Economic Sophisms/Chapter 1

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Economic Sophisms by Frédéric Bastiat
Abundance, Scarcity



deputies rose and said: "If the navigation of the Douro is improved in the way now proposed, the traffic will be carried on at less expense. The grain of Portugal will, in consequence, be sold in the markets of Castile at a lower price, and will become a formidable rival to our national industry, I oppose the project, unless, indeed, our ministers will undertake to raise the tariff of customs to the extent required to re-establish the equilibrium." The Assembly found the argument unanswerable.

Three months afterwards I was at Lisbon. The same question was discussed in the Senate. A noble hidalgo made a speech: "Mr President," he said, "this project is absurd. You place guards, at great expense, along the banks of the Douro to prevent Portugal being invaded by Castilian grain; and at the same time you propose, also at great expense, to facilitate that invasion. This is a piece of inconsistency to which I cannot assent. Jet us leave the Douro to our children, as it has come to us from our fathers."

Afterwards, when the subject of improving the navigation of the Garonne was discussed, I remembered the arguments of the Iberian orators, and I said to myself, If the Toulouse deputies were as good economists as the Spanish deputies, and the representatives of Bordeaux as acute logicians as those of Oporto, assuredly they would leave the Garonne

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for the canalisation of the Garonne would favour the invasion of Toulouse products, to the prejudice of Bordeaux, and the inundation of Bordeaux products would do the same thing to the detriment of Toulouse.

 

 

XVII.

 

A NEGATIVE BAILWAY.

I HAVE said that when, unfortunately, one has regard to the interest of the producer, and not to that of the consumer, it is impossible to avoid running counter to the general interest,


because the demand of the producer, as such, is only for efforts, wants, and obstacles.

I find a remarkable illustration of this in a Bordeaux newspaper.

M. Simiot proposes this question:—

Should the proposed railway from Paris to Madrid offer a solution of continuity at Bordeaux?

He answers the question in the affirmative, and gives a multiplicity of reasons, which I shall not stop to examine, except this one:

The railway from Paris to Bayonne should have a break at Bordeaux, for if goods and passengers are forced to stop at that town, profits will accrue to bargemen, pedlars, commissionaires, hotel-keepers, etc.

Here we have clearly the interest of labour put before the interest of consumers.

But if Bordeaux has a right to profit by a gap in the line of railway, and if such profit is consistent with the public interest, then Angoulème, Poitiers, Tours, Orleans, nay, more, all the intermediate places, Kuffec, Châtellerault, etc., should also demand gaps, as being for the general interest, and, of course, for the interest of national industry; for the more these breaks in the line are multiplied, the greater will be the increase of consignments, commissions, transhipments, etc., along the whole extent of the railway. In this way, we shall succeed in having a line of railway composed of successive gaps, and which may be denominated a Negative Railway.

Let the protectionists say what they will, it is not the less certain that the principle of restriction is the very same as the principle of gaps; the sacrifice of the consumer's interest to that of the producer,—in other words, the sacrifice of the end to the means,

 

XVIII.

 

THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTE PRINCIPLES.

WE cannot wonder enough at the facility with which men resign themselves to continue ignorant of what it is most important that they should know; and we may be certain that such ignorance is incorrigible in those who venture to proclaim this axiom: There are no absolute principles.

You enter the legislative precincts. The subject of debate is whether the law should prohibit international exchanges, or proclaim freedom.

A deputy rises, and says:

If you tolerate these exchanges, the foreigner will inundate you with his products: England with her textile fabrics, Belgium with coals, Spain with wools, Italy with silks, Switzerland with cattle, Sweden with iron, Prussia with corn; so that home industry will no longer be possible.

Another replies:

If you prohibit international exchanges, the various bounties which nature has lavished on different climates will be for you as if they did not exist. You cannot participate in the mechanical skill of the English, in the wealth of the Belgian mines, in the fertility of the Polish soil, in the luxuriance of the Swiss pastures, in the cheapness of Spanish labour, in the warmth of the Italian climate; and you must obtain from a refractory and misdirected production those commodities which, through exchange, would have been furnished to you by an easy production. Assuredly, one of these deputies must be wrong. But which? We must take care to make no mistake on the subject; for this is not a matter of abstract opinion merely. You have to choose between two roads, and one of them leads necessarily to poverty. To get rid of the dilemma, we are told that there are no absolute principles.

This axiom, which is so much in fashion nowadays, not only countenances indolence, but ministers to ambition.

If the theory of prohibition comes to prevail, or if the doctrine of free trade comes to triumph, one brief enactment will constitute our whole economic code. In the first case, the law will proclaim that all exchanges with foreign countries are prohibited; in the second, that all exchanges with foreign countries are free; and many grand and distinguished personages will thereby lose their importance.

But if exchange does not possess a character which is peculiar to it,—if it is not governed by any natural law,—if, capriciously, it be sometimes useful and sometimes detrimental,—if it does not find its motive force in the good which it accomplishes, its limit in the good which it ceases to accomplish,—if its consequences cannot be estimated by those who effect exchanges;—in a word, if there be no absolute principles, then we must proceed to weigh, balance, and regulate transactions, we must equalize the conditions of labour, and try to find out the average rate of profits— colossal task, well deserving the large emoluments and powerful influence awarded to those who undertake it.

