Economic Sophisms/Chapter 17

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Economic Sophisms by Frédéric Bastiat
Chapter 17
A Negative Railway

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


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.






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,