Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1: Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons Relating to the Customs Service 1 - Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850
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1: Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons Relating to the Customs Service 1 - Frédéric Bastiat, Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850, Jacques de Guenin, General Editor. Translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Pascal Salin. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe. Academic Editor, David M. Hart (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012).
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Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons Relating to the Customs Service1
[vol. 1, p. 231. “Réflexions sur les pétitions de Bordeaux, Le Havre et Lyon, concernant les Douanes.” April 1834. n.p.]
Free trade will probably suffer the fate of all freedoms; it will be introduced into our legislation only after it has taken hold of our minds. For this reason, we should applaud the efforts of the traders in Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons even if the only effect of these efforts in the immediate future is to draw public attention to the matter.
However, if it is true that a reform has to be generally understood to be firmly established, it follows that nothing can be more disastrous than something that misleads opinion. And nothing is more likely to mislead it than writings that clamor for freedom on the basis of the doctrines of monopoly.
It would doubtless require a great deal of temerity for a simple farmer to disturb, through bold criticism, the unanimous chorus of praise that welcomed the demands of French trade both inside and outside France. No less would be needed to confirm his decision to do so than a firm conviction, I would even say a certainty, that such petitioning would be as disastrous in its effects on the general interest, and in particular on the agricultural interests of France, as its doctrinal effects would be on the progress of economic science.
In speaking out in the name of agriculture against the customs plans presented by the petitioners, I feel the need to begin by declaring that what arouses my complaints in these plans is not the liberal element in their premises, but the exclusive content of their conclusions.
They demand that all protection be removed from primary products, that is to say from agricultural work, but that protection be maintained for the manufacturing industry.
I have come not to defend the protection that they are attacking but to attack the protection that they are defending.
Privilege is being claimed for a few; I come to claim freedom for all.
Agriculture owes its cosseted sales to the monopoly it exercises and its unfairly priced purchases to the monopoly to which it is subject. If it is just to relieve it of the first of these, it is no less so to free it from the second.2
To wish to deliver us to universal competition without subjecting manufacturers to the same situation is to damage our sales without relieving our purchases and to do just the opposite for manufacturers. If this is freedom, may I then have a definition of privilege?
It is up to agriculture to reject such attempts.
I make so bold here as to call upon the petitioners themselves and especially M. Henri Fonfrède. I urge him to refute my complaints or to support them.
I will show:
Between the petitioners’ proposals and the protectionist system there is community of principle, error, aim, and means.
What is the protectionist system? Let us hear M. de Saint Cricq’s views on this.
“Work constitutes the wealth of a people, since on its own it has created material things that we need, and because general affluence consists in an abundance of these things.” This is the principle.
“But it is necessary for this abundance to flow from the nation’s work. If it were based on foreign work, domestic work would stop immediately.” This is the error.
“Therefore, what should a farming and manufacturing country do? Limit its market to the products of its territory and its industry.” This is the aim.
“And to do this, limit through duties, and prohibit as necessary, the products of the territory and industry of other peoples.” This is the means.
Let us compare this approach with that of the petition from Bordeaux.
The petition divides all goods into four categories. The first and second cover food products and raw materials that have not yet undergone any human transformation. In principle a wise economy would require that these two categories not be taxed.
The third category is made up of objects that have undergone some preparatory work. This preparation enables a few duties to be levied on them. It can be seen, therefore, that according to the doctrine of the petitioners, protection begins as soon as national work begins.
The fourth category is made up of finished products that can under no circumstances be useful to national work. We consider these, says the petition, to be the most properly taxable.
Thus the petitioners claim that foreign competition damages national work; this is the error of the protectionist regime. They demand protection for work; this is the aim of the protectionist regime. They make this protection consist of duties on foreign work; this is the means used by the protectionist regime.
These two systems differ through one additional error for which the petitioners are responsible.
However, there is an essential difference between these two doctrines. It lies entirely in the greater or lesser extension given to the meaning of the word work.
M. de Saint-Cricq extends it to cover everything. He therefore wishes to protect everything.
“Work constitutes the entire wealth of a people,” says he. “The protection of the agriculture industry, the entire agriculture industry, the manufacturing industry, the entire manufacturing industry, is the cry that will always resound around this chamber.”