On entering Paris, which I had come to visit, I said to myself. Here are a million of human beings, who would all die in a short time if provisions of every kind ceased to flow towards this great metropolis. Imagination is baffled when it tries to appreciate the vast multiplicity of commodities which must enter to-morrow through the barriers in order to preserve the inhabitants from falling a prey to the convulsions of famine, rebellion, and pillage. And yet all sleep at this moment, and their peaceful slumbers are not disturbed for a single instant by the prospect of such a frightful catastrophe. On the other hand, eighty departments have been labouring to-day, without concert, without any mutual understanding, for the provisioning of Paris. How does each succeeding day bring what is wanted, nothing more, nothing less, to so gigantic a market? What, then, is the ingenious and secret power which governs the astonishing regularity of movements so complicated, a regularity in which everybody has implicit faith, although happiness and life itself are at stake? That power is an absolute principle, the principle of freedom in transactions. We have faith in that inward light which Providence has placed in the heart of all men, and to which He has confided the preservation and indefinite amelioration of our species, namely, a regard to personal interest—since we must give it its right name—a principle so active, so vigilant, so foreseeing, when it is free in its action. In what situation, I would ask, would the inhabitants of Paris be, if a minister should take it into his head to substitute for this power the combinations of his own genius, however superior we might suppose them to be—if he thought to subject to his supreme direction this prodigious mechanism, to hold the springs of it in his hands, to decide by whom, or in what manner, or on what conditions, everything needed should be produced, transported, exchanged, and consumed? Truly, there may be much suffering within the walls of Paris—poverty, despair, perhaps starvation, causing more tears to flow than ardent charity is able to dry up; but I affirm that it is probable, nay, that it is certain, that the arbitrary intervention of government would multiply infinitely those sufferings, and spread over all our fellow-citizens those evils which at present affect only a small number of them.

This faith, then, which we repose in a principle, when the question relates only to our home transactions, why should we not retain, when the same principle is applied to our inter- national transactions, which are undoubtedly less numerous, less delicate, and less complicated? And if it is not necessary that the préfecture should regulate our Parisian industries, weigh our chances, balance our profits and losses, see that our circulating medium is not exhausted, and equalize the conditions of our home labour, why should it be necessary that the Customhouse, departing from its fiscal duties, should pretend to exercise a protective action over our external commerce?

 

 

XIX.

 

NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE.

AMONG the arguments which we hear adduced in favour of the restrictive régime, we must not forget that which is founded on national independence.


personal interest—since we must give it its right name—a principle so active, so vigilant, so foreseeing, when it is free in its action. In what situation, I would ask, would the inhabitants of Paris be, if a minister should take it into his head to substitute for this power the combinations of his own genius, however superior we might suppose them to be—if he thought to subject to his supreme direction this prodigious mechanism, to hold the springs of it in his hands, to decide by whom, or in what manner, or on what conditions, everything needed should be produced, transported, exchanged, and consumed? Truly, there may be much suffering within the walls of Paris—poverty, despair, perhaps starvation, causing more tears to flow than ardent charity is able to dry up; but I affirm that it is probable, nay, that it is certain, that the arbitrary intervention of government would multiply infinitely those sufferings, and spread over all our fellow-citizens those evils which at present affect only a small number of them.

This faith, then, which we repose in a principle, when the question relates only to our home transactions, why should we not retain, when the same principle is applied to our inter- national transactions, which are undoubtedly less numerous, less delicate, and less complicated? And if it is not necessary that the préfecture should regulate our Parisian industries, weigh our chances, balance our profits and losses, see that our circulating medium is not exhausted, and equalize the conditions of our home labour, why should it be necessary that the Customhouse, departing from its fiscal duties, should pretend to exercise a protective action over our external commerce?

 

 

XIX.

 

NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE.

AMONG the arguments which we hear adduced in favour of the restrictive régime, we must not forget that which is founded on national independence.


"What should we do in case of war," it is said, "if we are placed at the mercy of England for iron and coal?"

English monopolists do not fail to cry out in their turn:

"What would become of Great Britain, in case of war, if she is dependent on France for provisions?"

One thing is overlooked, which is this—that the kind of dependence which results from exchange, from commercial transactions, is a reciprocal dependence. We cannot be dependent on the foreigner without the foreigner being dependent on us. Now, this is the very essence of society. To break up natural relations is not to place ourselves in a state of independence, but in a state of isolation.

Remark this: A nation isolates itself looking forward to the possibility of war; but is not this very act of isolating itself the beginning of war? It renders war more easy, less burdensome, and, it may be, less unpopular. Let countries be permanent markets for each other's produce; let their reciprocal relations be such that they cannot be broken without inflicting on each other the double suffering of privation and a glut of commodities; and they will no longer stand in need of naval armaments, which ruin them, and overgrown armies, which crush them; the peace of the world will not then be compromised by the caprice of a Thiers or of a Palmerston; and war will disappear for want of what supports it, for want of resources, inducements, pretexts, and popular sympathy.

I am quite aware that I shall be reproached (it is the fashion of the day) with basing the fraternity of nations on men's personal interest—vile, prosaic self-interest. Better far, it may be thought, that it should have had its basis in charity, in love, even in a little self-abnegation, and that, interfering somewhat with men's material comforts, it should have had the merit of a generous sacrifice.

