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3: On the Wine-Growing Question - 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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On the Wine-Growing Question
[vol. 1, p. 261. “Mémoire présenté à la société d’agriculture, commerce, arts et sciences, du département des Landes sur la question vinicole.” 22 January 1843. n.p.]
Memoir Presented to the Société d’agriculture, commerce, arts, et sciences du département des Landes on the Wine-Growing Question (22 January 1843)
In one of your previous sessions you set up a commission to investigate the causes of the hardship afflicting the wine-growing sector of the département of the Landes and the means by which it would be possible to combat this.
Circumstances have not allowed me to transmit to the commission the work it entrusted to me. I regret this most sincerely, since the contribution of the enlightened men that form the commission would have made it more worthy of you. Although I am bold enough to believe that my ideas are not so very different from those that they would have authorized me to submit to you, I must nevertheless assume full responsibility. . . .
Sirs, proving first of all that the hardship experienced by our wine-growing people is genuine and presenting a living picture of this to you would both satisfy the logical order of this report and win over your interest and goodwill for it. I am only too ready to sacrifice this consideration to the desire not to intrude on your time too much, since, ready as I am to admit unreservedly and without fear of being wrong that we are not all in agreement on the causes of the decline of the industry we are discussing, there is at least no disagreement between us on the fact that this decline exists.
A detailed analysis of all the causes that have contributed to this unfortunate result would also lead to amplifications that are too wide-ranging.
We would need first of all to examine those causes that are beyond our means of action. One of these is competition from the southeast of France, which is growing daily, encouraged by the gradual improvement in our transport systems. Another is the relative inferiority that appears to be the lot of regions that, like the Chalosse, are not structured to replace cultivation using manpower with that using oxen.
We would then need to distinguish the causes of suffering for which the producer himself is responsible. Has he devoted enough time to improving his cultivating and wine-producing procedures? Has he been farsighted enough to limit his planting? Has he been clever enough to adapt his products to the changes that may have been noted in the needs and tastes of consumers? Have efforts been made, through the choice and blend of grape varieties or other means, to substitute quality for the quantity of wine produced, insofar as outlets are limited, since this might have restored the balance of income to a certain extent? And has the Société d’agriculture itself not been too sparing of encouragement to an agricultural sector from which a third of our population earns its living, while being only too ready to encourage the introduction of exotic plants, whose success is more than uncertain?1
Finally, we need to list those causes of our hardship that must be laid at the door of government measures whose effect has been to hinder the production, circulation, and consumption of wine, and this would lead me to examine the special influence on our region of direct taxes, indirect taxes, city tolls, and customs regulations.
I will limit the scope of this report to the last three of these causes of our sufferings, first because they are much the most immediate determinants of our decline and second because I consider that they are susceptible to present or future changes, which public opinion may hasten or delay at will through demonstrations for or against them.
Before discussing this subject, I have to say that it has been examined with impressive intellectual talent, along with several other economic questions, by one of our colleagues, M. Auguste Lacome of Le Houga,2 in a paper that was read during one of your previous sessions. The author assesses the situation of vineyard owners with equal sagacity and impartiality. By granting concessions that were perhaps too great, he acknowledges that the ever-increasing needs of the country, the communes, and the factories make it unlikely that our public charges will be reduced. He asks the question whether, supposing this to be so, it is just to give satisfaction to all interests at the expense of the interests of wine alone and, after establishing that this is as contrary to natural justice as it is to the letter of the law, he seeks to find out by what means the resources requested up to now from our sector might be replaced. Going down this route and directing his meditations to practical use is to show genuine capability and the ability to rise above the crowd of critical souls who limit themselves to the facile task of criticizing what is wrong without suggesting a remedy. I will not take the liberty of deciding whether the author has always succeeded in indicating the proper sources from whom compensation for the tax on wines and spirits should be requested; I will limit myself to suggesting that the general public should be enabled to judge this by including Lacome’s paper in our Annals.
