Economic Sophisms/Chapter 15

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Economic Sophisms by Frédéric Bastiat
Chapter 15
Reciprocity again
 

XV.

 

RECIPROCITY AGAIN.

M. DE SAINT-CRICQ inquires, "Whether it is certain that the foreigner will buy from us as much as he sells?"

M. de Dombasle asks, "What reason we have to believe that English producers will take from us, rather than from some other country of the world, the commodities they have need of, and an amount of commodities equivalent in value to that of their exports to France?"

I wonder how so many men who call themselves practical men should have all reasoned without reference to practice!

In practice, does a single exchange take place, out of a hundred, out of a thousand, out of ten thousand perhaps, which represents the direct barter of commodity for commodity? Never since the introduction of money has any agriculturist said: I want to buy shoes, hats, advice, lessons; but only from the shoemaker, the hat-maker, the lawyer, the professor, who will purchase from me corn to an exactly equivalent value. And why should nations bring each other under a yoke of this kind?

Practically how are such matters transacted?

Let us suppose a people shut out from external relations. A man, we shall suppose, produces wheat. He sends it to the home market, and offers it for the highest price he can obtain. He receives in exchange—what? Coins, which are just so many drafts or orders, varying very much in amount, by means of which he can draw, in his turn, from the national stores, when he judges it proper, and subject to due competition, everything which he may want or desire. Ultimately, and at the end of the operation, he will have drawn from the mass the exact equivalent of what he has contributed to it, and, in value, his consumption will exactly equal his production.

If the exchanges of the supposed nation with foreigners are left free, it is no longer to the national, but to the general, market that each sends his contributions, and, in turn, derives his supplies for consumption. He has no need to care whether

what he sends into the market of the world is purchased by a fellow-countryman or by a foreigner; whether the drafts or orders he receives come from a Frenchman or an Englishman; whether the commodities for which he afterwards exchanges these drafts or orders are produced on this or on the other side of the Ehine or the Pyrenees. There is always in each individual case an exact balance between what is contributed and what is received, between what is poured into and what is drawn out of the great common reservoir; and if this is true of each individual, it is true of the nation at large.

The only difference between the two cases is, that in the last each has to face a more extended market both as regards sales and purchases, and has consequently more chances of transacting both advantageously.

This objection may perhaps be urged: If everybody enters into a league not to take from the general mass the commodities of a certain individual, that individual cannot, in his turn, obtain from the mass what he is in want of. It is the same of nations.

The reply to this is, that if a nation cannot obtain what it has need of in the general market, it will no longer contribute anything to that market. It will work for itself. It will be forced in that case to submit to what you want to impose on it beforehand—isolation.

And this will realize the ideal of the prohibitive régime.

Is it not amusing to think that you inflict upon the nation, now and beforehand, this very régime, from a fear that it might otherwise run the risk of arriving at it independently of your exertions?

 

 

XVI.

 

OBSTRUCTED NAVIGATION PLEADING FOR THE PROHIBITIONISTS.

SOME years ago I happened to be at Madrid, and went to the Cortes. The subject of debate was a proposed treaty with Portugal for improving the navigation of the Douro. One of the