The Collected Economic Sophisms of Bastiat

The Collected Economic Sophisms of Frédéric Bastiat

[Created: Nov. 16, 2015]

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)
Title Page of the Second Series of Economic Sophisms (1848)

For more information about Frédéric Bastiat see the following:

Introduction to the Sophisms

[The following in an exerpt from David Hart's Introduction to volume 3 of The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat (forthcoming) which will contain the Complete Economic Sophisms as well as What is Seen and What is Not Seen. There are references in the text to material which is not in this file, such as Glossaries and Appendices, but which will be in the printed version of the book.]

"It has sometimes happened that I have combated privilege by making fun of it. I think this was quite excusable. When a few people wish to live at the expense of all, it is totally permissible to inflict the sting of ridicule on the minority that exploits and the majority that is exploited." [ES3 12, “Disastrous Illusions,” pp. 000-00, in this volume.]

It is an interesting question to ask oneself where Bastiat got the idea of writing short, pithy essays for a popular audience in which he debunked the misconceptions (“sophisms” or “fallacies”) people had about the operations of the free market in general and of free trade in particular. If refuting fallacies was his end, then the use of constructed conversations between two idealised representatives of conflicting points of view was often the means to that end.

For Bastiat, these articles were short essays written for a general audience which attempted to debunk a commonly held misperception or misunderstanding of an economic point of view. The essay would be written in a familiar style, often in the form of a dialog between two individuals who held opposing views. Or, it would be a satirical “petition” to the government or king requesting some obviously absurd law to “protect” their industry from competition. In the nineteenth century translators of Bastiat’s Sophisms used the word “fallacies,” which is somewhat misleading as there is a difference between the two. A sophism is something which is partly true and which is used as a specious argument designed to mislead the pubic in order to benefit some vested political or economic interest. A fallacy is a clearly mistaken belief based upon faulty reasoning or incorrect assumptions. Bastiat sometimes goes from one to the another in his writings but he has a clear distinction in mind between intellectual error (“the fallacy”) and the rhetorical purposes to which partial truth and partial error can be used in arguments over government policies (“the sophism”).

Bastiat’s goals in organizing a French free trade movement, engaging in popular economic journalism, and standing for election can be summarized as follows: to expose the bad effects of government intervention in the economy; to uproot preconceived and incorrect economic ideas; to arouse a sense of injustice at the immoral actions of the government and its favoured elites; to create “justified mistrust among the oppressed masses” of the beneficiaries of government privilege; and to open the eyes and stiffen the resistance of “the dupes” of government policies. The problem he faced was to discover the best way to achieve this for a popular audience who was gullible about the government’s professed motives in regulating the economy and who were largely ignorant of economic theory.

A major problem Bastiat is acutely aware of is that political economy had a justified reputation for being “dry and dull,” and it was this reputation that Bastiat wanted to overcome with the style he adopted in the Sophisms. The issue was how to be appealing to popular readers whom he believed had become “the dupes” of those benefitting from the system of legal plunder. The means Bastiat adopted to achieve his political goals was to write in a style which ordinary people would find appealing, amusing, and convincing and an analysis of the devices he used in composing his Sophisms reveals the great efforts Bastiat took in trying to do this.

The style and the rhetorical devices Bastiat used in the individual sophisms show considerable variety and skill in their construction. Bastiat has been justly recognized for his excellent style by economists such as Friedrich Hayek and the historian of economic thought Joseph Schumpeter, but this has not been studied in any detail. Schumpeter described Bastiat in very mixed terms as a brilliant economic journalist but as “no theorist” at all:

Admired by sympathizers, reviled by opponents, his name might have gone down to posterity as the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived... I do not hold that Bastiat was a bad theorist. I hold that he was no theorist.(Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, p. 500.)

Friedrich Hayek seems to agree with Schumpeter that Bastiat was not a major theorist but that he was “a publicist of genius” who did pioneering work in exposing economic fallacies held by the general public. [Hayek, “Introduction,” [Bastiat], Selected Essays on Political Economy, p. ix.] Nevertheless, Schumpeter did acknowledge a key aspect of Bastiat’s style noting that “(a) series of Sophismes économiques followed, whose pleasant wit... has ever since been the delight of many.”

A list of the rhetorical devices used by Bastiat in the Sophisms shows the breadth and complexity of what one might call his “rhetoric of liberty,” which he formulated to expose the follies of the policies of the ruling elite and their system of “legal plunder,” and to undermine their authority and legitimacy with “the sting of ridicule”:

  • a standard prose format which one would normally encounter in a newspaper
  • the single authorial voice in the form of a personal conversation with the reader
  • a serious constructed dialogue between stock figures who represented different viewpoints (in this Bastiat was influenced by Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau; Gustave de Molinari continued Bastiat’s format in some of his writings in the late 1840s and 1850s)
  • satirical “official” letters or petitions to government officials or ministers, and other fabricated documents written by Bastiat (in these Bastiat would usually use a reductio ad absurdum argument to mock his opponents’ arguments)
  • the use of Robinson Crusoe “thought experiments” to make serious economic points or arguments in a more easily understandable format
  • “economic tales” modelled on classic French authors such as La Fontaine’s fables, and Andrieux’s short stories
  • parodies of well-known scenes from French literature, such as Molière’s plays
  • quoting scenes of plays were the playwright mocks the pretensions of aspiring bourgeois who want to act like the nobles who disdain commerce (e.g., Moliere, Beaumarchais)
  • quoting poems with political content, e.g. Horace’s Ode on the transience of tyrants
  • quoting satirical songs about the foolish or criminal behaviour of kings or emperors (such as Napoleon) (Bastiat seems to be familiar with the world of the “goguettiers” (political song writers, especially Béranger) and their interesting sociological world of drinking and singing clubs
  • the use of jokes and puns (such as the names he gave to characters in his dialogs (Mr. Blockhead), or place names (Stulta and Puera), and puns on words such as Highville, and gaucherie)

Our study of Bastiat’s Sophisms reveals a well read man who was familiar with classic French literature, contemporary songs and poems, and opera. The sheer number and range of material which Bastiat was able to draw upon in his writings is very impressive. It not only includes the classics of political economy in the French, Spanish, Italian, and English languages but also a very wide collection of modern French literature which includes the following: fables and fairy tales by La Fontaine and Perrault; plays by Molière, Beaumarchais, Victor Hugo, Regnard, Désaugiers, Collin d’Harleville; songs and poems by Béranger and Depraux, short stories by Andrieux, odes by Horace, operas by Rossini, poems by Boileau-Despréaux and Viennet, and satires by Courier de Méré. The plays of Molière were Bastiat’s favourite literary source to quote and he used Tartuffe, or the Imposter (1664), The Misanthrope (1666), L’Avare (The Miser) (1668), Le Bourgeois gentihomme (The Would-Be Gentleman) (1670), and Le malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid, or the Hypocondriac) (1673).

Bastiat also wrote what might be called “political sophisms” in order to debunk fallacies of a political nature, especially concerning electoral politics and the ability of political leaders to initiate fundamental reforms. He had hinted in the Conclusion to ES1 that he had more in mind than the debunking of just economic sophisms. He explicitly mentions four specific types of sophistry which concerned him, namely theocratic, economic, political, and financial sophistry. Bastiat devoted most of his efforts to exposing economic sophisms, mentioning theocratic and financial sophisms only in passing if at all. He did however write a number of political sophisms which will be briefly discussed here.

The “economic” and “political” sophisms are closely related in Bastiat’s mind because the advocates of protectionism were only able to get special privileges because they controlled the Chamber of Deputies and the various Councils which advised the government on economic policy. Bastiat wrote five sophisms which can be categorized as political sophisms. One he explicitly called “Electoral Sophisms” (undated but probably written during 1847) which is a Benthamite listing of the kinds of false arguments people give for why they might prefer voting for one candidate over another. Another is called “The Elections” (also written sometime in 1847) and is a dialog between a “countryman” (a farmer) who argues with a political writer, a parish priest, and an electoral candidate.

Two of the sophisms which appear in this volume, although they deal with significant economic issues, also deal with political matters which qualify them to be regarded as political sophisms. “The Tax Collector” (ES2 10, c.1847) is a discussion between Jacques Bonhomme and a tax collector, wickedly called “Mr. Blockhead”, where an amusing and somewhat convoluted discussion about the nature of political representation takes place. Bonhomme is merely confused by the trickery of the tax collector’s euphemisms about how the elected deputies in the Chamber are his true representatives. The second is “The Utopian” (ES2 11 , Jan. 1847) where Bastiat discusses the problems faced by a free market reform-minded Minister who is unexpectedly put in charge of the country by the King. There is so much the utopian reformer wants to do but the dilemmas and ultimate failure of top-down political and economic reform are exposed by Bastiat.

The fifth essay which might also be regarded as a political sophism is his famous essay “The State” which appeared initially as a draft in the magazine Jacques Bonhomme (June 11-15, 1848) and then in a longer form in the Journal des Débats (September 1848). Here he attempts to rebut the folly of the idea which was widespread during the first few months following the February Revolution that the state could and should take care of all the needs of the people by taxing everybody and giving benefits to everybody.

Economic Sophisms and the other writings in this volume show Bastiat at his creative and journalistic best: his skill at mixing serious and amusing ways of making his arguments is unsurpassed; the quality of his insights into profound economic issues are often exceptional and sometimes well ahead of his time; his ability to combine his political lobbying for the Free Trade Movement, his journalism, his political activities during the 1848 Revolution, and his scholarly activities is most unusual; and his humor, wit, and literary knowledge which he scatters throughout his writings demonstrate that he deserves his reputation as one of the most gifted writers on economic matters who still deserves our close attention today.


Table of Contents

Economic Sophisms. Series I [December 1845]

Economic Sophisms. Series II [January 1848]

Economic Sophisms. Series III. [Dec. 1846 - Mar. 1848]


1. Economic Sophisms. Series I1 [December 1845]

Publishing History2

The First Series of Economic Sophisms (henceforth abbreviated as ES1) was completed in November 1845 (Bastiat signed the conclusion “Mugron, 2 November, 1845”) and was probably printed in late 1845 or early 1846. The Bibliothèque nationale de France does not show an edition published in 1845 but there are two listed for 1846, one of which is called the second edition. Presumably the other is the true first edition which appeared in early (possibly January) 1846.3

The first eleven chapters (of an eventual twenty two) of this "first series" of economic sophisms had originally appeared as a series of three articles in the Journal des économistes in April, July, and October 1845 under the name of “Sophismes économiques”.4 If chapters twelve to twenty two were also published elsewhere the place and date of original publication was not given by Paillottet:

  • [No title given] [1st published in book], OC, vol. 4, pp. 1-5.
  • I. “Abondance, disette” (Abundance and Scarcity) [JDE, April 1845, T. 11, p. 1-8]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 5-14.
  • II. “Obstacle, cause” (Obstacle and Cause] [JDE, April 1845, T. 11, p. 8-10]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 15-18.
  • III. “Effort, résultat” (Effort and Result) [JDE, April 1845, T. 11, p. 10-16]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 19-27.
  • IV. “Égaliser les conditions de production” (Equalizing the Conditions of Production) [JDE, July 1845, T. 11, p. 345-56]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 27-45.
  • V. “Nos produits sont grevés de taxes” (Our Products are weighed down with Taxes) [JDE, July 1845, T. 11, p. 356-60]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 46-52.
  • VI. “Balance du commerce” (The Balance of Trade) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 201-04]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 52-57.
  • VII. “Pétition des fabricants de chandelles, etc.” (Petition by the Manufacturers of Candles, etc.) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 204-07]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 57-62.
  • VIII. “Droits différentiels” (Differential Duties) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 207-08]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 62-63.
  • IX. “Immense découverte!!!” (An immense Discovery!!!) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 208-11]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 63-67.
  • X. “Réciprocité” (Reciprocity) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 211]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 67-70.
  • XI. “Prix absolus” (Nominal Prices) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 213-15 (this chapter was originally numbered XII in the JDE but became chapter 11 in the book version of Economic Sophisms and incorporated chapter XI. “Stulta et Puera”, from the JDE version p. 211-12)]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 70-74.
  • XII. “La protection élève-t-elle le taux des salaires?” (Does Protection increase the Rate of Pay?) [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 74-79.
  • XIII. “Théorie, Pratique” (Theory and Practice) [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 79-86.
  • XIV. “Conflit de principes” (A Conflict of Principles) [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 86-90.
  • XV. “Encore la réciprocité” (More Reciprocity) [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 90-92.
  • XVI. “Les fleuves obstrués plaidant pour les prohibitionistes” (Blocked Rivers pleading in favor of the Prohibitionists) [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 92-93.
  • XVII. “Un chemin de fer négatif” (A Negative Railway] [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 93-94.
  • XVIII. “Il n'y a pas de principes absolus” (There are no Absolute Principles) [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 94-97.
  • XIX. “Indépendance nationale” (National Independence) [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 97-99.
  • XX. “Travail humain, travail national” (Human Labor and Domestic Labor) [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 100-05.
  • XXI. “Matières premières” (Raw Materials) [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 105-15.
  • XXII. “Métaphores” (Metaphors) [no date given] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 115-19.
  • “Conclusion” (Conclusion) [dated “Mugron, 2 November, 1845”] [1st published in book]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 119-26.

The French printing history of the Economic Sophisms Series I is as follows. The 1st collection of Economic Sophisms (known as Series I) was published, according to Paillottet, at the end of 1845 (probably December) but all the printed copies bear the date 1846. It consisted of 22 essays, the first 11 of which had appeared in the April, July, and October issues of the Journal des Économistes. The last group of 11 articles were printed for the first time. The Economic Sophisms Series I continued to be published as a separate volume until 1851 with the appearance of a 4th edition. [2nd ed. in 1846, 3rd ed. 1847]. The first edition to combine both SI and SII was a Belgian edition of 1851. After the publication of the Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. in 1854) both SI and SII appeared together in vol. 4. SI was listed as being the 5th edition in 1854, the 6th edition in both 1863 and 1873.

  • Sophismes économiques, par M. Frédéric Bastiat. Membre du Conseil général des Landes. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1846). [probably the 1st edition]
  • Sophismes économiques, par M. Frédéric Bastiat. Membre correspondant de l"Institut et du Conseil général des Landes. 2e édition (Paris: Guillaumin, 1846).
  • Sophismes économiques, par M. Frédéric Bastiat. Membre correspondant de l"Institut et du Conseil général des Landes. 3e édition (Paris: Guillaumin, 1847).
  • Sophismes économiques, par Frédéric Bastiat. Première série. 4e édition. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1851).


1 (Paillottet’s note).The small volume containing the first series of Economic Sophisms was published at the end of 1845. Several of the chapters it contained had already been published by the Journal des Economistes in issues that appeared in April, July and October of the same year. [See “A Note on the Publishing History of the Economic Sophisms” for a more detailed discussion.]

2 [DMH - See “A Note on the Publishing History of the Economic Sophisms” for a more detailed discussion.]

3 Frédéric Bastiat, Sophismes économiques (Paris: Guillaumin, 1846), 166 pp.; Frédéric Bastiat, Sophismes économiques (Paris: Guillaumin, 1846. 2nd ed.), 188 pp. The Biblithèque nationale de France also lists a 4th edition of Series I published in 1851: Frédéric Bastiat, Sophismes économiques (Paris: Guillaumin, 1851), 188 pp.

4 "Sophismes économiques," JDE, avril 1845, T. 11, pp. 1-16; "Sophismes économiques (suite)," JDE, juillet 1845, T. 11, pp. 345-360; "Sophismes économiques (suite)," JDE, octobre 1845, T. 12, pp. 201-215.



[Author’s Introduction to Economic Sophisms] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: [No title given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 1-5.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


In political economy there is a lot to learn and very little to do. (Bentham)5 6

In this small volume, I have sought to refute a few of the arguments against the deregulation of trade.

This is not a conflict that I am entering into against protectionists. It is a principle that I am attempting to instill into the minds of sincere men who hesitate because they doubt.

I am not one of those who say: “Protection is based on interests.” I believe that it is based on error or, if you prefer, on half-truths. Too many people fear freedom for this apprehension not to be sincere.

This is setting my sights high, but I must admit that I would like this small work to become in some way a manual for men called upon to decide between the two principles. When you do not possess a long-standing familiarity with the doctrine of freedom, protectionist sophisms will constantly come to one’s mind in one form or another. To release it from them, a long effort of analysis is required on each occasion, and not everyone has the time to carry out this task, least of all the legislators. This is why I have tried to do it all at once.

But, people will say, are the benefits of freedom so hidden that they are apparent only to professional economists?

Yes, we agree that our opponents in the debate have a clear advantage over us. They can set out a half-truth in a few words, and to show that it is a half-truth we need long and arid dissertations.

This is in the nature of things. Protection brings together in one single point all the good it does and distributes among the wider mass of people the harm it inflicts. One is visible to the naked eye, the other only to the mind’s eye.7 — It is exactly the opposite for freedom.

This is so for almost all economic matters.

If you say: Here is a machine that has thrown thirty workers out into the street ;

Or else: Here is a spendthrift who will stimulate all forms of industry;

Or yet again: The conquest of Algiers8 has doubled Marseille’s trade;

Or lastly: The budget assures the livelihood of one hundred thousand families.

You will be understood by everyone, and your statements are clear, simple, and true in themselves. You may deduce the following principles from them:

Machines are harmful;

Luxury, conquest, and heavy taxes are a blessing;

And your theory will have all the more success in that you will be able to support it with irrefutable facts.

We, on the other hand, cannot stick to one cause and its immediate effect. We know that this effect itself becomes a cause in its turn. To judge a measure, it is therefore necessary for us to follow it through a sequence of results up to its final effect. And, since we must give utterance to the key word, we are reduced to reasoning.

But right away here we are, assailed by these cries, “You are theorists, metaphysicians, ideologues,9 utopians,10 and in thrall to rigid principles,” and all the prejudices of the public are turned against us.

What are we to do, therefore? Call for patience and good faith in the reader and, if we are capable of this, cast into our deductions such vivid clarity that the truth and falsehood stand out starkly in order for victory to be won either by restriction or freedom, once and for all.

I must make an essential observation at this point.

A few extracts from this small volume have appeared in the Journal des économistes.

In a criticism that was incidentally very benevolent, published by the Vicomte de Romanet11 (see the issues of Le Moniteur industriel dated 15 and 18 May 1845)12, he assumed that I was asking for customs dues to be abolished. M. de Romanet is mistaken. What I am asking for is the abolition of the protectionist regime. We do not refuse taxes to the government; what we would like, if possible, is to dissuade those being governed from taxing each other. Napoleon said: “Customs dues ought not to be a fiscal instrument, but a means of protecting industry.”13 We plead the contrary and say: “Customs dues must not be an instrument of mutual plunder in the hands of workers, but it can be a fiscal instrument that is as good as any other.” We are so far, or to involve only me in the conflict, I am so far from demanding the abolition of customs dues that I see in them a lifeline for our finances.14 I believe that they are likely to produce huge revenues for the Treasury, and if my idea is to be expressed in its entirety, at the snail’s pace that sound economic doctrine takes to circulate, I am counting more on the needs of the Treasury than on the force of enlightened public opinion for trade reform to be accomplished.

But finally what are your conclusions, I am asked.

I have no need of conclusions. I am opposing sophisms, that is all.

But, people continue, it is not enough to destroy, you have to build. My view is that in the destruction of an error the truth is created.

After that, I have no hesitation in expressing my hope. I would like public opinion to be persuaded to ratify a customs law that lays down terms of approximately this order:

Objects of prime necessity shall pay an ad valorem duty of 5%

Objects of normal usefulness 10%

Luxury objects 15 or 20%

Furthermore, these distinctions are taken from an order of ideas that is totally foreign to political economy as such, and I am far from thinking that they are as useful and just as they are commonly supposed to be. However, that is another story.


5 Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the founder of the school of thought known as utilitarianism and influenced a group of political and economic reformers in the early 19th century known as the Philosophic Radicals. It is interesting that Bastiat chose two passages from Bentham's Théorie des peines et des récompenses (1811) as the opening for both the First and Second Series of the Economic Sophisms. See the glossary entry on "Bentham."

6 Some of Jeremy Bentham’s writings appeared first in French as a result of the work of his colleague Étienne Dumont, who translated, edited, and published several of Bentham’s works in Switzerland. The quotation above comes from Dumont’s Théorie des peines et des recompenses, (1811), p. 270. It is also possible that Bentham was the inspiration behind Bastiat’s choice of words for the title of this series of articles known as “Economic Sophisms.” Bentham used Dumont to edit some of his unpublished manuscripts and to prepare them for publication in French. One of these texts was Traité des sophismes politiques, which appeared in 1816. An English version of the book appeared with the editorial assistance of the Benthamite Peregrine Bingham the Younger, the Handbook of Political Fallacies, which appeared in 1824. See the introduction to Bentham, Handbook of Political Fallacies; and Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2, “The Book of Fallacies: From Unfinished Papers of Jeremy Bentham” (</title/1921/114047>). Bentham also wrote an attack on the idea of natural rights as expressed in the French “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” (1789) under the title of “Anarchical Fallacies” (written 1796 but not published until 1843) (/title/1921/114226). See also Waldron, Nonsense upon Stilts. Bentham’s famous dismissal of natural rights as “nonsense upon stilts” can be found in this volume: “Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense,—nonsense upon stilts” (/title/1921/114230/2345508).

7 (Paillottet’s note) This glimpse gave rise later to the pamphlet entitled What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, which is included in this volume [see this volume, pp. 000—00].

8 Algeria was invaded and conquered by France in 1830 and the occupied parts were annexed to France in 1834. According to the new constitution of the Second Republic (1848) it was declared that Algeria was no longer a colony but an integral part of France (with three Départements) and that the emigration of French settlers would be officially encouraged and subsidized by the government. These policies were vigorously opposed by Bastiat. See the glossary entry on “Algeria.”

9 The theory of "Idéologie" had a specific meaning in the early 19th century. It referred to the ideas of Étienne Condillac (1715-1780) who believed that all ideas were the result of sensations and a wrote a pioneering treatise on economics, Commerce and Government (1776). More especially the word refers to the work of Destutt de Tracy who coined the term "idéologie". He was part of a movement in the 1790s called the "Idéologues" and their belief in constitutional government and free markets incurred the wrath of Napoleon. Jefferson translated one of Tracy's volumes on Ideology into English, with the title Treatise of Political Economy (1817). See the glossary entries on "Condillac" and "Destutt de Tracy".

10 See the glossary entry on “Utopias.”

11 Auguste, Vicomte de Romanet (n.d.), was a staunch protectionist who served on the Conseil général de l'agriculture, du commerce, et des manufactures. See the glossary entry on “Romanet.”

12 Le Moniteur industriel was the journal of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) founded by Mimerel de Roubaix in 1846. See the glossary entries on “Le Moniteur industriel,” “Mimerel,” and “Association for the Defense of National Employment”.

13 There are remarks about tariffs and protection for French industry scattered throughout the Mémoires of Napoleon. His most direct comments come in a discussion of the Continental System he introduced in November 1806 to weaken the British economy by preventing the sale of British goods in Europe. In the Mémoires Napoleon is very proud of his economic accomplishments and believed that the system of protection he introduced stimulated French industry enormously. "Experience showed that each day the continental system was good, because the State prospered in spite of the burden of the war… The spirit of improvement was shown in agriculture as well as in the factories. New villages were built, as were the streets of Paris. Roads and canals made interior movement much easier. Each week some new improvement was invented: I made it possible to make sugar out of turnips, and soda out of salt. The development of science was at the front along with that of industry." See Mémoires de Napoléon Bonaparte: manuscrit venu de Sainte-Hélène (Paris: Baudouin, 1821), pp. 95-99. See the glossary entry on "Napoléon."

14 Free traders like Bastiat and Cobden distinguished between two kinds of tariffs - "fiscal tariffs," which were solely designed to raise revenue for the government (it should be noted that income taxes did not exist at this time), and "protectionist tariffs" which were designed to provide government favours to particular vested interest groups. In his essay "The Utopian" (written 17 January 1847 and published in ESII as no. XI) Bastiat says he would like to reduce tariffs to 5% across the board (for both imports and exports) in order to achieve the former goal. See the glossary entries on "Cobden," “Utopias,” and “Bastiat’s Policy on Tariffs.”


I. Abundance and Scarcity [April 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Abondance, disette” (Abundance and Scarcity) [JDE, April 1845, T. 11, p. 1-8]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 5-14.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


What is better for mankind and society, abundance or scarcity?

What, people will exclaim, is that a question to ask? Has it ever been stated or is it possible to assert that scarcity is the basis of man’s well-being?

Yes, that has been claimed; yes, it has been asserted. It is asserted every day, and I have no fear in saying that the theory of scarcity is by far the more popular. It is the subject of conversation in the journals, books, and on the rostrum, and although this may appear extraordinary it is clear that political economy will have fulfilled its task and its practical mission when it has popularized and made irrefutable this very simple proposition: “Mankind’s wealth lies in the abundance of things.”

Do we not hear this everyday: “Foreigners are going to swamp us with their products”? We therefore fear abundance.

Has M. de Saint-Cricq15 not said: “Production is too high”? He therefore feared abundance.

Do workers not smash machines? They are therefore terrified of excess production or, in other words, abundance.

Has M. Bugeaud16 not pronounced these words: “Let bread become expensive and farmers will be rich!”? Well, bread can become expensive only if it becomes scarce; therefore M. Bugeaud was recommending scarcity.

Has not M. d’Argout17 used the very fact of the productive capacity of the sugar industry as an argument against it? Has he not said: “Beetroot has no future, and its cultivation could not be expanded, since if just a few hectares per department were allocated to it this would meet the entire consumption needs of France.” Therefore, in his eyes, good lies in lack of production, or scarcity, and harm in fertility and abundance.

Do La Presse,18 Le Commerce,19 and the majority of daily newspapers not publish one or more articles each morning to demonstrate to the Chambers and the government that it would be sound policy to raise the price of everything by law through the operation of tariffs? Do the three powers of state20 not comply every day with this injunction from the regular press? Now tariffs raise the price of things only because they decrease the quantity offered in the marketplace! Therefore the papers, the Chambers, and the government put into practice the theory of scarcity, and I was right to say that this theory is by far the most popular one.

How has it come about that in the eyes of workers, political writers, and statesmen abundance is shown as something to be feared and scarcity as being advantageous. I propose to go back to the source of this illusion.

We note that men become rich to the extent that they earn a good return from their work, that is to say from what they sell at the highest price. They sell at the highest price in proportion to the rarity, that is to say the relative shortage, of the type of good their efforts produce. We conclude from this that, as far as they are concerned at least, scarcity makes them rich. When this reasoning is applied successively to all people who work, the theory of scarcity is thereby deduced. From this we move to its application, and in order to benefit all these people, high prices and the scarcity of all goods are provoked artificially by means of prohibition, restriction, the suppression of machines, and other similar means.

This is also true for abundance. We observe that when a product is plentiful it is sold at a low price and therefore producers earn less. If all producers are in this situation, they all become poor and it is therefore abundance that ruins society. And, since all beliefs attempt to become reality, in a great many countries, we see laws made by men combating the abundance of things.

This sophism, expressed as a general statement, would perhaps have little effect; but when it is applied to a particular order of facts, to such and such a branch of production, or to a given class of workers, it is extremely specious, and this can be explained. It is a syllogism that is not false but incomplete. Now, whatever truth there is in a syllogism is always and necessarily available to cognitive inspection. But the incomplete element is a negative phenomenon, a missing component which is very possible and even very easy not to take into account.

Man produces in order to consume. He is both producer and consumer. The reasoning that I have just set out considers him only from the first of these points of view. From the second, the opposite conclusion would have been reached. Could we not say in fact:

The consumer is all the richer when he buys everything cheaply. He buys things cheaply the more abundant they are; therefore abundance makes him rich. This reasoning, when extended to all consumers, would lead to the theory of abundance!

It is the way in which the concept of trade is imperfectly understood that produces these illusions. If we look to our own personal interest, we will recognize immediately that it has a twin nature. As sellers, our interest is in things being expensive and consequently that things should be scarce; as buyers, what counts is low prices or what comes to the same thing, that things should be abundant. We cannot therefore base a line of reasoning on one or other of these interests without having established which of the two coincides and is identified with the general and constant interest of the human race.

If man were a solitary animal,21 if he worked exclusively for himself, if he consumed the fruit of his labor directly, in a word, if he did not trade, the theory of scarcity would never have been able to infiltrate the world. It is only too obvious that abundance would be advantageous to him, from wherever it arose, either as the result of his industry or the ingenious tools or powerful machines that he had invented or through the fertility of the soil, the generosity of nature or even a mysterious invasion of products which the waves brought from elsewhere and washed up on the beach. Never would a solitary man, seeking to spur on his own work or to secure some support for it, envisage breaking instruments that spared him effort, or neutralizing the fertility of the soil or throwing back into the sea any of the advantageous goods it had brought him. He would easily understand that work is not an aim but a means, and that it would be absurd to reject the aim for fear of damaging the means. He would understand that if he devotes two hours a day to providing for his needs, any circumstance (machine, fertility, free gift, or anything else) that spares him one hour of this work, the result remaining the same, makes this hour available to him, and that he may devote it to increasing his well-being. In a word, he would understand that sparing people work is nothing other than progress.

But trade clouds our vision of such a simple truth. In a social state, with the division of labor it generates, the production and the consumption of an object are not combined in the same individual. Each person is led to consider his work no longer as a means but as an end. With regard to each object, trade creates two interests, that of the producer and that of the consumer, and these two interests are always in direct opposition to each other.

It is essential to analyze them and study their nature.

Let us take a producer, any producer; what is his immediate interest? It lies in these two things, 1. that the smallest possible number of people should devote themselves to the same work as him; 2. that the greatest possible number of people should seek the product of this work; political economy explains this more succinctly in these terms: supply should be very restricted and demand very high, or in yet other terms: that there should be limited competition with limitless markets.

What is the immediate interest of the consumer? That the supply of the product in question should be extensive and demand restrained.

Since these two interests are contradictory, one of them has of necessity to coincide with the social or general interest while the other runs counter to it.

But which should legislation favor as being the expression of public good, if indeed it has to favor one?

To know this, you need only examine what would happen if the secret desires of men were accomplished.

As producers, it must be agreed, each of us has antisocial desires. Are we vine growers? We would be little displeased if all the vines in the world froze, except for ours: that is the theory of scarcity. Are we the owners of foundries? We would want there to be no other iron on the market than what we brought to it, whatever the needs of the public might be, and with the deliberate intention that this public need, keenly felt and inadequately met, would result in our receiving a high price: that is also the theory of scarcity. Are we farm workers? We would say, with M. Bugeaud, “Let bread become expensive, that is to say, scarce and the farmers will get on with their business”: this is the same theory of scarcity.

Are we doctors? We could not stop ourselves from seeing that certain physical improvements, such as the improvement in a country’s health, the development of certain moral virtues such as moderation and temperance, the progress of enlightenment to the point that each person was able to take care of his own health, the discovery of certain simple drugs that were easy to use, would be so many mortal blows to our profession. Given that we are doctors, our secret desires are antisocial. I do not mean to say that doctors formulate such desires. I prefer to believe that they would joyfully welcome a universal panacea; but this sentiment reveals not the doctor but the man or Christian who, in self-denial, puts himself in the situation of the consumer. As one who exercises a profession and who draws his well-being from this profession, his consideration and even the means of existence of his family make it impossible for his desires, or if you prefer, his interests not to be antisocial.

Do we manufacture cotton cloth? We would like to sell it at a price most advantageous to us. We would readily agree that all rival factories should be prohibited and while we do not dare to express this wish publicly or pursue its total achievement with any chance of success, we nevertheless succeed to a certain extent through devious means, for example, by excluding foreign fabrics in order to reduce the quantity on offer, and thus produce, through the use of force, a scarcity of clothing to our advantage.

We could go through all forms of industry in this way and we would always find that producers as such have antisocial views. “Merchants,” says Montaigne, “do good business only when young people are led astray; farm workers when wheat is expensive; architects when houses are ruined; and officers of justice when court cases and quarrels between men occur. The very honor and practice of ministers of religion are drawn from our death and vices. No doctor takes pleasure in the health even of his friends nor soldiers in peace in the town, and so on.”22

It follows from this that if the secret wishes of each producer were realized the world would regress rapidly into barbarism. Sail would outlaw steam, oars would outlaw sail and would soon have to give up transport in favor of carts, carts would yield to mules, and mules to human carriers of bales. Wool would exclude cotton and cotton exclude wool and so on, until a scarcity of everything had made man himself disappear from the face of the earth.

Let us suppose for a moment that legislative power and public force were put at the disposal of the Mimerel Committee,23 and that each of the members making up this association had the right to require it to propose and sanction one little law: is it very difficult to guess to what codes of production the public would be subjected?

If we now consider the immediate interest of the consumer we will find that it is in perfect harmony with the general interest and with what the well-being of humanity demands. When a buyer enters the market, he wants to find it with an abundance of products. That the seasons are propitious to all harvests, that increasingly wonderful inventions bring a greater number of products and satisfactions within reach, that time and work are saved, that distance dissolves, that a spirit of peace and justice allows the burden of taxes to be reduced, and that barriers of all sorts fall: in all this the immediate interest of the consumer runs parallel with the public interest properly understood . He may elevate his secret desires to the level of illusion or absurdity without his desires ceasing to be humanitarian. He may want bed and board, hearth and home, education and the moral code, security and peace, and strength and health to be obtained effortlessly, without work or measure, like dust in the road, water in the stream, the air or the light that surrounds us, without the achievement of such desires being contrary to the good of society.

Perhaps people will say that if these desires were granted, the work of the producer would be increasingly restricted and would end by ceasing for lack of sustenance. Why though? Because, in this extreme supposition, all imaginable needs and all desires would be completely satisfied. Man, like the Almighty, would create everything by a single act of will. Would someone like to tell me, on such an assumption, what would there be to complain about in productive economic activity?

I imagined just now a legislative assembly made up of workers,24 of which each member would formulate into law his secret desire as a producer, and I said that the code that would emerge from this assembly would be systematic monopoly, the theory of scarcity put into practice.

In the same way, a Chamber in which each person consults only his immediate interest as a consumer would lead to the systematic establishment of freedom, the suppression of all restrictive measures, and the overturning of all artificial barriers, in a word, the realization of the theory of abundance.

From this it follows:

That to consult the immediate interest of production alone is to consult an antisocial interest;

That to make the immediate interest of consumption the exclusive criterion is to adopt the general interest.

May I be allowed to stress this point of view once more at the risk of repeating myself?

There is radical antagonism between sellers and buyers.25

Sellers want the object of the sale to be scarce, in short supply and at a high price;

Buyers want it to be abundant, available everywhere at a low price.

The laws, which ought at least to be neutral, take the side of sellers against buyers, of producers against consumers, of high prices against low prices,26 and of scarcity against abundance.

They act, if not intentionally at least in terms of their logic, according to this given assumption: A nation is rich when it lacks everything.

For they say: “It is the producer we should favor by ensuring him a proper market for his product. To do this, we have to raise its price. To raise its price, the supply has to be restricted and to restrict the supply is to create scarcity.”And look: let me suppose that right now when these laws are in full force a detailed inventory is taken, not in value but in weight, measures, volumes, and quantities of all the objects existing in France that are likely to satisfy the needs and tastes of her inhabitants, such as wheat, meat, cloth, canvas fuel, colonial goods, etc.

Let me further suppose that on the following day all the barriers that prevent the introduction into France of foreign products are overturned.

Lastly, in order to assess the result of this reform, let me suppose that three months later, a new inventory is taken.

Is it not true that we would find in France more wheat, cattle, cloth, canvas, iron, coal, sugar, etc. on the second inventory than at the time of the first?

This is so true that our protective customs duties have no other aim than to prevent all of these things from reaching us, to restrict their supply and to prevent a decrease in their price and therefore their abundance.

Now, I ask you, are the people better fed under the empire of our laws because there is less bread, meat, and sugar in the country? Are they better clad because there is less yarn, canvas, and cloth? Are they better heated because there is less coal? Are they better assisted in their work because there is less iron and copper, fewer tools and machines?

But people will say: if foreigners swamp us with their products, they will carry off our money.

What does it matter? Men do not eat money; they do not clothe themselves with gold, nor heat themselves with silver. What does it matter if there is more or less money in the country, if there is more bread on the sideboard, more meat on the hook, more linen in the cupboards and more wood in the woodshed?27

I will continue to confront restrictive laws with this dilemma:

Either you agree that you cause scarcity or you do not agree.

If you agree, you are admitting by this very fact that you are doing the people as much harm as you can. If you do not agree, then you are denying that you have restricted supply and caused prices to rise, and consequently you are denying that you have favored producers.

You are either disastrous or ineffective. You cannot be useful.28


15 Pierre Laurent Barthélemy, comte de Saint Cricq (1772-1854) was a protectionist Deputy who became Director General of Customs (1815), president of the Trade Council, and then Minister of Trade and Colonies (1828-29). See the glossary entry on "Saint Cricq."

16 Bugeaud, Thomas, marquess de Piconnerie, duc d’Isly (1784-1849) had a distinguished military career under Napoleon fighting the partisans in Spain. After the 1830 Revolution he became a conservative deputy who supported a policy of protection for agriculture. In 1840 he was appointed the Governor of Algeria by Thiers. See the glossary entry on “Bugeaud.”

17 Antoine Maurice Appolinaire, Comte d'Argout (1782-1858), was the Minister for the Navy and Colonies, then Commerce, and Public Works during the July Monarchy. In 1834 he was appointed Governor of the Bank of France. See the glossary on “d’Argout.”

18 La Presse was a widely circulated daily newspaper under the control of the politician and businessman Émile de Girardin (1806-81). See the glossary entry on "La Presse" and “French Newspapers” in Appendix 2 “The French State and Politics.”

19 Le Commerce is possibly a reference to Le Constitutionnel which began in 1815 but had many name changes throughout its existence, including le Journal du Commerce from 1817. During the July Monarchy it sided with the policies of Thiers. See the glossary entries on "Le Commerce" and “French Newspapers.”

20 The King, the Chamber of Peers, and the Chamber of Deputies. See the glossary entry on “The Chamber of Deputies.”

21 Without mentioning him by name, Bastiat is referring here to the activities of Robinson Crusoe which he used several times in the Economic Sophisms and the Economic Harmonies as a thought experiment to explore the nature of economic action. See the glossary entry on "Crusoe Economics."

22 Montaigne, Essais de Montaigne, vol. 1, chap. 21, “Le Profit d’un est dommage de l’autre” (One man’s gain is another man’s loss), pp. 130-31. Sometime in 1847 Bastiat wrote an introduction to a chapter on this very topic. He called this phrase the “classical example of a sophism, the root stock sophism from which comes multitudes of sophisms.” Republished in this volume as ES3 15. Michel de Montaigne (1533-92) was one of the best-known and best-admired writers of the Renaissance. His Essays (first published in 1580) were a thoughtful meditation on human nature in the form of personal anecdotes infused with deep philosophical reflections. See the glossary entry on “Montaigne.”

23 There are two protectionist bodies which are referred to as the "Mimerel Committee." Pierre Mimerel de Roubaix (1786-1872) was a textile manufacturer and politician from Roubaix who was a vigorous advocate of protectionism. In 1842 he founded a pro-tariff "Comité de l'industrie" (Committee of Industry) in his home town to lobby the government for protection and subsidies. This Committee, known as the Mimerel Committee, was expanded in 1846 into a national body called the "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) in order to better counter the growing interest in Bastiat's Free Trade Association which had also been established in that year. Mimerel and Antoine Odier (1766-1853) sat on the Association's Central Committee which was commonly referred to as the "Mimerel Committee” or the "Odier Committee." See the glossary entries on "Mimerel," "Odier," "Mimerel Committee," and the "Association for the Defense of National Employment."

24 In ES 2 IV. “The Lower Council of Labour” Bastiat satirizes the Superior Council of Commerce which was a body within the Ministry of Trade which served the interests of producers by inventing an “Inferior (or Lower) Council of Labour” which would serve the interests of “proper workers.” They of course came to a very different conclusion concerning the merits of protectionism. See the glossary entry on the “Superior Council of Commerce.”

25 (Paillottet’s note) The author amended the terms of this proposition in a later work. See Economic Harmonies, chapter XI (OC, vol. 6, chap. 11, “Producteur, consommateur”).

26 (Bastiat’s note) In French we do not have a noun that expresses the opposite concept to expensiveness (cheapness [in English in the original]). It is rather remarkable that popular instinct expresses this concept by the following paraphrase: "marché avantageux, bon marché." (an advantageous market, a good market). Prohibitionists should change this locution. It implies an economic system that is quite contrary to theirs.

27 See ES1 XI. “Nominal Prices” for a more detailed discussion of this topic, below pp. ???

28 (Paillottet’s note) The author has dealt with this subject in greater detail in chapter XI of the Economic Harmonies [see note 3, above] and also in another form in the article entitled Abundance written for the Dictionary of Political Economy, which we have included at the end of the fifth volume. [Bastiat’s article “Abondance” appeared in the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique, vol. 1, pp. 2–4.]


II. Obstacle and Cause [April 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Obstacle, cause” (Obstacle and Cause] [JDE, April 1845, T. 11, p. 8-10].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 15-18.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


The obstacle taken for the cause—scarcity taken for abundance: this is the same sophism under another guise. It is a good thing to examine it from all sides.

Man originally lacks everything.

Between his destitution and the satisfaction of his needs there is a host of obstacles, which it is the purpose of work to overcome. It is an intriguing business trying to find how and why these same obstacles to his well-being have become in his eyes the cause of his well-being.

I need to transport myself a hundred leagues away. But between the points of departure and arrival there are mountains, rivers, marshes, impenetrable forests, evil doers, in a word, obstacles, and in order to overcome these obstacles I have to make a great deal of effort or, what comes to the same thing, others have to make a great deal of effort and have me pay the price for this. It is clear that in this respect I would have been in a better situation if these obstacles did not exist.

To go through life and travel along the long succession of days that separates the cradle from the tomb, man needs to assimilate a prodigious quantity of food, protect himself against the inclemency of the seasons, and preserve himself from or cure himself of a host of ills. Hunger, thirst, illness, heat, and cold are so many obstacles that lie along his way. In his solitary state, he will have to combat them all by means of hunting, fishing, growing crops, spinning, weaving, and building houses, and it is clear that it would be better for him if there were fewer of these obstacles, or even none at all. In society, he does not have to confront each of these obstacles personally; others do this for him, and in return he removes one of the obstacles surrounding his fellow men.

It is also clear that, taking things as a whole, it would be better for men as a group, that is for society, that the obstacles should be as insignificant and as few as possible.

However, if we examine social phenomena in detail, and the sentiments of men as they have been altered by trade, we soon see how they have managed to confuse needs with wealth and obstacles with causes.

The division of labor, a result of the ability to trade, has meant that each person, instead of combating on his own all the obstacles that surround him, combats only one, and this, not for himself but for the benefit of all his fellow men, who in turn render him the same service.

Now, the result of this is that this person sees the immediate cause of his wealth in the obstacle that it is his job to combat on other people’s account. The greater, more serious, more keenly felt this obstacle is, the more his fellow men will be ready to pay him for removing it, that is to say, to remove on his behalf the obstacles that stand in his way.

A doctor, for example, does not occupy himself in baking his bread, manufacturing his instruments, weaving, or making his clothes. Others do this for him, and in return he does battle with the illnesses that afflict his patients. The more numerous, severe, and recurrent these illnesses are, the more willing or even obliged people are to work for his personal advantage. From his point of view, illness, that is to say, a general obstacle to people’s well-being, is a cause of individual well-being. All producers reason in the same way with regard to things that concern them. Ship owners make their profit from the obstacle known as distance, farmers from that known as hunger, cloth manufacturers from that known as cold. Teachers live on ignorance, gem cutters on vanity, lawyers on greed, notaries on the possibility of dishonesty, just as doctors depend on the illnesses suffered by men. It is thus very true that each occupation has an immediate interest in the continuation or even the extension of the particular obstacle that is the object of its efforts.

Seeing this, theoreticians come along and develop a theory based on these individual sentiments. They say: “Need is wealth, work is wealth; obstacles to well-being are well-being. Increasing the number of obstacles is to give sustenance to production.”

Next, statesmen come along. They have the coercive power of the state at their disposal, and what is more natural than for them to make use of it to develop and propagate obstacles, since this is also to develop and propagate wealth? For example, they say: “If we prevent iron from coming from those places in which it is plentiful, we will create an obstacle at home to our procuring it. This obstacle will be keenly felt and will make people ready to pay to be relieved of it. A certain number of our fellow citizens will devote themselves to combating it, and this obstacle will make their fortune. The greater it is, the scarcer the mineral or the more it is inaccessible, difficult to transport, and far from the centers of consumption, the more all this activity, with all its ramifications, will employ men. Let us keep out foreign iron, therefore; let us create the obstacle in order to create the work of combating it.”

The same reasoning will lead to machines being forbidden.

People will say: “Here are men who need to store their wine. This is an obstacle; here are other men whose occupation is to remove it by manufacturing barrels. It is thus a good thing that this obstacle exists, since it supplies a part of national work and enriches a certain number of our fellow citizens. However, here comes an ingenious machine that fells oak trees, squares them and divides them into a host of staves, assembles these and transforms them into containers for wine. The obstacle has become much less and with it the wealth of coopers. Let us maintain both through a law. Let us forbid the machine.”

In order to get to the bottom of this sophism you need only say to yourself that human work is not an aim but a means. It never remains unused. If it lacks one obstacle, it turns to another, and the human race is freed from two obstacles by the same amount of work that removed a single one. If ever the work of coopers became superfluous, they would turn to something else. “But with what” people will ask, “would it be paid?” Precisely with what it is paid right now, for when one quantity of labor becomes available following the removal of an obstacle, a corresponding quantity of money also becomes available. To say that human labor will be brought to an end for lack of employment you would have to prove that the human race will cease to encounter obstacles. If that happened, work would not only be impossible, it would be superfluous. We would have nothing left to do because we would be all powerful and we would just have to utter a fiat for all our needs and desires to be satisfied.29


29 (Paillottet’s note) See chapter XIV of the second series of Sophisms [see this volume, “Something Else,” pp. 000—00] and chapters III and XI of the Economic Harmonies on the same subject (OC, vol. 6, chap. 3, “Des besoins de l’homme,” and chap. 11, “Producteur, consommateur”).


III. Effort and Result [April 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Effort, résultat” (Effort and Result) [JDE, April 1845, T. 11, p. 10-16].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 19-27.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”

We have just seen that there are obstacles between our needs and their satisfaction. We manage to overcome them or to reduce them by using our various faculties. In a very general way, we may say that production is an effort followed by a result.

But against what is our well-being or wealth measured? Is it on the result of the effort? Is it on the effort itself? There is always a ratio between the effort employed and the result obtained. Does progress consist in the relative increase of the second or of the first term of this relationship?

Both of these theses have been advocated; in political economy, they divide the field of opinion.

According to the first thesis, wealth is the result of output. It increases in accordance with the increase in the ratio of the result to the effort. Absolute perfection, of which the exemplar is God, consists in the infinite distancing of two terms, in this instance: effort nil; result infinite.

The second thesis claims that it is the effort itself that constitutes and measures wealth. To progress is to increase the ratio of the effort to the result. Its ideal may be represented by the effort, at once eternal and sterile, of Sisyphus.30 31

Naturally, the first welcomes everything that tends to decrease the difficulties involved and increase the product: the powerful machines that add to human powers, the trade that enables better advantage to be drawn from the natural resources spread to a greater or lesser extent over the face of the earth, the intelligence that makes discoveries , the experience that verifies these discoveries, the competition that stimulates production, etc.

Logically, by the same token, the second willfully summons up everything whose effect is to increase the difficulties of production and decrease the output: privileges, monopolies, restrictions, prohibitions, the banning of machines, sterility, etc.

It is fair to note that the universal practice of men is always directed by the principle of the first doctrine. Nobody has ever seen and nobody will ever see anyone working, whether he be a farmer, manufacturer, trader, artisan, soldier, writer, or scholar, who does not devote the entire force of his intelligence to doing things better, faster, and more economically, in a word, to doing more with less.

The opposite doctrine is practiced by theoreticians, deputies, journalists, statesmen, and ministers, in a word men whose role in this world is to carry out experiments on society.

Again it should be noted that, with regard to things that concern them personally, they, like everybody else in the world, act on the principle of obtaining from work the greatest number of useful results possible.

You may think I am exaggerating, and that there are no real Sisyphists.

If you mean that, in practice, the principle is not pushed to the limit of its consequences, I would readily agree with you. Actually, this is always the case when people start from a false principle. It soon leads to results that are so absurd and harmful that that one is simply forced to abandon it. For this reason, very practical productive activity never accepts Sisyphism: punishment would follow errors too closely for them not to be revealed. However, with regard to speculative theories of industrial activity, such as those developed by theoreticians and statesmen, a false principle may be followed for a long time before people are made aware of its falsity by complicated consequences of which moreover they are ignorant, and when at last they are revealed, and action is taken in accordance with the opposing principle, people contradict themselves and seek justification in this incomparably absurd modern axiom: in political economy there is no absolute principle.32

Let us thus see whether the two opposing principles that I have just established do not hold sway in turn, one in actual production and the other in the legislation regulating production.

I have already recalled something M. Bugeaud33 has said; however, in M. Bugeaud there are two men, one a farmer and the other a legislator.

As a farmer, M. Bugeaud tends to devote all his efforts to this twin aim: to save on work and to obtain bread cheaply. When he prefers a good cart to a bad one, when he improves the quality of fertilizer, when in order to break up his soil he substitutes the action of the atmosphere for that of the harrow or the hoe as far as he can, when he calls to his assistance all the procedures in which science and experiment have shown their effectiveness, he has and can have one single goal: to reduce the ratio of the effort to the result. Actually, we have no other way of recognizing the skill of the farmer and the quality of the procedure other than measuring what they have saved in effort and added to the result. And since all the farmers around the world act according to this principle, it may be said that the entire human race aspires, doubtless to its advantage, to obtaining bread or any other product more cheaply and to reducing the effort required to have a given quantity available.

Once account has been taken of this incontrovertible tendency in human beings, it ought to be enough to show legislators the real principle of the matter, that is show them how they should be supporting productive economic activity (as far as it lies within their mission to support it), for it would be absurd to say that human laws ought to act in opposition to the laws of providence.

Nevertheless, the deputy, M. Bugeaud, has been heard to exclaim, “I do not understand the theory of low prices; I would prefer to see bread more expensive and work more plentiful.” And as a result, the deputy for the Dordogne has voted for legislative measures whose effect has been to hamper trade precisely because it indirectly procures us what direct production can supply us only at a higher cost.

Well, it is very clear that M. Bugeaud’s principle as a deputy is diametrically opposed to that of M. Bugeaud as a farmer. If he were consistent with himself, he would vote against any restriction in the Chamber or else he would carry on to his farm the principles he proclaims from the rostrum. He would then be seen to sow his wheat on the most infertile of his fields, since he would then succeed in working a great deal for little return. He would be seen to forbid the use of the plough, since cultivation using his nails would satisfy his double desire of making bread more expensive and work more plentiful.

The avowed aim and acknowledged effect of restriction is to increase work.

It also has the avowed aim and acknowledged effect of raising prices, which is nothing other than making products scarce. Thus, when taken to its limit, it is pure Sisyphism as we have defined it: infinite work, product nil.

Baron Charles Dupin34, said to be a leading light among the peers in economic science, accuses the railway of harming shipping, and it is clear that it is the nature of a more perfect means to restrict the use of a means that is comparatively rougher. However, the railway can harm shipping only by diverting transport to itself; it can do so only by carrying it out more cheaply, and it can carry it out more cheaply only by reducing the ratio of the effort used to the result obtained, since this is what constitutes the lower cost. When, therefore, Baron Dupin deplores this reduction of work for a given result, he is following the lines of the doctrine of Sisyphism. Logically, since he prefers ships to rail, he ought to prefer carts to ships, packhorses to carts, and backpacks to all other known means of transport, since this is the means that requires the greatest amount of work for the least result.

“Work constitutes the wealth of a people.” said M. de Saint-Cricq, this minister of trade who imposed so many impediments to trade.35 It should not be believed that this was an elliptical proposition which meant: “The results of work constitute the wealth of a people.” No, this economist genuinely meant to say that it is the intensity of labor that measures wealth, and proof of this is that, from one inference to another, one restriction to another, he led France and considered he was doing a good thing in this, to devote twice as much work to acquire the same amount of iron, for example. In England, iron then cost 8 fr.; in France it cost 16 fr. If we take a day’s work to cost 1 fr. it is clear that France could, through trade, procure a quintal of iron for eight days taken from national work as a whole. Thanks to M. de Saint-Cricq’s restrictive measures, France needed sixteen days of work to obtain a quintal36 of iron through direct production. Double labor for identical satisfaction, therefore double wealth; here again wealth is measured not by outcomes but by the intensity of the work. Is this not Sisyphism in all its glory?

And so that there is no possible misunderstanding, the minister is careful to take his idea further, and in the same way as he has just called the intensity of labor wealth, he is heard calling the abundance resulting from production, or things likely to satisfy our needs, poverty. “Everywhere”, he says, “machines have taken the place of manpower; everywhere, there is an overabundance of production; everywhere the balance between the ability to produce and the means of consumption has been destroyed.” We see that, according to M. de Saint-Cricq, if France was in a critical situation it was because it produced too much and its production was too intelligent and fruitful. We were too well fed, too well clothed, too well provided for in every way. Production was too fast and exceeded all our desires. An end had to be put to this scourge, and to this end we had to force ourselves, through restrictions, to work more to produce less.

I have also recalled the opinion of another minister of trade, M. d’Argout.37 It is worth our spending a little time on it. As he wished to deliver a terrible blow to sugar-beet , he said, “Growing sugar-beet is doubtless useful, but its usefulness is limited. It does not involve the gigantic developments that people were happy to forecast for it. To be convinced of this, you just have to note that this crop will of necessity be restricted to the limits of consumption. Double or triple current consumption in France if you want, you will always find that a very minimal portion of the land would be enough to meet the needs of this consumption. (This is certainly a strange complaint!). Do you want proof of this? How many hectares38 were planted with sugar-beet in 1828? There were 3,130, which is equivalent to 1/10540th of the cultivatable land. How many are there now that indigenous sugar39 has taken over one third of consumption? There are 16,700 hectares, or 1/1978th of the cultivatable land, or 45 square meters per commune. If we suppose that indigenous sugar had already taken over the entire consumption, we would have only 48,000 hectares planted with beetroot, or 1/680th of the cultivatable land.”40 41

There are two things in this quotation: facts and doctrine. The facts tend to establish that little land, capital, and labor is needed to produce a great deal of sugar and that each commune in France would be abundantly provided with it if it devoted one hectare of its territory to its cultivation. The doctrine consists in seeing this situation as disastrous and seeing in the very power and fruitfulness of the new industry the limit of its usefulness.

I have no need to make myself the defender of sugar-beet or the judge of the strange facts put forward by M. d’Argout,42 but it is worth examining in detail the doctrine of a statesman to whom France entrusted for many years the fate of its agriculture and trade.

I said at the beginning that there was a variable ratio between productive effort and its result; that absolute imperfection consists in an infinite effort with no result: that absolute perfection consists in an unlimited result with no effort; and that perfectibility consists in a gradual reduction in the effort compared to the result.

But M. d’Argout informs us that death is where we believe we are glimpsing life and that the importance of a branch of production is a direct result of its impotence. What, for example, can we expect from sugar-beet? Do you not see that 48,000 hectares of land and a proportional amount of capital and manpower will be enough to provide all of France with sugar? Therefore it is an industry with limited usefulness, limited, of course, with regard to the input of labor it requires, the only way, according to the former minister, in which an industry can be useful. This usefulness would be much more limited still if, because of the fertility of the soil or the richness of the sugar-beet , we harvested from 14,000 hectares what we could obtain only from 48,000. Oh! If twenty or a hundred times more land, capital, or labor were needed to achieve the same result, fair enough, we might build a few hopes on this new industry and it would be worthy of the full protection of the state, since it would offer a vast opportunity for national work. But to produce a lot with a little! That would be a bad example, and it is right for the law to establish order in this regard.

But what is the truth with regard to sugar cannot be a falsehood with regard to bread. If, therefore, the usefulness of an industry is to be assessed, not by the satisfaction it can provide through a given quantity of work, but on the contrary through the development of the work it requires to meet a given amount of satisfaction; what we ought obviously to want is that each hectare of land should produce little wheat and each grain of wheat little food. In other words, our territory should be infertile, since then the mass of land, capital, and labor that we would need to mobilize to feed the population would be much more in comparison. It might even be said that the market open to human labor will be in direct proportion to this infertility. The desires of MM. Bugeaud, Saint-Cricq, Dupin, and d’Argout will be granted. Bread will be expensive, work plentiful, and France will be rich, rich as these men understand the term.

What we ought to want in addition is for human intelligence to grow weaker and die out, for as long as it exists, it will constantly seek to increase the ratio of the end to the means and the product to the labor. It is actually in that, and only in that, that it consists.

Thus, Sisyphism is the doctrine of all the men who have been responsible for our economic development. It would not be just to blame them for this. This principle directs the Ministers only because it holds sway in the Chambers; it holds sway in the Chambers only because it is sent there by the electorate and the electorate is imbued with it only because public opinion is saturated with it.

I think I should repeat here that I am not accusing men such as MM. Bugeaud, Saint-Cricq, Dupin, and d’Argout of being absolutely and in all circumstances, Sisyphists. They are certainly not that in their private transactions; each one of them certainly obtains by exchange what it would cost him more to obtain through direct production. However, I say that they are Sisyphists when they prevent the country from doing the same thing.43


30 (Bastiat’s note) For this reason we ask the reader to excuse us for using the name Sisyphism as an abbreviation for this thesis hereafter.

31 In Greek myth Sisyphus was the King of Corinth who was notorious for his mistreatment of travelers. He also angered Zeus by revealing details of his amorous exploits. For this he was punished by being forced to roll a large boulder up a hill every day only to have it roll down the hill every night.

32 This is a topic taken up again in Sophism no. XVIII "There are no absolute Principles," below, p. ???.

33 Bugeaud, Thomas, marquess de Piconnerie, duc d’Isly (1784-1849) had a distinguished military career under Napoleon fighting the partisans in Spain. After the 1830 Revolution he became a conservative deputy (Dordogne 1831-1848) who supported a policy of protection for agriculture. In 1840 he was appointed the Governor of Algeria by Thiers. See the glossary entry on “Bugeaud.”

34 Charles Dupin (1784-1873) was a pioneer in mathematical economics and worked for the statistical office of France. In 1828 he was elected deputy for Tarn, was made a Peer in 1830, and served in the Constituent and then the National Assemblies during the Second Republic. See the glossary entry on “Dupin.”

35 Pierre Laurent Barthélemy, comte de Saint Cricq (1772-1854) was a protectionist Deputy who became Director General of Customs (1815), president of the Trade Council, and then Minister of Trade and Colonies (1828-29). See the glossary entry on "Saint Cricq."

36 A quintal weighs 100 kilogrammes. See glossary entry on “French Weights and Measures”.

37 Antoine Maurice Appolinaire, Comte d'Argout (1782-1858), was the Minister for the Navy and Colonies, then Commerce, and Public Works during the July Monarchy. In 1834 he was appointed Governor of the Bank of France. See the glossary on “d’Argout.”

38 A hectare is 10,000 square metres or approximately 2 acres. See the glossary entry on “French Weights and Measures.”

39 Growing sugar-beet (or beetroot) for sugar as a substitute for imported cane sugar had been encouraged at the time of the continental blockade. Normally, cane sugar was imported from overseas or from the slave colonies

40 (Bastiat’s note ) It is true to say that M. d’Argout put this strange statement in the mouths of opponents of sugar-beet. However, he adopted it formally and incidentally sanctioned it by the very law it served to justify.

41 The FEE edition translator Arthur Goddard notes (p. 25) that: "The centiare is 1/10,000 of the hectare, one square meter, or 1.196 square yards. The commune is the smallest administrative unit in France, averaging less than ten square miles. The error may be Argout's, Bastiat's, or the publisher's, but centiare here should read are (1/100 of a hectare): with about 35,000 communes in France, there would be about 0.45 hectare, or forty-five ares, per commune in sugar beets." See the glossary entry on “Weights and Measures.”

42 (Bastiat’s note) If we suppose that 48,000 to 50,000 hectares were enough to supply current consumption, we would need 150,000 for a tripling of consumption, which M. d’Argout accepts is possible. What is more, if sugar-beet were included in a six-year rotation of crops, it would occupy in turn 900,000 hectares or 1/38th of the cultivatable land.

43 (Paillottet’s note) On the same subject, see chapter XVI of the second series of Sophisms [see this volume, “The Right Hand and the Left Hand,” pp. 000–00] and chapter VI of the Economic Harmonies (OC, vol. 6, chap. 6, “Richesse”).


IV. Equalizing the Conditions of Production [July 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Égaliser les conditions de production” (Equalizing the Conditions of Production) [JDE, July 1845, T. 11, p. 345-56].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 27-45.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


It is said . . . but, so that I am not accused of putting sophisms into the mouths of protectionists, I will let one of their most vigorous athletes speak for himself.

“It has been thought that protection in our country ought to be simply a representation of the difference that exists between the cost price of a commodity that we produce and the cost price of a similar commodity produced by our neighbors. . . . A protective duty calculated on these bases ensures nothing more than free competition. Free competition exists only where conditions and charges are equal. In a horse race, the weight that each runner has to bear is weighed and the conditions are equalized; without this, they are no longer competitors. In matters of trade, if one of the sellers is able to deliver at lower cost, he ceases to be a competitor and becomes a monopolist. If you abolish this protection that represents the difference in cost, as soon as foreigners invade your market, they have acquired a monopoly in it”.44

“Each person has to want, for himself as for the others, the production of the country to be protected against foreign competition, wherever this can supply products at a lower price.”45

This argument recurs constantly in articles written by the protectionist school. I propose to examine it carefully, that is to say, I will be asking for the attention and even the patience of the reader. I will first deal with the inequalities that result from nature and then those that result from the differences in taxation.

Here, as elsewhere, we find the theoreticians of protection situated in the producers’ camp, whereas we are taking up the cause of these unfortunate consumers whom they refuse to take into account. They compare the field of industry to the race track .46 However, the race track is simultaneously the means and the end. The public takes no interest in the competition outside the competition itself. When you start your horses with the sole aim of knowing which is the best runner, I can understand that you make the weights equal. But if your aim is to ensure that a major and urgent item of news reaches the post, could you with impunity create obstacles for the one that might offer you the best conditions of speed? This is, however, what you are doing to economic production. You are forgetting the result sought, which is well-being. You leave this out of the account, and even sacrifice it through completely begging the question.

But since we cannot bring our opponents round to our point of view, let us adopt theirs and examine the question from the point of view of production.

I will seek to establish:

1. That leveling the conditions of production is to attack the very basis of trade;

2. That it is not true that production in one country is stifled by competition from more favored countries;

3. That even if this were true, protectionist duties do not make production conditions equal;

4. That freedom levels these conditions as far as they can be leveled;

5. Lastly, that it is the countries that are least favored that gain the most from trade.

I. Leveling the conditions of production is not merely hampering a few transactions, it is attacking the very principle of trade, since it is based precisely on this diversity, or, if you prefer, on these inequalities of fertility, aptitude, climate, or temperature that you wish to wipe out. If the Guyenne sends wine to Brittany and Brittany wheat to the Guyenne, it is because these two provinces are situated in different conditions of production.47 Is there a different law for international trade? Once again, to hold against them the inequality of conditions that motivates and accounts for their actions is to attack their very raison d’être. If the protectionists had enough logic and power on their side, they would reduce men, like snails, to total isolation. Besides there is not one of their sophisms that, when subjected to the test of rigorous deduction, does not end in destruction and annihilation.

II. It is not true in fact that the inequality in conditions between two similar productive enterprises necessarily leads to the fall of the one that is the less well endowed. At the race track , if one runner wins the prize, the other loses it, but when two horses work to produce useful commodities, each produces to the extent of its strength, and because the stronger provides the more services it does not follow that the weaker provides none at all. Wheat is grown in all the départements of France, although there are huge differences of fertility between them and if, by chance, there is one that does not grow wheat, it is because it is not good, even for that department, to grow it. In the same way, a similar argument tells us that, under the regime of freedom, in spite of differences like these, wheat would be produced in all the kingdoms of Europe, and if there were one which had decided to abandon this crop it would be because, in its own interest, it had found a better use for its land, capital and labor. And why does the fertility of a département not paralyze farmers in neighboring départements that are less favored? Because economic phenomena have a flexibility, elasticity, and, so to speak, a capacity for leveling that appears to escape the grasp of the protectionist school totally. The latter accuses us of being prisoners of a system, but it is its own members who are rigid to the highest degree, if the spirit of such consists in building arguments based on a single fact rather than on a set of facts. In the example above, it is the difference in the value of the land that compensates for the difference in its fertility. Your field produces three times more than mine. Yes, but it has cost you ten times more and I can still compete with you. This is the question in a nutshell. And note that superiority in some respects brings about inferiority in others. It is precisely because your land is more fruitful that it is more expensive, in such a way that it is not accidental, but necessary for a balance to be established or to tend to become established. And can it be denied that freedom is the regime that favors this trend the most?

I have quoted one branch of agriculture but I could have quoted a branch of manufacturing just as well. There are tailors in Quimper,48 and that does not prevent there being tailors in Paris, even though rent, furnishings, workers, and food cost Paris tailors much more. But they also have a very different class of customers, and this is enough not only to restore the balance but also even to tilt it in their favor.

So when we talk about balancing the conditions of work, we have at least to examine whether freedom does not do what we are asking arbitrary rule to do.

This natural leveling out of economic phenomena is so important functionally and at the same time so worthy of our admiration for the providential wisdom that presides in the egalitarian governance of our society, that I ask your permission to dwell on it for a moment.

You protectionists say that such and such a people have the advantage of cheap coal, iron, machines, and capital over us; we cannot compete with them.

This statement will be examined from other points of view. For the present I am limiting myself to the question whether, when superiority and inferiority confront one another, they do not carry within themselves, in the latter case a natural tendency to rise and in the former to descend, such as to bring them back to a fair balance.

Here we have two countries, A and B. A has all sorts of advantages over B. You conclude from this that labor would be concentrated in A and that B is powerless to do anything. A, you say, sells a great deal more than it purchases, while B purchases much more than it sells. I might dispute this, but I align myself with your viewpoint.

In this hypothetical circumstance, the demand for labor is high in A and it soon becomes more expensive.

Iron, coal, land, food, and capital are in high demand in A and they soon become more expensive.

At the same time, labor, iron, coal, land, food, capital, and everything else are in very low demand in B and soon become much cheaper.

That is not all. As A still continues to sell and B continues to purchase, money passes from B to A. It is plentiful in A and scarce in B.

But where there is an abundance of money, this means that you need a great deal to buy anything else. Therefore, in A, to the high real prices which result from very active demand must be added the high nominal money prices due to the excess supply of precious metals.49

Scarcity of money means that little is needed for each purchase. Therefore in B, low nominal money prices combine with low real prices.

In these circumstances, production will have all sorts of reasons, reasons that are, if I may put it this way, raised to the fourth power, to leave A and establish itself in B.

Or, to stick to literal truth, let us say that production would not have waited up to now, that sudden moves are contrary to its nature and that, from the outset under a free regime, it would have gradually divided and distributed itself between A and B in accordance with the laws of supply and demand, that is to say, in accordance with the laws of justice and usefulness.

And when I say that, if it were possible for production to concentrate at a single point, an irresistible force for decentralization would arise within it for this very reason, I am not speaking hypothetically.

Listen to what a manufacturer had to say in the chamber of commerce in Manchester (I am omitting the figures he used to support his demonstration):

“In former times we exported fabrics, then this activity gave way to the export of yarn, which is the raw material of fabric, and then to the export of machines, which are the instruments of production for yarn, and later to the export of capital, with which we built our machines, and finally to the export of our workers and our industrial genius, which are the source of our capital. All these changes in production succeeded one another in moving to where they might be exercised to greatest advantage, where the cost of living was lowest and life easier, so that now we can see in Prussia, Austria, Saxony, Switzerland, and Italy huge factories established with English capital, operated using English workers and directed by English engineers.”

You can see clearly that nature, or rather providence, which is more ingenious, wise, and farsighted than your narrow and rigid theory supposes, did not want this concentration of work, this monopoly of all the forms of superiority that you argue to be an absolute and irremediable fact, to continue. It made it possible, using means that are as simple as they are infallible, for there to be dispersion, dissemination, solidarity, and simultaneous progress, all things that your restrictive laws paralyze as far as they can, since, by isolating peoples, they tend to make their differences in living conditions much more entrenched, to prevent leveling out, obstruct intermingling, neutralize counterbalancing tendencies, and entrap nations in their respective superiority or inferiority.

III. In the third place, to say that through a protectionist duty the conditions of production are equalized is to use an inaccurate turn of phrase to put across an error. It is not true that an import duty brings the conditions of production into balance. After the imposition of an import duty these conditions remain what they were before. All that this duty balances at most are the conditions of sale. It will perhaps be said that I am paying with words, but I will throw this accusation back at my opponents. It is for them to prove that production and sale are synonymous, and unless they do so, I am entitled to blame them, if not for playing with words, at least for mixing them up.

Let me give an example to illustrate my idea.

Let me suppose that a few Parisian speculators have the bright idea of devoting their time to the production of oranges. They know that Portuguese oranges can be sold in Paris for 10 centimes, whereas they, in view of the conservatories and greenhouses they need because of the cold that often undermines their cultivation, cannot demand less than one franc in order to cover their costs . They demand that oranges from Portugal should be subject to a duty of 90 centimes. Through this duty, the conditions of production, as they say, will be balanced and the Chamber when giving way as usual to this line of reasoning, adds an import duty of 90 centimes for each foreign orange to the customs tariffs.

Well then, I say that the conditions of production have not changed in the slightest. The law has removed nothing from the heat of the sun in Lisbon nor the frequency or intensity of the frosts in Paris. Oranges will continue to mature naturally on the banks of the Tagus and artificially on the banks of the Seine, that is to say, that it will require much more human work in one country than in the other. What will be balanced are the conditions of sale: the Portuguese will have to sell us their oranges at 1 franc, including 90 centimes to pay the tax. Obviously, the tax will be paid by French consumers. And look at the oddity of the result. On each Portuguese orange consumed, our country will lose nothing, for the 90 centimes more that are paid by the consumer will go to the treasury. There will be displacement but no loss. However, on each French orange consumed, there will be 90 centimes or thereabouts of loss, since the purchaser will certainly lose this and the seller, also certainly, will not earn this since, according to the hypothesis itself, he will have earned only the cost price. I leave the protectionists to draw the right conclusion.

IV. If I have stressed this distinction between the conditions of production and the conditions of sale, one which the protectionists will doubtless find paradoxical, it is because it will lead me to afflict them once more with another paradox that is even stranger, which is this: Do you really want to balance the conditions of production? Then let trade be free.

Oh! people will say, that is too much at this time, and an abuse of intellectual games. Well then, if only through curiosity, I ask the protectionists to follow my line of argument to the bitter end. It will not take long. Let me go back to my example.

If you agree to suppose for a minute that the average, daily earnings of each Frenchman come to 1 franc, it will ineluctably follow that to produce one orange directly in France will require one day’s work or its equivalent whereas to produce the exchange value of one Portuguese orange only one tenth of a day’s work is needed, which means nothing other than that the sun does in Lisbon what work does in Paris. Well, is it not obvious that, if I can produce an orange or what amounts to the same thing, the means to buy one, with one tenth of a day’s work, my position with regard to this production is subject to the same conditions as the Portuguese producer himself, except for the transport costs, which I must incur? It is therefore apparent that freedom balances the direct or indirect conditions of production, as far as they can be balanced, since it leaves only one remaining inevitable difference, that of transport.

I will add that freedom also balances the conditions of enjoyment, satisfaction, and consumption, which are never taken into account and which are nevertheless essential, since in the end consumption is the final aim of all our productive efforts. Through free trade we would enjoy the Portuguese sun just as Portugal herself does and the inhabitants of Le Havre, like those of London and under the same conditions, will have access to the advantages that nature has conferred on Newcastle with respect to its mineral resources .

V. Gentlemen of the protectionist persuasion, you think me full of paradox! Well, I want to go even further. I say, and I think this quite sincerely, that if two countries are placed in unequal conditions of production, it is the one of the two which is less favored by nature that has the more to gain from free trade. To prove this, I will have to digress a little from the form this article should take. I will nevertheless do this, first of all because this is the nub of the matter and also because it will give me the opportunity of setting out a law of economics of the greatest importance which, when correctly understood, seems to me to be destined to bring back into the fold of science all the sects that these days seek in the land of illusion the social harmony that they have been unable to discover in nature. I wish to speak about the law of consumption, for which the majority of economists may be blamed for having too long much neglected.

Consumption is the end, the final purpose of all economic phenomena, in which purpose consequently lies their final, definitive solution.

Nothing favorable or unfavorable can stop permanently at the producer’s door. The advantages that nature and society have heaped on him, like the disadvantages that afflict him, slide over him,50 so to speak, and tend to be unconsciously absorbed by, mingled with, the community, understood from the point of view of consumption. We have here a law that is admirable alike in its cause and its effects, and the man who succeeds in describing it properly will have, I think, the right to say “I have not spent time on this earth without contributing something to society.”

Any circumstance that encourages production is welcomed joyfully by the producer since its immediate effect is to put him in a position to provide even more services to the community and to demand greater remuneration from it . Any circumstance that hampers production is received with disappointment by the producer since its immediate effect is to limit his services and therefore his remuneration. It was necessary for the immediate gains and losses resulting from fortunate or unfortunate circumstances to be the lot of the producer, so that he would be irresistibly drawn to seeking the former and avoiding the latter.

In the same way, when a worker succeeds in improving his output, he receives the immediate benefit of this improvement. This was necessary for him to be motivated to working intelligently; it was proper because an effort crowned with success ought to bring its reward with it.

But I hold that these good and bad effects, although permanent in themselves, are not so for producers. If this were so, a principle of gradual and subsequently infinite inequality between men would have been introduced, and this is why these favorable and unfavorable events are soon absorbed into the general fortunes of the human race.

How does this work? I will give a few examples to help it to be understood.

Let us go back to the thirteenth century.51 The men who devoted themselves to the art of copying received for their services payment that was governed by the general level of profits. Among them, there happened to be one who sought and discovered the means to increase the copies of the same book rapidly. He invented printing.

In the first instance, one man became richer and many others grew poorer. At first glance, however marvelous the discovery was, people hesitated as to whether it was not more disastrous than useful. It seemed that it was introducing into the world, just as I said, an element of indefinite inequality. Gutenberg made money with his invention and extended his invention using this money, and did this ad infinitum until he had ruined all other copiers. As for the public, the consumers, they gained little, for Gutenberg took care to decrease the price for his books to no more than was necessary to undercut his rivals.

But the thought that put harmony into the movement of the heavenly bodies was also able to insert it into the internal mechanisms of society. We will see the economic advantages of the invention escape from one individual and become the common and eternal heritage of the masses.

In the event, the procedure ended up by becoming known. Gutenberg was no longer the only printer; others imitated him. Their profits were at first considerable. They were rewarded for being the first to go down the path of imitation, and this was still necessary in order to attract them and so that they could contribute to the great result we were approaching. They earned a great deal, but less than the inventor, since competition had begun to work. The price of books continued to decrease. The profits of the imitators decreased as the date of the invention receded, that is to say, as imitation became less meritorious. Soon the new industry reached its normal state, in other words, the pay given to printers was no longer exceptional and, as for scribes in former times, it was governed only by the general level of profitability. Thus production , as such, returned to what it had been at the beginning . The invention was, nevertheless, no less of a boon; the saving in time, work, and effort for a given result, for a determined number of items, was nonetheless achieved. But how does it manifest itself? Through the low price of books. And for whose benefit? For the benefit of consumers, society, and the human race. Printers, who now have no exceptional merit, no longer receive exceptional remuneration. As men and consumers, they are doubtless beneficiaries of the advantages that the invention has bestowed on the community. But that is all. As printers and as producers, they are once again subject to the common conditions governing all producers in the country. Society pays them for their work, and not for the usefulness of the invention. The invention itself has become part of the common heritage and free to the entire human race.

I admit that the wisdom and beauty of these laws have struck me with admiration and respect. I see Saint-Simonist doctrines52 in them: To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to his work. I see communism in them, that is to say, the tendency for property to become the common heritage of men. But this is a Saint-Simonism and a communism governed by infinite farsightedness, and not in the slightest abandoned to the fragility, passions, and arbitrary rule of men.

What I have said about printing can be said about all the tools of work, from the hammer and nail to the locomotive and electric telegraph. Society benefits from everything through the abundance of the things it consumes, and benefits from these freely, for their effect is to reduce the price of objects; and the entire portion of the price that has been abolished and that represents fully the contribution of the invention in the production process obviously makes the product free to this extent. All that remains to be paid for is the human work, the work done now and this is paid for, regardless of the resulting benefit of the invention, at least where it has gone through the cycle I have just described and which it is destined to go through. I call a workman to my home; he arrives with a saw, I pay two francs for his day’s work and he produces twenty-five planks. If the saw had not been invented, he would probably not have made a single plank and I would not have paid him any less for his day’s work. The usefulness produced by the saw is therefore a free gift of nature to me; or rather it is a portion of the heritage I have received, in common with all my fellows, from the intelligence of our ancestors. I have two workers in my field. One holds the handles of a plough, the other the handle of a spade. The result of their work is very different but their day’s pay is the same since pay is not subject to the usefulness produced but to the effort or the work required.

I call upon the reader’s patience and beg him to believe that I have not lost sight of commercial freedom. Let him just remember the conclusion that I have reached: Remuneration is not in proportion to the useful contributions that the producer brings to the market but to his work.53

I have taken my examples from human inventions. Let us now talk about natural advantages.

All products incorporate a contribution from both nature and man. However the portion of usefulness contributed by nature is always free. Only that portion of usefulness resulting from human work is subject to exchange and consequently to remuneration. This doubtless varies a great deal because of the intensity of the work, the skill required, its promptness, its relevance, the need for it, the temporary absence of competition, etc. etc. But it is no less true in principle that the contribution of natural laws, which belong to everyone, does not enter into the price of the product.

We do not pay for the air we breathe, although it is so useful to us that we would not be able to live for two minutes without it. In spite of this, we do not pay for it because nature supplies it to us without any human intervention. If, however, we wish, for example, to separate out one of the gases that make it up to carry out an experiment, we have to make a certain effort or, if we have someone else make the effort, we will have to sacrifice to him an equivalent amount of effort that we have put into another product. In this way we see that there is an exchange in pain, effort, and work. It is not really for oxygen that I am paying, since it is available to me everywhere, but for the effort required to separate it out, work that I have been spared and which I need to compensate. Will I be told that other things, such as expenses, materials, or apparatus, need to be paid for? Once again, it is the work contained in these things that I am paying for. The price of the coal used represents the work that has needed to be done to extract and transport it.

We do not pay for sunlight since nature lavishes it on us. But we pay for the light obtained from gas, tallow, oil, or wax because this includes human work that requires remuneration. And note that the remuneration is so closely proportioned to the work done and not to its usefulness, that it may well happen that one of these sources of light, even though it is much brighter than the others, is nevertheless less expensive. For this to happen, all that is necessary is for the same quantity of human work to produce more.

When a water carrier comes to supply my house, if I paid him according to the absolute usefulness of the water, my entire fortune would not be enough. However I pay him according to the trouble he has taken. If he demanded more, others would take over, and in the end, if need be, I would take the trouble myself. Water is not really the subject of our bargain, but in reality the work involved in relation to the water. This point of view is so important and the consequences I am going to draw from it so illuminating, with regard to international free trade, that I feel I have to elucidate my ideas with other examples.

The quantity of nourishment contained in potatoes does not cost us very much because we obtain a great deal with very little work. We pay more for wheat because, in order to produce it, nature requires a great deal of human work. It is obvious that, if nature behaved in the same way for one as for the other, their prices would tend to level out. It is not possible for wheat producers to earn much more on a regular basis than potato producers. The law of competition prevents this.

If, by a happy miracle, the fertility of all arable land happened to increase, it would not be the farmer but the consumer who would reap the advantage of this phenomenon, because the result would be abundance and cheap prices. There would be less labor incorporated in each hectoliter of wheat54 and the farmer would be able to trade it only for less labor incorporated in another product. If, on the contrary, the fertility of the soil suddenly decreased, the contribution by nature to production would be less, the contribution of work more, and the product would be more expensive. I was therefore right to say that it is in consumption, in the human race, that all economic phenomena are resolved in the long run. As long as we have not followed their effects to this point, as long as we stop at the immediate effects, those that affect one man or one class of men, as producers, we are not being economists, any more than someone who, instead of monitoring the effects of a potion on the whole of the organism but limits himself to observing how it affects the palate or throat in order to judge it, is a doctor.55

Tropical regions are highly suited to the production of sugar and coffee. This means that nature carries out the majority of the task and leaves very little work to be done. Who then reaps the advantages of this generosity of nature? It is not at all these regions, since competition means that they receive payment only for their work; it is the human race, since the result of this generosity is called low prices, and they belong to everyone.

Here we have a temperate zone in which coal and iron ore are on the surface of the land and you have only to bend down to pick it up. In the first instance, the inhabitants benefit from this happy circumstance, I agree. But soon, competition will start and the price of coal and iron will decrease to the point where the gift of nature is free to everyone and human work alone is remunerated in accordance with the general level of profitability.

In this way, the generosity of nature, like the advances made in production processes, are or constantly tend to become the common and free heritage of consumers, the masses and the human race, in accordance with the law of competition. Therefore the countries that do not have these advantages have everything to gain from trading with those that do, because it is work which is exchanged, setting aside the natural utilities that work encompasses; and obviously the countries that are most favored have incorporated the most of these natural utilities in a given amount of production. Their products, since they represent less work, fetch lower prices; in other words they are cheaper, and if all the generosity of nature results in cheapness, obviously it is not the producing country but the consuming country that receives the benefit.

From this we see the immense absurdity of this consumer country if it rejects a product precisely because it is cheap; it is as though it were saying: “I do not want anything that nature provides. You are asking me for an effort worth two in order to give me a product that I can create only with work worth four; you can do this because in your country nature has accomplished half of the work. Well then! I for my part will reject it and I will wait until your climate has become more inclement and forces you to require work worth four from me, so that we may trade on an equal footing.”

A is a favored country. B is a country ill treated by nature. I say that trade is beneficial to both of them and especially to B since the trade is not in utilities for utilities but in value for value. Well, A includes more utilities in the same value, since the utility of the product encompasses what nature has contributed to it as well as what work has contributed, whereas the value corresponds only to what work has contributed. Therefore, B strikes a bargain that is wholly to its advantage. In paying the producer in A simply for his work, it receives more natural utilities that it gives over and above the trade.56

Let us set out the general rule.

A trade is an exchange of values; since the value is reduced by competition to the work involved, trade is thus an exchange of equal work. What nature has provided to the products being traded is given from one to the other freely and over and above the trade, from which it strictly follows that trade with the countries most favored by nature are the most advantageous.