The petitioners regard as work only that which is done by manufacturers, and therefore they accord the favors of protection only to this.
“Raw materials have not yet undergone any human transformation, andin principle they should not be taxed. Manufactured objects can no longer be useful to national work; we consider these to be the most properly taxable.”
This gives rise to three questions which require examination: 1. Are raw materials the outcome of work? 2. If they are not something else, is this work so different from the work done by factories that it would be reasonable to subject them to opposing regimes? 3. If the same regime suits all types of work, should this regime be one of free trade or one of protectionism?
1. Are raw materials the outcome of work?
And precisely what are, I ask you, all the articles that the petitioners include in the first two categories of their proposals? What are all types of wheat, flour, farm animals, dried and salted meat, pork, bacon, salt, iron, copper, lead, coal, wool, skins, and seeds, if they are not outcomes of work?
What, it will be said, is an iron ingot, a ball of wool, or a bushel of wheat if not a product of work? Is it not nature that creates each?
Doubtless, nature creates the elements of all these things, but it is human work that produces their value. It is not given to men, to manufacturers, any more than to farmers, to create or make something out of nothing, and if by work you mean creation, all our work would be non productive and that of traders more so than any other!
The farmer therefore does not claim to have created wool, but he does claim to have produced value, by which I mean that through his work and expenditures he has transformed into wool substances that in no way originally resembled wool. What else does the manufacturer do when he converts wool into fabric?
In order for men to clothe themselves in fabric, a host of operations is necessary. Before the intervention of any human work, the true raw materials of this product are air, water, heat, light, and the gases and salts that have to be included in its composition. An initial operation converts these substances into fodder, a second into wool, a third into thread, and a fourth into a garment. Who would dare to say that no part of this operation constitutes work, from the first furrow of the plough that starts it to the final stitch that completes it?
And since, for greater speed in the completion of the end product—the garment—the work is divided among several categories of workers, you wish, through an arbitrary distinction, to determine that the sequence of these tasks should be the reason for their importance, so that the first does not even deserve the title of work and the last, work par excellence, should be the only one worthy of the favors of monopoly! I do not believe that one could push the spirit of system and partiality any further than this.
The farmer, people will say, unlike the manufacturer, has not done everything himself. Nature has helped him and, while there is some work involved, not everything in wheat is work.
But everything in its value is work, I repeat. I agree that nature has contributed to the material growing of the grain; I agree that this growth is exclusively its work; but you have to agree that I have obliged nature to do this by my work, and when I sell you wheat, I am not being paid for the work of nature but for my own work.
And, in this respect, manufactured objects would not be the products of work either. Are not manufacturers also helped by nature? Do they not make use of the weight of the atmosphere when using steam engines, just as I use its humidity with the help of the plough? Did they create the laws of gravity, of the transmission of force, and of affinity?
You will agree, perhaps, that wool and wheat are the product of work. But coal, you will say, is certainly the work, and only the work, of nature.
Yes, nature has made coal (for it has made everything), but work has created its value. Coal has no value when it is a hundred feet below ground. You have to find it, and this is work. It has to be taken to market, and this is work of a different kind; and mark my words, the price of coal in the marketplace is nothing other than the sum of all the wages paid for all the work of extraction and transport.
The distinction people have tried to make between raw materials and manufactures is therefore theoretically empty. As the basis for an unequal distribution of privilege, it would be iniquitous in practice, unless one wished to claim that although both are the result of work, the importing of one category is more useful than the other in the development of public wealth. This is the second question I have to examine.
2. Is it more advantageous to a nation to import so-called raw materials than manufactured objects?
Here I have to combat a very firmly entrenched belief.
“The more abundant the raw materials,” says the Bordeaux petition, “the more manufactures increase in number and expand.” “Raw materials,” it says elsewhere, “provide endless opportunity for the work of the inhabitants of the countries into which they are imported.” “Since raw materials,” says the petition from Le Havre, “are the basic units of work, they have to be subject to a different regime and immediately admitted at the lowest rate of duty.”3 “Among other articles whose low price and abundance are a necessity,” states the petition from Lyons, “manufacturers all mention raw materials.”