When shall we be done with these puerile declamations? When will tartuferie be finally banished from science? When shall we cease to exhibit this nauseous contradiction between our professions and practice? We hoot at and execrate personal interest; in other words, we denounce what is useful and good (for to say that all men are interested in anything is to say that the thing is good in itself), as if personal interest were not the necessary, eternal, and indestructible mainspring to which Providence has confided human perfectibility. Are we not represented as being all angels of disinterestedness? And does the thought never occur to those who say so, that the public begins to see with disgust that this affected language disfigures the pages of those very writers who are most successful in filling their own pockets at the public expense? Oh! affectation! affectation! thou art verily the besetting sin of our times!

What! because material prosperity and peace are things correlative, because it has pleased God to establish this beautiful harmony in the moral world, am I not to admire, am I not to adore His ordinances, am I not to accept with gratitude laws which make justice the condition of happiness? You desire peace only in as far as it runs counter to material prosperity; and liberty is rejected because it does not impose sacrifices. If abnegation has indeed so many charms for you, why do you fail to practise it in private life? Society will be grateful to you, for some one, at least, will reap the fruit; but to desire to im- pose it upon mankind as a principle is the very height of absurdity, for the abnegation of all is the sacrifice of all, which is evil erected into a theory.

But, thank Heaven, one can write or read many of these declamations without the world ceasing on that account to obey the social motive force, which leads us to shun evil and seek after good, and which, whether they like it or not, we must denominate personal interest.

After all, it is singular enough to see sentiments of the most sublime self-denial invoked in support of spoliation itself. See to what this boasted disinterestedness tends! These men who are so fantastically delicate as not to desire peace itself, if it is founded on the vile interest of mankind, put their hand into the pockets of others, and especially of the poor; for what article of the tariff protects the poor? Be pleased, gentlemen, to dispose of what belongs to yourselves as you think proper, but leave us the disposal of the fruit of our own toil, to use it or exchange it as we see best. Declaim on self-sacrifice as much as you choose, it is all very fine and very beautiful, but be at least consistent.

 

XX.

 

HUMAN LABOUR, NATIONAL LABOUR.

MACHINE-BREAKING—prohibition of foreign commodities—are two acts founded on the same doctrine.

We see men who clap their hands when a great invention is introduced, and who nevertheless adhere to the protectionist régime. Such men are grossly inconsistent!

With what do they reproach free trade? With encouraging the production by foreigners, more skilled or more favourably situated than we are, of commodities which, but for free trade, would be produced at home. In a word, they accuse free trade of being injurious to national labour?

For the same reason, should they not reproach machinery with accomplishing by natural agents what otherwise would have been done by manual labour, and so of being injurious to human labour?

The foreign workman, better and more favourably situated than the home workman for the production of certain commodities, is, with reference to the latter, a veritable economic madbine, crushing him by competition. In like manner, machinery, which executes a piece of work at a lower price than a certain number of men could do by manual labour, is, in relation to these manual labourers, a veritable foreign competitor, who paralyzes them by his rivalry.

If, then, it is politic to protect national labour against the competition oi foreign labour, it is not less so to protect human labour against the rivalry of mechanical labour.

Thus, every adherent of the régime of protection, if he is logical, should not content himself with prohibiting foreign products; he should proscribe also the products of the shuttle and the plough.

And this is the reason why I like better the logic of those men who, declaiming against the invasion of foreign merchandise, declaim likewise against the exccess of production which is due to the inventive power of the human mind.

Such a man is M. de Saint-Chamans. "One of the strongest arguments against free trade," he says, "is the too extensive employment of machinery, for many workmen are deprived of employment, either by foreign competition, which lowers the price of our manufactured goods, or by instruments which take the place of men in our workshops."[1]

M. de Saint-Chamans has seen clearly the analogy, or, we should rather say, the identity, which obtains between imports and machinery. For this reason, he proscribes both; and it is really agreeable to have to do with such intrepid reasoners, who, even when wrong, carry out their argument to its logical conclusion.

But here is the mess in which they land themselves.

If it be true, a priori, that the domain of invention and that of labour cannot be simultaneously extended but at each other's expense, it must be in those countries where machinery most abounds—in Lancashire, for example—that we should expect to find the fewest workmen. And if, on the other hand, we establish the fact that mechanical power and manual labour coexist, and to a greater extent, among rich nations than among savages, the conclusion is inevitable, that these two powers do not exclude each other.

I cannot convince myself how any thinking being can enjoy a moment's repose in presence of the following dilemma:

Either the inventions of man are not injurious to manual labour, as general facts attest, since there are more of both in England and France than among the Hurons and Cherokees, and that being so, I am on a wrong road, though I know neither where nor when I missed my way; at all events, I see I am wrong, and I should commit the crime of lese-humanity were I to introduce my error into the legislation of my country.

Or else, the discoveries of the human mind limit the amount of manual labour, as special facts appear to indicate; for I see every day some machine or other superseding twenty or a hundred workmen; and then I am forced to acknowledge a flagrant, eternal, and incurable antithesis between the intellectual and physical powers of man—between his progress and his present wellbeing; and in these circumstances I am forced to say that the Creator of man might have endowed him with reason, or with physical strength, with moral force, or with brute force; but that He mocked him by conferring on him, at the same time, faculties which are destructive of each other.

The difficulty is pressing and puzzling; but you contrive to find your way out of it by adopting the strange apophthegm:

In political economy, there are no absolute principles.

In plain language, this means:

"I know not whether it be true or false; I am ignorant of what constitutes general good or evil. I give myself no trouble about that. The immediate effect of each measure upon my own personal interest is the only law which I can consent to recognise."