Sirs, I am approaching the subject I propose to discuss. Has the triple chain of gross impositions that our wines encounter through city dues, indirect taxes, or customs tariffs, depending on whether they seek outlets in towns, nationwide, or through export sales, affected production or caused the burdens that have given rise to our complaints?
It would be very surprising if there were conflicting opinions on this.
What has become of the many commercial houses in Bayonne whose sole activity in days gone by was to export our wines and spirits to Belgium, Holland, Prussia, Denmark, Sweden, and the towns of the Hanseatic League? What has become of the inland navigation system, which we have seen so active and which incontestably gave rise to the many concentrations of population established on the left bank of the Adour? What has become of the proliferating trade investment in a product that because of its property of improving with age would under normal conditions increase in value with time, a product that was effectively a savings bank for our forefathers, spread a comfortable existence among the working classes of the time, and was the traditionally acknowledged source of all the wealth that still survives in Chalosse? All of that has disappeared together with freedom of production and trade.
In the face of this twin assault on our property by the protectionist regime and overbearing taxation, faced with a burden so straightforwardly explained by the obstacles that block our domestic and foreign outlets, nothing surprises us more than the haste with which the tax authorities seek to find the cause of our sufferings elsewhere, unless it is the credulity of the general public in being taken in by their sophisms.
This, however, is what we witness every day. The tax authorities claim that too many vines have been planted and each person repeats, “If we are suffering, it is not because we lack trade or because the weight of taxes is suffocating us, but because we have planted too many vines.”
I have in previous times attacked this assertion, but it expresses an opinion that is too widespread and the tax authorities have made it too deadly a weapon against us for me not to return to my refutation in a few words.
First of all, I would very much like our opponents to set the limits they intend to impose on the growing of vines! I never hear reproaches made that wheat, flax, or orchards invade too high a proportion of our territory. The comparison of supply and demand and costs compared with sale prices are the limits between which the expansion or contraction of industries operates. Why would vine growing, contrary to this general law, extend more widely as it becomes more ruinous?
People will say all that is theory. Well then, let us see what the facts reveal.
Through the offices of a minister of finance,3 we learn that the wine-growing area of France was 1,555,475 hectares in 1788 and 1,993,307 hectares in 1828. The increase is therefore in the ratio of 100 to 128. In the same period of time, the population of France, which according to Necker4 had been 24 million, increased to 32 million, a ratio of 100 to 133. The cultivation of vines, far from expanding unreasonably, has not even kept up with the increase in numbers of the population.
We could check this result through research into consumption if we had statistical data relating to this. As far as we know, this has been done only for Paris and has provided the following result:
Thus, sirs, it is undeniable that in this half-century and while all branches of production have made such remarkable progress, the most natural thing we produce has remained at the very least stationary.
We should conclude that the so-called encroachment of vines is based on allegations as contrary to logic as to fact, and after we have been assured that we are not mistaken in attributing our suffering to the administrative measures that have limited all of our outlets, let us examine the character and effects of these measures more closely.
At the top of the list, we should place the indirect tax on wines and spirits and the duties on circulation, dispatch, consumption, license, transportation, entry, and retail—a sorry and incomplete list of the subtle inventions by which the tax authorities are paralyzing our industry and greedily extracting from it, indirectly, more than one hundred million every year. Far from giving any hint of a foreseeable lessening in these rigors, they redouble them from year to year and although, in 1830, they were obliged in a revolutionary spirit,9 so to speak, to agree to a reduction of forty million, a reduction that has ceased to be noticeable, they have never allowed a session to be completed without expressing their regret and complaining about it.
It has to be said that the wine-producing populations have rarely brought a practical business attitude to bear in their efforts to escape from this regime of arbitrary exceptions. Driven by the more immediate impact of their own sufferings or by the necessities of the time, either they have demanded, vehemently, the total abolition of all consumption taxes, or they have bowed unreservedly under a system they considered monstrous but irremediable, thus swinging from blind confidence to cowardly demoralization.