Doubtless it is advantageous for a nation that so-called raw materials should be abundant and at a low price; but I ask you, would it be advantageous for that nation if manufactured objects were high priced and few in number? In both cases this abundance and cheapness must be the fruit of free trade or this scarcity and high price must be the fruit of monopoly. What is supremely absurd and iniquitous is to want the abundance of the one to be due to free trade and the scarcity of the other to be due to privilege.
It will still be insisted and said, I am sure, that the duties that protect the work of factories are demanded in the general interest and that to import articles that require no further human intervention is to lose all the profit of labor, etc., etc.
Note the terrain into which the petitioners are being drawn. Is this not the terrain of the protectionist regime? Could M. de Saint-Cricq not produce a similar argument against the importation of wheat, wool, coal, and all materials that are, as we have seen, the products of work?
To refute this latter argument and prove that the import of foreign products does not damage national work is therefore to demonstrate that the regime of competition is just as suitable for manufactured objects as for raw materials. This is the third question I have asked myself.
In the interests of brevity, may I be allowed to reduce this demonstration to one example that includes them all?
An Englishman may export a pound of wool to France in a variety of forms, as a fleece, as thread, as fabric, or as a garment, but in all cases he will not import an equal quantity of value, or, if you like, of work. Let us suppose that this pound of wool is worth three francs raw, six francs as thread, twelve francs as fabric, and twenty-four francs when made into a garment. Let us also suppose that in whatever form the exportation is made the payment is made in wine, for, after all, it has to be made in something and nothing stops us from supposing that it will be in wine.
If the Englishman imports raw wool, we will export three francs’ worth of wine; we will export six francs’ worth if the wool arrives as thread, twelve francs’ worth if it arrives as fabric, and finally, twenty-four francs’ worth if it arrives in the form of a garment. In this last case, the spinner, the manufacturer, and the tailor will have been deprived of work and profit, I know; one sector of national work will have been discouraged to the same extent, as I also know; but another sector of work that is equally national, wine making, will have been encouraged in precisely the same proportion. And since the English wool can arrive in France in the form of a garment only to the extent that all the workers who combined to produce it in that form are superior to French workers, all things considered, the consumer of the garment will have gained an advantage which may be considered to be a net one, both for him and for the nation.
Change the nature of the goods, the stage of their evaluation, and their source, but think the matter through clearly and the result will always be the same.
I know that people will tell me that the payment might have been made not in wine but in cash. I will draw attention to the fact that this objection could equally well be advanced against the importation of a primary product as against that of a manufactured product. Besides, I am sure that it would not be made by any trader worthy of the name. As for the others, I will limit myself to saying to them that money is a domestic or foreign product. If it is the former, we can do nothing better than to export it. If it is the latter, it must have been paid for out of national work. If we acquired it from Mexico, exchanging it for wine for example, and we then exchanged the wine for an English garment, the result is still wine exchanged for a garment, and we are totally in line with the preceding example.
The petitioners’ plan is a system of privileges demanded by trade and industry at the expense of agriculture and the general public.
That the petitioners’ plan creates unjust privileges that benefit manufacturers is a fact that, I believe, is only too well proved.
However, it is doubtless not so clear how it also grants privileges to trade. Let us examine this.
All other things being equal, it is to the public’s advantage for raw materials to be used on the very site of their production.
For this reason, if people in Paris want to consume eau-de-vie from Armagnac, it is in Armagnac, not in Paris, that the wine is distilled.
It would, however, not be impossible to find a hauler who prefers to transport eight barrels of wine than one barrel of eau-de-vie.
It would not be impossible either for a distiller to be found in Paris who preferred to import the primary rather than the finished product.
It would not be impossible, if this came within the field of protectionism, for our two industrialists to come to an understanding to demand that wine be allowed to enter the capital freely but that eau-de-vie be taxed with heavy duties.
It would not be impossible that, when they sent their demand to the protectionist authority, in order to conceal their selfish outlooks the better, the hauler would mention only the interests of the distiller and the distiller only those of the hauler.
