture and clothing in order to plant trees and raise pigs and cows. Although I am very young, I have seen huge warehouses, sumptuous districts, and the banks of the Seine so full of life now invaded by fields and thickets.

The Father:

While the provinces are becoming covered with towns, Paris is turning into a rural area. What a frightful turnaround! Edition: current; Page: [222] And it needed only three misled municipal magistrates, assisted by public ignorance, to bring this terrible calamity down on us.

The Son:

Tell me the story, Father.

The Father:

It is very simple. On the pretext of setting up three new industries in Paris and thus supplying jobs for workers, these men had the importing of wood, butter, and meat prohibited. They claimed for themselves the right to supply these to their fellow citizens. These objects first rose to an exorbitant price. Nobody earned enough to buy them, and the small number of those who were able to obtain them spent all their resources on them and were unable to buy anything else. For this reason, all forms of industry shut down at the same time, all the quicker since the provinces no longer provided any markets. Destitution, death, and emigration began to rob Paris of its people.

The Son:

And when will this stop?

The Father:

When Paris has become a forest and prairie.

The Son:

The three Municipal Magistrates must have made huge fortunes?

The Father:

Initially, they made huge profits, but in the long run they were overcome by the general destitution.

The Son:

How is that possible?

The Father:

Do you see this ruin? It was once a magnificent townhouse surrounded by a fine park. If Paris had continued to progress, Master Pierre would have obtained more rent for it than its capital value is now worth.

The Son:

How can this be, since he now has no competition?

The Father:

Competition to sell has disappeared, but competition to buy is also disappearing with every passing day and will continue to disappear until Paris is open country and Master Pierre’s thickets have no greater value than an equal area of thicket in the Forest of Bondy.14 This is how monopoly, like any form of injustice, carries within itself the seed of its own punishment.

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The Son:

This does not seem very clear to me, but what is incontrovertible is the decadence of Paris. Is there no way of overturning this iniquitous measure that Pierre and his colleagues caused to be adopted twenty years ago?

The Father:

I will tell you my secret. I am remaining in Paris for this; I will call upon the people to help me. It will be up to them to restore the city tolls to their original level, to remove from them the disastrous principle that has been grafted onto them and which has vegetated like a parasitic fungus.

The Son:

You should achieve success right from the very first day!

The Father:

Now, hold on! On the contrary, this work is difficult and laborious. Pierre, Paul, and Jean understand each other perfectly. They are ready to do anything rather than allow wood, butter, and meat to enter Paris. They have the people themselves on their side, as they clearly see the work given to them by the three protected industries; the people know how much work these industries are giving to woodcutters and cowherds, but they cannot have as accurate an idea of the production that would develop in the fresh air of freedom.

The Son:

If that is all that is needed, you will enlighten them.

The Father:

Child, at your age, you have no doubts about anything. If I express my thoughts in writing, the people will not read me, since there are not enough hours in the day for them to eke out their unfortunate existence. If I speak out, the Municipal Magistrates will seal my lips. The people will therefore remain disastrously misled for a long time. The political parties who base their hopes on people’s passions will spend less time dissipating their misconceptions than exploiting them.15 I will thus have to confront Edition: current; Page: [224] simultaneously those currently in power, the people, and the political parties. Oh! I see a terrible storm ready to break on the head of anyone bold enough to rise up against such deep-rooted iniquity in the country.

The Son:

You will have justice and truth on your side.

The Father:

And they will have force and slander on theirs. If only I were young! But age and suffering have sapped my strength.

The Son:

Very well, Father. Devote the strength left to you to serving the country. Begin the work of emancipation and leave me as an inheritance the duty to complete it.

Scene 4

Popular Unrest

Jacques Bonhomme:

People of Paris! Let us demand a reform of the city tolls! Let their original function be restored. Let each citizen be free to buy wood, butter, and meat wherever he pleases!

The People:

Long live freedom!


People of Paris! Do not be swayed by these words! What use is the freedom to buy if you lack the means? And how will you obtain the means if you lack work? Can Paris produce wood as cheaply as the Forest of Bondy? Meat at as low a price as Poitou? Butter in as favorable conditions as Normandy? If you open the door wide to these rival products, what will become of the cowherds, woodcutters, and pork butchers? They cannot do without protection.

The People:

Long live protection!


Protection! Are you the workers being protected? Are you not being made to compete against one another? Let the sellers of wood in turn suffer from competition! They have no right to increase the price of their wood by law unless they also raise rates of pay by law. Are you no longer a nation that loves equality?

The People:

Long live equality!

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Do not listen to this revolutionary! It is true that we have increased the price of wood, meat, and butter, but this is in order to be able to pay good wages to the workers. We are motivated by charity.

The People:

Long live charity!


Use city tolls, if you can, to raise wages but not to make products more expensive. The people of Paris are not asking for charity, but justice!

The People:

Long live justice!


It is precisely the high prices of products that will produce higher wages as a result of the ricochet or flow-on effect!

The People:

Long live high prices!


If butter is expensive, it is not because you are paying the workers high wages. It is not even because you are making huge profits; it is just because Paris is ill-suited to this industry and because you have wanted things to be produced in town that ought to be produced in the country and things in the country that ought to be produced in town. The people do not have more work; they merely do other work. They do not have higher pay; they merely no longer buy things as cheaply.

The People:

Long live low prices!


You are being swayed by the fine words of this man! Let us put the question in simple terms. Is it not true that if we allow butter, wood, and meat to enter, we will be swamped by them? We would perish from a surfeit! There is therefore no other way of protecting ourselves from this different form of invasion than to shut our door to it and, in order to maintain the price of products, to produce a scarcity of them artificially.

A Few Scattered Voices:

Long live scarcity!


Let us set the question out in all its truth! We can share out among all the people of Paris only what there is in Paris. If there is less wood, meat, and butter, each person’s share will be smaller. Now there will be less if we keep these out than if we let them in. People of Paris! Each person can be abundantly supplied only if there is general abundance.

The People:

Long live abundance!

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Whatever this man says, he will not prove to you that it is in your interest to be subjected to unbridled competition.

The People:

Down with competition!


However eloquent this man is, he will not enable you to taste the sweetness of trade restrictions.

The People:

Down with trade restrictions!


For my part, I declare that if you deprive the poor cowherds and swineherds of their living, if you sacrifice them to theories, I will no longer guarantee public order. Workers, do not trust this man. He is an agent of perfidious Normandy16 and goes abroad to seek inspiration. He is a traitor and should be hanged. (The people are silent.)


People of Paris, all that I am saying today I said twenty years ago, when Pierre chose to exploit city tolls for his benefit and your loss. I am not, then, an agent of the people of Normandy. Hang me if you like, but that will not stop oppression from being oppression. Friends, it is neither Jacques nor Pierre who ought to be killed but freedom, if you are afraid of it, or trade restriction if it hurts you.

The People:

Let us hang nobody and emancipate everybody!

14.: Something Else


Original title: “Autre chose.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 21 March 1847, no. 17, pp. 135–36.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 241–51.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.
Edition: current; Page: [227]

“What is trade restriction?”

“It is partial prohibition”

“What is prohibition?”

“It is absolute trade restriction.”

“So that what you say about one applies to the other?”

“Yes, except for the degree. There is the same relationship between them as between the arc of a circle and the circle itself.”

“Therefore, if prohibition is bad, restriction cannot be good?”

“No more than the arc of a circle can be straight if the circle is round.”

“What is the term that is common to both restriction and prohibition?”


“What is the final effect of protection?”

“To require a greater amount of work from men for the same result.”

“Why are people so attached to protectionist regimes?”

“Because freedom is bound to provide the same result for less work, this apparent reduction in work terrifies them.”

“Why do you say apparent?

“Because any labor saved can be devoted to something else.

“What else?”

“This cannot be specified and has no need to be.”


“Because if the total of France’s current satisfactions were achievable with a reduction of one-tenth of the total of the work, no one is able to specify what new satisfactions she would want to obtain for herself with the resources that remain available. Some people would want to be better clothed, others better fed, some better educated, and some better entertained.”

“Please explain the mechanism and effects of protection to me.”

“That is not easy. Before moving on to complicated examples, we would have to study it in its simplest form.”

“Take the simplest example you want.”

“Do you remember how Robinson Crusoe1 set about making a plank when he had no saw?”

“Yes, he felled a tree and, trimming the trunk with his axe first on its left and then on its right side, he reduced it to the thickness of a beam.”

“And did that take him a great deal of work?”

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“Two whole weeks.”

“And what did he live on during this time?”

“His provisions.”

“And what became of the axe?”2

“It became very blunt.”

“Very well. But perhaps you did not know this. Just when he was about to give the first stroke of his axe, Robinson Crusoe saw a plank cast up by the waves on the beach.”

“Oh, what a coincidence! Did he run to pick it up?”

“This was his first reaction, but then he stopped for the following reason:

“‘If I pick up this plank, it will cost me only the fatigue of carrying it and the time to go down the cliff and climb it again.

“‘But if I make a plank with my axe, firstly, I will give myself enough work for two weeks; secondly, I will wear out my axe, which will give me the opportunity of repairing it; and then I will eat up my provisions, a third source of work, since I will need to replace them. Now, work is wealth. It is clear that I will ruin myself by going to pick up the plank washed up on the beach. It is important for me to protect my personal labor, and now that I think of it, I can create further work for myself by going to push this plank back into the sea!’”

“But this line of reasoning is absurd!”

“So it is! It is nevertheless the one followed by any nation that protects itself through prohibition. It rejects the plank offered to it for little work in order to give itself more work. There is no work up to and including the work of the customs officer in which it does not see advantage. This is illustrated by the trouble taken by Robinson Crusoe to return to the sea the gift it wished to make him. Think of the nation as a collective being, and you will find not an atom of difference between its way of reasoning and that of Robinson Crusoe.”

“Did Robinson not see that the time he saved he could devote to doing something else?

“What else?”

“As long as you have needs and time in hand, you always have something to do. I cannot be expected to specify the work he might have undertaken.”

“I can identify clearly the work that eluded him.”

“And I maintain for my part that Robinson Crusoe, through incredible Edition: current; Page: [229] blindness, was confusing work with its result and the end with the means, and I will prove it to you.”

“I will let you off that. It is nevertheless true that this is the simplest example of a restrictive or prohibitionist system. If it appears absurd to you in this form, it is because the two roles of producer and consumer are here combined in the same person.”

“Let us move on to a more complicated example, then.”

“With pleasure. A short time afterward, when Robinson Crusoe had met Man Friday, they became friends and started to work together. In the morning they went hunting together for six hours and brought back four baskets of game. In the evening, they gardened for six hours and obtained four baskets of vegetables.

“One day, a dugout canoe landed on the Island of Despair.3 A good-looking stranger got out and was invited to the table of our two castaways. He tasted and fulsomely praised the garden products and, before taking leave of his hosts, he said to them:

“‘Generous islanders, I live in a land that has much more game than this but where horticulture is unknown. It would be easy for me to bring you four baskets of game each evening if you would trade me just two baskets of vegetables.’

“At these words, Robinson and Friday went aside to confer, and their discussion is too interesting for me not to quote it here in full:


What do you think, Friend?4


If we accept, we will be ruined.


Are you quite sure? Let us do the calculation.


The calculation has been done. When it is crushed by the competition, hunting will be a lost industry for us.


What does it matter if we have the game?

Edition: current; Page: [230]

That is only theory! It will not be the product of our labor.5


Good heavens! Yes it will, since to have it we will have to give them vegetables!


Then what will we gain?


The four baskets of game cost us six hours of work. The stranger will give them to us for two baskets of vegetables, which cost us only three. We will thus have three hours at our disposal.


So you should say, then, that these three hours have been deducted from our activity. That is exactly where our loss lies. Work is wealth, and if we lose a quarter of our time, we will be a quarter less rich.


Friend, you are making a huge mistake. The same game and the same vegetables and in addition, three hours available; that is progress, or there is no progress in this world!


A mere generality! What will we do with these three hours?


We will do something else.


Ah, I have caught you out! You cannot be specific. Something else, something else, that is easy to say.


We will go fishing, improve the appearance of our cabin, read the Bible.


