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Did Bastiat say “when goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will”?

“When goods don’t cross borders, Soldiers will".

Bastiat-fromDEP300.jpg
Claude Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)

Did Bastiat coin the phrase “When goods don’t cross borders, Soldiers will"? It is commonly believed that he did and it certainly sounds like something he would say. Nicholas Snow asks this question in an essay which can be found in the FEE Archives - "If Goods don't cross borders…", FEE From the Archives, 26 October, 2010 <http://www.fee.org/from-the-archives/if-goods-dont-cross-borders/>. He states that for many years Leonard Read and others at FEE thought Bastiat had coined the phrase but their searches were unable to find any explicit reference in his writings.

Now that the complete works of Bastiat are available in electronic form I have been able to do a key word search for the phrase and have found nothing. My conclusion is that the attribution to Bastiat is apocryphal. Following a lead provided by Snow I’ve done a bit more digging and found that the quote comes from Otto T. Mallery (1881-1956) who wrote a book Economic Union and Durable Peace (Harper and Brothers, 1943).  This sounds very like Bastiat but he does not cite Bastiat in the book. I did some more checking and found a list of books owned by Cordell Hull, Secretary of State during FDR's adminsitration, at the website www.friendsofcordellhullarchive.org . He owned a copy of Bastiat’s Economic Fallacies (Ottawa: R.J. Deachman, 1934) so it is possible that Cordell Hull spoke to Mallery about Bastiat and his free trade ideas and this is how they came to appear in Mallery’s book.

Below is a section from Mallery’s book where he advocates “economic interests based upon mutual interest” which are preferable to “political agreements between nations” (pp. 9-10). He does this in the context of discussing Woodrow Wilson’s Point Three of his 14 Points, namely:

The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.

What Mallery advocates instead are mutually beneficial economic agreements for the following three reasons:

  1. Economic bargains which are likely to be kept are preferable to political agreements which are likely to be broken.
  2. If soldiers are not to cross international boundaries on missions of war, goods must cross them on missions of peace.
  3. Unless shackles can be dropped from trade, bombs will inevitably drop from the sky. (p.10)

I can find two  quotes in Bastiat’s own writings which are close to the sentiments expressed by Mallery. The first is from the very last line of Bastiat’s “Our Products Are Burdened with Taxes” from Economic Sophisms,  First Series, Chapter 5: Our Products Are Burdened with Taxes </title/276/23338> where he states:

Finally, with respect to these heavy taxes that you are using as a justification for the protectionist system, have you ever asked yourself whether it is not the system itself that produces them? I do wish someone would tell me what would be the use of large standing armies and powerful navies if trade were free..... But that is the concern of the politicians.

The second comes from from Economic Sophisms, First Series, Chapter 22 “Metaphors” </title/276/23372> where he states:

The word invasion itself is a good example of this.

A French ironmaster says: "We must protect ourselves from the invasion of English iron!" An English landlord cries: "We must repel the invasion of French wheat!" And they urge the erection of barriers between the two nations. Barriers result in isolation; isolation gives rise to hatred; hatred, to war; war, to invasion. "What difference does it make?" say the two sophists. "Is it not better to risk the possibility of invasion than to accept the certainty of invasion?" And the people believe them, and the barriers remain standing.

And yet, what analogy is there between an exchange and an invasion? What possible similarity can there be between a warship that comes to vomit missiles, fire, and devastation on our cities, and a merchant vessel that comes to offer us a voluntary exchange of goods for goods?

The idea that Bastiat’s ideas about free trade and peace where circulating among the elites at the highest level of US foreign policy between the world wars is intriguing to say the least.

Last modified April 13, 2016