There are no principles! You might as well say there are no facts; for principles are merely formulas which classify such facts as are well established.

Machinery, and the importation of foreign commodities, certainly produce effects. These effects may be good or bad; on that there may be difference of opinion. But whatever view we take of them, it is reduced to a formula, by one of these two principles: Machinery is a good; or, machinery is an evil: Importations of foreign produce are beneficial; or, such importations are hurtful. But to assert that there are no principles, certainly exhibits the lowest degree of abasement to which the human mind can descend; and I confess that I blush for my country when I hear such a monstrous heresy proclaimed in the French Chambers, and with their assent; that is to say, in the face and with the assent of the élite of our fellow-citizens; and this in order to justify their imposing laws upon us in total ignorance of the real state of the case.

But then I am told to destroy the sophism, by proving that machinery is not hurtful to human labour, nor the importation of foreign products to national labour.

A work like the present cannot well include very full or complete demonstrations. My design is rather to state difficulties than to resolve them; to excite reflection rather than to satisfy doubts. No conviction makes so lasting an impression on the mind as that which it works out for itself. But I shall endeavour nevertheless to put the reader on the right road.

 

XXI.

 

RAW MATERIALS.

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.

It was, in fact, nothing else than the régime of prohibition. Just listen to M. de Saint-Cricq:—

"Labour constitutes the wealth of a nation, because labour alone creates those material objects which our wants demand; and universal ease and comfort consist in the abundance of these things." So much for the principle.

"But this abundance must be produced by national labour. If it were the result of foreign labour, national labour would be immediately brought to a stand." Here lies the error. (See the preceding sophism.)

"What course should an agricultural and manufacturing country take under such circumstances? Reserve its markets for the products of its own soil and of its own industry." Such is the end and design.

"And for that purpose, restrain by duties, and, if necessary, prohibit importation of the products of the soil and industry of other nations." Such are the means.

Let us compare this system with that which the Bordeaux petition advocates.

Commodities are there divided into three classes:—

"The first includes provisions, and raw materials upon which no human labour has been bestowed. In principle, a wise economy would demand that this class should be free of duties" Here we have no labour, no protection.

"The second consists of products which have, to some extent, been prepared. This preparation warrants such products being charged with a certain amount of duty." Here protection begins, because here, according to the petitioners, begins national labour.

"The third comprises goods and products in their finished and perfect state. These contribute nothing to national labour, and we regard this class as the most taxable." Here labour, and production along with it, reach their maximum.

We thus see that the petitioners profess their belief in the doctrine, that foreign labour is injurious to national labour; and this is the error of the prohibitive system.

They demand that the home market should be reserved for home industry. That is the design of the system of prohibition.

They demand that foreign labour should be subjected to restrictions and taxes. These are the means employed by the system of prohibition.

What difference, then, can we possibly discover between the Bordeaux petitioners and the Corypheus of restriction? One difference, and one only—the greater or less extension given to the word labour.

M. de Saint-Cricq extends it to everything, and so he wishes to protect all.

"Labour constitutes all the wealth of a people," he says; "to protect agricultural industry, and all agricultural industry; to protect manufacturing industry, and all manufacturing industry, is the cry which should never cease to be heard in this Chamber."

The Bordeaux petitioners take no labour into account but that of the manufacturers; and for that reason they would admit them to the benefits of protection.

"Raw materials are commodities upon which no human labour has been bestowed. In principle, we should not tax them. Manufactured products can no longer serve the cause of national industry, and we regard them as the best subjects for taxation."

It is not our business in this place to inquire whether protection to national industry is reasonable. M. de Saint-Cricq and the Bordeaux gentlemen are at one upon this point, and, as we have shown in the preceding chapters, we on this subject differ from both.

Our present business is to discover whether it is by M. de Saint-Cricq, or by the Bordeaux petitioners, that the word labour is used in a correct sense.

Now, in this view of the question, we think that M. de Saint-Cricq has very much the best of it; and to prove this, we may suppose them to hold some such dialogue as the following:—

M. DE SAINT-CRICQ: You grant that national labour should be protected. You grant that the products of no foreign labour can be introduced into our market without superseding a corresponding amount of our national labour. Only, you contend that there are a multiplicity of products possessed of value (for they sell), but upon which no human labour has been bestowed [vierges de tout travail humain]. And you enumerate, among other things, corn, flour, meat, cattle, tallow, salt, iron, copper, lead, coal, wools, hides, seeds, etc.

If you will only prove to me that the value of these things is not due to labour, I will grant that it is useless to protect them.

But, on the other hand, if I demonstrate to you that there is as much labour worked up in a 100 fr. worth of wool as in a 100 fr. worth of textile fabrics, you will allow that the one is as worthy of protection as the other.

Now, why is this sack of wool worth 100 fr.? Is it not because that is its cost price? and what does its cost price represent, but the aggregate wages of all the labour, and profits of all the capital, which have contributed to the production of the commodity?

THE BORDEAUX PETITIONERS: Well, perhaps as regards wool you may be right. But take the case of a sack of corn, a bar of iron, a hundredweight of coals,—are these commodities produced by labour? Are they not created by nature?