Utopia! Is it certain that we will do one thing rather than another?


Well then, if we have nothing to do, we will rest. Is rest worth nothing?


But when we rest we die of hunger.


Friend, you are in a vicious circle. I am talking about rest that takes nothing away from either our game or our vegetables. You continue to forget that through our trade with the stranger, nine hours of work will obtain for us as many provisions as twelve do now.


We can see that you were not brought up in Europe. Perhaps you have never read Le Moniteur industriel? It would have taught you Edition: current; Page: [231] that: “All time saved is a net loss. It is not eating that is important, it is work. If it is not the direct product of our work, everything we consume is of no account. Do you want to know whether you are rich? Do not look at your satisfactions but at the effort your work entails.” This is what Le Moniteur industriel would have taught you. For my part, I who am not a theoretician, all I can see is the loss of our hunting.


What a strange inversion of ideas! But . . .


There is no but. Besides, there are political reasons for rejecting self-interested proposals from perfidious foreigners.


Political reasons!


Yes. Firstly, he is making us these proposals only because they are of benefit to him.


All the better, since they are the same to us too.


Secondly, through these trades we will become dependent on him.


And he on us. We will need his game and he our vegetables, and we will live as friends.


Theories! Do you want me to render you speechless?


That remains to be seen; I am still waiting for a good argument.


Let us suppose that the stranger learns how to cultivate a garden and that his island is more fertile than ours. Do you see the result?


Yes. Our relationship with the stranger will cease. He will no longer take our vegetables since he will obtain them at home for less trouble. He will no longer bring us game since we will have nothing to offer him in exchange, and we will be in exactly the same position as you want us to be today.


Thoughtless savage! Do you not see that once he has killed our hunting industry by swamping us with game, he will kill our gardening industry by swamping us with vegetables?


But this will never happen as long as we give him something else, that is to say, that we find something else that it is economic for us to produce.


Something else, something else! You keep harping on about it! You are in a rut, Friend Friday; your ideas are not in the least practical.

Edition: current; Page: [232]

“The conflict lasted a long time and left each convinced that he was right, as is often the case. However, since Robinson Crusoe had great influence over Man Friday, his views won the day, and when the stranger came for their reply Robinson Crusoe told him:

“‘Stranger, for your proposal to be accepted, we would have to be sure of two things:

“‘Firstly, that your island is no richer in game than ours since we want to compete only on an equal footing.

“‘Secondly, that you will lose out in the trade. For, as there is always a winner and a loser in every exchange, we would be the dupes if you did not. What do you say?’

“‘Nothing,’ said the stranger, and bursting out laughing, he went back to his canoe.”

The tale would not be so bad if Robinson Crusoe were not so absurd.

“He is no more absurd than the committee in the rue Hauteville.”6

“Oh, that is very different! You are supposing on one occasion a single man and on another two men living communally, which amounts to the same thing. This is not like our world; the division of labor, the intervention of traders and money changes the matter considerably.”

“That does complicate transactions, it is true, but it does not change their nature.”

“What! You want to compare modern trade with simple barter?”

“Trade is just a host of barters; the intrinsic nature of a barter is identical to the intrinsic nature of trade, just as a small job is of the same nature as a large one or as the gravity that pushes an atom is of the same nature as the one that moves a world.”

“Thus, in your opinion, the reasons that are so erroneous in the mouth of Robinson Crusoe are no less so in the mouths of our protectionists?”

“That’s right, only the error is better hidden under the complexity of the circumstances.”

“Well then! Take an example from the real world of events.”

“Very well. In France, in view of the demands of climate and customs, cloth is a useful product. Is the essential factor making it or having it?

“A fine question! To have it you have to make it.”

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“That is not necessarily so. To have it, someone has to make it, that is certain, but it is not obligatory for it to be the person or the country that consumes it which produces it. You have not made the cloth that clothes you so well; France has not produced the coffee for her citizens’ breakfast.”

“But I have purchased my cloth and France her coffee.”

“Precisely, but with what?”

“With money.”

“But you have not made the money, nor has France.”

“We have bought it.”

“With what?”

“With our products that went to Peru.”

“Therefore, in reality it is your labor that you exchange for cloth and French labor that is exchanged for coffee.”


“It is therefore not strictly necessary to make what you consume.”

“No, if you make something else that you give in exchange.”

“In other words, France has two ways of procuring a given quantity of cloth for herself. The first is to make it; the second is to make something else and trade this something else abroad for cloth. Which of these two means is the better?”

“I do not really know.”

“Is it not the one that gives a greater quantity of cloth for a given amount of labor?”

“It would appear so.”

“And which is better for a nation, to have the choice between these two means or that the law should forbid one in the hope of correctly stumbling across the better one?”

“It seems to me that it is better for it to have the choice, especially since in these matters she always chooses well.”

“So, the law that prohibits foreign cloth decides that if France wants to have cloth, she has to make it directly, from her own resources and that it is forbidden to make the something else with which she might purchase cloth from abroad?”

“That is true.”

“And since it forces France to make cloth and forbids her from making the something else, precisely because this something else would require less work (without which consideration the law would not need to become involved), the law therefore virtually decrees that, for a given amount of labor, France would have only one meter of cloth by making it when, for the same labor, she might have two meters by making this something else.

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“But, good Heavens, what something else?”

“Well, good Heavens, what does it matter? Given the choice, it would make something else only when there was something else to be made!”

“That is possible, but I am still concerned with the thought that foreigners send us cloth and do not take from us the something else, in which case we would be well and truly caught out. In any case, this is the objection, even from your point of view. You agree that France will make this something else to trade for cloth with less effort than if she made the cloth herself.”


“There would therefore be a certain quantity of her labor left idle.”

“Yes, but without her people’s being less well clothed, an undramatic circumstance but one that underlies the whole misunderstanding. Robinson Crusoe lost sight of this; our protectionists either do not see this or they are hiding it. The plank washed ashore also brought Robinson Crusoe’s work to a standstill for two weeks, as far as making a plank was concerned, but it did not deprive him of work. You therefore have to distinguish between these two types of decline in the demand for labor, the one that has deprivation as its effect and the one which has increased satisfaction as its cause. These two things are very different, and if you do not distinguish between them you are reasoning like Robinson Crusoe. In the most complex cases, as in the most simple ones, the sophism consists in this: ‘Judge the usefulness of the work by its duration and its intensity and not by its results,’ which leads to the following economic policy: ‘Reduce the output of work with the aim of increasing its duration and intensity.’”

15.: The Free Trader’s Little Arsenal


Original title: “Le Petit arsenal du libre-échangiste.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 26 April 1847.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: It was published as a stand-alone pamphlet in 1847 as Le Petit arsenal du libre-échange (Paris: E. Crugy, 1847), then in Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 251–57. Edition: current; Page: [235]
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

If someone says to you: “There are no absolute principles.1 Prohibition may be bad and restriction good.”

Reply: “Restriction prohibits everything it prevents from entering.”

If someone says to you: “Agriculture is the mother that feeds the country.”

Reply: “What feeds the country is absolutely not agriculture but wheat.

If someone says to you: “The basic means of feeding the people is agriculture.”

Reply: “The basic means of feeding the people is wheat. This is why a law that causes two hectoliters of wheat to be obtained through agricultural labor at the expense of four hectoliters that the same labor applied to manufacturing would have obtained in the absence of that law, far from being a law for providing food, is a law for starvation.”

If someone says to you: “Restricting the entry of foreign wheat leads to more cultivation and consequently increased production within the country.”

Reply: “It leads to sowing on mountain rocks and the sands by the sea. Milking a cow over and over again gives more milk, for who can tell the moment when you will not obtain a drop more? But the drop costs a great deal.”

If someone says to you: “Let bread become expensive and farmers that become rich will make industrialists rich.”

Reply: “Bread is expensive when there is not much of it, which can cause only poverty, or if you prefer, very hungry rich people.”

If they insist, saying: “When the price of bread goes up, wages also increase.”

Reply by pointing out that in April 1847 five-sixths of workers were on alms.2

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If someone says to you: “Workers’ pay ought to follow the cost of living.”

Reply: “That is the same as saying that in a ship without provisions, everyone has the same amount of biscuit whether there is any or not.”

If someone says to you: “A good price has to be assured for those who sell wheat.”

Reply: “So be it, but then a good wage has to be assured for those who buy it.”

If someone says to you: “The landowners who establish the law have increased the price of bread without concerning themselves with wages because they know that when bread becomes expensive, wages rise totally naturally.

Reply: “On this principle, when workers establish the law, you should not blame them if they set a good rate of pay without concerning themselves with protecting wheat, because they know that when earnings are high, provisions become expensive totally naturally.

If someone says to you: “What then ought to be done?”

Reply: “Be just to everyone.”

If someone says to you: “It is essential for a great country to have an iron industry.”

Reply: “What is more essential is that this great country has iron.

If someone says to you: “It is indispensable for a great country to have a cloth industry.”

Reply: “What is more indispensable is that in this great country, citizens have cloth.

If someone says to you: “Work is wealth.”

Reply: “That is wrong.”

And by way of development, add: “Bloodletting is not health,3 and the proof that it is not health is that its aim is to provide it.”

If someone says to you: “Forcing men to break rocks and produce one ounce of iron from a quintal of ore is increasing their work, and therefore their wealth.”

Reply: “Forcing men to dig wells by forbidding them to take water from the river is increasing their ineffective work, but not their wealth.”

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If someone says to you: “The sun gives its heat and light for nothing.”

Reply: “All the better for me; it costs me nothing to see clearly.”

And if someone replies to you: “Production in general loses out on what you would have paid for lighting.”4

Reply: “No, since having paid nothing to the sun, I use the money I save to buy clothes, furniture, and candles.”

Similarly, if someone says to you: “The rascally English have amortized capital.”

Reply: “All the better for us; they will not make us pay interest.”

If someone says to you: “The perfidious English find iron and coal in the same seam.”

Reply: “All the better for us; they will not make us pay for bringing them together.”

If someone says to you: “The Swiss have lush pastures that cost little.”

Reply: “We have the advantage since they will demand from us a smaller amount of the labor which we use to furnish the driving force for our agriculture and to supply food for our stomachs.”

If someone says to you: “The fields of Crimea have no value and do not pay taxes.”

Reply: “We enjoy the profit when we buy wheat free of these charges.”

If someone says to you: “Serfs in Poland work for no pay.”

Reply: “They reap the misfortune and we the profit since the value of their labor is deducted from the price of the wheat their masters sell us.”

Lastly, if someone says to you: “Other nations have a host of advantages over us.”

Reply: “Through trade they are in fact obliged to get us to share them.”

If someone says to you: “With freedom, we are going to be flooded with bread, prime cuts of beef, coal, and jackets.”

Reply: “Well, we won’t be hungry or cold.”

If someone says to you: “With what will we pay for them?”

Reply: “Do not worry about it. If we are flooded, it is because we will be able to pay, and if we cannot pay we will not be flooded.”

If someone says to you: “I would agree to free trade if foreigners took some of our products when they delivered us theirs, but they will take away our money.”

Reply: “Money does not grow, any more than coffee does, in the fields Edition: current; Page: [238] of the Beauce and does not come from the workshops of Elbeuf.5 For us, paying foreigners with it is like paying them with coffee.”

If someone says to you: “Eat meat.”

Reply: “Let it come in.”

If someone says to you, as La Presse does: “When you do not have the means to buy bread, you have to buy beef.”

Reply: “Advice that is as judicious as that given by Mr. Vulture to his tenant:

  • When you do not have the means to pay your rent,
  • You should have a house of your own.6

If someone says to you, as La Presse does: “The State should teach the people why and how it must eat beef.”

Reply: “Let the State merely allow beef to enter and, as for eating it, the most civilized nation in the world is old enough to learn how to do so without a tutor.”

If someone says to you: “The State has to know everything and anticipate everything in order to direct the nation, and the nation has only to let itself be directed.”