The pure and simple abolition of indirect contributions is obviously an illusion. Demanded in the name of equality of duties, it implies the abolition of all consumption taxes, from those imposed on salt and tobacco to those bearing on wines and spirits, and what bold reformer would succeed in decreasing budgeted public expenditure immediately to the level of budgeted income reduced to the four headings of direct taxation? No doubt the time will come, and we should hasten its coming through our efforts as well as our hopes, when private industry, with a morale lifted by experience and expanded by a sense of association, will encroach on the domain of public services; and government, reduced to its essential function, the maintaining of internal and external security, will require only the resources to meet this sphere of activity, thus enabling a host of taxes that undermine the liberty and equality of our citizens to be removed from our financial system. But how far from this trend are the views of those who govern us and the all-powerful forces of public opinion! We are being drawn inexorably and perhaps providentially in opposite directions. We ask everything from the state: roads, canals, railways, encouragement, protection, monuments, education, conquests, colonies, and military, maritime, and diplomatic supremacy; we want to civilize Africa and Oceania and what else? Like England, we are obeying a force for expansion that is directing all our resources to be centralized in the hands of the state; we cannot therefore avoid seeking, like England, the exercise of power in taxes on consumption, the most fruitful, regularly increasing, and even the most tolerable of all taxes, when properly understood, since it is then mingled with the act of consumption itself.
But should we conclude from this that all is well with the current situation, or at least that our ills are irremediable? I do not think so. On the contrary, I think that the time has come to subject indirect taxation, still in its infancy, to a revolution similar to that which the land register and equalization have brought to taxes on land.
I in no sense aspire here to the formulation of an entire system of indirect taxes, since this would require knowledge and experience, which I am far from possessing. However, I hope that you will not find it out of place for me to lay down a few principles if only to give you a glimpse of the huge field awaiting your consideration.
I have said that indirect taxation was still in its infancy. Perhaps it will be felt that it is somewhat presumptuous to judge a work of Napoléon in this way. However, it must be realized that a tax system is always of necessity imperfect at its outset, since it is established under the influence of some urgent need. Is it to be imagined that if a need for funds gave rise to a land tax in a country in which this type of public revenue was unknown, it would be possible at the first try to achieve the perfection that has been achieved in France only at the cost of fifty years of work and a hundred million of expenditure? How therefore could indirect taxation, so complicated in nature, have achieved from its inception the final degree of perfection?
A rational law for a good system of consumer taxes would be this: make the tax as comprehensive as possible with regard to the number of objects it falls on and as moderate as possible with regard to its level.
The closer indirect taxation gets in practical terms to these two rules, the more it will fulfill the conditions that ought to be found in an institution of this kind:
It appears in this case that our financial system has been based on the diametrically opposing principle, namely the limitation of the number of objects taxed and the maintenance of the tax on a high level.
A choice has been made, from a thousand products, of two or three—salt, wine and spirits, and tobacco—and these have been heavily burdened.
Once again, it could scarcely have been otherwise. The head of state, desperate for money, has not been concerned with perfection or justice. He has been concerned with making funds flow into the treasury abundantly and easily, and since he had a force capable of overcoming all resistance, he had only to pick a product that was eminently taxable and inflict repeated blows on it.10
With regard to us, the public, wines and spirits must have been the first to come to his mind. They are universally used and promise abundant resources. They are difficult to transport and could hardly escape the attention of the tax authorities. They are produced by a scattered population, which is apathetic and inexperienced in public conflict, and their collection did not seem likely to subject the authorities to insurmountable resistance. The Decree dated 5th Ventôse11 in the Year XII was passed accordingly.
However, two opposing principles can produce only opposing consequences; it could not therefore be denied that indirect taxes such as those instituted by the Decree of Year XII12 are a perpetual violation of the rights and personal interests of citizens.
Indirect taxation is unjust simply by virtue of the exceptions it makes.
It offends equity because it raises as much from the wages of a workman as from the income of a millionaire.
Indirect taxation is bad economics because by raising too much revenue it limits consumption, affects production, and tends to restrict the very source that feeds it.
It is not good policy, since it encourages fraud and is incapable of either preventing or repressing fraud without encircling the activities of production with formalities and obstacles laid down in the most barbarous code that has ever dishonored the legislature of a great people.