The theory whose lines and contours I have tried to trace in this article needs to be developed more fully. I have discussed it as it relates to my subject, commercial freedom. But perhaps an attentive reader will have perceived the fertile seed, the growth and spread of which will necessarily stifle protection, along with protectionism, Fourierism,57 Saint-Simonism,58 communism, and all the schools whose object is to exclude the law of COMPETITION from the governance of the world. Considered from the point of view of producers, competition doubtless upsets our individual and immediate interests, but if you consider it from the point of view of the general aim of all production, of universal well-being, in a word of consumption, you will find that competition accomplishes the same role in a moral world as equilibrium does in a material one. Competition is the foundation of genuine communism, true socialism, and the equality of well-being and conditions, so longed for these days, and if so many sincere political writers, so many reformers of good faith demand this equality from arbitrary government power , it is because they do not understand freedom.59


44 (Bastiat’s note) The Vicomte de Romanet. [Auguste, Vicomte de Romanet (n.d.), was a staunch protectionist who served on the Conseil général de l'agriculture, du commerce, et des manufactures. See the glossary entry on “Romanet.”]

45 (Bastiat’s note) Mathieu de Dombasle. [Joseph Alexandre Mathieu de Dombasle (1777-1843) was an agronomist who introduced the practice of triennial crop rotation (cereals, forage, vegetables) in France. He also wrote on the sugar-beet industry, De l’impôt sur le sucre indigène: Nouvelles considerations (1837). See the glossary entry on “Dombasle.”]

46 It is not surprising that Romanet would compare economic competition to a horse race as he had a great interest in horse racing, having given a paper to the Academy of Sciences on this topic in June 1843. See the lengthy summary of the Mémoire which he gives in his pamphlet to promote his candidature to the Academy. Mémoire sur le principe de l'amélioration des races de chevaux, et sur la préférence qui doit être accordée, comme moyen d'encouragement, soit aux prix de course, soit aux primes locales, Suivant Le Sexe De L'animal. Lu à l'Académie des sciences le 19 juin 1843. Notice sur les travaux de M. le vte de Romanet. Membre du Conseil général de l'agriculture, du commerce et des manufactures, à l'appui de sa candidature à la place d'Académicien libre, vacante par le décès de M. le duc de Raguse (Paris: Bouchard-Huzard, 1852). See the glossary entry on “Romanet.”

47 Guyenne was an old province in the south west of France, with Bordeaux as its capital city. It covered roughly the same territory as Bastiat's homeland, Les Landes. Brittany is a peninsula in the most north western part of France. See the glossary entry on “Les Landes” and the maps above, pp. ???

48 Quimper is a commune in Brittany in the north west of France. In 1846 the population was about 11,000 people. It was sometimes the butt of jokes because of its remoteness from Paris, its small size, and the fact that its inhabitants spoke the Breton language.

49 Throughout the nineteenth century, European currencies were based on the gold standard. See the glossary entry on “French Currency” and ES1 XI. “Nominal Prices” for more discussion of this.

50 Here Bastiat is grappling with the concept which in two years time he was to call the “ricochet effect” (or flow effect) to describe the interconnectedness of all economic activity and the need to be aware of immediate effects (the seen) and later indirect effects (the unseen). He uses the word “glisser” (to slide or slip) in this sentence. See a later occurrence of this in ES3 XV “A Little Manual for Consumers”, below pp. ??? and the Appendices "Bastiat and the Ricochet Effect" and "The Sophism Bastiat never wrote: the Sophism of the Ricochet Effect."

51 Bastiat is mistaken. Johannes Gutenberg (1398–1468) invented printing using movable type in the 1440s, so it should read here the 15th not the 13th century.

52 Claude Henri de Rouvroy, count of Saint-Simon (1760-1825) was a writer and social reformer who founded one of the main schools of socialist thought during the Restoration which continued to be influential throughout the July Monarchy. He advocated rule by a new technocratic elite which would replace the old aristocracy and state-supported industry which would replace what he thought was the injustice and chaos of the free market. See the glossary entry on "Saint-Simon."

53 (Bastiat’s note) It is true that work is not uniformly remunerated. It is more or less intense, dangerous, skillful, etc. Competition establishes a market price for each category, and I am talking here about the variable price for this kind of work.

54 One hectorlitre is 100 litres or about 22 U.S. gallons.

55 It should be noted that is was a severe throat condition (possibly cancer) which killed Bastiat at the end of 1850. As it was an extremely painful disease which hindered his work as a writer and politician Bastiat saw his doctor many times in the last years of his life to get some relief. Thus, he had some personal experience of what he is saying in this passage. See a brief discussion of Bastiat's fatal condition in “The Cause of Bastiat’s Untimely Death” in “Anecdotes and Reflections” in the Collected Works, vol. 2, pp. 413-14.

56 Bastiat is referring here to David Ricardo’s idea of international comparative advantage, which he proposed in his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817). A French translation by Constancio appeared in 1818, with notes by Jean-Baptiste Say; it was republished with his Complete Works in 1847 with additional notes and translated material by Fonteyraud. See Oeuvres complètes de D. Ricardo. See also Boudreaux, “Comparative Advantage,” Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, <> and the glossary entry on “Ricardo.”

57 François-Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837) was a socialist and founder of the phalansterian school or “Fourierism.” This consisted of a utopian, communistic system for the reorganization of society in which individuals would live together as one family and hold property in common. See the glossary entries on “Fourier” and “Utopias.”

58 Claude Henri de Rouvroy, count of Saint-Simon (1760-1825) was a writer and social reformer who founded one of the main schools of socialist thought during the Restoration which continued to be influential throughout the July Monarchy. He advocated rule by a new technocratic elite which would replace the old aristocracy and state-supported industry which would replace what he thought was the injustice and chaos of the free market. See the glossary entry on "Saint-Simon."

59 (Paillottet’s note) The theory sketched out in this article is the one that was developed in the Economic Harmonies four years later. Remuneration exclusively limited to human work, the exemption from payment of natural agents, the gradual mastery of these agents for the benefit of the human race whose common heritage they thus become, the elevation of general well-being, and the tendency for conditions to become relatively level: these are all recognizable as being the essential elements of Bastiat’s major works.


V. Our Products are weighed down with Taxes [July 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Nos produits sont grevés de taxes” (Our Products are weighed down with Taxes) [JDE, July 1845, T. 11, p. 356-60].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 46-52.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


This is the same sophism. People demand that foreign products be taxed in order to neutralize the effects of the taxation that burdens our national products. This too, then, is about equalizing the conditions of production. The only observation we would want to make is that tax is an artificial obstacle with exactly the same result as a natural obstacle: it forces prices to rise. If this rise reaches the point at which a greater loss is incurred in creating the product itself than there is in bringing it in from outside and creating a counter value for it, let it happen.60 Private interest will be fully capable of choosing the lesser of two evils. I could therefore refer the reader back to the preceding argument, but the sophism that I have to combat here recurs so often in the complaints and appeals, I might almost say the pressing claims, of the protectionist school, that it is well worth discussing it separately.

If we want to discuss one of those special taxes to which certain products are subject, I will readily agree that it is reasonable to subject foreign products to these also. For example, it would be absurd to exempt foreign salt from tax, not that from an economic point of view France loses anything, on the contrary. Whatever we say about this, principles are constant, and France would gain, just as she will always gain from avoiding a natural or artificial obstacle. However, here the obstacle has been established with a fiscal aim. This aim has to be achieved, and if foreign salt were to be sold in our market free of duty the treasury would not recover its hundred million and would have to exact this amount from some other form of taxation. It would quite evidently be contradictory to put in the way of a specific policy an obstacle calculated to prevent it. It would have been better to address this other tax first of all and not tax French salt.61 These are the circumstances that I accept for inflicting a duty that is not protectionist but fiscal on a foreign product.

But to claim that a nation has to protect itself through tariffs against competition from a rival because it is subject to heavier taxes than a neighboring country, this is where the sophism lies, and this is what I intend to attack.

I have said several times that I intend only to set out a theory and go back, as far as I am able, to the sources of the protectionists’ errors. If I were indulging in polemics, I would say to them “Why are you aiming tariffs principally against England and Belgium, the countries in the world that are most burdened with taxes? Am I not entitled to see in your argument only a pretext?” However, I am not one of those who believe that people are protectionist through interest and not through conviction. Protectionist doctrine is too popular not to be sincere. If the majority had faith in freedom, we would be free. Doubtless it is private interest that causes our tariffs to weigh down on us so heavily, but this is after it has acted on our convictions. “Will,” said Pascal,62 “is one of the principal organs of belief.”63 However, belief is no less real for having its roots in will and in the secret inspiration of egoism.

Let us return to the sophism derived from taxation.

The state can make good or bad use of taxes; it makes good use of them when it provides the public with services that are equivalent to the flow of revenue the public contributes to it. It makes bad use of them when it squanders these resources without giving anything in return.

In the first case, to say that taxes put the country that pays them in a less favorable position with regard to production than one that does not pay them is a sophism. We pay twenty million for law and the police,64 it is true, but we have law and the police, the security they provide us and the time they save us, and it is highly probable that production is neither easier nor more active in those nations, if they exist, where everyone carries out law and order for himself. We pay several hundred million for roads, bridges ports, and railways, I agree.65 But we have these railways, ports, and roads, and unless we claim that we are making a bad bargain in building them, nobody can say that they make us inferior to those peoples who, it is true, do not contribute to a budget for public works but do not have any public works either. And this explains why, while accusing taxes of being one of the causes of inferior industrial capacity, we aim our tariffs precisely against those nations that are the most taxed. It is because taxes, when used well, far from damaging them, have improved the conditions of production of these nations. So we always come to the same conclusion, that protectionist sophisms not only depart from the truth but are also contrary, are the direct opposite, to the truth.66

As for taxes that are unproductive, abolish them if you can. The strangest conceivable way of neutralizing their effects, however, is surely to add specific individual taxes to public ones. Spare us any such compensation! The state has taxed us too much, you say. Well then, all the more reason for our not taxing each other any further!

A protectionist duty is a tax aimed against a foreign product but which falls, and let us never forget this, on the national consumer. Now, the consumer is a taxpayer. And is it not ludicrous to say to him: “Since taxes are heavy, we are going to raise the prices of everything to you; since the state takes a part of your income, we are going to pay another part to the monopoly”?

But let us probe further a sophism so esteemed by our legislators, although it is rather extraordinary that it is precisely those who maintain unproductive taxes (the proposition I am drawing your attention to now) who are attributing our alleged industrial inferiority to them in order to make this good subsequently through other taxes and restrictions.

It appears obvious to me that, without changing its nature and effects, protection might have taken the form of a direct tax raised by the state and distributed through indemnity subsidies to privileged industries .

Let us assume that foreign iron can be sold in our market at 8 francs and no lower and French iron at 12 francs and not below this.

Under such circumstances, the state has two ways of ensuring that the national producer retains a dominant position in the market.

The first is to subject foreign iron to a duty of 5 francs. It is clear that foreign iron would be excluded since it could now be sold only at 13 francs, 8 francs being the cost price and 5 francs the tax, and that at this price it would be chased out of the market by French iron, which we have taken to cost 12 francs. In this case, the purchaser, the consumer, will have paid all the costs of this protection.

The state might also have imposed a tax of 5 francs on the public and given it as a subsidy to ironmasters. The protectionist effect would have been the same. Foreign iron would have been equally excluded, since our ironmaster would have sold at 7 francs which, with the subsidy of 5 francs, would give him his profitable price of 12 francs. However, faced with iron at 7 francs, foreigners would not be able to deliver theirs at 8.

I can see only one difference between these two systems: the principle is the same and the effect is the same, except that in one case protection is paid for by a few and in the other by all.

I admit frankly my preference for the second system. It seems to me more just, more economic, and more straightforward. More just because if society wants to give handouts to a few of its members, everyone has to contribute; more economic because it would save a great deal in collection costs and would cause a great many restrictions to disappear and finally, more straightforward since the public would see clearly how the operation worked and what they were being made to do.

If the protectionist system had taken this form, however, would it not be rather risible to hear it said, “We pay heavy taxes for the army, navy, law and order, public works, the university, the national debt, etc. and this exceeds a billion.67 For this reason, it would be a good thing if the state took another billion from us to ease the situation of these poor ironmasters, these poor shareholders of Anzin,68 these unfortunate owners of forests, and these cod fishermen who are so useful.”

If you look closely, you will see that this is what the significance of the sophism I am combating is reduced to. Whatever you do, sirs, you can give money to some only by taking it from others. If you genuinely wish to drain taxpayers dry, go ahead, but at least do not mock them and say to them, “I am taking from you to compensate you for what I have already taken from you.”

We would never reach the end of it if we wished to note everything that is false in this sophism. I will limit myself to three considerations.

You win acceptance for the fact that France is burdened with taxes in order to infer that such and such an industry ought to be protected. But we have to pay these taxes in spite of protection. If therefore an industry comes forward and says, “I contribute to the payment of taxes; this raises the cost price of my products and I demand that a protectionist duty should also raise the sales price,” what else is it demanding than to discharge its tax onto the rest of the community? It claims to be recouping the increase in tax it has paid by raising the price of its products. So, as all taxes have always to be paid to the treasury, and as the masses have to bear this increase in price, they pay both their taxes and those of this industry. “But,” you will say, “everyone is being protected.” Firstly, this is impossible and, even if it were possible, where would the relief be? I am paying for you and you for me; but the tax still needs to be paid.

In this way, you are being fooled by an illusion. You want to pay taxes to have an army, a navy, a religion, a university, judges, roads, etc., and then you want to relieve of its share of taxes first one industry, then a second, and then a third, always by sharing the burden among the masses. But you are doing nothing other than creating interminable complications, with no other result than these complications themselves. Prove to me that the increase in price resulting from protection falls on foreigners, and I will be able to see something specious in your argument. But if it is true that the French public paid the tax before the law and that after the law it paid both the protection and the tax, then I really do not see what it gains by this.

I will even go much further; I say that the heavier our taxes are, the more we should be in a hurry to open our ports and frontiers to foreigners who are less taxed than us. Why? In order to pass on to them a greater part of our burden. Is it not an undeniable axiom in political economy that, in the long run, taxes fall on the consumer? The more our trading transactions are increased, the more foreign consumers will reimburse us the taxes included in the products we sell them, while we would have to make them in this respect, only a lesser restitution, since according to our hypothesis their products are less taxed than ours.

In sum, have you never asked whether these heavy taxes that you use in argument to justify the protectionist regime are not caused by this regime itself? I would like to be told what the great standing armies and the powerful navies would be used for if trade were free. . . . But this is a question for politicians,

And let us not confuse, by going too deeply,

Their business with ours.69 70


60 “Laissez faire” in the original. See the glossary entry on “Laissez-faire.”

61 The domestic tax on salt, or "gabelle" as it was known under the old regime was a much hated tax on an item essential for preserving food. It was abolished during the Revolution but revived during the Restoration. In 1816 it was set at 30 centimes per kilogramme and in 1847 it raised fr. 70.4 million. During the Revolution of 1848 it was reduced to 10 centimes per kilogramme. According to the Budget Papers of 1848 the French state raised fr. 38.2 million from tariffs on imported salt and fr. 13.4 million from the salt tax on internal sales. Bastiat's proposed cut to 10 centimes in January 1847 was the same level adopted by the new government in 1848. See E. de Parieu, "Sel", DEP, vol. 2, pp. 606-09. See the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

62 Blaise Pascal (1623-62) was a French mathematician and philosopher whose best-known work, Pensées, appeared only after his death. See the glossary on “Pascal.”

63 “The will is one of the chief organs of belief, not that it forms belief, but that things are true or false according to the side on which we view them. The will which chooses one side rather than the other turns away the mind from considering the qualities of all that it does not like to see, thus the mind, moving in accord with the will, stays to look at the side it chooses, and so judges by what it sees.” From “The Authenticity of Sacred Books,” in Molinier, The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal, p. 128.

64 According to the Budget Papers for 1848 fr. 26.million was spent on courts and tribunals b y the ministry of justice. See the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

65 It is not clear where Bastiat gets these figures. According to the Budget Papers for 1848 the ordinary expenditure for the Ministry of Public Works was fr. 63.5 million and extraordinary expenditure was fr. 47.4 million and fr. 74.8 million on the railways for a total of fr. 185.7 million. Additional amounts were spent on public works in Algeria by the Ministry of War and on local public works by the départements. See the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

66 (Paillottet’s note) See chapter XVII of the Harmonies (OC, vol. 6, chap. 17, “Services privés, services publics”).

67 The French government annual expenditure in 1848 was fr. 1.446 billion and its receipts were fr. 1.391 billion, resulting in a deficit of fr. 55 million. See the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

68 The Compagnie des mines d’Anzin was a large coal-mining company in the north of France near the town of Anzin. It was founded in 1757 and nationalized by the French government in 1949. It was the setting for Émile Zola’s novel Germinal (1885), where it was used as a symbol of French capitalism.

69 (Paillottet’s note) See the pamphlet Peace and Freedom in vol. 5 (OC, vol. 5, “Paix et liberté ou le budget républicain”). [This quotation comes from the very end of Fontaine’s fable “La Belette entrée dans un grenier” (The Weasel That Got Caught in the Storeroom), about a weasel that was able to squeeze through a small hole in order to get into a grain-storage room. Once inside it ate so much that it got bigger and couldn’t get back out through the same hole in the wall. A rat, on seeing its predicament, says that, after 5 or 6 days of not eating, “you would have then a belly that is much less full. You were thin to get in, you’ll have to be thin to get out. What I’m telling you now, you’ve well heard from others: but let us not confuse, by going too deeply, their business with yours.” From La Fontaine, Fables de La Fontaine, Bk. 3, Fable 17, p. 121.]

70 Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) was a poet and writer of fables which have become famous for their surface simplicity which masks much deeper moral and political insights. See the glossary on “La Fontaine”.


VI. The Balance of Trade [October 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Balance du commerce” (The Balance of Trade) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 201-04].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 52-57.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


Our opponents have adopted a tactic which we cannot help feeling embarrassed about. Are we getting our views across? They accept them with the utmost respect. Are we attacking their fundamental approach? They abandon it with the best grace in the world. They ask for only one thing, that is that our views, which they hold to be true, should be relegated to books and that their approach, which they acknowledge to be faulty, should reign over the carrying out of business. Leave them the handling of tariffs and they will not dispute your having the domain of theory.

“Certainly”, said M. Gaulthier de Rumilly71 recently, “none of us wants to resurrect the old theories on the balance of trade.” Very well, but M. Gaulthier, it is not enough just to administer a slap in the face to error as you pass by; you must also desist from reasoning immediately afterward and for two hours at a time as though this error was the truth.

Talk to me about M. Lestiboudois.72 Here is someone who reasons consistently, a logician who can debate. There is nothing in his conclusions that is not in his premises: he asks nothing of practice that he cannot justify in theory. His basic ideas may be false, and that is indeed the dispute. But at least he has some basic ideas. He believes and proclaims loudly that if France pays ten to receive fifteen it is losing five, and he quite straightforwardly makes laws in this light.

“What is important,” he says, ”is that the figure for imports is constantly increasing and exceeds that for exports, that is to say, each year France purchases more foreign products and sells fewer products produced nationally. The figures are there to prove it. What do we see? In 1842, we see imports exceed exports by 200 million.73 These facts appear to me to prove with utter clarity that national work is not sufficiently protected, that we let foreign work take care of our needs and that competition from our rivals is beating our industry down. The law currently in force appears to sanction the fact that it is not true, contrary to what economists say, that when we buy we sell of necessity a corresponding portion of goods. It is obvious that we can buy things, not with our customary products, not with our income, not with the fruit of ongoing production but with our capital, with products that have been accumulated and saved and those used for making more, that is to say, we can spend and dissipate the profits of previous savings, that we can grow poorer and march toward our ruin and that we can consume the national capital in its entirety. This is exactly what we are doing. Each year, we give 200 million to foreigners.”

Well then, here is a man with whom we can agree. His language contains no hypocrisy. The balance of trade is set out clearly. France imports 200 million more than it exports. Therefore, France is losing 200 million a year. And the remedy? To prevent imports. The conclusion is irreproachable.

It is therefore M. Lestiboudois whom we are going to attack, for how can we combat M. Gaulthier? If you say to him, “The balance of trade is a mistake,” he will reply to you, “That is what I have put forward in my introductory remarks.” If you exclaim “But the balance of trade is a truth”, he will reply to you “that is what I have stated in my conclusions”. The Economist School74 will doubtless criticize me for debating with M. Lestiboudois. Combating the balance of trade, I will be told, is like titling at windmills.

Take care, however, the balance of trade is neither as old, nor as sick, nor as dead as M. Gaulthier wishes to tell us, for the entire Chamber, including M. Gaulthier himself, aligned themselves with M. Lestiboudois’s theory through their vote.

However, in order not to tire the reader, I will not go into this theory. I will content myself with subjecting it to the test of facts.

Our principles are constantly being accused of being correct only in theory. But tell me, sirs, do you believe that the account books of businessmen are correct in practice? It seems to me that, if there is anything in the world that has practical authority when it is a question of ascertaining profits and losses, it is commercial accounting. Apparently all the traders on earth have not agreed down the centuries to keep their books in such a fashion that profits are shown as losses and losses as profits. Truly, I would prefer to believe that M. Lestiboudois is a bad economist.

Well, when one of my friends, who is a trader, completed two operations with very contrasting results, I was curious to compare the accounts of the warehouse with those of the customs service, interpreted by M. Lestiboudois with the sanction of our six hundred legislators.

M. T. shipped from Le Havre to the United States a cargo of French goods, in the majority products known as Articles de Paris,75 for an amount of 200,000 fr. This was the figure declared to the customs. When it arrived in New Orleans, it was found that the cargo had incurred 10 percent of costs and paid 30 percent in duty, which made it worth 280,000 fr. It was sold at a profit of 20 percent, or 40,000 fr. and produced a total of 320,000 fr., which the consignee converted into cotton. These cotton goods further had to bear 10 percent costs for transport, insurance, commission, etc. so that, when it entered Le Havre, the new cargo was worth 352,000 fr. and this was the figure recorded in the registers of the customs. Lastly, M. T. made another 20 percent profit on this return shipment, or 70,400 fr.; in other words, the cotton goods were sold for 422,400 fr.

If M. Lestiboudois requires it, I will send him an excerpt from M. T’s books. He will see there under the credits of the profit and loss account, that is to say as profits, two entries, one for 40,000, the other for 70,400 fr., and M. T. is totally convinced that in this respect his accounts are not misleading him.

However, what do the figures that the customs have recorded regarding this operation tell M. Lestiboudois? They tell him that France has exported 200,000 fr. and that it has imported 352,000 fr., from which the honorable deputy concludes, “that it has spent and dissipated the profits of previous savings, that it has impoverished itself, that it is marching toward ruin and that it has given 152,000 fr. of capital to foreigners.”

A short time afterward, M. T. shipped another cargo of nationally produced goods worth 200,000 fr. But the unfortunate ship foundered on leaving the port and M. T. was left with no alternative but to record in his books two short entries as follows:

Various goods debited to X for 200,000 fr. for the purchase of various articles shipped by the boat N.

Profit and loss due to various goods 200,000 fr. for the total and final loss of the cargo.

In the meantime, the customs had recorded for its part 200,000 fr. on its export table, and since it will never have anything to record on the imports table, it follows that M. Lestiboudois and the Chamber will see in this shipwreck a clear, net profit of 200,000 fr. for France.

One more consequence has to be drawn from this, which is that according to the theory of the balance of trade, France has a very simple way of doubling its capital at every moment. To do this, once it has passed it through the customs, it just has to throw it into the sea. In this case, exports will be equal to the amount of its capital; imports will be nil and even impossible, and we will gain everything that the ocean has swallowed up.

This is a joke, the protectionists will say. It is impossible for us to say such absurd things. However, you are saying them and what is more, you are doing them, you are imposing them in practice on your fellow citizens, at least as far as you are able.

The truth is that the balance of trade would have to be taken backward and national profit in foreign trade calculated through the excess of imports over exports. This excess, with costs deducted, is the genuine profit. But this theory, which is the correct one, leads directly to free trade. I hand this theory to you, sirs, like all the others that were the subject of the previous chapters. Exaggerate it as much as you like, it has nothing to fear from such a test. Assume, if that amuses you, that foreigners swamp us with all sorts of useful goods without asking us for anything; if our imports are infinite and our exports nil, I challenge you to prove to me that we would be the poorer for this.76


71 Louis Gaulthier de Rumilly (1792-1884) was trained as a lawyer and served as a Deputy between 1830-34 and 1837-40. He was active in the Société d'encouragement pour l'industrie nationale (Society to Promote National Industry) and had a special interest in agriculture, railroads, and tariffs. See the glossary entry on “Rumilly” and “Society to promote National Industry.”

72 Thémistocle Lestiboudois (1797–1876) was a Deputy from Lille (elected 1842) who supported the liberals in 1844 in wanting to end the stamp tax on periodicals but opposed them in supporting protectionism. In 1847 he published the pro-tariff book Économie politique des nations. See the glossary on "Lestiboudois."

73 The figures for 1847 are similar. The estimated amount of total exports from France was fr. 1,271 million and the total amount of imports was fr. 1,343 million producing a trade imbalance of fr. 172 million (p. 23). See the article “Commerce extérieur de la France pour l’année 1847,” in Annuaire de l’économie politique (1849), pp. 18-67.

74 The "Economists school" or "Les Économistes" was the name given to the group of liberal, free-trade political economists who were active in the late 18th and the first half of the 19th century. See the glossary entry on “The Economists.”

75 "Articles de Paris" were high priced luxury goods produced in France and included leather goods, jewelry, fashion clothing, perfume, and other such goods.

76 (Paillottet’s note) In March 1850, the author was once more obliged to combat the same sophism, which he meant to produce on the national rostrum. He altered the preceding demonstration by excluding from his calculations the cost of transport, etc. See "Balance of Trade" in vol. 5 (OC, vol. 5, “Balance du Commerce,” p. 402).


VII. Petition by the Manufacturers of Candles, etc. [October 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Pétition des fabricants de chandelles, etc.” (Petition by the Manufacturers of Candles, etc.) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 204-07].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 57-62.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


By the manufacturers of tallow candles, wax candles, lamps, candlesticks, street lamps, snuffers, extinguishers and producers of tallow, oil, resin, alcohol, and in general everything that relates to lighting

To Honorable Members of the Chamber of Deputies


You are doing all right for yourselves. You are rejecting abstract theories; abundance and cheapness are of little account to you. You are concerned most of all with the fate of producers. You want them to be free from foreign competition, in a word, you want to keep the domestic market for domestic labor.

We come to offer you a wonderful opportunity to apply your . . . what will we call it? Your theory? No, nothing is more misleading than theory. Your doctrine? Your system? Your principles ? But you do not like doctrines, you have a horror of systems and as for principles , you declare that none exists in the economic life of society. We will therefore call it your practice, your practice with no theory and no principle.

We are suffering from the intolerable competition of a foreign rival whose situation with regard to the production of light, it appears, is so far superior to ours that it is flooding our national market at a price that is astonishingly low for, as soon as he comes on the scene, our sales cease, all consumers go to him, and a sector of French industry whose ramifications are countless is suddenly afflicted with total stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging such a bitter war against us that we suspect that it is instigated by perfidious Albion77 (good diplomacy in the current climate!), especially as it treats this proud island in a way which it denies us.78

We ask you to be good enough to pass a law which orders the closure of all windows, gables, shades, wind-breaks, shutters, curtains, skylights, fanlights, blinds, in a word, all openings, holes, slits, and cracks through which the light of the sun is accustomed to penetrate into houses to the disadvantage of the fine industries that we flatter ourselves that we have given to the country, which cannot now abandon us to such an unequal struggle without being guilty of ingratitude.

Deputies, please do not take our request for satire and do not reject it without at least listening to the reasons we have to support us.

Firstly, if you forbid as far as possible any access to natural light, if you thus create a need for artificial light, what industry in France, would not bit by bit be encouraged?

If more tallow is consumed, more cattle and sheep will be needed and consequently, we will see an increase in artificial meadows, meat, wool, leather and above all, fertilizer, the basis of all agricultural wealth.

If more oil is consumed, we will see an expansion in the cultivation of poppies, olive trees, and rapeseed. These rich and soil-exhausting plants will be just the thing to take advantage of the fertility that the rearing of animals will have contributed to our land.

Our moorlands will be covered with coniferous trees. Countless swarms of bees will gather from our mountains scented treasures which now evaporate uselessly like the flowers from which they emanate. There is thus no sector of agriculture that will not experience significant development.

The same is true for shipping. Thousands of ships will go to catch whales, and in a short time we will have a navy capable of upholding the honor of France and satisfying the patriotic susceptibility of us who petition you, the sellers of tallow candles, etc.

But what have we to say about Articles de Paris?79 You can already picture the gilt work, bronzes, and crystal in candlesticks, lamps, chandeliers, and candelabra shining in spacious stores compared with which today’s shops are nothing but boutiques.

Even the poor resin tapper on top of his sand dune or the poor miner in the depths of his black shaft would see his earnings and well-being improved.

Think about it, sirs, and you will remain convinced that perhaps there is not one Frenchman, from the wealthy shareholder of Anzin to a humble match seller, whose fate would not be improved by the success of our request.

We anticipate your objections, sirs, but you cannot put forward a single one that you have not culled from the well-thumbed books of the supporters of free trade. We dare to challenge you to say one word against us that will not be turned instantly against yourselves and the principle that governs your entire policy.

Will you tell us that if we succeed in this protection France will gain nothing, since consumers will bear its costs?

Our reply to you is this:

You no longer have the right to invoke the interests of the consumer. When the latter was in conflict with the producers, you sacrificed him on every occasion. You did this to stimulate production and to increase its domain. For the same reason, you should do this once again.

You yourselves have forestalled the objection. When you were told: “Consumers have an interest in the free introduction of iron, coal, sesame, wheat, and cloth”, you replied: “Yes, but producers have an interest in their exclusion.” Well then, if consumers have an interest in the admission of natural light, producers have one in its prohibition.

“But,” you also said, “producers and consumers are one and the same. If manufacturers gain from protection, they will cause agriculture to gain. If agriculture prospers, it will provide markets for factories.” Well, then, if you grant us the monopoly of lighting during the day, first of all we will purchase a great deal of tallow, charcoal, oil, resin, wax alcohol, silver, iron, bronze, and crystal to fuel our industry and, what is more, once we and our countless suppliers have become rich, we will consume a great deal and spread affluence throughout the sectors of the nation’s production.

Will you say that sunlight is a free gift and that to reject free gifts would be to reject wealth itself, even under the pretext of stimulating the means of acquiring it?

Just take note that you have a fatal flaw at the heart of your policy and that up to now you have always rejected foreign products because they come close to being free gifts and all the more so to the degree that they come closer to this. You had only a half reason to accede to the demands of other monopolists; to accede to our request, you have a complete reason and to reject us precisely on the basis that we are better founded would be to advance the equation + x + = -; in other words it would be to pile absurdity on absurdity.

Work and nature contribute in varying proportions to the production of a product, depending on the country and climate. The portion provided by nature is always free; it is the portion which labor contributes that establishes its value and is paid for.

If an orange from Lisbon is sold at half the price of an orange from Paris, it is because natural and consequently free heat gives to one what the other owes to artificial and consequently expensive heat.

Therefore when an orange reaches us from Portugal, it can be said that it is given to us half free and half paid for, or in other words, at half the price compared to the one from Paris.

Well, it is precisely its being half-free (excuse the expression) that you use as an argument to exclude it. You say, “How can domestic labor withstand the competition of foreign labor when domestic labor has to do everything and foreign labor only half of the task, with the sun accomplishing the rest?” But if this matter of things being half-free persuades you to reject competition how will things being totally free lead you to accept competition? Either you are not logicians or, in rejecting half-free products as harmful to our domestic economy, you have to reject totally free goods a fortiori and with twice as much zeal.

Once again, when a product, coal, iron, wheat, or cloth, comes to us from abroad and if we can acquire it with less work than if we made it ourselves, the difference is a free gift bestowed on us. This gift is more or less significant depending on whether the difference is greater or lesser. It ranges from one-quarter to half- or three-quarters of the value of the product if foreigners ask us only for three-quarters, half-, or one-quarter of the payment. It is as total as it can be when the donor asks nothing from us, like the sun for light. The question, which we set out formally, is to know whether you want for France the benefit of free consumption or the alleged advantages of expensive production. Make your choice, but be logical, for as long as you reject, as you do, foreign coal, iron, wheat, and cloth, the closer their price gets to zero, how inconsistent it would be to accept sunlight, whose cost is zero, throughout the day?


77 “Perfidious Albion” (or faithless or deceitful England) was the disparaging name given to Britain by its French opponents. It probably dates from the 1790s, when the British monarchy subsidized the other monarchies of Europe in their struggle against the French Republic during the revolution. Bastiat makes fun of this name in a later Sophism by talking about “Perfidious Normandy.” See ES2, XIII “Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates,” below, pp. ???. See the glossary entry on “Perfidious Albion.”

78 This is a dig by Bastiat at the famously bad British weather. By making it so often overcast in Britain the sun seems to be favoring the British artificial light industry in a way that it doesn't for the French industry which has to suffer economic hardship because there is more sunny weather (at least in the south of France). The average number of hours of sunshine per year in Britain (1971-2000) was 1,457.4. For France, Lille in the north east had 1,617 hours (1991-2010), Paris had 1,662 hours, Bordeaux (near where Bastiat lived) had 2,035 hours, and Marseille on the Mediterranean had 2,858. For Australia (1981-2010), Townsville in North Queensland had 3,139 hours, Sydney had 2,592, and Hobart in the south had 2,263 hours.

79 "Articles de Paris" were high priced luxury goods produced in France and included leather goods, jewelry, fashion clothing, perfume, and other such goods.



VIII. Differential Duties [October 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Droits différentiels” (Differential Duties) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 207-08].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 62-63.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


A poor farmer in the Gironde80 had lovingly cultivated a vine. After a lot of tiring work, he finally had the joy of producing a cask of wine, and he forgot that each drop of this precious nectar had cost his forehead one drop of sweat. “I will sell it,” he told his wife, “and with the money I will buy some yarn with which you will make our daughter’s trousseau.” The honest farmer went to town and met a Belgian and an Englishman. The Belgian said to him, “Give me your cask of wine and in exchange I will give you fifteen reels of yarn.” The Englishman said, “Give me your wine and I will give you twenty reels of yarn for we English spin more cheaply than the Belgians.” However, a customs officer who happened to be there said, “My good man, trade with the Belgian if you like, but my job is to prevent you from trading with the Englishman.” What!” said the farmer, “you want me to be content with fifteen reels of yarn from Brussels when I can have twenty from Manchester?” “Certainly, do you not see that France would be the loser if you received twenty reels instead of fifteen?” “I find it difficult to understand this,” said the wine producer. “And I to explain it, went on the customs officer, “but this is a fact, for all the deputies, ministers, and journalists agree on this point, that the more a people receive in exchange for a given quantity of their products, the poorer they become.” He had to conclude the bargain with the Belgian. The farmer’s daughter had only three-quarters of her trousseau, and these honest people still ask themselves how it can be that you are ruined by receiving four instead of three and why you are richer with three dozen napkins than with four dozen.

IX. An immense Discovery!!! [October 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Immense découverte!!!” (An immense Discovery!!!) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 208-11].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 63-67.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


At a time when all minds are occupied with searching for savings on various means of transport;

At a time when, in order to achieve these savings, we are leveling roads, canalizing rivers, improving steamships, and linking all our frontiers to Paris by an iron network, by traction systems that are atmospheric, hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, etc.;81

Finally, at a time when I simply have to believe that everyone is enthusiastically and sincerely seeking the solution to the following problem:

“To ensure that the price of things at their place of consumption is as close as possible to their price at their place of production.

I would feel guilty toward my country, my century, and myself if I kept secret any longer the marvelous discovery I have just made.

For while the inventor’s illusions may well be legendary, I am as certain as I can be that I have found an infallible means that ensures that products from around the world reach France and vice versa with a considerable reduction in their prices.

Infallible! This is just one of the advantages of my astonishing invention.

It requires neither a drawing, an estimate, nor preliminary studies, nor any engineers, machine operators, entrepreneurs, capital, shareholders, nor help from the government!

It offers no risk of shipwreck, explosion, shocks, fire, or derailment!

It can be put into practice in less than a day!

Lastly, and this will doubtless recommend it to the public, it will not cost the budget one centime, far from it. It will not increase the numbers of civil servants and the requirements of bureaucracy, far from it. It will not cost anyone his freedom, far from it.

It is not by chance that I have come about my discovery, it is through observation. I have to tell you now what led me to it.

This in fact was the question I had to solve:

“Why does something made in Brussels, for example, cost more when it reaches Paris?”

Well, it did not take me long to see that this is a result of the fact that there are several types of obstacles between Paris and Brussels. First of all, there is distance; we cannot cover this without a certain difficulty and loss of time, and we either have to subject ourselves to this or pay someone else to. Next come the rivers, the marshes, the lie of the land, and the mud; these are so many difficulties to be overcome. We do this by constructing roadways, building bridges, cutting roads, and reducing their resistance through the use of cobbles, iron bands, etc. But all this has a cost, and the object being carried must bear its share of these costs. There are also thieves on the roads, which necessitates a gendarmerie, a police force, etc.

Well, among these obstacles, there is one that we have set up ourselves, and at great expense, between Brussels and Paris. This is the men lying in ambush all along the frontier, armed to the teeth and responsible for placing difficulties in the way of the transport of goods from one country to the other. We call them customs officers. They act in exactly the same way as mud or ruts in the road. They delay, hinder, and contribute to the difference we have noted between the cost of production and the consumer price, a difference which it is our problem to decrease as far as possible.

And now we have solved the problem. Reduce tariffs .

You will have built the Northern railway line without it having cost you a penny. Furthermore, you will save heavy expenditure and you will begin to put capital in your pocket right from the first day.

Really, I ask myself how it was possible for enough strange ideas to have got into our heads that we were persuaded to pay many millions with a view to destroying the natural obstacles lying between France and foreign countries and at the same time to pay many other millions to substitute artificial obstacles for them which have exactly the same effect, so that the obstacles created counteract those destroyed, things go on as before and the result of the operation is double expenditure.

A Belgian product worth 20 fr. in Brussels fetches 30 when it reaches Paris, because of transport costs. A similar product of Parisian manufacture costs 40 fr. So what do we do about it?

First we put a duty of at least 10 fr. on the Belgian product in order to raise its cost price in Paris to 40 fr., and we pay a host of supervisors to ensure that it does not escape this duty, with the result that during the journey 10 fr. is charged for transport and 10 fr. for tax.

Having done this, we reason thus: transport from Brussels to Paris, which costs 10 fr., is very expensive. Let us spend two or three hundred million on railways, and we will reduce it by half.82 Obviously, all that we will have obtained is that the Belgian product will be sold in Paris for 35 fr., that is to say:

20 fr. its price in Brussels

10 duty

5 reduced transport by rail

35 fr. total, or the cost price in Paris

Well, would we not have achieved the same result by lowering the tarif to 5 fr.? We would then have:

20 fr. its price in Brussels

5 fr. reduced duty

10 fr. transport by ordinary road

35 fr. total, or the cost price in Paris

And this procedure would have saved us the 200 million that the railway costs, plus the cost of customs surveillance, since these are bound to decrease as the incentive to smuggle decreases.

But, people will say, the duty is necessary to protect Parisian industry. So be it, but then do not ruin the effect with your railway.

For if you persist in wanting the Belgian product to cost 40 fr. like the Parisian one, you will have to raise the duty to 15 fr. to have:

20 fr. its price in Brussels

15 protectionist duty

5 transport by rail

40 fr. total with prices equalized.

Then my question is, from this point of view, what is the use of the railway?

Frankly, is it not somewhat humiliating for the nineteenth century to prepare a spectacle of childishness such as this for future ages with such imperturbable seriousness? To be fooled by others is already not very pleasant, but to use the huge system of representation in order to fool yourself is to fool yourself twice over and in a matter of arithmetic, this is something to take down the pride of the century of enlightenment a peg or two.


80 The "Gironde" is a département in the Aquitaine region in southwest France, immediately to the north of the département of Les Landes, on the Atlantic coast. The Gironde contains the port city of Bordeaux and is famous for its wines. See the glossary entry on "Gironde".

81 In 1842 the government decided to encourage the building of a national network. Under the Railway Law of 11 June 1842 the government ruled that 5 main railways would be built radiating out of Paris which would be built in cooperation with private industry. The government would build and own the right of way, bridges, tunnels and railway stations, while private industry would lay the tracks, and build and maintain the rolling stock and the lines. The government would also set rates and regulate safety. The first railway concessions were issued by the government in 1844-45 triggering a wave of speculation and attempts to secure concessions. See the glossary entry on “The French Railways.”

82 Michel Chevalier estimates that the French government had spent over fr. 420 million on railway construction between 1841 and 1848. See Michel Chevalier, “Statistique des travaux publics sous le Gouvernement de Juillet,” Annuaire de l’économie politiques pour 1849, pp. 209-37.


X. Reciprocity [October 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Réciprocité” (Reciprocity) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 211].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 67-70.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


We have just seen that everything that makes transport expensive during a journey acts to encourage protection or, if you prefer, that protection acts to encourage everything that makes transport expensive.

It is therefore true to say that a tariff is a marsh, a rut or gap in the road, or a steep slope, in a word, an obstacle whose effect results in increasing the difference between the prices of consumption and production. Similarly, it is incontrovertible that marshes or bogs are genuine protective tariffs .

There are people (a few, it is true, but there are some) who are beginning to understand that obstacles are no less obstacles because they are artificial and that our well-being has more to gain from freedom than from protection, precisely for the same reason that makes a canal more favorable than a “sandy, steep and difficult track.”83

But, they say, this freedom has to be mutual. If we reduced our barriers with Spain without Spain reducing hers with us, we would obviously be stupid. Let us therefore sign commercial treaties on the basis of an equitable reciprocity, let us make concessions in return for concessions, and let us make the sacrifice of buying in order to obtain the benefit of selling.

It pains me to tell people who reason thus that, whether they realize it or not, they are thinking along protectionist lines, the only difference being that they are slightly more inconsistent than pure protectionists, just as pure protectionists are more inconsistent than absolute prohibitionists.84

I will demonstrate this through the following fable:

Stulta and Puera85

Once upon a time there were, somewhere or other, two towns, Stulta and Puera. At great expense, they built a road between the two. When it was completed, Stulta said to itself, “Now Puera is flooding us with its products; we had better look into it.” As a result, it created and paid a Corps of Obstructors,86 so called because their mission was to place obstacles in the path of convoys that arrived from Puera. Soon afterwards, Puera also had a Corps of Obstructors.

After several centuries had passed, and enlightenment had made considerable progress, such was the growth of Puera’s awareness that it had grasped that these reciprocal obstacles must necessarily be mutually detrimental. It sent a diplomat to Stulta, who, though his words were couched in official terms, effectively said: “We built a road and now we are obstructing it. This is absurd. It would have been better for us to have left things in their original state. First of all, we would not have had to pay for the road, and secondly for the obstacles. In the name of Puera, I have come to suggest to you, not that we suddenly abandon the setting up of mutual obstacles between us, that would be to act in accordance with a principle and we despise principles as much as you do, but to reduce these obstacles a little, taking care to balance our respective sacrifices in this respect equitably.” This was what the diplomat said. Stulta asked for time to consider this. It consulted in turn its manufacturers and its farmers. Finally, after a few years, it declared that the negotiations had broken down.

At this news, the inhabitants of Puera held a council. An old man (who had always been suspected of being secretly bribed by Stulta) stood up and said: “The obstacles created by Stulta damage our sales, and this is terrible. The ones we have created ourselves damage our purchases, and this is also terrible. We cannot do anything about the first situation but the second is in our power. Let us at least free ourselves of one since we cannot get rid of both. Let us abolish our Corps of Obstructors without demanding that Stulta does the same. One day, it will doubtless learn to do its sums better.”

A second councilor, a practical man of action who had no theoretical principles and was imbued with the experience of his ancestors, replied: “Do not listen to this dreamer, this theoretician, this innovator, this utopian,87 this economist, this Stulta-lover.88 We would all be ruined if the obstacles on the road were not equal, in equitable balance between Stulta and Puera. There would be greater difficulty in going than in coming and in exporting than in importing. Compared with Stulta, we would be in the inferior position that Le Havre, Nantes, Bordeaux, Lisbon, London, Hamburg, and New Orleans are in compared with the towns situated at the sources of the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, the Tagus, the Thames, the Elbe, and the Mississippi, for it is harder to go up rivers than to go down them.” (A voice observed that towns at the mouths of rivers were more prosperous than those at their sources.) “That is not possible.” (The same voice: But it is true.) “Well then, they have prospered contrary to the rules.” Such conclusive reasoning shook the assembly. The speaker succeeded in convincing it by referring to national independence, national honor, national dignity, national production, the flood of products, tributes, and merciless competition; in short, he carried the day for maintaining the obstacles and, if you are interested in this, I can take you to certain countries in which you will see with your own eyes the Corps of Road Builders89 and the Corps of Obstructors working in total harmony [??? - travaillant de la meilleure intelligence du monde - working with the best intentions in the world, best information available to them], in accordance with a decree issued by the same legislative assembly and at the expense of the same taxpayers, the former to clear the road and the latter to obstruct it.


83 Bastiat quotes the opening lines of a fable by La Fontaine “Le Coche et la mouche” (The Coach and the Fly): “Over a hilly, sandy, and difficult road, exposed on all sides to the sun, six strong horses were pulling a coach.” [FEE trans.] From Fables de la Fontaine. Illustrées par J.J. Granville. Nouvelle édition. (Paris: H. Fournier ainé, 1838), Tome I, pp. 269-70. See the glossary entry on “Fontaine.”

84 Bastiat distinguishes between a policy of "protectionism", which imposes tariffs or duties on the importation of foreign goods in order to "protect" domestic producers from foreign competition, and a policy of "prohibition", which prevents of prohibits the importation of any foreign goods in ordinary to prevent any competition from challenging the position of domestic producers. This should be distinguished from the modern policy of "prohibition", such as of alcohol or certain drugs, which makes it illegal for anyone, domestic or foreign, to produce, sell, or consume these products anywhere under threat of punishment by the State. See the glossary entry on “Bastiat’s Policy on Tariffs.”

85 The names of the towns “Stulta” and “Puera” are plays on the Latin words “stultus,” for foolish, and “puer/puera,” for young boy or girl; thus one might translate them as “Stupidville” and “Childishtown.”

86 Bastiat uses the expression "corps d’Enrayeurs" (body or corps of Obstructors) which we have translated as "Corps" to give it the flavor of an official government or military body, as in the "Army Corps of Engineers" in the United Sates, or the "Corps des ingénieurs des Mines" (Corps of Mining Engineers) or the "Corps des ingénieurs des Ponts, des Eaux et des Forêts" (Corps of Engineers for Bridges, Waterways, and Forests) in France.

87 See the glossary entry on “Utopias.”

88 Bastiat creates a neologism - "stultomane", meaning Stultophile (used in the FEE translation, p. 69) or Stulta-lover.

89 Bastiat uses the term "cantonnier" which refers to the workers who are employed by the local districts known as "Cantons" whose responsibility it was to maintain the roads which passed through their districts. The system of "cantonniers" was formalized by a decree issued by Napoleon on 16 December 1811 and after 1816 they became permanent employees of the state. As a useful contrast to Bastiat's "Corps of Obstructors" we have translated "cantonniers" as "Corps of Road Builders."


XI. Nominal Prices [October 1845] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Prix absolus” (Nominal Prices) [JDE, October 1845, T. 12, p. 213-15 (this chapter was originally numbered XII in the JDE but became chapter 11 in the book version of Economic Sophisms and incorporated chapter XI. “Stulta et Puera”, from the JDE version p. 211-12)].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 70-74.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


Do you wish to assess the merits of freedom and protection? Do you wish to understand the effects of an economic phenomenon? Then look for its effects on the abundance or scarcity of things and not on whether prices rise or fall. Be careful of only thinking about nominal prices;90 this will lead you into an inextricable labyrinth.

After establishing that protection makes things more expensive, M. Mathieu de Dombasle91 adds:

“The increase in prices raises living expences and consequently the price of labor, (but) each person is compensated for the increase in their expenses by the increase in prices for the things they produce. Thus, if everybody pays more as a consumer, everybody also receives more as a producer."92

It is clear that this argument can be turned on its head, and we can say: “If everybody receives more as a producer, everybody pays more as a consumer.”

Well, what does that prove? Nothing other than that protection moves wealth about uselessly and unjustly. This is just what plunder does.

Moreover, to accept that this vast apparatus results in simple mutual compensations, we have to agree with M. de Dombasle’s word “consequently” and be sure that the price of labor rises in line with the price of protected products. This is a question of fact that I pass back to M. Moreau de Jonnès;93 let him please look into whether pay rates have moved upward in line with Anzin mining shares. For my part, I do not think so, because I believe that the price of labor, like all the others, is governed by the relationship between supply and demand. Now, I can quite see that restriction decreases the supply of coal and consequently increases its price, but I see rather less clearly that it increases the demand for labor to the extent of increasing rates of pay. I see this all the less clearly in that the quantity of labor demanded depends on the capital available. Protection may well cause capital to move and shift from one industry to another, but it cannot increase it by an obole.94

Besides, this highly interesting question will be examined elsewhere. I will return to nominal prices and say that there are no absurdities that cannot be made plausible by reasoning like M. de Dombasle’s.

Imagine that an isolated nation that had a given quantity of cash took pleasure in burning half of what it produced each year, and I will take it on myself to prove, using M. de Dombasle’s theory, that it will not be a whit the less rich.

In effect, following the fire, everything will double in price and inventories taken before and after the disaster will show exactly the same nominal value. But in this case, who will have lost? If Jean buys cloth at a higher price, he will also sell his wheat at a higher price, and if Pierre loses on his purchase of wheat, he will make good on the sale of his cloth. “Each person is compensated (I say) for the increase in the amount of their expenses by the increase in the price for the things they produce; and if everybody pays more as a consumer, everybody receives more as a producer. “

All this is a tissue of confusion rather than science. The truth expressed in its simplest form is this: whether men destroy cloth and wheat by fire or through use, the effect will be the same with respect to the price but not with respect to wealth, for it is precisely in the use of things that wealth or well-being consists.

In the same way, restriction, while decreasing the abundance of things, may increase their price so that, if you like, in purely monetary terms, each person may be just as rich. But in an inventory, does a record of three hectoliters of wheat at 20 francs or four hectoliters at 15 francs come to the same thing from the point of view of satisfying need because the result is still 60 francs?

And it is to this point of view of consumption that I will incessantly bring protectionists back, since this is the purpose of all our efforts and the solution to all problems.95 I will always say to them: “Is it not true that by hampering trade, by limiting the division of labor, and by forcing labor to grapple with the difficulties of location and temperature, restriction ultimately decreases the quantity produced by a given amount of effort?” And what does it matter that the lesser quantity produced under a protectionist regime has the same nominal value as a larger quantity produced under the regime of freedom? Man does not live by nominal values, but by real products, and the more he has of these products, at whatever price, the richer he is.

When writing the foregoing, I did not expect ever to meet an anti-economist who was sufficiently good as a logician to contend explicitly that the wealth of peoples depends on the monetary value of things irrespective of their abundance. But just look what I have found in the book by M. de Saint-Chamans (page 210): 96

“If 15 million francs worth of goods sold abroad is taken from normal production, estimated to be 50 million, the remaining 35 million worth can no longer meet normal demand and will increase in price and will reach a value of 50 million. Then the revenue of the country will be 15 million more. . . . There will therefore be an increase in wealth of 15 million for the country, exactly the amount of the cash which is imported.”

Is that not ridiculous! If during the year a nation makes 50 million francs’ worth of harvested products and goods, it just has to sell a quarter abroad to be a quarter richer! Therefore, if it sold half, it would increase its fortune by half, and if it trades for cash its last wisp of wool and last grain of wheat, it would raise its wealth to 100 million! Producing infinitely high prices through absolute scarcity is very strange way of becoming wealthier!

Anyway, do you want to assess the merits of the two doctrines? Subject them to the exaggeration test.

According to the doctrine of M. de Saint-Chamans, the French would be just as rich, that is to say, as well provided with everything with a thousandth part of their annual output, since it would be worth a thousand times more.

According to ours, the French would be infinitely rich if their annual output was infinitely abundant and consequently was of no value at all.97


90 Bastiat uses several terms to describe what he is getting at in this article: "prix absolus" (nominal prices), "valeurs nominales" (nominal value), "en hausser le prix… numérairement parlant" (raising prices in purely monetary terms), and so on. He wants to make the point that there is a difference between real economic wealth and the accounting device (the money price) used to measure it.

91 Joseph Alexandre Mathieu de Dombasle (1777-1843) was an agronomist who introduced the practice of triennial crop rotation (cereals, forage, vegetables) in France. He also wrote on the sugar-beet industry, De l’impôt sur le sucre indigène: Nouvelles considerations (1837). See the glossary entry on “Dombasle.”

92 Christophe Joseph Alexandre Mathieu de Dombasle, Oeuvres diverses: économie politique, instruction publique, haras et remontes (Paris: Bouchard-Huzard, 1843). "Études sur le commerce international dans les rapports avec la richesse des peuples," Chap. IV. "Le régime de protection blesse-t-il les intérêts des consommateurs?". Quote on pp. 49-50. See the glossary entry on “Dombasle.”

93 Alexandre Moreau de Jonnès (1778–1870) was an economist and a statistician who was director of the statistical bureau in the ministry of trade (1834–42). See the glossary entry on "Moreau de Jonnès."

94 An “obole” was a coin of very low value. Traditionally, the relative value of coinage before the introduction of the France was 240 denier = 20 sol = 1 livre. An obole was a small fraction of a denier (sometimes 1/2). See the glossary entry on “French Currency.”

95 (Paillotet’s note) This thought often recurs in the author’s writings. In his eyes it was of capital importance, and four days before his death it dictated the following recommendation to him “Tell de F. [Roger de Fontenay] to treat economic questions always from the point of view of the consumer, since the consumer’s interest is at one with that of the human race.” [Roger de Fontenay (1809-91) was a friend and intellectual ally of Bastiat's in their debates in the Political Economy Society on the nature of rent. Fontenay worked with Prosper Paillottet in editing the Ouevres complètes of Bastiat for which he wrote the Preface. See the glossary entry on "Fontenay."]

96 Bastiat quotes from Saint-Chamans’s Du système d’impôt fondé sur les principes de l’économie politique, pp. 210-11. See the glossary entry on “Saint-Chamans.”

97 (Paillottet’s note) See chapter V of the second series of the Sophisms [see this volume, “High Prices, Low Prices,” pp. 000—00] and chapter IV of the Economic Harmonies (OC, chap. 4, p. 93, “Échange”).


XII. Does Protection increase the Rate of Pay? [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “La protection élève-t-elle le taux des salaires?” (Does Protection increase the Rate of Pay?) [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 74-79.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


An atheist was railing against religion, against priests and against God. “If you continue”, said one of the audience, himself not very orthodox, “you are going to re-convert me.”

Thus, when we hear our beardless scribblers, romantic writers, reformers, rose-scented and musky writers of serials, gorged on ice cream and champagne, clutching in their portfolios shares of Ganneron, Nord and Mackenzie98 or having their tirades against the egoism and individualism of the century heaped with gold; when we hear them, as I say, railing against the harshness of our institutions, wailing about the wage-earners and the proletariat;99 when we see them raise to the heavens eyes that mourn the sight of the destitution of the working classes, destitution that they never visit save to conjure up lucrative pictures of it, we are tempted to say to them: “If you continue in this way, you will make me indifferent to the fate of the workers.”

Oh, such affectation! This is the sickening disease of our time! Workers, if a serious man, a sincere philanthropist, reveals a picture of your distress or writes a book that makes an impression, a rabble of reformers immediately seizes this prey in its claws. It is turned one way and another, exploited, exaggerated and squeezed to the point of disgust and ridicule. All that you are thrown by way of a remedy are the high-sounding words, organization and association. You are flattered and fawned upon, and soon workers will be reduced by this to the situation of slaves: responsible men will be ashamed to take up their cause publicly, for how will they be able to introduce a few sensible ideas in the midst of such bland protestations?

But I refuse to adopt this cowardly indifference that is not justified by the affectation that triggers it!

Workers, your situation is strange! You are being robbed, as I will shortly be proving … No, I withdraw that word. Let us banish from our discourse all violent and perhaps misleading expressions seeing that plunder, clad in the sophisms that conceal it, is carried out, we are expected to believe, against the will of the plunderer and with the consent of those being plundered. But when all is said and done, you are being robbed of the just remuneration for your work and nobody is concerned with achieving justice for you. Oh! If all that was needed to console you were noisy calls for philanthropy, impotent charity and degrading alms and if high-sounding words like organization, communism and phalanstery100 were enough, you would have your fill. But nobody thinks of ensuring that justice, simple justice is rendered to you. And yet, would it not be just for you, when you have been paid your meager salary following a long and hard day’s work, to be able to exchange it for as many forms of satisfaction as you can obtain voluntarily from any man anywhere in the world?

One day, perhaps, I too will speak to you about association and organization, and we will then see what you can expect from these illusions that have led you down the garden path.

In the meantime, let us see whether people are doing you an injustice when they pass laws which determine from whom you are permitted to buy the things you need, such as bread, meat, linen and cloth, and, as it were, at what artificial price you will have to pay for them.

Is it true that protection, which, it is admitted, makes you to pay a high price for everything and thus causes you harm, raises your rate of pay proportionally?

On what do rates of pay depend?

One of your people has said this forcefully: “When two workers pursue an employer, earnings decrease; when two employers pursue one worker, they rise.”101

Allow me, in short, to use this statement, which is more scientific but may be less clear: “Rates of pay depend on the ratio of the supply of and the demand for labor.”

Well, on what does the supply of labor depend?

On the number in the marketplace, and on this initial element, protection has no effect.

On what does the demand for labor depend?

On the national capital available. But has the law that says: “We will no longer receive such and such a product from abroad, we will manufacture it internally,” increased this capital? Not in the slightest. The law has withdrawn the product from one area to place it in another but it has not increased the product by one obole. Therefore the law does not increase the demand for labor.

A factory is shown off with pride. Has it been established and maintained with capital from the moon? No, capital has had to be withdrawn either from agriculture, shipping or the wine producing industry. And this is why while there are more workers in our mineshafts and in the suburbs of our manufacturing towns since protectionist duties became law, there are fewer sailors in our ports and fewer workers and wine producers in our fields and hills.

I could continue on this theme for a long time. I prefer to try to make you understand my thought with this example.

A farmer had twenty arpents of land,102 which he developed, with a capital of 10,000 francs. He divided his domain into four parts and established the following rotation: 1st corn, 2nd wheat, 3rd clover, 4th rye. He and his family needed only a small part of the grain, meat and milk that the farm produced, and he sold the excess to purchase oil, flax, wine, etc. All of his capital was spent each year on wages and other payments owed to neighboring workers. This capital was returned through sales and even increased from one year to the next and our farmer, knowing full well that capital produces nothing unless it is put to use, made the working class benefit from these annual surpluses which he used for fencing, land clearance and improvements to his farm equipment and buildings. He even invested some savings with the banker in the neighboring town who did not leave the money idle in his coffers but lent it to ship-owners and entrepreneurs carrying out useful work, so that it continued to generate wages.

However, the farmer died, and his son, as soon as he had control of the inheritance, said: “It must be confessed that my father was a fool all his life. He purchased oil and thus paid tribute to Provence while our land could at a stretch grow olive trees. He bought wine, flax and oranges and paid tribute to Brittany, the Médoc and the islands of Hyères, while vines, jute and orange trees could, more or less, provide a small crop on our land.103 He paid tribute to millers and weavers while our domestic servants could well weave our linen and grind our wheat between two stones. He ruined himself, and in addition he had foreigners earning the wages that were so easy for him to spread around him.”

Using this reasoning, our scatterbrain changed the rotation of the domain. He divided it into twenty small strips of land. On one he grew olive trees, on another mulberry trees, on a third flax, on a fourth vines, on a fifth wheat, etc. etc. He thus managed to provide his family with everything and become independent. He took nothing from general circulation and, it is true, paid nothing into it either. Was he any richer? No, for the land was not suitable for growing vines, the climate was not conducive to the prospering of olive trees, and in the end the family was less well provided with these things than at the time when his father obtained them through trade.

As for the workers, there was no more work for them than in the past. There were indeed five times as many strips to cultivate, but they were five times smaller. Oil was produced but less wheat, flax was no longer purchased but rye was no longer sold. Besides, the farmer could not pay more than his capital in salaries and his capital, far from increasing through the new distribution of land, decreased constantly. The majority of it was tied up in buildings and countless items of equipment that were essential for someone who wanted to do everything. As a result, the supply of labor remained the same but the means to pay these workers declined and there was of necessity a decrease in wages.

That is a picture of what happens in a nation that isolates itself through a prohibitionist regime. It increases the number of its industries, I know, but it decreases their size; it provides itself, so to say, with a rotation of industries104 that is more complicated but not more fruitful, far from it, since the same capital and workforce have to attack the job in the face of greater natural difficulties. Fixed capital absorbs a greater portion of working capital, that is to say a greater part of the funds intended for wages. What remains of the fund for wages may well be diversified but that does not increase the total amount. It is like the water in a lake that people thought they had made more abundant because, having been put into many reservoirs, it touches the ground on more spots and offers a greater surface to the sun. They do not understand that it is precisely for this reason that it is absorbed, evaporated and lost more quickly.

With a given amount of capital and labor, a quantity of output is created that decreases in proportion to the number of obstacles it encounters. There is no doubt that, where barriers to international trade in each country force this capital and labor to overcome greater difficulties of climate and temperature, the general result is that fewer products are created or, which comes to the same thing, fewer needs of people are satisfied. Well, workers, if there is a general decrease in the number of needs satisfied, how can your share increase? I ask you, would those who are rich, those who make the law, have arranged things so that not only would they suffer their fair share of the total reduction in the needs that can be satisfied, but that even their already reduced portion would decrease still further, they say, by everything that is to be added to yours? Is that possible? Is it credible? Oh! This generosity is suspect and you would be wise to reject it.105


98 The FEE translator provides the following very informative note (p. 74): "Bastiat here refers by name to certain securities that enjoyed wide public confidence at the time: those of the Comptoir Ganneron, a bank in which, at the height of the speculation, almost four hundred million francs were invested; those of the fur-trading company founded by Sir Alexander MacKenzie and later amalgamated with the original Hudson's Bay Company; and those of the Northern Railway of France."

99 This is the first time before the February Revolution of 1848 that Bastiat used the socialist term “prolétaires” (proletarians) or “prolétariat” (the proletariat). The second occurred in ES3 XVIII. “Monita secreta” which was published on 20 February 1848 (the Revolution broke out on 23 February). Before this time he normally used the word “les ouvriers” (workers) so it seems the vocabulary of political debate was changing on the eve of the Revolution. After the Revolution he used the word proletarian or proletariat several times.

100 The "organization" of workers was urged by Louis Blanc in his influential pamphlet L’Organisation du travail (1839) as a way to overcome the "iniquities" of the system of wage labour and became a catch phrase of the socialist movement in the 1840s. The "Phalanstery" was a method of socialist organization advocated by Charles Fourier and his supporters in which people would live, own property, and work in common. See the glossary entries on “Blanc,” "Fourier," and “Phalanstery.” See also the discussion of “Association” and “Organization” as commonly used socialist slogans in the 1840s, in the “Note on the Translation.”

101 This pithy and colorful formulation of how wages rise or fall according to demand is attributed to the English free trader and manufacturer Richard Cobden (1804-65) and was much quoted by French liberal economists. We have not been able to track down the original source. See the glossary entry on "Cobden".

102 An arpent is about the same size as an acre. See the glossary entry on “French Weights and Measures.”

103 Provence is a region in southeastern France along the Mediterranean Sea. Médoc is a wine growing region in the Département of the Gironde north of the city of Bordeaux. The Hyères Islands are located in the Mediterranean close to Provence.

104 The word Bastiat uses in these passages is "sole" which is a small strip of land traditionally used for crop rotation (assolement de culture) in feudal agriculture. He coins another neologism here, namely "assolement industrial" (industrial rotation) suggesting that the protectionist regime creates a kind of "feudalization of industry."

105 (Paillottet’s note) See chapter XIV of the Harmonies in Tome VI.


XIII. Theory and Practice [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Théorie, Pratique” (Theory and Practice) [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 79-86.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


People accuse us, advocates of free trade, of being theoreticians and not taking sufficient account of practical aspects.

“What a terrible prejudice against M. Say,106” said M. Ferrier,107 “is this long line of distinguished administrators, this imposing line of writers, all of whom have seen things differently from him,” a point M. Say does not hide from himself! Listen to him:

“It has been said, in support of old errors, that it is necessary to have some foundation for the ideas so generally adopted by every nation. Should we not be suspicious of observations and reasoning that overturn what has been taken to be constant up to now, what has been taken to be certain by so many leading figures to whom their enlightenment and intentions give credence? This argument, I admit, is worthy of making a profound impression and might cast doubt on the most incontrovertible points if we had not seen in turn the most erroneous opinions, now generally acknowledged to be such, accepted and professed by everyone for many centuries. It is not so long ago that every nation, from the coarsest to the most enlightened, and all men, from street porters to the most learned philosophers, recognized four elements. Nobody thought of disputing this doctrine, which is nevertheless false, to the extent that today there is no assistant biologist who would not be decried if he considered the earth, water, and fire as elements.”

At which point, M. Ferrier makes the following observation:

“If M. Say thinks that he has answered the strong objection put forward, he is strangely mistaken. That men, who were nevertheless highly enlightened, have been wrong for several centuries on some point of natural history is understandable and proves nothing. Were water, air, earth and fire, whether elements of not, any the less useful to man? Errors like this are inconsequential; they do not lead to upheavals; they do not cast doubt into people’s minds and above all do not harm any interests, and for this reason they might be allowed to last for thousands of years without mishap. The physical world therefore moves forward as though they did not exist. But can this be so for errors that attack the moral world? Can we conceive of an administrative system that is totally false and consequently harmful being followed for several centuries and in several nations with the general consent of all educated men? Could we explain how a system like this could be allied to the increasingly great prosperity of nations? M. Say admits that the argument he is combating is worthy of making a profound impression. Yes, certainly, and this impression remains, for M. Say has argued more in its favor than destroyed it.”

Let us listen to M. de Saint-Chamans108:

“It was scarcely before the middle of the last century, the eighteenth century in which all subjects and every principle without exception were subject to discussion by writers, that these suppliers of speculative ideas, applied to everything without being applicable to anything, began to write on the subject of political economy. Before that, there was an unwritten system of political economy that was practiced by governments. Colbert,109 it was said, was its inventor, and it was the rule for all the states in Europe. The strangest thing about it is that it is still so, in spite of anathema and scorn and in spite of the discoveries of the modern school. This system, which our writers called the mercantile system, consisted in … obstructing, through prohibition or import duties, foreign products that might have ruined our factories by competing with them. . . . This system was declared by economist writers of all schools110 to be inept, absurd and likely to impoverish any country; it has been banished from all books, reduced to taking refuge in the practice of all peoples, and we cannot conceive that, with regard to the wealth of nations, governments have not drawn their counsel from scholars rather than from the long-standing experience of a system, etc. …. Above all we cannot conceive that the French government … is determined to resist the progress of enlightenment with regard to political economy and to retain the practice of old errors that all of our economist writers have pointed out … But this is dwelling too much on this mercantile system which has only facts in its favor and which is supported by no writer!”111

Hearing this, will some people not say that when economists call for each person to have the free disposal of his property, they have given birth, like the followers of Fourier, to a new social order, fanciful, strange, a sort of phalanstery that is unprecedented in the annals of the human race?112 It seems to me that if there is anything in all this that has been invented, contingent, it is not freedom, but protection; it is not the ability to trade but indeed the customs service, which is applied to upsetting artificially the natural order of income.

But it is not a question of comparing or judging the two systems. The question for the moment is to know which of the two is based on experience.

Thus, you monopolists claim that facts are on your side and that we have only theories to support us.

You even flatter yourselves that this long series of public acts, this old experience of Europe’s that you invoke appeared imposing to M. Say, and I agree that he has not refuted you with his customary sagacity. For my part, I do not yield the domain of fact to you, for you have in your support only exceptional and restrained facts, while we have to oppose the universal facts, the free and voluntary acts of all men.

What are we saying and what do you say?

We say:

“It is better to purchase from others what it would cost more to produce ourselves.”

You, on the other hand, say:

“It is better to make things ourselves even though it costs less to purchase them from others.”

Well, sirs, leaving theory, demonstration, and reasoning, all things that appear to nauseate you, to one side, which of these two statements has the approval of universal practice on its side?

Just pay a visit to fields, workshops, factories, and stores, look upward, downward, and around you, scrutinize what is being done in your own households, observe your own everyday acts, and tell us what principle is governing all these laborers, workers, entrepreneurs, and merchants. Tell us what your personal practice is.

Do farmers make their own clothes? Do tailors produce the grain they consume? Does your housekeeper not stop making bread at home as soon as she finds it cheaper to purchase it from the baker? Do you mend your own boots instead of writing, in order not to pay tribute to the cobbler? Does the entire economy of society not rest on the separation of occupations, the division of labor, in a word, on exchange? And is trade anything other than this calculation that makes us all, whatever we are, cease direct production when indirect acquisition saves us both time and trouble?

You are thus not men of practice, since you cannot show us a single man anywhere in the world who acts in accordance with your principle.

But, you will say, we have never heard of our principle being used as a rule for individual relations. We fully understand that this would disrupt social links and force men to live like snails, each in his shell. We limit ourselves to claiming that it dominates de facto the relations established between groups in the human family.

As it happens, this assertion is also false. Families, communes, cantons, départements, and provinces are so many groups which all, without exception, reject in practice your principle and have never even given it a thought. All of these obtain by means of exchange what would cost them more to obtain by production. Every nation would do likewise if you did not prevent it by force.

It is therefore we who are the men of practice and experience, for in order to combat the prohibition that you have specially placed on some international trade, we base ourselves on the practice and experience of every individual and every group of individuals whose acts are voluntary and thus can be quoted as evidence. You, however, begin by constraining and preventing and then you seize upon acts that are forced or prohibited to claim: “You see, practice justifies us!”

You rise up against our theory and even against theory in general. But when you posit a principle that is antagonistic to ours, did you ever by chance imagine that you were not indulging in theory? No, no, cross that out of your papers. You are indulging in theory, just like us, but between yours and ours there is this difference:

Our theory consists only in observing universal facts, universal sentiments, universal calculations and procedures, and at the very most classifying them and coordinating them in order to understand them better.

It is so little opposed to practice that it is nothing other than practice explained. We watch the actions of men driven by the instinct of self-preservation and progress and what they do freely and voluntarily; it is exactly this that we call political economy or the economics of society. We constantly repeat that each man is in practice an excellent economist, producing or trading depending on whether there is more to gain from trading or producing. Each one through experience teaches himself this science, or rather science is merely this same experience scrupulously observed and methodically set out.

You, however, make theory in the disparaging meaning of the word. You imagine and invent procedures that are not sanctioned by the practice of any living man under the heavens and then you call coercion and prohibition to your assistance. You have indeed to resort to force since, as you want men to produce what it is more advantageous to purchase, you want them to abandon an advantage and you require them to act in accordance with a doctrine that implies a contradiction even on its own terms.

Thus, I challenge you to extend, even in theory, this doctrine that you admit would be absurd in individual relationships, to transactions between families, communes, départements, or provinces. On your own admission, it is applicable only to international relations.

And this is why you are reduced to repeating each day:

“Principles are never absolute. What is good in individuals, families, communes, and provinces is bad in nations. What is good on a small scale, that is to say, purchasing rather than producing when a purchase is more advantageous than production, is the very thing that is bad on a large scale; the political economy of individuals is not that of peoples,” and more nonsense ejusdem farinae.113

And what is the reason for all this? Look closer. To prove to us that we the consumers are your property! That we belong to you, body and soul! That you have an exclusive right over our stomachs and limbs! That it is up to you to feed us and clothe us at a price set by you whatever your incompetence, rapacity or the inferiority of your situation!

No, you are not men of practice; you are men of abstraction . . . and of extortion.114


106 Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) was the leading French political economist in the first third of the nineteenth century. He had the first chair in political economy at the Collège de France. Say is best known for his Traité d'économie politique (1803) and the Cours complet d'économie politique pratique (1828-33). See the glossary on "J.B.Say."

107 (Bastiat’s note) From page 5 of De l’administration commerciale opposée à l’économie politique. [Bastiat is quoting from pages v-viii of the second edition of Ferrier’s Du gouvernement considéré dans ses rapports avec le commerce (1821). Ferrier in turn is quoting from Say’s Traité d’économie politique, 3rd edition, p. lxvi, or 4th edition, p. lxvii. François Ferrier (1777-1861) was an advocate for protectionism and served as director general of the Customs Administration during the Empire and was a member of the Chamber of Peers during the July monarchy. See the glossary entry on "Ferrier."]

108 Auguste Saint-Chamans (1777-1860) was a deputy (1824-27) and a Councillor of State. He advocated protectionism and a mercantilist theory of the balance of trade. See the glossary entry on “Saint-Chamans.”

109 Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-83) was the comptroller-general of finance under Louis XIV from 1665 to 1683. He epitomized the policy of state intervention in trade and industry known as “mercantilism.” See the glossary entry on "Colbert."

110 (Bastiat’s note) Could it not be said: “It is a terrible prejudice against MM. Ferrier and Saint-Chamans that economists of all schools, that is to say, every man who has studied the question, should have reached the same conclusion, that after all, freedom is better than constraint and that God’s laws are wiser than Colbert’s. [Bastiat is no doubt thinking of at least two schools of economic thought which advocated free trade and laissez-faire policies, the French Physiocrats (such as Quesnay and Turgot) and the Smithian School which followed the ideas of Adam Smith. See the glossary entries on "The Physiocrats," "Adam Smith," and “Laissez-faire.”]

111 (Bastiat’s note) From page 11 of Du système de l’impôt (The Tax System) by the vicomte de Saint-Chamans. [DMH - Bastiat is quoting from pp. 11-13 of chap. 2 of this work.]

112 François-Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837) was a socialist and founder of the phalansterian school or “Fourierism.” This consisted of a utopian, communistic system for the reorganization of society in which individuals would live together as one family and hold property in common. See the glossary entry on “Fourier.”

113 A Latin phrase "ejusdem farinae" meaning literally "of the same flour", in other words, "cut from the same cloth."

114 (Paillottet’s note) See chapter XV below (see this volume, “More Reciprocity,” pp. 000—00).


XIV. A Conflict of Principles [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Conflit de principes” (A Conflict of Principles) [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 86-90.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


There is something that confuses me, and it is this:

Sincere political writers studying the economy of societies from the sole point of view of the producer have reached the following two policies:

“Governments ought to make the consumers who are subject to their laws favour national industry.”

“They ought to make foreign consumers subject to their laws in order to make them favour national industry.”

The first of these policies is called Protectionism, the second is called opening up foreign markets.

Both of them are based on the fundamental idea known as the balance of trade:

“A people grows poorer when it imports and wealthier when it exports.”

For if any purchase from abroad is tribute paid out and a loss, it is very simple to restrict and even prohibit imports.

And if any sale abroad is tribute received and a profit, it is only natural to create markets for yourself, even through force.

Protectionist systems, colonial systems: these are therefore just two aspects of the same theory. Preventing our fellow citizens from purchasing from foreigners and forcing foreigners to purchase from our fellow citizens are just two consequences of an identical principle.

Well, it is impossible not to recognize that, according to this doctrine, if it is true, general interest is based on monopoly, or internal plunder, and on conquest, or external plunder.

I enter one of the chalets clinging to the slopes of our Pyrénées.

The head of the household has received only a meager wage for his work. A glacial wind makes his scantily clad children shiver, the fire is out and the table empty. There is wool, wood, and corn the other side of the mountain but these goods are forbidden to the family of the poor journeyman, as the other side of the mountains is no longer France. Foreign pine will not cheer the chalet’s fireplace, the shepherd’s children will not learn the taste of Basque bread,115 and Navarre wool will not warm their frozen limbs. If this is what the general interest wants: fine! But let us agree that in this instance it is contrary to justice.

To command consumers by law, to force them to buy only in the national market, is to infringe on their freedom and to forbid them an activity, trade, that is in no way intrinsically immoral; in a word, it is to do them an injustice.

And yet it is necessary, people say, if we do not want national production to halt, if we do not want to deal a deathblow to public prosperity.

Writers of the protectionist school therefore reach the sorry conclusion that there is radical incompatibility between Justice and the Public Interest.

On the other hand, if every nation is interested in selling and not purchasing, a violent action and reaction will be the natural state of their mutual dealings, for each will seek to impose its products on everyone and everyone will endeavor to reject the products of everyone else.

A sale, in effect, implies a purchase, and since, according to this doctrine, selling is making a profit just as purchasing is making a loss, every international transaction implies the improvement of one nation and the deterioration of another.

On the one hand, however, men are inexorably drawn to whatever brings them a profit, while on the other they instinctively resist anything that harms them, which leads to the conclusion that every nation carries within itself a natural impulsion to expansion and a no less natural impulsion to resistance, both of which are equally harmful to everybody else, or in other words, antagonism and war are the natural condition of the human race.

Thus, the theory I am discussing can be summarized by these two axioms:

Public Interest is incompatible with Justice within the country.

Public Interest is incompatible with Peace abroad.

Well then! What astonishes and disconcerts me is that a political writer or a statesman, who has sincerely adopted an economic doctrine whose basic ideas are so violently contrary to other incontrovertible principles can have even one instant of calm and peace of mind.

For my part, I think that, if I had gone into science through this particular door, if I had not clearly perceived that Freedom, Public Interest, Justice and Peace are things that are not only compatible but closely linked with each other and, so to say, identical, I would endeavor to forget everything I had learnt and tell myself:

“How could God have wished men to achieve prosperity only through injustice and war? How could He have decreed that they should renounce war and injustice only by renouncing their well-being?

"Is the science that has led me to the horrible blasphemy implied by this alternative not misleading me with false flashes of insight, and do I dare to take it on myself to make it the basis for the legislation of a great nation? And when a long line of illustrious scholars has gathered more reassuring results from this same science, to which they have devoted their entire life, when they state that freedom and public interest can be reconciled with justice and peace; that all these great principles follow infinite parallel paths without conflicting with each other for all eternity; do they not have on their side the presumption that results from everything we know of the goodness and wisdom of God as shown in the sublime harmony of physical creation? Am I casually to believe, faced with such beliefs and on the part of so many imposing authorities, that this same God took pleasure in instilling antagonism and discord in the laws governing the moral world? No, no, before holding as certain that all social principles conflict with each other, crash into and neutralize each other, and are locked in an anarchical, eternal, and irremediable struggle; before imposing on my fellow citizens the impious system to which my reasoning has led me, I wish to review the entire chain and reassure myself that there is no point on the route at which I have gone astray.”

If, after a sincere examination, redone twenty times, I continued to reach this frightful conclusion, that we have to choose between the Right and the Good,116 I would reject science in my discouragement, I would sink into willful ignorance, and above all I would decline any participation in the affairs of my country, leaving men of another stamp the burden and responsibility of such a painful choice.117


115 Bastiat uses the term “la méture” which is a kind of corn bread and is a speciality of Les Landes region where Bastiat grew up. It can also be made with pieces of ham known as "la méture au jambon." Bastiat would have known well the Spanish provinces Biscay and Navarre on the other side of the border where he lived as he was fluent is Spanish and had once attempted to establish an insurance business in Spain. He may have witnessed personally the smuggling that took place across the border and might have known Béranger's poem "The Smugglers" about smuggling on the Franco-Spanish border. Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857) was a liberal poet and songwriter who rose to prominence during the Restoration period with his funny and clever criticisms of the monarchy and the church. He was sent to prison twice in the 1820s for offending the political authorities with his irreverent verses. Bastiat knew him and was known to have sung his drinking songs on occasion. See the glossary entry on “Béranger.”

116 The phrase Bastiat uses is "le Bien et le Bon" which is difficult to translate. Given the context of what Bastiat is arguing, one might translate it as "the morally good and the materially good (or useful)."

117 (Paillottet’s note) See chapters XVIII, XX at the end of this volume [see this volume, “There Are No Absolute Principles” and “Human Labor, Domestic Labor”], and the letter to M. Thiers titled “Protectionism and Communism” (OC, vol. 4, p. 504, “Protectionisme et communisme”). [“Protectionism and Communism” also appears in The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat, in the volume titled “The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850, pp. 000–00.]


XV. More Reciprocity [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Encore la réciprocité” (More Reciprocity) [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 90-92.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


As M. de Saint-Cricq118 said: “Are we sure that foreigners will purchase as much from us as they sell to us?”

M. de Dombasle119 says: “What reason have we to believe that English producers will come to us rather than any other nation in the world in search of the products they may need and products whose value is equivalent to their exports to France?”

I am amazed that men who above all call themselves practical reason in a way divorced from all practicality!

In practice, is there one trading operation in a hundred, a thousand, or perhaps even ten thousand that is a direct exchange of one product for another? Since money first came into the world, has any farmer ever said to himself: “I want to buy shoes, hats, advice, and lessons only from a shoemaker, milliner, lawyer, or teacher who will buy wheat from me for exactly the equivalent value”? And why would nations impose this obstacle on themselves?

How are things really done?

Let us imagine a nation that has no foreign trade. One man has produced wheat. He sells it in the national market at the highest price he can obtain and receives in exchange . . . what? Écus,120 that is to say, money orders, goods which can be split up indefinitely, which will permit him to take from the national market the goods which he needs or wants at a time he judges suitable and up to the amount he has at hand.121 All said and done, at the end of the operation he will have withdrawn from the total the exact equivalent of what he has put into it and in value, his consumption will be exactly the same as his production.

If this nation’s external trade is free it is no longer in the national flow of goods but in the general flow of goods that each person places his products and it is from that flow that he withdraws his consumption. He does not have to worry whether what he puts into this general circulation is bought by a fellow citizen or a foreigner, whether the money orders he receives come from a Frenchman or an Englishman, whether the objects for which he later trades these money payments, according to his needs, have been made on this or that side of the Rhine or the Pyrénées. What remains true is that there is for each individual an exact balance between what he puts in and what he takes out of the great common reservoir, and if this is true for each individual, it is also true for the nation as a whole.

The only difference between the two cases is that, in the second, each is facing a market that is wider for his sales and purchases and has consequently more opportunity to do well on both fronts.

The following objection is made: If everyone joins forces in order not to withdraw from the circulation the products of a given individual, he will not be able to withdraw anything in turn from the overall flow. This is the same for a nation.

Reply: If this nation cannot withdraw anything from the general circulation, it will not put anything into it either; it will work for its own account. It will be forced to submit to what you wish to impose on it at the outset, that is to say, isolation.

And that will be the ideal of the prohibitionist regime.

Is it not ludicrous that you are already inflicting this regime on the nation for fear that it will run the risk of reaching it one day without you?


118 Pierre Laurent Barthélemy, comte de Saint Cricq (1772-1854) was a protectionist Deputy who became Director General of Customs (1815), president of the Trade Council, and then Minister of Trade and Colonies (1828-29). See the glossary entry on "Saint Cricq."

