Front Page Titles (by Subject) Second Series, Chapter 15: The Little Arsenal of the Freetrader 96* - Economic Sophisms
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Second Series, Chapter 15: The Little Arsenal of the Freetrader 96* - Frédéric Bastiat, Economic Sophisms 
Economic Sophisms, trans. Arthur Goddard, introduction by Henry Hazlitt (Irvington-on-Hudson: Foundation for Economic Education, 1996).
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Second Series, Chapter 15
The Little Arsenal of the Freetrader96*
Suppose someone tells you: "There are no absolute principles. Interdiction can be bad, and restriction good."
Answer: "Restriction interdicts the importation of everything it prevents from entering."
Suppose someone tells you: "Agriculture is the nutricial mother that furnishes the whole country with food."
Answer: "What furnishes the country with nutriment is not strictly agriculture, but wheat."
Suppose someone tells you: "The sustenance of the nation is dependent on agriculture."
Answer: "The sustenance of the nation is dependent on wheat. That is why a law compelling the nation to obtain two hectoliters of wheat by agricultural labor instead of the four hectoliters it might have obtained, in the absence of the law, by applying the same amount of labor to industrial production, far from being a law for the people's sustenance, is a law for their starvation."
Suppose someone tells you: "Restricting the importation of foreign wheat is conducive to an increase in domestic agriculture and, therefore, to an increase in domestic production."
Answer: "It is conducive to the extension of agriculture to the rocky slopes of mountains and the barren sands of the seashore. If you milk a cow and keep on milking, you will get more milk; for who can say just when you will no longer be able to squeeze out another drop? But that drop will cost you dear."
Suppose someone tells you: "Let the price of bread be high, for the farmer who becomes rich will enrich the industrialist."
Answer: "The price of bread is high when it is scarce; but scarcity makes only for poor people, or, if you like, starving rich people."
Suppose someone presses the point and says: "When the price of bread goes up, wages go up."
Answer by showing that in April, 1847, five-sixths of the workers were living on charity.
Suppose someone tells you: "A rise in wages must necessarily follow a rise in the cost of living."
Answer: "That is tantamount to saying that in a ship with no provisions everyone has as much to eat as if it were well stocked."
Suppose someone tells you: "The man who sells wheat must be assured a good price."
Answer: "Very well. But in that case the man who buys it must be assured a good wage."
Suppose someone tells you: "The landowners, who make the law, raised the price of bread without concerning themselves about wages because they know that, when the price of bread goes up, wages go up quite naturally."
Answer: "By the same token, then, when workers make the law, do not blame them if they fix a high wage rate without concerning themselves about protecting wheat, for they know that, when wages are raised, the cost of living rises quite naturally."
Suppose someone asks you: "What must we do, then?"
Answer: "Be just to everyone."
Suppose someone tells you: "It is essential for a great country to have an iron industry."
Answer: "What is more essential is that this great country have iron."
Suppose someone tells you: "It is indispensable for a great country to have a clothing industry."
Answer: "What is more indispensable is that the citizens of this great country have clothes."
Suppose someone tells you: "Labor is wealth."
Answer: "That is not true."
And, by way of explanation, add: "Bloodletting is not health; and the proof is that its object is to restore health."
Suppose someone tells you: "To compel men to dig a mine and to extract an ounce of iron from a quintal of iron ore is to increase their labor and consequently their wealth."97*
Answer: "To compel men to dig wells by forbidding them to take water from the river is to increase their useless labor, but not their wealth."
Suppose someone tells you: "The sun gives its light and heat without remuneration."
Answer: "So much the better for me; it costs me nothing to see clearly."
And suppose someone replies: "Industry in general loses what you might have spent for artificial illumination."
Parry with: "No; for what I save by paying nothing to the sun, I use for buying clothing, furniture, and candles."
Similarly, suppose someone tells you: "These English scoundrels have amortized their investments."
Answer: "So much the better for us; they will not oblige us to make interest payments."
Suppose someone tells you: "These perfidious Englishmen find iron and coal in the same pit."
Answer: "So much the better for us; they will not charge us anything for bringing them together."
Suppose someone tells you: "The Swiss have lush pastures that cost little."
Answer: "The advantage is on our side, for this means that less labor will be demanded on our part to promote our domestic agriculture and provide ourselves with food."
Suppose someone tells you: "The fields of the Crimea have no value and pay no taxes."
Answer: "The profit is on our side, since the wheat we buy is exempt from these charges."
Suppose someone tells you: "The serfs of Poland work without wages."
Answer: "The misfortune is theirs, and the profit is ours; since their labor does not enter into the price of the wheat that their masters sell us."
Finally, suppose someone tells you: "Other nations have many advantages over us."
Answer: "Through exchange, they are, in fact, compelled to let us share in these advantages."
Suppose someone tells you: "With free trade, we are going to be flooded with bread, beef à la mode, coal, and overcoats."
Answer: "Then we shall be neither hungry nor cold."
Suppose someone asks you: "What shall we use for money?"
Answer: "Don't let that worry you. If we are flooded, it will be because we are able to pay; and if we are not able to pay, we shall not be flooded."