M. de Saint-Cricq: Undoubtedly nature creates elements of of all these things, but it is labour which produces the value. I was wrong myself in saying that labour created material objects, and that vicious form of expression has led me into other errors. It does not belong to man to create, to make anything out of nothing, be he agriculturist or manufacturer; and if by production is meant creation, all our labour must be marked down as unproductive, and yours, as merchants, more unproductive than all others, excepting perhaps my own.

The agriculturist, then, cannot pretend to have created corn, but he has created value; I mean to say, he has, by his labour, and that of his servants, labourers, reapers, etc., transformed into corn substances which had no resemblance to it whatever. The miller who converts the corn into flour, the baker who converts the flour into bread, do the same thing.

In order that man may be enabled to clothe himself, a multitude of operations are necessary. Prior to all intervention of human labour, the true raw materials of cloth are the air, the water, the heat, the gases, the light, the salts, which enter into its composition. These are the raw materials upon which strictly speaking, no human labour has been employed. They are vierges de tout travail humain; and since they have no value, I should never dream of protecting them. But the first application of labour converts these substances into grass and provender, a second into wool, a third into yarn, a fourth into a woven fabric, a fifth into clothing. Who can assert that the whole of these operations, from the first furrow laid open by the plough, to the last stitch of the tailor's needle, do not resolve themselves into labour?

And it is because these operations are spread over several branches of industry, in order to accelerate and facilitate the accomplishment of the ultimate object, which is to furnish clothing to those who have need of it, that you desire, by an arbitrary distinction, to rank the importance of such works in the order in which they succeed each other, so that the first of the series shall not merit even the name of labour, and that the last, being labour par excellence, shall be worthy of the favours of protection?

THE PETITIONERS: Yes; "we begin to see that corn, like wool, is not exactly a product of which it can be said that no human labour has been bestowed upon it ; but the agriculturist has not, at least, like the manufacturer, done everything himseK or by means of his workmen ; nature has assisted him, and if there is labour worked up in corn, it is not the simple product of labour.

M. DE SAINT-CRICQ: But its value resolves itself exclusively into labour. I am happy that nature concurs in the material formation of grain. I could even wish that it were entirely her work; but you must allow that I have constrained this assistance of nature by my labour, and when I sell you my corn you will remark this, that it is not for the labour of nature that I ask you to pay, but for my own.

But, as you state the case, manufactured commodities are no longer the exclusive products of labour. Is the manufacturer not beholden to nature in his processes? Does he not avail himself of the assistance of the steam-engine, of the pressure of the atmosphere, just as, with the assistance of the plough, I avail myself of its humidity? Has he created the laws of gravitation, of the transmission of forces, of affinity?

THE PETITIONERS: Well, this is the case of the wool over again; but coal is assuredly the work, the exclusive work, of nature. It is indeed a product upon which no human labour has ever been bestowed.

M. DE SAINT-CRICQ: Yes; nature has undoubtedly created the coal, but labour has imparted value to it. For the millions of years during which it was buried 100 fathoms under ground, unknown to everybody, it was destitute of value. It was necessary to search for it—that is labour; it was necessary to send it to market—that is additional labour. Then the price you pay for it in the market is nothing else than the remuneration of the labour of mining and transport.[2]

Thus far we see that M. de Saint-Cricq has the best of the argument; that the value of raw materials, like that of manufactured commodities, represents the cost of production, that is to say, the labour worked up in them; that it is not possible to conceive of a product possessing value, which has had no human labour bestowed on it; that the distinction made by the petitioners is futile in theory; that, as the basis of an unequal distribution of favours, it would be iniquitous in practice, since the result would be that one-third of our countrymen, who happened to be engaged in manufactures, would obtain the advantages of monopoly, on the alleged ground that they produce by labour, whilst the other two-thirds—namely, the agricultural population—would be abandoned to competition under the pretext that they produce without labour.

The rejoinder to this, I am quite sure, will be, that a nation derives more advantages from importing what are called raw materials, whether produced by labour or not, and exporting manufactured commodities. This will be repeated and insisted on, and it is an opinion very widely accredited.

"The more abundant raw materials are," says the Bordeaux petition, "the more are manufactures promoted and multiplied."

"Raw materials," says the same document in another place, "open up an unlimited field of work for the inhabitants of the countries into which they are imported."

"Raw materials," says the Havre petition, "constituting as they do the elements of labour, must be submitted to a different treatment, and be gradually admitted at the lowest rate of duty."

The same petition expresses a wish that manufactured products should be admitted, not gradually, but after an indefinite lapse of time, not at the lowest rate of duty, but at a duty of 20 per cent.

"Among other articles, the low price and abundance of which are a necessity," says the Lyons petition, " manufacturers include all raw materials"

All this is founded on an illusion.

We have seen that all value represents labour. Now, it is quite true that manufacturing labour increases tenfold, sometimes a hundredfold, the value of the raw material; that is to say, it yields ten times, a hundred times, more profit to the nation. Hence men are led to reason thus: The production of a hundredweight of iron brings in a gain of only fifteen shillings to workmen of all classes. The conversion of this hundredweight of iron into the mainsprings of watches raises their earnings to £500; and will any one venture to say that a nation has not a greater interest to secure for its labour a gain of five hundred pounds than a gain of fifteen shillings? We do not exchange a hundredweight of unwrought iron for a hundredweight of watch-springs, nor a hundredweight of unwashed wool for a hundredweight of cashmere shawls; but we exchange a certain value of one of these materials for an equal value of another. Now, to exchange equal value for equal value is to exchange equal labour for equal labour. It is not true, then, that a nation which sells five pounds' worth of wrought fabrics or watch-springs, gains more than a nation which sells five pounds' worth of wool or iron.

