Gustave de Molinari, Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street: Discussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property (1849) (2019 draft)

Gustave de Molinari, Les Soirées de la Rue Saint-Lazare: Entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété (Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street: Discussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property) (1849)

Title Page of the original 1849 edition
The photo of Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) which accompanied his obituary in the Journal des économistes


Date: July 17, 2019

This is the third draft (July 2019) of a book that will be published by Liberty Fund in 2022. The page numbers of the original edition are indicated with square brackets, e.g. [p. 200] and many of the quotes are in both French and English for the moment. For further information see the Molinari Project Page and the main Molinari page which lists books by him in the OLL.

Original Title page quote:

"It is necessary to refrain from attributing to the physical laws which have been instituted in order to produce good, the harms which are the just and inevitable punishment for the violation of this very order of laws." F. Quesnay.

Another quote:

"Liberty! That was the cry of the captives of Egypt, the slaves of Spartacus, the peasants of the Middle Ages, and more recently of the bourgeoisie oppressed by the nobility and religious corporations, of the workers oppressed by their masters and the guilds. Liberty! That was the cry of all those who found their property confiscated by monopoly and privilege. Liberty! That was the burning aspiration of all those whose natural rights had been forcibly repressed." (S12, pp. 000.)



Table of Contents



1. Front Matter



The editor would like to thank above all the late Leonard Liggio (1933-2014) for introducing me to the ideas of Gustave de Molinari over 35 years ago. This began a lifetime interest in the French classical liberal tradition which shows no sign of stopping.

When I was researching my undergraduate Honors thesis on Molinari I was living in Sydney, Australia and had the great fortune to use the Mitchell Library which is part of the State Library of New South Wales and which has not only a magnificent reading room but also had an extensive collection of free trade literature including a complete set of the Journal des Économistes to which Molinari had contributed as author and editor for 60 years. This puzzled me at first until I realized that before the Federation of the Australian colonies in 1901 the colony of New South Wales had been a staunch free trade state and Victoria a strongly protectionist one. In order to keep the members of parliament in New South Wales fully informed about the free trade cause the library had collected an enormous amount of material about free trade, in both English and French. Unfortunately, the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia adopted the protectionist policies of Victoria and the free traders of New South Wales lost out until the tariff cuts of the 1970s and 1980s. Fortunately, I eventually became the unexpected beneficiary of the purchasing policies of the Mitchell librarians in the late 19th century. For that, whoever they might have been, I would like to offer a belated thank you as well.

A third person I would like to thank is Professor Robert Leroux of the University of Ottawa who was such a congenial and thought-provoking collaborator on two anthologies of 19th century French classical thought which we have edited together. Molinari played a bit part in both of them.

Then there is Spencer Heath McCallum who sold me his collection of Molinari books when I was a poor student studying at Stanford. He wanted them to go to a good home. I think I have have done that. So, a heartfelt thanks to Spencer for giving me some biblio-orphans to look after.


ACLL - Anti-Corn Law League

AEPS - Annuaire de l'économie politique et de la statistique

Cours - Molinari’s economic treatise Cours d'économie politique

CPE - Collection des Principaux économistes

CR - Compte rendu (book review)

CW - Liberty Fund’s edition of the Collected Works of Bastiat (CW3 is vol. 3)

DEP - Dictionnaire de l’économie politique

ES - Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms, so ES1 = Economic Sophisms. Series 1

FFTA - French Free Trade Association (Association de la liberté des échanges )

JDD - Journal des débats

JDE - Journal des économistes

LdT - Charles Dunoyer, De la liberté du travail (1845)

PoS - “The Production of Security” (Molinari’s February 1849 article)

SEP - Société d’économie politique (the Political Economy Society)

LE - Bastiat’s magazine Le Libre-Échange

Les Soirées - Molinari’s book

S1 - the first conversation or Soirée

T. - Tome or volume, so T.1 = vol. 1

Key Terms

Certain terms used by Molinari require careful translation in order to fully capture the nuances of his thought as well as his radicalism. When Molinari uses the same word repeatedly we have refrained from finding synonyms but kept the same word in order to preserve his use of sometimes technical economic language as well as to show the patterns in his thinking, for example in his use of the word “l’entrepreneur." The following terms should be noted:

Association, Organisation - these were two key words used by socialists like Victor Considerant and Louis Blanc to describe how they would like to see industry and labor organized in a socialist system: the “organisation of industry” by the state into “national or social workshops”, and the “association of workers” into cooperative living and working arrangements as opposed to private property, wages, and exchanges on the free market. Molinari capitalizes these words when he uses them in a socialist sense, and leaves them in lower case when he uses them in a free market sense.

le communiste, communisme - Molinari contrasts competitive free market economic activity with two other forms, that of “le monopole" (monopoly) and that of “le communisme." By monopoly he means any economic or political activity which is controlled by and operated for the benefit of a small group such as the monarch or the ruling elites of a country. By "communiste" he means any economic or political activity which is controlled by and operated for the benefit of the people or the nation as a whole. We have usually translated "communiste" as communist, though sometimes “communal,” ”socialist,” or "statist" would be preferred. Another translation might also be “collectivist.”

le droit de quelque chose vs. le droit à quelque chose - Molinari was clear to distinguish between two different kinds of rights (le droit). The socialists advocated for example "le droit au travail" - the right of a worker to a job - whereas the Economists advocated "le droit du travail" - the right of working, or of anybody to engage in work of some kind, or “la liberté du travail” (the liberty of working).

les Économistes - originally the word referred to the 18th century economists known as the Physiocrats, such as Quesnay and Turgot. The free market economists of Molinari’s day in the Guillaumin network also referred to themselves as “the Economists." Molinari speaks through the voice of “The Economist” in each of the Soirées.

l’affranchissement de la propriété - The phrase "the emancipation or liberation of property" sums up Molinari's overall plan of reform of French society. He also uses the phrase “l’affranchissement complet, absolu de la propriété” (the complete and absolute emancipation of property).

l’entrepreneur - always translated as entrepreneur because of the enormous importance Molinari placed on the role of the entrepreneur in a free economy. In addition to generic examples such as “les entrepreneurs d'industrie” (industrial or manufacturing entrepreneurs) he has many very specific examples in mind as well. Molinari wanted to deregulate every monopolized or highly regulated sphere of economic activity which would give rise to new industries in those areas, each with their own kind of entrepreneurs who would provide these goods and services on the free market. Where Molinari mentions these new kinds of entrepreneurs specifically by name we have been faithful to his word use. For example, “l’entrepreneur de pompes funèbres” (entrepreneurs in the funeral business) and “les entrepreneurs d’education" (entrepreneurs in the education business).

industriel, industrielle - Molinari confusingly uses these two words in different ways throughout Les Soirées. When he uses "industriel" as a noun, as in "les industriels", he is referring to those individuals who are engaged in any productive economic activity designed to produce goods or services for the market. [See also “le producteur” and “l’entrepreneur”]. This usage harks back to the theory of “l'industrielisme" developed by Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer during the 1820s. When he uses it as an adjective, as in "les enterprises industrielles" (industrial enterprises) or "les crises industrielles" (industrial crises) he is using it in the more modern sense of industrial or manufacturing activities.

laissez faire, laissez-faire - Molinari uses these expressions as an exhortation and as the name of a particular economic policy. The hyphenated version, "laissez-faire", describes the policy of allowing economic activity to proceed unregulated by government, as in "ce régime de laissez-faire absolu" (this regime of absolute laissez-faire). Some times Molinari urges that something be allowed to function freely ("laissez faire") or allowed to move freely ("laissez passer"), as in "laissez faire l'industrie privée" (Let private industry be free to go about its business).

la liberté de qch. - The liberty or freedom of engaging in a particular kind of economic activity. Molinari had in mind a dozen or so specific areas of economic activity which should be "emancipated" to allow entrepreneurs to step in to provide new kinds of goods and services to consumers. The model was "la liberté des échanges" (literally the liberty of exchanges or trade, but better known in English as “free trade”) which he extended to other areas such as “la liberté de l’enseignement” (the liberty of education), “la liberté des banques” (free banking), and “la liberté de gouvernement” (the competitive provision of security in the free market, or competing government).

les lois naturel(s), lois économique(s) - Molinari thought the world was governed by three sets of interlocking natural laws, the natural laws of the physical world, such as "la loi de la gravitation" (the law of gravitation), "les lois naturelles" (the natural laws) of the moral and social world, such as justice, property, and utility, and a small number of “les lois économiques" such as “la loi naturelle de l’économie des forces ou du moindre effort” (the natural law of the economising of forces, or the law of the least effort), “la loi naturelle de la concurrence” (the natural law of competition), and “la loi de l’offre et de la demande” (the law of supply and demand), among others.

la monnaie, l'argent, la numéraire, l'espèce - Molinari uses a bewildering number of words for money. We have tried to simplify this somewhat by translating "la monnaie" and "l'argent" as money in the general sense, "la numéraire” as cash in the form of silver or gold coins, and “l'espèce” on rare occasions as specie, or gold or silver coins. Whenever he specifically refers to any paper form of money such as “la monnaie de papier” (paper money) we have clearly indicated this in the notes.

la production, le producteur, le consommateur - since Molinari wanted to open up every area of economic activity to competition he believed that each one would have its own form of production, producers, consumers, and entrepreneurs (see section on “l'entrepreneur"). We have preserved his use of these terms, such as the following specific examples "la production de la sécurité" (the production of security), "les producteurs de sécurité" (the producers of security), "les consommateurs de sécurité" (the consumers of security), "la production de l’enseignement" (the production of education), and "les consommateurs de monnaie" (the consumers of money).

les produits matériels, les produits immatériels - Molinari expanded J.B. Say's idea of "non-material goods" or services to include not just the productive economic activities of lawyers, doctors, teachers, and judges but also those of theater directors and actors and producers of security.

la propriété extérieur - translated as "external property" or “external property rights” by which Molinari means the right to own the property which lies outside or is external to one's body and which he has created by his labor and effort.

la propriété intérieur - translated as "internal or personal property" or "internal or personal property rights” by which he means the right every individual has to “self-ownership”, that is the property right a man has in himself and the right to use his abilities freely, insofar as he causes no damage to the property of others.

le régime - translated as regime, society or system depending upon the context. Some of his uses of the term are standard, as in "l’ancien régime" (the old regime), while others are unique to him, such as "ce régime de laissez-faire absolu" (this regime or system of absolute laissez-faire), "un régime de libre gouvernement" (a system of free or competing governments), and "le régime mi-propriétaire, mi-communiste" (this system of part-private and part-communist property ownership).

Soirées - usually refers to an evening event where people come together to eat, drink, and discuss ideas. We have translated the word as “Evening” in the title of the book and for each chapter, but it might also be understood as the “conversations” which were held at such an evening event.

la spoliation, le spoliateur, spolié - Throughout we have translated “la spoliation" and its related words “le spoliateur" and “le spolié" as plunder, the plunderer, and the plundered. Molinari (and Bastiat) thought that organized plunder and resistance to it was a driving force of history which took the form of “an endless struggle … between the oppressors and the oppressed, the plunderers and the plundered.” “La spoliation légale” (legal plunder) was the organised violation and expropriation of the property rights of individuals by a ruling elite which controlled the organs of state power (this was a concept which originated with Bastiat and taken up by Molinari.

In addition, the following less crucial, but still important and interesting terms should be noted:

actif - Molinari describes men as “des êtres actifs et libres” (free and acting beings), who “act” in order to achieve the goals they set themselves.

la Bourse, les bourses du travail - "La Bourse" (with a capital B) was the main Stock Exchange in Paris. Molinari wanted to establish something similar for workers which he called "la bourse du travail" (Labour Exchange) where employers and workers could come together to buy and sell labour more efficiently.

l’interlope - literally an "interloper" was a merchant ship which broke the monopoly trading rights of a state privileged trading company. Molinari uses it to describe a number of illicit, black market, or "pirate" economic activities such as carrying mail, making loans, or engaging in prostitution.

un milieu libre - Molinari described the world in which he wanted to live as "un milieu libre" which we have translated as a free milieu but could just as accurately translated as "a free society." He also used many other similar phrases such as "un régime de pleine liberté" (a regime of complete liberty), "un régime de la propriété illimitée" (a society of unlimited property rights), and "un régime de laisser-faire absolu" (a society of absolute laissez-faire), among several others.

A Chronology of the Life and Works of Molinari

1819-1840: childhood and youth spent in Liège

•     Born 3 March 1819 in Liège, then in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (and after 1830 Belgium)

•     it is possible that he began studying medicine in Brussels before he moved to Paris.[1]

•     it is also possible that he worked in a cotton factory for six years before coming to Paris which sparked his interest in labour matters.[2]

1840-1851: journalist, free trade activist, and economist in Paris


•     circa 1840 comes to Paris from Belgium where he finds work as a journalist

•     1842-43 writes biographies for the magazine, Le biographe universel, including one on the Minister of Finance Comte Roy, and on the author and politician Lamartine, which he publishes as his first book, a Biographe politique de M. A. de Lamartine (1843). His first piece appears in January 1842 as a monthly "Chronique politique"

•     1843-46 works as a journalist writing for La Nation and Le Courrier français on economic topics such as railroads, workers' rights, labour exchanges, and slavery. Meets Hippolyte Castille who also works for the Courrier français and attends Castille's soirées at his house in the rue Saint-Lazare 1844-48, other attendees include Bastiat, Garnier, Fonteyraud, and Coquelin.

•     1846 publishes his first book on economics, Études économiques. L'Organisation de la liberté industrielle et l'abolition de l'esclavage (Economic Studies on the Organization of Industrial Liberty and the Abolition of Slavery) (1846) with a quote on the front page "Laissez faire, laissez passer." The book is reviewed very favorably by Joseph Garnier in the JDE thus beginning Molinari's long association with the journal.

•     1846 meets Bastiat in early 1846 in the offices of Le Courrier français who comes to thank them for reviewing his first book of Economic Sophisms. Bastiat agrees to publish some future sophisms in the journal, possibly edited by Molinari. Molinari joins Bastiat's Free Trade Society in July (founded 1 July 1846, Bastiat is Secretary General), becoming one of the associate secretaries, along with Adolphe Blaise, Charles Coquelin, Alcide Fonteyraud, Joseph Garnier; Coquelin is one of the key speakers at la Salle Montesquieu where meetings were held; he is invited to attend banquet in 18 Aug. 1846 in Paris in honour of Richard Cobden. In Sept. publishes two critical letters in the Courrier français addressed to Bastiat criticizing him and the FTA for not being radical enough in their demands to abolish protectionism.

•     1847 Molinari formally enters into the Guillaumin network; publishes his first article in the Jan. edition of the JDE on agriculture in England; between 1847-52 writes on economic conditions in England and Ireland, history of economic thought, tariffs, articles in JDE, DEP

•     is invited to join the Political Economy Society (founded 15 Nov. 1842), becomes full member in 1847. Founding members were five: Eugène Daire, Joseph Garnier, Adolphe Blaise, Guillaumin, et Pierre Bos-Darnis (dropped out when he became a protectionist)

•     Attends as delegate of the SEP the first congress of economists held in Brussels 16-18 September 1847 - French delegation includes Charles Dunoyer, Horace Say, Joseph Garnier, Alcide Fonteyraud, Adolphe Blanqui, Guillaumin, Molinari. It was also attended by Karl Marx who was to present a paper so it possible that they met.

•     publishes the first of many books by Guillaumin on Histoire du tarif (The History of Tariffs) (1847); begins editorial work on the last two volumes of the Collections des Principaux économistes on 18th century economic thought.

•     late 1847 begins teaching a course on economics at the Athénée royal de Paris which is interrupted by the Revolution; resumed teaching course when he went to Brussels in 1852. Published as Cours d'économie politique (1st ed. 1855, 2nd ed. 1863)

•     1847-48 helps Castille and Bastiat edit journal about intellectual property: Le travail intellectuel (Intellectual Labour) 1847-48)


•     February - the day after the Revolution breaks out he, Bastiat, and Castille start their first small magazine which appears daily and which they hand out on the streets of Paris, La République française. 30 issues appeared between 26 Feb. - 28 March 1848

•     March - active in a political club, "Le Club de la liberté du travail" (The Club for the Liberty of Working), founded by Coquelin with Fonteyraud as one of the key speakers, to publicly debate socialists on "the right to work," forced to close when communist thugs use violence against them

•     writes four signed articles and book reviews for the JDE and many unsigned articles and reports about the events of 1848, including "L'utopie de la liberté (lettre aux socialistes, par un RÉVEUR)" (The Utopia of Liberty: A Letter to the Socialists by a Dreamer) in June appealing for a coalition between the economists and the socialists

•     June 1848 joins Bastiat, Garnier, Coquelin, Fonteyraud in editing and publishing a second revolutionary magazine to appeal to ordinary workers which they hand out on the streets of Paris, Jacques Bonhomme (11 June- 13 July 1848), 4 issues appeared, forced to close because of the violent crack down by the police after the June Days rioting

•     June-December 1848 - works closely with the editorial staff at the JDE reporting on political and intellectual developments during the year, especially the debate in the Chamber on the "right to work" clause in the new constitution

•     Dec. Molinari in an unsigned article sums up the events of the year on behalf of the editors of the JDE concluding that the "fever" of socialism has temporarily subsided but he expects another outbreak at any time


•     January writes an important article on Thiers' book De la propriété (On Property) in JDE criticizing the conservatives for defending property poorly against the socialists

•     February writes "De la production de la sécurité" (The Production of Security) for the JDE in which he gives the first defense of the anarcho-capitalist argument for the private provision of police and defense. This is taken up again in S11 of Les Soirées

•     July/Aug. assists Garnier in organizing an international Peace Congress in Paris the president of which was Victor Hugo and at which Bastiat gives an important speech. Molinari wrote a report on the meeting published in JDE in Sept.

•     Sept. most likely date of publication of Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare. Announced in Oct. 1849 Guillaumin catalog.

•     Oct. Molinari's book Les Soirées is critically discussed at the regular monthly meeting of the Political Economy Society. Dunoyer says he has been "swept away by illusions of logic." Bastiat and others argue that the state must have supreme power in order to defend property rights; the participants also criticize him for objecting to eminent domain laws.

•     Nov. Charles Coquelin critically reviews Les Soirées in the JDE, he agrees with most of the book but objects to Molinari using the figure of "The Economist" to put forward his own views about the private production of security.


•     writes nine articles and book reviews for the JDE during this period, including the obituary of Bastiat in February 1851.

•     assists in the editing and publishing of the DEP edited by Coquelin and Guillaumin, writes 25 principle articles and four biographical articles, including the ones on Liberté du commerce, Liberté des échanges, Paix, Guerre, Paix (Société et Congrès de la Paix), Propriété littéraire, Servage, Tarifs de douane, Théatres, Travail, Union douanière, Usure

•     the coup d'état of Louis Napoleon on 2 Dec. 1851 forces Molinari into a self-imposed exile in Brussels

•     The first period in GdM's professional life came to an end with death of 3 close colleagues and his decision to leave Paris at end of 1851: Fonteyraud 1849 (death in cholera epidemic); F. Bastiat 24 Dec. 1850 (throat cancer); Ch. Coquelin 1852 (heart attack August 1852).

1852-1868: academic economist and free market lobbyist and journalist in Brussels.

•     moves to Brussels to teach economics at the Musée royal de l'industrie belge, later at Institut supérieur du commerce d'Anvers (Antwerp); he is active in the Belgian free trade movement and attempts to set up Labour Exchanges

•     Oct. 1852 writes an analysis of the 1848 Revolution and the coup d'état of Louis Napoléon based upon his theory of class interests, Les Révolutions et le despotisme envisagés au point de vue des intérêts matériel (1852). This is followed in 1861 by a book examining the political and economic thought of Emperor Napoleon III, Napoleon III publiciste (1861).

•     1855-68 edits and publishes his own journal the Économiste belge to promote free trade and labour exchanges

•     1855 publishes his treatise of economics based upon his lectures, Cours d'économie politique (2nd ed. 1863).

•     1855 publishes a second book of "conversations" about free trade between a rioter, a prohibitionist or protectionist, and an economist, Conservations familières sur le commerce des grains (1885)

•     1857 writes a book on the 18th century peace advocate L'abbé de Saint-Pierre (1857)

•     1859 debates Frédéric Passy on compulsory education, De l'enseignement obligatoire in which Molinari argues that the state should compel parents to educate their children but not provide that education.

•     1861 publishes an account of his visit to Russia and the abolition of serfdom, Lettres sur la Russie (1861); also a collection of his economic articles from the previous 15 years, Questions d'économie politique et de droit public.

•     1868 - his wife Edmée died at the age of 50 on October 30, 1868; he closes his magazine Économiste belge in December and moves back to Paris

1869-1881: returns to journalism in Paris

•     Molinari works for the prestigious Journal des Débats, serves as chief editor 1871-1876

•     1870-71 in Paris during the Paris Commune and the formation of the Third Republic; writes accounts of the socialist political clubs and the socialist movement during the Commune, Les Clubs rouges pendant le siège de Paris (The Red Clubs during the Siege of Paris) (1871) and Le Mouvement socialiste et les réunions publiques avant la révolution du 4 septembre 1870 (The Socialist Movement and their Public Meetings before the Revolution of 4 Sept. 1870) (1872)

•     1873 writes his first and only book on political and constitutional theory, La République tempérée (The Strengthened Republic) (1873) as the constitution of the Third Republic is being developed

•     1874 - is elected a corresponding member of the Institute (Académie des sciences morales et politiques)

•     1876 travels to Canada and the US to cover the centennial celebrations and writes accounts of his travels

•     1877-79 - writes a series of articles in the JDE which becomes his first book on historical sociology which is published in 1880, L'évolution économique du XIXe siècle (Economic Evolution in the 19th Century) (1880)

1881-1909: editor of JDE, very prolific period in his life; writes on economics and historical sociology and his travels

•     1881 Appointed editor of JDE in October when Joseph Garnier dies;

•     1881-83 - begins another multi-part series of articles in the JDE which becomes his second book on historical sociology, L'évolution politique et la Révolution (Political Evolution and the Revolution) (1884)

•     1881-86 continues to travel abroad and writes several books about his travels - visits Canada, US, Jersey, Russia, Corsica, Panama, Martinique, Haiti

•     1881-87 writes a series of books on economic topics - protectionism, slavery, and agriculture, e.g. Conversations sur le commerce des grains et la protection de l'agriculture (1886)

•     1887-93 writes a series of books on the natural laws and the moral philosophy of political economy, e.g. Les Lois naturelles de l'économie politique (Natural Laws and Political Economy) (1887)

•     1887-98 - writes several articles and a book on the growing threat of war, eg. a series of letters printed in The Times (of London) on organizing a "League of Neutrals" (28 July, 1887), " A Syndicat of Peace" (1 Nov. 1893), and "The Assurance of Peace" (21 Oct. 1895); and a book on Grandeur et decadence de la guerre (The Grandeur and Decadence of War) (1898)

•     1892-1901 - writes books on Malthus, labour exchanges, the social question, science and religion, and the future of liberty, e.g. Les Bourses du Travail (Labour Exchanges) (1893), Comment se résoudra la question sociale (1896), Esquisse de l'organisation politique et économique de la Société future (1899)

•     1901-1902 - writes two important articles and a book surveying the achievements of liberty during the 19th century and its bleak future in the 20th, "Le XIXe siècle", JDE (Jan. 1901); "Le XXe siècle", JDE (Jan. 1902); Les Problèmes du XXe siècle (1901).

1909- 1912: retirement

•     1909 - Molinari is forced to resign as editor of the JDE because of ill health

•     1911 writes his last book at age 92 appropriately called Ultima Verba: Mon dernier ouvrage (Last Words: My Last Book) (1911)

•     Died 28 January 1912 in Adinkerque, Belgium (buried in Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris).

A Note on the Sources

Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare

There was only one edition of Les Soirées published in the 19th century. The publication of Les Soirées was first announced in the October 1849 supplement to the May Catalog of the Guillaumin publishing firm so it most likely came off the presses in the late summer or early fall of 1849. It was priced at 3 fr. 50c. The announcement included the full table of contents and the following rather cautious comment: “Nous donnons ci-après la tables des chapitres de cet ouvrage, remarquable par la hardiesse et l’originalité des vues de l’auteur.” (We provide below the table of contents of this book which is remarkable for the boldness and originality of the author’s views). It was discussed at the 10 October meeting of the Political Economy Society and a review by Charles Coquelin was published in the 15 November issue of JDE.

On the title page Molinari’s affiliation was given as “Member of the Political Economy Society of Paris” and the quotation was from François Quesnay’s:“Le droit naturel” (Natural Law) (1765): “Il faut bien se garder d’attribuer aux lois physiques les maux qui sont la juste et inévitable punition de la violation de l’order même de ces lois, instituées pour opérer le bien.” (It is necessary to refrain from attributing to the physical laws which have been instituted in order to produce good, the evils which are the just and inevitable punishment for the violation of this very order of laws.)

No other edition of the book was published by Guillaumin, possibly because of its controversial subject matter, and there was no translation into other European languages.

A second French edition was published by the Institut Coppet in Paris in November 2014 edited by Benoît Malbranque.[3]

Other frequently used texts

For information about French economic and political policies and institutions, biographical information about political figures and political economists, and the French press we used the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique (1852-53) for its compendious collection of biographical, bibliographical, and statistical articles and Newman and Simpson’s Historical Dictionary of France from the 1815 Restoration to the Second Empire (1987).

For economic data and information about the French government’s budgets for 1848-49 we used the relevant volumes of the Annuaire de l'économie politique et de la statistique (Guillaumin, 1847-1850).

For information about the activities of the economists and the state of economic theory in the late 1840s we used the minutes of the meetings of the Société d’Économie Politique (The Political Economy Society) in Annales de la Société d’Économie politique (1846-1853) and the articles, reviews, and reports in the Society’s Journal des économistes.

We have also used the correspondence and other works by his friend and colleague Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) since they shared so much in common (in spite of their age difference) and worked together closely in the period 1846-1850.

For information about contemporary word usage we used the 1835 edition of the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française (6th ed.)

2. Editor’s Introduction by David M. Hart

I. Who is GdM and why he is important?

Brief Bio of GdM

“He firmly believed in a future of liberty and peace, but is it even necessary to say that the moment was not well chosen to plead the cause of liberty and peace?”[4]


Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912)[5] was born in Liège when it was still part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (it was later incorporated into the new Kingdom of Belgium in 1830) but spent most of his working life in Paris, becoming the leading representative of the laissez-faire school of classical liberalism in France (the so-called “Paris School” of political economy)[6] in the second half of the nineteenth century. His liberalism was based upon the theory of natural rights (especially the right to self-ownership, private property, and individual liberty), a policy of complete laissez-faire in economic matters, and “la liberté du gouvernement” in politics (by this he meant the private provision of police and defence services by competing insurance companies or small proprietary communities).

By living so long (he lived to be 92)[7] Molinari had the misfortune of living through and participating in the rise and decline of the classical liberal movement in France during the 19th century. He was born four years after the defeat of Napoléon Bonaparte and the collapse of his Empire and died two years before the outbreak of the First World War, which destroyed the European liberal order and ushered in a decades-long period of militarism, interventionism, communism, fascism, and welfare-statism. He lived through the reigns of three monarchs (Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis Philippe), three revolutions (the Revolution of July 1830, the February Revolution of 1848, and the Paris Commune of 1871), two republics (the Second (1848) and the Third (1875)), and another Emperor Napoléon (self-declared the “3rd” in 1852). He was also active during two periods when classical liberal ideas were flourishing, that of the 1840s in the last years of Louis Philippe’s reign (which was eventually severely weakened by the February 1848 revolution and the rise of another Napoléon), and then that of the Third Republic in the mid-1870s, before it too lost its way and re-erected tariff barriers, became a colonial empire, entered an arms race with the other great European powers, and saw the rise of a new and powerful socialist movement.

He also had the time to write a lot of books: about 50 at my last count,[8] or even more if one were to include the scores of articles he wrote for magazines and journals (like the JDE, the Économiste belge, the JDD) or the many articles for the DEP (1852-53). For the latter he wrote 25 principle articles and five biographical articles which alone make up 176 pages of double-columned densely printed text.[9] In the first period of his life as an author, the 12 years between the publication of his first book on Lamartine (1843)[10] and his treatise on economics (1855)[11] he published at least 12 volumes of material which were made up of nine separate books, at lest one long book’s worth of articles for the DEP, two large volumes of 18th century economic thought which he edited, 32 articles and reviews he wrote for the JDE (perhaps another volume’s worth of material), and countless other articles for smaller magazines and journals. Les Soirées was published in the middle of this first very active period of what would be a long and productive life.

Summary of his career

His career began during the 1840s and early 1850s. He left his native Liège in about 1840 to go to Paris to seek work as a journalist,[12] initially writing biographies of famous people for a magazine,[13] before moving on to journals like La Nation and Le Courrier français where he could pursue his growing interest in economic matters, such as the right of workers to join unions, the economics of slavery and serfdom, and French tariff policy.[14] In 1846 he became involved with Frédéric Bastiat’s French Free Trade Association and the group of free market political economists who had gathered around the Guillaumin publishing firm and the Political Economy Society and its monthly journal, the Journal des Économistes (JDE). In 1847 he began writing articles for the JDE,[15] began work editing a two volume scholarly collection of 18th century economic writings for Guillaumin,[16] wrote a two volume history of tariffs,[17] and got an opportunity to give lectures on political economy at the private Athénée royal de Paris.[18]

During the 1848 revolution he vigorously opposed the rise of socialism and co-wrote and handed out on the streets of Paris two anti-socialist, free market newspapers with Bastiat and other radical friends,[19] and wrote a monthly “Chronique” or commentary on the events of the revolution for the JDE. In the first months of the Revolution when hundreds of “political clubs” sprang up throughout Paris to discuss all manner of political and economic issues, once the strict censorship laws were no longer enforceable, Molinari and his economist friends started their own club, the “Club de la liberté du travail” (the Club for the Freedom of Working), to confront the socialists face to face with their demands for a government guaranteed job for all, or what they called “le droit au travail” (the right to a job). Their club was forced to close when a group of socialists broke into a meeting and beat up the economists. Later, Molinari regretted that the economists had not stood up to the violent socialists, whom he called a “une bande de communistes” (a communist gang), instead of turning the other cheek and withdrawing.[20] Nevertheless, on the eve of the bloody “June Days” uprising Molinari had not completely given up the hope of reasoning with them. He wrote an unsigned article in the JDE appealing to the socialists to form an alliance with the economists in their struggle since he believed they shared much the same goals (“utopias of liberty”) but differed on the best means to achieve them.[21] The offer became moot after martial law was declared and the press and political clubs were more strictly regulated before eventually being closed down.

In late 1848 and early 1849 Molinari turned towards other matters. He was working full-time writing for the JDE about the debates in the Chamber about the creation of the new Republican constitution, especially the attempt by the socialists and their allies to get a “right to work” clause inserted, and then the election of its first President in December - Louis Napoléon Bonaparte won with 74% of the vote, with General Cavaignac, who had put down the June Days uprising and had imposed martial law, with 19%; and the socialist Ledru-Rollin with 5%. It seemed to the economists, as expressed by Molinari in an end of year summation of the years’ tumultuous events, that the “fever” of socialism had abated, at least “from below” (i.e. from socialist agitators on the streets), but that another outbreak could occur at any time, perhaps this time “from above” (i.e. from interventionists operating from deep within the state).[22]

Sometime in late 1848 or early 1849 it appears that a conscious decision was made by the publisher Guillaumin and his colleagues in the Political Economy Society to launch a more concerted propaganda effort to refute socialist ideas. This would be a two-pronged attack, one at a popular level and another aimed at intellectuals and the political elite. Molinari would be active in both campaigns. On the popular level, Molinari was inspired by Bastiat’s considerable success at refuting popular fallacies about tariffs and subsidies in his two volumes of Economic Sophisms which had appeared at the beginning of 1846 and the beginning of 1848, and by the work of the English woman Harriett Martineau whose work he reviewed for the JDE in April 1849.[23] It was probably then that he decided to write his own collection of “conversations” between “a Socialist,” “a Conservative,” and “an Economist” to show how the natural laws of political economy and an economic system based upon private property could solve France’s problems. He wrote this book over the summer of 1849 and it was published in September.

On the more intellectual front was the compendious Dictionnaire de l'économie politique (1852-53) which was edited by Charles Coquelin and co-edited by Molinari.[24] It was designed to bring together in two very large volumes the best theoretical arguments, the most detailed statistical evidence, and the most comprehensive bibliography on key topics, in order to finally defeat the advocates of government intervention and regulation of the economy. Molinari wrote the main articles dealing with free trade, tariffs, and the grain industry; as well as those on labor (both free and coerced (slavery and serfdom)); colonies, and on war and peace.

1849 in some ways was a tuning point in the radicalization of Molinari’s thinking about the scope of economic theory and the proper role of the state. Two of the themes that went through Les Soirées and his articles in the DEP was the idea that all human activity should be examined from an economic perspective (such as the Church, the family, fine arts, emigration, fashion, public monuments, the theatre, the rise of cities and towns, the rise of nation states)[25] and that all public goods could and should be offered privately and competitively on the free market, including the provision of “security” (i.e. police and national defense). He shocked his colleagues with his article on “The Production of Security” in the JDE in February 1849 and continued to develop these ideas in S11. It was not the only thing that shocked his colleagues. There was also his belief that the state had no right to confiscate private property even for public works programs. Both these contentious points met with sharp criticism in a series of meetings of the Political Economy Society which his book provoked in November 1849, January and February 1850.[26]

Molinari’s stay in Paris came to an end with the coup d’état of Louis Napoléon of 2 December 1851. The new constitution banned the President from seeking re-election so in order to get around this restriction he dissolved the National Assembly, arrested the 300 Deputies who had opposed his effort to change the constitution in his favor (including Alexis de Tocqueville), and introduced martial law. A plebiscite ratified his actions with a vote of 92% in favor. Molinari left Paris in disgust and went into voluntary exile in his native Belgium to escape the authoritarian regime of the soon to be declared “Emperor Napoleon III” under which he refused to live.

After leaving Paris at the end of 1851, Molinari moved to Brussels where he became a professor of political economy at the Musée royale de l'industrie belge, published a significant treatise on political economy Cours d'économie politique (1855), and was the owner and publisher of the journal L’Économiste belge (The Belgian Economist) (1855-68) in which he analyzed the political and economic issues of the day from a radical free market perspective. He also wrote two very critical books on the coming to power, the rule, and the ideas of Emperor Napoléon III, Les Révolutions et le despotisme (1852) and Napoleon III publiciste (1861), the former being an excellent example of classical liberal class analysis[27] of the groups who benefited or lost from the coming to power of the new Emperor, in this case the class of “les payeurs de taxes” (tax payers) who were pitted against the class of “les mangeurs de taxes” (tax eaters). Molinari also thought it was the function of the economists to be “les teneurs de livres de la politique” (the bookkeepers of public policy) who could draw up a balance sheet of society showing the profits and losses which resulted from conflicts such as wars and revolutions, and he concluded that from an economic perspective they should be avoided at all costs.[28] After some street protests in Brussels against the high price of bread in 1854 he wrote a second collection of “conversations” about government restrictions on the grain trade, Conservations familières sur le commerce des grains (1855) where the conversations were between a food rioter, a prohibitionist or protectionist, and an economist. During the Crimean War (1853-56) when France, England and the Ottoman Empire fought the Russian Empire over the rights of the Christian minority in Palestine, he wrote a long book about the history of one of the founders of the peace movement in Europe Abbé de Saint-Pierre (1658-1743), L'abbé de Saint-Pierre ... et d'un précis historique de l'idée de la paix perpétuelle (1857).[29]

It should be noted that as a result of his deep knowledge of the economics of slave and serf labor[30] Molinari was invited by Tsar Alexander II of Russia in February 1860 to advise him and his senior bureaucrats on the abolition of serfdom which he was planning and would enact in the Emancipation Manifesto of 3 March, 1861. Molinari spent six months traveling across Russia observing the economic conditions of the country and speaking to groups of politicians, bureaucrats, academics, and journalists along the way.[31]

After the death of his wife in 1868 Molinari returned to Paris to work for the prestigious Journal des débats, becoming editor from 1871 to 1876. This period coincided with the Franco-Prussian War (July 1870 to May 1871), the Paris Commune (March to May 1871), and the formation of the Third Republic (established by the Constitution of 1875), events which he covered in detail for the JDD. As he had done in February and March 1848, Molinari roamed the streets of Paris observing the discussions and debates taking place in the political clubs which had sprung up at the start of the Commune and which resulted in two interesting eye-witness accounts, Les Clubs rouges pendant le siège de Paris (The Red Clubs during the Siege of Paris) (1871) and Le Mouvement socialiste et les réunions publiques avant la révolution du 4 septembre 1870 (The Socialist Movement and their Public Meetings before the Revolution of 4 Sept. 1870) (1872). He also wrote his one and only work of political theory La République tempérée (The “Tempered” or Hardened Republic) (1873) as the constitution of the Third Republic was being discussed. His solution to the problem of creating a republic with limited powers was a popularly elected lower chamber which would initiate legislation and an upper chamber made up of the highest taxpayers who could veto spending bills. These works were recognised by the French Academy whose members elected Molinari a corresponding member in 1874. Also for the JDD he began taking trips abroad and commenting on his travels with his usual astute economic insights. In 1876 he traveled to the United States and Canada in order to visit Philadelphia during the centennial celebrations of the Declaration of Independence which produced the first of several books of his travel writing.[32]

At the age of 62, when other men might have been thinking of retiring (by then he had written over 20 books), he entered another productive phase of his career when he was appointed editor of the leading journal of political economy in France, the Journal des économistes (1881-1909). During this period he wrote another 20 books including a pair of important books on historical sociology on the rise of the state and free market institutions, L'évolution économique du XIXe siècle (1880) and L'évolution politique et la Révolution (1884), which deserve serious attention by scholars. These works were in many ways strikingly similar to work being done by Herbert Spencer on political sociology, especially his distinction between the industrial and militant types of societies, but there is no evidence that they knew what the other was doing. Neither one cites the other, so it appears that these two classical liberal sociologists were working completely independently of each other like two giant liberal ships passing through the night unaware of each other’s existence.[33]

As the call for higher tariffs became louder, Molinari turned for a third time to writing a popular work, yet another collection of conversations about free trade, Conversations sur le commerce des grains et la protection de l’agriculture (1886), which responded to the volte-face of the protectionists who now wanted protection from “too much” grain (from abroad) instead of protection from “too little” grain which had been the demand in the 1840s and 1850s. He also produced a never ending stream of commentary on political and economic events, including more accounts of his travels, the relationship between moral theory and political economy,[34] a defence of Malthusianism,[35] works on science and religion,[36] labour exchanges,[37] international arbitration, and the increasingly worrying problem of “la recrudescence du militarisme” (the recurrence of militarism).[38] The pair of articles he wrote for the JDE at the turn of the century summing up the liberal achievements of the 19th century and warning about the crises to come in the 20th as a result of war and socialism, are particularly noteworthy for their breadth of vision and their prescience.[39]

For example:

Thus one can predict that the struggle to take control the state and to make the laws, which in the 19th century took place between the conservative party and the liberal party, will in the 20th century take place between the conservative party and the socialist party. One can also predict that this struggle will be no less fierce, and by all appearances no less unproductive than that which took place previously, and that it will give rise to the same series of revolutions, coups d’états, with the same bloody outcome of foreign wars and colonial expeditions which have constituted what one might call the debits in the ledger of 19th century civilisation.[40]

He was even more pessimistic in his second last book some six years later, Économie de l’histoire (1908):

… we can conclude that for as long as the state remains in the hands of the upper and middle classes the decline of the civilized nations will continue for centuries until it ends in ruin, while it will only take a few years of democratic socialist rule to bring an end to their existence and that of civilisation itself.[41]

He “retired” in November 1909 at the age of 90 as his health was failing but he still had one more book left in him which he appropriately called Ultima Verba: Mon dernier ouvrage (Last Words: My Final Work) (1911) in which he summed up his life and the progress, or lack thereof, of liberty during the 19th century and he reiterated his chillingly accurate prognosis for the fate of liberty and the rise of statism and interventionism in the 20th.

He died on 28 January 1912 in the channel town of Adinkerque, Belgium and was buried in Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Some personal information about him

Concerning his private life, very little is known about Molinari’s own family as he was a very private person and there are no extant family letters. A recent biographer Gérard Minart tells us that his father Philippe was a homeopathic doctor who had served in Napoléon’s army and settled in Liège after the wars; that he had a brother Eugène who was a lawyer and who assisted him when he lived in Brussels in the 1850s and 1860s in publishing a short-lived magazine, La bourse du travail (The Labor Exchange), in an effort to establish a labour exchange in Belgium; and that he was married to Edmée de Molinari, née Terrillon; and that he had two sons, Edmond and Maurice. We do not know when Molinari got married but we know that Edmée died at the age of 50 on October 30, 1868 in Paris (it is possibly that she was from Paris and they had met while Molinari was living there in the 1840s). Molinari it seems was so stricken with grief that he immediately closed his journal L’Économiste belge in December 1868 after 14 years of publication. Soon after he left Brussels and moved to Paris to resume his career as a journalist. His son Edmond was an engineer by training and worked in Kiev, Ukraine and later worked as a Consul there for the French government; Maurice may have trained as a scientist or agricultural expert as he worked in an agricultural laboratory in Gustave’s home town of Liège.[42]

II. The Political and Intellectual Context in which Les Soirées was written

“Whatever might happen, the future belongs to free trade. Indeed, what an admirable thing! Mankind has really piled up injustice upon injustice, inequality upon inequality; the classes whose influence predominates in society have really amassed a stack of cash at the expense of the mass of ignorant and needy people; whatever one might do, the day will come when their stack of cash will collapse, when injustice will inevitably be replaced by justice, and when inequality will be replaced by equality.”[43]

The rebirth of the liberal movement in Paris in the 1840s

The first generation of the Paris School of political economy came to a figurative and some cases literal end with the overthrow of the the Bourbon monarchy by the Orléanist branch of the family under Louis Philippe in July 1830. Censorship, limited teaching possibilities, exile, and death had depleted their ranks. Benjamin Constant died in 1830, Jean-Baptiste Say in 1832, Destutt de Tracy in 1836, and Charles Comte in 1837. When Molinari came to Paris around 1840 the school was in the process of rebuilding, largely through the efforts of the publisher Gilbert-Urbain Guillaumin (1801-1864) and his network of friends and allies - “le réseau Guillaumin” (the Guillaumin network) so aptly named by Gérard Minart[44] - and it would be through this network that Molinari would eventually thrive intellectually. Guillaumin and his financial supporters, the businessman Horace Say (son of Jean-Baptiste Say), the industrialist Casimir Cheuvreux, and the Duc d’ Harcourt, founded the Political Economy Society in 1842 which held monthly meetings; the Journal des Économistes in 1841 which appeared monthly and provided a forum for discussion of economic ideas; and the publishing firm of “Guillaumin and Company” (founded in 1837) which published the monographs written by the economists, but also undertook expensive projects such as encyclopedias and dictionaries of commerce and economics, collections of economic data, and large scholarly collections of classics of economic thought.

The core members of this network were four individuals whom Minart has wittily called “The Four Musketeers” of French political economy.[45] In addition to Guillaumin there was the industrialist, economist, and editor Charles Coquelin (1802-1852), the magistrate, free trade activist and politician Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), and eventually the young Molinari himself. The name is appropriate both because Bastiat, like D’Artagnan, came from Gascony, and because Dumas’ novel of the same name was beginning to appear in serial form in a Paris magazine at this time.[46] A case could be made to expand Minard’s “Four Musketeers” to “Seven Musketeers” as there were three other young men Molinari’s age with whom he became friends and who were also very active in the inner core of the Guillaumin network. They were the economist, journalist, and editor Joseph Garnier (1813-1881), the journalist and historian Hippolyte Castille (1820-1886), and the economist and free trade activist Alcide Fonteyraud (1822-1849). While they were all together in Paris in the mid and late 1840s the other six members of the group provided Molinari with a network of organisations and social relationships which helps us understand the context in which Molinari wrote Les Soirées and began planning and perhaps even writing his entries for the DEP in 1849 and the intellectual currents which were swirling around him. These personal networks included the broad Guillaumin publishing network, the members of the Political Economy Society and its journal the JDE, the Political Economy Section of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences (which had been refounded in 1832), the personal salons of Castille, Anna Say, and Hortense Cheuvreux, Bastiat’s Free Trade Association, and Joseph Garnier’s Friends of Peace association which held a major international conference in Paris in August 1849.

The intellectual and political contexts

Political Context - massive public works

When the young Molinari arrived in Paris a massive new public works project, the “fortifications of Paris” was just about to get underway. This as well as another, the building of the French railway system, would dominate the city of Paris for the next ten years. These large-scale and high cost public works projects added considerable burdens on the French economy, especially the taxpayers and the property owners who had their land compulsorily acquired by the state (see S3). A government plan was approved in 1842 to regulate the building of five massive railway lines (and their associated grand railway stations in Paris) which would radiate out from the capital to serve the needs of the provinces. One of these stations was the “La Gare Saint-Lazare” on Saint Lazarus street, after which Molinari’s book is entitled. The state partnered with companies which were granted concessions to operate the lines with the state building the tunnels, bridges, and the stations, and the railway companies laying the track and owning the carriages. The state also set the charges the private railway companies could charge. The chance to get potentially lucrative government concessions led to several speculative booms in railway stocks on the Paris stock exchange and eventually the government was “forced” to take control and nationalise the railway companies.

The large public works program known as “Thiers’ Wall” was the brain child of the Prime Minister Adolphe Thiers who persuaded the King and his cabinet to undertake a massive program to surround Paris with fortifications to prevent any foreign occupation of the city as had happened in 1815 when the British, Austrians, Prussians, and Russians took control after the fall of Napoléon I.[47] The plan, at a cost of 140 million francs, was to build a 33 km (20.6 miles) wall encircling the city (only slightly less than the I-465 freeway which rings Indianapolis today) with a deep ditch and gently sloping embankment on the outside with land cleared for two hundred meters (the glacis) to provide a good line of fire for the army to ward off any invading troops. Considerable privately owned land had to be resumed by the state in order to clear the land and build the wall and the access roads. The wall was made of masonry 3.5 meters thick and 10 meters high and contained 95 multi-directional firing points (bastions) at regular intervals, 17 gates, 23 barriers, eight entry points for trains, and five entry points for ships on canals and the river. There would also be an outer ring of 16 free standing “star-shaped” forts to complete the defensive perimeter around the city. The construction began in 1841 and was completed on schedule in 1844 with much of the labor being done by young army conscripts.

When they had finished, Paris was surrounded by three concentric walls which had been built by the state: an inner wall surrounding the old part of the city, the octroi customs wall, built in the 1780s to make tax collection easier for the private tax collecting agency known as the Farmers General, the new “Thiers wall” which surrounded the city, and the third outer ring of 16 free-standing forts. Critics at the time, including some generals, argued that this project was pointless and would be made redundant by technological innovations. Others, like the astronomer and liberal François Arago,[48] argued that the 40,000 or so soldiers in and around the city were just as well placed to suppress any uprising which might occur within as they were to prevent any foreign invaders entering from without - thus creating what they believed was the “embastillement de Paris” (Bastille-ization of Paris). Economists like Michel Chevalier was appalled at how much time and labor was expended on its construction by conscript labor.[49] As it turned out, the nearby troops were used to bloodily repress rioters in February and June 1848 and to impose martial law between June and October 1848 thus dramatically proving Arago’s point. The ultimate economic waste of these projects was realized in 1859 when Emperor Napoleon III began his rebuilding of Paris under Baron Hausmann and the inner ring of octroi walls and gates were torn down. The Thiers’ wall lasted until the 1920s when it was largely torn down as well leaving only a few sections as reminders. Most of the state-owned land where the wall used to stand was later used for “le boulevard périphérique de Paris” (the Paris ring road) which is the 35 km freeway which now encircles Paris.

Molinari’s response to the compulsory acquisition of land and buildings by the state to build the railway network and the fortifications of Paris was to oppose this on the grounds that it violated the property rights of the owners. It is discussed in S3.

Free Trade

The founding fathers of political economy, Adam Smith in Britain and Jean-Baptiste Say in France, had a great deal to say about the subsidies to favored industries and regulations on trade which lay at the heart of mercantilism and their theoretical arguments for free trade remained the staple of the French economists for several decades. Although the theory of free trade was well established and overwhelming, the politics which lay behind protectionism remained the problem. The powerful agricultural and manufacturing interests, what Molinari called “la ligue tenace des intérêts privilégiés” (the tenacious league of privileged interests) made up of the “des grands propriétaires” (the large landowners) and “l’aristocratie marchande” (the merchant aristocracy),[50] which controlled the French state were determined to retain their privileges, which they were able to do so long as the restrictions on who was allowed to vote and stand for election remained in place. Only those who paid the most in direct taxes like that on land (le cens) were eligible to vote and in Molinari’s day this limited the franchise to about 200-240,000 taxpayers, or what Bastiat called “la class électorale” (the electoral or voting class).[51]

A similar situation existed in Britain and the liberal reformers recognized that they could not introduce trade liberalization until they had first opened up voting to the middle class, which they successfully did with the Reform Act of 1832. The Anti-Corn Law League (ACLL) was established soon after this electoral victory in 1838 by Cobden and Bright and after eight years of agitation and lobbying they were successful in repealing the protectionist Corn Laws in early 1846. It took a combination of the newly enfranchised and liberal thinking middle class, a new group of rising and very articulate manufacturers like Richard Cobden and John Bright, and some free trade-minded officials in the Board of Trade to tip the balance in favor of free trade. Nothing like this existed in France when Molinari began working for the free trade movement in the mid-1840s

There were three occasions after 1815 when tariff reform was seriously debated in the Chamber of Deputies. The first was in 1821-22 during the Restoration (in which Benjamin Constant played an important role), the second was in 1831-33 soon after the installation of the July Monarchy (led by Duvergier de Hauranne, Alexandre de Laborde, and the duc d’Harcourt), and the third was in 1847 on the eve of the 1848 Revolution. Only in the latter case was there a serious chance of any liberalization since the free trade movement which had emerged in 1846 was stronger than at any time previously in the 19th century. The success of the ACLL in 1846 galvanized the French free traders to organize a similar free trade group, the Association pour la liberté des échanges (the French Free Trade Association), which they did in July 1846 with Bastiat as Secretary of the Board and editor of its journal Libre-échange (Free Trade) and Molinari as one of several “adjunct secretaries.” As part of the Association’s campaign to lobby the Chamber for tariff reform in 1847 Molinari wrote a two volume History of Tariffs and an article on English agriculture for the JDE.[52] He also entered into a sometimes bitter argument with Bastiat over the Association’s strategy - should it be pushing for immediate and total abolition of all tariffs (Molinari’s position) or moderate reforms spaced out over a ten year period (Michel Chevalier’s position which was also shared by Bastiat to some degree)?[53]

The campaign for tariff reform ultimately came to nothing as there were very few free traders among the deputies or peers in the Chamber and the protectionists had much more experience in working with elected politicians, especially within the committees set up to review new legislation. It became clear that as the tariff reform proposal worked its way through committee the free traders had been out-manoeuvred by the protectionists and the measure was defeated. The free traders kept lobbying for another year but finally gave up when the revolution broke out in February 1848 and the spectre of socialism became a more pressing matter for them. The French Free Trade Association was wound up in April.

Molinari discusses free trade and protection in S7.

Socialism and the 1848 Revolution

Socialism was the third major issue the Economists faced in the 1840s and which came to a head with the creation of the National Workshops scheme under Louis Blanc in February 1848. The socialists had been building a campaign of criticism of key aspects of the free market system throughout the 1840s. The very notion of the right to private property was attacked, as was the legitimacy of profit, interest, and rent. Proudhon had famously declared that “property is theft” in his book Qu’est-ce que la propriété? ou Recherches sur le principe du Droit et du Gouvernement (What is Property? Or Research into the Principle of Justice and Government) (1840), and Louis Blanc and Victor Considerant had been attacking the system of wage labour and employment in privately owned workshops and factories. The ideas of both men became very influential after the Revolution broke out in February 1848 as they were part of the provisional government and were elected to the Constituent Assembly where they attempted to put their ideas into practice in the National Workshops and the legislation on the “right to work” (right to a job). Louis Blanc in particular was influential as the president of “Commission du gouvernement pour les travailleurs” (Government Commission for the Workers) (also known as the Luxembourg Commission) which oversaw the National Workshops program, and his debates with the liberal Léon Faucher in the Chamber of Deputies.

Louis Blanc’s most influential work was l’Organisation du travail (The Organisation of Work) (1839) which was first published as an article and was reprinted many times throughout the 1840s. He thought that free competition was nothing more that “un système d’extermination” (a system of extermination) for the working class, a cause of ruin for the bourgeoisie, and would lead inevitably to war with the best practitioner of competition, namely “perfidious Albion” or England. These dire consequences could only be averted if the government became “le régulateur suprême de la production” (the supreme regulator of production) armed with “une grande force” (great coercive powers) “faire disparaître, la concurrence” (to make free competition disappear). His strategy was to use two things to achieve this: “l’organisation” and “l’association,” the organisation of industry and the association of workers, which became socialist slogans during the 1840s. His aim was to create state funded “ateliers sociaux” (social workshops) in all the most important branches of industry throughout the economy. Using capital which had been set aside for this purpose (exactly how this would be done was not specified), the state would be the sole director of the social workshops and would regulate their activity.

The first serious efforts by the economists to criticize Blanc’s ideas were by Michel Chevalier in 1844 and Charles Dunoyer in 1845. As the professor of Political Economy at the Collège de France Chevalier wrote a long critique of Blanc in the Journal des Débats in August 1844 and then again in more detail in 1848.[54] He identified two fundamental flaws in Blanc’s theory which would make his schemes unworkable: the assumption that human societies are principally governed by a sense of duty, not the personal self-interest of the individuals which make up that society; and that the guiding principle of “absolute equality” of wages in the social workshops will encourage an increase in productivity on the part of the workers. Chevalier rejected both as “radicalement erronées” (profoundly wrong) and proceeded to elaborate at some length the incentive problems which would lead the social workshops to ruin.

Another early response to the socialists before the Revolution was written by the doyen of the older generation of liberals, Charles Dunoyer, in a long “post-scriptum” at the end of the first volume of his De la liberté du travail (On the Liberty of Working) (1845) the very title of which challenged the socialists’ notion of “le droit au travail” (the right to a job). The three volumes of his magnum opus was devoted to exploring how the principle of the complete liberty to work and produce had evolved historically and what it would mean for human prosperity when a society based upon absolute freedom of working had been brought into existence. Naturally, he found the objections of socialists like Considerant and Blanc to be wrong and misplaced. Dunoyer summed up his objections in five points: that fully free markets did not exist anywhere so it was false to blame economic problems on what did not yet exist (this argument is similar to the one adopted by Molinari when choosing the quotation by Quesnay on the front page of Les Soirées);[55] the socialists did not recognize the great advances which had already been made in bringing people out of poverty, especially since the Revolution of 1789 had destroyed so many of the restrictive practices of the Old Regime; that the real causes for poverty had not been properly identified by the socialist critics, which were caused by the persistence of restrictions on trade and production, the burden of taxes, and the never-ending problem of war; that the remedies proposed by the socialists, namely “the organisation of industry” and “the association of workers” into government controlled “social workshops” would not work; and finally that the real remedy for poverty was more of what the socialists rejected, namely the creation of “un régime de plus en plus réel de liberté et de concurrence” (a more and more genuine regime of liberty and competition).[56]

It did not take Bastiat long to turn his sharp wit and insights onto the socialists after his arrival in Paris in 1845. He began with a sharply worded letter to the classical liberal poet and statesman Lamartine in January 1845 criticizing him for toying with the socialist idea of a “right to a job” after which he addressed himself directly to the socialists.[57] In June 1846 he criticized François Vidal’s idea of the government redistributing wealth and treating workers like so many cogs in a machine run by government bureaucrats; and Vidal again in January 1847 for advocating coerced rather than voluntary association;[58] and on the eve of the revolution (January 1848) a much more extensive critique of socialist idea’s about “artificial” organisation as he called their plans for restructuring society.[59] Since his prime focus at the time was opposing the protectionists, he did not have time to go into much detail in rebutting the socialists’ critique of competition and private property. He would do this after the Revolution when the threat of socialism forced the economists to temporarily abandon the free trade cause. He would eventually write a dozen or so anti-socialist pamphlets marketed by Guillaumin as “M. Bastiat’s Petits Pamphlets” which were specifically focussed on the ideas of the leading socialists writers and politicians.[60] One of Bastiat’s wittiest criticisms of the socialist plans which flourished in the early months of the Second Republic was his repost to Victor Considerant’s demand that the government fund an experimental socialist community in order to demonstrate the viability of socialism. Bastiat immediately counter-demanded, in a “Petition from an Economist” (2 March 1848), that the government should set up competing experimental communities to see which one produced the greatest peace and prosperity. He wanted to register with the government his own experimental low tax, laissez-faire, free trade community just outside Paris in order to put socialism to a real test to see which community was truly the best.[61]

Like everyone else, the economists were surprised when revolution broke out on February 22-24, that the July Monarchy was so quickly overthrown, and that socialists like Louis Blanc would come to power in the months that followed. They decided to suspend their free trade activities (the FFTA was closed down) and to focus their energies on opposing the new threat of socialism. The circle of economists around the Guillaumin publishing firm organized six different lines of attack against the growing influence of the socialists in the 15 months between the beginning of the revolution in February and March 1848 and June 1849.[62]

The immediate response of the economists was to focus on what Molinari would later call “le socialisme d’en bas” (socialism from below),[63] or socialism as articulated by ordinary people in the streets. This they did by producing their own newspapers or journals which they could hand out on the streets of Paris and starting their own political club to debate the socialists face to face in the first heady days of the Revolution. Molinari and Bastiat began their first journal in late February, La République française, which lasted for a month. This was followed by a second one in June, Jacques Bonhomme, which also only lasted for a month. Molinari joined with Charles Coquelin and Alcide Fonteyraud to form a political club, “le Club de la liberté du travail,” in March to debate the socialists over the issue of the right to a government funded job for all workers (le droit au travail).

In the medium term several of the economists stood successfully for election to the new Constituent Assembly in the April 1848 election (such as Léon Faucher, Bastiat, and Wolowski) and debated the socialists on the floor of the Chamber and in the committees (like Bastiat in the Finance Committee). They were very active over the summer of 1848 when the new constitution was being debated and succeeded in having the more extreme demands of the socialists considerably watered down but not eliminated in the final version of the Constitution which was promulgated on November 12. Also in the medium term they got a stream of anti-socialist articles published, not only in their own JDE (Bastiat and Molinari) but also in some of the high-brow magazines like the Journal des Débats (Michel Chevalier) and the Revue de deux mondes (Faucher).

In the longer term, Guillaumin organized a blitz of newly commissioned pamphlets and books on socialism in particular but also on the “social question” in general over the coming three years. The number of titles which came off their press in 1848 was a record 67 (only equalled in 1867, and nearly equalled in 1872 with 66), and between 1848-50 a total of 109 books and pamphlets were published. The firm also issued in late 1848 a special six page supplement to their Catalog called “Publications nouvelles sur les questions économiques à l’ordre du jour” (New Publications on the economic questions of the day) which prominently featured the works of Bastiat but also included Molinari’s early work on Études économiques. Bastiat would go on to write 12 anti-socialist pamphlets for Guillaumin between June 1848 and July 1850 which the firm advertised as a specially priced set called “Monsieur Bastiat’s Little Pamphlets.”[64] Molinari’s collection of conversations, Les Soirées, has to be seen in the context of this broader anti-socialist publishing campaign of the Guillaumin firm.