Suppose someone tells you: "I should be in favor of free trade if foreigners, in bringing us their products, took ours in exchange; but they will take away our money."
Answer: "Money does not grow in the fields of the Beauce98* any more than coffee does, nor is it turned out by the workshops of Elbeuf.99* For us, paying foreigners with cash is like paying them with coffee."
Suppose someone tells you: "Eat meat."
Answer: "Permit it to be imported."
Suppose someone tells you, like La Presse: "When one does not have the means to buy bread, one must buy beef."
Answer: "This is advice just as wise as that of Mr. Vulture to his tenant:
When one does not have the means to pay his rent,
Suppose someone tells you, like La Presse: "The government should teach people why and how they ought to eat beef."
Answer: "The government has only to permit the importation of beef; the most civilized people in the world are sufficiently grown up to learn how to eat it without being taught."
Suppose someone tells you: "The government should know everything and foresee everything in order to manage the lives of the people, and the people need only let themselves be taken care of."
Answer: "Is there a government apart from the people? Is there any human foresight apart from humanity? Archimedes could have gone on repeating every day of his life, 'Give me a fulcrum and a lever, and I will move the earth'; he would never, for all that, have been able to move it, for want of a fulcrum and lever. The fulcrum of the state is the nation, and nothing is more senseless than to base so many expectations on the state, that is, to assume the existence of collective wisdom and foresight after taking for granted the existence of individual imbecility and improvidence."
Suppose someone tells you: "Good heavens! I am not asking for favors, but just enough of an import duty on wheat and meat to compensate for the heavy taxes to which France is subjected; only a small duty equal to what these taxes add to the sales price of my wheat."
Answer: "A thousand pardons, but I too pay taxes. If, then, the protection that you are voting yourself has the effect of adding to the price I pay for wheat an amount exactly equal to your share of the taxes, what your honeyed words really come to is nothing less than a demand to establish between us an arrangement that, as formulated by you, could be expressed in the following terms: 'Considering that the public charges are heavy, I, as a seller of wheat, am to pay nothing at all, and you, my neighbor who buys it, are to pay double, viz., your own share and mine as well.' Wheat merchant, you may, my neighbor, have might on your side; but you surely do not have right."
Suppose someone tells you: "It is, however, very hard for me, who pay taxes, to compete in my own market with a foreigner who pays none."
"1. In the first place, it is not your market, but our market. I, who live on wheat and pay for it, ought to count for something too.
"2. Few foreigners nowadays are exempt from taxes.
"3. If the tax that you are voting repays you, in the form of roads, canals, security, etc., more than it costs you, you are not justified in barring, at my expense, the competition of foreigners who do not pay the tax, but who, by the same token, do not enjoy the advantages of the security, roads, and canals that you have. It would make just as much sense to say: 'I demand a compensatory duty, because I have finer clothes, stronger horses, and better plows than the Russian peasant.'
"4. If the tax does not repay you what it costs, do not vote it.
"5. And finally, after voting the tax, do you desire to exempt yourself from it? Then contrive some scheme that will shift it onto foreigners. But the tariff makes your share of the tax fall upon me, who already have quite enough of my own to bear."
Suppose someone tells you: "For the Russians free trade is necessary to enable them to exchange their products to advantage." [Opinion expressed by M. Thiers in committee, April, 1847.]
Answer: "Free trade is necessary everywhere and for the same reason."
Suppose someone tells you: "Each country has its wants and it must act accordingly." [M. Thiers.]
Answer: "It does so of its own accord when it is not hindered from doing so."
Suppose someone tells you: "Since we have no sheet iron, we must permit its importation." [M. Thiers.]
Answer: "Much obliged!"
Suppose someone tells you: "Our merchant marine needs freight. The lack of cargoes on return voyages prevents our ships from competing with foreign vessels." [M. Thiers.]
Answer: "When a country wants to produce everything at home, it cannot have cargoes either to export or to import. It is just as absurd to want a merchant marine when foreign products are barred as it would be to want carts where all shipments have been prohibited."
Suppose someone tells you: "Even granting that the protectionist system is unjust, everything has been organized on the basis of it: capital has been invested; rights have been acquired; the system cannot be changed without suffering."
Answer: "Every injustice is profitable for someone (except, perhaps, restriction, which in the long run benefits nobody); to express alarm over the dislocation that ending an injustice occasions the person who is profiting from it is as much as to say that an injustice, solely because it has existed for a moment, ought to endure forever."
[96.][First published in Le Libre échange, April 26, 1847.—EDITOR.]
[97.] [It would be uneconomic to work ore of such low grade.—TRANSLATOR.]
[98.] [Flourishing grain region of north-central France.—TRANSLATOR.]
[99.] [Industrial town in the vicinity of Rouen.—TRANSLATOR.]
[100.] [From the play, Mr. Vulture (Monsieur Vautour), by the French dramatist Marc Antoine Madeleine Désaugiers (1772-1827). The name became a common slang expression used to typify the heartless usurer, creditor, and landlord.—TRANSLATOR.]