In a country where no law can be voted, where no tax can be imposed, but with the consent of those whose dealings the law is to regulate, and whose pockets the tax is to affect, the public cannot be robbed without first being imposed on and misled. Our ignorance is the raw material of every extortion from which we suffer, and we may be certain beforehand, that every sophism is the precursor of an act of plunder. My good friends! when you detect a sophism in a petition, button up your breeches-pocket, for you may be sure that this is the mark aimed at.

Let us see, then, what is the real object secretly aimed at by the shipowners of Bordeaux and Havre, and the manufacturers of Lyons, and which is concealed under the distinction which they attempt to draw between agricultural and manufactured commodities.

"It is principally this first class (that which comprises raw materials, upon which no human labour has been bestowed) which affords," say the Bordeaux petitioners, "the principal support to our merchant shipping. … In principle, a wise economy would not tax this class. … The second (commodities partly wrought up) may be taxed to a certain extent. The third (commodities which call for no more exertion of labour) we regard as the fittest subjects of taxation."

The Havre petitioners "consider that it is indispensable to reduce gradually the duty on raw materials to the lowest rate, in order that our manufacturers may gradually find employment for the shipping interest, which furnishes them with the first and indispensable materials of labour."

The manufacturers could not remain behindhand in politeness towards the shipowners. So the Lyons petition asks for the free introduction of raw materials, "in order to prove," as they express it, "that the interests of the manufacturing are not always opposed to those of the maritime towns."

No; but then the interests of both, understood as the petitioners understand them, are in direct opposition to the interests of agriculture and of consumers.

Well, gentlemen, we have come at length to see what you are aiming at, and the object of your subtle economical distinctions. You desire that the law should restrain the transport of finished goods across the ocean, in order that the more costly conveyance of raw and rough materials, bulky, and mixed up with refuse, should afford greater scope for your merchant shipping, and more largely employ your marine resources. This is what you call a wise economy.

On the same principle, why do you not ask that the pines of Russia should be brought to you with their branches, bark, and roots; the silver of Mexico in its mineral state; the hides of Buenos Ayres sticking to the bones of the diseased carcases from which they have been torn?

I expect that railway shareholders, the moment they are in a majority in the Chambers, will proceed to make a law forbidding the manufacture of the brandy which is consumed in Paris. And why not? Would not a law enforcing the conveyance of ten casks of wine for every cask of brandy afford Parisian industry the indispensable materials of its labour, and give employment to our locomotive resources?

How long will men shut their eyes to this simple truth?

Manufactures, shipping, labour.—all have for end the general, the public good; to create useless industries, to favour superfluous conveyances, to support a greater amount of labour than is necessary, not for the good of the public, but at the expense of the public—is to realize a true petitio principii. It is not labour which is desirable for its own sake; it is consumption. All labour without a commensurate result is a loss. You may as well pay sailors for pitching stones into the sea as pay them for transporting useless refuse. Thus, we arrive at the result to which all economic sophisms, numerous as they are, conduct us, namely, confounding the means with the end, and developing the one at the expense of the other.

 
 

XXII.

 

METAPHORS.

A SOPHISM sometimes expands, and runs through the whole texture of a long and elaborate theory. More frequently, it shrinks and contracts, assumes the guise of a principle, and lurks in a word or a phrase.


shipping, and more largely employ your marine resources. This is what you call a wise economy.

On the same principle, why do you not ask that the pines of Russia should be brought to you with their branches, bark, and roots; the silver of Mexico in its mineral state; the hides of Buenos Ayres sticking to the bones of the diseased carcases from which they have been torn?

I expect that railway shareholders, the moment they are in a majority in the Chambers, will proceed to make a law forbidding the manufacture of the brandy which is consumed in Paris. And why not? Would not a law enforcing the conveyance of ten casks of wine for every cask of brandy afford Parisian industry the indispensable materials of its labour, and give employment to our locomotive resources?

How long will men shut their eyes to this simple truth?

Manufactures, shipping, labour.—all have for end the general, the public good; to create useless industries, to favour superfluous conveyances, to support a greater amount of labour than is necessary, not for the good of the public, but at the expense of the public—is to realize a true petitio principii. It is not labour which is desirable for its own sake; it is consumption. All labour without a commensurate result is a loss. You may as well pay sailors for pitching stones into the sea as pay them for transporting useless refuse. Thus, we arrive at the result to which all economic sophisms, numerous as they are, conduct us, namely, confounding the means with the end, and developing the one at the expense of the other.

 
 

XXII.

 

METAPHORS.

A SOPHISM sometimes expands, and runs through the whole texture of a long and elaborate theory. More frequently, it shrinks and contracts, assumes the guise of a principle, and lurks in a word or a phrase.

May God protect us from the devil and from metaphors! was the exclamation of Paul-Louis. And it is difficult to say which of them has done most mischief in this world of ours. The devil, you will say; for he has put the spirit of plunder into all our hearts. True, but he has left free the means of repressing abuses by the resistance of those who suffer from them. It is the sophism which paralyzes this resistance. The sword which malice puts into the hands of assailants would be powerless, did sophistry not break the buckler which should shield the party assailed. It was with reason, therefore, that Malebranche inscribed on the title-page of his work this sentence: L'erreur est la cause de la misère des hommes.

