Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY No. L. - The Principles of Free Trade
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
ESSAY No. L. - Condy Raguet, The Principles of Free Trade 
The Principles of Free Trade illustrated in a series of short and familiar Essays originally published in the Banner of the Constitution, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, 1840).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
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.
ESSAY No. L.
august 4, 1830.
Short cuts. The American System adverse to the policy of procuring commodities at the least cost of labour.
EVERY person who has passed any time in the country, must have observed how very sagacious the farmers are in finding out short cuts. If there be a blacksmith’s shop which can be got at by a shorter route than the main road, you are sure to see a foot path crossing the fields in one of those crooked-straight lines that invariably characterize a track from one set of bars to another. Now, why does the farmer go across the fields, sometimes treading down his grain and destroying the productive power of a long strip of his land? Why does he not go along the main road? The answer is simple enough: because the value of the time and labour he saves by going the shortest way, more than counterbalances the loss of his grain.
This practice of taking short cuts, is visible every where, when labourers work for themselves. There is a sort of instinct which leads people of every grade of intellect to find out how they can do the most with the least trouble. Even the brute creation is governed by the same principle, and cattle always take the shortest route they can find to the watering place. In agriculture there is a constant effort going on to make two blades of grass grow where one only used to grow before. In commerce and navigation there is every day some improvement by which transportation can be effected with less labour and in less time than before, whilst in manufactures, so numerous have been the short cuts discovered by the ingenuity of man, that in some branches, one man can do what it before required ten to perform.
To the persons who are practically engaged in these various pursuits, these improvements are known and are distinctly visible. But to those who are not so engaged, they only become manifest in the effect which they are seen to produce, that is, a fall in the prices of articles. This fall in prices is nothing in the world but an evidence that somebody has found out a short cut, by which the cheapened articles can be produced with less labour, or in less time, than before, and hence cheapness is synonymous with a diminution of labour. If a man can earn to day, by one day’s work, or what is the same thing, the price of one day’s work, as much of any particular article, as he could yesterday only procure with two days’ work, it is very clear that his condition is bettered; and as well might one attempt to prove that the moon was made of green cheese, as to prove that cheapness is not a solid blessing, inasmuch as it enables people to get more of a thing than they could otherwise get with the same labour.
Any system, therefore, whether it be called “American,” or any thing else, the object of which is to keep up the prices of goods, is a system which declares that it is better for people to have few things than many things, one coat than two coats, one pound of sugar than two pounds, one bushel of salt than two bushels, one pound of coffee than two pounds, one ploughshare, one axe, one spade, one shovel, than double the number. It is, in fine, a system which decrees that the farmer shall not take a short cut to the blacksmith’s shop, but shall go all the way around by the road, when, perhaps, his ploughshare wants sharpening, and the weather threatens to rain, and the delay may be fatal to his interests. Many a crop has been lost by an hour’s loss of time.