119 Joseph Alexandre Mathieu de Dombasle (1777-1843) was an agronomist who introduced the practice of triennial crop rotation (cereals, forage, vegetables) in France. He also wrote on the sugar-beet industry, De l’impôt sur le sucre indigène: Nouvelles considerations (1837). See the glossary entry on “Dombasle.”

120 See the glossary entry on “French Currency.”

121 The technical commercial term Bastiat uses is "jusqu'à due concurrence" which can mean in commercial transactions "proportionally" or "up to the amount of."


XVI. Blocked Rivers pleading in favor of the Prohibitionists [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Les fleuves obstrués plaidant pour les prohibitionistes” (Blocked Rivers pleading in favor of the Prohibitionists) [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 92-93.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


A few years ago I was in Madrid.122 I went to the cortès.123 They were discussing a treaty with Portugal on improving the bed of the Douro.124 A deputy stood up and said: “If the Douro is channeled, transport will cost less. Portuguese grain will be sold cheaper in Castile and will provide formidable competition for our national production. I reject the project unless the ministers undertake to raise customs duties so as to reestablish the balance.” The assembly had no answer to this argument.

Three months later I was in Lisbon. The same question was put before the Senate. A noble hidalgo125 said: “Mr. President, the project is absurd. You are putting guards at huge expense on the banks of the Douro to prevent the invasion of grain from Castile into Portugal and, at the same time, you want, also at huge expense, to make this invasion easier. Let the Douro be passed to our sons in the same state as our fathers left it to us.”

Later, when it was a question of improving the Garonne,126 I remembered the arguments of the Iberian speakers and said to myself: “If the deputies in Toulouse were as good economists as those from Palencia and the representatives of Bordeaux were as skilled logicians as those of Oporto,127 the Garonne would surely be left “to sleep to the pleasing sound of its tilting urn,”128 for the channeling of the Garonne would encourage the invasion of products from Toulouse to the detriment of Bordeaux and the flooding of products from Bordeaux to the detriment of Toulouse.


122 Bastiat’s family had business interests in Spain. In 1840 he travelled to Spain and Portugal with the intention of setting up an insurance business. This did not eventuate.

123 The Cortes Generales is the legislative body which rules Spain. Liberal deputies enacted a new more liberal constitution in 1812.

124 The Douro river flows across northern-central Spain and Portugal towards its mouth at Porto on the Atlantic coast. It flows through a major wine growing region.

125 A member of the lower nobility.

126 The Garonne river has its source in the Pyrénnées mountains on the border between Spain and France and flows northwards through the city of Toulouse before reaching Bordeaux on the coast.

127 Palencia is a Spanish city on a tributary of the Douro river; and Oporto is a Portuguese city at the mouth of the Douro.

128 Bastiat misquotes some lines from Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux’s (1636-1711) poem celebrating the crossing of the Rhine River by the French army in 1672: “Au pied de mont Adule, entre mille roseaux / Le Rhin tranquille, et fier du progrès de ses eaux, / Appuyé d’une main sur son urne penchante, / Dormoit au bruit flatteur de son onde naissante: / Lorsqu’un cri tout à coup suivi de mille cris / Vient d’un calme si doux retirer ses esprits.” [At the foot of Mount Adule, between a thousand reeds / The tranquil Rhine, proud of the progress of its waters, / Supported with one hand on its sloping urn, / Sleeps to the flattering sounds of its new wave, / When a cry, suddenly followed by a thousand cries / Comes from a calm so soft to take its spirits away.] From Épitre IV. “Au Roi,” in Oeuvres de Boileau Despréaux, p. 136. Bastiat misquotes it as "Dormir au bruit flatteur de son urne penchante" conflating two adjacent lines of the poem. This could be a mistake or it could be deliberate. The word "urne" has another meaning, namely a ballot box in which votes were deposited. Since in the previous passage he was criticizing elected politicians for their contradictory policies in wanting to both improve the transportation of goods by river by digging canals and at the same time to hamper the transportation of goods by river by setting up customs barriers, he might be having a joke at their expense by re-writing this famous poem. It might now read "to sleep to the flattering sounds of its bent ballot box." See the glossary entry on “Boileau-Despréaux”.


XVII A Negative Railway [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Un chemin de fer négatif” (A Negative Railway] [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 93-94.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


I have said that when, unfortunately, we took the point of view of the producers’ interest, we could not fail to clash with the general interest,129 since producers, as such, demand only effort, needs, and obstacles.

I have found a remarkable example of this in a Bordeaux journal.

M. Simiot130 asks himself this question:

Should the Paris to Spain railway be offered to Bordeaux with a complete fracture in the line?131

He answered it in the positive with a host of reasons that it is not my place to examine but which include the following:

The railway between Paris and Bayonne should be completely broken in two132 at Bordeaux so that goods and passengers forced to stop in the town would contribute revenue to boatmen, packmen, commission agents, shippers, hoteliers, etc.

It is clear that this is once again a case of the interest of producers being put ahead of the interest of consumers.

But if Bordeaux can be allowed to profit from this break in the line, and if this is in keeping with the public interest, Angoulême, Poitiers, Tours, Orleans, and more, all intermediary points, Ruffec, Châtellerault, etc., etc., must also demand breaks in the line in the general interest, that is of course in the interest of national production, since the more breaks there are, the more consignments, commissions, and transshipping there will be all along the line. With this system, we will have created a railway made up of consecutive segments, a negative railway.

Whether the protectionists want this or not, it is no less certain that the principle of trade restriction is the same as the principle of breaks in the line: the sacrifice of the consumer to the producer and of the end to the means.


129 In a letter of 19 May 1846 addressed to a commission of the Chamber of Deputies which was looking into the route that should be taken by a new railway from Bordeaux to Bayonne, Bastiat argues that any political decision on routes is bound to upset somebody: the shortest route is the cheapest to build, but a winding route will service the needs of more people. See “On the Bordeaux to Bayonne Railway Line” in CW, vol. 1, pp. 312-16.

130 Alexandre Étienne Simiot (1807-1879) was a member of the Municipal Council of the Gironde and one of the leading figures in local democratic politics. He wrote Gare du chemin de fer de Paris à Bordeaux (impr. de Durand, 1846). See the glossary entry on “Simiot.”

131 Bastiat here uses the medical term "La solution de la continuité" which is used to describe, somewhat counterintuitively, a rupture, fracture, or complete break in a vessel or a bone, such as the skull. As one medical dictionary put it, the expression should really be "la dissolution de la continuité" (the rupturing or breaking of continuity). See the many references in Auguste-Théodore Vidal, Traité de pathologie externe et de médecine opératoire, 2e édition, 5 vols. (Paris: J.B. Baillière, 1846).

132 Bastiat uses the word “la lacune” (break or gap) here. It is in the medical sense noted above that one should understand Bastiat's use of the word "la lacune", not to mean a "stop" at a station to let passengers on or off, but the literal fracturing or breaking of the railway into two separate and discontinuous pieces which would require the transshipping of passengers and luggage from one railway to the next in order for them to continue their journey. This would sometimes occur at the border between states. Fifty years after Bastiat wrote these lines, Mark Twain related his experience in traveling by train from Sydney to Melbourne in his travel book Following the Equator (1898). At the border town of Albury passengers had to get up in the middle of cold winter's night to trans-ship themselves and their belongings from the narrow-gauge train in New South Wales to the broad-gauge train in Victoria. Twain described this as "the oddest thing, the strangest thing, the most baffling and unaccountable marvel that Australasia can show." He also interestingly, like Bastiat, saw the similarity to customs barriers and discussed the cost to the west coast of America of being forced to buy higher price east coast steel instead of cheaper foreign steel. See Appendix 5 "Mark Twain and the Australian Negative Railroad."


XVIII There are no Absolute Principles [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Il n'y a pas de principes absolus” (There are no Absolute Principles) [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 94-97.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


You cannot be too surprised at the ease with which men resign themselves to ignoring what they need most to know, and you can be sure that they are determined to fall asleep in their ignorance once they have come to the point of proclaiming this axiom: There are no absolute principles.

You enter the legislative chamber. The question before the house is to ascertain whether the law will forbid or free up international trade.

A deputy stands up and says:

“If you allow this trade, foreigners will flood you with their products, the English with cloth, the Belgians with coal, the Spanish with wool, the Italians with silk, the Swiss with cattle, the Swedish with iron, and the Prussians with wheat, so that no industry will be possible in this country.”

Another replies:

“If you forbid this trade, the various benefits that nature has showered on each geographical region will be nonexistent for you. You will not share in the mechanical skills of the English, the richness of the Belgian mines, the fertility of Polish soil, the fruitfulness of Swiss pastures, the cheapness of Spanish labor, or the heat of the Italian climate, and you will have to satisfy your demand with goods produced under awkward and difficult conditions instead of with goods obtained by trading with those who can produce things more easily.”

It is certain that one of these deputies is wrong. But which one? It is nevertheless worth while taking the trouble to find out, as it is not just a matter of opinion. You are faced with two paths and you have to choose; and one inevitably leads to poverty.

To escape from this quandary, people say: There are no absolute principles.

This axiom, so fashionable today, in addition to nodding to laziness, is also suited to ambition.

If the theory of prohibition won, or else if the doctrine of freedom triumphed, a very small law would encompass our entire economic code. In the first case, it would say: All foreign trade is forbidden and in the second: All foreign trade is free, and many leading figures would lose their importance.

But if trade does not have its own proper nature, if it is not governed by any natural law, if it is capriciously useful or disastrous, if it does not find its stimulus in the good it does and its limit in the good it ceases to do, and if its effects cannot be appreciated by those who carry it out, in a word, if there are no absolute principles, oh! It would then be necessary to weigh, balance, and regulate transactions, to equalize the conditions of labor, and to set the level of profits; a colossal task, but one well suited to be given to those who enjoy high remuneration and wide influence.

On entering Paris, which I had come to visit, I said to myself: Here there are a million human beings who would all die in a few days if supplies of all sorts did not flood into this huge metropolis. The mind boggles when it tries to assess the huge variety of objects that have to enter through its gates tomorrow if the lives of its inhabitants are not to be snuffed out in convulsions of famine, uprisings, and pillage. And in the meantime everyone is asleep, without their peaceful slumber being troubled for an instant by the thought of such a frightful prospect. On the other hand, eighty departments133 have worked today without being in concert and without agreement to supply Paris. How does it happen that every day what is needed and no more or less is brought to this gigantic market? What is thus the ingenious and secret power that presides over the astonishing regularity of such complicated movements, a regularity in which everyone has such blind faith, although well-being and life depend on it? This power is an absolute principle, the principle of free commerce.134 We have faith in this intimate light that Providence has placed in the hearts of all men to whom it has entrusted the indefinite preservation and progress of our species, self-interest, for we must give it its name, that is so active, vigilant, and farsighted when it is free to act. Where would you be, you inhabitants of Paris, if a minister took it into his head to substitute the arrangements he had thought up, however superior they are thought to be, for this power? Or if he took it into his head to subject this stupendous mechanism to his supreme management, to gather together all these economic activities in his own hands, to decide by whom, how, or under what conditions each object has to be produced, transported, traded and consumed? Oh! Although there are a good many causes of suffering within your city, although destitution, despair, and perhaps starvation are causing more tears to flow than your ardent charity can stem, it is probable or, I dare to say, even certain, that the arbitrary intervention of the government would infinitely increase these sufferings and extend to you all the misfortunes that are only affecting a small number of your fellow citizens.

Well then! Why, when we have faith in a principle when it relates to domestic transactions, do we not have the same faith in this principle when it is applied to international transactions, which are certainly fewer in number and less difficult and complicated? And, if it is not necessary for the Prefecture of Paris to regulate our industries, balance our opportunities, profits, and losses, concern itself with the depletion of our money, and equalize the conditions governing our labor in domestic commerce, why is it necessary for the customs service to aspire to exercise protective action, which is beyond its fiscal mission, with regard to our foreign commerce?135


133 In Bastiat’s day there were 86 départements in France. See the glossary entry on “French Government Administrative Regions.”

134 Bastiat uses a slightly different expression here. Instead of the usual "la liberté des échanges" (free trade) he uses "la liberté des transaction" which could mean "freedom of commerce".

135 (Paillottet’s note) See the first letter to M. de Lamartine in volume 1 and chapter I of the Economic Harmonies in volume 6 (OC, vol. 1, p. 406, “Un Économiste à M. de Lamartine”; and vol. 6, p. 21, “Organisation naturelle, organisation artificielle”).


XIX. National Independence [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Indépendance nationale” (National Independence) [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 97-99.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


Among the arguments put forward in favor of protectionism, we should not forget the one based on national independence.

“What will we do in case of war”, people say, “if we are subject to England’s discretion with regard to iron and coal?”

Monopolists in England, for their part, unfailingly proclaim:

“What would become of Great Britain in time of war if she were dependent on France for her food?”

We tend to disregard one fact, which is that this type of dependence resulting from trade and commercial transactions is mutual. We cannot be dependent on foreigners without these foreigners being dependent on us. This is the very essence of society. Breaking off natural relationships does not make us independent, but isolated.

And note this well: we isolate ourselves because of an expectation of war, but the very act of isolating ourselves is the first step to war. It makes it easier, less of a burden and because of this, less unpopular. If nations are constant markets for each other, if their relationships cannot be broken off without inflicting on them the twin suffering of deprivation and over supply, they will no longer need the powerful navies that are ruining them and the massive armies now crushing them, the peace of the world will not be compromised by the caprices of M. Thiers136 or Lord Palmerston,137 and war will disappear for lack of incentive, resources, reasons, pretexts, and popular favor.138

I am fully aware that I will be blamed (for this is the current fashion) for resting fraternity between nations on self-interest, vile and prosaic interest. People would prefer fraternity to be rooted in charity and love, with even a little self-sacrifice, and in hurting men’s material well-being, to possess the merit of generous sacrifice.

When will we ever be rid of this puerile moralism? When will we finally banish hypocrisy from science? When will we drop this sickening contradiction between our writings and our actions? We boo at, we shout down self-interest, that is to say what is useful and good (since to say that all nations are interested in a thing is to say that this thing is intrinsically good), as though self-interest was not a necessary, eternal and indestructible motive to which Providence has entrusted human progress! As if we were all angels of disinterestedness? As if the public was not beginning to see, and with disgust, that this affected language is blackening the very pages for which the public is expected to pay so dearly.?? Oh, such affectation! This is really the disease of this century.

What! Because well-being and peace are closely allied, because God was pleased to establish this fine harmony in the moral world, you do not want me to admire and adore his decrees and accept with gratitude laws that make justice a condition of happiness? You do not want peace unless it is to the detriment of well-being, and freedom weighs heavy on you because it does not impose sacrifice on you? And, if self-sacrifice has such attraction for you, what stops you including it in your private actions? Society would be grateful to you if you did, for at least someone would reap the benefit from it, but to wish to impose it on humanity on principle is the height of absurdity, for the self-sacrifice of all is the sacrifice of all and constitutes misfortune raised to the status of a theory.

But thank heaven we can write and read a great number of these ranting speeches without the world ceasing to obey its driving force, which is self-interest, like it or not.

After all, it is rather strange to see sentiments of the most sublime self-denial invoked in support of plunder itself. This is what this ostentatious disinterestedness leads to! These men, who are so poetically delicate that they do not want peace itself if it is based on men’s vile self-interests, are putting their hands into other people’s pockets, especially those who are poor, for what article of the tariff protects the poor? Yes, sirs, do whatever you like with what belongs to you, but likewise let us do what we want with the fruit from the sweat of our brows, to use it ourselves or to trade it. Make speeches on self-renunciation, for that is fine, but at the same time at least be honest.139


136 Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877) was a lawyer, historian, politician, and journalist who served briefly as Prime Minister and Minster of Foreign Affairs in 1836 and 1840. After the 1848 revolution and the creation of the Second Empire he was elected deputy representing Rouen in the Constituent Assembly. See the glossary entry on “Thiers.”

137 Henry John Temple, third viscount Palmerston (1784-1860) was a British politician and leader of the Whig party. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs (1830-41 and 1846-50) and then Prime Minister during the Crimean War (1854-56). He was a liberal interventionist who worked to limit French influence in world affairs. See the glossary entry on “Palmerston.”

138 These two paragraphs are a nice summary of the views held by Richard Cobden and Bastiat regarding the link between free trade and peace. Cobden and Bastiat frequently corresponded on this topic (see CW, vol. 1 for details) and visited each other when they attended conferences organized by the Friends of Peace. See the glossary entries on “Richard Cobden,” “Peace Congress (Paris August 1849,” Appendix 6 “Bastiat’s Speech on ‘Disarmament and Taxes’ (August 1849),” and Bastiat and the organized Peace Movement” in Appendix 1 “Further Aspects of Bastiat’s Life and Thought.”

139 (Paillottet’s note) See the pamphlet entitled Justice and Fraternity in this volume (OC, vol. 4, p. 298, “Justice et fraternité”). Also see the introduction to Cobden and the English League followed by the Second Campaign of the League in volume 3. (OC, vol. 3, p. 1, “Introduction”; and p. 449, “Seconde campagne de la Ligue”). [“Justice and Fraternity” also appears in The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat, in the volume titled “The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, pp. 000–00.]


XX. Human Labor and Domestic Labor [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Travail humain, travail national” (Human Labor and Domestic Labor) [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1 ES1 st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 100-05.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


Smash the machines,140 reject foreign goods; these are two acts generated by the same doctrine.

We see men who clap when a great invention is revealed to the world and who nevertheless support protectionism. Such men are very inconsistent!

What is their objection to free trade? That it results in our having things made by foreigners who are more skillful or better situated than we, which otherwise we would produce ourselves. In a word, it is accused of damaging domestic labor.

By the same token, should these critics not be blaming machines for accomplishing through natural agents a production, which, without them, would fall to manual effort and consequently for damaging human labor?

Foreign workers who are better situated than French ones are veritable economic machines that crush the latter through their competition. Similarly, a machine that carries out an operation at a lower cost than a given number of hands is, with regard to this labor, a genuine foreign competitor that paralyzes them with its competition.

If therefore it is appropriate to protect domestic labor against competition from foreign labor, it is no less so to protect human labor against competition from mechanical labor.

So, if he has an ounce of logic in his brain, anyone who supports a protectionist regime should not stop at forbidding foreign products; he ought to forbid even more the products of the shuttle and the plough.

And this is why I much prefer the logic of those men who, speaking out against the invasion of goods from far distant lands, at least have the courage to speak out as well against over production due to the inventive power of the human mind.

One of these is M. de Saint-Chamans.141 “One of the strongest arguments,” he says, “against free trade and the over use of machines, is that many workers are deprived of work either by foreign competition that closes factories down or by equipment that takes the place of men in the workshops.” (On the Tax System, page 438.)142

M. de Saint-Chamans has accurately seen the analogy, let us go further, the identity existing between imports and machines. This is why he forbids them both; and truly, there is some pleasure in facing intrepid debaters, who, even when they are wrong, take their line of reasoning to its limit.

But look at the difficulty in store for them!

While it is a priori true that the domains of invention and labor can expand only at the expense of one another, it is in those countries in which there are the most machines, for example in Lancashire, that we ought to see the fewest workers. And if, on the contrary, we see in fact that machines and workers coexist to a greater degree in rich nations than in uncivilized ones, we have to conclude that these two forces are not mutually exclusive.

I cannot explain to myself how a thinking soul can have a moment’s rest when faced with this dilemma:

Either the inventions of man do not damage his labor, as the general facts demonstrate, since there are more of both among the English and French than among the Hurons and Cherokees, and, in this case, I have gone wrong, although I do not know either where or how I have gone astray. I would be committing treason against humanity if I introduced my mistake into the legislation of my country.

Or the discoveries of the human mind reduce manual labor, as certain facts appear to indicate, since every day I see a machine being substituted for twenty or one hundred workers, in which case I am obliged to identify a flagrant, eternal, and incurable antithesis between man’s intellectual and physical power, between his progress and his well-being. I cannot refrain from saying that the author of man was bound to give him the gift of either brain or brawn, either moral strength or brute force, and that in the event he has played a trick on him by conferring on him, simultaneously, mutually destructive powers.

This is a pressing difficulty. Well, do you know how to solve it? By this strange maxim:

In political economy, there are no absolute principles.

In common, intelligible parlance, this means:

“I do not know where truth or falsehood lies and am ignorant of what constitutes general good or evil. I do not let this trouble me. The immediate effect of each measure on my personal well-being is the sole law I agree to acknowledge.”

There are no principles! This is as though you were saying: “There are no facts, for principles are only formulae that sum up an entire order of well-known facts.”

Machines and imports certainly have effects. These effects are either good or bad. People can have differing opinions in this respect. But whichever one you adopt is formulated using one of these two principles: machines are good or machines are bad. Imports are advantageous or imports are harmful. But to say there are no principles is certainly the lowest degree of humiliation to which the human mind can descend, and I admit that I blush for my country when I hear such a monstrous heresy enunciated before the French Chambers with their assent, that is to say, before and with the assent of the elite of our fellow citizens, and all this to justify themselves for imposing on us laws in total ignorance.

But in the end, I will be told, destroy the sophism. Prove that machines do not damage human labor and that imports do not damage domestic labor.

In an essay of the present kind, such proofs could not be very detailed. My aim is rather to establish the difficulties than to solve them and to arouse reflection rather than to satisfy it. No convictions are ever firmly anchored in the human mind other than those that result from its own work. I will nevertheless endeavor to set it along this path.

What misleads the opponents of imports and machines is that they judge them by their immediate and transitory effects instead of going to their general and definitive consequences.143

The immediate effect of an ingenious machine is to render a certain amount of manual labor superfluous for a given result. However, its action does not in the slightest stop there. For the very reason that this given result is achieved with less effort, it is made available to the public at a lower price, and the sum of the savings thus realized by all purchasers enables them to satisfy other wants, that is to say, to encourage manual labor in general by precisely the amount saved by those manual laborers working in the recently improved industry. In short, the level of work has not decreased, although that of satisfaction has been increased.

Let us use an example to make this set of effects clearer.

Let us imagine that 10 million hats costing 15 francs are consumed in France. This provides the hat industry with a turnover of 150 million. A machine is invented that enables the hats to be sold at 10 francs. The turnover for this industry is reduced to 100 million assuming that consumption does not increase. However, the 50 million is not lost to human labor for all that. Having been saved by the purchasers of hats, it will be used to satisfy other needs and consequently to remunerate the entire industrial system by the same figure. With the 5 francs he has saved, Jean will buy a pair of shoes, Jacques a book, Jérôme an item of furniture, etc. The human labor, taken as a whole, will thus continue to be encouraged up to a level of 150 million; this sum will provide the same number of hats as before, plus all the other satisfactions corresponding to the 50 million that the machine will have saved. These satisfactions are the net product that France would have gained from the invention. This is a free gift, a tribute that man’s genius has imposed on nature. We do not deny that, during the transformation, a certain mass of labor will have been displaced, but we cannot agree that it has been destroyed or even diminished.

This is also true for imports. Let us return to the hypothesis.

France manufactured 10 million hats at a cost price of 15 francs. Foreigners invaded our market, supplying us with hats at 10 francs. I say that domestic labor will not be decreased in the slightest.

For it will have to produce up to 100 million to pay for 10 million hats at 10 francs.

And then each purchaser will have 5 francs left that he has saved on each hat, or a total of 50 million that he will pay for other pleasures, that is to say, for other things produced by labor.

Therefore the total amount of labor will remain the same as it was and the additional pleasures, representing the 50 million saved on the hats, will be the net profit from the imports or from free trade.

And people must not try to terrify us with the picture of the suffering that, according to this reasoning, will accompany the displacement of labor.

For if protectionism had never occurred, labor would have rearranged itself in line with the laws of trade and no displacement would have taken place.144

If, on the other hand, protectionism has led to an artificial and unproductive structure of labor, it would be this, and not freedom, that is responsible for the inevitable displacement in the transition from bad to good.

Unless it is claimed that, because an abuse cannot be destroyed without upsetting those who benefit from it, its existence for just a moment ensures that it will last forever.


140 This is a reference to the Luddites who were members of a movement in the early 19th century in England who protested the introduction of mechanized weaving machines believing that that they would put handloom weavers out of work. They were active between 1811-13 before being suppressed by the government in a mass trial in 1813. They took their name from a weaver named Ned Ludd who smashed machines in 1779. See another reference to smashing machines (Luddism) in ES3 XXII “Disastrous Illusions” below pp. ??? See the glossary entry on “Luddites.”

141 Auguste Saint-Chamans (1777-1860) was a deputy (1824-27) and a Councillor of State. He advocated protectionism and a mercantilist theory of the balance of trade. See the glossary entry on “Saint-Chamans.”

142 Bastiat is referring to Saint-Chamans’s Du système d’impôt (1820).

143 Bastiat is here stating in a more round about way what later he would come to call the “seen” and the “unseen” which he was to develop more explicitly in a pamphlet in July 1850: What is Seen and What is not Seen, or Political Economy in One Lesson, below pp. ???.

144 (Paillottet’s note) See chapter XIV of the second series of Sophisms [see this volumme, “Something Else,” pp. 000–00] and chapter VI of the Economic Harmonies (OC, vol. 6, chap. 6, p. 185, “Richesse”).


XXI. Raw Materials [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Matières premières” (Raw Materials) [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 105-15.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


It is said: “The most profitable of all trades is the one in which manufactured goods are exchanged for raw materials. For the raw materials supply domestic labor.”

And from this the following conclusion is drawn:

That the best customs law would be the one that did the most to facilitate the importation of raw materials and which would put the greatest number of obstacles in the path of goods which had undergone some level of manufacture.145

In political economy, there is no sophism so widespread as this one. It is the talk of not only the protectionist school but also and above all the allegedly liberal school, and this is a trying circumstance, for the worst thing for a good cause is not to be competently attacked but to be badly defended.

Commercial freedom will probably suffer the fate of all freedoms; it will be introduced into our laws only once it has gained possession of our minds. But if it is true that a reform has to be generally understood in order to be solidly established, it follows that nothing can delay it more than anything which misleads public opinion; and what is more likely to mislead it than articles that demand freedom by using the doctrines of monopoly to support them?

A few years ago, three large cities in France, Lyons, Bordeaux, and Le Havre, rose up against the protectionist regime.146 The country and the whole of Europe were moved at seeing what they took to be the flag of freedom being raised. Alas! It was still the flag of monopoly! A monopoly that was a little more sly and a lot more absurd than the one they seemed to want to overthrow. Thanks to the sophism which I will attempt to unveil, the petitioners did nothing more than reproduce the doctrine on the protection of domestic labor, while adding one more inconsistency to it.

What in fact is protectionism? Let us listen to M. de Saint-Cricq:147

“Labor constitutes the wealth of a people, since it alone creates the physical things that our needs call for, and universal prosperity consists in the abundance of such things.” Such is the crux of the argument.

“But it is necessary for this abundance to be the product of the nation’s activity. If it were the product of foreign activity, national output would come to a sudden stop.” Here is the error. (See the preceding sophism.)148

“What therefore should an agricultural and manufacturing country do? Keep its market for the products of its own territory and industry.” Here is the aim.

“And to do this, restrict through duties and prohibit if necessary the products of the territory and industry of other peoples.” Here are the means.

Let us compare these arrangements with those of the petition from Bordeaux.

It divided goods into three classes.

“The first covers foodstuffs and raw materials that are devoid of any human labor. In principle, a wise economy would require this class to be exempt from taxes.” Here, no labor, no protection.

“The second is made up of goods which have undergone some processing. This processing allows us to impose some duty on it.” Here protection starts because, according to the petitioners, here begins domestic labor.

“The third covers finished goods which cannot be used in any way in domestic production; we consider these to be the most liable to taxes.” Here labor, and protection with it, reach their peak.

As we can see, the petitioners claimed that foreign labor damages domestic labor. This is the error of the protectionist regime.

They demanded that the French market to be reserved for French labour; that is the aim of the protectionist regime.

They demanded that foreign labor be subject to restrictions and taxes. That is the means of the protectionist regime.

So what difference can we therefore discern between the petitioners from Bordeaux and the leader of the protectionist chorus?

Just one: the wider or narrower range of interpretation of the meaning of the word labor.

M. de Saint-Cricq extends it to everything. He therefore wants to protect everything.

“Labor constitutes the entire wealth of a nation,” he says, “protecting agriculture, the entire agricultural sector, manufacturing, the entire manufacturing sector, this is the cry that will always echo around this Chamber.”

The petitioners consider manufacturing alone as constituting labor; for this reason they accord only this sector the favor of protection.

“Raw materials are devoid of any human labor. In principle they should not be taxed. Manufactured goods can no longer be used for further productive activity in the domestic market; we consider them to be the most proper to be subject to taxes.”

It is not a question here of examining whether protection for domestic labor is reasonable. M. de Saint-Cricq and the petitioners from Bordeaux agree on this point and we, as has been seen in previous chapters, differ from both in this respect.

The question is to know who is giving the proper meaning to the word labor, M. de Saint-Cricq or the petitioners from Bordeaux.

Well, on this terrain, it has to be said that M. de Saint-Cricq is right a thousand times, for the following is the dialogue that they might have with each other:

M. de Saint-Cricq: “You agree that domestic labor has to be protected. You agree that no foreign products can be introduced into our market without destroying an equal amount of our domestic production. The only thing is that you claim that there are a host of products that contain value, since they sell, and which are nevertheless devoid of any human labor. And you list, among other things, wheat, flour, meat, cattle, bacon, salt, iron, copper, lead, coal, wool, skins, seed, etc.

“If you prove to me that the value of these things is not due to labor, I will agree that they do not need to be protected.

“However, if I also demonstrate to you that there is as much labor involved in one hundred francs’ worth of wool as in 100 francs’ worth of cloth, you will have to admit that protection is due as much to the one as to the other.

“Now, why is this bag of wool worth 100 francs? Is it not because it is its cost price? And is its cost price anything other than what has to be paid in wages, earnings, and the costs of manpower, labor, and interest to all the laborers and capital providers who contributed to producing the object?”

The Petitioners: “It is true that you might be right with regard to wool. But is a sack of wheat, an ingot of iron, or a quintal of coal the product of labor? Is it not nature that has created them?”

M. de Saint-Cricq: “There is no doubt that nature has created the elements of all these things, but it is labor that has created their value. I myself was mistaken when I said that labor creates physical objects, and this flawed expression has led me into many other errors. It is not in man’s power to create and to make something out of nothing, any more for manufacturers than for farmers; if by production we meant creation, all of our projects would be nonproductive and yours, as traders, more so than all the others, except perhaps for mine.

“A farmer, therefore, cannot claim to have created wheat, but he can claim to have created its value, by this I mean to have transformed into wheat, through his own labor and that of his servants, cow herders and harvesters, substances which did not resemble it in the slightest. In addition, what do the millers do who convert it into flour, or the bakers who bake it into bread?

“In order for men to be able to clothe themselves in woolen cloth, a host of operations is necessary. Before any human labor intervenes, the genuine raw materials of this product are air, water, heat, gaslight, and the salts that have to go to making it up. There are the raw materials that are genuinely devoid of any human labor, since they have no value and I do not envisage protecting them. However, an initial act of labor converts these substances into fodder, a second into wool, a third into yarn, a fourth into cloth, and a fifth into garments. Who would dare to say that everything in this operation is not labor, from the first cut of the plough that starts it to the last stitch that terminates it?

“And because, for greater speed and perfection in the accomplishment of the final operation, a garment, the labor is divided among several classes of industrious workers,149 do you want to establish, through arbitrary distinction, that the order of carrying out of this labor is the sole basis for their importance, so that the first does not even merit the appellation of labor and the last, labor par excellence, is the only one worthy of the favors of protection?”

The Petitioners: “Yes, we are beginning to see that wheat, is not, any more than wool, altogether devoid of any human labor, but at least the farmer has not, like the manufacturer, done everything himself or with the assistance of his laborers; nature has helped him and if there is labor, everything in wheat is not labor”

M. de Saint-Cricq: “But all its value is labor. I agree that nature has contributed to the physical forming of the grain. I even agree that this is exclusively its own work, but you must admit that I have forced it to do so through my labor, and when I sell you wheat, you have to note this clearly, I am not making you pay for the labor of nature but for mine.

“And, in your opinion, manufactured goods would not be the products of labor either. Are manufacturers not assisted by nature as well? Do they not use the weight of the atmosphere through their steam engines just as I use its humidity when plowing? Have they created the laws of gravity, the transmission of force or the nature of chemical bonding?”

The Petitioners: “Very well, we agree for wool, but coal is certainly the work and the sole work of nature. It is truly devoid of any human labor.”

M. de Saint-Cricq: “Yes, nature has made coal but labor has created its value. Coal had no value for millions of years when it was buried and unknown one hundred feet underground. Men had to go to look for it: that is labor. It had to be taken to market: that is another form of labor and once again, the price you pay for it in the market is nothing other than payment for these jobs of extraction and transport.”150

We can see that up to now M. de Saint-Cricq has won the argument; that the value of raw materials, like that of manufactured materials, represents the cost of production, that is to say, of the labor; that it is not possible to imagine an object that has value and that is devoid of any human labor; that the distinction made by the petitioners is futile in theory and that, as the basis of an unequal distribution of political favors it would be iniquitous in practice, since its result would be that one-third of French citizens who labor in factories would obtain the advantages of monopoly because they produce things through labor, while the other two-thirds, that is to say, the farming population, would be abandoned to face competition on the pretext that they produce things without laboring.

I am sure that people will insist and say that there is a greater advantage for a nation to import so-called raw materials, whether or not they are the product of labor, and export manufactured goods.

This is an opinion that is widely held.

“The more raw materials are abundant,” says the petition from Bordeaux, “the more factories will increase in number and flourish vigorously.”

“Raw materials”, it says elsewhere, “leave a limitless scope for the work of the inhabitants of those countries into which they are imported.”

“As raw materials,” says the petition from Le Havre,are the raw elements of labor, they have to be subjected to a different regime and imported immediately at the lowest customs rate.”

This same petition wants protection for manufactured goods to be reduced not immediately, but after an undetermined period and not at the lowest rate, but at 20 percent.

“Among other articles whose low price and abundance are a necessity,” says the petition from Lyons, “manufacturers include all raw materials.”

All this is based on an illusion.

We have seen that all value represents labor. Now, it is very true that the process of manufacturing multiplies by ten or sometimes a hundred the value of a raw product, that is to say, it spreads out ten or a hundred times more income around the nation. This being so, the reasoning goes as follows: the production of a quintal151 of iron earns only 15 francs for all categories of contributors. The conversion of this quintal of iron into watch springs raises their various incomes to 10,000 francs and would you dare to say that it is not of more interest to the nation to ensure itself 10,000 francs’ worth of labor than 15 francs’ worth?

People forget that international trade does not function by weight or measure, any more than individual exchanges. You do not trade one quintal of iron for one quintal of watch springs, nor a pound of still greasy wool for a pound of cashmere wool, but a certain value of one of these things for an equal value of another. Well, to exchange equal value for equal value is to exchange equal labor for equal labor. It is therefore not true that a nation that gives 100 francs’ worth of cloth or springs makes more than one that delivers 100 francs’ worth of wool or iron.

In a country in which no law can be voted, no taxation imposed without the consent of those who are to be governed by this law or subjected to it, the public can be robbed only by being misled in the first place. Our ignorance is the raw material of any extortion that is exercised over us and we can be certain in advance that any sophism is the herald of plunder. Good people, when you see a sophism in a petition, put your hand over your pocket for it is certainly that which is being aimed at.

Shall we not therefore look at the secret thought that the ship owners of Bordeaux and Le Havre and the manufacturers of Lyons are hiding in this distinction between agricultural goods and manufactured goods?

“It is mainly in this first class (the one that includes raw materials, devoid of any human labor) that we find the principal maintenance of our merchant navy, say the petitioners of Bordeaux. In principle, a wise economy would require this class not to be taxed. . . . The second (goods which have undergone some processing) may be taxed. The third (goods which require no further modification) we consider to be the most taxable.

The petitioners from Le Havre say, “Considering that it is essential to reduce the tax on raw materials immediately to the lowest rate so that manufacturing industry may successively put to work the naval forces that provide it with its primary and essential means of the employment of its labor. . . .”

The manufacturers could not be any less polite to the ship owners. For this reason, the petition from Lyons requested the free entry of raw materials “to prove,” as it said, “that the interests of manufacturing towns are not always in opposition to those of those on the coast.”

No, but it has to be said that both, understood as the petitioners understand them, are totally opposed to the interests of the countryside, agriculture, and consumers.

This, sirs, is what you wanted to say! This is the aim of your subtle economic distinctions! You want the law to prevent finished goods from crossing the ocean in order for the much more expensive transport of raw and dirty materials, including a lot of waste, to provide more cargo for your merchant navy and put your shipping to greater use. This is what you call a wise economy.

What! Why do you not also ask for Russian pines to be shipped with their branches, bark, and roots? For Mexican gold in its mineral state and leather from Buenos Aires still attached to the bones of stinking carcasses?

Soon, I expect, railway shareholders, however small their majority in the Chambers, will pass a law forbidding the production in Cognac of the brandy drunk in Paris. Would not to decree by law the transport of ten casks of wine for one cask of brandy provide the essential income for their labor to manufacturers in Paris and at the same time set the powers of our locomotives into action?

For how long more will people close their eyes to such a simple truth?

The purpose of manufacturing, of shipping, and of labor is the general good, the public good. Creating industries that serve no purpose, encouraging superfluous transport and supporting unnecessary labor, not for the public good but at public expense, is to achieve a genuine contradiction in terms.152 It is not labor that is intrinsically desirable but consumption. Any labor that yields no output represents a loss. To pay sailors to carry useless refuse across the sea is as though they were being paid to make pebbles skim across the surface of the water.153 We therefore come to the conclusion that all economic sophisms, in spite of their infinite variety, have this in common: they confuse the means with the end and develop one at the expense of the other.154


145 This was in fact the purpose of the revision of French tariff policy which took place in the first years of the French Revolution with the law of August 1791. Most prohibitions on imported goods were abolished, tariffs were abolished on the primary products used by French manufacturers and food stuffs for consumers, and tariffs on foreign manufactured were lowered to 20-25% by value. See the glossary entry on “French Tariff Policy.”

146 This took place in 1834 and Bastiat commented on their Petition in a local newspaper. See “Réflexions sur les pétitions de Bordeaux, Le Havre, et Lyon concernant les Douanes”). [“Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons Relating to the Customs Service” in The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat, in the volume titled “The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850, pp. 1–9.

147 Pierre Laurent Barthélemy, comte de Saint Cricq (1772-1854) was a protectionist Deputy who became Director General of Customs (1815), president of the Trade Council, and then Minister of Trade and Colonies (1828-29). See the glossary entry on "Saint Cricq."

148 (Note by Paillottet. See this volume, “Human Labor, Domestic Labor,” pp. 000–00.)

149 Here Bastiat uses the term coined by Charles Dunoyer, "industrieux" in the phrase "plusieurs classes d'industrieux" which we have translated as "several classes of industrious workers". See the glossary entry on "Industry."

150 (Bastiat’s note) I do not explicitly mention the part of the payment that relates to the entrepreneur, the capital provider, etc., for several reasons: 1. Because if you look closely, you will see that this is always payment for advances or labor done previously; 2. Because, under the general term of labor, I include not only the wages of the worker but legitimate payment for all cooperation in the work of production; 3. Lastly and above all, because the production of manufactured goods is, just like that of raw materials, subject to interest and payments other than those for manual labor, and that the objection, which is futile in itself, would apply to the most ingenious spinning factory as much or even more than to the crudest form of agriculture.

151 The term "quintal" comes from the Latin and is a unit of measurement with 100 units. In the Old Regime this meant a quintal was 100 "livres" (or pounds). After the metrification introduced by the French Revolution a quintal came to mean 100 kilograms.

152 The term Bastiat uses is "une pétition de principe" (or in Latin "petitio principii") which is a philosophical expression to describe a type of logical fallacy. It means a "contradiction in terms" or "begging the question."

153 The phrase Bastiat uses is “pour faire ricocher des cailloux sur la surface de l’eau” which is an interesting early use of the term “ricochet” which Bastiat was to develop more fully later. Here he is referring to wasted labour not the flow on effects caused by economic activity. See the Appendices "Bastiat and the Ricochet Effect" and "The Sophism Bastiat never wrote: the Sophism of the Ricochet Effect."

154 (Paillottet’s note) See the short article dated 1834 titled “Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre,” etc. in the first volume (OC, vol. 1, p. 231, “Réflexions sur les pétitions de Bordeaux, Le Havre, et Lyon concernant les Douanes”). [“Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons Relating to the Customs Service” also appears in The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat, in the volume titled “The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850, pp. 000–00.]


XXII. Metaphors [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Métaphores” (Metaphors) [no date given] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 115-19.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


Sometimes sophisms expand and penetrate the entire fabric of a long and heavy theory. More often they contract, reduce in size, and become a principle, entirely hidden in one word.

God preserve us, Paul-Louis155 said, from cunning men and metaphors! And in fact, it would be difficult to say which of the two causes the most harm to our planet. It is the devil, you say; he puts in all of us, such as we are, the spirit of plunder in our hearts. Yes, but he leaves the repression of abuses completely up to the resistance of those that suffer from them. It is sophism that paralyses this resistance. The sword that malice places in the hands of attackers would be powerless if sophism did not shatter the shield on the arms of those under attack and Malebranche156 was right in inscribing the following sentence on the frontispiece of his book: Error is the cause of human misery.157

And look at what happens. Ambitious hypocrites have a sinister interest,158 for example, in sowing the seed of national hatred in the mind. This disastrous seed may develop and lead to general conflagration, cause civilization to stop, spill torrents of blood, and draw down the most terrible of all scourges on the country, invasion. In any case, before these events occur, these feelings of hatred diminish us in the eyes of other nations and reduce those people in France who have retained some vestige of a love of justice to blush for their country. These are certainly great evils, and in order for the public to be protected against the intrigues of those who want it to run the risk of such events, it would be enough for them to have a clear view of the matter. How does it happen that that this clear view is clouded? Through metaphor. The meaning of three or four words is altered, strained, and degraded and this says it all.

Take the word invasion itself.

A French ironmaster says: “May we be preserved from an invasion of iron from England.” An English landlord exclaims: “Let us reject the invasion of wheat from France!” And they propose that the barriers between the two peoples be raised. Barriers constitute isolation, isolation leads to hatred, hatred to war and war to invasion. “What does it matter?” say the two sophists, “is it not better to be exposed to the risk of invasion than to accept certain invasion?” And the people believe them and the barriers remain.

And yet, what analogy is there between an exchange and an invasion? What similarity can be established between a warship which comes to vomit shells, fire, and devastation on our towns and a merchant ship that comes to offer us the opportunity of exchanging goods for other goods freely and voluntarily?

I would say the same for the word flood. This word normally has a negative meaning because the common characteristics of floods are to ravage fields and crops. If nevertheless they leave greater value on the land than they remove, as do the floods of the Nile, we ought to bless and deify them, following the example of the Egyptians. Well then, before railing against the floods of foreign goods, before erecting obstructive and costly obstacles in their path, do people ask themselves whether these are floods that ravage or those that fertilize? What would we think of Mehemet Ali159 if, instead of raising dams across the Nile at huge expense to extend the range of its floods, he spent his piastres digging a deeper bed for it so that Egypt would no longer be soiled by this foreign silt brought down from the Mountains of the Moon?160 We are showing precisely this degree of wisdom and reason when, with the support of millions, we wish to preserve our country . . . from what? From the benefits with which nature has endowed other climates.

Among the metaphors that conceal an entire and disastrous theory, there are none more commonly used than the one that uses the words tribute, tributary.

These words have become so commonplace that they have become synonyms of purchase and purchaser and the two sets of words are now used indiscriminately in place of one another.

However, there is as much distance between a tribute and a purchase as between a theft and an exchange, and I would as much like to hear it said that Cartouche161 had broken into my strong box and purchased a thousand écus, than to hear it said repeatedly to our deputies: “We have paid the tribute to Germany for a thousand horses that it has sold to us.”

For what makes the action of Cartouche not a purchase is that he has not placed in my strong box, with my consent, an equivalent value to the one he has taken.

And what makes the payment of 500,000 francs that we have made to Germany not a tribute, is exactly because it has not received this money for no return but because it has delivered to us in exchange one thousand horses that we ourselves estimated were worth our 500,000 francs.

Should we therefore in all seriousness bring up such abuses of language again? Why not, since they are very seriously bandied about in both journals and books?

And let us not imagine that they slip out from a few writers whose ignorance extends to their use of language! For every one who refrains from this, I will quote you ten who indulge in it and who belong to the upper classes as well, such as Argout,162 Dupin,163 Villèle,164 and assorted peers, deputies, ministers, that is to say all men whose word is the law and whose most shocking sophisms are used as the basis for the country’s administration.

A famous modern philosopher165 has added to the categories of Aristotle the sophism that consists in begging the question within a single word. He quotes several examples. He might have added the word tributary to his list. In effect, it is a question of knowing whether purchases made abroad are useful or harmful. They are harmful, you say. Why so? Because they make us tributaries of foreigners. This is certainly a word that begs the question under discussion.

How has this misleading trope slipped into the monopolists’ rhetoric?

Écus leave the country to satisfy the rapacity of a victorious enemy. Other écus also leave the country to pay for goods. The analogy between the two cases is established, taking account only of the circumstance that causes their resemblance and disregarding the one by which they differ.

Nevertheless this circumstance, that is to say the non-reimbursement in the first case and the freely agreed reimbursement in the second, establishes between them a difference so great that it is actually not possible to classify them in the same category. To hand over 100 francs as a result of force to someone who has his hands around your neck or voluntarily to someone who is giving you the object of your desires are truly things that cannot be compared. It would be as true to say that throwing bread into the river is the same as eating it since the bread is in both cases destroyed. The fallacy of this reasoning, like that which is encompassed in the word tribute, would consist in establishing full similarity between two cases through their points of resemblance and disregarding what makes them differ.


155 Paul-Louis Courier de Méré (1773-1825) was a French artillery officer, translator of Greek literature, and liberal and anti-clerical polemicist during the Restoration. In 1819-1820 he wrote a series of letters to the liberal journal Le Censeur européen (edited by Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer) in which he chastised the liberals for not taking as much interest in the violation of the rights of ordinary peasants and farmers. See the glossary on Courier de Méré.” Bastiat quotes from Courier’s Pamphlet des pamphlets (1824), p. 8. The complete quote is: “God, I say to myself in a low voice, God, deliver us from the devil and figurative language! Doctors plan to kill me by wanting to cool [or refresh] my blood; the latter cripple me with the fear of writing with a poison pen; others let their fields lie fallow, and we have a shortage of wheat in the marketplace. Jesus, my Saviour, save us from metaphors.” [Dieu, dis-je moi-même tout bas, Dieu, délivre-nous du malin et du langage figuré! Les médecins m’ont pensé tuer, voulant me rafraîchir le sang; celui-ci m’emprisonne de peur que je n’écrive du poison; d’autres laissent reposer leur champ, et nous manquons de blé au marché. Jésus, mon Sauveur, sauvez-nous de la métaphore.”

156 Malebranche, Nicolas de (1638-1715). Malebranche was a Paris based theologian and Cartesian philosopher who wrote De la Recherche de la vérité (1674-75).

157 From Malebranche’s “On the Senses,” in Recherche de la Vérité, p. 1. “L’erreur est la cause de la misère des hommes; c’est le mauvais principe qui a produit le mal dans le monde; c’est elle qui a fait naître et qui entretient dans notre âme tous les maux qui nous affligent, et nous ne devons point espérer de bonheur solide et veritable qu’en travaillant sérieusement à l’éviter." (Error is the cause of mankind's miseries. It is wrong principles which have produced harm in the world. It has given birth and kept in our hearts all the harm which afflicts us. We ought not hope for solid and true happiness unless we seriously work to avoid it.)

158 The phrase "sinister interest" was often used by Jeremy Bentham to criticize the ruling elites who controlled British politics. Bastiat may well have been familiar with Bentham’s theory of the ruling elites as he was familiar with his writings and used two quotations from Bentham as the opening quotes for both Series I and Series II of the Economic Sophisms. This is a typical example: "Under a government which has for its main object the sacrifice of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, to the sinister interest of the ruling one and the sub-ruling few, corruption and delusion to the greatest extent possible, are necessary to that object: waste, in so far as conducive to the increase of the corruption and delusion fund, a subordinate or co-ordinate object: war, were it only as a means and pretence for such waste, another object never out of view: that object, together with those others, invariably pursued, in so far as the contributions capable of being extracted from contributors, involuntary or voluntary, in the shape of taxes, or in the shape of loans, i. e. annuities paid by government by means of further taxes, can be obtained:—under such a government, by every penny paid into the Treasury, the means of diminishing the happiness of the greatest number receive increase;—by every penny which is prevented from taking that pernicious course, the diminution of that general happiness is so far prevented." From Principles of Judicial Procedure, With the Outlines of a Procedure Code, in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 2. CHAPTER XXIV.: SPECIAL JURIES. </title/1921/113753/2341232>.

159 Mehemet Ali (1769-1848) was an adventurer of Albanian origins who became pasha (or viceroy) of Egypt in 1804. He attempted to introduce many economic reforms inspired by European practices. See the glossary entry on “Ali”.

160 The Nile River has two main tributaries, the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The White Nile has its origin in Lake Victoria in Uganda; the Blue Nile has its origin in Lake Tana in Ethiopia. Ancient geographers thought that the “Mountains of the Moon,” located in east-central Africa, were the origins of the Nile River.

161 Cartouche, Louis Dominque (1693-1721). Cartouche was a notorious Parisian thief and outlaw who had the reputation of someone like Robin Hood for the English or Jesse James for the Americans.

162 Antoine Maurice Appolinaire, Comte d'Argout (1782-1858), was the Minister for the Navy and Colonies, then Commerce, and Public Works during the July Monarchy. In 1834 he was appointed Governor of the Bank of France. See the glossary on “d’Argout.”

163 Charles Dupin (1784-1873) was a pioneer in mathematical economics and worked for the statistical office of France. In 1828 he was elected deputy for Tarn, was made a Peer in 1830, and served in the Constituent and then the National Assemblies during the Second Republic. See the glossary entry on “Dupin.”

164 Jean-Baptiste, comte de Villèle (1773-1854) was the leader of the ultra-legitimists during the Restoration. He was minister of finance in 1821 and prime minister from 1822 until his resignation in 1828. He was instrumental in getting passed in 1825 an Indemnification Law for nobles who had been dispossessed during the Revolution, and a Law of Sacrilege for affronts to the Church.

165 Bastiat might have had in mind the work by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) where there is a discussion of "petitio principii" (begging the question). See the text on the Online Library of Liberty </title/360/61777/641525>.


Conclusion (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Conclusion” (Conclusion) [dated “Mugron, 2 November, 1845”] [1st published in book].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: ES1 1st French edition 1846.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 5th ed., pp. 119-26.
  • Previous translation: 1st English ed. 1846, 1st American ed. 1848, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


All the sophisms that I have combated up to now relate to a single matter, the protectionist system; even so, out of pity for the reader, I have left out some of the best:166 acquired rights, inconveniences, depletion of the currency, etc., etc.

But social economy is not limited to this narrow circle. Fourierist doctrine, Saint-Simonian doctrine,167 communism, mysticism, sentimentalism, bogus philanthropy, affected aspirations to illusionary equality and fraternity, questions relating to luxury, to wages, to machines, to the alleged tyranny of capital, to colonies, markets, conquests, population, association, emigration, taxes and loans: these have cluttered the field of science with a host of parasitic arguments, sophisms that call for the hoe and harrow of a diligent economist.

It is not that I do not acknowledge the flaw in this plan or rather the lack of a plan. To attack one by one so many incoherent sophisms that sometimes clash and most often are included in one another, is to condemn oneself to a disorganized and capricious struggle and to expose oneself to perpetual repetition.

How I would prefer to say quite simply what things are, without having to pay attention to a thousand aspects through which ignorance sees them! To present the laws according to which societies prosper or decline is virtually to destroy all sophisms at a stroke. When Laplace168 described what we are able to know of the movements of the heavenly bodies up to now, he dissipated without even mentioning them by name, all the astrological musings of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Hindus with greater surety than he could have done if he had refuted them directly in countless volumes. Truth is unitary; the book that provides an exposition of it is an imposing and durable edifice.

It defies greedy tyrants
bolder than the Pyramids
and more durable than brass.169

Error is multifarious and ephemeral by nature; the work that combats it does not carry within itself any principle signifying grandeur and longevity.

But if I have lacked the force and perhaps the opportunity170 to proceed in the same way as people such as Laplace and Say,171 I cannot help believing that the form I have adopted also has its modest uses.172 Above all, it seems to me to be well proportioned to the needs of the century and the fleeting moments it is able to devote to study.

A treatise doubtless has clear superiority but only on one condition, that it is to be read, reflected upon, and deepened. It addresses an elite audience only. Its mission is initially to set and then expand the circle of knowledge acquired.

The refutation of commonly held prejudices cannot have this elevated range. It aspires only to clear the way for the march of truth, to prepare men’s minds, redirect the public moral sense, and destroy dangerous weapons in impure hands.

It is above all in social economy that this constant struggle and these constantly reborn battles with popular error have genuine practical use.

The sciences can be divided into two categories.

Strictly speaking, the first can be known only by scholars. These are the ones whose application occupies some specialists. Ordinary people receive the fruit of these in spite of their ignorance; although they do not know about mechanics and astronomy, they still enjoy the use of a watch, they are still transported by locomotives or steamboats given their faith in engineers or pilots. We walk in accordance with the laws of equilibrium without knowing them, just as M. Jourdain173 spoke prose without knowing it.

But there are also sciences that exercise on the public an influence only in proportion to the enlightenment of the public itself, which draw their entire effectiveness not from the accumulated knowledge in a few exceptional heads but from the knowledge disseminated among the general public. They include morals, hygiene, social economy and, in those countries in which men are their own masters, politics. It is of these sciences that Bentham might have said in particular: “What broadcasts them is more valuable than what advances them.”174 What does it matter that a great man, a God even, has promulgated the moral law, as long as men, imbued with false notions, take virtues for vices and vices for virtues? What does it matter if Smith,175 Say,176 and according to M. de Saint-Chamans,177 the economists of all schools proclaim, with reference to commercial transactions that freedom is superior to coercion, if those who make the laws and for whom laws are made are convinced of the contrary?

These sciences, which have been appropriately named social, also have the particular characteristic that for the very reason that they are in common use, nobody admits to knowing nothing about them. Do we need to solve a question of chemistry or geometry? We do not pretend to be steeped in the science; we are not ashamed to call upon M. Thénard, we have no problem in opening Legendre or Bezout.178 However, in social sciences, we acknowledge scarcely any authorities. As each of us every day acts in accordance with good or bad morals, hygiene, economy, or reasonable or absurd politics, each of us feels able to find fault with, discuss, decide, and lay down the law on these matters. Are you ill? There is no old woman who will not tell you from the outset what the cause and remedy of your ailment is: “It is because your fluids are out of sort,” she states, “you must be purged”.179 But what are these fluids? And are there such things? This is something she does not trouble herself about. I involuntarily think of this dear old woman when I hear all the social ills being explained by these banal statements: It is the overabundance of products; it is the tyranny of capital; it is too many producers and other idiocies of which it cannot even be said verba et voces, praetereaque nihil,180 for they are just so many disastrous errors.

Two things result from what has gone before: 1. That the social sciences, more than the others, have to abound in sophisms because they are the ones in which everyone consults only his own judgment or instincts; 2. That it is in these sciences that sophism is particularly damaging because it misleads public opinion on a subject in which public opinion constitutes power and, is taken as law.

Two sorts of books are therefore needed for these sciences; those that expound them and those that propagate them, those that reveal the truth and those that combat error.

It seems to me that the inherent defect in the aesthetic form of this pamphlet, repetition, is what constitutes its principal usefulness.

In the subject I have discussed, each sophism doubtless has its own formula and range but all have a common root, which is the overlooking of men’s interests as consumers. To show that this sophism is the originator of a thousand paths of error181 is to teach the general public to recognize it, understand it, and mistrust it in all circumstances.

After all, my intention is not exactly to lay the ground for deeply held convictions but to sow the seeds of doubt.

My hope is that when the reader puts the book down he will not exclaim, “I know”; please heaven, but that he might sincerely say , “I do not know!”

"I don't know, because I am beginning to fear that there might be something illusory in the alleged mild effects of scarcity." (Sophism I.)

"I am no longer so convinced of the supposed charms of obstacles to economic activity. (Sophism II.)

"The effort which produces no result seems no longer to me to be as desirable as the result which requires no effort. (Sophism III)

"It could well be that the secret of commerce, unlike that of combat (according to the definition given by the fencing instructor in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme182), does not consist in giving and not receiving. (Sophism VI.)

"I understand that a good increases in value to the degree that it has been worked upon; but in an exchange, do two goods of equal value cease to be of equal value because one comes from a plough and the other from a Jacquard loom?183 (Sophism XXI.)

"I admit that I am beginning to find it strange that mankind might be improved by fetters or enriched by taxes; and frankly I would be relieved of a great burden and I would feel pure joy if it could be demonstrated to me, as the author of the Sophisms assures me, that there is no contradiction between well being and justice, between peace and liberty, between the expansion of labor and the progress of knowledge. (Sophisms XIV and XX.)

"Thus, without claiming to be satisfied with his arguments, which I don't know if I should call reasons or paradoxes, I will explore further the works of the masters of economic science.”

Let us end this monograph on sophistry with a final and important thought:

The world is not sufficiently aware of the influence that sophistry exercises on it.

If I have to say what I think, when the right of the strongest was dethroned, sophistry handed empire to the right of the most subtle, and it would be difficult to say which of these two tyrants has been the most disastrous for the human race.

Men have an immoderate love for pleasure, influence, esteem, and power, in a word, for wealth.

And at the same time, they are driven by an immense urge to procure these things for themselves at the expense of others.

But these others, who are the general public, have no less an urge to keep what they have acquired, provided that they can and they know how to.

Plunder, which plays such a major role in the affairs of the world, has thus only two things which promote it: force and fraud 184, and two things which limit it: courage and enlightenment.

Force used for plunder forms the bedrock upon which the annals of human history rest.Retracing its history would be to reproduce almost entirely the history of every nation: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Goths, the Francs, the Huns, the Turks, the Arabs, the Mongols, and the Tartars, not to mention the Spanish in America, the English in India, the French in Africa, the Russians in Asia, etc., etc.

But at least in civilized nations, the men who produce the wealth have become sufficiently numerous and strong to defend it. Is this to say that they are no longer dispossessed? Not at all; they are just as dispossessed as ever and, what is more, they mutually dispossess each other.

Only, the thing which promotes it has changed; it is no longer by force but by fraud that public wealth can be seized.

In order to steal from the public it it first necessary to deceive them. To deceive them it is necessary to persuade them that they are being robbed for their own good; it is to make them accept imaginary services and often worse in exchange for their possessions. This gives rise to sophistry. Theocratic sophistry, economic sophistry, political sophistry and financial sophistry. Therefore, ever since force has been held in check, sophistry has been not only a source of harm, it has been the very essence of harm. It must in its turn be held in check. And to do this the public must become cleverer than the clever, just as it has become stronger than the strong.

Good public, it is this last thought in mind that I am addressing this first essay to you, although the preface has been strangely transposed and the dedication is somewhat belated. 185 186

Mugron, 2 November 1845



166 The phrase “J’en passe, et des meilleurs” (I pass over some of the best) comes from Victror Hugo’s play Hernani, or l’Honneur Castillian (1830). It is spoken by the Spanish grandee Don Ruy Gomez as he points out boastfully to Don Carlos some portraits of his illustrious ancestors. “Hernani” in Oeuvres complètes de Victor Hugo. Drame. III (Paris: Eugène Renduel, 1836), p. 127, Act III, scene VI. See he glossary entry on “Hugo.”

167 See the glossary entries on “Fourier” and “Saint-Simon.”

168 Pierre Simon, marquis de Laplace (1749–1827) was a French astronomer, physicist, and mathematician who greatly extended the development of mathematical astronomy and statistics. See the glossary entry on “Laplace.”

169 Bastiat quotes an imitation of an ode by Horace by the French poet Pierre-Antoine LeBrun. It is found in a polyglot edition of the works of Horace published in 1834 with the verses in the original Latin with translations and “imitations” in French, Italian, Spanish, and German. In Ode XXX Horace declares that his poetry will outlast the ravages of the elements and of political tyrants. LeBrun’s version of the verse: “Grace à la Muse qui m’inspire, / Il est fini ce monument / Que jamais ne pourront détruire / Le fer ni le flot écumant. / Le ciel même, armé de la foudre, / Ne saurait le réduire en poudre: / /Les siècles l’essaieraient en vain.

Il brave ces tyrans avides, / Plus hardi que les pyramides / Et plus durable que l’airain.” From “Imitations en vers français. Ode XXX – Livre III,” in Oeuvres complètes d’Horace, p. 229.

170 (Paillottet’s note) We pointed out at the end of chapter IV [see this volume, “Equalizing the Conditions of Production,” pp. 000–00] that it contains the obvious seed of doctrines developed in the Economic Harmonies. Here, the author shows his intention to write this last work at the first available opportunity.

171 It is not surprising that Bastiat would mention Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) in this context of key works which have exposed commonly held falsehoods. Like Adam Smith (1723-90) before him whose Wealth of Nations (1776) debunked the sophisms of mercantilism, Say's Treatise of Political Economy (1st edition 1803, 3rd greatly revised edition of 1817) debunked the economic sophisms which had emerged during the French Revolution and Napoleon's Empire. The latter had a profound influence on the economists of Bastiat's generation. See the glossary entries on "Adam Smith" and "J.B. Say."

172 See David Hart's Introduction on the changing "form" Bastiat adopted for his economic sophisms. Bastiat had proven himself to be an insightful and witty economic journalist but he was conflicted over what form and style was best to use in appealing to the broader public between 1846 and 1848 when the first two "Series" of the Economic Harmonies were published. He could write more serious even technical articles or he was equally capable of writing very clever and amusing satires. He was stung by a review of the 1st Series (published early 1846) which accused him of being too dry and dull in his form, so he increased the number of the more amusing and light-hearted pieces in the 2nd Series (early 1848 before the February Revolution). Then when the Revolution broke out he decided that matters had become so serious that it was now inappropriate for puns, jokes, and satire and that his critique of socialism and interventionism required much more blunt and hard-hitting language.

173 In Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-Be Gentleman) (1670) by J. B. P. Molière (1622–1673), Act II, scene VI, the Instructor of Philosophy is instructing M. Jourdain on how to behave like a gentleman. Jourdain wants to woo a woman of higher social status than he is and wants to be able to write her a letter. When asked by the Philosopher if he wants to write verse or prose M. Jourdain gets confused because he doesn't know the difference between the two. He is told told that everyday speech is a form of prose and Jourdain is astonished that for 40 years he had been speaking prose without knowing it. Oeuvres complètes de Molière, avec les notes de tous les commentateurs. Édition publiée par L. Aimé-Martin. Tome septième (Paris: Lefèvre, 1826), pp. 138-40. See the glossary entry on “Molière.”

174 The quotation comes from Bentham, Théorie des peines et des recompenses, ed. É. Dumont, chap. 3, “De la diffusion des sciences,” p. 249. See the glossary entry on Bentham.”

175 Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment and one of the founders of modern economic thought with his work The Wealth of Nations (1776). An important French edition of the Wealth of Nations was published by Guillaumin with notes and commentary by leading French economists such as Blanqui, Garnier, Sismondi, and Say and appeared in 1843. See the glossary entry on “Smith.”

176 Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) was the leading French political economist in the first third of the nineteenth century. He had the first chair in political economy at the Collège de France. Say is best known for his Traité d'économie politique (1803) and the Cours complet d'économie politique pratique (1828-33). See the glossary on "J.B.Say."

177 Auguste Saint-Chamans (1777-1860) was a deputy (1824-27) and a Councillor of State. He advocated protectionism and a mercantilist theory of the balance of trade. See the glossary entry on “Saint-Chamans.”

178 Louis Jacques Thénard (1777–1857) was a chemist who became a professor at the Collège de France in 1804, discovered hydrogen peroxide, and had a significant influence on the teaching of science in 19th century France; Adrien-Marie Legendre (1752-1833) was a mathematician who was elected to the Academy of Sciences in 1783 and is best known for his work on polynomials and the least squares method; Étienne Bezout (1730-1783) was a French mathematician who was elected to the Academy of Sciences in 1758 and is best known for his general theory of algebraic equations. See the glossary entries on “Thénard,” “Legendre,” and “Bezout.”

179 One of Bastiat’s cleverest sophisms ES2 IX “Theft by Subsidy” [below, pp. ???] includes a parody of Molière’s parody about the primitive medical practices of the 17th century, including that of purging. In The Hypocondriac Molière creates a fictional oath of induction for new doctors in which they promise to “purge, bleed, stab” their patients to death. Bastiat does the same for tax collectors in which they pledge to “steal, plunder, filch” from all passers-by. See “Bastiat’s Rhetoric of Liberty” in the Introduction, above, pp. ???

180 The Latin phrase "verba et voces, praetereaque nihil" (words and voices and nothing more) has been attributed to various authors such as Ovid and Quintilian but there is no firm evidence for their authorship. It is similiar to a line from Horace, Epistle I.i.34, which says "sunt verba et voces" (there are spells and sayings).

181 Here (circa November 1845) Bastiat argues that the “racine commune” (common root) for a thousand sophisms is to overlook men’s interests as consumers.” In 1847 when he wrote a brief draft of a chapter on Montaigne’s essay “Le Profit d’un est dommage de l’autre” (One man’s gain is another man’s loss) he called this phrase the “classical example of a sophism, the root stock sophism from which comes multitudes of sophisms” (Sophisme type, sophisme souche, d’où sortent des multitudes de sophismes). See ES3 15 “One man’s gain is another man’s loss.”

182 The "maître d'armes" (fencing instructor) instructs M. Jourdain in the two simple secrets for success in fencing: to give and not to receive thrusts of the sword and to deflect any thrust of the sword made at you away from the line of the body. See Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-Be Gentleman), Act II, Scene III. in Oeuvres complètes de Molière, avec les notes de tous les commentateurs. Édition publiée par L. Aimé-Martin. Tome septième (Paris: Lefèvre, 1826), p. 122. See the glossary entry on “Molière.”

183 Joseph Marie Charles (Jacquard) (1752-1834) was a French weaver and inventor who was a pioneer in the development of the mechanical loom which revolutionized the production of woven cloth. His contribution in 1801, the Jacquard loom, built upon the work of others and depended upon the use of punched cards with holes which controlled the pattern woven into the cloth. It was one of the earliest examples of a programmable machine.

184 Bastiat uses the word “la ruse” (fraud or trickery) which is an important part of his theory of Plunder. See the glossary entry on “Plunder.”

185 Here Bastiat seems to be suggesting that the Dedication he wrote for the volume (possibly what we have called "The Author's Introduction") was written last and in some haste, and that the Conclusion was meant to have been put at the beginning of the volume and thus should have been the Preface. These remarks suggest that the volume was edited and published in some haste at the end of 1845, perhaps without Bastiat’s full editorial control.

186 (Paillottet’s note) This thought, which ends the first series of the Sophisms, will be taken up again and developed by the author at the start of the second series. The influence of plunder on the destiny of the human race preoccupied him greatly. After having covered this subject several times in the Sophisms and the Pamphlets (see in particular Property and Plunder and Plunder and Law) (OC, vol. 4, p. 394, “Propriété et spoliation”; and vol. 5, p. 1, “Spoliation et loi”), he planned a more ample place for it in the second part of the Harmonies, among the disturbing factors. Lastly, as the final evidence of the interest he took in it, he said on the eve of his death: “A very important task to be done for political economy is to write the history of plunder. It is a long history in which, from the outset, there appeared conquests, the migrations of peoples, invasions, and all the disastrous excesses of force in conflict with justice. Living traces of all this still remain today and cause great difficulty for the solution of the questions raised in our century. We will not reach this solution as long as we have not clearly noted in what and how injustice, when making a place for itself amongst us, has gained a foothold in our customs and our laws.” [“Property and Plunder” and “Plunder and Law” also appear in The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat, in the volume titled “The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850, pp. 000–00 and pp. 000–00.]



2. Economic Sophisms. Series II187 [January 1848]

Publishing History 188

The Second Series of Economic Sophisms (henceforth abbreviated as ES2) was published at the end of January 1848 and included seventeen sophisms.189 Paillottet tells us that “several” chapters had already appeared in other publications, such as seven in the newspaper Le Libre-Échange, two in the JDE, and one in Le Courrier français,190 and for seven no previous publication details were given. What details we have are provided below:

  • I. “Physiologie de la Spoliation” (The Physiology of Plunder) [no date given]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 127-48.
  • II. “Deux morales” (Two Moral Philosophies) [no date given]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 148-56.
  • III. “Les deux haches” (The Two Axes) [no date given]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 156-59.
  • IV. “Conseil inférieur du travail” (The Lower Council of Labor)] [no date given]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 160-63.
  • V. “Cherté, bon marché” (High Prices and Low Prices) [Le Libre-Échange 25 July, 1847 with supplement from 1 August 1847]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 163-73.
  • VI. “Aux artisans et aux ouvriers” (To Artisans and Workers) [Le Courrier français, 18 September 1846]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 173-82.
  • VII. “Conte chinois” (A Chinese Tale) [no date given]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 182-87.
  • VIII. “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” (Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc) [Le Libre-Échange, 6 December 1846]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 187-89.
  • IX. “Le vol à la prime” (Theft by Subsidy) [Journal des Économistes, January 1846, T. XIII, pp. 115-120]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 189-98.
  • X. “Le percepteur” (The Tax Collector) [no date given]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 198-203.
  • XI. “L'utopiste [The Utopian) [Le Libre-Échange, 17 January 1847]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 203-12.
  • XII. “Le sel, la poste et la douane” (Salt, the Mail, and the Customs Service) [Journal des Économistes, May 1846, T. XIV, pp. 142-152]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 213-29.
  • XIII. “La protection ou les trois Échevins” (Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates) [no date given]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 229-41.
  • XIV. “Autre chose” (Something Else) [Le Libre-Échange, 21 March 1847]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 241-51.
  • XV. “Le petit arsenal du libre-échangiste [The Free Trader’s Little Arsenal) [a stand alone pamphlet - Frédéric Bastiat, Le Petit Arsenal du libre-échange (impr. de E. Crugy, 1847)] [ Le Libre-Échange, 26 April 1847]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 251-57.
  • XVI. “La main droite et la main gauche” (The Right Hand and the Left Hand) [Le Libre-Échange, 13 December 1846]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 258-65.
  • XVII. “Domination par le travail” (Domination through Work) [Le Libre-Échange, 14 February 1847]. OC, vol. 4, pp. 265-71.

The French printing history of the Economic Sophisms Series II is as follows. The 2nd collection of Economic Sophisms (known as Series II) was published, according to Paillottet, at the end of January 1848. It consisted of 17 essays, 10 of which had previously appeared in the Journal des Economistes and the journal Le Libre Echange. The other 7 articles were printed for the first time. Only one edition of ES2 appeared as a separate volume in 1848. The first edition to combine both ES1 and ES2 was a Belgian edition of 1851. After the publication of the Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. in 1854) both ES1 and ES2 appeared together in vol. 4. ES2 was thereafter listed as being the 2nd edition.

  • Sophismes économiques, par M. Frédéric Bastiat. Membre correspondant de l"Institut et du Conseil général des Landes. Deuxième Série. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1848).

A combined edition with Series I and II appeared for the first time in Belgium:

  • Sophismes économiques, par M. Frédéric Bastiat. Membre correspondant de l’Institut, représentant du peuple à l'Assemblée nationale. (Bruxelles: Meline, Cans, 1851).

Here is a summary of their joint publication

  • ES1 in vol. 4 of OC (1854, 1st ed.) as 5th edition.
  • ES2 in vol. 4 of OC (1854, 1st ed.) as 2nd edition.
  • ES1 in vol. 4 of OC (1863, 2nd ed.) as 6th edition.
  • ES2 in vol. 4 of OC (1863, 2nd ed.) as 2nd edition.
  • ES1 in vol. 4 of OC (1873, 3rd ed.) as 6th edition.
  • ES2 in vol. 4 of OC (1873, 3rd ed.) as 2nd edition.


187 (Paillottet’s note) The second series of the Economic Sophisms, several chapters of which had previously appeared in the Journal des Economistes and the journal Le Libre Echange, was published at the end of January 1848.

188 [DMH - See “A Publishing History of the Economic Sophisms” for a more detailed discussion.]

189 Frédéric Bastiat, Sophismes économiques. 2e série (Paris: Guillaumin, 1848), 190 pp.

190 See the glossary entries on “Le Libre-Échange,” the “Journal des Échanges,” and “L Courrier français.”



Opening Quotation

What industry asks of government is as modest as the plea of Diogenes to Alexander: GET OUT OF MY SUNLIGHT. (Bentham.)191

I. The Physiology of Plunder192 [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Physiologie de la Spoliation” (The Physiology of Plunder) [no date given].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 127-48.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


Why should I persist in this arid science, Political Economy?

Why? The question is reasonable. All work is sufficiently repellent by nature for us to have the right to ask where it is leading.

So let us examine the matter.

I am not addressing the philosophers who make a profession of adoring destitution, if not in their own name at least in the name of humanity.

I am speaking to those who consider Wealth as something worthwhile. Let us understand by this term, not the opulence of a few but the prosperity, well-being, security, independence, education and the dignity of all.

There are only two ways of acquiring the things that are necessary for the preservation, improvement and betterment of life: PRODUCTION and PLUNDER.

Some people say: “PLUNDER is an accident, a local and transitory abuse, stigmatized by moral philosophy, condemned by law and unworthy of the attentions of Political Economy.”

But whatever the benevolence and optimism of one’s heart one is obliged to acknowledge that PLUNDER is exercised on too a vast scale in this world, that it is too universally woven into all major human events, for any social science, above all Political Economy, to feel justified in disregarding it.

I will go further. What separates the social order from a state of perfection (at least from the degree of perfection it can attain) is the constant effort of its members to live and progress at the expense of one another.

So that, if PLUNDER did not exist, society would be perfect and the social sciences would be superfluous.

I will go even further. When PLUNDER has become the means of existence of a large group of men mutually linked by social ties, they soon contrive to pass a law that sanctions it and a moral code that glorifies it.

You need name only a few of the most clear-cut forms of Plunder to show the place it occupies in human affairs.

First of all, there is WAR. Among savage peoples, the victor kills the vanquished in order to acquire a right to hunt game that is if not incontestable, at least uncontested.

Then there is SLAVERY. Once man grasps that it is possible to make land fertile through work, he strikes this bargain with his fellow: “You will have the fatigue of work and I will have its product.”

Next comes THEOCRACY. “Depending on whether you give me or refuse to give me your property, I will open the gates of heaven or hell to you.”

Lastly, there is MONOPOLY. Its distinctive characteristic is to allow the great social law, a service for a service,193 to continue to exist, but to make force part of the negotiations and thus distort the just relationship between the service received and the service rendered.

Plunder always carries within it the deadly seed that kills it. Rarely does the majority plunder the minority.194 In this case, the minority would immediately be reduced to the point where it could no longer satisfy the greed of the majority, and Plunder would die for want of sustenance.

It is almost always the majority that is oppressed, and Plunder is also destined in this case as well to receive a death sentence.

For if the use of Force is Plunder’s agent, as it is for War and Slavery, it is natural for Force to go over to the side of the majority in the long run.

And if the agent is Fraud, as in Theocracy and Monopoly, it is natural for the majority to become informed on this score, or intelligence would not be intelligence.

Another providential law that has planted a second deadly seed in the heart of Plunder is this:

Plunder does not only redistribute wealth, it always destroys part of it.

War annihilates many things of value.

Slavery paralyses a great many human abilities.

Theocracy diverts a great deal of effort to puerile or disastrous purposes.

Monopoly also moves wealth from one pocket to another but a great deal is lost in the transfer.

This law is admirable. In its absence, provided that there were a stable balance of power between the oppressors and the oppressed, Plunder would have no end. Thanks to this law, the balance always tends to be upset, either because the Plunderers become aware of the loss of so much wealth, or, where this awareness is lacking, because the harm constantly grows worse and it is in the nature of things that constantly deteriorate to come to an end.

In fact, there comes a time when, in its gradual acceleration, the loss of wealth is so great that Plunderers are less rich than they would have been if they had remained honest.

An example of this is a nation for which the cost of war is greater than the value of its booty;

A master who pays more for slave labor than for free labor;

A Theocracy that has so stupefied the people and sapped their energy that it can no longer wring anything out of them;

A Monopoly that has to increase its efforts to suck consumers dry as there is less to be sucked up, just as the effort needed to milk a cow increases as the udder dries up.195

As we see, Monopoly is a Species of the Genus, Plunder. There are several Varieties of it, including Sinecure, Privilege and Trade Restriction.

Among the forms it takes, there are some that are simple and naïve. Such were feudal rights. Under this regime the masses were plundered and knew it. It involved the abuse of force and perished with it.

Others are highly complex. In this case, the masses are often plundered unaware. It may even happen that they think they owe everything to Plunder; what is left to them, as well as what is taken from them and what is lost in the operation. Further than that I would propose as time goes on, and given the highly ingenious mechanism of custom, many Plunderers are plunders without knowing it and without wishing it. Monopolies of this type are generated through Fraud and they feed on Error. They only disappear with Enlightenment.

I have said enough to show that Political Economy has an obvious practical use. It is the flame that destroys this social disorder which is Plunder, by unveiling Fraud and dissipating Error. Someone, I believe it was a woman196 and she was perfectly right, defined political economy thus: It is the safety lock on popular savings.


If this small volume were intended to last for three or four thousand years, to be read, reread, meditated upon and studied sentence by sentence, word by word and letter by letter by one generation after another like a new Koran, if it were bound to attract avalanches of annotations, explanations and paraphrases in all the libraries around the world, I would be able to abandon to their fate the foregoing thoughts with their slightly obscure precision. But because they need to be commented upon, I consider it prudent to do this myself.

The true and just law governing man is “The freely negotiated exchange of one service for another.”197 Plunder consists in banishing by fraud or force the freedom to negotiate in order to receive a service without offering one in return.

Plunder by force is exercised as follows: People wait for a man to produce something and then seize it from him at gun point.

This is formally condemned by the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal.

When it takes place between individuals, it is called theft and leads to prison; when it takes place between nations, it is called conquest and leads to glory.

Why is there this difference? It is useful to seek its cause. It will show us an irresistible power, Opinion, which, like the atmosphere, envelops us so completely that we no longer notice it. For Rousseau never spoke a truer word than when he said “A great deal of philosophy is needed to observe facts that are too close to us.”198

A thief, by the very fact that he acts alone, has public opinion against him. He alarms everyone who surrounds him. However, if he has a few accomplices, he brags to them of his achievements and we start to see in this the force of Opinion, for he needs only the approval of his accomplices to free him of any feeling of shame for his wicked acts and even to make him proud of his ignominy.

A warrior lives in another environment. The Opinion that reviles him is elsewhere, in the nations that have been conquered; he does not feel pressure from them. However, the Opinion that is around him approves and supports him. His companions and he feel keenly the solidarity that binds them. The fatherland, which created enemies and dangers for itself, needs to exalt the courage of its children. It confers on the boldest of these, those who extend its frontiers and bring back the most plunder to it, honors, renown and glory. Poets sing of their exploits and women weave them wreaths. And such is the power of Opinion that it removes the idea of injustice from Plunder and strips away the very awareness of their wrongs from plunderers.

Opinion which rejects military plunder is not located among those doing the plundering but among those being plundered, and therefore exercises very little influence. However, it is not totally ineffective, and still less when nations have relations with one another and understand each other more. From this angle, we see that a study of languages and free communication between peoples tends to lead to the predominance of opinion against this type of plunder.

Unfortunately, it often happens that the nations surrounding the plundering people are themselves plunderers whenever they can and are henceforth imbued with the same preconceived ideas.

If this is so, there is only one remedy, time. Nations have to learn by hard experience the huge disadvantage there is in plundering each other.

Another brake may be mentioned: raising moral standards. However, the aim of raising moral standards is to increase the number of virtuous actions. How then will it restrict acts of plunder when such acts are raised by Opinion to the rank of the highest virtues? Is there a more powerful means of raising the moral standards of a nation than Religion? Has there ever been a Religion more disposed toward peace and more universally accepted than Christianity? And yet, what have we seen in the last eighteen centuries? We have seen men fighting, not only in spite of Religion but in the very name of Religion.

A conquering nation does not always carry out an offensive war. It also has bad times. Its soldiers then defend their homes and hearths, property, families, independence and freedom. War takes on an aura of sanctity and greatness. The flag, blessed by the ministers of the God of Peace, represents all that there is sacred on earth; people adhere to it as to the living image of the fatherland and honor, and warlike virtues are exalted above all the other virtues. But once the danger has passed, Opinion remains, and the spirit of revenge (which is often confused with patriotism) gives rise to the natural response of people who love to parade their beloved flag from city to city. It appears that it is in this way that nature might have prepared the punishment of the aggressor.

It is the fear of this punishment and not the progress of philosophy that keeps weapons within arsenals for, it cannot be denied, the most advanced and civilized nations make war and take little notice of justice as long as they have no reprisals to fear. Examples of this are the Himalayas199, the Atlas mountains200 and the Caucasus201.

If Religion has been powerless, if philosophy is powerless, how will we put an end to war?

Political Economy shows that, even when you consider only the victors, war is always waged in the interest of a minority and at the expense of the masses. All that is needed therefore is that the masses see this truth clearly. The weight of Opinion, which is still divided, will come down totally in favor of peace.202

Plunder exercised by force takes yet another form. People do not wait for a man to have produced something to snatch it from him. They take hold of the man himself; he is stripped of his own personality and forced to work. Nobody says to him “If you take this trouble on my behalf, I will take this trouble for you” but instead “You will have all of the fatigue of labor and I will have all the enjoyment of its products”. This is Slavery, which always involves the abuse of force.

Well, it is a profound question to ascertain whether or not it is in the nature of an incontestably dominating force to always take advantage of its position. As for me, I do not trust it, and would as much expect a falling stone to to have the power to halt its own fall as entrust coercion to set its own limit.

I would like at least to be shown a country or an era in which Slavery has been abolished by the free and gracious will of the masters.

Slavery supplies a second and striking example of the inadequacy of religious and philanthropic sentiments in the face of a powerful sense of self-interest. This may appear a source of regret to certain modern Schools that seek the reforming principle of society in self-denial. Let them begin then by reforming the nature of man.

In the Antilles,203 the masters have professed the Christian religion from father to son from the time slavery was instituted. Several times a day, they repeat these words, “All men are brothers; loving your neighbor is to fulfill the law in its entirety.” And yet they have slaves. Nothing seemed to them to be more natural and legitimate. Do modern reformers hope that their moral principles will ever be as universally accepted, as popular, with as much authority and as often heard on everyone’s lips as the Gospel? And if the Gospel has been unable to pass from lips to hearts over or through the great defensive wall of self-interest, how do they hope that their moral principles will accomplish this miracle?

What then! Is Slavery therefore invulnerable? No, what founded it will destroy it; I refer to Self-Interest, provided that, in order to reinforce the special interests that created the wound, the general interests that have to cure it are not thwarted.