However, the pièce de résistance for the firm was the monumental encyclopedia of economic theory, policy, statistics, and history entitled the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique which would appear between 1852 and 1853 and in which Molinari would also play a major role. It was a two volume, 1,854 page, double-columned, nearly two million word encyclopedia of political economy and is unquestionably one of the most important publishing events in the history of mid-century French classical liberal thought and is unequalled in its scope and comprehensiveness. This was to be the main weapon for the economists in their battle against what Molinari termed “le socialisme d’en haut” (socialism from above), i.e. the “socialist” or rather interventionist ideas held by powerful economic interests (such as manufacturers and landowners), the political elites, senior government bureaucrats, and the Bonapartists around Louis Napoléon. The aim was to assemble a summary of the state of knowledge of liberal political economy with articles written by leading economists and business leaders on key thematic topics, biographies of key historical figures, bibliographies of the most important books, and copious amounts of economic and political statistics. As an unsigned blurb from 1853 describing the purpose of the DEP project put it:[65]

We hoped that this Dictionary might become the great arsenal from which the friends of political economy and true progress, men of good will and good sense, will be able to find the arms required to get the better of both the dangerous innovations (of socialism) and the old errors of business as usual (by the conservatives).

The young Molinari was one of the assistant editors on the project which has headed by Charles Coquelin, until he died from a heart attack in August 1852 after completing work on volume one, after which an editorial committee, of which he was a member, took over. The project was announced in the May 1849 Guillaumin catalog as being “in preparation” so Molinari would have been working on both the DEP project and writing Les Soirées over the summer of 1849 and much of the content for both overlapped considerably. He wrote 25 of the principle articles (the fourth highest after Coquelin with 70, Horace Say with 29, and Joseph Garnier with 28) and was singled out by the editor of the JDE, Joseph Garnier, as having played a key role in the project, and in the original Editor’s Preface he was mentioned as one of the five most important contributors. Among the articles he wrote for the DEP which have a direct bearing on Les Soirées are the following: Beaux-arts (Fine Arts), Céréales (Grain), Liberté du commerce, liberté des échanges (Free Trade), Paix, Guerre (Peace and War), Propriété littéraire (Literary Property), Tarifs de douane (Tariffs), Theâtres (Theatres), Travail (Labour), Union douanière (Customs Union), Usure (Usury).[66]

What should be noted about this six-pronged attack on the socialists by the economists was that Molinari was active in five of them (the political clubs, street journalism, writing a book for a popular audience, and writing for more elite audiences with the DEP project and his many articles in JDE). The only activity he did not get involved in was running for elected political office.

III. The Structure and Content of Les Soirées

What are Economists?

“Political economy is the mother science of real liberalism…
The economists are the bookkeepers of politics…
Unfortunately, hardly anyone listens to the economists.”[67]

The tradition of popularizing economic ideas

When the Economists decided to expand their program to popularize economic ideas in the aftermath of the events of 1848 they had a long tradition upon which to draw.[68] Perhaps Jean-Baptiste Say was the first of the modern economists to attempt to reach out to a broader audience with his Catéchisme d’économie politique, ou Instruction familière (Catechism of Political Economy, or Familiar Lessons) (1815). Say realized that his highly regarded Treatise (1803, then revised in 1814, 1817) had had some success among the educated elites but that the events of the Revolution and the interventionism of Napoleon’s Empire and then of the Restoration showed that economic illiteracy was rife. Living in a Catholic society (although not a Catholic himself) Say no doubt thought that the rather heavy handed, top-down approach of a catechism of questions with accompanying sound free market responses would be attractive to his readers but one is not convinced of this approach from reading it today. Say tried another tack a couple of years later when he introduced limited conversations between stock characters in a work published to coincide with the revised and expanded 3rd edition of the Traité, called the Petit volume contenant quelques apperçus des hommes et de la société (A Small Book containing Some Insights into Men and Society) (1817). The Petit volume contained “quelques apperçus” or what might be called “pensées” similar to those of Montesquieu, which were rambling musings on economic related matters designed to appeal to the reader who knew nothing about economics and whom Say obviously thought did not really care for economics, with the occasional brief dialogs thrown in for good measure: for example, between “Alceste” and “Philinte” or between “The Architect” and “The Author.”

Another much more successful approach was taken in England by a brace of English women authors who were able to make a living, surprisingly for the times, by writing popular “conversations” or “tales” about free market ideas for the new audience of voracious readers which the more widespread literacy in an emerging liberal society like pre-Victorian Britain was creating. Jane Haldimand Marcet (1769–1858)[69] and Harriet Martineau (1802–1876)[70] both wrote multi-volume works defending the free market during the late 1810s through the 1830s which went through many editions, such was their popularity. As mentioned above, Molinari must have come across the translation of Martineau’s book in early 1849, reviewed it in the JDE in April, and decided to write his own version for the Guillaumin firm.

Another example was the very successful Anti-Corn Law League propagandist Colonel Thomas Perronet Thompson (1783–1869). He turned the “free market catechism” into a clever and witty format with which to ridicule the protectionists in a way which had completely eluded the rather staid J.B. Say 20 years earlier. The first edition of his Catechism on the Corn Laws; With a List of Fallacies and the Answers had appeared in 1827 and by 1834 had gone through 18 editions.

However, the acknowledged master at appealing to a more popular audience was Frédéric Bastiat who, in a series of short, witty, and often very clever articles which appeared in the Courrier français, the JDE, and Libre-échange between 1845 and early 1848, perfected the dialogue or conversational style which would make him famous.[71] One of Bastiat’s preferred methods of arguing was to create a dialog between two or more individuals each of whom represented one of the sides in the free trade vs. protectionism debate. These were much shorter and pithier than the “conversations” devised by Martineau or later by Molinari in his “soirées” and much, much funnier and cleverer. Following the success of Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms, at least in terms of sales and his reputation if not in immediate ideological impact, other economists tried to replicate his work in the late 1840s and early 1850s. The work of Cherbuliz,[72] Wolowski, Fonteyraud,[73] and even Molinari pale into insignificance when compared to the stylistic and conceptual brilliance of Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms. Molinari might have been conceptually brilliant, radical, and innovative at times but stylistically he was staid and conventional. One could never say that about Bastiat.

Why the Soirée format?

As the reviewer of Les Soirées wrote in the JDE (signed “Ch. C” so most likely Molinari’s friend and colleague Charles Coquelin)[74] he was puzzled why Molinari would call his book “Les Soirées,” a word which suggests a sophisticated social gathering held after the evening meal, and not something more straightforward such as “entretiens” (discussions) which would have been a better description of the book’s contents and which might have taken place in a bar over a drink or two.

However, the use of the term “Soirées” was a fairly common one at this time so it was not inappropriate for Molinari to choose it as part of his title. At one extreme, one can find books written during the 1790s and the Napoleonic period with “Soirées” in the title which involve discussions between ordinary people over political or religious topics (“Village Soirées,” “Thatched Cottage Soirées,” or even “Soirées in the village of Ferney (the village where Voltaire lived)”).[75] At the other extreme, there is the well known example which would definitely have been known to Molinari, namely Joseph de Maitre’s Les Soirées de Saint-Petersbourg, ou Entretiens sur le gouvernement temporel de la Providence (1821) in which conversations were held between members of the high aristocracy and political elite, Le Chevalier (The Knight), Le Comte (The Count), and Le Sénateur (The Senator).[76] A more radically different collection of speakers and conversations than Molinari’s could hardly be imagined.

It is also quite likely Molinari modeled the book on the real soirées he had attended in Paris in the late 1840s and based some of the conversations on ones he had heard or even participated in himself. So perhaps the title is not such a bad one. There were at least three “soirées” within the Economists’ social circle in Paris during the late 1840s which Molinari would have been familiar with, and no doubt attended. The wives of the two leading financial supporters of the Guillaumin group, Anna Say (née Cheuvreux and the wife of the businessman Horace Say) and Hortense Cheuvreux (née Gérard, the wife of the manufacturer Casimir Cheuvreux) ran sophisticated salons for the liberal élite and we know from Bastiat’s letters that he attended several times along with other luminaries such as the scientist Jean-Jacques Ampère and the politician and historian Alexis de Tocqueville.[77] We have no extant letters from Molinari to tell us about his social life, but as an active member of the Guillaumin network and a close friend of Bastiat he too would likely have attended from time to time.

A third soirée which we know Molinari and Bastiat attended was the one run by the radical republican journalist Hippolyte Castille at his stately home on number 75, Saint Lazarus street which was a large and imposing house which had once been the Paris residence of Cardinal Fesch (1763-1839) who was the uncle of Napoléon Bonaparte and the archbishop of Lyon. The rue Saint-Lazare was one of the busiest boulevards in Paris and the location of the relatively new Saint-Lazare railway station (originally built in 1837 and then enlarged between 1842-53 when Molinari was living in Paris). Castille’s soirée was active between 1844 and the outbreak of the Revolution in February 1848 and was attended by radical republican friends of Castille associated with the magazine Le Courrier français as well as some of the economists such as Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Joseph Garnier, Alcide Fonteyraud, and Charles Coquelin, who also made up the core of radicals who published and handed out on the streets of Paris two anti-socialist magazines in March and June 1848. No doubt Molinari met some socialists there and probably debated them much as “The Economist” does in the book. The location of Castille’s soirée on Saint Lazarus Street is also important for suggesting the title of his book.

The Identity of the Speakers

Les Soirées consist of 12 “soirées” or conversations which take place between an Economist, a Conservative, and a Socialist. The Economist’s share of the conversation is substantially larger than the other two speakers with 78.1% of the total. The Socialist enjoys the second largest share of the conversation with 12.2%; and the Conservative gets the smallest share with 9.7%. Together the two opponents of the Economist get 21.9% of the conversation.[78] The book is obviously a device for Molinari to express his views on a range of topics through the mouth of “the Economist.”

It is clear that “the Economist” is Molinari’s mouthpiece as he was an advocate of free banking and the private provision of security, and an opponent of the compulsory acquisition of property by the state, positions which were radical even among the circle of Economists and only Molinari shared all three positions. This was pointed out by Charles Coquelin in his review of Les Soirées who observed that Molinari put into the mouth of “the Economist” views about the private provision of security which no other economist held. This is certainly true. On other matters covered by “The Economist” there would be not much to quibble about as they were fairly standard positions held by most of the economists, such as abolishing tariffs, deregulating certain heavily regulated or monopolized industries, and cutting taxes on the poor. Molinari would have known that his views on “the production of security” were controversial as his article on that topic had been published in the JDE the previous February. But there were reasons why he might have been feeling a bit cocky and felt he was able to speak on behalf of all the Economists on this matter. He had had a meteoric rise through the ranks of the economists over the previous two or three years. His economic journalism at the Courrier français had been discovered by Bastiat in 1846, his book on labour issues and slavery had been reviewed very favorably by Garnier in the JDE in May 1846, he had been made a member of the Political Economy Society in 1847 and represented them at a European-wide conference of Economists in Brussels in September (which interestingly was also attended by Karl Marx),[79] his first book on tariffs had also been published by Guillaumin in 1847, and he had been accepted by Guillaumin to work on their most prestigious project at that time which was the last two volumes of their monumental history of economic thought the Collection des Principaux Économistes during 1847-48, and he had published 10 articles and book reviews in the JDE between 1847-49. So he may have felt that he had made the transition from economic journalist to economist proper and was entitled to speak as “The” Economist in his conversations.

The Socialist is probably an amalgam of the three leading socialists of the 1840s, Proudhon, Victor Considerant, and Louis Blanc, and his views are fairly orthodox and not controversial in any way. Their views have been briefly discussed above and “The Socialist” could well be an amalgam of all three.

The Conservative is harder to pin down. There were two groups of conservatives which Molinari might have had in mind - the hard core ultra-royalist and Catholic groups of the Restoration period who wanted to restore as many aspects of the old regime as possible, and the more moderate conservative constitutional monarchists who opposed republicanism, democracy, and free trade during the July Monarchy. The leading conservatives of the Restoration (1815-1830) were the political thinkers Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), Louis de Bonald (1754-1840), and F. R. Chateaubriand (1768-1848). During the July Monarchy (1830-1848) it was politicians such as Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877) and François Guizot (1787-1874), and protectionist manufacturers like Antoine Odier (1766-1853) and Pierre Mimerel (1786-1872) who headed the protectionist group the Association of National Labor. The Conservative in the Soirées seems to be an amalgam of several of these figures, with perhaps Thiers playing a leading role.

Two Major Themes: Private Property and Economic Laws

“The fundamental law upon which all social organization lies and from which flow all other economic laws, is property. … the wretchedness and the iniquities from which men have never ceased to suffer, do not come from property. I maintain that they come from transgressions, by individuals or society itself, temporary or permanent ones, legal or illegal, committed against the principle of property.” (S1 pp. ???)

The subtitle of the book, “Discussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property,” tells us that Molinari intended to weave two general themes throughout the conversations, namely to defend the idea of the right to own property and to show how the natural laws of economics operated in society, two things which were rejected by both conservatives and socialists alike.

Molinari believes that the need for and desire to own property is a natural instinct inherent in all human beings and that therefore “la société n’a pas institué la propriété; c’est bien plutôt la propriété qui a institué la société” (society did not create property, but property which created society) (S1).[80] He concludes that man thus “owns himself”, i.e. “il est le maître de sa personne et qu’il peut disposer à son gré de toutes les virtualités qui composent son être, soit qu’elles y adhèrent, soit qu’il les en ait séparées” (he is master of his own person and may use as he chooses all the potential attributes constituting his person, whether they remain part of him, or whether he has separated them from himself.) It is from this idea that Molinari derives his distinction between “internal” and “external” property rights and it is by working through the implications of this distinction that provides the structure for the book.

By “la propriété intérieure” (internal or personal property rights) he means the right every individual has to “self-ownership,” or in other words that nobody has the right “obliger un être actif et libre à entreprendre un travail qu’il n’entreprendrait pas de lui-même” (to force a free and acting being to undertake work he would not personally undertake) (S1). He concludes that to protect “internal property” individuals should be free to enter any occupation or economic activity without hindrance by the state. By “la propriété extérieure” (external property rights) he means the right to own the property which lies outside or is external to his body and which he has created by his labor and effort, which implies the right to dispose of them “comme bon lui semble” (as he sees fit) (S8). From this he concludes that any good or service created by an individual should be left free to be kept, consumed, or exchanged without hindrance by the state.

Molinari also linked property rights to the different forms individual liberty could take which he likewise more fully developed in his later writings, in particular his treatise Cours d’économie politique (1855). In the Soirées he specifically mentions nine different kinds of liberty, which he expanded to 15 in the Cours. These “liberties” included standard ones like “la liberté des échanges” (the liberty of trade, or free trade, in S7) and “la liberté des communications” (the liberty of communications, or free speech, in S6), as well as rather unusual and more radical ones like “la liberté des banques” (the liberty of banking, or free banking, in S8) and “la liberté de gouvernement” (the liberty of government, or the private and competitive provision of security, in S11).[81]

Over the course of his life Molinari wrote a great deal about what he called the “natural laws” of political economy which he was beginning to develop in the Soirées but did not complete until much later.[82] In summary, he thought there were six “natural laws” which operated regardless of any individual’s or government’s hopes or desires:

•    “la loi naturelle de l’économie des forces ou du moindre effort” (the natural law of the economising of forces, or the exertion of the least effort)

•    “la loi naturelle de la concurrence” (the natural law of competition) or “la loi de libre concurrence” (the law of free competition)

•    “la loi naturelle de la valeur,” sometimes also expressed as “la loi de progression des valeurs” (the natural law of value, or the progression of value)

•    “la loi de l’offre et de la demande” (the law of supply and demand)

•    “la loi de l’équilibre” (the law of economic equilibrium)

•    “Thomas Malthus’ law of population growth”

He used his theory of economic laws and private property to explore what the proper functions of the state should be. His answer was that government activity had to be very limited (if it did anything at all) on the grounds of both utility (it could not violate economic laws with impunity) as well as morality (it was an unjust violation of an individual’s right to property to be taxed or have his property confiscated against his will). The conclusion was that all occupations monopolized or regulated by the state should be open to all and that all “public goods” provided by the state at taxpayer expense should be privatized and opened up to competition. He deals with this issue in the following Soirées: in S3 (forests, canals, waterways), S8 (private banks and money, mail delivery), S9 (bakers, butchers, printers etc.), and S11 (security, police, and defence).

Furthermore, Molinari believed that every heavily regulated or monopolized industry was a potential market which would bring forth its own entrepreneurs who would seek to satisfy consumer demand by offering these goods and services and thereby make profits from doing so. Since the natural laws of political economy applied to everything, inevitably there could be “markets in everything and entrepreneurs for everything”, even such unusual ones as “entrepreneur de pompes funèbres” (entrepreneurs in the funeral business), “entrepreneurs d’industrie agricole” (entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry) who would replace the small and unviable family-owned farms, “entrepreneurs de prostitution” (entrepreneurs in the prostitution business), and perhaps most interestingly “le laborieux entrepreneur, naguère ouvrier” (entrepreneur who has emerged from the working class) or in other words the “self-made” entrepreneur who rises out of the working class to run and own their own business enterprise.[83]

Thus, in each of the Soirées Molinari, i.e. “the Economist,” takes two or three examples of highly regulated occupations or government provided public goods to show both the Conservative and the Socialist how the many economic and social problems facing France could be solved by the strict application of respect for private property, respect for the natural laws of political economy, a government policy of untrammeled laissez-faire, and a society based upon free markets, entrepreneurs, and voluntary organisations and associations. Sometimes he sides with the Conservative and at other times he sides with the Socialist in what is a complex ideological dance between the three parties.

Also scattered throughout the book are six longer pieces in which Molinari (the Economist) gives a mini-lecture or “speech” on key topics. Four are quite long (1,500-2,000 words): the “man as an economic actor” speech (2,000) in S1 (below, pp. 000), the “individual sovereignty vs. communism” speech (2,000) in S11 (below, pp. 000); and one very long speech in the final Soirée (3,500) which is really two speeches back-to-back, his “summation” speech (2,000) (below, pp. 000) and then his “Spartacus” speech (1,500) (below, pp. 000) where he concludes the book with an impassioned plea for liberty and a description of how its full implementation has been prevented throughout history. There are also two smaller speeches; “the law of supply and demand” speech (900) in S6 (below, pp. 000), and “the tyranny of the majority” speech (800) in S11 (below, pp. 000). There are in addition several pieces by the Economist of about 500 words which we have not counted as “speeches” as such. These speeches give us an idea of what issues Molinari thought were more important and thus required a lengthier exposition. It should be noted that four of them came in the final two Soirées, two in S11 which was his most controversial Soirée on the private production of security, and then two in the final Soirée when he was wrapping things up.

The Topics discussed in the Soirées

The range of topics covered in the conversations is very broad, perhaps broader than might be implied by the subtitle of the book. In many ways one might consider Les Soirées to be an important and early, perhaps the first, one volume survey of classical liberal ideas ever written, which attempted to rigorously and consistently apply the principles of individual liberty, property rights, and free markets to all aspects of social existence and to develop a comprehensive set of reform proposals which would bring about “un régime d’entière liberté” (a society of complete liberty). This would become more common in the 20th century with works such as Ludwig von Mises’s Liberalism (1929), Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962) and Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty (1973). However, in his own day this was much rarer but might include, before he wrote Les Soirées in 1849, such works as Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Ideen zu einem Versuch, die Gränzen der Wirksamkeit des Staats zu bestimmen (1792, 1851); Benjamin Constant, Principes de politique, applicables à tous les gouvernemens représentatifs (1815); and afterwards, Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics: or, The Conditions essential to Happiness specified, and the First of them Developed (1851), John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859), and Bruce Smith, Liberty and Liberalism (1888).[84]

After a brief introduction (S1) where some theoretical matters are discussed, such as the nature of human action, self-interest, the origin and nature of property, and the natural laws which govern economic activity, Molinari focuses the conversations on a number of very specific contemporary issues and concerns for which he provides considerable historical and economic information and a list of the things he thought were wrong with French economic and political policies in the late 1840s, and what should be done to change French society if their “party” (or a real Economist) got into power. One might also view it as an extended explanation of what Bastiat’s “utopian politician” planned to do if he were made Prime Minister.[85]

The structure of the book is as follows:

•    Infringements on “external property” rights are covered in four of the 12 Soirées:

•    S2 which deals with literary, artistic, and intellectual property such as inventions and trade marks

•    S3 on the compulsory acquisition of property by the state, other state owned property such as ownership of mines, forests, canals and waterways, spring water

•    S4 on agriculture and land ownership

•    S6 on the exchange of labour which Molinari regards as a form of external property and the worker as a “merchant of labour services”[86]

•    Infringements on internal property are explicitly covered in two of the 12 Soirées:

•    S8 which is a critique of state monopolies such as the issuing of money, banks, the post office, subsidized and public theatres, libraries, subsidies to religion, state education

•    S9 is a critique of heavily regulated industries such as banking, bakeries, butchers, printers, lawyers, stock brokers, prostitutes, funeral directors, owners of cemeteries, doctors, teachers

•    In three other Soirées the type of property is not specified but seems to be “internal” by his definition:

•    S4 on the right to transfer property by means of wills and inheritance laws

•    S5 which is a defense of capital and lending at interest

•    S6 on the right of association and unions, wage rates and the exchange of labour

•    S7 on the right to trade and a critique of protectionism

•    the last three Soirées deal with more specialized topics:

•    S10 has a critique of state funded charity and welfare, a defence of Malthusian ideas on population, marriage laws and families

•    S11 on the production of security, i.e. the private provision of police and defence), private insurance companies, liberty of government, the jury system, nationalism

•    S12 contains his theory of rent, his summing up, and his rousing final speech on the struggle of mankind to be free

IV. The Impact of Les Soirées

[his “Spartacus speech which concludes Les Soirées]

“Liberty! That was the cry of the captives of Egypt, the slaves of Spartacus, the peasants of the Middle Ages, and more recently of the bourgeoisie oppressed by the nobility and religious corporations, of the workers oppressed by masters and guilds. Liberty! That was the cry of all those who found their property confiscated by monopoly and privilege. Liberty! That was the burning aspiration of all those whose natural rights had been forcibly repressed.” (S12, pp. 000.)

His immediate impact

The immediate impact of the book was mixed. It and his “Production of Security” article in February provoked considerable controversy and debate among the Economists but he did not convince them of the soundness of his position concerning either the private provision of security[87] or his opposition to eminent domain laws. The PoS article was reissued as a pamphlet,[88] which suggests there was some interest in it, but the book with its S11 was never reissued. However Guillaumin did published two more books of his conversations in 1855 and 1886, but they were strictly limited to the issue of free trade vs. protection and did not cover the much broader ground he had dealt with in Les Soirées.

So we are left with the question whether popular books like Les Soirées or the more intellectual works like DEP had much impact on thinking and policy at the time. On the one hand, Michel Chevalier was able to continue Bastiat’s work within Napoléon III’s government and persuaded him to sign a Free Trade Treaty with England in 1860 (Richard Cobden was the signatory for England), much against the wishes of the powerful manufacturing and farming lobbies, which ushered in a period of relative free trade in France which lasted until the Méline tariff increased rates in 1892.[89]

On the other hand, Molinari was realistic enough to see that he was tilting at statist windmills in his book. He probably accurately summed up the impact he thought he had had in the words he put into the mouth of the Protectionist in his third collection of conversations in 1886:

The Protectionist (addressing the Economist): Besides, what is the good of swimming against the current? What good has that done you? You have spent your entire life rejecting the opinions of the entire world. You have spent it promoting unpopular doctrines; and what has happened to you? I am sorry to tell you that you have achieved nothing.[90]

He would have had to wait another 70 years before some of his more radical ideas would be appreciated by a new generation of economists and historians.

Molinari’s impact on the modern libertarian movement

Molinari is interesting to modern readers for a number of reasons. Firstly, because of the extraordinary events he lived through and commented upon in great detail; secondly, because his very long life symbolized the rise and fall of the European classical liberal movement itself, rising out of the rubble of the Napoleonic wars and being on death’s bed on the eve of World War I; and finally because of the influence he would have, long after his death, on the modern libertarian movement which emerged in post-World War II America.

By the end of the 19th century Molinari’s views had fallen out of favour, along with the “Paris School” in general. His colleague and contemporary Frédéric Passy (1822-1912) was vainly trying to defend the “School of Liberty” as he called it, from its detractors even in 1890.[91] Only a very few, like the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, had any kind words to say of his work.[92] The American political theorist John Joseph Lalor (1840-1899) edited an American version of the DEP in 1881, the Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States, which included 100 entries from the DEP which he had got translated, including seven by Molinari (which are included in the Addendum). The impact of this infusion of French political economy into America seems to have been minimal in anything. By the time Palgrave’s Dictionary of Political Economy appeared in 1926, for all intents and purposes Molinari no longer existed. Even in Schumpeter’s comprehensive history of economic thought (1954), Molinari and his fellow “anti-étatistes” were dismissed as “indefatigable”, unscientific, and rather forlorn as they “stood staunchly by the drooping flag of unconditional free trade and laissez-faire.”[93]

It was only the chance rediscovery of the work of Frédéric Bastiat in the early 1940s by the American newspaper publisher R.C. Hoiles who was based in Orange County, California, and Leonard E. Read, the general manager of the Los Angeles branch of the United States Chamber of Commerce, that some of the key figures of the “Paris School” of political economy eventually became known to a small group of New York city-based economists and historians who were attending Ludwig von Mises’ seminar at NYU. Hoiles used his Freedom Newspapers presses to re-issue some of Bastiat’s books in 1944[94] and Read would launch a 20 year program to translate more of Bastiat’s writings and to publish them and a biography of his life and work under the Foundation for Economic Education imprint.[95] It was during the 1950s when this publishing program was underway that Murray Rothbard and his Circle Bastiat in New York City became aware of the French school of political economy, beginning with Bastiat, and via his writings the work of Charles Dunoyer,[96] Charles Comte, and ultimately Gustave de Molinari.

Rothbard was working on his treatise on economics, Man, Economy and State (1962), throughout the 1950s when his group of like-minded students and young scholars, the Circle Bastiat, encountered Molinari’s ideas about the private provision of security. Rothbard was sufficiently taken by these ideas to incorporate them into his treatise and its companion volume Power and Market: Government and the Economy (1970) where the idea of competing police and courts was developed at some length. Rothbard’s innovation was to see the fit between Austrian economics, classical liberal political theory, and Molinari’s private production of security and to merge them into a new political and economic whole which became known as “anarcho-capitalism.” This was the “first wave” of interest in Molinari’s ideas and was initially limited to Rothbard and his friends in the Circle Bastiat.

Rothbard’s work sparked a flood of tracts by other libertarians, which we could call “the second wave,” often published privately by obscure presses and handed around the new libertarian movement during the early 1970s. In chronological order we can list the following contributors to the new theory: Roy Childs,“Objectivism and the State: An Open Letter to Ayn Rand” (1969), Morris and Linda Tannahill, The Market for Liberty (1970), Jerome Tuccille, Radical Libertarianism: the Right Wing Alternative (1970), Jarrett Wollstein, Society without Coercion: A New Concept of Social Organization (1970), Richard and Ernestine Perkins, Precondition for Peace and Prosperity: Rational Anarchy (1971), David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom: A Guide to Radical Capitalism (1973), and Rothbard again with a another book published this time by a more mainstream publisher, For a New Liberty (Macmillan, 1973). The early work of this author might also be included in the latter part of the second wave. It was an undergraduate thesis on Molinari with a translation of the Eleventh Soirée included as an Appendix which appeared in 1979. Many of these early texts can be found in the excellent anthology Anarchy and the Law (2007) edited by Edward Stringham.

A “third wave” of interest is currently still underway. It includes work by individuals within the libertarian movement such as Randy Barnett, The Structure of Liberty: Justice and The Rule of Law (Clarendon Press,1998), David D. Friedman, Law’s Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters (Princeton University Press, 2000), Gary Chartier, Anarchy and Legal Order: Law and Politics for a Stateless Society (Cambridge University Press, 2012), and Peter T. Leeson, Anarchy Unbound: Why Self-Governance Works Better Than You Think (Cambridge University Press, 2014). There are also a growing number of other scholars who are interested in some of the original ideas Molinari had about Labor Exchanges and the transfer of information within an economy, his travel writing, and his views on the abolition of slavery.[97] Significantly, there is also interest being expressed by historians and legal theorists who are exploring historical examples of the private provision of law such as the law merchant,[98] ancient Ireland and Iceland,[99] and the American west in the 19th century,[100] and even in early 18th century pirate societies.[101]

American interest in the work of Bastiat and Molinari has been joined by a French interest The first book-length biography of Molinari[102] appeared in France only in 2012 but this had been preceded by 25 years of rediscovery of the broader 19th century French classical liberal movement through the work of scholars such as Florin Aftalion, Yves Breton, Michel Lutfalla, Alain Madelin, Jacques Garello, Philippe Nemo, Gérard Minart, Michel Leter, and Robert Leroux.[103] The Complete Works of Bastiat have been republished for the first time in over 100 years by Jacques de Guenin[104] and several volumes of his writings have appeared separately. A ten volume collection of the complete works of J.B Say is being edited under the direction of André Tiran published by Economica.[105] So far there has not been any attempt to republish the works of two other key figures, namely Charles Comte, and Charles Dunoyer.

More recently, the Paris based Institut Coppet has begun an ambitious publishing program in the bicentennial year of Molinari’s birth (2019). They began with a reprint of the magazine Molinari co-founded in June 1848, Jacques Bonhomme, in 2014; to be followed by a comprehensive anthology of Molinari’s writings on the State (2019); and a multi-volume collection of his other major works.[106]

Interestingly, there is a free market think tank based now in Paris, Brussels, and Montréal founded in 2003 which is named after Molinari, the Institut Économique Molinari.[107]

It is hoped that this, the first translation of the entire book, will help scholars better understand Molinari’s ideas, the historical and intellectual context in which his ideas appeared, his importance in the history of classical liberal and libertarian thought, and give him due recognition for the radicalism and originality of his thought, and his commitment over a long lifetime to the cause of individual liberty.

As Molinari said at the close of his rather pessimistic book on the grain trade published in 1886:

We are in too much of a hurry. Progress is not made in a straight line. It is like the Saint-Gothard Tunnel. There are times when one has to turn back on one’s tracks. We are in one of these moments now. We retreat so that we can advance.[108]

Perhaps Molinari would agree that at long last, his long retreat during the 20th century is finally being reversed.



Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street

3. Molinari’s Preface

Editor’s Note

Molinari introduces his collection of Soirées or “conversations” by stating that  the natural laws which govern the operation of society, especially the economy, need to be recognized, understood, and allowed to function without interference if society is to avoid all sorts of harms. He believes the 18th century “Economists” (the Physiocrats) were well aware of this important fact as he makes clear in the quote from François Quesnay on the book’s title page:

It is necessary to refrain from attributing to the physical laws which have been instituted in order to produce good, the evils which are the just and inevitable punishment for the violation of this very order of laws.[109]

However, in his own day the Socialist school (especially Victor Considerant and Louis Blanc) denied this to be the case, and the Conservatives (like Adophe Thiers) recognized this truth only partially. The latter in particular were a special problem for Molinari because, although they said they were defenders of property, they in fact misunderstood the true importance of property rights in the functioning of the economy, defended the principle very poorly and incompletely in the face of recent socialist criticism, and thought they too could violate economic laws with impunity when they thought it was in their interests to do so (as with protectionism).

The aim of Molinari in this book, acting as the representative of the current generation of “Economists,” somewhat controversially as it turned out, was to step into the breach and provide a better defense of the natural laws which governed the economy and of the right to property upon which the successful functioning of the economy depended. To do the former, he began to draw up a comprehensive list of these natural economic laws to which he would refer throughout the course of the Soirées;[110] to do the former he planned to discuss all the myriad ways in which property rights were currently being violated in France and to suggest ways in which “the full emancipation of property”[111] might be achieved. This emancipation of property, he believed, could be achieved by the complete deregulation of the French economy in general, and by the private provision of all public goods and government monopolies in particular.

In each of the following Soirées Molinari, i.e. “the Economist,” will take one or two examples of highly regulated occupations or government provided public goods to show both the Conservative and the Socialist how the many economic and social problems facing France could be solved by the strict application of respect for private property, respect for the natural laws of political economy, a government policy of untrammeled laissez-faire, and a society based upon free markets and voluntary organisations and associations.[112] Sometimes he sides with the Conservative and at other times he sides with the Socialist in what is a complex ideological dance between the three parties.

To demonstrate the intellectual tradition he will be drawing upon, Molinari concludes his preface with a lengthy list of other 18th and 19th century economists who shared his views about the operation of the free market.[113] Nevertheless, he hints in the final paragraph that some people might think he has gone “too far” in his defense of these principles He was perhaps anticipating the reaction of some of his colleagues when they read the Soirées (especially S11 on the private production of security) and rejected it as so many “chimeras and utopias,” words which were usually reserved to criticize the socialists. The book was reviewed fairly positively by Charles Coquelin in the October 1849 issue of the JDE except for some of Molinari's more radical ideas about police and defense. At the monthly meeting of the Société d'Économie Politique on 10 October to discuss Molinari’s book not one of those present came to Molinari's defense on these matters. The main critics were Charles Coquelin who began the discussion, then Frédéric Bastiat, and finally Charles Dunoyer. It was the latter who summed up the view of the Economists that Molinari had been “swept away by illusions of logic."[114]

Nevertheless, Molinari remained confident that he and the other Economists have indeed discovered “the economic truth” which lies behind all of France’s economic problems.

[The Preface]


Society, according to the Economists of the eighteenth century,[116] is organized on the basis of natural laws, whose essence is justice and utility. When these laws are misunderstood, society suffers. When they are fully respected, society enjoys the greatest possible abundance and justice reigns in human relations.

Are these laws of providence respected or unrecognized today? Do the sufferings of the masses have their origin in the economic laws which govern society or in the obstacles placed in the way of their beneficent operation? Such is the question which recent events have raised for us.

To this question the socialist schools reply, sometimes by denying that the economic world is governed, as is the physical world, by natural laws, and at other times by arguing that these laws are imperfect or defective, and that the suffering of society [2] stems from their imperfections and defects.

The more timid conclude that we must modify these laws; the more daring believe that we must wipe the slate clean of an organization which is fundamentally bad and to replace it with an entirely new organization.

The base on which the whole edifice of society rests is property.[117] Socialists therefore strive to alter or replace or destroy the principle of property.

Conservatives defend property; but they defend it badly.[118]

Here is why.

Conservatives are naturally partisans of the status quo. They think the world is all right as it is and are terrified by the very idea of changing anything. Consequently, they avoid sounding out the real depths of society, fearful as they are of finding any distress which might require any reform of existing institutions.[119]

On the other hand they dislike theories and have little faith in foundational principles. Only reluctantly will they discuss property. It would seem that they are afraid to shine a light on this holy principle. Following the example of those [3] ignorant and savage Christians who used to proscribe heretics rather than refute them, they invoke the law rather than science to get the better of the aberrations of socialism.

I have come to the conclusion that the socialist heresy demands a different refutation and property a different defense.

Recognizing, with all the economists, that the natural organization of society rests on property, I have sought to discover whether the suffering denounced by the socialists, suffering no one who was not blind, or in bad faith, could deny, do or do not have their origin in property.

The result of my studies and of my research, has been to the effect that society’s sufferings, so far from originating in the principle of property, on the contrary, flow from direct or indirect attacks on this principle.

From this I have reached the conclusion that the way to improve the lot of the working classes lies purely and simply in the emancipation of property.[120]

The substance of these dialogues is that the principle of property is the basis for the natural organization of society, that this core truth has never ceased to be held partly in check or misconstrued, that harm has flowed from the deep wounds inflicted on [4] property, that finally the emancipation of property would restore society’s natural organization, and that such an organization is intrinsically just and useful.

The thesis whose defense I am undertaking is not new; all the economists have defended property, and political economy is only the demonstration of the natural laws based on property. Quesnay, Turgot, Adam Smith, Malthus, Ricardo and J.B. Say devoted their lives to observing these laws in operation and demonstrating them. Their disciples, MacCulloch, Senior, Wilson,[121] Dunoyer, Michel Chevalier, Bastiat, Joseph Garnier etc., are passionately committed to the same task. I have limited myself to following the path they have set.

It may perhaps be thought that I have gone too far, and that by sticking too strictly to the basic principles, I have failed to avoid the pitfalls of chimeras and utopias. This does not matter, however, since I retain the profound conviction that economic truth hides behind what on the surface are chimeras and utopias. It is also my profound conviction that only the complete and absolute emancipation of private property can save society, by making a reality of all the noble and generous hopes held by the friends of justice and humanity.



4. Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street: The First Evening

Editor’s Note

The first Soirée is where Molinari lays the foundation for the rest of the book. He asserts that society is governed by natural laws which are unchangeable and absolute and that humans ignore them at their peril; that humans are “free and acting beings” who are driven by self-interest to improve their situation and for whom property ownership is instinctive; that property ownership is the foundation stone for economic activity; and that interference with property rights by state restrictions and controls leads to very serious bad consequences.

What he is trying to address here is what was called at the time “the social problem.”[122] He mentions it in the subtitle to the chapter but nowhere else in the book. It referred to the criticisms by socialists of the problems which were emerging in the industrializing societies of Europe during the 1830s and 1840s, such as poverty, unemployment, poor health, hard working conditions, unequal taxes and privileges, and lack of political representation. Molinari just assumes the reader knows what he means by this expression and leaves it to the “Socialist” to give voice to it: “to want the reign of force and fraud to yield to that of justice; to wish that the poor were no longer exploited by the rich; to want everyone rewarded according to his labor.” Like the Socialist, but unlike the Conservative, the Economist wants to solve the social problem quickly and justly but, unlike the Socialist, to do so within the confines placed upon society by the “immutable and absolute” natural laws of economics, while preserving the right to property in the process.

Unfortunately Molinari does not discuss the natural laws which governed political economy in any detail here but we have reconstructed them from other things he wrote later.[123] He puts into the mouth of the Conservative, who does not believe that these natural laws are “principes absolus” (absolute principles) a useful summary of what Molinari in fact believes, namely that there are “absolute principles in economic science and moral theory which are completely applicable at all times and in all places.”

The Economist then provides one of several set pieces in the book, where he gives a mini-lecture or speech on what he believes.[124] In this section (about 2,000 words) he presents his theory of the nature of man as an economic actor ("an acting and free being”) who is driven by self-interest to act, work, and produce in order to consume the things he needs to survive. He comes to realize that he can increase his productive output by minimizing his efforts and maximizing his satisfactions by exchanging with other members of his kind. This in turn requires associating with others in various ways, in particular in the division of labor and the joint defense of his goods (his "property") from theft and destruction.

Twice in this Soirée (and nowhere else in the book) Molinari describes men as “des êtres actifs et libres” (free and acting beings), who “act” in order to achieve the goals they set themselves It seems Molinari is trying to generalize about economic behavior and is toying with what in the 20th century would become known as the Austrian theory of “human action” which was developed by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises in Human Action (1949). Bastiat was doing something very similar in his innovative use of “Crusoe economics” to discuss the economic choices faced by an individual like Robinson Crusoe on the Island of Despair, but he took this analysis much further than Molinari did.[125] It is an example of what might be called their proto-Austrian way of looking at economic behavior in which the idea of “human action” played an important role.

Molinari believes that the need for and desire to own property is a natural instinct inherent in all human beings and that therefore "society did not create property, but property which created society." He concludes that man thus "owns himself," i.e. "he is master of his own person and may use as he chooses all the potential attributes constituting his person, whether they remain part of him, or he has in fact separated himself from them." It is from this idea that Molinari derives his distinction between "internal" and "external" property rights and it is by working through the implications of this distinction that provides the structure for the book.

Firstly, by “la propriété intérieure” (internal or personal property right) he means the right every individual has to “self-ownership.” In remarks scattered throughout S1, S2, and S8 we can glean some more details about what he meant. For example, “the right of a free and acting being to undertake work of his own choosing” (S1); “the property right a man has in himself;” of the right he has to use his abilities freely, insofar as he causes no damage to the property of others (S1); and "the property of man in his person, in his faculties, in his powers" (S8). He also defines this kind of property right negatively, as in the following, “internal property is violated when an an acting and free being is forced to undertake work he would not personally have chosen to undertake, or is forcibly barred from engaging in certain kinds of work” (S1).

Secondly, by “la propriété extérieure” (external property right) he means the right to own the property which lies outside or is external to one's body and which he has created by his labor and effort. For example, "man’s property right to the fruits of his labor" (S1); “the right to own the part of his powers which he separates from himself by working (i.e. the products of his own labor), and the right to dispose of them as he sees fit” (S1). Molinari is articulating a Lockean notion of how property legitimately becomes one's property by "mixing one's labor" with them, or in Molinari’s case when we “apply some portion of our resources and faculties to the things which nature has put freely at our disposal; at the moment when we complete the work of nature by giving these things a new aspect; at the moment when we add to the natural value which inheres in them, an artificial value.”

It should be noted that Molinari’s ideas about “internal” property (especially the notion of “le Moi” (the self)) and its extension into the “external” property of things came from an essay by Louis Leclerc which he quotes at some length in a footnote in this Soirée.

Molinari then uses this distinction between "internal" and "external" property to structure the rest of the book as follows:

•     S1 contains a general theoretical section on human action, self-interest, and the origin and nature of property, and a list of how these property rights are infringed by the state

•     Infringements on external property rights are covered in 3 of the 11 Soirées:  it is explicitly mentioned in title of S2 (which deals with literary, artistic, intellectual property (inventions, trade marks)) and S3 (compulsory acquisition of property by the state, other state own property); and it is mentioned at the beginning of S6 (dealing with the exchange of labor - “We can think of labor as external property.”)

•     Infringements on internal property are covered in 2 of the 11 Soirées:  explicitly in the title in S8 (government monopolies) and S9 (heavily regulated industries)

•     In three other Soirées the type of property is not specified but seems to be “internal” by his definition: S4 (on wills and agriculture); S5 (credit and interest); S6 (exchange of labor and unions); S7 (free trade and protection)

•     the last three Soirées deal with more specialized topics: S10 (population theory and charity), S11 (the private provision of police and defense), S12 (his theory of rent, his summing up, and his rousing final speech on the struggle of mankind to be free)

Another theme we can identify in the book is that of the private provision of so-called "public goods" which traditionally have been thought to be able to be provided only by the government in the form of a state monopoly. He deals with this issue in the following Soirées: in S3 (forests, canals, waterways), S8 (private banks and money, mail delivery), S9 (bakers, butchers, printers etc.), and S11 (security, police, and defense).

The economist concludes this Soirée with a list of infringements to these two different kinds of property with a very strong suggestion as to how he will remedy this in the course of the book:

Is it a matter of the property right a man has in himself; of the right he has to use his abilities freely, insofar as he causes no damage to the property of others? In the present society, the highest posts and the most lucrative professions are not open; one cannot practice freely as a solicitor, a priest, a judge, bailiff, money-changer, broker, doctor, lawyer or professor. Nor can one freely be a printer, a butcher, baker or entrepreneur in the funeral business. We are not free to set up a commercial organization, a bank, an insurance company,[126] or a large transport company, nor free to build a road or establish a charity, nor to sell tobacco or gunpowder, or saltpeter, nor to carry mail, or print money, nor to meet freely with other workers to establish the price of labor. The property right a man has in himself, his internal property, is in every detail shackled.
A man’s property right to the fruits of his labor, his external property, is equally impeded. Literary and artistic property and the property right of inventions are recognized and guaranteed only for a short period. Material property is generally recognized in perpetuity, but it is subject to a multitude of restrictions and charges. Gifts, inheritance and loans are restricted too. Trade is heavily encumbered as much by capital transfer taxes, registration charges, and stamp duty, by the octrois (city) taxes and by customs duties, as by the privileges granted to agents working as intermediaries in certain markets. Sometimes, in addition, trade is completely prohibited outside certain limits. Finally, the law of expropriation on the grounds of public utility, endlessly threatens such weak remnants of property rights that the other restrictions have spared.

The net result of this, according to the Economist in the first words he speaks, is “Nous voulons la réformer” (we want to reform society).

Molinari also makes reference in this Soirée to slavery and serfdom which was one of his great interests at this time. He published on the abolition of slavery in the French colonies in 1846,[127] he wrote the long bibliographic article on slavery (“Esclavage”) in the DEP, as well as a shorter article on serfdom (“Servage”). In the latter he concluded that serfdom was “a vestige of a barbarous epoch” and that it would inevitably disappear. Given his deep interest in slavery and serfdom Molinari leapt at the chance to visit Russia at the invitation of Alexander II to give some lectures on political economy. Molinari spent four months traveling in Russia from February to July 1860, on the eve of the emancipation of the serfs in February 1861.[128] So it is perhaps not surprising that he would conclude the Soirées with an impassioned plea for liberty in the closing paragraphs of S12 where he contrasts liberty and the oppressed such as the Roman slaves led by Spartacus.


SUMMARY : The status of the social problem. [129] – That society is governed by natural laws which are immutable and absolute. – That property is the foundation of the natural organization of society. – Property (rights) defined. – A list of the current infringements of the principle of (the right to) property.

[SPEAKERS: A conservative.- A socialist.- An economist.[130]]


Let us debate among ourselves, calmly, the formidable problems thrown up in these last few years. You [the Socialist], who wage a bitter war against present institutions, and you [the Economist], who defend them with certain reservations, what are you actually seeking?


We want to reconstruct society.


We want to reform it.


Oh you dreamers, my good friends, I would ask for nothing better [6] myself, were it possible. But you are chasing chimeras.


What? To want the reign of force and fraud to yield to that of justice; to wish that the poor were no longer exploited by the rich; to want everyone rewarded according to his labor – is all this to pursue a chimera, then?


This ideal, which all the utopians[131] have put forward since the world began, unfortunately cannot be realized on this earth. It is not given to men to attain it.


I believe quite the opposite. We have lived till now in a corrupt and imperfect society. Why should we not be permitted to change it? As Louis Blanc said, if society is badly constructed, can we not rebuild it? Are the laws on which this society rests, a society gangrenous to the very marrow of its bones, eternal and unchangeable?[132] We have endured them thus far. Are we condemned to do so forever?


God has willed it thus.


Beware of taking God’s name in vain.[133] Are you sure that the miseries of society really stem from the laws on which society is based? [7]


Where then do they come from?


Could it not be that these miseries have their origin in the attacks made on the fundamental laws of society?


A likely story that such laws exist!


There are economic laws which govern society just as there are physical laws which govern the material world. Utility and justice are the essence of these laws. This means that by observing them absolutely, we are sure to act usefully and justly for ourselves and for others.


Are you not exaggerating a little? Are there really principles at work in the economic and moral sciences, ones absolutely applicable in all ages and places? I have never believed, I am bound to say, in absolute principles.[134]


What principles do you believe in, then?


My goodness, I believe, along with all the other men who have looked closely at the things of this world, that the laws of justice and the rules of utility are essentially shifting and variable. I believe, accordingly, that we cannot base any universal and absolute system on these laws. M. Joseph de Maistre [135] was wont to say: everywhere I have seen men, but nowhere have I seen Man.[136] Well, I believe that one can say likewise, that there are societies, having particular laws, appropriate to [8] their nature, but that there is no Society governed by general laws.


Perhaps so, but we want to establish this unitary and universal society.


I still believe with M. de Maistre that the laws spring from circumstances, and have nothing fixed about them…Do you not know that a law considered just in one society, is often regard as unjust in another? Theft was permitted in certain conditions in Sparta; polygamy is allowed in the Orient and castration tolerated too. Would you say, therefore, that the Spartans were shameless thieves and that Asians are despicable debaucherers? No! If you consider things rationally, you will conclude that the Spartans in permitting theft, were obeying the particular demands of their situation, while Asians, in authorizing polygamy and tolerating castration, are subject to the influence of their climate. Read Montesquieu again![137] This will persuade you that moral law does not take the same form in all places and at all times. You will agree with him that justice has nothing absolute about it. Truth this side of the Pyrenees, error the other side, said Pascal. Read Pascal again![138]

What is true of the just is no less true of the useful. You speak of the laws of utility as if they were universal and permanent. Your error is truly profound! Do you not know that economic laws have varied, and vary still, endlessly, as do moral laws?[139] … Will your counter-argument be that nations fail to recognize their [9] true interests when they adopt diverse and flexible economic legislation? You have against you, however, centuries of experience. Is it not proven, for example, that England owed her wealth to protectionism? Was it not Cromwell’s famous Navigation Act which was the starting point for her maritime and colonial greatness? She has recently abandoned this protectionism, however.[140] Why? Because it has ceased to be useful to her, because it would spell her ruin after having made her rich. A century ago free trade would have been fatal to England; today it gives a new lease of life to English commerce. That is how much circumstances have changed!

In the domain of the just and the useful, all is mobility and diversity. To believe as you seem to do, in the existence of absolute principles, is to go astray lamentably, to misunderstand the very conditions for the existence of societies.


So you think that there are no absolute principles, either in morality or in political economy; you think everything is shifting, variable, and diverse in the sphere of the just and in the sphere of the useful; you think that justice and utility depend on place, time, and circumstance. Well, the socialists have the same opinion as you. What do they say? They say that new laws are needed for new times. That the time has come to change the old moral and economic laws which govern human societies.


This is criminal folly! [10]


Why? Until now you have governed the world. Why should it not be our turn to govern it? Are you made of superior stuff to us? Or can you really affirm that no one is more fit than you to govern men? We put it to the vote of everyone. Ask the opinion of the wretched souls who languish at the bottom of society, ask whether they are satisfied with the fate which your lawmakers have left them. Ask them if they think they have obtained a fair share of the world’s goods. As to your laws, if you had not framed them according to the selfish interests of your class, would your class be the only one to prosper? So, what would be criminal about our establishing laws which advantaged everybody equally?

You accuse us of attacking the eternal and unchanging principles on which society rests: religion, family, and property. On your own admission, however, there are no eternal and unchanging principles.

Perhaps you might cite property, but in the eyes of your jurists, what is property in fact? It is a purely human institution which men have founded and decreed and which they are consequently in a position to abolish. Have they not, moreover, very quickly reorganized it? Does property today resemble ancient Egyptian or Roman property or even that of the Middle Ages? The appropriation and exploitation of man by man used to be accepted. You no longer accept this today, or anyway not in law. In most ancient societies the ownership of land was reserved to the state; you have rendered landed property accessible to everyone. [11] You have, on the other hand, refused to give full recognition to certain kinds of property; you have denied the inventor the absolute title to his invention, and to the man of letters the absolute ownership of his writings.[141] You also came to understand that society had to be protected against the excesses of individual ownership of property and for the general good you passed the law of expropriation.[142]

Well, what are we doing now? We are limiting property a bit more; we are subjecting it to more numerous restrictions, and to heavier burdens, in the public interest. So are we so guilty? Was it not you who marked out the direction we now follow?

As to the family, you admit that it has legitimately been able to assume in other eras and other countries, a different organization from that which prevails today with us. Why then, should we be forbidden to modify it again? Cannot man unmake everything he has made?

Then there is religion! Have not your lawmakers, however, always arranged it as they saw fit? Did they not begin by authorizing the Catholic religion to the exclusion of the others? Did they not finish by permitting all faiths and by funding some of them?[143] If they were able to regulate the manifestation of religious feeling, why should it be forbidden to us to regulate it in our turn?

Property, family, religion – you are soft wax which so many lawmakers have marked with their successive imprints – why should we not mark you also with ours? Why should we abstain from touching things which others have so often touched? Why should we respect relics [12] whose guardians themselves have felt no scruple in profaning?


The lecture is deserved. You conservatives, who admit no absolute, pre-existing, and eternal principle in morality, any more than in political economy, no principle equally applicable to all eras and places, look where your doctrines lead! People throw them back at you. After having heard your moralists and your jurists deny the eternal laws of the just and the useful, only to put in their place this or that fleeting expedient, adventurous and committed minds, substituting their ideas for yours, wish to rule the world after you and differently from you. And if you conservatives are right, when you insist that no fixed and absolute rule governs the moral and material arrangement of human affairs, can one condemn these reorganizers of society?[144] The human mind is not infallible. Your lawmakers were perhaps wrong. Why should it not be given to other lawmakers to do better?

When Fourier, drunk with pride, said: All the legislators before me were wrong, and their books are fit only to be burned, might he not, according to your own judgment, have been right? If the laws of the just and the useful come from men, and if it falls to men to modify them according to time, place and circumstance, was not Fourier justified in saying, with his eyes on history, that long martyrology of the nations, that the social legislation of the ancients had been conceived within a false system and that the organization of a new social state was called for? In your insistence that no absolute and superhuman principle governs [13] societies, have you not opened the floodgates to the utopian torrent? Have you not authorized the first comer to refashion these societies you claim to have made? Does not socialism flow from your own doctrines?


What can we do about it? We are well aware, please believe me, of the chink in our armor. Therefore we have never denied socialism absolutely. What words do we use, for the most part, for socialists? We tell them: between you and us the difference is only a matter of time. You are wrong today, but perhaps in three hundred years, you will be right. Just wait!


And if we do not want to wait?


In that case, so much the worse for you! Since without prejudice to the future of your theories, we regard them as immoral and subversive for the present, we will hound them to our utmost ability. We will cut them down as the scythe cuts down tares[145]… We will dispatch you to our prisons and to penal servitude, there to attack the present institutions of religion, family, and property.[146]


So much the better. We rely on persecution to advance our doctrines. The finest platform one can give to an idea is the scaffold or the stake. Fine us, imprison us, deport us… we ask nothing better. If you could reestablish the Inquisition against socialists we would be assured of the triumph of our cause. [14]


We are still in a position not to need this extreme remedy. The majority and power are on our side.


Until the majority and power turn in our direction.


Oh I am quite aware that the danger is immense; still we will resist until the end.


And you will lose the contest. You conservatives are powerless to conserve society.


That is a very categorical statement.


We will see if it is well-founded or not. If you do not believe in absolute principles, you must – is it not the case? – consider nations as artificial aggregations, successively constituted and perfected by the hand of man. These aggregations may have similar principles and interests, but they can also have opposing principles and interests. That which is just for one, may not be just for the other. What is useful for this one, may be harmful to that one. What is the necessary result, however, of this antagonism in principles and interests? War.[147] If it be true that the world is not governed by universal and permanent laws, if it is true that each nation has principles and interests which are special to it, interests and principles essentially variable according to circumstances and the [15] times, is war not in the nature of things?


Obviously we have never dreamed the dream of perpetual peace like the noble Abbé de Saint-Pierre.[148] M. Joseph de Maistre has anyway shown beyond doubt that war is inevitable and necessary.[149]


You admit then, and in effect you cannot not admit, that the world is eternally condemned to war?


War occurred in the past, we have it in the present, so why should it cease to be in the future?


Yes, but in the past in all societies the vast majority of the population were slaves or serfs.[150] Well, slaves and serfs did not read newspapers or frequent political clubs[151] and knew nothing of socialism. Take the serfs of Russia! Are they not such stuff as despotism can mould at will? Does it not make of them, just as it pleases, mere drudges or cannon-fodder?


Yet it is clear that there was good in serfdom.


Unfortunately, there is no longer any way of reestablishing it among us. There are no longer slaves nor serfs. There are the needy multitudes to whom you cannot deny the free communication of ideas, to whom indeed you are constantly requested all the time to make [16] the realm of general knowledge more accessible. Would you prevent these multitudes, who are today sovereign, from drinking from the poisoned well of socialist writings? Would you prevent their listening to the dreamers who tell them that a society where the masses work hard and earn little, while above them lives men who earn a lot while working very little, is a flawed society and one in need of change? No! You can proscribe socialist theories as much as you like, but you will not stop their being produced and propagating themselves. The press will defy your prohibitions.


Ah, the press, that monumental poisoner. [152]


You can muzzle it and proscribe it for all you are worth. You will never be done with slaying it. It is a Hydra whose millions of heads would defeat even the strength of Hercules.


If we had a decent absolute monarchy…


The press would kill an absolute monarchy just as it killed the constitutional monarchy, and failing the press, books, pamphlets and conversation would do the trick.

Today, to speak only of the press, that powerful catapult is no longer directed solely against the government, but against society too.


Yes, for some years the press has been on the march, thank God!


Once it stirred up revolutions in order to change [17] the type of government; it stirs them up today to change society itself. Why should it not succeed with this plan as it did with the other? If nations were fully guaranteed against foreign conflicts, perhaps we could succeed in bringing to heel for good the violent and anarchic factions which operate domestically. You yourself agree, however, that foreign war is inevitable, since principles and interests are changeable and diverse and no one can claim in response that war, harmful today to certain countries, will not be useful to them tomorrow. Well, if you have no faith in anything save sheer force to put socialism down, how are you going to succeed in containing it, when you are obliged to concentrate that force, your final resort, on the foreign enemy? If war is inevitable, is not the coming of revolutionary socialism inevitable too?


That, alas, is what I am truly afraid of. This is why I have always thought of society as marching briskly towards its ruin. We are the Byzantine Greeks and the barbarians are at the gates.


Is that the position you have reached? You despair of the fate of civilization and you watch the rise of barbarism, waiting for that final moment when it comes pouring over your battlements.[153] You really are so many Byzantine Greeks ...  Well if that is how it is, let the barbarians in. Better still, go out to meet them and hand the keys to the sacred city over to them, humbly. Perhaps you will succeed in assuaging their fury. [18] Beware, however, of redoubling and pointlessly prolonging your resistance. Does not history record that Constantinople was sacked and that the Bosphorus was full of blood and corpses for four days?[154] You Greeks of the new Byzantium, be fearful of the fate of your ancestors and please spare us the agony of a hopeless resistance and tbe quickmake speed to hand it over.


So are you acknowledging that the future belongs to us?


God forbid! I do think, however, that your enemies are wrong to resist you if they have despaired of defeating you, and I imagine that in not attaching themselves to any fixed and immutable principle, they have ceased to expect to be victorious. Conservatives are powerless to conserve society, that is all I wanted to demonstrate. Now, however, I will tell you other organizers, that you too would be powerless to organize it. You could take Byzantium and sack it; but you would not be able to govern it.


What do you know about it? Have we not ten organizations for your one?[155]


You have just put your finger on it. Which socialist sect do you belong to? Please tell me. Are you a Saint-Simonian?[156]


No? Saint-Simonianism is old hat. To begin with, it was an aspiration rather than a program… And the disciples have ruined the aspiration without finding the program. [19]


Are you a Phalansterian? [157]


It’s an attractive idea but the morality of Fourierism is quite risqué.[158]


Are you a Cabetist?


Cabet is a brilliant mind but uncultured.[159] He understands nothing, for example, about art. Imagine if you will, the people in Icaria painting statues. The faces of Curtius - that is the ideal of Icarian art. What a barbarian![160]


Are you a follower of Proudhon?[161]


Proudhon, is he not a fine destroyer for you? How well he demolishes things! Up to now however all he has managed to set up is his exchange bank and that is not enough.[162]


So, not Saint-Simon, not Fouriér, nor Cabét, nor Proudhon. So what are you then?[163]


I am a socialist.


Tell us more though. To what type of socialism do you subscribe?[164]


To my own. I am convinced that the great problem of the organization of labor has not yet been resolved. We have cleared the ground, we have laid the foundations, but we have not built the structure. Why should I not seek like [20] anyone else to build it? Am I not driven by the pure love of humanity? Have I not studied science and meditated for a long time on the problem? And I think I can say that…well not yet actually…there are certain points which are not completely clear ( pointing to his forehead) but the idea is there…and you will see it later on.


This is to say that you too are looking for your version of the organization of labor. You are an independent socialist. You have your own particular bible. In fact, why not? Why should you not receive like anyone else the spirit of the Lord? Then again, why should it not come to others as much as to you? So we have lots of different approaches to the organization of labor.


So much the better. The people will be able to choose.


Right by a majority vote. But what will the minority do?


It will give in to the majority.