Let us see in what way this takes place. Ambitious men are often actuated by sinister and wicked intentions; their design, for example, may be to implant in the public mind the germ of international hatred. This fatal germ may develop itself, light up a general conflagration, arrest civilization, cause torrents of blood to be shed, and bring upon the country the most terrible of all scourges, invasion. At any rate, and apart from this, such sentiments of hatred lower us in the estimation of other nations, and force Frenchmen who retain any sense of justice to blush for their country. These are undoubtedly most serious evils; and to guard the public against the underhand practices of those who would expose the country to such hazard, it is only necessary to see clearly into their designs. How do they manage to conceal them? By the use of metaphors. They twist, distort, and pervert the meaning of three or four words, and the thing is done.

The word invasion itself is a good illustration of this.

A French ironmaster exclaims: Preserve us from the invasion of English iron. An English landowner exclaims in return: Preserve us from the invasion of French corn. And then they proceed to interpose barriers between the two countries. These barriers create isolation, isolation gives rise to hatred, hatred to war, war to invasion. What does it signify? cry the two sophists; is it not better to expose ourselves to an eventual invasion than accept an invasion which is certain? And the people believe them, and the barriers are kept up.

And yet what analogy is there between an exchange and an invasion? What possible similarity can be imagined between a ship of war which comes to vomit fire and devastation on our towns, and a merchant ship which comes to offer a free voluntary exchange of commodities for commodities?

The same thing holds of the use made of the word inundation. This word is ordinarily used in a bad sense, for we often see our fields injured, and our harvests carried away by floods. If, however, they leave on our soil something of greater value than what they carry away, like the inundations of the Nile, we should be thankful for them, as the Egyptians are. Before we declaim, then, against the inundations of foreign products—before proceeding to restrain them by irksome and costly obstacles—we should inquire to what class they belong, and whether they ravage or fertilize. What should we think of Mehemet Ali, if, instead of raising, at great cost, bars across the Nile, to extend wider its inundations, he were to spend his money in digging a deeper channel to prevent Egypt being soiled by the foreign slime which descends upon her from the Mountains of the Moon? We display exactly the same degree of wisdom and sense, when we desire, at the cost of millions, to defend our country … From what? From the benefits which nature has bestowed on other climates.

Among the metaphors which conceal a pernicious theory, there is no one more in use than that presented by the words tribute and tributary.

These words have now become so common that they are used as synonymous with purchase and purchaser, and are employed indiscriminately.

And yet a tribute is as different from a purchase as a theft is from an exchange; and I should like quite as well to hear it said, Cartouche has broken into my strong-box and purchased a thousand pounds, as to hear one of our deputies repeat, We have paid Germany tribute for a thousand horses which she has sold us.

For what distinguishes the act of Cartouche from a purchase is, that he has not put into my strong-box, and with my consent, a value equivalent to what he has taken out of it.

And what distinguishes our remittance of £20,000 which we have made to Germany from a tribute paid to her is this, that she has not received the money gratuitously, but has given us in exchange a thousand horses, which we have judged to be worth the £20,000.

Is it worth while exposing seriously such an abuse of language? Yes; for these terms are used seriously both in newspapers and in books.

Do not let it be supposed that these are instances of a mere lapsus linguæ on the part of certain ignorant writers! For one writer who abstains from so using them, I will point you out ten who admit them, and amongst the rest, the D'Argouts, the Dupins, the Villeles—peers, deputies, ministers of state,—men, in short, whose words are laws, and whose sophisms, even the most transparent, serve as a basis for the government of the country.

A celebrated modern philosopher has added to the categories of Aristotle the sophism which consists in employing a phrase which includes a petiiio principii. He gives many examples of it; and he should have added the word tributary to his list The business, in fact, is to discover whether purchases made from foreigners are useful or hurtful. They are hurtful, you say. And why? Because they render us tributaries to the foreigner. This is just to use a word which implies the very thing to be proved.

It may be asked how this abuse of words first came to be introduced into the rhetoric of the monopolists?

Money leaves the country to satisfy the rapacity of a victorious enemy. Money also leaves the country to pay for commodities. An analogy is established between the two cases by taking into account only the points in which they resemble each other, and keeping out of view the points in which they differ.

Yet this circumstance—that is to say, the non-reimbursement in the first case, and the reimbursement voluntarily agreed upon in the second—establishes betwixt them such a difference that it is really impossible to class them in the same category. To hand over a hundred pounds by force to a man who has caught you by the throat, or to hand them over voluntarily to a man who furnishes you with what you want, are things as different as light and darkness. You might as well assert that it is a matter of indifference whether you throw your bread into the river, or eat it, for in both cases the bread is destroyed. The vice of this reasoning, like that applied to the word tribute, consists in asserting an entire similitude between two cases, looking only at their points of resemblance, and keeping out of sight the points in which they differ.

 
 

CONCLUSION.

ALL the sophisms which I have hitherto exposed have reference to a single question — ^the system of restriction. There are other tempting subjects, such as vested interests, inopportuneness, draining away our money, etc., etc., with which I shall not at present trouble the reader.

