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Jean-Baptiste Say argues that home-consumers bear the brunt of the cost of maintaining overseas colonies and that they also help support the lavish lifestyles of the planter and merchant classes (1817)

Say provides a devastating critique of the colonial system on economic, political, and moral grounds. His sympathies obviously lie with the exploited slaves as well as exploited home-consumers and taxpayers who foot the bill. Here he makes an early form of classical liberal class analysis, pitting the exploited slaves and home consumers and taxpayers against the powerful planter and merchant classes who dominate parliament and benefit from the slave trade and the profits which come from the slave system

All these losses fall chiefly upon the class of home-consumers, a class of all others the most important in point of number, and deserving of attention on account of the wide diffusion of the evils of any vicious system affecting it, as well as the functions it performs in every part of the social machine, and the taxes it contributes to the public purse, wherein consists the power of the government. They may be divided into two parts; whereof the one is absorbed in the superfluous charges of raising the colonial produce, which might be got cheaper elsewhere; this is a dead loss to the consumer, without gain to any body. The other part, which is also paid by the consumer, goes to make the fortunes of West-Indian planters and merchants. The wealth thus acquired is the produce of a real tax upon the people, although, being centred in few hands, it is apt to dazzle the eyes, and be mistaken for wealth of colonial and commercial acquisition. And it is for the protection of this imaginary advantage, that almost all the wars of the eighteenth century have been undertaken, and that the European states have thought themselves obliged to keep up, at a vast expense, civil and judicial, as well as marine and military, establishments, at the opposite extremities of the globe.

While, on the one hand, the colonists are obliged to buy of the mother-country, they are, on the other, compelled to sell their colonial produce exclusively to its merchants, who thus obtain an extra advantage without any creation of value, at the expense, likewise, of the colonists, by the enjoyment of an exclusive privilege, and of exemption from competition. Here, too, the profit and loss destroy each other nationally, but not individually; what a merchant of Havre or Bordeaux gains in this way is substantial profit; but it is taken from the pockets of one or more subjects of the same state, who had equal right to have their interest attended to. It is true, indeed, that the colonists are indemnified in another way; viz. either by the miseries of the slave population, as we have already explained; or by the privations of the inhabitants of the mother-country, as I am about to show.

So completely is the whole system built upon compulsions, restriction, and monopoly, that these very domestic consumers are compelled to buy what colonial articles of consumption they require exclusively from the national colonies; every other colony, and all the rest of the world, being denied the liberty of importing colonial16 produce, or subjected to the payment of a heavy fine, in the shape of an import duty.

It would seem that the home-consumer should at any rate derive an obvious benefit, in the price of colonial produce, from his exclusive right of purchasing of the colonists. But even this unjust preference is denied him; for, as soon as the produce arrives in Europe, the home-merchant is allowed to re-export and sell it where he chooses, and particularly to those nations that have no colonies of their own; so that, after all, the planter is deprived of the competition of buyers, although the home-consumer is made to suffer its full effect.

All these losses fall chiefly upon the class of home-consumers, a class of all others the most important in point of number, and deserving of attention on account of the wide diffusion of the evils of any vicious system affecting it, as well as the functions it performs in every part of the social machine, and the taxes it contributes to the public purse, wherein consists the power of the government. They may be divided into two parts; whereof the one is absorbed in the superfluous charges of raising the colonial produce, which might be got cheaper elsewhere; this is a dead loss to the consumer, without gain to any body. The other part, which is also paid by the consumer, goes to make the fortunes of West-Indian planters and merchants. The wealth thus acquired is the produce of a real tax upon the people, although, being centred in few hands, it is apt to dazzle the eyes, and be mistaken for wealth of colonial and commercial acquisition. And it is for the protection of this imaginary advantage, that almost all the wars of the eighteenth century have been undertaken, and that the European states have thought themselves obliged to keep up, at a vast expense, civil and judicial, as well as marine and military, establishments, at the opposite extremities of the globe.

About this Quotation:

The early political economists were adamantly opposed to slavery and the colonial system for a good mix of reasons: they opposed its high cost in taxation to pay for the navy and the colonial administration, they objected to the system of trade restrictions which gave preferential treatment in the home market to goods made in the colonies, they opposed the power the planters had in parliament, and last but not least they opposed the “vicious” and degrading system of exploitation known as slavery on the grounds of the natural rights to liberty and property of all individuals. This should lay aside the common charge that the early political economists were “heartless” economisers.

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