And if it resists? I admit of course that it will submit willingly or by force. I admit that the organization favored by the majority of voters will be installed. What will happen if someone – you, me or someone else – discovers a superior arrangement?


That is not likely.


On the contrary, it is very likely. Do you not believe in the dogma of indefinite perfectibility? [21]


Most certainly. I believe that humanity will cease to progress only if it ceases to exist.


Well, where does the progress of humanity usually come from? If one is to believe your learned men, it is society which makes man. When social organization is bad, man either stagnates or retrogresses. When it is good, man grows and progresses…


What could be more true?


Could there be anything more desirable in the world, then, than securing the progress of our organization of society? If this is to happen, what will the constant preoccupation of the friends of humanity have to be? Will it not be to invent and plan more and more perfect organizations?


Yes, probably. What do you see as wrong about that?


In my view this means permanent anarchy. A way of organizing society has just been set up and it functions, more or less well or badly, because it is not perfect…


Why not?


Does not the doctrine of indefinite perfectibility exclude perfection? What is more I have just cited you half a dozen versions of socialism and you were not satisfied with any of them. [22]


That proves nothing against the ones which will appear later. And so I have the strong conviction that the one I favor…


Fourier worked out his perfect arrangements and yet you do not want them. Likewise you will run up against people who do not like yours. Some sort of system is in operation, whether good or bad. Most people like it, but a minority do not. From this springs conflict and struggle. Take note, moreover, that future arrangements possess an enormous advantage over present ones. People have not yet noticed their shortcomings. In all probability the new system will carry the day… until such time as it too is replaced by a third system. But do you really believe that a society can change its arrangements on a daily basis, without danger? Look what an appalling crisis a simple change of government has entailed for us.[165] What would it be like with a with a change in the whole of society?


The mere thought of it makes me shiver. What a frightful mess! Well, is that not the spirit of innovation for you?


Try as you might, you will not stop it. The spirit of innovation is a fact ...


To the world’s misfortune.


Not so. Without the spirit of innovation, men would still be eating acorns or [23] nibbling grass. Without the spirit of innovation, you would be an uncouth savage, dwelling under the trees, rather than a worthy man of property with a house in town and another in the country, well fed, well-clad and well-housed.


Why has not the spirit of innovation stayed within its proper limits?


Selfish fellow!


The spirit of innovation in man has no limits and will perish only when man himself perishes. It will modify perpetually everything men have set up, and if, as you assert, the laws which regulate human societies are of human origin, the spirit of innovation will not be checked in the face of these laws. It will modify them, change them, and overthrow them for as long as the human sojourn on earth continues. The world is given to incessant revolutions, to endless strife, unless…




Unless, in fact, there are absolute principles, unless the laws which govern the moral and economic world, are pre-established laws like those which govern the physical world.[166] If it were thus, if societies had been set up by the hand of Providence, would one not have to take pity on the pygmy, swollen with pride, who tried to substitute his work for that of the Creator? Would it not be just as childish [24] to want to change the foundations on which society rests as to change the orbit of the earth?


Without any doubt. Do they exist, though, these providential laws, and even supposing they do, are justice and utility among their key features?


That is grossly impious. If God has organized the various societies Himself, if He made the laws which regulate them, it is obvious that these laws are in their essence just and useful and that the sufferings of mankind flow from our not observing them.


Well said, but are you not in your turn obliged to admit that these laws are irreversible and unchangeable?


Well, why do you not reply then? Are you unaware, therefore, that nature proceeds only by universal and unchangeable laws? I also ask whether nature could proceed otherwise. If natural laws were partial, would they not come into conflict with each other constantly? If they were variable, would they not leave the world exposed to endless disruption? I can no more conceive that a natural law might not be universal and unchanging than you can conceive that a law emanating from God might not have justice and utility at its core. The only thing is, I doubt whether God was involved in the organization of human societies. Do you know why I am skeptical about this? Because your societies have detestable arrangements, because the history of humanity until now has been no more [25] than a deplorable, hideous tale of crime and poverty. To attribute to God Himself the arrangements of these societies, vile and poverty-stricken as they are – would this not be to hold Him responsible for evil? Would this not be to justify the criticism of those who accuse Him of injustice and cruelty?


May I be permitted to suggest that from the fact that these providential laws exist, it does not necessarily follow that mankind must prosper? Men are not mere bodies, lacking life and will, like the spheres one sees moving in an eternal order under the governance of physical laws. Men are free and acting beings;[167] they can obey or not obey the laws that God has given them. The only thing is, when they do not follow them they are rendered criminal and wretched.


If it were indeed thus, they would always obey them.


Yes, if they were familiar with them, and being thus familiar, knew that non-compliance with these laws must inevitably do them harm. That, however, is precisely what they do not know.


So are you asserting that all the miseries of humanity have their origin in the non-observation of the moral and economic laws which govern society?


I am saying that if humanity had always obeyed these laws, the sum total of our misery would likewise always have been the smallest conceivable. Does that answer you sufficiently? [26]


Absolutely. I would very much like to know, however, precisely what these miraculous laws are.


The fundamental law on which rests all social organization, and from which flow all the other laws, is PROPERTY.[168]


Property? Come off it! Surely it is precisely property from which flow all the evils of humankind.


I assert the contrary. I assert that the wretchedness and the injustices from which men have never ceased to suffer, do not come from property. I maintain that they come from transgressions, by individuals or society itself, temporary or permanent ones, legal or illegal, committed against the principle of property. I am saying that had property been faithfully respected from the beginning of the world, humanity would continually have enjoyed, in every era, the maximum welfare consistent with the degree of advancement of the arts and sciences, along with complete justice.


What a lot of assertions! And it would seem that you are in a position to substantiate your claims.


I would think so.


All right, so substantiate them then!


I ask nothing better. [27]


First of all, please be so good as to define “property."


I will do better than that; I will start by defining man himself, at least from the economic point of view.

Man is a combination of physical, moral, and intellectual powers. These various powers need to be constantly exercised, constantly restored by the acquisition of other similar powers. When they are not so restored, they perish. This is as true of intellectual, and moral powers as it is of physical ones.

Man is thus perpetually obliged to acquire new powers. How is he made aware of this need? By pain and sorrow. Any loss of powers is painful. Any acquisition of powers, any achievement is accompanied, on the other hand, by enjoyment. Driven by this double spur, man takes care endlessly to exercise or increase the set of physical, intellectual and moral powers which constitute his being. This is the reason for his activity.

When this activity occurs, when man acts with a view to repairing or increasing his powers, we say that he is working. If the elements from which man extracts the potential advantages he acquires, were always within his reach, and nature had prepared them for his use, his work would be reduced to a negligible level. That, however, [28] is not how things are. Nature has not done everything for man; she has left him much to do. She supplies him liberally with the raw material for all the things he needs to perfect himself, but she obliges him to give a host of diverse forms to this raw material in order to make it usable for him.

The preparation of things necessary to consumption is called production.

How is production effected? By the action of the powers or faculties of man on the elements with which nature supplies him.

Before he can consume, man is therefore obliged to produce. All production implying some expenditure of powers, also implies pain and effort. One undergoes this effort and suffers this pain with a view to gaining some enjoyment, or, and this comes to the same thing, sparing oneself some worse suffering. One gains this pleasure or avoids this suffering by means of consumption. To produce and consume, to endure and enjoy, that is human life in a nutshell.


Are you so bold as to say that in your view pleasure ought to be the sole purpose man should aim at on this earth?


Do not forget that this involves moral and intellectual enjoyment as well as the physical kind. Do not forget that man is a physical, moral, and intellectual being. The whole question is: will he develop in these three respects or will he degenerate? If he neglects his moral and intellectual needs entirely, in favor of his physical appetites, he will degenerate morally and [29] intellectually. If he neglects his physical needs so as to increase his intellectual and moral ones, he will degenerate physically. In both eventualities he will suffer in the one direction, while enjoying himself to excess in the other. Wisdom consists in maintaining the balance between the faculties with which one has been endowed, or in producing such a balance when it does not exist. Political economy, however, does not have to concern itself, or not directly anyway, with this inner ordering of our human faculties. Political economy is concerned only with the general laws governing the production and consumption of wealth. The way in which each individual should deploy the restorative powers of his being, concerns morality.

To suffer as little as possible, physically, morally, and intellectually, and to enjoy as much as possible, from this triple point of view – this is what constitutes, in the final analysis, the great motivating principle in human life, the pivot around which all our lives move. This motive or pivot[170] is known as self-interest.


You regard self-interest as the sole motive of human action and you say that it consists in sparing oneself pain and obtaining gratification. But is there not any more noble motive to which one might appeal? Might one not find the more elevated stimulus of the love of humanity more exciting than the ignoble lure of personal pleasure? Instead of yielding to self-interest, might one not obey the imperative of devotion to others? [30]


Devotion to others is no more than one of the constituent parts of self-interest.


What does that mean? Are you forgetting that devotion implies sacrifice and that sacrifice involves suffering?


Yes, sacrifice and suffering on one side, but satisfaction and enjoyment on another. When one sacrifices oneself for one’s neighbor, one condemns oneself, usually at least, to some material privation, but one experiences in exchange, moral satisfaction. If the effort involved outweighed the satisfaction derived from it, one would not sacrifice oneself for someone else.


What about the martyrs?


The martyrs themselves could supply me with witnesses in support of my case. In them, the moral sentiments of religion outweighed the physical instinct of self-preservation. In exchange for their bodily suffering they experienced moral pleasure of a more intense kind. When one is not armed to a high degree with religious feeling, one does not expose oneself, at least not willingly, to martyrdom. Why is this? It is because the moral satisfaction derived is weak and one finds it too dearly purchased in terms of the physical suffering.


But if that is the way of it, the men in whom physical appetite predominates, will always sacrifice the satisfaction of their more lofty aspirations, to that of their [31] lower ones. Their interest will always be to wallow in the gutter…


This would be so if human existence were limited to this earth. The individuals in whom physical appetites predominate would, in such a case, have no interest in repressing them. Man is not, however, or does not believe himself to be, a creature of a mere day. He has faith in a future life and strives to perfect himself, in order to ascend to a better world rather than descend to a worse one. If he foregoes certain pleasures in this life, it is in order to acquire superior ones in another life.

If he has no faith in these future satisfactions, or reckons them inferior to those present satisfactions which religion and morality command him to give up in order to obtain them, he will not agree to this sacrifice.

Whether the satisfaction is present or future, however, whether it is located in this world or another, it is always the end which man selects for himself, the constant and unchanging motive behind his actions.


When it is elaborated like this, one can, I think, accept self-interest as the sole motive of man’s actions.


Driven by his own self-interest, as he sees it, man acts and works. It is the role of religion and morality to teach him how best to invest his effort…

Man therefore strives incessantly to reduce the sum of his sorrows and increase that of his joys. How can he achieve this double outcome? By [32] obtaining, in exchange for less work, more things suitable for consumption, or, which comes to the same thing, by perfecting his labor.

How can man perfect his labor? How can he obtain a maximum of satisfaction in exchange for a minimum of effort?

He can do it by managing efficiently the powers he possesses, by carrying out the work which best suits his abilities and by accomplishing the task in the best possible way.

Now experience proves that this result can be secured only through the most perfect division of labor.

Men’s best interests naturally lie therefore in the division of labor. The division of labor, however, implies a bringing-together of individuals, societies, and exchanges.[171]

If men remain isolated, if they satisfy all their needs individually, they will expend the maximum effort to obtain a minimum of satisfaction.

Even so, this interest which men have in uniting, with a view to reducing their labor and increasing their economic satisfaction, would perhaps not have been sufficient to bring them together, had they not been first of all drawn to each other by the natural stimulus of certain needs which cannot be met in isolation, plus the need to defend – what shall we call it? – their property.


What? Are you saying property exists in isolation? According to those learned in law, it is society which creates it. [33]


If society creates it, then society can abolish it too, a consideration which would make the socialists who demand its abolition less egregiously guilty. Society did not, however, create property, it being rather the case that property created society.

What is property?[172]

Property derives from a natural instinct with which the whole human species is endowed. This instinct reveals to man, prior to any reflection, that he is master of his own person and may use as he chooses all the potential attributes constituting his person, whether they remain part of him, or he has in fact separated himself from them.


Separated? What does this mean?


Man has to produce if he wants to consume. In producing he expends, separates from himself, a certain part of his physical, moral, and intellectual powers. Products contain the effort expended by those who made them. Man does not cease to own, however, these efforts he has separated from himself under the pressure of necessity. Human understanding is not deceived and will condemn, without distinction, infringements of internal and external property rights.[173]

When man is denied the right to own the [34] part of his powers which he separates from himself when he is working, when the right to dispose of it is allocated to others, what happens? That separation, that using up of his powers, implies some degree of pain, and the man thus ceases working unless someone forces him to.

To abolish the rights of man to the ownership of the fruits of his labor, is to prevent the creation of the products concerned.

To seize control of a part of these products is likewise to discourage their creation; it is to slow down man’s activity by weakening the motive impelling him to act.

In the same way, to threaten internal property; to force a free and acting being to undertake work he would not personally undertake, or to bar him from [35] certain branches of work, that is to deflect his faculties away from the use he would naturally select, is to diminish that man’s productive power.

Any assault on property, internal or external, alienated or not, is contrary to utility as well as to justice.

How does it happen then, that assaults have been made against property, in every period of history?

Given that any work entails an expenditure of effort, and any expenditure of effort a degree of pain, some men have wished to spare themselves the latter, whilst claiming for themselves the satisfaction it provides. They have consequently made a speciality of stealing the fruits of other men’s labor, either by [36] depriving them of their external property, or reducing them to slavery. They have gone on to construct societies organized to protect them and the fruits of their pillaging against their slaves or against other predators. This lies at the origin of most societies.[174]

This quite unwarranted usurpation by the strong of the property of the weak, however, has been successively repeated. From the very beginnings of society an endless struggle has existed between the oppressors and the oppressed, the plunderers and the plundered; from the very beginning of societies, the human race has constantly sought the emancipation of property. History abounds with this struggle. On the one hand you see the oppressors defending the privileges [37] they have allotted themselves on the basis of the property of others; on the other we see the oppressed, demanding the abolition of these unjust and dreadful privileges.[175]

The struggle goes on and will not cease until property is fully emancipated.


But there are no more privileges![176]


But property has all too many privileges!


Property is scarcely freer today than it was before 1789. It may even be less free. Only, there is a difference: before 1789, the restrictions placed on property rights were advantageous to some people: today, for the most part, no one benefits, without these restrictions being any the less harmful, however, to all of us.[177]


Where, though, do you see these pernicious restrictions?


I am going to enumerate the main ones…


One further observation. I readily accept property as supremely just and useful in the state of nature. A man lives and works alone. It is entirely fair that this man should have sole enjoyment of the fruits of his labor. It is equally useful that he be assured of holding on to his property. Can this regime of individual property be maintained fairly and usefully, however, in the social state? [38]

I am also happy to admit that justice and utility prescribe, in this common state as much as in the other, that the entire property of each individual and that portion of his powers that he has alienated from his person by working, be recognized as his. Would individuals really, however, be able to enjoy these two forms of property, if society were not organized in such a way as to guarantee them this satisfaction? If this indispensable organization did not exist; if by some mechanism or other, society did not distribute to each person the equivalent of his labor, would not the weak man find himself at the mercy of the strong, would not some people’s property be perpetually intruded on by the property of others? And if we were so imprudent as to emancipate property fully, before society was fully empowered with this distributive mechanism, would we not be witness to increasing encroachments of the strong on the property of the weak? Would not the complete emancipation of property aggravate the harm rather than correcting it?


If the objection were sound, if it were necessary to construct a mechanism for the distribution to each person of the equivalent of his labor, then clearly socialism would clearly have its raison d’être and I like you would be a socialist. In fact, this mechanism you wish to establish artificially, exists naturally and it works. Society has been organized: the evil which you attribute to its lack of organization, derives from obstacles preventing the free play of that organization.


Do you have the audacity to claim that, by allowing all men to manage their property as they see fit, in the social circumstances [39] we live in, we would find things working out by themselves in such a way as to render each man’s labor as productive as possible, and the distribution of the fruits of the labor of all, fully just? …


I do to claim this.


So you think it would become unnecessary, leaving aside production, to plan at least distribution and exchange, to free up circulation ...


I am sure of it. Let property owners freely go about their business. Let property circulate and everything will work out for the best.[178]

In fact, property owners have never been left to go freely about their business and property has never been allowed to circulate freely.

Judge for yourself.

Is it a matter of the property right a man has in himself; of the right he has to use his abilities freely, insofar as he causes no damage to the property of others? In the present society, the highest posts and the most lucrative professions are not open; one cannot practice freely as a solicitor, a priest, a judge, bailiff, money-changer, broker, doctor, lawyer or professor. Nor can one straightforwardly be a printer, a butcher, baker or entrepreneur in the funeral business.[179] We are not free to set up a commercial organization, a bank, an insurance company,[180] or a large transport company, nor free to build a road or establish a charity, nor to sell tobacco or gunpowder, or saltpeter, nor to carry [p.40] mail, or print money,[181] nor to meet freely with other workers to establish the price of labor.[182] The property right a man has in himself, his internal property, is in every detail shackled.

A man’s property right to the fruits of his labor, his external property, is equally impeded. Literary and artistic property and the property right of inventions are recognized and guaranteed only for a short period. Material property is generally recognized in perpetuity, but it is subject to a multitude of restrictions and charges. Gifts, inheritance, and loans are restricted too. Trade is heavily encumbered as much by capital transfer taxes, registration charges and stamp duty, by the octrois (city) taxes and by customs duties, as by the privileges granted to agents working as intermediaries in certain markets. Sometimes, in addition, trade is completely prohibited outside certain limits. Finally, the law of expropriation on the grounds of public utility,[183] endlessly threatens such weak remnants of property rights that the other restrictions have spared.


All the restrictions you have just listed were established in the interests of society.


That may be true. Those who introduced them, however, brought about a pernicious result, for all these restrictions act, in different degrees, and some with considerable impact, as causes of injustice and harm to society.


So that by destroying them we would come to enjoy a veritable paradise on earth. [p..41]


I do not say that. What I do say is that society would find itself in the best possible situation, in terms of the present state of development in the arts and science.


And you are setting out to prove it?




Now there is a utopian for you!

Molinari’s Long Footnote about Leclerc and External property

One of our most distinguished economists, M. L. Leclerc,[184] has recently put forward a theory on the origin of external property, very like the one above. The differences are in form rather than in substance. Instead of an alienation of internal powers, M. Leclerc sees in external property a consumption of life and bodily organs. I quote:

The phenomenon of the gradual consumption and of the extinction, not of the individual self, which is immortal, but of life; this unthinkable breakdown of the faculties and organs, when it takes place as a result of the useful effort called work, seems to me very worthy of attention; for although this outcome is unavoidable, either to maintain the productive effort itself, or to supplement what may still be in working order or perhaps replace what can no longer work, it is quite clear that such an outcome is painfully achieved. Its real costs include the amount of time it took, and if we may put it thus, the call it made on the faculties and bodily organs irrevocably used up to obtain it. This part of my life and my strength is gone forever. I can never recover it. Here it is, invested as it were, in the result of my efforts. It alone represents what I used legitimately to possess and no longer have. I did not use only my natural right in practising this substitution. I followed my conservative instinct; I submitted myself to the most imperious of necessities. My property rights are there! Work is therefore the certain foundation, the pure source, the holy origin of the rights of property. Otherwise the self is not primordial and original property, and the faculties, an expansion of the self and the organs put to its service, do not belong to it, which would be intolerable.
“To make use of one’s time," “to waste it," “to use it well or badly”; “to work oneself to death in order to live”; “to devote an hour or a day”: these are familiar phrases used for centuries, integral parts of any human language, which itself is thought made manifest. The self[185] is therefore perfectly aware of foolish or wise, useful or unproductive deployment of its powers, and as it also knows that these powers belong to it, it readily infers from this a potential and exclusive claim on the useful outcomes of this inevitable extinction, when it has been laboriously and fruitfully achieved. Public awareness upholds, directly and spontaneously, these serious principles, these strikingly obvious truths, apparently without engaging in the long disquisitions which we intellectuals regard as obligatory.
Yes, my life belongs to me, as does the right to make of it, freely, a generous sacrifice to humankind, to my country, to my fellow-man, to my friend, my wife, my child. My life is mine, I devote a part of it to what may serve to prolong it. What I have obtained is therefore mine and I can also devote it entirely to those who are dear to my affections. If the effort is successful, religion explains this in terms of divine favor; if it is skillful, the economist can attribute it to the improved operation of my faculties; if by chance the output exceeds my needs, it is quite obvious that the surplus [36] again belongs to me. I therefore have a right to use it to add other satisfactions to that of living. I have a right to keep it aside for the child whom I might father, or against that terrible time of powerlessness, old age. Whether or not I convert the surplus, or trade it, utility for utility, value for value, it is still mine, since, as cannot be emphasized too much, it remains always the clear representation of a part of my life, of my faculties, and my bodily parts, expended in work, which produces this surplus. Have I not committed part of the time given to me to live on earth, so as to possess, honorably and legitimately, something which, when I close my eyes for the last time, I bequeath to those I love – clothes, furniture, goods, a house, land, contracts, money, and so on. Am I not, in reality, leaving my life and my faculties to those whom I love? I might have spared myself some effort or rendered that effort less painful, or increased my personal consumption. How much sweeter it is, however, to me, to transfer to my loved ones what was mine by right! This is a warm and consoling thought, which bolsters up courage, charms the heart, inspires and safeguards virtue, inclines us to noble commitments, holds different generations together, and results in an improvement of our human lot, by the gradual growth of wealth.[186]



5. The Second Evening

Editor’s Note

In this evening’s Soirée the Economist continues the discussion on the distinction between internal and external property, in particular on that kind of “external property” called “intellectual property”[187] which included things such as the right of authors to own their own literary works (copyright), artists to own their own works of art, inventors and factory technicians to own their own inventions (patents and trade marks), and so on. He also discusses the problem of counterfeiting and the pirating of books and inventions created by others.

It is curious that Molinari would begin with this topic as it was quite obscure in comparison with other topics which concerned the Economists at this time, such as taxes, tariffs, and government regulation of businesses. The question of intellectual property rights had become an issue in the 1840s under the persistent criticism of socialists like Louis Blanc who, in the 6th edition of Organisation du travail (1845), had described intellectual property as “ce prétendu droit” (this so-called right) which was a form of theft and harmful to society, was thus “anti-social”, and should be abolished.[188] The issue had also come up for discussion in the Chamber of Deputies between April 1845 and July 1847 when an official Report on “marques de fabrique” (brands or trade marks) by M. Drouyn de Lhoys was tabled. Before the official report was tabled the government seemed to favor a free market solution whereby producers and merchants would use a voluntary system for establishing and enforcing trade marks ("la marque facultative”) but the official Report came down in favor of a government funded and policed system of “la marque obligatoire” (compulsory trade marks and brands). The economist Renouard thought this was a serious setback for the freedom of consumers to decide for themselves and would prove to be a heavy burden on taxpayers.[189]

Another factor which might have brought this topic to Molinari’s mind at this time was the fact that his friend and colleague who worked with him on the journal the Courrier français, Hippolyte Castille, and whose home on la rue Saint-Lazare hosted a regular soirée for radicals which Molinari attended, had started his own journal dedicated to intellectual property matters called Le travail intellectuel, journal des intérêts scientifiques, littéraires et artistiques (Intellectual Labor: A Journal to Defend Scientific, Literary, and Artistic Interests) in late 1847. It was edited by Castille and largely written by him, although both Molinari and Bastiat contributed material to it occasionally.

Under the general idea of “la propriété intellectuelle” (intellectual property) the Economist has several things in mind: “propriété littéraire” (literary property, i.e. of authors), “propriété artistique” (artistic property, which could mean either that of artists and painters, or of industrial designers), “droit de copie” (copyright), “marques de fabrique” (trade marks), and “brevets d’invention” (patents). In addition to countering the criticism of the socialists and the government’s attempts to regulate matters more formerly, economists like Molinari and Bastiat were engaged in a theoretical debate with their colleagues over the question of whether or not intellectual creations contained “value” and were thus a form of property which could be owned (and for how long), and that could be traded with others.[190] Both were influenced by J.-B. Say’s ideas about “non-material goods” (or “services”) and in their own different ways wanted to replace the traditional (i.e. Smithian-Ricardian) focus on “objective” amounts of a quantity such as labor which was supposedly “embedded” in the object being exchanged, with a radically new focus on the “subjective” assessment or evaluation of the value of an object by each individual participating in the exchange. Bastiat turned to the idea of the mutual exchange of “services”; Molinari turned to the idea of a subjectively determined and changing hierarchy of individual needs and the gradual reduction of scarcity caused by technological and economic progress.

The members of the Political Economy Society were deeply divided on the issue. On one side were Molinari, Émile Laboulaye, Frédéric Passy, Prosper Paillottet, (as well as Hippolyte Castille and Marcellin Jobard who were not members of the Society), who believed in a “complete (and) perpetual” right to intellectual property. On the other side, there were Louis Wolowski, Charles Renouard, Charles Coquelin, and Jules Dupuit who believed that it should be a limited right of short duration, that it was a “license” for first use but not an absolute and eternal property right. Bastiat fell somewhere between the two camps.[191] The defenders of a “perpetual” right to intellectual property broke off to form their own journal, Le travail intellectuel, in 1847 to promote their views under the editorship of Hippolyte Castille.

Charles Coquelin, in particular, strenuously objected to Molinari's view that inventors should have their inventions (“brevets d'invention” or patents) protected forever as perpetual property rights. He describes Molinari and Jobard as “zealous partisans” of this view which is nothing but “puerile eccentricities." Coquelin argues that inventions are not a right of property but rather “a right of priority” which the state recognized but only for a limited period of time. Under the old regime inventors had no rights under French law until the Revolution introduced the Law of 7 January 1791 sponsored by de Bouffiers who took a very favorable view of the property rights of inventors. The Law of 5 July 1844 defined what could and could be protected by patents. The former were new industrial products and new methods of producing industrial products. What were not protected by government patent were pharmaceutical products and financial and credit instruments, in order to prevent the practice of “charlatanism” in these industries.[192]

There is also a lengthy discussion in this Soirée about the copyright held by authors and their publishers. This was a concern because of rampant importing of pirate editions of French language books, especially from Belgium, at a time when there was no international agreement on the protection of copyright. Prussia and England had begun to recognize reciprocal international copyright agreements only in 1838 but this did not spread to the rest of Europe until the Berne Convention of 1886. Under the old regime “droit de copie” (copyright) existed in perpetuity but it was enjoyed at the pleasure of the sovereign and not by legal right. This right was lost if an author granted the copyright to a publisher. The author then only had copyright until his death, after which the book entered the public domain. During the Revolution copyright was protected under the law and it could be transferred without restriction but it was limited in duration. According to the law of 19 July 1793 copyright was granted to the author for life and to his/her heirs for 10 years after their death; the Decree of 5 February 1810 extended the right of heirs to 20 years. These laws remained in effect up until the mid-19th century, with only a slight modification with the law of 3 August 1844.[193]


SUMMARY: Infringements of external property rights. – Literary and artistic property. – Counterfeiting – Ownership of inventions. THE SOCIALIST.

You have undertaken to prove to us that the harm attributed to property, in reality stems from attacks made on property.[194] Are you in the frame of mind to begin proving this paradox?


Would to God you were teaching such paradoxes… I drew the distinction between internal and external property. The first consists in the right every man has to dispose of his physical, moral, and intellectual faculties, as well as of the body which both houses those faculties and serves them as a tool. The second inheres in the right every man has over that portion of his faculties which he has deemed fit to separate from himself and to apply to external objects.


Where do our property rights with respect to external objects begin and end?


They begin at the moment when we apply some portion of our resources and faculties to the things which nature has put freely at our disposal; [43] at the moment when we complete the work of nature by giving these things a new aspect; at the moment when we add to the natural value which inheres in them, an artificial value. They finish at the time when that artificial value is extinguished.


What do you mean by “value”?[195]


I mean by “value” that quality which things have or which is given to them to satisfy human needs.

Thus man possesses his own being and the things, artificial or natural, which depend on his being, his faculties, his body, and the things he makes.

The works of man, from which external property derives, are of two kinds: material and non-material.[196]

The law recognizes material property in perpetuity, that is to say as long as the object owned, lasts. By contrast, law restricts non-material property to a rather brief time period. Both have the same origin, however.


Do you mean to say that you are treating the property of an invention or a piece of music in the same way as property in houses or land?


Absolutely. Do they not both have their origin equally in work? From the moment effort is expended and value created, whether the effort involves the nerves or the muscles, whether the value be applied to a tangible object [44] or an intangible one, a new property is created. It matters little under what form it manifests itself.

If it is a question of a plot of land under cultivation, it will be for the most part physical force which has been expended; if it is a piece of music, it is the intellectual faculties, with the help of certain physical and moral resources which will have been set to work. But short of placing cognitive faculties below physical powers, or even more, short of claiming that man possesses, in his intelligence, less legitimate claims than those of his physical powers, can one establish some difference between these two sorts of property?


So you would want the inventor of a machine, the author of a book, the composer of a piece of music, to retain total ownership of their work and in perpetuity be able to give them away, bequeath them or sell them. You would want them to be granted even the right to destroy them. You would want the heirs of Bossuet,[197] Pascal[198] and Molière[199] to be allowed to deprive humanity of the immortal works of these mighty geniuses. Well, that is taking exaggeration to barbarous heights.




Applaud, that is the right response. Are you quite aware of what doctrine you have just been supporting, Mr Conservative?


The doctrine of common sense in my opinion. [45]


Not so, the doctrine of communism.[200]


You must be joking. I maintained the rights of society over the products of the mind, that is all.


That is just what the communists do. Only, they are more logical than you. They support the rights of society over everything, over material products as well as non-material ones. They say to the workers: fulfill your daily tasks, according to your powers, but instead of claiming the products of your labors, the valuable things you have created, for yourselves, hand them over to the general association of the citizens, to the community itself, which will take upon itself the responsibility of sharing justly among all, the fruits of each person’s efforts. You will get your share. Now is it not true that that is the language of the communists? [201]


Yes, that is just the language of that insane sect which robs the worker of the legitimate fruit of his labor, in order to give him some arbitrary share of the output of all.


Truly you speak with the voice of wisdom. Do you not admit, therefore, that they are stealing all or part of the fruits of his labor, in order to place that whole or that part with the community?


This is theft!


Well this theft is something society practices every day [46] to the detriment of men of letters, artists, and inventors.

You are familiar with the law in France regulating literary property. While the ownership of material things – land, houses, furniture – is without date, literary property is limited to the twenty years following the death of the author-owner.[202] The Constituent Assembly had even gone so far as granting only ten years.

Before the Revolution the legislation was in some respects much more just…


Before the Revolution you say?


Yes. You know that at that time all rights, the right to work as well as the right to own, emanated from the King. Authors therefore obtained for themselves and their heirs, when they asked for it, the exclusive right to exploit their books commercially. This privilege was without limits; unfortunately it was revocable at will; moreover, it was subject in practice to tiresome restrictions. When an author sold his work to a book seller, the exclusive right to exploit his works died with him. Only those who had inherited could keep this right exclusively.


So the heirs of Molière, La Fontaine[203] and Racine[204] had sole right to benefit from the works of their illustrious ancestors until 1789?


Yes. One can find a proclamation by the Council of 14 September, 1761, which maintains the prerogatives of their ancestor for [47] La Fontaine’s grandchildren, seventy years after his death. If the Constituent Assembly had understood its mission fully and properly, it would have recognized and guaranteed literary property by freeing it from the shackles of ancient privilege, which the ancien régime had recognized even while circumscribing it. Unfortunately, communist ideas had already germinated at that time in French society. A living resumé of the philosophical and economic doctrines of the eighteenth century, the Constituent Assembly included the disciples of Rousseau and Morelly as well as those of Quesnay and Turgot.[205] It drew back therefore from outright recognition of intellectual property. It mutilated that legitimate property in order to bring down the price of works of the mind.


Was not this praiseworthy end achieved? Suppose that the literary property of Pascal, Molière and La Fontaine had not been annulled to the benefit of the community, would we not be obliged to pay more for the work of these illustrious geniuses? And can one weigh the interests of a few against the interests of everyone?


“When the savages of Louisiana want some fruit,” says Montesquieu, “they cut the tree at its base and gather the fruit. That is what despotism does."[206] That is what communism does too, the author of The Spirit of the Laws would have said had he lived in our times. When you limit literary property thus, what are you doing? You are diminishing its market value. I produce a book and I offer to sell it to a book seller. If the ownership of this book is guaranteed to him in perpetuity, he will obviously be able to pay me for it and [48] at a better price than if twenty years after my death this property perishes.


Surely that is very unimportant in practice. How many books live another twenty years after the death of their author?


You are furnishing me with another weapon to use against you. There are two sorts of books; those which do not last and those which do. Your law limiting the life of intellectual property leaves the value of the first kind intact and diminishes the value of the second. Let me give you an example. A man of genius has written a book destined to last down the ages. He is going to take it to his book-seller. Can the latter pay more for this immortal book than for run of the mill stuff destined for oblivion, after a fleeting success? No, because while the book may not die, the property in the work dies, or, which comes to the same thing, it falls into the public domain. After a certain number of years, its titleholder is legally dispossessed. Your law rewards mediocrity and penalizes genius.

So what happens? What we see is the number of lasting books diminishing and the number of short-lived ones increasing. “Time,” says Aeschylus, “respects only what it has founded."[207] With very few exceptions, the masterpieces which the past has bequeathed us have been the fruit of very long labor. Descartes gave most of his life to writing his Meditations.[208] Pascal made as many as thirteen copies of his Provincial Letters before handing them over to the printers.[209] Adam Smith pondered the economic problems of society for thirty years [49] before penning his immortal treatise The Wealth of Nations.[210] When the man of genius does not, however, enjoy a degree of affluence, can he sow for so long without harvesting? Is he not, pressed by the spur of life’s necessities, to supply the fruits of his mind while they are not yet mature?

Easy and uncomplicated literature is much denounced, but can we have any other kind? How can we avoid light-weight work when the value of painfully achieved creations is brought down to the level of trivial writings? You will propose in vain that men of letters sacrifice their personal interests to those of art. The men of letters will not listen and in the main they are right. They too have family duties to fulfill, children to raise, parents to care for, debts to pay, a position to maintain. Can they neglect these natural and sacred duties, out of a love of art?

They make do and they head for the type of literature in which making do is easiest. In science the same situation engenders the same deplorable results. It is no longer observation which dominates modern science, but hypothesis. Why? Because you can construct a hypothesis more quickly than you can observe a law. Because you can make books more easily out of hypotheses than you can out of observations. And one also has to add that the hypothesis is often more striking. Paradox is more astonishing than truth. It becomes successful more easily. It probably loses that success more rapidly too. Meanwhile, the fellow who improvises with paradox gets rich, while the [50] patient seeker after truth battles with poverty. Given this, is it surprising that paradoxes abound and real science becomes more and more rare?


You neglect to say that the government undertakes to look after men with distinguished careers in science or the arts. Society has rewards and honors for truly learned men and real men of letters.


Yes, and in this whole absurd system there is nothing less absurd. Just look at it. You devalue the property of real learned men and writers, in the alleged interests of posterity. Some sense or other of natural justice, warns you, however, that you are plundering them. So you extract from society a tax whose proceeds you allot to them. You have a budget for the arts and letters.[211] I take it that the funds raised in this budget are always justly shared and reach the people the law is aiming at (and you will know whether my hypothesis is correct); is this penalty any the less tainted with injustice? Is it right to oblige taxpayers to finance a tax to the advantage of future consumers of literature? Is not this a communism of the worst kind, this one which reaches beyond the grave?[212]


Where do you see this alleged communism?


In a communist society, what does the government do? It seizes the product of the labor of each person in order to distribute it freely to all. Well, what does [51] government do, when it puts a time limit on literary property? It takes a part of the property of the learned man and the man of letters and distributes it free of charge to posterity; after which it obliges taxpayers to give a part of their property free of charge to learned men and men of letters.

The latter lose out in this communist arrangement, since the proportion of property stolen from them is larger than the benefit which is granted to them.

Taxpayers lose even more in this way, for they get nothing for the amount which they are forced to pay.

Do at least the readers of books gain something?

Present day readers gain nothing since writers gain temporarily an absolute right of property over their works.

Future consumers are able, probably, to buy older works more cheaply; on the other hand they are less lavishly supplied with them. In other respects books which last across the ages experience all the inconveniences which attach to communism. Fallen into the public domain they cease to be the objects of that attentive and vigilant care that an owner knows how to give to his own. Even the best editions are full of alterations and mistakes.

Shall I say something of the indirect harm which results from the constraints on literary property – shall I speak about counterfeiting?


What connections do you see between counterfeit editions and the legal limitations on literary property? [52]


What is counterfeiting, in effect, other than a limitation on literary property, in terms of place, where your law limits it in terms of time?[213] Is there in reality the least difference between these two sorts of attack on property? I will go further. It is the limitation in time which gives rise to the limitation in place.

When material property was thought of as a simple privilege emanating from the sovereign’s goodwill, this privilege expired at the borders of each state. The property of foreigners was subject to the right of confiscation.

When material property came to be recognized everywhere as an imprescriptible and sacred right, the right of confiscation ceased to be applied to it.

Only intellectual property is still subject to this barbarous law. In all justice, however, can we justifiably complain? If we respect intellectual property less than material property, can we oblige outsiders to respect it equally?


Perhaps not. But you are taking no account of the moral advantages of counterfeiting. It is thanks to them that French ideas spread abroad. Doubtless our men of letters and our pundits lose out; but civilization gains. What does the interest of a few hundred individuals matter compared to the wider interests of humanity?


You are now using with respect to the advantage of foreign consumers the same argument you have just used about the [53] advantages to future ones. Let me refute the argument from the point of view of consumption in general.

France is perhaps in all the world, the country where literary production is most active and abundant. Books are very expensive here, however. We pay 15 francs for a two-volume novel, while in Belgium the same two volumes cost only 1 franc 50c.[214] Should we attribute this price difference solely to the rights of authors? Not so. On the admission of the interested parties themselves, it stems mainly from the slender market base available to French booksellers. If illegal printing came to be suppressed, the two volumes which sell at 15 francs in France would probably fall to 5 francs on the general market, or perhaps even lower. In this case the foreign consumer would pay 3 francs 50c more than under the system of counterfeiting; on the other hand the French consumer would pay 10 francs less. From the viewpoint of general consumption, would this not be obviously advantageous?

A few years back I heard M. Chaix d’Est-Ange, in the Chamber of Deputies, defending counterfeiting in terms of the dissemination of enlightenment.[215] It is thanks to counterfeiting, he said, that French ideas penetrate foreign parts. Possibly so, one might have replied to this distinguished lawyer; on the other hand this practice prevents French ideas from penetrating France herself.

Foreign consumers would pay a little more for our books if counterfeiting ceased, and so on. We would supply them, however, with better and [54] more numerous ones. Would they not benefit equally with us?


I agree. I definitely think that you are right and I am am inclined to rally to the cause of literary property.


I would have been able to develop further some considerations on the expansion and stability which full recognition of literary property would bestow not only on the work of literary people but on book selling too… Since I have won my case, however, I do not insist on it.

Since you grant me literary property you must also grant me artistic property.


In what does artistic property consist?[216]


If it is a question of a painting, statue, or monument,[217] artistic property consists in the right to dispose of it like any other material property and to have it reproduced or give exclusive right to its reproduction by sketching or engraving etc. If it is an industrial design or technical drawing, artistic property resides likewise in an exclusive right of reproduction. It goes without saying that this property can be given away or sold like any other property.


I don’t see any difficulty here. It might be agreed, however, to make an exception for industrial designs and technical drawings. Craftsmen, draftsmen, and industrial designers [55] would make excessive demands if they were granted absolute property rights over their work.


Ah, so I’ve got you again Mr Communist-Conservative.[218] Well let me tell you that quite inadvertently the legislative regulators under the Empire let that form of property escape any time limits. This salutary forgetfulness inevitably bore excellent fruit. Our industrial designs and technical drawings are today unrivalled in the world.

This is easily explained. On the one hand the industrialists who buy from the craftsmen these industrial designs and technical drawings, being guaranteed perpetual tenure of this property, can pay the highest possible price. On the other hand the craftsmen, guaranteed a good price, put in the time and care necessary for their production.


But are you also aware of what has happened? I bet you will never guess. These industrialists, who are such fierce protectors of property, one day realized that they were paying too much for their industrial designs and technical drawings. The issue was put on the agenda one day in their Chambers of Commerce and Industrial Improvement Societies. It was unanimously agreed that the harm arose from the perpetual nature of property. As a result they immediately demanded that the government should curtail it. The government hastened to comply with this demand from the big barons of industry. The Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce rushed through a legal reform reducing to three, five, ten and fifteen years, the property rights pertaining to industrial designs and technical drawings. [56] The project was presented to both Chambers and discussed in the Upper Chamber….[219]


And adopted?


No! The February Revolution forced it from the agenda. You can be quite sure, nevertheless, that discussion of the matter will be resumed and that the law will be passed. These conservatives, however, who strike so ruthlessly at the property of craftsmen, who never hesitate to engage in communism when it is to their advantage, hound communists like so many wild beasts.[220]


If the industrialists of whom you speak had thought properly about their true interests; if they had entertained a few sound notions of political economy, they would have understood that in hurting craftsmen they would inevitably hurt themselves too. When the law has limited property rights to industrial designs and technical drawings, these creative works will probably be sold at a lower price; but will they retain the same degree of perfection? Will not elite craftsmen turn away from this branch of work when their output is not properly rewarded?


They could still be paid properly, it seems to me.


If houses could be possessed for three years only, would not their prices fall. [57]


Assuredly. One would not put a high price on a house of which one could be dispossessed in three years’ time.


Under these arrangements we would build only hovels.


Well if the law likewise reduced the market value of industrial designs and technical drawings, henceforth industrial designs and technical drawings would be nothing but cheap junk.

In this case, however, will our fabrics and bronze wares, in which the design, the pattern itself, often constitutes the whole price, still be able to meet foreign competition? In limiting the property rights of craftsmen, will our industrialists not be cutting down the tree to obtain the fruit?


This is true.


You see where constriction of property leads. Maybe things become common; but either they are badly produced or no longer produced.

If you support indefinite property rights over creative works, you must support them also in respect of inventions.


Indefinite property rights over inventions! This would be the death of industry, which is already mercilessly fleeced by inventors.


In fact, however, inventions, like works of literature and art, are the fruit of the mind put to work. [58] If the latter give rise to unlimited and absolute property rights, why should the former, which have the same origin, give rise only to limited and conditional rights?


Are not the interests of society at stake here? I understand granting a right of unlimited and absolute ownership to writers and artists. That has only minor importance. At a pinch the world could do without artists and writers.


Goodness me!


But we could not get by without inventors. It is they who supply the tools and processes used in agriculture and industry.


Thus it is not a question of getting rid of inventors or reducing their numbers. It is a question of increasing their numbers by guaranteeing that their labor receives the remuneration due to it.


This is something I want to see. In decreeing the ownership of inventions in perpetuity, however, are you not putting agriculture and industry forever under the yoke of a small number of inventors? Are you not subjecting the most vital branches of production to demanding, intractable, horrible monopolies? Suppose, for example, that the inventor of the plough had retained the property rights of his invention, and that that right had been transmitted intact until the present era, what would have happened? [59]


We would have had today more and better tools for ploughing.


This is completely absurd!


Let us talk about it. You are familiar with the legislation which regulates inventions today. Inventors are guaranteed property rights over their inventions for five, ten, and fifteen years, on the condition of paying the tax authorities 500 francs in the first case, 1,000 francs in the second, and 1,500 francs in the third. Now it is perfectly possible for an invention not to yield the inventor what he had expected from it. In this case he finds himself punished, fined for having invented something.


I have never said the present law is perfect. It can be reformed. But to grant the inventor perpetual ownership rights to his work: this is madness!


In whose interest do you wish to deprive the inventor of part of his property rights. Is this in the interests of present consumers? No, because you grant the inventor his property for five, ten, or fifteen years. In this period he naturally draws the maximum possible share which will soon be denied him. He exploits his monopoly very rigorously. It is therefore solely in the interests of posterity that you would dispossess inventors.


It is in the interests of progress and civilization. [60] Moreover, how could we disentangle and demarcate the rights of inventors. All inventions are interconnected somewhere or other.


As do all forms of material property. That does not stop each person at the end of the day protecting the integrity of his own.


Yes, but this would be much more difficult in the domain of invention. Would not the recognition of the property of inventors give rise to a myriad of legal actions?


Is not the abolition of property a strange way of preserving it from the dangers of legal wrangling? Moreover, the difficulty you are emphasizing occurs every day and is every day resolved. The fact that the property from inventions is guaranteed for five, ten, or fifteen years, gives rise to legal cases, just as though it were perpetual. These cases are judged and that is that. Your objection fails before the facts. So again I say that you wish to limit the property rights to inventions in the interests of posterity.




There are in the West of the American Union immense, virgin lands which are every day taken up by the intrepid emigrants who go there. When these pioneers of civilization see a plot which takes their fancy, they stop their wagons, pitch their tent, and first with the axe [61] and secondly with the plough, they clear and dig the soil. They give value to this soil which previously had none. Well, this value created by labor, would you find it just for the community to appropriate it after five, or ten, or fifteen years, instead of allowing the worker to bequeath it to his posterity?[221]


Heavens above; but that would be communism, barbarism! Who would want to clear land on these terms? Even so, is there even the least analogy between the work of the pioneer and that of the inventor? Is not intelligence a common fund of humanity? Can one limit its fruits entirely to oneself? Does not the inventor draw considerable benefit, moreover, from the discoveries of predecessors and the knowledge which has been built up in society? If he did not engage in invention, would not someone else, taking advantage of these discoveries and this common knowledge, engage in invention in his place?


The objection applies to the person who clears the land as much as to inventor. Society would not be able to say to this first occupant of the land: you are going to make land hitherto unproductive, valuable: all right; we consent. Do not forget, however, that the soil is God’s work and not yours. Do not forget that while its fruits belong to all, the land itself belongs to no one.[222] So enjoy this plot of land for a few years, but after that be sure to restore it to humanity, which holds it from God. If you do not submit with good grace to this legitimate restitution, we know very well how to use force [62] to make the right of everyone prevail against the egoism of a single person. What? Are you resisting? Are you objecting that you alone, by the sweat of your brow, created the value that I am now demanding be taken from you? You rebellious and unnatural proprietor! Could you have created this value, without the tools and the knowledge which the community supplied you with? Reply!


And the proprietor would doubtless reply: The community has indeed supplied me with tools and knowledge but I have paid for them. My forebears and I have acquired by our work everything we possess. Society has therefore no right to the fruits of my present work. And if, abusing its power, it steals my property, holding it in common, or handing it over to men who did not create it, it will be committing the most unjust and heinous kind of plunder.


Well replied. Answer that one for me, you communist gentlemen!


Answer it yourself. If society accepts that it has no claim to the property of those who clear the land, although they work on previously common land, although they use prior discoveries and knowledge, it would obviously not be able to claim anything against the property of inventors.


That depends on the demands of the general interest. If the [63] community seizes some land, five, ten, or fifteen years after it has been cleared….


And if that community forces the person who clears the land to pay 500 francs, 1,000 francs, or 1,500 francs before he knows whether or not the land will be fertile….


And whatever the extent of the cleared land….


It is certain that there will not be much clearing of land and that the community itself will be the loser.


It is the same with inventions. Much less is invented under a regime of limited property rights than would be invented under a regime of unlimited property rights.[223] Now since society can advance only on the basis of feats of invention, posterity, whose interests you have invoked, would obviously gain from the recognition of inventors’ property rights, just as it benefits from recognition of landed property.


Perhaps you are right for the majority of inventions. There are some, however, so necessary that one could not leave them long in private possession. I cited the case of the plough. Would it not be a dreadful misfortune if a single individual had the right to make and sell ploughs, if the property rights with respect to that tool, so vital to agriculture, had not entered the public domain?


It would be disastrous in fact. [64]


Let us examine together how things would have turned out if the inventor of the plough had enjoyed property rights over his invention, instead of being denied these. Here is my unequivocal reply: No! Society serves its true interests by recognizing the rights of the inventor of the plough, not by seizing for itself this property which is due to the work of one of its own members and making it common to all. No! Society has hindered the progress of agriculture instead of facilitating it and in plundering the inventor it is plundering itself.


That is a paradox!


We will see this clearly. What is the plough and what use is it?

The plough is an instrument pulled by beasts of burden, horses, or bullocks, under the control of a man, and which serves to open up the soil. Before the invention of the plough what did people use to cultivate the ground? They used the spade. There you have two very distinct tools therefore, with the aid of which the same work can be accomplished; two tools which compete the one with the other. This competition is, in truth, very unequal since the plough is infinitely better than the spade; and rather than resorting to this latter tool, the least economic of them all, most farmers would resign themselves to paying a substantial surcharge to the holders of the property right in the plough. But in the end the fields will not remain uncultivated. The spade would be used to that point when the holders of the property right in the plough, [65] noticing that in extremity people could get by without them, would be more accommodating.

What would result however from this situation in society, with its being faced with the inflated claims of the owners of certain indispensable tools? That there would be a huge interest in multiplying the number of these tools and making more perfect versions. [224] At a time when the price of the plough, for example, was soaring, would not anyone who invented a tool as economic or more so to do the same job, make a fortune? And if he wished in his turn to raise considerably the price of his invention, would he not find his claims checked, first by the very fact of two old tools, to which one could always revert, and secondly by the fear of stirring up a wave of new competition, since he would have increased interest in discovering a more perfect tool. So you see that monopoly ought never to be feared because there would always be on the one hand the existing and effective competition of less perfect tools and on the other hand the eventual competition of more perfect tools, quite soon.


Is not the field of invention limited?


The plains of the mind are still more vast than the earth. In what branch of production can one assert that there is no further progress to be realized, nor discoveries to be made? Have no fear that the history of invention is ending; the powers of humanity will fail [66] before invention has come to an end.

Do you believe for example that we could not find anything better, when it comes to ploughing tools, than the present ones? Is not the plough, compared to the devices employed in manufacturing, a barbarous implement? The plough is a device moved by animal force. Now, does not manufacturing industry owe the immense progress it has realized over half a century to the substitution of the inanimate power of steam for the brute force of animals? Why does this economic substitution of inanimate for animal power not operate in agriculture too? Why has a steam driven device not replaced the plough in the way that the mule jenny has replaced the hand loom, and as the steam mill has replaced the grinding wheel turned by a blind horse, as the plough itself drawn by the power of beasts of burden replaced the spade powered by man?

If from the beginning, property rights over inventions had been recognized and respected to the same degree as material property, is it not at least probable that this benevolent progress would already have been accomplished? Is it not probable that steam would have already transformed and multiplied agricultural production as it has transformed and multiplied industrial production? Would not the result have been an immense advantage to the whole of humanity?

From all this my conclusion is that society would have had, from the start the very greatest interest in recognizing and respecting [67] property rights applied to inventions including the invention of the plough.


So you believe that there will be all the more invention insofar as the property rights of invention are more extensive and better guaranteed?


Most assuredly I do. It was as late as the eighteenth century that people began to recognize property rights in inventions. So let us compare the discoveries within a given period before and after that time.


That would seem to argue against your theories because property rights in inventions are not unlimited.


If property rights in a field of wheat after the field had long been in common ownership, came to be recognized and guaranteed for five, ten, or fifteen years vested in a single individual, would the growth in the production of wheat prove anything against unlimited property rights?


Probably not…But do not certain things discover themselves, so to speak, all on their own? There are discoveries which are in the air.


Just as there are harvests which are under the earth. It is a question only of making them emerge. But rest assured that “chance” does not take care of this requirement. How did you discover the law of gravity? they asked Newton one day. “By thinking about it all the time,” replied the man of genius. Watt,[225] Jacquart,[226] Fulton,[227] [68] would probably have given the same reply to a similar question. Chance invents nothing. It does not open up the realm of the mind any more than that of material things. So let us leave chance out of it.

They say that if a discovery were not made today it would be made tomorrow; but could this hypothesis quite as justly be applied to the clearing of land, as to new combinations of ideas and to inventions? If the backwoodsmen[228] who emigrate to the west stayed at home, might one not agree that other backwoodsmen would go to set themselves up on the same virgin lands before five, ten, or fifteen years had passed? So why therefore don’t we limit the property rights of the former? Why? Because if we did limit them nobody would wish to lose himself in the solitude of the west either today or tomorrow. Likewise, believe you me, nobody would strive to take up the discoveries which are in the air if no one had a personal interest in so doing.


You forget that glory and the even more noble desire to serve humanity act no less powerfully than personal interest does on inventors.


Glory and the desire to serve the human race constitute a part of human interest and are not distinct from it as I have already shown you. But these elevated motives are not enough. Like writers and artists, inventors are subject to human weakness. Like them, they are obliged to feed, clothe, and house themselves and usually also to look after a family. If you offer them no other appeal than glory and the satisfaction of having [69] served humanity they will be obliged for the most part to give up pursuing invention as a career. The rich alone will be able to invent, write, sculpt, and paint. Now since rich people are not very active workers civilization will scarcely advance.


Now then Mr Conservative admit with good grace that you have been beaten. If you support the perpetuity of material property you cannot but support that of intellectual property. There are the same right and the same necessities in both forms (always supposing of course that one recognizes this right and these necessities). Agree therefore to recognize property rights in invention as you have recognized the other kinds.


All that may be true in theory but, goodness me, in practice I prefer stay with the status quo.


If we decide to let you![229]



6. The Third Evening

Editor’s Note

In this Soirée Molinari continues his discussion of infringements or violations of what he calls “external property,” that is the right to own things which lie outside a person’s body.

The topics he covers here include the following. One of his more controversial opinions was that the state did not have the right to confiscate or expropriate private property for reasons of public utility, even with compensation. This had become a pressing issue in the 1840s with the construction of the immense fortifications of Paris in 1841-44 and the building of the network of railways centered on Paris after 1842. He also discusses the right to own mineral rights below ground and provides a brief history of French legislation before concluding that the first user should have full rights to any mineral deposits found. Next, he examines property which was owned by different branches of the state (the central government, the Departments, and the Communes), such as forests, roads, canals, rivers and dams, and how these might be run better by private, profit making bodies. This is the first of four instances where Molinari discusses how public goods might be provided privately and voluntarily by entrepreneurs operating in the free market. The others are in S8 (private banks and money, mail delivery), S9 (bakers, butchers, printers etc.), and S11 (security, police, and defense). This leads Molinari to discuss in more general terms the nature of property rights and the proper functions of government.

The expropriation of private property by the state

The expropriation of private property by the state had become an issue in the early 1840s with the massive fortifications of Paris planned by Thiers which took place between 1841 and 1844, and the government’s participation in building the new national railway network after 1842.

The first was an initiative of Adolphe Thiers who planned to build a massive military wall around the city of Paris and an accompanying complex of 16 large forts.[230] This was completed in 1844 at a cost of fr. 150 million and required large amounts of private land which had to be forcibly acquired by the French state for their construction, especially for the wide free-fire zone outside the wall which required the demolition of private farms and the relocation of the inhabitants. The total expenditure would have been much higher if the state had not used the labor of thousands of conscripts to dig the ditches and build the wall. This was strenuously opposed by liberals like the economist Michel Chevalier, the mathematician François Arago, and by Molinari here.[231]

The subject of railways was on many people’s minds in the late 1840s as the government had passed a major piece of legislation in 1842 which laid out how railway development would take place with government planning and assistance which included the compulsory acquisition of land for building purposes. The law of 11 June 1842 authorized the French state to partner with private companies in the building of five railroad networks spreading out from Paris. 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 from the government. The first major line was the “chemin de fer du Nord” (June 1846) followed by the “chemin de fer d'Amiens à Boulogne” (May 1848). Between 1842 and the end of 1847 the state had spent about fr. 420 million in subsidies, loan guarantees, and construction costs.[232] As well, he main station on the rue Saint-Lazare was also being rebuilt and expanded at this time.

The right to a legally determined, prior compensation for property confiscated by the state was enshrined in the Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen in June 1791 (Article 19) and in the Civil Code of 1804 (articles 544 and 545). The Law of 8 March 1810 established tribunals for the purpose of determining the amount of compensation payments. As canal building and then railways became more common the law had to be amended. The Law of 7 July 1833 (amended by the Law of 6 May 1841) created special juries made up of 16 local landowners, “jurys d’expropriation” (or Compensation Juries), which would meet to assess the value of the confiscated property and determine the level of compensation the state would pay for the confiscated land.[233] It was similar to the eminent domain laws in the United States. Molinari did not object to the amounts offered in compensation but to the fact that compulsory expropriation of property had taken place and had thus violated the property owners’ rights. His hard core opposition to compulsory state acquisition of private property upset the other members of the Political Economy Society who generally believed in its benefit to the common good but may have had some reservations about its excessive use. They expressed their opposition to Molinari’s position in their meeting of October 1849 shortly after the appearance of the book.[234]

Ownership of mineral resources

Concerning the ownership of mineral resources, Molinari takes sides here in a debate which had divided the economists since before the Revolution.[235] The Physiocrat Turgot argued in the 1770s that first use and occupancy by an individual bestowed a property right to the resource which was owned by that individual. Liberal revolutionaries like Mirabeau (Gabriel Honoré Riqueti) and post-revolutionary liberals like Charles Comte believed that ownership of mineral resources resided with the nation which could sell or license them at will. Other post-revolutionary liberals like Charles Dunoyer believed that owners of surface land also owned the mineral rights to the resources under their land. Molinari clearly sided with Turgot in arguing that the first user or occupant was the just owner of the property.

The matter was a concern when Molinari was writing as it was clear the number of mines which had opened in France as industrialization began in earnest lagged far behind that of England, and the discovery of gold in California the previous year. Mining rights and land ownership issues in California would have been very much on Molinari’s mind at this time. The California gold rush had began with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in January 1848 and the hundreds of thousands of gold seekers who flocked to the gold fields were known as the “forty niners” (1849). At this time California was not yet a state in the Union (it was admitted in September 1850) and was occupied by the U.S. following the Mexican-American War 1846-1848. The treaty which ended the war and which ceded California to the U.S. was signed in February 1848. Land ownership, especially mining rights, were in a state of flux. For the time being, Mexican mining law continued to apply whereby the first to stake a claim to mining land created “ownership” of it as far as later arrivals were concerned. Molinari was fascinated by the U.S. and travelled there extensively in the 1870s writing a series of articles for the Journal des Débats on the centennial exhibition which was held in Philadelphia in 1876 which were published as book.[236]

Property owned by the state

State owned property (“la domaine public”) was considerable in France and included property and real estate. Under “meubles” (property) was the following: the national printing service, the contents of the National Libraries, the contents of the National Archives, the contents of the art galleries, museums, and scientific laboratories, the arms held by the armed forces and navy, the furnishings and equipment of the government administration, and the contents of all government owned factories and workshops. The complete value of this property of the state is not known as it was not officially assessed at the time. However, the armed forces did give a figure for the value of the firearms it owned (fr. 1.12 million) and its ships (fr. 120 million). Under “immeubles” (real estate) was the following: public buildings, forges, foundries, workshops, land, forests, national roads, railways, canal tow paths, and lakes. The value of the latter was estimated in January 1850 to be worth fr. 1.3 billion. The earnings from government owned property was estimated in 1850 to have been fr. 221 million, or 6.4% of total government income.[237]

In addition, there were many industries in which the French state either ran government owned factories or had an outright monopoly. Under the category of “privileged” or “legal monopolies” were the manufacture and sale of tobacco products, gunpowder, the delivery of mail, the issuing of money, education, and public works. There were also numerous areas of economic activity which could only be practiced with a government issued license such as mines, legal notaries, lawyers, bailiffs, money changers, brokers, printers, book sellers, bakers, butchers, and porters.[238]

As the book unfolds, we will see how many of these areas of state monopoly or government licensing Molinari wanted to open up to private ownership and competition. A key concept in his thinking was an expanded role of the entrepreneur, a word which he uses throughout Les Soirées (37 times) and identifies 12 specific kinds of entrepreneurial activity. There are the usual “entrepreneurs d'industrie” (industrial or manufacturing entrepreneurs) but also some unusual ones such as “entrepreneurs d'education” (entrepreneurs in the education business), “le laborieux entrepreneur, naguère ouvrier” (entrepreneurs who have emerged from the working class), “entrepreneurs de pompes funèbres” (entrepreneurs in the funeral business), and even “entrepreneurs de prostitution” (entrepreneurs in the prostitution business). Molinari believed that nearly all economic activities run by the state should either be abolished or privatized and supplied competitively on the free market by such entrepreneurs. Even in those very small number of areas where the state played a role it should conduct its affairs like any other entrepreneur and provide its services as cheaply and efficiently as possible.[239]

The nature of property rights

As he discusses state expropriation of private property, the ownership of mineral resources, state owned property, and industries monopolized by the government, Molinari takes the opportunity to express his own thoughts on the nature of property rights and the proper function of government. The latter he will take up again in the most controversial chapter of the book (S11) where he argues for the private and competitive provision of police and national defense services. The influence of Leclerc and Victor Cousin on Molinari’s idea of “self-ownership” has been noted in S1.