Another truth demonstrated by Political Economy is that free labor is essentially dynamic and slave labor is of necessity static. For this reason, the triumph of the former over the latter is inevitable. What has happened to the cultivation of indigo by black people?204

Free labor applied to the cultivation of sugar will make the price decrease more and more. As this happens, slaves will be less and less profitable for their masters. Slavery would have collapsed a long time ago of its own accord in America, if the laws in Europe had not raised the price of sugar artificially. We therefore see the masters, their creditors and delegates actively working to maintain these laws, which now form the pillars of the edifice.

Unfortunately, they still have the sympathy of the populations within which slavery has disappeared, which shows us once again that Opinion is still sovereign here.

If it is sovereign, even in the context of power, it is even more so in the world of Fraud. To tell the truth, this is its real domain. Fraud is the abuse of knowledge; the progress of Opinion is the progress of knowledge. The two powers are at least of the same nature. Fraud by a plunderer involves credulity in the person being plundered, and the natural antidote to credulity is truth. It follows that to enlighten minds is to remove the sustenance from this type of plunder.

I will review briefly a few of the forms of plunder that are exercised by Fraud on a grand scale.

The first to come forward is Plunder by theocratic fraud.

What is this about? To get people to provide real services, in the form of foodstuffs, clothing, luxury, consideration, influence and power, in return for imaginary ones.

If I said to a man “I am going to provide you with some immediate services”, I would have to keep my word, otherwise this man would know what he was dealing with and my fraud would be promptly unmasked.

But if I told him “In exchange for your services, I will provide you with immense services, not in this world but in the next. After this life, you will be able to be eternally happy or unhappy and this all depends on me; I am an intermediary between God and his creation and can, at will, open the gates of heaven or hell to you.” Should this man believe me at all, he is in my power.

This type of imposture has been practiced widely since the beginning of the world, and we know what degree of total power Egyptian priests achieved.

It is easy to see how impostors behave. You have to only ask yourself what you would do in their place.

If I came, with ideas like this in mind, amongst an ignorant clan and succeeded by dint of some extraordinary act and an amazing appearance to be taken for a supernatural being, I would pass for an emissary of God with absolute discretion over the future destiny of men.

I would then forbid any examination of my titles. I would go further; since reason would be my most dangerous enemy, I would forbid the use of reason itself, at least when applied to this awesome subject. I would make this question, and all those relating to it, taboo, as the savages say. To solve them, discuss them or even think of them would be an unpardonable crime.

It would certainly be the height of skill to set up a taboo as a barrier across all the intellectual avenues that might lead to the discovery of my deception. What better guarantee of its longevity is there than to make doubt itself a sacrilege?

However, to this fundamental guarantee I would add ancilliary ones. For example, in order that enlightenment is never able to reach down to the masses, I would grant to my accomplices and myself the monopoly of all knowledge. I would hide it under the veils of a dead language and a hieroglyphic script and, so that I would never be taken by surprise by any danger, I would take care to invent an institution which would, day after day, enable me to enter into the secret of all consciences.

It would also not be a bad thing for me to satisfy some of the genuine needs of my people, especially if, by doing so, I was able to increase my influence and authority. Given that men have a great need of education and moral instruction, I would take it upon myself to dispense this. Through this, I would direct the minds and hearts of my people as I saw fit. I would weave morality and my authority into an indissoluble chain; I would represent them as being unable to exist without each other, so that if a bold individual attempted to raise a question that was taboo, society as a whole, unable to live without a moral code, would feel the earth tremble beneath its feet and would turn in anger against this daring innovator.

Should things reach this pass, it is clear that this people would belong to me more surely than if they were my slaves. Slaves curse their chains, while my people would bless theirs, and I would have succeeded in imprinting the stamp of servitude not on their foreheads, but in the depths of their conscience.

Opinion alone is capable of tearing down an edifice of iniquity like this, but how will it set about this if each stone is taboo? It is a question of time and the printing press.

God forbid that I should wish to undermine here the consoling beliefs that link this life of trials to a life of happiness! No one, not even the head of the Christian church,205 could deny that the irresistible urge which leads us to these beliefs has been taken advantage of. There is, it seems to me, a sign by which we can see whether a people have been duped or not. Examine Religion and priest alike; see whether the priest is the instrument of Religion or Religion the instrument of the priest.

If the priest is the instrument of Religion, if he thinks only of spreading its morals and benefits around the world, he will be gentle, tolerant, humble, charitable and full of zeal. His life will reflect that of his divine model. He will preach freedom and equality among men, peace and fraternity between nations; he will reject the attractions of temporal power, not wishing to ally himself with what most needs to be restricted in this world. He will be a man of the people, a man of good counsel and gentle consolation, a man of good Opinion and a Man of the Gospel.

If, on the other hand, Religion is the instrument of the priest, he will treat it as some people treat an instrument that is altered, bent and turned in many ways so as to draw the greatest benefit for themselves. He will increase the number of questions that are taboo; his moral principles will bend according to the climate, men and circumstances. He will seek to impose it through studied gestures and attitudes; he will mutter words a hundred times a day whose meaning has disappeared and which are nothing other than empty conventionalism. He will peddle holy things, but just enough to avoid undermining faith in their sanctity and he will take care to see that this trade is less obviously active where the people are more keen-sighted. He will involve himself in terrestrial intrigue and always be on the side of the powerful, on the sole condition that those in power ally themselves with him. In a word, in all his actions, it will be seen that he does not want to advance Religion through the clergy but the clergy through Religion, and since so much effort implies an aim and as this aim, according to our hypothesis, cannot be anything other than power and wealth, the definitive sign that the people have been duped is when priests are rich and powerful.

It is very clear that one can abuse a true Religion as well as a false one. The more its authority is respectable, the greater is the danger that it may be improperly used. But the results are very different. Abuse always revolts the healthy, enlightened and independent sector of a nation. It is impossible for faith not to be undermined and the weakening of a true Religion is more of a disaster than the undermining of a false one.

Plunder using this procedure and the clear-sightedness of a people are always in inverse proportion one to the other, for it is in the nature of abuse to proceed wherever it finds a path. Not that pure and devoted priests are not to be found within the most ignorant population, but how do you prevent a swindler from putting on a cassock and having the ambition to don a miter? Plunderers obey Malthus’s law206: they multiply in line with the means of existence, and the means of existence of swindlers is the credulity of their dupes. It is no good searching; you always find that opinion needs to be enlightened. There is no other panacea.

Another type of Plunder by fraud is commercial fraud, a name that I think is too limited since not only are merchants who adulterate their goods and give short measure guilty of this, but also doctors who get paid for disastrous advice, lawyers who overcomplicate lawsuits, etc. In these exchanges of services, one is done in bad faith, but in this instance, as the service received is always agreed upon voluntarily in advance, it is clear that Plunder of this kind is bound to retreat as public clear-sightedness increases.

Next comes the abuse of government services, a huge field of Plunder, so huge that we can only cast a glance at it.

If God had made man to be a solitary animal, each would work for his own benefit. Individual wealth would be in proportion to the services that each person rendered to himself.

However, as man is sociable, services are exchanged for one another, a proposition that you can, if you like, construct in reverse.

In society, there are needs that are so general and universal that its members supply them by organizing government services. An example of this is the need for security. People consult with other and agree to tax themselves in order to pay with various services those who supply the service of watching over common security.

There is nothing in this that is outside the scope of Political Economy: Do this for me and I will do that for you. The essence of the transaction is the same, the procedure of paying for it alone is different, but this difference is of far-ranging importance.

In ordinary transactions, each person remains the judge either of the service he receives or of the service he renders. He can always either refuse the exchange or make it elsewhere, which gives rise to the necessity of bringing into the market only services that will be voluntarily agreed upon.

This is not so with regard to the State, especially before the arrival of representative governments. Whether we need its services or not, whether they are good or bad quality,207 the State always obliges us to accept them as they are supplied and pay for them at the price it sets.

Well, all men tend to see the services they render through the small end of the telescope and the services they receive through the large end,208 and things would be in a fine state if we did not have the guarantee of a freely negotiated price in private transactions.

We do not have or scarcely have this guarantee in our transactions with the government. And yet the State, made up of men (although these days the contrary is insinuated), obeys the universal trend. It wants to serve us a great deal, indeed with more than we want, and make us accept as a genuine service things that are sometimes far from being so, in order to require us to supply it with services or taxes in return.

The State is also subject to Malthus’s Law. It tends to exceed the level of its means of existence, it expands in line with these means and what keeps it in existence is whatever the people have. Woe betide those peoples who cannot limit the sphere of action of the State. Freedom, private activity, wealth, well-being, independence and dignity will all disappear.

For there is one fact that should be noted and it is this: of all the services we require from the State, the principal one is security. In order to guarantee this to us, it has to have a force capable of overcoming all other forces, whether individual or collective, internal or external, which might compromise it. If we link this thought with the unfortunate tendency we have noted in men to live at the expense of others, there is a danger here that leaps to the eye.

This being so, just look at the immense scale on which Plunder has been carried out throughout history by the abuse and excesses of the government? One might well ask what services were provided to the people and what services were exacted by governments in the Assyrian, Babylonian, Roman, Persian, Turkish, Chinese, Russian, English, Spanish and French states! The mind boggles at this huge disparity.

Eventually, the representative system of government was invented, and a priori it might have been thought that the disorder would disappear as though by magic.

In practice, the operating principle of these governments is this:

“The population itself will decide, through its representatives, on the nature and extent of the functions that it considers appropriate to establish as government services and the amount of revenue it intends to allocate to these services.”

The tendency to seize the goods of others and the tendency to defend one’s own were thus brought face to face. It was bound to be thought that the latter would overcome the former.

Certainly I am convinced that in the long run this outcome will prevail. But it has to be said that up to now it has not done so.

Why? For two very simple reasons: governments have understood things only too well and the populace not well enough.

Governments are very wily. They act methodically and consistently according to a plan that has been well thought out and constantly improved by tradition and experience. They study men and their passions. If they see, for example, that they have an inclination to war, they whip up and excite this deadly tendency. They surround the nation with dangers through the actions of their diplomats, and very naturally, as a result, they require the nation to provide soldiers, sailors, arsenals and fortifications; often they have little trouble in having these supplied to them: after all they have honors, pensions and positions to hand out. They need a great deal of money for this, and taxes and loans exist for this purpose.

If the nation is generous, governments take it upon themselves to cure all the ills of humanity. They will revive commerce, they say, they will bring prosperity to agriculture, develop factories, encourage arts and letters, abolish poverty, etc. etc. All that is needed is to create some new government functions and pay for some new functionaries.

In a word, the tactic consists in presenting as real services things that are only hindrances; the nation then pays, not for services but for disservices. Governments take on gigantic proportions and end up absorbing half of the total revenue. And the people are surprised at having to work so hard, at hearing the announcement of astonishing inventions that will infinitely increase the number of products and … to always be like Gros-Jean and never learn.209

This is because, while the government is displaying such skill, the people are showing very little. Thus, when called upon to choose those who will wield authority, those who will have to determine the sphere and remuneration of government action, whom do they choose? Government officials. They make the executive power responsible for setting the limits on its own action and requirements. They imitate the Bourgeois Gentilhomme210 who, in choosing the style and number of his suits, relies on the advice of … his tailor.211

Meanwhile, things go from bad to worse and the people’s eyes are at last opened, not to the remedy (they have not yet reached this stage), but to the illness.

Governing is such a pleasant job that everyone aspires to it. The councilors of the people therefore constantly tell them “We see your suffering and we deplore it. Things would be different if we were governing you.”

This period, normally very long, is that of rebellion and uprising. When the people have been conquered, the cost of the war is added to their burdens. When they are the conquerors, the people in government change and the abuses remain.

And this continues until at last the people learn to recognize and defend their true interests. We therefore always reach this point: The only option lies in the progress of Public Reasoning.

Certain nations appear to be astonishingly well disposed to becoming the prey of government Plunder. They are the ones in which men, totally disregarding their own dignity and energy, think that they would be lost if they were not being administered and governed in every sphere. Although I have not traveled a great deal, I have seen countries in which it is thought that agriculture cannot make any progress if the State did not keep experimental farms, that there would soon be no more horses if the State did not have a stud farm, that fathers would not bring up their children or would have them taught only immoral things if the State did not decide what was fit to be learned, etc. etc. In a country like this, revolutions may follow one another in quick succession and governments fall one after the other. But those being governed will be no less governed to within an inch of their lives (for the disposition I am pointing out here is the very stuff of which governments are made), until the point is reached at which the people finally see that it is better to leave as many services as possible in the category of those that interested parties exchange for a freely negotiated price212.

We have seen that society is based on an exchange of services. It ought to be just an exchange of good and honest services. But we have also noted that men had a great interest and consequently an irresistible urge to exaggerate the relative value of the services they rendered. And in all truth I cannot see any other limit to this pretension than leaving the people to whom these services are offered the freedom to accept or refuse them.

From this it results that certain men have recourse to the law to reduce the natural prerogatives of this freedom for others. This type of plunder is called Privilege or Monopoly. Note well its origin and character.

Everybody knows that the services he brings to the general marketplace will be all the more appreciated and remunerated the scarcer they are. Everyone will therefore beg for the law to intervene to remove from the marketplace all those who come to offer similar services or, what amounts to the same thing, if the use of a tool is essential for the service to be rendered, he will demand from the law its exclusive possession.213

Since this type of Plunder is the principal subject of this volume, I will not dwell on it here and will limit myself to one observation.

When monopoly is an isolated occurrence, it is sure to make the person empowered by the law rich. It may then happen that each class of workers claims a similar monopoly for itself, instead of working toward the downfall of this monopoly. This characteristic of Plunder, reduced to a system, then becomes the most ridiculous hoax of all for everyone, and the final result is that each person thinks that he is gaining more from a general market that is totally impoverished.214

It is not necessary to add that this strange regime also introduces universal antagonism between all classes, professions and peoples; that it requires constant but uncertain interference from the government; that it abounds in the abuses described in the preceding paragraph; it puts all areas of production into a position of irremediable insecurity and accustoms men to attributing the responsibility for their own existence to the law and not themselves. It would be difficult to imagine a more active cause of social unrest.215


People will say: “Why are you using this ugly word, Plunder? Apart from the fact that it is crude, it is upsetting, irritating and turns calm and moderate men against you. It poisons the debate.”216

I will declare loudly that I respect people. I believe in the sincerity of almost all the advocates of Protection and I do not claim the right to suspect the personal probity, scrupulousness and philanthropy of anyone at all. I repeat once more that Protection is the work, the disastrous work, of a common error of which everyone or at least the great majority is both victim and accomplice. After that, I cannot stop things being what they are.

Imagine a sort of Diogenes217 sticking his head outside his barrel and saying: “People of Athens, you have yourselves served by slaves. Have you never thought that you are exercising over your brothers the most iniquitous type of plunder?”

Or again, a tribune in the Forum saying: “People of Rome, you have based all of your means of existence on the repeated pillage of all other peoples.”

They would certainly be expressing only an incontrovertible truth. Should we then conclude that Athens and Rome were inhabited only by dishonest people? That Socrates and Plato, Cato218 and Cincinnatus219 were despicable men?

Who could entertain such a thought? However these great men lived in an environment that robbed them of any awareness of their injustice. We know that Aristotle was unable even to entertain the idea that a society could live without slavery.

In modern times, slavery has existed up to the present time without generating many scruples in the souls of plantation owners. Armies have been the instruments of great conquests, that is to say, great forms of plunder. Is this to say that they are not full of soldiers and officers who are personally just as scrupulous and perhaps more scrupulous than is generally the case in careers in industry, men whom the very thought of theft would cause to blush and who would face a thousand deaths rather than stoop to a base act?

What is condemnable are not individuals but the general milieu that carries them along and blinds them, a milieu for which society as a whole is guilty.

This is the case of Monopoly. I accuse the system and not individuals, society as a whole and not any particular one of its members. If the greatest philosophers have been able to delude themselves over the iniquity of slavery, how much more reason have farmers and manufacturers to be mistaken with regard to the nature and effects of the protectionist regime?


191 Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the founder of the school of thought known as utilitarianism and influenced a group of political and economic reformers in the early 19th century known as the Philosophic Radicals. It is interesting that Bastiat chose two passages from Bentham's Théorie des peines et des récompenses (1811) as the opening for both the First and Second Series of the Economic Sophisms. See the glossary entry on "Bentham." The quotation which begins this chapter comes from the Théorie des peines et des recompenses, ouvrage extrait des manuscrits de M. Jérémie Bentham, jurisconsulte anglais. Par M. Et. Dumont, Troisième edition. Tome Second (Paris: Bossange frères, 1826), Book IV. “Des encouragements par rapport à l’industrie et au commerce,” p. 271.

192 (Paillottet’s note) See chapters XVIII, XIX, XXII and XXIV in Tome VI for the developments projected and started by the author on the Disturbing Factors affecting the harmony of natural laws. . [The reference is to several chapters in Economic Harmonies, vol. 6 of the OC: chap. XVIII "Le mal" (Harm), chap. XIX "Guerre" (War), chap. XXII "Moteur social" (The Engine of Society), and chap. XIV "Perfectibilité" (Perfectibility). Paillottet tells us in a footnote at the end of ES I that Bastiat planned to write a "History of Plunder" after he had finished the Economic Harmonies but died before he could do more than sketch out a couple of chapters. In addition, in a proposed section of Economic Harmonies on “Disturbing Factors” Bastiat had planned the following chapters: 16. Plunder, 17. War, 18. Slavery, 19. Theocracy, 20. Monopoly, 21. Government Exploitation, 22. False Brotherhood or Communism. Aside from the first two chapters there were no notes or drafts found among Bastiat’s papers on these proposed chapters at the time of his death.]

193 [DMH - Bastiat uses the phrase “service pour service.” See the glossary entry on “Servie for Service”.]

194 It was this very topic that Bastiat addressed later in June 1848 in his pamphlet "The State". He had become concerned that during the revolution the French people thought they could now plunder the entire country for their own benefit, a task which Bastiat criticised as a "fiction". A draft of this essay appeared in June in his revolutionary newspaper Jacques Bonhomme which was handed out on the streets of Paris, and a revised and expanded version of which was published in the Journal des Débats in September. It was shortly thereafter published as a stand alone pamphlet by Guillaumin. See the Collected Works, vol. 2, pp. 93-106. See the glossary entries on “Jacques Bonhomme [journal]” and “Journal des Débats.”

195 Bastiat here uses the metaphor of the drying up of a cow's udder to make a point about how monopoly "swallows" or "absorbs" the property of consumers. We have continued the metaphor to that of "sucking consumers dry".

196 [DMH - We have not been able to track down the origin of this quotation. The woman Bastiat has in mind might be either Jane Haldimand Marcet (1769-1858) or Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) both of whom wrote popular works on political economy which were translated into French and both of whom were strong advocates of saving by the poorer classes as a means to get out of their poverty. Both writers had biographical articles written about them for the Dictionnaire d’économie politique and so their works were probably know to Bastiat. It is perhaps more likely to have been Martineau to whom Bastiat was referring as her work was the more recent and had been translated into French in the early 1830s and republished by the liberal Guillaumin publishing company sometime in the late 1840s. It was reviewed very favourably by Gustave de Molinari, a colleague of Batiat’s, in April 1849 (so after the writing of the second part of the Sophisms during 1847) who said about her that “[s]he deserves her double reputation for being an ingenious story teller and a learned professor of political economy.” See the glossary entries on “Harriett Martineau” and “Jane Marcet.”]

197 [DMH - Bastiat uses the phrase “Échange librement débattu de service contre service.” See the glossary entry on “Servie for Service”.]

198 [DMH - The quote comes from J.J. Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, Part I, p. 90 (Cranston trans.) but Bastiat is quoting from memory here and it is not exactly correct. The French states: “…ce n’est pas chez lui [l’homme sauvage] qu’il faut chercher la philosophie dont l’homme a besoin, pour savoir observer une fois ce qu’il a vu tous les jours.” Rousseau, Du contrat social et autres oeuvres politiques, ed. J. Ehrard, p. 49. [.. and we should look in vain to him for that philosophy which a man needs if he is to know how to notice once what he has seen everyday]. Bastiat was so impressed with this statement that he refers to it several times in the Economic Harmonies. See the glossary entry on “Rousseau.”]

199 Bastiat may have in mind the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842) which was fought by British Empire for control of Afghanistan which is located in the western part of the Himalayan mountains.

200 This is a possible reference to the French conquest of Algeria which began in 1830. The Atlas mountains stretch across the north western part of Africa and include what is now Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

201 The Caucasus Mountains are located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and are often regarded as forming the boundary between Europe and Asia. The Russian Empire fought wars in this region (1817–1864) in order to expand its empire. In Bastiat's day there was fierce resistance led by Imam Shamil who led attacks against the invading Russians with some success between 1843 and 1845.

202 (Paillottet’s note) See the letter addressed to the President of the Peace Congress in Frankfurt in Tome I, p. 197. [This can be found in the Collected Works, vol. 1, pp. 265-66. Bastiat was an active member of an international association called the Friends of Peace and took a great interest in their congresses, one of which was held in Brussels in 1848, one in Paris (chaired by Victor Hugo) in 1849, and one in Frankfurt in 1850. Because if his ill health and political commitments Bastiat was only able to attend the Paris congress in August 1849 at which he gave an address on "Disarmament, Taxes, and the Influence of Political Economy on the Peace Movement" (our title). See Report of the Proceedings of the Second General Peace Congress, held in Paris, on the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of August, 1849. Compiled from Authentic Documents, under the Superintendence of the Peace Congress Committee. (London: Charles Gilpin, 5, Bishopsgate Street Without, 1849), pp. 49-52. See the glossary entry on "Peace Congress".] See the Appendix with Bastiat’s speech to the Congress.

203 The French once had extensive possessions in the Caribbean where slavery was used to produce sugar and other crops. Most of these possessions were lost as a result of the Revolution (Haiti in particular) and the defeat of Napoleon by the British. In Bastiat's day what was left included Martinique and Guadeloupe. Slavery in the French Antilles was abolished during the 1848 Revolution (27 April 1848). See Bastiat’s veiled remarks about sugar production in Martinique (Saccharinique) (ES3 XVII. “Antediluvian Sugar”, below, pp. ???) and the glossary entry on “Slavery in France.”

204 The production of indigo in the French Antilles dropped as a result of the more efficient and cheaper production from Bengal which was controlled by the British.

205 Bastiat uses the phrase "le chef de la chrétienté" which we have translated as "the head of the Christian church". The translator of the FEE edition translated this as "the Pope," p. 138.

206 Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1858) is best known for his writings on population, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1st ed., 1798; rev. 3rd ed., 1826). He was professor of political economy at the East India Company College (Haileybury). Malthus’s Law of Population states: “I said that population, when unchecked, increased in a geometrical ratio; and subsistence for man in an arithmetical ratio... This ratio of increase, though short of the utmost power of population, yet as the result of actual experience, we will take as our rule; and say, That population, when unchecked, goes on doubling itself every twenty-five years or increases in a geometrical ratio… It may be fairly said, therefore, that the means of subsistence increase in an arithmetical ratio. Let us now bring the effects of these two ratios together… No limits whatever are placed to the productions of the earth; they may increase for ever and be greater than any assignable quantity; yet still the power of population being a power of a superior order, the increase of the human species can only be kept commensurate to the increase of the means of subsistence, by the constant operation of the strong law of necessity acting as a check upon the greater power.” [Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, "Chapter II. The Different Ratios In Which Population and Food Increase", (1st ed. 1798) </title/311/8824>. See the glossary entry on "Bastiat and Malthus."

207 Bastiat uses an interesting combination of phrases to describe the compulsory services provide by the State - they may be "de bon ou mauvais aloi" which literally refers to "sound or counterfeit" currency (good or bad alloy). It is not surprising that Bastiat would choose the example of the government monopoly of the supply of money and its common practice of debasing the currency as a metaphor for government services in general. See his essay “Maudit argent!” (Damned Money!) (April 1849) in Collected Works, vol. 4 (forthcoming).

208 In other words, people imagine the services they provide other people are larger than they really are, and that the services they receive are smaller than they really are.

209 Bastiat concludes this paragraph with a reference to the fictional character Gros-Jean (Big John) who in many respects is the opposite of Jacques Bonhomme (Jack Goodfellow), the wily French peasant everyman. Gros-John is quite stupid and does not learn from his mistakes. He was popularized by La Fontaine in his fable about "The Milk Maid and the Pail". After daydreaming about how she will spend the money she has not yet earned at the markets, Perrette spills her pail of milk and ends up with nothing. She concludes the story by saying "I am Gros-Jean just like before." See the glossary entry on “Fontaine.”

210 Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (or Molière) (1622- 1673) was a playwright in the late 17th century during the classical period of French drama. Bastiat quotes Molière many times in the Sophisms as he finds his comedy of manners very useful in pointing out political and economic confusions. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

211 (Paillottet’s note) See the letter addressed to Mr. Larnac in vol. 1 and the Parliamentary Conflicts of Interest in vol.2. [The letter Paillottet refers to is “On Parliamentary Reform” (1846), CW, vol. 1, pp. 367-70 where Bastiat objects to the practice of tax-payer funded public servants being permitted to run for election and sitting in a Chamber which can determine their level of pay (p.368). Bastiat likens this to allowing wig makers to create the laws which regulate hair dressing, which would result in a state where “we would soon be inordinately well groomed, indeed to the point of tyranny” (p. 370).

212 (Paillottet’s note) See The State and The Law in vol.2 and chapter XVII entitled Private Services and Public Services in vol 5. [vol. 5 contains the Economic Harmonies.]

213 (Paillottet’s note) For the distinction between true monopolies and what have been called natural monopolies, see the note that accompanies the account of the doctrine of Adam Smith on value in chapter V of vol 5.

214 This chapter was probably written in in late 1847 and prefigures Bastiat’s definition of the state as “the great fiction by which everyone endeavours to live at the expense of everyone else” which he developed during the course of 1848. A draft of the essay appeared in his revolutionary magazine Jacques Bonhomme in June 1848 (see CW, vol. 2, pp. 105-06), a larger article on “The State” appeared in the Journal des débats in September 1848, and it was subsequently published as a separate booklet of the same name later that same year (see CW, vol. 2 , pp.93-104).

215 (Paillottet’s note) The author was soon to witness the development of this cause of unrest and combat it energetically. See The State later in vol 2, Disastrous Illusions in this volume and the final pages of chapter IV in vol. 5.

216 The choice of words appropriate to describe these actions is one Bastiat grappled with repeatedly. See especially ES2 IX “Theft by Subsidy”, below, p. ??? where Bastiat says it is time to use a more “brutal style” of language to describe things like protectionism and subsidies to businesses. See also “Plain Speaking” in the “Note on the Translation” and more generally the Introduction to this volume.

217 Diogenes (413-327 BC) was a Greek philosopher who renounced wealth and lived by begging from others and sleeping in a barrel in the market place. His purpose was to live simply and virtuously by giving up the conventional desires for power, wealth, prestige, and fame. His philosophy went under the name of Cynicism and had an important influence on the development of Stoicism.

218 Cato the Younger (Cato Minor) was a politician in the late Roman Republic and a noted defender of "Roman Liberty" and opponent of Julius Caesar. See the glossary entry on “Cato the Younger.”

219 Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (520-430 BC) served as consul in 460 BC and briefly as Roman dictator in 458 and 439 BC. when Rome was threatened by invasion. He was admired for his willingness to give up the powers of dictator and return to his farm after the military crisis was over. See the glossary entry on “Cincinnatus.”


II. Two Moral Philosophies [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Deux morales” (Two Moral Philosophies) [no date given].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 148-56.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


At the end of the preceding chapter, if the reader has reached that far, I can well hear him cry:

“Well then! Are we mistaken in blaming economists for being dry and cold? What a picture of humanity! If they are right, plunder would be a disastrous force, one that is virtually taken for granted, taking all forms and exercised under all types of pretext, both outside the law and by the law, abusing the holiest of things, exploiting weakness and credulity in turn and advancing as these two sources of nourishment flourish around it! Can a darker picture of this world be painted?”

The question is not to know whether the picture is dark but whether it is true. History is there to tell us this.

It is rather strange that those who decry political economy (or economism, as they like to call this science), because it studies man and the world as they are, take pessimism very much further than it does, at least with regard to the past and present. Open their books and journals and what do you see? Bitterness, a hatred of society to the extent that the very word civilization is in their eyes synonymous with injustice, disorder and anarchy. They have come to curse freedom, so low is their confidence in the development of the human race resulting from its natural organization. Freedom! This is what, according to them, is impelling us inexorably toward the abyss.

It is true that they are optimistic with regard to the future. For if humanity, incapable on its own, has been going the wrong way for six thousand years, a prophet has come to show it the path of salvation, and if only the flock obeys the shepherd’s crook it will be led into this promised land in which well-being is achieved without effort and where order, security and harmony are the easy prize of improvidence.

All humanity has to do is to agree to reformers changing its physical and moral constitution, in the words of Rousseau.220

Political economy has not taken on the mission of seeking to ascertain what society would be like if God had made man otherwise than it pleased him to do. It is perhaps tedious that Providence forgot to call upon a few of our modern organizers for advice at the beginning.221 And, as celestial mechanics would have been quite different if the Creator had consulted Alphonse the Wise222 and equally if he had not neglected Fourier’s advice,223 social order would bear no resemblance to the one we are forced to breathe, live and move in. But, since we are here, since in eo vivimus, movemur et sumus224, all we can do is to study it and learn its laws, especially since its improvement essentially depends on this knowledge.

We cannot prevent insatiable desires from springing up in the heart of man.

We cannot arrange things so that no work is required for these desires to be satisfied.

We cannot avoid the fact that man’s reluctance to work is as strong as his desire to have his needs. satisfied.

We cannot prevent the fact that, as a result of this state of affairs, there is a constant effort by men to increase their share of enjoyment while each of them tries by force or by fraud to throw the burden of labor onto the shoulders of his fellows.

It is not up to us to wipe out universal history, to stifle the voice of the past that attests that things have been like this from the outset. We cannot deny that war, slavery, serfdom, theocracy, abuse by government, privileges, frauds of all kinds and monopolies have been the incontrovertible and terrible manifestations of these two sentiments that are intertwined in the hearts of men: attraction to pleasure, avoidance of pain.

“By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread”. But everyone wants as much bread and as little sweat as possible. This is the conclusion of history.

Thank heaven, history also shows that the distribution of pleasures and pains among men tends to occur in an increasingly even way.

Short of denying the obvious, we have to admit that society has made some progress in this regard.

If this is so, society therefore has within it a natural and providential force, a law that increasingly causes the principle of iniquity to retreat and the principle of justice to be realised.

We state that this force is within society and that God has placed it there. If it were not there, we, like the Utopians,225 would be reduced to seeking it in artificial means, in arrangements that require the prior alteration of the physical and moral constitution of man, or rather we would believe this search to be useless and vain, since we cannot understand the action of a lever if it has no fulcrum.

Let us therefore endeavor to identify the beneficent force that tends to overcome little by little the malevolent force we have called Plunder, whose presence is only too clearly explained by reason and noted by experience.

Any malevolent action has of necessity two components, the source from which it comes and the place at which it ends; the person who carries out the action and the person on whom the action is carried out, or as one might have put it in a grammar class at school, the subject and the object of the sentence.226

There are therefore two opportunities for a malevolent action to be eliminated: the voluntary abstention of the active being and the resistance of the passive being.

Hence there are two moral philosophies that, far from contradicting each other, work together: a morality based on religion or philosophy or one which I will permit myself to call economic.

A religious moral philosophy addresses the author of a malevolent action, man as the initiator of plunder,227 in order to eliminate it. It tells him “Reform yourself, purify yourself, stop committing evil and do good. Overcome your passions, sacrifice your personal interest, cease to oppress your neighbor whom it is your duty to love and care for. Be just above all and then charitable.” This moral philosophy will always be the finest, the most touching and the one that reveals the human race in all its majesty, the one that most encourages flights of eloquence and generates the most admiration and sympathy in men.

An economic moral philosophy aspires to achieve the same result but above all addresses men as victims of plunder.228 It shows them the effects of human actions and, by this simple demonstration, stimulates them to react against the actions that hurt them and honor those that are useful to them. It endeavors to disseminate enough good sense, enlightenment and justified mistrust in the oppressed masses to make oppression increasingly difficult and dangerous.

It should be noted that economic morality cannot help but also act on oppressors. A malevolent act has good and evil consequences, evil consequences for those who suffer it and good consequences for those who carry it out, otherwise it would not occur. But it is a long way from being compensatory. The sum of evil always outweighs the good, and this has to be so, since the very fact of oppression leads to a depletion of strength, creates dangers, provokes retaliation and requires costly precautions. A simple revelation of these effects is thus not limited to triggering a reaction in those oppressed, it rallies to the flag of justice all those whose hearts have not been corrupted and undermines the security of the oppressors themselves.

But it is easy to understand that this moral philosophy, which is more implicit than explicit and which is after all just a scientific demonstration; which would even lose its effectiveness if it changed character; which is not aimed at the heart, but the mind; which does not seek to persuade, but to convince; which does not give advice, but proof; whose mission is not to touch the emotions, but to enlighten and whose only victory over vice is to deprive it of sustenance: it is easy, I say, to understand that this moral philosophy has been accused of being dry and dull.

This objection is true but unjust. It amounts to saying that political economy does not state everything, does not include everything and is not a universal science. But who has ever put forward such an exorbitant claim on its behalf?

The accusation would be well-founded only if political economy presented its procedures as being exclusive and had the effrontery, as we might say, to forbid philosophy and religion from using all their own direct means of working toward the progress of mankind.

Let us accept therefore the simultaneous action of morality proper and of political economy, with the first casting a slur on the motives and evident ugliness of malevolent acts and the second discrediting them in our beliefs by giving a picture of their effects.

Let us even admit that the triumph, when it occurs, of religious moralists is finer, more consoling and more radical. But at the same time it is difficult not to acknowledge that the triumph of economic science is easier and more sure.

In a few lines that are worth more than a host of heavy volumes, Jean-Baptiste Say229 has already drawn to our attention that there are two ways of stopping the conflict introduced into an honorable family by hypocrisy: correcting Tartuffe or teaching Orgon the ways of the world.230 Molière,231 a great painter of the human heart, seems to have had the second of these procedures constantly in view as being the more effective.

This is just as true on the world stage.

Tell me what Caesar did and I will tell you what the Romans of his time were like.

Tell me what modern diplomacy is accomplishing and I will tell you what the moral state of nations is like.

We would not be paying nearly two billion in taxes if we did not hand over the power to vote for them to those who are gobbling them up.232

We would not have all the problems and expenses of the African question233 if we were as fully convinced that two and two are four in political economy just as they are in arithmetic.

Mr. Guizot would not have the opportunity of saying “France is rich enough to pay for its glory234 if France had never fallen in love with false glory.

This same Statesman would never have said “Freedom is sufficiently precious for France not to trade it away” if France fully understood that a swollen budget and freedom are incompatible.235

It is not the monopolizers, as is widely believed, but those who are monopolized who keep monopolies in place.

And, where elections are concerned,236 it is not because there are corruptors that there are those who can be corrupted. It's the opposite; and the proof of this is that it is those who can be corrupted who pay all the costs of corruption. Would it not be up to them to put a stop to it?

Let religious morality therefore touch the hearts of the Tartuffes, the Caesars, the colonists, sinecurists and monopolists, etc. if it can. The task of political economy is to enlighten their dupes.237

Which of these two procedures works more effectively toward social progress? Do we have to spell it out? I believe it is the second. I fear that humanity cannot escape the necessity of first learning a defensive moral philosophy.

No matter how much I look, whatever I read or observe and whatever the questions I ask, I cannot find any abuse carried out on anything like a wide scale that has been destroyed through the voluntary renunciation of those benefiting from it.

On the other hand, I have found many that have been overcome by the active resistance of those suffering from them.

Describing the consequences of abuse is therefore the most effective way of destroying it. And how true this is, especially when it concerns abuses like protectionism, which, while inflicting genuine harm on the masses, nurture only illusion and disappointment in those who believe they are benefiting from them.

After all this, will this type of moral persuasion succeed by itself in achieving all the social progress that the attractive nature of the human soul and the noblest of its faculties gives us leave to hope for and foresee? I am far from claiming this. Let us assume the total diffusion of this defensive moral philosophy, which is, after all, nothing other than a recognition of well understood interests that are in accordance with the general good and with justice. A society like this, although certainly well ordered, might well fail to be very attractive, one in which there were no more rascals simply because there were no more dupes, in which vice would be constantly latent, numbed by famine, so to speak, and merely waiting for sustenance to revive it, and in which the prudence of each person would be governed by the vigilance of all, a society in a word, in which reform regulating external acts would be only skin deep, not having penetrated to the depths of people’s consciences. A society like this sometimes appears to us reflected in men who are strict, rigorous, just, ready to reject the slightest encroachment of their rights and skilled in avoiding being undermined in any way. You hold them in esteem and perhaps admire them; you would make them your deputy but not your friend.

Let these two moral philosophies, therefore, work hand in hand instead of mutually decrying one another, and attack vice in a pincer movement. While economists are doing their job, opening the eyes of the Orgons, uprooting preconceived ideas, stimulating just and essential mistrust and studying and exposing the true nature of things and actions, let religious moralists for their part carry out their more attractive but difficult work. Let them engage iniquity in hand-to-hand combat. Let them pursue it right into the deepest fibers of the heart. Let them paint the charms of benevolent action, self-denial and self-sacrifice. Let them open the source of virtues where we can only turn off the source of vice: that is their task, and one that is noble and fine. Why then do they dispute the usefulness of the task that has fallen to us?

In a society that, while not being intrinsically virtuous, is nevertheless well ordered because of the action of economic morality (which is the knowledge of the economy which the society possesses), do the opportunities for progress not open up for religious morality?

Habit, it is said, is a second nature.

A country where for a long time everyone is unaccustomed to injustice simply as a result of the resistance to this of a general public that is enlightened, may still be unhappy. However, in my view, it would be well placed to receive a higher and purer form of education. Being unaccustomed to evil is a great step toward good. Men cannot remain stationary. Once they have turned away from the path of vice, which no longer leads anywhere save to infamy, they would be all the more attracted to virtue.

Perhaps society has to pass through this prosaic state in which people practice virtue through calculation in order to lift itself up to that more poetic region where they would no longer need this motive.


220 Bastiat is referring to the third paragraph of Book II, chapter VII "The Legislator" of the Social Contract in which Rousseau uses the following phrases "changer pour ainsi dire la nature humaine ... altérer la constitution de l’homme pour la renforcer" (to change human nature... to alter the make up of man in order to strengthen it). In the Maurice Cranston translation the full passage is: "Whoever ventures on the enterprise of setting up a people must be ready, shall we say, to change human nature, to transform each individual, who by himself is entirely complete and solitary, into a part of a much greater whole, from which that same individual will then receive, in a sense, his life and his being. The founder of nations must weaken the structure of man in order to fortify it, to replace the physical and independent existence we have all received from nature with a moral and communal existence. In a word each man must be stripped of his own powers, and given powers which are external to him, and which he cannot use without the help of others. The nearer men's natural powers are to extinction or annihilation, and the stronger and more lasting their acquired powers, the stronger and more perfect is the social institution." pp. 84-85. [Ehrard edition, p. 261]. Online French version, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Political Writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau, ed. from the original manuscripts and authentic editions, with introductions and notes by C. E. Vaughan. (Cambridge University Press, 1915). In 2 vols. Vol. 2. Chapter: CHAPITRE VII.: Du législateur. </title/711/88891/2014131>. See the glossary entry on “Rousseau.”

221 Bastiat here is referring to the socialist school which emerged in France during the 1830s and 1840s. Two of their pet slogans which had a special meaning for their followers were “Association” and “Organization” by which they meant the state organization of labour and industry, not the voluntary association and organization advocated by Bastiat and the other Economists. See the glossary entry on “Association and Organization.”

222 Alphonso the Wise (Alfonso X) (1221-1284) was king of Leon and Castile from 1252-1284 and was reputed to have said that if he had been present at the creation of the world he would have had a few words of advice for the Creator on how better to order the universe. During his reign he attempted to reorganize the Castillian sheep industry, raised money by debasing the currency, and imposed high tariffs in order to prevent the inevitable price rises which resulted.

223 François-Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837) was a socialist and founder of the phalansterian school or “Fourierism.” This consisted of a utopian, communistic system for the reorganization of society in which individuals would live together as one family and hold property in common. See the glossary entry on “Fourier” and “Utopias.”

224 “In it we live and move and have our being.” The phrase comes from the Latin Vulgate, St. Paul, Acts of the Apostle 17: 18.: "in ipso enim vivimus et movemur et sumus sicut et quidam vestrum poetarum dixerunt ipsius enim et genus sumus" (For in him we live and move and are: as some also of your own poets said: For we are also his offspring). See <>.

225 See the glossary entry on “Utopias.”

226 Bastiat uses the technical terms "agent" and "patient" which are grammatical terms used to describe "the cause or initiator of an event" and "the target upon who an action is carried out" respectively, which we have translated as the "subject" and "object" of a sentence.

227 Bastiat returns here and in the next paragraph to the terminology of grammar to make his point here about plunder. He refers to "l'homme en tant qu'agent" (man as the initiator of the action) and "l'homme en tant que patient" (man as the target of the action). Another way of expressing this is "man as the initiator of plunder" (i.e. the plunderer), and "man as the victim of plunder" (i.e. the plundered).

228 See note above.

229 Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) was the leading French political economist in the first third of the nineteenth century. He had the first chair in political economy at the Collège de France. Say is best known for his Traité d'économie politique (1803) and the Cours complet d'économie politique pratique (1828-33). See the glossary on "J.B.Say."

230 In Molière’s play Tartuffe, or the Imposter (1664) Tartuffe is a scheming hypocrite and Orgon is a well-meaning dupe. With the reference in the previous sentence to the conflict between “religious moralists” and economics, and the problem of hypocrisy, Bastiat probably has in mind the following lines from J.B. Say’s Cours complet d’économie politique pratique (1828-33) where Say discusses what he calls “one of the thorniest parts of practical politics”, namely how to keep public expenditure to a “minimum”. Say warns of paying too many public employees, having a too costly court, having an army which violates the rights of citizens instead of protecting them, and “having a greedy and ambitious clergy who brutalizes children, splits apart families, seizes their inheritance, makes a hypocrisy of their honour, and supports abuses and persecutes those who tell the truth.” Part 7, chapter XIII “De l’économie dans les dépenses de la société,” p. 432. Cours complet d’Économie politique pratique, ouvrage destine à metre sous les yeux des homes d’état, des propriétaires fonciers et des caqpitalistes, des savants, des agriculteurs, des manufacuriers, des négociants, et en general de tous les citoyens, l’Économie des sociétés. Septième edition entièrement revue par l’auteur, publiée sur les manuscrits qu’il a laissés, et augmentée de notes par Horace Say, son fils (Bruxelles: Société typographique belge, 1844). See the glossary entries on "J.B.Say" and “Molière.”

231 Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (or Molière) (1622- 1673) was a playwright in the late 17th century during the classical period of French drama. Bastiat quotes Molière many times in the Sophisms as he finds his comedy of manners very useful in pointing out political and economic confusions. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

232 The total expenditure of the French state budgeted for 1849 was fr. 1.573 billion and the amount received in taxes and other charges was fr. 1.412 billion, creating a deficit of fr. 160.8 million. The total amount for the Colonial Service in the Ministry of the Navy and Colonies (which included Algeria) was fr. 20.3 million. Annuaire de l'économie politique et de la statistique pour 1850, p. 21. See Appendix 4 "French Government Finances 1848-1849."

233 France conquered Algiers in 1830 and began a slow process of colonization whereby European settlement took place on the coastal plain. As resistance to the French invasion grew some rebels moved into neighbouring Morocco sparking a brief war between France and Morocco in 1844 which was concluded by the signing of the Treaty of Tangiers. Se the glossary entry on “Algeria.”

234 These words have been attributed to Guizot but a note on “Historical Phrases” in Notes and Queries May 29, 1875, p. 421 disputes this. Here the author states that “For many years M. Guizot bore with unruffled humour the burden of having said, “La France est assez riche pour payer sa gloire.” This utterance has just been traced, however, to M. John Lemoinne, the well-known writer in the Journal des Débats and employé in the Paris financial house of Rothschild. M. Lemoinne accepts the responsibility of the above phrase, which so enraged the economists when it was written as a justification for the peace which France made with Morocco without asking for any indemnity whatever.”

235 [DMH - We have not been able to find the source of this quote.]

236 See the glossary entry on the “Chamber of Deputies.”

237 The words "duperie" (deceit) and "dupes" (those who are deceived) are key terms in Bastiat's theory of plunder ("spoliation"), according to which the plunderers ("les spoliateurs") deceive their victims by means of “la ruse” (deception, fraud) to justify and disguise what they are doing. By means of "Sophisms" (sophistical arguments and fallacies) the dupes are persuaded that the plundering of their property is necessary for the well-being of the nation and thus ultimately for their own good as well. See ES2 I. “The Physiology of Plunder” and the glossary entry on “Bastiat on Plunder.”


III. The Two Axes [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Les deux haches” (The Two Axes) [no date given].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 156-59.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


A petition from Jacques Bonhomme,238 Carpenter, to Mr. Cunin-Gridaine, Minister of Trade.239

Minister and Manufacturer,

I am a carpenter like Jesus; I wield an axe and an adze to serve you.

Now, while chopping and hewing from dawn to dusk on the lands of our lord the king, the idea came to me that my work is just as national as yours.

And this being so, I do not see why Protection should not extend to my worksite as it does to your workshop.

For, when all is said and done, if you make sheets, I make roofs. Both of us in different ways shelter our customers from the cold and rain.

However, I pursue customers while customers pursue you. You have been perfectly successful in forcing them to do so by preventing them from being supplied elsewhere, whereas my customers can go where they please.

What is surprising in this? Mr. Cunin the Minister has remembered Mr. Cunin the weaver and that is only natural. But alas! My humble trade has not given a minister to France, even though it gave a God to the world.

And this God, in the immortal code he bequeathed to men, has not slipped into it the slightest little word that would authorize carpenters to grow wealthy, as you do, at the expense of others.

Look at my position, then. I earn thirty sous a day except for when the day is a Sunday or public holiday. If I offer you my services at the same time as a Flemish carpenter who offered a one sou discount, you would prefer giving him the business.

However, do I need to clothe myself? If a Belgian weaver lays out his woolen cloth side by side with yours, you throw him, and his woolen cloth, out of the country.

This means that, since I am forced to come to your shop, which is more expensive, my poor thirty sous are in effect worth only twenty eight.

What am I saying? They are not even worth twenty-six, for instead of throwing the Belgian weaver out at your own expense (this would be the least you could do), you make me pay for the people who, in your interest, you order to drive them away!240

And, since a great many of your co-legislators, with whom you are in perfect collusion, all take one or two sous from me on the pretext of protecting, this one, iron, another coal, others oil or wheat, so at the end of the day I find that I have barely been able to keep fifteen sous of my thirty from being plundered.241

You will doubtless tell me that these small sous, which move with no compensation from my pocket to yours, provide a living for people around your chateau and enable you to live in grand style. To which I would reply, if you allowed me to do so, that they would provide a living for people around me.

Be that as it may, Minister and Manufacturer, knowing that I will receive short shrift from you, I will not come to demand, as I have every right to do, that you abandon the restriction that you place on your customers; I prefer to follow the common route and claim a small slice of protection for myself as well.

At this point you will place a difficulty in my way. “Friend”, you will say, “I would like to protect you and your fellow men, but how can I confer Customs favors on the work of carpenters? Will we have to prohibit the import of houses by land and sea?”

That would be somewhat laughable, but by dint of pondering it, I have discovered another way of granting favors to the sons of Saint Joseph, and you would be all the more ready to welcome this, I hope, in that it differs not a whit from the means that constitutes the privilege you vote each year in your favor.

This marvelous means is to forbid the use of sharpened axes in France.

I say that this restriction would be no more illogical or arbitrary than that to which we are subject with regard to your woolen cloth.

Why do you chase Belgians away? Because they sell cheaper than you. And why do they sell cheaper than you? Because as weavers, they have a superiority of some sort over you.

Between you and the Belgians, therefore, there is just about the same difference as between a dull and sharp axe.242

And you force me, as a carpenter, to buy the product of the dull axe!

Think of France as a worker who, through his work, wants to buy himself all sorts of things, including woolen cloth.

He has two ways of doing this:

The first is to spin and weave the wool.

The second is to manufacture clocks, wallpaper or wine, for example and deliver them to Belgians in return for woolen cloth.

Whichever of these two procedures gives the best result may be represented by the sharp axe and the other by the dull one.

You do not deny that we currently obtain a length of cloth from a loom in France with more work and effort (that is the dull axe) than from a vine (that is the sharp axe). You absolutely cannot deny it because it is exactly through consideration of this extra effort (which in your scheme of things constitutes wealth) that you recommend, and what is more, you require that we use the worse of the two axes.

Well then! Be consistent and impartial, if you wish to be just, and treat poor carpenters as you treat yourselves.

Pass a law that says:

No one can use anything other than beams and joists produced by dull axes.”

See what would happen immediately.

Where we once gave one hundred blows of the axe, we now give three hundred. What we once could do in an hour now requires three. What a powerful incitement to work! There would no longer be enough apprentices, guild craftsmen and masters. We would be sought after, and therefore well paid. Whoever wanted to have a roof would be obliged to submit to our demands, just as those who want cloth are obliged to submit to yours.

And if these theoreticians in favor of free trade ever dare to call into question the usefulness of the measure, we will know very well where to turn for a triumphant refutation. Your parliamentary inquiry of 1834243 is there. We will beat them with it, for in it you have admirably pleaded the cause of prohibition and dull axes, which are one and the same.


238 “Jacques Bonhomme” (literally Jack Goodfellow) is the name used by the French to refer to “everyman,” sometimes with the connotation that he is the archetype of the wise French peasant. Bastiat uses the character of Jacques Bonhomme frequently in his constructed dialogues in the Economic Sophisms as a foil to criticise protectionists and advocates of government regulation. The name Jacques Bonhomme was given to the small magazine that Bastiat and Molinari published and handed out on the street corners of Paris in June and July 1848. See the glossary entry "Jacques Bonhomme [person]."

239 Laurent Cunin-Gridaine (1778-1859) was a very successful , self-made textile manufacturer from Sedan. As Minister for Trade from 1840 to 1848 he was a strong supporter of protection for the textile industry. See the glossary entry on "Cunin-Gridaine."

240 According to the Budget figures for 1848 the French government spent fr. 24.3 million on the salaries of workers in the Customs Service and fr. 703,000 on other administrative costs for a total of about fr. 25 million. See the glossary on “French Government Finances 1848-1849.”

241 Without taking into account the increase in prices for goods protected from foreign competition, according to the Budget figures for 1848 the French government spent fr. 15 million on direct subsidies to exporters and a further fr. 4.3 on other subsidies, for a total of fr. 19.3 million. Other government expences which might benefit the industries mentioned here are hard to determine. For example, the Ministry of Public Works spent fr. 23.2 million on the railways (iron) and the Ministry of War spent fr. 11.6 million on uniforms and housing (textiles). (See the glossary on “French Government Finances 1848-1849.”

242 Bastiat probably got the idea of a sophism about the sharp and the blunt axes from the English free trader Thomas Perronet Thompson who wrote a critique of the French government inquiry into tariff policy in 1834 in which he stated that “The liberty of commerce would increase the aggregate total of consumption, by all the difference of prices; in the same manner as the quantity of wood a man cuts, would be increased by the liberty of using a sharp hatchet instead of a blunt one.” “Contre-Enquête” in Exercises (1842), vol. 3, p. 213.

243 There were two reviews of French tariff policy: one in 1822 under the Restoration which created the modern alliance of powerful interest groups which benefited from protectionism; and a second in 1834 under the July Monarchy. The government inquiry into French tariff policy held in October 1834 raised hopes that there was some hope that it might lead to a reduction in the level of tariffs as the Minister of Commerce, Thiers, was in favor. However, the Inquiry concluded that France should continue its protection of industry. The Inquiry resulted in a detailed 3 volume report issued by the Superior Council of Commerce in 1835. The list of members of the inquiry read like a "who's who" of the protectionists Bastiat mentions and criticizes throughout the Economic Sophisms. See Enquête relative à diverses prohibitions établies à l'entrée des produits étrangers (1835). It was 1,459 pages in length and was printed by the government printing office at taxpayers’ expence. See "French Tariff Policy" in Appendix 3 “Economic Policy and Taxation.”


IV. The Lower Council of Labor [n.d.] [edit3]

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Conseil inférieur du travail” (The Lower Council of Labor)] [no date given].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 160-63.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


“What! You have the nerve to demand for every citizen the right to sell, purchase, barter, exchange and give and receive services for services244 and allow him to judge for himself on the sole condition that he does not infringe honesty and that he satisfies the public Treasury? You therefore want to snatch work, pay and bread from the workers?”

This is what we are being told. I know what to think of this, but I wanted to find out what the workers themselves think.

I had an excellent instrument available for carrying out surveys.

It was not at all one of the Superior Councils of Industry245 in which large landowners who call themselves ploughmen, powerful ship owners who think they are sailors and rich shareholders who claim to be workers carry out the sort of philanthropy we all know about.

No, these were proper workers, serious workers, as they are now called, joiners, carpenters, masons, tailors, shoemakers, dyers, blacksmiths, innkeepers, grocers, etc., etc., who founded a mutual aid society246 in my village.

Using my own authority, I transformed this into a Lower Council of Labor247 and obtained from it an inquiry which is every bit as good as any other although it is not stuffed with figures and swollen to the size of a quarto volume printed at State expense.248

It took the form of questioning these fine people on the way they are, or believe they are affected by the protectionist regime. The Chairman pointed out to me that this was something of an infringement of the conditions for the existence of the association. For in France, this land of freedom, people who form an association give up any to right to discuss politics, that is to say any discussion of their common interest.249 However, after much hesitation, he included the question on the agenda.

The assembly was divided into as many commissions as there were groups of various trades. Each one was given a chart that it had to complete after two weeks of discussion.

On the due date, the venerable Chairman took his seat on the official chair (this is a formal expression since it was just an ordinary chair) and found on the desk (another formal expression since it was a table made of poplar wood) about fifteen reports, which he read in turn.

The first was from the tailors. Here is a copy of it that is as accurate as if it were a facsimile.



1. Because of the protectionist regime, we pay more for bread, meat, sugar, wood, yarn, needles, etc., which amounts to a considerable reduction in earnings for us;

2. Because of the protectionist regime, our customers also pay more for everything, which leaves them less to spend on clothes, from which it follows that we have less work and therefore less profit;

3. Because of the protectionist regime, fabrics are expensive and people make their clothes last longer or go without. This is also a reduction in work, which forces us to offer our services at a discount.


None (1)

(1) No matter how we took our measurements, we found it impossible to find any way whatsoever in which the protectionist regime is advantageous to our business.

Here is another table:



1. The protectionist regime inflicts on us a tax, that does not go to the Treasury, each time we eat, drink, heat ourselves or dress ourselves;

2. It inflicts a similar tax on our fellow citizens, who are not blacksmiths, and since they are poorer by this amount most of them make wooden nails and door latches from string, which deprives us of work;

3. It keeps iron at such a high price that in the countryside no one uses it in carts, grills or balconies and our trade, which is capable of providing work for so many people who have none, is lacking work for us ourselves;

4. What the tax authorities fail to raise on goods that are not imported is taken on our salt and letters. (see footnote below)



[Footnote on salt and letters.]250

All the other tables, which I will spare the reader, echoed the same refrain. Gardeners, carpenters, shoemakers, clog makers, boatmen and millers all expressed the same complaints.

I deplored the fact that there were no farm labourers in our association. Their report would certainly have been very instructive.

But alas! In our region of Les Landes,251 the poor farm labourers, as protected as they are, do not have a sou, and, after they have seen to the welfare of their own cattle, they themselves cannot join any mutual aid societies. The alleged favors of protection do not stop them from being the pariahs of our social order. What shall I say about vine growers?

What I noted above all was the common sense with which our villagers saw not only the direct harm that the protectionist regime was doing them but also the indirect harm which, as it affected their customers, ricocheted or flowed252 on to them.

This is what, I said to myself, the economists of Le Moniteur industriel253 appear not to understand.

And perhaps those men who are dazzled by a little protection, in particular the tenant farmers, would be ready to give it up if they saw this side of the question.

Perhaps they would say to themselves “It is better to provide for oneself surrounded by prosperous customers than to be protected surrounded by impoverished ones.”

For wanting to enrich each industry in turn by creating an economic void around them is as vain an effort as trying to jump over your shadow.


244 [DMH - Bastiat uses the phrase “rendre et recevoir service pour service.” See the glossary entry on “Servie for Service”.]

245 An ordinance of 1831 created within the Ministry of Commerce a "Conseil supérieur du commerce" (Superior Council of Commerce) which had the authority to conduct official inquiries into matters such as tariff policy. The first such enquiry was held in October 1834 at which the largest and most politically well-connected manufacturers, land owners and merchants closed ranks in their opposition to any tariff reform. See the glossary entry "Superior Council of Commerce."

246 [Societies similar to the English "Friendly Societies". Their role is described in chapter XIV of volume 5 (On salaries).] EH ???

247 Bastiat is making fun of the activities of the Superior Council of Commerce (see note above) the members of which were ardent supporters of protectionism. Bastiat is here imagining what would happen if an "Inferior" (or lower) Council made up of smaller businessmen and artisans were able to have their say.

248 Bastiat is referring to the detailed 3 volume report issued by the Superior Council of Commerce in 1835 based upon the findings of its inquiry held in October 1834. The list of members of the inquiry read like a "who's who" of the protectionists Bastiat mentions and criticizes throughout the Economic Sophisms. See Enquête relative à diverses prohibitions établies à l'entrée des produits étrangers (1835). It was 1,459 pages in length and was printed by the government printing office at taxpayers’ expence. See the glossary entry “Superior Council of Commerce.”

249 Bastiat has in mind the restrictions imposed by the Chapelier Law of 1791. Jean Le Chapelier (1754-1794) was a lawyer and politician during the early phase of the French Revolution. He was elected to the Estates General in 1789 and was a founder of the radical Jacobin Club. He is most famous for introducing the "Le Chapelier Law” which was enacted on 14 June, 1791. The Assembly had abolished the privileged corporations of masters and occupations of the old regime in March and the Le Chapelier Law was designed to do the same thing to organizations of both entrepreneurs and their workers. The law effectively banned guilds and trade unions (as well as the right to strike) until the law was altered in 1864. Article 2 of the Le Chapelier Law of June 1791 states that: "Citizens of the same occupation or profession, entrepreneurs, those who maintain open shop, workers, and journeymen of any craft whatsoever may not, when they are together, name either president, secretaries, or trustees, keep accounts, pass decrees or resolutions, or draft regulations concerning their alleged common interests.”

250 In 1849 the income the French government received from taxes and tariffs on salt was fr. 25.6 million and from the monopoly on mail fr. 49.8 million, out of total income of fr. 1.4 billion. The total revenue from tariffs and customs duties was fr. 156.8 million. See Annuaire de l'économie politique et de la statistique pour 1850, p. 24. See the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

251 Bastiat came from Les Landes in south west France and represented it in the Constituent and National Assemblies after the February 1848 Revolution. See the glossary entry on “Les Landes.”

252 Sometime in 1847 Bastiat came across the notion of "the ricochet effect" by which he meant the concatenation of effects caused by a single economic event which "rippled" outwards from its source causing indirect flow on effects to third and other parties. Some other words and phrases one could use to describe this are "knock on effects", "unintended consequences," "a cascade of consequences," and so on. A key insight behind this term is the idea that all economic events are tied together by webs of connectivity and mutual influence. It links up very nicely with his theory of "the seen and the unseen" which he developed at length in a longer pamphlet in July 1850, “What is Seen and What is Not Seen,” (see below, pp. ???). The "ricochet effects" are thus unexpected and unseen consequences of an economic event such as a new tax or tariff or other intervention in the economy which may take some time to be observed but which can be foreseen by economists. See the Appendices "Bastiat and the Ricochet Effect" and "The Sophism Bastiat never wrote: the Sophism of the Ricochet Effect."

253 Le Moniteur industriel was the journal of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) founded by Mimerel de Roubaix in 1846. See the glossary entries on “Le Moniteur industriel,” “Mimerel,” and “Association for the Defense of National Employment”.


V. High Prices and Low Prices254 [25 July 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Cherté, bon marché” (High Prices and Low Prices) [Le Libre-Échange 25 July, 1847 with supplement from 1 August 1847].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 163-73.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


I think I have to put forward to the reader a few remarks that are, alas, theoretical, on the illusions that arise from the words, high prices and low prices. At first sight, I realize that these remarks will be taken to be somewhat subtle, but subtle or not, the question is to determine whether they are true. Now I think they are perfectly true, and above all just the thing to make the many people who sincerely believe in the effectiveness of protectionism, engage in a bit of reflection.

Whether we are partisans of freedom or defenders of trade restriction, we are all reduced to using the words high prices and low prices. Partisans of freedom declare themselves in favor of things being cheap with an eye on the interests of consumers; defenders of restriction advocate high prices, taking care of producers above all. Other people intervene saying: “Producers and consumers are one and the same”, which leaves up in the air the question of knowing whether the law ought to pursue low prices or high ones.

At the center of this conflict, there appears to be just one path for the law to take, and that is to allow prices to find their level naturally. However, in this case the sworn enemies of laissez faire appear.255 Above all they want the law to act, even if they do not know in which direction it should act. No decision having been reached, it would seem to be up to the person who wants to use the law to generate artificially high prices or unnaturally low ones, to set out the reason for his choice and convince others of its validity. The onus probandi [burden of proof] is exclusively on his shoulders. From which it follows that freedom is always deemed to be good until proved otherwise, since leaving prices to establish themselves naturally constitutes freedom.

However, the roles have changed. The partisans of high prices have caused their model to triumph, and it is up to the defenders of natural prices to prove the worth of theirs. Both sides argue using just two words. It is thus essential to know what these words encompass.

Let us note first of all that there are several facts which are likely to disconcert the champions of both camps.

To make things expensive, those in favor of trade restriction obtained protective duties, and low prices, which are inexplicable to them, have come to dash their hopes.

To get cheap things, free traders have on occasion secured the triumph of freedom and to their great astonishment, the result has been rising prices.

For example: In France, in order to stimulate agriculture, foreign wool has been subjected to a duty of 22 percent and what has happened is that French wool has been sold at a lower price after this measure than before.

In England, to relieve consumers, foreign wool was exempted and finally freed from tax, and the result has been that local wool has been sold more expensively than ever.

And these are not isolated facts, for the price of wool does not have a nature of its own which exempts it from the general law governing prices. This same fact has recurred in all similar circumstances. Against all expectations, protection has instead led to a fall and competition to an increase in the prices of products.

This being so, confusion in the debate reached its height, with protectionists saying to their opponents: “The low prices you boasted about to us have been achieved by our system.” And their opponents replied: “The high prices you found so useful have been generated by freedom.”256

Would it not be amusing to see low prices becoming the watchword in Rue Hauteville and high ones lauded in the Rue Choiseul257?

Obviously, there is a misunderstanding in all this, an illusion that has to be destroyed. This is what I will try to do.

Let us imagine two isolated nations, each made up of one million inhabitants. Let us agree that, all other things being equal, there is in one of them double the quantity of all sorts of things than in the other, twice as much wheat, meat, iron, furniture, fuel, books, clothes, etc.

We would agree that the first of these nations would be twice as rich.

However, there is no reason to assert that nominal prices258 would be different in these two nations. They might even be higher in the richer. It is possible that in the United States everything is nominally more expensive than in Poland and that people there are nevertheless better supplied with everything, from which we can see that it is not the nominal price of products but their abundance that constitutes wealth. When, therefore, we want to compare trade restriction and freedom, we should not ask ourselves which of the two generates low or high prices, but which of the two brings abundance or scarcity.

For you should note this: products are traded for one another, and a relative scarcity of everything and a relative abundance of everything leave the nominal price of things exactly at the same point, but not the condition of people.

Let us go into the subject in greater detail.

When increases and decreases in duties are seen to produce such opposite effects to those expected, with lower prices often following the imposition of a tax and higher prices sometimes following the removal of a tax, political economy has had to find an explanation for a phenomenon that overturned preconceived ideas, since whatever we say, any science that is worthy of the name is only the faithful exposition and accurate explanation of facts.

Well, the one we are highlighting here is very well explained by a circumstance that should never be lost to sight.

It is that high prices have two causes and not one.

This is also true of low prices.259

It is one of the most accepted points of political economy that price is determined by the state of Supply compared to that of Demand.

There are therefore two terms that affect price: Supply and Demand. These terms are essentially variable. They may combine in the same direction, in opposite directions and in infinite proportions. This leads to an inexhaustible number of price combinations.

Prices rise either because Supply decreases or because Demand increases.

They drop either because Supply increases or because Demand decreases.

This shows that high prices have two natures and so do low prices.

There is a bad sort of high prices, that resulting from a decrease in Supply, since this implies scarcity and privation (such as that experienced this year for wheat),260 and there is a good sort of high prices, resulting from an increase in demand, since this presupposes an increase in the level of general wealth.

In the same way, there is a desirable sort of low prices arising from abundance and a disastrous version resulting from a decrease in demand and the destitution of customers.

Now, note this: trade restriction tends to trigger simultaneously the bad sorts both of high and low prices; bad high prices in that it decreases Supply, and this is even its expressed aim, and the bad sort of low prices in that it also decreases Demand, since it gives a wrong direction to capital and labor and burdens customers with taxes and hindrances.

With the result that, with regard to price, these two trends cancel one another out, and this is why this system, by restricting Demand at the same time as Supply, does not even in the long run achieve the high prices which are its aim.

But, with regard to the condition of the people, they do not cancel one another out. On the contrary, they contribute to making it worse.

The effect of freedom is just the opposite. Its general result may not be the low prices it promised either, for it too has two trends, one toward desirable low prices through the expansion of Supply or abundance, the other toward noticeably higher prices through the increase of Demand or general wealth. These two trends cancel one another out with regard to nominal prices, but they combine with regard to improving the condition of men.

In a word, under protectionism and to the extent that it is put into effect, people regress to a state in which both Supply and Demand weaken; under free trade, they progress to a state in which these develop equally without the nominal price of things being necessarily affected. This price is not a good measure of wealth. It may well remain the same whether society is descending into the most abject poverty or rising towards greater prosperity.

May we be allowed to apply this doctrine in a few words?

A farmer in the South-East of France thinks that he has struck it rich because he is protected by duties against competition from abroad. He is as poor as Job, but this does not matter; he is no less convinced that protection will make him rich sooner or later. In these circumstances, if, as the Odier Committee 261 has done, he is asked the following question worded thus:

“Do you or do you not wish to be subjected to foreign competition?” His instinctive reaction is to reply: “No.” And the Odier Committee gives this response an extremely enthusiastic reception.

However, we must delve a bit more deeply into the matter. Doubtless, foreign competition and even competition in general is always a nuisance, and if a branch of activity were able to break free of it on its own, it would do good business for a time.

But protection is not an isolated favor, it is a system. If it tends to produce scarcity of wheat and meat, to the advantage of this farmer, it also tends to produce scarcity of iron, cloth, fuel, tools, etc. to the advantage of other producers, in other words, the scarcity of everything.

Well, if the scarcity of wheat works toward making it more expensive by decreasing supply, the scarcity of all the other objects for which wheat is traded works toward lowering its price by decreasing demand, with the result in a word that it is by no means certain that wheat is more expensive by one centime than under a free regime. The only thing that is certain is that since there is less of everything in the country each person must be less well provided with everything.

The farmer ought well to be asking himself whether it would not better for him for a little wheat or meat to be imported from abroad and on the other hand for him to be surrounded by a prosperous population able to consume and pay for all sorts of agricultural products.

Imagine that there is a certain départment in which men are covered in rags, live in hovels and eat chestnuts. How do you expect farming to flourish there? What do you make the land produce in the reasonable hope of receiving a fair return? Meat? Nobody eats it. Milk? People drink only water from springs. Butter? That is a luxury. Wool? People do without it as much as they can. Does anyone think that all these objects of consumption can be abandoned by the masses without this abandonment having a downward effect on prices at the same time as trade protection acts to raise them?

What we have said with reference to a farmer can also be applied to a manufacturer. The manufacturers of cloth insist that foreign competition will decrease the price by increasing Supply. Maybe, but will these prices not be raised by an increase in Demand? Is the consumption of cloth a fixed and invariable quantity? Is each person as well provided for as he could and should be? And if general wealth increased through the abolition of all these taxes and restrictions, would not the population instinctively use it to clothe themselves better?

The question, the eternal question, is therefore not to ascertain whether protection favors this or that particular area but whether, after all costs and benefits have been calculated, restriction is, by its very nature, more productive than freedom.

But nobody dares to support this. This even explains the admission that we are constantly being given: “You are right in principle”.

If this is so, if restriction benefits each particular activity only by doing greater harm to general wealth, let us therefore understand that prices themselves, taking only these into consideration, express a relationship between each particular productive activity and production in general, between Supply and Demand, and that in accordance with these premises, this remunerative price, the aim of protection, is more damaged than favored by it.262


Under the title High Prices and Low Prices we published an article, which generated the following two letters. We follow them with a reply.

Dear Editor,

You are upsetting all my ideas. I was producing propaganda in favor of free trade and found it very convenient to highlight low prices! I went everywhere saying: “Under freedom, bread, meat, cloth, linen products, iron and fuel will decrease in price.” That displeased those who sell these things but pleased those who buy them. Now you are casting doubt on the claim that free trade will result in low prices. But what use will it be, then? What will the people gain if foreign competition, which might hurt their sales, does not help them in their purchases?

Dear Free Trader,

Please allow me to tell you that you have only half-read the article that generated your letter. We said that free trade acted in exactly the same way as roads, canals and railways, and like everything that facilitates communications and destroys obstacles. Its initial tendency is to increase the abundance of the article freed from duty and consequently to lower its price. But since at the same time it increases the abundance of all the things that are traded for this article, it increases demand for it and its price rises as a result of this aspect. You ask us what the people will gain. Let us suppose that they have a set of scales with several trays, in each of which they have for their own use a certain quantity of the objects you have listed. If a small quantity of wheat is added to a tray it will go down, but if you add a little woolen cloth, a little iron and a little fuel to the other trays, the balance will be maintained. If you look at the evil consequence only, nothing will have changed. If you look at the people, you will see that they are better fed, better clothed and better heated.

Dear Editor,

I am a manufacturer of woolen cloth and a protectionist. I must admit that your article on high prices and low prices has given me food for thought. There is a certain plausibility there that needs only to be properly proved to achieve a conversion.

Dear Protectionist,

We say that your restrictive measures aim at an iniquitous result, artificially high prices. But we do not say that they always achieve the hopes of those who advance them. They certainly inflict on consumers all the harm of high prices, but it is not clear that they achieve any benefit for producers. Why? Because although they decrease Supply they also decrease Demand.

This proves that there is a moral force in the economic arrangement of this world, a vis medicatrix, a healing power which ensures that in the long run unjust ambition is confronted with disappointment.

Please note, Sir, that one of the elements of the prosperity of each particular branch of production is general wealth. The price of a house does not depend only on what it cost but also on the number and fortune of its tenants. Do two houses that are exactly alike necessarily have the same price? Certainly not, if one is situated in Paris and the other in Lower Brittany. We should never talk about price without taking account of location and note well that there is no attempt that is more vain than that of wishing to base the prosperity of certain parts on the ruin of the whole. This is nevertheless to what restrictive regimes aspire.

Competition has always been and will always be unfortunate to those who suffer from it. For this reason, we have always seen, in every age and place, men striving to escape it. We know (as do you, perhaps) of a municipal authority in which resident traders wage a bitter war against peddlers. Their missiles are city taxes on the movement of goods, fees to be able to set up their stalls in the market, fees to display their goods, road and bridge tolls, etc. etc.

Just consider what would have become of Paris, for example, if this war had been successful.

Let us suppose that the first shoemaker who set up shop there had succeeded in routing all the others, and that the first tailor, the first mason, the first printer, the first watchmaker, the first hairdresser, the first doctor or the first baker had been as successful. Paris would still be a village of 1,200 to 1,500 inhabitants today. This has not happened. Everyone (except for those you are still chasing away) has come to exploit this market, and this is exactly what has made it grow. This has been nothing but a long series of upsets for the enemies of competition and, through one upset after another, Paris has become a town of one million inhabitants. General wealth has doubtless gained from this, but has the individual wealth of shoemakers and tailors lost out? In your eyes, this is the question. As competitors arrived, you would have said: “The price of boots will decrease”. Has this been so? No, for while Supply has increased, so has Demand.

This will also be true for cloth, Sir; let it come in.263 You will have more competitors, that is true, but you will also have more customers, and above all customers that are richer. What then! Have you never thought of this during the winter on seeing nine-tenths of your fellow citizens deprived of the cloth you make so well?

This is a very long lesson to learn. Do you want to prosper? Then let your customers prosper.

But when it has been learnt, everyone will seek his own benefit in the general good. Then jealousies between individuals, towns, provinces and nations will no longer trouble the world.


254 (Paillottet’s note) This chapter is the reproduction of an article which appeared in the issue of Le Libre Echange dated 25th July 1847.

255 See the glossary entry on “Laissez-faire.”

256 (Bastiat's note) Recently, Mr. Duchâtel, who in the past demanded freedom with a view to cheap prices, told the Chamber: “It would not be difficult for me to prove that protection results in low prices.” [Charles Marie Tanneguy, comte Duchâtel (1803-67) was a conservative with liberal sympathies who was Minister of Commerce (1834-36) during the July Monarchy. See the glossary on "Tanneguy Duchâtel."]

257 Bastiat is making a play on words here. The protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment), led by Antoine Odier and Pierre Mimerel with their journal Le Moniteur industriel, had its headquarters on the Rue Hauteville. The “Association pour la liberté des échanges” (Free Trade Association) which Bastiat helped found and who edited its journal Le Libre-Échange, had its offices on the Rue Choiseul. As “haut” means “high” in French, Bastiat is saying playfully that perhaps “low” prices would become the watchword in “Highville Street” (Rue Hauteville ) and high prices would be lauded in the Rue Choiseul. See the glossary entries on “Free Trade Association” and "Association for the Defense of National Employment."

258 Bastiat uses the term "prix absolus" which we have translated as "nominal" or money prices.

259 (Paillottet’s note) In the speech he gave on 29th September 1846 in the Montesquieu Hall, the author used a striking image to present a demonstration of the same truth. See this speech in Volume 2. [See, OC, vol. 2, Libre-Échange, pp. 238-46, “No. 43. Second Discours,” [Paris, Montesquieu Hall, 29 September 1846] Paillottet says in a note that he did not have the complete text of this speech but drew upon part of it which was published in JDE Oct 1846. [FB had 2 articles published in JDE Oct. 1846: "De la population," pp. 217-34; À M. de Lamartine (à propos des subsistances)," pp. 255-70.] ???]

260 Crop failures in 1846-1847 caused considerable hardship and a rise in food prices in 1847 across Europe. Some historians believe this was a contributing factor to the outbreak of revolution in 1848. The average price of wheat in France was 18 fr. 93 c. per hectolitre in 1845; which rose to 23 fr. 84 c. in 1846 (which had a poor harvest). Prices were even higher in the last half of 1846 and the first half of 1847 when the shortage was most accutely felt. In December 1846 it rose to 28 fr. 41 c; and reached a maximum of 37 fr. 98 c. in May 1847. The average price for the period 1832-1846 had been 19 fr. 5 c. per hectolitre. The lowest average price reached between 1800 and 1846 was 14 fr. 72 c. in 1834. See AEPS, pour 1848 (Paris: Guillaumin, 1848), pp. 179-80. See the glossary entry on “The Irish Famine and the Failure of French Harvests 1846-47.”

261 Antoine Odier (1766-1853) was a Swiss-born banker and manufacturer who was a Deputy (1827-37), president of the Chamber of Commerce of Paris and a leading member of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) on whose Central Committee he served as president (hence it was sometimes called “the Odier Committee” or the “Mimerel Committee” for short. See the glossary entries on “Odier,” “Association for the Defense of National Employment,” and “Mimerel Committee.”

262 (Paillottet’s note) In the issue of Le Libre Echange dated 1st August 1847, the author gave an explanation on this subject, which we consider useful to reproduce here.

263 Bastiat uses the express "laissez-le entrer" (let it enter) which is very similar to the Economists' general policy of "laissez-faire." See the glossary entry "Laissez-faire."


VI. To Artisans and Workers264 [18 September 1846] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Aux artisans et aux ouvriers” (To Artisans and Workers) [Le Courrier français, 18 September 1846].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 173-82.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


Several journals have tried to lower my standing in your eyes. Would you like to read my defense?

I am a trusting soul. When a man writes or says something, I believe that his words reflect his thoughts.

Even so, however much I read and reread the journals to which I am replying I seem to find in them some sorry tendencies.

What was it all about? To find out what you prefer, trade restriction or freedom.

I believe it is freedom. They believe it is trade restriction. Let each prove his case.

Is it necessary to insinuate that we are the agents of England, of the Midi265 or of the Government?

Note how easy, if these are the grounds of debate, recrimination would be for us.

We are, they say, the agents of the English, because some of us have used the words meeting and free trader!

But do they not themselves use the words drawback and budget?266

We imitate Cobden267 and English democracy!

But don’t they parody Bentinck268 and the British aristocracy?

We borrow the doctrine of freedom from perfidious Albion!269

And they, do they not borrow from her the quibbles of protection?

We follow the impulses of Bordeaux and the Midi!

And they, do they not serve the greed of Lille and the North?

We favor the secret designs of the government, which wants to distract attention from its policy!

And they, do they not favor the views of the Civil List270 which gains more than anyone in the world from protectionism?

You can thus see clearly that, if we did not scorn this campaign to denigrate others, we would not lack the weapons to engage in it.

But that is not the question.

The question, and I will not lose sight of it, is this:

What is better for the working classes, to be free or not to be free to purchase from abroad?

Workers, you are being told: “If you are free to purchase things from abroad that you are now making yourselves, you will no longer be making them. You will have no work, no pay and no bread. Your freedom is therefore being restricted for your own good.”

This objection comes under multiple forms. For example, it is said: “If we dress in English cloth, if we make our ploughs with English iron, if we slice our bread with English knives, if we wipe our hands on English napkins, what will become of French workers and national production?”

Workers, tell me, if a man stood in the port of Boulogne and said to each Englishman who came ashore: “If you will give me these English boots, I will give you this French hat?” Or “If you will let me have this English horse, I will give you this French Tilbury271?” Or “Will you trade this machine from Birmingham for this clock from Paris?” Or again “Does it suit you to trade this coal from Newcastle for this Champagne?” I ask you, assuming that our man exerted some judgment in his proposals, can we say that our national output, taken overall, would be affected?

Would it be more affected if there were twenty people offering services like this in Boulogne instead of one, if one million trades were being made instead of four and if traders and cash were brought in to facilitate them and increase their number infinitely?

Well, whether one country buys wholesale from another in order to sell retail or retail to sell wholesale, if the affair is followed right to its end, it will always be found that commerce is just a series of barter exchanges, products for products and services for services. Therefore, if one barter exchange does not damage national production since it implies an equal amount of national work given for the foreign work received, one hundred thousand million exchanges would not damage it to any greater extent.

But, you will say, where is the profit? The profit lies in making the best use of the resources of each country so that the same amount of work provides more satisfaction and well-being everywhere.

Some people use a strange tactic with you. They begin by agreeing that the free system is better than the prohibitive system, doubtless so as not to have to defend themselves on this subject.

Then they observe that in the transition from one system to the other there will be some displacement of labor.

Next, they will dwell on the suffering that this displacement will bring in its wake, according to them. They exaggerate it and magnify it and make it the prime subject in the matter; they present this suffering as the sole and final result of the reform and strive thus to win you over to the flag of monopoly.

Moreover, this is a tactic that has been used for all sorts of abuse, and one thing that I must acknowledge quite straightforwardly is that it always embarrasses those in favor of reform, even those reforms most useful to the people. You will soon understand why.

When an abuse exists, everything is organized around it.

Some people’s lives depend on it, others depend on these lives and still others depend on these latter ones, making a huge edifice.

If you try to lay a hand on it, everyone cries out and, note this well, those who shout loudest always appear at first sight to be right, as it is easier to show the disadvantages that accompany reform than the advantages that follow it.

Those in favor of the abuse quote specific facts; they name individuals and their suppliers and workers who will be upset, while the poor devil of a reformer can refer only to the general good which is due to spread gradually through the masses. This is far from having the same effect.

So, does the question of abolishing slavery arise? “You unfortunate people,” the black people are told, “who will feed you in the future? The foreman distributes lashes with his whip but he also distributes manioc.”

And the slaves miss their chains and ask themselves, “Where will I obtain manioc?”

They do not see that it is not the foreman who feeds them but their own work, which also feeds the foreman.

When the monasteries were reformed in Spain,272 the mendicants were told: “Where will you find soup and robes? The Prior is your Providence. Is it not very convenient to call upon him?”

And the mendicants said, “It is true. If the Prior goes away, we clearly see what we will be losing but not what will take his place.”

They were not mindful that although monasteries distributed alms they also lived on alms, to the extent that the people had to donate more than they received.

Workers, in just the same way, monopoly places imperceptible taxes on all of your shoulders and then, with the product of these taxes, it gives you work.

And your false friends tell you, “If there were no monopoly, who would give you work?”

To which you answer, “That is true, very true. The work provided to us by the monopolists is certain. The promises of freedom are uncertain.”

For you do not see that money is being squeezed out of you in the first instance and that subsequently you are being given back part of this money in return for your work.

You ask who will give you work? You will give each other work, for heaven’s sake! With the money that will no longer be taken from you, the shoemaker will dress better and will give work to the tailor. The tailor will replace his shoes more often and give work to the shoemaker. And so on for all of the trades.

It is said that with freedom there will be fewer workers in the mines and spinning mills.

I do not think so. But if that happened, of necessity there would be more people working freely at home or out in the sun.

For if the mines and spinning mills are supported only, as people say, with the help of the taxes imposed for their benefit on everyone, once these taxes are abolished, everyone will be better off and it is the prosperity of all that provides work for each person.

Forgive me if I linger awhile on this argument. I would so much like to see you on the side of freedom!

In France, the capital invested in industry produces, I suppose, 5 percent profit. But here is Mondor273 who has invested 100,000 fr. in a factory, which is losing 5 percent. The difference between loss and gain is 10,000 fr. What do people do? They spread among you very subtly a small tax of 10,000 fr., which they give to Mondor. You do not notice it because it is skillfully disguised. It is not the tax collector who comes to ask you for your share of the tax, but you pay it to Mondor, the ironmaster, each time you buy your axes, trowels and planes. You are then told: “If you do not pay this tax, Mondor will not provide any work and his workers, Jean and Jacques will be unemployed". Heavens above! If you were given back the tax, would you not put yourselves to work and even start your own buisnesses?

"And then, be reassured. When he no longer has this nice cushion of a higher price through taxes, Mondor will think up ways of converting his loss into profit and Jean and Jacques will not be dismissed. Then there will be a profit for all".

Perhaps you will dwell on this and say: “We understand that after the reform there will generally be more work than before, but in the meantime, Jean and Jacques will be on the street.”