If, therefore, men of goodwill and intelligence, the councils of the départements and districts, the Chambers of Commerce, the societies for agriculture, the committees of industrialists and wine producers, these lobby groups that fashion public opinion and draw up material for legislation, wish to give their work in this context a useful and practical direction, if they wish to achieve results that reconcile the collective requirements of our civilization and the interests of each industry and class of citizen, they should not have recourse to a puerile list of unattainable requirements and still less should they give way to sterile discouragement. They should work with perseverance toward the fertile principle we have just set out, with all its just and practical consequences.
The second cause of the decline in wine producing is the regime of city tolls. In the same way that indirect taxes hinder the general circulation of wine, city tolls drive the wine trade away from population centers, that is to say, its major markets of consumption. This is the second barrier placed by the spirit of taxation between the seller and the purchaser.
Except for the fact that city tolls are applied to specific locations, they are a branch of indirect taxation, and for this reason their proper basis in terms both of yield and of justice is the one we have just assigned to this kind of tax: generalization with regard to its area of operation, limitation with regard to the intensity of its application. In other words, such tolls must cover everything but must subject each product to a duty too small to be noticed. City tolls are all the more properly held to this principle of good administration and equity in that unlike combined duties they do not even have the trite excuse of being hard to collect. However, we see that the principle of taxing only certain key products has won in this instance and that highly populated towns base half, three quarters, and even all of their revenues on wines and spirits alone.
If the tariffs of city tolls were left to the sovereign decision of municipal councils, wine-producing départements would be able to retaliate against manufacturing départements. All the working groups of the population would then be seen to engage in an internal customs conflict, a huge turmoil, but one from which the common sense of the general public would probably sooner or later, by way of negotiation, cause the application of the principle we have invoked. It is unquestionably to avoid these domestic disorders that the central power has been given the authority to regulate the tariffs of city tolls, an authority that is an essential part of the franchises of towns and of which they have been deprived for the benefit of the state only on condition that the state is responsible for keeping an even balance between all the various interests.
What use has the state made of this excessive prerogative? If there is one product that the state ought to have protected and removed from municipal rapacity, that product is wine, which already provides the community with so many and such heavy tributes, and yet it is precisely wine that it allows to be overburdened. What is more, a law has set limits to these extortions; a vain barrier
For the crucible of decrees
Has evaporated the law.13
Would we be showing ourselves to be too demanding if we asked that the tariffs of city tolls be gradually reduced to a maximum not exceeding 10 percent of the value of the goods?
The protectionist regime is the third cause of our hardship, and perhaps the one that has most immediately caused our decline. It is therefore worth your particular attention, especially since it is currently the subject of a lively debate between all of the interests concerned, at the end of which debate your opinion and wishes cannot remain far apart.
Customs duties originated as a means of creating revenue for the state. They are an indirect tax, a giant national toll; and as long as they retain this characteristic it is an act of injustice and bad management to remove them from this rule governing any consumer taxes: universality and reasonableness of the tax.
I would go even further: as long as the customs service is a purely fiscal institution, it is in its interest to tax not only imports but also exports, under the twin consideration that the state is thus creating for itself a second source of revenue that costs nothing to collect and that is borne by foreign consumers.
However, it has to be said that it is no longer tax but protection that is the aim of our customs measures, and in order to judge them from this point of view, we would have to go into arguments and developments which have no place in this report. I will limit myself therefore to considerations that have a direct bearing on our subject.
The idea that dominates the protectionist system is this: if we succeed in creating a new form of industry in our country or in giving new impetus to an industry that already exists, we will be increasing the mass of work and consequently the wealth of the nation. Now, a simple way of causing a product to be made within is to prevent its coming in from outside. From this we get prohibitive or protectionist duties.
This system would be based on reason if it were in the power of a decree to add something to the wherewithal of production. But there is no decree in the world that can increase the number of hands or the fertility of the soil of the nation, add a cent to its capital or an additional ray to its sunshine. All that a law can do is to change the combinations of action that these means exercise over each other, substitute an artificial direction for the spontaneous direction of production, and force it to solicit the services of a miserly agent instead of a generous one: in a word, to divide it, scatter it, mislead it, and set it against greater obstacles but never to increase it.