Concerning the acquisition of external objects such as land, Molinari was influenced by the work of Charles Comte, especially his Traité de la propriété (1834).[240] Comte argued that the communal or tribal ownership of land could be transformed into legitimate private ownership by a process of an individual forgoing immediate consumption in order to save enough resources to survive long enough to engage in the more protracted process of cultivating a plot of land until the next harvest. This resulted in dramatically higher output than hunting and gathering or other communal activities; less land in total was used in food production; and the value of the surrounding land was increased in value as a result. Thus, Comte concluded, no “usurpation” was committed in this original act of privatization of the land (pp. 150-51). Although neither Molinari nor Comte mentions John Locke by name there is an obvious parallel here to the Lockean proviso concerning the end of the state of nature - that “enough, and as good, left in common for others.”

The proper functions of the state

Largely as a result of Molinari’s book, the Political Economy Society held a series of debates on the proper functions of the sate in October 1849, January 1850, and February 1850.[241] The members of the Society were split into four camps on the question of how limited the powers of the state should be. At the furthest extreme was Molinari who advocated the private provision of all public goods, including police protection and national defense. Next to him, with an “ultra-minimalist” view of state functions was Bastiat who believed the state should limit itself strictly to protecting the liberty and property of citizens and providing only a very few public goods such as water supply, rivers, and managing the state-owned forests. The bulk of the members of the Society were supporters of a limited state along the lines defined by Adam Smith, namely, police and defense, and a broader range of public goods than the “ultra-minimalists” like Bastiat wished to allow, such as the delivery of letters and issuing currency. The fourth group was a heterogenous group of members such as the economist Wolowski and various lawyers and politicians who thought the government should be involved in providing subsidized land credit, savings banks, and other services to citizens because it could do so better than private enterprise.

In this Soirée there are discussions of the private provision of roads, canals, and water supply to cities.

On Harmony and Equilibrium

In this Soirée Molinari makes the claim that “naturellement tous les intérêts s’accordent” (the various interests are naturally in agreement) which a core belief of Bastiat concerning “the harmony of interests” which he was developing at the same time in his treatise Economic Harmonies (1850). Later in Les Soirées Molinari does use the word “harmony” (below, pp. 000) but here he uses words such as “coincider” or “accorder." A good summary of the topic is provided by Charles Coquelin, the editor of the DEP, who noted the concurrent emergence of the term “harmony” in France and the U.S. at roughly the same time: Bastiat’s Economic Harmonies in 1850 and Henry Carey’s The Harmony of Interests in 1851.[242] Carey accused Bastiat of plagiarizing the idea but this charge was later withdrawn. It seems that Molinari was working on a similar idea with his theory of equilibrium which he thought was one of the several natural laws of political economy. When left to operate freely the supply of and demand for goods and services would tend (or gravitate) towards a point of equilibrium at a given price. This tendency towards equilibrium could be disrupted or disturbed either by natural causes (such as crop failures or floods) or by artificial causes (such as tariffs, taxes, subsidies, and government regulation). His theory also had a moral dimension in that Molinari believed that "la loi d’équilibre qui agit incessamment pour faire régner l’ordre dans la production et la justice dans la distribution de la richesse" (the law of equilibrium which acts constantly to make order reign in the area of production and justice in the area of the distribution of wealth).[243]


SUMMARY – Infringement of external property rights (continued). – The law of compulsory acquisition for reasons of public utility. – Legislation relating to mines. – The public domain, property belonging to the State, Departments, and Communes. – Forests. – Roads. – Canals. – Waterways. – Mineral waters. THE ECONOMIST.

We have noted that property rights with respect to works of the mind are very badly treated under the present regime. Material property is more favored in the sense that it is guaranteed in perpetuity. This recognition and guarantee, however, are in no sense absolute. An owner can have his property confiscated under the law of expropriation for reasons of public utility.


What? Do you wish to abolish that tutelary law without which no undertaking on the grounds of public utility would be possible?


What do you understand by an undertaking on the grounds of public utility?


An undertaking on grounds of public utility is…an undertaking [71] useful to everybody, a railway, for example.


Oh, and is not a farm which produces food for everybody not an undertaking also useful to all? Is not the need to eat at the very least as universal and necessary as the need to travel?


No doubt, but a farm is a rather limited individual enterprise.


Not always. In England there are immense farms. In the colonies there are farms which belong to numerous and powerful companies. Anyway, what does it matter? The usefulness of an enterprise is not always a function of the space it occupies and the law does not inquire whether an enterprise known as “a public utility” is owned by a company or isolated individual.


We could not establish any analogy between a farm or a plantation and a railway. The development of a railway is subject to certain natural exigencies; the slightest deviation in the route, for example, can entail a large increase in costs. Who will pay for this increase? The public. Well, I ask you, must the interest of the public, the interest of society be sacrificed to the stubbornness and greed of some landowner?


Ah, Mr Conservative. These are words which reconcile me to you. You are a fine fellow. Let us shake on it.


There are in the Sologne vast stretches of extremely poor land.[244] The poverty stricken peasants who farm there receive only a meager return for the most laborious efforts. Yet close to their wretched hovels rise magnificent chateaux with immense lawns where wheat would grow in abundance. If the peasants of the Sologne demanded that these good lands be expropriated and transformed into fields of wheat, would not the public interest require that this be granted them?


You go too far. If the law of expropriation were used in the cause of public utility to transform lawns and pleasure gardens into fields of wheat, what would happen to the security of property? Who would want to manicure a lawn, lay out a park, decorate a chateau?


Expropriation always entails an indemnity.


But the indemnity is not always big enough. There are things for which no indemnity could compensate. Can you pay for the roof which has sheltered generations, the hearth around which they have lived, the great trees which witnessed their births and their deaths? Is there not something of the sacred in these centuries old homes, in which the traditions of the ancestors live on, [73] in which so to speak the very soul of the family breathes? Is not the expulsion of a family forever from its ancient patrimony, the commission of a deeply immoral assault?


Except, of course, when it is a question of building a railway.


Everything depends on the extent to which the undertaking is useful.


But is anything more useful than farming devoted to the people’s subsistence? For my part I strongly hope that the law of expropriation for reasons of public utility will soon be given enlarged scope. The Convention had potatoes grown in the Tuileries gardens. What a sublime example! May our legislative Assemblies keep it forever in mind! How many thousands of hectares lie unproductive around the luxurious residences of the lords of the earth? How many mouths could we feed, how much work could we distribute by handing over these fine lands to workers ready to farm them? Oh you rich aristos,[245] one day we will plant potatoes in your sumptuous flowerbeds; we will sow turnips and carrots in place of your dahlias and your Bengal rose bushes! We will expropriate you for the sake of public utility.


Fortunately the Expropriation Boards[246] will not give permission for these barbarous projects.


Why not? If public utility demands that your chateaux [74] with their lawns and parklands be replaced by fields of potatoes why should the Boards not agree to the expropriation? If some grant it happily when it is a question of turning farmlands into railways, will not others agree to it with all the more reason when it is a question of replacing luxurious parklands with farming? Will you cite in your reply to me the actual composition of the Expropriation Boards? They are made up of big landlords, a fact of which I am not unaware, but this latter kind of panel will not escape the law of universal suffrage any more than the former will. We will have small owners and workers coming on to them, and then my word… big property will dance a merry tune.


That is a subversive proposal of the first order.


What do you expect? A law you established yourself is being enlarged and its application generalized on grounds of social utility. Your work is being completed. Can you complain about it?


I know very well that expropriation in the service of public utility has its dangers, especially since that accursed revolution… Is it not however indispensable? Are not private interests perpetually at war with public interests?

Moreover does not this law contain an implicit recognition of property? If the state did not respect property rights, would it have gone to the trouble of demanding a law of expropriation from the Legislative Chambers? Would simple ordinances not have sufficed? [75] Does the law of expropriation on the grounds of public utility not subsume an implicit recognition of property?


Yes, in the way that rape subsumes an implicit recognition of virginity.


What about the indemnity?


Do you think any indemnity could compensate for a rape? Now if I do not want to hand over my property to you and by using your superior strength you rob me of it, are you not committing a serious crime? [247] The indemnity will not efface this assault made against my rights. But, you will object, the public interest may require the sacrifice of certain private interests, and this necessity must be provided for. And this is you, a conservative who is speaking to me in these terms? Is it really you denouncing for my benefit the antagonism between the public interest and private interests? Do take care, are you not talking socialism?


Probably. To each his own.[248] We have denounced and were the first to do so, this sad idea of an opposition between the public interest and private interests.


Yes but how can you put an end to it?


That is very simple. We get rid of private interests. We bring about the return of the wealth of each to the domain of all. We apply on an immense scale [76] the law of expropriation in the cause of public utility.


And if there truly is antagonism between the interest of each person and the interest of all, you are acting very wisely and your adversary is in error in not following you all the way.


You are being sarcastic! Do you happen to believe that private interests naturally coincide with public interest by themselves?


If I were not convinced of it, I would have become a socialist a long time ago. I would wage, as you do, perpetual war against private interests, I would demand a tightly knit association, a community, and who knows what else. I would not wish at any price to maintain a social order where no one would prosper save on the condition of hurting other people. Thank God, however, that society is not constructed in this way. The various interests are naturally in agreement.[249] The interest of each person coincides naturally with the interest of all. Why therefore make laws which put the former at the mercy of the latter? Either these laws are pointless, or as the socialists claim, society needs remaking.


You argue as if all men had an accurate understanding of what is in their own interest. Well, this is false. Men frequently mistake what is in their interest.


I know perfectly well that men are not infallible; I also know, however, that each man is the best judge of his own interest. [77]


Perhaps you are right in principle, but in practice some people are truly obstinate and stupid.


Not so obstinate and not so stupid when their interests are in question. I admit, however, that people of that type can ruin some useful enterprises. Do you think that the present law does not cause more harm than they would be able to? Does it not compromise the security of present property and does it not menace it in the future too?


It is quite certain that socialism would make a truly deplorable use of the law of expropriation in the cause of public utility.


And you conservatives who passed that law, would you willingly oppose its application? Is this not a dangerous weapon which you have forged for your enemies’ use? By declaring that some majority or other has the right to seize an individual’s property when the public interest demands it, have you not supplied socialism in advance with a justification for such expropriation and a legal means of carrying it out?


Alas! But who could foresee that infernal revolution?


When one engages in law making, one has to foresee everything.

Along with this law which threatens property right down [78] to its roots, our Code includes other laws involving partial attacks on certain property; mining legislation for example.[250] Like the works of the mind, mines end up outside the common law.


Is this not a special kind of property and ought it not therefore to be subject to special laws?


What does today’s legislation with regard to the mines say?


French legislation on the mines has for a century undergone very diverse modifications. Under the Ancien Régime the mines were considered as belonging to the royal domain. The king granted mining licences as seemed to him appropriate, to the finder, to the owner of the land, or to any other, in exchange for a tenth of the annual output. When the Revolution liberated property and labor, people must have hoped that this advantage would be extended to mining property; unfortunately it did not turn out that way. The law makers refused to grant subterranean property its charter of liberation.[251]

Three opinions emerged on the issue of this kind of property. Some said that underground property was simply attached to surface property; according to others it belonged to the whole community; according to a third group it reverted to the finders. In this last view, the only just one, the only one consistent with law, the owners of the land could demand only a simple indemnity for those parts of the surface of the land which were necessary for exploiting the mineral deposits, and the government [79] likewise could not demand anything save a tax for the legal protection granted to the miners.


According to you then, the ownership of mines ought therefore to be classed in the same category as property rights over inventions?[252]


Precisely. Let us suppose you are a gold prospector. After a lot of searching you have managed to find a seam of this precious metal. You have the sole right to exploit this seam that you alone have discovered.


On this reckoning the whole of America should have belonged to Christopher Columbus who had discovered it.


You are forgetting that America was already to a great extent owned at the time of Christopher Columbus’s discovery. Moreover, it is a rule of the law of nations that uninhabited land belongs to the first to discover it.


If however, after having discovered it, these first comers decide that it is not appropriate to exploit it, their property rights die. How do you explain this demise of property rights?


The right of property does not die. One ceases to possess only when one renounces that possession. If I have discovered a mine I will exploit it or I will cede it to someone who will exploit it. The case will be the same if I have discovered land: I will exploit it or sell it. [80]


What if you keep it without exploiting it?


It will be my right but not in my interest. Looking after anything is costly: you have to pay for the security of property. If therefore I do not want to develop the land or mineral deposit which I have discovered, and if no one wants to buy it from me I will soon give up on looking after it; for it will incur losses rather than profits for me. So there is, you see, no drawback in leaving to the finder the full disposition of whatever he has discovered.


The discoverer of a deposit possesses a right to it; that seems to me quite legitimate. It is right that his work of discovery be remunerated. Do not society and those who own the surface of the land, however, also have some rights on what is underground? Society protects those who work the mines and it supplies them with the means to work them. As for the owners of the surface of the land, do they not have a claim on the ground below by the very fact of occupying the surface? Where is the boundary between the two properties?


Yes, where is the boundary?


Neither society nor the owners of the land can claim the least right to what is underground. I have already demonstrated to you in respect of inventions, that society has no right to the fruits of the work of individuals. There is no point going over this again. As [81] for the owners of the surface land, Mirabeau[253] has clearly refuted their claims to the ownership of the sub-soil: “The idea that being the owner of a stream or river makes one the owner of the ground below our fields seems to me as absurd as the idea of preventing the passage of a hot air balloon because it passes over the property of a particular landowner.” [254] Why is this absurd? Because the ownership of the fields lies solely in the value which work has given to the surface of the land and the owners of the land have contributed nothing of value to what lies below the soil, just as they have contributed nothing to the air above it. Search out who has worked or is working and you will always know who possesses or ought to possess a thing.


But is it possible to discover a mine and to exploit it without the agreement of those who own the surface land?


What happens is this. You ask the owners of the land for permission to explore the ground, at the same time undertaking to give them a payment or part ownership of the mine by way of compensation for the damage which may be caused to them. Once the mine is opened up, you divide up the potential profits and set to work on it. If the exploitation of what lies under the ground is such as to harm the surface property, the owners of that property obviously have the right to oppose this or to claim a further indemnity. Their choice will be the indemnity, since the opening of a mine, by providing a new market for their products, directly or indirectly increases their incomes. In this way, interests which appear opposed, are naturally reconciled. [82]

Unfortunately, the Constituent Assembly and Mirabeau himself, did not understand that the ownership of mineral resources could without any drawbacks, be left unregulated. They attributed the ownership of mines to the nation. They produced a form of underground communism.[255] The law of 1791 put the government in charge of allocating the ownership of mineral deposits, and it limited the tenure of licences to fifty years. Moreover the government was given the power to withdraw these licences if the mines were not maintained in good shape or if they stopped operating for a while.[256]

Undoubtedly the most destructive clause in this legislation was the one limiting the length of leases. Given the huge capital investments mining demands and the preparatory work sometimes stretching over several years, it was important above all that entrepreneurs be assured as to the future; to limit the enjoyment of their rights was to force them to limit their efforts to invest; it was to place an almost insurmountable obstacle in the way of their developing the mining of minerals.

The government’s prerogative to withdraw licences in certain specified circumstances also entailed very serious drawbacks. It is not easy to determine whether a mine is being well or badly managed. Opinions can be divided on the most appropriate means of exploitation. It was argued against wholly unrestricted exploitation, for example, that the managements extracted the richest seams first of all and neglected the others. Were they not, however, in taking such a decision, merely acting in the most rational way? Was it not obvious one should start with the most productive [83] parts of the mining project? In starting with developing the less rich seams, would not the licencees have damaged their infant enterprise? Nor could it easily be decided with any greater certainty whether a developer was right or wrong to abandon all or part of his project for a while. His personal interest, which was to keep it all going constantly, was in this respect an insufficient guarantee. Unless demand slowed down, in which case the partial or total cessation of extracting minerals would of course be justified, what interest could he have in interrupting work?


They reformed that bad law.


They reformed it very incompletely. The law of 21 April, 1810, which replaced it, gave the government the right to grant or withdraw licences. The difference, however, is that licences ceased to be limited to fifty years. Even so, in other ways the situation of mine owners has been worsened. The 1810 law forbade them to sell in lots or to split up their mines without a prior authorization from the government, and it subjected their mining to a surveillance system created for this purpose. Furthermore, it maintained the alleged rights of surface landowners, and entrusted the Council of State with the task of determining the amounts of compensation to be granted them. Mining found itself, in this way, closely regulated and heavily burdened.

So what was the result of this law? It was to [84] reduce to the minimum the mining of minerals.[257] Who would want today to be a discoverer of mines? Who would want to specialize in finding new deposits of various minerals? Before a discovery can be exploited, does one not have to lobby for a licence for long years (the licence to a property which one created by one’s own work), and having obtained it, submit oneself to an irksome surveillance and brutish directions from the administration of mining? What would happen to our agriculture, I ask you, if our farmers could not remove a shovelful of earth without the approval of some official from the Ministry of Agriculture? If they could not sell the merest parcel of land without the say-so of government? If in a word the government took it upon itself the right to take their property from them, at will? Would not this be the death of our farming? Would not investable funds soon turn away from so detestably oppressed an industry? …Well in fact investment capital has been turned away from mining ventures. It has been necessary to grant them special privileges to attract it back. It has been necessary to keep out foreign competition, and there has thus been facilitated on the domestic front the establishment of an immense monopoly, to persuade investment funds to venture to participate in an industry subservient to the government’s good pleasure. It has been necessary to burden consumers of mineral products with some of the damage inflicted on the ownership of mines. Is this not barbarous?

Let us suppose on the contrary that in 1789 the oppressive right which monarchs had taken upon themselves to cede the ownership of mines at will, had simply been abolished; [85] let us suppose further that this ownership had been freely given and guaranteed to those who had created it. Would not the production of mines have developed to the maximum, without there having been any need to protect it? Might not that source of production which still yields only scant output flow copiously in the long run?


Yes, ownership is a marvelous thing. One works with such ardor when one is always sure of possessing the fruits of one’s labor, and of being able to dispose of it at will – consuming it, giving it away, lending it, or selling it, all without hindrance, harassment or irritation. Property! That is the real California. Long live property![258]


Long live labor!


Labor and property go together, since it is work which creates property and property which calls out for labor. So long live labor and property!

Government harms the development of production, not only by hampering individual ownership, but also by claiming certain properties for itself. Alongside the property of individuals there is, as you know, the public domain or common property. The state, the departments and the communes, own considerable wealth: fields, meadows, forests, canals, roads, and buildings and the like. Do not these diverse properties, which are managed in [85] society’s name, constitute a genuine case of communism?


Yes, to a certain extent. Could things be arranged otherwise, however? Does not the government have to have certain kinds of property at its disposal? It is set up to provide certain services to society…


What services?


The government must…govern.


Govern, by Jove! What do you mean by that, however? Is it not to manage various interests and harmonize them?


There is no need for interests to be managed or harmonized. They manage and harmonize themselves quite well without anyone interfering.


If that is how it is, what must government do?[259]


It must guarantee for each individual his freedom of activity, the security of his person, and the preservation of his property. To exercise this particular function, to render this special service to society, government has to have access to certain resources. Anything more it possesses is unnecessary.


But if it provides other services to society, if it supplies education, if it funds religion, if it contributes [87] to the transport of men or merchandise by land or by water, if it makes tobacco, or porcelain, or carpets, or gunpowder or saltpeter…[260]


In a word if it is communist! Well it does not need to be communist. Like any entrepreneur[261] the government must do one thing and one only, or risk doing what it does very badly. All governments have as their main function the production of security.[262] Let them confine themselves to that.


You have just given us a very rigorous application of the principle of the division of labor. What you would like to see then is the disappearance of the public sector, with the state selling the greater part of its property, and with all production becoming, in a word, specialized.


I would like this for a better development of production. In England there was recently an inquiry into the management of public property.[263] Nothing could be more instructive than the results thrown up by this research. In England the public domain consists of ancient fiefdoms of the crown, which have now become public property. These properties are huge as well as magnificent. In the hands of individuals, they would yield a worthwhile output. Controlled by the state they yield almost nothing.

If you will allow I will give you a single example.

The main wealth of this domain consists in the four forests of New Forest, Walham, Whittlewood, and Whychwood.[264] These forests are entrusted to guardians who [88] administer them. These are the Dukes of Cambridge and Grafton, Lord Mornington, and Lord Churchill. The guardians receive no formal payment but are allotted a very sizable payment in kind, including game, timber etc. The annual income from the New Forest adds up on average to £56,000 or £57,000 sterling, approximately Fr 1, 500,000. The Treasury has never received more than £1,000 of this income, while the maintenance of the forest between 1841 and 1847 cost the state more than £2,000.[265]


This is a flagrant abuse. Do not forget, though, that this is happening in aristocratic England.


Plenty of other abuses happen in our democratic France. It has long been known, in France and in England, that the management of state property is dreadful.


That is only too true. There are types of property that obviously must remain in the hands of the state, the roads for example.[266]


In England the roads are owned by individuals, and nowhere does one see them so well maintained.


What about the tolls then? Traffic is not free in England as it is in France.


Excuse me, but it is much freer in Great Britain, [89] for road communications are much more numerous. And do you know why? Quite simply because the government has left it to individuals to build roads and has not got involved in building them itself.


But I ask once more, what about the tolls?


Oh, do you think then that the roads in France are built and maintained for nothing? Do you think that the public does not pay for their construction and maintenance as happens in England? Only, here is the difference. In England road construction and costs are paid for by those who use them; in France they are paid by the taxpayers, including the goatherds of the Pyrenees and the peasants of the Landes[267] who do not set foot twice a year on a national highway. In England it is the user of such means of transport who pays for them in the form of tolls; in France the whole community pays in the shape of taxes, often of a most excessive and irksome kind. Which is preferable? [268]


And the canals, is it not appropriate for them to be left in the public domain?


No more so than the roads. In which countries are the canals the most numerous, the best constructed and the best maintained? Is it in the countries where they are in the hands of the state? No! It is in England and [90] in the United States where that have been built and are used by private groupings of private individuals.[269]


Would not roads and canals constitute oppressive monopolies if they were privately owned ?


You forget that they engage in mutual competition. I will show you later on[270] that in any enterprise subject to the free regime of free competition,[271] price must necessarily fall to the level of real costs of production or use and that the owners of a canal or road cannot receive anything in excess of the just remuneration of their capital and their labor. This is an economic law as positive and exact as a law of physics.

Most natural waterways, which require a certain amount of management and maintenance work, could with advantage be privately owned in the same way. You know to what inextricable difficulties the common ownership of waterways gives rise today. The dams lead to countless legal cases, and irrigation systems are obstructed everywhere. It would be different if each lake or waterway had its owners against whom those living beside the water could have recourse in case of damage, and who would have responsibility for providing artificial waterfalls and establishing irrigation canals where need arose. [272]

The state is still the owner of most sources of mineral water. So these are very badly run, though not lacking in administrators and inspectors. Moreover, under the pretext that artificial mineral waters serve as medicine, their production has been [91] put under government surveillance. Yet more administrators and inspectors!


Ah, government is our great running sore![273]


There is only way to heal that particular sore, and that is by governing less.



7. The Fourth Evening

Editor’s Note

In this Soirée Molinari turns to the question of inheritance laws, in particular how they effect the ownership of agricultural land, and how French agriculture could be made more productive.

There were two sides to the question of inheritance; a theoretical one concerning the right of a property owner to give or bequeath their property to somebody else at their own discretion; and a legal and historical question concerning the impact of specific changes to French legislation regarding inheritance. Concerning the former, Molinari distinguished between two different types of “liberty” or rights - what he called “la liberté de l’héritage” (the freedom to bestow an inheritance) and “le droit à l’héritage” (the right to an inheritance). This was a similar distinction the Economists made between the “la liberté du travail” (the freedom of working) and “le droit au travail” (the right to a job).[274] In his view the property owner, by their very right to own property, should have the right to dispose of this property as they saw fit, to give it to one child, or all of their children, or none, as they saw fit. In this matter, Molinari was working within the tradition established by Charles Comte in his Traité de la propriété (1834) where he says:

The capacity to dispose of things is one of the essential elements of all property ...  If I had wanted to combat, in this book, the errors which spring from the Abbey Raynal on the right of children to receive the property which their parents leave upon their death, I would have argued that the spirit of family is one of the principal causes behind the production and the conservation of wealth; that a man in order to ensure the survival of his children devotes himself to working and imposes on himself sacrifices which no other feeling produces in him; that families develop in themselves habits which are in keeping with their standard of living; and that if the wealth of an individual is not allowed to be passed on to his descendants then it will impose the harshest deprivations upon them …; and finally, that a nation where children are prevented from inheriting property from their parents would descend in a few short years to a level much lower than the inhabitants of Egypt under the Mamelukes or the Greeks under the Turks.[275]

Concerning the French legal and historical situation regarding inheritance, the background issue was the increasing “morcellement” (fragmentation) of French agricultural land in the 19th century which came about because of the change in the laws of inheritance introduced during the Revolution. Under the Old Regime there existed the law of entail (“substitution”) which was designed to preserve aristocratic land holdings by preventing them from being sold or divided. During the Revolution the Law of 1791 required the equal division of property among the children (“the law of equal division”) so that all would have a future means of income and support.[276] The sentiment behind this change was to “democratize” French society by making it difficult for the aristocracy to recreate its social and economic base in the countryside as well as to create a new class of peasant proprietors. When Napoléon codified French law in the Civil Code (1804) Articles 913 and 914 placed very strict limits on what a property owner was able to do when it came to passing property to their children. Molinari quoted these in a long footnote (see below, pp. 000):

Art. 913. Gifts, either by way of acts between living persons, or by will and testament, may not exceed half the wealth of the benefactor if he has one living child at the time of his death; a third if he has two living children; a quarter if he has three or more children.
Art. 915. Gifts, either by way of acts between living persons, or by will and testament, may not exceed half the wealth of the benefactor if he has one or several ascendants on either the paternal or maternal side, or three quarters if he has ascendants on one side only.

The consequence of these laws was the “morcellement,”or the constant splitting of property into ever smaller pieces.[277] The Economists were divided over the pros and cons of large-scale versus small-scale farming. The Physiocrats and Adam Smith believed that small-scale farming was more profitable because the farmer had a very direct and close personal interest in making it so. In the 19th century Sismondi shared this view based upon his study of the Italian peasantry. On the other hand the English traveler Arthur Young thought that the poverty he saw in rural France on the eve of the French Revolution was due to the excessive subdivision of farms which made them unprofitable to run. This view was also shared by Thomas Malthus. John Ramsay McCulloch believed that the greater productivity of British agriculture could be explained by its inheritance laws which encouraged the preservation of larger estates.[278] This view was shared by Molinari who argued that only large-scale farms could spread the risk and raise the capital to improve agricultural output, as was the case in Britain. He devoted space in this Soirée to quoting at some length an English Parliamentary Inquiry of 1846 Report to show the superiority of English inheritance laws over the French.

In order to make French agriculture more viable Molinari argued that it had to move away from being a family run, small-scale “atelier” or workshop farm, to being a large-scale, for-profit business run by agricultural entrepreneurs, or what he called “entrepreneurs d’industrie agricole” (entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry). They would follow the example of their manufacturing colleagues and sell shares in their farming businesses and run them like an anonymous limited company (“la société anonyme perpétuelle”). It is in the course of making these arguments that the Economist engages in some word play with and teasing of the Socialist over the socialists’ use of the term “Association” which had become one of their slogans during the 1840s and during the Revolution of 1848. Depending upon what kind of socialist “The Socialist” is, the term “Association” will have different meanings. Some of the more extreme socialist groups like the Fourierists advocated the communal ownership of land and its cooperative working by all members of the community. Others thought that small private landowners could pool their resources in some kind of co-operative arrangement advocated by Proudhon. If this were done voluntarily, the Economist would not have any objection, but the kind of “Association” he has in mind are efficient large-scale for profit capitalist agri-businesses and not less efficient small-scale, voluntary socialist experiments.[279] He responds to the Socialist by saying that he too is in favor of “associations agricoles” which we have translated as “farming companies” as both the French words “association” and “société” can be translated as “company,” which is of course not what the Socialist has in mind.


SUMMARY: The right to make a will. –Legislation regulating inheritance. – The right to inherit. – Its moral outcomes. – Its material outcomes. – Comparison of French and British agriculture. – On entail and its utility. The natural organization of farming under a regime of free property. THE ECONOMIST.

Those who have taken it upon themselves the right to put limitations on property have not failed to limit its free disposition as well. The gifting, bequeathing, lending, and exchanging of property have all been subjected to a multitude of encumbrances.

The giving away of certain property is subject to irksome and costly formalities. Making a will is even more constrained. Instead of leaving to the father of the family the free disposition of his wealth, the law obliges him to leave it in more or less equal portions to his legitimate children. If one of his children feels wronged by the sharing out, he has the right to have the will invalidated.[280] [93]


Are you are also attacking, therefore, this law which protects family and property?


I am attacking this law which is destructive of family and property.[281] It is in the name of a higher law than that of fathers of families, that society has regulated inheritance, is it not? Why, though, should it not go on to use this superior right to claim for itself, tomorrow, this property which it had at its disposal yesterday? If it has been able to say to the father of the family “you will not dispose of your wealth according to your own will but according to mine,” could it not very well also say to him “it suits me henceforth that you alienate your wealth in my favor?” Is not the abolition of inheritance, that is to say the elimination of individual property, subsumed in a law which attributes to society the unchallengeable right to dispose of inheritance?

Is not the destruction of paternal authority, that is to say the [94] destruction of the family, likewise subsumed in a law which takes away from the father of the family the free disposition of his wealth in order to grant his children an effective right to an inheritance?[282]


A right to an inheritance you say?


To tell children that they have a right to demand from their father virtually equal shares in his inheritance, whatever their conduct has been, whatever their feelings in his regard; to tell them they have the right to have his will invalidated if they find themselves slighted in the sharing, is this not to sanctify the right to an inheritance? Is it not to give the child a share in his father’s property? Is this not to allow him to consider and demand as a debt, what he once regarded and received as a kindness. Where nature made a son, will your law not be creating a creditor?


But is this not a trifling thing, making a parent share his wealth fairly [95] between his children? Without the law which regulates the shares, would not the children be endlessly frustrated – cheated and inveigled out of what is rightfully theirs? Has not the law prevented all frauds and resolved all difficulties?


By breaking family links; by rendering the father’s authority illusory. No doubt if the right to make a will was free, the father might distribute his wealth very badly. Is he not always held in check, however, by those powerful restraints that no man-made law could possibly replace – paternal love and the sense of justice? If those two feelings have been silenced in his heart, do you think your law would make them speak out? Do you believe that the father will not find some roundabout means of disposing of his wealth to his children’s disadvantage? If these feelings are present in him, what good is your law? And then you put forward as a matter of principle the equality of shares as the ideal standard of justice. Are you entirely sure, however, that this brutal equality is always just? Are you also quite sure that a father cannot favor one child without plundering the others? By going so far as to admit that the son has to all intents and purposes some claim on his father’s wealth…


What? The son would have no claim on the paternal inheritance? But if this were so he could be dispossessed if there were no will.


The conclusion is false. The children’s claim is based in this case on the likelihood of the legacy. The inheritance has to be theirs, not because they possess a potential claim [96] on that inheritance, but because the father has probably bequeathed it to them.

By fathering a child, the father agrees to accept the moral obligation to feed him and to prepare him to earn his living, nothing more and nothing less. If it pleases him to give his child something extra, this is an outcome of his own wishes.

Even allowing your alleged right to an inheritance, however, do you believe that a bad son has the same claim on the paternal estate as a good one? Do you think that a father is bound, from the point of view of natural justice, to bequeath part of his wealth to some miserable creature who has been the despair and shame of his family? Do you not think, on the contrary, that he will be bound to deprive this degraded being of the wherewithal for indulging his evil passions? Can the right to disinherit not be useful and just sometimes?

In the eyes of your legislators, however, the father is a creature at once bereft of the notion of justice and of paternal feeling. He is a ferocious beast who incessantly watches his progeny in order to devour them. The law must intervene to protect them. Society must bind this heartless barbarian, this so-called father, hand and foot to prevent his sacrificing his innocent family to his base inclinations.

Our sad legislators have not noticed that their law would be effective only in weakening respect for authority and family feeling. Does respect for authority still exist in France?


Ah! You have just touched on the most lamentable scourge [97] of our time. The present generation has indeed lost the respect for authority – that is only too true. The Union has published some admirable articles on the subject.[283] Who will restore respect for authority for us? The son no longer respects his father. Grownups respect nothing, not even God. Respect for authority is the very anchor of salvation for our society, tossed hither and thither by the storms of revolution, like some ship…


Please do not go on about it. We have read the articles in the Union.


You broke that anchor of salvation with your own hands, the day you attacked the sacred rights of the father of the family, the day when you gave the son a claim on his father’s property, the day when by taking away from him the fearsome weapon of disinheritance, you handed him over to the mercies of his rebellious children.


What about the reform school?


Yes, this is what you have given him in exchange. Short of having lost all human feeling, though, can a father consent to his son’s being put on this highway to penal servitude? Better to suffer rebellion than draw infamy down on oneself and family.

I know quite well that the father can defy the law and disinherit his intractable son in fact if not legally; but he is forced to act in secret, avoiding the greedy and jealous eye of his creditor. He no longer uses [98] legitimate means to bequeath his wealth; indeed he makes an immoral infringement on his son’s claim to that wealth. His behavior is no longer that of an owner freely handing over what is his; it is rather that of a debtor surreptitiously getting rid of a mortgaged property. That which would secure the father’s authority, if the right to inheritance did not exist, serves today only to debase it.

I will not speak to you of the hatreds which spring up in families when a father considers it appropriate to favor one of his children. In countries where there is no right to inheritance, in the United States for example,[284] the other children respectfully bow their heads in the face of this sovereign decision of the paternal will, and they conceive no adverse feelings towards the child whom the father has favored. In countries where the right to an inheritance is recognized, such an act becomes, on the contrary, a profound source of family disunion. In fact is not this straightforward act, often so amply justified by the circumstances – the frailty or incapacity of the preferred child, the care he has bestowed on his father – from the point of view of the legality you espouse, a veritable plundering, a theft? Your law is a new species of harpy,[285] which has corrupted family feelings by interfering with them. Having brought about this, do you now complain that the disorder into which you threw the family now propagates itself in the society at large?


But if the moral results of the law of equal shares leave something to be desired, does that law not have at least some admirable outcomes? It has made everyone a proprietor. Every peasant [99] with his plot of land to work has been sheltered from want.


Are you really sure of this? For my part I hold that no law has been so disastrous for the situation of the laboring poor, both in farming and industry.


Would you prefer, by any chance, the rights of the oldest and of entail?[286]


This is abuse of another sort; another kind of attack on property rights. In truth, however, I do think I would prefer them really.


The dividing up of plots[287] is certainly the curse of our farming and Association[288] is without doubt our last hope.


I think so too.


What? You prefer the feudal arrangements of primogeniture and entail to equal sharing. Yet you are for association. Now there is a manifest contradiction.


I do not think so. What are the essential conditions of any economic production? Stability, with security of possession on the one hand; a bringing together of adequate powers of production on the other. Well the present arrangement comprises neither stability nor sufficiency of productive powers. [100]


I agree with you that the leases are too short-term and that our inheritance laws have made undivided ownership of farming plots singularly precarious; I agree too that farming is short of capital but what is to be done about it? There is talk of the organization of agricultural credit and for my part I would think along those lines were it not so difficult to find a good system.[289]


A system of agricultural credit, however excellent, would remedy nothing. Under present property arrangements, an increase in the number of institutions of credit would scarcely serve to lower the rate of interest in farming areas. It would be different if our farms were soundly established like those in England.


You dare to suggest England as a model for us? Oh, well I grant you that the state of the helots[290] in our countryside is truly wretched, but is it not a thousand times preferable to that of the English peasants? Are not the English workers exploited by an aristocracy which devours their substance much as the vulture devoured Prometheus’ liver?[291] Is not England the country where the saddest scenes of the dark drama of man exploiting man are played out? Is not England the great whore of capital? England! Oh do not speak to me of England![292]


Yet the condition of the English peasant, exploited [101] by the aristocracy, is infinitely superior to that of the peasant proprietor of France.


Come on now!


I notice in your library two works by Messieurs Mounier and Rubichon, one called Agriculture in France and England and another called The Role of the Nobility in Modern Societies, which will furnish me with indisputable evidence in support of what I am saying.[293]


I humbly confess not to have read them.


That was a mistake on your part. You would have found all the information needed to settle the question which concerns us. It is a summary of the voluminous inquiries published by order of the English Parliament, on the state of agriculture and the condition of farming people. As I leaf through it at random, I find an extract from the most recent inquiry (1846).[294]

The Chairman of the Inquiry is speaking to Mr Robert Baker, an Essex farmer, who works some 230 hectares.

Q. What is the standard diet of agricultural laborers?
A. They eat meat and potatoes. If flour is cheap, however, they do not eat potatoes. This year (1846) they are eating the best white bread. Mr Robert Hyde-Gregg, for some twenty years one of the biggest manufacturers in Great Britain, [102] for his part gives the following answers to questions on the situation of laborers in manufacturing.
Q. When you say that the laborer in manufacturing districts eats a lot of potatoes, do you mean by this that, as in Ireland, potatoes are the people’s basic food, or are they consumed along with meat?
A. In general the dinner consists of potatoes and pork, while the breakfast and supper consist of tea and bread.
Q. Do the workers generally have pork?
A. I can fairly say that they all eat meat for dinner.
Q. During the time you have been observing things, has there been a great change in the diet of industrial laborers? Have they replaced oat flour with wheat flour?
A. This change has certainly taken place. I remember that in all the workers’ houses one used to see flat cakes of rough bread hung up; there is nothing like that now.
Q. Today’s population, then, as far as bread goes, has improved its diet, using wheat flour rather than oat flour?
R. Yes, absolutely.

Now I will present some evidence relating to workers in France and England.

Mr Joseph Cramp, expert land evaluator in the country of Kent, and a farmer for forty four years, came to France and took the trouble to make himself familiar with the condition of French agriculture. He was interviewed as to the condition of farm laborers in Normandy.

Q. Following your observations of the conditions of the workers in [103] Normandy, do you think they are better dressed and better fed than the workers in the Isle of Thanet,[295] where you live?
A. No. I have been in their homes, and I have seen them having their meals, which are such that I hope never to see an Englishman sitting down to such bad food.
Q. The workers in the Isle of Thanet eat the best white bread, is that not so?
R. Always.
Q. And in Normandy the farm workers do not eat it?
R. No. They were eating bread whose color came close to that of this inkwell here.
Q. How many hectoliters of wheat[296] are produced per hectare in the Isle of Thanet?
A. About twenty nine.
Q. Having lived and farmed in the Isle of Thanet for so long, can you say if the condition of farm laborers has improved or worsened since you first got to know the region?
A. It has improved.
Q. In every respect?
A. Yes.
Q. Do you think then that the workers are better dressed and educated?
A. Better fed, better dressed, better educated.

You see then that the condition of the agrarian populations in England is infinitely superior to that of ours. These people do not own the land. The proprietors of the land in Great Britain [104] are some thirty five or thirty six thousand souls, mostly descendants of former conquerors.[297]


Yes, the land in England belongs to the aristocracy and the English people pay two or three billion a year to that haughty and idle caste for the right to work the soil.


It is true that this is rather expensive. So the English have begun to cut back on the landlords’ share[298] by abolishing the Corn Laws.[299] You will see however, that even at this oppressively inflated price, the English have found it really advantageous to maintain their aristocracy, while we committed the sin of hastily eliminating ours.


Oh, dear me!


Let me finish. How have the English succeeded in drawing from their soil much more and far better produce than we have from ours. The answer is in perfecting their agriculture, in making it undergo a series of progressive transformations.


What transformations?


British landowners successively replaced their small farms, insufficiently capitalized, by larger farms [105] much more heavily capitalized. It is thanks to this progressive substitution of factory-like agriculture for the small workshop approach to farming that progress was achieved.[300] The inquiry carried out by MM. Mounier and Rubichon, gives the following information on the distribution of the British population:

Families working in agriculture, 961,134

Families working in industry, commerce etc., 2,453,041

These 961,134 families employed in agriculture supplied some 1,055,982 able bodied workers to cultivate 13,849,320 hectares, yielding an output of 4,000, 500,000 francs.

In France agricultural output yielded only 3,523,000,861,000 francs in 1840, yet it was worked by a population of 18,000,000 individuals yielding an active workforce of five to six millions. This means that the output of a French farm laborer is four to five times less productive than that of one in England. You must understand now why our population is less well fed than that of Great Britain.


You are taking no account of the enormous tribute the English farmers pay to the aristocracy.


If as the statistics show, the farming population of England is better fed than ours, despite the tribute paid to the aristocracy, is this not incontestable proof that by producing more they also receive more? [106]


This is clear.


And if it is true that owing to the care of the aristocracy, British agriculture has made immense and rapid progress; if it is true that it is because of this aristocratic management that a farm worker produces more and earns more in England than in France, has not England been right to preserve her aristocracy?[301]


Yes, but at least the French peasant is the owner of the land.


Is it better to earn ten on your own land or twenty on land belonging to some unknown third party?


It is better to earn twenty anywhere.


Very well! Is it really the case, however, that there is an indispensable link between these two things, the preservation of the aristocracy and the progress of British agriculture? Is it not likely that British agriculture would have achieved even greater progress if England had got rid of its aristocracy, as we have got rid of ours. Has not French agriculture made progress since ’89?


I do not think it has. Mounier and Rubichon say very strongly that instead of progressing it has regressed. A field which yielded 10 before 1789 now yields only 4. Perhaps they exaggerate the [107] harm. Note, however, one incontestable fact: if the volume of food produced by a given labor force has not declined, the quality of the overall mass of food has fallen. It is notorious that the consumption of meat has gone down. In Paris itself, this centre where all the productive forces of France converge, they eat less meat than in 1789. According to Lavoisier,[302] the average consumption in Paris (including fowl and game) was then 81.5 kilos per head; by 1838 it had fallen to 62.3 kilos. The fall was no less marked in the rest of the country. According to old documents quoted in the Imperial statistics, the average consumption of each inhabitant of France (excluding cooked meats) was: in 1789, 13.13 kilos; in 1830 only 12.36 kilos; and in 1840, 11.29 kilos. The consumption of an inferior meat – pork – has on the contrary, grown. Today per capita consumption is 8.65 kilos per head.

To sum up, the consumption of meat in France is at only 8.65 kilos per head.

In the USA the average is 122 kilos.

In England it is 68 kilos.

In Germany it is 55 kilos.

Moreover, it is probable that our consumption will go on falling constantly, if our farming system stays the same, for the price of meat goes on rising gradually.

If we divide France into nine regions, we find that the price of meat has risen between 1824 and 1840:[303]

In the first region, the North West, by 11%
In the second region, the North, by 22% [108]
In the third region, the North East, by 28%
In the fourth region, the West, by 17%
In the fifth region, the centre, by 19%
In the sixth region, the East, by 21%,
In the seventh region, the South West by 23%
In the eighth region, the South by 30%
In the ninth region, the South East by 38%

Well you know that the retail price of meat is the surest index of a people’s prosperity.


I agree with you here; but show us once again, very clearly, the connection which exists, according to you, between the deterioration of our agriculture and our law of the equal division of inherited property. How does the one lead to the other?


I have forgotten one other matter, namely that our soil is naturally more fertile than the British soil…But to answer your question, let me note that England owes the stability of its farming to the care taken by the aristocracy and to the laws which in that country ensure, at least in part, freedom of inheritance.[304]


Freedom of inheritance you say. What about entails and the rights of the first born? ...


They are perfectly free in that no law obliges the father of the family to establish them. It is tradition which decides and that tradition is based on economic necessities.

Here is what entails consist in.

At the time of the marriage of his eldest son, usually, or at any other time convenient for him to choose, the owner of the land bequeaths his property to his eldest grandson, or in the absence of a grandson, his eldest granddaughter. If at the time of the entail, the owner has a living son and living grandson, he can extend the entail further and designate his great-grandson or great-granddaughter but his right covers only the first unborn generation. In Scotland there is no such limit and a proprietor can entail his wealth in perpetuity.[305]

The act of entail once accomplished, the owner and his living inheritors lose the right to dispose freely of the land; they are now only its usufructuaries. They cannot burden it with mortgages, nor sell it whole or in part. An entailed property can be neither seized nor confiscated. It is regarded as a sacrosanct legacy which no one is allowed to deflect from its intended purpose.

At the age of twenty-one the designated beneficiary for whom the entail has operated can break it, but does not commonly do so except to renew it, adding to it certain clauses necessitated by the current situation the family finds itself in. In this way properties are handed on, whole and intact, from generation to generation.

Now let us consider what purpose entails have.

They bestow on farms what our own farms lack, namely stability. In France perspectives are only for a lifetime; in England everything is reckoned in the long term. Our farms [110] are exposed to endless fragmentation by being shared out; British farms run no risks of that kind.


Does this risk really have the importance you give it? It matters rather little whether the land is more or less split up, provided it is well farmed.


Ask the farmers and they will tell you that all farms have to be of a certain size to be worked with maximum economy.[306] This is easy to understand. You can employ the most advanced methods and tools only when the farming is on a very large scale. In England ordinary farms are of three hundred and fifty or four hundred hectares. These farms are heavily capitalized. In France the number of these large farms is extremely limited.




He who sets up some agrarian enterprise does not know whether it will be fragmented and destroyed when he dies. There is nothing he can do to prevent it from fragmentation. Has not the law limited his right to bequeath? He is therefore not very enthusiastic about heavy investment in agriculture. Is the ordinary farmer more so? In France the leases are very short-term; it is a marvel if you see one of twenty one years. I do not need to explain to you the reason for these short-term leases: you will have guessed it! When ownership itself is short-term, it is not possible to arrange long leases. When, however, the farmer himself [ p. 111] occupies his land for only three, six, or nine years, he invests the least possible capital; he economizes on fertilizer, he does not put up fencing, he does not renew his equipment; and on the other hand he exhausts the soil as much as possible.

In England the stability which the system of entails has given to agriculture, has brought stability also to rental farming, in the form of long-term leases. So the farmers, confident of reaping themselves what they have sown, generally apply their economic efforts into making the land fertile.


Yet the farmer is subject, in England as in France, to the tyranny of landowners.


Yes, but it is a very gentle tyranny. In England there are farmers who have held the same farm, father and son, from time immemorial. Most have no lease, so strong is the confidence which the landowners inspire in them. This confidence is rarely misplaced; only rarely will an owner decide to expel a farmer with age-old links to his family. There are, nevertheless, in England as elsewhere, different kinds of tenure. In the North a system of leases covering the life-times of three persons is commonly used. The farmer designates himself, and likewise two of his children, and the lease runs until the death of the last one of the three. The average duration of these leases is estimated at fifty four years. When one of the designated children has just died, the farmer ordinarily is authorized to substitute another name [112] for that of the dead person, and thus to prolong the duration of the lease.

When the lease has a fixed term, its duration is commonly determined by that of the crop rotations. For rotations of six and nine years, it is nineteen years but it is rare for the lease not to be renewed.

The sizable fluctuations to which the price of wheat has been exposed for some time, have given rise to a new form of lease. I want to speak about variable leases, leases varying from year to year according to ups and downs of the cereal markets. A farm will be rented for example for the value of a thousand quarters of wheat; if in 1845 the price of wheat is fifty six shillings, the farmer has to pay two thousand eight hundred pounds sterling in farm rent; if in 1846 the price rises to sixty shillings he will pay three thousand pounds sterling. The average price of wheat in the county is used to calculate these values.

We can see that farmers can safely risk their capital in enterprises so solidly based. We can see too that capitalists[307] will willingly lend to them. The big farmers manage to borrow at four per cent and sometimes even at three. One runs in fact almost no risk investing one’s capital in the soil. Farms are not exposed to losing their value by fragmentation or sale intended to end their undivided ownership. Farmers and landowners being established, so to speak, in perpetuity, provide lenders with maximum guarantees. Hence the low rates of interest in agriculture; hence also the considerable numbers of banks established to serve as intermediaries between capitalists and entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry,[308] land owners or farmers. [113]

The English people, endlessly presented to you as deprived of any ownership of the land in Great Britain, in reality possess far more landed wealth than the French people themselves. If they do not use their capital to buy actual land, they do invest it in the land itself whose productivity they thus increase.

In France on the contrary people buy the land but they invest scarcely any capital in it. It could not be otherwise. One does not happily lend to a small farmer whose existence is only half assured for a few years; one even hesitates to lend to the small proprietor whose tiny plot of land may, from one day to the next, be split up yet again between a number of inheritors. Add to this the costly formalities, the delays and insecurity of mortgage lending and you have the explanation of the high interest rates in agriculture.


Yes, usury is gnawing away at our countryside.


Usury perhaps![309] Examine however the composition of the ten or fifteen per cent which our farm people pay to the usurers, weigh up the risks of loss and the expenses involved and you will be convinced that this usury is in no way illegitimate. You will be convinced that in respect of the extent and the likelihood of agricultural risk, the interest on loans made to agriculture is not in any way worse than the interest on ordinary loans. Since the agricultural banks which people are so keen on[310] will not eliminate these risks, they will contribute only feebly to bringing down the rate of agricultural interest. [114]


So what must be done then to restore to our farming lands the security they have lost? Should we re-establish entails?


God forbid! We must first of all restore to owners the right of disposing freely of their property. This way we will slow down the dividing up of land and give farms a degree of that precious stability which they are lacking today. Capital will then flow more readily into agriculture and its price will fall. If at the same time one rids the soil of the heavy taxes which afflict it and if one improves our mortgage arrangements, if we free our industrial and farming associations from the shackles which Imperial legislation has fastened on them, we will soon see a veritable revolution at work in our agriculture. Numerous companies will be established to develop the land as happened for the operation of the railways and mining, etc. Now since these associations have an interest in being established for the long term, the cultivation of the land will achieve an almost unshakeable stability. Ownership of the land, once it has been divided into tradeable shares[311] will be exchanged and divided without farming being under the slightest threat. Agriculture will be established in the most economic way possible.


Yes, applying the principle of Association to agriculture will put an end to our woes.


Perhaps we do not understand association in the same [115] way. Whatever may be the case I think that the future of our agriculture and of our industry belongs to the anonymous limited company.[312] Outside this form of development, at once flexible and stable, I see no way of keeping the effort of work always proportionate to the resistance of nature. While we have been awaiting the setting up of such an arrangement, we have been under too much pressure to have done with the old institutions. By destroying entails hastily, by then hindering the establishment of farming companies,[313] we have left agriculture to all the miseries of fragmentation. Production carried out in progressively smaller “workshop” farms[314] has meant retrogression rather than progress. The labor of the farm worker has become less and less productive. While the English worker, aided by machinery perfected by the large agricultural sector produces five, the French worker produces only one and a half, and the greater part of this feeble output goes to the capitalists who risk their funds in our poor “agricultural workshops."

This is the explanation of the poverty which is gnawing away the French countryside. This is why we are threatened by a new Jacquerie.[315] Do not attribute this Jacquerie to socialism, attribute it rather to those miserable law makers who while decreeing with one hand equality of land ownership, hindered with the other the formation of industrial companies[316] and heaped taxes on farming. These are the guilty men!

Perhaps we will succeed in avoiding the catastrophes which such sad errors prepared the way for, but we will have to hurry. From day to day the harm gets worse; from day to day France’s situation gets closer to that [116] of Ireland.[317] But our peasants do not have the forbearance of the Irish peasants…..


Ah! We live in very sad times. The countryside is rotten.


Whose fault is it, if not that of the legislators who have attacked the stability of property and the sanctity of the family? The socialist preachers can attack these two holy institutions as much as they like, they will never harm them as much as you yourselves did, by inscribing in your Legal Codes the right to an inheritance.

Molinari’s Long Footnote on Legislation about Making a Will

The right to make one’s will is limited in France, mainly by Articles 913 and 915 of the Civil Code.

Art. 913. Gifts, either by way of acts between living persons, or by will and testament, may not exceed half the wealth of the benefactor if he has one living child at the time of his death; a third if he has two [93] living children; a quarter if he has three or more children.
Art. 915. Gifts, either by way of acts between living persons, or by will and testament, may not exceed half the wealth of the benefactor if he has one or several ascendants on either the paternal or maternal side, or three quarters if he has ascendants on one side only.

It must be said in justification of the authors of the Civil Code, however, that they had had predecessors more illiberal still. By the law of 7th March 1793, the Convention had completely abolished the right to make a will. This law was conceived as follows:

One mode of Inheritance. The right to dispose of one’s wealth, either following one’s death, or between living persons, or by contractual donation in direct line of descent, is abolished: in consequence, all descendants will have an equal right to share the wealth of their ascendants.

The authors of the Civil Code were unanimous in recognizing that [94] this law had made a grave attack on paternal authority. Unfortunately they did not dare do more than half reform it.

Under the Roman Republic, the unlimited right to bequeath had been consecrated by the Law of the Twelve Tables. Divers successive attacks were made on this right, however. Justinian limited the disposable portion of the inheritance to a third when there were four children and a half when there were five or more.

In England, one can dispose in one’s will of all one’s real estate, without restrictions and of a third of one’s movable property; the other two thirds belong to the wife and children. Landed property goes by right to the eldest son, only when there is no will.

In the United States the right of bequeathing is completely free.[318]



8. The Fifth Evening

Editor’s Note

In this Soirée the topic for discussion is the nature of capital, the lending of capital (and money in general) at interest, and the role of government (if any) in regulating the rate of interest or providing cheap credit to “the people.” Molinari’s purpose in writing this chapter is to defend on theoretical grounds the legitimacy and utility of capital accumulation and lending money at interest from its socialist critics, as well as to argue for the ending of the government’s monopoly of issuing money (see S8 for more on free banking) and its regulation of the rate of interest on loans.

The immediate context for this discussion was the attempt by socialists like Proudhon to set up a system of Exchange Banks (Banques d'échange) or People's Banks which would offer low interest rate loans to workers (no more than 1%) because they regarded the charging of interest as a form of theft. They did not believe bankers or owners of capital were true “workers” who had used their labor to create their wealth and therefore had no right to profit from it by charging interest when they made loans. After the February Revolution of 1848 broke out Proudhon wrote pamphlets[319] defending his idea and attempted to set up such a bank.[320] He applied for an act of incorporation in January 1849 but was not able to raise the capital of fr. 50,000 it needed.

In order to counter this push for Peoples’ Banks and government subsidized loans or heavily regulated interest rates, Molinari’s older friend and colleague Frédéric Bastiat began writing pamphlets in 1849 defending the justice of owning capital and charging interest on loans, such as “Capital and Rent” (February 1849), “Damned Money! (April 1849), and “Capital” (mid 1849), before engaging Proudhon head on in a five month long debate about “free credit” soon after the appearance of Molinari’s book in the fall of 1849.[321] Molinari’s discussion in this chapter should be seen in the light of this ongoing debate.

Although there were private banks in France the government had considerable control and influence in banking matters. The central bank was the Bank of France which was modeled on the Bank of England and was founded as a private bank in 1800 with Napoleon as one of the shareholders. It was granted a monopoly in issuing currency in 1803. Payment in specie upon demand was suspended twice in the 19th century, both times during revolutions - 1848-1850 and 1870-1875. The banks of the different Départementes were merged into the Bank of France in 1848 in an attempt to solve the fiscal crisis brought on by the Revolution. Concerning interest rates, the Physiocrat Turgot in 1789 wrote a Mémoire on interest for the Constituent Assembly[322] in which he advocated the complete liberalization of the laws regarding the charging of interest. The Assembly passed legislation legalizing the charging of interest but allowed the state to set the maximum allowed rate. The Law of 1807 set the rate for civil transactions at 5% and for commercial transactions at 6%.

For many working men and women a common source of small loans was the government monopoly pawn shops or “monts-de-piété.”[323] The name is a corruption of the Italian “monte di pietà” or “mercy loan” which were bodies established in the 15th century to provide loans to the poor. The monts-de-piété were formerly established in France in 1777 as a state privileged institution with a monopoly of the pawn broking business which could lend at 10% interest. During the inflation of the early part of the French Revolution the monts-de-piété were forced to close in 1795, only to reopen in 1797, and were re-regulated under the Empire in year XII. In 1844 the monts-de-piété of Paris lent fr. 25.6 million. By 1847 there were 45 monts-de-piété across France which loaned a total of fr. 48.9 million. Horace Say described them as “ne sont autre chose que des banques privilégiées de prêts sur gages” (nothing more than state privileged banks in the pawn broking business).

Concerning the theoretical defense of charging interest on loans, Molinari makes a fairly traditional Smithian argument that it is the price of money and, like all prices, it is determined by the cost of production, which, if left alone by government interference, will inevitable reach the level of its “natural price” through a process of competition and the operation of the “economic natural law” which is supply and demand. The Socialist also shares this view of price but differs from the Economist in that he believes that labor is one of major costs of production (along with materials) and that the labor of the “capitalist” is clearly missing from this equation. The Economist replies with a list of other “costs” which the lender of money has to cover before any profits can be made. These include the opportunity cost of foregoing present consumption in order to save money for the future,[324] the risk of loss or damage if loans are not repaid, and a payment for the “entrepreneurial labor” which the banker or capital owner undertakes to organize and run his business efficiently. He believes that these costs have been ignored or misunderstood by the socialist critics of interest. Interestingly, Molinari also criticizes Bastiat’s theory of interest for having ignored the opportunity costs and the risks faced by those lending the capital.[325]

However, Bastiat would in turn criticize Molinari for being too dependent on the labor theory of value. He explicitly says, in a manner Marx would probably have agreed with, that “things are exchanged in terms of their cost of production, that is to say according to the quantities of labor which they embody. These quantities of labor are the foundation of their exchange value.” (below, pp. 000). At the very time Molinari was writing the Soirées Bastiat was trying to reformulate the classical theory by putting the idea of the mutual exchange of “services” at the heart of production and exchange rather than “labor.” These services were “estimated” or valued by each individual consumer and producer according to their particular needs and situation, and an exchange was merely the “mutual exchange of services.”[326] Thus Bastiat was hinting at a “subjectivist” or “Austrian” view of the matter which would emerge in the 1870s during the so-called “Marginal Revolution.”[327]

Molinari concludes with the idea that if the government doesn’t deregulate the money lending business a black market will inevitably emerge in order to satisfy the needs of consumers. He calls them “les prêteurs interlopes” (interloper or pirate money lenders). Molinari uses the word “interlope” three times in Les Soirées. It is defined in the 1835 edition of the official dictionary of the Académie française[328] as a merchant ship which broke the monopoly trading rights of a state privileged trading company, usually in the colonies. In other words it was a trading vessel which broke the law in order to engage in private trade. By analogy, Molinari is using it to describe economic activity which breaks the restrictive laws banning or regulating certain trading activities. He sees this in a positive light and thus it has no negative connotations.[329]

Molinari would return to the topic of interest in 1852 when his article on “Usury” appeared in the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique.[330] Many of the arguments he makes in this Soirée were presented in a more structured form in that article. He would later devote several long chapters to money, banking, capital, and interest in his treatise Cours d’économie (1855, 1863).[331]


SUMMARY: The right to lend. –Legislation regulating lending at interest. – Definition of capital. – Motives driving capital formation. – On credit. – On interest. – On its constituent elements. – Labor. – Hardship. – Risks. – How these conditions can be alleviated. – That the laws cannot achieve this. – The disastrous results of legislation limiting the rate of interest. THE CONSERVATIVE.