Reply: “Is there a State outside the nation and human farsightedness outside humanity? Archimedes may have repeated: ‘With a lever and a fulcrum I will move the world’ every day of his life, but for all that not moved it an iota because he lacked a fulcrum and a lever. The fulcrum of the State is the nation, and there is nothing more senseless than to base so much hope on the State, that is to say, to postulate collective knowledge and farsightedness after assuming in fact individual stupidity and lack of foresight.”7

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If someone says to you: “My God! I am not asking any favors but merely for a duty on wheat and meat which compensates for all the heavy taxes to which France is subjected; just a simple little duty that is equal to what taxes add to the cost price of my wheat.”

Reply: “A thousand pardons, but I too pay taxes. Therefore, if protection, which you are voting for in your own interests, has the effect of raising the price of your wheat to me, by exactly the amount of your share of the taxes, your sweet-sounding request seems to be nothing less than the following arrangement: ‘In view of the fact that our taxes are weighty, I, the seller of wheat, will pay nothing and you, my neighbor and purchaser, will pay two shares, that is to say, yours and mine.’ Mr. Wheat Merchant, my neighbor, you may have force on your side, but what is absolutely certain is that you do not have right.”

If someone says to you: “However, it is very hard for me, who pays taxes, to compete in my own market with foreigners who do not pay any.”


1. “Firstly, it is not your market but our market. I, who live on wheat and pay for it, ought to count for something.”

2. “Few foreigners, in the current climate, are exempt from taxes.”

3. “If the taxes you vote for provide you with more roads, canals, security, etc. than they cost you, you are not justified in rejecting at my expense competition from foreigners who do not pay these taxes but who equally do not have the security, roads, and canals in question. It is as good as saying: I demand a compensatory duty because I have finer clothes, stronger horses, and better ploughs than Russian laborers.”

4. “If taxes do not repay what they cost, do not vote for them.”

5. “And finally, once you have voted for the taxes, do you want to exempt yourself from them? Imagine a system that inflicts them on foreigners. However, tariffs make your share fall upon me, and my share is quite enough.”

If someone says to you: “In Russia, they need free trade in order to trade their products advantageously.” (The opinion of M. Thiers, speaking to the departments, April 1847.)8

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Reply: “Freedom is necessary everywhere and for the same reason.”

If someone says to you: “Every country has its own needs. It is according to these that it is necessary to act” (M. Thiers).

Reply: “It is according to these that a country will act by itself when it is not prevented from doing so.”

If someone says to you: “Since we have no sheet iron, we have to allow it to enter” (M. Thiers).

Reply: “Oh, thank you very much.”

If someone says to you: “We need freight for our merchant navy. Lacking loads on the return journey makes it impossible for our shipping to compete with foreign shipping” (M. Thiers).

Reply: “When people want to do everything at home, they cannot have freight either on the inward or outward journeys. It is just as absurd to want a merchant navy under a prohibitionist regime as it would be to want carts where all forms of transport have been forbidden.”

If someone says to you: “Even if we suppose that protectionism is unjust, everything has been arranged on precisely that basis; capital has been committed to it and duties established. We cannot extricate ourselves from it painlessly.”

Reply: “All injustice is of benefit to someone (except, perhaps, for a policy of restrictions which in the long run benefits no one); to defend injustice on the grounds of the inconvenience that its abolition will cause the person who benefits from it, is to say that an injustice should be eternal for the sole reason that it has existed for an instant.”

16.: The Right Hand and the Left Hand


Original title: “La Main droite et la main gauche.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 13 December 1846, no. 3, p. 24.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms Edition: current; Page: [241] (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 258–65.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

(A report to the King)


When we see these men from Le Libre-échange boldly spreading their doctrine and claiming that the right to buy and sell is included in the right to property (a piece of insolence that M. Billaut has pointed out in true advocate style), we may be allowed to feel serious anxiety over the fate of our nation’s production, for what will French citizens do with their hands and minds when they are free?

The government that you have honored with your confidence has had to devote its attention to a situation rendered serious in precisely this way, and in its wisdom seek a form of protection that may be substituted for the one which appears compromised. It suggests that you forbid your faithful subjects to use their right hand.

Sire, do not insult us by thinking that we have lightly adopted a measure that, at first sight, may seem strange. A detailed study of protectionism has revealed to us the syllogism on which the whole thing is based:

The more you work, the richer you are;

The more difficulties you have to overcome, the more you work;

Therefore, the more difficulties you have to overcome, the richer you are.

What is protection in fact, if not the ingenious application of this formal reasoning so closely woven that it will stand up to the subtlety of M. Billault himself?

Let us personify the country. Let us consider it a collective being with thirty million mouths, and as a natural consequence, sixty million arms. Here it is, having made a clock that it hopes to barter in Belgium for ten quintal of iron. However, we say to it: “Make the iron yourself.” “I cannot,” it replies; “that will take me too long; I would not make five quintal in the time I take to make a clock.” “Utopian!” we reply. “It is for that very reason that we forbid you to make a clock and order you to make iron. Do you not see that we are creating work for you?”

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Sire, it will not have escaped your sagacity that this is absolutely as though we were saying to the country: “Work with your left hand and not with your right.

Creating obstacles in order to give labor the opportunity of increasing, that is the principle of restriction that is dying. It is also the principle of restriction that is about to be born. Sire, making regulations like this is not to innovate, it is to continue down the same path.

As for the effectiveness of the measure, this cannot be denied. It is difficult, much more difficult than you think, to do with your left hand what you are accustomed to doing with your right. You would be convinced of this, Sire, if you deigned to try out our system on an act familiar to you, such as, for example, that of shuffling cards.1 We can therefore pride ourselves on creating an unlimited vista for work.

When workers of all sorts are reduced to using their left hands, let us imagine, Sire, the immense number that would be needed to meet current consumption, taking it to be constant, which is what we always do when we compare opposing systems of production with each other. Such a prodigious demand for labor cannot fail to cause a considerable rise in pay, and poverty would disappear from the country as if by magic.

Sire, your fatherly heart would rejoice to think that the benefits of the decree would extend also to this interesting part of the great family whose fate elicits your total solicitude. What is the destiny of women in France? The sex that is the more fearless and more strengthened by hard work, drives them heartlessly from all forms of career.

In former times they had the resources of the lottery offices to turn to. These have been closed down through a pitiless philanthropy and on what pretext? “To save the money of the poor,” this philanthropy said. Alas! Has the poor man ever obtained such pleasant and innocent enjoyment from a coin as those which Fortune’s mysterious urn held for him? Cut off as he was from all the pleasures of life, when he placed a day’s pay on a clear line of four numbers2 once a fortnight, how many hours of delicious enjoyment did he not bring into the bosom of his family! Hope was ever present in the domestic hearth. The attic was filled with fancies: wives promised themselves that Edition: current; Page: [243] they would outshine their neighbors with their dresses, sons saw themselves as drum majors, and daughters imagined themselves walking down the aisle to the altar on the arms of their fiancés.

There is indeed something to be said about having a beautiful dream!3

Oh! The lottery! It was the poetry of the poor and we have let it escape!

With the lottery gone,4 what means have we to provide for those in our care? Tobacco5 and the post.6

We will deal with tobacco all in good time; it is making progress, thanks to Heaven and the fine habits that many august exemplars have cleverly been able to inculcate into our elegant young people.

But the post! We will say nothing about it, as it will be the subject of a special report.

Therefore, apart from tobacco, what will be left to your subjects? Nothing but embroidery, knitting, and sewing, sorry resources that a barbaric science, the science of machinery, is increasingly restricting.

But as soon as your decree has appeared, as soon as right hands have been cut off or tied, everything will change visibly. Twenty or thirty times more embroiderers, laundresses and ironers, linen maids, dressmakers and shirt Edition: current; Page: [244] makers will not be enough to meet demand (honi soit qui mal y pense)7 in the kingdom; always assuming that demand is constant, in accordance with our method of reasoning.

It is true that this supposition may be contested by cold theoreticians, since dresses will be more expensive, as will shirts. They say the same about the iron that France extracts from its mines, compared to the grapes it could harvest from our hillsides. This argument is thus no more acceptable against left-handedness8 than against protection, for this very expensiveness is the result and the expression of the additional effort and work that is exactly the basis on which, in both cases, we claim to found the prosperity of the working class.

Yes, we paint for ourselves a touching picture of the prosperity of the dressmaking industry. What animation! What activity! What a life! Each dress will occupy a hundred fingers instead of ten. No young girl will remain idle, and we have no need, Sire, to point out to your perspicacity the moral consequences of this great revolution. Not only will there be more girls occupied, but each of them will earn more, since they will be unable to meet demand and, if competition rises still further, it will not be between the seamstresses who make the dresses but between the fine ladies who wear them.

You see, Sire, our proposal is not just in line with the economic traditions of the government; it is also essentially moral and democratic.

To appreciate its effects, let us assume that it has been achieved, let us be carried in thought into the future; let us imagine the system once it has been in action for twenty years. Idleness has been banished from the country. Prosperity and concord, contentment and morality have become imbued, along with work, in every family. There is no more destitution, no more prostitution. As left hands are very gauche to work with, there will be an overabundance of work, and pay will be satisfactory. Everything has been arranged on this basis; consequently, workers in workshops have increased in number. Is it not true, Sire, that if suddenly Utopians came to demand freedom for the right hand, they would spread panic throughout the country? Is it not true that this so-called reform would throw everybody into confusion? Our system is therefore good, since it cannot be overturned without causing pain.

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And yet we have the sorry premonition that one day an association will be formed (such is the perversity of the human race!) called the association for the freedom of right hands.9

We can almost hear the free right-handers speak in these terms in the Montesquieu Hall10 already:

People, you think you are richer because the use of one hand has been taken from you and you see only the additional work that you have received. But take a look at the high prices that have resulted and the forced reduction of all forms of consumption. This measure has not made capital, the source of wages, more abundant. The water that flows from this great reservoir is directed to other channels; its volume has not increased, and the final result is, for the nation as a whole, a loss of well-being that is equal to all the extra output that the millions of right hands can produce compared to an equal number of left hands. Let us unite, therefore, and at the cost of some inevitable inconvenience, let us conquer the right to work with both hands.

Fortunately, Sire, an association for the defense of work with the left hand11 will be formed, and the Sinistrists will have no trouble in annihilating all Edition: current; Page: [246] these generalities and idealisms, suppositions and abstractions, dreams and utopias. All they will have to do is to exhume the 1846 issues of Le Moniteur industriel; in these they will find ready-made arguments against free trade which will pulverize freedom for right hands so magnificently that all they will need to do is to substitute one word for the other.

The Paris League for Free Trade had no doubt that the workers would support it. However, workers are no longer men who can be led by the nose. Their eyes have been opened, and they are more fully conversant with political economy than our qualified professors. . . . Free trade, they replied, will take away our work and work is our real, great, and sovereign property; with work, with a great deal of work, the price of goods is never out of reach. But without work, even if bread cost only one sou per pound, workers are forced to die of hunger. Well, your doctrines, instead of increasing the current total of work in France, will decrease it, that is to say, you will reduce us to destitution. (Issue dated 13 October 1846)

When there are too many goods on sale, their price does in fact go down, but as wages fall when goods lose their value, the result is that instead of being in a position to buy them, we can no longer buy anything. It is therefore when goods are at their lowest price that workers are most unfortunate.” (Gauthier de Rumilly,12 Le Moniteur industriel dated 17 November)

It would be no bad thing if the Sinistrists included a few threats in their fine theories. This is a sample:

What? You want to substitute work using right hands for that using left hands and thus force down, if not totally annihilate, wages, the sole resource of almost the entire nation?

And this at a time when poor harvests13 are already imposing painful sacrifices on workers, making them anxious for their Edition: current; Page: [247] future, more likely to listen to bad advice, and ready to abandon the sensible behavior they have been following up to now.

We are confident, Sire, that through this learned reasoning, the left hand will emerge victorious in any conflict that arises.

Perhaps a further association will be formed with the aim of finding out whether the right and left hands are both wrong and if there is not between them a third hand which will reconcile everything.