Allow me a comparison. If I said to someone, “You have just one field and you grow cereals in it, part of which you sell to purchase flax and oil. Do you not see that you depend on two other farmers? Divide your field into three; divide your time, your advance payments, and your strength into three and grow olive trees, flax, and cereals together.” This man would probably have good arguments to put against me, but if I had authority over him I would add: “You do not know your own interests; I forbid you, under pain of paying me huge taxes, to purchase oil and flax from anyone whomsoever.” I would oblige this man to diversify his crops, but would I have increased his well-being? That is the prohibitionist regime. It is a bad pruning of the industrial tree, which, while adding nothing to its sap, diverts the tree from growing fruit in favor of suckers.
In this way, in each zone protectionism encourages the production of consumable value but discourages to the same degree tradable value, from which we must rigorously conclude—and this is what brings me back to the decline of wine producing in France—that protectionist tariffs cannot promote the production of certain objects we obtain from abroad without restricting the industries that supply us with the means of trade, that is to say, without causing hindrance and suffering to that production that harmonizes best with the climate, the soil, and the gift s of the inhabitants.
And, sirs, do not the facts once again energetically support the rigor of these deductions? What is happening on either side of the Channel? On the other side, with this nation that nature has endowed so profusely with the wherewithal and the ability needed for the development of manufacturing industry, it is precisely the population of the workshops that is devoured by destitution, misery, and starvation. Language has no expression to describe such hardship; goodwill is powerless to relieve it, and the laws are powerless to repress the disturbances to which it gives rise.
On this side of the Channel, a clear sky and generous sun should generate inexhaustible sources of wealth at every corner of the territory. Well then! It is exactly the wine-producing population that offers the vision of destitution, a sad mirror of the destitution that reigns in the workshops of Great Britain.
Doubtless the poverty of French vineyard owners is less widely trumpeted than that of English workmen. Its ravages are not felt by turbulent urban masses, and it is not proclaimed by the thousand outlets of the press morning and evening, but it is no less real. Travel through our sharecropping farms and you will see families in straitened circumstances, their food mere corn and water, people whose entire consumption does not exceed ten centimes per day per person. Half of this may be supplied to them, apparently as a loan but in effect as a gift from the owner. For this reason, the fate of the owner is relatively no better. Enter his house, one that is falling down, with furniture handed down from generation to generation bearing witness to the struggle that exists, an incessant and bitter struggle against the attractions of well-being and modern comforts that surround him and that he keeps out. Initially you will be tempted to see a ridiculous side to these constant privations, this ingenious parsimony, but take a closer look and you will soon see its sad and touching and, I might say, almost heroic side, for the thought that sustains him in this painful conflict is the ardent desire to keep his sons up to the level of his ancestors, to avoid descending from generation to generation down to the lowest ranks of the social scale, an intolerable suffering from which all his efforts will not spare him.
Why therefore are these people, who are so rich in iron and fire, so rich in capital and productive abilities, whose men are active, persevering, and as constant as the cogs of their machines, dying of want on piles of coal, iron, and fabric? Why are these other people with fertile land and generous sun succumbing to deprivation surrounded by their vines, silk, and cereals? Solely because an economic error incorporated in the protectionist regime has forbidden them to trade mutually in their various riches. Thus, this deplorable system, already ruined on theoretical grounds by economic science, also has ranged against it the terrible argument of the facts.
It is therefore not surprising that we are witnessing the start of a reaction in favor of liberal ideas.14 These ideas have arisen in the highest of our intelligent minds, and, before rallying the forces of public opinion, they have penetrated the sphere of power, in England with Huskisson and in France with M. Duchâtel.15
Doubtless, the government is generally in no great hurry to hasten the development of public freedoms. There is, however, one exception to be made in favor of free trade. It can never be through ill will but only through systematic error that those in power paralyze this freedom. They are only too aware that if the customs service were brought back to its original purpose—the creation of public revenue—the treasury would gain, the task of the government would be made easier because of its neutrality in the face of industrial rivalries, and peace between nations would have its most powerful guarantee in the trade relations between peoples.