Rotten usurer! To lend money to a scatterbrain who squanders his inheritance in advance on the young ladies of the Opéra, and, heavens above, at what a rate of interest!


So whom are you railing at?


At a damned money-lender[332] who has decided to lend a huge sum to one of my sons.


At what rate?


At 2% a month, 24% a year, no more nor less!


That is not very dear. Imagine if you were still [118] in the flower of youth, strong and healthy. Next, imagine that the law categorically forbade lending at interest. The legal rate of interest is five per cent in civil matters and six in commercial matters.


Well it is precisely because the legal interest rate is five or six per cent that people should not be lending at twenty four.


Lending happens, however. And to be wholly truthful with you I will say that I think the law counts for a part of this twenty four per cent.


What? But does not the law authorize me to pursue this vile money-lender…. ?


This capitalist bloodsucker….


Who lends at above the legal rate. So this is the issue then. I will tell you what is going to happen. You are going to sue the money-lender with whom your son has allowed himself to get involved in order to anticipate his inheritance. The man will have to defend himself. The case will be judged and he will win for lack of sufficient evidence. But the proceedings will even so have cost him money. Moreover his reputation will have suffered a new blemish. All these are risks to which he would not be exposed if there were no laws limiting the rate of interest. Now a lender has to cover his risks.


Yes, but twenty four per cent? [119]


If we consider how short the supply of funds is today, and how risky investments are, especially if the borrower is an habitué of Breda-Street,[333] and also how the regulatory system has inflated the cost of legal proceedings, we will find at the end of the day that twenty four per cent is not excessive.


You’re joking. If that were the case, why should legislation have limited the legal rate of interest to five or six per cent?


Because the legislator concerned was a poor economist.


So you want usury to be permitted henceforth?


And you want labor to be handed over without mercy to the tyranny of capital?


On the contrary I want the rate of interest always to be as low as possible. That is why I urge lawmakers not to get involved in the matter.


But if you put no brakes on the greed of money-lenders, where in that case will the exploitation of heads of families stop?


But if the law does not limit the power of capitalists where will the exploitation of the workers stop? [120]


Oh really!


So justify this anarchical and immoral doctrine of laisser-faire.


Yes, justify this “bankocratic” [334] and Malthusian doctrine of laisser-faire.


What a charming alliance….So tell me then, oh worthy and venerable conservative, did you not applaud the famous proposal of M. Proudhon, regarding the gradual abolition of interest?


I? I denounced it with the full force of my indignation.


You were wrong. You showed yourself to be utterly illogical in denouncing it. What did M. Proudhon want? He wanted, by means of government action, to reduce interest to zero.


Dreadful utopian!


This utopian, however, was content to follow the early lead of your legislators. The only difference is that instead of holding himself to your legal limit of five or six percent, he demanded that the limit be lowered to zero.


Is there no difference, then, between these two limits? Certainly one can fairly say to people: you will not lend at more than five or six per cent. That is a reasonable, [121] an honest level. To oblige them to lend for nothing, however, is that not plundering them, the….Oh, those thieving socialists!


It makes me very angry; but it is you who brought them into existence, those thieves. Socialism is only a radical exaggeration, though a perfectly logical one, of your laws and regulations. You decided, in the interest of society, that it should be the law which decides what happens to the estates left by heads of family. Socialism decides, in the interests of society, that it will be handed over by law to the community. You have decided that various industries shall be run and their workforce paid by the state; socialism has decided that all industries shall be run, and all their employees paid for, by the state. You decided that interest would be limited to five or six per cent; socialism decides that it shall be reduced to zero.

If you had the right to limit the rate of interest, that is to say partially to do away with interest payments, socialism has a perfect right, it seems to me, to do away with them entirely.


This is incontestable. We have the right, by the very reckoning of our enemies, and we use it to the full. So in what way are we blameworthy?

That conservatives show consideration towards capital, is understandable. They live on it. They have felt themselves, however, the need to put limits on capitalist exploitation;[335] and they have protected themselves against the most wily and greedy people in their own gang. Capitalists have forbidden lending at very high interest by [122] condemning it as usury. We in turn have arrived on the scene, however, and recognizing the inadequacy of this law we have undertaken to cut out the evil at its root and we have said: let the legal rate of interest henceforth be lowered from five or six per cent to zero. You protest! But if the capitalists have been able legitimately to demand the abolition of gross usury, why should we be committing a crime by demanding the abolition of petty usury? In what way is the one more legitimate than the other?


Your claims are perfectly logical. The only thing is you would no more be able to reduce the rate of interest to zero than the legislators of the Empire were able to lower it to a maximum of five or six per cent. You would end up like them causing it to rise further.


What do you know about it ?


I could invoke the history of all such laws setting a maximum rate[336] and prove to you consulting the evidence that each time people have wanted to limit the price of things whether labor, capital, or goods, they have invariably pushed it up. I would like to get you to see however, the why and wherefore of this rise. I prefer to explain to you how it comes about that interest should naturally be sometimes at ten, fifteen, twenty, and thirty per cent, sometimes at five, four, three, and two per cent and even lower; and how it arises that no ad hoc legislation can make it go below this.

Do you know what the price of things is made up of?


What you economists usually say [123] is that the price of things is constituted by their cost of production.


And in what does the cost of production consist?


Again according to the Economist, the cost of production is made up from the labor needed to produce a given merchandise and put it on the market.


Yes, but does the price at which things sell always represent exactly the cost of the labor required, that is their costs of production?


No, not always. The costs of production represent what Adam Smith, rather wisely in my opinion, has called the natural price of things. Now this same Adam Smith notes that the price at which things sell, the market price, does not always coincide with the natural price.[337]


Yes, but Adam Smith also notes that the natural price is, as it were, the central point around which the market price gravitates constantly, and towards which it is irresistibly drawn back.


How does that happen?


When the price of a good exceeds its cost of production, those who produce it or who sell it realize an exceptional return. The lure of this unusual return [124] attracts competition and to the extent that this competition mounts, the price falls.


Where does it all stop?


The limit is the cost of production. Sometimes also the price falls below these costs. In this latter case, however, production ceasing to yield a sufficient return, itself slows down, the market becomes depleted and prices rise again. Thanks to this economic law of gravitation, prices tend always and irresistibly, to attain their natural level; that is to say to represent exactly the amount of labor the merchandise has cost. I will have occasion to come back later to this law which is really the keystone of the economic edifice.[338]

To resume: interest is constituted by the cost of production. The market rate of interest gravitates continuously round the cost of production.


And from what, may I ask, is the cost of production of the rate of interest made up?


From the labor costs and the risks of losses or damage, from which must be deducted…


What’s that?


From the labor costs and the risks of losses or damage.


This is what is not clear. [125]


This will become clear shortly. First, what things does one lend?


Well, we lend things which possess some value.


Having a value means, as you know, being suitable for satisfying one or other of the needs of man. How do things acquire such a property? Sometimes they possess it naturally; sometimes it is bestowed on them by labor.

The value which nature imparts to things is free. Nature works for nothing. Only man has his labor paid for, or to put it better, exchanges his labor for that of others. Things are exchanged in terms of their cost of production, that is to say according to the quantities of labor which they embody. These quantities of labor are the foundation of their exchange value. The more one possesses things which embody labor, the richer one is: in fact the better one can satisfy one’s needs, either by consuming these things or exchanging them for other consumable things. If we do not want to consume them right away we can either store them or lend them.

Those things which embody useful labor are known as “capital."

Capital is accumulated by savings.

Two motives drive man to save.

The first arises from the very nature of man. Working life scarcely stretches beyond two thirds of the human lifetime. In his infancy and in his old age, [126] man consumes without producing. He is therefore obliged to put aside a portion of his daily labor to bring up his family and to provide for his own livelihood in his old age. This is the first motive which leads man not to consume immediately the whole value of his labor, in other words to accumulate capital.

There is another motive as well. If need be, man can produce without capital ... 


Where do you see this happening?


Do you think the first men were born with a bow and arrows, an axe, and a plane to hand? At a pinch we can produce without capital but not on any kind of scale. In order to create many useful things in return for little effort, one needs numerous, sophisticated tools; the production of certain things demands, moreover, a lot of time. Now the producer cannot survive during this time unless he gets a sufficient advance supply of food, unless he has a certain capital at his disposal. The individual therefore has an interest in putting by some of his output, in accumulating capital, in order to be able to increase his production while reducing his efforts, in order to make his labor more fruitful.


That’s right.


But this second motive which leads to the accumulation of capital, is far less general than the first. It acts [127] only on industrial entrepreneurs[339] and those who aspire to become such.


That is to say on everybody.


No! There are many laborers in manufacturing who do not dream of becoming manufacturers,[340] many farm laborers who have no ambition to run farms, many bank clerks who do not aspire to set up a bank. And as industry develops on a bigger scale, there will be fewer and fewer such aspirants.

In the present state of affairs, the manufacturing entrepreneurs[341] are already in a minority. If they were limited to just their own savings, to the capital they are able to accumulate themselves, this would be completely inadequate.


There is no doubt about that. If each manufacturing entrepreneur,[342] manufacturer, farmer, or merchant found himself limited to his own resources; if he had at his disposal only his own capital, production would be endlessly stymied by lack of sufficient funds.


Whereas there would be in the hands of non-entrepreneurs,[343] a considerable quantity of inactive capital.


We have overcome that difficulty by means of credit.


Say rather that we should have overcome it. Unfortunately society has not yet been able to organize the supply of credit. [128]


Credit has been organized since the beginning of the world. On the day when, for the first time one man lent to another some product of his own labor, credit was invented. Since that day it has never stopped developing. Intermediaries have set themselves up between the capitalists and the entrepreneurs. The numbers of these traders in capital, bankers, or business agents, have multiplied enormously. Stock exchanges have been set up where one can sell capital wholesale and retail.


Ah, the stock exchange….that vile haunt of the pimps of capital, where they gather to negotiate their foul purchases. When are we going to close these temples of usury?


Then you had better close “le marché des Innocents” (The Innocents’ Market),[344] too, since theft takes place there as well…Capital lending has been organized on a huge scale and it is destined to develop much further once it has ceased to be directly and indirectly hobbled.

Capital is accumulated in all its forms. In what form however is it accumulated most willingly? In the form of durable objects, not cumbersome, and easily exchanged. Certain objects combine these qualities to a higher degree than all the others; I mean precious metals. The price of precious metals has consequently become the bench mark for all prices. When somebody lends his capital in a less durable and more readily depreciating form, the borrower has to be paid compensation for this difference in durability and tendency to depreciation. Furnishings and houses [129] are let out more expensively than a sum of money of the same value.

When someone lends capital in the form of precious metal, the price of the loan takes the name interest, when the loan is transacted in another form, when people are lending land, houses, furniture, the price is called rent.[345]

Interest is therefore the sum we pay for the use of a certain quantity of labor accumulated in the most durable form, the least inconvenient, and the most freely exchangeable.

Sometimes this use of capital costs more, sometimes less, sometimes it is free and sometimes the capitalists even pay a premium to those to whom they entrust their capital.


Are you joking? Wherever can lenders be seen paying interest to their borrowers? The world would be upside down!


Do you know on what conditions the first deposit banks which were established in Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Genoa took in capital deposits?[346] In Amsterdam the capitalists first of all paid a premium of ten florins when an account was opened for them; next they paid an annual custody fee of one per cent. Moreover the various monies at that time being subject to sizable depreciations, the bank levied a variable charge on the sum deposited. In Amsterdam this charge was commonly 5%. Well, despite the harshness of these conditions, the capitalists preferred to entrust their funds to a bank, rather than keeping them or lending them directly to people who had need of them. [130]


At that time interest was less.


That is right. Well, as in all eras, the man who has accumulated capital has to engage in a certain supervision and to run certain risks if he looks after it himself; since it can happen that it is less trouble and he runs fewer risks if he lends it, interest can therefore, at any time, fall to zero or even below zero.

You also understand, however, that if this negative part of the costs of production were to become very substantial; if holding capital were subject to very great risks, such as a lack of security or excessive taxation; if lending too offered only inadequate security, accumulation would come to a halt. People would stop saving their funds if they could no longer count on consuming them themselves, at least for the most part. Man would start living from day to day, ceasing to care for his old age, and for the future of his family, without concerning himself any more with perfecting or expanding his production. Civilization would regress rapidly under such a regime.

The weaker the negative part of interest, the more powerful is the stimulus which drives man to save.

Let us have a look now at the positive part of interest.

This latter represents labor, losses, and risk.

If you go to a certain amount of trouble, if you experience certain losses, if you run certain risks in [131] the keeping of your own capital, you are routinely obliged to take even more care, to sustain even more damage, and run even more risks if you lend it.

In what circumstances are you, as a capitalist, disposed to lend out funds?

It is when you yourself have no use for them at present. You lend money willingly until the time comes when you need it yourself. Two borrowers, two men with a present need for capital, approach you: with which one will you deal? You will choose, will you not, the one who gives you the better financial and moral guarantees, the richer and more upright of the two, the one who will reimburse you the more reliably? Unless, however, his competitor happens to offer you a higher price, in which case you will weigh the difference in risk and rates offered and then decide. If you go for the second, it will be because the better rate seems to you to balance and go a little beyond balancing, the difference in financial and moral guarantees.

Thus the function of interest payments is to cover risks.

You lend your capital for a pre-arranged period; but are you quite sure you will not need it during this period? Could not some accident come your way obliging you to seek access to your savings? Does it not also happen, rather frequently, that we lend funds which we need ourselves? In the first case the harm is only potential; in the second it is real; but whether real or potential, does it not require some payment?

Interest serves therefore to compensate for such losses. [132]

You keep your wealth in a safe, or a barn, or elsewhere. If you lend it out, you will have to go to some trouble, that is do a certain amount of work, moving it and having the loan recorded, as well inspecting the use to which the loan will be put. These tasks must be paid for.

Interest therefore serves to pay for this labor.

A premium serving to cover risk, a compensatory payment to cover losses, a cash sum to pay for work done: such are the positive elements in the cost of production of interest payments.

These three elements appear, in different degrees, in all loans made at interest.


We would abolish them if we socialized credit.[347]


Really? Are there any risks? If you are a lender you can do as much as you like, whether you are banker, a financial agent, a supplier of capital, or a saver, but you will still always be at risk when you lend.


1.You are dealing with people of absolute integrity and perfect knowledge;


2. You are dealing with people whose work is not exposed, directly or indirectly, to any chance catastrophe.

Short of this, you are running risks, and people will have to pay you a premium to cover them.


I agree; but if industry were less [133] risky, this premium could be considerably reduced.


Yes, considerably. So rather than setting up commercial banks, study the real causes which make industry a risky undertaking and study also the causes which change a population’s morality or lessen its knowledge.


This is a point of view which seems to me rather novel. Interest rates can be lower, then, in a country which has high standards of morality and practical knowledge than in a country where these qualities are scarce.


Better to say that this ought to be lower. Do you not lend more willingly to an honest man than to some fellow who is half rogue?


That goes without saying.


Well what you do, everyone else does too. The rate of interest rises in proportion as morality declines. It also rises as knowledge is lessened or is mistaken. Take these economic maxims to heart and know how to apply them appropriately.

The risks which undoubtedly constitute the most considerable element in the costs of production of interest, can fall very significantly indeed, but I doubt whether they can vanish completely. [134]


If memory serves me well, one of the leading figures of the Saint-Simonian school, M. Bazard, thought quite the opposite.[348]


You are muddling things. Here is what M. Bazard wrote in his preface to the French translation of Bentham’s Defense of Usury:[349]

“ …It is permissible to conclude that interest, as representing the rent accruing to the tools of production, has a tendency to disappear completely, and that of the elements which compose it today, the insurance premium is the only one which has to remain, while itself diminishing, because of progress in industrial organization, as compared to solely those risks which can be regarded as beyond the foresight and wisdom of human beings."[350]

Like M. Bazard, I doubt whether the risks of lending can ever disappear completely; for I do not think we can ever succeed in eliminating all the accidents, natural or otherwise, which threaten capital lending. Those who use capital, those who risk its destruction, will always have to pay an insurance premium to cover this risk.


But a mutual benefit insurance company[351] ….


No such company could prevent real risks from falling on people. You lend money to a farmer whose work-sheds may [135] be destroyed by a fire or whose harvests may be ravaged by hail, or weevils, or some other thing. Consequently you are running various risks. These risks must be covered, otherwise, you do not lend.


But what if the farmer is insured against fire, hail, and weevils?


He will still pay an annual premium on the capital you have lent him to increase his equipment and expand his cultivation; only instead of paying you he will pay it to underwriters. He will pay them less, since insurance is their speciality and it is not yours; but he will pay it to them. The parts of the interest he will pay annually to have the use of your capital are separate but they will remain nonetheless.


And the rent; do you agree with M. Bazard that it could disappear?


The rent, as defined by M. Bazard, is the portion of the cost of production of interest representing compensation for loss and the payment of labor.[352]

Can one relinquish capital, without experiencing any loss as a consequence of its absence? Yes, if one is sure of not having need of it until the time when it will be reimbursed,[353] or perhaps again of being able to recover it or realize it without loss. Will these two circumstances happen one day in an orderly, normal, [136] permanent way? Will it turn out that all the capital used in production will be reimbursable or realizable without loss at the behest of the lenders?


Pure daydreaming!


I would not be so sure. We should note that all the capital employed or even employable in production, does not constitute all the capital at society’s disposal. One generally lends only such capital as one does not need at present. Well it could turn out that we do not lend any other kind of capital. In this case we will not suffer any real loss by lending. Will it be feasible likewise to eliminate potential losses? Will the development of capital one day operate sufficiently perfectly that the exit of capital from production will routinely be compensated for, by capital entry? I could not say but this is possible. If the production and circulation of capital were not slowed and harassed by a thousand obstacles, we would soon be fully informed in this regard.

There remain the payments remunerating the labor involved in the loan, the trouble the lender has to go to in undertaking the loan. The work is real and, like all real work, merits payment.

The invention and proliferation of banks has resulted in the shifting and the division of this labor. The capitalist who sends his money to a bank now incurs very little inconvenience. On the other hand the bank which lends this money to an industrial entrepreneur carries out serious work and accumulates very considerable costs. This work must be paid for and these costs must be covered. Who should [137] pay? Obviously he who uses the capital, provided that he can pass them on to the consumer of the goods produced with the aid of the capital.

Can it be supposed that these costs will ever disappear? No! While they can fall as a result of the proliferation of specialist intermediaries working in the field of capital lending, they could not be eliminated. A bank has to pay and will always have to pay for its premises and pay its employees etc. There at least, we see one part of the cost of production of interest that is indestructible.


This is most fortunate.


Why would you say this? Is not the society which consumes the products of labor also interested in their selling at the lowest possible price? Well, the interest on capital figures to a greater or lesser extent in the prices of all things. If it did not exist or were smaller, one could buy these things in exchange for a smaller amount of labor, because they would contain less labor.

The general affluence of populations grows in proportion as interest rates fall; it would be at its maximum if interest came to fall naturally to zero.


I grasp perfectly this analysis of the costs of the production of interest; I see that interest is composed of real parts which must be covered, without which….without which….


…the capitalists would not lend their capital, or if they were forced to lend they would stop accumulating it, [138] they would stop saving. Now since capital, with the exception of precious metals and a few other goods, is largely destructible, the material capital of society today – fields of wheat, pasturage, vineyards, houses, furniture, tools, provisions – would just disappear in a very few years if we did not take care to renew them by means of work and savings.


You have successfully conveyed my own thinking. I also understand that these different parts of the costs of production tend naturally to fall. But is the market rate of interest therefore always the exact representation of the elements or costs of production of interest?


The same holds for capital as for everything. When people are offering more capital than is demanded, the market rate of interest will fall. Even so, it could never fall much below the cost of production of interest, for we would rather hang on to capital than lend it out at a loss. The price could rise above these costs when demand for capital is greater than its supply. If the disproportion becomes too marked, however, the capital attracted by the increasingly large premium offered to it, will soon come flooding into the market and equilibrium will reestablish itself. The market price will in this case converge once again towards the natural price.

This equilibrium establishes itself on its own, unless artificial obstacles prevent its doing so. I will talk about these obstacles when we are considering the banks.[354] In the main, however, it is on the costs of production that we must make an impact if we have to act to lower [139] the rate of interest in an ordered and lasting way. The fact is that these costs could not be lowered, either in whole or in part, by means of a law.


So here we are, back with the legal rate!


One can no more say to a capitalist: “You[355] will not lend your capital at above a maximum interest rate of five or six per cent,” than you can to a merchant: “You will not sell your sugar for more than a maximum price of eight sous a pound."[356] If at eight sous the merchant cannot cover the cost of production of the sugar and remunerate his own labor, he will stop selling sugar. Likewise, if being subject to an interest rate maximum of five or six per cent, the capitalist is not covering the risks of the loan, nor the loss resulting from going a while without his capital, nor the work he had to put in to his lending, he will cease lending.


But they do not stop. My usurer…


Or if he continues to lend, will he not be obliged to add to the interest he is making, a premium for the extra risks he runs in breaking the law? This is just what your usurer has not failed to do. If there were no law limiting the rate of interest, he might have charged only twenty per cent or even less.


What? You think that the cost of production of the interest on the capital lent to my son really amount to twenty per cent? [140]


Yes, I think so. There are great risks in lending to the youthful customers of Breda Street. Will you not admit that these friendly discounters of the right to an inheritance do not supply moral guarantees of a very substantial sort.[357]


All things considered, though, the laws against usury cannot have had really catastrophic effects. They are so easily evaded.


Do not be so sure! Many men find themselves in a situation such that they cannot borrow, short of paying heavy interest. Well, the law having banned so-called usurious loans, the people who conform religiously to the present law, whether it be good or bad, abstain from lending to these needy men. The latter are reduced to approaching certain individuals not burdened with these scruples, men who profit from being few in number and from the urgency of their clients’ needs by raising the rate of interest yet again.

The law restricting the rate of interest establishes, you see, a real monopoly in favor of the least scrupulous lenders, and to the detriment of the poorest borrowers. It is thanks to this absurd law that the interlopers who lend money[358] or usurers bleed dry the workers or shopkeepers who incur short-term debts, or traders who have just experienced a disastrous loss, and many others.

Do you now understand that political economy takes a stand, in the interests of the masses, against this [141] limitation on the right to lend, and undertakes the defense of usury?


Yes, I understand. I see that the law does not prevent usury and that, on the contrary, it makes it more bitter. I see that if this restrictive law were to be abolished, the most needy borrowers would pay smaller premiums to the lenders.


That would be an immense benefit to the poorest classes in society. Let us therefore demand the abolition of state controlled interest rates.[359] It would be the best way of getting the better of the usurers and of putting an end to usury.



9. The Sixth Evening

Editor’s Note

In this Soirée Molinari begins a discussion of the right to exchange which he will continue in S7 where he turns to free trade and protectionism. Here he discusses the right to exchange one’s own labor, the legal restrictions which prevent workers from forming trade unions, how the price of a “perishable commodity” like labor is determined, how workers can organize in order to support themselves in times of labor surpluses, and how “artificial obstacles” like government restrictions restrict the number of jobs which are available. There is brief discussion about the price of wheat during periods of shortages but he leaves the main discussion of free trade to the following chapter. The Economist also in this Soirée gives one of his mini-lectures or speeches on what he believes - this time on "the law of supply and demand.”

The issue of “labor” became increasingly important for the Economists during the 1840s as a result of the critical onslaught of the socialists. The Economists responded with their own intellectual counter-attack, most notably the massive three volume work “On the Freedom of Working” by the doyen of the Economists, Charles Dunoyer.[360] Dunoyer had spent 20 years working on his magnum opus which finally appeared to much acclaim in 1845 and his view dominated the thinking of the economists at this time. He defined liberty as the ability to work at what one chose, to gradually have the obstacles to work removed, and more generally to expand one’s sphere of action. Thus, working lay at the core of what it meant to be free:

What I call liberty, in this book, is the power which men acquire in order to use their strength more easily, to the degree to which they are freed from the obstacles which originally hindered them in its exercise. I also say that a man is all the more free to the extent that he is able to rid himself of the things which prevent him from making use of his strength, to the extent to which he is able to remove these impediments from his presence, to the extent that he is able to expand and unblock his sphere of action.[361]

Molinari would develop a slightly different view of both liberty and labor to Dunoyer but they shared much in common.[362] Concerning labor, Molinari came to view labor very much from the perspective of “exchange” (which is why he includes it in this Soirée). Even if he had nothing else, a laborer owned his own person and his own faculties and should be regarded as a “marchand de travail” (a merchant or trader of his own labor) which he could exchange with others in return for wages.[363]

So it is not surprising that Molinari took a great interest in labor issues soon after he arrived in Paris in the early 1840s. He saw labor as just another form of exchange which should be freed from external restrictions; he saw unions as just another example of a voluntary association between free individuals to achieve shared goals;[364] and he saw the unequal punishment meted out to labor unions vis-à-vis employers associations as a violation of the principle of equality under the law. He first became active in labor matters in 1845-46 when he intervened in a court case against Parisian carpenters who had tried to start a union because he thought they had been unfairly treated under the law and tried to raise money to help pay their court costs. He later gave an open address to Parisian workers in 1846 on the need for a “Bulletin du travail” (Labor Market Report) which would provide information to workers on prices and availability of jobs much like the “Bulletin de la Bourse” (Stock Market Report) provided prices and availability of stocks and bonds to investors.[365] This he thought would even up the balance of power between employees and employers. He included an appendix at the end of this chapter where he summarizes his scheme for a fully fledged “Bourse du travail” (Labor Exchange) which he continued to advocate for the rest of his long life. His plan was to use the new technology of the electric telegraph to transmit information instantaneously about wage rates and the availability of jobs across the length and breadth of Europe to facilitate the movement of laborers - just as stock prices, interest rates, and the price of gold and other commodities were transmitted to the Bourses (Stock Exchanges) for the benefit of the capitalists, merchants, and manufacturers.

The sticking point for the Economists was the unfair nature of the laws regarding the punishments for forming associations by employers and workers. This began during the Revolution with legislation introduced by Jean Le Chapelier, the notorious “Le Chapelier Law,” which was enacted on 14 June, 1791. These restrictions were tightened in the Penal Code which stated that any “coalition” (or association) by employers to conspire to keep wages low could be punished by imprisonment from six days to a month and a fine. Any “coalition” (or union) organized by workers to attempt to raise their wages could be punished by much harsher penalties with imprisonment of at least one month and no more than three months, with union leaders getting two to five years. Furthermore, associations of employers were largely ignored by the police, while unions were harshly punished. Molinari quotes the relevant articles in this chapter (see below, pp. 000).

Molinari continued his critique of Articles 414, 415, 416 of the Penal Code after he left Paris in 1852 in a Petition to the Belgian Chamber of Representatives in 1857 with a thousand signatures in support. He criticized the “deplorable inequality” which these Articles created between workers and their employers and reminded the legislators that

if you accept the idea that the regime of the liberty of labor is beneficial, it is on the condition that this liberty is a real one; that it is on the condition that the same rights which are granted to industrial entrepreneurs vis-à-vis the workers are also granted to the workers vis-à-vis the entrepreneurs.[366]

The second part of the Soirée deals with the price of labor and how it is determined. Molinari uses the example of the price of a perishable commodity (like oranges) which can fluctuate rapidly and has to be sold before it rots, and compares it to a durable commodity (like diamonds) which a jeweler can hold for as long as he likes until he can get a better price. Labor, Molinari argues, is more like a perishable commodity which can place the laborer in a difficult situation in times of labor surpluses, but occasionally in the driver’s seat in times of labor shortages. Since he is a strict Malthusian,[367] Molinari’s solution to an over supply of labor is for workers in the longer term to limit the size of their families (and hence the number of future workers), and in the short term to form voluntary associations like unions to raise money to support unemployed members or to subsidize them to temporarily withdraw their own labor from the market.

Towards the end of the Soirée the Economist makes a very interesting point which he does not explore in any detail, namely that many of the obstacles to full and steady employment are “artificial” (created by government intervention) and not “natural” (such as crop failures or floods). By artificial obstacles[368] he means such things as state provided charity (which creates negative incentives to work), restrictions on the free movement of labor (such as the requirement for workers to carry their government issued “workbooks” at all times),[369] restrictions on the free entry or workers into certain occupations (trade guilds restricted the number of new apprentices who could be admitted), and most intriguingly the recurrence of periodic “industrial crises.” The Economists in the 1840s were beginning to develop a theory to explain the periodic commercial crises which afflicted the economy. A leader in this field was Charles Coquelin who argued that the central bank with its government monopoly in the issuing of money was the key to understanding the problem.[370] Its manipulation of the money supply distorted the economy which led to the need for “corrections” which were manifested as commercial or industrial crises which had a particularly deleterious effect on ordinary workers. Unfortunately Molinari does not go into any details here but merely refers to it in passing.[371]

Molinari would go on to write the article on “Travail” (Labor) in the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique (1852-53)[372] and three lengthy chapters on “Labor” in his treatise Cours d’économie politique (1855, 1863).[373]


SUMMARY: The right to exchange. – On the exchange of labor. –Laws regulating unions. – Articles 414 and 415 of the Penal Code – The Union of Paris Carpenters, 1845. – Proof of the law which makes the price of things gravitate towards their cost of production. – Its application to labor. – That the worker can sometimes dictate terms to the employer. – An example from the British West Indies. – The natural organization of the sale of labor. THE ECONOMIST

Exchange is even more hindered than lending and borrowing. The exchange of labor is subject to legislation on passports and workbooks and to union law;[374] buying and selling of real-estate is subject to costly and oppressive formalities; the trade in goods is burdened, domestically, by various indirect taxes, notably by licensing duties, and externally by customs. These different infringements on the property of those who engage in exchange, result invariably in reducing output and disrupting the just distribution of wealth.

Let us consider first of all the obstacles placed in the way of the free exchange of labor.


Ought we not, before that, finish examining the various aspects of external property? [143]


We can think of labor as external property. The entrepreneur who buys labor does not buy all the worker’s faculties and productive powers; he buys the portion of these which the worker separates from himself by the act of working. The exchange is not really concluded or closed until the worker, who has separated from himself a part of his intellectual and moral capabilities, has received in exchange, products (most commonly precious metals) likewise containing a certain quantity of labor. This is truly, therefore, an exchange of two external properties.

To be just, all exchange must be perfectly free.[375] Are not two men who effect an exchange the best judges of their interest? Can a third party legitimately intervene and oblige one of the two contracting parties to give more or receive less than he would have given or received had the exchange been a free one? If one or the other reckons that the thing he is being offered is too dear, he will not buy it.


What if he is forced to buy it in order to live? What if a worker, pressured by hunger, is obliged to relinquish[376] a considerable amount of labor in exchange for a very low wage?


This is an objection which will oblige us to follow a very long, roundabout route.


Admit, though, that the objection is a very strong one…it really contains the whole socialist case. The socialists have [144] recognized, confirmed, that there is not and cannot be equality under the present arrangement for the exchange of labor; that the employer is in the nature of things stronger than the worker, so that he can always lay down the law to the latter and does so. Having clearly asserted this manifest inequality, they have sought the means of eliminating it. They have found two of these: the intervention of the state between seller and buyer of labor; and the Association of Workers which cuts out the private sale of labor.


Are you quite sure that the inequality of which you speak exists?


Am I sure of it? But the masters of political economy themselves have recognized this inequality. If I had the works of Adam Smith to hand…..


Here they are in my library.


Here is the page.


Give me your attention please:

What are the common wages of labor, says Adam Smith, depends every where upon the contract usually made between those two parties, whose interests are by no means the same. The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower the wages of labor.
It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily; and the law, besides, authorizes, or at least does not prohibit their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work; but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes the masters can hold out much longer. A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year without employment. In the long–run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.

Please listen to this, too:

We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters; though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and every where in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination, because it is the usual, and one may say, the natural state of things which nobody ever hears of [146] Masters too sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labor even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy, till the moment of execution, and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do, without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people. Such combinations, however, are frequently resisted by a contrary defensive combination of the workmen; who sometimes too, without any provocation of this kind, combine of their own accord to raise the price of their labor. Their usual pretense are, sometimes the high price of provisions; sometimes the great profit which their masters make by their work. But whether their combinations be offensive or defensive, they are always abundantly heard of. In order to bring the point to a speedy decision, they have always recourse to the loudest clamor, and sometimes to the most shocking violence and outrage. They are desperate, and act with the folly and extravagance of desperate men, who must either starve, or frighten their masters into an immediate compliance with their demands. The masters upon these occasions are just as clamorous upon the other side, and never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combinations of servants, laborers, and journeymen. The workmen, accordingly, very seldom derive any advantage from the violence of those tumultuous combinations, which, partly from the interposition of the civil magistrate, partly from the superior steadiness of the masters, partly from the necessity which the greater part of the workmen are under of submitting for the sake of present subsistence, generally end in nothing, but the punishment or ruin of the ringleaders.[377] [147]

So there you have, is it not true, an eloquent condemnation of your system of free competition, from the pen of the very master of economic science? In the arguments over wages, the employer is stronger than the worker – Adam Smith himself confirms it! After this admission by the master himself, what ought his disciples to have done? If they had truly possessed any love of justice and humanity, ought they not to have searched for ways to establish equality in the relations of employers and workers? Have they fulfilled this duty? ... With what have they proposed to replace the wage earners, that ultimate embodiment of servitude, as M. de Châteaubriand has so aptly put it?[378] What do they propose in place of this unjust and primitive laissez-faire which builds the prosperity of the master on the ruin of the workers? What have they proposed, I ask you?




In fact they said they could do nothing against the natural laws which govern society; they have shamefully confessed their powerlessness to come to the aid of the workers. This duty of justice and humanity, which they have failed to recognize, has been fulfilled, however, by us socialists. In replacing the wage earners by Associations of Workers we have put an end to the exploitation of man by man and to the tyranny of capital.


I…um! [148]


Allow me first of all to make a simple observation. In the passage from Adam Smith which has just been cited, the subject is laws which repress unequally the employers’ coalitions and those of the workers. Thank God, we do not have anything like this in France. Our laws treat all equally. There are no longer inequalities in France.


You are wrong. On the contrary, French law has established a flagrant inequality between employer and worker. To prove this to you it will be enough for me to read articles 414 and 415 of the Penal Code.[379]

Art.414. Any coalition between those who give the workers employment, which is aimed at forcing down wages, unjustly and improperly, followed by an attempt at carrying this out or actually beginning to do so, will be punished by an imprisonment of from six days to a month, and a fine ranging from two hundred to three thousand francs.
Art.415. Any coalition, either attempted or initiated, on the part of the workers, which is aimed at bringing all work to a halt simultaneously, forbidding activity in a workshop, preventing people going there or staying there before or after certain hours, and in general, stopping, preventing or making production more expensive, will be punished by an imprisonment of at least one month and no more than three months. The ringleaders or instigators will be punished with an imprisonment of two to five years.

As you see, the employers can be prosecuted only when there is an unjust or improper move on their part to force wages down; the workers are prosecuted [149] purely and simply for attempting to form coalitions; moreover the punishments are monstrously unequal.


Has not the National Assembly reformed these two articles?[380]


It would perhaps have reformed them were it not for the opposition of an economist.[381] In the meantime these articles remain in force and God knows what disastrous influence they exert on the price of labor. Remember the union of Parisian carpenters in 1845. The workers formed a union to obtain a rise of one franc on their wage, which at that time stood at four francs.[382] The management combined to resist.


The union was never established.


On the contrary it was fully established. At that time when associations were explicitly forbidden, the employers of carpenters had obtained authorization for the setting up a Chamber of Syndics for the improvement of their industry; but in this Chamber of Better Business there was more concern with wages than with anything else.[383]


So what do you know about it?


The discussions during the legal proceedings have clearly established the facts. The representatives of the workers addressed their remarks to the chairman of the carpenters’ trade association in order to gain an increase in wages. The chairman turned this down after a long deliberation among the participants. The employers, however, were not [150] prosecuted and in reality they could hardly be so. They had combined, truth to tell, but not to lower wages “unjustly and improperly” ; they had combined to prevent wages rising.


Which came down to exactly the same thing.


But the legislators under the Empire had not understood it in this way. The employers were sent away absolved. The leaders of the workers’ union were condemned, some to five years, others to three years of imprisonment.


Yes, this was one of the most deplorable condemnations which the annals of justice record.


If I am not mistaken the union resorted to blatant abuses. Certain workers ill treated fellow workers who had not wanted to go along with the union. But your theory of laissez-faire perhaps authorizes such procedures.


Much less than your theory does. When people say unlimited freedom, they mean equal freedom for everybody, equal respect for the rights of one and all. Now when a worker prevents another worker from working, by intimidation or violence, he is making an assault on a right, he is violating property, he is a tyrant and a plunderer and ought to be sternly punished as such. The workers who had committed this kind of offence in the case of the carpenters, were in no way excusable and it was right [151] and proper to condemn them. But not all of them had been involved. The union chiefs had neither carried out nor ordered any violence. They were however more severely punished than the others.


The law will be reformed.


As long as it remains it will be an unjust law.


What? Even though it no longer upheld any difference between masters and workers?


Yes. What does Adam Smith say? He says the employers can make agreements with much greater ease than the workers and that the law can get them much less easily.[384] Now if the law strikes at four trades unions for every one association of the employers, is the law just?

In practice, the effect of this law is disastrous for the workers. The employers, knowing that the law restrains them only with difficulty, while it restrains the workers easily, are encouraged to raise and submit excessive claims in the management of labor prices. Any law with respect to these unions, however equal we make it, therefore constitutes an intervention by society in favor of the employer. In the end, people were convinced of this in England and this law relating to unions, which had incurred the just condemnations of Adam Smith, was duly abolished.


Let us see though! Are unions legitimate or are they not? Do they constitute a fraudulent agreement or a proper one? That is the question. Well, on this question [152] the opinion of our General Assemblies has never been in doubt. The members of our first Constituent Assembly and of the Convention itself, set their faces unanimously against any union, any agreement either on the part of the entrepreneurs or the workers. Chapelier,[385] a member of the National Convention, in one of his reports wrote the following sentence which has become famous: “It is absolutely necessary to stop both entrepreneurs and workers from combining over their alleged common interests."[386] What do you think of that?


I think the most discerning specialist in criminal law would be hard put to find anything criminal in the action of two or more men coming to an understanding in order to secure an increase in the price of their merchandise; I think that in issuing laws in order to suppress this alleged crime, we encroach unjustly and harmfully on the property rights of producers[387] and workers.

I go further. In forbidding unions we are preventing agreements which are often crucial.


Have not the economists always regarded unions as harmful or at least as pointless?


That depends on the circumstances and on the way combinations are led. In order to have you see clearly, however, those circumstances in which a union can be useful, and how it must be led to yield good results, I am obliged to return to the fundamentals of the debate. You have asserted that no justice is possible under [153] the wage-system; that the employer, being naturally stronger than the worker, must therefore naturally oppress him.


That outcome is not inevitable. There are philanthropic sentiments which moderate the excessive sharpness which private interests may display.


Not at all. I accept the outcome as inevitable and believe it to be such. We do not pursue philanthropy in the domain of business, and rightly so, for philanthropy would be out of place there. We will return to this issue later….[388]

So you are of the opinion that the employer can always dictate to the worker and that therefore the wage system precludes justice.


I share Adam Smith’s opinion.


Adam Smith said that the employer can oppress the worker more easily than the worker can oppress the employer; he does not say that the employer always finds himself necessarily in a position to lay down the law to the worker.


He identified a natural inequality which exists in favor of the employer.


Yes but this inequality can be absent. The situation may be such that the worker is stronger than the employer.


If the workers form a union? [154]


No, without their combining. I will give you an example in a moment. Now, if inequality does not always come about may it not be the case that it never does ?


Good! You are coming over to the idea of the organization of labor.[389]


God preserve me from that!

On my way here I passed by Fossin’s boutique.[390] There were, in the display window, very beautiful sets of diamonds. On the pavement opposite an orange-seller was offering her wares. She had oranges of two or three grades and on one corner of her stall a packet of over ripe oranges which she was selling at a cut price.


What is this riddle about?


I would ask you to observe the difference between the two industries. Fossin sells diamonds, an essentially durable product. Whether or not a purchaser comes, the diamond merchant can wait without fearing that his merchandise will undergo the least deterioration. If the orange-seller, however, does not succeed in getting rid of her wares, she will soon be left without a single sound orange. She will be forced to throw her merchandise on to the waste heap. There is, certainly, a striking difference between the two kinds of industry. Fossin can wait a long time for buyers without worrying that his products will spoil, but the orange seller cannot. Does this mean that the orange-seller [155] is more exposed than Fossin to purchasers laying down the law?


That depends. If the orange-seller does not take care to match exactly the quantity of her goods to the number of her buyers, she will be obliged to cut her prices or waste some of her oranges.


Well, she will be doing very bad business.


So, will any orange seller who knows her trade carefully avoid loading herself with goods that she may not sell at a profitable price?


What do you understand by profitable price?


I understand by it the price which covers the cost of production of the good including the natural profit[391] for the merchant.


You are not resolving the difficulty. In a year in which the orange harvest is superabundant, what will one do with the surplus if the traders demand no more than usual? Will the superabundant oranges have to be left to rot?


If more oranges are harvested, more will be supplied and the price will fall. With a falling price, demand will increase and the harvest surplus will thus find buyers. [156]


By what proportion will it fall?


According to all the research gathered so far, we can assert the following:

When supply exceeds demand in arithmetic progression, price falls in geometric progression, and similarly when demand exceeds supply in arithmetic progression, price rises geometrically.[392]

You will not be slow to spot the beneficial results of this economic law.[393]


If such a law exists, must it not have on the contrary, essentially dire results? Suppose for example that the proprietor of orange groves normally harvests five hundred thousand oranges a year and can sell them at two centimes a piece. This gives him a sum of ten thousand francs with which he pays his workers and his own labor as director of the farm, covering in a word his cost of production. A year of abundance comes along. Instead of five hundred thousand oranges he harvests a million. As a result he supplies twice as many oranges to the market. In line with your economic law, the price falls from two centimes to half a centime, and the unfortunate owner, victim of abundance, receives only five thousand francs for a million oranges, when in the previous year he had received ten thousand francs for half that number. [157]


Certainly a super abundance of goods is sometimes harmful. We had better ask our farmers if they prefer a year of abundance or an average year, a year where grain is at twenty two francs or a year when it falls to ten francs.[394]


These are economic phenomena that can be explained only by the law which we have just formulated. It does not follow at all from that law, however, that the doubling of a harvest must lead to a three quarters fall in price, since demand always grows more or less insofar as price falls. Let us go back to the example of the owner of orange groves. At two centimes a piece this owner would cover the cost of production of five hundred thousand oranges. If the harvest were to double, the cost of production would not increase in the same proportion. Nevertheless they would increase. You need more labor to gather a million oranges than to gather five hundred thousand. Moreover the owners will be forced to pay this labor more because wages always rise when the demand for labor increases. The costs of production will therefore rise by half perhaps. They will climb from ten thousand to fifteen thousand francs. To cover this last sum, which represents his cost of production, the proprietor will have to sell his harvest of oranges at a rate of one and a half centimes each.

The question is whether, even if he succeeded in selling five hundred thousand oranges at two centimes each, he would succeed in selling a million at a centime and a half. Would a lowering of price by half [158] a centime be enough to bring about a doubling of demand?

If the reduction in price is not sufficient, our proprietor will have to lower his price further for fear of not selling some of his merchandise. This, however, will mean he faces losses. If he sells only nine hundred thousand oranges at a centime and a half, he will not cover his costs; if he sells a million at a centime and a quarter, he will lose even more.

Experience is the only guide in this case. A given drop in price does not increase the demand for all goods equally. A fall by half in the price of sugar, for example, can double consumption. A fall by half in the price of oats or buckwheat will occasion only a weak expansion in demand for these two products. In a year when the harvest exceeds customary expectations, it is therefore hard to know whether it is better to increase supply in line with the increase in the harvest, or to hold back part of the output in order to maintain the price.


And if the commodity is not conservable, it will be advantageous to let it go to waste, therefore.


Yes, or what comes to the same thing economically, to distribute it gratis to people who could not have bought it at any price. There are very few goods, however, that one cannot conserve in one form or another.

If you still have some doubt about the economic law I have just indicated, look at what happened recently in the grain trade.[395] In 1847 our grain harvest was in deficit; instead of [159] gathering sixty million hectoliters of wheat we harvested only about fifty million.[396]

You know what effect this harvest deficit had commercially. From twenty or twenty two francs, its normal price level, wheat rose to forty or fifty francs. The following year, on the contrary, the harvest was abundant, yielding ten or twelve million hectoliters more than usual. From forty or fifty francs, price fell then by successive stages to fifteen francs, and in certain areas as low as ten francs. In the first of these two years, a fall in supply of a quarter led rapidly to a doubling of price; in the second a rise in supply of a quarter drove price successively down to a half of its normal level. [397]

The same law regulates the price of all goods. The only thing is, we must always take good note when we are studying this law, of the increase in demand which results from a fall in price and vice versa.


If a slight fall in supply can lead to such a sizable increase in price, I am beginning to understand a fact that until now had remained very obscure to me. At the end of the last century there was a famine in Marseille. The price of wheat had risen very high… but not high enough for the liking of certain merchants who undertook to make it rise further still. Consequently they thought about throwing part of their supplies into the sea. This happy idea was hugely profitable for them. But a child had witnessed their impious and criminal action. His young soul reacted [160] with profound indignation. He wondered what this society could be in which it proved useful to some to starve others, and he declared everlasting war on a civilization which gave birth to such abominable excesses. He devoted his life to putting together a new form of Organisation… This child, this reformer, was, as you know, Fourier.[398]


The anecdote may be true since this happens often in years of famine as also in years of plenty; but for me this proves only one thing: that Fourier was a very bad observer.


Goodness me!


Fourier saw the effect but he did not see the cause. At that time purchases of foreign wheat were encumbered by the difficulty of communication and also by the customs regulations. So the domestic suppliers of wheat enjoyed an effective monopoly. To make this monopoly even more fruitful, they did not put on to the market, did not put on sale, more than a part of their output. If the law had not interfered in their activities, they would have kept the rest in the warehouse, for wheat is one of those goods which can be stored for a very long time. Unfortunately there were at that time laws against monopolists. These laws forbad merchants to keep in store more than a certain quantity of foodstuffs. Faced with the alternative of putting all their wheat on the market, or destroying some of it, they often found it more advantageous to [161] adopt the latter option. It was barbarous, it was horrible if you will, but whose fault was it?

Under a regime of complete economic liberty[400] nothing like this could happen. Under this regime, the price of all goods tends naturally to fall to the lowest level possible. Indeed the very fact that a small difference between the two levels of supply and demand, leads to a sizable difference in price, means that equilibrium must necessarily establish itself. As soon as the supply of a commodity is not sufficient in respect of demand, its price rises with such rapidity, that it is soon found very profitable to bring an additional amount of that commodity to the market. Now men being naturally on the lookout for all business which yields them some advantage, the various competitors combine to fill the gap.

As soon as the deficit is closed and equilibrium re-established, the flows stop of their own accord; for prices tending to fall progressively as supplies increase, it does not take long for suppliers to be making losses.

Thus if producers or merchants are left completely free to take their goods where the need for them is felt, supplies will also always be as closely proportionate as possible to the requirements of consumption; if on the contrary, in one way or another there are attacks on freedom of communication,[401] if merchants are harassed during the free exercise of their industry, it will take a long time for equilibrium to be reached, and in the interval the leading producers in the market will be able to realize huge returns, at the expense of the unfortunate consumers. [162]

Let us note again that returns increase all the more with people’s increasing inability to go without the commodity. Let us suppose that a company gains a monopoly over the sale of oranges in a country. If this company takes advantage of its monopoly in order to reduce by a half the quantity of oranges supplied compared to previously, in the hope of increasing the price fourfold, demand will likewise decrease. As a result, while the gap between supply and demand still remains very small, the market price of oranges will not be able to rise much above the natural price.

It will be different if a company manages to grab a monopoly of the production or sales of cereals. Since wheat is a commodity of primary necessity, a cut in half in the supply and the resulting steady increase in price will occasion only a slight contraction in demand. Such a fall in supply which would make the price of oranges rise only very little would result in a doubling or tripling of the price of wheat.

When a commodity is an absolutely prime necessity like wheat, demand shrinks only with the loss of part of the population or the exhaustion of its resources.

In brief, in certain circumstances a given commodity whose price could not rise very high in ordinary circumstances, suddenly acquires uncommon value. For example, let’s transport an orange seller into the midst of a caravan which is crossing the desert. At first, [163] she has to sell her merchandise at a modest price for fear of not selling anything. But, water becomes scarce and immediately the demand for oranges doubles, trebles, quadruples. The price rises steadily as demand increases. It is not long before it exceeds the resources of the less affluent travelers and threatens the resources of the richest travelers: in a few hours the worth of an orange can climb in this way a million times. If the orange seller, herself suffering from thirst, reduces her supply as her own need becomes more urgent, a point will come when the price of oranges exceeds all the available resources of her companions in the caravan, be they all nabobs.

By observing carefully this economic law you will be explaining to yourself a host of phenomena which until now probably have eluded you. You will know precisely why producers, in certain areas, have always aimed at obtaining exclusive privilege or monopoly with the respect to the sale of their products; why above all they show themselves very keen on monopolies which affect goods of primary necessity; why in a word these monopolies have been the terror of populations since the dawn of time.

I now return to my orange seller and to Fossin.


At last!


Thanks to the special nature of his merchandise which is durable, Fossin can, without too much inconvenience, increase [164] his supply of precious stones beyond the needs of the moment. Nothing forces him to release the surplus immediately. The orange seller finds herself in a very different situation. If she has bought more oranges than she can sell at a worthwhile price, she lacks the ability to hold the surplus indefinitely in reserve, since these oranges are subject to decay. By putting her whole stock on sale, however, she is at risk of lowering the price of oranges to the point of losing even the value of this surplus. What will she do therefore? Will she destroy this surplus with which she has unwisely burdened herself? No! She will sell it outside its normal market, or perhaps wait for some of her oranges to be slightly spoiled so that she can sell them to a particular group of purchasers, in such a way as not to compete with the rest of her supply. This explains those little piles of semi-spoiled oranges on the corner of the sellers’ stalls.


What does it matter to us?


You will soon see. These piles of fruit are more in evidence the less the merchants understand their business, or when the consumption of oranges is subject to stronger fluctuations. We would see fewer of them encumbering the stalls, however, if the sellers knew exactly how to proportion their purchases to their sales, and also if consumption were never subject to sudden variations. If conditions were like that, the orange sellers would always be able, like Fossin, to [165] balance their supply to the demand, without experiencing losses; they would stop selling part of their output at a loss for fear that the surplus would spoil, or wait until that surplus is ruined to sell it off dirt cheap.


No doubt.


Well, if you examine closely the situation of workers with respect to the entrepreneurs of industry, you will find it perfectly analogous to that of orange-sellers with respect to their buyers.

If you examine likewise the situation of entrepreneurs with respect to workers, you will find it absolutely the same as Fossin’s with respect to their clientele.

Labor indeed is an essentially perishable commodity, in the sense that the worker, quite lacking in resources, risks perishing in a short space of time if he does not succeed in selling his goods. Thus the price of labor can fall to an excessively low level at times when the supply of labor is sizable and when the demand for it is weak.

Fortunately charity intervenes at this point by removing from the market in order to feed them for nothing, a section of the workers who are offering their labor unsuccessfully. If the charity is insufficient the price of labor continues to fall until part of the labor unsuccessfully offered, perishes. Then equilibrium starts to establish itself again.

The entrepreneur who offers wages to the workers [166] is not obliged, at least usually, to hurry himself up to the same degree. When labor is scarce on the market, the entrepreneur can hold in reserve some of these wages, and like Fossin, proportion his supply to demand.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. It sometimes happens that entrepreneurs have to accept lower profits, to concede to paying high wages in exchange for a smaller supply of labor, or, if I may use the common expression, to find the workers laying down the law to the management. This happens when they have a need for more labor than currently available on the market.

This is what happened in the British West Indies at the time of emancipation.[402] When slavery kept the workers on the plantations, the owners had enough ready labor to keep their holdings more or less profitable.[403] When slavery had been abolished, however, a great number of slaves began to work on their own account. The numbers who continued to work in the production of sugar-cane proved insufficient. At the same time the laws of supply and demand made their influence felt on the price of labor. In Jamaica, where the daily work of a slave yielded scarcely 1 fr. in revenue, the same quantity of free labor was sold for 3, 5, 10 or even as much as 15 or 16 fr.[404] This absorbed the greater part of the indemnity paid to the planters. Soon, however, after very many owners had abandoned their plantations, because they were unable to pay these exorbitant wages, demand [167] fell, while on the other hand, the appeal of these wages having drawn in labor from every country, even from China, supply increased. Thanks to this double movement which ceaselessly and irresistibly realigned supply and demand, the price of labor in the British West Indies has today reverted more or less to its natural level.


What do you mean by the natural wage level?


I mean by this, the sum necessary to cover the cost of production of the labor. I will give you a fuller explanation of the situation in a subsequent discussion.[405]

You see, in short, that entrepreneurs cannot escape the laws of supply and demand any more than the workers themselves can. When the equilibrium between them is adversely disturbed, when the balance of labor is in favor of the workers, the entrepreneurs can doubtless keep in reserve – usually at least – some portion of the wages they pay, and thereby prevent the wage climbing too high. They can imitate the jewelers who hang on to their jewels and precious stones rather than sell them unprofitably. In the end, however, a point comes when under threat of going bankrupt or of giving up their business they are forced to put the wages they have available onto the market.

When equilibrium moves against the workers, when the balance of labor favors the entrepreneurs, the workers are, even so, commonly forced to sell their labor, unless charity comes to their aid, or they succeed, one way or [168] another in withdrawing the excess labor from the market. The situation is then worse than that of the employers when the latter are short of labor, because they are like the orange traders in that they sell a not very durable commodity, one which perishes easily or is easily destroyed.

If, however, well aware of the nature of their commodity, they had exercised sufficient prudence never to overload the market, and always to proportion their supply of it to demand, would not they, too, like the orange sellers who know their business, always sell their wares at a worthwhile price?[406]


Is it indeed always possible to align supply and demand? Do the workers have the power to prevent crises from overturning industry? Can they also easily shift excess labor from one place to another, the way bales of merchandise are transported? This equilibrium, which would allow workers to sell their labor at a decent price, must it not, in the very nature of things, be incessantly disrupted to their disadvantage? And in this case, will not the price of labor, like that of any other perishable good, drop in the most frightful way?


The obstacles which you attribute to nature are more often than not artificial. If you study industrial crises more closely, you will see that they almost always have their origin in the restrictions which hamper production and the circulation of wealth, at various points around the world. Look more closely also for the causes of [169] the difficulties workers encounter in aligning their supply to the level of demand. You will find that these difficulties arise, in the main, either from the institutions of state charity, which encourage workers to increase in number constantly, or from the obstacles put in the way both of workers’ easily associating with each other, and of the free circulation of labor, obstacles such as economic legislation on unionization, on apprenticeships, or labor workbooks and passports. Then there is civil legislation refusing foreigners equal rights with those of nationals. However weak the action of these artificial obstacles on the behavior of supply and demand may be, they are registered very substantially, even enormously, on the movement of prices, since the arithmetic increase on one hand, engenders a geometric increase on the other.

I have already shown you that the laws against unionization must necessarily and inevitably strengthen the employers’ side in wage discussions. In the absence of these dire laws, moreover, the workers would always have ways – lacking to them today – to secure the prompt alignment of the supply of labor to the demand for it. Let me explain.

I return to the example of the seller of oranges, assuming that she sells some hundred oranges every day. One day the demand falls by half; no more than fifty are now purchased. If she persists on this particular day with her wish to sell a hundred, she will have to drop the price sharply and will experience a marked loss. It will be better for her to remove the excess fifty oranges from the market, even if the fruit set aside might perish during the day.

Well, the situation is exactly the same for those sellers of labor, the workers. [170]


I would like to see this, but who will volunteer to play the part of the oranges destined to rot in the shop?


No one, individually! If the workers are intelligent, however, and if the law does not prevent their coming to agreement amongst themselves, do you know what they will do? Instead of letting wages fall progressively as demand falls, they will remove from the market that surplus whose presence generates that fall.


But here again, who will agree to being withdrawn from the market?


Probably no one will do so, unless the workers as a whole compensate those who will be withdrawn; but there will be competition to quit the market if the mass of workers provides compensation to the withdrawn workers equal to the wages they were receiving at work.


Do you believe the workers remaining in employment will regard this scheme as in their interests?


I think so. Let’s take an example. One hundred workers receive a wage of four francs a day. Demand happens to fall by a tenth. If our hundred workers nevertheless persist in offering their labor, by how much will the wage fall? It will fall not by a tenth but by close to a fifth, (it would be exactly a fifth if the fall in the price of the commodity did not always increase demand by some small amount); it will fall to 3 fr. 20. The total sum of wages will fall from 400 fr. to 320 fr. But if the workers [171] in concert withdraw from the market the ten surplus workers, granting them compensation equal to the wage, perhaps 40 fr in total, instead of receiving no more than 320 fr. ( 100 x 3 fr. 20), they will receive 360 fr. (90 x 4). Instead of losing 80 fr., they will lose only 40 fr.

You see that unions can have their usefulness, that they are required, perhaps accidentally, by the very nature of the goods which workers bring to the market. To ban them is therefore, with regard to the great mass of workers, to commit a real act of plunder.

If trades unions were legal, while at the same time the laws on labor workbooks and passports did not harass the movements of workers, you would see the mobility of labor developing rapidly on an immense scale. Adam Smith, looking into the extremely low level of wages in certain localities said: “After all that has been said of the levity and inconstancy of human nature, it appears evidently from experience that a man is of all sorts of luggage the most difficult to be transported.” [407] The means of communication however have been very much improved today compared with what they were in Adam Smith’s time. With the railways and the aid of the electric telegraph, we can rapidly and cheaply transport a great mass of workers from one place, where labor abounds, to another where it is in short supply.

You will understand, nevertheless, that this commerce in labor[408] could not undergo the development of which it is capable, while the law continued to shackle it.


The government should go so far as to guide the workers [172] in their searching. It ought to indicate to them the places where labor is abundant and where it is scarce.


Let private industry be free to go about its business[409] and it will serve the workers much better than the government could. Give complete freedom of movement and association to the workers and they will be perfectly able to seek out the places where the sale of labor operates most advantageously; active and shrewd intermediaries will help them at the lowest possible price (provided that no one takes it upon himself to limit the number of these intermediaries, nor to regulate their activities). The supply of and demand for labor, which spontaneously move one towards the other, will in these circumstances, come to equilibrium without difficulty.