Having painted the Sinistrists as being won over by the apparent liberality of a principle whose accuracy has not been verified by experience and the Dextrists as being encamped on their acquired positions, will that association not say:

And can it be denied that there is a third road to take in the center of the conflict! And is it not obvious that workers have to defend themselves, both against those who want to change nothing in the current situation because it is to their advantage and those who dream of overturning the economy and have not calculated either the extent of the change or the range of its effects! (The issue of [Le] National dated 16 October)

However, we would not wish to hide from Your Majesty, Sire, that there is a vulnerable side to our project. We might be told: “In twenty years’ time, all the left hands will be as skilled as right hands are now, and you will no longer be able to count on gaucherie (left-handedness) to increase national employment.”

Our answer to this is that, according to learned doctors, the left-hand side of the human body has a natural weakness, which is entirely reassuring for the future of work.

And after all, if you agree to sign the decree, Sire, a great principle will have won the day: All wealth comes from the intensity of work. It will be easy for us to extend it and vary its applications. For example, we will decree that only work using feet will be allowed. This is no more impossible (since it has been seen) than extracting iron from the silt of the Seine. Men have even been seen to write with their backs. You see, Sire, that we do not lack the means of increasing national employment. Should the cause become hopeless, we are left with the unlimited resource of amputation.

Finally, Sire, if this report were not intended for publication, we would call your attention to the great influence that all systems similar to the one Edition: current; Page: [248] we are submitting to you are capable of giving the men in power. But this is a subject that we are keeping for discussion in private.

17.: Domination through Work


Original title: “Domination par le travail.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 14 February 1847, no. 12, pp. 93–94.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Economic Sophisms (Second Series) (1848). First and Second Series were combined in one edition in 1851.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 4. Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I, pp. 265–71.
Previous translations: 1st American ed., 1848; 1st British ed., 1873; FEE ed., 1964.

“In time of peace is it possible to achieve domination through superiority in production, in the same way as in time of war, domination is achieved through superiority in weaponry?”

This question is of the greatest interest at a time in which people do not seem to doubt that, in the field of industry as on the field of battle, the strongest crush the weakest.

For this to be so, people must have discovered a sorry and discouraging analogy between work exercised on things and the violence exercised on men, for how can these two types of action be identical in their effect if they are in opposition by nature?

And if it is true that, in industry as in war, domination is the necessary result of superiority, why should we be concerned with progress and social economy since we are in a world in which everything has so been arranged by Providence that the same effect, oppression, ineluctably results from principles that are totally opposed to one another?

When it comes to the entirely new politics into which free trade is drawing England,1 a certain query is being widely raised, one which, I must agree, Edition: current; Page: [249] is preoccupying the most sincere individuals: “Is England doing anything other than pursue the same aim by another means? Does she not still aspire to universal supremacy? Now sure of her superior capital formation and labor force, is she not calling for free competition so she can stifle industry on the continent, reigning supreme, and winning the privilege of feeding and clothing economically ruined nations?”

It would be easy for me to demonstrate that these anxieties are an illusion, that our alleged inferiority has been greatly exaggerated, that there is not one of our major industries that does not just resist but is even developing under the stimulus of competition from abroad and that the infallible effect of this is to bring about an increase in general consumption which is capable of absorbing both the products coming from within and those coming from without the country.

Today, I want to attack the objection frontally, leaving it all its force and all the advantage of the terrain it has chosen. Setting aside the English and the French, I will seek to find out in general whether, even though by means of its superiority in a particular branch of industry a nation manages to stifle a similar activity in another nation, the former has taken a step toward the domination of the latter and the latter a step toward dependence. In other words, I am asking whether both of them do not benefit from the operation and whether it is not the vanquished that gains more.

If a product is seen only as the opportunity for work, it is certain that the anxieties of protectionists are well founded. If we considered iron, for example, merely with regard to its relationship with ironmasters, we might fear that competition from a country in which it was a free gift of nature might extinguish the furnaces in another country in which both mineral and fuel were scarce.

However, is this a comprehensive view of the subject? Has iron a relationship only with those who make it? Is it foreign to those that use it? Is its sole and final purpose that of being produced? And if it is useful, not because of the work to which it gives rise but because of the qualities it possesses and the number of services for which its hardness and malleability make it suitable, does it not follow that foreigners cannot reduce its price even to the point of preventing its production here without doing us more good in this latter respect than any harm it might do in the former?

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Let us consider the host of things that foreigners prevent us from producing directly, because of the natural advantages which surround them, a situation in which we in fact find ourselves, in the hypothetical case of iron which we have been examining. We do not produce tea, coffee, gold, or silver in this country. Does this mean that the total amount of our work is decreased because of this? No, only that, in order to create a countervalue for these things in order to acquire them through trade, we allocate a lesser portion of our general work than would be needed to produce them ourselves. More is left to us to devote to other satisfactions. We are richer, and stronger, by this amount. All that external rivalry has been able to do, even in cases where it prevents us absolutely from carrying out a given form of production, is to make us economize on it and to increase our productive power. Is this, for foreigners, the road to domination?

If a gold mine were found in France, it would not follow that it would be in our interest to exploit it. It is actually certain that the enterprise ought to be ignored since each ounce of gold would take up more of our labor than an ounce of gold purchased from Mexico in exchange for cloth. In this case, it would be better to continue to regard our looms as our gold mines. What is true of gold is also true for iron.

The illusion arises from the fact that there is something we do not see.2 This is that foreign superiority only ever blocks national production in a specific area and makes it redundant only in this specific area by putting at our disposal the output of the very labor which has been destroyed in this way. If men lived in bells under water and had to provide themselves with air by means of a pump, there would be a huge source of work in this. Damaging this work while leaving men in this situation would be to do them frightful harm. But if the work ceases only because there is no longer any need for it, because men are placed in a different milieu in which air enters effortlessly into contact with their lungs, then the loss of this work is no cause for regret, except in the eyes of those who insist on seeing the value of work only in the work itself.

It is precisely this type of work that machines, free trade, and progress of all sorts are gradually destroying; not useful work, but work that has become superfluous, redundant, pointless, and ineffectual. On the other hand, protection Edition: current; Page: [251] restores it; it puts us back under the water in order to supply us with the opportunity to pump; it forces us to demand gold from our inaccessible national mine rather than from our national looms. Its entire effect is encapsulated in this term: wasted efforts.

It will be understood that I am speaking here of general effects, and not the temporary upsets that occur when a bad system gives way to a good one. Temporary disturbance is bound to accompany any progress. This may be a reason to soften the transition, but not one to forbid all progress systematically, and still less to fail to recognize it.

Production is represented to us as a conflict. This is not true, or it is true only if each industry is considered solely with regard to its effects on another similar industry, isolating them both mentally from the rest of humanity. However, there are other considerations: their effects on consumption and on general well-being.

This is why it is not permissible to compare production to war, as is being done.

In war, the stronger overcomes the weaker.

In production, the stronger transmits strength to the weaker. This completely destroys the analogy.

No matter how strong and skillful the English are, how much amortized capital they have, or how much iron and furnace power, the two great forces in production, all this makes products cheap. And who benefits from the cheapness of products? The person who buys them.

It is not in their power to wipe out completely any portion of our economy. All they can do is make it superfluous for a given result, deliver air at the same time as they are abolishing pumps, thus increasing our available productive strength and, wonder of wonders, making their alleged domination all the more impossible the more their superiority is incontestable.

In this way we reach the conclusion, through a rigorous and consoling demonstration, that production and violence, so contrary by nature to one another, are no less so in their effect, no matter what protectionists and socialists say in this connection.

All we have needed to do to achieve this is to distinguish between production that has been destroyed and resources on which the system has economized.

To have less iron because you work less and more iron in spite of working less are situations that are more than different; they are quite opposite to one another. Protectionists confuse them, but we do not. That is the difference.

Edition: current; Page: [252]

One thing should be made clear. If the English put to work a great deal of activity, labor, capital, intelligence, or natural strength, it is not just for the love of us. It is to provide themselves with a great many forms of satisfaction in return for their products. They certainly want to receive at least as much as they give, and they manufacture in their own country the payment for what they buy elsewhere. If therefore they flood us with their products, it is because they intend to be flooded in turn with ours. In this case, the best way of having a great deal for ourselves is to be free to choose, with respect to our purchases, between the following two procedures: direct production or indirect. No amount of British Machiavellianism will cause us to make the wrong choice.

Let us therefore stop this puerile nonsense of likening industrial competition to war. This is a false comparison, which draws all its fallacy from the fact that we isolate two rival productive sectors in order to assess the effects of competition. As soon as the effect produced on general well-being is taken into account, the analogy disappears.

In a battle the person killed is well and truly killed, and the army weakened accordingly. In industry a factory founders only to the extent that the whole productive system replaces what it used to produce, with an increase in quantity. Let us imagine a state of affairs in which, for each man killed on the spot, two sprang up full of strength and vigor. If there is a planet on which this happens, we would have to agree that war would be waged in conditions so different from those we see down here that it would not even merit the same name.

Well, this is the distinctive character of what has been so inappropriately christened industrial warfare.

Let the Belgians and English decrease the price of their iron if they can, let them continue to decrease it forevermore until it is reduced to nothing. In doing this, they may well extinguish one of our blast furnaces, i.e., “kill one of our soldiers”; but I challenge them to prevent a thousand other industries from immediately rising up and becoming more profitable than the one “removed from the field of battle” as a necessary consequence of these same low prices.

Let us conclude that domination through work is impossible and contradictory, since any superiority that appears in a nation is translated into low prices and results only in transmitting strength to all the others. Let us banish from political economy all the following expressions borrowed from a military vocabulary: to fight on equal terms, to conquer, to crush, to stifle, to Edition: current; Page: [253] be defeated, invasion, or tribute. What do all these expressions mean? If you squeeze them, nothing will come out. We are mistaken, as what comes out of such thinking are absurd errors and disastrous preconceived ideas. These are the words that stop nations from coming together in a peaceful, universal, and indissoluble alliance and humanity from making progress!3

end of the second series
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Economic Sophisms “Third Series”

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1.: Recipes for Protectionism


Original title: “Recettes protectionnistes.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 27 December 1846, no. 5, p. 40.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Not applicable.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 2. Le Libre-échange, pp. 358–63.
Previous translation: None.

Since we published a report to the King on the great advantage we might draw from the general paralysis of right hands1 as a means of encouraging work, it appears that a great many minds are looking for new recipes for protectionism. One of our subscribers has sent us a letter on this subject, which he intends to send to the Council of Ministers. We think it contains views that are worthy of attracting the attention of Statesmen, and we therefore make haste to reproduce it.

Dear Ministers,

At a time when Customs protection appears to be compromised, a grateful nation sees with confidence that you are concerned with resuscitating it in another form. This opens a wide field to the imagination. Your system of gaucherie (left-handedness)2 has good points, but I do not consider that it is radical enough, and I am taking the liberty of suggesting to you means that are more heroic but still based on this fundamental axiom: the intensity of work, notwithstanding its results, constitutes wealth.

What is this about? Supplying new sustenance for human activity. That is Edition: current; Page: [258] what it is lacking, and to achieve this we need to clear out the current means of satisfaction and create a great demand for products.

I originally thought that we might base a great deal of hope on fire, without neglecting war or pestilence. To start fires at the four corners of Paris3 with a good west wind would certainly ensure the population the two major benefits that the protectionist regime has in view: work and high prices, or rather, work by means of high prices. Do you not see what an immense impetus the burning of Paris would give to national industry? Is there a single person who would not have enough work to last him twenty years? How many houses would there be to rebuild, items of furniture to restore, tools, instruments, fabrics, books, and pictures to replace! I can see from here the work that will move step by step and increase by itself like an avalanche, for a worker who is busy will give work to others, and these employ yet others. It is not you who will come forward to defend consumers, for you know only too well that the producer and consumer are one and the same. What holds up production? Obviously, existing products. Destroy them and production will take on a new lease of life. What constitutes our wealth? Our needs, since without needs there is no wealth; without disease, no doctors; without wars, no soldiers; without court cases, no lawyers and judges. If windows did not break, glaziers would be gloomy; if houses did not crumble, if furniture was indestructible, how many trades would be held up! To destroy is to make it necessary for you to replace. To increase the number of needs is to increase wealth. Therefore, spread fire, famine, war, pestilence, vice, and ignorance, and you will see all occupations flourish, for all will have a vast field of activity. Do you not say to yourselves that the scarcity and high price of iron make the fortune of ironmasters? Do you not prevent Frenchmen from buying iron cheaply? In doing this, are you not causing the interests of production to outweigh those of consumers? Are you not creating, so to speak, disease in order to give work to doctors? Be consistent, then. Either it is consumer interest that guides you, and therefore you allow iron to enter, or it is the interest of producers, and in this case you set Paris on fire. Either you believe that wealth consists in having more while working less, and therefore you allow iron to enter, or you think that it consists in having less with more work, and in this case, you burn Paris; for to say, as some do: “We do not want absolute Edition: current; Page: [259] principles” is to say: “We want neither truth nor error, but a combination of the two: error when it is convenient and truth when it suits us.”

