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IT is said that the most advantageous of all branches of trade is that which supplies manufactured commodities in exchange for raw materials. For these raw materials are the aliment and support of national labour.
Hence the conclusion is drawn:
That the best law of customs is that which gives the greatest possible facility to the importation of raw materials, and which throws most obstacles in the way of importing finished goods.
There is no sophism in political economy more widely disseminated than this. It is cherished not only by the protectionist school, but also, and above all, by the school which dubs itself liberal; and it is unfortunate that it should be so, for what can be more injurious to a good cause than that it should be at the same time vigorously attacked and feebly defended?
Commercial liberty is likely to have the fate of liberty in general; it will only find a place in the statute-book after it has taken possession of men's minds and convictions. But if it be true that a reform, in order to be solidly established, should be generally understood, it follows that nothing can so much retard reform as that which misleads public opinion; and what is more calculated to mislead public opinion than works which, in advocating freedom, invoke aid from the doctrines of monopoly?
Some years ago three of the great towns of France—Lyons, Bordeaux, and Havre—united in a movement against the restrictive régime. All Europe was stirred on seeing raised what they took for the banner of liberty. Alas! it proved to be also the banner of monopoly—of a monopoly a little more niggardly and much more absurd than that of which they seemed to desire the overthrow. By the aid of the sophism which I have just endeavoured to expose, the petitioners did nothing more than reproduce the doctrine of protection to national industry, tacking to it an additional inconsistency.