Let the workers be free to go about their business,[410] allow the free movement of labor, that is the solution to the problem of the wage earners.

Appendix: Molinari’s Plan for a Labor Exchange

Struck, some years ago, by the difficulties workers experience in finding the places where they can obtain a good market for that type of merchandise we call labor, I called for the establishment of a labor exchange,[411] along with publicity for the current rates, on the lines of what is done for capital and consumer goods.[412]

Later I tried to put flesh on this idea, and in the Courrier français, edited at that time by M. X. Durrieu, I addressed the following appeal to the workers of Paris:[413]

For a long time the capitalists, producers and merchants, have been taking advantage of the publicity that the press offers them, for placing their capital or selling their merchandise most advantageously. All the newspapers regularly publish a bulletin of the Stock Exchange. All have also opened their columns to industrial and commercial advertising.
If such publicity renders to capitalists and merchants, services whose importance today no one could deny, why [173] should they not also be put within the reach of the workers? Why not use it to light the way for workers in search of employment, as it already helps capitalists looking for markets for their funds and merchants seeking to place their merchandise? Is not the worker who lives by the sweat of his brow or the use of his mind, at least as keen to know which places attract the most advantageous wages, as the capitalist or trader can be to know the markets where their funds or goods will fetch the highest rewards? His physical strength and his brain are his personal capital: it is by exploiting them, making them work, and exchanging their output for the output of other workers like himself, that he manages to subsist.
…It is the press which publishes the industrial bulletins. It would also be the press that would publish an employment bulletin.
So we propose to all government bodies in Paris, to publish each week, free of charge, an employment bulletin, indicating the level of wages and the disposition of supply and demand. We would divide this government bulletin by the different days of the week, in such a way that each trade had its publication on a fixed day.
If our suggestion is accepted by the government, we will ask our colleagues in the various Départements to publish employment bulletins for their localities, as we will publish the one for Paris. Each week we will bring them all together and create from them a general bulletin. In this way, every week, all the workers in France will be able to have in front of them, a picture of the employment circumstances in the various parts of the country.
We will be aiming above all at the workers employed by the government in Paris. They are already organized. They already have official Labor Exchanges. Nothing would be easier than for them to advertise the bulletin of their daily transactions. Nothing would be easier than for them to provide France with publicity for the labor-force.” (Courrier français 26th July 1846).

Following this appeal, I got in touch with some of the Parisian guilds, among others with the Stonemasons, who introduced me to one of their comrades, surnamed Parisien la Douceur, one of the most intelligent workers whom [174] I have met. Parisien la Douceur liked my plan very much and promised to explain it to the Stonemasons’ Guild. Unfortunately, the Guild did not share its delegate’s opinion. Fearing that the publication of wage data in Paris might attract a considerable increase in the number of workers in this great centre of population, it refused to collaborate with me. Nor were my attempts elsewhere more successful.

After the February Revolution, I tried to launch this idea again. I wrote to M. Flocon, at that time Minister of Agriculture and Commerce,[414] to enlist his support, if not for building a Labor Exchange in Paris, at least for putting the already established Stock Exchange at the service of the workers. Businessmen go to the Stock Exchange in the afternoon; could not the workers go there in the morning? Such is the question which I put to M. Flocon; but M. Flocon, busy with lots of other things did not reply to me.

The same idea was taken up again some time later, and a plan for a Labor Exchange was even presented to the Chief of Police, M. Ducoux, by an architect, M. Leuiller. M. Emile de Girardin[415] gave his support to this initiative and he even offered to devote part of page 4 of La Presse to publicizing labor business.

In order to give the reader an idea of how far this very necessary publicity might extend, and of the services it could render to the workers in their capacity as traders in labor,[416] with the help of the electric telegraph and the railways, I reproduce here an extract from a pamphlet in which I developed this idea at some length:[417]

Let us examine how the electric telegraph should be set up in such a way as to give workers in all countries the means of ascertaining instantly the places where labor is demanded on the most advantageous conditions.
The telegraph lines have been established alongside the railways.
In every one of the great states of Europe, the main railway lines gravitate towards the Capital as to a common center. They link all the secondary towns to the metropolis. The secondary towns, in their turn, serve as centers for other means of communication which terminate in population centers of the third rank.
Suppose that in France, for example, there are established in twenty secondary towns, markets and Labor Exchanges, dealing both with the sale of labor and the placement of capital and [175] goods. Let us also suppose that the morning is given over to labor transactions and the afternoon to those of capitalists and merchants. Let us see next how the labor market works.
On the day of the opening of twenty Exchanges, workers who lack employment and directors of industrial firms who need labor, go to the market, the former to sell, the latter to purchase, labor. A note is made of the number of transactions effected, and at what price, and of the relative proportions of jobs offered and jobs demanded. The market bulletin, drawn up at the end of the session, is sent by telegraph to the central Stock Exchange. Twenty bulletins arrive at the same time at this central gathering point, where a general bulletin is composed. This latter, which is dispatched immediately, either by rail or by telegraph, to each of the twenty Secondary Exchanges, can be published everywhere before the Exchange opens the next day.
Informed by the general labor bulletin, as to the situation in the various labor markets of the country, the workers available in certain centers of production, can send their supply details to those where there are jobs available. Let us suppose, for example, that three carpenters are without work in Rouen, while in Lyon the same number of workers in the same trade are in demand at a wage of 4 fr. Having consulted the labor bulletin published in the morning paper, the Rouen carpenters go to the exchange, where the telegraph line comes in, and they send a message to Lyons along these lines:
Rouen ––– Rouen 3 carpenters at fr. 4.50 ––– Lyon
The message goes to Paris and from there to Lyon. If the wage asked by the Rouen carpenters is acceptable to the employers in Lyon, the latter respond immediately with an agreed sign of acceptance. If they think the wage asked too high, negotiations takes place between the two parties. If eventual agreement is reached, the carpenters, bearing the message of agreement stamped by the employee at the telegraph, make their way immediately to Lyon by railway. The transaction has been concluded as rapidly as it could be in the Rouen exchange.
Let us now assume that Frankfurt is the central point on which converge all the telegraph lines connecting with the various central Stock Exchanges of Europe. It is to Frankfurt that all the general bulletins of [176] each country come, there also that a general European bulletin is put together and sent to all the Central exchanges, whence it is transmitted to all the secondary ones. Thanks to this publicity mechanism, the number of jobs and the numbers of workers available, along with the wages on offer or asked for, are made known to us, almost instantly, everywhere in Europe.
Suppose, then, that an unemployed seaman in Marseilles, looking at the European bulletin of labor, learns that there is a shortage of sailors in Riga and that a decent wage is being offered in that port.
He goes to the Exchange and sends Riga a telegram offering his services. From Marseilles his message goes to Paris, in two or three stages, depending on the power of the transmission. From Paris the message is sent to Frankfurt, from Frankfort it goes to Moscow, the Central Exchange in Russia, and from Moscow to Riga. This distance, in the region of 4000 kilometers, is covered in two or three minutes. The reply is transmitted in the same way. If telegrams are priced at the rate of five centimes per hundred kilometers, our seaman will pay about fr. 4 for the telegraph messages sent and received. If his demands are agreed to, he will take the train and arrive in Riga in five days. On the supposition that his fare will be set at the lowest price possible, say, ½ centime per kilometer, his costs of moving, including the telegrams, will add up to some fr. 24.
Thus Europe becomes one huge market, where labor transactions are carried out as rapidly and easily as in a city market-place. The Exchanges of Europe correspond with those of Africa and Asia by way of Constantinople.
Thus steam locomotion and the electric telegraph are, in a sense, the physical tools of the liberty of working. By giving individuals the means of freely arranging their affairs and of always making their way to countries where life is easier and more agreeable, these vehicles of providence push societies irresistibly in the direction of progress.



10. The Seventh Evening

Editor’s Note

In this Soirée Molinari returns to discuss in more detail the right of exchange, with particular reference to protectionism, mercantilism, and free trade.[418] He talks about the vested interests who benefitted from protectionism and the kinds of arguments they have put forward in its defense; the theory of the balance of trade; Say’s law of markets; the importance of the English free trade movement; and the distortions in the structure of production caused by the protection of and subsidies to domestic industries.

Molinari was actively involved, both intellectually and politically, in the free trade movement in France from its inception in February 1846. It was modeled on the English Anti-Corn Law League which had been founded in 1838 in Manchester by Richard Cobden and John Bright and which succeeded in having the protectionist Corn Laws repealed in early 1846. This provided the impetus for the creation of the Bordeaux Free Trade Association which was was founded in February 1846 and then quickly followed by a national Paris-based Association in July 1846[419] to which Molinari was appointed deputy secretary and Frédéric Bastiat the secretary of the Board and editor of its journal, Le Libre-Échange. As discussed in the Introduction, Molinari had a dispute with Bastiat over the strategy which the FFTA should adopt,[420] with Bastiat and Chevalier urging a more cautious approach with a lengthy transition period before full repeal of the tariffs was enacted, while Molinari was an “immediatist” by wanting the immediate repeal of all tariffs on the grounds that they were a form of plunder and hence unjust.

The following year, the supporters of free trade in the Chamber of Deputies  attempted to get legislation introduced to cut French tariffs along the lines of the British example but were unsuccessful. As part of this campaign the Guillaumin firm published Molinari’s first major book, a two volume history of tariffs in France: Histoire du tarif (1847), so by the time he came to write this Soirée in mid-1849 he was well versed in both the theory and the history of free trade and protectionism. In his history of tariffs he discussed in considerable detail the vested interests like the industrialists and the large land owners who had made huge fortunes in the iron and coal industries (such as the Anzin coal company which he mentions in a long footnote, below pp. 000) and agriculture as a result of protectionist policies during the Restoration of the monarchy (1815-1830) and the July Monarchy (1830-1848), especially with the Tariff Law of 1822.[421] In this Soirée the Economist quotes at some length part of the Tariff Commission’s Report written by the Deputy and ardent protectionist Fauvelet de Bourrienne[422] as an example of the kinds of arguments put forward by the protectionists.

Among the Economists there was general agreement that there should be a low tariff for fiscal purposes only, that is to raise money for essential government services. Since there was no income tax at this time, governments raised revenue with a combination of direct taxes (on things like land, personal property, doors and windows), fees and levies (such as stamp duty and registration fees), indirect taxes (on alcohol, domestic sugar, salt, and the monopoly sale of tobacco), and customs duties. In 1848 the French government raised a total of 1,371 million francs which was made up of 421 million francs from direct taxes (31%), 307 million francs from indirect taxes (22%), 263 million francs from fees and levies (19%), and 202 million francs from customs and the salt monopoly (15%).[423] Bastiat, for example, wanted to abolish most if not all direct and indirect taxes and replace them with a very low universal income tax and a low tariff on all goods. He believed that the ideal rate of tariffs for strictly fiscal purposes was 5% on all imported goods and 5% on all exported goods. This would be sufficient to raise enough revenue to pay for the very limited functions he believed the state should undertake, namely internal police, external defense, and some public goods. Anything above this 5% rate he considered to be “protectionist.”[424] Molinari was even more radical than Bastiat on this point as he regarded all forms of tariffs as a kind of highway robbery which should be abolished immediately.

In addition to the standard arguments for free trade, such as lower prices for consumers, the greater productivity made possible by the international division of labor, the reduction of tension between nations over trade policy, and the idea that protection does not increase the total amount of national production but merely “displaces” or distorts it, there are some other interesting things to note. First is Molinari’s long quotation from a famous speech by one of the leading orators of the English Anti-Corn Law League, William Fox, on how even the most doctrinaire protectionist land owner hypocritically made use of goods imported from all over the world and were thus already heavily dependent on trade with foreigners.

Secondly, for the first time Molinari introduces the idea of the “self-made” entrepreneur into his growing list of those who engaged in entrepreneurial activities. He uses the expression “le laborieux entrepreneur, naguère ouvrier” (the hardworking entrepreneur who has emerged from the working class) which one might also translate it as “the self-made entrepreneur.” This is a revolutionary notion that ordinary workers might be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and become successful and perhaps even prosperous, if only they had the freedom to so.

A third thing to note is his discussion of Sismondi concerning the suffering of the working classes and its causes. Sismondi was a Swiss historian and economist who had written De la richesse commerciale (1803) which was quite Smithian in its support for the free market but after a trip to England when it was in the midst of an economic depression following the Napoleonic Wars he wrote a more critical work Nouveaux principes d'économie politique (1819) where he expressed his concern for the welfare of those at the bottom of the economic ladder and attributed it to the periodic economic crises which afflicted industrial societies. Molinari replied to Sismondi’s criticisms in the Cours d’économie politique where he developed his theory of equilibrium to explain how markets gravitate or tend towards a point if equilibrium between supply and demand unless external disturbing factors are present, such as wars (in this case the disruptions caused by the Napoleonic Wars), famines, or perverse government regulations. It were these factors, Molinari believed, and not the free market system itself, which is the true cause of the workers’ suffering.

After he wrote this Soirée Molinari returned to the topic of free trade and tariffs with several articles which he wrote for the DEP in 1852. Given the importance of free trade to the Economists this was a special honor for the young man (he would have just turned 30 when he began work on these essays). He wrote  the two main articles on “Free Trade” (Liberté du commerce, liberté des échanges) and “Tariffs” (Tarifs de douane), another on the key topic of “Grain” (Céréales), one on “Customs Unions” (Union douanière), and one on the history of the “French Free Trade Association” (Liberté des échanges (Associations pour la)). [425]After he left Paris in 1852 to take up a teaching position at the Musée royal de l'industrie belge he would write a second book of “soirées” or conversations, this time exclusively about free trade and protection,  Conservations familières sur le commerce des grains (Familiar (or well-known) conversations about the grain trade) (1855). Thirty years later he was still arguing for free trade when he republished the Conservations familières in 1886 with a new post-script to bring it up to date for a new era of growing protectionism in France.


SUMMARY: Right to exchange (continued). – International trade – The protectionist system. – Its purpose. – M. de Bourrienne’s Aphorisms. – Origin of the protectionist system. – The mercantilist system. – Arguments for protection. – Currency depletion. – Independence from other countries. – Increase in domestic production. – That the protectionist system has reduced overall output. – That it has made production unstable and distribution unjust. THE ECONOMIST.

The free trade in products is even more restricted than the free trade in labor. The commerce in real-estate is subject to bothersome and costly formalities, and moveable property is hampered or totally blocked by various indirect taxes, notably by city tolls[426] and by customs.

Let me leave aside, for the moment, restrictive laws whose purpose is to raise taxes, and busy myself with those whose purpose is mainly obstruction.

I want to talk about customs duties.


Were not customs duties set up with taxation in mind? [178]


Sometimes, but rarely. For the most part, customs duties were set up solely to put barriers in the way of trade.


This is the protectionist system.


Well, protectionism prevails in all civilized countries, perhaps with the exception of England and the United States, where they tend to become purely fiscal in function.

Fiscal customs, those whose sole function is to fill the coffers of the Treasury, are everywhere violently attacked by the supporters of protectionism. The latter want to exclude the interests of the Treasury from the issue of customs, so that they can busy themselves exclusively with what they call the interests of industry.


So are these two interests contradictory?


If we take the protectionist point of view, yes. In 1822, M. de Bourrienne, the author of the Report of the Commission looking into the the customs law regarding the importation of foreign iron, identified clearly and fully endorsed that opposition.[427]

“ Any country,” he said, “where customs duties had no purpose other than a fiscal one, would be walking at top speed to its perdition. If the interest of the Treasury carries the day over the general interest, the result would be no more than a brief advantage, to be paid for dearly one day.
A country can have great prosperity with very little revenue from the Customs. It could have huge Customs receipts and yet be failing financially, in a state of [179] of decline; perhaps it could be proved that the latter fact is a result of the former.
Customs duties are not a tax but rather an incentive for agriculture, trade, and industry, and the laws which set them up have sometimes to be political in intent, must always offer protection and can never pursue fiscal purposes.
Since the duties do not serve the interests of the Treasury, the tax which results from the duty is only incidental.
One proof that the customs tax is only incidental is that the duty on exports is almost nil and that legislators when they impose an import tax on certain objects, have the intention that they shall not enter, or enter as little as possible. The increase or decrease in tax revenue must never stop this tax.
…If the law you are subject to leads to a fall in the revenue from customs tax, you ought to congratulate yourself. This will be proof that you have attained the purpose proposed, of slowing down dangerous imports and favoring useful exports."

The purpose of which M. de Bourrienne speaks has been perfectly attained in France. Our tariffs are aimed essentially at protection. Our customs laws were established in such a way as to prevent as far as possible, the entry of foreign goods to France. Well, goods which do not enter do not pay duty, as M. Bastiat, author of Economic Sophisms has wittily shown. A protective tariff must be the least productive possible to attain the purpose proposed.[428]

A fiscal tariff on the contrary must be as productive as possible.


If, however, a protective tariff harms on the one hand the interests of the Treasury, it does much better on the other hand in protecting the nation’s industry against foreign competition. Protection fills the gap which exists naturally between the cost prices of certain domestic products and the prices of comparable foreign goods.


This is M. de Bourrienne’s doctrine. We will very soon see if it fulfills its purpose. First I will observe, however, that the Customs duties were established in the last three centuries, neither to swell the coffers or the Treasury, nor to bring the cost price of domestic products into line with those of foreign products.

For a long time it was very widely believed that wealth resided solely in gold or silver. Each country therefore strove to discover means of attracting foreign gold, and having attracted it, of preventing its leaving. They had the idea of encouraging the export of domestic commodities and blocking the importation of foreign ones. According to the theorists of this system any difference would inevitably be paid in gold or silver. The larger this difference the more was the country enriching itself.

When exports exceeded imports (or at least when it was thought they did) people said that they had a favorable balance of trade.[429]

The system was called the mercantilist system.[430] [181]


You take a high and mighty position. Let me tell you then that today the supporters of the protectionist system repudiate, just as you do, illusions about the balance of trade. In England you will never find the advocates of protection basing their case on the balance of trade. If we confused the protectionist system with the mercantilist system, would we then be making a distinction between similar and non-similar products? If our intended purpose was to attract precious metals into the country and to prevent their ever leaving, would we not be indiscriminately denying ourselves all manner of foreign products, in order to receive in exchange only gold and silver? We are happy, as you know, to concentrate our attacks on similar products, and even then not on them all. We are happy to let in products which are inferior to our own.


You have to admit that your generosity is not very great. I did not say that the mercantilist system is the same as protectionism, but rather that it was its point of departure. It began with the blocking of the imports of foreign goods, in order to import more gold and silver. Later people came to think that this purpose would be even more rapidly attained if the development of the export industries were stimulated. As a result, through a combination of prohibitions and subsidies, this category of industries was favored. The same methods were used to set up new industries in the country.


That’s right. [182]


The wish was to free the nation from the tribute it paid to foreigners for the products of these industries. It was Colbert who protected and developed mercantilism in this way.[431]


The great Colbert, the restorer of French industry!


I would more happily call him the destroyer of French industry.

So you realize that mercantilism engendered protectionism. More often than not, in truth, the theory of the balance of trade was invoked only as pretext. While protectionism impoverished the masses, it enriched certain producers…


That is well understood. If the prices of goods rise in geometric progression while supply diminishes in arithmetic progression,[432] the producers who obtained exclusion of the products of their foreign competitors, must realize sizable profits.


They do indeed realize them. The consequence is that most of our great industrial fortunes date from the establishment of the principal protectionist duties.


According to you, then, our producers owe their wealth solely to the protection of the law, with their work apparently deserving no remuneration. [183]


Their work deserved the return it obtained quite naturally before the establishment of protectionist duties. We do not attack legitimate gains; we attack those acquired improperly, fraudulently, by way of protectionist duties.




The word is too strong.[433] [434] The producers who invoked the theory of the balance of trade were probably hardly concerned at all with the general conclusions of that theory. They had little in mind beyond the particular advantages which they could derive from it ... 


Would you tell us what you know about it? [184]


I will let you be the judge. Would you ever consider pressing for a law which did not favor your particular interest?


Probably not. No more would I solicit, however, for a law which favored my individual interest rather than the general interest.


I quite sure of that. This is why I reject this word “fraudulently." Producers of yesteryear demanded protectionist duties with a view to increasing their profits; but did not mercantilism, in recommending protection, put them in conformity with their beliefs?


Would the mass of the people be any less plundered if the mercantilist system was false?


My goodness! How many people would be plundered if the theories of socialism were put into effect? Yet there are very honest men among the Socialists.


I do not accept your comparison. The producers who invoked the sophisms of mercantilism[435] were concerned solely with their private interest; in their eyes the notion of the general interest was only a pretext or an empty formula. We socialists, on the contrary, have only the general interest in mind.


If this is true, if it is only the interest of humanity which [185] drives you to demand measures whose application would be fatal to humankind, you are, indeed, more excusable than the producers in question. Would you really dare to claim, however, that you are never motivated by the stirrings of vanity, pride, ambition, or hatred? Are all your apostles equally mild and humble of heart?

The producers who demanded the establishment of protectionist duties based themselves on mercantilism. If we abandon this system, are we not agreeing thereby that they were in error?


Let us understand one another. In fact I condemn mercantilism. I do not believe in the balance of trade, an old economic error. But does it really follow that the producers were wrong to demand protectionist duties?


The conclusion seems logical to me. If these producers begging for protectionism had good reasons to put forward, why would they have used a bad one?


Quite right!


Careful! I do not accept mercantilism with all its excesses, but does not this system also embody some truths? No doubt money is not the whole of wealth, but is it not an important part of it? Does not a nation expose itself to appalling catastrophes when it lets all its cash be depleted? Protectionism shelters it [186 from these menacing disasters when it prevents the over-importation of foreign goods.

According to you, protectionism has the sole effect of allowing domestic producers to sell very profitably goods which they previously sold very unprofitably. You have forgotten to say, however, that by establishing new industries in the country, protectionism strengthens national independence and permits fruitful use of previously idle capital and labor. You have forgotten to say that protectionism increases the power and wealth of a country.


You have just expounded the three main arguments for the protectionist system.[436] Please allow me to put the first to one side; I will take it up again when we discuss money.[437] As for the argument about dependence on foreigners, it is one which has been exposed a hundred times before. You yourself, if you reject the balance of trade argument, if you accept that products are bought with other products,[438] must you not accept too that when two nations trade with each other, their dependence is mutual?


We have to take into account of the nature of the goods exchanged. Is it prudent, for example to depend on foreigners for a product that is of primary necessity?


England is, you will agree, an essentially prudent nation. She has voluntarily exposed herself, however, to dependence on Russia and the United States, her two great rivals, for her [187] supplies of wheat.[439] Apparently she does not consider the argument about dependence on foreign sources truly convincing. I think it pointless to dwell on this issue.[440]

I now turn to your third argument, which has much more weight and is much more difficult to refute. You say that protectionism, by bringing about the introduction of certain new industries to the country, has increased the use of capital and labor, and thus increased national wealth.


This seems to me incontestable, and since you are fond of examples I am going to give you one. In the past, England got her cotton goods from India. One day the idea came to her of keeping these Indian goods out.[441] What happened? The market finding itself without the greater part of its ordinary requirements, the production and sale of [188] domestically produced cotton goods immediately benefitted hugely. Capital and labor , to this production. England which had produced scarcely more than a few thousand yards of cotton fabric, now made thousands of millions. Instead of a few hundred spinners and weavers working from home, she now had thousands operating in immense factories. Her wealth and power suddenly increased enormously. Are you so bold as to claim, in view of these facts, that the prohibition of cotton yarn and cotton goods from India was not beneficial to England?


Yet on the other hand the Indians who lost the English market were ruined. Millions of men on the banks of the Indus and the Ganges found themselves deprived of work while the manufacturers of Manchester established the basis of their colossal fortunes, and while workers were attracted by unusually high wages, and flooded into this new metropolis of cotton production, the workshops of India fell away into [189] ruin, and the Hindu workers were swept away in a tide of poverty and famine.


That is a fact. The markets for the spinners and weavers of India becoming blocked, these workers were obliged to fall back on other branches of production. Unfortunately the latter were already sufficiently supplied with labor. The wage level in India therefore fell below the cost of production of labor, that is to say below the sum necessary for the worker to keep himself and perpetuate himself. It fell…until poverty, famine and the epidemics which are their inseparable companions, having performed their function, equilibrium between the supply of and the demand for labor began to re-establish itself and wages to rise.[442]


So the prosperity of the English manufacturers had for its stepping stones the corpses of Indian workers.


What do you expect? The profit of the one spells the loss of the other, as Montaigne said.[443]


If protectionism cannot establish itself without this funereal cortège of ruin and poverty, it is an immoral and dreadful system and I repudiate it.


Good heavens! If Providence had made of all humanity only a single nation, then a system which thrust down certain members of this huge nation in order to raise up other members, which ruined the Hindus in order to enrich the English, could, indeed, be called [190] immoral and dreadful. Providence has not, however, put one, single people into the world; rather she has sown the nations like so many grains of wheat, telling them to increase and prosper.[444] It is a misfortune that the interests of these various nations are now diverse or opposite; but what is to be done about it? Each people must naturally devote itself to increasing its power and wealth. Protectionism is one of the most powerful and surest ways of achieving this double result. So, we resort to protectionism. It certainly is unfortunate that foreign workers are deprived of their means of sustenance. Should not the interests of the domestic labor force take precedence over the rest, however? If a simple legislative measure serves to provide employment and bread to the domestic workforce, is not the lawmaker obliged to pass this measure without inquiring whether the inhabitants of the banks of the Ganges or the Indus are going to suffer because of it? Should not each person concern himself with his own poor people before fretting about those of others? And if this example is universally pursued, if each nation pursues that legislation which best suits its individual interests, will not all things move, in the final analysis, in the best possible direction? Will not all the nations come to enjoy all the prosperity of which they are capable? ...  So you see that protectionism is dreadful and immoral only when you examine it superficially. And you also see that statesmen would be profoundly wrong to adopt your false cosmopolitanism.


Mr Huskisson[445] once uttered the following remarkable words in the English parliament: “Protectionism [191] is an invention whose patent is close to expiry. It has already lost much of its value now that all the nations have seized upon it."[446] All I need to do to destroy your objections, is to enlarge upon these comments by one of England’s most illustrious supporters of free trade.

What happened, actually, when England had brutally replaced the work of the weavers of Surat, Madras, and Bombay, in order to benefit the manufacturers of Manchester and their workers? What happened was that all the other nations, seduced by this apparent advantage, wanted likewise to replace foreign industries. France, which produced only a part of the cotton, wool, iron, and pottery needed for domestic consumption, wanted to produce all she could possibly consume in the way of these goods. Germany and Russia did likewise. There was nowhere, not even the smallest countries – Belgium, Holland, and Denmark – in which the aim was not to replace foreign industries with their own. In a word the drive towards protectionism was general.

What came of it you know. The outcome was that those destroyers of entire industries found themselves having their own labor destroyed in turn.[447] England which had stolen the cotton goods industry from India, lost, along with a part of this same industry, several of its other branches of production. France, which following the English example, had destroyed several industries in foreign countries, found a part of her own destroyed in turn as well. Most notably Germany protected herself as a form of reprisal against French silks, fashionable goods, and wines….You steal some of your neighbor’s markets and he steals [192] some of yours. This was universal pillaging.

At the time when this pillaging of foreign industries was at its most active, a very clever pamphlet was published in England. The frontispiece carried a cartoon showing a cage of monkeys. Half a dozen monkeys, lodged in separate cages, had their daily meal in front of them. But instead of eating in peace the portion which the zoo-keeper had generously given them, every one of these wicked animals was doing his best to steal his neighbors’ share, without noticing that the latter were doing the same to him. Each one of them was working hard to steal from his neighbors his livelihood which he could reach easily just in front of him, and a lot of food was being wasted in the scuffle.[448] [449]


But were not the strongest bound to have the advantage in the struggle? Could they not grab the share of others and still keep their own?


With monkeys that is possible; but it is not so with nations. No nation is strong enough to say to others: “I will protect my production against your industries, but I forbid you to do the same against mine; I will destroy some of your markets, but I forbid you to touch mine.” If a nation dared to employ such language, all the others would unite to rule that nation out of bounds, and the coalition would be left the stronger.


In such a way, that all in all no one gains from these mutual depredations, and that the pillagers [193] gain proportionately less as the pillaging becomes more general.[450]




But when one country has adopted protectionism, are not the others obliged to adopt it too? Must they allow their industries to be pillaged without resorting to reprisals?


This is a subject for debate.

I must first of all, however, give you a full demonstration of the way in which protectionism has been harmful to the general development of production.

So let us look first at what was happening at the time when protectionism was first established. Each nation acquired some of the goods it needed for production from its neighbors and furnished them in turn with other products.

What products did it supply and what did it receive?

It supplied those products which the nature of its soil and the particular talents of its producers allowed it to produce with the least effort. It received those things it would not have been able to produce without devoting more effort to them.

In truth, does this not tell you what international trade must have been like before the advent of protectionism?[451]


This is the natural way in which things develop. [194]


What did protectionism do? Did it increase the total sum of production? No more than did the pillaging monkeys in the English pamphlet increase their food supply, when they stole each other’s scraps. Judge for yourselves.

England stole the cotton industry from India. If her production increased accordingly, India’s fell in the same proportion. France stole part of the English linen industry; if France produced that much more, England produced that much less. Germany took from France part of its silk production; if Germany produced more thereby, France produced less by the same amount… Protectionism therefore did not and could not have the effect of increasing the general level of production.

I will now add that protectionism has, and is bound to have, the effect of reducing the overall level of production.

This is how it happens:

Why did England protect herself against Indian cottons, French silk, and Belgian cloth? Because these goods were invading part of her market. Why did they invade it? Because, allowing for differences in quality, they were cheaper than their English counterparts. If they had not been cheaper, they would not have got into England.

That being so, what was the first result of the law which forbade these goods access to the English market? It was to create an artificial deficit in domestic [195] supply. The larger this deficit, the more the prices of indigenous goods were naturally bound to rise.

Before the establishment of protectionism, the annual consumption of cloth in England amounted, I suppose, to some twenty million ells,[452] with half the total coming from abroad.


How could England supply the rest, if foreign cloth was so much cheaper than her own?


There are many varieties of the same good. There are, for example, a very large number of grades of cloth. England produces certain of these grades more cheaply than Belgium, while Belgium makes some grades of cloth cheaper than England does.

Let me resume. Foreign cloth comes to be banned in England. Supply having been halved, how much will the price rise? It will rise in geometric progression. If it had been at 15 fr an ell, it could reach 60 fr.

When the price of a product rises suddenly, however, what happens? Unless the product happens to be of prime necessity, in which case there is no way it could ever fall noticeably, the rise in price will cause a more or less marked contraction in consumption, according to the nature of the product. If the demand for cloth was twenty million ells when price stood at 15 fr., it would scarcely get to four or five millions ells at 60 fr. With prices falling at this point, demand will again start to rise. These fluctuations will continue almost indefinitely. Having ranged across the whole scale taking in both its extremities, however, [196] these fluctuations will converge successively on a central point, which represents the total cost of production of cloth in England.

You already know why the price of a product cannot stay very long either above or below its cost of production.

The production costs of English cloth, however, are higher than those of foreign cloth. They are and must be, otherwise protection would be entirely pointless. When one can sell at a lower price than one’s competitors, one does not need protection to drive them from the market; they remove themselves. I take it that if the cost of production of foreign cloth are 15 fr. the costs of English production will be 18 fr. This, then, is the level towards which the price of cloth will gravitate from now on in England. At the price of 18 fr., however, people will purchase less cloth than would be the case at 15 fr. If people bought twenty million ells in the period of free entry of foreign goods, they will buy only sixteen or seventeen million after these goods have been prohibited entry.


Maybe so! Will not the increase in national production, however, which will have climbed from ten million ells to seventeen million, compensate, and more, for the slight decline in consumption?


For the moment, that is not the issue. Does protectionism result in a decrease or increase in general production, that is the question? Well, if the production of English cloth has grown by seven million, by contrast that of foreign cloth has fallen [197] by ten million, which clearly means, I think, a reduction of three million in general production.


Yes, but that reduction is only temporary. The growth of an industry in a country always leads to an improvement in manufacturing procedures. Where the market price was 18 fr. it soon falls to 17, 16, 15 fr. or even lower. Consumption rises in this eventuality to the level which existed before the import controls, or even ends up exceeding it.


Meanwhile, I find that there has been an increase in the price, associated with a fall in consumption, and consequently a fall in the level of general production. I note further that protectionism has had, and was bound to have, as its first outcome, a fall in general production. Henceforth this will be taken for granted in the discussion.

I claim, furthermore, that the general lowering of production is not accidental or temporary…I maintain that it is permanent…and let us get it straight, it will last as long as protection itself.

Why did the English manufacturers not produce themselves the twenty million ells of cloth purchased in their country? Because foreigners produced at a better price, at lower cost, half of these twenty million ells.

What is the reason for this difference in the cost of production of the same good as between one country and another? It lies in natural differences in climate, soil, and national aptitudes. Well, I ask you, can import laws suppress these national differences? Will decrees to the effect [198] that Belgian and French cloth will no longer have access to the English market, somehow endow English producers with the means of producing as well and as cheaply, these particular kinds of cloth? Will the law have supplied the climate, the water, the soil, the workers themselves, with the qualities or capabilities necessary for this particular kind of production? …But if the import laws have not brought about this miraculous transformation, will not the kinds of cloth which England obtained in France, be dearer to make and worse made in England?


Often these differences are hardly noticeable. In such a case, the progress resulting from the instantaneous development of an industry in the homeland itself, is more than sufficient to compensate for them.


Let us see how things work out in practice.

A certain category of foreign goods can without much ado be forbidden to the home market. Germany, for example, establishes a prohibitive duty on Parisian bronze wares and ironmongery. The casters of bronze and ironmongers of Germany consequently begin to produce articles they have never been involved with before. Before they complete their apprenticeship with respect to this new manufacture, they set up a lot of schools of instruction and provide consumers with imperfect and expensive products. Years pass before they reach the standard of foreign production, if they ever do reach it.

Let us imagine, for a moment, that prohibition had never [199] been established. Would Parisian ironmongery and bronze wares have remained just the same as before?

What was the effect of the German customs restrictions on these two Parisian industries? By cutting back their market, this legislation caused them to retrogress, or at least, it slowed down their progress. You know of course how industrial progress happens. It happens through the division of labor. The greater the division of labor, the greater are the improvements in and multiplication of products.

Now, under what circumstances can the division of labor be taken to its maximum extent? Isn’t this when the market is as extensive as possible?

When a market is closed, when the extent of the market is reduced, few manufacturers stop work completely, but most reduce their production. Reducing their output means they can no longer benefit from division of labor; they are forced to use less economic procedures.

The progress in hardware production and the bronze industry therefore slowed down in France. Did it become more vigorous in Germany, in such a way as to make up for the loss in the general level of production? Let us have a look at this. Several years passed before the hardware producers and the makers of bronze wares in Germany reached the level attained by their French rivals at the time the protection was established. During these years the French industry would have continued to make progress. Naturally more favored than its rival, would it not have made more progress, much to the advantage of general consumption?

Perhaps you would like a final argument, by way of proof.

Protectionism has been in force everywhere [200] for half a century. Certainly the industries enlarged by tariff protection have had time to equal and surpass their former rivals. Have they surpassed them? Have they even equaled them? Are they in condition to stand up to foreign competition? Ask their opinion and see what they say.


Oh! They will say unanimously, what they said in 1834 – that they need protection more than ever.[453]


This means that after half a century of protection, they still cannot achieve the quality and low prices of their rivals.

By displacing a host of industries, in the teeth of what nature dictated should happen, protectionism has had the result, as it was bound to have, of pushing up the cost of production of everything, or, which comes to the same thing, of holding up the natural lowering of these costs.

Now it is a law of nature that the market price of things, tends to align itself to the costs of production, and it is another law that consumption diminishes as price rises.

I have already shown you, mathematically, I think, that protectionism has increased the costs of production. That increases in the cost of production lead to increases in prices, which in turn lead to a reduction in consumption, is just as clearly established. I am therefore justified in concluding that protectionism has diminished the general wealth of the world. [201]


Your argument, I have to confess, seems to me difficult to refute. In the event, however, general wealth may have been reduced, and the individual wealth of certain countries may have increased. Given this eventuality, were not the favored countries right to adopt protectionism?


But the eventuality of which you speak can scarcely be taken as acceptable, let us agree on this. If adopting protectionism has inevitably caused this reduction, a loss in the collective wealth of the nations, this general loss must also necessarily have registered itself in individual losses. If everybody has lost, it is difficult to imagine how some may have gained.

England, which you have in mind, has undoubtedly destroyed many foreign industries, but foreign countries have also destroyed many of hers too. If England had not adopted protectionism, she would have perhaps have produced less wheat, fewer cotton goods and silks, but she would have produced more iron, more steel, more tin, more machinery etc. Her share of the general dividend would perhaps be relatively smaller, but the dividend itself being larger, her share would be actually larger.

Protectionism, however, has not only reduced the abundance of wealth, it has also rendered production inevitably unstable, and its distribution necessarily unjust.

If these arrangements were fully applied everywhere, in a complete and stable way, if an impassable barrier forever separated each nation from its neighbors, we might perhaps succeed in avoiding the disturbances in these unchanging markets. [202] Protectionism however is nowhere applied in a stable and complete way, nor could it be. All nations have foreign dealings and they cannot dispense with them.

Now, these indispensable relations are daily troubled by modifications to the Customs arrangements of the forty to fifty nations which impose Customs duties. Sometimes it concerns a duty being increased, sometimes a duty being reduced, sometimes a subsidy being granted, sometimes one being withdrawn. What is the result of these endless modifications of tariffs?[454] A fall in employment on the one hand, an increase in employment on the other. Any law which closes or contracts openings for employment steals the means of existence for hundreds or thousands of workers, by building colossal fortunes elsewhere…And these laws can be counted in their thousands since the establishment of protectionism.

Subject to these endless disturbances, production becomes intrinsically precarious. Considerable capital has been committed to setting up cloth or silk manufacture. Hundreds of workers are enabled to earn a living. Suddenly, the raising of a foreign tariff closes the market. The workers have to be dismissed and the machinery left to rust or sold off for scrap. The bad effects do not stop there, however. When a factory closes all the industries supplying it are hit in their turn. Once they are affected they spread around them the contagion of misfortune. The disturbance which arose in an isolated place, stretches out in successive waves across the whole industrial world [205]. People get hit and more often than not, do not even know where the blow came from.[455]

If a tariff is lowered and general production is increased, there is a very marked benefit; if a tariff is raised, however, there is, likewise, a very marked loss. The capitalist loses his capital, the worker loses his job. The former faces inevitable ruin, the latter death.


It is frightful.


While producing results like these on the one hand, on the other the law swiftly rewards, as if on the throw of a dice, the producers who have become masters of the market. In truth their prosperity does not last long. Capital and labor rush en masse towards the protected industries. Often indeed, they hurry there on an excessive scale. More disruptions and more people ruined!

Under this regime, production is nothing more than a game of chance, in which some become rich and others are ruined, according to fortune’s whims, in which the hard-working entrepreneur, formerly a worker,[456] suddenly sees the fruits of a lifetime of working and saving vanish away, while elsewhere rich capitalists see their capital double or treble.

People never hurt their fellow human beings with impunity however.[457] A long cry of bitterness and anger rang out one day in the ears of the few beneficiaries of this system. Unfortunately those who uttered it and those who echoed it, did not perceive the cause of the harm. Sismondi[458] [204], who was the first to explain in eloquent terms this universal cry, did not know that he should go back to the source of so many disastrous disturbances. The socialists who succeeded him did worse still. They attributed the harm to apparent causes which were precisely opposite to the real ones. They imputed to property, harm which arose precisely from violations of people’s freedom to to use or dispose of their property as they wish.


Yes, this system was bound to cause great harm, and we have not perhaps taken sufficient account of it.


We would have been better off doing without it, I agree. But since it has been adopted, is it not best to retain it? Most of our industries have grown big under the wing of protectionism, let us not forget this. Would it not be imprudent to take it away from them?


If the protectionist system is bad, it should obviously be abandoned. England has already given us the example of returning to free trade. Let us imitate her.[459]


With what would you replace protective tariffs? [205]


Perhaps by fiscal tariffs?


From the point of view of stability of production, fiscal tariffs are scarcely preferable to the other ones. They are modified just as frequently. Moreover a fiscal tariff is always more or less protectionist.


I am not unaware of this. So I would not accept a fiscal tariff other than as a last resort. It is less bad than a protectionist tariff, but it is still bad. If we want to give production the greatest possible productivity and stability, we have to move towards the suppression every kind of tariff, and towards complete free trade and the absolute respect for the right to trade.[460]

Note well moreover, that this result cannot be fully achieved without the total abolition of all Customs duties. As long as one Customs Office remains standing, it will cause disruption and ruin across the entire area of production.

Let the main industrial nations, however, renounce these old instruments of war, and improvement will soon be noticeable.


How many reforms remain!


Yes, how many real reforms!

Molinari’s Long Footnote on William J. Fox, the Anti-Corn Law League, and Dependency on Foreign Markets

Editor’s Note

William Johnson Fox (1786-1864) was a Member of Parliament, a journalist and renowned orator, and one of the founders of the Westminster Review. He became one of the most popular speakers of the Anti-Corn Law League and delivered courses to the workers on Sunday evenings. He served in Parliament from 1847 to 1863. Molinari quotes William Fox's speech from the translation provided by Bastiat in his book Cobden et la Ligue (1845). Bastiat wrote a very lengthy introduction on the history and the ideas of the Anti-Corn Law League and followed this with copious translations he had made of League speeches and newspaper articles. Molinari took Fox's quote from the section on a meeting held at the Covent Garden Theater on 25 January 1844.[461] Fox first gave a version of this speech at Rochdale on November 25, 1843[462] and it proved so popular that he gave a slightly longer version of it at the Covent Garden Theater on January 25, 1844, where it was picked up by the press and later translated into several European languages.[463] We provide below the original 1844 version alongside a translation of Molinari's quote from Bastiat's translation into French. Bastiat's version is interesting for two reasons: firstly, he has highlighted by italicizing the names of the countries from which all the products come from, and second, he has edited the piece considerably, including inserting the word “aristocracy” in the first line to make clearer his anti-aristocratic political purpose.

Molinari’s Long Footnote [464]

One of the eminent members of the Anti-Corn Law League, Mr W. J. Fox, has admirably refuted this argument about foreign dependency. Although this passage has been quoted often, I will give in to the temptation to reproduce it again. It is a little masterpiece:[465]

[William Fox’s original speech:]

 ...  It is a favorite theme, this independence of foreigners. One would imagine that the patriotism of the landlord’s breast must be most intense. Yet he seems to forget that he is employing guano to manure his fields; that he is spreading a foreign surface over his English soil, through which every atom of corn is to grow; becoming thereby polluted with the dependence upon foreigners which he professes to abjure.
To what is he left, this disclaimer against foreigners and advocate of dependence upon home? Trace him through his career. This was very admirably done by an honourable gentleman, who just now addressed you, at the Salisbury contest. His opponent urged this plea, and Mr. Bouverie stripped him, as it were, from head to foot, that he had not an article of dress upon him which did not render him in some degree dependent upon foreigners. We will pursue this subject, and trace his whole life. What is the career of the man whose possessions are in broad acres? Why, a French cook dresses his dinner for him, and a Swiss valet dresses him for dinner; he hands down his lady, decked with pearls that never grew in the shell of a British oyster; and her waving plume of ostrich-feathers certainly never formed the tail of a barn-door fowl. The viands of his table are from all the countries of the world; his wines are from the banks of the Rhine and the Rhone. In his conservatory, he regales his sight with the blossoms of South-American flowers. In his smoking room, he gratifies his scent with the weed of North America. His favorite horse is of Arabian blood; his pet dog of the St. Bernard’s breed. His gallery is rich with pictures from the Flemish school, and his statues from Greece. For his amusements, he goes to hear Italian singers warble German music, followed by a French ballet. If he rises to judicial honours, the ermine which decorates his shoulders is a production that was never before on the back of a British beast. His very mind is not English in its attainments; it is a mere pic-nic of foreign contributions. His poems and philosophy are from Greece and Rome; his geometry is from Alexandria; his arithmetic is from Arabia; and his religion from Palestine. In his cradle, in his infancy, he rubbed his gums with coral from Oriental oceans; and when he dies, his monument will be sculptured in marble from the quarries of Carrara.
And yet this is the man who says: “Oh! let us be independent of foreigners! Let us submit to taxation; let there be privation and want; let there be struggles and disappointments; let there be starvation itself; only let us be independent of foreigners!” I quarrel not with him for enjoying the luxuries of other lands, the results of arts which make it life to live. I wish that not only he and his order may have all the good that any climate or region can bear for them - it is their right, if they have wherewithal to exchange for it; what I complain of is, the sophistry, the hypocrisy, and the iniquity of talking of independence of foreigners in the article of food, while there is dependence in all these materials of daily enjoyment and recreation. Food is the article the foreigner most wants to sell; food is that which thousands of our operatives most want to buy; and it is not for him - the mere creature of foreign agency from head to foot - to interpose and say: “You shall be independent; I alone will be the very essence and quintessence of dependence.” We compromise not this question with parties such as these; no, nor with the legislature.[466]

[Bastiat’s translation quoted by Molinari and retranslated back into English:]

To be independent of foreigners is a favorite theme of the aristocracy. But who then is this great lord, this advocate of national independence, this enemy of all reliance on foreigners? Let us look at his life. A French cook prepares dinner for the master, and a Swiss valet dresses the master for dinner. Milady who takes his hand is utterly resplendent in pearls, which you never in find in English oysters, while the feather which flutters from her head never comes from the tail of an English turkey. The meats on his table come from Belgium and his wines from the Rhine or the Rhône. He rests his eyes on flowers from South America and he gratifies his sense of smell with the smoke from a leaf which comes from North America. His favorite horse is of Arab origin, and his dog [188] is a St Bernard. His art gallery abounds in Flemish paintings and Greek statues. Does he want entertainment? He goes to listen to Italian singers performing German music, the whole thing rounded off with a French ballet. Does he rise to distinction as a judge? The ermine which adorns his shoulders had never until then been seen on the back of any British animal. His mind itself is a multicolored weave of exotic elements. His philosophy and poetry come from Greece and Rome, his geometry from Alexandria, his arithmetic from the Arabs, and his religion from Palestine. In his cot he pressed his baby teeth on a teething ring of coral from the Indian Ocean. When he dies, Carrara marble will crown his tomb…and this is the man who says ‘Let us be independent of the foreigner.’[467]



11. The Eighth Evening

Editor’s Note

In this Soirée Molinari turns to infringements or violations of what he calls “internal” property rights, which as he defined it in S2 is “the right every man has to dispose of his physical, moral, and intellectual faculties, as well as of the body which both houses those faculties and serves them as a tool.” We might also call this the right to act or to engage in various activities without interference by the state. This right or “freedom” is violated when the state prevents a person from engaging in certain activities, such as starting a private mail delivery company to compete with the state’s monopoly, a bank minting its own private currency in competition with the legal tender laws of the state, a company building a private road and charging tolls for people to use it, a theater which opens to put on new and perhaps unauthorized plays to paying customers, or “an entrepreneur in the education business” starting up their own private school to teach an innovative curriculum to fee paying students.

These examples which Molinari discusses in some detail here comprise a mixture of so-called “public goods” provided exclusively by the state, or monopolies run by private groups which have been exclusively authorized by the state to do so. This is the second of four instances where Molinari discusses how public goods might be provided privately and voluntarily by entrepreneurs operating in the free market. The others are in S3 (forests, canals, waterways), S9 (bakers, butchers, printers etc.), and S11 (security, police, and defense). Below (p. 000) he describes the current French system of some private and free industries, some heavily regulated or privately monopolized industries, and considerable state monopolized industries as “le régime bâtard” which might be translated as this “bastard,” “hybrid,” or “mongrel” regime.

The Economists were divided into several camps on the issue of the private provision of public goods such as roads and bridges, with Adam Smith arguing for a “user pays’ system in most cases, J.B. Say preferring to see the government provide those public goods which were not profitable to the private sector, and Molinari taking the most extreme view that every public good, not just transport, could and should be provided privately and competitively, as we will see here and in S8 and S11. In general, Molinari believed that all government economic monopolies were more expensive and less efficiently run than their private counterparts. He makes some brief remarks here about how this was bound to be the case and only later develops his thoughts into a more coherent form in his treatise Cours d’économie politique written a few years later. There he discusses what he calls “the anti-economic” nature of government activity and draws up a list of four ways governments “sin” against or violate the natural laws of political economy.[468]

The original insight that Molinari had in his chapters on the private provision of public goods was that every economic activity could be seen as an “industry” which had costs which it had to cover and potential profits which could be made. This meant that the good or service in question could be “made” or “produced” (he talks about “la fabrication des monnaies” (the manufacture of money), “la production de l’enseignement” (the production of education), and “la production de sécurité” (the production of security), and that there would be “entrepreneurs” ready and willing to manufacture or produce these goods or services (he talks about “entrepreneurs d’education" (entrepreneurs in the education business) and a “producteur de sécurité” who was also an entrepreneur).

For reasons of space we can only mention briefly three representative examples of Molinari’s thinking on these matters here, namely free banking and the private issuance of money, the state regulation and funding of theaters, and the role of the state in providing education.

The orthodox view of money held by the political economists was expressed by Michel Chevalier in the entry on “Monnaie” in the DEP[469] where he stated that money was either gold or silver of a defined weight and purity which was issued by a state mint or other government regulated body. Molinari here adopts the opposing view of his friend and colleague Charles Coquelin (1803-1852)[470] who, in a series of articles and a book called Du crédit et des banques (1848), defended the idea of “free banking,” which is the view that private banks should be allowed to competitively issue their own currency which could be redeemed for gold upon demand. Coquelin's and Molinari's view was not the mainstream economists' position which was closer to Chevalier’s.

Molinari was a great fan of the theater and wrote several articles on it from an economic and political perspective.[471] Music, art, theater, and other forms of fine art were heavily regulated by the French state. They could be subsidized, granted a monopoly of performance, the number of venues and prices of tickets were regulated, and they were censored and often shut down for overstepping the bounds of political acceptability. Molinari argued for the separation of “theaters and the state,” in other words an end to all state subsidies and support in exchange for the complete liberty of theater owners to put on whatever they wished. He summed up his view in a very angry and sarcastic article on “Théâtres” in DEP in which he denounced the censorship and regulation of the theater industry as “tyrannical” and the regulators as “the most fanatical partisans of the principle of authority.”

The education system was heavily regulated by the state[472] but the French classical liberals, like their counterparts in England, were divided about what to do about this. Some like the free trader Richard Cobden believed that the state should provide universal free education. In France Molinari and Frédéric Passy debated the matter in the pages of L’Économiste belge in 1857-58 in which Passy advocated no state intervention in education whatsoever, while Molinari believed that education was so important that the state should force parents to send their children to schools, in other words he supported a form of compulsory education as part of the “tutelary” or protective function of the state. However, he believed that the schools should be provided only by the free market not by the state at taxpayer’s expense. This is one of the few areas where Molinari was less radically liberal than his colleagues.[473] Nevertheless, he thought that education was an “industry” in which there would be “la production de l’enseignement” (the production of education) and where “entrepreneurs d’education" (entrepreneurs in the education business) will emerge to establish schools and sell education services to fee paying consumers.


SUMMARY: Infringements of internal property rights. – Industries monopolized or subsidized by the State. – The production of money. – The nature and uses of money. – Why a country could not run out of money. – Communication routes. – Managed expensively and badly by the state. – Carrying letters. – Postmasters. – That government intervention in production is always harmful. – Subsidies and privileges for theaters. – Public libraries. – Subsidies to religion. – Monopoly of teaching. – Its dire results. THE ECONOMIST.

It is not just external property which is infringed upon; people also infringe upon the property of man in his person, in his faculties, in his powers: that is to say, his internal property. [474]

Internal property is violated when a man is forbidden to use his faculties as he sees fit, when he is told:

“You[475] will not work in such and such an industry or, if you do, you will be subject to certain constraints; you will be required to observe certain regulations. The natural right you possess to use your faculties in the way most useful to you and yours will be diminished or regulated. -- By what right? -- By virtue of the superior rights of society.”
“But what if I do not put my [207] abilities to any harmful use?”
“Society is convinced that you could not work freely in some industries without harming it.”
“But what if society is wrong? What if in using my abilities in this or that branch of production I do not cause society any harm?”
“In that case so much the worse for you. Society cannot be wrong.”

In deceiving itself thus, however, does not society inflict upon itself some damage? Rules which hinder the activity of the producer, do they not result inevitably, for certain, in reducing production by raising the price of goods? If one industry is burdened with rules and harassed while other industries remain free, will not people turn to these others by preference? Otherwise, if we are prepared to operate in the highly regulated activity, will we not pass on to the consumers some part of the burden of this harassment and regulation?

Let us leave to one side the regimes in which all production is regulated, even more so, those in which no worker is allowed to use his abilities freely, in which labor is still enslaved. Thank God these monstrosities are beginning to be rare. Let us consider only those hybrid regimes[476] where certain industries are free, others regulated, and yet others are monopolized by the state.

Such is the deplorable regime which obtains today in France.


Are you claiming that the government hurts society by regulating certain branches of production, and by engaging in certain industries itself. [208]


That is what I am claiming.

All regulation, as well as all monopoly, leads to an increase, direct or indirect, in the price of goods, and therefore to a fall in production.

Government produces more expensively and less well than individuals; in the first place because by managing several industries, it fails to recognize, if not in the details at least at the level of higher management, the economic principle of the division of labor; in the second place because by itself assuming either directly or indirectly the monopoly of an industry, if fails to recognize the economic principle of free competition.


In the event, therefore, the government produces money, builds roads and railways, and provides education more expensively and at a lower quality than individuals would.


Without any doubt.


Even money!


Money like any other commodity.


Is not the minting of coins a prerogative of sovereignty?


No more so than the manufacture of nails or of buttons for gaiters. Why should the manufacture of money be [209] the prerogative of sovereignty? What is money? An instrument with the aid of which the exchange of value takes place….


There are also direct exchanges. A host of exchanges also take place with paper money.


There are very few direct exchanges, and there will be fewer and fewer to the extent that the division of labor continues to grow. A man who passes his life making a tenth part of a pin could not directly exchange his product for the things he needs.[477] He is obliged to barter first of all against some intermediate merchandise, which can easily be exchanged with other things. This intermediate merchandise must be durable, easy to divide and to transport. Various metals -- gold, silver, copper -- in different degree possess these qualities. This is why we have made from them instruments of exchange, money.

As for paper, it can also serve as money but on condition that it represents real value, value already created, value made concrete in an existing object, available and capable of serving as money.[478]


This is what the supporters of paper money unfortunately do not understand.


But you yourself give me the impression of not having a proper idea of what money is, when you tell me that the production of this vehicle of exchange is a prerogative of sovereignty. It is not because a sovereign [210] has marked a piece of gold or silver with his head that the coin has value, it is because it contains a certain quantity of labor. Whether it be made or marked by a government or individual, matters little. No I am mistaken! Individuals would make it better and cheaper. They would also take care to supply the market with that variety of money which the needs of circulation demand. Moreover, if from the very start, money had been made by individuals, forgery would have been rarer.


How can you know that?


The forgeries formerly committed by the very people who had the exclusive right to repress all types of pillage and fraud, itself inevitably went unpunished.[479] To which one must add that the public had no way of avoiding it, since the monarchs claimed for themselves the exclusive right to mint money.

If the manufacture of money had remained open, individuals would have undertaken it as people will undertake any industry which will yield a profit.


Can the manufacture of money yield a profit?


As with any other manufacture. In France the government charges three francs for the minting of a kilogram of silver, and nine in the case of gold. This virtually covers the costs of producing [211] the money. In England minting is free.


Ah! Can you find me an individual who is prepared to work for nothing then?


Please be wary of terms like gratis, free, gratuity.[480] Nothing which requires labor is free; the point being that there are different ways of remunerating this labor. In France the users of money pay directly for its production; in England taxpayers pay the cost of production indirectly in the form of taxes.

Which of these two ways of remunerating labor is the more economic and the more just? It is obviously the former. In France the production of money costs a certain sum annually, shall we say a million? Individuals who have the ingots transformed into coinage reimburse this million directly. If minting were free as in England the costs of production would be paid by taxpayers. The collection of tax revenues, however, is not free; in France it is never less than thirteen per cent of the principal.[481] So if our minting were free, it would cost not a million but one million, one hundred and thirty thousand francs.

So much for the economics of things being free.

Now let us look for the justice of “free” production. Who has to pay for a product? He who consumes it, is that not true? Who must, in consequence, bear [212] the costs of making that money? Those who use that money.


But everybody uses it.


The difference being that certain individuals, the richest people, use it a lot; others, the poorest, use it very little. When minting is paid for directly, it is paid for by the users of money in proportion to that use; when it is paid indirectly, when it is free, it is paid for by everybody, by small consumers as by large, often by the former more than by the latter. That depends on the basis of the taxation. Is that fair?

If the government produces money free of charge, the costs of money production are raised to their maximum; if it gets reimbursed directly for minting, likewise it produces money more expensively than private production would, because the production of money is not its speciality.

If minting had remained free, it would in all probability have been carried out by the great goldsmiths companies. Under this regime, with consumers able to refuse money made by forgers, and, what is more, to inflict on them punishment as an example to others, forgery would have been extremely rare.


But by joining forces in order to supply less money than is demanded, would not your free manufacturers [213] have realized enormous profits at the expense of the public?


No. First of all because one can, if need be, use ingots in place of money; next because free competition does not take long to smash even the strongest cartels.[482] When the equilibrium between supply and demand is broken, prices soon yield a return which the competition seeks to share in. In this case people start to produce outside the cartel, until the market price falls again to the level of the cost of production.


Ah! It is always the same law.


Always. And this law explains also why a country could never run out of money. When the needs arising from circulation come to exceed the supply of money, the price of metals rises progressively. In this event people no longer export ingots; they find it on the contrary advantageous to import them up to the point when equilibrium is re-established.


What you have said demolishes one of the big arguments used by protectionists..[483]

I have another objection. If the production of money was free, would it be possible to have a single currency? Would not each producer supply a different kind of money? We would no longer know where we were.


There are thousands of producers of calicoes, and yet [214] there is only a small number of types of calico. In Manchester, twenty or thirty manufacturers weave lengths of identical quality and size. It would be the same with money; the only coins struck would be those which the public found convenient and advantageous to use. If all the nations wanted to use the same currency we would arrive quite naturally at a single one. If they preferred different money and measures, suitable to their own ways and their particular needs, why I ask you would people take it into their heads to impose a single currency?


You could well be right and I understand up to a certain point, that one might leave the production of money to private industry. The producers can in fact engage in competition with each other in such a way as to make the development of a monopoly impossible. Is the same true however for all the industries of which the government has taken over? For example are not communication routes natural monopolies?


There are no natural monopolies. How could the builders and operators of communication routes achieve profits from monopoly? By raising the price of transportation above its cost of production. But as soon as the market price exceeds the cost of production, competition is irresistibly drawn in…


In this case would they not build two or three parallel routes from one point to another? [215]


That would not be necessary. Competition in the means of communication, notably improved roads, railways, and canals, etc., happens across a very wide range. Let the Le Havre to Strasbourg railway put up its fares, for example, and immediately the movement of travelers and goods to the centre of Europe will shift in favor of Antwerp or Amsterdam. For intermediate points, there is competition from canals, rivers, almost parallel sections of rail, or ordinary roads, competition which becomes more active in the face of attempts at monopoly…provided, of course, that the competition remains free.

Provided this condition exists, the market price for transport can never exceed the costs of production for very long.