However, Ministers, although this system of protection is in theory in perfect harmony with a prohibitionist regime, it may well be rejected by public opinion, which has not yet been sufficiently prepared and enlightened by experience and the findings of Le Moniteur industriel. You will consider it prudent to delay execution to better times. As you know, there is overproduction and a surfeit of goods everywhere, the capacity to consume falls short of the capacity to produce, and markets are too restricted, etc., etc. All this tells us that fire will soon be regarded as an effective remedy for a great many evils.

In the meantime, I have invented a new method of protection that I think has a great potential for success.

It consists simply in substituting direct for indirect encouragement.

Double all taxes; that would create a surplus of revenue of 1,400 to 1,500 million.4 You should then share out these funds as subsidies to all the sectors of national production in order to support them, assist them, and enable them to resist foreign competition.

This is what will happen.

Let us suppose that French iron can be sold only at 350 francs a ton. Belgian iron is offered at 300 francs. You quickly take 55 francs from the subsidy fund and give them to our ironmaster. He then supplies his iron at 295 francs. Belgian iron is kept out, which is what we want. French iron covers its costs at 350 francs, which is also what we want.

Is foreign wheat impertinent enough to be on offer at 17 francs where domestic wheat requires 18 francs to be profitable? You immediately give 1 franc 50 centimes for each hectoliter of our wheat, which is then sold at 16 francs 50 centimes and sees off its competitor. You take the same action for woolen cloth, canvas, coal, cattle, etc., etc. In this way, national production will be protected, foreign competition driven away, a remunerative price assured, flooding of the market prevented, and all will be well.

“Well, good heavens! That is exactly what we are doing,” you will tell me. “Between your plan and our practice there is not an atom of difference. It is the same principle, with the same result. It is just the procedure that is Edition: current; Page: [260] slightly different. The burden of protection that you place on the shoulders of taxpayers, we place on those of consumers which, in the end, comes to the same thing. We pass the subsidy from the general public directly to the sector protected. You, on the other hand, make it reach the sector protected from the general public via the Treasury, which is a superfluous step, and the only difference between your invention and ours.”

Just a moment, Ministers; I agree that I am suggesting nothing new. My system and yours are identical. It is still the work done by everyone that subsidizes the work of each person, a pure illusion, or the work of a few, which is brazen injustice.

But let me show you the positive side of my procedure. Your indirect protection protects only a small number of industries effectively. I am offering you the means of protecting them all. Each one would have its share of the spoils. Farmers, manufacturers, traders, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, authors, artists, artisans, and workers all put their obole into the protection money box; is it not only fair that all should take something out of it?

No doubt that would be fair, but in practice . . . I see what you mean. You are going to say to me: “How can we double or triple taxes? How can we snatch 150 million from the postal services, 300 million from salt, or a billion from land taxes?”5

There is nothing simpler. First of all, through tariffs: you already take them from the general public, and you will understand that my procedure will cause you no embarrassment, apart from a few bookkeeping entries, for all of this will take place on paper.

In effect, according to our public law, each person contributes to taxes in proportion to his wealth.

According to the principles of justice, the State owes everyone equal protection.

The result of this is that my system, with regard to the Minister of Finances, will be reduced to opening an account for each citizen that will invariably be made up of two articles, as follows:

N. owes the Subsidy Fund 100 francs for his share of taxes.

N. is owed 90 francs by the Subsidy Fund for his share of protection.

Edition: current; Page: [261]

“But that is the same as if we did nothing at all!”

“That is very true. And you would equally do nothing through the Customs if you were able to use it to protect everyone equally.”

“Then let us concentrate on merely protecting a few.

“You could do this very well using my procedure. All you have to do is to designate in advance the classes that will be excluded when the funds from the tontine6 are shared out, so that the others will get a larger share.”

“That would be terribly unjust.”

“You are doing this right now.”

“At least we do not notice it.”

“Nor does the general public. That is why they go along with it.”

“What ought we to do?”

“Protect everyone or no one.”

2.: Two Principles


Original title: “Deux principes.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 7 February 1847, no. 11, p. 88.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Not applicable.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 2. Le Libre-échange, pp. 363–70.
Previous translation: None.

“I have just read a masterpiece on free trade.”

“What did you think of it?”

“I would have thought extremely highly of it if I had not read a masterpiece on protection immediately afterward.”

Edition: current; Page: [262]

“You prefer the latter, then?”

“Yes, if I had not read the former just before.”1

“Well then, which of the two won you over?”

“Neither, or rather, both, for when I had finished, like Henri IV2 on leaving a court hearing, I said: ‘Upon my word, they were both right!’”

“So, you are no further forward?”

“It is fortunate that I have not gone further backward! For I have since come across a third work titled Economic contradictions, in which Freedom and Non-Freedom, Protection and Non-Protection are arranged in fine style.3 Truly, Sir, my head is swimming.

  • Vo solcando un mar crudele
  • Senza vele
  • E senza sarte.4

“East and West, Zenith and Nadir, all are confused in my head, and I have not the smallest of compasses to find my way in the middle of this labyrinth. This reminds me of the sorry position I found myself in a few years ago.”

Edition: current; Page: [263]

“Tell me about it, please.”

“Eugène and I5 were hunting in the immense Landes between Bordeaux and Bayonne, on which nothing, no trees or fences, limits the view. There was a heavy mist. We made so many turns this way and that in pursuit of a hare that at length . . .”

“You caught it?”

“No, it caught us, for the rascal succeeded in disorienting us totally. In the evening, an unknown road came into view. To my great surprise, Eugène and I started in opposite directions. ‘Where are you going?’ I asked him. ‘To Bayonne.’ ‘But you are going toward Bordeaux.’ ‘You are joking. The wind is from the North and is freezing our shoulders.’ ‘That is because it is blowing from the South.’ ‘But this morning the sun rose there.’ ‘No, it appeared here.’ ‘Do you not see the Pyrenées in front of us?’ ‘Those are clouds on the edge of the sea.’ In short, we just could not agree.”

“How did it end?”

“We sat down on the side of the road, waiting for a passer-by to save us. Soon a traveler came along; ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘my friend here claims that Bayonne is to the left and I say it is to the right.’ ‘Fine Sirs,’ he replied, ‘both of you are a little right and a little wrong. Beware of rigid ideas and dogmatic systems. Good evening!’ And he left. I was tempted to throw a stone at his back when I saw a second traveler coming toward us. I hailed him extremely politely and said: ‘Good man, we are disoriented. Tell us whether we should go this way or that to return to Bayonne.’ ‘That is not the question,’ he told us; ‘the essential thing is not to cover the distance that separates you from Bayonne in a single bound without a transition stage. That would not be wise, and you would risk falling flat on your face.’ ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘it is you who are not answering the question. As for our faces, you are too interested in them. You can be sure that we will take care of them ourselves. However, before deciding whether to walk quickly or slowly, we have to know in which direction to walk.’ Nevertheless, the rogue persisted: ‘Walk steadily,’ he said, ‘and never Edition: current; Page: [264] put one foot in front of the other without reflecting carefully on the consequences. Bon voyage!’ It was fortunate for him that I had buckshot in my gun; if it had been just bird shot, frankly I would have peppered at least the rump of his horse.”

“To punish the horseman! What distributive justice!”

“A third traveler came along. He appeared to be serious and staid. I took this to be a good sign and asked him my question: which was the way to Bayonne? ‘Diligent hunter,’ he said to me, ‘you have to distinguish between theory and practice. Study the lay of the land, and if theory tells you that Bayonne is downward, go upward.’

“‘Thundering heavens!’ I shouted, ‘Have you all sworn . . . ?’”

“Do not, yourself, swear. And tell me what decision you took.”

“That of following the first half of the last piece of advice. We examined the external appearance of the heather and the direction of flow of the water. A flower made us agree. ‘See,’ I said to Eugène ‘it normally turns toward the sun

  • And still seeks the gaze of Phoebus.6

“‘Therefore, Bayonne is there.’ He yielded to this gracious arbitration, and we went on our way in quite good humor. But what a surprise! Eugène found it difficult to leave things as they were and the universe, doing a half turn in his imagination, constantly put him back under the influence of the same error.”

“What happened to your friend with regard to geography often happens to you with regard to political economy. The map turns around in your mind and you find all the dispensers of advice equally convincing.”

“What should I do, then?”

“What you did: learn to orient yourself.

“But in the heathlands of political economy,7 will I find a poor little flower to guide me?”

“No, but you will find a principle.”

Edition: current; Page: [265]

“That is not as pretty. Is there really an idea that is clear and simple and which can be used as a leading thread through the labyrinth?”8

“Yes, there is.”

“Tell it to me, please!”

“I prefer you to tell it to yourself. Tell me. What is wheat good for?”

“Heavens above! To be eaten!”

“That is a principle.”

“You call that a principle? In that case, I often make principles without knowing it, just as M. Jourdain9 spoke in prose.”

“It is a principle, I tell you, and one that is most ignored, although it is the most true of all those ever included in a body of doctrine. And tell me, has wheat not another use?”

“For what else would it be useful, if not to be eaten?”

“Think hard.”

“Ah! I have found it! To provide work for the ploughman.”

“You have indeed found it. That is another principle.”

“Good heavens! I did not know it was so easy to make principles. I am making one with each word I speak!”

“Is it not true that every imaginable product has the two types of utility that you have just attributed to wheat?”

“What do you mean?”

“What use is coal?”

“It supplies us with heat, light, and strength.”

“Has it no other use?”

“It also provides work to miners, haulers, and sailors.”

“And has woolen cloth not two types of utility?”

“Yes, indeed. It protects you from cold and rain. What is more, it gives work to shepherds, spinners, and weavers.”

Edition: current; Page: [266]

“To prove to you that you have genuinely produced two principles, allow me to express them in a general form. The first says: Products are made to be consumed, while the second says: Products are made to be produced.

“Here I am beginning to understand a little less.”

“I will therefore change the theme:

First principle: Men work in order to consume.

Second principle: Men consume in order to work.

First principle: Wheat is made for stomachs.

Second principle: Stomachs are made for wheat.

First principle: Means are made for an end.

Second principle: The end is made for the means.

First principle: Ploughmen plough so that people can eat.

Second principle: People eat so that the ploughman can plough.

First principle: Oxen go before the cart.

Second principle: The cart goes before the oxen.”

“Heavens above! When I said: Wheat is useful because we eat it and then: Wheat is useful because it is cultivated, was I putting forward, without realizing it, this torrent of principles?

  • Heavens! Sir, I did not believe I was
  • As learned as I am.”10

“Hold on a little! You have merely uttered two principles, and I have played variations on a theme.”11

“What on earth do you mean?”

“I want you to be able to tell north from south on a compass in case you ever become lost in the labyrinth of economics. Each of them will guide you Edition: current; Page: [267] in an opposite direction, one to the temple of truth, the other to the region of error.”

“Do you mean to say that the two schools, the liberal and the protectionist, that divide opinion, differ solely in that one puts the oxen before the cart and the other the cart before the oxen?