To which I reply:

1. When work only shifts in order to increase, anyone who is ready and willing to work does not remain on the street for very long;

2. Nothing prevents the State from having a small reserve fund to cover any unemployment during the transition, although, for my part, I do not think it will happen;

3. Lastly, if in order to get out of the rut and achieve conditions that are better for everyone and above all more just, it is absolutely essential to face up to a few difficult moments and workers are ready for this, or I am mistaken in them. Please God, may entrepreneurs be able to do the same!

What then! Just because you are workers, are you not intelligent or morally upright? It seems that your alleged friends are forgetting this. Is it not surprising that they discuss a question like this in front of you, talking about wages and interests without once mentioning the word justice? They know, however, that protection is unjust. Why then do they lack the courage to warn you of this and say: “Workers, an iniquity is widespread in the country, but it benefits you and must be given support.” Why? Because they know that your answer will be “No”.

But it is not true that this iniquity benefits you. Let me have a few moments more of your attention, and see for yourselves.

What are we protecting in France? Things that are made by major entrepreneurs in huge factories; iron, coal, woolen cloth and fabric, and you are being told that this is not in the interest of the entrepreneurs but in yours, and in order to ensure that you have work.

However, each time that products made with foreign labor come into our market in a form that can cause you damage but which is useful to the major entrepreneurs, are they not allowed to enter?

Are there not thirty thousand Germans in Paris making suits and shoes?274 Why are they allowed to set up shop next to you, when cloth is being rejected? Because cloth is made in huge factories that belong to manufacturers who are also lawmakers. But suits are made at home by outworkers. These people do not want any competition for their changing wool into cloth because it is their trade, but they are all too willing to accept competition for the converting of cloth into suits because it is yours.

When the railways were built, English rails were rejected but English workers were brought in. Why? It is very simple; because English rails compete with the major factories and English labor competes only with yours.

We for our part do not ask for the expulsion of German tailors and English diggers. What we ask for is that cloth and rails be allowed to come in. We ask for justice for all and equality for all before the law!

It is laughable that they tell us that Customs restrictions have your benefit in mind. Tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, joiners, masons, blacksmiths, merchants, grocers, watchmakers, butchers, bakers, upholsterers and milliners, I challenge you to quote me one single instance where restriction benefits you, and whenever you want I will quote you four which cause you harm.

And, at the end of the day, see how credible is this self-sacrifice that your journals attribute to monopolists.

I believe that we can call the natural level of wages the one which is naturally established under the regime of freedom. When, therefore, you are told that trade restriction benefits you, it is as though you were being told that it adds a supplement to your natural wages. Well, an extra-natural supplement to wages has to come from somewhere; it does not fall from the moon, and it has to be taken from those who pay it.

You are thus led to the conclusion that, according to your alleged friends, protectionism was created and brought into the world so that capitalists could be sacrificed to the workers.

Tell me, is this likely?

Where then is your seat in the Chamber of Peers? When did you take your seat in the Palais Bourbon?275 Who has consulted you? Where did you get the idea of setting up protectionism?

I hear you reply: “It is not we who established it. Alas! We are neither peers, deputies nor Councilors of State. The capitalists were the ones who set it up”.

God in Heaven! They were very well disposed that day! What! The capitalists drew up the law and established the prohibitionist regime just so that you, the workers, might gain profit at their expense?

But here is something that is stranger still.

How is it that your alleged friends, who now talk to you about the goodness, generosity and self-denial of the capitalists, constantly plead with you not to take advantage of your political rights? From their point of view, what use could you make of them? The capitalists have the monopoly of legislation,276 that is true. Thanks to this monopoly, it is also true that they have allocated to themselves the monopoly of iron, cloth, canvas, coal, wood and meat. But now your alleged friends claim that by acting in this way, the capitalists have robbed themselves without being obliged to do so in order to enrich you without your having any right to this! Certainly, if you were electors and deputies you could not do a better job; you would not even do as well.

If the industrial organization that governs us is established in your interest, it is therefore deceitful to claim political rights for you, for these democrats of a new type will never extricate themselves from this dilemma: the law, drawn up by the bourgeoisie, gives you more or gives you less than your natural earnings. If it gives you less, they deceive you by asking you to support it. If it gives you more, they are still deceiving you by encouraging you to claim political rights, while the bourgeoisie are making sacrifices for you which you, in your honesty, would never dare to vote for.

Workers, please God that this article will not have the effect of sowing in your hearts the seeds of resentment against the wealthy classes! If interests that are badly understood or sincerely alarmed still support monopoly, let us not forget that it is rooted in the errors that are common to both capitalists and workers. Far from whipping them up against one another, let us work to bring them together. And what do we need to do to achieve this? If it is true that natural social tendencies contribute to abolishing inequality between men, all that is needed is to leave these tendencies to act, to remove the artificial obstructions that delay their effect and leave the relationships between the various classes to establish themselves on the principle of JUSTICE which, in my mind at least, is combined with the principle of FREEDOM.277


264 (Paillottet’s note) This chapter is taken from the issue of Le Courrier français dated 18th September 1846, whose columns were opened to the author to repel the attacks from L’Atelier. It was only two months later that the journal, Le Libre-Echange appeared. . [L'Atelier, was a respected monthly, written exclusively by workers, published from December 1840 to July 1850. In September 1846 it had been very critical of Cobden, the League, and the Free Trade Association founded by Bastiat in Bordeaux. See the glossary entry on "L'Atelier."]

265 Le Midi is the name given to the south of France. Like the U.S. at this time, France was divided into an agricultural, trade dependent south (which was sympathetic to free trade) and an industrial north which was inclined to protectionism. Advocates of free trade like Bastiat were often accused of being agents of “Perfidious Albion” which was pursuing a free trade policy after the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. See the glossary entry “Perfidious Albion.”

266 The words “meeting,” “free-trader,” “drawback,” and “budget” were all in English in the original text.

267 Richard Cobden (1804-65) was a successful textile manufacturer, Member of Parliament, and leader of the free trade Anti-Corn Law League. Cobden and Bastiat struck up a very friendly correspondence on the ideas and strategy of the free trade and peace movements in Britain and France which is reproduced in the Collected Works, vol. 1. See the glossary entry on "Cobden."

268 Lord George Bentinck (1802-1848) was a conservative Member of Parliament who with Benjamin Disraeli led the opposition in the House of Commons against Richard Cobden's and Sir Robert Peel's attempts to repeal the Corn Laws in 1846. See the glossary entry on "Bentinck."

269 “Perfidious Albion” (or faithless or deceitful England) was the disparaging name given to Britain by its French opponents. It probably dates from the 1790s, when the British monarchy subsidized the other monarchies of Europe in their struggle against the French Republic during the revolution. Bastiat makes fun of this name in a later Sophism by talking about “Perfidious Normandy.” See the glossary entry on “Perfidious Albion.” See ES2, XIII “Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates,” below, pp. ???.

270 The Civil List was an annual grant made by the State to the monarch for the maintenance and upkeep of his estates and property. In 1791 Louis XVI received fr. 25 million; in the Restoration Louis XVIII received fr. 34 million and Charles X fr. 32 million. Louis Philippe, the new July Monarch after the 1830 Revolution, was granted fr. 12 million per year for himself and fr. 1 million for the Prince, by the law of 2 March 1832. According to the budget of 1848 (the last before the February Revolution of 1848 overthrew the monarchy) fr. 13.3 million was set aside for the Civil List. See Annuaire de l'économie politique, (1848), p. 29. See the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

271 A tilbury is a open, two-wheeled carriage which was designed and built by the London coach builders Tilbury in the early 19th century.

272 The dissolution of monasteries in Spain had a complex history in the 19th century. The Constitution of 1812 suppressed religious organizations and confiscated their property. The restored King Ferdinand re-established them in 1814, but the Cortes in 1820 suppressed them once again with the exception of a handful which continued to provide shelter to the sick and old. The French restored Ferdinand III to the crown in 1823 who promptly overturned the Cortes' law. In 1835 and 1836 there was yet another dissolution of the monasteries and their property was confiscated or sold off. This was similar to the treatment of religious institutions during the early years of the French Revolution.

273 Mondor is one of the many names Bastiat uses in his constructed dialogues, See the glossary entry “Mondor.”

274 As Bastiat notes, there were many Germans living and working in Paris to take advantage of the economic size of the market (Paris with about 1 million inhabitants was one of the largest cities in Europe at the time) and the relatively greater freedoms (such as freedom of speech) compared to many German cities which cracked down on the radical press. Ironically, just before Bastiat moved to Paris the socialist Karl Marx moved there from Cologne to start a new radical newspaper. He lived in Paris between 1843 and 1845 where he met Friedrich Engels.

275 The Palais Bourbon was built by Louis XIV in 1722 for his daughter Louise Françoise. It is located on the Quai d'Orsay in Paris. It was confiscated during the revolution (1791) and has been the location for the Chamber of Deputies since the Restoration. See “The Chamber of Deputies and Elections” in Appendix 2 “The French State and Politics.”

276 After 1839 there were 460 members of the Chamber of Deputies who were elected for a term of 5 years. Suffrage was limited to those who paid an annual tax of fr. 200 and were over the age of 25; and only those who paid fr. 500 in tax and were over the age of 30 could stand for election. The taxes which determined eligibility were direct taxes on land, poll taxes, and the taxes on residence, doors, windows, and businesses. By the end of the Restoration (1830) only 89,000 tax payers were eligible to vote. Under the July Monarchy this number rose to 166,000 and by 1846 this had risen again to 241,000. In the late 1840s France had a population of about 36 million people. The February Revolution of 1848 introduced universal manhood suffrage (21 years or older) and the Constituent Assembly (April 1848) had 900 members (minimum age of 25). See the glossary entry on “The Chamber of Deputies.”

277 (Paillottet’s note) See the sharp polemic against various journals in volume 2. [DMH - Vol. 2 Le Libre-Échange of the OC contained articles from the weekly journal which Bastiat edited for the Free Trade Association. Many of them were polemics he engaged in against pro-protectionist journals such as Le Moniteur industriel, le Journal des Débats, Le Constitutionnel, La Presse, Le Commerce, L'Esprit public, le National. The more free trade press included journals such as le Courrier français, le Siècle, la Patrie, l'Époque, la Réforme, la Démocratie pacifique, l'Atelier (see p. 92 for Bastiat's list). See “French Newspapers” in Appendix 2 “The French State ad Politics.”


VII. A Chinese Tale [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Conte chinois” (A Chinese Tale) [no date given].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 182-87.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


People are crying out at the greed and selfishness of this century!

For my part, I see that the world, and especially Paris, is peopled with so many Deciuses278.

Open the thousand volumes, the thousand journals and the thousand literary and scientific articles that publishers in Paris spew out over the country every day; is all this not the work of little saints?

What verve is used to paint the vices of our day! What touching tenderness is shown for the masses! With what liberality are the rich invited to share with the poor, if not the poor to share with the rich! How many plans for social reform, social progress and social organizations are put forward! Is there a writer, however humble, who does not devote himself to the well-being of the working classes? All you need is to give them an advance of a few écus for them to purchase the time to indulge in their humanitarian lucubrations.

And then we dare to speak of the selfishness and individualism of our time!

There is nothing that is not claimed to be serving the well-being and moral improvement of the people, nothing, not even the Customs Service. Perhaps you believe that this is a tax machine, like city tolls or like the toll booth at the end of the bridge? Not at all. It is an institution that is essentially civilizing, fraternal and egalitarian. What can you do? It is the fashion. You have to instill or pretend to instill sentiment and sentimentalism everywhere, even in the inspection booth with its “anything to declare?”.

But to achieve these philanthropic aspirations, the Customs Service, it must be admitted, has some strange procedures.

It sets up an army279 of managers, deputy managers, inspectors, deputy inspectors, controllers, checkers, customs collectors, heads, deputy heads, agents, supernumeraries, aspiring supernumeraries and those aspiring to become aspirants, not counting those on active service, and all of this to succeed in exercising on the productive output of the people the negative action summarized by the word prevent.

Note that I do not say tax, but quite precisely prevent.

And prevent, not those acts condemned by tradition nor those that are contrary to public order, but transactions that are agreed to be innocent and even such as to encourage peace and union between peoples.

Humanity, however, is so flexible and adaptable that, in one way or another, it always overcomes such impediments. This requires additional work.

If a people are prevented from bringing in their food from abroad, they produce it at home. This is more difficult, but they have to live. If they are prevented from crossing the valley, they go over the peaks. This takes longer, but they have to get there.

This is sad, but there is something pleasant about it too. When the law has created a certain number of obstacles in this way, and when in order to circumvent them humanity has diverted a corresponding amount of work, you have no right to demand a reform to the law, for, if you point out the obstacle, you will be shown the amount of work it gives rise to and if you say: “That is not created work but diverted work”, you will be given the answer published in L’Esprit Public: “Impoverishment alone is certain and immediate; as for enrichment, it is more than hypothetical.”280

This reminds me of a Chinese tale, which I will now tell you.

Once upon a time, there were two major towns in China, Chin and Chan. They were linked by a magnificent canal. The Emperor thought it a good thing to throw huge boulders into it to make it unusable.

When he saw this, Kouang, his Prime Mandarin, said to him: “Son of Heaven, you are making a mistake.”

To which the Emperor replied: “Kouang, you are talking nonsense.”

You will understand, of course, that I am reporting only the gist of the conversation.

Three moons later, the Heavenly Emperor called the mandarin and said to him: “Kouang, look at this.”

And Kouang, opening his eyes wide, looked.

And he saw, some distance from the canal a host of men working. Some were digging, others were filling, this group was leveling and that one paving, and the highly literate mandarin said to himself: “They are making a road.”

After a further three moons, the Emperor called Kouang and said to him: “Look!”

And Kouang looked.

And he saw that the road had been finished and he noted that all along the way, from one end to the other, inns had been built. A host of pedestrians, carts and palanquins were going to and fro and countless Chinese, worn out with fatigue, carried heavy burdens hither and thither from Chin to Chan and from Chan to Chin. And Kouang said to himself: “It is the destruction of the canal that is giving work to these poor people”. However the notion that this work has been diverted from other employment did not occur to him.

And three moons passed and the emperor said to Kouang: “Look!”

And Kouang looked.

And he saw that the inns were constantly full of travelers and that, as these travelers were hungry, shops for butchers, bakers, pork butchers and sellers of swallows’ nests had grown up around them. And as these honest artisans could not remain unclothed, tailors, shoemakers, the sellers of parasols and fans also set up shop, and since nobody could sleep in the open, even in the Heavenly Empire, carpenters, masons and roofers had migrated there too. Then came police officers, judges and fakirs; in a word, a town grew up with suburbs around each hostelry.

And the Emperor said to Kouang: “What do you think of this?”

And Kouang replied: “I would never have believed that the destruction of a canal could create so much work for the people”, for it never occurred to him that this was not created work but diverted work, that travelers ate when they journeyed along the canal just as much as they later did when forced to go by road.

However, to the great astonishment of the Chinese, the Emperor died, and this Son of Heaven was laid in the ground.

His successor summoned Kouang and said to him: “Clear the canal.”

And Kouang said to the new Emperor: “Son of Heaven, you are making a mistake.”

To which the Emperor replied: “Kouang, you are talking nonsense.”

But Kouang persisted and said: “Sire, what is your intention?”

“My intention”, said the Emperor, “is to facilitate the traffic of people and goods between Chin and Chan, to make transport less expensive so that the people obtain tea and clothing more cheaply.”

But Kouang was prepared for this. He had received a few issues of Le Moniteur industriel,281 a Chinese journal, the previous day. Having learnt his lesson well, he requested permission to reply and, having received it, after bowing his forehead to the parquet floor nine times, he said:

“Sire, you are aiming, by facilitating transport, to reduce the cost of consumer products in order to make them affordable by the people, and to do this, you have begun by removing from them all the work that the destruction of the canal had generated. Sire, in political economy, nominally low prices282 … The Emperor interrupted: “I think you are reciting from memory.” Kouang said: “That is true. It would be easier for me to read.” And, unfolding L’Esprit Public, he read:

“In political economy, nominal cheapness of consumer products is a secondary matter. The problem lies in a balance between the price of work and that of the objects that are necessary to life. Abundance of work is the wealth of nations and the best economic system is the one that gives them the greatest amount of work possible. Do not ask whether it is better to pay 4 cash units or 8 cash units for a cup of tea or 5 taels or 10 taels for a shirt. These are childish considerations that are unworthy of a serious mind. No one queries your proposition. The question is to determine whether it is better to pay more for products and, through the abundance and higher price of work, have more means to acquire them or whether it is better to reduce the opportunities for work, diminish the total amount of national production283, transport consumer products more cheaply by water, admittedly at lower cost, but at the same time deny some of our workers the possibility of buying them, even at these reduced prices.”

As the Emperor was not fully convinced, Kouang said to him: “Sire, deign to wait awhile. I can also quote from Le Moniteur industriel.”

But the Emperor cut him short:

“I have no need of your Chinese journals to know that to create obstacles is to shift labor from one side to another. This, however, is not my mission. Go on, clear the canal. Then we will reform the Customs Service.”

And Kouang went away, tearing out his beard and crying: “Oh Fô! Oh Pê! Oh Lî! And all the monosyllabic and circumflexed gods in Cathay, take pity on your people, for we have been given an Emperor of the English School284 and I can see that, in a little while, we will be short of everything, because we will no longer have any need to make anything.”


278 [Publius Decius Mus was a Roman consul and a military leader. When his legion was on the verge of defeat, in 340 BC, he invoked the gods and hurled himself into the enemy ranks. He was killed but assured the victory of the legion. His son and grandson, of the same name, followed his example respectively in 295 and 279.]

279 Horace Say also calls those who work for the Customs Service “une armée considérable” (a sizable army) which numbered 27,727 individuals (1852 figures). This army is composed of two “divisions” - one of administrative personnel (2,536) and the other of “agents on active service” (24,727). See Horace Say, “Douane”, DEP, vol. 1, pp. 578-604 (figures from p. 597). According to the Budget papers for 1848 the Customs Service collected fr. 202 million in customs duties and salt taxes and their administrative and collection costs totalled fr. 26.4 million or 13% of the amount collected. See the Appendix “French Government Finances 1848-1849.”

280 L’Esprit public was a journal founded by Guy Lesseps in 1845 which merged with La Patrie in 1846. La Patrie supported the constitutional monarchy but was a strong critic of François Guizot.

281 Le Moniteur industriel was the journal of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) founded by Mimerel de Roubaix in 1846. See the glossary entries on “Le Moniteur industriel,” “Mimerel,” and “Association for the Defense of National Employment”.

282 See ES1 XI “Nominal Prices” for a fuller discussion of this matter, above pp. ???

283 Bastiat uses the word “population” here but this is obviously an error. it should be “production.”

284 It is not certain when this sophism was written but Bastiat is referring here to the free trading English school of politicians and political economists who successfully abolished the protectionist “corn laws” in England in May 1846. See the glossary entry on “Anti-Corn Law League,” and “The Corn Laws.”


VIII. Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc 285 286 [6 December 1846] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” (Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc) [Le Libre-Échange, 6 December 1846].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 187-89.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


The most common and most erroneous lines of reasoning.

Genuine suffering is appearing in England.

This fact follows two others:

1. The reform of tariffs;287

2. The loss of two successive harvests.288

To which of these last two circumstances should the first be attributed?

Protectionists do not fail to cry: “It is this cursed freedom that is doing all the harm. It promised us milk and honey; we welcomed it, and see how the factories are closing and the people are suffering: Cum hoc, ergo propter hoc.289

Commercial freedom distributes the fruit provided by Providence for the work of man in the most uniform and equitable way possible. If this fruit is removed in part by a plague, it no less governs the proper distribution of what remains. People are doubtless less well provided for, but should freedom be blamed for this or the plague?

Freedom acts on the same principle as insurance. When an accident happens, it distributes over a great number of people, over many years damage that, without insurance, would fall on one nation and one time. Well, has anyone ever thought of saying that fire has ceased to be a plague since the advent of insurance?

In 1842, 1843 and 1844, taxes began to be reduced in England.290 At the same time, harvests there were plentiful, and we came to think that these two circumstances contributed to the unheard of prosperity observed in this country during this period.

In 1845 there was a bad harvest; in 1846, it was worse still.

The price of food increased; the people spent their savings to feed themselves and restricted their other expenditure. Clothing was in less demand, the factories less busy and pay showed a tendency to decrease. Happily, in this same year, as restrictive barriers had once again been lowered, an enormous mass of foodstuffs was able to come on the English market. Without this circumstance, it is almost certain that a terrible revolution would have spilt blood in Great Britain.

And yet people come forward to accuse freedom of the disasters that it prevents and puts right, at least in part!

A poor leper lived in solitude. Whatever he touched, nobody else wanted to touch. Reduced to meeting his own needs, he led a miserable existence in this world. A great doctor cured him. Here now, we have our hermit in full possession of freedom to trade. What fine prospects opened out before him! He delighted in calculating the fine share that, thanks to his relationships with other men, he would be able to earn through his strong arms. He then broke both of them. Alas! His fate was even more terrible. The journalists in this country who witnessed his misery, said: “See what the freedom to trade has done to him! Truly, he was less to be pitied when he lived alone”. “What!”, exclaimed the doctor, “Do you not take any account of his two broken arms? Have they had no part to play in his sad fate? His misfortune is to have lost his arms, and not to have been cured of leprosy. He would be much more to be pitied if he were armless and a leper to crown it all.”

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc: be suspicious of this sophism.


285 (Paillottet’s note) Taken from the issue of Le Libre-Echange dated 6th December 1846

286 The Latin phrase "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" (after this, therefore because of this) is a kind of logical fallacy relating to causation, by asserting that because some event A happened after event B, then event B caused event A to happen.

287 Richard Cobden and other free trade reformers in the Anti-Corn League were successful in June 1846 in getting the British Parliament to repeal the protectionist Corn laws. This repeal was to take effect gradually over a period of 3 years. See the glossary entries on "Cobden" and “Anti-Corn Law League,” and “The Corn Laws.”

288 This a reference to the failure of the potato crop in Ireland, known as the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852. This was caused by a disease which affected the potato crop (potato blight) and resulted in the deaths of 1 to 1.5 million people from famine and the emigration of a further million people out of a population of around 7 million. In addition to the failure of the potato crop there were other serious problems which were of concern, including the situation of tenant farmers unable to pay their rents, the continued export of food from Ireland during the famine, and restrictions on the free import of food from elsewhere in Europe. The latter issue was taken up by members of the Anti-Corn Law League in England when campaigning for the abolition of tariff restrictions on grain, which they achieved in 1846.

289 The Latin phrase "cum hoc, ergo propter hoc" (with this, therefore because of this) is a kind of logical fallacy relating to causation, by asserting that because some event A happened at the same time as event B, then event B caused event A to happen.

290 Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) was the British Prime Minister in 1841 and introduced a series of economic reforms (he cut the rate of tariff on hundreds of items after 1842) which led to the abolition of the protectionist Corn Laws in May 1846. See the glossary entries on “Peel” and “Anti-Corn Law League,” and “The Corn Laws.”


IX. Theft by Subsidy291 [January 1846] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Le vol à la prime” (Theft by Subsidy) [Journal des Économistes, January 1846, T. XIII, pp. 115-120].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 189-98.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


People find my small volume of Sophisms too theoretical, scientific and metaphysical. So be it. Let us try a mundane, banal and, if necessary, brutal style. Since I am convinced that the general public are easily taken in as far as protection is concerned, I wanted to prove it to them. They prefer to be shouted at. So let us shout:

Midas, King Midas has ass’s ears!292

An explosion of plain speaking often has more effect than the politest circumlocutions. Do you remember Oronte and the difficulty that the Misanthropist293, as misanthropic as he is, has in convincing him of his folly?

Alceste: We risk playing the wrong character.

Oronte: Are you trying to tell me by that that I am wrong in wanting …

Alceste: I am not saying that, but …

Oronte: Do I write badly?

Alceste: I am not saying that, but in the end …

Oronte: But can I not know what there is in my sonnet …?

Alceste: Frankly it is fit to be flushed away.

Frankly, my good people, you are being robbed. That is plain speaking but at least it is clear.

The words, theft, to steal and thief seem to many people to be in bad taste.294 Echoing the words of Harpagon to Elise295, I ask them: Is it the word or the thing that makes you afraid?

“Whosoever has fraudulently taken something that does not belong to him is guilty of theft.” (Penal Code, Article 379).

To steal: To take something furtively or by force (The Dictionary of the Academy).

Thief: A person who exacts more than is due to him. (Ditto)296

Well, is not a monopolist who, through a law he has drafted, obliges me to pay him 20 fr. for something I can buy elsewhere for 15, fraudulently taking away 5 fr. that belongs to me?

Is he not taking it furtively or by force?

Is he not exacting more than is due to him?

He withdraws, takes or exacts, people will say, but not furtively or by force, which is what characterizes theft.

When our tax forms show a charge of 5 fr. for the subsidy that is withdrawn, taken or exacted by the monopolist, what can be more furtive, since so few of us suspect it? And for those who are not taken in by it, what can be more forced, since at the first refusal we have the bailiffs at our heels?

Anyway let monopolists rest assured. Theft by subsidy or tariff does not violate the law, although it transgresses equity as much as highway robbery does; this type of theft, on the contrary is carried out by law. This makes it worse but does not lead to the magistrate’s court.

Besides, whether we like it or not, we are all robbers and robbed in this connection. It is useless for the author of this volume to cry thief when he makes a purchase, the same could be shouted at him when he sells297; if he differs considerably from his fellow countrymen, it is only in this respect: he knows that he loses more than he gains in this game, and they do not know this; if they did, the game would cease in a very short time.

What is more, I do not boast that I am the first to give this situation its real name. More than sixty years ago, Smith said:298

“When businessmen get together, we can expect a conspiracy to be woven against the pockets of the general public.”

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the publick, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”299 Should we be surprised at this, since the general public pays no attention to it?

Well then, an assembly of businessmen officially has discussions under the authority of the General Councils.300 What goes on there and what is decided upon?

Here is a highly abridged version of the minutes of a meeting.

A SHIP OWNER: Our fleet is on the ropes (aggressive interruption). This is not surprising because I cannot build without iron. I can certainly find it at 10 fr. on the world market but, according to the law, French ironmasters force me to pay them 15 fr.; therefore 5 fr. is being taken from me. I demand the freedom to buy wherever I like.

AN IRONMASTER: On the world market, I can find transport at 20 fr. By law, ship owners demand 30 for this; they are therefore taking 10 fr. from me. They are looting me, so I loot them, and everything is just fine.

A STATESMAN: The ship ship-owner’s conclusion is very rash. Oh! Let us cultivate the touching unity which gives us our strength; if we remove one iota of the theory of protectionism, the entire theory will go by the board.

THE SHIP OWNER: But protection has failed us; I repeat that the fleet is on the ropes.

A SAILOR: Well then! Let us raise a surtax and let ship owners who take 30 from the public for freight take 40.

A MINISTER: The government will push the excellent device of the surtax to the limit, but I am afraid that it will not be enough.301.

A CIVIL SERVANT: You are all worrying about nothing. Does our salvation lie only in tariffs, and are you forgetting taxation? If consumers are generous, taxpayers are no less so. Let us burden them with taxes, and let ship owners be satisfied. I propose a subsidy of 5 fr. to be taken from public taxes to be handed over to builders for each quintal of iron they use.

Mixed cries: Hear! Hear! A farmer: Let me have a subsidy of 3 fr. per hectoliter of wheat! A weaver: Let me have a subsidy of 2 fr. per meter of cloth! etc. etc.

THE CHAIRMAN: This is what has been agreed. Our meeting has given birth to the system of subsidies and this will be its eternal gory. What industry will be able to make a loss in the future, since we have two very simple means of changing losses into profits: Tariffs and subsidies? The meeting is at an end.”

Some supernatural vision must have shown me in a dream the next apparition of the subsidy (who knows even whether I had not put the thought into the mind of Mr. Dupin302) when I wrote the following words a few months ago:

“It seems obvious to me that protection, without changing either its nature and effects, might have taken the form of a direct tax levied by the State and distributed as indemnity subsidies to privileged industries.”

And, after comparing protectionist duties with subsidies:

“I admit frankly my preference for the latter system. It seems to me to be more just, more economic and fairer. More just because if society wants to give handouts to a few of its members, everyone has to contribute; more economic because it would save a great deal of collection costs and would cause a great many obstructions to disappear and finally, fairer since the public would see clearly how the operation worked and what they were being made to do.”303

Since the opportunity has so kindly been offered to us, let us examine theft by subsidy. What can be said of it applies just as well to theft by tariffs, and while theft by tariffs is slightly better disguised, direct filching304 will help us understand indirect filching. The mind moves forward in this way from the simple to the compound.

What then! Is there no type of theft that is simpler still? Oh, yes, there is highway robbery: all it needs is to be legalized, monopolized or, as we say nowadays, organized.305

Well, this is what I have read in a traveler’s account306:

“When we arrived in the kingdom of A, all branches of production claimed to be in difficulty. Agriculture wailed, manufacturing complained, commerce grumbled, shipping groused and the government did not know whom to listen to. First of all, it thought of levying heavy taxes on all those who were discontented and handing out the product of these taxes to them after taking its share: that would have been a lottery, just as in our beloved Spain. There are a thousand of you, the State will take one piastre from each of you; it then subtly pilfers 250 piastres and distributes 750 in lots that vary in size between the players. Forgetting that he has given a whole piastre, the upright Hidalgo who receives three-quarters of a piastre, cannot contain his joy and runs off to spend his fifteen reals in the bar. This would have been similar to what is happening in France. Be that as it may, as barbarous as this country was, the government did not think that its inhabitants were stupid enough to accept such strange forms of protection, so it thought up the following scheme.

The country was criss-crossed with roads. The government measured them accurately and said to the farmers: “Everything that you can steal from passers-by between these two posts is yours; let it serve as a subsidy , protection and motivation for you.” It then assigned to each manufacturer and ship owner a section of road to exploit in accordance with this formula:

Dono tibi et concedo 307 [I give to you and I grant]
Virtutem et puissantiam [virtue and power]
Volandi [to steal]
Pillandi [to plunder]
Derobandi [to filch]
Filoutandi [to swindle]
Et escroquandi [to defraud]
Impune per totam istam [At will, along this whole]
Viam [road] 308

"Well, it so happened that the natives of the kingdom of A. are now so familiar with this regime and so accustomed to take account only of what they steal and not of what is stolen from them, so essentially inclined to regarding pillage only from the point of view of the pillager, that they see the tally of all individual thefts as profits to the nation and refuse to abandon a system of protection outside of which, they say, there is no form of production capable of surviving.”

Are you astounded? It is not possible, you say, that an entire nation should agree to see what the inhabitants steal from one another as an increase in wealth.

Why not? We are certainly convinced of this in France, and every day we organize and perfect here the mutual theft that goes under the name of subsidies and protective tariffs.

Even so, let us not exaggerate. Let us agree that viewed from the angle of the method of collection and taking account of the collateral circumstances, the system in the kingdom of A. might be worse than ours, but let us also say that as far as the principles and necessary effects are concerned, there is not an atom of difference between all these types of theft that are legally organized to provide additional profit to producers.

Note that if highway robbery has several disadvantages as to its execution, it also has advantages that are absent from theft by tariffs.

For example: with highway robbery, an equitable share can be given to all the producers. This is not so for customs duties. These by their very nature are powerless to protect certain sectors of society, such as artisans, merchants, men of letters, lawyers, soldiers, odd-job men, etc. etc.

It is true that theft by subsidy also provides opportunities for an infinite number of subdivisions, and from this angle it is no less perfect than highway robbery. On the other hand, however, it often leads to such strange, idiotic results that the native inhabitants of the kingdom of A. might very justifiably laugh at them.

What the person robbed loses in highway robbery is gained by the robber. At least the object stolen remains in the country. However, under the sway of theft by subsidy, what is taken from the French is often given to the Chinese, the Hottentots, the Kaffirs or the Algonquins, in the following way:

A piece of cloth is worth one hundred francs in Bordeaux. It is impossible to sell it below this price without making a loss. It is impossible to sell it for more because competition between merchants prevents this. In these circumstances, if a Frenchman comes forward to obtain this cloth, he has to pay one hundred francs or do without it. But if an Englishman comes along, then the government intervenes and says to the seller: “Sell your cloth and I will see that you are given twenty francs by the taxpayers. The merchant, who does not want nor is able to obtain more than one hundred francs for his cloth, hands it over to the Englishman for 80 francs. This sum, added to the 20 francs, produced from the theft by subsidy, makes his price exactly. It is exactly as though taxpayers had given 20 francs to the Englishman on condition that he buys French cloth at a discount of 20 francs, at 20 francs below production cost and 20 francs below what it costs us ourselves. Therefore, theft by subsidy has this particular characteristic, that those robbed are in the country that tolerates it and the robbers are spread out over the surface of the globe.

It is truly miraculous that the following proposition continues to be held as proven: Anything that an individual steals from the whole is a general profit. Perpetual motion, the philosopher’s stone or the squaring of the circle have fallen into oblivion, but the theory of Advancement through theft is still in fashion. However, a priori, we might have thought that of all forms of childishness, this is the least viable.

There are some who tell us: “Are you then in favor of laissez passer?309 Economists of the outdated school of Smith and Say? Do you therefore not want work to be organized?”310 Well, Sirs, organize work as much as you like. We, for our part, will see that you do not organize theft.

A greater number repeat: “Subsidies and tariffs have all been used excessively. They have to be used without being abused. Wise freedom combined with a moderate form of protection is what is being claimed by serious and practical men.311 Let us beware of absolute principles.312

According to the Spanish traveler, this is precisely what was being said in the kingdom of A. “Highway robbery”, said the wise men, “ is neither good not bad; it all depends on the circumstances. It is just a question of weighting things correctly and paying us, the civil servants, for the work involved in this moderation. Perhaps too much latitude has been given to pillage and perhaps not enough. Let us look at, examine and weigh in the balance the accounts of each worker. To those who do not earn enough, we will give an extra length of road to exploit. To those who earn too much, we will reduce the hours, days or months of pillage.”

Those who said these things acquired a great reputation for moderation, prudence and wisdom. They never failed to attain the highest positions in the State.

As for those who said: “Let us repress all injustices as well as the lesser forms of injustice. Let us not tolerate theft, half-theft or quarter-theft”, these were taken for ideologues, boring dreamers always repeating the same thing. The people, in any case, find their reasoning too easy to understand. How can you believe what is so simple?


291 (Paillottet’s note) Taken from the issue of Le Journal des Economistes dated January 1846.

292 This might also be translated as “The Emperor has no clothes!” King Midas was ruler of the Greek kingdom of region Phrygia (in modern day Turkey) sometime on the 8th century BC. According to legend, after he had been granted the power to turn anything he touched into gold, he became disillusioned and retired to the country where he fell in love with Pan’s flute music. In a competition between Pan and Apollo to see who played the best music King Midas chose Pan’s flute over Apollo’s lyre. Apollo was so incensed at the tin ears of Midas he turned them into the ears of a donkey.

293 This is a scene, in highly truncated form, from Molière’s play The Misanthrope (1666), Act I Scene II. Alceste is a misanthrope who is trying to tell Oronte, a foolish nobleman, that his verse is poorly written and worthless. After many attempts at avoiding the answer with circumlocutions Alceste finally says that “Franchement, il est bon à metre au cabinet” (frankly, it is only good to be thrown into the toilet). Théatre complet de J.-B. Poquelin de Molière, publié par D. Jouast en huit volumes avec la preface de 1682, annotée par G. Monval, vol. 4 (Paris: Librairie des bibliophiles, 1882), p. 86. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

294 Bastiat uses a variety of words in his attempt to speak plainly and brutally in this chapter. Here is a list with our preferred translation for each: "dépouiller"(to dispossess), "spolier" (to plunder), "voler" (to steal), "piller" (to loot or pillage), "filouter" (filching); and variants such as "le vol de grand chemin" (highway robbery). See “Plain Speaking” in the "Note on the Translation" for details.

295 From Molière’s play L’Avare (The Miser) (1668). The miserly moneylender, Harpagon, asks his daughter, Elise, who wishes to get away from the family by marrying Valère, whether she fears the fact of marriage or the word “marriage”. She is more concerned about her father not taking into account their love for each other but only financial concerns. Théatre complet de J.-B. Poquelin de Molière, publié par D. Jouast en huit volumes avec la preface de 1682, annotée par G. Monval, vol. 6 (Paris: Librairie des bibliophiles, 1892), Act I, Scene IV, p. 23. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

296 Bastiat provides an accurate but somewhat truncated definition from the 6th edition of 1835 of the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française. The full definition of "to steal" is "Prendre furtivement ou par force la chose d'autrui, pour se l'approprier" (to take furtively or by force something belonging to another in order to appropriate it for oneself); and of "thief", definition 1 "Celui, celle qui a volé, ou qui vole habituellement" (someone who has stolen or who steals habitually) (not quoted by Bastiat), or definition 2 "Celui qui exige plus qu'il ne devrait demander" (someone who demands more than he ought to demand). See Dictionnaire de l'Académie française (Paris: Didot frères, 1835. 6e édition). Online at The ARTFL Project. Dictionnaires d'autrefois. <>.

297 (Bastiat's note) Since he owns some land, which provides him with a living, he belongs to the class of the protected. This circumstance should disarm critics. It shows that, where he uses harsh expressions, it is against the thing itself and not against people’s intentions. [DMH - letter in vol. 1 where FB expresses doubt about justice of his family’s land holdings???] [Letter to Paillottet, 11 october, 1850, OC vol. 1, p. 280.]

298 Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment and one of the founders of modern economic thought with his work The Wealth of Nations (1776). An important French edition of the Wealth of Nations was published by Guillaumin with notes and commentary by leading French economists such as Blanqui, Garnier, Sismondi, and Say and appeared in 1843. See the glossary entry on “Smith.”

299 This is a colourful but not accurate translation by Bastiat of Smith's well-known comment about what people in the same business do when they get together: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the publick, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” It comes from Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Vol. I ed. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner, vol. II of the Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981). I.x.c., Part II: Inequalities occasioned by the Policy of Europe. </title/220/217407/2313110>. However, Smith on a couple of occasions did refer to governments taking money out of the pockets of taxpayers as the following quotation shows: "Those modes of taxation, by stamp–duties and by duties upon registration, are of very modern invention. In the course of little more than a century, however, stamp–duties have, in Europe, become almost universal, and duties upon registration extremely common. There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people." From Wealth of Nations, V. ii. h, Appendix to articles i and ii: Taxes upon the Capital Value of Lands, Houses, and Stock. </title/200/217522/2316719>. This might be another example of Bastiat quoting from memory and conflating two different passages by Smith.

300 The General Councils for Commerce (1802), Manufacturing (1810), and Agriculture (1819) were set up within the Ministry of the Interior to bring together commercial, manufacturing, and agricultural elites to advise the government and to comment on legislation. Their membership came from either members of the chambers of commerce and industry or by appointment by the minister concerned. See the glossary entry on "General Councils."

301 (Bastiat's note) Here is the text: “I will again quote the customs laws dated 9th and 11th June last, whose object is in the main to encourage long-distance shipping by increasing the surtaxes attached to foreign flags on several articles. Our customs laws, as you know, are generally aimed at this object and gradually, the surtax of 10 francs, established by the law dated 28th April 1816 and often inadequate, is disappearing to give way to … more effective protection, which is in closer harmony with the relatively high cost of our shipping.” This word disappearing is priceless. (The opening speech of Mr. Cunin-Gridaine, in the meeting on 15th December 1845). [DMH - We have not been able to find the source of this reference.] Laurent Cunin-Gridaine (1778-1859) was a very successful textile manufacturer who was Minister for Trade from 1840 to 1848 and a strong supporter of protection for the textile industry. See the glossary entry on “Cunin-Gridaine.”

302 Charles Dupin (1784-1873) was a pioneer in mathematical economics and worked for the statistical office of France. In 1828 he was elected deputy for Tarn, was made a Peer in 1830, and served in the Constituent and then the National Assemblies during the Second Republic. See the glossary entry on “Dupin.”

303 (Bastiat's note) Chapter V of the first series of Economic Sophisms, pages 49 and 50.

304 Here Bastiat uses more of a slang word, "le filoutage" from the verb "filouter" (to filch, swipe, or rob). We translate it here as "filching".

305 Bastiat is referring to one of the commonly used socialist slogans of the mid-1840s, namely "organization" (the organization of labor advocated by Blanc) and "association" (cooperative living and working arrangements advocated by Fourier). See the glossary entry on "Association and Organization."

306 This is invented by Bastiat in order to display one of his cleverest parodies which is a parody of Molière’s parody of 17th century doctors. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

307 This pseudo latin is partly made from French words. We provide a translation in brackets.

308 Bastiat is making a parody of Molière’s parody of the granting of a degree of doctor of medicine in the last play he wrote Le malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid, or the Hypocondriac) (1673). Molière had a very low opinion of the practice of 17th century medicine with its purges and use of leeches. The play ends with an elaborate dance of doctors and apothecaries (and would be doctors) in which a new doctor is inducted into the fraternity. Most of the dialog is in Latin, including the swearing in of the new doctor (Bachelierus) by Praeses who says: “Ego, cum isto boneto / Venerabili et doctor, / Don tibi et concedo / Virtutem et puissanciam / Medicandi, / Purgandi, / Seignandi, / Perçandi, / Taillandi, / Coupandi, / Et occidendi / Impune per total terram.” This might be loosely translated as (thanks to Arthur Goddard’s excellent translation in the FEE edition, p. 194): “I give and grant you / Power and authority to / Practice medicine, / Purge, / Bleed, / Stab, / Hack, / Slash, / and Kill / With impunity / Throughout the whole world.” See Théatre complet de J.-B. Poquelin de Molière, publié par D. Jouast en huit volumes avec la preface de 1682, annotée par G. Monval, vol. 8 (Paris: Librairie des bibliophiles, 1883), Third Interlude, p. 286. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

309 This is the second half of the Physiocrats’ policy advice to the government, “laissez-faire, laissez-passer” (let us be free to do what we will and to be free to go wherever we will) See the glossary entries on the “Physiocrats,” “Laissez-faire,” “Adam Smith,” and “Jean-Baptiste Say.”

310 The rallying cry of many socialists in the 1840s was that workers and factories be “organized” by the state and not be left to the uncertainties of the free market. See the glossary entry on “Association and Organization.”

311 See also ES3 XI “The Specialists” below, pp. ???

312 See also ES1 XVIII “The are no Absolute Details” above, pp. ???


X. The Tax Collector [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Le percepteur” (The Tax Collector) [no date given].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 198-203.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


Jacques Bonhomme,313 Wine producer
Mr. Blockhead,314 Tax Collector

Blockhead:315 You have harvested twenty barrels of wine?

Bonhomme: Yes, with much trouble and sweat.

Blockhead: Be so good as to deliver six of the best ones.

Bonhomme: Six barrels316 out of twenty! Good heavens! Do you want to ruin me? To what use are you going to put them, if you please?

Blockhead: The first will be sent to the creditors of the State. When we have debts, the least we can do is to pay them interest.

Bonhomme: And where has the capital gone?317

Blockhead: It would take too long to tell you. Part in the past was placed into cartridges that produced the finest smoke in the world. Another part paid the men who were crippled on foreign soil after having ravaged it. Then, when this expenditure had attracted to our country our friends the enemy, they refused to leave without taking money, which had to be borrowed.

Bonhomme: And what is my share today?

Blockhead: The satisfaction of saying:

How proud I am of being French

When I look at the column318!

Bonhomme: And the humiliation of leaving my heirs an estate encumbered by rent in perpetuity. In the end, we have to pay what we owe whatever crazy use has been made of it. I agree to give one barrel, what about the five others?

Blockhead: One must pay for public services, the civil list, the judges who restore to you the field that your neighbor wants to take possession of, the gendarmes who hunt thieves while you sleep, the road mender319 who maintains the road that takes you to town, the parish priest who baptizes your children, the teacher who raises them and my good self, none of whom works for nothing.320

Bonhomme: That is fair - a service for a service.321 I have no objection to that. I would rather sort things out directly with my parish priest and schoolteacher,322 but I will not insist on this. I agree to give another barrel but there is a long way to go to six.

Blockhead: Do you think it is asking too much for two barrels as your contribution to the cost of the army and navy?

Bonhomme: Alas, it is not much in comparison with what they are costing me already, for they have already taken from me two sons that I loved dearly.

Blockhead: We have to maintain the balance of power in Europe.

Bonhomme: My God! The balance would be the same if these forces were reduced everywhere by half or three-quarters. We would preserve both our children and our revenue. All we need to do is agree on this.

Blockhead: Yes, but we do not agree.

Bonhomme: That is what astonishes me. For in the end everyone suffers.

Blockhead: You wanted this, Jacques Bonhomme.

Bonhomme: You are joking, M. Tax Collector. Do I have a say in the matter?

Blockhead: Who have you voted for as your deputy?323 324

Bonhomme: An upright army general who will shortly become a marshal if God gives him a long enough life.325

Blockhead: And on what does this good general live?

Bonhomme: On my barrels, I imagine.

Blockhead: And what would happen if he voted for a reduction in the army and your contribution?

Bonhomme: Instead of becoming a marshal, he would be retired.

Blockhead: Do you now understand that you have yourself …

Bonhomme: Let us move on to the fifth barrel, if you please.

Blockhead: That goes to Algeria.326

Bonhomme: To Algeria! And we are assured that all Muslims are wine-haters, what barbarians! I have often asked myself whether they know nothing of Médoc because they are infidels or infidels because they know nothing of Médoc.327 Besides, what services do they do me in return for this ambrosia that has cost me so much work?

Blockhead: None. For the reason that it is not intended for Muslims but for the good Christians who spend their time in Barbary.

Bonhomme: And what are they going to do there that will be useful to me?

Blockhead: Carry out incursions and be subjected to them; kill and be killed; catch dysentery and return for treatment; excavate ports, construct roads, build villages and people them with Maltese, Italians, Spanish and Swiss nationals who will live off your barrel and many other barrels which I will come to ask you for later.

Bonhomme: Mercy on us! This is too much and I refuse outright to give you a barrel. A wine producer who indulged in such folly would be sent to Bicêtre328. Driving roads through the Atlas! Good heavens! And to think I cannot leave my own home! Excavating ports in Barbary when the Garonne is silting up more every day! Taking the children I love from me in order to torment the Kabyls!329 Having me pay for the houses, seed and horses that are delivered to Greeks and Maltese when there are so many poor people around us!

Blockhead: Poor people, that is the point! The country is being relieved of this surplus population.

Bonhomme: Thank you very much! By keeping them alive in Algeria on capital that would enable them to live here.330

Blockhead: And then you are establishing the bases for a great empire; you are bringing civilization to Africa and bedecking your country in immortal glory.331

Bonhomme: You are a poet, M. Tax Collector, but I am a wine producer and I refuse.

Blockhead: Just think that in a few thousand years, you will be repaid your advances a hundredfold. This is what those in charge of the enterprise tell us.

Bonhomme: And in the meantime, they used only at first to ask for one cask of wine to meet the costs, then it was two then three and here I am being taxed a whole barrel. I continue to refuse.

Blockhead: You no longer have any time to do this. Your political delegate332 has stipulated a toll333 for you of one barrel or four full casks.

Bonhomme: That is only too true. Cursed be my weakness! I also thought that by giving him my mandate334 I was being rash, for what is there in common between an army general and a poor wine producer?

Blockhead: You can see clearly that there is something in common between you, if only the wine that you produce and that he votes for himself in your name.

Bonhomme: Make fun of me, I deserve it, M. Tax Collector. But be reasonable with it; leave me at least the sixth barrel. The interest on the debts have been paid, the civil list provided for, public services assured and the war in Africa perpetuated. What more do you want?

Blockhead: You cannot bargain with me. You should have made your intentions clear to the general. Now, he has disposed of your harvest.

Bonhomme: Damned Bonapartist Guardsman!335 But in the end, what are you going to do with this poor barrel, the flower of my cellars? Here, taste this wine. See how smooth, strong, full-bodied, velvety, and what a fine color …

Blockhead: Excellent! Delicious! Just the job for M. D…336 the cloth manufacturer.

Bonhomme: M. D… the cloth manufacturer! What do you mean?

Blockhead: That he will get a good share of it.

Bonhomme: How? What is all this? I am blowed if I understand you!

Blockhead: Do you not know that M. D… has set up an enterprise that is very useful to the country, and which, in the end, makes a considerable loss each year?

Bonhomme: I pity him wholeheartedly. But what can I do?

Blockhead: The Chamber has understood that if this continued M. D… would face the choice of either having to operate his factory better or closing it.

Bonhomme: But what is the connection between faulty business dealings on M. D’s part… and my barrel?

Blockhead: The Chamber considers that if it delivered to M. D… some of the wine from your cellar, a few hectoliters of wheat from your neighbors and a few sous subtracted from the earnings of the workers, his losses would be transformed into profits.

Bonhomme: The recipe is as infallible as it is ingenious. But, heavens above, it is terribly iniquitous! What! M. D… is to cover his debts by taking my wine from me?

Blockhead: No, not exactly your wine but its cost. This is what we call incentive subsidies. But you are totally speechless! Do you not see what a great service you are rendering to the country?

Bonhomme: You mean to M. D…?

Blockhead: To the country. M. D… ensures that his industry prospers, thanks to this arrangement, and in this way, he says, the country gets richer. This is what he told the Chamber of which he is a member, in the last few days.

Bonhomme: This is rank dishonesty! What! An ignoramus sets up an idiotic enterprise and loses his money, and if he extorts enough wine or wheat to cover his losses and even achieve some profit this will be seen as a gain for the entire country!

Blockhead: As your authorized representative337 has judged this to be so, you have no option but to hand over to me your six barrels of wine and sell as best you can the fourteen barrels I am leaving you.

Bonhomme: That is my business.

Blockhead: You see, it would be very unfortunate if you did not get a high price for them.

Bonhomme: I will see to it.

Blockhead: For there are a lot of things that this price has to cover.

Bonhomme: I know, Sir, I know.

Blockhead: First of all, if you purchase iron to replace your shovels and ploughs, a law has decided that you will pay twice as much as it is worth to the ironmaster.

Bonhomme: Is that so? We must be in the Black Forest!338

Blockhead: Then, if you need oil, meat, canvas, coal, wool or sugar, each of these, according to the law, will cost you double their worth.

Bonhomme: But this is terrible, frightful and abominable!

Blockhead: What is the use of complaining? You yourself, through your authorized representative,339

Bonhomme: Leave my mandate340 alone! I have given it in an odd way, it is true. But I will no longer be hoodwinked and will have myself represented341 by a good, upright member of the peasantry.

Blockhead: Nonsense! You will re-elect342 the good general.

Bonhomme: I! I will re-elect the general to distribute my wine to Africans and manufacturers?

Blockhead: You will re-elect him, I tell you.

Bonhomme: That is going a bit far. I will not re-elect him if I do not wish to do so.

Blockhead: But you will want to and you will re-elect him.

Bonhomme: Just let him come here looking for trouble.. He will see with whom he has to deal.

Blockhead: We will see. Goodbye. I will take your six barrels and divide them up in accordance with the general’s decision.343


313 “Jacques Bonhomme” (literally Jack Goodfellow) is the name used by the French to refer to “everyman,” sometimes with the connotation that he is the archetype of the wise French peasant. Bastiat uses the character of Jacques Bonhomme frequently in his constructed dialogues in the Economic Sophisms as a foil to criticise protectionists and advocates of government regulation. The name Jacques Bonhomme was given to the small magazine that Bastiat and Molinari published and handed out on the street corners of Paris in June and July 1848. See the glossary entry "Jacques Bonhomme [person]."

314 Bastiat again uses a made up word to poke fun at his adversaries, in this case the Tax Collector. He calls him “Monsieur Lasouche” which the FEE translator translated as “Mr. Clodpate” (p. 198). Since “la souche” means a tree stump, log, or stock we thought “Mr. Blockhead” might be appropriate here. This is also the translation used by George Roche in A Man Alone, p. 60. Bastiat’s uses the word “souche” in another context in 1847 when he wrote a brief draft of a chapter on Montaigne’s essay “Le Profit d’un est dommage de l’autre” (One man’s gain is another man’s loss). He called this phrase the “classical example of a sophism, the root stock sophism from which comes multitudes of sophisms” (Sophisme type, sophisme souche, d’où sortent des multitudes de sophismes). See ES3 15, pp. 000-00. See the glossary entry on “Montaigne.”

315 We have added the names of the speakers in order to assist the reader. When the protagonists refer to each by name we have followed what was used in the original French.

316 Bastiat uses a number of terms to express the volume measurement of wine, some of which are regional and not exactly defined. The common one is "tonneau" (barrel or butt) which is a measure of 126 gallons. Bastiat also uses the term "pièce" (cask) which some dictionaries define as equal to a "tonneau" (barrel) but which Bastiat defines here as one quarter of a barrel. Since Bastiat was a wine grower himself we will defer to his knowledge of the matter.

317 Total debt held by the French government in 1848 amounted to fr. 5.2 billion. According to the Budget Papers for 1848 total government spending was fr. 1,446,210,170 (with a deficit of fr. 54,933,660). Of this, fr. 384,346,191 was spent to service the public debt, making up 26.6% of the total budget. Given the fact that military expenditure was a very high proportion of overall government expenditure in the 19th century, the vast bulk of the consolidated debt had been incurred in funding previous military activity. There is also debt which had been incurred in providing military pensions (fr. 39.3 million). Total military spending in 1848 amounted to fr. 460.5 million (31.8%) of which fr. 322 million was for the Ministry of War and fr. 138.5 million was for the Ministry of the Navy and Colonies. Thus the total for the repayment of past debt and current military expenditure was fr. 844.8 million which was 58.4% of total government spending for the year. See the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

318 These lines come from a song called “La Colonne” (The Column) (1818) written by the “goguettier” (a member of a social club where political, patriotic and drinking songs were sung) Paul Émile Debraux (1796-1831). Debraux was an arch-supporter of Napoleon and wrote many songs extolling his virtues. “The Column” is one of these and is a tribute to the building of the Colonne Vendôme by Napoleon in 1810 to celebrate the French victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. It is a 44 metre high column erected on the Place Vendôme made from the melted bronze cannons taken from the enemy. Bastiat misremembers the exact words which read “Ah! Qu’on est fier d’être Français / Quand on regarde la calonne!” (how proud one is to be French when one looks at the column). In Choix de chansons nationales anciennes, nouvelles et inédites. Par MM. P.-J. Béranger, Casimir Lavigne, Emile Debraux, etc. (Paris: Les Marchands de Nouveautés, 1831), p. 56. See the glossary entries on “Goquettier” and “Béranger.”

319 Bastiat uses the word “cantonnier” here. See previous footnote on Corps de Cantonniers, ES1 “Reciprocity,” pp.. ???

320 According to the Budget Papers for 1848 the following amounts were spent: the Civil List (upkeep of the Monarch) fr. 13.3 million; justice within the Ministry of Justice and Religion fr. 26.7 million; police in the Ministry of the Interior fr. 22.8 million; prisons in the Ministry of the Interior fr. 7.2 million; the Ministry of Public Works fr. 63.5 million; religion within the Ministry of Justice and Religion fr. 39.6 million; Part IV of the Budget Papers lists the costs of administration and collecting taxes (includes personnel) fr. 156.9 million. See Appendix 4 "French Government Finances 1848-1849."

321 [DMH - Bastiat uses the phrase “service pour service.” See the glossary entry on “Servie for Service”.]

322 Bastiat uses the phrase “s'arranger directement” (to engage in an exchange directly with a supplier of a good or service). Throughout this chapter Bastiat uses numerous different words and phrases to describe the way in which representative democracy works. In doing this he is pointing out the differences between two very different ways of conducting one's affairs. The first is private, namely the strict legal process of giving someone power of attorney to act on one's behalf, or the market process of making a contract with somebody to provide a service which is voluntarily paid for. For this Bastiat uses the words "placer une procuration" (to appoint someone to act with one's power of attorney) and "s'arranger directement" (to engage in an exchange directly with a supplier of a good or service). The second is political, namely voting for a politician who will represent one's interests in the Chamber of Deputies. For this Bastiat uses the words "nommer pour député" (nominate as one's representative) or "se faire représenter par qqn" (to be represented by somebody). The tension in this chapter comes from the dissonance between the wine maker Jacques Bonhomme, who thinks of the world in the former sense and therefore thinks the person he voted for in the election will act in his interests and not those of the politician himself or those of powerful manufacturers and other vested interests, and the tax collector M. Blockhead, who uses euphemisms and language drawn from the private legal and economic world to describe the way in which representative politics works. He keeps referring to Bonhomme's political representatives as "votre chargé de pouvoirs" (the person you have appointed to exercise political powers), "votre fondé de pouvoirs" (the person you have set up to wield political power over you), and "votre chargé de procuration" (the person you have appointed with power of attorney over you affairs), which confuses and infuriates Bonhomme because he doesn't think he has done these things.

323 Bastiat uses the phrase "nommer pour député" (nominate as one's representative). See note above for details concerning Bastiat's terminology in this chapter.

324 Since Jacques is able to vote he must have been part of that wealthy minority of about 240,000 people who were entitled to vote because they paid more than fr. 300 per annum in direct taxes. See the glossary entry on “Chamber of Deputies.” From this point on in the sophism Bastiat turns to the nature of representative politics. Bastiat also wrote what might be called “political sophisms” to debunk fallacies of a political nature, especially concerning electoral politics and the ability of political leaders to initiate fundamental reforms. Good examples of the former are “Electoral Sophisms” and “The Elections” in CW1, pp. 397-404, 404-9; and of the latter are “The Tax Collector” and “The Utopian” in this volume. See the glossary entries on “Bastiat’s Political Sophisms” and “Utopias.”

325 Bastiat may have in mind General Lamoricière (1806-1865) who was a general, an elected deputy, minister of war under Cavaignac (1848), and took part in the military suppression of the rioting during the June Days of 1848. He played a significant role in the colonization of Algeria and supported government plans in 1848 to subsidize its civilian colonization. See the glossary entry on "Lamoricière."

326 France invaded and conquered Algeria in 1830. In 1848 parts of French Algeria were established as 3 Départements within the French government and an official program to encourage French settlers to move there was begun. Two justifications given in favor of colonization was that France’s “surplus population” could be settled in Algeria and that Algeria would become a profitable market for French goods. See Bastiat’s discussion of Algeria in WSWNS, chap. 10, pp. 000-00 and “Algeria” in Appendix 2 “The French State and Politics.”

327 Médoc is a wine growing region in the Département of Gironde near Bourdeaux a little to the north of Les Landes where Bastiat lived. According to the 1855 official classification of Bourdeaux wines the red wines from this region are called "médoc."

328 Bicêtre hospital on the southern outskirts of Paris was built by Louis XIII in 1633 to care for old and injured soldiers. Under Louis XIV (1656) it was used to house the insane and other political and social "undersirables". It was here during the Revolution that the guillotine was tested on live sheep and the cadavers of prisoners. Victor Hugo's novel opposing the death penalty, Le Dernier Jour d'un condamné (The Last Days of a Condemned Man) (1829), was set in Bicêtre. See glossary entry on “Bicietre Hospital and Asylum.”

329 The Kabyls are a Berber tribal community who live in Algeria and Tunisia. They were subject to French conquest when the French took Algeria in 1830. See the glossary entry on “Algeria.”

330 Bastiat wrote this sophism possibly in 1847 before the government began to actively subsidize the colonization of Algeria in 1848. The JDE gives a figure of fr. 120 millions spent in Algeria in 1847 and makes a very similar argument to that of Bastiat, that the money is taken from French taxpayers and then gviven to the troops and then into the hands of the merchants who service the needs of those troops. It goes further to argue that the civilian population of Algeria is 113,000 of which 6,000 live in administration towns and are paid by the French civilian administration out of tax payers' funds, leaving 107,000 who are paid by the army out of tax payer's funds. In “Algeria” chap. 10 of WSWNS (written in 1850) Bastiat states that fr. 8,000 was spent by the state for each colonist it subsidized to settle in Algeria. He believes that French workers at home could live well on half that amount of capital. See “Chronique” in JDE, February 1848, T. 19, p. 315. See “Algeria” in Appendix 2 “The French State and Politics.”

331 See Bastiat's comments on Algeria and colonization in his address "To the Electors of the District of Saint-Sever" (1846) in Collected Works, vol. 1, pp. 363-65, where he describes the colonial system as “the most disastrous illusion ever to have led nations astray.”

332 Bastiat uses the phrase "votre chargé de pouvoirs" (the person you have appointed to exercise political powers). See note above for details concerning Bastiat's terminology in this chapter.

333 The “octroi” or the tax on goods brought into a town or city was imposed on consumer goods which had to pass through tollgates which had been built on the outskirts of the town or city where they could be inspected and taxed. They were used to fund city expences such as infrastructure. See “French Taxation”.

334 Bastiat uses the phrase "donner ma procuration à qqn" (to grant s.o. my power of attorney). See note above for details concerning Bastiat's terminology in this chapter.

335 Bastiat uses the word "Grognard" ("grogner" means to groan with pain) which was the name given to soldiers of the Old Guard of Emperor Napoleon who were his most devoted and committed soldiers and who were often expected to fight in extreme conditions, hence their reputation for groaning and grumbling about their circumstances.

336 [DMH - We have not been able to identify who “M. D...” the textile manufacturer might be.]

337 Bastiat uses the phrase "votre fondé de pouvoirs" (the person you have set up to wield political power over you). See note above for details concerning Bastiat's terminology in this chapter.

338 The Black Forest was notorious for having highwaymen who would rob travellers. See the earlier footnote about the Forest of Body near Paris which was also a notorious refuge for highwaymen, pp. ???

339 Bastiat uses the phrase "votre chargé de procuration" (the person you have appointed with power of attorney over you affairs). See note above for details concerning Bastiat's terminology in this chapter.

340 Bastiat uses the word “procuration” (power of attorney or proxy vote). See note above for details concerning Bastiat's terminology in this chapter.

341 Bastiat uses the phrase "se faire représenter par qqn" (to be represented by somebody). See note above for details concerning Bastiat's terminology in this chapter.

342 Bastiat uses the phrase “renommer” (re-elect). See note above for details concerning Bastiat's terminology in this chapter.

343 (Paillottet’s note) See the Letter to Mr. Larnac in Tome I. and Parliamentary Conflicts of Interest in vol.1. [DMH - Former “De la réforme parliamentaire” in OC, vol. 1, pp. 480-506. Latter in CW, vol. pp. 452-57.]


XI. The Utopian344 [17 January 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “L'utopiste (The Utopian) [Le Libre-Échange, 17 January 1847].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 203-12.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


"If only I were one of His Majesty’s Ministers! …"345

"Well, what would you do?"346

"I would begin by ... by … goodness me, by being highly embarrassed. For when it comes down to it, I would be Minister only because I had a majority; I would have a majority only because I had made myself one and I would have made myself one, honestly at least, only by governing in accordance with their ideas. … Therefore, if I undertook to ensure that my ideas prevailed by thwarting theirs I would no longer have a majority, and if I did not have a majority I would not be one of His Majesty’s Ministers."

"Let me suppose that you are a Minister and that consequently having a majority is not an obstacle for you; what would you do?"

"I would seek to establish on which side justice was to be found."

"And then?"

"I would seek to establish on which side utility was to be found."

And next?

"I would seek to find out whether they were in harmony [??? - ils s’accordent they are in agreement] or in conflict with one another."

"And if you found that they were not in harmony?” [??? - ils ne s’accordent pas - they were not in agreement]

"I would say to King Philip:

Take back your portfolio.

The rhyme is not rich and the style outdated.

But do you not see that that is much better

Than the transactions whose common sense is just a murmur,

And that honesty speaks these in its purest form?347

"But if you acknowledge that justice and utility are one and the same?"

"Then I would go right ahead."

"Very well. But to achieve utility through justice, a third element is needed."

"Which is?"


"You have given it to me."


"A short time ago."


"By granting me a majority."

"No wonder it seemed to me that this concession was highly risky, since in the end it implies that the majority clearly sees what is just and what is useful and clearly sees that they are in perfect harmony."

"And if it saw all these things clearly, good would be done, so to speak, automatically."

"This is where you are constantly leading me: to see the possibility of reform only through the general progress of reason."

"Which is like saying that as a result of this progress all reform is certain."

"Perfectly put. However, this preliminary progress takes rather a long time to be implemented. Let us suppose it has been accomplished. What would you do? The fact is I cannot wait to see you at work, doing things, involved in the actual practice."

"Firstly, I would reduce the postage tax to 10 centimes."348

"I had heard you mention before 5 centimes.349"

"Yes, but since I have other reforms in view, I must advance prudently in order to avoid a deficit."

"Good heavens! What prudence! You are already in deficit to the tune of 30 million!"

"Then I would reduce the salt tax to 10 fr."350

"Good! Here you are now, with a deficit of 30 million more. Doubtless you have invented a new tax?"

"God forbid! Besides, I do not flatter myself that I have a sufficiently inventive mind."

"But you need one… Ah! I am with you! What was I thinking of? You will simply reduce expenditure. I did not think of that."

"You are not the only one - I will come to that, but for the moment that is not what I am counting on."

"Oh yes! You are reducing revenue without reducing expenditure and you will avoid a deficit?"

"Yes, by reducing other taxes at the same time."

(Here the questioner, placing his index finger on the side of his forehead, nods his head, which may be translated thus: he is off his head.)

"I do believe that this is an ingenious maneuver! I pay 100 francs to the Treasury, you save me 5 francs on salt and 5 francs on postage and in order for the Treasury to receive no less than 100 francs, you are saving me 10 francs on some other tax?"

"Shake my hand, you have understood me."

"The devil take me if I have! I am not even sure I have heard you correctly."

I repeat that I will balance one reduction in tax with another.

"Heavens above! I have a few minutes to spare; I might as well listen to your development of this paradox."

"This is the entire mystery. I know of a tax that costs you 20 francs and of which not a sou comes in to the Treasury. I save you half of it and direct the other half to the Rue de Rivoli351."

"Really! You are a financier of a rare variety. There is only one problem. On what, may I ask, am I paying a tax that does not reach the Treasury?"

"How much has this suit cost you?"

"100 francs."

"And if you had brought in the cloth from Verviers352, how much would it have cost you?"

"80 francs."

"Why then did you not order it from Verviers?"

"Because it is forbidden."353

"And why is this forbidden?"

"In order for the suit to cost me 100 francs instead of 80."

"This prohibition will therefore cost you 20 francs?"

"Without doubt."

"And where do these 20 francs go?"

"Where do they go? To the cloth manufacturer."

"Well then! Give me 10 francs for the Treasury, I will lift the prohibition and you will still save 10 francs."

"Oh, oh! I now begin to see. Here is the Treasury account: it loses 5 francs on the post, 5 francs on salt and gains 10 francs on woolen cloth. It is thus quits."

"And here is your account: you save 5 francs on salt, 5 francs on the post and 10 francs on woolen cloth."

"A total of 20 francs. I quite like this plan. But what will become of the poor manufacturer of cloth?"

"Oh! I have thought of him. I am arranging compensation for him, still through tax reductions that provide profit for the Treasury, and what I have done for you with regard to cloth, I will do for him with regard to wool, coal, machines, etc., so that he will be able to reduce his price without losing out."

"But are you sure that things will remain in balance?"

"The balance will be in his favor. The 20 francs I save you on cloth will be increased by the sums I will also save you on wheat, meat, fuel, etc. This will become quite considerable, and savings like this will be made by the thirty five million of your fellow citizens. There will be enough there to buy out the supplies of cloth from Verviers and Elbeuf354 alike. The nation will be better dressed, that is all."

"I will think about this, as it is becoming quite confused in my mind."

"After all, with regard to clothing, the essential thing is to be clothed. Your limbs are your own property and not the property of the manufacturer. Protecting them from freezing is your business and not his! If the law takes his side against you the law is unjust, and you have allowed me to reason on the premise that anything that is unjust is harmful."

"Perhaps I have been too bold, but please continue to set out your financial plan."

"I will therefore promulgate a law on Customs Duties."

"In two folio volumes?"355

"No, in two articles."

"This time, no one will be able to say that the well-known saying “No one is supposed to be ignorant of the law” is a fiction. Let us see what your tariffs will be."

"Here they are:

Article 1. All goods imported will pay a tax of 5 percent on their value."356

"Even raw materials?

"Unless they have no value."

"But all of them have some value, more or less."

"In this case they will pay more or less."

"How do you expect our factories to compete with foreign factories that have raw materials duty free?"

"Given the expenditure of the State, if we close down this source of revenue, another will have to be opened up; this will not reduce the relative inferiority of our factories and there will be one more administrative department to create and pay for."

"That is true. I was reasoning as though it was a question of abolishing the tax and not of displacing it. I will think about this. Let us have your second article …"

"Article 2. All goods exported will pay a tax of 5 percent of their value."

"Good heavens, Mr. Utopian! You are going to be stoned, and if necessary I will throw the first stone."

"We have agreed that the majority is enlightened."

"Enlightened! Do you maintain that an export duty will not be a burden?"

"Any tax is a burden, but this is less of a burden than others."

"A great deal of eccentric behaviour is to be expected at carnival time.357 Be so good as to make this new paradox plausible, if you can."

"How much have you paid for this wine?"

"One franc a liter."

"How much would you have paid for it outside the tollgates?"358

"Fifty centimes."359

"Why is there this difference?"

"Ask the city tolls, which have levied ten sous on it."

"And who set up the city tolls?"

"The Commune of Paris, in order to pave and light the streets."

"It is therefore an import duty. But if the bordering communes had set up the city tolls for their benefit, what would have happened?"

"I would still pay 1 franc for my 50-centime wine and the other 50 centimes would pave and light Montmartre and the Batignoles360."

"So that in the end, it is the consumer who pays the tax."

"There is no doubt about this."

"Therefore, by imposing an export tax, you make foreigners pay for your expenditure.

“I have caught you out. That is no longer justice."

"Why not? For a product to be made, the country has to have education, security, and roads, things that cost money. Why should foreigners not pay for the charges generated by this product since he, in the long run, is the one who will be consuming it?"

"This runs counter to established ideas."

"Not in the slightest. The final purchaser has to reimburse all the direct or indirect production costs."

"Whatever you say, it is crystal clear that a measure like this would paralyze commerce and close off our markets."

"That is an illusion. If you paid this tax on top of all the others, you would be right. But if the 100 million raised by this avenue saved them from paying as much by way of other taxes, you would reappear on foreign markets with all your previous advantages, and even more, if this tax generated fewer restrictions and less expenditure."

"I will think about this. So, now we have settled salt, the postal services and customs duties. Is this all?"

"I have scarcely begun."

"I beg you, let me into your other Utopian plans."361

"I have lost 60 million on salt and the postal services. I have recovered them on Customs duties, which have given me something even more precious."

"And what is that, if you please?"

"International relationships based on justice, and the likelihood of peace, which is almost a certainty. I would disband the army."362

"The entire army?"

"Except for some specialized divisions, which would recruit voluntarily just like any other profession. And as you can see, conscription would be abolished."363

"Sir, you should say recruitment."364

"Ah, I was forgetting! I admire the ease with which in certain countries it is possible to perpetuate the most unpopular things by giving them a different name."365

"It is just like combined duties which have become indirect contributions."366

"And gendarmes who have adopted the name municipal guards."

"In short, you are disarming the country based on a Utopian faith."

"I said that I was disbanding the army and not that I was disarming the country.367 On the contrary, I intend to give it an invincible force."

"How are you going to sort out this heap of contradictions?"

"I will call on the services of all citizens."368

"It is really not worth the trouble of discharging a few of them in order to call up everyone."

"You did not make me a Minister for me to leave things as they are. Therefore, when I come to power I will say, like Richelieu369: “The maxims of the State have changed.” And my first maxim, which will form the basis of my administration, will be this: “Every citizen must know two things: how to provide for his own existence and how to defend his country”."

"At first sight, I really think that there is a spark of common sense in this."

"Following this, I would base national defense on a law with two articles:

Article 1. All eligible citizens, without exception, will remain under the flag for four years, from the ages of 21 to 25, in order to receive military instruction."

"That is a fine saving! You dismiss 400,000 soldiers and you make 10 million of them!"

"Wait for my second article.

Article 2. Unless they can prove at the age of 21 that they have successfully attended a training unit."

"I was not expecting this outcome. It is quite certain that, to avoid four years of military service, there would be a terrific rush in our youth to learn “by the right, quick march” and “in double quick time, charge”. The idea is very odd."

"It is better than that. For finally, without causing grief to families and without upsetting the principle of equality, would it not simply and cheaply ensure the country 10 million defenders capable of meeting a coalition of all the standing armies in the world?"

"Truly, if I were not on my guard, I would end up by being interested in your fantasies."

The Utopian becomes excited: "Thank heavens; my budget has been reduced by 200 million!370 I will abolish city tolls, I will reform indirect taxes, I …"

"Just a minute Mr. Utopian!"

The Utopian becomes increasingly excited: "I will proclaim the freedom of religion371 and freedom of education.372 New projects: I will purchase the railways,373 I will pay off the debt,374 and I will starve stockjobbing of its profits."375

"Mr. Utopian!"

"Freed from responsibilities which are too numerous to mention, I will concentrate all of the forces of government on repressing fraud and distributing prompt and fair justice to all, I …"

"Mr. Utopian, you are taking on too much, the nation will not follow you!"

"You have given me a majority."

"I withdraw it."

"About time, too! So I am no longer a Minister, and my plans remain what they are, just so many UTOPIAS."


344 (Paillottet’s note) Taken from the issue of Le Libre-Echange dated 17th January 1847. [DMH - Note that Molinari, under the "nom de plume" of "le Rêveur" (the Dreamer), wrote an appeal to socialists for solidarity in their joint struggle for prosperity and justice. He published this only a few days before the June Days rioting in 1848 under the title “L’Utopie de la liberté. Lettres aux socialistes” (The Utopia of Liberty. Letters to the Socialist). This was ignored of course in the chaos of the aftermath of the crackdown by Cavaignac's troops. See Molinari, “L’Utopie de la liberté. Lettres aux socialistes” JDE, 15 June, 1848, vol. XX, pp. 328-32.]

345 Bastiat also wrote what might be called “political sophisms” to debunk fallacies of a political nature, especially concerning electoral politics and the ability of political leaders to initiate fundamental reforms. Good examples of the former are “Electoral Sophisms” and “The Elections” in CW1, pp. 397-404, 404-9; and of the latter are “The Tax Collector” and “The Utopian” in this volume. See “The Political or Electoral Sophisms” in Appendix 1 “Further Aspects of Bastiat’s Life and Thought.”

346 Fifteen months after this article was written Bastiat was elected to the Constituent Assembly of the Second Republic after the Revolution of February 1848. He was subsequently appointed vice-president of the Chamber’s Finance Committee where he, as the resident “Utopian” on the committee, attempted to enact his tax cutting measures proposed here. See the Appendix on “Bastiat’s Activities in the National Assembly 1848-50.” Also see ES3 XXI. “Circulars from a Government that is Nowhere to be Seen”, below p. ???, for some of Bastiat’s sarcastic comments about the usefulness of the Provisional Government in the days immediately following the Revolution in February 1848.

347 Bastiat again parodies this scene from Molière’s play The Misanthrope (1666), Act I Scene II. Alceste is a misanthrope who is trying to tell Oronte, a foolish nobleman, that his verse is poorly written and worthless. Here Bastiat replaces “King Henry” with “King Louis Philippe”, and “Paris” with “portfolio”, and the word “”colifichets” (trinkets or baubles) with “transactions” and the word “Passion” with “honesty”. Théatre complet de J.-B. Poquelin de Molière, publié par D. Jouast en huit volumes avec la preface de 1682, annotée par G. Monval, vol. 4 (Paris: Librairie des bibliophiles, 1882), p. 86. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

348 The old system of charging by distance was abolished during the Revolution (24 August, 1848). The year before in 1847 125 million letters were sent at an average cost of 43 centimes. The new fixed tax for mail in 1849 was reduced to 20 centimes. Thus, Bastiat's proposal for a cut to 10 centimes in January 1847 was a radical one. According to the Budget Papers of 1848 the French state raised fr. 51.5 million from various taxes, duties, and other charges for delivering letters, parcels, and money. The tax on letters alone raised fr. 46.5 million. See C.S. "Postes, DEP, vol. 2, pp. 421-24, and the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

349 (Paillottet’s note) The author had indeed mentioned 5 centimes in May 1846 in an article in Le Journal des Economistes, which became chapter XII of the second series of the Sophisms.

350 The tax on salt, or "gabelle" as it was known under the old regime was a much hated tax on an item essential for preserving food. It was abolished during the Revolution but revived during the Restoration. In 1816 it was set at 30 centimes per kilogramme and in 1847 it raised fr. 70.4 million. During the Revolution of 1848 it was reduced to 10 centimes per kilogramme. According to the Budget Papers of 1848 the French state raised fr. 38.2 million from tariffs on imported salt and fr. 13.4 million from the salt tax on internal sales. Bastiat's proposed cut to 10 centimes in January 1847 was the same level adopted by the new government in 1848. See E. de Parieu, "Sel", DEP, vol. 2, pp. 606-09. See the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49" and the glossary entry on “French Taxes.”

351 The Ministry of Finance was located in Rue de Rivoli.

352 Verviers is a textile manufacturing city in eastern Belgium in the province of Liège. Its textile industry dates from the 15th century. It suffered a serious decline when Liège was annexed to France in 1795. It revived after the Restoration and became one of the major industrial cities producing woollen cloth in the 19th century.

353 French tariffs on manufactured goods such as textiles were very complex. In the case of textiles many goods were prohibited outright in order to protect French manufacturers. Some products used to manufacture other goods, such as cotton thread used to make lace or tulle, were allowed entry upon payment of a tariff of 7-8 fr. per kilogramme. Most finished goods had prohibitive duties imposed upon them such as 50-100 fr. per piece in the case of cashmere scarves and 550 f. per 100 kilogramme for wool carpets. According to the Budget Papers of 1848 the French state raised fr. 202.1 million from tariffs and import duties out of total receipts of fr. 1,391 million, or 14.5%. See Horace Say, "Douanes, " DEP, vol. 1, pp. 578-604; the glossary entries on "French Tariff Policy" and "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

354 Elbeuf is an industrial town in northern France on the Seine river to the south of Rouen.

355 This is a snide reference by Bastiat to the three very large volumes on French tariffs which was produced by the inquiry conducted by the protectionist "Conseil supérieur du commerce" (Superior Council of Commerce) in 1835. See “Superior Council of Commerce" in Appendix 2 “The French State and Politics.”

356 For Bastiat and other 19th century free traders the figure of 5% was regarded as a kind of magic number, below which tariffs were acceptable for revenue raising purposes only (since there were no income taxes at this time), above which tariffs were unacceptable as they were then regarded as "protectionist", giving advantages to politically well-connected manufactures at the expense of the consuming public. British aggregate tariff rates (excluding fiscal goods) peaked at about 15% in 1836 and began dropping in 1840 reaching a low point of about 6% in 1847 (the abolition of the Corn Laws was announced in January 1846), and continuing to drop steadily throughout the rest of the century reaching a plateau of less than 1% between 1880 and 1903. France had a rate of about 12% in 1836 and it was still around 11% in 1848 before it began to drop steadily reaching 5% in 1857 before spiking briefly to 7.5% in 1858, then dropping steadily again to about 1.5% in 1870 (the Anglo-French Free Trade Treaty was signed in 1860), before again moving steadily upwards to about 8% in 1893. In 1849 the rates were about 6% in Britain and 10% in France. Throughout this period the United States had an internal free market but high tariffs for external trade. In 1832 the Protectionist Tariff imposed an average rate of 33%; the Compromise Tariff of 1833 intended to lower rates to a flat 20%; and the 1846 Tariff created 4 tariff schedules for goods which imposed 100%, 40%, 30%, or 20% depending upon the particular kind of good. The average rate in the U.S. in 1849 was about 23% which is definitely a "protectionist" tariff and not a "fiscal" tariff according to Bastiat's definition of a 5% limit. See the glossary entry on “French Tariff Policy.”

357 Carnival is a festive season which occurs in many Catholic countries in February (or late December in the case of France) with public parades, the wearing of masks and costumes, and revelry which often expresses the temporary overturning of traditional authority (or at least the mocking of it). In Paris the carnival is called "la fête des fous" (feast of fools) and dates back to at least the 16th century. It was memorably described in Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) in which Quasimodo is appointed the King of Fools.

358 King Louis XVI had 57 "barrières d'octroi" (tollgates) built around the outskirts of the city of Paris where goods coming into the city could be inspected and taxed. See “French Taxation” in Appendix 3 "Economic Policy and Taxation."

359 In 1845 the city of Paris raised fr. 49 million from the “octroi” (entry tax) which was imposed on all goods which entered the city. Of this fr. 26.1 million were levied on wine and other alcoholic drinks which comprised 53% of the total. The tax on wine was the heaviest as a proportion of total value and the most unequally applied. Cheap table wine was taxed at the rate of 80-100% by value whilst superior quality wine was taxed at the rate of 5-6% by value. See Horace Say, Paris, son octroi et ses emprunts (Paris: Guillaumin, 1847). Say, Horace Émile Say (1794-1860) was the son of Jean-Baptiste Say, a businessman, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Paris in 1834. Say was also very active in liberal circles: he participated in the foundation of the Société d’économie politique, the Guillaumin publishing firm, and Le Journal des économistes. See the glossary entries on “Say, Horace” and “French Taxes.”

360 Montmartre and Les Batignoles were independent communes at the time. They became incorporated into Paris in 1860.

361 See the glossary entry on “Utopias.”

362 In the pamphlet What is Seen and What is Not Seen, or Political Economy in One Lesson (July 1850) [see below] Bastiat proposes to cut the size of the French Army immediately by 100,000 men from its total in 1849 of about 390,000 men (a cut of 25.6%). The expenditure on the army in 1849 was fr. 346,319,558. Total government expenditure in 1849 was fr. 1.573 billion with expenditure on the armed forces making up 29.6% of the total budget. Bastiat roughly estimates that 100,000 soldiers cost the French state fr. 100 million. See note below, pp. ??? See the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

363 The modern mass conscript army was pioneered by the French during the Revolution. A law of August 1793 ordered a "levée en masse" of all unmarried men aged between 18-25 with no substitution allowed - this was called a "requisition." A law of September 1798 (the Jourdan law) made it obligatory for all males between the ages of 20 and 25 to serve 5 years in the army with no substitution allowed - this was called "conscription" or "levée forcée." Conscription was technically abolished under the Charter of 1814 but when new legislation was enacted in 1818 it filled the army with a mixture of voluntary recruits and others chosen by lot to make up any shortfall in enlistment - this was called "recrutement". It required military service for 12 years, six in the army and six in the reserves. An unwilling conscript could buy their way out by paying a thirty party to take their place. There were also many categories for exemption which were decided by boards in the local Cantons which were given quotas of recruits to fill each year. The length of service was reduced to 8 years in 1824 and then 7 years in 1832. Some 80,000 new recruits were needed each year to maintain the size of the French Army (Armée de terre) at its full strength of about 400,000 men in the late 1840s. During the Third Republic (1872) service in the army was again made compulsory for all males. Conscription came to an end in France in 1996. See A. Legoyt, "Recrutement," DEP, vol. 2, pp. 498-503; "Conscription," in Dictionnaire de l'armée de terre: ou recherches historiques sur l'art et les usages militaires des anciens et des modernes, Volume 3, ed. Etienne Alexandre Bardin and Oudinot de Reggio (Paris: Perrotin, 1841), pp. 1539-1542. See the glossary on “The French Army and Conscription.”