We should therefore not be surprised by the trend toward favoring free trade that is becoming apparent in the high circles of governments in Prussia, Austria, Spain, England, Belgium, and France, in the guise of customs unions, trade, commercial treaties, etc., etc.16 These are all steps toward the holy alliance of peoples.
Unquestionably, one of the most significant official demonstrations of this trend is the treaty negotiated two years ago between France and England.17 At that time if the wine-producing industry had kept an eye on its genuine interests, it would have glimpsed, and through its share of influence hastened, a prosperous future of which it probably had no idea. In effect, at no time had such brilliant prospects been open to southern France. Not only was England lowering the duties she had imposed on our wines, but through an innovation of incalculable effect she was also replacing the fixed duty that was so disadvantageous to ordinary wines with a progressive duty which, while maintaining a reasonably high tax on luxury wine, reduced very considerably the duty on lower-quality wine. This meant that not only a few aristocratic cellars but also the farms, workshops, and cottages of Great Britain were open to our production. No longer was it just the Aï, Laffitte, and Sauterne18 that had the privilege of crossing the Channel; the entire wine-producing districts of France were suddenly faced with twenty million consumers. I will not try to calculate the effect of a revolution on this scale and its influence on our vineyards, merchant navy, and trading towns, but I do not think anyone can doubt that, under the sway of this treaty, production, revenue, and investment in land in our département would have increased rapidly and prodigiously.
From another point of view, the principle of a progressive rate of duty was a fine victory and a step toward the general adoption of an ad valorem tax, the only just and equitable system that conforms to the true principles of science. A uniform duty is by nature aristocratic; it allows for the maintenance of a few relationships only, and only between high-born producers and consumers. A progressive duty based on value would bring the popular masses of all nations into relations of common interest.
However, France could not lay claim to such advantages without opening its market to some of the products of English industry. The treaty was likely, therefore, to be resisted by manufacturers. This was not slow to manifest itself in a clever, persevering, and desperate way. The producers of coal, iron, and fabric made their grievances plain and did not limit themselves to passive opposition. Associations and committees were organized within each industry; permanent delegates were given the mission of winning acceptance for special interests by ministries and chambers. Abundant and regular subscriptions assured the support of the most widely distributed newspapers to this cause and, through their pages, gained the sympathy of public opinion, which was misled. It was not enough to cause the treaty to fail to be concluded temporarily; it had to be made impossible, even at the risk of a general conflagration, and to this end the patriotic pride that is such a sensitive fiber in French hearts had to be unceasingly inflamed. Since that time, we have seen these groups stir up, with devilish Machiavellianism, all the long-dormant jealousies of the nation and finally succeed in sabotaging all the negotiations started with England.
A short time afterward, the governments of France and Belgium developed the idea of merging the economic interests of the two nations.19 Once again this was a source of hope for the industries of the south and a source of alarm for the manufacturing monopoly. This time, circumstances were not favorable for the monopoly; working against it were the interest of the masses and the industries in trouble, as well as the influence of the government and every popular instinct, quick to see in the customs union the prelude to and guarantee of a closer alliance between these two children of the same fatherland. Journalists who had supported it with regard to the English question were of little succor in the Belgian case for fear of being discredited in the eyes of the general public. All they could do was either counter the customs union through insinuations made with a great deal of oratorical circumspection or retreat into shameful neutrality.
However, the neutrality of the newspapers in the most important question to be raised in France at the present time could not be maintained for very long. The monopoly had no time to lose; it needed a prompt and vigorous demonstration to bring about the failure of the customs union and continue to keep our south of France under their heel. This was the mission that an assembly of delegates, which became famous under the name of the deputy who was its president (M. Fulchiron), accomplished successfully.
What were the wine-producing interests doing in the meantime? Alas! They scarcely managed laboriously to produce a few shadows of association. When they should have gone into combat, committees were recruited with difficulty in the depths of a province. With no organization, resources, order, or mouthpiece, is it surprising that they were defeated for the second time?