“Exactly. I say that if we go back to the exact point that divides these two schools, we find it in the true or false use of the word utility. As you have just said yourself, each product has two types of usefulness: one relates to the consumer and consists in satisfying needs; the other relates to the producer and consists in providing an opportunity for work. We can therefore call the first of these forms of utility fundamental and the second occasional. One is the compass of true science and the other that of false science. If you are unfortunate enough, as is only too frequent, to ride a horse using the second principle to guide you, that is to say to consider products merely from the point of view of their relationship with producers, you are traveling with a compass that is back to front, and you become increasingly lost. You become enmeshed in the realms of privileges, monopolies, antagonism, national jealousies, dissipation, regulations, and restrictive and invasive policies, in a word, you introduce a series of consequences which undermine humanity, constantly mistaking the wrong for the right, and seeking in new wrongs the remedy for the wrongs that legislation has brought about. If, on the other hand, the interest of the consumer, or rather that of general consumption, is taken as a torch and compass right from the start, we progress toward liberty, equality, fraternity,12 universal peace, well-being, savings, order, and all the progressive principles of the human race.”

“What! These two axioms: Wheat is made to be eaten and wheat is made to be grown can lead to such opposing results?”

“Yes indeed. You know the story of the two ships that were traveling in convoy. A storm arose. When it was over, nothing had changed in the universe, except that one of the two compasses had veered to the South as a result of the electricity. But this was enough to make one ship go the wrong way for eternity, at least while it followed this false direction.”

Edition: current; Page: [268]

“I must admit that I am a thousand leagues away from understanding the importance you attach to what you call the two principles (although I have had the honor of finding them), and I would be very relieved if you would let me know your thoughts in their entirety.”

“Well then! Listen! I divide my subject into . . .”

“Mercy me! I have no time to listen to you. But next Sunday I am all yours.”

“I would like, however, . . .”

“I am in a hurry. Farewell.”

“While I have you here . . .”

“You do not have me any more. See you on Sunday.”13

“On Sunday, then. My goodness, how hard listeners find it to focus!”

“Heavens! What heavy going lecturers make it!”

3.: M. Cunin-Gridaine’s Logic


Original title: “La Logique de M. Cunin-Gridaine.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 2 May 1847, no. 23, p. 184.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Not applicable.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 2. Le Libre-échange, pp. 370–73.
Previous translation: None.

Speaking about the two associations1 that have been formed, one to demand that the general public be held for ransom and the other to demand that the general public not be held for ransom, M. Cunin-Gridaine said the following:

“Nothing demonstrates exaggeration better than the exaggeration that opposes it. It is the best way of showing calm and disinterested minds where truth lies, since truth is never divorced from moderation.”

Edition: current; Page: [269]

It is certain, according to Aristotle, that truth is to be found between two opposing exaggerations. The important thing is to ascertain whether two contrary statements are equally exaggerated, without which the judgment that is to be made, while appearing to be impartial, will in fact be inequitable.

Pierre and Jean are pleading their cause before the judge in a small town.

Pierre, the plaintiff, moved that he should beat Jean every day.

Jean, the defendant, moved that he should not be beaten at all.

The judge pronounced the following sentence:

“Seeing that nothing proves exaggeration better than the exaggeration that opposes it, let us cut the quarrel in half and say that Pierre will beat Jean, but only on odd days.”

Jean appealed against this, as was to be expected, but having learned logic, he was careful this time not to move that his brutish adversary’s case be simply dismissed.

Therefore, when Pierre’s lawyer read the introductory plea to the court, it ended with these words: “May it please the court to allow Pierre to rain a hail of blows on Jean’s shoulders.”

Jean’s lawyer replied with this equally conventional request: “May it please the court to allow Jean to take his revenge on Pierre’s back.”

The precaution was necessary. Suddenly, justice found itself placed between two forms of exaggeration. It decided that Jean would no longer be beaten by Pierre nor Pierre by Jean. Basically, Jean did not want any other result.

Let us imitate this example. Let us take our precautions against M. Cunin-Gridaine’s logic.

What is involved? The Pierres of the rue Hauteville2 are pleading for the right to hold the general public for ransom. The Jeans of the rue Choiseul are naively pleading for the general public not to be held for ransom. At which the Minister has gravely pronounced that truth and moderation are at the midpoint between these two claims.

Since the judgment has to be based on the assumption that the association for free trade is exaggerating, what this association can best do is to exaggerate in fact and place itself at the same distance from truth as the prohibitionist association, so that the exact center coincides more or less with justice.

Edition: current; Page: [270]

For this reason, while one side demands a tax on consumers for the benefit of producers, the other, instead of wasting its time opposing a refusal, will formally demand a tax on producers for the benefit of consumers.

And when ironmasters say: “For each quintal of iron that I deliver to the general public, I expect them to pay me a premium of 20 francs, in addition to the price,”

The general public should be quick to reply: “For every quintal of iron that we bring in from abroad, free of duty, we expect ironmasters in France to pay us a premium of 20 francs.”

Then it would be true to say that the pretensions of both parties are equally exaggerated, and the Minister would throw them out, saying, “Go away, and do not inflict taxes on one another,” at least if he is faithful to his line of logic.

Faithful to his line of logic? Alas, the entire line of his logic lies in the exposition of motives; it no longer appears again in the acts themselves. After having proposed in fact that injustice and justice are two forms of exaggeration, that those who want protectionist duties to be maintained and those who demand their removal are equally far from the truth, what should the Minister3 do to remain consistent? He should place himself at the center, and imitate the village judge who passed a sentence of half a beating;4 in a word, reduce protectionist duties by half. He has not even touched them. (See number 50.)5

His dialectic, commented on by his actions, amounts to this: Pierre, you request to be allowed to give four strokes: Jean, you request not to receive any.

The truth, which is never divorced from moderation, lies between these two requests. According to my line of logic, I should authorize only two strokes; following my inclination, I will allow four, as before. And for the execution of my sentence, I will make the legal authorities available to Pierre at Jean’s expense.

But the finest bit of the story is that Pierre leaves the court furious because Edition: current; Page: [271] the judge has dared openly to compare his exaggeration with that of Jean. (See Le Moniteur industriel.)

4.: One Profit versus Two Losses


Original title: “Un Profit contre deux pertes.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 9 May 1847, no. 24, p. 192.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Not applicable.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 2. Le Libre-échange, pp. 377–84.
Previous translation: None.

It is now seventeen years since a political writer, whom I will not name, directed an argument against protection by the Customs Service in an algebraic form, which he called the double incidence of loss.1

This argument made something of an impression. Those benefiting from privilege made haste to refute it, but it so happened that all they did to this end served only to elucidate the argument, to make it increasingly invincible and, what is more, make it popular, to the extent that these days, in the country in which this took place, protection no longer has any partisans.

Perhaps people will ask me why I do not mention the name of the author? Because my philosophy master taught me that this sometimes very adversely compromises the effect of the quotation.2

This master imposed on us a course peppered with passages some of which were taken from Voltaire and Rousseau and invariably preceded by the following formula: “A famous author said, etc.” As a few volumes of these Edition: current; Page: [272] tiresome writers had slipped into our school, we were well aware to whom he was referring. We therefore never failed, when reciting a lesson, to replace the formula with these words: Rousseau said or Voltaire said. But instantly, the teacher, raising his arms to the sky, would cry out: “Do not mention names, friend B.; you have to learn that many people will admire the phrase but would consider it dreadful if they knew where it came from.” It was at the time when opinion inspired our great songwriter,3 or I ought rather to say, our great poet, to pen the following chorus:

  • It is Voltaire’s fault,
  • It is Rousseau’s fault.4

I will therefore suppress the name of the author and the algebraic form and reproduce the argument, which is limited to establishing that any advantage flowing from tariffs will of necessity bring about the following:

  • 1. A profit for one industry;
  • 2. An equal loss for another industry;
  • 3. An equal loss for the consumer.

These are the direct and necessary effects of protection. In all justice, and to complete the assessment, we ought in addition to impute to it a number of ancillary losses, such as the cost of surveillance, expensive formalities, commercial uncertainty, fluctuations in duties, aborted operations, the increased likelihood of war, smuggling, repression, etc.

However, I will limit myself here to the necessary consequences of protection.

A short story will perhaps clarify the explanation of our problem.

An ironmaster needed wood for his factory. He had negotiated with a poor woodcutter who was not very educated and who had to chop wood one day a week, from morning to night, for 40 sous.5

This may seem curious, but it so happened that by dint of hearing talk on Edition: current; Page: [273] protection, domestic industry, the superiority of foreign goods, cost prices, etc., our woodcutter became an economist in the style of Le Moniteur industriel, so effectively that a bright idea entered his mind at the same time as the thought of a monopoly entered his heart.

He went to find the ironmaster and said to him:

“Master, you give me 2 francs for one day of work; in the future you will give me 4 francs and I will work for 2 days.”

“Friend,” replied the ironmaster, “I have enough wood with the wood you split in one day.”

“I know,” said the woodcutter, “and so I have taken steps. Look at my axe; see how blunted and ragged it is. I assure you that I will take two full days to split the wood that I split now in one day.”6

“I will lose 2 francs in this arrangement.”

“Yes, but I, for my part, will gain them and, with regard to the wood and you, I am the producer and you are just a consumer. A consumer! Does he warrant any pity?”

“And if I proved to you that apart from the 40 sous it will cause me to lose, this agreement will also cost another worker 40 sous?”

“Then I will say that his loss balances my gain, and that the final result of my invention is that you, and consequently the nation as a whole, will suffer a clear loss of 2 francs. But who is this worker who will have something to complain about?”

“Jacques the gardener, for example, whom I will no longer give the opportunity to earn 40 sous a week as he does now, since I will have already spent the 40 sous; and if I do not deprive Jacques of this sum, I will be depriving someone else.”

“That is true; I give up and will go to sharpen my axe. Incidentally, if because of my axe, work to the value of 2 francs is lost to the world, that is a loss and it has to fall on someone . . . Pardon me, Master, I have just had an idea. If you allow me to earn these 2 francs, I will enable the café owner to earn them and this gain will compensate the loss to Jacques.”

“My friend, you would be doing only what Jacques would do himself as long as I employed him and what he would no longer do if I dismissed him, as you are asking me to do.”

“That is true; I am defeated and can clearly see that there is no profit to the nation to be had from dulling the blades of axes.”

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However, our woodcutter went over the problem in his head, while chopping wood. He said to himself: “Nonetheless, I have heard it said to the boss a hundred times that it was beneficial to protect producers at the expense of consumers. It is true that he has pointed out here another producer whom I had not considered.”

A short time later, he went to the ironmaster and said to him:

“Master, I need 20 kilograms of iron, and here is 5 francs to pay for it.”

“My friend, for this price, I can give you only 10 kilograms.”

“That is a shame for you since I know an Englishman who will give me the 20 kilograms I need for 5 francs.”

“He is a scoundrel.”

“So be it.”

“An egoist, a perfidious man who acts in his own interest.”

“So be it.”

“An individualist, a bourgeois, a trader who does not know what self-denial, self-sacrifice, fraternity, or philanthropy are.”

“So be it, but he is giving me 20 kilograms of iron for 5 francs while you, as fraternal, self-sacrificing, and philanthropic as you are, you are giving me only 10.”

“That is because his machines are more advanced than mine.”

“Oh! Oh! Mr. Philanthropist! So you are working with a dull axe and you want me to bear the loss?”

“My friend, you have to, so that my industry may be favored. In this world, we must not always think of ourselves and our own interests.”

“But it seems to me that it is always your turn to think of your interests. In the last few days you have not wanted to pay me for using a bad axe, and today you want me to pay you for using bad machines.”

“My friend, that is quite different! My industry is a national one and of great importance.”

“With regard to the 5 francs in question, it is not important for you to gain them if I have to lose them.”

“And do you no longer remember that when you suggested to me that my wood be split with a blunt axe I proved to you that in addition to my loss, an additional loss, equal to mine, would be suffered by poor Jacques, and each of these losses would equal your profit, which in the end would amount to a clear loss for the nation as a whole of 2 francs? For the two cases to be equal, you would have to prove that if my gain and your loss were in balance there would still be loss caused to a third party.”

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“I do not see that this proof is very necessary, for according to what you say, whether I buy from you or the Englishman, the nation is not bound to lose or gain anything. And in this case, I do not see why I should spend for your benefit and not mine what I have earned through the sweat of my brow. What is more, I think I can prove that if I give you 10 francs for your 20 kilograms of iron, I would lose 5 francs and someone else would lose 5 francs; you would gain only 5 francs, with the result that the entire nation would suffer a clear loss of 5 francs.”