Well I think you will certainly agree with me, that individuals build and run roadways better and cheaper than governments. Would you compare the roads in England with those in France?[484]


This is an incontestable fact. Is it not essential, however, that traffic remains free and at no charge for the user?


Have we not examined in depth already the mystery of things which are free? Have you forgotten that no good whatsoever – money, teaching, transport – could be provided free by the government, unless it were paid for by the taxpayers? Have you forgotten that in this case the good’s costs, over and above its ordinary cost of production, include the additional cost [216] of collecting the tax? So if our roads were not free, they would be financed by those who use them, to the degree to which they use them, and the roads would be cheaper.

What is true of the great highways is no less true of little roads. These petty governments[485] we call départements and communes, build roads at their own cost without, however, having central government approval. These roads, voted for by majorities on the councils of the communes and departments, are built and used at the cost of all taxpayers. Under the monarchical regime, when rich taxpayers alone had places on the councils of the communes, the departments, or the central state, the poor peasants were required to contribute a large part of the work decreed…to whose profit? I leave you to think about it. The corvées of the Ancien Régime had reappeared under the benign guise of “compulsory contributions in kind.”[486]

The only way to put an end to this scandalous injustice is to hand over roads, great and small, to private industry, as well as all forms of transport.


Without making an exception of letter delivery?


Without making an exception of letter delivery.[487]


Oh, come on!


The post has not always been in government hands.[488] [217] Before the 1789 Revolution, the letter post had been contracted out to individual companies (or “farmers”).[489] In 1788 this lease brought in twelve million to the state. As you well know, however, the tariff on the letters was very high. The big farmers knew with regard to this, how to bribe the administrators in charge of working out and regulating the tariffs.[490] They flourished under this system but the public were paying handsomely for their good living.

What had to be done to remedy the manifest abuses of this system of farming out state contracts? Quite simply the remedy was to hand over the post to free competition. Under this new regime, the movement of letters would have promptly fallen to the lowest possible price. The preferred choice was to leave the post in the hands of the state. The public gained nothing from this, indeed the contrary! The post remained very expensive and became much less reliable. As you know very well, the abuse of trust and also general unreliability, have multiplied frightfully in the postal service.


That is all too true.


For a long time, moreover, the government claimed the right to infringe the confidentiality of correspondence. It is not long since the Cabinet Noir was suppressed, and some people claim it still exists.[491] The worst of it is that we do not have the power to avoid these risks and these insults to the public. It is strictly forbidden for individuals to handle the post. Interlopers who deliver the mail[492] are subject to severe penalties. [218]


How barbarous!


That is the advantage of communism for you ... .If the post were free you would be able to hold the carriers involved to account, both for the violation of your correspondence, and for stealing from you. Given the government’s communist monopoly,[493] none of this is practicable. You are at the mercy of the administrators.


At least it has ended up with their giving us postal reform. [494]


Yes, but postal reform[495] has destroyed one abuse only to replace it with another. In England, reform has for several years caused a considerable deficit in the receipts. The tariff had been so reduced that half the charge of the postal service was falling on the taxpayers. The service was half free. Now is it not fair that the cost of correspondence should be met by the correspondents? Why should some poor uneducated peasant who neither writes nor receives letters throughout his life, contribute to paying for the carriage of the heavy missives from Monsieur Turcaret or the love-letters of his neighbor Mr. Lovelace?[496] Is there a communism more unjust and awful than that?

Shall I talk about the privileges enjoyed by mounted postmen? In past times, the postmasters set up by Louis XI, enjoyed a monopoly in passenger transport.[497] Little by little they were obliged to share this monopoly [219] with the royal parcel service, and finally to leave a space for free enterprise. Given their insistent demands, however, the new entrepreneurs were obliged to pay the masters of the coaching inns, whose horses they did not use, an indemnity of twenty five centimes per delivery and for each horse in harness (law of the fifteenth ventôse in year XIII).[498] The overall indemnity had risen to a figure of six million francs per year. But the railways have considerably reduced that windfall. The consequence was loud complaints from the postmasters. They wanted to force the railway companies also, to pay them subsidies. The companies resisted. The question is on-going.

It has to be said in defense of the postmasters, that regulations dating from the reign of Louis XI, oblige them to have available teams of horses in places where these teams are perfectly pointless. But is it not absurd to pay pensions to one industry which no longer functions, at the expense of another which does? Is it not at once absurd and grotesque to force entrepreneurs in the coach business[499] to pay a fee for the idle horses of the postmasters?


It is indeed absurd and grotesque. But if the government, the départements and the communes ceased completely their intervention in the transport industry in the construction of roads, canals, bridges and streets, if they stopped setting up communications between diverse parts of the country and seeing to it that established communications are maintained, would individuals take on the burden of this indispensable work? [220]


Do you believe that a stone thrown up into the air will end up falling?


That is a law of physics!


Well it is in virtue of the same physical law that all useful things, roads, bridges, canals, bread, meat etc get produced as soon as society needs them. When a useful thing is demanded , the production of that thing tends naturally to operate with an intensity of movement equal in intensity of movement to that of a falling stone.

When a useful thing is demanded without being produced yet, the ideal price, the price which would be put on it if it were produced, grows in geometric progression while the demand grows in arithmetic progression.[500] A moment comes when this price rises high enough to surmount all current obstacles and when production begins to take place.

This being so, the government could not interfere with any aspect of production without causing harm to society.

If it produces something later than private individuals would have done, it harms society by depriving it of the thing in question during the interval.

If it produces it at the same time as private individuals, its intervention is still harmful, because it will produce at a higher price than private individuals. [221]

Last of all, if it produces it earlier, society is nonetheless harmed…You are protesting. I am going to prove it to you.

What does one produce with? With present labor and past labor or capital. How does an individual starting a new industry secure for himself labor and capital? By going to look for workers and capital in those places where the services of these agents of production are least useful and where consequently they are paid the lowest.

When the demand for a new product is weaker than that for established ones, when producing it one would not recover the costs incurred, individuals will carefully abstain from production. They begin production only from the time when they are sure of covering their costs.

When government gets ahead of them, is it going to find the labor and capital it needs? It finds them where the individual producers themselves would have got them, from the society itself. But by beginning production before the costs can yet have been covered, or even before the ordinary profits of this new industry have reached the level of those of existing industries, does not the government divert capital and labor from more useful employment than it is giving them? Does it not impoverish rather than enrich society?

For example, the government has undertaken to build too early certain stretches of canal which cross deserts. The labor and capital it has devoted to the building of these canals, still unfinished after a quarter of a century, were certainly better engaged where it found them. On the other hand it began building the telegraphs, for which it had reserved the monopoly or licence for itself, too late [222] and then it did not build enough of them. We have only two or three electric telegraph lines and they are still for the exclusive use of the government and the railways. In the United States, where this industry is under free enterprise, the electric telegraph is everywhere and serves everybody.[501]


I agree with these observations as applied to industries of a purely material nature; but you are pretty well bound to agree, I would think, that the government must be concerned in some degree with the intellectual and moral development of society. Does it not have the right, indeed the duty, to impose an advantageous direction on the arts and on literature, as well as on education, and to intervene in religious services? Can it abandon these noble branches of production, to all the winds of private speculation?


Without doubt it would have this right and would be held to the fulfilling of this duty, if its intervention, in this area of the domain of production, were not always and necessarily as harmful here as in the rest.

Are we speaking of the fine arts?[502] The government gives pensions to some men of letters and pays subsidies to some theaters. I think I have proved to you that writers could easily do without the miserable pension allocated to them, if their property rights were fully recognized and respected.

The grants to the theaters are among the most blatant and scandalous abuses of our day. [223]


It has been proven times many that the Théâtre-Français and the Opéra could not survive without subsidies. Do you wish, by any chance, to do away with the Théâtre-Français and the Opéra?[503]


Notice first of all what profound injustice hides under this regime of subsidies. Each year the state spends more than two million to maintain two or three Parisian theaters.[504] These theaters are precisely the ones frequented by the richest element of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Who pays these two million? All taxpayers do, including the poor peasant of Lower Brittany, who in his entire life has never set foot in, and never will, the auditorium of a theater, unlike members of the wealthy audience of the Opéra Orchestra. Is this justice? Is it fair to make a poor farmer, who passes his day stooped over the handle of his plough, contribute to the dainty pleasures of the rich Parisian bourgeoisie?


It is exploitation![505]


Once again, however, would you prefer that there were no Opéra and no Théâtre-Français? What about our nation’s glory!


When Louis XIV crushed the people with taxes in order to build his cold and pathetic Château at Versailles;[506] when he reduced the wretched country folk to eating grass, to help pay for the sumptuous expenditures of his court, did he not also invoke the glory of France? Glory! In what do you think it consists? [224]


In the great things which a nation is able to accomplish.


Nothing is greater or more splendid than justice. If an age should dawn when the many cease to be plundered for the sake of the few, and justice comes to be the sovereign law of society, that will be the greatest of the centuries.

I do not believe, however, that the theater needs subsidies. On the contrary, I think theaters are harmed by subsidies. Subsidized theaters are the ones which most mismanage their business. Why? I will tell you.

First of all you should note that they are robbed of part of their subsidy in various ways. A subsidized theater is required to grant free entry to ministers, to influential representatives of government, to a host of political figures, high and low. So the subsidy works, in the first place, to secure free access to the pleasures of theater-going to a crowd of people…


Who are absolutely in a position to pay their own way.


Much more so, for certain, than those who do pay for them. In the second place, the subsidies serve to enrich the most unscrupulous directors. If a theater has a deficit of fifty thousand francs, the director asks for a subsidy of a hundred and fifty thousand. They give it to him. He pays off his deficit, gives up his subsidy, and goes off to enjoy the income[507] the state has provided for him.

Subsidized theaters are constantly in [225] debt. Is this in spite of the subsidy or because of it? Judge for yourselves.

A firm under free enterprise, a firm obliged to cover all its costs itself, achieves prodigious efforts to attain this end. It improves the quality of its product, it lowers its price, and comes up every day with some new way of attracting customers. For the firm, this is a question of life or death. A firm enjoying special treatment and subsidies does not make these efforts. Assured of receiving a living, even when its customers may have deserted it completely, even when its annual deficit may be as high as its total costs, it tends, naturally, to look after itself as opposed to the public. If Tortoni[508] received a government subsidy for selling his ice-creams, would he take as much trouble to make sure his trade went well? Would not his ice-creams become detestable, like certain theater pieces put on at a certain theater, and would not the public, which loves good ice-creams, desert his establishment en masse? You can easily see what a subsidy given to the national ice-cream industry would have succeeded in doing.

There are, however, worse things than subsidies. There are privileges. In France the theater industry is not open to all. It is not just anyone who is allowed to open a theater, nor even any comparable institution. Recently, when the cafés lyriques (musical cafés) became popular, the privileged theaters were very put out. The directors collectively petitioned for the suppression of this rival industry. The minister refused to comply with their petition, but he forbade the musical cafés: first, to put on any [226] plays, and secondly forbade their singers to wear costumes. Is not such a ban worthy of the Middle Ages?


I have to confess it is ludicrous.


This is what happened in 1849 and it happened to the most intellectual nation on earth. The directors, however, are not especially guilty. They are bowing to imperatives created by their privileges.

The regime of privilege is by its very nature precarious. All such privileges are temporary. Now the first condition of all economic production, is clear and unrestricted ownership. In any industry there are general costs whose repayment calls for a long time-period. Examples include the building, improvement, and decoration of the premises. If these costs are spread across a long period of production they become almost unnoticeable. When, on the contrary, they are concentrated into a short period of time, they raise the cost of the expenditure significantly. When the tenure is short-term, people tend to run up as few costs as possible. Few halls are worse constructed and maintained than Parisian theater auditoria. The costs of decorating them nevertheless are a heavy charge on their directors’ budgets.

Furthermore, like any industry, theaters have their good and bad seasons. If the theater industry were free one would work less in poor seasons than in good seasons so that one did not work at a a loss. Theaters are forced to work the whole year round, whether they make [227] profits or not. This is an explicit condition of their privileged status.


What an unimaginable absurdity!


Their costs of production therefore increase by the whole sum of what they are obliged to lose in a bad season. Add to this the very high taxes levied to support the Welfare Office[509] and you will get an idea of the excessively high price charged for shows.[510] You will also understand why the directors pursued their competitors so relentlessly.

If the theater industry was free, the costs of building and maintaining the auditoria could be spread across an indefinite period. Production could also be geared to the demands of consumers. There would be lots of plays in a good season and a few in a bad one. The costs of production would then fall to the lowest possible level, and the competition would take care of aligning market prices with the costs of production. The lowering of prices would increase consumption and therefore production. There would be more theaters, more actors, more authors.


Wouldn’t art be degraded by becoming more popular? [228]


I am convinced, on the contrary, that art would become more noble and broadened in its appeal. Every time production is developed it improves. People say today that dramatic art is languishing and demeaned. Put your trust in freedom to pick it up and reinvigorate it.

What is true for theaters is also true for libraries, museums, exhibitions, and academies.


What? You would like the state to cease opening its libraries to the public free of charge?


I am of the view that public libraries should be closed in the interests of spreading knowledge.


Oh! That is too extreme a paradox. I will protest to the bitter end.


Protest by all means but listen. The state owns a certain number of libraries.[511] The government opens some of them to the public, free of charge. It does not open all of them, please note. Some libraries are only pretexts for employing librarians. The annual expenses entailed by the management of public libraries, including in this the maintenance of buildings, add up to more than a million.[512] This means that all taxpayers have to contribute, so that certain individuals can go and study or read, for nothing, at the National Library, the Mazarin Library and elsewhere. If public libraries were run by private individuals, we [229] would first of all save the whole cost of collecting these taxes. The users of books would pay a smaller sum than the one paid today by the nation.


Yes, but they would pay something, while today they pay nothing. And is it not a false economy to skimp on learning?


You are right that it is a false economy. I would ask you, however, to have a good look at how the million which taxpayers make a present of every year to book enthusiasts, is used. Look at private establishments in France, and if you can find a single one whose administration is as bad as that of the National Library, for example, one in which wealth is as badly used and the public as badly served, I will say you have won the case.


Service at the National Library is certainly deplorably organized. There is not a single manufacturing firm in France that does not do its stocktaking every year. The Library has not yet managed to complete its own one. Its catalogue, begun many years ago, is still not finished. One could, however, administer this great national institution better.


I do not think so. As long as it remains locked into the vast communism which is the state,[513] the National Library cannot be administered any better.

In reality, then, the communist management of the public libraries [230] has the result of keeping most of the treasures of learning away from the public. Put this capital in the hands of private industry and you will see to what good use the latter will be able to put it. The riches of science come to us slowly and intractably today. You will see how swift and easy our access to them will become. We will no longer wait long hours and often long days, in vain, for a book or manuscript. Service will be immediate. Private industry does not make people wait.[514]

Would science lose out in all this?


Is not a compromise possible? Could not the present libraries get by alongside libraries run by private industry?


This is the hybrid regime we have today.[515] On the one hand we have public libraries, whose vast resources remain more or less unproductive; on the other hand there are expensive and badly supplied reading rooms.

If the free libraries did not exist, the reading rooms would be on a bigger scale; all the precious output of science and literature would accumulate in them in a useful fashion; each category of knowledge would soon acquire a specialist library, in which those who undertake research would lack for nothing; and where the wealth of scientific and literary publications would on completion be put immediately at the disposal of the public. At the same time, free competition would oblige these establishments to lower their prices to the lowest possible level.


All the same, poor students and needy scholars would have plenty to complain of under this regime.


Library and reading room expenses are the smallest element in the costs of an education. As for poor scholars, they generally work for booksellers who take account of their research costs. A part of these costs falls on taxpayers today. Would it not be fairer if they were exclusively charged to purchasers of books? Moreover, the latter would not lose out thereby, since the books would become more substantial if the business of research became easier.

I was therefore not engaging in paradox at all when I said that we should close the public libraries in the interests of the spreading of knowledge. Maintaining free libraries is communism; and whether the issue is science or industry, communism is barbarous.

This detestable communism is also to be found in the domains of education and religion.


Attack the universities as much as you like, but for pity’s sake respect religion. Religion is our mainstay.


It is even in the interest of religion that the state should stop subsidizing religious services.[516]

Is it fair that a man who does not practice any of the religions recognized by the state, should be required, nevertheless, to pay their salaries? Is it fair that one should pay for something [232] which one does not use? Does not all religious morality condemn an abuse and plunder of this kind? Such plunder and abuse, however, are committed every day in France, for the benefit of recognized religions. So much the worse for taxpayers who follow religions that the state does not recognize! [517]

Do you think this flagrant injustice is beneficial to religion?

Do you also not think that these faiths would be better administered if the state did not subsidize them? Do you not think the services of religion would be distributed with more intelligence and zeal if the state did not guarantee churchmen a stipend, come what may?[518] Besides, experience has already pronounced on the matter. Nowhere are religious services better managed than in the United States, where the different faiths receive no subsidies. Many enlightened churchmen believe that the same arrangements would give France the same results.[519]


This experiment should be carried out.


The present regime of education is more defective still than that of religion. The nation allots an annual sum of seventeen millions to a business which distributes education in the name of the state, and which deals high-handedly with rival enterprises.[520]

Under the Ancien Regime, education was, [233] like all other industries, in the hands of certain privileged corporations. The Revolution destroyed these privileges. Unfortunately the Constituent Assembly and the Convention hastened to decree the establishment of state schools, schools run at the expense of the state, of the départements, or communes. Napoleon extended and radicalized this communist notion in founding the University.

Grafted as it was onto the traditions of the Ancien Régime, and nurtured under the jealous eye of despotism, the University dispensed in the nineteenth century, the education of the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. It set about teaching dead languages as people had taught them in those times, without suspecting in the least that what might be useful in the sixteenth century might well not be so in the nineteenth.[521]


Why is that?


I can accept that the ancient languages were generally taught at the time of the Renaissance. Nations which had scarcely emerged from the darkness of the middle ages, had barely developed science and literature as yet. To equip themselves with knowledge, ideas, and images, they had to draw on the vast store of antiquity, whose riches had just come to light. The indispensable tool for the assimilation of these intellectual riches was language. One could not learn what the Ancients knew, without a knowledge of Greek and Latin.

In the nineteenth century the situation has changed. All the ideas, all the knowledge of antiquity have passed into the modern languages. We can learn everything the ancients knew without knowing the ancient languages.[234] Modern languages are a universal key which opens up both past and present. The dead languages resemble today those ancient and impressive machines that get put in the Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, but which are no longer used in manufacturing.[522]

I am well aware that people have claimed knowledge of the dead languages to be essential for learning living ones. If this were so, however, would we not be obliged to learn half a dozen ancient languages in order to know French, for God knows how many elements went into the formation of our language? A whole lifetime would not be enough. Moreover, how many college pedants write fluently in Latin, and cannot spell in French? Voltaire was certainly weaker in Latin than the Jesuit Patouillet or Father Nonotte. [523] The dead languages are tools which pointlessly clutter up the brain and often obliterate it.


What do you mean?


I mean that by teaching Greek and Latin to children, we are prematurely communicating to them the ideas, beliefs and passions of two nations, without doubt very civilized for the era they lived in, but who would today be regarded as barbarians. This is true above all of their moral outlook. By submitting today’s children to a regime of Greek and Latin, one is filling their minds with the prejudices and vices of a civilization scarcely beyond its earliest stages, instead of communicating to them (p235) the knowledge and the moral outlook of an advanced civilization; we are turning them into rather immoral little barbarians…[524]

If education had enjoyed the benefit of freedom instead of passing from the detestable regime of privilege to the still more detestable communist monopoly, it would have rejected long ago this ancient tool kit of dead languages, just as industries in free competition rid themselves of old machinery. We would teach children what is useful or is harmful to them; we would stop teaching them what is useless or harmful to them. Latin and Greek would be relegated to the brains of those museum pieces we call polyglots.


I agree with you that there are considerable reforms to be done in University management. It was dreadful for example to oblige those institutions which were rivals to the University to pay it an annual contribution; it was scarcely less so to prevent these establishments from opening without special authorization, and to impose on them inspection by the University’s agents. Would it not be good, however, to allow the existence, alongside individual institutions which are henceforth totally private, of the institutions of the state and the communes? Would not this beneficial competition serve the progress of education admirably?


This regime would scarcely be preferable to the present one. Let me give my reasons:

Educational establishments belonging to the state and to the communes do not cover their costs and are not [236] required so to do. The Treasury and the communal budgets take care of their deficits. The tax payers, those who have no children as well as those who do have, provide part of the costs of this communist education. Now I ask you, can private enterprise compete on a regular basis with these half-free establishments? This half-free condition is, in truth, often very costly, perhaps because of the poor quality of the teaching, perhaps because of the high level of total costs. Have not the establishments of the state and the communes the wherewithal to lower their prices indefinitely? Has it not even been mooted that education be made entirely free? In reality this would make it as expensive as it could possibly be, but this outcome would at the same time make all competition impossible. If the state generously undertook the supplying of cloth at half-price or free, who would consider continuing with the making of cloth? Could cloth production under free enterprise ever assume any really large scale, given the presence of a competitor handing over its goods for nothing?

Liberty in education will remain the purest illusion until the state, the départements, and the communes cease completely and absolutely to meddle in public education.


Could not the state and commune schools manage their costs as well as those of private production?


Let them try! Let us abolish the budget for state education. Let us make the University and communes establishments [237] cover all their costs and you will soon be astonished.


Will you not at least agree with me that the state should retain the overseeing of educational establishments?


I do not see any difficulty there. I think, however, that state surveillance would rapidly become pointless under a regime of true liberty.

What prevents state establishments today from improving in quality and price terms alike, is the precarious existence that the unequal competition from the University imposes on them. Freedom would give them stability. Teaching in these circumstances would become organized on an immense scale, in the same way as any industry whose future is guaranteed will organize and develop itself. The directors of the institutions, with their interest in making known the progress achieved in their establishments, would open their doors to the public. Fathers would be able to judge for themselves the quality of the diet, material, intellectual and moral, being given to their children. Keeping a watch on what was happening in this way, would be just as good as or better than being observed by University inspectors.


This advertising of state education would please me well enough; but I ask you once more do you think private industry could meet all the needs of education?


Put your trust in the law of supply and demand. As soon as some educational need made itself truly felt [238] it would be in someone’s interest to satisfy it. Under this regime, the production of education,[525] which the trammels of the regulatory system have confined within limits that are too narrow, would not be long in reaching workable proportions. Teaching would be better and cheaper, and therefore more extensive. The poor would no longer contribute to the paying of educational costs for the rich man’s child, the single man would no longer be taxed to the benefit of the married one. Production would be more abundant, and distribution fairer. What more could you ask for?



12. The Ninth Evening

Editor’s Note

Here Molinari continues his discussion of infringements or violations of internal property rights, or the right of a self-owning individual to associate with whomever they chose and to undertake any kind of work they wished to. The specific cases he focuses on here are the right of association (this time to form business corporations - he dealt with the right to form labor unions in S6), private banks to issue their own currency in competition with the state bank, and a list of other occupations in which entry was heavily regulated or restricted, such as bakers, butchers, printers, lawyers, stock brokers, prostitutes, funeral directors, cemetery owners, lawyers, doctors, and teachers.

This Soirée is the third of four instances where Molinari discusses how public goods might be provided privately and voluntarily by entrepreneurs operating in the free market. The others are in S3 (forests, canals, waterways), S8 (private banks and money, mail delivery), and S11 (security, police, and defense).

The most contentious arguments Molinari puts forward in this Soirée is his defense of “la liberté des banques” (free banking) and free market brothels run by “entrepreneurs de prostitution” (entrepreneurs in the prostitution business).

The history of banking and currency issue had been so tumultuous during the Revolution and the Napoleonic period that a number of economists looked to market-based solutions to the problems, most notably Charles Coquelin whose ideas on “free banking” influenced Molinari and Bastiat. Between 1789 and 1796 the cash-strapped National Assembly issued a paper currency called the “Assignat” which were originally issued as bonds based upon the value of the land confiscated from the church and the nobility (“les biens national”) and were intended to pay off the national debt. Later they became legal tender in 1791. Overissue led to a spectacular hyperinflation which wiped out their value in a few years. The initial number issued in April 1790 was 400 million; in September 1792 2.7 billion were in circulation; and by the beginning of 1796 when they were abandoned there were perhaps 45 billion in circulation.[526] In an effort to control the rise in prices caused by this inflation various attempts were unsuccessfully made to regulate prices such as the “Maximum” in 1793.

As a result of this experience the Bank of France, modeled on the Bank of England, was founded as a private bank in 1800 with Napoleon as one of the shareholders. It was granted a monopoly in issuing currency in 1803. Payment in specie upon demand was suspended twice in the 19th century, both times following a revolution - 1848-1850 and 1870-1875. The banks of the different Départements were merged into the Bank of France in 1848 in an attempt to solve the fiscal crisis brought on by the February Revolution.

The term Molinari uses here is “la liberté des banques” (free banking) which refers to the theory developed by Charles Coquelin[527] in the mid 1840s that private banks in a completely free market would compete to provide banking services even in such things as the issuing of money, which would no longer be a government monopoly. Larry White states that “Proponents of free banking have traditionally pointed to the relatively unrestricted monetary systems of Scotland (1716–1844), New England (1820–1860), and Canada (1817–1914) as models.[528] Charles Coquelin wrote a series of articles on free banking in the early 1840s for La Revue des Deux-Mondes and these ideas were further developed in his major book on the subject, Du Crédit et des Banques (1848).[529] Several, but not all, of the economists advocated free banking, most notably Molinari and Bastiat. In addition to the work of Coquelin, Molinari would have been aware of Bastiat’s work in 1849 on money and credit in which he expressed similar views. Shortly after Molinari’s book appeared in September 1849 Bastiat began a long and bitter debate with Proudhon over the latter’s critique of the legitimacy of interest and his plans to start of low interest “Peoples Bank.”

Molinari has some very harsh words to say about the banking system in France which was based upon the issuing of money unbacked by gold reserves which sometimes suspended the redemption of paper notes upon demand (he called it “la fausse monnaie” (false money) which can also be translated as counterfeit or fake money); as well as the bankers themselves, calling them “une véritable aristocratie financière” (a veritable financial aristocracy) and the system they controlled as “la féodalité financière” which we have translated as “finance feudalism.” It should be noted that Molinari puts into the mouth of the Socialist another derogatory name for the banking elite, “bankocrats,” which he no doubt agreed with as well.[530]

Concerning the prostitution industry, prostitution was legal in France until 1946 though heavily regulated.[531] A “maison de tolérance” (brothel) could be established with the permission of the police and health authorities on condition that the “femmes publiques” (“ladies of the night” or prostitutes) undergo regular health inspections (at least once every two weeks) and carry at all times an identity card which they had to present to police upon demand. Males could not own brothels so they were run by a manageress (a “directrice” or madam) who had silent partners (usually men) who would put up the capital for the business. As setting up a “maison” fully furnished was expensive many women preferred to freelance (“prostitution interlope”) by renting cheap rooms (“hotel garni” or “maison garnie”) and working from there, thus avoiding surveillance by the health inspectors as well as the madam. This was illegal under a police ordinance of 6 November 1778 which was revived in the Law of 30 September 1828. Boarding house owners who rented such rooms were liable to a heavy 500 livres fine.

Molinari calls the individuals who would run brothels in a deregulated, free market “entrepreneurs de prostitution” (entrepreneurs in the prostitution business) which suggests that he thinks they are running a business much like many others which provided a voluntary service to customers but which were heavily regulated by the government, with unfortunate consequences. Like most grey or black market activities where there is high demand and profits to be made, regulated prostitution attracted what he called “la prostitution interlope” (interloper or freelance prostitution) since any highly regulated industry raises prices and thus attracts black market or underground operators who undercut those high prices.[532]

It might seem shocking to modern readers that a mid-19th century economist would think along these lines but it reveals one of Molinari’s revolutionary approaches to the study of society, namely the application of economic analysis to everything, even things which had never been treated in this way before, such as the provision of security and prostitution in the Soirées; in the soon to follow DEP entries on emigration, the origin of the state, fine arts, fashion, public monuments, theatres, the formation and development of cities and towns, and foreign travel;[533] and in his later writings on the family and the the Catholic Church. It was his view that every branch of human activity was a potential "industry" in which "entrepreneurs" would emerge to organize the "production" of whatever good or service was relevant to that industry in order to satisfy the demands of "consumers" of that good or service.[534] He even thought that the new entrepreneurs would not all come from the wealthier and and better educated classes but also from the ranks of the working class. He envisaged the rise of the "self-made" entrepreneur, "le laborieux entrepreneur, naguère ouvrier" (entrepreneur who has emerged from the working class), who rises out of the working class to run and own their own business enterprise. And in the case of brothels, even entrepreneurial women.

In addition to two very lengthy quotations from Coquelin on “Legislation concerning Commercial Organization” and “J.B. Say on the Bank of France, Molinari has an interesting quotation from Michel Chevalier’s recent book on De la liberté aux États-Unis (On Liberty in the U.S.) (1849) in which he describes the extraordinary freedom of entry into trades and professions in America and which both of them thought should be the model for heavily regulated France.


SUMMARY: Infringements of internal property rights (continued). – Right of association. – Legislation which in France regulates commercial companies. – The public limited company and its advantages. – On banking monopolies. – Functions of banks. – Results of government intervention in the affairs of banks. – High rate of interest. – Legal bankruptcies. – Other privileged or regulated industries. – Bakeries. – Butchers. – Printing. – Lawyers. – Stock and investment brokers. – Prostitution. – Funeral Homes. – Cemeteries. – The Bar. – Medicine. – Teachers. – Article 3 of the law of July 7-9, 1833. THE SOCIALIST.

I thought until the present time that the Revolution of 1789 had completely enfranchised labor and that we lived under a régime of absolute laissez-faire. I am beginning to cast my mistake aside.


Not only has labor not been completely enfranchised, but in certain branches of production retrogression has gone beyond that of the privileged companies.[535] Instead of once privileged industries being made free they have been made state monopolies. Now, a state monopoly signals the infancy of any society.[536] In place [240] of the institutions of the middle ages, what was substituted? The institutions of Ancient Egypt. This did not, however, stop some industries from continuing to have special privileges. The fact is that our economic system is a strange jumble of monopolized, privileged, and free industries.


Then where are there these industries with special privileges? Is it not the case, according to M. Thiers,[537] that all the privileges were abolished that famous night of the fourth of August?[538]


Yes, according to M. Thiers; not according to the true account.[539] There remains in France a host of privileged or controlled industries. We have to put banks at the top of the list. Then come baking, the meat trades, printing, theaters, insurance, the buying and selling of state property, medicine, the Bar, Ministerial offices, prostitution and a number of others which I forget.[540]

Let us add again that Association,[541] that indispensable vehicle of industrial progress, is not freely available in France.


Ah! This time I have caught you in glaring inaccuracy. I know my Constitution well.

Article 8. Citizens have the right of association, to assemble peacefully without arms, to petition and to make public their opinions by means of the press or otherwise.
The exercise of these rights has no limit other than the rights and liberty of others and the safety of the public.[542] [241]

So you see that a right of association obtains in France. Perhaps there is only too much of it?


Political associations are free in France… more or less. It is not the same with business associations. As you know, the number of kinds of association is almost boundless. Well, French law recognizes only three kinds of association: partnerships; limited partnerships; and public limited companies.[543] Save for a few irritating formalities, the first two are free; the third, however, which is the most developed, the one most useful to large-scale industrial enterprise, is subject to prior authorization.[544]


All right! People want authorization and, after a careful examination, the government grants it, if there are grounds.


Yes, if there are grounds. And you forgot to say that authorization frequently arrives only six months, a year, or two years afterwards, that is to say too late. You know enough about industry to know that a delay of six months is enough to cause most enterprises to be abandoned.

Socialists complain of the slowness with which business associations are establishing themselves in France. They do not see that the commercial code has put things in good order by narrowly confining the right of association. A peculiar blindness!

Partnership does not involve large accumulations of capital, especially in a country where wealth holdings are notably sub-divided; limited partnerships as they are at present regulated, put the share-holders [242] at the mercy of a business manager and you know what that results in….The public limited company alone involves huge agglomerations of capital built out of small holdings and the best possible management.


That is not proven.


Take a good look at the individual industrial entrepreneur and what do you find? A capitalist and a manager of labor, a man who receives a return for his capital and a payment for his work. Take a look at the public limited company and what will you find? Workers who supply labor and receive a wage, capitalists who supply capital and receive interest. What is combined in the case of an industrial entrepreneur is separated in the limited company. This separation is one more step taken in the direction of the division of labor; it constitutes progress.

I will give you the proof of this by pointing out to you some of the inherent advantages of the limited company.

Preeminent among these is the ability to set up production projects on an immense scale. This means always being able to match the strength of the effort to that of the obstacles, and thereby cut the costs of production to a minimum.

The second advantage of the limited company lies in the superior administration which it allows. An industrial entrepreneur has responsibility only to himself. The director of a limited company is responsible to his shareholders. He must give them an account of his activities and justify them. This requirement, inherent in the very nature of the limited company, entails [243] on the part of the director, the need to act with intelligence and probity. If he did not manage the business intelligently, the shareholders would not fail to remove him. If he engaged in shady operations, would he really dare to give a public account of them to a meeting of the shareholders? Well, with the system of accountancy in use today, he would not be able to keep secret any of his activities.

Where limited companies are the rule, industrial enterprises would necessarily be managed with intelligence and integrity. Industry would necessarily be led by the most capable and upright men.

Industrial fraud would disappear under this regime. In which industries is fraud most common? In those which operate in small, segmented, and precarious units. When one cannot count on the future, or construct a large-scale commercial entity, one is inclined to seek by all possible means, to make a lot of money quickly. The quality of products is corrupted. Merchandise known to be poor is sold as good quality stuff. When one faces on the other hand an indefinite time period ahead and one is deploying very considerable capital, one is concerned to acquire a good reputation in order to keep one’s clients. So good products are supplied along with reliable business dealings.

In enterprises organized on a large scale and in a stable way there is more integrity than in weak and precarious firms. Compare the various branches of production in France, England, [244] Holland, etc., and you will be convinced of the absolute correctness of this fact. Adulteration and fraud do not have their origin in industrial liberty; they arise on the contrary from obstacles to the free and full development of industry.

The third advantage of public limited companies and perhaps the most important, is to make the situation of each enterprise a matter of public knowledge; it is to make clear on a daily basis the prosperity or the weak performance of various branches of production.


How is that so?


When a firm manages to sell its products at a price which breaks even, we say it is at par; when the cost of production is not covered it is working at a loss; when the cost of production is more than covered, it is in profit. In a system with individualized production it is extremely difficult to grasp these different industrial situations accurately and to know when one can fruitfully put one’s capital in a firm and when one cannot. You often risk further building up an already very lively branch of production, while others are waiting in vain for funds and labor. These mistakes cease to be possible in the case of limited companies. Each company having an interest in making public what it is doing in order to facilitate trading, day by day information is available as to the situation of different branches of production. By taking a look at Stock Exchange prices, we know which firms are loss-making and which are [245] profitable, and which are breaking even. One knows exactly which one to invest in to achieve the greatest profit. If for example the share price in blast furnaces is better than that in zinc processing one would put one’s capital into the iron industry rather than zinc industry. Thus iron production will be increased. What will the result be? That the market price of iron will fall until it matches exactly the costs of production: the price of shares falling in these circumstances to par, people will stop moving towards this branch of production for fear of no longer covering their costs.[545]

Thanks to this publicly available information on industrial share prices, production is self regulating, in a way so to speak “mathematical.” We are no longer exposed to producing too much of one thing and too little of another, to allowing certain prices to rise and others to fall wildly. An endless cause of disturbance disappears from the arena of production.

Notice then the singularly democratic character of limited companies. The industrial entrepreneur is the irresponsible and absolute monarch; the limited company governed by shareholders and run by a director and board of responsible people, is the republic. Having been monarchical, production becomes republican. That shows to you, once again, that monarchy is on the way out.


Society splits up into a multitude of little republics, each one having a special and economically limited purpose. Now that is a very remarkable change. [246]


And one not sufficiently remarked on. Unfortunately the barbaric legislation of the imperial code presents an obstacle to this beneficial transformation. ….


Is not the transformation of which you speak, however, naturally confined to certain industries? Would there not be serious disadvantages if the limited liability régime were to be applied to agriculture, for example?


What disadvantages? The limited company would solve the twin problem of the fragmentation of landed property[546] and the economic concentration of farms. The limited company would permit agriculture to be carried out on an immense scale and make farming a very long term concern, by dividing landed property up indefinitely into shares of fr.1000, fr.500, and smaller shares of fr.100, fr.50, and fr.10. From the point of view of the economics of farming, this change would have an incalculable impact. What disadvantages do you see in it? Would not a limited company have an interest in cultivating the soil as well as possible? If it farmed it badly, would it not it not be forced to close down, after its capital was used up, and leave its position, either to other firms or isolated individuals? If you see nothing amiss with an area of land in the possession, in perpetuity, of a single individual, why should you think it amiss for a collection of individuals to possess it? Does not the [247] single owner carry on as well as the association of proprietors?[547]


This is quite right. In truth, I cannot imagine why the limited company has not yet been applied to the cultivation of the soil.


Why is agriculture, in France, and elsewhere, the most burdened of economic sectors? Why is the limited company so tightly regulated?


Perhaps the prior authorization demanded for the limited company is now pointless; but do you not admit that government could scarcely give up the right to exert rigorous supervision over that sort of organization?


It would be much more to the point to monitor small private firms. Limited companies publish full accounts of their activities, operating quite openly, while small private firms keep what they are doing secret…..

Do you know what effect government supervision has on limited companies? It serves first of all to diminish the vigilance of shareholders, who trust quite happily in government supervision. It also serves to hamper the development of productive operations. Finally it serves to secure comfortable jobs for the government’s minions.


That settles the matter! [248]


The imperial commissioners, whether of the Crown or the nation, with jurisdiction over insurance companies, railway companies and the like, are no more nor less pointless, no more or less excessive, than those well known councilors, examiners of pigs’ tongues,[548] inspectors of woodpiles etc., who flourished under the ancien régime.

I think that should enlighten you on how much credit should be given to the obstacles placed in the way of the right of association.[549] [249]

Besides these restrictions which apply in a general way to industrial and commercial enterprises, there are others which apply particularly to those which devote themselves to commercial banking.

Our public banks are still subject to the regime of privilege. [250]


I must warn you that on this score I will wage all out war on you. I am not a supporter of free banking and I never will be. I cannot understand how the government can allow anyone who wishes, to print paper money or to issue assignats, and toss them freely into circulation. Moreover, [251] what this marvelous utopia of free banking leads to has already been shown ...




In the United States and you know what it led to there. A general bankruptcy. God preserve us from a [252] similar calamity. I would rather have a bit less freedom and a bit more security.


The only trouble is that your information is quite false. The banks are free in the [253] United States, only in the case of six individual States: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. And it is precisely these six states and only they which stayed clear of the general bankruptcy.

If you are skeptical I would beg you to read the remarkable works of MM. Carey[550] and Coquelin on the banks.[551] In them you will learn that the free banks of America caused fewer disasters than the protected banks of Europe.


And yet I have often heard the complete opposite asserted.


By people about as well informed as you. By minds imbued with all the prejudices of the regulatory regime, who never fail, on an a priori basis and when they have no information, to lay disorders in production at the door of laissez-faire.


Agree at least that it would be highly imprudent to authorize the first person who came along to issue money in paper form.


You do not really believe that. Does not everyone, do not you and I, sir, create paper money? Do we not give our creditors promises every day to pay on such and such a date, such [254] and such a sum of cash? We would give them notes payable in other merchandise, in products made by ourselves, for example, if they were happy to accept notes issued on such a basis. Unfortunately, they do not want to. Why? Because they can always exchange cash against all sorts of merchandise, whilst they cannot easily make satisfactory use of other goods. What would my boot-maker do, for example, with a newspaper article which I undertook to deliver to him three months later, in exchange for a pair of boots? It is probably true, in the end, that a journalist like myself [552] does pay for his boots with newspaper articles; but this does require after all that I succeed in placing them. If I gave my boot-maker a promise payable in leader-articles for Paris newspapers instead of money, it would be up to him to place these leaders and Lord knows whether he would manage it. So he will not accept anything payable except in good, old-fashioned money.[553]

What do these promissory notes do? For the most part, they serve the process of circulation. If they did not exist, we would have to replace them with sums in gold or silver. As an individual who issues these promissory notes, I am therefore issuing money. Can I indefinitely issue this paper money? I have the right to do this; if it seems sound to me, I can make millions of promises to pay; I can fill a room with them. The question, however, is not making them, but of exchanging them against things of real value, of value incorporated in the form of cash, clothes, boots, furniture, etc. Well, will it be possible for me to exchange my promises to pay indefinitely against these valuable things? It will not! [255] I will barely be able to exchange them for more than the sum which people assume I am in a position to pay. Before accepting my notes, people will enquire as to my situation, my financial resources, my intelligence, my integrity, and my health. After all that, they will decide whether my promise to pay is worthwhile or not. There are clever people who will attempt to have their notes valued at more than they will in fact realize; on the other hand, there are incompetents who will not manage to place theirs for as much as they are worth. In general, however, each person’s credit matches his abilities.


However, that is quite a difficult assessment to make.


It also requires the most delicate tact to make this assessment. Bankers acquire and develop this tact through long experience. Those who do not have it go on to ruin themselves. If the government dared to run a bank in the way it runs so many things, you would soon see the capital from this omnibus banker[554] disappear … Fortunately, the government has not yet become the universal banker. So it is still hardly possible to pump more promises into circulation than one can reimburse.

What difference is there between a bank’s promise to pay and an individual’s? None, save that the one is payable on demand and the other is payable at the contracted due date. Both must be equally supported by real assets before they are accepted. Your promise will be accepted only on the assumption that it will be paid on the due date; we accept bank notes only [256] if we are sure we can convert them into cash.

When banknotes are not reimbursable in cash, that is to say in the form of a good, one easily exchangeable, easily put into circulation; when they are reimbursable in land or houses, for example, they undergo a depreciation precisely matching the difficulty of exchanging land or houses against a good more readily circulated; when they are reimbursable neither on demand nor by some specified due date, in anything possessing real value – cash, houses, land, furniture, etc., – they lose all value, and cease to be anything other than scraps of paper.


How does it happen then that people accept banknotes instead of demanding cash?


Because such means of circulation are more convenient, easier to move, and less costly, that is all.


Once again, though, is not the government right to intervene in order to stop the banks issuing more notes than they can reimburse?


By that reckoning it should intervene also in order to stop individuals from issuing more promissory notes than they can finance. Why does it not do so? First because it is impossible and next because it is pointless. I have no need to show you that it is impossible; I will, however, show you in two words why it is pointless. Your [257] individual issues are not restricted by your will alone; they are limited by the will of others. When people judge that you have gone beyond your ability to pay, they refuse to accept your promises of payment, and your note issue finds itself halted. Certainly, no government could judge as accurately as the interested parties themselves, precisely when an individual has exceeded his financial means. The intervention of the government to regulate credit at the individual level, even supposing it were possible, would therefore be absolutely pointless.

What is true for individuals who issue promissory notes, is no less true for banks who issue notes in the form of notes redeemable in cash on demand.

What is the function of banks, or at least, their main function? It is to discount notes. It is to exchange valuable assets realizable in the future, for assets whose value is already realized or immediately realizable, such that they can be put into circulation immediately. It is the buying of promissory notes with cash or notes representing cash. [555]

If a bank only uses cash to complete this discount transaction those who sell notes payable at some future date run no risk, unless the money is counterfeit. [556] Surely, the holders of notes payable at some future date are not so stupid as to exchange them for counterfeit money. [557]

If the bank pays for these promissory notes, not in cash but in notes payable on demand, the outcome is different, I agree. The bank might, tempted [258] by this profitable discounting, to issue a sizable quantity of notes without worrying whether it will always and in all circumstances, able to redeem them.

Just as the bank does not accept promissory notes from individuals, however, when it does not have sufficient trust in their being reimbursed, likewise individuals will not accept the bank’s notes when they lack the certainty of being able to realize them, always and in all circumstances.

If individuals judge that the bank is not able to redeem its notes, they do not take them or they demand cash. Or perhaps they do take them, but subject to discounting against risk of non-payment.

How can the public know whether a bank is in a position to honor its notes redeemable on demand?

Since the public does not accept them, unless it is fully reassured in this respect, the banks have an interest in making their situation public. Therefore they publish weekly or monthly accounts of their dealings.

In these accounts members of the public can see how much financial paper has been issued and the total reserves both in cash and in portfolio form. They can compare assets with liabilities and hence judge whether they can continue or not to accept the bank’s notes, and at what price.


What if the bank presents a false account of the situation?


In a word, it engages in fraud. In this case the [259] the holders of its notes can have or ought to have the power to have this bank’s directors punished as fraudsters and counterfeiters, and get themselves reimbursed by the responsible shareholders to the full extent of the theft committed against them.

Moreover, the public, guided by its interest, is prudent enough to deal only with the banks whose directors and administrators offer sufficiently firm moral guarantees.

You can see then that if the government can dispense with intervening to prevent individuals from duping the banks, it can also equally well manage without intervening to prevent the banks from duping individuals. [558]

Experience here is fully in accordance with theory. The free banks of Massachusetts, Vermont, etc., have caused far fewer disasters than the privileged chartered banks of Europe.

If attempts by the government to intervene in order to regulate the issuing of banknotes are pointless, what purpose does its intervention serve?

I will explain to you in a few words what purpose it serves.

The intervention of the government in questions of credit, in the end always comes down to this: it is to grant a bank the exclusive right to issue banknotes payable on demand. When a bank possesses this right, it can easily take on any competition. Other financial companies, being restricted to cash and fixed-term notes, are in no condition to compete with the privileged bank:

In the first place, because banknotes payable on demand [260] are superior as instruments of circulation, to cash or promissory notes.

In the second place, because paper money can be made available more cheaply than cash. The reason is this.

It is true enough that banknotes must always be based on real and exchangeable value. The bank must always be in a position to convert them into cash. Here is what happens, however: when a bank is on stable foundations, it is not as a rule faced with more than a small number of bills to redeem. It can therefore dispense with the need to always have on hand a sum of cash equal to the sum of its notes in circulation. It has to be in a position to get this sum, if the situation arises when the redemption of all its outstanding notes is demanded; it has to have at its disposal a sufficient amount of assets which can easily be converted into cash; this is all that it required! Nothing more could be asked of it. However, these assets, made up of shares in railway and insurance companies and various revenue-yielding properties, add up to less than the cash value of the sum total of interest payments owed.

The less cash the bank is forced to keep in reserve and the cheaper it can sell its notes redeemable on demand, the lower it can hold down the discount rate. Ordinarily the banks do not hold in cash more than a third of the value of their total note issue. [559] The level of the cash reserve however is entirely subordinate to circumstance. The bank has to maintain larger or smaller holdings of cash, according to whether monetary crises [560] [261] are more or less to be feared, and also according to the ease or difficulty with which the other assets constituting its reserves, can be realized in cash. The question is a delicate one. The bank is moreover, soon alerted by the reduction of its discounts, that it is below the necessary limit. For the public is not slow to buy fewer notes when it has less confidence in their reimbursement.

A bank specifically authorized to issue bank notes redeemable on demand, therefore has a double advantage: it can supply an instrument of circulation which is perfectly tuned to those demanding money, and this perfectly tuned instrument can also supply more cheaply than its rival banks can supply the cruder instrument, namely cash. In this way it easily shrugs off all competition.

If the privileged bank however succeeds in remaining sole arbiter of the market, will it not lay down the law to the purchasers of money? Will it not force them to pay more for its bank notes than they would pay under a regime of free competition?


That would seem inevitable to me. It is the law of monopoly.


The shareholders of the privileged bank will benefit from the difference. In truth they will be obliged to admit some co-sharers to the profits of their fruitful monopoly.

In a large country, when a bank obtains the exclusive right to issue banknotes redeemable on demand, all competition succumbing in the face of this privilege, it will find its clientele increasing enormously. Soon it [262] is no longer large enough for the latter; it abandons some of its work and therefore some of its profits to a few chosen bankers. It now accepts only bills bearing three good signatures and surrounds its discounting with formalities and difficulties, such that those demanding its notes are obliged to have recourse to intermediary bankers with accounts open at the bank. [561]

This simplifies quite considerably the work of the privileged bank. Rather than having to deal with several thousand individuals, it now need handle only a small number of bankers, whose operations it can easily oversee, although these privileged intermediaries naturally see to it that their services get paid well. Thanks to their small numbers they can lay down the law with regard to the public. Thus they constitute, under the wing of the privileged bank, a veritable financial aristocracy, [562] which shares with the bank the advantages of that privileged status.

These advantages, however, cannot go beyond certain limits. When the bank and its intermediaries push the discount rate too high, the public turn to bankers who do their discounting in cash or term deposit accounts. Unfortunately, the murderous competition of the privileged establishment, by greatly reducing the number [263] of the former and permitting them only a precarious existence, leads to a permanently excessive discount price.

In times of crisis the privileges some banks have, lead to even more deadly results.

I have said to you that a bank must always have been in a position to reimburse its notes in cash. What happens when it is not in a position to reimburse them all? What happens is that the notes which cannot be reimbursed depreciate in value. Who has to accept this depreciation? The bearers of the notes. They undergo virtual bankruptcy.

Well, do you know the purpose of these privileges? They effectively authorize the banks to get away, legally, with bankruptcy of this sort. The Bank of France and the Bank of England have on numerous occasions been authorized to suspend payments in cash. The Bank of England was a notable case of this in 1797. Those holding notes lost up to 30% during the course of the suspension. The Bank of France was given the same leeway in 1848. [563]


Its notes lost very little value.


The magnitude of the loss does not affect the matter. If they had lost only a thousandth per cent in one day, those bearing this loss would still have been victims of a bankruptcy.

If these two Banks had not been privileged, their shareholders would have been obliged to pay the notes presented for redemption, down to the very last sou. In that eventuality those holding notes would have lost nothing; on the other hand the shareholders would have had to impose [264] on themselves sufficient sacrifice to fulfill all the Bank’s obligations. This, though, is a risk that all capitalists whose funds are engaged in production run…with the exception, however, of those who enjoy the privilege of imposing their losses on the public.


Now I see why in 1848 the shareholders of the Bank of France were paid their customary dividends, while all other industrial and commercial companies experienced losses.


Let us be fair, however. The shareholders of privileged banks deserved far less condemnation than the governments which handed out these privileges. In France, as in England, the privileges dispensed by the Bank came at a heavy price. In exchange for this favor, the government took possession of all or part of the capital spent by the shareholders. Not being in a position to repay them in times of crisis, it extricated itself from this embarrassment, by authorizing the Bank to suspend its payments in cash. Being unable to fulfill its engagements towards the Bank, it authorized the Bank to fall short in its undertakings to the public. [564] [265]

Formerly, when governments found themselves unable to pay their debts, they debased their coinage, adding copper or lead to it, or perhaps even reducing the weight of the coins. These days they go about it differently: they borrow large sums from those establishments exclusively authorized, by themselves, to issue paper money. Deprived of its natural and requisite foundation, this money depreciates in times of crisis. The government then intervenes in order to make the public bear the weight of the depreciation.

What is the difference between these two procedures?

In a regime of free competition, no such plundering arrangements would be possible.

In this regime, banks would have enough capital to fulfill their commitments, failing which the public would not accept their notes. In times of crisis, they alone would bear the natural losses of the contraction of circulation; they would not be permitted to offload it onto the public.

Furthermore, in this regime it would also mean that competition between the banks [267] would promptly force down the rate of discount, [565] now held at the highest level possible.

Finally, this regime would generate, on a large and growing scale, banknotes of real value, rather than bad debt, such currency being distributed according to the needs of the public and no longer to suit the convenience of parties granted special privileges. Almost the entire circulation would be economically produced in paper form, rather than expensively in cash.


I have to say that you have very much shaken my deepest beliefs. Goodness! Can that finance feudalism [566] whose existence I attributed to free competition, really have sprung up as a result of monopoly? Goodness! Do the high cost of discounting and the disastrous ups and downs in the circulation of our money supply result from privilege and not from liberty? [268]


Precisely. You socialists are as wrong about the banks as you are about everything else. You thought the banks were subject to the regime of laisser-faire, and you attributed to freedom, abuses, and miseries which have their origin in privilege. This has been the huge and deplorable error you have made about everything.


Indeed, this is quite possible.


If we had enough time to take a look at all the other industries which either enjoy special privileges or are closely regulated, such as bakery, meat production, printing, the lawyers, brokerage, sale of public property, the Bar, medicine, prostitution, etc., you would see that privilege and regulation have always delivered the same disastrous results economically: a reduction and deterioration in production on the one hand, disorder and unjust distribution on the other.

Limits were put on the numbers of bakers in the main population centers. It became apparent, however, that this limitation put the people at the mercy of the bakers and so a maximum price was put on bread. [567] The wish was to correct one rule by imposing another. Was it successful? The manipulations which take place on a daily basis in the flour market, are evidence to the contrary. Speculators conspire with the bakers to create an artificial rise in the price of flour, the maximum is raised above the real price of the grain, and the authors of this immoral maneuvering pocket the difference. [269]

There are some towns in France where bakery has remained free, for example in Lunel, and nowhere do people eat bread of better quality or at a lower price.

You know how profitable privileges have been to foreign exchange dealers in the case of the small numbers in whom they have been invested; you also know how much the privileges of lawyers have raised the price of civil lawsuits while at the very same time reducing the security of one’s deposit. In no free industry have failures been as numerous and as scandalous as is the case with the lawyers.

The privileges which the printers possess have increased the price of printing by creating a veritable surcharge for the printers. [568] In Paris these charges come to at least twenty five thousand francs. The printing workers, along with the bakers’ and butchers’ boys and the notaries’ clerks, find themselves stuck their whole life long in the lower grades of the business; not possessing sufficient capital to take out a patent or incur any costs, they cannot become entrepreneurs or business managers. Another injustice!


You drew attention to prostitution too. Is not the limitation on the numbers of brothels necessary in the interests of public morality?


The obstacles applied to the multiplication of brothels do nothing save to increase the profits of the business manageresses and their silent partners, while lowering the wages of the unfortunates who trade in their beauty and their youth. Sizable fortunes are drawn from this [270] sordid exploitation….The monopoly of the brothels is reinforced by regulations which forbid prostitutes to stay in rented furnished rooms. Those lacking the means for buying furniture are forced to put themselves at the mercy of the entrepreneurs in the prostitution business or interlopers who engage in prostitution. [569]


Do you not think prostitution will disappear one day?


I do not know. In any case, however, it will not be made to go away by means of coercive regulation. On the contrary that would make it more dangerous.

In a regime in which property was fully respected, and in which, as a result, poverty was reduced to a minimum, prostitution would diminish considerably, for poverty is prostitution’s very own great and indefatigable supplier. In such a regime there would only be voluntary prostitutes. Things being thus, it would be a better situation, it seems to me if prostitution were specialized, in conformity to the division of labor, rather than universalized. I would rather a few women prostituting themselves a lot than a lot of women prostituting themselves a little.

You would scarcely guess where privilege and communism have nestled most closely to one another: in the coffins where our sad mortal remains are laid; in the cemeteries where our human dust is buried. Funeral homes and cemeteries are both privileged and public. One cannot bury a corpse at will; nor are we free to open a cemetery.

In Paris, the administration of funeral services is leased out [271] to a single firm.[570] The cost of that lease is truly excessive, absorbing as much as some three quarters of the presumed income. And payments are made not to the municipality but to the church businesses recognized by the state. So much the worse for the dead of religions not officially recognized! The total revenue from this funerary taxation covers the minor expenses of the parishes, the payment of well-known preachers, the cost of the sumptuous decorations in the month of Mary, etc. Heretical or orthodox, the dead can scarcely claim much!

Handed over thus to a management endowed with special privilege and, into the bargain, exorbitantly taxed, funeral services could scarcely be other than expensive and of poor quality. The service costs eight or ten times more than it would in a free market system, and its inadequacy is confirmed at all times when death rates are out of the ordinary.

Present funeral arrangements mean that the modest savings of a worker vanish under the costs of burial, unless his children resign themselves to accepting the charity of a pauper’s burial. Is there a more monstrous unfairness?

The cemeteries, vast hostelries of death, belong to the municipalities. One is not allowed to compete with them by using free market cemeteries.[571] Moreover, reserved places are extremely expensive. Six feet square in the Père Lachaise cemetery, costs more than an acre of land elsewhere. [572] Only the rich man can go to kneel at the tomb of his fathers; the pauper is reduced to being laid to rest on the bank of the common ditch, where, squeezed together like grains in a [272] grinder, dwell the successive generations of the poor. The most savage hordes would be horrified by this communism of the grave; we are used to it … or to put it better, we tolerate it as we do so many other abuses which torment us … Have you noticed sometimes in our cemeteries, women of the common folk trying to find the place where their father, their husband, or their child has been laid? These women had placed there a little cross with an inscription painted in white. But the cross has disappeared under a new layer of coffins. Wearied by a hopeless searching, they go away heavy hearted, carrying with them, the funeral wreath, purchased with a week’s retched wages …


Let us leave this sad subject. In your list of privileged industries, you cited the bar, medicine, and the professoriate. Everyone is free however to become a doctor or a lawyer or a professor.


This is doubtless true, but these professions are tightly regulated. Well any regulation which obstructs entry to a profession or branch of production, or which hinders the exercise of these, contributes inevitably to raising their costs.


What? You want people to practice medicine and law freely, and to teach as they wish … But what will happen to us in the name of God?


What will happen to us? We will be cured much more quickly and cheaply. Our law suits will [273] will cost us less and our children will receive a better education, that is all! If you want that, put your trust in the law of supply and demand, under a regime of free competition. If teaching were freed thus, would entrepreneurs in the education business[573] stop demanding good teachers? Would the latter not have an interest as a consequence, in being able to supply substantial and wide knowledge? Would not their salaries be in proportion to their merits? If the exercise of medicine came to be released from the regulation which impedes it, would the sick continue any less to seek out the best doctors? Among the studies imposed on doctors and lawyers today, how many are pointless practically? How many displace vital knowledge? What use, I ask you, are Latin and Greek to doctors and lawyers?


To want lawyers and doctors to stop learning Latin and Greek, is that not going too far?


The costs of this Latin and Greek are in part met by taxpayers, who sustain these university establishments, and in part by the clients of lawyers and doctors. Well I wonder to myself in vain what a lawyer and a doctor, who have to discuss French laws and heal French people who are sick, can do with Latin or Greek. All the body of Roman law has been translated, along with Hippocrates and Galen.


What about medical terminology then? [274]


Do you think an illness named in French cannot be healed as easily as one named in Latin or Greek? When therefore, will we deal with it as it deserves, with this evil charlatanism of false and formulaic etiquette that Molière pursued with such remorseless good sense?[574]

It would take volumes, however, to count the host of privileges and regulations which obstruct the entry to the most crucial professions and which hamper the carrying out of the most vital work.[575].

I will finish by quoting a final pronouncement from that monument of barbarism known as the Code français.

There is the general complaint that the great public utilities have scarcely developed in France. Do you want to know why? Read this article of the law of the 7-9th of July, 1833.[576]

Art. 3. All large-scale public works, roads of highest quality [275] and docks undertaken by the state or by private companies, with or without tolls, with or without subsidies from the Treasury, with or without sale of public land, may not be carried out, except under a legal enactment which will be confirmed only after a government inquiry. An ordinance will suffice to authorize the building of roads, canals and branch railways, not exceeding twenty kilometers in length, of bridges and all other projects of lesser importance. This ordinance must also be preceded by an inquiry.

Well, do you know how much time it takes to mount a ministerial inquiry, to discuss a law, or introduce an ordinance? Will you complain, then, knowing this, that the spirit of business does not develop in France? Complain rather that the unfortunates you have garrotted cannot walk!