It would not be impossible for the protectionist authority to see an opportunity to acquire an industry for Paris in this plan and to increase its own importance.
Finally, and unfortunately, it would not be impossible for the good people of Paris to see in all this only the extended views of those enjoying protection and the protectionist authority and to forget that, in the final instance, it is on them that the costs and contingencies of protectionism always fall.
Who would wish to believe that the petitioners from Bordeaux, Lyons, and Le Havre, following the clamor of generous and liberal doctrines, would achieve by common accord a similar result and a totally identical system organized on a grand scale?
“It is mainly in this second category (the one that includes materials that have not yet undergone any human transformation),” the petitioners from Bordeaux say, “that the mainstay of our merchant navy is to be found. . . . In principle, a wise economy would require that this category, as well as the first, not be liable to duty. The third might have duties levied and the fourth we consider to be the most appropriate to the levying of duties.”
“Whereas,” say the petitioners from Le Havre, “it is essential to reduce raw materials immediately to the lowest rate of duty, so that industry can in turn put to work the naval forces that supply it with its initial and essential means of work. . . .”
The manufacturers could not be more polite to shipowners. For this reason, the petition from Lyons requests the free introduction of raw materials to prove, it is said, “that the interests of manufacturing towns are not always in opposition to those of coastal ones.”
Do we not seem to hear the Parisian hauler, whom I mentioned before, formulating his request thus: “Whereas wine is the principal element I transport, in principle it should not be liable to duty; as for eau-de-vie, this can have duty levied on it. Whereas it is essential to reduce wine immediately to the lowest rate of duty so that the distiller can use my vehicles, which supply him with the initial and essential element of his work . . .” and to hear the distiller requesting the free import of wine to Paris and the exclusion of eau-de-vie, “to show that the interests of distillers are not always in opposition to those of haulers.”
In sum, what would be the results of the system being proposed? They are these:
It is at the price resulting from competition that we, the farmers, sell our primary products to manufacturers. It is at the price resulting from monopoly that we buy it back from them.
If we work in circumstances that are less favorable than those of foreigners, so much the worse for us. In the name of freedom we are condemned.
But if manufacturers are less skillful than foreigners, so much the worse for us. In the name of privilege we are condemned once more.
If people learn to refine sugar in India or weave cotton in the United States, it is the raw sugar and cotton in the form of fiber that will be transported in order to use our naval forces and we, the consumers, will pay for the pointless transportation of the residues.
Let us hope that, for the same reason and in order to supply lumberjacks with the initial and essential element of their work, we will bring in firs from Russia with their branches and bark. Let us hope that gold from Mexico will be imported in mineral form. Let us hope that, in order to have leather from Buenos Aires, herds of cattle will be transported.
It will never come to that, people will say. And yet it would be rational. But this so-called rationality borders on absurdity.
Many people, I am convinced, have adopted the doctrines of the protectionist regime in good faith (and certainly what is happening is scarcely likely to change their minds). This does not surprise me in the least; what does surprise me is that, when doctrines have been adopted with regard to one point, they are not adopted with regard to everything, since error also has its own logic. As for me, in spite of all my efforts, I have not been able to find a single objection that can be made to the regime of absolute exclusion that cannot be applied equally to the practical system of the petitioners.
[1. ]Following the July revolution, the government initiated a debate on the future of the protectionist system introduced under the restoration. Some politicians were in favor of the progressive introduction of commercial freedom, while some lobbies, using various sophisms, argued for a partial freedom that would not hurt their own business. One such lobby was composed of traders from Bordeaux, soon joined by traders from Le Havre and Lyons. Bastiat responded in a Bordeaux newspaper with the above article.
[2. ](Paillottet’s note) See vol. 2, pages 25ff. (OC, vol. 2, p. 25, “De l’influence du régime protecteur sur la situation de l’agriculture en France.”)
[3. ](Paillottet’s note) The same petition wanted the protection of manufactured objects to be reduced, not immediately, but at an unspecified time and not to the lowest rate of duty but to a rate of 20 percent.