“I am intrigued at the prospect of listening to your chopping down my proof.”

“And if I split it neatly, will you agree that your claim is unjust?”

“I do not promise to agree with your case, you know, because where these matters are concerned, I am a little like the gambler in the comedy,7 and I say to political economy:

  • You may well convince me, O Science, my enemy,
  • But make me admit it, there I challenge you!

“But let us take a look at your argument.”

“First of all, you have to know one thing. The Englishman has no intention of taking my 100-sou coin back to his own country. If we strike a bargain (the ironmaster remarks as an aside: I’ll sort that out), he has asked me to buy two pairs of gloves for 5 francs, which I will give him in return for his iron.”

“That is not important. Get on with your proof.”

“Very well, let us now make the calculation. With regard to the 5 francs that represent the natural price for the iron, it is clear that French production will be neither more nor less stimulated overall whether I give this money to you to make the iron directly or whether I give it to the glove maker to supply me with the gloves the Englishman has requested in exchange for the iron.”

“That sounds reasonable.”

“So let us leave aside these first 100 sous. There remains the problem of the other 5 francs. You say that if I agree to lose them, you would gain them and your industry would benefit by this amount.”

Edition: current; Page: [276]


“But if I reach agreement with the Englishman, these 100 sous would remain in my pocket. As it happens, I find that I have a pressing need for a pair of shoes. Here then is a third person, the shoemaker, who is concerned by this matter. If I deal with you, your industry would be stimulated to the extent of 5 francs; that of the shoemaker would be depressed to the extent of 5 francs, which is the exact balance. And in the end, I would not have any shoes; so that my loss would be clear and the nation, in my person, would have lost 5 francs.”

“Not a bad line of reasoning for a woodcutter! But you have lost sight of one thing, and that is that the 5 francs you will cause the shoemaker to earn, if you traded with the Englishman, I would myself allow him to earn if you traded with me.”

“I beg your pardon, Master, but you yourself taught me the other day that I should beware of this confusion.

“I have 10 francs.

“If I trade with you I will give them to you, and you will do what you want with them.

“If I trade with the Englishman, I will distribute them thus: 5 francs to the glove maker and 5 francs to the shoemaker, and they will do what they like with them.

“The subsequent consequences of the circulation of these 10 francs, by you in one case and by the glove maker and shoemaker in the other, are identical and cancel each other out. There should be no question of this.

“There is therefore just one difference in all this. Following the first bargain, I would not have any shoes; following the second, I would have.

The ironmaster goes off grumbling: “Ah, where the devil is political economy taking us? Two good laws will stop all this nonsense; a Customs law that will give me the power of the State, since I will not be in the right, and a law on education that will send all the young people to study society in Sparta or Rome.8 It is not a good thing for the people to have such a clear view of its affairs.”

Edition: current; Page: [277]

5.: On Moderation


Original title: “De la moderation.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 23 May 1847, no. 26, p. 201.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Not applicable.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 2. Le Libre-échange, pp. 343–48.
Previous translation: None.

We are criticized for being too dogmatic and extreme, and this accusation, carefully propagated by our opponents, has been echoed by men whose talents and high position give them authority, M. Charles Dupin, a peer of France, and M. Cunin-Gridaine, a Minister.1

And this is because we have the audacity to think that wanting to make men wealthy by restricting them and tightening social bonds by isolating nations is a vain and foolish enterprise; that the collection of taxes cannot be established without both the freedom of commerce and freedom of work being hindered in some way. These incidental restrictions are in this instance one of the drawbacks of taxation, drawbacks which may even cause the tax itself to be abandoned. But to see in them as such a source of wealth and a cause of well-being and, on this premise, to strengthen and increase their number systematically, no longer to fill the Treasury but at the Treasury’s expense, to believe that restrictions have in themselves a productive virtue and result in more intensive work, better shared out, more certain in its remuneration and more capable of equalizing returns, that is an absurd theory, one that could lead only to an absurd practice. For this reason, we are opposing both of them, not in an extreme way but with zeal and perseverance.

Edition: current; Page: [278]

After all, what is moderation?

We are convinced that two plus two makes four and we believe that we are required to say this clearly. Do people want us to use circumlocutions? That we should say, for example: “It may be that two plus two makes approximately four. We suspect that this may be so but we are not hastening to affirm this, especially since certain leading figures believed it was in their interest to base the laws of the country on this other premise, which appears to contradict ours: three minus one equals four.

Accusing us of dogmatism and forbidding us from proving the truth of our thesis is to want the country never to open its eyes. We will not enter the trap.

Oh! If we were told: “It is very true that the straight line is shortest. But what can you do? For a long time it was believed to be the longest. The nation is accustomed to following a curved line. It spends its time and strength doing this, but we have to win over this wasted time and strength little by little and gradually,” we would be considered to be very laudably moderate. What are we asking for? Just one thing: for the public to see clearly what it is losing by following a curved line. After this, and if, in the full knowledge of what the curved line was costing them in tax, privations, vexations, and wasted effort, they only wished to leave it gradually or if they even persisted in keeping to it, we could not help it. Our mission is to set out the truth. We do not believe, like the socialists, that the people are an inert mass and that the driving force is in the person who describes the phenomenon, but that it is in the person who suffers or who benefits from it. Could we be more moderate?

Other people accuse us of being extreme for another reason. They say it is because we are attacking all forms of protection at once. Why not have recourse to some guile? Why antagonize agriculture, manufacturing, the merchant navy, and the working classes all simultaneously, to say nothing of the political parties who are always ready to pay court to numbers and strength?

We consider that it is in this that we show our moderation and sincerity.

How many times have people not tried, doubtless with good intentions, to induce us to abandon the terrain of principles! We were advised to attack the abuse of the protection given to a few factories.

“You would be supported by agriculture,” we were told, “and with this powerful auxiliary you would overcome the most exorbitant of the industrial monopolies and initially one of the most solid links of the chain that is wearing you down. Next, you can move against the agricultural interests in the Edition: current; Page: [279] knowledge that this time you would have the support of the manufacturing industry.”2

Those who give us this advice are forgetting one thing, which is that we do not aspire so much to overturn the protective regime as to enlighten the general public about this regime, or rather, although the first of these tasks is the aim, the second appears to us to be the essential means.

Well, what force would our arguments have had if we had carefully removed from the argument the very principle of protection? And, by implicating it, how could we avoid arousing the susceptibilities of farmers? Do people believe that manufacturers would have left us free to choose our arguments? That they would not have brought us around to expressing our views on the question of principle and to say explicitly or implicitly that protection is wrong by its very nature? Once the word was uttered, farmers would have been on their guard and we, may we be excused the expression, would have paddled about in subtle precautions and distinctions in the midst of which our polemics would have lost all their force and our sincerity any credit it may have had.

Next, the advice itself implies that, at least in the opinion of those who give it and perhaps in ours, protection is a desirable thing, since in order to wrench it away from one of the country’s productive sectors, one would have to make use of some other sector that would be led to believe that its own particular privileges would be respected, since it is suggested to use the farmers to beat the manufacturers and vice versa. Well, that is not what we want. On the contrary, we are committed to the struggle because we believe protection to be bad for everybody.

The task we have set ourselves is to make this understood and widely known. “But in that case,” it will be said, “the struggle will be lengthy.” All the better if it is lengthy, if that is what is needed to enlighten the public.

Let us suppose that the trick that is being suggested to us is fully successful (a success that we believe to be an illusion); let us suppose that in the first year the landowners in the two Chambers sweep away all industrial privileges and that in the second year, in order to avenge themselves, the manufacturers have all the privileges of the farmers taken away.

What would happen? In two years, free trade would be ensconced in our laws, but would it be so in our minds? Is it not clear that at the first crisis, Edition: current; Page: [280] the first uprising, the first evidence of suffering, the country would rise up against a reform that was badly understood, attribute its misfortunes to foreign competition, and invoke, and swiftly and triumphantly achieve, a return to customs protection? For how many years or centuries perhaps, would this short period of freedom accompanied by accidental suffering not dominate the arguments of protectionists? They would be careful to base their reasoning on the assumption that there is an essential link between these sufferings and freedom, just as they do today with regard to the Methuen3 and 1786 treaties.4

It is a very remarkable thing that, in the middle of the crisis that is devastating England, not a single voice is raised to attribute it to the liberal reforms accomplished by Sir Robert Peel. On the contrary, everyone feels that without these measures England would be in the throes of convulsions in the face of which the imagination recoils in horror. Where does this trust in freedom come from? From the work carried out by the League5 for many years. From the fact that it has made every intelligent mind familiar with the notions of public economy. From the fact that the reform was already germinating in people’s minds and that the bills by Parliament were only sanctioning a national will that was strong and enlightened.

Finally, we have rejected this advice for reasons of justice, as tempting as the French fury in battle6 might find impatience.

We are fully convinced that by relieving the pressure of a protectionist Edition: current; Page: [281] regime as gradually as opinion will allow but in accordance with a period of transition agreed in advance and on all points simultaneously, all forms of economic activity will be offered compensations that will make the shocks genuinely imperceptible. If the price of wheat is held slightly below the current average, on the other hand the price of ploughs, clothing, tools, and even bread and meat will be less of a burden to farmers. In the same way, if ironmasters experience a decrease of a few francs in the cost of a ton of iron, they will have coal, wood, tools, and food on better terms. Well, we consider that once compensations like these that arise from freedom have become established, they will inevitably work steadily hand in hand with the reform itself throughout the period of transition, so that the reform remains consistent with public utility and the requirements of justice.

Is this impetuous and extreme? Is this a plan devised in the brains of hotheads? And unless people wish to make us abandon our principle, which we will never do as long as it is not proved to us to be erroneous, how can they demand more moderation and prudence from us?

Moderation does not consist in saying that we have half a conviction when we have a conviction that is whole and entire. It consists in respecting opposing opinions, refuting them without excessive emotion, refraining from personal attacks, refraining from provoking dismissals or impeachments, refraining from rousing misled workers, and refraining from threatening governments with uprisings.

Is this not how we practice moderation?

6.: The People and the Bourgeoisie


Original title: “Peuple et Bourgeoisie.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 23 May 1847, no. 26, p. 202.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Not applicable.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 2. Le Libre-échange, pp. 348–55.
Previous translation: None.

Men are easily made dupes by intellectual systems, provided that some symmetrical arrangement makes them easy to understand.

Edition: current; Page: [282]

For example, nothing is more common these days than to hear it said that the people and the bourgeoisie constitute two opposing classes with the same hostile relationships to each other that once pitted the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy.

“Initially, the bourgeoisie were weak,” it is said. “They were oppressed, crushed, exploited, and humiliated by the aristocracy. They grew in stature, became wealthy and stronger to the point that, through the influence engendered by numbers and wealth, they overcame their adversaries in ’89.1

“They then in turn became the aristocracy. Beneath them is the people, which is growing in stature, becoming stronger and, in the second act of the social war, is preparing to conquer.”2

If symmetry were enough to give truth to intellectual systems, we cannot see why this one will not go further. Might we not add in effect:

“When the people have triumphed over the bourgeoisie, they will dominate and consequently become the aristocracy with regard to beggars. Beggars will grow in stature, become stronger in turn, and will prepare for the world the drama of the third social war.3

The least of the defects in this theory, which is the talk of many of the popular journals, is to be wrong.

Between a nation and its aristocracy, we clearly see a deep dividing line, an undeniable hostility of interests, which sooner or later can only lead to strife. The aristocracy has come from outside; it has conquered its place by the sword and dominates through force. Its aim is to turn the work done by the vanquished to its own advantage. It seizes land, has armies at its disposal, and seizes the power to make laws and expedite justice. In order to master all Edition: current; Page: [283] the channels of influence, it has not even disdained the functions, or at least the dignities, of the church. In order not to weaken the esprit de corps that is its lifeblood, it transmits the privileges it has usurped from father to son by way of primogeniture. The aristocracy does not recruit from outside its ranks, or if it does so, it is because it is already on the slippery slope.