364 It was a common practice for those conscripted by the drawing of lots ("tirage au sort") to pay for a replacement or substitute to take their place in the ranks. The liberal publisher and journalist Émile de Girardin estimated that about one quarter of the entire French Army consisted of replacements who had been paid fr. 1,800-2,400 to take the place of some young man who had been called up but did not want to serve. The schedule of payments depended on the type of service: fr. 1,800-2,000 for the infantry; 2,000-2,400 for the artillery, cavalry and other specialized forces. This meant that only quite well off men could afford to pay these amounts to avoid army service, thus placing a greater burden on poor agricultural workers and artisans. See Émile de Girardin, Les 52: Abolition de l'esclavage militaire. Bibliothèque démocratique, Volume 9 of Les 52, (Paris: M. Lévy, 1849). "Le remplacement militaire," pp. 66-84.

365 This is a reference to the different names given to the forced enlistment of men in the French Army. It was called "requisition" in 1793, "conscription" in 1798, and more euphemistically, "recrutement," during the Restoration and the July Monarchy. During the 1848 Revolution there was a pamphlet war calling for the abolition of conscription but this was unsuccessful. See Plus de conscription! (Signé: Allyre Bureau, l'un des rédacteurs de "la Démocratie pacifique") (Paris: Impr. de Lange Lévy, 1848) and Émile de Girardin, Les 52: Abolition de l'esclavage militaire. (Paris: M. Lévy, 1849).

366 Many indirect taxes on consumer goods were abolished in the early years of the Revolution only to be reintroduced by Napoleon who centralized their collection in 1804 by a single administrative body under the name of "droits réunis" (combined duties). In the Restoration the Charter of 1814 promised to abolish both the "droits réunis" and conscription but these promises were not kept. The old indirect taxes were just renamed as "contributions indirectes" (indirect contributions) although they were imposed at a slightly reduced rate. In 1848 the state received fr. 307.9 million in indirect "contributions" (taxes) out of a total of fr. 1.391 billion, or 22% of all revenue. These taxes were levied on drink, salt, sugar, tobacco, gun powder, and other goods. See the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49"; Charles Coquelin, "Droits réunis," DEP, vol. 1, p. 619; and H. Passy, "Impôt," DEP, vol. 1, pp. 898-914, and the glossary entry on “French Taxes.”.

367 Bastiat called for simultaneous disarmament of all nations and a corresponding reduction of taxation in his speech at the Second General Peace Congress held in Paris on the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of August, 1849. Émile de Girardin summarized the resolutions of the 1849 Paris Peace Congress as follows: "reduction of armies to 1/200th of the size of the population of each state, the abolition of compulsory military service, the freedom of (choosing one's) vocation, the reduction of taxes, and balanced budgets." Since France's population in 1849 was about 36 million this would mean a maximum size of the French armed forces of 180,000. It was then made up of 389,967 men and 95,687 horses for the Armée de terre, and 69,490 men and 2,051 horses for the Navy and the armed forces in the colonies, for a combined total of 459,457 men and 97,738 horses. Thus, Bastiat and the other attendees at the Peace Congress were calling for a cut of 279,457 or 61% in the size of the French armed forces. See the Appendix on "Frédéric Bastiat on "Disarmament and Taxes" (1849)".

368 Bastiat probably has in mind here local militias or something like the National Guard. The Economists were appalled at the cost and destruction caused by the standing armies of the Napoleonic period (whether professional or conscript). [See Amboise Clément, "Armées permanentes," DEP, vol. 1, pp. 70-75.] This was reflected in the writings of Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), especially the Cours complet d'économie politique pratique (1828-33), where he severely criticised standing armies and argued strongly in favour of militias of citizens. See Cours complet d'économie politique pratique; ouvrage destiné à mettre sous les yeux des hommes d'état, des propriétaires fonciers et les capitalistes, des savans, des agriculteurs, des manufacturiers, des négocians, et en général de tous les citoyens, l'économie des sociétés. Seconde édition entièrement revue par l'auteur, publiée sur les manuscrits qu'il a laisés et augmentée de notes par Horace Say, son fils (Paris: Guillaumin, 1840). Vol. 2, chap. XX "De la défense de l'état par des milices," pp. 291-95. The following passage from Say is something Bastiat would also have agreed with: "I ask you, sirs, not to confuse the system of arming an entire nation with its militias, with the extravagant project of making an entire nation an army (militaire); that is to say, to transform it into mobile and seasoned warrior units ready to support diplomatic intrigues and the ambition of despot. This madness has only ever been able to enter the minds of those who are total strangers to social economy. A farmer, a manufacturer, a merchant, an artisan, a worker, a doctor, and all the other useful professions work to supply society with what it needs to eat and to maintain itself. A soldier destroys what the others produce. To turn the productive classes into destructive classes, or to only give greater importance to the latter is to confuse the accessory with the principal, to give precedence to the famine which kills over the abundance which gives life. A nation of soldiers can only live by brigandage, not producing anything and unable to do anything but consuming, it must out of necessity pillage those who produce; and after having pillaged everything within reach, whether friend or foe, as a matter of course or tumultuously, it must then devour itself. History provides us with examples of this without number." Cours complet, pp. 294-95. See the glossary entries on "J.B.Say" and “The French Army and Conscription.”

369 Jean Armand Duplessis, cardinal de Richelieu (1585-1642) was the chief minister to Louis XIII and played an important role in centralizing the power of the French state in the first half of the 17th century. It is not clear what Maxim by Richelieu Bastiat had in mind. One that refers explicitly to the question of war and peace is his "Discours de Monseigneur sur la paix lors de la venue de M. Légat" (1625) where Richelieu recommends in Machiavellian fashion that the King not accept an offer of peace, concluding that he should "choose what will be most suitable for his reputation, for the good and advantage of his State, and for the preservation of his allies." p. 91. See Maximes d'état et fragments politiques de Cardinal de Richelieu, publiés par M. Gabriel Hanotaux (Paris: Imprimérie Nationale, 1880), pp.87-91.

370 DMH: In the FEE edition of this article (p. 212) there is a bad mistranslation. Bastiat clearly says his proposed savings in these areas would amount to “200 millions” not the “two millions” stated in the FEE edition. This error seriously understates the radicalism of Bastiat’s tax cutting proposals.

371 Although the Catholic Church was the established church, other denominations also received government subsidies from taxpayers' money. In the 1848 Budget a total of fr. 39.6 million was set aside for expenditure by the state on religion. Of this 38 million went to the Catholic Church, 1.3 million went to Protestant churches, and 122,883 went to Jewish groups. The Catholic church also played a very important role in education, assisting the sick and the poor, overseeing rituals such as births, death, and marriages, and in morals legislation. Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

372 Several state run educational institutions were established by Napoleon: the École militaire (1803), the École polytéchnique (1794, 1804), the Écoles nationales des arts et métiers (1803), and a single university for France, L’Univesité impériale (1808). There were also some non-state institutions such as the École centrale des arts et manufactures (1829), the École mutuelle (1815), and the Écoles primaires protestantes (1816). A major restructuring took place with Guizot's law on public education (1833) which stated that every commune in France with more than 500 inhabitants would have an elementary school for boys (girls were included in 1867), every town over 6,000 people would have a higher primary school, and every Département would run a teaching training school. A system of state school inspectors was established and a minimum wage of fr. 200 per annum was enacted. School attendance was not compulsory (until 1881-82), fees were charged (again until 1881-82), and the education included religious instruction. Secondary and higher education was placed under the control of the state run University. Freedom of education was hotly debated during the Second Republic and major reforms resulted in the Falloux law of 1850. The notion of "la liberté d'enseignement" (freedom of education) meant different things to different political groups. For many it meant breaking the control of the central government and transferring it to the Départements, and reducing the influence of the Catholic church. For classical liberals like Bastiat it meant taking eduction completely out of the state sector and letting private groups provide educational services in the market.

373 The Economists were frustrated by the state of the French railways in January 1847 when this article was written. They were excited by the possibilities railways offered for drastically lowering the price of transport, but what had begun as a private initiative of coal mining companies had turned into a hybrid of state and favoured private groups which had serious problems. The state set the number of concessions and freight rates, the state owned much of the infrastructure (bridges, stations) while private companies owned and maintained the track and rolling stock). The law of 1842 laid the basis for this state-private cooperation and when concessions were first announced in 1844-45 there was a frantic scramble for access rights and funding. Furthermore the French railway builders were hampered by the fact that they were forced to buy higher priced French-made rails because cheaper foreign rails were kept out the French market by high tariffs. Perhaps Bastiat had in mind the state buying the entire network and starting again. See the glossary entry on "French Railways."

374 Total debt held by the French government in 1848 amounted to fr. 5.2 billion which required annual payments of fr. 384 million to service or 26.6% of the total budget. Since total annual income for the government in 1848 was fr. 1.4 billion the outstanding debt was 3.7 times receipts. See the glossary on "French Government Finances in 1848-49”; and Gustave de Puynode, "Crédit public," DEP, vol. 1, pp. 508-25.

375 Bastiat uses the expression "affamer l'agiotage" (to starve stockjobbing of its profits). The Economists drew a distinction between "la spéculation commerciale" (commercial speculation) and "agiotage" (stockjobbing). According to Horace Say, the former was a normal part of doing business where investors took risks in trying to discover what line of economic activity was profitable and which was not. Thus it was "useful and helpful to society." Agiotage on the other hand was harmful and even "immoral" because it usually involved speculation in government regulated stocks and bonds such as mining leases, railway concessions, and government bonds. Since the number of stocks and bonds traded on the Paris Bourse were very small (198 in 1847) the proportion of government regulated or issued stocks and bonds played an exaggerated role. Say notes that in such an "interventionist country" (un pays d'intervention gouvernementale) as France the best way to reduce stockjobbing was to cut government expenditure, put an end to budget deficits, and reduce government borrowing. See Horace Say, “Agiotage," DEP, vol. 1, pp. 27-31.


XII. Salt, the Mail, and the Customs Service376 [May 1846] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Le sel, la poste et la douane” (Salt, the Mail, and the Customs Service) [Journal des Économistes, May 1846, T. XIV, pp. 142-152].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 213-29.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”



A few days ago, 377 people expected to see the machine of representative government give birth to a totally new product, one that its cog wheels had not yet managed to churn out: the relief of taxpayers.

Everyone was paying attention: the experiment was as interesting as it was new. No one had any doubts as to the capacity of this machine to suck up resources. From this point of view, the machine works admirably, whatever the time, the place, the season or the circumstance.

By contrast, with regard to reforms that tend to simplify, equalize and relieve charges on the public, nobody yet knows what it is capable of doing.

People said, “Wait and see: this is the right time. It is the work of the fourth session378, a time when popularity is worth courting. 1842 brought us the railway, 1846 is going to bring us a reduction of the tax on salt and postal services; 1850 promises us a reorganization of customs duties and indirect taxes.379 The fourth session is the jubilee year of the taxpayer.

Everyone was therefore full of hope, and everything appeared to favor the experiment. Le Moniteur380 had announced that from one quarter to the next the sources of revenue were constantly increasing, and what better use could we make of these unexpected inflows than to allow villagers an extra grain of salt for their warm water or one more letter from the battlefield on which their sons were risking their lives?

But what happened? Like those two sugary substances which, it is said, mutually prevent each other from crystallizing, or like the two dogs whose fight was so bitter that only two tails remained, the two reforms devoured each other. All that is left for us are the tails, that is to say, a host of draft laws, dissertations on the arguments, reports, statistics and appendices in which we have the consolation of seeing our sufferings philanthropically appreciated and homeopathically calculated. As for the reforms themselves, they have not crystallized, nothing has emerged from the crucible and the experiment has failed.

Soon the chemists will come before the jury to explain this misfortune and they will say,

First chemist: “I had put forward a postal reform but the Chamber wished to reduce the salt tax and I had to withdraw it.”

Second chemist: “I had voted for the reduction of the salt tax but the government put forward postal reform and the vote came to nothing.”

And the jury, finding the reasons excellent, will start the tests on the same data again and refer the work back to the same chemists.

This proves to us that, in spite of the source, there may be something reasonable in the custom that has been introduced in the last half-century on the other side of the Channel and which consists from the public’s point of view, in pursuing only one reform at a time.381 This is a long and boring business but it leads to something.

We have a dozen reforms in hand; they are crowding one another like the souls of the departed at the gate of oblivion and not one of them gets through.

Ohimè! che lasso!

Una a la volta, per carità.382

This is what Jacques Bonhomme said in a conversation with John Bull on postal reform.383 It is worth quoting.


JACQUES BONHOMME: Oh! Who will deliver me from this hurricane of reforms! My head is bursting. I believe that more are being invented every day: university reforms, financial reforms, health reforms and parliamentary reforms, electoral reforms, commercial reforms and social reforms and here we now have postal reform!

JOHN BULL: The latter is easy to do and so useful, as we have found over here, that I dare to recommend it to you384.

JACQUES: It is nevertheless said that it has gone badly in England and that it has cost your Exchequer ten million pounds.

JOHN: Which have generated one hundred million for the public.

JACQUES: Is this really certain?

JOHN: Look at all the signs of public satisfaction. See the nation, Peel385 and Russell386 at their head, giving Mr. Rowland Hill substantial tokens of gratitude in the British fashion. See the ordinary people putting their letters into circulation only after they have made their feelings known in writing, in the form of seals bearing the motto: To postal reform, a grateful people. The leaders of the League declare in full parliamentary session that, without postal reform, they would have needed thirty years to accomplish their great enterprise to set the food of the poor free. The officers of the Board of Trade declare that it is unfortunate that English currency does not allow a more radical reduction still in the cost of posting letters. What more proof do you want?

JACQUES: Yes, but the Treasury?

JOHN: Are the Treasury and the general public not in the same boat?

JACQUES: Not exactly. And incidentally, is it really certain that our postal system needs to be reformed?

JOHN: That is what it needs. Let us see for a moment how things are done. What happens to letters that are posted?

JACQUES: Oh! The mechanism is admirably simple: the manager opens the box at a certain time and takes out, let us say, one hundred letters.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: He then inspects them one by one. With a geographical table under his gaze and a set of scales in his hand, he tries to find the category to which each one belongs from the twin consideration of distance and weight. There are only eleven zones and the same number of categories of weight.

JOHN: That makes a good 121 combinations for each letter.

JACQUES: Yes, and you have to double this number since a letter may or may not be subject to the rural service charge387.

JOHN: You therefore have to look up 24,200 possibilities for the hundred letters. What does the manager do next?

JACQUES: He writes the weight on a corner and the tax right in the middle of the address under the drawing of a hieroglyph agreed upon by the administrative department.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: He stamps and divides the letters into ten packets depending on the post offices to which the letters have to be sent. He adds up the total of the tax for the ten packets.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: Then he writes the ten amounts lengthwise in a register and crosswise in another.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: Then he writes a letter to each of the ten post masters to inform them of the accounting item that concerns them.

JOHN: What if the letters are prepaid?

JACQUES: Oh! Then I admit that the service becomes a little complicated. The letter has to be received, weighed and measured. As before, it has to be paid for and change given. A suitable stamp has to be selected from the thirty available. On the letter has to be written clearly its order number, weight and tax. The full address has to be transcribed in one register then another and then a third, and then onto a separate slip. The letter is then wrapped in the slip and sent, properly tied up with string, to the post master, and each of these steps has to be noted in a dozen columns selected from the fifty that line the record books.

JOHN: And all that for 40 centimes!

JACQUES: Yes, on average.

JOHN: I can see that in effect the sending is quite simple. Let us see what happens on arrival.

JACQUES: The post master opens the mail bag.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: He reads the ten notices from his respective post masters.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: He compares the total shown for each notice with the total that results from each of the ten packets of letters.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: He totals the totals and knows what overall amount he will make the postmen responsible for.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: After this, with a table of distances and a set of scales in his hand, he checks and corrects the tax on each letter.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: He enters from register to register, from column to column, depending on countless factors, the excess payments and the underpayments he has found.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: He writes to the ten post masters to point out the errors of 10 or 20 centimes.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: He reorganizes all the letters received to give them to the postmen.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: He totals the taxes for which the postmen are responsible.

JOHN: And then?

JACQUES: The postman checks and they discuss the meaning of the hieroglyphs. The postman pays the amount in advance and leaves.

JOHN: Go on.388

JACQUES: The postman goes to the recipient. He knocks on the door and a servant comes. There are six letters for this address. The taxes are added, separately at first and then together. A total of 2 fr. 70 c. is calculated.

JOHN: Go on.

JACQUES: The servant goes to find his master who checks the hieroglyphs. He misreads the 3s for 2s and the 9s for 4s, he is not sure about the weight and distances; in short, he has the postman brought up and while waiting tries to decipher the signatory of the letters, thinking that it would be wise to refuse to accept them.

JOHN: Go on.

JACQUES: The postman arrives and pleads the cause of the postal service. They discuss, examine, weigh, measure and in the end the recipient accepts five letters and refuses one.

JOHN: Go on.

JACQUES: Now it is just a matter of the payment. The servant goes to the grocer to obtain change. Finally, after twenty minutes the postman is free and runs off to start the same ritual again at each door.

JOHN: Go on.

JACQUES: He returns to the office. He counts and recounts with the post master. He hands over the letters that have been refused and is paid back his advance payments. He reports the objections of the recipients with regard to the weights and distances.

JOHN: Go on.

JACQUES: The manager looks for the registers, record books, and special slips in order to account for the letters refused.

JOHN: Go on, if you please.

JACQUES: Goodness me, I am not a post master. We now come to the accounts for the tenths, twentieths and ends of the months, to the means thought up not only to establish but also to check such a detailed accounting system, one that covers 50 million francs resulting from the average taxes of 43 centimes and 116 million letters, each of which may belong to 242 categories.389

JOHN: This is a very complicated simple system. It is clear that the man who has solved this problem must have had a hundred times more talent than your Mr. Piron390 or our Rowland Hill.

JACQUES: Now you, who seem to be laughing at our system, explain yours.

JOHN: In England, the government sells envelopes and postal wrappers at one penny apiece in all the places it considers to be useful.

JACQUES: And then?

JOHN: You write your letter, fold it into four, put it into one of the envelopes and drop it off or send it to the post office.

JACQUES: And then?

JOHN: Then, that is all. There are no weights, no distances, no excesses payments nor underpayments, no refusals, no slips, no registers, no record books, no columns, no accounts, no checks, no change to be given and received, no hieroglyphs, no discussions and interpretations, no urging to accept, etc. etc.

JACQUES: That really sounds simple. But is it not too simple? A child would understand it. Reforms like this stifle the genius of great administrators. For my part, I prefer the French way. What is more, your uniform tax has the worst of all faults; it is unjust.

JOHN: Why?

JACQUES: Because it is unjust to make people pay the same for a letter delivered to a neighboring address as for one delivered a hundred leagues away.

JOHN: In any case, you will agree that the injustice is contained within the confines of one penny.

JACQUES: What does that matter? It is still an injustice.

JOHN: It can never extend to more than a halfpenny, since the other half covers fixed costs that apply to all letters whatever their distance.

JACQUES: Whether it is a penny or a halfpenny, there is still a principle of injustice.

JOHN: In the end this injustice which, at the very most, cannot exceed a halfpenny in a particular instance, is averaged out for each citizen over all his correspondence, since everyone writes letters that are sometimes to distant addresses and sometimes local.

JACQUES: I still maintain my position. The injustice is reduced to infinity if you like; it is imperceptible, infinitesimal and minute, but it is still there.

JOHN: Does the State make you pay more for a gram of tobacco that you buy in the Rue de Clichy than for the gram you receive at the Quai d’Orsay?391

JACQUES: What is the connection between the two objects of comparison?

JOHN: It is that in either case, there have been transport costs. Mathematically, it would be fair for each dose of tobacco to be more expensive in the Rue de Clichy than the Quai d’Orsay by some millionth of a centime.

JACQUES: That is true, you should want only what is possible.

JOHN: You should add that your postal system is only apparently just. Two houses are next to one another but one is outside and the other inside the area. The first will pay 10 centimes more than the second, exactly the same as the entire delivery of the letter costs in England. You can see that, in spite of appearances, there is injustice in your system on a much larger scale.

JACQUES: That appears to be very true. My objection is not worth much, but there is still a loss of revenue.

At this point, I stopped listening to the two conversationalists. It appears, however, that Jacques Bonhomme was totally convinced for, a few days later when Mr. de Vuitry’s report had appeared,392 he wrote the following letter to the honorable legislator:



Although I am fully aware of the extreme disfavor that is created around anyone who sets himself up as an advocate of an absolute theory, I believe that I should not abandon the cause of a single tax that is reduced to the simple reimbursement of the service rendered.

In addressing you, I am surely doing you a good turn. On the one hand, a hothead, a closet reformer who talks about overturning an entire system at one fell swoop with no transition, a dreamer who perhaps has never set eyes on the mountain of laws, orders, tables, appendices and statistics that accompany your report, in a word, a theoretician and on the other, a lawmaker who is serious, prudent and moderate, who has weighed and compared, who keeps various interests happy, who rejects all systems or, what amounts to the same, constructs one from elements he has garnered from all the others; the outcome of the struggle could not be in any doubt.

Nevertheless, for as long as the question is pending, strongly held ideas have the right to be presented. I know that mine is sufficiently clear-cut to bring a mocking smile to the lips of readers. All that I dare to expect from them is that they produce this smile, if it is produced, as much as they like, after and not before having listened to my reasons.

For I too, in the end can invoke experience. A great nation has tested this. What is its verdict? It cannot be denied that the British handle these matters adroitly, and their judgment carries some weight.

Well then, there is not a single voice in England that does not bless postal reform. I have evidence of this in the open subscription in favor of Mr. Rowland Hill; I have evidence of this, from what John Bull has told me, in the novel way in which the people express their gratitude; I have evidence of this in the admission so often repeated by the League394: “Never would we have developed the public opinion that is now overturning the protectionist system without the penny post.” I have evidence of this in something I have read in a work written by an official pen:

“The tax on letters has to be set not with a fiscal aim but with the sole object of covering expenditure.”

To which Mr. Mac-Gregor395 adds:

“It is true that since the tax has been reduced to our smallest coin, it is not possible to lower it further, although it provides revenue. However this revenue, which is constantly increasing, should be devoted to improving the service and developing our steam packets on every sea.”396

This leads me to examine the commission’s fundamental thought, which on the contrary is that the tax on letters should be a source of revenue for the State.

This thought dominates your entire report, and I must admit that, under the sway of this preoccupation, you could not reach a conclusion that was either grand or comprehensive; it would be fortunate, indeed, if, by wanting to reconcile every system, you did not combine all their disadvantages.

The first question that presents itself is therefore this: Is correspondence between individuals a good subject for taxes?

I will not go back to abstract principles. I will not point out that, as society exists only because of the communication of ideas, the aim of every government ought to be to encourage and not hinder such communication.

I will examine the existing facts.

The total length of royal, departmental and local roads is one million kilometers. Assuming that each has cost 100,000 francs, this makes a capital of 100 billion spent by the State to encourage the movement of goods and people.

Well, I ask you, if one of your honorable colleagues put forward to the Chamber a draft law that said:

“From 1st January 1847, the State will collect from all travelers a tax that is calculated, not only to cover the expenditure on the roads but also to generate four or five times the amount of this expenditure for its coffers …”

Would you not find this proposal antisocial and monstrous?

How is it that this concept of profit, what am I saying, of simple remuneration, has never occurred to anyone when it is a matter of the circulation of goods, and yet it appears so natural to you when it is a question of the circulation of ideas?

I dare to say that it is a matter of habit. If it were a question of creating the postal service, it would certainly seem monstrous to base it on the principle of raising revenue.

And please note that in this instance oppression is more clearly visible.

When the State opens a road, it does not force anyone to use it. (Doubtless it would do so if the use of the road were taxed). But since the existence of the royal post, nobody can any longer write using another avenue, even if it were to his mother.

Therefore, in principle, the tax on letters should be remunerative only, and for this reason, uniform.

If this concept is used as a starting point, how can we fail to marvel at the facility, the beauty and simplicity of the reform?

Here it is in its entirety and, subject to editing, formulated as a draft law:

“Article 1. From 1st January 1847, envelopes and stamped postal wrappers to the value of five (or ten) centimes will be on sale everywhere considered to be useful by the postal services.

Article 2. Any letter placed inside one of these envelopes and which does not exceed the weight of 15 grams or any journal or printed matter placed within one of these wrappers and which does not exceed … grams, will be carried and delivered without cost to its address.

Article 3. The accounting system of the postal services will be totally abolished.

Article 4. All criminal legislation and penalties with regard to the carriage of letters will be abolished.”

This is very simple, I admit, much too simple, and I am expecting a host of objections.

While we can assume, however, that this system has disadvantages, this is not the question; we need to know whether yours does not have still more serious ones.

And in good faith, can it in any way (except for revenue) bear comparison for an instant?

Let us examine them both. Let us compare them from the points of views of ease, convenience, speed, simplicity, orderliness, economy, justice, equality, increased volume, customer satisfaction, intellectual and moral development, andd its civilizing effect and then say, with our hands on our hearts, that it is possible to hesitate for a second.

I will take care not to expand on each of these considerations. I have given you the headings of a dozen chapters and leave the rest blank, convinced that there is nobody better placed than you to fill them in.

But since there is just one objection, revenue, I do have to say a word about this.

You have drawn up a table from which it is apparent that a single tax, even at 20 centimes, would constitute for the Treasury a loss of 22 million.

At 10 centimes, the loss would be 28 million and at 5 centimes, 33 million, extrapolations so terrifying that you do not even formulate them.

But allow me to say that the figures in your report cavort with a little too much abandon. In all of your tables and calculations you imply the following words: all other things being equal. You assume the same costs with a simple administrative structure as with a complex one, the same number of letters with an average tax of 43 as with the single tax of 20 centimes. You limit yourself to this rule of three: 87 million letters at 42 ½ centimes have produced so much. Half as many have yielded such and such. Therefore at 20 centimes, they will produce so and so; accepting nevertheless some differences where these run counter to the reform.

To evaluate the real loss to the Treasury, we first need to know what would be saved by the service; next, to what extent the volume of correspondence would increase. Let us take into account just this latter information, since we may assume that the savings achieved on expenditure would come down to the fact that the current staff would be confronted with a service on a larger scale.

Doubtless it is impossible to set a figure for the increase in circulation of letters, but in this type of question, a reasonable analogy has always been accepted.

You yourself say that in England a reduction of 7/8 in the tax has led to an increase of 360 percent in correspondence.

Over here, a reduction of the tax, which is currently at an average of 43 centimes, to 5 centimes would also be a reduction of 7/8. It is therefore possible to expect the same result, that is to say, 417 million letters instead of 116 million.397

But let us base our calculations on 300 million.

Is it an exaggeration to agree that with a tax that is half as much, we would reach 8 letters per inhabitant, where the English have reached 13?

Well, 300 million letters at 5 centimes give 15 mill.

100 million journals and printed matter at 5 centimes 5

Travelers on the mail-coaches 4

Shipments of money 4

Total receipts 28 million

Current expenditure (which might be reduced) is 31 million

To be deducted, expenditure on steam-packets 5

Outstanding on mail bags, travelers and money shipments 26

Net result 2

Currently, the net result is 19

Loss, or rather a reduction in profit 17 million

Now I ask if the State, which makes a positive sacrifice of 800 million per year to facilitate the circulation of people free of charge, ought not to make a negative sacrifice of 17 million for failing to make money on the circulation of ideas?

But in the end, I know that the tax authorities are people of habit and just as they easily adopt the habit of seeing revenue increase, by the same token they are habitually uneasy to see revenue decrease by a obole. It appears that they are provided with those admirable valves that, in our bodies, allow blood to flow in one direction but prevent it from retracing its flow. So be it. The tax man398 is a bit old for us to be able to change its behavior. Let us not hope, therefore, to persuade it not to act. But what would its staff say if I, Jacques Bonhomme, showed them a means that was simple, easy, convenient and essentially practical for doing considerable good to the country without it costing them a centime!

The post pays the Treasury gross 50 million

Salt 70

Customs duties 160

Total for these three services 280 million

Well then! Set the tax on letters at a uniform rate of 5 centimes.

Decrease the tax on salt to 10 francs per quintal, as voted for by the Chamber.

Give me the authority to modify the rate of tariff duties so that I WILL BE FORMALLY PROHIBITED FROM RAISING ANY DUTY, BUT THAT I WILL BE FREE TO DECREASE THEM AS I SEE FIT.

And I, Jacques Bonhomme, guarantee you not 280 but 300 million. Two hundred bankers in France will be my guarantors. As my premium, I ask only for anything in excess of 300 million that these three taxes produce.

Now, do I need to list the advantages of my proposal?

1. The people will receive all the benefits of the cheapness in the price of a product of vital necessity, salt.

2. Fathers will be able to write to their sons and mothers to their daughters. The affections, feelings and outpourings of love and friendship will not, as they are today, be buried in the depths of people’s hearts by the hand of the tax man.

3. The carriage of letters from one friend to another will no longer be recorded in our records as though it were a criminal action.

4. Trade will blossom again with freedom; our merchant navy will rise from its humiliation.

  1. The tax man will initially gain twenty million and subsequently, all the savings made by each citizen on salt, letters and objects on which duties have been decreased, will pour into the other steams of taxation.

If my proposal is not accepted, what should I deduce from this? Provided that the company of bankers that I represent offers sufficient guarantees, on what pretext will my offer be rejected? It is impossible to invoke the balancing of budgets. The budget will certainly be unbalanced but in the sense that revenue will exceed expenditure. This is not a question of theory, of a system, a statistic, a probability or a conjecture; it is an offer, like that from a company that is asking for the concession for a railway. The tax men tell me what they take from the postal services, salt and customs duties. I offer to give them more. The objection cannot therefore come from them. I offer to decrease the tariff on salt, postal services and customs services and undertake not to raise them; the objection cannot therefore come from taxpayers. Where then does it come from? The monopolists? It remains to be seen whether their voice is to stifle that of the State and that of the people in France. To be reassured in this connection, would you be so good as to forward my proposal to the Council of Ministers.

Jacques Bonhomme.

P.S. This is the text of my offer:

“I, Jacques Bonhomme, representing a company of bankers and capitalists who are ready to give any form of guarantee and deposit all the sureties necessary;

Having learnt that the State draws only 280 million from the Customs Service, the Postal Service and from salt by means of the duties as currently set,

I offer to give them 300 million of gross product for these three services,

Even though it will decrease the tax on salt from 30 francs to 10 francs;

Even though it will decrease the tax on letters from an average of 42 ½ centimes to a single and uniform tax of 5 to 10 centimes;

On the sole condition that I will be permitted, not to raise (this I will formally be prohibited from doing) but to lower customs duties as far as I choose.

Jacques Bonhomme.”

“You are crazy,” I said to Jacques Bonhomme, who sent me his letter, “you have never known how to do things by halves. The other day you were shouting about the hurricane of reforms and here you are, asking for three, making one the condition for the two others. You will be ruined.” “Do not worry,” he answered, “I have done all my calculations. Please God, let them agree! But they will never do so.” On this we left each other with our heads bursting, his with figures and mine with thoughts which I will spare the reader.


376 (Paillottet’s note) Taken from the issue of Le Journal des Economistes dated May 1846.

377 This article was published in May 1846 at a time when the success of the passage of the abolition of the protectionist Corn Laws in England was very close to being achieved (the abolition was announced by Peel in January, the House passed the legislation in May and the House of Lords agreed in June 1846). Bastiat held out great hope that the Chamber of Deputies would reduce French tariffs following the success of the Anti-Corn Law League in England. When the issue came up for debate in 1847 the free traders lost and when the country was engulfed in Revolution in early 1848 the issue of free trade took second place to the problem of fighting socialism in which Bastiat was very active as a Deputy during 1848-1850. See the glossary entry on “Anti-Corn Law League,” “The Corn Laws,” and “French Tariff Policy” in Appendix 3 "Economic Policy and Taxation."

378 In the July Monarchy Deputies were elected for a maximum of 5 years before a new election had to be called. Most of the governments did not see out their full term as they were frequently dissolved early by King Louis Philippe because of some irreconcilable conflict or the loss of a majority. The "fourth session" would have been the last session before a new election had to be held, had the governments gone for their full term, and it was the period of campaigning for re-election with all the promises to the voters which this entails. See the glossary entry on “The Chamber of Deputies.”

379 The fifth legislature of the July Monarchy was elected in two stages in March and July 1839 but was dissolved early by Louis Philippe on 16 June 1842. The sixth legislature was elected on 9 July 1842 but was dissolved in July 1846. The seventh legislature was elected on 1 August 1846 and came to end when the regime was overthrown in the Revolution of February 1848. An election was held on 23 and 24 April 1848 to appoint a new Constituent Assembly of the Second Republic, to which Bastiat was elected to represent Les Landes. Another election was held on 13 May 1849 to appoint the first National Assembly of the Republic, to which Bastiat was also elected. See the glossary entry on "Chamber of Deputies."

380 The official newspaper of government during the July Monarchy in which laws, decrees, and parliamentary debates were published. Not to be confused with Le Moniteur industriel which was the journal of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) founded by Mimerel de Roubaix in 1846. See the glossary entries on “Le Moniteur industriel,” “Mimerel,” and “Association for the Defense of National Employment”.

381 The reforms across the Channel to which Bastiat refers include the First Reform Act of 1832 which expanded the franchise to include some members of the middle class, the reform of the Post Office in 1839 led by Sir Rowland Hill, Sir Robert Peel's reduction of the tariffs on hundreds of items after 1842, and of course the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. See the glossary entries on "Rowland Hill," "Sir Robert Peel," and “The Anti-Corn Law League.”

382 “Oh dear! What a pace! / One at a time, for pity’s sake.” They come from the “Largo al factotum” aria in the first act of Gioachino Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville (1816), where Figaro sings “Ahimè, che furia! / Ahimè chef olla! Uno alla volta per carità! Ehì, Figaro! Son qua. / Figaro qua, Figaro là, / Figaro su, Figaro guì” (Ah, what a frenzy! Ah, what a crowd! One at a time, please!. Hey, Figaro! I’m here. Figaro here. Figaro there, Figaro up, Figaro down”). The libretto was by Cesare Sterbini based upon the play by Beaumarchais from 1775.

383 “Jacques Bonhomme” (literally Jack Goodfellow) is the name used by the French to refer to “everyman,” sometimes with the connotation that he is the archetype of the wise French peasant. Bastiat uses the character of Jacques Bonhomme frequently in his constructed dialogues in the Economic Sophisms as a foil to criticise protectionists and advocates of government regulation. The name Jacques Bonhomme was given to the small magazine that Bastiat and Molinari published and handed out on the street corners of Paris in June and July 1848. In England at this time the phrase used to refer to the average Englishman was “John Bull.” See the glossary entry on “Jacques Bonhomme [person].”

384 In 1839 the Uniform Four Penny Post reform was introduced in England. Then in 1842 it was reduced to one penny (the Uniform Penny Post and the “Penny Black” stamp) which was prepaid by the sender and was the same regardless of distance carried. Up to then the price had depended on the distance carried and was paid by the recipient. A similar law was adopted by France in 1848. As a token of thanks the British public raised through subscription £13,360 which was presented to Hill in 1846. See the glossary entry on "Rowland Hill."

385 Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) was the British Prime Minister in 1841 and introduced a series of economic reforms (he cut the rate of tariff on hundreds of items after 1842) which led to the abolition of the protectionist Corn Laws in May 1846. See the glossary entries on “Peel,” “Anti-Corn Law League,” and “The Corn Laws.”

386 Lord John Russell (1792–1878) was a Member of Parliament, leader of the Whigs, and several times a minister. He served as prime minister from 1846 to 1852 and from 1865 to 1866.

387 Letters sent to a village without a post office had to pay a surcharge of 10 centimes.

388 Bastiat use the English phrase “go on” in the original.

389 In 1847 125 million letters were sent at an average cost of 43 centimes. According to the Budget Papers of 1848 the French state raised fr. 51.5 million from various taxes, duties, and other charges for delivering letters, parcels, and money. The tax on letters alone raised fr. 46.5 million. See C.S. "Postes, DEP, vol. 2, pp. 421-24, and the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

390 Alexis Piron (1689-1773) was a poet and dramatist who became famous for his witty epigrams. He was elected to the French Academy in 1753 but Louis XV refused to ratify his election because of some scandalous verse Piron had written as a young man. Piron however had the last laugh as he had written his own epitaph which says: “Here lies Piron / who was nothing, / not even an Academician.”

391 The sale of tobacco in France was a state monopoly. It contributed fr. 120 million to government receipts in 1848 (8.6% of a total of fr. 1.4 billion). See Appendix 4 "French Government Finances 1848-1849."

392 Adolphe Vuitry (1813-1885) was a lawyer, economist and politician. He was the undersecretary of state for finance in 1851 in the Ministry of Léon Faucher. In 1863 he was appointed governor of the Bank of France.

393 Bastiat uses throughout the term “la taxe des lettres” which would normally be translated as “postal rate” but both Bastiat and the French government in its annual budget regarded it as a tax which raised revenue rather than a charge for a service.

394 The Anti-Corn Law League which took advantage of the penny post to spread their newspapers and leaflets opposing tariffs.

395 John MacGregor (1797-1857) was a statistician, historian, diplomat, and supporter of free trade. He was appointed one of the Secretaries of the British Board of Trade in 1840. During the 1840s he published very detailed reports on tariffs in various European countries. See the glossary entry on "McGregor."

396 We have not been able to find this quotation from MacGregor. The closest we could find is the opening two paragraphs of Chapter 6 “Post Office” of The Commercial and Financial Legislation of Europe and America (1841), p. 264 where he states: “We have, long before the change was made in the post-office charges, been of the opinion that, as the government should never possess a monopoly of trade, the post-office charges should be regulated, not with a view to revenue, but to the purposes of covering all the expenses required to convey letters and intelligence with security and rapidity. The tax imposed on the public by the late post-office reform is so very moderate, that while it still yields a considerable revenue, which we believe confidently will increase, no one can desire any alteration in the rate of postage.”

397 In 1847 the number of letters sent through the post was 125 million which generated fr. 53 million in revenue for the state. The letter tax was reduced in 1849 to 20 centimes which raised the number of letters sent to 157 million in that year (a 25.6% increase) and reduced the tax revenue to fr. 42 million (a 20.7% decrease). In England it took 12 years after the Postal reform of 1839 for revenues to return to what they had been before the reform. During this time however, the number of letters sent had increased nearly 500%. See C.S. "Postes, DEP, vol. 2, pp. 421-24, and the Appendix on "French Government Finances in 1848-49."

398 Bastiat uses a colloquial term “le fisc” to describe the taxation department (or IRS) or Treasury. We have translated it as “the tax man.”


XIII. Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates399 [n.d.] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “La protection ou les trois Échevins” (Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates) [no date given].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES1 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851. Also published as “La Protection ou les Trois Echevins. Démonstration en quatre tableaux,” in Annuaire de l’économie politique et de la statistique pour 1847, par MM. Joseph Garnier et Guillaumin … 4e année. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1847), pp. 266-70.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 229-41.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


A staged argument in four scenes.


(The scene takes place in the town house of Pierre, a municipal magistrate. The window gives a view of a beautiful park; three people are sitting round a table near a good fire.)

PIERRE: I say! A fire is very welcome when the Inner Man400 is satisfied! You must agree that it is very pleasant. But, alas! How many honest people, like the King of Yvetot401,

For lack of wood, blow

On their fingers.

What unfortunate creatures! Heaven has inspired a charitable thought in me. Do you see these beautiful trees? I want to cut them down and distribute the wood to the poor.

PAUL and JEAN: What! Free of charge?

PIERRE: Not exactly. My good works would soon be over if I dissipated my assets in this way. I estimate that my park is worth twenty thousand livres; by cutting it down I will get even more.

PAUL: You are wrong. Your wood left standing is worth more than neighboring forests because it provides more services than they can provide. If it is cut down, like its neighbors it will just be good for heating and will be worth not a denier more for each load.402

PIERRE: Ha, ha! Mr. Theoretician, you have forgotten that I am a practical man. I thought that my reputation as a speculator was well enough established to protect me against being accused of stupidity. Do you think I am going to pass the time selling my wood at the low prices charged for wood floated down the Seine?403

PAUL: You will have to.

PIERRE: What a naive person you are! And suppose I prevent the wood floated down the river from reaching Paris?

PAUL: That would change the picture. But how will you manage this?

PIERRE: This is the whole secret. You know that wood floated down the river pays ten sous per load on entry. Tomorrow, I will persuade the Municipal Magistrates to raise this duty to 100, 200 or even 300 livres, high enough to ensure that not a single log comes through. Well, do you follow me? If the good people do not want to die of cold, they will have to come to my yard. People will fight to have my wood; I will sell it for its weight in gold and this well-organized charity will enable me to do other good works.

PAUL: Good heavens! What a fine scheme! It makes me think of another in the same vein.

JEAN: Let us see, what is it? Is philanthropy also concerned?

PAUL: What did you think of this butter from Normandy?

JEAN: It is excellent!

PAUL: Ah ha! It seemed all right just now, but do you not find that it sticks in your throat? I want to make better butter in Paris. I will have four or five hundred cows; I will distribute milk, butter and cheese to the poor.

PIERRE and PAUL: What! Free of charge?

PAUL: Bah! Let us always highlight charity! It has such a pretty face that even its mask is an excellent passport. I will give my butter to the people and the people will give me their money. Is this known as selling?

JEAN: No, according to the Bourgeois Gentilhomme404, but call it what you like, you will ruin yourself. Can Paris compete with Normandy in raising cows?

PAUL: I will have the saving on transport in my favor.

JEAN: So be it. But even if they pay for transport, the Normans are in a position to beat the Parisians.405

PAUL: Do you call it beating someone to deliver goods to him at low prices?

JEAN: That is the accepted term. It is still true that you, for your part, will be beaten.

PAUL: Yes, like Don Quixote. The blows will fall upon Sancho. Jean, my friend, you are forgetting city tolls.

JEAN: City tolls! What have they to do with your butter?

PAUL: Right from tomorrow, I will claim protection; I will persuade the commune to prohibit butter from Normandy and Brittany. People will have to go without or buy mine, and at my price.

JEAN: By all that is holy, sirs, I find your philanthropy fascinating.

People learn to howl with the wolves, said someone.

My mind is made up. It will not be said that I am an unworthy Municipal Magistrate. Pierre, this crackling fire has inflamed your soul: Paul, this butter has loosened up the springs of your mind; well then, I also feel that this salted pork is stimulating my intelligence. Tomorrow, I will vote for the exclusion of pigs, alive or dead and get it voted for too. Once this is done, I will build superb sties in the center of Paris,

For the disgusting animal that is forbidden to Jews.

I will make myself a swineherd and pork butcher. Let us see how the good people of Lutecium406 will avoid coming to buy from my shop.

PIERRE: Not so fast, Sirs! If you make butter and salted meat so expensive, you will eat into the profit I am expecting from my wood.

PAUL: Heavens! My speculation will not be so marvelous any more if you hold me to ransom with your logs and hams.

JEAN: And what will I gain from making you pay over the odds for my sausages if you make me do likewise for my bread and faggots of wood?

PIERRE: Well I declare! Are we going to quarrel about this? Let us rather join forces. Let us give each other mutual concessions. Besides, it is not good to listen only to the base voice of self-interest; humanity is there, should we not ensure that the people are heated?

PAUL: That is true. And people need butter to spread on their bread.

JEAN: Without doubt. And they need bacon to put in their stew.

IN CHORUS: Charity to the fore! Long live philanthropy! Tomorrow! Tomorrow! We will make an assault on city tolls.

PIERRE: Ah, I was forgetting. Just a word and this is essential. My friends, in this century of selfishness, the world is mistrustful and the purest intentions are often misinterpreted. Paul, plead in favor of wood; Jean, defend butter and for my part, I will devote myself to local pigs. It is a good thing to anticipate nasty suspicions.

PAUL and JEAN (leaving): Goodness! There is a clever man!


The Council of Municipal Magistrates

PAUL: My dear colleagues, every day, piles of wood come into Paris, which causes piles of cash to leave. At this rate we will all be ruined in three years, and what will become of the poor? (Cheers!) Let us prohibit foreign wood. I am not speaking for myself, since all the wood I possess would not make a toothpick. I am therefore perfectly disinterested in this matter. (Hear! Hear!) But here is Pierre who has a stand of trees; he will ensure heating for our fellow citizens who will no longer have to depend on the charcoal makers of the Yonne.407 Have you ever thought of the danger we run of dying of cold if the owners of foreign forests took it into their heads not to send wood to Paris? Let us therefore prohibit their wood. In this way, we will prevent our cash from running out, create a logging industry and create a new source of work and pay for our workers. (Applause)

JEAN: I support this proposal, which is so philanthropic and above all so disinterested, as the honorable gentleman who has just spoken himself has said. It is time we stopped this insolent laissez passer,408 which has brought unfettered competition into our market with the result that, there is no province reasonably endowed for whatever form of production it may be, that is not coming to flood us and sell it to us at rock bottom prices, thus destroying jobs in Paris. It is up to the State to make production conditions level through wisely weighted duties, to allow only those goods that are more expensive than in Paris to enter and thus protect us from an unequal conflict. How, for example, do people want us to be able to produce milk and butter in Paris when faced with Brittany and Normandy? Just think, Sirs, that Bretons have cheaper land, hay closer to hand and labor at more advantageous rates. Does common sense not tell us that we have to make opportunity more equal through a city toll set at a protective rate? I request that duty on milk and butter should be raised to 1,000 percent and more if necessary. People’s breakfast will be slightly more expensive, but how their earnings will rise! We will see barns and dairies being built, butter churns increasing in number and new industries being established. It is not that there is the slightest self-interest in my proposal. I am not a cowherd, nor do I want to be. I am moved merely by the desire to be useful to the working classes. (Movement of approval).

PIERRE: I am happy to see in this assembly Statesmen that are so pure, so enlightened and so devoted to the interests of the people. (Cheers!) I admire their selflessness and cannot do better than to follow such noble examples. I support their motion and add one to prohibit pigs from Poitou.409 It is not that I wish to become a swineherd or pork butcher; in this case my conscience would make it my duty to abstain. But is it not shameful, Sirs, that we should pay tribue to these peasants from Poitou who have the audacity to come into our own market and take work that we could be doing ourselves and who, after swamping us with sausages and hams, perhaps take nothing in return? In any case, who tells us that the balance of trade is not in their favor and that we are not obliged to pay them a remainder in cash? Is it not clear that, if industry from Poitou was transferred to Paris it would create guaranteed openings for Parisian jobs? And then, Sirs, is it not highly possible, as Mr. Lestiboudois 410 said so well, that we are buying salted meat from Poitou not with our income but with our capital? Where is this going to lead us? Let us therefore not allow avid, greedy and perfidious rivals411 to come here and sell goods cheaply, making it impossible for us to make them ourselves. Municipal Magistrates, Paris has given us its trust, and we should justify this. The people are without work; it is up to us to create it, and if salted meat costs them slightly more, we would at least be conscious of the fact that we have sacrificed our interests in favor of those of the masses, just as any good municipal magistrate ought to do. (Thunderous applause).

A VOICE: I hear a great deal being said about the poor, but on the pretext of giving them work, people begin by taking away from them what is worth more even than work: wood, butter and soup.

PIERRE, PAUL and JEAN: Let us vote! Let us vote! Down with Utopians,412 theoreticians and those who speak in generalities! Let us vote! Let us vote! (The three proposals are approved).


Twenty years later

THE SON: Father, you must decide, we have to leave Paris. We can no longer live here. Jobs are scarce and everything is expensive.

THE FATHER: My child, you do not know how much it costs to abandon the place where we were born.

THE SON: What is worst of all is to die of hunger.

THE FATHER: Go, my son, and find a more hospitable land. For my part, I will not leave the grave in which your mother, brothers and sisters have been laid to rest. I am longing to find in it at last the peace at their side that has been refused me in this town of desolation.

THE SON: Take courage, good father, we will find work away from home, in Poitou, Normandy or in Brittany. It is said that all the industries of Paris are being gradually transferred to these far-off regions.

THE FATHER: It is only natural. As they can no longer sell us wood and foodstuffs, they have ceased to produce anything over their own needs; whatever time and capital they have available they devote to making themselves the things we used to supply them with in former times.

THE SON: In the same way that in Paris, people have ceased to make fine furniture and clothing in order to plant trees and raise pigs and cows. Although I am very young, I have seen huge warehouses, sumptuous districts and the banks of the Seine so full of life now invaded by fields and thickets.

THE FATHER: While the provinces are becoming covered with towns, Paris is turning into a rural area. What a frightful turnaround! And it needed only three misled municipal magistrates, assisted by public ignorance, to bring this terrible calamity down on us.

THE SON: Tell me the story, Father.

THE FATHER: It is very simple. On the pretext of setting up three new industries in Paris and thus supplying jobs for workers, these men had the importing of wood, butter and meat prohibited. They claim for themselves the right to supply these to their fellow citizens. These objects first rose to an exorbitant price. Nobody earned enough to buy them and the small number of those who were able to obtain them spent all their resources on them and were unable to buy anything else. For this reason, all forms of industry shut down at the same time, all the quicker since the provinces no longer provided any markets. Destitution, death and emigration began to rob Paris of its people.

THE SON: And when will this stop?

THE FATHER: When Paris has become a forest and prairie.

THE SON: The three Municipal Magistrates must have made huge fortunes?

THE FATHER: Initially, they made huge profits, but in the long run they were overcome by the general destitution.

THE SON: How is that possible?

THE FATHER: Do you see this ruin? It was once a magnificent town house surrounded by a fine park. If Paris had continued to progress, Master Pierre would have obtained more rent for it than its capital value is now worth.

THE SON: How can this be, since he now has no competition?

THE FATHER: Competition to sell has disappeared but competition to buy is also disappearing with every passing day and will continue to disappear until Paris is open country and Master Pierre’s thickets have no greater value than an equal area of thicket in the Forest of Bondy.413 This is how monopoly, like any form of injustice, carries within itself the seed of its own punishment.

THE SON: This does not seem very clear to me, but what is incontrovertible is the decadence of Paris. Is there no way of overturning this iniquitous measure that Pierre and his colleagues caused to be adopted twenty years ago?

THE FATHER: I will tell you my secret. I am remaining in Paris for this; I will call upon the people to help me. It will be up to them to restore the city tolls to their original level, to remove from them the disastrous principle that has been grafted on to them and which has vegetated like a parasitic fungus.

THE SON: You should achieve success right from the very first day!

THE FATHER: Now hold on! On the contrary, this work is difficult and laborious. Pierre, Paul and Jean understand each other perfectly. They are ready to do anything rather than allow wood, butter and meat to enter Paris. They have the people themselves on their side, as they clearly see the work given to them by the three protected industries; the people know how much work these industries are giving to woodcutters and cowherds but they cannot have as accurate an idea of the production that would develop in the fresh air of freedom.

THE SON: If that is all that is needed, you will enlighten them.

THE FATHER: Child, at your age, you have no doubts about anything. If I express my thoughts in writing the people will not read me, since there are not enough hours in the day for them to eke out their unfortunate existence. If I speak out, the Municipal Magistrates will seal my lips. The people will therefore remain disastrously misled for a long time. The political parties who base their hopes on people's passions will spend less time dissipating their misconceptions than exploiting them.414 I will thus have to confront simultaneously those currently in power, the people and the political parties. Oh! I see a terrible storm ready to break on the head of anyone bold enough to rise up against such deep-rooted iniquity in the country.

THE SON: You will have justice and truth on your side.

THE FATHER: And they will have force and slander on theirs. If only I were young! But age and suffering have sapped my strength.

THE SON: Very well, Father. Devote the strength left to you to serving the country. Begin the work of emancipation and leave me as an inheritance the duty to complete it.


Popular Unrest

JACQUES BONHOMME: People of Paris! Let us demand a reform of the city tolls! Let their original function be restored. Let each citizen be FREE to buy wood, butter and meat wherever he pleases!


PIERRE: People of Paris! Do not be swayed by these words! What use is the freedom to buy if you lack the means? And how will you obtain the means if you lack work? Can Paris produce wood as cheaply as the Forest of Bondy? Meat at as low a price as Poitou? Butter in as favorable conditions as Normandy? If you open the door wide to these rival products, what will become of the cowherds, woodcutters and pork butchers? They cannot do without protection.


JACQUES: Protection! Are you the workers being protected? Are you not being made to compete against one another? Let the sellers of wood in turn suffer from competition! They have no right to increase the price of their wood by law unless they also raise rates of pay by law. Are you no longer a nation that loves equality?


PIERRE: Do not listen to this revolutionary! It is true that we have increased the price of wood, meat and butter, but this is in order to be able to pay good wages to the workers. We are motivated by charity.


JACQUES: Use city tolls, if you can, to raise wages but not to make products more expensive. The people of Paris are not asking for charity, but justice!


PIERRE: It is precisely the high prices of products that will produce higher wages as a result of the ricochet or flow on effect!415


JACQUES: If butter is expensive, it is not because you are paying the workers high wages. It is not even because you are making huge profits; it is just because Paris is ill-suited to this industry and because you have wanted things to be produced in town that ought to be produced in the country and things in the country that ought to be produced in town. The people do not have more work; they merely do other work. They do not have higher pay; they merely no longer buy things as cheaply.


PIERRE: You are being swayed by the fine words of this man! Let us put the question in simple terms. Is it not true that if we allow butter, wood and meat to enter we will be swamped by them? We would perish from a surfeit! There is therefore no other way of protecting ourselves from this different form of invasion than to shut our door to it and, in order to maintain the price of products, to produce a scarcity of them artificially.


JACQUES: Let us set the question out in all its truth! We can share out among all the people of Paris only what there is in Paris. If there is less wood, meat and butter, each person’s share will be smaller. Now there will be less if we keep these out than if we let them in. People of Paris! Each person can be abundantly supplied only if there is general abundance.


PIERRE: Whatever this man says, he will not prove to you that it is in your interest to be subjected to unbridled competition.


JACQUES: However eloquent this man is, he will not enable you to taste the sweetness of trade restrictions.


PIERRE: For my part, I declare that if you deprive the poor cowherds and swineherds of their living, if you sacrifice them to theories, I will not longer guarantee public order. Workers, do not trust this man. He is an agent of perfidious Normandy and goes abroad to seek inspiration. He is a traitor and should be hanged.416 (The people are silent)

JACQUES: People of Paris, all that I am saying today I said twenty years ago, when Pierre chose to exploit city tolls for his benefit and your loss. I am not, then, an agent of the people of Normandy. Hang me if you like, but that will not stop oppression from being oppression. Friends, it is neither Jacques nor Pierre who ought to be killed but freedom, if you are afraid of it, or trade restriction if it hurts you.

THE PEOPLE: Let us hang nobody and emancipate everybody!


399 Bastiat uses a term from the ancien régime, "échevin," in the title of this essay: "Protectionism, or the three Échevins." Beginning in the 13th century, cities like Paris had a "prévôt des marchands" (Provost of Merchants) whose task it was to supply the city with food, to maintain public works, to levy taxes, and to regulate river trade. He was appointed by the King and assisted by four "échevin" (assessors or magistrates). In the 18th century the post of Provost had been farmed out by the crown to private individuals and it was abolished early in the Revolution (July 1789), with some of his duties being given to the mayor and the post of "échevin" being converted to one of municipal councillor. Bastiat uses the archaic sounding title of Échevin in order to make the point that their duties in regulating trade were more in keeping with the Old Regime than they were for modern, industrializing France.

400 Bastiat uses the term “Gaster” (Mr. Stomach).

401 Bastiat is mistaken here. He is quoting a satirical song by Pierre-Jean Béranger (1780-1857) who made a name for himself mocking Emperor Napoleon and then all the monarchs of the Restoration period. Bastiat thinks the verse he quotes comes from the song “Le Roi d’Yvetot” (The King of Yvetot) (May 1813) which is a thinly disguised criticism of Napoleon. The Seigneur Yvetot behaved as if he were a king and tormented the local populace accordingly. One verse in particular might have caught Bastiat’s eye as it deals with taxation: “III. No costly regal tastes had he, / Save thirstiness alone; / But ere a people blest can be, / We must support the throne! / So from each cask new tapp’d he got, / (His own tax-gath’rer), on the spot, / A pot! / Ha! ha! ha! ha! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho! / A kingdom match with Yvetot! / Ho! Ho!” The verse he quotes comes from another song called “Le petit homme gris” (The Little Grey Man) who lives in Paris and is so poor and cold he has to blow on his fingers to keep warm. Oeuvres completes de Béranger. Nouvelle edition illustrée par J.J. Grandville (Paris: H. Fournier, 1839), vol. 1, pp. 29-30 (for “The Little Grey Man”), pp. 1 ff. (for “The King Yvetot”); for the English translation of “The King Yvetot” see Béranger’s Songs of the Empire, the Peace, and the Restoration, trans. Robert B. Brough (London: Addey and Co., 1854), pp. 21-24. The latter also contains a very funny and sad song about “Liberty” which Béranger lacked when he was imprisoned in St. Pélagie in 1822. The first two verses go: “I. Since I’ve the odour smelt / of ironmongery, / Most spitefully I’ve felt / Tow’rds Madam Liberty. / Shame, shame on Liberty! / Down, down with Liberty!/ II. Marchangy’s (his jailer) taken pains / (A kindly sage is he) / To beat into my brains / The good of slavery. / Shame, shame on Liberty! / Down, down with Liberty!” pp. 109-111. Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857) was a liberal poet and songwriter who rose to prominence during the Restoration period with his funny and clever criticisms of the monarchy and the church. He was sent to prison twice in the 1820s for offending the political authorities with his irreverent verses. Bastiat knew him and was known to have sung his drinking songs on occasion. See the glossary entry on “Béranger.”

402 Traditionally, the relative value of coinage before the introduction of the France was 240 denier = 20 sol = 1 livre. An obole was a small fraction of a denier (sometimes 1/2). See the glossary entry on “French Currency.”

403 Wood for fuel was floated down the river Seine to be sold in Paris.

404 Bastiat refers here to Molière’s play Le Bourgeois gentihomme (The Would-Be Gentleman) (1670). M. Jourdain is persuaded by the valet Covielle that his father was not a merchant who “sold” goods (which is what a bourgeois would do) but merely “gave them away for money” (as a true nobleman would do). Act IV, scene III. ). Théatre complet de J.-B. Poquelin de Molière, publié par D. Jouast en huit volumes avec la preface de 1682, annotée par G. Monval, vol. 7 (Paris: Librairie des bibliophiles, 1892), p. 103. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

405 As the FEE translator notes (p. 232), Bastiat is punning here on the French word “battre” which can mean both “to beat” as well as “to churn” (i.e. To churn butter).

406 “Le bon people lutécien” is a reference to “the good people of Paris”. Lutèce was a town in Gaul and the main town of a tribe known as the Parisii. The Île de la Cité in Paris is probably where these people lived.

407 Yonne is a Department southeast of Paris which lies on the Yonne River, a tributary of the Seine River.

408 This is the second half of the Physiocrats’ policy advice to the government, “laissez-faire, laissez-passer” (let us be free to do what we will and to be free to go wherever we will) See the glossary entry “Laissez-faire.”

409 Poitou is a province southwest of Paris.

410 (Paillottet’s note) See chapter VI of the 1st series of the Sophisms. (Chapter VI The Balance of Trade). [DMH - Thémistocle Lestiboudois (1797–1876) was a Deputy from Lille (elected 1842) who supported the liberals in 1844 in wanting to end the stamp tax on periodicals but opposed them in supporting protectionism. In 1847 he published the pro-tariff book Économie politique des nations. See the glossary on "Lestiboudois.”

411 See the glossary entry on “Perfidious Albion.”

412 See the glossary entry on “Utopias.”

413 The forest of Bondy is a large forest in the Département of Seine-Saint-Denis about 15 kilometres to the east of Paris. It was a notorious refuge for thieves and highwaymen.

414 The main political groups in the late 1840s when Bastiat was writing and becoming politically active include the Doctrinaires who were moderate royalists, the Legitimists (also known as the “Party of Order” in 1849) who were supporters of the descendants of Charles X, the Republicans who were a diverse and poorly organized group, the Montagnards who were radical socialists, the Orléanists who were supporters of the overthrown Louis Philippe, and the Bonapartists who were supporters of Napoleon, both the Emperor Napoleon I and then his nephew Louis Napoleon. All of the political groups were protectionist to one degree or the other, and the socialists were both protectionist and extremely interventionist as well. Free traders like Bastiat were very much in the minority and could draw upon only a few luke-warm supporters in the Doctrinaire and Bonapartist groups. See the glossary entry on “Political Parties.”

415 By the “ricochet (or flow on) effect” Bastiat means the indirect consequences of an economic action which flow or knock on to other parties (potentially numbering in their thousands or even millions), sometimes with positive results (as with the invention of printing or steam powered ships) but more often with negative results (as with tariffs, subsidies, and taxes). This insight was an elaboration of his earlier idea of the "Double Incidence of Loss" which he used to great effect in WSWNS. See the glossary entry on "The Double Incidence of Loss" and the Appendices "Bastiat and the Ricochet Effect" and "The Sophism Bastiat never wrote: the Sophism of the Ricochet Effect."

416 "Perfidious Normandy" is a play on words by Bastiat since the phrase normally used is "Perfidious Albion" in reference to England. It arose during the French Revolution to express contempt for the support Britain gave to the other monarchical powers of Europe in the war against the French Republic and then Napoleon. It was used during the 1840s as an attack on the policies of free trade which Britain was adopting, especially French supporters of free trade like Bastiat who were seen as "fifth columnists" for the British Empire. Bastiat made trips to England to meet Richard Cobden and other members of the Anti-Corn Law League and they in turn visited France. Bastiat was then in way "importing" seditious and traiterous free trade ideas into France as he notes here. Jacques (Bastiat) of course would know that free trade ideas were very much part of the history of French economic thought going back to the Physiocrats and Jean-Baptiste Say. See the glossary entries on “The Physiocrats,” Jean-Baptiste Say,” and “Perfidious Albion.”


XIV. Something Else417 [21 March 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Autre chose” (Something Else) [Le Libre-Échange, 21 March 1847].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 241-51.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


"What is trade restriction?"

"It is partial prohibition"

"What is prohibition?"

"It is absolute trade restriction."

"So that what you say about one applies to the other?"

"Yes, except for the degree. There is the same relationship between them as between the arc of a circle and the circle itself."

"Therefore, if prohibition is bad, restriction cannot be good?"

"No more than the arc of a circle can be straight if the circle is round."

"What is the term that is common to both restriction and prohibition?"


"What is the final effect of protection?"

"To require a greater amount of work from men for the same result."

"Why are people so attached to protectionist regimes?"

"Because freedom being bound to provide the same result for less work, this apparent reduction in work terrifies them."

"Why do you say apparent?"

"Because any labor saved can be devoted to something else."

"What else?"

"This cannot be specified and has no need to be."


"Because if the total of France’s current satisfactions were achievable with a reduction of one tenth of the total of the work, no one is able to specify what new satisfactions she would want to obtain for herself with the resources that remain available. Some people would want to be better clothed, others better fed, some better educated and some better entertained."

"Please explain the mechanism and effects of protection to me."

"That is not easy. Before moving on to complicated examples, we would have to study it in its simplest form."

"Take the simplest example you want."

"Do you remember how Robinson Crusoe418 set about making a plank when he had no saw?"

"Yes, he felled a tree and, trimming the trunk with his axe first on its left and then on its right side, he reduced it to the thickness of a beam."

"And did that take him a great deal of work?"

"Two whole weeks."

"And what did he live on during this time?"

"His provisions."

"And what became of the axe?"419

"It became very blunt."

"Very well. But perhaps you did not know this. Just when he was about to give the first stroke of his axe, Robinson Crusoe saw a plank cast up by the waves on the beach."

"Oh, what a coincidence! Did he run to pick it up?"

"This was his first reaction, but then he stopped for the following reason:

“If I pick up this plank, it will cost me only the fatigue of carrying it and the time to go down the cliff and climb it again.

But if I make a plank with my axe, firstly I will give myself enough work for two weeks, secondly I will wear out my axe, which will give me the opportunity of repairing it, and then I will eat up my provisions, a third source of work, since I will need to replace them. Now, work is wealth. It is clear that I will ruin myself by going to pick up the plank washed up on the beach. It is important for me to protect my personal labor and now that I think of it, I can create further work for myself by going to push this plank back into the sea!”

"But this line of reasoning is absurd!"

"So it is! It is nevertheless the one followed by any nation that protects itself through prohibition. It rejects the plank offered to it for little work in order to give itself more work. There is no work up to and including the work of the Customs Officer in which it does not see advantage. This is illustrated by the trouble taken by Robinson Crusoe to return to the sea the gift it wished to make him. Think of the nation as a collective being and you will find not an atom of difference between its way of reasoning and that of Robinson Crusoe."

"Did Robinson not see that the time he saved he could devote to doing something else?"

"What else?"

"As long as you have needs and time in hand, you always have something to do. I cannot be expected to specify the work he might have undertaken."

"I can identify clearly the work that eluded him."

"And I maintain for my part that Robinson Crusoe, through incredible blindness, was confusing work with its result and the end with the means, and I will prove it to you."

"I will let you off that. It is nevertheless true that this is the simplest example of a restrictive or prohibitionist system. If it appears absurd to you in this form, it is because the two roles of producer and consumer are here combined in the same person."

"Let us move on to a more complicated example then."

"With pleasure. A short time afterward, when Robinson Crusoe had met Man Friday, they became friends and started to work together. In the morning they went hunting together for six hours and brought back four baskets of game. In the evening, they gardened for six hours and obtained four baskets of vegetables.

One day, a dug-out canoe landed on the Island of Despair.420 A good-looking stranger got out and was invited to the table of our two castaways. He tasted and fulsomely praised the garden products and, before taking leave of his hosts, he said to them:

“Generous islanders, I live in a land that has much more game than this but where horticulture is unknown. It would be easy for me to bring you four baskets of game each evening if you would trade me just two baskets of vegetables.”

At these words, Robinson and Friday went aside to confer, and their discussion is too interesting for me not to quote it here in full:

FRIDAY: "What do you think, Friend?"421

CRUSOE: "If we accept we will be ruined."

F.: "Are you quite sure? Let us do the calculation."

C.: "The calculation has been done. When it is crushed by the competition, hunting will be a lost industry for us."

F.: "What does it matter if we have the game?"

C.: "That is only theory! It will not be the product of our labor."422

F.: "Good heavens! Yes it will, since to have it we will have to give them vegetables!"

C.: "Then what will we gain?"

F.: "The four baskets of game cost us six hours of work. The stranger will give them to us for two baskets of vegetables which cost us only three. We will thus have three hours at our disposal."

C.: "So you should say then that these three hours have been deducted from our activity. That is exactly where our loss lies. Work is wealth, and if we lose a quarter of our time, we will be a quarter less rich."

F.: "Friend, you are making a huge mistake. The same game and the same vegetables and in addition, three hours available; that is progress or there is no progress in this world!"

C.: " A mere generality! What will we do with these three hours?"

F.: We will do something else.

C.: "Ah, I have caught you out! You cannot be specific. Something else, something else, that is easy to say."

F.: "We will go fishing, improve the appearance of our cabin, read the Bible."

C.: "Utopia!423 Is it certain that we will do one thing rather than another?"

F.: "Well then, if we have nothing to do, we will rest. Is rest worth nothing?"

C.: "But when we rest we die of hunger."

F.: "Friend, you are in a vicious circle. I am talking about rest that takes nothing away from either our game or our vegetables. You continue to forget that through our trade with the stranger, nine hours of work will obtain for us as many provisions as twelve does now."

C.: "We can see that you were not brought up in Europe. Perhaps you have never read Le Moniteur industriel?424 It would have taught you that: “All time saved is a net loss. It is not eating that is important, it is work. If it is not the direct product of our work, everything we consume is of no account. Do you want to know whether you are rich? Do not look at your satisfactions but at the effort your work entails.” This is what Le Moniteur industriel would have taught you. For my part, I who am not a theoretician, all I can see is the loss of our hunting."

F.: "What a strange inversion of ideas! But …"

C.: "There is no but. Besides, there are political reasons for rejecting self-interested proposals from perfidious foreigners."

F.: "Political reasons!"

C.: "Yes. Firstly, he is making us these proposals only because they are of benefit to him."

F.: "All the better, since they are the same to us too."

C.: "Secondly, through these trades we will become dependent on him."

F.: "And he on us. We will need his game and he our vegetables, and we will live in harmony.” [??? - nous vivrons en bonne amitié - we will live in peace and friendship, or goodwill, live as good friends]

C.: "Theories! Do you want me to render you speechless?"

F.: "That remains to be seen; I am still waiting for a good argument."

C.: "Let us suppose that the stranger learns how to cultivate a garden and that his island is more fertile than ours. Do you see the result?"

F.: "Yes. Our relationship with the stranger will cease. He will no longer take our vegetables since he will obtain them at home for less trouble. He will no longer bring us game since we will have nothing to offer him in exchange and we will be in exactly the same position as you want us to be today."

C.: "Thoughtless savage! Do you not see that once he has killed our hunting industry by swamping us with game, he will kill our gardening industry by swamping us with vegetables?"

F.: "But this will never happen as long as we give him something else, that is to say, that we find something else that it is economic for us to produce."

C.: "Something else, something else! You keep harping on about it! You are in a rut, Friend Friday; Your ideas are not in the least practical."

The conflict lasted a long time and left each convinced that he was right, as is often the case. However, since Robinson Crusoe had great influence over Man Friday his views won the day, and when the stranger came for their reply Robinson Crusoe told him:

“Stranger, for your proposal to be accepted, we would have to be sure of two things:

Firstly, that your island is no richer in game than ours since we want to compete only on an equal footing.

Secondly, that you will lose out in the trade. For, as there is always a winner and a loser in every exchange, we would be the dupes425 if you did not. What do you say?”

“Nothing”, said the stranger and bursting out laughing, he went back to his canoe.

The tale would not be so bad if Robinson Crusoe were not so absurd.

"He is no more absurd than the committee in the Rue Hauteville."426

"Oh, that is very different! You are supposing on one occasion a single man and on another two men living communally, which amounts to the same thing. This is not like our world; the division of labor, the intervention of traders and money changes the matter considerably."

"That does complicate transactions, it is true, but it does not change their nature."

"What! You want to compare modern trade with simple barter?"

"Trade is just a host of barters; the intrinsic nature of a barter is identical to the intrinsic nature of trade, just as a small job is of the same nature as a large one or as the gravity that pushes an atom is of the same nature as the one that moves a world."

"Thus, in your opinion, the reasons that are so erroneous in the mouth of Robinson Crusoe are no less so in the mouths of our protectionists?"

"That’s right, only the error is better hidden under the complexity of the circumstances."

"Well then! Take an example from the real world of events."

"Very well. In France, in view of the demands of climate and customs, cloth is a useful product. Is the essential factor making it or having it?"

"A fine question! To have it you have to make it."

"That is not necessarily so. To have it, someone has to make it, that is certain, but it is not obligatory for it to be the person or the country that consumes it which produces it. You have not made the cloth that clothes you so well; France has not produced the coffee for her citizens’ breakfast."

"But I have purchased my cloth and France her coffee."

"Precisely, but with what?"

"With money."

"But you have not made the money, nor has France."

"We have bought it."

"With what?"

"With our products that went to Peru."

"Therefore, in reality it is your labor that you exchange for cloth and French labor that is exchanged for coffee."


"It is therefore not strictly necessary to make what you consume."

"No, if you make something else that you give in exchange."

"In other words, France has two ways of procuring a given quantity of cloth for herself. The first is to make it; the second is to make something else and trade this something else abroad for cloth. Which of these two means is the better?"

"I do not really know."

"Is it not the one that gives a greater quantity of cloth for a given amount of labor?"

"It would appear so."

"And which is better for a nation, to have the choice between these two means or that the law should forbid one in the hope of correctly stumbling across the better one?"

"It seems to me that it is better for it to have the choice, especially since in these matters she always chooses well."

"So, the law that prohibits foreign cloth decides that if France wants to have cloth, she has to make it directly, from her own resources and that it is forbidden to make the something else with which she might purchase cloth from abroad?"

"That is true."

"And since it forces France to make cloth and forbids her from making the something else, precisely because this something else would require less work (without which consideration the law would not need to become involved), the law therefore virtually decrees that, for a given amount of labor, France would have only one meter of cloth by making it when, for the same labor she might have two meters by making this something else."

"But, good Heavens, what something else?"

"Well, good Heavens, what does it matter? Given the choice, it would make something else only when there was something else to be made!"

"That is possible, but I am still concerned with the thought that foreigners send us cloth and do not take from us the something else, in which case we would be well and truly caught out. In any case, this is the objection, even from your point of view. You agree that France will make this something else to trade for cloth with less effort than if she made the cloth herself."


"There would therefore be a certain quantity of her labor left idle."

"Yes, but without her people’s being less well clothed, an un-dramatic circumstance but one that underlies the whole misunderstanding. Robinson Crusoe lost sight of this; our protectionists either do not see this or they are hiding it. The plank washed ashore also brought Robinson Crusoe’s work to a standstill for two weeks, as far as making a plank was concerned, but it did not deprive him of work. You therefore have to distinguish between these two types of decline in the demand for labor, the one that has as deprivation as its effect and the one which has increased satisfaction as its cause. These two things are very different, and if you do not distinguish between them you are reasoning like Robinson Crusoe. In the most complex cases, as in the most simple ones, the sophism consists in this: “Judge the usefulness of the work by its duration and its intensity and not by its results”, which leads to the following economic policy: “Reduce the output of work with the aim of increasing its duration and intensity.” 427


417 (Paillottet’s note) Taken from Le Libre-Échange, 21 March 1847.

418 In this chapter Bastiat makes several references to Robinson Crusoe and the economic choices he had to make in order to survive on his island. The relative simplicity of the choices he had to make (first just one person and then two with the arrival of Friday) makes this a useful device for economists to use when making “thought experiments” to illustrate economic principles such as the problem of the competing uses to which economic resources could be put. Bastiat is one of the first economists to do this in a systematic way. See the glossary entry “Bastiat’s Invention of Crusoe Economics” and the Introduction.

419 See also ES2 II “The Two Axes” above pp. ???

420 “The Island of Despair” was the name given by Daniel Defoe to the island on which Crusoe was ship wrecked.

421 It is interesting to note that Friday uses the familiar form of "you" (tu) with Crusoe which is how members of the same family or close friends would address each other. This suggests that Bastiat intended Friday and Crusoe to regard each other as equals on the island. If Crusoe and not Friday had used the familiar "tu" this would indicate that Crusoe regarded Friday like a child or a pet. However, Crusoe does get very angry with Friday because of his stubborn belief in the benefits of free trade and Crusoe does call him a “savage.”

422 It is also interesting to note that Bastiat makes the European Crusoe the advocate of protectionism and the native Friday the defender of free trade.

423 See the glossary entry on “Utopias.”

424 Le Moniteur industriel was the journal of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) founded by Mimerel de Roubaix in 1846. See the glossary entries on “Le Moniteur industriel,” “Mimerel,” and “Association for the Defense of National Employment”.

425 The words "duperie" (deceit) and "dupes" (those who are deceived) are key terms in Bastiat's theory of plunder ("spoliation"), according to which the plunderers ("les spoliateurs") deceive their victims by means of “la ruse” (deception, fraud) to justify and disguise what they are doing. By means of "Sophisms" (sophistical arguments and fallacies) the dupes are persuaded that the plundering of their property is necessary for the well-being of the nation and thus ultimately for their own good as well. See ES2 I. “The Physiology of Plunder” and the glossary entry on “Bastiat on Plunder.”

426 The "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) (also called “the Odier Committee” or “the Mimerel Committee” after two of its leading members) was located in the Rue Hauteville where had its headquarters. See the glossary entries on "Association for the Defense of National Employment," “Odier,” “Mimerel,” and “Mimerel Committee.”

427 (Paillottet’s note) See chapters II. and III. of the 1st series of the Sophisms and chapter VI of the Harmonies.


XV. The Free Trader’s Little Arsenal428 [26 April 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Le petit arsenal du libre-échangiste [The Free Trader’s Little Arsenal) [ Le Libre-Échange, 26 April 1847].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: It was published as as a stand alone pamphlet in 1847,429 then in the 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 251-57.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


If someone says to you: “There are no absolute principles.430 Prohibition may be bad and restriction good.”

Reply “Restriction prohibits everything it prevents from entering.”

If someone says to you: “Agriculture is the mother that feeds the country.”

Reply: “What feeds the country is absolutely not agriculture but wheat.”

If someone says to you: “The basic means of feeding the people is agriculture.”

Reply: “The basic means of feeding the people is wheat. This is why a law that causes two hectoliters of wheat to be obtained through agricultural labor at the expense of four hectoliters that the same labor applied to manufacturing would have obtained in the absence of that law, far from being a law for providing food, is a law for starvation.”

If someone says to you: “Restricting the entry of foreign wheat leads to more cultivation and consequently increased production within the country.”

Reply: “It leads to sowing on mountain rocks and the sands by the sea. Milking a cow over and over again gives more milk, for who can tell the moment when you will not obtain a drop more? But the drop costs a great deal.”

If someone says to you: “Let bread become expensive and farmers that become rich will make industrialists rich.”

Reply: “Bread is expensive when there is not much of it, which can cause only poverty, or if you prefer, very hungry rich people.”

If they insist, saying: “When the price of bread goes up, wages also increase.”

Reply by pointing out that in April 1847 five-sixths of workers were on alms.431

If someone says to you: “Workers’ pay ought to follow the cost of living.”

Reply: “That is the same as saying that in a ship without provisions, everyone has the same amount of biscuit whether there is any or not.”

If someone says to you: “A good price has to be assured for those who sell wheat.”

Reply: “So be it, but then a good wage has to be assured for those who buy it.”

If someone says to you: “The landowners who establish the law have increased the price of bread without concerning themselves with wages because they know that when bread becomes expensive, wages rise totally naturally.”

Reply: “On this principle, when workers establish the law, you should not blame them if they set a good rate of pay without concerning themselves with protecting wheat, because they know that when earnings are high, provisions become expensive totally naturally.”

If someone says to you: “What then ought to be done?”

Reply: “Be just to everyone.”

If someone says to you: “It is essential for a great country to have an iron industry.”

Reply: “What is more essential is that this great country has iron.”

If someone says to you: “It is indispensable for a great country to have a cloth industry.”

Reply: “What is more indispensable is that in this great country, citizens have cloth.”

If someone says to you: “Work is wealth.”

Reply: “That is wrong.”

And by way of development, add: “Blood letting is not health,432 and the proof that it is not health is that its aim is to provide it.”

If someone says to you: “Forcing men to break rocks and produce one ounce of iron from a quintal of ore is increasing their work, and therefore their wealth.”

Reply: “Forcing men to dig wells by forbidding them to take water from the river is increasing their ineffective work, but not their wealth.”

If someone says to you: “The sun gives its heat and light for nothing.”

Reply: “All the better for me; it costs me nothing to see clearly.”

And if someone replies to you: “Production in general loses out on what you would have paid for lighting.”433

Reply: “No, since having paid nothing to the sun, I use the money I save to buy clothes, furniture and candles.”

Similarly, if someone says to you: “The rascally English have amortized capital.”

Reply: “All the better for us; they will not make us pay interest.”

If someone says to you: “The perfidious English434 find iron and coal in the same seam.”

Reply: “All the better for us; they will not make us pay for bringing them together.”

If someone says to you: “The Swiss have lush pastures that cost little.”

Reply: “We have the advantage since they will demand from us a smaller amount of the labor which we use to furnish the driving force for our agriculture and to supply food for our stomachs.”

If someone says to you: “The fields of Crimea have no value and do not pay taxes.”

Reply: “We enjoy the profit when we buy wheat free of these charges.”

If someone says to you: “Serfs in Poland work for no pay.”

Reply: “They reap the misfortune and we the profit since the value of their labor is deducted from the price of the wheat their masters sell us.”

Lastly, if someone says to you: “Other nations have a host of advantages over us.”

Reply: “Through trade they are in fact obliged to get us to share them.”

If someone says to you: “With freedom, we are going to be flooded with bread, prime cuts of beef, coal and jackets.”

Reply: “Well, we won’t be hungry or cold.”

If someone says to you: “With what will we pay for them?”

Reply: “Do not worry about it. If we are flooded it is because we will be able to pay, and if we cannot pay we will not be flooded.”

If someone says to you: “I would agree to free trade if foreigners took some of our products when they delivered us theirs, but they will take away our money.”

Reply: “Money does not grow, any more than coffee does, in the fields of the Beauce and does not come from the workshops of Elbeuf. 435 For us, paying foreigners with it is like paying them with coffee.”

If someone says to you: “Eat meat.”

Reply: “Let it come in.”

If someone says to you, as La Presse436 does: “When you do not have the means to buy bread, you have to buy beef.”

Reply: “Advice that is as judicious as that given by Mr. Vulture to his tenant:

When you do not have the means to pay your rent,

You should have a house of your own.437

If someone says to you, as La Presse does: “The State should teach the people why and how it must eat beef.”

Reply: “Let the State merely allow beef to enter and, as for eating it, the most civilized nation in the world is old enough to learn how to do so without a tutor.”

If someone says to you: “The State has to know everything and anticipate everything in order to direct the nation and the nation has only to let itself be directed.”

Reply: “Is there a State outside the nation and human farsightedness outside humanity? Archimedes may have repeated: “With a lever and a fulcrum I will move the world” every day of his life but for all that not moved it an iota because he lacked a fulcrum and a lever. The fulcrum of the State is the nation, and there is nothing more senseless than to base so much hope on the State, that is to say, to postulate collective knowledge and farsightedness after assuming in fact individual stupidity and lack of foresight.”438

If someone says to you: “My God! I am not asking any favors but merely for a duty on wheat and meat which compensates for all the heavy taxes to which France is subjected; just a simple little duty that is equal to what taxes add to the cost price of my wheat.”

Reply: “A thousand pardons, but I too pay taxes. Therefore, if protection, which you are voting for in your own interests, has the effect of raising the price of your wheat to me, by exactly the amount of your share of the taxes, your sweet sounding request seems to be nothing less than the following arrangement: “In view of the fact that our taxes are weighty, I the seller of wheat will pay nothing and you, my neighbor and purchaser, will pay two shares, that is to say, yours and mine.” Mr. Wheat Merchant, my neighbor, you may have force on your side, but what is absolutely certain is that you do not have right.”

If someone says to you: “However, it is very hard for me, who pay taxes, to compete in my own market with foreigners who do not pay any.”


1. “Firstly, it is not your market but our market. I, who live on wheat and pay for it, ought to count for something.”

2. “Few foreigners in the current climate, are exempt from taxes.”

3. “If the taxes you vote for provide you with more roads, canals, security, etc. than they cost you, you are not justified in rejecting at my expense competition from foreigners who do not pay these taxes but who equally do not have the security, roads and canals in question. It is as good as saying: I demand a compensatory duty because I have finer clothes, stronger horses and better ploughs than Russian laborers.”

4. “If taxes do not repay what they cost, do not vote for them.”