But it would be foolish to lose heart. It is not in the power of a few fleeting intrigues to bury major social questions in this way and to reverse permanently the trends that are leading to the unity of human destinies. These questions may be restricted for a time, but they rise up again and these trends regain strength; at the time I am speaking to you, these questions have already been referred to our national assemblies by the speech from the throne.
Let us hope that this time the committees of wine producers will not be absent from the battlefield. Privilege has immense resources; it has delegates, finance, and supporters who have more or less declared themselves in the press. It is strong in the unity and swiftness of its movements. Let the cause of freedom be defended by the same means. It has truth and immense numbers in its favor; let it also acquire organization. Let committees rise up in all the départements and join with the central committee in Paris. Let them increase their financial and intellectual resources. May they finally help the central committee to carry out the difficult mission of being a powerful support for the government if it moves toward establishing free trade and an obstacle if it yields to the exactions of the special interests of a privileged industrial sector.
But is it part of your portfolio to give support to this task?
Well, sirs, is not your title the Société d’agriculture et commerce? Are you not summoned from all corners of the land as being the men most familiar with the knowledge relating to these two branches of public wealth? Do you not recognize that, since they are exhausted by disastrous measures, they no longer provide not just well-being but even subsistence for the population, and are you not allowed to take such dearly held interests under your wing and do what Chambers of Commerce are doing every day? Are you not a society to be taken seriously? Is the extent of your attributions legally limited to the inspection of some foreign plant, imaginary fertilizer, or common sector of speculative agronomy? And is it enough for a question to be serious for you to waive your credentials immediately?
I am convinced that the Société d’agriculture would not wish to reduce its influence to this degree. I have the honor of proposing that it adopt the following resolution:
The Société d’agriculture des Landes, taking note of the hardship afflicting the people of the Chalosse and Armagnac, who are particularly devoted to the cultivation of vines;
Acknowledging that the principal causes of this hardship are indirect taxation, city tolls, and the protectionist regime;
With regard to indirect taxation, the Society considers that the owners of vineyards, for as long as the state in order to meet its expenditures cannot forfeit its current revenues, cannot hope that a source of revenue as important as this be cut without replacing it with another, but nevertheless the Society still supports the vineyard owners’ just protestations against the regime of arbitrary exceptions in which this system of taxation has placed them. It does not consider it impossible that a means of reconciling the requirements of the treasury, the interest of the taxpayers, and the truth of the principle of the equality of charges might be found in an extension of this type of tax at a reasonable level and with a less-complicated method of collection.
It is through a similar deviation from the laws of equity that city tolls were authorized to base themselves almost exclusively on wines and spirits. By reserving the right to sanction the tariffs decided by vote in the communes, it appears that the aim of the state must have been to prevent city tolls, overwhelmed with the industrial hostility aroused, from becoming between provinces what the customs system is between nations, a perpetual ferment of discord. However, it is in that case difficult to explain how the state can have tolerated and seconded the coalition of the interests of all the towns against one single sector of production. All the abuses of city tolls would be prevented if the law restored their franchises to the communes and intervened in the arrangement of the tariffs only to set them at a general, uniform limit that would not be exceeded to the disadvantage of any product, without distinction.
The Society also attributes the decline of wine producing in the département of the Landes to the absolute stoppage of exports of wines and spirits through the port of Bayonne, an effect that the protectionist regime could not fail to produce. It has also gained the hope of a speedy improvement in our external outlets from the recent words of the king of the French.20
The Society does not pretend that the obstacles that the spirit of monopoly will put in the path of the accomplishment of this benefit do not exist. It will point out that by temporarily turning the action of tariffs to the advantage of a few industrial firms, France never intended to relinquish the right to use customs dues for a purely fiscal purpose; rather, far from this, France has always proclaimed that protection was by its very nature temporary. The time has come at last when private interests should be subjugated to the interests of consumers, industries suffering hardship, the maritime commerce of trading towns, and the overall interest of peace between nations of which trade is the surest guarantee.