What similarity can we find between this arrangement and that of the bourgeoisie? In fact, can we say that there is a bourgeoisie? What does this word mean? Do we call a bourgeois someone who, through his activity, assiduity, and self-denial has put himself in a position to live on the accumulated value of previous work; in a word, on capital? Only an abject ignorance of political economy could suggest the idea that living on the accumulated value of work is to live off the work of others. Let those, therefore, who define the bourgeoisie in this way start by telling us what there is, in leisure time laboriously acquired, in the intellectual development that is the consequence of this, and in the accumulation of capital which forms its foundation, that is essentially opposed to the interests of humanity, the community, or even the working classes.

If these leisure activities cost nothing to anyone, do they deserve to arouse jealousy? Does this intellectual development not benefit progress, both in the moral and industrial spheres? Is not the ever-increasing amount of capital, precisely because of the advantages it confers, the basis on which those who have not yet become emancipated from manual work live? And is not the well-being of these classes, all other things being equal, exactly in proportion to the size of this capital, and consequently to the speed with which it is formed and the activities which compete for it?

Obviously, however, the word bourgeoisie would have a very limited meaning if it were applied solely to men of leisure. We hear it also applied to all those who are not salaried, who have an independent profession, who manage at total risk to themselves farming, manufacturing, and commercial enterprises or who devote themselves to the study of science, the exercise of the arts, or intellectual activity.4

But in this case it is difficult to imagine how the radical opposition between Edition: current; Page: [284] the bourgeoisie and the people that justifies a comparison between their relationships and those of the aristocracy and democracy can be found. Has not every enterprise its opportunities? Is it not very natural and fortunate that the social mechanism allows those who may lose to take advantage of them? And besides, is it not from the ranks of the workers that the bourgeoisie is constantly and at all times being recruited? Is it not within the working class that capital, the object of so many wild denunciations, is built up? What! For the very reason that a worker has all the virtues by means of which man is emancipated from the yoke of immediate need, because he is hard-working, thrifty, well-organized, in control of his emotions, and upright, because he works with some success to leave his children in a better situation than the one he himself had, in a word, he has founded a family, it might be said that this worker is on the wrong track, a track that takes him away from the popular cause and which leads to the place of perdition which is the bourgeoisie! On the contrary, it will be enough for a man to have no ambition for the future, to waste his gains irresponsibly, to do nothing to warrant the trust of those who employ him or to refuse any sacrifice, for it to be true to say that he is a man of the people par excellence, a man who will never rise above the roughest kind of work, and a man whose own interest will, of course, always be in line with the interest of society well understood!

It is a cause of deep sadness to be faced with the frightful consequences contained in these erroneous doctrines and the way in which these ideas are propagated with such ardour. A social war is spoken of as being natural and inevitable, which is bound to be brought on by the alleged radical hostility between the people and the bourgeoisie and which is similar to the strife that in all countries has brought the aristocracy and democracy to blows. But, once again, is the comparison accurate? Can one assimilate wealth obtained by force to that acquired through work? And if the people consider any rise in status, even the natural rise generated by industry, thrift, and the exercise of every virtue to be an obstacle to be overturned, what motive, stimulus, or raison d’être will there be left to human activity and foresight?

It is dreadful to think that an error so pregnant with disastrous possibilities is the outcome of the profound ignorance in which modern education swaddles the current generations with regard to anything that relates to the way society works.

Let us not therefore see two nations within the same nation; there is just Edition: current; Page: [285] one. An infinite number of rungs on the ladder of wealth, each due to the same principle, is not enough to make up different classes, and still less classes that are hostile to one another.

However, it must be said that there are in our laws, principally in our financial laws, certain arrangements that seem to be maintained merely to sustain and, in a manner of speaking, justify both the mistake the public makes and its anger.

It cannot be denied that the ability to influence laws, concentrated in just a few hands, has on occasion been used with partiality. The bourgeoisie would be in a strong position with regard to the people if it were able to say, “Our contribution to common assets differs in degree but not in principle. Our interests are identical; when I defend mine, I am also defending yours. You can see proof of this in our laws; they are based on strict justice. They guarantee all property equally, whatever its size.”

But is this the case? Is the property created by labor treated by our laws in the same way as property based on land or in capital? Certainly not. Setting aside the question of the allocation of taxes, one can say that the protectionist regime is a special terrain on which individual interests and classes give themselves over to the bitterest of struggles, since this regime claims to balance up the rights and sacrifices of all forms of production. Well, in this matter, how has the class that makes the law treated labor? How has it treated itself? We can state that it has done nothing and can do nothing for labor as such, although it clearly affects the faithful guardianship of the national workforce. What it has tried to do is to raise the price of all products, saying that wages would naturally follow such a rise. Well, if it has failed in its initial aim, as we believe it has, it has succeeded even less in its philanthropic intentions. The price of labor depends solely on the relationship between available capital and the number of workers. Now, if protectionism can do nothing to change this ratio, if it can neither increase the pool of capital nor decrease the number of workers, whatever influence it has on the price of products, it has none on rates of pay.

We will be told that we are contradicting ourselves; on the one hand we are arguing that the interests of all classes are homogeneous, and now we are identifying a point on which the wealthy class is abusing legislative power.

Let us hasten to say that the oppression exercised in this form by one class over another is not in the least intentional; it is purely an economic error, Edition: current; Page: [286] shared by the people and the bourgeoisie. We will provide two irrefutable proofs of this; the first is that protection does not benefit those who have set it up in the long run. The second is that, if it is damaging to the working classes, they are totally unaware of this, to the point where they are ill disposed to those who favor freedom.

However, it is in the nature of things that once the cause of a wrong has been pointed out, it ends by becoming generally known. With what terrible argument will the injustice of the protectionist regime not supply the recriminations of the masses! Let the electoral class5 be on their guard! The people will not always seek the cause of its suffering in the absence of a phalanx, of an organization for work, or some other illusory combination.6 One day it will see injustice where it really is. One day it will discover that a great deal is being done for products but nothing for wages, and that what is being done for products has no influence on wages. It will then ask itself: “How long have things been like this? When our fathers were able to approach the ballot box, were the people forbidden as they are today from exchanging their pay for iron, tools, fuel, clothing, and bread?” They will find a reply in writing in the tariffs of 1791 and 1795.7 And what answer will you give them, you industrialists who make the law, if they add: “We can clearly see that a new form of aristocracy has taken the place of the old”?

If, therefore, the bourgeoisie wants to avoid a social war, whose distant rumblings are being echoed by the popular journals, let it not separate its interests from those of the masses, and let it examine and understand the Edition: current; Page: [287] solidarity that binds them. If the bourgeoisie wants universal approval to sanction its influence, let it put this influence at the service of the entire community. If it wants its power to enact laws not to arouse too much anxiety, it has to make laws just and impartial and award Customs protection to everyone or no one. It is certain that the ownership of arms and faculties is as sacred as the ownership of products. Since the law raises the price of products, let it also raise the rate of pay, and if it cannot, let it allow both to be exchanged freely for the other.

7.: Two Losses versus One Profit


Original title: “Deux pertes contre un profit.”
Place and date of first publication: Le Libre-échange, 30 May 1847, no. 27, pp. 216–18.
First French edition as book or pamphlet: Not applicable.
Location in Paillottet’s edition of OC: Vol. 2. Le Libre-échange, pp. 384–91.
Previous translation: None.
M. Arago
Arago, M.

To M. Arago, of the Academy of Sciences


You have the secret of making the greatest scientific truths accessible to the minds of all. Oh! If only, using x’s and y’s, you could find a theorem that would leave no room for controversy! Simply setting it out will be enough to show the immense service you would be giving to the country and the human race. Here it is:

if a protectionist duty raises the price of an object by a given quantity, the nation gains this quantity once and loses it twice.1

Edition: current; Page: [288]

If this proposition is true, it follows that nations are inflicting incalculable losses on themselves. It would have to be acknowledged that there is not one of us who does not throw one-franc coins into the river each time he eats or drinks, each time he takes it into his head to touch a tool or an item of clothing.2

And as this way of doing things has been going on for a long time, we should not be surprised if, in spite of the advance of science and industry, a very heavy burden of destitution and suffering is still weighing on our fellow citizens.

On the other hand, everyone agrees that a protectionist regime is a source of damage, uncertainty, and danger outside this calculus of profits and losses. It feeds national animosities, postpones unity between peoples, increases the opportunities for war, and inscribes actions that are innocent in themselves as misdemeanors and crimes in our laws. We just have to submit to these inconvenient lesser outcomes of our arrangements once we come to believe that they rest on the following concept: any increase in price is, by its very nature, a national gain. For, Sir, I believe that I have observed, and you will perhaps have observed as I have, that in spite of the great scorn that individuals and nations display for gain, they have difficulty in giving it up. If it happened to be proved, however, that this alleged gain is accompanied in the first instance by an equal loss, which offsets it, and then by a second loss that is also equal, this latter one involving absolutely blatant deceit,3 then since the horror of loss is as strongly entrenched in the human heart as the love of profit, we would be bound to assume that the protectionist regime and all its direct and indirect consequences would evaporate with the illusion that gave rise to them.

You will therefore not be surprised, Sir, that I would like to see this demonstration clad in the invincible evidence that the language of equations communicates. You will not consider it a bad thing that I have turned to you, for, among all the problems presented by the sciences that you pursue with so much renown, there is certainly none more worthy of occupying your powerful Edition: current; Page: [289] abilities, at least for a few moments. I dare say that the man who provides an irrefutable solution to it, were it the only thing he did in this life, would have done enough for the human race and his own reputation.4

Allow me therefore to set out in common parlance what I would like to see put into mathematical language.

Let us suppose that an English knife is sold in France for 2 francs.

That means that it is traded for 2 francs or for any other object which itself is worth 2 francs, for example, a pair of gloves at this price.

Let us assume that a similar knife cannot be produced in this country for less than 3 francs.

Under these circumstances, a French cutler turns to the government and says to it: “Protect me. Prevent my fellow countrymen from buying English knives, and I will ensure that I will provide them for 3 francs.”

I say that this increase in price of 1 franc will be made once only, but add that it will be lost twice by France, and that the same phenomenon will be seen in all similar cases.

First of all, let us put aside for a moment the 2 francs which are not relevant to increasing prices. As far as these 2 francs are concerned, it is very clear that French industry will not have gained or lost anything through this measure. Whether these 2 francs go to the cutler or the glove maker, that may suit one of these industrialists and inconvenience the other, but they have no effect on national production. Up to that point, there has been a change of direction, but no increase or decrease in output: 2 francs more go to cutlery and 2 francs less go to glove making, that is all. An unjust favor here, a no less unjust oppression there, is all we can see; let us therefore say no more about these 2 francs.

However, there is a third franc whose course needs to be followed; it constitutes the increase in price of the knife: it is the given amount by which the price of knives is raised. It is the amount that I say is gained once and lost twice by the country.

That it is gained once, there is no doubt. Obviously the cutlery industry is favored by prohibition to the amount of 1 franc that will go to pay for salaries, profits, iron, and steel. In other terms, the production of gloves is discouraged by only 2 francs and the cutlery industry is stimulated by 3 francs, Edition: current; Page: [290] which certainly constitutes a surplus stimulus of 20 sous, 1 franc, or 100 centimes,5 whatever you like to call it, for national output.

But it is just as obvious that when the person acquired the knife from England in exchange for a pair of gloves he paid only 2 francs, whereas he is now paying 3. In the first case, he had one franc available over and above the cost of the knife, and as we all are in the habit of using francs for something, we have to take it as certain that this franc would have been spent in some way and would have stimulated national industry just as far as a franc can be stretched.

If, for example, you were this buyer, before prohibition you would have been able to buy a pair of gloves for 2 francs, in exchange for which you would have obtained the knife from England. And what is more, you would have had 1 franc left, with which you would have bought, depending on your tastes, a few small pies or a small book.

If therefore we do the accounts of national output, we will instantly find an equivalent loss to counter the gain of the cutler, which is that of the pastry cook or the bookseller.

I think it is impossible to deny that in either case your 3 francs, since you had them, encouraged the industry of the country in exactly the same