5. “And finally, once you have voted for the taxes, do you want to exempt yourself from them? Imagine a system that inflicts them on foreigners. However, tariffs make your share fall upon me, and my share is quite enough.”

If someone says to you: “In Russia, they need free trade in order to trade their products advantageously.” (The opinion of Mr. Thiers,439 speaking to the departments, April 1847).440

Reply: “Freedom is necessary everywhere and for the same reason.”

If someone says to you: “Every country has its own needs. It is according to these that it is necessary to act.” (Mr. Thiers).

Reply: “It is according to these that a country will act by itself when it is not prevented from doing so.”

If someone says to you: “Since we have no sheet iron, we have to allow it to enter.” (Mr. Thiers).

Reply: “Oh, thank you very much.”

If someone says to you: “We need freight for our merchant navy. Lacking loads on the return journey makes it impossible for our shipping to compete with foreign shipping.” (Mr. Thiers).

Reply: “When people want to do everything at home, they cannot have freight either on the inward or outward journeys. It is just as absurd to want a merchant navy under a prohibitionist regime as it would be to want carts where all forms of transport have been forbidden.”

If someone says to you: “Even if we suppose that protectionism is unjust, everything has been has been arranged on precisely that basis; capital has been committed to it and duties established. We cannot extricate ourselves from it painlessly.”

Reply: “All injustice is of benefit to someone (except, perhaps, for a policy of restrictions which in the long run benefits no one); to defend injustice on the grounds of the inconvenience that its abolition will cause the person who benefits from it, is to say that an injustice should be eternal for the sole reason that it has existed for an instant.”


428 (Paillottet’s note) Taken from the issue of Le Libre Echange dated 26th April 1847.

429 Frédéric Bastiat, Le Petit Arsenal du libre-échange (impr. de E. Crugy, 1847).

430See the Sophism with this title "There are No Absolute Principles" in Sophisms I, no. XVIII, p. ???.

431 We have not been able to verify this. However, crop failures in 1846-1847 caused considerable hardship and a rise in food prices in 1847 across Europe. Some historians believe this was a contributing factor to the outbreak of revolution in 1848. The average price of wheat in France was 18 fr. 93 c. per hectolitre in 1845; which rose to 23 fr. 84 c. in 1846 (which had a poor harvest). Prices were even higher in the last half of 1846 and the first half of 1847 when the shortage was most accutely felt. In December 1846 it rose to 28 fr. 41 c; and reached a maximum of 37 fr. 98 c. in May 1847. The average price for the period 1832-1846 had been 19 fr. 5 c. per hectolitre. The lowest average price reached between 1800 and 1846 was 14 fr. 72 c. in 1834. See AEPS, pour 1848 (Paris: Guillaumin, 1848), pp. 179-80. See the glossary entry on “The Irish Famine and the Failure of French Harvests 1846-47.”

432 Note that Bastiat quotes favorably Molière’s parody of 17th century doctors who let blood in Le malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid, or the Hypocondriac) (1673). Bastiat turns this into his own parody to make fun of tax collectors. See Economic Sophisms II, IX. "Theft by Subsidy" pp. ???. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

433 This is the witty assumption behind ES1 VII. “Petition of the Manufacturers of Candles” above pp. ???

434 See the glossary entry on “Perfidious Albion.”

435 Beauce is an important grain growing region in north-central France. Elbeuf is an industrial town in northern France on the Seine river to the south of Rouen.

436 La Presse was a widely distributed daily newspaper, created in 1836 by the journalist, businessman, and politician Émile de Girardin (1806-81). See the glossary entries “La Presse” and “French Newspapers.”

437 These lines come from a play by Marc Antoine Madelaine Désaugiers (1772-1827) called M. Vautour, ou le propriétaire sous le scellé (Mister Vulture, or the owner under the Seal) (first performed 13 June 1805). Désaugiers was anti-semitic and his depiction of a grasping tobacco store owner, “Vautour”, was taken up in French slang as a typical hard-hearted landlord and creditor. M. Vautour, ou le propriétaire sous le scellé, vaudeville en un acte; par MM. Désaugiers, Tournay et Geroge-Duval. Seconde edition (Paris: Masson, 1805), p. 11.

438 Here Bastiat is raising what Friedrich Hayek called the knowledge problem, namely that central planners lack the necessary local knowledge provided by free market prices to make rational economic decisions. See Friedrich August von Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” American Economic Review, XXXV, No. 4; September, 1945, pp. 519–30. </title/9>.Note also Bastiat’s definition of the state as “the great fiction by which everyone endeavours to live at the expense of everyone else” which he developed during the course of 1848. A draft of the essay appeared in his revolutionary magazine Jacques Bonhomme in June 1848 (see CW, vol. 2, pp. 105-06), a larger article on “The State” appeared in the Journal des débats in September 1848, and it was subsequently published as a separate booklet of the same name later that same year (see CW, vol. 2 , pp.93-104).

439 Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877) was a lawyer, historian, politician, and journalist who served briefly as Prime Minister and Minster of Foreign Affairs in 1836 and 1840. After the 1848 revolution and the creation of the Second Empire he was elected deputy representing Rouen in the Constituent Assembly. See the glossary entry on “Thiers.”

440 It is not clear where these remarks by Thiers were delivered but his hostility to the idea of free trade can be seen in an address he gave to the National Assembly in June 1851: "De toutes les chimères que j'ai eu à combattre, il n'y en a pas de plus vaine et de plus dangereuse que celle qui s'est appelée Le Libre-Échange. Depuis quelques années elle a écrit, parlé, dogmatisé, professé, sans rencontrer de contradicteur. J'ai cru utile de l'arrêter une fois dans sa marche, et aussitôt j'ai été repris comme je l'avais mérité par les grands esprits que la science économique a produits. Ce n'est pas de cela qu'il s'agit, et je ne veux ici que relever certaines assertions pour en prouver la fausseté." (Of all the chimeras which I have had to combat, there is none more vain and dangerous as that which goes by the name of free trade. For several years they (advocates of free trade) have written, spoken, dogmatized, professed without meeting any contradiction. Once I thought it useful to stop it in its tracks and immediately I was corrected as I deserved by the great worthies which political economy has produced. But that is not what is at issue here, I only wish to raise certain assertions in order to prove their falsity.) Discours de M. Thiers sur le régime commercial de la France: prononcés à l'Assemblée nationale les 27 et 28 juin 1851 (Paris:Paulin, Lheureux et cie, 1851), p. iv.


XVI. The Right Hand and the Left Hand441 [13 December 1846] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “La main droite et la main gauche” (The Right Hand and the Left Hand) [Le Libre-Échange, 13 December 1846].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 258-65.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


(A report to the King)


When we see these men from Le Libre-Échange442 boldly spreading their doctrine and claiming that the right to buy and sell is included in the right to property (a piece of insolence that Mr. Billault443 has pointed out in true advocate style), we may be allowed to feel serious anxiety over the fate of our nation’s production, for what will French citizens do with their hands and minds when they are free?

The government that you have honored with your confidence has had to devote its attention to a situation rendered serious in precisely this way, and in its wisdom seek a form of protection that may be substituted for the one which appears compromised. It suggests that YOU FORBID YOUR FAITHFUL SUBJECTS TO USE THEIR RIGHT HAND.

Sire, do not insult us by thinking that we have lightly adopted a measure that, at first sight, may seem strange. A detailed study of protectionism has revealed to us the syllogism on which the whole thing is based:

The more you work, the richer you are;

The more difficulties you have to overcome, the more you work;

Therefore, the more difficulties you have to overcome, the richer you are.

What is protection in fact, if not the ingenious application of this formal reasoning so closely woven that it will stand up to the subtlety of Mr. Billault himself?

Let us personify the country. Let us consider it a collective being with thirty million mouths, and as a natural consequence, sixty million arms. Here it is, having made a clock that it hopes to barter in Belgium for ten quintal of iron. However, we say to it: “Make the iron yourself.” “I cannot”, it replies, “that will take me too long; I would not make five quintal in the time I take to make a clock.” “Utopian!”444 we reply, “It is for that very reason that we forbid you to make a clock and order you to make iron. Do you not see that we are creating work for you?”

Sire, it will not have escaped your sagacity that this is absolutely as though we were saying to the country: “Work with your left hand and not with your right.”

Creating obstacles in order to give labor the opportunity of increasing, that is the principle of restriction that is dying. It is also the principle of restriction that is about to be born. Sire, making regulations like this is not to innovate, it is to continue down the same path.

As for the effectiveness of the measure, this cannot be denied. It is difficult, much more difficult than you think to do with your left hand what you are accustomed to doing with your right. You would be convinced of this, Sire, if you deigned to try out our system on an act familiar to you such as, for example, that of shuffling cards.445 We can therefore pride ourselves on creating an unlimited vista for work.

When workers of all sorts are reduced to using their left hands, let us imagine, Sire, the immense number that would be needed to meet current consumption, taking it to be constant, which is what we always do when we compare opposing systems of production with each other. Such a prodigious demand for labor cannot fail to cause a considerable rise in pay, and poverty would disappear from the country as if by magic.

Sire, your fatherly heart would rejoice to think that the benefits of the decree would extend also to this interesting part of the great family whose fate elicits your total solicitude. What is the destiny of women in France? The sex that is the more fearless and more strengthened by hard work, drives them heartlessly from all forms of career.

In former times they had the resources of the lottery offices to turn to. These have been closed down through a pitiless philanthropy and on what pretext? “To save the money of the poor”, this philanthropy said. Alas! Has the poor man ever obtained such pleasant and innocent enjoyment from a coin as those which Fortune’s mysterious urn held for him? Cut off as he was from all the pleasures of life, when he placed a day’s pay on a clear line of four numbers446 once a fortnight, how many hours of delicious enjoyment did he not bring into the bosom of his family! Hope was ever present in the domestic hearth. The attic was filled with fancies: wives promised themselves that they would outshine their neighbors with their dresses, sons saw themselves as drum-majors and daughters imagined themselves walking down the aisle to the altar on the arms of their fiancés.

There is indeed something to be said about having a beautiful dream!447

Oh! The lottery! It was the poetry of the poor and we have let it escape!

With the lottery gone,448 what means have we to provide for those in our care? Tobacco449 and the post.450

We will deal with tobacco all in good time; it is making progress, thanks to Heaven and the fine habits that many august exemplars have cleverly been able to inculcate into our elegant young people.

But the post! We will say nothing about it, as it will be the subject of a special report.

Therefore, apart from tobacco, what will be left to your subjects? Nothing but embroidery, knitting and sewing, sorry resources that a barbaric science, the science of machinery, is increasingly restricting.

But as soon as your decree has appeared, as soon as right hands have been cut off or tied, everything will change visibly. Twenty or thirty times more embroiderers, laundresses and ironers, linen maids, dressmakers and shirt makers will not be enough to meet demand (honni soit qui mal y pense)451 in the kingdom; always assuming that demand is constant, in accordance with our method of reasoning.

It is true that this supposition may be contested by cold theoreticians, since dresses will be more expensive, as will shirts. They say the same about the iron that France extracts from its mines, compared to the grapes it could harvest from our hillsides. This argument is thus no more acceptable against left-handedness452 than against protection, for this very expensiveness is the result and the expression of the additional effort and work that is exactly the basis on which, in both cases, we claim to found the prosperity of the working class.

Yes, we paint for ourselves a touching picture of the prosperity of the dressmaking industry. What animation! What activity! What a life! Each dress will occupy a hundred fingers instead of ten. No young girl will remain idle, and we have no need, Sire, to point out to your perspicacity the moral consequences of this great revolution. Not only will there be more girls occupied, but each of them will earn more, since they will be unable to meet demand and, if competition rises still further, it will not be between the seamstresses who make the dresses but between the fine ladies who wear them.

You see, Sire, our proposal is not just in line with the economic traditions of the government, it is also essentially moral and democratic.

To appreciate its effects, let us assume that it has been achieved, let us be carried in thought into the future; let us imagine the system once it has been in action for twenty years. Idleness has been banished from the country. Prosperity and concord, contentment and morality have become imbued, along with work, in every family. There is no more destitution, no more prostitution. As left hands are very gauche to work with, there will be an over-abundance of work and pay will be satisfactory. Everything has been arranged on this basis; consequently, workers in workshops have increased in number. Is it not true, Sire, that if suddenly Utopians came to demand freedom for the right hand, they would spread panic throughout the country? Is it not true that this so-called reform would throw everybody into confusion? Our system is therefore good, since it cannot be overturned without causing pain.

And yet we have the sorry premonition that one day an association will be formed (such is the perversity of the human race!) called the association for the freedom of right hands.453

We can almost hear the free right-handers speak in these terms in the Montesquieu Hall454 already:

“People, you think you are richer because the use of one hand has been taken from you and you see only the additional work that you have received. But take a look at the high prices that have resulted and the forced reduction of all forms of consumption. This measure has not made capital, the source of wages, more abundant. The water that flows from this great reservoir is directed to other channels; its volume has not increased and the final result is, for the nation as a whole, a loss of well-being that is equal to all the extra output that the millions of right hands can produce compared to an equal number of left hands. Let us unite, therefore, and at the cost of some inevitable inconvenience, let us conquer the right to work with both hands.”

Fortunately, Sire, an association for the defense of work with the left hand455 will be formed and the Sinistrists will have no trouble in annihilating all these generalities and idealisms, suppositions and abstractions, dreams and utopias. All they will have to do is to exhume the 1846 issues of Le Moniteur industriel; in these they will find ready-made arguments against free trade which will pulverize freedom for right hands so magnificently that all they will need to do is to substitute one word for the other.

“The Paris League for Free Trade had no doubt that the workers would support it. However, workers are no longer men who can be led by the nose. Their eyes have been opened and they are more fully conversant with political economy than our qualified professors … Free trade, they replied, will take away our work and work is our real, great and sovereign property; with work, with a great deal of work, the price of goods is never out of reach. But without work, even if bread cost only one sou per pound, workers are forced to die of hunger. Well your doctrines, instead of increasing the current total of work in France, will decrease it, that is to say you will reduce us to destitution.” (Issue dated 13th October 1846).

“When there are too many goods on sale, their price does in fact goes down, but as wages fall when goods lose their value, the result is that instead of being in a position to buy them, we can no longer buy anything. It is therefore when goods are at their lowest price that workers are most unfortunate.” (Gauthier de Rumilly, Le Moniteur industriel dated 17th November.)456

It would be no bad thing if the Sinistrists included a few threats in their fine theories. This is a sample:

“What? You want to substitute work using right hands for that using left hands and thus force down, if not totally annihilate wages, the sole resource of almost the entire nation?

And this at a time when poor harvests457 are already imposing painful sacrifices on workers, making them anxious for their future, more likely to listen to bad advice and ready to abandon the sensible behavior they have been following up to now.”

We are confident, Sire, that through this learned reasoning, the left hand will emerge victorious in any conflict that arises.

Perhaps a further association will be formed with the aim of finding out whether the right and left hands are both wrong and if there is not between them a third hand which will reconcile everything.

Having painted the Sinistrists as being won over by the apparent liberality of a principle whose accuracy has not been verified by experience and the Dextrists458 as being encamped on their acquired positions, will that association not say:

“And can it be denied that there is a third road to take in the center of the conflict! And is it not obvious that workers have to defend themselves, both against those who want to change nothing in the current situation because it is to their advantage and those who dream of overturning the economy and have not calculated either the extent of the change or the range of its effects!” (The issue of National459 dated 16th October).

However, we would not wish to hide from Your Majesty, Sire, that there is a vulnerable side to our project. We might be told: “In twenty years’ time, all the left hands will be as skilled as right hands are now, and you will no longer be able to count on gaucherie (left-handedness) to increase national employment.”

Our answer to this is that, according to learned doctors, the left hand side of the human body has a natural weakness, which is entirely reassuring for the future of work.

And after all, if you agree to sign the decree, Sire, a great principle will have won the day: All wealth comes from the intensity of work. It will be easy for us to extend it and vary its applications. For example, we will decree that only work using feet will be allowed. This is no more impossible (since it has been seen) than extracting iron from the silt of the Seine. Men have even been seen to write with their backs. You see, Sire, that we do not lack the means of increasing national employment. Should the cause become hopeless, we are left with the unlimited resource of amputation.

Finally, Sire, if this report were not intended for publication, we would call your attention to the great influence that all systems similar to the one we are submitting to you are capable of giving the men in power. But this is a subject that we are keeping for discussion in private.


441 (Paillottet’s note) Taken from the issue of Le Libre-Echange dated 13th December 1846.

442 Le Libre-Échange was the weekly journal of the Association pour la liberté des échanges. It began in 1846 and closed in 1848 as a result of the revolution. There were 72 issues most of which were edited by Bastiat. See the glossary entry "Le Libre-Échange."

443 Auguste Adolphe Marie Billaut (1805-1863) was a lawyer, an economist and a member of the Chamber of Deputies. He was anticlerical and a Saint-Simonian and voted with the republican left in the Chamber after the 1848 revolution. See the glossary entry on “Billaut.”

444 See the glossary entry on “Utopias.”

445 This may be a dig at King Louis Philippe’s reputation for being a card playing bon vivant.

446 Known as the “Quaterne sec”, it was a lottery ticket that had one chance in 75,000 to pay off.

447 Jean-François Collin d’Harleville (1755-1806) was a French dramatist and poet. The lines Bastiat quote come from his play Les Châteaux en Espagne (1789). M. D’Orlange is the caretaker of M. D’Orfeuil’s castle in Spain and dreams he is now a Sultan. The owner’s valet Victor wakes D’Orlange up and he reflects upon the escape provided by dreams: “Ah well, at least everyone is happy when they are dreaming. There is something indeed to be said about having beautiful dreams. It is a useful respite from our actual grief. We have need of them, we are surrounded by woes which in the end would overwhelm us, without this happy madness which flows through our veins. Gratifying illusion! Sweet oblivion from our troubles!” Oeuvres de Collin-Harleville, contenant son theater et ses poesies fugitives, avec une notice sur sa vie et ses ouvrages (Paris: Delongchamps, 1828), vol. 1, p. 337.

448 Lotteries were banned in France in January 1836. They were used during the old regime as a means of raising money to build and repair churches and religious communities and even as a way for the state to pay off the national debt. Lotteries were banned during the Revolution (November 1793), re-legalised in 1797, but finally abolished beginning in 1832 with a phasing out period of four years. See Edgar Duval, "Loteries," DEP, vol. 2, pp. 106-7.

449 The sale of tobacco in France was a state monopoly. It contributed fr. 120 million to government receipts in 1848 (8.6% of a total of fr. 1.4 billion). See Appendix 4 "French Government Finances 1848-1849."

450 Bastiat probably has in mind the fact that the high cost of sending letters in France (another state monopoly used to raise money) made it more difficult for families to keep in contact with each other. See the discussion and the many footnotes in ES2 XII. “Salt, the Mail, and the Customs Service” above p.. ???

451 "Honni soit qui mal y pense" (shame on him who thinks ill of it) is the motto of the English chivalric Order of the Garter coined by King Edward III.

452 Bastiat uses the word "gaucherie" in this passage, thus making a pun on the French word for left (“gauche”) and for clumsiness (“gaucherie”) to make his point.

453 Bastiat is drawing a number of witty verbal parallels here between “La liberté des mains droites” (freedom for right hands) and “la liberté des échanges” (free trade); the “association pour la liberté des main droites” (the free right hand association) and the "association pour la liberté des échanges (association for free trade); and "les libres-dextéristes" (free right-handers) and "les libre-échangistes" (free traders). All that is missing from his list is a journal to promote the cause: Le Libre-Dextérisme (Free Right-Handedness) and Le Libre-Échange (Free Trade). Bastiat was of course an arch free trader and one of the founders of the Free Trade Association, and the editor of the journal Le Libre-Échange. See the glossary entries on “The Free Trade Association” and “Le Libre-Échange.”

454 The first public meeting of the Free Trade Association was held in Montesquieu Hall on August 28, 1846.

455 Bastiat continues his parallels by comparing the "association pour la défense du travail par la main gauche" (association for the defense of work with the left hand) with the protectionist "association pour la défense du travail national" (association for the defense of national employment) which was founded by the textile manufacturer Pierre Mimerel and which published the journal Le Moniteur industriel. This association will of course promote the interests of the "Sinistristes" (Sinistrists, or supporters of left hand labor). Bastiat uses the word "sinistre" here which is another pun, this time on the French word for left ("senestre") which comes from the Latin "sinister" (left). The pairing for this is the word "Dextérists" (Dextrists, or supporters of right hand labor), from the Latin "dexter" (on the right), which he uses later in the article. See the glossary entries on "Mimerel," “Le Moniteur industriel,” and “Association for the Defense of National Employment.”

456 Louis Gaulthier de Rumilly (1792-1884) was trained as a lawyer and served as a Deputy between 1830-34 and 1837-40. He was active in the “Société d'encouragement pour l'industrie nationale” (Society to Promote National Industry) and had a special interest in agriculture, railroads, and tariffs. See the glossary entry on “Rumilly” and “Society to promote National Industry.”

457 Crop failures in 1846-1847 caused considerable hardship and a rise in food prices in 1847 across Europe. Some historians believe this was a contributing factor to the outbreak of revolution in 1848. The average price of wheat in France was 18 fr. 93 c. per hectolitre in 1845; which rose to 23 fr. 84 c. in 1846 (which had a poor harvest). Prices were even higher in the last half of 1846 and the first half of 1847 when the shortage was most accutely felt. In December 1846 it rose to 28 fr. 41 c; and reached a maximum of 37 fr. 98 c. in May 1847. The average price for the period 1832-1846 had been 19 fr. 5 c. per hectolitre. The lowest average price reached between 1800 and 1846 was 14 fr. 72 c. in 1834. See AEPS, pour 1848 (Paris: Guillaumin, 1848), pp. 179-80. See the glossary entry on “The Irish Famine and the Failure of French Harvests 1846-47.”

458 Right handers. See note above.

459 “The National” was a liberal paper founded in 1830 by Adolphe Thiers to fight the ultra-reactionary politics of the duc de Polignac. Le National played a decisive role during the "three glorious days" (July 26-29, 1830) and contributed to the success of Louis-Philippe. See the glossary entries on “Thiers” and “Le National,” and “French Newspapers” in Appendix 2 “The French State and Politics.”


XVII. Domination through Work460 [14 February 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Domination par le travail” (Domination through Work) [Le Libre-Échange, 14 February 1847].
  • Published as book or pamphlet: 1st French edition of ES2 alone 1848. 1st edition combined ES1 & ES2 1851.
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 4: Sophismes économiques. Petits pamphlets I. (1854), 2nd ed., pp. 265-71.
  • Previous translation: 1st American ed. 1848, 1st British ed. 1873, FEE ed. 1964. See “Note on the Publishing History.”


In time of peace is it possible to achieve domination through superiority in production, in the same way as in time of war, domination is achieved through superiority in weaponry?”

This question is of the greatest interest at a time in which people do not seem to doubt that, in the field of industry as on the field of battle, the strongest crush the weakest.

For this to be so, people must have discovered a sorry and discouraging analogy between work exercised on things and the violence exercised on men, for how can these two types of action be identical in their effect if they are in opposition by nature?

And if it is true that, in industry as in war, domination is the necessary result of superiority, why should we be concerned with progress and social economy since we are in a world in which everything has so been arranged by Providence that the same effect, oppression, ineluctably results from principles that are totally opposed to one another?

When it comes to the entirely new politics into which free trade is drawing England,461 a certain query is being widely raised, one which, I must agree, is preoccupying the most sincere individuals: “Is England doing anything other than pursue the same aim by another means? Does she not still aspire to universal supremacy? Now sure of her superior capital formation and labor force, is she not calling for free competition so she can stifle industry on the continent, reigning supreme, and winning the privilege of feeding and clothing economically ruined nations?

It would be easy for me to demonstrate that these anxieties are an illusion, that our alleged inferiority has been greatly exaggerated, that there is not one of our major industries that does not just resist but is even developing under the stimulus of competition from abroad and that the infallible effect of this is to bring about an increase in general consumption which is capable of absorbing both the products coming from within and those coming from without the country.

Today, I want to attack the objection frontally, leaving it all its force and all the advantage of the terrain it has chosen. Setting aside the English and the French, I will seek to find out in general whether, even though by means of its superiority in a particular branch of industry a nation manages to stifle a similar activity in another nation, the former has taken a step towards the domination of the latter and the latter a step towards dependence. In other words, I am asking whether both of them do not benefit from the operation and whether it is not the vanquished that gains more.

If a product is seen only as the opportunity for work, it is certain that the anxieties of protectionists are well founded. If we considered iron, for example, merely with regard to its relationship with iron masters, we might fear that competition from a country in which it was a free gift of nature might extinguish the furnaces in another country in which both mineral and fuel were scarce.

However, is this a comprehensive view of the subject? Has iron a relationship only with those who make it? Is it foreign to those that use it? Is its sole and final purpose that of being produced? And if it is useful, not because of the work to which it gives rise but because of the qualities it possesses and the number of services for which its hardness and malleability make it suitable, does it not follow that foreigners cannot reduce its price even to the point of preventing its production here without doing us more good in this latter respect than any harm it might do in the former?

Let us consider the host of things that foreigners prevent us from producing directly, because of the natural advantages which surround them, a situation in which we in fact we find ourselves, in the hypothetical case of iron which we have been examining. We do not produce tea, coffee, gold or silver in this country. Does this mean that the total amount of our work is decreased because of this? No, only that, in order to create a counter-value for these things in order to acquire them through trade, we allocate a lesser portion of our general work than would be needed to produce them ourselves. More is left to us to devote to other satisfactions. We are richer, and stronger, by this amount. All that external rivalry has been able to do, even in cases where it prevents us absolutely from carrying out a given form of production is to make us economize on it and to increase our productive power. Is this, for foreigners, the road to domination?

If a goldmine were found in France, it would not follow that it would be in our interest to exploit it. It is actually certain that the enterprise ought to be ignored since each ounce of gold would take up more of our labor than an ounce of gold purchased from Mexico in exchange for cloth. In this case, it would be better to continue to regard our looms as our gold mines. What is true of gold is also true for iron.

The illusion arises from the fact that there is something we do not see.462 This is that foreign superiority only ever blocks national production in a specific area and makes it redundant only in this specific area by putting at our disposal the output of the very labor which has been destroyed in this way. If men lived in bells under water and had to provide themselves with air by means of a pump, there would be a huge source of work in this. Damaging this work while leaving men in this situation would be to do them frightful harm. But if the work ceases only because there is no longer any need for it, because men are placed in a different milieu in which air enters effortlessly into contact with their lungs, then the loss of this work is no cause for regret, except in the eyes of those who insist on seeing the value of work only in the work itself.

It is precisely this type of work that machines, free trade and progress of all sorts are gradually destroying; not useful work, but work that has become superfluous, redundant, pointless and ineffectual. On the other hand, protection restores it; it puts us back under the water in order to supply us with the opportunity to pump, it forces us to demand gold from our inaccessible national mine rather than from our national looms. Its entire effect is encapsulated in this term: wasted efforts.

It will be understood that I am speaking here of general effects, and not the temporary upsets that occur when a bad system gives way to a good one. Temporary disturbance is bound to accompany any progress. This may be a reason to soften the transition, but not one to forbid all progress systematically, and still less to fail to recognize it.

Production is represented to us as a conflict. This is not true, or it is true only if each industry is considered solely with regard to its effects on another similar industry, isolating them both mentally from the rest of humanity. However, there are other considerations: their effects on consumption and on general well-being.

This is why it is not permissible to compare production to war, as is being done.

In war, the stronger overcomes the weaker.

In production, the stronger transmits strength to the weaker. This completely destroys the analogy.

No matter how strong and skillful the English are, how much amortized capital they have, or how much iron and furnace power, the two great forces in production, all this makes products cheap. And who benefits from the cheapness of products? The person who buys them.

It is not in their power to wipe out completely any portion of our economy. All they can do is to make it superfluous for a given result, to deliver air at the same time as they are abolishing pumps, thus increasing our available productive strength and, wonder of wonders, making their alleged domination all the more impossible the more their superiority is incontestable.

In this way we reach the conclusion, through a rigorous and consoling demonstration, that production and violence, so contrary by nature to one another, are no less so in their effect, no matter what protectionists and socialists say in this connection.

All we have needed to do to achieve this is to distinguish between production that has been destroyed and resources on which the system has economized.

To have less iron because you work less and more iron in spite of working less are situations that are more than different; they are quite opposite to one another. Protectionists confuse them, but we do not. That is the difference.

One thing should be made clear. If the English put to work a great deal of activity, labor, capital, intelligence or natural strength, it is not just for the love of us. It is to provide themselves with a great many forms of satisfaction in return for their products. They certainly want to receive at least as much as they give, and they manufacture in their own country the payment for what they buy elsewhere. If therefore they flood us with their products, it is because they intend to be flooded in turn with ours. In this case, the best way of having a great deal for ourselves is to be free to choose, with respect to our purchases, between the following two procedures: direct production or indirect. No amount of British Machiavellianism will cause us to make the wrong choice.

Let us therefore stop this puerile nonsense of likening industrial competition to war. This is a false comparison, which draws all its fallacy from the fact that we isolate two rival productive sectors in order to assess the effects of competition. As soon as the effect produced on general well-being is taken into account, the analogy disappears.

In a battle the person killed is well and truly killed, and the army weakened accordingly. In industry a factory founders only to the extent that the whole productive system replaces what it used to produce, with an increase in quantity. Let us imagine a state of affairs in which, for each man killed on the spot, two sprang up full of strength and vigor. If there is a planet on which this happens, we would have to agree that war would be waged in conditions so different from those we see down here that it would not even merit the same name.

Well this is the distinctive character of what has been so inappropriately christened industrial warfare.

Let the Belgians and English decrease the price of their iron if they can, let them continue to decrease it for evermore until it is reduced to nothing. In doing this, they may well extinguish one of our blast furnaces, i.e. “to kill one of our soldiers”; but I challenge them to prevent a thousand other industries from immediately rising up and becoming more profitable than the one “removed from the field of battle”, as a necessary consequence of these same low prices.

Let us conclude that domination through work is impossible and contradictory, since any superiority that appears in a nation is translated into low prices and results only in transmitting strength to all the others. Let us banish from political economy all the following expressions borrowed from a military vocabulary: to fight on equal terms, to conquer, to crush, to stifle, to be defeated, invasion or tribute. What do all these expressions mean? If you squeeze them, nothing will come out. We are mistaken, as what comes out of such thinking are absurd errors and disastrous preconceived ideas. These are the words that stop nations from coming together in a peaceful, universal and indissoluble alliance and humanity from making progress!463



460 (Paillottet’s note) Taken from the issue of Le Libre-Echange dated 14th February 1847.

461 After the abolition of the protectionist Corn Laws in May 1846 the Economists expected that the liberalization of the British economy would lead to much greater productivity and further liberal political and economic reforms which the rest of Europe would also gradually adopt. In the case of France this was true with the signing of the Cobden-Chevalier Trade Treaty in 1860. See the glossary entries on "Cobden," “Anti-Corn Law League,” and “The Corn Laws.”

462 This is a reference to a key idea Bastiat was to develop in 1850 in his pamphlet What is See and What is Not Seen which is included in this volume below, pp. ???

463 (Paillottet’s note) If the author had lived longer, he would probably have published a third series of Sophisms. The main elements of this publication seem to us to have been prepared in the columns of Le Libre-Echange and we present them together at the end of this volume. [DMH - For this volume of the Collected Works of Bastiat the editors have assembled what might have been Bastiat’s Third Series of Economic Sophisms had he lived long enough to assemble them himself. See below, pp. ???]




3. Economic Sophisms. Series III. [Dec. 1846 - Mar. 1848]

A new Series from Le Libre-Échange, La République française, and the Journal des Économistes.

Publishing History 464 [edit 2]

We have collected together in this volume a number of other writings by Bastiat which might well have been drawn upon had he lived long enough to compile a “Third Series” of his Economic Sophisms (henceforth abbreviated as ES3). This was also the thinking of the original French editor Paillottet who collected twenty two pieces of what he called a “nouvelle série de sophismes économiques” (a new series of economic sophisms) for volume two of the Oeuvres complètes.465 We decided to include them as well in this volume. We have also included two other pieces which Paillottet tells us in footnotes were drafts which Bastiat intended to complete but was never able to. They come primarily from Bastiat’s free trade journal Le Libre-Échange (16), three articles with details provided by Paillottet, 2 articles from Bastiat’s revolutionary magazine La République française, and one from the Journal des Économistes. The following is the list of these articles in chronological order of date of publication (where known):

From Le Libre-Échange (dated):

  1. “Recettes protectionnistes” (Recipes for Protectionism) [27 December 1846, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 358-63.
  2. “Deux principes” (Two Principles) [7 February 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 363-70.
  3. “La logique de M. Cunin-Gridaine” (Mr. Cunin-Gridaine’s Logic) [2 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 370-73.
  4. “Un profit contre deux pertes” (One Profit versus Two Losses) [9 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 377-84.
  5. “De la modération” (On Moderation) [22 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 343-48.
  6. “Peuple et Bourgeoisie” (The People and the Bourgeoisie) [22 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 348-55.
  7. “Deux pertes contre un profit” (Two Losses versus One Profit) [30 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 384-91.
  8. “L'économie politique des généraux” (The Political Economy of the Generals) [20 June 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 355-58.
  9. “Remonstrance” (A Remonstrance) [30 August 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 415-18.
  10. “Association espagnole pour la défense du travail national” (The Spanish Association for the Defense of National Employment) [7 November 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 429-35.
  11. “Les hommes spéciaux” (The Specialists) [28 November 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 373-77.
  12. “L'indiscret” (The Man who asked Embarrassing Questions) [12 December 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 435-46.
  13. “Le maire d'Énios” (The Mayor of Énios]) [6 February 1848, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 418-29.
  14. “Le sucre antédiluvien” (Antediluvian Sugar) [13 February 1848, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 446-51.
  15. “Monita secreta” (Monita secreta) [20 February 1848, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 452-58.
  16. “Circulaires d'un ministère introuvable” (Circulars from a Government that is nowhere to be found) [19 March 1848, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 462-65.

No publishing details given by Paillottet:

  1. “La peur d'un mot” (The Fear of a Word) [no date given], OC, vol. 2, pp. 392-400.
  2. "Anglomanie, Anglophobie" (Anglomania, Anglophobia) [c. 1847]. OC, vol. 7, pp. 309-27.
  3. "Le profit de l'un est le dommage de l'autre" (One Man’s gain is another Man’s Loss) (c. 1847). OC, vol. 7, pp. 327-28.
  4. “Midi à quatorze heures” (Making a Mountain out of a Mole Hill) [an unpublished outline from 1847], OC, vol. 2, pp. 400-09.
  5. “Le petit manuel du consommateur ou de tout le monde” (A Little Manual for Consumers, in other words, for everyone) [an unpublished outline from 1847], OC, vol. 2, pp. 409-15.
  6. Petites affiches de Jacques Bonhomme (Small Posters by Jacques Bonhomme) [12 March 1848, La République française]466
    1. “Soulagement immédiat du peuple” (The Immediate Relief of the People), OC, vol. 2, pp. 459-60.
    2. “Funeste remède” (A Disastrous Remedy), OC, vol. 2, pp. 460-61.

From the Journal des Économistes:

  1. “Funestes illusions. Les citoyens font vivre l'État. L'État ne peut faire vivre les citoyens.” (Disastrous Illusions) [Journal des Economistes, March 1848, T. 19, pp. 323-33.], OC, vol. 2, pp. 466-82.

Paillottet’s Original Order

The following is the list of these articles as they appeared in the OC, vol. 2 as edited and arranged by Paillottet with his numbering:

  1. (50.) “La modération (des partisans de la réforme douanière)” (On Moderation])[22 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 343-48.
  2. (51.) “Peuple et Bourgeoisie” (The People and the Bourgeoisie) [22 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 348-55.
  3. (52.) “L'économie politique des généraux” (The Political Economy of the Generals) [20 June 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 355-58.
  4. (53.) “Recettes protectionnistes: L'incendie, etc” (Recipies for Protectionism])[27 December 1846, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 358-63.
  5. (54.) “Deux principes: le but du travail et de la production” (Two Principles])[7 February 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 363-70.
  6. (55.) “La logique de M. Cunin-Gridaine” (Mr. Cunin-Gridaine’s Logic) [2 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 370-73.
  7. (56.) “Les hommes spéciaux” (Specialized people) [28 November 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 373-77.
  8. (57.) “Un profit contre deux pertes: - effet de la protection” (One profit against Two Losses) [9 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 377-84.
  9. (58.) “Deux pertes contre un profit” (Two Losses against One Profit) [30 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 384-91.
  10. (59.) “La peur d'un mot” (The Fear of a Word) [no date given], OC, vol. 2, pp. 392-400.
  11. (60.) “Midi à quatorze heures (au lieu des faits les plus simples)” (Midi à quatorze heures) [an unpublished outline from 1847], OC, vol. 2, pp. 400-09.
  12. (61.) “Le petit manuel du consommateur” (A Little Manual for Consumers, in other words, for everyone) [an unpublished outline from 1847], OC, vol. 2, pp. 409-15.
  13. (62.) “Remonstrance (l'isolement): (A Remonstrance) [Auch, 30 August 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 415-18.
  14. (63.) “Le maire d'Énios (les restrictions communales)” (The Mayor of Enios]) [6 February 1848, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 418-29.
  15. (64.) “Association espagnole pour la défense du travail national: - le pont de la Bidassoa” (The Spanish Association for the Defense of National Employment) [7 November 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 429-35.
  16. (65.) “L'indiscret. - Questions sur les effets des restrictions” (The Man who asked Embarrassing Questions) [12 December 1847, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 435-46.
  17. (66.) “Le sucre antédiluvien. - Travail libre et travail esclave. - Industrie naturelle et industrie artificielle” (Antidiluvian Sugar) [13 February 1848, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 446-51.
  18. (67.) “Monita secreta (morale du protectionnisme” (Monita secreta) [20 February 1848, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 452-58.
  19. (68.) Petites affiches de Jacques Bonhomme (Small posters by Jacques Bonhomme) [12 March 1848, Jacques Bonhomme (La République française)]467
    1. “Soulagement immédiat du peuple” (The Immediate Relief of the People), OC, vol. 2, pp. 459-60.
    2. “Funeste remède” (A Disastrous Remedy), OC, vol. 2, pp. 460-61.
  20. (69.) “Circulaires d'un ministère introuvable (les citoyens font vivre l'État : l'État ne peut faire vivre les citoyens)” (Circulars from a Government that is nowhere to be found) [19 March 1848, Le Libre-Échange], OC, vol. 2, pp. 462-65.
  21. (70.) “Funestes illusions” (Disastrous Illusions) [Journal des Economistes, March 1848], OC, vol. 2, pp. 466-82.


464 [DMH - See “A Publishing History of the Economic Sophisms” for a more detailed discussion.]

465 Vol. 2 “Le Libre-Échange” of the Oeuvres complètes de Frédéric Bastiat, mises en ordre, revues et annotées d’après les manuscrits de l’auteur. Ed. Prosper Paillottet and biographical essay by Roger de Fontenay. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1st ed. 1854-55). In a footnote on p. 1 Paillottet explains his selection criteria for the volume: “In putting together this volume from articles almost exclusively drawn from a weekly journal, which the author himself did not plan to do, we have attempted to classify them in the following order: 1) exposition of the aims, principles, and operation of the free trade association, 2) articles on the subsistence question, 3) polemical pieces against other journals, and other diverse topics, 4) public speeches, 5) various other matters and a new series of economic sophisms.”

466 Paillottet notes in a footnote in Oeuvres complètes, T. II, p. 459 that the following two articles were written for Bastiat’s revolutionary journal Jacques Bonhomme and were designed to be affixed to walls as posters in order to “enlighten the people” by “putting them free of charge before the eyes of passers-by”. Paillottet is mistaken as he confuses the two revolutionary broadsides which Bastiat and his colleagues published during the revolution. The first magazine was La République française which appeared in February and March just after the Revolution broke out on 22-23 February. The second was called Jacques Bonhomme and it appeared briefly in June and July 1848. Paillottet obviously is confusing the title of the magazine with the main protagonist whom Bastiat used repeatedly in his writings, namely the French everyman “Jacques Bonhomme”, who was used by Bastiat to express his political and economic views. See the glossary entry "Jacques Bonhomme [person]."

467 Paillottet notes in a footnote in Oeuvres complètes, T. II, p. 459 that the following two articles were written for Bastiat’s revolutionary journal Jacques Bonhomme and were designed to be affixed to walls as posters in order to “enlighten the people” by “putting them free of charge before the eyes of passers-by”. Paillottet is mistaken as he confuses the two revolutionary broadsides which Bastiat and his colleagues published during the revolution. The first magazine was La République française which appeared in February and March just after the Revolution broke out on 22-23 February. The second was called Jacques Bonhomme and it appeared briefly in June and July 1848. Paillottet obviously is confusing the title of the magazine with the main protagonist whom Bastiat used repeatedly in his writings, namely the French everyman “Jacques Bonhomme”, who was used by Bastiat to expxress his political and economic views. See the glossary entry "Jacques Bonhomme [Journal]."


I. Recipes for Protectionism [27 December 1846] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Recettes protectionnistes” (Recipies for Protectionism) [27 December 1846, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 358-63.
  • Previous translation: [none]


27 December 1846

Since we published a report to the King on the great advantage we might draw from the general paralysis of right hands468 as a means of encouraging work, it appears that a great many minds are looking for new recipes for protectionism. One of our subscribers has sent us a letter on this subject, which he intends to send to the Council of Ministers. We think it contains views that are worthy of attracting the attention of Statesmen, and we therefore make haste to reproduce it.

Dear Ministers,

At a time when Customs protection appears to be compromised, a grateful nation sees with confidence that you are concerned with resuscitating it in another form. This opens a wide field to the imagination. Your system of gaucherie (left-handedness)469 has good points, but I do not consider that it is radical enough, and I am taking the liberty of suggesting to you means that are more heroic but still based on this fundamental axiom: the intensity of work, notwithstanding its results, constitutes wealth.

What is this about? Supplying new sustenance for human activity. That is what it is lacking, and to achieve this we need to clear out the current means of satisfaction and create a great demand for products.

I originally thought that we might base a great deal of hope on fire, without neglecting war or pestilence. To start fires at the four corners of Paris470 with a good west wind would certainly ensure the population the two major benefits that the protectionist regime has in view: work and high prices or rather, work by means of high prices. Do you not see what an immense impetus the burning of Paris would give to national industry? Is there a single person who would not have enough work to last him twenty years? How many houses would there be to rebuild, items of furniture to restore, tools, instruments, fabrics, books and pictures to replace! I can see from here the work that will move step by step and increase by itself like an avalanche, for a worker who is busy will give work to others and these employ yet others. It is not you who will come forward to defend consumers, for you know only too well that the producer and consumer are one and the same. What holds up production? Obviously existing products. Destroy them and production will take on a new lease of life. What constitutes our wealth? Our needs, since without needs there is no wealth, without disease, no doctors, without wars, no soldiers, without court cases, no lawyers and judges. If windows did not break, glaziers would be gloomy;471 if houses did not crumble, if furniture was indestructible, how many trades would be held up! To destroy is to make it necessary for you to replace. To increase the number of needs is to increase wealth. Therefore spread fire, famine, war, pestilence, vice and ignorance, and you will see all occupations flourish, for all will have a vast field of activity. Do you not say to yourselves that the scarcity and high price of iron make the fortune of ironmasters? Do you not prevent Frenchmen from buying iron cheaply? In doing this, are you not causing the interests of production to outweigh those of consumers? Are you not creating, so to speak, disease in order to give work to doctors? Be consistent, then. Either it is consumer interest that guides you, and therefore you allow iron to enter, or it is the interest of producers, and in this case you set Paris on fire. Either you believe that wealth consists in having more while working less, and therefore you allow iron to enter, or you think that it consists in having less with more work, and in this case, you burn Paris; for to say as some do: “We do not want absolute principles”,472 is to say: “We want neither truth nor error, but a combination of the two: error when it is convenient and truth when it suits us.”

However, Ministers, although this system of protection is in theory in perfect harmony with a prohibitionist regime, it may well be rejected by public opinion, which has not yet been sufficiently prepared and enlightened by experience and the findings of Le Moniteur industriel.473 You will consider it prudent to delay execution to better times. As you know, there is over-production and a surfeit of goods everywhere, the capacity to consume falls short of the capacity to produce, and markets are too restricted, etc. etc. All this tells us that fire will soon be regarded as an effective remedy for a great many evils.

In the meantime, I have invented a new method of protection that I think has a great potential for success.

It consists simply in substituting direct for indirect encouragement.

Double all taxes; that would create a surplus of revenue of 1,400 to 1,500 million.474 You should then share out these funds as subsidies to all the sectors of national production in order to support them, assist them and enable them to resist foreign competition.

This is what will happen.

Let us suppose that French iron can be sold only at 350 francs a ton. Belgian iron is offered at 300 francs. You quickly take 55 francs from the subsidy fund and give them to our ironmaster. He then supplies his iron at 295 francs. Belgian iron is kept out, which is what we want. French iron covers its costs at 350 francs, which is also what we want.

Is foreign wheat impertinent enough to be on offer at 17 francs where domestic wheat requires 18 francs to be profitable? You immediately give 1 franc 50 centimes for each hectoliter of our wheat, which is then sold at 16 francs 50 centimes and sees off its competitor. You take the same action for woolen cloth, canvas, coal, cattle, etc. etc. In this way, national production will be protected, foreign competition driven away, a remunerative price assured, flooding of the market prevented and all will be well.

“Well, good heavens! That is exactly what we are doing,” you will tell me. “Between your plan and our practice there is not an atom of difference. It is the same principle, with the same result. It is just the procedure that is slightly different. The burden of protection that you place on the shoulders of taxpayers, we place on those of consumers which, in the end, comes to the same thing. We pass the subsidy from the general public directly to the sector protected. You, on the other hand, make it reach the sector protected from the general public via the Treasury, which is a superfluous step, and the only difference between your invention and ours.”

Just a moment, Ministers, I agree that I am suggesting nothing new. My system and yours are identical. It is still the work done by everyone that subsidizes the work of each person, a pure illusion, or the work of a few, which is brazen injustice.475

But let me show you the positive side of my procedure. Your indirect protection protects only a small number of industries effectively. I am offering you the means of protecting them all. Each one would have its share of the spoils. Farmers, manufacturers, traders, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, authors, artists, artisans and workers all put their obole into the protection moneybox; is it not only fair that all should take something out of it?

No doubt that would be fair, but in practice … I see what you mean. You are going to say to me: “How can we double or triple taxes? How can we snatch 150 million from the postal services, 300 million from salt or a billion from land taxes?”476

“There is nothing simpler. First of all, through tariffs : you already take them from the general public, and you will understand that my procedure will cause you no embarrassment, apart from a few book keeping entries, for all of this will take place on paper.

In effect, according to our public law, each person contributes to taxes in proportion to his wealth.

According to the principles of justice, the State owes everyone equal protection.

The result of this is that my system, with regard to the Minister of Finances, will be reduced to opening an account for each citizen that will invariably be made up of two articles, as follows:

N. owes the Subsidy Fund 100 francs for his share of taxes.

N. is owed 90 francs by the Subsidy Fund for his share of protection.”

“But that is the same as if we did nothing at all!”

“That is very true. And you would equally do nothing through the Customs if you were able to use it to protect everyone equally.”

“Then let us concentrate on merely protecting a few.”

“You could do this very well using my procedure. All you have to do is to designate in advance the classes that will be excluded when the funds from the tontine477 are shared out, so that the others will get a larger share.”

“That would be terribly unjust.”

“You are doing this right now.”

“At least we do not notice it.”

“Nor does the general public. That is why they go along with it.”

“What ought we to do?”

“Protect everyone or no one.”


468 (Paillottet’s note) See vol. IV, p. 258. <TBK> [DMH - See ES2 XVI. "The Right Hand and the Left Hand" above, pp. ???]

469 See above in ES2 XVI. “The Right Hand and the Left Hand" p. ???. In this Sophism Bastiat tells us that the King forbids his subjects from using their right hands in order to increase wealth by increasing the amount of labor which must be exerted in order to do anything. This provides Bastiat with many opportunities for playing with words, such as the "Dextrists" who support the right to work with one's right hand vs. the "Sinistrists" who support only the use of the left hand, as well as the obvious pun on the word "gaucherie" as "gauche" is French for "left."

470 See previous footnote in WSWNS "The Broken Window" on the protectionist Saint-Chamans's argument that the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed one million pounds worth of capital stock which permitted rebuilding and thus was a net gain for the English nation.

471 See the chapter on “The Broken Window” in WSWNS for Bastiat’s classic discussion of this point.

472 See ES1 XVIII "There are No Absolute Principles" p. ???? for another discussion of this topic.

473 Le Moniteur industriel was the journal of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) founded by Mimerel de Roubaix in 1846. See the glossary entries on “Le Moniteur industriel,” “Mimerel,” and “Association for the Defense of National Employment”.

474 In 1848 the state received a total of fr. 1.391 billion in revenue from taxes and charges which was made up of fr. 420 million from direct taxes (land, personal, door & window, licences), fr. 308 million from indirect taxes (mainly from the tax on alcohol, tobacco, and sugar), fr. 263 million from registrations and stamp duty, fr. 202 million from customs and the salt monopoly, fr. 51 million from the post office, plus other sources. See Appendix 4 "French Government Finances 1848-1849."

475 This article was written in December 1846 and prefigures Bastiat’s definition of the state as “the great fiction by which everyone endeavours to live at the expense of everyone else” which he developed during the course of 1848. A draft of the essay appeared in his revolutionary magazine Jacques Bonhomme in June 1848 (see CW, vol. 2, pp. 105-06), a larger article on “The State” appeared in the Journal des débats in September 1848, and it was subsequently published as a separate booklet of the same name later that same year (see CW, vol. 2 , pp.93-104).

476 According to the Budget of 1848 the tax on letters and other charges raised fr. 51.5 million; customs duties on salt raised fr. 38.2 million and the domestic consumption tax on salt raised fr. 13.3 million (for a total from salt of fr. 51.5 million; and direct taxes levied on land raised fr. 279.5 million. See Appendix 4 "French Government Finances 1848-1849."

477 A tontine is a voluntary investment or insurance scheme where a group of individuals contribute a certain amount to a group fund from which they receive an annual payment. Upon the death of one of the contributors their contribution is shared among the survivors. The fund is wound up upon the death of the second last person, with the last survivor receiving the full amount left in the fund. Tontines were used in the 17th and 18th centuries by the French and other governments to manage state debt before the invention of the financing of modern public debt which arose during the Napoleonic wars by the British government. See A. Legoyt, "Tontines," DEP, vol. 2, pp. 742-48.


II. Two Principles [7 February 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Deux principes” (Two Principles) [7 February 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 363-70.
  • Previous translation: [none]


“I have just read a masterpiece on free trade.”

“What did you think of it?”

“I would have thought extremely highly of it if I had not read a masterpiece on protection immediately afterwards.”

“You prefer the latter, then?”

“Yes, if I had not read the former just before.”478

“Well then, which of the two won you over?”

“Neither, or rather, both, for when I had finished, like Henry IV479 on leaving a court hearing, I said: ‘Upon my word, they were both right!’”.

“So, you are no further forward?”

“It is fortunate that I have not gone further backward! For I have since come across a third work entitled: Economic contradictions in which Freedom and Non-Freedom, Protection and Non-Protection are arranged in fine style.480 Truly, Sir, my head is swimming.

Vo solcando un mar crudele

Senza vele

E senza sarte.481

East and West, Zenith and Nadir, all are confused in my head and I have not the smallest of compasses to find my way in the middle of this labyrinth. This reminds me of the sorry position I found myself a few years ago.”

“Tell me about it, please.”

Eugène and I482 were hunting in the immense Landes483 between Bordeaux and Bayonne, on which nothing, no trees or fences, limits the view. There was a heavy mist. We made so many turns this way and that in pursuit of a hare that at length …”

“You caught it?”

“No, it caught us, for the rascal succeeded in disorienting us totally. In the evening, an unknown road came into view. To my great surprise, Eugène and I started in opposite directions. ‘Where are you going?’ I asked him. ‘To Bayonne.’ ‘But you are going toward Bordeaux.’ ‘You are joking. The wind is from the North and is freezing our shoulders.’ ‘That is because it is blowing from the South.’ ‘But this morning the sun rose there.’ ‘No, it appeared here.’ ‘Do you not see the Pyrenées in front of us?’ ‘Those are clouds on the edge of the sea.’ In short, we just could not agree.”

“How did it end?”

“We sat down on the side of the road, waiting for a passer-by to save us. Soon a traveler came along; “Sir,” I said, “my friend here claims that Bayonne is to the left and I say it is to the right.” “Fine Sirs,” he replied, “both of you are a little right and a little wrong. Beware of rigid ideas and dogmatic systems. Good evening!” And he left. I was tempted to throw a stone at his back when I saw a second traveler coming toward us. I hailed him extremely politely and said: ‘Good man, we are disoriented. Tell us whether we should go this way or that to return to Bayonne.’ ‘That is not the question’, he told us, ‘the essential thing is not to cover the distance that separates you from Bayonne in a single bound without a transition stage. That would not be wise and you would risk falling flat on your face.’ ‘Sir’, I said, ‘it is you who are not answering the question. As for our faces, you are too interested in them. You can be sure that we will take care of them ourselves. However, before deciding whether to walk quickly or slowly, we have to know in which direction to walk.’ Nevertheless, the rogue persisted: ‘Walk steadily’, he said, ‘and never put one foot in front of the other without reflecting carefully on the consequences. Bon voyage!’ It was fortunate for him that I had buck shot in my gun; if it had been just bird shot, frankly I would have peppered at least the rump of his horse.”

“To punish the horseman! What distributive justice!”

“A third traveler came along. He appeared to be serious and staid. I took this to be a good sign and asked him my question: which was the way to Bayonne? ‘Diligent hunter’, he said to me, ‘you have to distinguish between theory and practice. Study the lie of the land and if theory tells you that Bayonne is downwards, go upwards.’”

“Thundering heavens!” I shouted, “Have you all sworn …?”

“Do not, yourself, swear. And tell me what decision you took.”

“That of following the first half of the last piece of advice. We examined the external appearance of the heather and the direction of flow of the water. A flower made us agree. See,” I said to Eugène “it normally turns toward the sun

And still seeks the gaze of Phoebus.484

Therefore, Bayonne is there.” He yielded to this gracious arbitration and we went on our way in quite good humor. But what a surprise! Eugène found it difficult to leave things as they were and the universe, doing a half-turn in his imagination, constantly put him back under the influence of the same error.”

“What happened to your friend with regard to geography often happens to you with regard to political economy. The map turns round in your mind and you find all the dispensers of advice equally convincing.”

“What should I do, then?”

“What you did: learn to orient yourself.”

“But in the heathlands of political economy485, will I find a poor little flower to guide me?”

“No, but you will find a principle.”

“That is not as pretty. Is there really an idea that is clear and simple and which can be used as a leading thread through the labyrinth?”486

“Yes, there is.”

“Tell it to me, please!”

“I prefer you to tell it to yourself. Tell me. What is wheat good for?”

“Heavens above! To be eaten!”

“That is a principle.”

“You call that a principle? In that case, I often make principles without knowing it, just as Mr. Jourdain487 spoke in prose.”

“It is a principle, I tell you, and one that is most ignored, although it is the most true of all those ever included in a body of doctrine. And tell me, has wheat not another use?”

“For what else would it be useful, if not to be eaten?”

“Think hard.”

“Ah! I have found it! To provide work for the ploughman.”

“You have indeed found it. That is another principle.”

“Good heavens! I did not know it was so easy to make principles. I am making one with each word I speak!”

“Is it not true that every imaginable product has the two types of utility that you have just attributed to wheat?”

“What do you mean?”

“What use is coal?”

“It supplies us with heat, light and strength.”

“Has it no other use?”

“It also provides work to miners, haulers and sailors.”

“And has woolen cloth not two types of utility?”

“Yes, indeed. It protects you from cold and rain. What is more, it gives work to shepherds, spinners and weavers.”

“To prove to you that you have genuinely produced two principles, allow me to express them in a general form. The first says: Products are made to be consumed, while the second says: Products are made to be produced.

“Here I am beginning to understand a little less.”

“I will therefore change the theme:

First principle: Men work in order to consume.

Second principle: Men consume in order to work.

First principle: Wheat is made for stomachs.

Second principle: Stomachs are made for wheat.

First principle: Means are made for an end.

Second principle: The end is made for the means

First principle: Ploughmen plough so that people can eat.

Second principle: People eat so that the ploughman can plough.

First principle: Oxen go before the cart.

Second principle: The cart goes before the oxen.”

“Heavens above! When I said: Wheat is useful because we eat it and then: Wheat is useful because it is cultivated, was I putting forward, without realizing it, this torrent of principles?

Heavens! Sir, I did not believe I was

As learned as I am.”488

“Hold on a little! You have merely uttered two principles and I have played variations on a theme.”489

“What on earth do you mean?”

“I want you to be able to tell north from south on a compass in case you ever become lost in the labyrinth of economics. Each of them will guide you in an opposite direction, one to the temple of truth, the other to the region of error.”

“Do you mean to say that the two schools, the liberal and the protectionist, that divide opinion, differ solely in that one puts the oxen before the cart and the other the cart before the oxen?”

“Exactly. I say that if we go back to the exact point that divides these two schools, we find it in the true or false use of the word utility. As you have just said yourself, each product has two types of usefulness: one relates to the consumer and consists in satisfying needs, the other relates to the producer and consists in providing an opportunity for work. We can therefore call the first of these forms of utility fundamental and the second occasional. One is the compass of true science and the other that of false science. If you are unfortunate enough, as is only too frequent, to ride a horse using the second principle to guide you, that is to say to consider products merely from the point of view of their relationship with producers, you are traveling with a compass that is back to front, and you become increasingly lost. You become enmeshed in the realms of privileges, monopolies, antagonism, national jealousies, dissipation, regulations and restrictive and invasive policies, in a word, you introduce a series of consequences which undermine humanity, constantly mistaking the wrong for the right, and seeking in new wrongs the remedy for the wrongs that legislation has brought about. If, on the other hand, the interest of the consumer, or rather that of general consumption, is taken as a torch and compass right from the start, we progress toward liberty, equality, fraternity,490 universal peace, well-being, savings, order and all the progressive principles of the human race.491

“What! These two axioms: Wheat is made to be eaten and wheat is made to be grown can lead to such opposing results?”

“Yes indeed. You know the story of the two ships that were traveling in convoy. A storm arose. When it was over, nothing had changed in the universe, except that one of the two compasses had veered to the South as a result of the electricity. But this was enough to make one ship go the wrong way for eternity, at least while it followed this false direction.”

“I must admit that I am a thousand leagues away from understanding the importance you attach to what you call the two principles (although I have had the honor of finding them), and I would be very relieved if you would let me know your thoughts in their entirety.”

“Well, then! Listen! I divide my subject into …”

“Mercy me! I have no time to listen to you. But next Sunday I am all yours.”

“I would like, however, …”

“I am in a hurry. Farewell.”

“While I have you here …”

“ You do not have me any more. See you on Sunday.”492

“On Sunday, then. My goodness, how hard listeners find it to focus!”

“Heavens! How heavy going lecturers make it!”


478 This is an amusing reference to his own work and that of his arch-rival the anarchist socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Bastiat's own work debunking economic fallacies or "sophisms" as he called it appeared in January 1846. It is of course strongly in favor of free trade and the free market. The same liberal publisher Guillaumin published later in 1846 a two volume work by Proudhon from the very opposite perspective, Système des contradictions économiques, ou, Philosophie de la misère (System of Economic Contradictions, or the Philosophy of Misery). Note also, that in the dialogue at the end of "Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates" (ES2, chap. XIII) the People cheer vociferously for whatever opinion they last heard. See Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Système des contradictions économiques, ou Philosophie de la misère, 2 Volumes (Paris: Guillaumin et cie, 1846). See Bastiat, Economic Sophisms. Series I (Paris: Guillaumin, 1846) above, pp. ???. See also the glossary entry on "Proudhon."

479 Henri IV (1562-1610). Henri was a Huguenot (Protestant) who was active in the Wars of Religion before becoming King, a precondition for which he had to convert to Catholicism. In 1598 he enacted the Edict of Nantes which granted religious toleration to the protestants in an attempt to end the religious wars in France. In 1610 he was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic. His edit of toleration was revoked in October 1685 by Louis XIV.

480 Bastiat might be referring here to the work of the Anti-Corn Law advocate Col. Thomas Perronet Thompson whose work was well known to the Economists. He wrote many best selling works of "free trade catechisms" where he listed arguments for and against free trade and protection in well organized columns of text in his pamphlets. He did the same in a French language book attacking the pro-tariff report of the Superior Council of Commerce which was conducted in October 1834. See Perronet Thompson, Catechism on the Corn Laws; With a List of Fallacies and the Answers. Eighteenth Edition (London: Robert Heward for the Westminster Review, 1834). 1st edition 1827; Contre-Enquête: par l’Homme aux Quarante Écus (1834). See the glossary entries on "Perronet Thompson" and “Superior Council of Commerce.”

481 This verse comes from an opera “Artaserse” written by Metastasio and set to music by numerous composers in the 18th century. The translation of the verse Bastiat quotes is “I sail across a cruel sea without sail or rigging”. See Opere scelte di Pietro Metastasio, publicate da A. Buttura. Tomo primo. (Parigi: Baudry, 1840), Act I, scene XV, p. 147.

482 Bastiat mentions only one "Eugène" in his correspondence but gives no surname. It is in a letter to his childhood friend Félix Coudroy who obvious knew whom he meant. In letter 203, dated Rome, 11 November 1850 Bastiat states "What is more, I have met Eugene again and he comes to spend part of the day with me. So, if I go out, I can always give my walks an interesting aim. I would ask for one thing only, and that is to be relieved of this piercing pain in the larynx; this constant suffering distresses me." CW, vol. 1, pp. 288-89.

483 Les Landes was the Département in south west France where Bastiat was born and grew up and represented in the Chamber of Deputies. Les Landes is short for "the heathlands of the Gascoines." In Bastiat's day Les Landes consisted of predominantly poorly drained heathland ("la lande") which was burnt off to allow the grazing of large numbers of sheep. Later in the 19th century extensive pine forests were grown thus making possible the development of a lucrative timber industry. See the glossary entry on "Les Landes."

484 Bastiat quotes a line from Évariste de Parny's (1753-1814) poem "Les Fleurs" (Flowers) (1788). The full verse is: "Dans la jacinthe un bel enfant respire; / J'y reconnois le fils de Piérus. / Il cherche encor les regards de Phébus; / Il craint encor le souffle de Zéphyre." (In the hyacinth flower a beautiful child breathes; / There I recognize the son of Pierus. / He still seeks the gaze of Phoebus; / He still fears the breath of Zephyrus.) Parny was very popular in the early 19th century. He was one of the handful of French aristocrats who supported the American Revolution by writing an "Epitre aux insurgents de Boston" (A Letter to the Insurgents in Boston) (1777). His poetry is filled with references to liberty and his long poem on "Flowers" might be interpreted as a discussion of how plant life needs the right conditions in which to grow and flourish just as humans need liberty. He wrote many love poems, transcribed songs from Madagascar into French verse, and wrote a notorious poem "La Guerre des Dieux" (War of the Gods) (1799) which was banned during the Restoration. See Evariste-Désiré Desforges Parny, Oeuvres choisies de Parny, augmentées des variantes de texte et de notes (Paris: Lefèvre, 1827), "Les Fleurs," pp. 154-55. Also Poésies érotiques (1778), Chansons madécasses (1787). See the glossary entry “Parny.”

485 Bastiat uses the phrase “les landes” of political economy to suggest that just as he and Eugène were disoriented and lost in Les Landes in south west France, one could also get lost in the wilderness or marshlands of political economy. See the glossary entry on “Les Landes.”

486 In Greek mythology the Minotaur was a creature half man and half bull which lived in a maze or labyrinth on the island of Crete. In the power struggle between him and his brothers for control of the throne of Crete, Minos was given a white bull as a sign of support by the god Poseidon. Instead of killing it as he promised, Minos kept it. As punishment his wife was made to fall in love with the bull producing the Minotaur as a result which had to caged in the labyrinth because of its monstrous behaviour. The Athenian hero Theseus was able to kill the Minotaur with the assistance of Ariadne, the oldest daughter of King Minos, who told him to use a thread to successfully navigate his way out of the labyrinth once he had killed the beast.

487 In Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-Be Gentleman) by J. B. P. Molière (1622–1673), Act II, scene VI, the Instructor of Philosophy is instructing M. Jourdain on how to behave like a gentleman. Jourdain wants to woo a woman of higher social status than he is and wants to be able to write her a letter. When asked by the Philosopher if he wants to write verse or prose M. Jourdain gets confused because he doesn't know the difference between the two. He is told told that everyday speech is a form of prose and Jourdain is astonished that for 40 years he had been speaking prose without knowing it. Oeuvres complètes de Molière, avec les notes de tous les commentateurs. Édition publiée par L. Aimé-Martin. Tome septième (Paris: Lefèvre, 1826), pp. 138-40. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

488 This line comes from Molière's play Le Misanthrope (1666) where the misanthrope, Alceste, is trying to explain why it is so hard to tell powerful individuals (like a King) that their poetry is badly written. He tells his friends that he could be tortured or hanged for doing so, and when they laugh, he replies "Par la sangbleu! Messieurs, je ne croyois pas estre / Si plaisant que je suis" (Gracious me! Sirs, I didn't think I was as witty as I am). As Bastiat often does, he inserts his own words into a well-known poem or play to make his points, replacing "plaisant" (witty) with "savant" (learned). See Théatre complet de J.-B. Poquelin de Molière, publié par D. Jouaust en huit volumes avec la préface de 1682, annotée par G. Monval, vol. 4 (Paris: Librairie des bibliophiles, 1882), "Le Misanthrope," Act II, scene VI, p. 108. See the glossary entry on "Molière."

489 This is another reference to a play this time by Beaumarchais. In the The Barber of Seville (1775) Don Basile is a singing teacher who says to Dr. Bartholo that when he is unable to understand an argument he resorts to using proverbs such as “What is good to take, is good to keep.” He then says that “Yes, I arrange several little proverbs with variations, just like that.” Act IV, p. 254. Théâtre de Beaumarchais. Précédé d’une Notice sur sa vie et ses ouvrages, par M. Auger (Paris: Librairie de Firmin Didot Frères, 1844).

490 Bastiat is here taking the slogan of the French Revolution of 1789 "liberté, égailité, fraternité," which had been appropriated by the Jacobins in the 1790s and then by the socialists afterwards, and turning it into his own liberal rallying cry for the 1840s, which might be phrased as follows: "liberty, equality, fraternity, tranquility, prosperity, frugality, and stability." See Bastiat's list of ideals which make him a democrat: property, liberty, equality, justice, and peace, in ES3 XII. "The Man who asked Embarrassing Questions," pp. ???. See the Appendix on "Bastiat's Republicanism."

491 (Paillottet’s note) <TBK>.See pages 15 and 251 of chapter II of the first series of Sophisms and chapter XV. of the second series in Tome IV. and chapter XI of the Harmonies in Tome VI.

492 (Paillottet’s note) Sunday was the day of the week on which Le Libre-Échange appeared.


III. M. Cunin-Gridaine’s Logic [2 May 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “La logique de M. Cunin-Gridaine” (Mr. Cunin-Gridaine’s Logic) [2 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 370-73.
  • Previous translation: [none]


Speaking about the two associations493 that have been formed, one to demand that the general public be held to ransom and the other to demand that the general public not be held to ransom, Mr. Cunin-Gridaine494 said the following:

Nothing demonstrates exaggeration better that the exaggeration that opposes it. It is the best way of showing calm and disinterested minds where truth lies, since truth is never divorced from moderation.”

It is certain, according to Aristotle, that truth is to be found between two opposing exaggerations. The important thing is to ascertain whether two contrary statements are equally exaggerated, without which the judgment that is to be made, while appearing to be impartial, will in fact be inequitable.

Pierre and Jean are pleading their cause before the judge in a small town.

Pierre, the plaintiff, moved that he should beat Jean every day.

Jean, the defendant, moved that he should not be beaten at all.

The judge pronounced the following sentence:

“Seeing that nothing proves exaggeration better than the exaggeration that opposes it, let us cut the quarrel in half and say that Pierre will beat Jean but only on odd days.”

Jean appealed against this, as was to be expected, but having learnt logic, he was careful this time not to move that his brutish adversary’s case be simply dismissed.

Therefore, when Pierre’s lawyer read the introductory plea to the court which ended with these words: May it please the court to allow Pierre to rain a hail of blows on Jean’s shoulders.”

Jean’s lawyer replied with this equally conventional request: “May it please the court to allow Jean to take his revenge on Pierre’s back.”

The precaution was necessary. Suddenly, justice found itself placed between two forms of exaggeration. It decided that Jean would no longer be beaten by Pierre nor Pierre by Jean. Basically, Jean did not want any other result.

Let us imitate this example. Let us take our precautions against Mr. Cunin-Gridaine’s logic.

What is involved? The Pierres of the Rue Hauteville495 are pleading for the right to hold the general public to ransom. The Jeans of the Rue Choiseul are naively pleading for the general public not to be held to ransom. At which the Minister has gravely pronounced that truth and moderation are at the mid-point between these two claims.

Since the judgment has to be based on the assumption that the association for free trade is exaggerating, what this association can best do is to exaggerate in fact and place itself at the same distance from truth as the prohibitionist association, so that the exact center coincides more or less with justice.

For this reason, while one side demands a tax on consumers for the benefit of producers, the other, instead of wasting its time opposing a refusal, will formally demand a tax on producers for the benefit of consumers.

And when ironmasters say: “For each quintal of iron that I deliver to the general public, I expect them to pay me a premium of 20 francs, in addition to the price,”

The general public should be quick to reply: “For every quintal of iron that we bring in from abroad, free of duty, we expect ironmasters in France to pay us a premium of 20 francs.”

Then it would be true to say that the pretensions of both parties are equally exaggerated, and the Minister would throw them out, saying, “Go away, and do not inflict taxes on one another,” at least if he is faithful to his line of logic.

Faithful to his line of logic? Alas, the entire line of his logic lies in the exposition of motives; it no longer appears again in the acts themselves. After having proposed in fact that injustice and justice are two forms of exaggeration, that those who want protectionist duties to be maintained and those who demand their removal are equally far from the truth, what should the Minister496 do to remain consistent? He should place himself at the center, and imitate the village judge who passed a sentence of half a beating497; in a word, reduce protectionist duties by half. He has not even touched them. (See number 50.498)

His dialectic, commented on by his actions, amounts to this: Pierre, you request to be allowed to give four strokes: Jean, you request not to receive any.

The truth, which is never divorced from moderation, lies between these two requests. According to my line of logic, I should authorize only two strokes; following my inclination, I will allow four, as before. And for the execution of my sentence, I will make the legal authorities available to Pierre at Jean’s expense.

But the finest bit of the story is that Pierre leaves the court furious because the judge has dared openly to compare his exaggeration with that of Jean. (See Le Moniteur industriel).


493 The two associations referred to are the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment), and the free trade L'Association pour la Liberté des Echanges (The Free Trade Association). The latter was founded in February 1846 in Bordeaux with Bastiat as the Secretary and editor of their magazine Le Libre-Échange. The former was founded by Pierre Mimerel de Roubaix (1786-1872) in October 1846 and its journal was Le Moniteur industrial. See the glossary entries for "Free Trade Association," "Le Libre-Échange," "Mimerel," "Le Moniteur industriel," and "Association for the Defense of National Employment."

494 Laurent Cunin-Gridaine (1778-1859) was a very successful , self-made textile manufacturer from Sedan. As Minister for Trade from 1840 to 1848 he was a strong supporter of protection for the textile industry. See the glossary entry on "Cunin-Gridaine."

495 (Paillottet’s note) The offices of Le Libre-Échange were in the Rue de Choiseul and those of Le Moniteur Industriel in the Rue Hauteville.

496 Laurent Cunin-Gridaine (1778-1859) was a very successful , self-made textile manufacturer from Sedan. As Minister for Trade from 1840 to 1848 he was a strong supporter of protection for the textile industry. See the glossary entry on "Cunin-Gridaine."

497 Bastiat uses the French “la demi-bastonnade.” Bastonnade was a form of judicial punishment where a rod was used to beat a person, usually on the back. When he was a Deputy in the Constituent Assembly Bastiat voted in September 1848 against the re-introduction of corporal punishment and for the abolition of the death penalty. See “Bastiat’s Activities in the National Assembly (1848-1850)” in Appendix 1 “Further Aspects of Bastiat’s Life and Thought.”

498 ES3 V. “On Moderation,” below pp. ???


IV. One Profit versus Two Losses [9 May 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Un profit contre deux pertes” (One Profit versus Two Losses) [9 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 377-84.
  • Previous translation: [none]


It is now seventeen years since a political writer, whom I will not name, directed an argument against protection by the Customs Service in an algebraic form, which he called the double incidence of loss.499

This argument made something of an impression. Those benefiting from privilege made haste to refute it, but it so happened that all they did to this end served only to elucidate the argument, to make it increasingly invincible and, what is more, make it popular, to the extent that these days, in the country in which this took place, protection no longer has any partisans.

Perhaps people will ask me why I do not mention the name of the author? Because my philosophy master taught me that this sometimes very adversely compromises the effect of the quotation.500

This master imposed on us a course peppered with passages some of which were taken from Voltaire and Rousseau and invariably preceded by the following formula: “A famous author said, etc.” As a few volumes of these tiresome writers had slipped into our school, we were well aware to whom he was referring. We therefore never failed, when reciting a lesson, to replace the formula with these words: Rousseau said or Voltaire said.501 But instantly, the teacher, raising his arms to the sky, would cry out: “Do not mention names, friend B.; you have to learn that many people will admire the phrase but would consider it dreadful if they knew where it came from.” It was at the time when opinion inspired our great songwriter502, or I ought rather to say our great poet, to pen the following chorus:

It is Voltaire’s fault,

It is Rousseau’s fault.503

I will therefore suppress the name of the author and the algebraic form and reproduce the argument, which is limited to establishing that any advantage flowing from tariffs will of necessity bring about the following:

1. A profit for one industry;

2. An equal loss for another industry;

3. An equal loss for the consumer.

These are the direct and necessary effects of protection. In all justice, and to complete the assessment, we ought in addition to impute to it a number of ancillary losses, such as the cost of surveillance, expensive formalities, commercial uncertainty, fluctuations in duties, aborted operations, the increased likelihood of war, smuggling, repression, etc.

However, I will limit myself here to the necessary consequences of protection.

A short story will perhaps clarify the explanation of our problem.

An ironmaster needed wood for his factory. He had negotiated with a poor woodcutter who was not very educated and who had to chop wood one day a week, from morning to night, for 40 sous.

This may seem curious, but it so happened that by dint of hearing talk on protection, domestic industry, the superiority of foreign goods, cost prices, etc. our woodcutter became an economist in the style of Le Moniteur industriel,504 so effectively that a bright idea entered his mind at the same time as the thought of a monopoly entered his heart.

He went to find the ironmaster and said to him:

“Master, you give me 2 francs for one day of work; in future you will give me 4 francs and I will work for 2 days.”

“Friend”, replied the ironmaster, “I have enough wood with the wood you split in one day.”

“I know,” said the woodcutter, “and so I have taken steps. Look at my axe; see how blunted and ragged it is. I assure you that I will take two full days to split the wood that I split now in one day.”505

“I will lose 2 francs in this arrangement.”

“Yes, but I, for my part, will gain them and, with regard to the wood and you, I am the producer and you are just a consumer. A consumer! Does he warrant any pity?”

“And if I proved to you that apart from the 40 sous506 it will cause me to lose, this agreement will also cost another worker 40 sous?”

“Then I will say that his loss balances my gain, and that the final result of my invention is that you, and consequently the nation as a whole, will suffer a clear loss of 2 francs. But who is this worker who will have something to complain about?”

“Jacques the gardener, for example, whom I will no longer give the opportunity to earn 40 sous a week as he does now, since I will have already spent the 40 sous; and if I do not deprive Jacques of this sum, I will be depriving someone else.”

“That is true, I give up and will go to sharpen my axe. Incidentally, if because of my axe, work to the value of 2 francs is lost to the world, that is a loss and it has to fall on someone … Pardon me, Master, I have just had an idea. If you allow me to earn these 2 francs, I will enable the café owner to earn them and this gain will compensate the loss to Jacques.”

“My friend, you would be doing only what Jacques would do himself as long as I employed him and what he would no longer do if I dismissed him, as you are asking me to do.”

“That is true, I am defeated and can clearly see that there is no profit to the nation to be had from dulling the blades of axes.”

However, our woodcutter went over the problem in his head, while chopping wood. He said to himself: “Nonetheless, I have heard it said to the boss a hundred times that it was beneficial to protect producers at the expense of consumers. It is true that he has pointed out here another producer whom I had not considered.”

A short time later, he went to the ironmaster and said to him:

“Master, I need 20 kilograms of iron and here is 5 francs to pay for it.”

“My friend, for this price, I can give you only 10 kilograms.”

“That is a shame for you since I know an Englishman who will give me the 20 kilograms I need for 5 francs.”

“He is a scoundrel.”

“So be it.”

“An egoist, a perfidious man who acts in his own interest.”507

“So be it.”

"An individualist, a bourgeois, a trader who does not know what self-denial, self-sacrifice, fraternity or philanthropy are.”

“So be it, but he is giving me 20 kilograms of iron for 5 francs while you, as fraternal, self-sacrificing and philanthropic as you are, you are giving me only 10.”

“That is because his machines are more advanced than mine.”

“Oh! Oh! Mr. Philanthropist! So you are working with a dull axe and you want me to bear the loss?”

“My friend, you have to, so that my industry may be favored. In this world, we must not always think of ourselves and our own interests.”

“But it seems to me that it is always your turn to think of your interests. In the last few days you have not wanted to pay me for using a bad axe and today you want me to pay you for using bad machines.”

“My friend, that is quite different! My industry is a national one and of great importance.”

“With regard to the 5 francs in question, it is not important for you to gain them if I have to lose them.”

“And do you no longer remember that when you suggested to me that my wood be split with a blunt axe I proved to you that in addition to my loss, an additional loss, equal to mine, would be suffered by poor Jacques, and each of these losses would equal your profit, which in the end would amount to a clear loss for the nation as a whole of 2 francs? For the two cases to be equal, you would have to prove that if my gain and your loss were in balance there would still be loss caused to a third party.”

“I do not see that this proof is very necessary, for according to what you say, whether I buy from you or the Englishman, the nation is not bound to lose or gain anything. And in this case, I do not see why I should spend for your benefit and not mine what I have earned through the sweat of my brow. What is more, I think I can prove that if I give you 10 francs for your 20 kilograms of iron, I would lose 5 francs and someone else would lose 5 francs; you would gain only 5 francs with the result that the entire nation would suffer a clear loss of 5 francs.”

“I am intrigued at the prospect of listening to your chopping down my proof”.

“And if I split it neatly, will you agree that your claim is unjust?”

“I do not promise to agree with your case, you know, because where these matters are concerned, I am a little like the gambler in the comedy508 and I say to political economy:

You may well convince me, oh, science, my enemy,

But make me admit it, there I challenge you!

But let us take a look at your argument.”

“First of all, you have to know one thing. The Englishman has no intention of taking my 100 sous coin back to his own country. If we strike a bargain (the ironmaster remarks as an aside: I’ll sort that out), he has asked me to buy two pairs of gloves for 5 francs, which I will give him in return for his iron.”

“That is not important. Get on with your proof.”

“Very well, let us now make the calculation. With regard to the 5 francs that represent the natural price for the iron, it is clear that French production will be neither more nor less stimulated overall whether I give this money to you to make the iron directly or whether I give it to the glove maker to supply me with the gloves the Englishman has requested in exchange for the iron.”

“That sounds reasonable.”

“So let us leave aside these first 100 sous. There remains the problem of the other 5 francs. You say that if I agree to lose them, you would gain them and your industry would benefit by this amount.”


“But if I reach agreement with the Englishman, these 100 sous would remain in my pocket. As it happens, I find that I have a pressing need for a pair of shoes. Here then is a third person, the shoemaker, who is concerned by this matter. If I deal with you, your industry would be stimulated to the extent of 5 francs; that of the shoemaker would be depressed to the extent of 5 francs, which is the exact balance. And in the end, I would not have any shoes; so that my loss would be clear and the nation, in my person, would have lost 5 francs.”

“Not a bad line of reasoning for a woodcutter! But you have lost sight of one thing, and that is that the 5 francs you will cause the shoemaker to earn, if you traded with the Englishman, I would myself allow him to earn if you traded with me.”

“I beg your pardon, Master, but you yourself taught me the other day that I should beware of this confusion.

I have 10 francs.

If I trade with you I will give them to you, and you will do what you want with them.

If I trade with the Englishman, I will distribute them thus: 5 francs to the glove maker and 5 francs to the shoemaker, and they will do what they like with them.

The subsequent consequences of the circulation of these 10 francs, by you in one case and by the glove maker and shoemaker in the other, are identical and cancel each other out. There should be no question of this.509

There is therefore just one difference in all this. Following the first bargain, I would not have any shoes; following the second, I would have.”

The ironmaster goes off grumbling: “Ah, where the devil is political economy taking us? Two good laws will stop all this nonsense; a Customs law that will give me the power of the State, since I will not be in the right, and a law on education that will send all the young people to study society in Sparta or Rome.510 It is not a good thing for the people to have such a clear view of its affairs.”511


499 Bastiat is referring to an idea developed by Colonel Perronet Thompson (1783-1869) who was an anti-corn law advocate. Bastiat says here that Thompson’s argument about “the double incidence of loss” appeared 17 years earlier in 1830 but no new work by Thompson appeared in that year. The phrase does appear in his "A running commentary on anti-commercial fallacies" which was published in 1834, in which he observes that "the (part) of the sum gained to the monopolists and lost twice over by the rest of France, - (viz. once by a corresponding diminution of business to some other French traders, and once more by the loss to the consumers, who are the nation)... The understanding of the misery of this basis, depends upon a clear comprehension of the way in which the gain to the monopolist is lost twice over by other parties; or what in England has been called the double incidence of loss." pp. 188-89. See Thomas Perronet Thompson, Letters of a representative to his constituents, during the session of 1836. To which is added, A running commentary on anti-commercial fallacies, reprinted from the Spectator of 1834. With additions and corrections. (London: Effingham Wilson, 1836). See the glossary entries on "Perronet Thompson" and “The Double Incidence of Loss.”

500 (Paillottet’s note) The name that the author does not mention is that of an eminent member of the English League, Colonel Perronnet (sic) Thompson. See <TBK>. [DMH - Paillottet misspells Perronet Thompson’s name by spelling it like his own name.]

501 See the glossary entries on “Rousseau” and “Voltaire.”

502 Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857) was a liberal poet and songwriter who rose to prominence during the Restoration period with his funny and clever criticisms of the monarchy and the church. He was sent to prison twice in the 1820s for offending the political authorities with his irreverent verses. Bastiat knew him and was known to have sung his drinking songs on occasion. See the glossary entries on “Béranger,” “Voltaire,” and “Rousseau.”