Nor does Social Economy confine herself to this limited circle. Fourierisme, Saint-Simonisme, communism, mysticism, sentimentalism, false philanthropy, affected aspirations after a chimerical equality and fraternity; questions relating to luxury, to wages, to machinery, to the pretended tyranny of capital, to colonies, to markets and vents for produce, to conquests, to population, to association, emigration, taxes, and loans,—have encumbered the field of science with a multiplicity of parasitical arguments, of sophisms which afford work to the hoe and the grubber of the diligent economist.

I am quite aware of the inconvenience attending this plan, or rather of this absence of plan. To attack one by one so many incoherent sophisms, which sometimes run foul of each other, and more frequently run into each other, is to enter into an irregular and capricious struggle, and involve ourselves in perpetual repetitions.

How much I should prefer to explain simply the situation in which things are, without occupying myself with the thousand aspects under which ignorance sees them! … To explain the laws under which societies prosper or decay, is to demolish virtually all these sophisms at once. When Laplace described all that was then known of the movements of the heavenly bodies, he dissipated, without even naming them, all the


the air which we breathe; and yet the realization of his desires would not be at variance with the good of society.

It may be said that if these wishes were granted, the work of the producer would become more and more limited, and would end with being stopped for want of aliment. But why? Because, on this extreme supposition, all imaginable wants and desires would be fully satisfied. Man, like Omnipotence, would create all things by a simple act of volition. Well, on this hypotheses, what reason should we have to regret the stoppage of industrial production?

I made the supposition, not long ago, of the existence of an assembly composed of workmen, each member of which, in his capacity of producer, should have the power of passing a law embodying his secret wish, and I said that the code which would emanate from that assembly would be monopoly systematized, the theory of scarcity reduced to practice.

In the same way, a chamber in which each should consult exclusively his own immediate interest as a consumer, would tend to systematize liberty, to suppress all restrictive measures, to overthrow all artificial barriers—in a word, to realize the theory of plenty.

Hence it follows:

That to consult exclusively the immediate interest of the producer, is to consult an interest which is anti-social;

That to take for basis exclusively the immediate interest of the consumer, would be to take for basis the general interest.

Let me enlarge on this view of the subject a little, at the risk of being prolix.

A radical antagonism exists between seller and buyer.[3]

The former desires that the subject of the bargain should be scarce, its supply limited, and its price high.

The latter desires that it should be abundant, its supply large, and its price low.

The laws, which should be at least neutral, take the part of the seller against the buyer, of the producer against the consumer, of dearness against cheapness,[4] of scarcity against abundance.

They proceed, if not intentionally, at least logically, on this datum: a nation is rich when it is in want of everything.

For they say, it is the producer that we must favour by securing him a good market for his product. For this purpose it is necessary to raise the price, and in order to raise the price we must restrict the supply; and to restrict the supply is to create scarcity.

Just let us suppose that at the present moment, when all these laws are in full force, we make a complete inventory, not in value, but in weight, measure, volume, quantity, of all the commodities existing in the country, which are fitted to satisfy the wants and tastes of its inhabitants—corn, meat, cloth, fuel, colonial products, etc.

Suppose, again, that next day all the barriers which oppose the introduction of foreign products are removed.

Lastly, suppose that in order to test the result of this reform, they proceed three months afterwards to make a new inventory.

Is it not true that there will be found in France more corn, cattle, cloth, linen, iron, coal, sugar, etc., at the date of the second, than at the date of the first inventory?

So true is this, that our protective tariffs have no other purpose than to hinder all these things from reaching us, to restrict the supply, and prevent depreciation and abundance.

Now I would ask, Are the people who live under our laws better fed because there is less bread, meat, and sugar in the country? Are they better clothed, because there is less cloth and linen? Better warmed, because there is less coal? Better assisted in their labour, because there are fewer tools and less iron, copper, and machinery?

But it may be said, If the foreigner inundates us with his products, he will carry away our money.

And what does it matter? Men are not fed on money. They do not clothe themselves with gold, or warm themselves with silver. What matters it whether there is more or less money in the country, if there is more bread on our sideboards,

more meat in our larders, more linen in our wardrobes, more firewood in our cellars.

Restrictive laws always land us in this dilenmia:—

Either you admit that they produce scarcity, or you do not.

If you admit it, you avow by the admission that you inflict on the people all the injury in your power. If you do not admit it, you deny having restricted the supply and raised prices, and consequenfly you deny having favoured the producer.

What you do is either hurtful or profitless, injurious or ineffectual. It never can be attended with any useful result.


References[edit]

  1. Du Système d'Impôts, p. 438.
  2. I do not particularize the parts of the remuneration falling to the lessee, the capitalist, etc., for several reasons:—1st, Because, on looking at the thing more closely, you will see that the remuneration always resolves itself into the reimbursement of advances or the payment of anterior labour. 2dly, Because, under the term labour, I include not only the wages of the workmen, but the legitimate recompense of everything which co-operates in the work of production. 3dly (and above all), Because the production of manufactured products is, like that of raw materials, burdened with auxiliary remunerations other than the mere expense of manual labour; and, moreover, this objection, frivolous in itself, would apply as much to the most delicate processes of manufacture, as to the rudest operations of agriculture.
  3. The author has modified somewhat the terms of this proposition in a posterior work.—See Harmonies Économiques, chaper xi.—EDITOR.
  4. We have not in French a substantive to express the idea opposed to that of dearness (cheapness). It is somewhat remarkable that the popular instinct expresses the idea by this periphrase, marché avantageux, bon marché. The protectionists would do well to reform this locution, for it implies an economic system opposed to theirs.