Front Page Titles (by Subject) 79.: Letter to Richard Cobden - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
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79.: Letter to Richard Cobden - Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics, translated from the French by Jane and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Jacques de Guenin and Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation editor Dennis O’Keeffe (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
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Letter to Richard Cobden
Paris, 20 April 1847
[vol. 1, p. 157]
My dear friend, your letter of the 7th, written from Rome, found me at my post. I spent three weeks with a sick relative. I hoped that this journey would also restore me to health, but this has not been so. Influenza has degenerated into a stubborn cold and I am currently spitting blood.183 What astonishes and frightens me is to see how far a few drops of blood expelled from the lungs can weaken our poor bodily system, especially the head. I find it impossible to work and very probably I will be asking the council for a further leave of absence. I will take advantage of this to go to Lyons and Marseilles, to strengthen the links with our various associations, which are not as closely in agreement as I would wish.
I have no need to tell you how much I share your views on the political results of free trade. We are being accused within the democratic and socialist party of being devoted to the cult of material interests and of bringing everything down to questions of wealth. I must admit that when it concerns the masses I do not share this stoic disdain for wealth. This word does not mean having a few écus more; it means bread for those who are hungry, clothing for those who are cold, education, independence, and dignity. But after all, if the sole result of free trade were to increase public wealth I would not spend any more time on it than on any other matter relating to agriculture or industry. What I see above all in our campaigning is the opportunity to confront a few prejudices and to have a few just ideas penetrate the consciousness of the general public. This is an indirect benefit that outweighs the direct benefits of free trade a hundredfold, and if we are experiencing so many obstacles in spreading our economic argument, I believe that providence has put these obstacles in our path precisely so that the indirect benefits can be felt. If freedom were to be proclaimed tomorrow, the general public would remain in its present rut with regard to other considerations, but initially I am obliged to deal with these ancillary ideas with extreme caution so as not to upset our own colleagues. For this reason, I am concentrating my efforts on clarifying the economic problem. This will be the starting point for more advanced views. I only hope that God will allow me three or four years of strength and life! Sometimes I tell myself that if I worked alone and for my own account, I would not have to take such precautions and my career would have been more useful.
During the three weeks I was away, a few disagreements broke out within our associations. These concerned the difficult shade of meaning between revenue-raising duties and protectionist duties.184 A few of our colleagues have resigned, and it so happens that these are the most industrious. They wanted to set aside the question of raising revenue, even with respect to wheat. The majority wanted total exemption for subsistence products and raw materials. This is an initial cause of dissent. There is another relating to our finances, which are far from being adequate. This is the reason why I want to travel to the Midi, but I will not leave without warning you.
I knew about the Naples reform; M. Bursotti was good enough to send me some documents on this. I gave them to Garnier, my colleague, who has doubtless lost them since he has not returned them to me. If you have the opportunity to see M. Bursotti again, please convey my good wishes and regards to him. This also applies to MM Pettiti, Scialoja, etc.
You mention the state of our newspapers, but you probably do not know the extent and depth of the problem. The art of writing is so debased that a gang of young twenty-year-olds is dictating to the entire world through the press before they have themselves studied or learned anything. But this is not the worst. The leaders are all linked to politicians and any matter becomes a ministerial question in their hands. If only God allowed the problem to stop there! There is also venality, which knows no bounds. Prejudice, errors, and calumny are priced at so much a line. One person has sold himself to the Russians, another to protectionism, a third to the university, and yet another to the banks, etc. And we call ourselves civilized! I truly believe that at the very most we have a foothold in the path of civilization.
Will you allow me, my dear friend, to acknowledge with some reservations the accuracy of this axiom, “Trade is the exchange of the superfluous for the essential”? When two men, in order to carry out more work in the same time, agree to share the work, can it be said that one of the two or even neither of the two is making a superfluous contribution? Is the poor devil who works twelve hours a day to earn his bread making a superfluous contribution? Trade, in which I believe, is no more than the separation of occupations or the division of labor.
It would be desirable for the pope185 to make his views on economics known, even though he cannot carry them out. This would encourage part of the clergy in France, who are not very informed about our cause but who are not opposed to it either, to support us.
[183 ]This is the first explicit reference to the disease that eventually killed Bastiat. His coughing up of blood suggests that he was suffering from tuberculosis or consumption. In his last letters he also mentions a painful larynx, which might have been a symptom of throat cancer.
[184 ]In the absence of an income tax, state revenue in the nineteenth century largely depended on indirect taxes and import duties. Revenue-raising duties would be a low rate of tax applied to all goods. Protectionist duties would be much higher and applied only to those goods that would protect domestic vested interests.
[185 ]Pius IX.