503 These lines come from the satirical song by Béranger, “Mandement des vicaires généraux de Paris” (Pastoral from the vicars general of Paris) (1817) which mocks the ruling elites of the early Restoration who blamed every problem of the day on the ideas of Rousseau and Voltaire. A typical verse is the following: “In order to teach children that they were born to be slaves, shackles were fitted when they first learned to move. If mankind is free in the cradle it is the fault of Rousseau; if reason enlightens them then it is the fault of Voltaire.” Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857) was a liberal poet and songwriter who rose to prominence during the Restoration period with his funny and clever criticisms of the monarchy and the church. He was sent to prison twice in the 1820s for offending the political authorities with his irreverent verses. Bastiat knew him and was known to have sung his drinking songs on occasion. Chansons de Béranger. Nouvelle édition (Bruxelles: A. Wahlen, 1832), pp. 442-447. See the glossary entries on “Béranger,” “Goguettes,” “Voltaire,” and “Rousseau.”

504 Le Moniteur industriel was the journal of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) founded by Mimerel de Roubaix in 1846. See the glossary entries on “Le Moniteur industriel,” “Mimerel,” and “Association for the Defense of National Employment”.

505 See the similar story about “The Two Axes” in ES2 no. III, p. ???

506 1 Franc = 20 sous. See “French Currency” in Appendix 3 "Economic Policy and Taxation."

507 See the glossary entry on “Perfidious Albion.”

508 These lines come from Le Joueur (The Gambler) (1696) a comedy by J.F. Regnard (1685-1709). Bastiat changes the original "fortune" to "science" in order to suit his purpose in this Sophism. In the original, Valère, a compulsive gambler, says “You can make me lose, oh, fortune, my enemy! But to make me pay, hell, I challenge you! Because I don’t have a sou”. Oeuvres de Regnard. Tome 1 (Paris: Martel Ardant frères, 1847), Act I, scene IV, p. 79.

509 (Paillottet’s note) See chapter VII of the pamphlet What is seen as what is not seen, farther in this volume.

510 Bastiat had a deep dislike of the classics and disapproved of teaching them in the schools. He thought that the Greek and Roman authors whom school children had to read had served in the army, held high political officer, owned slaves, and disdained most economic activity. He regarded them as conquerors and plunders who should not be used as models. See his many references to the classics in his correspondence, Collected Works, vol. 1.

511 (Paillottet’s note) See the pamphlet Baccalaureate and Socialism on page <TBK>in vol. II.


V. On Moderation [22 May 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “De la modération” (On Moderation) [22 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 343-48.
  • Previous translation: [none]


We are criticized for being too dogmatic and extreme, and this accusation, carefully propagated by our opponents, has been echoed by men whose talents and high position give them authority, Mr. Charles Dupin,512 a peer of France, and Mr. Cunin-Gridaine,513 a Minister.514

And this is because we have the audacity to think that wanting to make men wealthy by restricting them and tightening social bonds by isolating nations is a vain and foolish enterprise; that the collection of taxes cannot be established without both the freedom of commerce and freedom of work being hindered in some way. These incidental restrictions are in this instance one of the drawbacks of taxation, drawbacks which may even cause the tax itself to be abandoned. But to see in them as such a source of wealth and a cause of well-being and, on this premise, to strengthen and increase their number systematically, no longer to fill the Treasury but at the Treasury’s expense, to believe that restrictions have in themselves a productive virtue and result in more intensive work, better shared out, more certain in its remuneration and more capable of equalizing returns, that is an absurd theory, one that could lead only to an absurd practice. For this reason, we are opposing both of them, not in an extreme way but with zeal and perseverance.

After all, what is moderation?

We are convinced that two plus two makes four and we believe that we are required to say this clearly. Do people want us to use circumlocutions? That we should say, for example: “It may be that two plus two makes approximately four. We suspect that this may be so but we are not hastening to affirm this, especially since certain leading figures believed it was in their interest to base the laws of the country on this other premise which appears to contradict ours: three minus one equals four.”

By accusing us of dogmatism and forbidding us from proving the truth of our thesis is to want the country never to open its eyes. We will not enter the trap.

Oh! If we were told: “It is very true that the straight line is shortest. But what can you do? For a long time it was believed to be the longest. The nation is accustomed to following a curved line. It spends its time and strength doing this but we have to win over this wasted time and strength little by little and gradually”, we would be considered to be very laudably moderate. What are we asking for? Just one thing: for the public to see clearly what it is losing by following a curved line. After this, and if, in the full knowledge of what the curved line was costing them in tax, privations, vexations and wasted effort, they only wished to leave it gradually or if they even persisted in keeping to it, we could not help it. Our mission is to set out the truth. We do not believe, like the socialists, that the people are an inert mass and that the driving force is in the person who describes the phenomenon, but that it is in the person who suffers or who benefits from it. Could we be more moderate?

Other people accuse us of being extreme for another reason. They say it is because we are attacking all forms of protection at once. Why not have recourse to some guile? Why antagonize agriculture, manufacturing , the merchant navy and the working classes all simultaneously, to say nothing of the political parties who are always ready to pay court to numbers and strength?515

We consider that it is in this that we show our moderation and sincerity.

How many times have people not tried, doubtless with good intentions, to induce us to abandon the terrain of principles! We were advised to attack the abuse of the protection given to a few factories.

“You would be supported by agriculture”, we were told, “and with this powerful auxiliary you would overcome the most exorbitant of the industrial monopolies and initially one of the most solid links of the chain that is wearing you down. Next, you can move against the agricultural interests in the knowledge that this time you would have the support of manufacturing industry.”516

Those who give us this advice are forgetting one thing, which is that we do not aspire so much to overturn the protective regime as to enlighten the general public about this regime, or rather, although the first of these tasks is the aim, the second appears to us to be the essential means.

Well, what force would our arguments have had if we had carefully removed from the argument the very principle of protection? And, by implicating it, how could we avoid arousing the susceptibilities of farmers? Do people believe that manufacturers would have left us free to choose our arguments? That they would not have brought us round to expressing our views on the question of principle and to say explicitly or implicitly that protection is wrong by its very nature? Once the word was uttered, farmers would have been on their guard and we, may we be excused the expression, would have paddled about in subtle precautions and distinctions in the midst of which our polemics would have lost all their force and our sincerity any credit it may have had.

Next, the advice itself implies that, at least in the opinion of those who give it and perhaps in ours, protection is a desirable thing, since in order to wrench it away from one of the country’s productive sectors one would have to make use of some other sector that would be led to believe that its own particular privileges would be respected, since it is suggested to use the farmers to beat the manufacturers and vice-versa. Well, that is not what we want. On the contrary, we are committed to the struggle because we believe protection to be bad for everybody.

The task we have set ourselves is to make this understood and widely known. “But in that case”, it will be said, “the struggle will be lengthy”. All the better if it is lengthy, if that is what is needed to enlighten the public.

Let us suppose that the trick that is being suggested to us is fully successful (a success that we believe to be an illusion), let us suppose that in the first year the landowners in the two Chambers sweep away all industrial privileges and that in the second year, in order to avenge themselves, the manufacturers have all the privileges of the farmers taken away.

What would happen? In two years, free trade would be ensconced in our laws, but would it be so in our minds? Is it not clear that at the first crisis, the first uprising, the first evidence of suffering, the country would rise up against a reform that was badly understood, attribute its misfortunes to foreign competition, and invoke and swiftly and triumphantly achieve, a return to customs protection? For how many years or centuries perhaps, would this short period of freedom accompanied by accidental suffering not dominate the arguments of protectionists? They would be careful to base their reasoning on the assumption that there is an essential link between these sufferings and freedom, just as they do today with regard to the Methuen517 and 1786 treaties518.

It is a very remarkable thing that, in the middle of the crisis that is devastating England, not a single voice is raised to attribute it to the liberal reforms accomplished by Sir Robert Peel.519 On the contrary, everyone feels that without these measures England would be in the throes of convulsions in the face of which the imagination recoils in horror. Where does this trust in freedom come from? From the work carried out by the League520 for many years. From the fact that it has made every intelligent mind familiar with the notions of public economy. From the fact that the reform was already germinating in people’s minds and that the bills by Parliament were only sanctioning a national will that was strong and enlightened.

Finally we have rejected this advice for reasons of justice, as tempting as the French fury in battle521 might find impatience.

We are fully convinced that by relieving the pressure of a protectionist regime as gradually as opinion will allow but in accordance with a period of transition agreed in advance and on all points simultaneously, all forms of economic activity will be offered compensations that will make the shocks genuinely imperceptible. If the price of wheat is held slightly below the current average, on the other hand the price of ploughs, clothing tools and even bread and meat will be less of a burden to farmers. In the same way, if ironmasters experience a decrease of a few francs in the cost of a ton of iron, they will have coal, wood, tools and food on better terms. Well, we consider that once compensations like these that arise from freedom have become established, they will inevitably work steadily hand in hand with the reform itself throughout the period of transition, so that the reform remains consistent with public utility and the requirements of justice.

Is this impetuous and extreme? Is this a plan devised in the brains of hotheads? And unless people wish to make us abandon our principle, which we will never do as long as it is not proved to us to be erroneous, how can they demand more moderation and prudence from us?

Moderation does not consist in saying that we have half a conviction when we have a conviction that is whole and entire. It consists in respecting opposing opinions, refuting them without excessive emotion, refraining from personal attacks, refraining from provoking dismissals or impeachments, refraining from rousing misled workers and refraining from threatening governments with uprisings.

Is this not how we practice moderation?


512 Charles Dupin (1784-1873) was a pioneer in mathematical economics and worked for the statistical office of France. In 1828 he was elected deputy for Tarn, was made a Peer in 1830, and served in the Constituent and then the National Assemblies during the Second Republic. See the glossary entry “Dupin.”

513 Laurent Cunin-Gridaine (1778-1859) was a very successful , self-made textile manufacturer from Sedan. As Minister for Trade from 1840 to 1848 he was a strong supporter of protection for the textile industry. See the glossary entry on "Cunin-Gridaine."

514 At the time Bastiat wrote this article a debate was underway in the Chamber on a proposal to reform French tariffs in the light of the abolition of the Corn Laws by Britain in May of the previous year (1846). The free traders were optimistic as a senior minister (probably Thiers) had expressed some sympathy for the idea. Bastiat’s Free Trade Association (founded in February 1846) was lobbying hard for free trade and the Association for the Defense of National Employment (founded in October 1846) was lobbying hard to maintain the existing policy of protectionism. The latter were able to out manoeuvre the free traders when a bill came before the Chamber in March 1847 by having the matter sent to Committee which was stacked with supporters of protectionism. The Committee recommended to the Chamber in July 1847 not to change French tariff policy, thus defeating the free traders. See the glossary entries on the “Free Trade Association,” the “Association for the Defense of National Employment,” and “French Tariff Policy.”

515 The main political groups in the late 1840s when Bastiat was writing and becoming politically active include the Doctrinaires who were moderate royalists, the Legitimists (also known as the “Party of Order” in 1849) who were supporters of the descendants of Charles X, the Republicans who were a diverse and poorly organized group, the Montagnards who were radical socialists, the Orléanists who were supporters of the overthrown Louis Philippe, and the Bonapartists who were supporters of Napoleon, both the Emperor Napoleon I and then his nephew Louis Napoleon. All of the political groups were protectionist to one degree or the other, and the socialists were both protectionist and extremely interventionist as well. Free traders like Bastiat were very much in the minority and could draw upon only a few luke-warm supporters in the Doctrinaire and Bonapartist groups. See the glossary entry on “Political Parties.”

516 (Paillottet’s note) See no. 5 (volume 7 ???) <TBK>.

517 The treaty of Methuen (named after one of the negotiators John Methuen) was a commercial treaty between England and Portugal signed in 1703 during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714). It allowed for the free entry of English textiles into Portugal and was thus wrongly accused of having caused a decline in the Portuguese economy. In return, Portuguese wine (“port”) was subject to lower tariffs than French wine thus creating a new market for Portuguese port in England.

518 The Treaty of 1786 was also called the Eden Treaty after the chief British negotiator William Eden. The treaty was strongly supported by William Pitt the Younger who was a supporter of Adam Smith’s ideas on free trade as expressed in the Wealth of Nations (1776). The Treaty lowered all tariffs to between 10-15% by value and ended prohibitions on imports, thus bringing to an end nearly one hundred years of economic warfare between the two nations. This rivalry was to be renewed again under Emperor Napoleon with the Continental Blockade of November 1806 which attempted to deny the entry of British goods into Europe.

519 Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) was the British Prime Minister in 1841 and introduced a series of economic reforms (he cut the rate of tariff on hundreds of items after 1842) which led to the abolition of the protectionist Corn Laws in May 1846. See the glossary entries on “Peel,” “Anti-Corn Law League,” and “The Corn Laws.”

520 The Anti-Corn Law League was founded in 1838 by Richard Cobden and John Bright in Manchester. The initial aim of the League was to repeal the law restricting the import of grain (“corn laws”), but it soon called for the unilateral ending of all agricultural and industrial restrictions on the free movement of goods between Britain and the rest of the world. The Corn Laws were successfully repealed in May 1846. It was the model for the Free Trade Association in France. See the glossary entry on “Anti-Corn Law League” and “The Corn Laws.”

521 Bastiat uses the Italian phrase "furia francese" (the fury of the French in battle) which refers to the commitment of French soldiers during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars to fighting for the principles of the Revolution.


VI. The People and the Bourgeoisie [22 May 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Peuple et Bourgeoisie” (The People and the Bourgeoisie) [22 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 348-55.
  • Previous translation: [none]


Men are easily made dupes522 by intellectual systems, provided that some symmetrical arrangement makes them easy to understand.

For example, nothing is more common these days than to hear it said that the people and the bourgeoisie constitute two opposing classes with the same hostile relationships to each other that once pitted the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy.

“Initially, the bourgeoisie were weak.” it is said, “They were oppressed, crushed, exploited and humiliated by the aristocracy. They grew in stature, became wealthy and stronger to the point that, through the influence engendered by numbers and wealth, they overcame their adversaries in 89.523

They then in turn became the aristocracy. Beneath them is the people, which is growing in stature, becoming stronger and, in the second act of the social war, is preparing to conquer.”524

If symmetry were enough to give truth to intellectual systems, we cannot see why this one will not go further. Might we not add in effect:

“When the people has triumphed over the bourgeoisie, it will dominate and consequently become the aristocracy with regard to beggars. Beggars will grow in stature, become stronger in turn and will prepare for the world the drama of the third social war.525

The least of the defects in this theory, which is the talk of many of the popular journals, is to be wrong.

Between a nation and its aristocracy, we clearly see a deep dividing line, an undeniable hostility of interests, which sooner or later can only lead to strife. The aristocracy has come from outside; it has conquered its place by the sword and dominates through force. Its aim is to turn the work done by the vanquished to its own advantage. It seizes land, has armies at its disposal and seizes the power to make laws and expedite justice. In order to master all the channels of influence, it has not even disdained the functions, or at least the dignities, of the church. In order not to weaken the esprit de corps that is its lifeblood, it transmits the privileges it has usurped from father to son by way of primogeniture. The aristocracy does not recruit from outside its ranks, or if it does so, it is because it is already on the slippery slope.

What similarity can we find between this arrangement and that of the bourgeoisie? In fact, can we say that there is a bourgeoisie? What does this word mean? Do we call a bourgeois someone who, through his activity, assiduity and self-denial has put himself in a position to live on the accumulated value of previous work, in a word on capital? Only an abject ignorance of political economy could suggest the idea that living on the accumulated value of work is to live off the work of others. Let those, therefore, who define the bourgeoisie in this way start by telling us what there is, in leisure time laboriously acquired, in the intellectual development that is the consequence of this, and in the accumulation of capital which forms its foundation, that is essentially opposed to the interests of humanity, the community or even the working classes.

If these leisure activities cost nothing to anyone, do they deserve to arouse jealousy?526 Does this intellectual development not benefit progress, both in the moral and industrial spheres? Is not the ever-increasing amount of capital, precisely because of the advantages it confers, the basis on which those who have not yet become emancipated from manual work live? And is not the well-being of these classes, all other things being equal, exactly in proportion to the size of this capital, and consequently to the speed with which it is formed and the activities which compete for it?

Obviously however, the word bourgeoisie would have a very limited meaning if it were applied solely to men of leisure. We hear it also applied to all those who are not salaried, who have an independent profession, who manage at total risk to themselves farming, manufacturing and commercial enterprises or who devote themselves to the study of science, the exercise of the arts or intellectual activity.527

But in this case it is difficult to imagine how the radical opposition between the bourgeoisie and the people that justifies a comparison between their relationships and those of the aristocracy and democracy, can be found. Has not every enterprise its opportunities? Is it not very natural and fortunate that the social mechanism allows those who may lose to take advantage of them?528 And besides, is it not from the ranks of the workers that the bourgeoisie is constantly and at all times being recruited? Is it not within the working class that capital, the object of so many wild denunciations, is built up? What! For the very reason that a worker has all the virtues by means of which man is emancipated from the yoke of immediate need, because he is hard-working, thrifty, well-organized, in control of his emotions and upright, because he works with some success to leave his children in a better situation than the one he himself had, in a word, he has founded a family, it might be said that this worker is on the wrong track, a track that takes him away from the popular cause and which leads to the place of perdition which is the bourgeoisie! On the contrary, it will be enough for a man to have no ambition for the future, to waste his gains irresponsibly, to do nothing to warrant the trust of those who employ him or to refuse any sacrifice, for it to be true to say that he is a man of the people par excellence, a man who will never rise above the roughest kind of work and a man whose own interest will, of course, always be in line with the interest of society well understood!

It is a cause of deep sadness to be faced with the frightful consequences contained in these erroneous doctrines and the way in which these ideas are propagated with such ardour. A social war is spoken of as being as natural and inevitable, which is bound to be brought on by the alleged radical hostility between the people and the bourgeoisie and which is similar to the strife that in all countries has brought the aristocracy and democracy to blows. But, once again, is the comparison accurate? Can one assimilate wealth obtained by force to that acquired through work? And if the people consider any rise in status, even the natural rise generated by industry, thrift and the exercise of every virtue to be an obstacle to be overturned, what motive, stimulus or raison d’être will there be left to human activity and foresight?529

It is dreadful to think that an error so pregnant with disastrous possibilities is the outcome of the profound ignorance in which modern education swaddles the current generations with regard to anything that relates to the way society works.

Let us not therefore see two nations within the same nation; there is just one. An infinite number of rungs on the ladder of wealth, each due to the same principle, is not enough to make up different classes, and still less classes that are hostile to one another.

However, it must be said that there are in our laws, principally in our financial laws, certain arrangements that seem to be maintained merely to sustain and, in a manner of speaking, justify both the mistake the public makes and its anger.

It cannot be denied that the ability to influence laws, concentrated in just a few hands, has on occasion been used with partiality. The bourgeoisie would be in a strong position with regard to the people if it were able to say “Our contribution to common assets differs in degree but not in principle. Our interests are identical; when I defend mine, I am also defending yours. You can see proof of this in our laws; they are based on strict justice. They guarantee all property equally, whatever its size.”

But is this the case? Is the property created by labor treated by our laws in the same way as property based on land or in capital? Certainly not. Setting aside the question of the allocation of taxes, one can say that the protectionist regime is a special terrain on which individual interests and classes give themselves over to the bitterest of struggles, since this regime claims to balance up the rights and sacrifices of all forms of production. Well, in this matter, how has the class that makes the law treated labor? How has it treated itself? We can state that it has done nothing and can do nothing for labor as such, although it clearly affects the faithful guardianship of the national workforce. What it has tried to do is to raise the price of all products, saying that wages would naturally follow such a rise. Well, if it has failed in its initial aim, as we believe it has, it has succeeded even less in its philanthropic intentions. The price of labor depends solely on the relationship between available capital and the number of workers. Now if protectionism can do nothing to change this ratio, if it can neither increase the pool of capital nor decrease the number of workers, whatever influence it has on the price of products, it has none on rates of pay.

We will be told that we are contradicting ourselves; on the one hand we are arguing that the interests of all classes are homogeneous and now we are identifying a point on which the wealthy class is abusing legislative power.

Let us hasten to say that the oppression exercised in this form by one class over another is not in the least intentional; it is purely an economic error, shared by the people and the bourgeoisie. We will provide two irrefutable proofs of this; the first is that protection does not benefit those who have set it up in the long run. The second is that, if it is damaging to the working classes, they are totally unaware of this, to the point where they are ill disposed to those who favor freedom.

However, it is in the nature of things that once the cause of a wrong has been pointed out it ends by becoming generally known. With what terrible argument will the injustice of the protectionist regime not supply the recriminations of the masses!530 Let the electoral class531 be on their guard! The people will not always seek the cause of its suffering in the absence of a phalanstery, of an organization for work, or some other illusory combination.532 One day it will see injustice where it really is. One day it will discover that a great deal is being done for products but nothing for wages, and that what is being done for products has no influence on wages. It will then ask itself: “How long have things been like this? When our fathers were able to approach the ballot box, were the people forbidden as they are today from exchanging their pay for iron, tools, fuel, clothing and bread? They will find a reply in writing in the tariffs of 1791 and 1795533. And what answer will you give them, you industrialists who make the law, if they add: “We can clearly see that a new form of aristocracy has taken the place of the old.”? (<TBK>)534.

If therefore, the bourgeoisie wants to avoid a social war, whose distant rumblings are being echoed by the popular journals, let it not separate its interests from those of the masses, and let it examine and understand the solidarity that binds them. If the bourgeoisie wants universal approval to sanction its influence, let it put this influence at the service of the entire community. If it wants the power it has to enact laws not to arouse too much anxiety, it has to make laws just and impartial and award Customs protection to everyone or no one. It is certain that the ownership of arms and faculties is as sacred as the ownership of products. Since the law raises the price of products, let it also raise the rate of pay, and if it cannot, let it allow both to be exchanged freely for the other.


522 The words "duperie" (deceit) and "dupes" (those who are deceived) are key terms in Bastiat's theory of plunder ("spoliation"), according to which the plunderers ("les spoliateurs") deceive their victims by means of “la ruse” (deception, fraud) to justify and disguise what they are doing. By means of "Sophisms" (sophistical arguments and fallacies) the dupes are persuaded that the plundering of their property is necessary for the well-being of the nation and thus ultimately for their own good as well. See ES2 I. “The Physiology of Plunder” and the glossary entry on “Bastiat on Plunder.”

523 The French Revolution which broke out in July 1789 with the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris.

524 Bastiat is referring here to the socialist notions of class which were emerging during the 1840s. He is closely paraphrasing the socialist Victor Considérant's views on "social warfare" in "Qu'est-ce que le socialisme?" (What is Socialism), especially section 2 "L'affranchisement des prolétaires, ou .. la guerre sociale," pp. 2-3, in Victor Prosper Considérant,, Le socialisme devant le vieux monde ou Le vivant devant les morts (Pais: Librairie Phalanstérienne, 1848). The best known articulation of these ideas of course is Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engel’s The Communist Manifesto which appeared in February 1848. See the glossary entry on “The Socialist School.”

525 In a letter to Mme Cheuvreux which he wrote two and a half years later he continues this discussion about the class differences between the the people and the bourgeoisie which must be read in the light of the revolutionary events of 1848: "In France, I can see two major classes, each of which can be divided into two. To use hallowed although inaccurate terms, I will call them the people and the bourgeoisie. The people consist of a host of millions of human beings who are ignorant and suffering, and consequently dangerous. As I said, they are divided into two; the vast majority are reasonably in favor of order, security, and all conservative principles, but, because of their ignorance and suffering, are the easy prey of ambitious sophists. This mass is swayed by a few sincere fools and by a larger number of agitators and revolutionaries, people who have an inborn attraction for disruption or who count on disruption to elevate themselves to fortune and power. The bourgeoisie, it must never be forgotten, is very small in number. This class also has its ignorance and suffering, although to a different degree. It also offers dangers, but of a different nature. It too can be broken down into a large number of peaceful, undemonstrative people, partial to justice and freedom, and a small number of agitators. The bourgeoisie has governed this country, and how has it behaved? The small minority did harm and the large majority allowed them to do this, not without taking advantage of this when they could. These are the moral and social statistics of our country." [CW, vol. 1, "159. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux Paris (2 January 1850)", pp. 229-31.]

526 (Paillottet’s note) See vol. V, pp. 142-45, and vol. VI, chaps. V and VIII. <TBK>

527 Bastiat is presenting here a slightly modified version of Charles Dunoyer’s theory of industrialism and “les industrieux” which was developed in the 1820s and 1830s. He has modified it by using the new terminology of “bourgeoisie” and social war which socialists were using during the 1840s. See the glossary entry on “Industry.”

528 (Paillottet’s note) See the chapter entitled Wages in the Harmonies.

529 (Paillottet’s note) See page <TBK> of chapter XI of the pamphlet What is seen and what is not seen in this volume. and the end of chapter VI in volume 5.

530 The number of references to the word "justice" in the collection of Economic Sophisms is very large, which reflects Bastiat's underlying justification for economic freedom which was based upon natural rights and not utilitarianism. As a result of this philosophical predisposition Bastiat was also quite self-reflexive and self-critical. He was, as he also maintained, not just a spokesman for the capitalist class but an advocate for liberty for all people on principled grounds as this quotation strongly suggests. When accused by the protectionist Saint-Chamans of advocating free trade out of self-interest, Bastiat responded that he was a free trader even though it went against his "class interests" (as a Marxist might say) as a property owner who, along with his ancestors, were the beneficiaries of the French government's longstanding policy of protectionism. In a letter to Prosper Paillottet on 11 October 1850 he states: "Everything I have inherited and all my worldly assets are protected by our tariffs. Therefore, the more M. de Saint-Chamans deems me to be self-seeking, the more he has to consider me sincere when I state that protectionism is a plague." Yet, as he repeatedly argued as he does here, "the injustice of the protectionist regime" was becoming obvious to an increasing number of people (himself included of course) and that these erstwhile "dupes" would become aware of the exploitation of their resources which was taking place and would rise up against it. Members of the "electoral class" (like him) would come to rue the day: "However, it is in the nature of things that once the cause of a wrong has been pointed out it ends by becoming generally known. With what terrible argument will the injustice of the protectionist regime not supply the recriminations of the masses! Let the electoral class be on their guard! The people will not always seek the cause of its suffering in the absence of a phalanstery, of an organization for work, or some other illusory combination. One day it will see injustice where it really is" (May 1847). See S3 VI. "The People and the Bourgeoisie" (22 May 1847) and Letter 197 "Letter to Prosper Paillottet" (11 October 1850) in CW, vol. 1, pp. 280 </title/2393/225973>.

531 Bastiat calls the very limited number of individuals who were allowed to vote during the July Monarchy the "classe électorale." Suffrage was limited to those who paid an annual tax of fr. 200 and were over the age of 25; and only those who paid fr. 500 in tax and were over the age of 30 could stand for election. The taxes which determined eligibility were direct taxes on land, poll taxes, and the taxes on residence, doors, windows, and businesses. By the end of the Restoration (1830) only 89,000 tax payers were eligible to vote. Under the July Monarchy this number rose to 166,000 and by 1846 this had risen again to 241,000. The February Revolution of 1848 introduced universal manhood suffrage (21 years or older) and the Constituent Assembly (April 1848) had 900 members (minimum age of 25). Some 7.8 million men voted in this election. See the glossary entry on “Chamber of Deputies.”

532 The socialist Charles Fourier (1772-1837) believed that society should be organized into small communities, known as phalansteries, where living and working would be done collectively. The socialist Louis Blanc (1811-82) believed that workers should be "organized" collectively rather than employed on the market in order to avoid exploitation by the owners of businesses and factories. See the glossary entries on "Phalanstery," "Fourier," and "Blanc".

533 Tariff policy during the Revolution was a chaotic affair. In a decree of 30-31 October 1790 the Constituent Assembly abolished all internal tariffs and duties were abolished thus creating for the first time a largely free internal market in France. External tariffs were cut to a maximum 20% by value although some goods were prohibited entry into the French market. Tariffs were completely reorganized by a law of 6-22 August 1791 which abolished most prohibitions on imported material, abolished tariffs on primary products used by French manufacturers and food stuffs for consumers, and reduced tariffs on manufactured goods gradually down to 20-25% by value of the goods imported. The decree of 1 March 1793 annulled all foreign trade treaties and prohibited the importation of a large number of goods, such as textiles, metal goods, and pottery. The decree of 29 September 1793 introduced the notorious "Maximum" or price control legislation which threw the internal French economy into considerable disarray. A decree of 31 January 1795 declared that the tariff of 1791 would be cut by 1/2 to 9/10 on many articles. This was reversed by a law of 23 November 1796 in order to increase revenue for the state. By 1806, when Napoleon introduced the Continental Blockade in November 1806 (the Berlin Decree) the debate about tariff policy had completely shifted away from any concern with protection of domestic industry and revenue raising and had become an instrument of economic warfare against the British. See the glossary entry on “French Tariff Policy.”

534 French editor: see no. 18, p. 100. [DMH - This is a reference to another article earlier in Oeuvres complètes, vol. 2 from which this essay was taken, “18. Démocratie et libre-échange” (25 avril, 1848), pp. 100-01.]


VII. Two Losses versus One Profit [30 May 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Deux pertes contre un profit” (Two Losses versus One Profit) [30 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 384-91.
  • Previous translation: [none]


To Mr. Arago,535 of the Academy of Sciences


You have the secret of making the greatest scientific truths accessible to the minds of all. Oh! If only, using x’s and y’s, you could find a theorem that would leave no room for controversy! Simply setting it out will be enough to show the immense service you would be giving to the country and the human race. Here it is:


If this proposition is true, it follows that nations are inflicting incalculable losses on themselves. It would have to be acknowledged that there is not one of us who does not throw one franc coins in the river each time he eats or drinks, each time he takes it into his head to touch a tool or an item of clothing.537

And as this way of doing things has been going on for a long time, we should not be surprised if, in spite of the advance of science and industry, a very heavy burden of destitution and suffering is still weighing on our fellow citizens.

On the other hand, everyone agrees that a protectionist regime is a source of damage, uncertainty and danger outside this calculus of profits and losses. It feeds national animosities, postpones unity between peoples, increases the opportunities for war and inscribes actions that are innocent in themselves as misdemeanors and crimes in our laws. We just have to submit to these inconvenient lesser outcomes of our arrangements once we come to believe that they rest on the following concept: any increase in price is, by its very nature, a national gain. For, Sir, I believe that I have observed, and you will perhaps have observed as I have, that in spite of the great scorn that individuals and nations display for gain, they have difficulty in giving it up. If it happened to be proved, however, that this alleged gain is accompanied in the first instance by an equal loss, which offsets it and then by a second loss that is also equal, this latter one involving absolutely blatant deceit,538 then since the horror of loss is as strongly entrenched in the human heart as the love of profit, we would be bound to assume that the protectionist regime and all its direct and indirect consequences would evaporate with the illusion that gave rise to them.

You will therefore not be surprised, sir, that I would like to see this demonstration clad in the invincible evidence that the language of equations communicates. You will not consider it a bad thing that I have turned to you, for, among all the problems presented by the sciences that you pursue with so much renown, there is certainly none more worthy of occupying your powerful abilities, at least for a few moments. I dare say that the man who provides an irrefutable solution to it, were it the only thing he did in this life, would have done enough for the human race and his own reputation.539

Allow me therefore to set out in common parlance what I would like to see put into mathematical language.

Let us suppose that an English knife is sold in France for 2 francs.

That means that it is traded for 2 francs or for any other object which itself is worth 2 francs, for example, a pair of gloves at this price.

Let us assume that a similar knife cannot be produced in this country for less than 3 francs.

Under these circumstances, a French cutler turns to the government and says to it: “Protect me. Prevent my fellow countrymen from buying English knives and I will ensure that I will provide them for 3 francs.

I say that this increase in price of one franc will be made once only, but add that it will be lost twice by France, and that the same phenomenon will be seen in all similar cases.

First of all, let us put aside for a moment the 2 francs which are not relevant to increasing prices.. As far as these 2 francs are concerned, it is very clear that French industry will not have gained or lost anything through this measure. Whether these 2 francs go to the cutler or the glove maker, that may suit one of these industrialists and inconvenience the other, but they have no effect on national production. Up to that point, there has been a change of direction, but no increase or decrease in output: 2 francs more go to cutlery and 2 francs less go to glove making, that is all. An unjust favor here, a no less unjust oppression there, is all we can see; let us therefore say no more about these 2 francs.

However, there is a third franc whose course needs to be followed; it constitutes the increase in price of the knife: it is the given amount by which the price of knives is raised. It is the amount that I say is gained once and lost twice by the country.

That it is gained once, there is no doubt. Obviously the cutlery industry is favored by prohibition to the amount of one franc that will go to pay for salaries, profits, iron and steel. In other terms, the production of gloves is discouraged by only 2 francs and the cutlery industry is stimulated by 3 francs which certainly constitutes a surplus stimulus of 20 sous, 1 franc or 100 centimes,540 whatever you like to call it, for national output.

But it is just as obvious that when the person acquired the knife from England in exchange for a pair of gloves he paid only 2 francs, whereas he is now paying 3. In the first case, he had one franc available over and above the cost of the knife, and as we all are in the habit of using francs for something, we have to take it as certain that this franc would have been spent in some way and would have stimulated national industry just as far as a franc can be stretched.

If, for example, you were this buyer, before prohibition you would have been able to buy a pair of gloves for 2 francs, in exchange for which you would have obtained the knife from England. And what is more, you would have had 1 franc left, with which you would have bought, depending on your tastes, a few small pies or a small book.

If therefore we do the accounts of national output, we will instantly find an equivalent loss to counter the gain of the cutler, which is that of the pastry cook or the bookseller.

I think it is impossible to deny that in either case your 3 francs, since you had them, encouraged the industry of the country in exactly the same way. Under a regime of liberty, they would be shared between the glove maker and the bookseller; under the protectionist regime, they would go entirely to the cutler, a truth we could safely challenge the very genius of prohibition itself to try to undermine.

Thus, the franc is gained once by the cutler and lost once by the bookseller.

All that remains is to evaluate your own position, as purchaser and consumer. Does it not leap to the eye that before prohibition, for 3 francs you had both a knife and a small pocket-sized book, whereas since then, for your same 3 francs, you would just have a knife and no small pocket-sized book? You are therefore losing the pocketbook in this matter, or the equivalent of one franc. Well, if this second loss is not offset by any gain for anyone in France, I am right in saying that this franc, gained once, is lost twice.

Do you know, Sir, what the reply to this is, for it is right that you should know the objection? It is said that your loss is offset by the profit earned by the cutler or, in general terms, that the loss suffered by the consumer is offset by the profit to the producer.

In your wisdom you would rapidly have discovered that the sleight of hand here consists in casting a shadow over the fact, already established, that profit to one producer, the cutler, is offset by the loss to another producer, the bookseller, and that your franc, by the very fact that it has gone to stimulate the cutlery industry, has not gone to stimulate the bookshop, as it ought to have done.

After all, as it is a question of equal amounts, whether you establish, if you prefer, compensation between the producer and the consumer, it does not matter, provided that the bookshop is not forgotten and that you do not make the same gain appear twice to offset it alternatively to very distinct losses.

It is also said that all this is very small-minded and cheap. It is scarcely worth the trouble of making so much noise for one small franc, one small knife and one small pocket-sized book. I do not need to draw your attention to the fact that the franc, the knife and the book are my algebraic symbols and that they represent the lives and substance of nations, and it is because I do not know how to use a, b or c to generalize questions that I am placing them under your patronage.

The following is also said: the franc that the cutler receives as a supplement, thanks to trade protection, he pays to his workers. My reply is this : the franc that the bookseller would receive in addition, thanks to free trade, he would also pay to other workers, so that in this respect the balance is not upset, and it remains true that under one regime you have a book and on the other you do not. To avoid the confusion, intentional or not, that will not fail to be cast over this subject, you have to make a clear distinction between the original distribution of your 3 francs and their subsequent circulation which, in both hypotheses, follows infinite trajectories and can never affect our calculation.541

It seems to me that people would have to be of extremely bad faith to plead in favor of the relative importance of the two industries under comparison by saying that cutlery is worth more than glove making or bookshops. It is clear that my line of argument has nothing in common with this type of thinking. I am seeking the general effect of prohibition on production as a whole, and not to ascertain whether one sector is more important than another. It would have been enough for me to take another example to show that what in my hypothesis results in depriving someone of a book is, in many cases, deprivation of bread, clothing, education, independence and dignity.

In the hope that you will allocate the truly radical importance that I think it merits to the solution of this problem, please allow me to underline once more some of the objections that may be made to it. People will say: “The loss will not be one franc, since internal competition will be enough to bring down the price of French knives to 2 francs 50 and perhaps to 2 francs 25. I agree that this may happen. In that case, my figures will have to be changed. The two losses would be less and so would the gain, but there would nonetheless be two losses for one gain for as long as protectionism protects a given producer.

Finally, the objection would doubtless be raised that national industry should at least be protected because of the taxes it has to bear. The reply to this may be deduced from my argument itself. To subject a nation to two losses for one gain is an unfortunate method of relieving its burdens. Let people assume taxes to be as high as they like, let them assume that the government takes 99 percent of our income from us; is it an admissible solution, I ask you, to grant the over-taxed cutler one franc taken from the over-taxed bookseller with, in addition, the loss of one franc to the over-taxed consumer?

I do not know, Sir, if I am deluding myself, but it appears to me that the strict proof I am asking you to provide, should you take the trouble to formulate it, will not be an object of pure scientific curiosity, but will dissipate a great many disastrous preconceived ideas.

For example, you know how intolerant we are of any foreign competition. This is the monster on which all business anger is vented. Well then! What do we see in the case put forward? Where is the genuine rivalry? Who is the true and dangerous competitor of the glove maker and the bookseller in France? Is it not the French cutler who is asking for the support of the law in order to take for himself alone the income of his two colleagues, even at the expense of a clear loss for the general public? And in the same way, who are the true and dangerous opponents of the French cutler? It is not the cutler from Birmingham, it is the French bookseller and glove maker who, at least if they are not blind in some way, will make constant efforts to take from the cutler customers that he has legally and unjustly snatched from them. Is it not strange to find that this monster of competition, whose roar we think we hear from across the Channel, is being nourished by us in our very midst? Other points of view, both original and true, will no doubt emerge from this equation as a result of your enlightenment and patriotism.542


535 François Arago (1786-1853) was the eldest of four successful Arago brothers, the youngest of which, Étienne Arago (1802-1892) may have gone to school with Bastiat in Sorèze. François was a famous astronomer and physicist who was also active in republican politics throughout the 1830s and 1840s. He is mentioned several times in Bastiat's correspondence. After the outbreak of the Revolution in February 1848 he became Minister of War, the Navy and Colonies and played an important role in the abolition of slavery in the French colonies. François also edited the works of Condorcet on the eve the 1848 Revolution. See the glossary entries on “François Arago" and "Étienne Arago."

536 The "Double Incidence of Loss" is a theory first formulated by the anti-corn law campaigner Colonel Perronet Thompson (1783-1869) in 1834-36 and taken up by by Bastiat in 1847 in which it is argued that tariff protection or subsidies to industry result in a directly observable and obvious profit for one industry (and its workers) but at the expense of two other participants in the market. These other participants (or would be participants) suffer an equal loss to the benefit gained by the first party: the consumer loses by having to pay a higher price for a good which he or she could have bought more cheaply from another supplier (often foreign), and unknown third parties also lose because the consumer who was forced to pay more for a good which is protected or subsidized has that much less to spend on other goods and services. Hence there is one party which benefits and two which lose out to the same amount, i.e. "the double incidence of loss." The theory of "the double incidence of loss" should be seen as an early and simpler version of the theory which was later to become "the ricochet (or flow on) effect." See the glossary entries on "Perronet Thompson" and the "The Double Incidence of Loss"; and the Appendices "Bastiat and the Ricochet Effect" and "The Sophism Bastiat never wrote: the Sophism of the Ricochet Effect."

537 The English campaigner against the Corn Laws, Perronet Thompson, remarks that the French tariff laws were tantamount to an order that every Frenchman throw every “third franc into the sea.” See “A Running Commentary on Anti-Commercial Fallacies” (1834), p. 189.

538 Bastiat uses the word "duperie" here. The words "duperie" (deceit) and "dupes" (those who are deceived) are key terms in Bastiat's theory of plunder ("spoliation"), according to which the plunderers ("les spoliateurs") deceive their victims by means of “la ruse” (deception, fraud) to justify and disguise what they are doing. By means of "Sophisms" (sophistical arguments and fallacies) the dupes are persuaded that the plundering of their property is necessary for the well-being of the nation and thus ultimately for their own good as well. See ES2 I. “The Physiology of Plunder” and the glossary entry on “Bastiat on Plunder.”

539 Bastiat is obviously quite excited at the prospect of using mathematics to demonstrate the truth of his claims about the deleterious impact of tariffs on the French economy. He had learned about the principle of “the double incidence of loss” from Perronet Thompson who also had some mathematics to support his claims. Since Bastiat did not have the requisite skills he was appealing to a renowned mathematician for assistance. See the glossary entries on “Perronet Thompson,” “The Double Incidence of Loss,” and the Appendices "Bastiat and the Ricochet Effect" and "The Sophism Bastiat never wrote: the Sophism of the Ricochet Effect."

540 These are just different ways of saying the say thing, namely 1 franc. 1 franc = 100 centimes = 20 sous. See the glossary entry on “French Currency.”

541 (Paillottet’s note) <TBK> See number 48, page 320, on the Sophism of ricochets, in this volume; pages 74, 160 and 229 in Tome IV. and in Tome V., independently of pages 80 to 83, pages 336 et seq. containing the pamphlet What is seen and what is not seen. [DMH - Paillottet notes that Bastiat is grappling with the idea of the "ricochet effect" which emerges in his thinking towards the end of 1847. By the “ricochet effect” Bastiat means the indirect consequences of an economic action which flow or knock on to 3rd parties, sometimes with positive results but more often with negative results. Here he uses paraphrases of the idea such as "subsequent circulation" and "infinite trajectories." See the Appendices "Bastiat and the Ricochet Effect" and "The Sophism Bastiat never wrote: the Sophism of the Ricochet Effect."]

542 (Paillottet’s note) <TBK> See page 45, Tome IV on Competition and chapter X in Tome VI.


VIII. The Political Economy of the Generals [20 June 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “L'économie politique des généraux” (The Political Economy of the Generals) [20 June 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 355-58.
  • Previous translation: [none]


In the Chamber, if a financier, venturing into the military theories of Jomini543, happens to touch on the maneuvering of squadrons, he may well bring a smile to the lips of the Generals. It is equally not surprising that the Generals sometimes understand political economy in ways that are not very intelligible to men whose occupation it is to concern themselves with this branch of human knowledge.

However, there is a difference between military strategy and political economy. The first is a specific science, which it is sufficient for soldiers to know. The second, like the moral philosophy or hygiene, is a general science about which it is desirable for everyone to have accurate ideas. (See vol. IV, page 122.) <TBK>

In a speech to which we will give full justice in another context, General Lamoricière544 has put forward a theory of markets which we cannot allow to pass without comment.

“From the point of view of pure political economy”, said the honorable General, “ markets are important: at the present time we spend money and even men to retain markets or gain new ones. Now, in the situation occupied by France in the world market, is not an outlet worth 63 million for French products something notable for her? France sends fr. 17 million worth of woven cotton to Africa, fr. 7 or 8 million worth of wine, etc.” 545

It is only too true that at the present time, we are spending money and even men to conquer markets but, and here we beg General Lamoricière’s pardon, far from this being in the light of pure political economy, it is in the light of bad, indeed very bad political economy. A market, that is to say, a sale made abroad, is meritorious only if it covers all the costs it engenders; and if in order to make it, recourse has to be made to taxpayers’ money, even though the industry concerned by this sale may congratulate itself on it, the nation as a whole suffers a loss that is sometimes considerable, not to mention the immorality of the procedure and the blood that is worse than uselessly spilt.546

It is much worse still when, in order to create alleged markets for ourselves, we send abroad both the people who should be buying our products and the money with which they should be paying for them. We do not doubt that Algerian civil servants, whether French or Arab, to whom their monthly salaries are sent from Paris at the expense of taxpayers spend a small part of these on buying French cottons and wines. It appears that of the 130 million that we spend in Africa,547 60 million are spent thus. Pure political economy teaches us that if things have to be carried out on this footing, the following will result:

We remove a Frenchman from useful occupations and give him 130 francs on which to live. Out of these 130 francs, he hands us back 60 francs in exchange for products that are worth exactly this amount. The total loss is: 70 francs in money, 60 francs’ worth of products and all the work that this man might have created in France for an entire year.

Thus, whatever opinion you may have of the usefulness of our conquest in Africa (a question that is not within our competence), it is certain that it is not through these illusionary markets that this usefulness can be appreciated, but through the future prosperity of our colony.548

For this reason, another General, General de Trézel549, Minister for War, thought it necessary to present not the current markets but the future products from Algeria as compensation for our sacrifices. Unfortunately, it is impossible for us not to perceive another economic error in the background of the brilliant picture painted by the Minister to the membership of the Chamber.

He expressed himself thus:

“Its good fortune has given Africa to the country and we will certainly not through carelessness, laziness or even the fear of spending money and even men, let slip from our grasp a country which will be giving us 200 leagues of Mediterranean coastline at a distance of 36 hours from our shores, one which will be giving us products for which we are paying enormous sums of money to our neighboring countries.

For this reason, disregarding the cereals that previously, as I have already said, fed Rome, Africa is giving us the olive, which is a special product of this country. It is giving us oil for which we pay 60 million every year to foreigners. In Africa, we have rice and silk, which again are bought outside France, because France does not produce these. We have tobacco. Calculate how many millions we pay abroad for this product. It is certain that within a few years, perhaps within twenty five years, we will be obtaining all these products from Africa and we might then be able to consider Africa to be one of our provinces.”550

What predominates in this passage is the idea that France loses the total value of the products she imports from abroad. In fact, she imports them only because she finds it profitable to produce this same value in the form of products she provides in exchange, in exactly the same way as General de Trézel uses his time better in administrative work than if he spent it stitching his clothes. It is on this error that the entire restrictive regime is based.

On the other hand, the wheat, oil, silk and tobacco to be supplied to us by Africa in twenty-five years’ time are shown as a gain. This depends on what these things cost, if we include, in addition to the costs of production, the costs of conquest and defense. It is evident that if with this same sum we were able to produce the same things in France or, what amounts to the same, produce the wherewithal to purchase them from abroad and even achieve a saving, it would be a bad investment for us to go to the Barbary coast to produce them. This is said while no account is taken of all the other points of view relating to the huge question of Algeria. Whatever the importance and, if you like, the superiority of considerations drawn from a higher order, this is not a reason for making a mistake from the point of view of pure political economy.


543 Antoine Henri Jomini (1779-1869) was a Swiss-born general who served with distinction under Napoleon and then the Russian Czars. He was the author of several important works on strategy. In his later work of 1838 he did seem to stray into the area of military policy which may have attracted Bastiat's attention: Traité de grande tactique (1805) and Précis de l'art de la guerre (1838). See the glossary entry on “Jomini.”

544 Christophe-Louis Juchault de Lamoricière (1806-1865) was a general, an elected deputy, minister of war under Cavaignac (1848), and took part in the military suppression of the rioting during the June Days of 1848. He played a significant role in the colonization of Algeria and supported government plans in 1848 to subsidize its civilian colonization. See the glossary entry on "Lamoricière."

545 [DMH - We have not been able to find the source of this quote]

546 See Bastiat's comments on Algeria and colonization in his address "To the Electors of the District of Saint-Sever" (1846) in Collected Works, vol. 1, pp. 363-65, where he describes the colonial system as “the most disastrous illusion ever to have led nations astray.”

547 The JDE gives a figure of fr. 120 millions spent in Algeria in 1847 and makes a very similar argument to that of Bastiat, that the money goes to the troops and then into the hands of the merchants who service the needs of those troops. It goes further to argue that the civilian population of Algeria is 113,000 of which 6,000 live in administration towns and are paid by the French civilian administration out of tax payers' funds, leaving 107,000 who are paid by the army out of tax payer's funds. See “Chronique” in JDE, February 1848, T. 19, p. 315. See the glossary entry on “Algeria.”

548 (Paillottet’s note) See the chapter entitled Algeria of the pamphlet What is seen as what is not seen.

549 Camille Alphonse de Trézel (1780-1860) was a military engineer who served in the Topographical Department of the Army. He served under Napoleon in Holland and Poland and following the restoration of the monarchy he spent a considerable part of his career in the French colony of Algeria. He was Minister of War from 1847-1848 and retired from public life with the fall of King Louis-Philippe in 1848.

550 [DMH - We have not been able to find the source of this quote.]


IX. A Protest [30 August 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Remontrance” (A Protest) [30 August 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 415-18.
  • Previous translation: [none]


Auch,551 30 August 1847

My dear colleagues,

When fatigue or a lack of vehicles delays me in a town, I do what every conscientious traveler ought to do, I visit its monuments, churches, promenades and museums.

Today, I went to see the statue raised to Mr. d’Etigny552, the Intendant of the subdivision of Auch553, by the enlightened gratitude of the good inhabitants of this region. This great administrator, and I may say this great man, crisscrossed the province entrusted to his care with magnificent roads. His memory is blessed for this but not his person, since he suffered opposition that was not always expressed in verbal or written complaint. It is said that, in workshops, he was often reduced to using the extraordinary strength with which nature had endowed him. He told country folk: “You curse me, but your children will bless me.” A few days before his death, he wrote the following words, which recall those of the founder of our religion, to the general controller: “I have made many enemies, God has given me the grace to pardon them for they do not yet know the purity of my intentions.”

Mr. d’Etigny is represented holding a scroll of paper in his right hand and another under his left arm. It is natural to think that one of these scrolls is the plan of the network of roads with which he has endowed the region. But to what can the other scroll refer? By rubbing my eyes and glasses, I thought I could read the word A PROTEST. Thinking that the maker of the statue, in a spirit of satire, or rather to give men a salutary lesson, wished to perpetuate the memory of the opposition this region had made to the creation of roads, I rushed over to the library archives and there found the document to which the artist had probably wished to allude. It is in the regional dialect; I am producing here a faithful translation for the edification of Le Moniteur industriel and the protectionist committee.554 Alas! They have invented nothing. Their doctrines flourished nearly a century ago.555

A Protest

My Lord,

The bourgeois and villagers of the subdivision of Auch have heard mention of the project you have conceived of opening communication routes in all directions. They come, with tears in their eyes, to beg you to examine closely the sorry position in which you are going to place them.

Have you thought about this, My Lord? You want to put the subdivision of Auch into communication with the surrounding regions! What you are contemplating will, however, lead to our certain ruin. We will be flooded with all sorts of products. What do you think will happen to our national labor in the face of the invasion of foreign products, which you will encourage by the opening of your roads? Right now, impassable mountains and precipices protect us. Our production has developed in the shade of this protection. We export scarcely anything, but at least our market is reserved and assured for us. And now you want to hand it over to greedy foreigners! Do not talk to us about our activity, our energy, our intelligence and the fertility of our land. For, My Lord, we are in all ways and in all regards hopelessly inferior. Note that, in fact, if nature has favored us with land and a climate that allow a great variety of products to be made, there is none for which a neighboring region does not have even better conditions. Can we compete with the plains of the Garonne for the cultivation of wheat? With the Bordeaux region for the production of wine? With the Pyrénées for the raising of cattle? With Les Landes of Gascony, where the land has no value, for the production of wool? You must see that if you open up communications with all these regions, we will have to endure a deluge of wine, wheat, meat and wool. All these things are genuine wealth, but only on condition that they are the product of national production. If they were the product of foreign production, national employment would dry up and wealth with it.556

My Lord, let us not try to be wiser than our fathers. Far from creating new avenues of circulation for goods, they very advisedly blocked those that already existed. They were careful to station Customs officers around our borders to repel competition from perfidious foreigners. How irresponsible we would be to encourage this competition!

Let us not try to be wiser than nature. It has placed mountains and chasms between the various settlements of men in order for each one to be able to work peacefully, sheltered from all external rivalry. To cross this mountain range and fill in these chasms is to inflict damage that is similar to and even identical to what would result from abolishing Customs posts. Who knows but that your current plan will not some day give rise to this disastrous thought in the mind of some theoretician! Be careful, My Lord, the logic is implacable. If once you accept that ease of communication is a good thing in itself, that in any case, even if it upsets people in some way, it nevertheless has more advantages than disadvantages on the whole, if you accept this, then Mr. Colbert’s fine system will be ruined.557 Well, we challenge you to prove that your planned roads are based on something other than this absurd supposition.

My Lord, we are not at all theoreticians or men of principle; we do not have any pretension to genius. But we speak the language of common sense. If you open our region to all forms of external rivalry, if you facilitate the invasion of our markets by wheat from the Garonne, wine from Bordeaux, flax from the Béarn558, wool from Les Landes or steers from the Pyrénées, it is as plain as daylight to us how our cash will be exported, how our work will dry up, how our source of wages will disappear and how our property will lose its value. And, as for the compensations you promise us, they are, allow us to say this, highly questionable; you have to rack your brains to see them.

We therefore dare to hope that you will leave the region of Auch in the happy isolation in which it is, for if we succumb to the combat against dreamers who want to establish easy commerce we can clearly see that our sons will have to endure another form of struggle against other dreamers who would like to establish the freedom to trade as well.559


551 Auch is the main city of the department of Le Gers, in the eastern part of the Département of Les Landes where Bastiat lived and which he represented in the Chamber. It is the historical capital of the old province of Gascogny.

552 Antoine Megret d'Etigny (1719-67) was a provincial administrator (Intendant) of the region of Auch (1751-65). Auch is the main city of the department of Le Gers, in the eastern part of the Département of Les Landes where Bastiat lived and which he represented in the Chamber. He is best known for his competent administration of the compulsory labor requirement (la corvée) which he used to improve the roads in his region. A statue of him was erected in the Allées d'Etigny.

553 A "généralité" was an administrative division of the kingdom. It was headed by an intendant, who reported to the "Contrôleur général des finances", the finance minister of the king. There were 34 such généralités in 1789. See the glossary on "French Administrative Regions."

554 Le Moniteur industriel was the journal of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) founded by Mimerel de Roubaix in 1846. The Central Committee which ran the Association had Mimerel as its vice-president, so it was called the “Mimerel Committee” for short. See the glossary entries on “Le Moniteur industriel,” “Mimerel Committee,” and the “Association for the Defense of National Employment”.

555 Bastiat may have in mind here another famous 18th century Intendant who tried to introduce economic reforms in his region, only to be opposed by vested interests and ultimately defeated, namely Turgot (1727-1781). Turgot was a member of the Physiocrat school of free market economics and when he was Intendant of Limoges in 1761-74 he attempted to liberalize the restrictions on the sale and free movement of grain within his district. See the glossary entries on "Turgot" and “The Physiocrats.”

556 (Note by Bastiat.) Seventy years later, Mr. de Saint-Cricq reproduced these words verbatim in order to justify the advantage of interrupting communications.) [Pierre Laurent Barthélemy, comte de Saint Cricq (1772-1854) was a protectionist Deputy who became Director General of Customs (1815), president of the Trade Council, and then Minister of Trade and Colonies (1828-29). See the glossary entry on "Saint Cricq."]

557 Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-83) was the comptroller-general of finance under Louis XIV from 1665 to 1683. He epitomized the policy of state intervention in trade and industry known as “mercantilism.” See the glossary entry on "Colbert."

558 Béarn is a region located at the base of the Pyrénées in south west France in the Département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Its capital is the city of Pau.

559 Bastiat uses the expression “la liberté du commerce” not ‘Le Libre-Échange.”


X.The Spanish Association for the Defense of National Employment and the Bidassoa Bridge560 [7 November 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Association espagnole pour la défense du travail national” (The Spanish Association for the Defense of National Employment) [7 November 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 429-35.
  • Previous translation: [none]


Spain too has her association for the defense of national employment.561

Its object is this:

“Given a certain amount of capital and the labor it can set to work, to take these away from uses in which they produce a profit and propel them in a direction in which they will produce a loss, unless this loss can be transferred by law onto the general public by means of a disguised tax.”

Consequently, this society is demanding, among other things, the exclusion of French products, not those that are expensive for us (no laws are needed to exclude them) but those that can be provided for us cheaply. The cheaper the price at which they can be offered to us, the more reason Spain has, so people say, to protect herself from them.562

This has inspired me to record a reflection that I humbly put before the reader.

One of the characteristics of Truth is Universality.

If you wish to ascertain whether an association is based on a good principle, you have only to see if it is in sympathy with all those who wherever they are in the world have adopted an identical principle.

Associations for free trade are like this. One of our colleagues can go to Madrid, Lisbon, London, New York, Saint Petersburg, Berlin, Florence and Rome and even Beijing; if associations for free trade exist in these towns he will for that reason certainly be made very welcome there. What he says here he can say there in the certainty that he will not be upsetting either opinions or even interests as these associations understand them. Between free traders of all countries there is unity of faith on this question.

Is this also the case for protectionists? In spite of the community of ideas or rather of arguments, was Lord Bentinck,563 who had just voted for the exclusion of French cattle, acting in accordance with the views of our breeders? Would the man who rejected our printed cotton goods in Parliament be made welcome by the Rouen Committee?564 Would those who will be supporting the Navigation Act565 and the differential duties in India next year arouse the enthusiasm of our ship owners? Let us suppose that a member of the Odier Committee566 were made a member of the Spanish association for the defense of national employment; what is he going to say? What words could he use without betraying either the interests of his country or his own convictions? Would he advise the Spanish to open their ports and borders to the products of our factories? To take no notice of the false doctrine of the balance of trade? To consider that the industries that are supported solely by taxes on the community are absolutely not worthwhile? Would he tell them that Customs exemptions do not create capital and work but merely displace them, and in a damaging way? Abandoning principles and personal dignity in this way may perhaps be applauded by his co-religionists in France (for we remember that, eighteen months ago in the Rouen Committee, the question was very seriously raised as to whether it was now the right time to preach free trade … in Spain), but it certainly will arouse the derision of a Castilian audience. Therefore would he want to appear heroic by putting his principles above his interests? Imagine this Brutus567 of restriction haranguing the Spanish in these words: “You are doing the right thing in raising the height of the barriers that separate us. I approve your rejecting our ships, our suppliers of services, our traveling salesmen, our fabrics made of cotton, wool, yarn and jute, our spinning mules, our wallpaper, our machines, our furniture, our fashions, our haberdashery, our hardware, our pottery, our clocks, our ironmongery, our perfumes, our fancy goods, our gloves and our books. These are all things that you ought to make yourselves, however much work they demand and even all the more if they require more work. I have only one criticism to make to you, and that is that you go only halfway down this road. It is very good of you to pay us a tribute of ninety million and to make yourselves dependent on us. Beware of your free traders. They are ideologists, stupid people, traitors, etc.” This fine speech would doubtless be applauded in Catalonia; would it be approved of in Lille and Rouen?

It is thus certain that protectionist associations in various countries are antagonistic toward each other, although they give themselves the same title and apparently profess the same doctrines, and to crown their oddity, if they are sympathetic to anything from country to the other, it is with free trade associations.

The reason for this is simple. It is that they want two contradictory things at the same time: restrictions and markets. To give and not to receive, to sell and not to buy, to export and not to import, this is the basis of their strange doctrine. This leads them very logically to have two forms of speech that are not only different but opposed to each another, one for the country and the other for abroad, with the very remarkable fact that, were their advice to be accepted on both sides, they would not be any closer to their goal.

In effect, just taking into account the transactions between two nations, what are exports for one are imports for the other. See this fine ship that criss-crosses the sea and carries within its hold a fine cargo. Be so good as to tell me what we should call these goods. Are they imports or exports? Is it not clear that they are both simultaneously, depending on whether you are looking at the nation dispatching them or the one receiving them? If, therefore, no one wishes to be the nation receiving them, no one can be the nation dispatching them, and it is inevitable that, overall, markets will dry up just as much as restrictions tighten the noose. This is how we arrive at this odd policy: here a premium at public expense is allocated to encourage a cargo to leave while there, a tax at public expense is imposed on it to prevent it from entering. Can you imagine a more senseless conflict? And who will emerge as the victor? The nation most disposed to pay the larger premium or the heavier tax.

No, the truth does not lie in this pile of contradictions and antagonisms. The entire arrangement is based on the idea that exchange is a trick568 for the party that is on the receiving end, and apart from the fact that the very word exchange contradicts this idea, since it implies that both sides receive something, what person would not see the ridiculous position in which he is placing himself when he all can say when he is abroad is: “I advise you to be duped”, while he is above all the dupe of his own advice?

This being said, here is a small sample of protectionist propaganda abroad.

The Bidassoa569 Bridge

A man left the Rue Hauteville570 in Paris with the aim of teaching political economy to other nations. He came to the Bidassoa. There were a great many people on the bridge, and such a large audience could not fail to tempt our teacher. He therefore leant against the rail, with his back to the Ocean and, taking care to prove his cosmopolitan nature by aligning his spine with the imaginary line separating France and Spain, he began to speak:

“All of you who are listening to me, you would like to know what good or bad exchanges are. It would appear at first sight that I ought to have nothing to teach you in this respect, for in the end, each of you is aware of his own self-interest, at least to the extent that I know my own, but interest is a misleading sign, and I am a member of an association in which this common motive is scorned. I am bringing you another infallible rule, which is most easy to apply. Before entering into a contract with someone, get him to chat. If, when you speak to him in French he replies in Spanish, or vice versa, you need go no further, proof is there and the trade will be sly in nature.”

A voice: “We speak neither Spanish nor French; we all speak the same language, Escualdun, which you call Basque.”571

“Damn!” the orator said to himself, “I did not expect this objection. I have to change tack.” “Well then, my friends, here is a rule that is just as easy: those of you who were born on this side of the line (indicating Spain) may trade with no inconvenience with all of the country to my right up to columns of Hercules,572 but no further, while all those born on that side of the line (indicating France) may trade at will in all the region lying to my left, up to this other imaginary line that runs between Blanc-Misseron and Quiévrain573, but no further. Trade carried out in this way will make you wealthy. As for the trade that you carry out across the Bidassoa, this will ruin you before you can notice it.”

Another voice: “If the trade carried out across the Nivelle574 which is two leagues from here is good, how can that carried out across the Bidassoa be bad? Do the waters of the Bidassoa produce a particular gas that poisons the trade that crosses it?”

“You are very curious”, replied the teacher, “my fine Basque friend, you have to take my word for it.”

In the meantime our man, having reflected on the doctrine that he had just expressed, said to himself: “I have still carried out only half of the business of my country.” Asking for silence, he continued his speech thus:

“Do not believe that I am a man of principles and that what I have just told you constitutes an ordered system. Heaven preserve me! My commercial arrangements are so far from being theoretical, so natural and so in line with your inclinations, although you do not realize this, that you will submit to them easily with a few thrusts of the bayonet. The Utopians575 are those who have the audacity to say that trade is good when those who carry it out find it so. A terrible, wholly modern doctrine that has been imported from England, and to which men would naturally be drawn if the armed forces did not establish proper order.

However, to prove to you that I am neither exclusive nor absolute, I will tell you that my idea is not to condemn all the transactions that you may be tempted to make from one bank to the other of the Bidassoa. I admit that your carts cross the bridge freely, provided that they arrive there FULL from this side (indicating France) and arrive here EMPTY from that side (indicating Spain). Through this ingenious arrangement, you will all gain: You, Spaniards, because you will receive without giving, and you, Frenchmen, because you will give without receiving. Whatever you do, though, do not take this for a fully worked out system.”

The Basques have hard heads. You may repeat to them until you are blue in the face: “This is not a system, a theory, a Utopia or a principle”; these carefully chosen words are incapable of making them understand what is unintelligible. For this reason, in spite of the fine advice from their teacher, when they are allowed to trade (and sometimes when they are not) they trade according to the old way (which is said to be new), that is to say, as their fathers traded; and when they cannot conduct it "over" the Bidassoa, they do it "under" the Bidassoa, so blind are they!576


560 The editors of the present volume have added the subtitle “the Bidassoa Bridge” to the original title used by Bastiat in order to highlight the inclusion of this economic fable in the essay.

561 This is a veiled reference to one of Bastiat’s protectionist “bêtes noires” which was the "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) which was founded in October 1846 and based in Paris. See the glossary entry on “Association for the Defense of National Employment.”

562 Bastiat seems to have garbled his sentence here. The original says "mais de ceux que nous pouvons livrer à bon marché. Plus même nous les offrons à prix réduit, plus l’Espagne, dit-on, a raison de s’en défendre" but this conflicts with the first part of the sentence and the point he is trying to make. We have corrected it to read: "but those that can be provided for us cheaply. The cheaper the price at which they can be offered to us, the more reason Spain has, so people say, to protect herself from them." See OC, vol. 2, p. 429.

563 Lord George Bentinck (1802-1848) was a conservative Member of Parliament who with Benjamin Disraeli led the opposition in the House of Commons against Richard Cobden's and Sir Robert Peel's attempts to repeal the Corn Laws in 1846. See the glossary entry on "Bentinck."

564 Nearly every industrial town had its "Committee" to represent the interests of industry and manufacturing. These were brought together under a national umbrella organization called the "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) which was founded by the northern textile manufacturer Pierre Mimerel de Roubaix (1786-1872) in October 1846 and was based in Paris. The "Rouen Committee" Bastiat refers to was probably the local affiliate of the national organization. See the glossary entries on "Mimerel," "Association for the Defense of National Employment," and “Mimerel Committee.”

565 The Navigation Acts were a lynch pin of the British policy of mercantilism from its introduction in 1651 to its abolition in 1849. They were designed to protect British merchant shipping from competition by third parties, in particular the Dutch and the French. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the Navigation Acts in 1849 were vital for the development of a policy of free trade in Britain. See the glossary entries on "The Navigation Acts," “Anti-Corn Law League,” and “The Corn Laws.”

566 Antoine Odier (1766-1853) was a Swiss-born banker and manufacturer who was a Deputy (1827-37), president of the Chamber of Commerce of Paris and a leading member of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) on whose Central Committee he served as president (thus it was sometimes called “the Odier Committee” or the “Mimerel Committee” for short). See the glossary entries on “Odier,” “Association for the Defense of National Employment,” “Mimerel Committee.”

567 Brutus participated in the assassination of Julius Caesar and because of this was regarded by many in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the model of the tyrannicide. See the glossary entry on “Brutus.”

568 Bastiat uses the word "duperie" here. The words "duperie" (deceit) and "dupes" (those who are deceived) are key terms in Bastiat's theory of plunder ("spoliation"), according to which the plunderers ("les spoliateurs") deceive their victims by means of “la ruse” (deception, fraud) to justify and disguise what they are doing. By means of "Sophisms" (sophistical arguments and fallacies) the dupes are persuaded that the plundering of their property is necessary for the well-being of the nation and thus ultimately for their own good as well. See ES2 I. “The Physiology of Plunder” and the glossary entry on “Bastiat on Plunder.”

569 The Bidassoa is a short river in south-west France which forms the border between France and Spain.

570 The Association for the Defense of National Employment (a protectionist organization led by Antoine Odier) had its headquarters on the Rue Hauteville in Paris. See the glossary on “The Rue Hauteville” and “Association for the Defense of National Employment.”

571 Bastiat had some knowledge of the Basque language as he had a Basque house maid and lived in a part of France where Basque was spoken. See his “Two Articles on the Basque Language” in Collected Works, vol. 1, p. 305-8.

572 The "Pillars of Hercules" was the name given in the ancient world to the two pieces of land which lay either side of the Strait of Gilbraltar. The pillar to the north is the Rock of Gilbraltar on the Anglo-Spanish side of the strait. The identity of the southern pillar in Africa is disputed but lies somewhere in Morocco.

573 Blanc-Misseron and Quiévrain are two towns on the Franco-Belgian border.

574 The Nivelle is a small river in the French Basque country.

575 See the glossary entry on “Utopias.”

576 Bastiat is punning here with a reference to the "underground" (or in this case "under river") economy of smuggling across the Franco-Spanish border. The legally permitted, regulated, and taxed trade takes place "above ground" (above river) through the customs barriers at either side of the Bidassoa river, while the traditional, free, and untaxed trade takes place "underground" (under river).


XI. The Specialists [28 November 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “Les hommes spéciaux” (The Specialists) [28 November 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 373-77.
  • Previous translation: [none]


There are people who imagine that men of learning, or those whom they call, too indulgently, scholars, are not competent to talk about free trade. Freedom and restriction, they say, are questions that have to be debated by practical men.

Thus, Le Moniteur industriel577 calls our attention to the view that in England, trade reform has been due to the efforts of manufacturers.578

Similarly, the Odier Committee579 is very proud of the procedure it has adopted, which consists of so-called surveys which come down to asking each favored industry in turn if it wants to give up its privileges.

In similar fashion, a member of the General Council of the Seine, a manufacturer of woolen cloth, protected by absolute prohibition, told his colleagues while discussing one of our associates: “I know him; he was a village justice of the peace580. He knows nothing about manufacturing.”

Even our friends let themselves be put down by this type of prejudice. Recently, the Le Havre Chamber of Commerce, referring to our declaration of principles (which is one page long),581 remarked that we did not mention maritime interests. It then added: in one sense the Chamber could not complain too much about this oversight, since the names shown at the end of this declaration did not inspire it with much confidence with regard to the study of these matters.”

This associate of ours, whom I have now therefore mentioned twice, starts by very solemnly declaring that he does not claim to be more familiar with nautical procedures than ship owners, more familiar with metallurgical processes than ironmasters, more familiar with farming procedures than farmers, more familiar with weaving processes than manufacturers or more familiar with the procedures followed by the ten thousand of our industries than those who carry them out.

But frankly, is familiarity with all this necessary to the recognition that none of these industries ought to be permitted by law to hold the others to ransom? Is it necessary to have grown old in a factory that makes woolen cloth and to have had profitable materials pass through one’s hands in order to be able to consider a question of common sense and justice and to decide that the debate between the person selling and the one buying ought to be free?

It is clear that we are far from ignoring the importance of the role reserved for practical men in the conflict between common rights and privilege.

It is above all through these men that public opinion will be freed from its imaginary terrors. When a man like Mr. Bacot from Sedan comes forward to say: “I am a manufacturer of woolen cloth and I do not fear the risks if I am given the advantages of freedom”; when Mr. Bosson from Boulogne says: “I am a flax spinner, and if the restrictionist regime was not closing off my markets abroad and impoverishing my domestic customers by making my products more expensive, my spinning factory would prosper more”; when Mr. Dufrayer, a farmer, says: “On the pretext of protecting me, the restrictionist regime has so contrived things that the surrounding population consumes neither wheat, nor wool nor meat, with the result that I have to engage in the type of farming that suits only poor regions”, we know the full effect that these words should be having on the general public.

When, following this, the matter comes up before the Legislature, the role of practical men will acquire an importance that is almost exclusive. It will no longer be a question of principle, but of action. There will be general agreement that an unjust and artificial situation has to be overturned so that we can get back to one that is equitable and natural. But where do we start? How far shall we go? To solve these problems of execution, it is clear that practical men, or at least those who have lined up to support the principle of liberty, will most have to be consulted.

Far be it for us, therefore, to think of rejecting the contribution made by specialists. You would need to have lost your mind if you failed to acknowledge the value of this assistance.

It is nonetheless true that, at the base of this conflict, there are questions that are predominant and primordial, which, if they are to be solved, have no need of the universal technical knowledge that people seem to require from us.

Is it for a lawmaker to balance the profits of various types of industry?

Can he do this without compromising the general good?

Can he, without injustice, increase the profits of some while decreasing those of others?

When endeavoring to do so, will he succeed in distributing his favors equitably?

In this same instance, will this operation not result in a dissipation of energy, owing to an inefficient management of production?

And is the evil not worse still if it is totally impossible to favor all types of industry equally?

In sum, are we paying a government to help us damage each other or, on the contrary, to stop us from doing so?”

To answer these questions, it is not in the slightest necessary to be an experienced ship owner, an ingenious mechanic or a first-class farmer. It is even less necessary to have an in-depth knowledge of the processes of all the arts and trades, since these processes bear no relation to the matter. Will people say, for example, that you have to know the cost price of woolen cloth to assess whether it is possible to compete with foreigners on equal terms? Yes, this is certainly necessary in the view of a protectionist regime, since the aim of this regime is to establish whether an industry is making a loss in order to have this loss borne by the general public. However, it is not necessary to the philosophy of free trade, since free trade is based on the following conundrum: Either your industry is profitable, and therefore protection is no use to you, or it is making a loss, in which case protection is hurting most people.

In what way, therefore, is a specialized survey essential, since whatever the result, the conclusion is always the same?

Let us suppose that we are dealing with slavery. People will doubtless agree that the question of what is right takes precedence over the question of what to do. We can understand that, in order to ascertain the best method of emancipation an inquiry is needed, but that implies that the question of right has been resolved. However, if it were a matter of debating the question of right before the public, if the majority was still favorable to the principle of slavery itself, would we be within our rights to silence an abolitionist by telling him: “You are not competent; you are not a plantation owner, nor do you own slaves.”?

Why, then, are people opposed to those who combat monopolies on the grounds that they are not admissible in debate because they do not have monopolies?

Do the ship owners of Le Havre not notice that such claims of ineligibility will be turned against them?

If they are right in claiming that they have detailed knowledge of maritime matters, they doubtless do not claim to have universal knowledge. Well, according to their way of thinking, anyone who dares to speak out against a monopoly has first of all to supply proof that he has detailed knowledge of the industry on which the monopoly has been conferred. They tell us, for our part, that we are not capable of judging whether the law should become involved in making us overpay for transport, since we have never chartered ships. But in this case they would be responded to thus: “Have you ever operated a blast furnace, a spinning factory, a factory making woolen cloth or porcelain, or a farm? What right have you to defend yourself against the taxes that these industries are imposing on you?”

The tactics of the prohibitionists are to be admired. They ensure that, if the general public is duped,582 they are at least always certain of maintaining the status quo. If you are not part of a protected industry, they do not accept that you are competent. “You are just for fleecing, you cannot speak.” If you are part of a protected industry, you will be allowed to speak, but only about your particular sector of interest, the only one with which you are deemed to be familiar. In this way, monopoly will never be opposed.583


577 Le Moniteur industriel was the journal of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) founded by Mimerel de Roubaix in October 1846. See the glossary entries on “Le Moniteur industriel,” “Mimerel,” and “Association for the Defense of National Employment”.

578 The Anti-Corn law League, which was successful in having the protectionist Corn Laws repealed in May 1846, was run and supported by individuals like Richard Cobden who was successful cotton manufacturer. See the glossary entries for “Cobden,” “Anti-Corn Law League,” and “The Corn Laws.”

579 Antoine Odier (1766-1853) was a Swiss-born banker and manufacturer who was a Deputy (1827-37), president of the Chamber of Commerce of Paris and a leading member of the protectionist "Association pour la défense du travail national" (Association for the Defense of National Employment) on whose Central Committee he served as president (thus it was sometimes called “the Odier Committee” or the “Mimerel Committee” for short. See the glossary entries on “Odier,” “Association for the Defense of National Employment,” and “Mimerel Committee.”

580 Bastiat was appointed Justice of the Peace in Mugron in May 1831. Mugron was in a remote agricultural area in the south west of France. See the glossary entry on “Mugron.”

581 "The Declaration of Principles" of the Free Trade Association was published on 10 May 1846 and will be in Collected Works vol. 6. It can be found in Paillottet's edition of the Oeuvres complètes, vol. 2., pp. 1-4.

582 The words "duperie" (deceit) and "dupes" (those who are deceived) are key terms in Bastiat's theory of plunder ("spoliation"), according to which the plunderers ("les spoliateurs") deceive their victims by means of “la ruse” (deception, fraud) to justify and disguise what they are doing. By means of "Sophisms" (sophistical arguments and fallacies) the dupes are persuaded that the plundering of their property is necessary for the well-being of the nation and thus ultimately for their own good as well. See ES2 I. “The Physiology of Plunder” and the glossary entry on “Bastiat on Plunder.”

583 (Paillottet’s note) The author later pointed out the danger of a scientific classification that was solely based on the phenomena of production. See pages vol. VI, pp. 346-47. <TBK>.


XII. The Man who asked Embarrassing Questions [12 December 1847] (final draft)

Publishing history

  • Original title, place and date of publication: “L'indiscret” (The Man who asked Embarrassing Questions) [12 December 1847, Le Libre-Échange]
  • Published as book or pamphlet: [not applicable]
  • Location in Paillottet's edition: Oeuvres complètes (1st ed. 1854-55), Vol. 2: Le Libre-Échange (1855), pp. 435-46.
  • Previous translation: [none]


Protection for national industry! Protection for national employment! You have to have a very warped mind and a heart that is truly perverse to decry a notion that is so fine and good.

Yes, certainly, if we were fully convinced that protection, as decreed by the Chamber with its double vote584, had increased the well-being of all Frenchmen, including ourselves, if we thought that the ballot-box of the Chamber with its double vote that is more miraculous than the urn in Cana,585 had operated the miracle of the multiplication of foodstuffs, clothing, the means of work, transport and education, in a word, everything that composes the wealth of the country, we would be both foolish and perverse to demand free trade.

And why, in this case, would we not want protection? Well, Sirs, demonstrate to us that the favors it accords to some are not given at the expense of others; prove to us that it does good to everyone, to landowners, farmers, traders, manufacturers, artisans, workers, doctors, lawyers, civil servants, priests, writers or artists. Prove this to us and we promise you that we will align ourselves under its banner for, whatever you say, we are not yet mad.

And, as far as I am concerned, to show you that it is not through caprice or thoughtlessness that I have engaged myself in the struggle, I will tell you my story.

Having read widely, meditated deeply, gathered a host of observations, followed the fluctuations in the market in my village from week to week and carried out a lively correspondence with a number of traders, I finally arrived at the knowledge of this phenomenon:


From which I considered I might, without excessive boldness, draw the following conclusion:


With this discovery in my pocket, which ought to bring me as much fame as Mr. Proudhon expects from his famous formula: Property is theft,586 I mounted my humble steed like a new Don Quixote and went off to campaign.

First of all, I introduced myself to a wealthy landowner and asked him:

“Sir, be so good as to tell me why you are so attached to the measure taken in 1822 by the Chamber with its double vote with regard to cereals?”587

“Heavens, it is obvious! It is because it enables me to sell my wheat better.”

“Therefore you think that, between 1822 and 1847, the price of wheat has on average been higher in France thanks to this law than it would have been without it?”

“Yes, certainly I think so; if not, I would not support it.”

“And if the price of wheat has been higher, it must have been because there has not been as much wheat in France under this law as without it, for if it had not affected quantity it would not have affected the price.”

“That goes without saying.”

I then drew from my pocket a notebook on which I wrote these words:

“On the admission of the landowner, for the last twenty-nine years588 in which the law has existed there has, in the end, been LESS WHEAT in France than there would have been without the law.”

I then went to a cattle farmer.

“Sir, would you be so good as to tell me why do you support the restriction placed on the entry of foreign steers by the Chamber with its double vote?”

“It is because, through these means, I sell my steers for a higher price.”

“But if the price of steers is higher because of this restriction, this is a certain sign that fewer steers have been sold, killed and eaten in the country in the last twenty-seven years than would have been the case without the restriction?”

“What a question! We voted for the restriction solely for this reason.”

I wrote the following words in my notebook:

“On the admission of the cattle-breeder, for the last twenty-seven years in which the restriction has existed, there have been FEWER STEERS in France than there would have been without the restriction.”

I then hurried off to an ironmaster.

“Sir, would you be so good as to tell me why you defend the protection that the Chamber with its double vote has accorded to iron so valiantly?”

“Because, thanks to it, I sell my iron for a higher price.”

“But then, also thanks to it, there is less iron in France than if it had not meddled in this, for if the quantity of iron on offer had been equal or greater, how would the price have been higher?”

“It is quite straightforward that the quantity is less, since the precise aim of this law was to prevent an invasion.”

And I wrote on my tablets:

“On the admission of the ironmaster, for twenty-seven years, France has had LESS IRON through protection than it would have had through freed trade.”

“It is all starting to become clear”, I said to myself, and I hurried off to a woolen cloth merchant.

“Sir, would you allow me a small item of information? Twenty-seven years ago, the Chamber with its double vote, of which you were a member, voted for the exclusion of foreign woolen cloth. What was its and your reason for doing this?”

“Do you not understand that it is so that I can make more profit from my woolen cloth and become rich more quickly?”

“That was my guess. But are you sure that you have succeeded? Is it certain that the price of woolen cloth has been higher during this period than if the law had been rejected?”

“There can be no doubt of this. Without the law, France would have been swamped with woolen cloth and the price would have become very low; this would have been a major disaster.”

“I don't yet see that it would have been a disaster, but be that as it may, you must agree that the result of the law has been to ensure that there has been less woolen cloth in France?”

“This has not been not only the result of the law but its aim.”

“Very well”, said I and I wrote in my notebook:

“On the admission of the manufacturer, for the last twenty-seven years there has been LESS WOOLEN CLOTH in France because of prohibition.”

It would take too long and be too monotonous to go into further detail on this curious voyage of economic exploration.

Suffice it to say that I visited in succession a shepherd who sold wool, a colonial plantation owner who sold sugar, a salt manufacturer, a potter, a shareholder in coalmines, a manufacturer of machines, farm implements and tools, and everywhere I obtained the same reply.

I returned home to review my notes and put them into order. I can do no better than to publish them here.

“For the last twenty-seven years, thanks to the laws imposed on the country by the Chamber with its double vote, there has been in France:

Less wheat,

Less meat,

Less wool,

Less coal,

Fewer candles,

Less iron,

Less steel,

Fewer machines,

Fewer ploughs,

Fewer tools,

Less woolen cloth,

Less canvas,

Less yarn,

Less calico,

Less salt,

Less sugar,

And less of all the things that are used to feed, clothe and house men, to furnish, heat and light their dwellings, and to fortify their lives.

By the Good Lord in Heaven, I cried, since this is the case, FRANCE HAS BEEN LESS WEALTHY.

In my soul and conscience, before God and men, on the memory of my father, mother and sisters, on my eternal salvation, by all that is dear, precious, sacred and holy on this earth and in the next, I believed that my conclusion was accurate.

And if anyone proves the contrary to me, not only will I abandon any argument on these subjects but I will abandon any argument on anything at all, for what trust might I place in any argument if I was unable to have confidence in this?

19 December 1847

“Dear reader, you will recall clearly …”

“I remember nothing at all.”

“What! One week is enough to erase from your memory the story of this famous campaign!”

“Do you think that I am going to meditate on it for a whole week? That is a very tactless presumption.”

“I will start it again then.”

“That would be to heap one tactless thing on another.”

“You are putting me in a difficult position. If you want the end of the tale to be intelligible, you should not lose sight of the beginning.”

“Summarize it.”

“Very well. I was saying that on my return from my initial economic peregrination, my notebook said the following: “According to the statements of all the protected producers, as a result of the restrictive laws of the Chamber with its double vote, France has had less wheat, less meat, less iron, less woolen cloth, less canvas, fewer tools, less sugar and less of everything than it would have had without these laws.”

“You are putting me back on track. These producers even said that this was not only the result but the aim of the laws passed by the Chamber with its double vote. These laws aimed to raise the price of products by making them scarce.”

“From which I deduced this dilemma: Ei