The society expresses the wish that future treaties should, as far as possible, be founded on the principle of duties proportional to the value of the goods, which is the only true and fair system and the only one that is able to extend to all classes the benefits of international trade.
Foreseeing all the debates that are bound to take place between rival industries when the reform of the customs system takes place, the society believes it would be abandoning the cause that it has just taken under its patronage if it left the département of the Landes without the resources to take part in the combat which is being prepared.
Consequently, and in the absence of special committees, whose support it regrets not being able to lean upon in these circumstances, it has decided that the Commission of Wine Producers, which has already been nominated in the session of 17 April 1842, will continue its functions and will communicate with the committees for the Gironde and Paris.
Copies of this resolution will be sent through the good offices of the secretary of the Society to the minister for trade, to the Commissions of the chambers involved, and to the secretariat of the committees of wine producers.
[1. ]The society recommended the introduction of rapeseed, tobacco, and mulberries for the rearing of silkworms.
[2. ]Le Houga is a village close to the eastern border of the Landes in the Gers dé partement.
[3. ](Bastiat’s note) M. de Chabrol, “Report to the King.”
[4. ]Jacques Necker.
[9. ]Bastiat is making a joke here about how the revolution accidentally forced a temporary reduction in taxes because of turmoil and confusion. See also the entry for “Revolution of 1848” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[10. ](Bastiat’s note) “It has been acknowledged that, of all the products that can be taxed, wines and spirits yield the most [taxes] and are the easiest to collect.” M. de Villèle.
[11. ]See the entry for “Republican calendar” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[12. ]It is not clear to what decree Bastiat is referring. Year XII of the Republican calendar would place it sometime in 1804, which was the year the Constitution of Year XII (18 May 1804) was decreed, creating the new empire of Napoléon. In April 1803 duties were enacted on the importation of cotton goods, and all French protective duties were codified in February and April 1806. Soon after becoming emperor, Napoléon passed a number of decrees putting in place his continental blockade against Britain (the Berlin Decree of November 1806 and the Milan Decree of November 1807).
[13. ]From “Le Ventru, aux électeurs de 1819,” a satirical song by Pierre Jean de Béranger. See Béranger, Chanson s, pp. 301–3. In the song Béranger mocks in turn the electors, the prefects, the mayors, the clergy, the conservative Ultras, and the liberals.
[14. ]Bastiat is referring to the first glimmers of liberal economic reform in the 1820s and 1830s. See also the entries for “Huskisson, William,” and “Tanneguy Duchâtel, Charles Marie,” in the Glossary of Persons.
[15. ](Bastiat’s note) I am not so much referring to the minister, with whose acts I am not familiar, but to the political writer who is a well-known member of the Adam Smith School.
[16. ]See the entry for “Zollverein” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[17. ]In the early 1840s there began what is called an “entente cordiale” between France and England following the tensions that arose because of the Eastern Crisis of 1840 (when war broke out between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire). Lord Aberdeen and Guizot wanted to improve relations with a new trade treaty, but tensions remained over such issues as the Franco-Belgian customs union, Franco-British rivalry over Spain, and the suppression of the slave trade. In 1842 Sir Robert Peel began to move in the direction of unilateral trade liberalization, which would result in the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. In 1842 he began to remove prohibitory duties on raw materials and foodstuffs, such as the removal of import and export duties on wool.
[18. ]Bordeaux wines.
[19. ]Under the influence of the liberal revolution in France in 1830, which ushered in the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe, Belgium broke away from the Netherlands and became independent with its own constitution and monarch, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. There was a two-way battle in trade policy between the nations who favored free trade, the Netherlands and Great Britain, on the one hand, and the more-protectionist nations of France and Belgium on the other. Britain eventually removed most of its trade barriers unilaterally in 1846, and in 1860 France and Britain signed a free-trade treaty, the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty. In 1861–62 Britain, France, and Belgium signed a similar free-trade treaty. At the same time the German states were gradually adopting a common external tariff and removing internal German trade restrictions as part of the Zollverein (or Customs Union), which expanded in 1833.