1. Molinari’s Long Footnote 1: Coquelin on Legislation concerning Commercial Organizations

In an article on “Les Sociétés commerciales en France et en Angleterre” (Commercial companies in France and England) in the Revue des Deux Mondes (Review of the Two Worlds) [of 1st of August, 1843], M. Charles Coquelin has insisted above all on the need for full liberty to commercial associations. Here are some extracts from this remarkable essay:

In recent years schools of philosophy have formed, which claim to be leading humanity, by means of the process of association, towards purposes as yet unknown. Is there any need to name them, when the last syllables of their sonorous proclamations still echo all around us? What did the leaders of these schools want? To improve the existing order, to purge this human society of the blemishes which the work of the ages has formed, to continue the efforts of past generations to perfect by degrees its procedures and structures? All this was not enough to satisfy the ambitions of these doctors of philosophy. The society we have, had not in their view been sufficiently controlled; it was not sufficiently absolute, not sufficiently restricted; it left too much room to human free will; it was too regarding of human spontaneity. What they wanted was an utterly unitary society with a single centre and single leader, a society universal in its reach and universal in its purpose, where human individuality disappears in the current of social action, one possessed of a single spirit and a single motivation, where man knows only one bond, one which clasps him, so to speak, whole and entire. This is what these so-called apostles of human sociability wanted. Is that what the future holds in store for us? Is this how progress has to unfold? The truth is far from this: the study of the true character of man and the knowledge of the facts of history, show us on the contrary, that in the natural course [249] of things, every day has the social bond dividing and multiplying; that humankind, in its normal development, in its real aspiration to progress, rather than leading society to such a narrow and wretched uniformity, tends constantly to divide and diversify its forms, to spread it, so to speak, to objects more numerous and varied, every day.
Man is a social creature, some say, and on this basis they want him to be absorbed in one and only one kind of society, as if the social proclivity attributed to him can be exercised only there. Yes, man is a social being; more social than any other sensitive creature. Herein is his most distinctive and his noblest attribute. Along with the feelings of sociability, however, he cherishes within himself a pressing need for freedom and for a certain spontaneity in his relationships. He is a dynamic and diverse being as much as a social one, and he inclines by instinct towards a society as dynamic and diverse as his own nature. So instead of binding himself, once and for all, to a single societal form, by a heavy chain which will impede his freedom of movement, he must instead bind himself by countless light reins, which by connecting him on all sides to his fellow men, nevertheless respect the way in which his lively nature works. This is what reason demands; this is where progress lies ... .
In years past the principle of association was not widely applied in France. Whether before or after the Revolution, one found scarcely more than a few of those stunted organisations that the basic development of society achieves but few or none of those powerful conglomerations of capital and labor which put a nation’s commerce up to the level of large-scale enterprise. Lots of people put the blame on the spirit of the French people, little disposed, they say, to become involved in commercial enterprises. Without dwelling on this explanation, which seems to us premature, we will [250] show that the cause of the harm is entirely a matter of the law regulating our industries.
The law of 1807,[577] which regulates commercial enterprises, has subsisted unchanged until the present. It is in its underlying structure and purpose that we must search for the causes of the torpor in which business languishes among us, as also in the abuses and scandals which have attended its only too rare applications. We can sum it up thus: the law recognizes only three kinds of business companies: partnerships; limited partnerships; and public limited companies.
Under partnership, all the members must be mentioned by name in a published legal agreement and their names only can be part of the corporate name. They are, moreover, united by the bonds of a narrow agreement, being fully responsible without limit, on pain of their person and goods alike, for all undertakings contracted by the society, and for the social undertakings contracted by each one of them, provided he has signed under the company name.
The limited partnership involves a contract between one partner or a number of joint partners, and one financial backer or several associated financial backers, called “sponsors” or limited share associates. Partners’ names are the only ones which are posted in the legal agreement. They alone can sign under the company name. Management is theirs alone. As regards them, the firm exercises all the aspects of a partnership. As for the sponsors, they are liable for losses only to the extent of the financial contribution they have made or of the funds which they owe the firm.
The public limited company is not based on signatures under the company name. It is not designated by the name of any of the associates. It is named through the specification of the purpose of the enterprise. All the associates of the company, without [251] distinction, enjoy the advantage of liability only up to the limit their agreed holdings. The company is administered by executives under revocable contract, partners or not, salaried or not, who contract with respect to their management of the company, no personal or collective obligation with respect to the operations of the company, and who are responsible only for the carrying out of their mandate.
When one considers in overall terms the system I have just explained, one cannot help being struck by the restrictive spirit which dominates it and gives itself away, just in these few words: the law recognizes three types of commercial company. Association being no more than a natural act, one would expect it necessarily to be regulated in a spontaneous way between the contracting parties, in ways and under conditions freely determined by themselves, according to their interests and needs. We find, on the contrary, that the law substitutes itself in certain respects, for the parties to the contract: it encroaches on their freedom by dictating to them the kind of association allowed to them, specifically restricting them to choosing between the three forms it has itself established. It goes even further, by imposing on each of these specified forms, narrow and unbending rules, whose application it is not permissible even to modify according to different circumstances ... .
What exactly is the public limited company in France today? Is it by chance a form of association which commerce might be able to apply to its own purposes? It quite obviously is not; it is a form reserved by legal privilege for certain outstanding firms, whose out of the ordinary size and glamorous performance recommend them. It is only these, effectively, which can present themselves to the Council of State with any reasonable chances of success, on which chances public opinion is formed, and which have in their favor the support of the established authorities and of some [252] powerful men. Firms of this kind are rare and whatever their individual importance, that fact in itself renders them of secondary interest for the nation. As for the host of second order enterprises, or to put it another way, those whose usefulness is less apparent and which can only perhaps be appreciated at the local level, access to the status of public limited company is absolutely forbidden them.
In the face of factors like these, we can see why association has not been able to make great progress in France and why, inevitably, commerce is almost entirely deprived of its benefits. Indeed, until these last few years, in which the spirit of association, anxious to get itself up to date, has burst through the legal barriers, scarcely anything about France’s appearance could offer us a single clue as to the creative potential of this union of commercial forces. At present, which are the rare companies with extensive joint-stock in our country? In England, under more favorable yet still too stern conditions, association has been developed for a long time on a vastly stronger basis. The number of joint-stock companies which that country contains is incalculable; the imagination would be staggered with the volume of capital involved and, with the amount of freedom they enjoy, these companies have produced marvels. It is the same in the United States. Without our counting the innumerable joint-stock banks that country has, each sizable part of the Union has can number a host of firms of all types, some of them enormous. The smallest cities, the towns, even the villages, have their own. They support, reinforce and energize private enterprise, at the same time as they complement it. In overall terms, whether they confine themselves to the role of protecting individual firms, or commit themselves to operations of an exceptional kind, their activity and their immense resources, increase the industrial power and wealth of the country. What a long way we are from this marvelous development!
2. Molinari’s Long Footnote 2: Say on the Bank of France


In a letter addressed to M. Napier, in Edinburgh, J.-B. Say provided an interesting account of the privileged status of the Bank of France. Here are a few instructive extracts from that letter:

 ... ..The Bank was recognized by the Bonaparte government, and received from him, by a law of the 24 germinal in the year XI (14th April, 1803), the exclusive right to put bearer-bills into circulation.[578].
The apparent motive was to give the public a more solid guarantee of notes issued. The real motive was to make the bank pay [265] for the exclusive privilege of having in circulation, notes bearing no interest. It paid for this exclusive privilege, as did the Bank of England, by making loans to the government.
Events moved on. The Battle of Austerlitz took place. The public, which knew that the Bank had been obliged to lend Bonaparte 20 million of its bills, taking a look at the military strength of this Austrian prince and Russia, thought he was doomed, and themselves rushed to the Bank to have their holdings of its bills reimbursed. The Bank suspended payment in December 1805. The Battle of Austerlitz took place on December 2nd. The capitulation of Presbourg was the outcome of the (French) victory. Bonaparte emerged more than ever the master of France’s resources. He settled his debts with the Bank which accepted his payments again from the beginning of 1806.
Bonaparte took advantage of the extreme difficulties into which he himself had cast the Bank, and to avoid, so he said, the embarrassment that had forced him to suspend payments on his bearer bills, he changed the Bank’s administration under a law he had passed on 22 April 1806.
This law meant that the administration of the Bank was handed over to a governor (Jaubert) and two Deputy-Governors, all three nominees of the Head of State, but who were responsible to the general body of shareholders, as represented by the two hundred most notable of them.
At the same time, the Bank’s capital, which comprised 45,000 shares at Fr. 1000, was increased to 90,000 shares, constituting a capital of Fr. ninety million.
The needs of the public, which it was said, called for heftier [266] discounts, and the purpose, which the government affected to hold, of taking shares in this establishment, were the apparent motive. The real reason, on the government’s part, was the improved access to larger-scale borrowing, which it would gain from the enlargement of the Bank’s capital.
The new shares were sold profitably from the establishment’s point of view. The credit and power of the government were taken to the highest possible point by these unexpected successes.
The governor of the Bank exercised huge influence over the board of directors, made up of big wholesalers, of whom some were given honorary titles and others positions for their protégés. This influence was not a matter of duress but it was insurmountable. Upright characters who scorned the advantages one can draw from financial transactions, were in a minority in all the deliberations involved. The capital of the Bank, in various forms, (some in 5% consolidated funds, some in Treasury bonds, or the takings from taxation) was entrusted whole and entire to the government; but at the same time people resisted as far as they could from lending it their bearer bills, because the latter, having no security other than unenforceable undertakings by the government, would not be reimbursable on presentation.
 ...  In 1814, when France, divided by factions of interest and opinion, was invaded by all the armies of Europe, the government forced the bank to make it some extraordinary loans. At that time, its loans and enforceable undertakings, exceeded [267] its stock of cash and short-term paper, by about 20 million. As a result, on January 18th, when those in possession of its paper, driven by fear, presented themselves en masse, to get their bills honored, the Bank was obliged, not to suspend payment completely, but to reduce reimbursement to Fr. 500,000 per day. Each payment was limited to a Fr. 1,000 note per person. The Bank reduced its discounting, called in its dated paper, and from the month of the February following, it resumed its payments with an open counter and for all sums.
At this time, its loans to the government, on the basis of Treasury Bonds or tax receipts, or on any other paper earning interest payments, are as high as twenty six millions.
J.-B. Say.
Paris, 14th August, 1816.

(Mélanges d’Économie politique. Oeuvres de J.-B. Say; Collection of Guillaumin and Company)

We know that the Bank has not ceased to be the supplier of government, to the great disadvantage of those obliged to suffer the consequences its privileged operations.[579]

3. Molinari’s Long Footnote 3: Chevalier on the Right to enter Professions in America

The privilege which, in France, results from the saleability, at very high prices, of positions of responsibility, established by the law of April 20th, 1816, and in various other countries, is based on regulations, which have determined, in the public interest, real or imagined, the numbers of persons permitted to work in certain occupations, does not exist in the United States. Everyone is free to become an auctioneer, exchange dealer, bailiff, attorney, notary, insofar as these professions have their analogues in America, for the judiciary and ministerial system there is quite different.

The tendency today is to do away even with the guarantees which society once thought must be demanded of the man who aspires to defend the widow and the orphan or of anyone out to manage the lives of his fellow-citizens. In Massachusetts (I advisedly refer to the more enlightened states) to be a lawyer required one, before 1836, to have been admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Law by a university, or anyway effectively to have passed a certain number of years in the office of a practitioner, who would in due course present the candidate to the court. To practice medicine, or what is different again, to have the right to pursue a client for payment of a professional bill, one had to have acquired pass grades at the medical school of the University of Harvard, near Boston. Today you can be a lawyer in Massachusetts, on the sole condition of passing a public examination in front of a jury of lawyers, chosen for each session by the judge. As for medicine, the examination clause is no longer binding, even for claims over honoraria. Since 1836, the small barrier separating that profession from complete freedom has disappeared.

(Michel Chevalier, De la Liberté aux états-Unis. – Extract from the Revue de Deux-Mondes (Review of Two Worlds), July 1st 1849, p.20).[580]



13. The Tenth Evening

Editor’s Note

Having spent the first nine Soirées discussing a broad range of infringements to “internal” and “external” property rights Molinari now turns in the last three Soirées to more specialized topics which he treats in greater depth: S10 (on population growth and state funded charity), S11 (the private provision of police and defense), S12 (his theory of rent, his summing up, and his passionate conclusion about mankind’s struggle to be free).

In this Soirée he deals with the issue of population, its growth, whether or not Malthus’s prediction that its exponential growth would outstrip the capacity of the land to feed the increasing number of mouths (especially in Ireland), and how state charity creates perverse economic incentives for planning the size of one’s family and thus for population growth. Molinari also takes the discussion into a couple of unusual directions, such as how the “quality” of a given population might be improved (40 years later he would develop this into a theory of “viriculture” or the “growing or cultivation of men”),[581] and his economic analysis of the family and the role of “les entrepreneurs de population” (entrepreneurs in the population growing business) which he would explore in greater depth in his treatise Cours d’économie politique six years later.[582]

Many of these issues are explored in greater depth in the glossaries and the essays in Further Aspects of Molinari’s Thought; such as the glossaries “Irish famine of 1845-1852,” “Poor Law or Poor Rate,” “Race, Eugenics, and Tutelage;” and in Further Aspects, "Malthusianism and the Political Economy of the Family,” especially the section on “Moral Restraint.”

The three dominant figures in classical political economy in the first half of the 19th century were Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo with their theories of the labor theory of value and the provision of public goods (Smith), the theory of population growth (Malthus), and the theory of rent (Ricardo). John Stuart Mill would play an important role in the second half of the century after the publication of his Principles of Political Economy in 1848 but Molinari was unaware of this work when he wrote Les Soirées. In the last three Soirées Molinari criticised the first two giants of political economy with his thoughts on population (S10), the private provision of the key public good of security (S11), and rent (S12). He would not address the question of value in any detail until his treatise on political economy which did not appear until a few years later (1855, 1863).

The issue of population growth and how to feed all the new mouths had been originally raised by Malthus during the French Revolution when Malthus published the first edition of An Essay on the Principle of Population (1st ed., 1798; 2nd revised and enlarged ed. 1803). The immediate problem was the economic disruption and high taxes caused by the revolutionary wars and how this would disrupt food production and distribution, and thus harm the poor in Britain and Europe. His famous conclusion was the pessimistic one summarized in his law of population growth that “population, when unchecked, increased in a geometrical ratio; and subsistence for man in an arithmetical ratio,” to which he added the most unfortunate observation that:

A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labor, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature's mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him.[583]

He was vigorously taken to task for this, and along with him the entire classical school of economics, by socialists like Proudhon who denounced him for his heartlessness towards the poor.

Molinari began as an ardent Malthusian under the influence of Joseph Garnier[584] but he later softened his views as he came to believe that individuals could learn “self-government” and exercise “moral restraint,” foresight, rationally plan the size of their families, and thus live responsibly within their means without being a burden on taxpayers for support. Perhaps under the influence of Bastiat who rejected orthodox Malthusianism quite early,[585] Molinari realized that Malthus had underestimated the ability of the free market, free trade, and industrialization to increase output at a faster pace than population growth. In his treatise on political economy published shortly after Les Soirées he was still a fairly strong Malthusian but by the time the second revised and enlarged edition appeared in 1864 he had moderated his views considerably as a result of a critical review by Charles Dunoyer.[586] He now supported what he called “self-government” by individuals who would exercise moral restraint “sainement appliquée” (correctly applied). By this he meant that individuals should enjoy “la liberté de la reproduction” (the freedom to reproduce) and that any restraint to be exercised would be “la contrainte libre” (restraint exercised voluntarily by individuals) and not “la contrainte imposée” (constraint or force imposed by the government).

Previous attempts to deal with poverty included the English Poor Rate which was a dedicated tax to fund welfare for the poor which had been created during the Tudor period; in France, during the Revolution “mendicité” (begging) was harshly dealt with, even criminalized, and during the Empire (decree of July 1808) it was recognized that the government should provide beggars with offers of work before punishment was imposed. Each department was ordered to establish a work house (“dépots de mendicité”) to be funded by local tax payers, but the cost of this became prohibitive and the work houses were either closed down or farmed out to contractors. The issue of poverty caused by population growth was not just historical as the contemporary famine in Ireland (1845-52) clearly indicated and the socialists, especially after the Revolution of February 1848 had very different solutions for the “social problem” than did the Economists. and this is what Molinari was addressing in this Soirée.

The Economists distinguished between “la charité légale” (state charity) which is a government guaranteed right to charity of all or some group of citizens, and “la charité privée” (private charity) which was charity funded and distributed by private groups voluntarily. Molinari and the economists were especially interested in “la charité légale” which became an issue with the promulgation of the constitution of the Second Republic on 4 November 1848 which stated that all citizens had a right to government supplied (i.e. taxpayer funded) welfare (see the Preamble, section VII and Article XIII). It was closely tied in their minds to the idea of the “droit au travail” (right to a job) which was another policy pursued by the socialists in the Second Republic. The great concern the Economists had with state funded and organized charity was twofold: that it would discourage private. voluntary charitable giving, and create perverse incentives for the poor and unemployed not to seek work more actively.

Molinari’s solution to the population problem was to remove all government barriers which restricted greater food production (such as more secure land titles for poor farmers especially in Ireland) or which prevented surplus food from being imported into France from other parts of Europe (free trade); and to encourage workers to take responsibility for limiting the size of their families voluntarily, what was called somewhat coyly the exercise of “moral restraint.” The latter was a controversial matter and was condemned by the Catholic Church which put some of the economists’ writings on the Index of banned books (such as the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique).

In the longer term, Molinari also had some curious ideas about improving the quality of the human population which borders on a kind of voluntary eugenics, but ultimately escapes being categorized as such by his assertion that all he wants to do is “get rid of the artificial (i.e. government imposed) obstacles which prevent the different races of humanity from coming closer together” through a process of free and open immigration and free mingling of peoples across the globe. He also believed that workers would organize their own self-help and charitable organisations in order to feed themselves in times of economic difficulty and find jobs for their children.


SUMMARY: On compulsory state charity and its influence on population. – The law of Malthus. – Defense of Malthus. – On the population of Ireland. – How to put an end to poverty in Ireland. – Why state charity creates an artificial growth in population. – On its moral influence on the working classes. – That state charity discourages private charity. – On the quality of the population. – Ways of improving the population. – The mixing of the races. – Marriage. – Unions based on mutual feelings. – Ill-matched unions. – Their influence on race. – In what situation, under what regime would the population most easily maintain itself at its standard of living. THE ECONOMIST.

I will speak to you today about the disruption and disasters caused by state charity,[587] by the welfare institutions maintained , organized, and financed at the government’s expense and that of the regional départements and communes. These institutions, whose costs are met by all taxpayers without distinction, constitute one of the most harmful of the attacks on property. From the point of view of the population ...


Here we go! Ecce iterum Crispinus. Here is Crispinus again.[588] The Malthusian returns. I wager you are going to call for the abolition of welfare offices in the interests of the poor [277]; but you will not be listened to I warn you. The 1848 Constitution imposed on society the obligation to provide assistance.


And society will be well able to fulfill this duty.


Then so much the worse! How can a government help the poor? By giving them money or help in kind. Where can this money and this help be found? In the taxpayers’ pockets. You see the government forced therefore to resort to the Poor Rate,[589] that is to say to the most frightful engine of war which has ever been directed against the poor.


Malthusian! Malthusian! Malthusian!


Certainly, that is an insult which honors me. I am a Malthusian when it comes to the population, I am a Newtonian when it comes to gravity, and a Smithian when we are talking about the division of labor.


We are definitely going to fall out. I began, if I have to confess it to you, by letting myself be shaken by your doctrines. I was surprised to find myself praising property and admiring its very fertile results … but, it would be impossible for me to admire Malthus and even more impossible to praise him. Goodness! You would actually dare to undertake the justification of that blasphemer who himself dared to say that “a man arriving without means of existence on land already occupied, will have to leave,”[590] of that heartless economist [278] who was the apologist of infanticide, plague, and famine! You could as well defend Attila or Mandrin.[591]


You will bear witness that we detest Malthus as much as you yourselves do. Le Constitutionnel recently displayed its disregard for this deplorable fetish of English political economy.[592]


Have you read Malthus?


I have read the passages quoted by Le Constitutionnel.


And I have read the passages quoted by M. Proudhon.[593]


These are the same, or rather it is the same, for it is that passage alone they quote. Moreover, however barbaric this passage seems, it is for all that the expression of the truth.


How dreadful!


That’s appalling!


And yet they contain an essential human truth, as I will prove to you.

Tell me, then, do you think that the earth can provide all the raw materials necessary for the maintenance of a limitless number of human beings?


Definitely not! The earth can never feed more than a limited number of inhabitants. Fourier reckoned this number at [279] three to five billion.[594] The population today, however, numbers scarcely a billion.[595]


You accept that there is a limit, and indeed it would be absurd to maintain that the world could feed two, three, four, or five hundred billion people.

Do you believe that the reproductive power of the human race is limited?


I could not say.


Look at everything which lives or grows and you will find that nature has been immensely generous with the seeds it supplies. Each kind of vegetable spreads a thousand times more seeds than the land makes fertile. Animal species are likewise provided with a superabundance of seed.

Could things be arranged differently? If animal life and vegetable life possessed only limited reproductive power, would not the slightest catastrophe be sufficient to annihilate their species? Could the organizer of everything[596] have managed without providing them with almost unlimited reproductive power?

Vegetable and animal species, however, never exceed certain limits, either because not all the seeds are fertilized, or because some of them which have been fertilized, die. It is thanks to the non-fertilization of seeds or to the swift destruction of fertilized ones, that they balance themselves with the amount of food which nature offers them.

Why should man be shielded from this law which regulates all animal and vegetable species? [280]

Imagine that man’s reproductive power had been limited, imagine that any union could produce only two individuals; would humanity then, I will not say have multiplied, but simply maintained itself? Instead of propagating themselves in such a way as to people the earth, would not the different races of mankind have been successively extinguished, through the contingency of sickness, war, accident, etc.? Was it not necessary for man, like the animals and plants, to be provided with superabundant reproductive power?

If man possesses, like other animal and vegetable species, superabundant powers of reproduction, what must he do? Must his kind proliferate as they do, leaving to nature the task of destroying their surplus? Must man reproduce without worrying about the fate of his offspring any more than animals or plants do? No, being equipped with reason and foresight, man naturally acts in accord with Providence to maintain his kind within proper limits; he likewise refrains from giving birth to beings doomed in advance to destruction.


Doomed to destruction ...


Let us see. If man used all his reproductive power as he is only too disposed to; if the number of men as a consequence were one day to pass the limit of the means of subsistence,[597] what would happen to the individuals produced in excess of that limit? What happens to the plants which multiply beyond the nutritive potential of the soil?[598] [281]


They perish.


And can nothing save them?


The productive power of the land could be increased.


Up to a certain limit. That limit reached, however, imagine that the plants multiplied in such a way as to exceed it. What would be bound to happen?


Obviously in that case the surplus will die.


And can nothing save it?


Nothing can save it.


Well what happens to plants happens also to men, when the limit of their means of subsistence is exceeded. That is the law which Malthus recognized and confirmed; there we find the explanation of this famous passage for which you and yours condemn him: “A man who arrives in a world already occupied, etc.” And how did Malthus recognize this law? By looking at the facts! By establishing that in all the countries where population has passed the means of subsistence, the surplus has perished through famine, illness, infanticide, etc., and that the destruction has not ceased to carry out its funereal function until the point where population has been pulled back to its necessary equilibrium. [282]


To its necessary equilibrium … So you think that the countries where Malthus observed his law in operation would not have been able to feed their excess population; you think that our beautiful France, where harsh circumstances decimate generations of poor people, could not feed those who die prematurely.


I am convinced that France could feed more people and feed them better if the multitude of economic abuses which I have drawn to your attention had ceased to exist. While we are waiting, however, for light to be shone upon these abuses, while we wait for them to disappear, it is wise not to go beyond the present means of subsistence. Therefore let us demand, vigorously, the reforms necessary to push back the limits of the means of subsistence, and also let us recommend with Malthus, until that is achieved, prudence, abstinence, and moral restraint.[599] Later, when the complete emancipation of property[600] has made production more abundant and distribution more just, abstinence will become less rigorous, without, however, ceasing to be necessary.[601]


Does not this abstinence, this moral restraint, hide a gross immorality?[602]


What immorality? Malthus thought that people were making themselves guilty of a real crime by bringing into the world beings destined inevitably to perish. He advised, consequently, [285] that we abstain from creating them. What do you find immoral in this advice?


Nothing, but you know very well that complete abstinence is not possible in practice, and God knows what immoral compromise you have conjured up.


I beg you to believe that we have conjured up nothing at all. The compromise of which you speak was being practiced long before Malthus was busy working on the laws of population. Political economy never recommended it, speaking only of moral restraint. … As for deciding whether this compromise is immoral or not, this is not a matter for us economists; consult in this connection the Academy of Moral and Political Science (moral science section).[603]


I will, without fail.


I understand very well that the population can exceed the limits set by the means of subsistence; but is it easy to establish that limit? Can we say, for example, that the population has gone beyond the subsistence limit in Ireland?


Yes, and the proof of it is that every year a part of the Irish population dies from hunger and poverty.


While the rich and powerful aristocracy which exploits Ireland has a splendid existence in London and Paris.[604] [284]


If you looked closely at the causes of this monstrous inequality, you would locate them once again in the attacks made against property. For several centuries confiscation was the order of the day in Ireland. Not only did the Saxon conquerors[605] confiscate the land-holdings of the Irish people, but they also destroyed Irish productive output, by burdening it with deadly restrictions. These barbarities came to an end but the social conditions they established were maintained and aggravated, to England’s great shame.


Add it was to England’s profit too.


No, because today Irish poverty is maintained and increased on the one hand by the special taxes which England imposes on herself to feed the poor of Ireland, and on the other by the routine taxes she raises to protect the persons and property of the Irish aristocracy.[606]


What, are you saying you would like England to let the Irish poor perish without helping them?


What, do you want England to permit the murder of Irish property owners and the pillaging of their property?


I would like to see England say to the landed aristocracy in Ireland: “You possess the greater part of Irish capital and land; well, defend your property yourselves. I no longer wish to devote a single man or a single shilling to this venture. Nor do I [285] want to continue any more to maintain the poor souls you have allowed to multiply on the soil of Ireland. If the wretched Irish peasants unite to burn your country houses and share out your estates between them, so much the worse for you. I do not wish to concern myself any longer with Ireland."

Ireland would ask for nothing better, as you know. “Be so kind,” said the elderly O’Connell[607] to the members of the British Parliament, “as to take your hands off us. Leave us to our own destiny. Allow us to govern ourselves”!

If England complied with this constant request from the champions of Irish independence, what would happen to Ireland? Do you think the aristocracy would abandon its rich estates to the mercy of starving bands of Whiteboys?[608] Most certainly not! It would swiftly abandon its splendid houses in the West End of London and the Faubourg Saint Honoré in Paris,[609] to go to the defense of its threatened properties. It would then understand the need to heal Ireland’s terrible wounds. It would use its capital to develop and improve agriculture. It would begin to produce food for those it has reduced to the last extremities of poverty. If it did not take this course, if it continued in the idle spending of its income abroad, while famine did its work in Ireland, would it manage without outside help, to hold on to its land and property for very long? Would it not soon be dispossessed of its domains, by the legions of the poor who are everywhere in Ireland?


If England withdrew the support of its land and sea forces, [286] this would change the situation very markedly; nothing could be surer. Would the Irish not, however, have an interest in the pure and straightforward confiscation of the property of this heartless aristocracy?


This would be a very strict application of the idea of “an eye for an eye.” I do not know how far it is just, how far it is moral, to punish one generation for the crimes committed by earlier ones. I do not know if the descendants of the victims of Drogheda and Wexford have the right to make the present landowners of Ireland expiate the crimes of brigands in the pay of Henry VIII, Elizabeth, and Cromwell.[610] But to consider the problem from the simple point of view of utility, the Irish would be wrong to confiscate the wealth of their aristocracy. What would they do with it? They would have to share it between a vast number of peasants, who would end up exhausting the soil, for lack of the capital to apply to it. On the contrary, by respecting the property of the aristocracy, they would allow this rich, powerful, and enlightened class to take care of the transformation of the land and thus contribute its proper share in the elimination of Irish poverty. The Irish poor would be the principal beneficiaries.

As long as English taxpayers, however, bear the costs of supplying security to the landowners, and food to Ireland’s poor, you may be sure that the former will continue with the idle spending of their wealth abroad and the latter with their rapidly increasing numbers in the midst of dreadful poverty. You may also be quite sure that the Irish situation will go from bad to worse. [287]


That English taxpayers should cease paying the costs of the government of Ireland seems entirely just to me; but would it not be inhuman to abandon the Irish poor to their fate?


The Irish landowners should be left to struggle with them. Left to themselves the Irish aristocracy will impose on their own class the harshest sacrifices to maintain their poor. This is what their interest will require, since charity, all things considered, is less expensive than repression. They will, however, measure the help they give precisely in relation to the real needs of the population. To the extent that the development of production will increase the employment of labor, it will diminish the total of almsgiving. The day when output is sufficient to feed the population, the aristocracy will cease its regular contributions to poverty relief. In this new circumstance, no artificial causes will be such as to promote excessive population growth in Ireland.


So you believe that state charity causes an artificial and abnormal growth of population.


This fact has been clearly established, following the inquiries relating to the Poor Rate in England. This fact is effortlessly self-explanatory. What do these so-called relief agencies do? They distribute the means of subsistence to the poor, gratis. If these institutions are established by law, if they introduce an guaranteed source of income, if they create an inheritance for the poor, people will always be found to devour [288] that income, to enjoy that patrimony; we will encounter them all the more, as charitable institutions become more numerous, richer, and more accessible.

You will then see a slackening in the powerful motivation which impels a man to work so as to feed himself and his family. If the parish or commune grants the worker a wage supplement, he will reduce proportionately the length of his working day and the sum total of his efforts; if people open crèches and shelters for children, he will have more of them. If hospices[611] are founded and retirement pensions established for the elderly, he will cease worrying about the fate of his parents and about his own old age; if, finally, hospitals are opened for impoverished sick people, he will stop saving up against the days of illness. Soon you will see this man whom you have freed from the obligation to fulfill most of his duties towards his own and towards himself, devoting himself like a brute to his vilest instincts. The more charitable institutions are opened, the more you will see taverns and brothels opening too. … Ah, well-meaning philanthropists, the socialists of almsgiving, you take it upon yourselves to provide for the needs of the poor, as the shepherd undertakes to provide for those of his flock, you substitute your own responsibility for individual responsibility and you think the worker will continue to prove hardworking and farsighted! You think he will still work for his children when you have arranged for the cheap raising of this human livestock in your crèches; you think that when, at his expense, you have opened free hospices, he will continue looking after his old father; you think he will still save against the [289] bad times when your welfare agencies and hospitals have been made available to him. You had better think again! In eliminating responsibility you have eliminated foresight too. Where nature has put men, your communistic philanthropy will soon leave only beasts.

And these brutes whom you have created, these brutes deprived of all moral sense, will proliferate in numbers to the point where you will be quite incapable of feeding them. Then you will utter cries of distress, in which you will condemn the weaknesses of the human heart and the doctrines which overexcite them. You will cast anathema on sensual indulgence, you will denounce the incitements of the daily newspapers and I do not know what else. Unhappy people!


The abuse of charitable institutions can without doubt cause grave disorder in the economy and society; but is it possible to dispense entirely with these institutions? Can we leave the multitudinous poor to die without help?


Who is talking to you of leaving them to die without help? Let private charity freely go about its business[612] and it will help them more than your official institutions do! It will help them without breaking family ties, without separating a mother from her child, without taking the old man away from his son, without depriving the sick husband of the care his wife and daughters will provide. Private charity springs from the heart and respects the heart’s attachments.


State charity does not impede private charity. [290]


You are wrong. State charity discourages private charity, or causes it to dry up. The state charity budget in France reaches a hundred million.[613] That sum is levied on the income of all taxpayers. Now private charity is not drawn from some alternative source. When the state charity budget is increased, the private one is therefore necessarily decreased. And the decrease on one side exceeds the increase on the other. When society takes care of the maintenance of the poor, are we not naturally inclined to leave their care to society? We have paid a contribution towards the state charity agency, so that is where we send the poor. This is how the heart becomes closed to charity.

Another even more efficient means has been employed, however, to root out from our souls, the most noble and generous feeling that the Creator has planted there. We may not have dared to forbid the rich to engage in charity but we have certainly forbidden the poor to ask for it. French law regards begging[614] as a crime and it punishes the beggar as though he were a thief. Begging is strictly forbidden in most of our provinces. Well, if the poor man commits a crime by accepting alms, does not the rich man become an accomplice by giving it to him? Charity has become criminal by virtue of the law. How can you want that noble plant to remain sturdy, when everything you do serves to wither and destroy it?


It could indeed be the case that state enforced charity has diminished voluntary giving. According to your own doctrines, however, is [291] this a social ill? If charity provokes the artificial growth of the population, if as a consequence it engenders more harm than it cures, is it not desirable that we reduce it to its minimum, nay that we even eliminate it entirely?


I have said to you that state charity necessarily results in the artificial development of the population, I did not speak to you about private charity. I beg you not to confuse them. However developed private charity is, it remains essentially precarious, it does not supply a stable and regular provision to a specific segment of the population; nor, moreover, does it change any of the moral motivations of the human soul.

He who receives material aid from an office of state welfare, or goes into a hospital where he is coldly received, where he sometimes even serves as a guinea pig for experiments, neither feels nor could feel any gratitude for the service rendered to him. Moreover, to whom would he address his gratitude? To government or to the taxpayers? But the government is represented by cold accountants and the taxpayers pay their dues most reluctantly. The man whom society helps could not possibly feel gratitude towards a cold abstraction. He will be more inclined to think that society is acquitting itself of its debt to him and criticize it for not doing so more amply.

By contrast, a person whose poverty is relieved by an active and sensitive charity, almost always keeps alive the memory of this kindness. By receiving help, he contracts a moral obligation. Well, rich or poor, the average man [292] does not like to contract more obligations than he can repay, morally or materially. He will accept a kindness graciously, but he will not agree to live on kindness. He would resign himself to the hardest sacrifices, he would load himself with the most repugnant tasks, rather than remain forever dependent on his benefactor. He would die of shame if he were to increase further the burden of his indebtedness through a culpable lack of foresight. Rather than destroying the moral motivation of the human heart, private charity strengthens and sometimes develops it. It raises man up rather than degrading him.

Therefore there is no way in which private charity could promote population growth. It would tend on the contrary to slow it down.

No more could it become, as does state welfare, a dangerous source of divisions and hatreds. Increase the numbers of so-called philanthropic institutions in France, continue the state regulation of charity, complete your work by forbidding him who engages in charity from doing so, as you already forbid him who receives it from taking it and you will soon see the results.

On the one hand you will find an enormous herd-like group of men, receiving as though it were so much debt, the harsh and stinting charity of the Treasury. These men will bitterly resent the wealthy classes for the stinginess of their charity, in the context of a poverty which that very charity has caused to grow endlessly.

On the other hand you will find taxpayers weighed down with taxation and who shy away from making a heavy burden even heavier, by adding voluntary charity to the kind already imposed by the state. [293]

In such a situation can public order be maintained for long? Can such a divided society, one in which no moral tie now holds the rich and the poor together, avoid being torn apart? England was nearly destroyed by the poverty caused by the Poor Rate. Let us be very fearful of following the same path. Let us give to charity individually; let us no longer engage in communal philanthropy! ...


Yes, I understand clearly the difference between these two forms of charity; but ought not private charity to be directed and organized?


Leave it alone.[615] It is sufficiently active and ingenious to distribute its goods in the most functional way. Its instincts serve it better than your directives ever could.


I agree with you that private charity is preferable to state charity. I even agree that the latter results in proliferation of poverty. What, though, if the population increases in such a way as to exceed the number of jobs supplied by production and by the private charity budget? What should we do then? Would we have to let the excess population perish?


We would have to get private charity to double its zeal, and above all take care not to engage in state welfare, for the latter having the inevitable effect both of reducing the [294] total funds available to poverty relief and of increasing the numbers of the poor, would aggravate the harm rather than assuaging it.

I say, however, that in a regime in which the property of all was respected, under one in which the economic laws which govern society would cease to be misunderstood and violated, that surplus population would never come about.


Prove it!


Let me first tell you a few words about the factors which depress the quality of the population,[616] which reduce the numbers of men fit for labor whilst increasing those of the invalids, idiots and cretins, blind people and deaf-mutes, whom society must feed.


That is a side to the question which is not without interest.


And one far too neglected.

Man is a combination of diverse possibilities and powers. These possibilities or powers – of instinct, feeling, and intelligence – assume different proportions as between individuals. The most complete man is the one whose faculties have the most energy; the most perfect man is the one whose faculties are at once the most energetic and the most harmoniously balanced.


I can more or less see where you are going with this; [295] but do you therefore think we can breed humans as we do animals?


The English have managed to improve their sheep and cattle in an almost miraculous way; they manufacture sheep – literally – of a certain size, of a certain weight, and even of a certain color. How have they obtained these results? By crossing certain breeds and by choosing among these breeds, those individuals which will mate the most usefully.

Is it not plausible that the laws which govern the reproduction of animal species also govern that of man? Notice that the numerous races or varieties which humanity comprises, are very diversely endowed. Among the inferior races,[617] the moral and intellectual faculties exist only in the embryonic state. Certain races have some faculties particularly well developed, while the rest of their organization is backward or feeble. The Chinese, for example, have a highly developed sense of color; on the other hand they are almost entirely lacking in the instinct for struggle, or combativeness. The Indians of North America, by contrast, are distinguished by their instinctual aggressiveness and cunning, and also by a harmonious ear for sounds. [618] The distinctive abilities of races are transmitted without significant modification, as long as the races do not mix. The Chinese have always been colorists; they have never been distinguished by their bravery. The Indians [296] have always been brave and cunning and spoken in harmonious dialects.


That would lead us to set up stud-farms[619] for the improvement of the human race.


Not at all. It suggests we should get rid of the artificial obstacles which prevent the different races of humanity from coming closer together.


But this coming together must be directed and organized.


This coming closer together will be directed and organized all on its own. The various forces in the human mind which drive people to set up families, obey it would seem, the same law of gravitation which governs matter.[620] The most forceful faculties attract the weakest ones of the same species. It is commonly observed, for example, that the gentlest and least individualistic characters are irresistibly drawn to the most arrogant and aggressive ones. Large forces attract small ones, the result being an average closer to the ideal equilibrium of human organisation.

This equilibrium tends to set itself up through the natural and spontaneous manifestation of individual fellow feeling and affinities. And since all physical organisation depends on the orderly arrangement of physical, moral, and intellectual faculties, the body improves itself in tandem with the mind.

If you accept this theory, you have to accept [297] also that out of the immense diversity of types and individuals, there must be a coming together of two beings attracted to each other with the greatest intensity, whose union yields, consequently, the most useful average. Between these two beings the union is necessary and eternal. It is called marriage.


Ah! So you support marriage.[621]


I think that marriage is a natural institution. Unfortunately, look what has happened. Owing to the immense moral and material upheavals society has endured, very many people have ceased to contract unions based purely on mutual feeling. Racial prejudice or financial interest have been preferred as determining criteria, in the great issue of marriage, to natural affinities. Thus we have seen badly matched couples, and as a result of these unions, a degeneration, both of individuals and of the race. Badly matched unions being liable to break up, those who make the laws have proclaimed the indissolubility of marriage and prescribed harsh penalties for adulterers. Despite this law, however, nature has never ceased to take its course in spite of the law and, in the event, bad marriages have been no less likely to be dissolved.

When a union is badly matched, when two incompatible persons are brought together, the outcome of this monstrous coupling could scarcely be anything other than a monster itself.

Everybody knows that the superior races who have governed Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire, have mostly been of bastard stock. Why? Because natural, mutual attractions, rarely determined their [298] unions. The races of royalty in particular rarely formed alliances other than in the light of political interests. So they degenerated more swiftly and completely than the others. What would have happened to the race of the French Bourbons after the reign of the imbecile Louis XIII, if it had not regained energy from the vigorous blood of the Buckinghams?[622] What happened to the Bourbons of Spain and Sicily, the Habsburgs, and the offspring of the House of Hanover? What other families have produced so many cretins, idiots, monomaniacs, and scrofulous offspring?

Let us look at the history of the French nobility in this light.[623] In the middle ages, purely material considerations seem to have exerted only a feeble influence on aristocratic unions, as the history and literature of the time reveal. So this race maintained itself healthy and vigorous. Later, marriages became mere associations of lands and names. Alliances were negotiated between families rather than being arranged between the truly interested parties. People who did not know each other got married. What was the result? That proper unions became a mere fiction and that adulterous relationships proliferated, to the point of becoming the norm. An unhealthy promiscuity ended up by penetrating the French nobility and corrupting it to its very marrow.

The same abuses are reborn in our times. The inflated fortunes that monopolies and privileges have given rise to, tend to get together, in spite of natural propriety. Civil law, by establishing the right to an inheritance,[624] has contributed further to making marriage a matter purely of material interests. Finally, the instability which menaces all our lives under the present economic regime, has brought about [299] an avid search for those sordid pairings which it is conventional to call good marriages.

Those imperfect and depraved beings who spring from badly matched unions or clandestine liaisons, being able neither to manage their wealth, or earn their living, rely on the support of their families or on public charity. In Sparta, they were drowned in the river Eurotas.[625] Our customs are gentler. We leave these semblances of humanity, fruits of greed or libertinism, to vegetate. If it would be a crime to destroy them, however, is it not an even greater crime to give birth to them?

If you make short work of bad laws and prejudices which prevent the useful coming together of the races, or which encourage the pairing of sordid interests to the detriment of unions based on mutual feeling, you can significantly improve the quality of the population, and by the same token you relieve charity of a substantial part of its burden.

All things returning to their natural order, an excess population would never then be anything we need fear.

I define as excess any level exceeding both the jobs made available by economic production and the ordinary resources of charity.


Do you think then that we will always have to have recourse to charity?


I do not know. It will depend absolutely on the enlightenment and foresight of individuals. If we assume a society where property is fully respected, where the openings for [300] labor will always be at their maximum, where at the same time the distribution of information on labor transactions will always enable us to know whether there is an excess supply of labor or a shortage,[626] it is obvious that in that society the employable proportion of the population will be kept in work without difficulty.

When the supply of labor exceeds the demand, as I have said to you, the price of labor falls with such rapidity, that the workers, like all other buyers and sellers, have an interest in withdrawing part of their commodity from the market. If they do not withdraw it, if at the same time charitable activity does work sufficiently to come to the aid of those thrown out of the workshop and onto the street, the market price of labor can fall far below its costs of production. …


What do you mean by the cost of production of labor?


I mean the expenditures incurred in order for labor to be produced and to renew itself. These costs vary, essentially, according to the type of labor. A man who uses only his physical powers, can, at a pinch, restrict his consumption to purely physical things; a man who brings into play moral and intellectual resources, cannot conserve and perpetuate them if he does not look after them like his physical powers. The cost of production of labor is all the higher when that labor demands the contribution of a larger number of faculties. To put it in a nutshell, the cost of production of labor is proportional to the extent and intensity of the efforts involved.

If the remuneration of a particular type of labor ceases to cover its costs of production, the workers will immediately [301] direct themselves to branches of production which demand less effort for the same pay. In this case the price of labor will immediately rise in the abandoned industry, and equilibrium will soon be re-established. It is in this fashion that the vast scale of earned incomes naturally arranges itself, from the remuneration of the monarch[627] to the pay of the humblest wage-laborer. Unfortunately, privileges and monopolies often shatter this natural harmony, by setting up excessive levels of pay to the advantage of certain occupations and certain industries. Freedom alone establishes a fair pattern of remuneration.

To the extent that the worker uses more of his intellectual and moral faculties at work, the costs of the production of labor rise. Now in all branches of production, the progress of machinery has the effect of making labor less physical and more intellectual. The more such progress proceeds, the more we find the costs of production of labor rising accordingly. At the same time, the growth of output, the fruits of progress, permits these increased costs to be covered. In an era of barbarism, purely physical labor asks for little and receives less; in a civilized era, labor having become more intellectual, demands much and can obtain even more.

This, however, is on condition that the number of workers does not exceed the number of available jobs, otherwise the market price of labor will fall inevitably below its costs of production.


Unless the workers remove the excess supply from the market.


Which they will not fail to do in a completely free society. Surplus workers would be fed by employed ones, with the help of voluntary charity. In such circumstances would not the population tend to diminish by itself? Insofar as subsidies by workers and charitable almsgiving extended to more and more people, would not the ever growing difficulty of getting jobs for their children induce people to raise fewer of them? In such circumstances moral restraint would then be exercised and the natural equilibrium of population effortlessly re-established. The opposite circumstance would occur if there were insufficient workers for the available jobs. Quite sure of being able both to feed and find work for their children, the heads of families would raise more of them. Marriage would become more popular and more fruitful, until equilibrium had been restored between population and the means of existence.

This is how the problem of population would be resolved in a regime of full economic liberty. This is the way, moreover, that it always resolves itself eventually. In the meantime, however, how much suffering is caused, sometimes by the artificial and unforeseen contractions in demand for labor, sometimes by the insufficiency of state charity or the stimulus the latter gives to the growth of population! These sufferings would at least be reduced to the lowest possible level, if not entirely eliminated in a system where the number of jobs available to labor and the gifts of voluntary charity were raised to the maximum amount.



14. The Eleventh Evening

Editor’s Note

This is the last of the four instances where Molinari discusses how public goods might be provided privately and voluntarily by entrepreneurs operating in the free market. The others are in S3 (forests, canals, waterways), S8 (private banks and money, mail delivery), and S9 (bakers, butchers, printers etc.). It is also the second of the three Soirées devoted to a more specialized topic which Molinari treats in some detail. They are S10 (population growth and charity), S11 (the private provision of police and defense), S12 (his theory of rent,  his summing up, and his rousing concluding speech).

In this Soirée Molinari continues the argument he first introduced in his February 1849 article in the JDE, “The Production of Security.”[628] The foundation stone of his argument was the universal applicability of one of the natural laws of economics, in this case “la loi de la libre concurrence” (the law of free competition), which he believed applied to all government monopolies, including that of the provision (or “production” as he termed it) of security. Another innovation was to think of security as just another “industry” where profits could be made, where a “price” could be charged for “services rendered” by “producers” or “entrepreneurs” to willing “consumers.” Here and in S11 he explicitly referred to “la production de la sécurité” (the production of security) and "les producteurs de sécurité" (producers of security) who were also “entrepreneurs,” "les consommateurs de sécurité” (consumers of security), "le prix de la sécurité” (the price of security), and “compagnies d’assurances sur la propriété” (property insurance companies) which would charge for security by “l’abonnement” (subscription) or “la prime” (a premium).[629] Once this intellectual leap of thinking about security as a business had been made it was not so hard to imagine how already existing firms (in this case insurance companies) might have an incentive to provide these services and how they might go about charging for them (like insurance premiums for property which had been insured against theft).

The journal article was later reissued as a separate pamphlet by Guillaumin which suggests that it had aroused some interest and Molinari returned to the topic in this Soirée some months later. What was different this time was that he presented his argument for the privatizing of police services at the end of a book which contained many other, perhaps less controversial, examples of public goods which he believed could and should be privately and competitively provided.

In both the journal article and in S11 Molinari provided a list of some of the terms and conditions which a budding security entrepreneur in “l'industrie de la sécurité” (the security industry) would have to offer consumers in order to get their business and to provide an effective service. There are subtle differences between the list in the journal article and in S11 so we include them both here for consideration. In the journal article he states:[630]

1.      that the producer of security would establish certain penalties for those who committed offences against individuals and those who violated property, and that the consumers of security would accept being subjected to these penalties in the case where they themselves committed these abuses against person or property;
2.      that the producer of security would impose on the consumers of security certain obligations for the purpose of assisting it (the producer) in discovering the perpetrators of the offences
3.      that the producer of security would regularly impose a certain premium to cover its costs of production as well as the normal profit for its industry, which would vary according to the situation of the consumers, their particular occupations in which they were engaged, and the extent, value, and nature of their property.

This key passage would be changed slightly for S11 where Molinari replaced the terms “le producteur” (the producer of security) with “les compagnies d’assurances” (insurance companies) and “les consommateurs” (consumers) with “les assurés” (the insured). The word “prime” (premium) remained the same in both cases. In S11 the conditions were:

1. For the insurance companies to establish certain penalties for offenders against persons and property, and for those insured to accept these penalties, in the event of their committing offences against persons and property.
2. For the companies to impose on the insured certain restrictions intended to facilitate the detection of those responsible for offences.
3. For the companies, on a regular basis, in order to cover their costs, to levy a certain premium, varying with the situation of the insured and their individual occupations, and the size, nature and value of the properties to be protected.

Some of the other issues he deals with in this Soirée are his distinction between free governments and “communist” governments, by which he meant what we might call “communal” or “state monopoly” governments; the pros and cons of centralization versus decentralization of state power; his objections to the jury system; and the problem of nationalism. The Economist also in this Soirée gives two of his mini-lectures or speeches on what he believes - this time on "individual sovereignty vs. communism” and "the tyranny of the majority.”[631]

This Soirée was Molinari’s most controversial as it dealt with how the public good of police and national defense, traditionally provided as by the state as a monopoly, might be provided privately and competitively on the free market. Charles Coquelin, the reviewer of Molinari's book in the JDE in October 1849[632] criticized Molinari for putting forward a view of government in the name of “The Economist” which no other Economist of the period supported, thus suggesting that this was a widely held view. It aroused considerable opposition in the Political Economy Society where it was debated shortly after the book appeared in its October 10, 1849 meeting where not one of those present came to Molinari's defense.[633] This was the first of three such debates Molinari’s writings triggered on the general topic of the legitimate functions of the state.[634] Charles Coquelin rejected Molinari’s argument because he thought a supreme authority had to exist and that function was reserved for the state alone. As he put it, “beneath the state, competition is possible and productive; above the state, it is impossible to put (competition) into practice and even to conceive of it.” Frédéric Bastiat agreed that “the use of force can only be the attribute of a supreme power” which was the state. The sentiments of the Society were summed up by its president Charles Dunoyer who concluded that Molinari had “let himself be mislead by illusions of logic, and that competition between companies exercising government-like functions was utopian.”


SUMMARY: On government and its function [635] – Monopoly governments and communist governments. – On the liberty of government. [636] – On divine right. – That divine right is the same as the right to a job. – The vices of monopoly government. – War is the inevitable consequence of this system. – On the sovereignty of the people. – How we lose our sovereignty. – How we can retrieve it. – The liberal solution. – The communist solution. – Communist governments. – Their vices. – Centralization and decentralization. – On the administration of justice. – On its former organisation. – On its current organisation. – On the inadequacy of the jury system. – How the administration of security and of justice could be made free. – The advantages of free governments. – How nationality should be understood. THE CONSERVATIVE.

Under your system of absolute property rights and of full economic freedom, what is the function of government? [304]


The function of the government consists solely in assuring everyone of the security of his property.


Right, this is the “State-as-Policeman” of Jean-Baptiste Say.[637]

But I in turn have a question to put to you:

There are in the world today two kinds of government: the former trace their origin to an alleged divine right ... ..


Alleged? Alleged? Meaning what?


The others spring from popular sovereignty. Which of them do you prefer?


I want neither one nor the other. The former are monopoly governments and the latter are communist governments. In the name of the principle of property, in the name of the right I possess to provide myself with security, or to buy it from whomever seems appropriate to me, I demand free governments.[638] [305]


Which means?


It means governments whose services I may accept or refuse according to my own free will.


Are you being serious?


You will soon see. You are a partisan of divine right,[639] are you not?


Since we have been living in a republic, I have rather inclined to that persuasion, I confess.


And you regard yourself as an opponent of the right to a job?[640]


Regard myself? Why, I am quite sure of it. I attest ... ..


Bear witness to nothing, for you are a declared supporter of the right to a job.


But once again, I ... ..


You are a supporter of divine right. Well, the principle of divine right is absolutely identical with that of the right to a job.

What is divine right? It is the right which certain families possess to the government of the people. Who conferred it on them? God himself.

Just read [306] M. Joseph de Maistre’s Considerations on France and his pamphlet The Generating Principle of Political Constitutions:[641]

Man cannot create a sovereign, says M. De Maistre. At most he can serve as an instrument for dispossessing a sovereign and delivering his estates into the hands of another sovereign, himself a prince by birth. Moreover, there has never been a sovereign family whose origin could be identified as plebeian. If such a phenomenon were to appear, it would be a new era for the world.
… It is written: It is I who make the kings. This is not a statement made by the Church, nor a preacher’s metaphor; it is the literal, simple, and palpable truth. It is a law of the political world. God makes kings, quite literally so. He prepares royal families. He nurtures them within a cloud which hides their origin. Finally they appear, crowned with glory and honor. Then they assume their place.[642]

All of which signifies that God has invested certain families with the right to govern men and that nobody can deprive them of the exercise of this right.

Now if you recognize that certain families have the exclusive right to carry out that special form of industry which we call government, if furthermore you agree with most of the theorists of divine right, that the people are obliged to supply, either subjects to be governed, or funds, in the form of unemployment benefits to members of these families – all this down through the centuries – are you then properly justified in rejecting [307] the right to a job? Between this improper demand that society supply the workers with work which suits them, or with a sufficient benefit in lieu thereof, and this other improper demand that society supply the workers of royal families with work appropriate to their abilities and to their dignity, namely the work of government, or else with a salary at least to meet minimum subsistence, where is the difference?


In truth there is none.


What does it matter if the recognition of divine right is indispensable to the maintenance of society?


Could not the Socialists reply to you that the recognition of the right to a job is no less necessary to the maintenance of society? If you accept the right to a job for some, must you not accept them for everyone? Is the right to a job anything other than an extension of divine right?

You say that the recognition of divine right is indispensable to the maintenance of society. How then does it happen that all nations aspire to rid themselves of these monarchies by divine right? How does it happen that old monopoly governments are either ruined or on the edge of ruin?


The people are in the throes of vertigo.


That is a widespread vertigo. Believe me, however, the people have good reasons for liberating themselves from [308] their old despots. Monopoly government is no better than any other. One does not govern well and above all one does not govern cheaply, when there is no competition to be feared, when the governed are deprived of the right to choose their rulers freely. Grant a grocer the exclusive right to supply a particular part of town,[643] forbid the inhabitants of that district to buy any commodities from neighboring grocers or even to provide themselves with their own groceries, and you will see what trash the privileged grocer will end up selling and at what price. You will see how he lines his pockets at the expense of the unfortunate consumers, what regal splendor he will display for the greater glory of the neighborhood ...  Well, what is true for the smallest services is no less true for the greatest ones. A monopoly government is certainly worth more than that of a grocery shop. The production of security[644] inevitably becomes expensive and of poor quality when it is organized as a monopoly.

The monopoly of security is the main cause of the wars which up until our own day have caused such distress to the human race.[645]


How should that be so?


What is the natural inclination of any producer, privileged or otherwise? It is to increase the numbers of his clients in order to increase his profits. Well, under a regime of monopoly, what means can producers of security[646] employ to increase their clientele? [309]

Since the people do not count in such a regime, since they are simply the legitimate domain over which the Lord’s anointed can hold sway, no one can call upon their assent in order to acquire the right to administer them. Sovereigns are therefore obliged to resort to the following measures to increase the number of their subjects: first they may simply buy provinces and realms with cash; secondly they marry heiresses, either bringing kingdoms as their dowries or in line to inherit them later; or thirdly by naked force to conquer their neighbors’ lands. This is the first cause of war!

On the other hand when peoples revolt sometimes against their legitimate sovereigns, as happened recently in Italy and in Hungary,[647] the Lord’s anointed are naturally obliged to force back their rebellious herd into obedience. For this purpose they construct a Holy Alliance[648] and they carry out a great slaughter of their revolutionary subjects, until they have put down their rebellion. If the rebels are in league with other peoples, however, the latter get involved in the struggle, and the conflagration becomes general. A second cause of war!

I do not need to add that the consumers of security,[649] pawns in the war, also pay the costs.

Such are the advantages of monopoly governments.


Therefore you prefer governments based on the sovereignty of the people. You rank democratic republics higher than monarchies or aristocracies. About time!


Let us be clear, please. I prefer governments [310] which spring from the sovereignty of the people. But the republics which you call “democratic” are not in the least the true expression of the sovereignty of the people. These governments are extended monopolies, forms of communism. Well, the sovereignty of the people is incompatible with monopoly or communism.


So what is the sovereignty of the people, in your view?


It is the right which every man possesses to use freely his person and his goods as he pleases, the right to govern himself.

If the sovereign individual has the right to use his person and his goods, as master thereof, he naturally also has the right to defend them. He possesses the right of free defense.[651]

Can each person exercise this right, however, in isolation? Can everyone be his own policeman or soldier?

No! No more than the same man can be his own ploughman, baker, tailor, grocer, doctor, or priest.

It is an economic law that man cannot fruitfully engage in several jobs at the same time. Thus, we see from the very beginning of human society, all industries becoming specialized, and the various members of society turning to occupations for which their natural abilities best equip them. They gain their subsistence by exchanging the products of their particular occupation for the various things necessary to the satisfaction of their needs.

A man who lives alone is, incontestably, fully master of his [311] sovereignty. The trouble is this sovereign person, obliged to perform himself all the tasks which provide the necessities of life, finds himself in a wretched condition.

When a man lives in society, he can preserve his sovereignty or lose it.

How does he come to lose it?

He loses it, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, when he ceases being able to use as he chooses, his person or his goods.

Man remains completely sovereign only under a regime of complete freedom. Any monopoly or special privilege is an attack launched against his sovereignty.

Under the ancien régime, with no one having the right freely to employ his person or use his goods, and no one having the right to engage freely in any industry he liked, sovereignty was narrowly confined.

Under the present régime, infringements of his sovereignty, by a host of monopolies and privileges which restrict the free activities of individuals, have not ceased. Man has still not fully recovered his sovereignty.

How can he recover it?

There are two opposing schools, which offer quite opposite solutions to this problem: the liberal school and the communist school.

The liberal school says: eliminate monopolies and privileges, give man back his natural right to carry out freely any work he chooses, and he will have full exercise of his sovereignty.

The communist school says to the contrary: be careful not to allow everyone the right to produce freely anything [312] he chooses. This will lead to oppression and anarchy! Grant this right to the community and exclude individuals from it. Let all individuals unite and organize production communistically. Let the state be the sole producer and the sole distributer of wealth.

What is there behind this doctrine? It has often been said: slavery. It is the absorption and cancellation of individual will by the collective will. It is the destruction of individual sovereignty.

The most important of the industries organized in common is the one whose purpose is to protect and defend the ownership of persons and things, against all aggression.

How are the communities formed in which this activity takes place, namely the nation and the communes?[652]

Most nations have been successively enlarged by the alliances of owners of slaves or serfs as well as by their conquests. France, for example, is the product of successive alliances and conquests. By marriage, by force, or fraud,[653] the rulers of the Île de France successively extended their authority over the different parts of ancient Gaul. The twenty monopolistic governments which occupied the land area of France at that time, gave way to a single monopolistic government. The kings of Provence, the dukes of Aquitaine, Brittany, Burgundy, and Lorraine, the counts of Flanders etc., gave way to the King of France.

The King of France was given charge of the internal and external defense of the state. He did not, however, [313] manage internal defense and civil administration on his own.

Originally, each feudal lord managed the policing[654] of his domain; each commune, freed by the use of force or by buying their way out from the onerous tutelage of his lord, handled the policing of his recognized area.

Communes and feudal lords contributed to some extent to the general defense of the realm.

We can say that the King of France had a monopoly of the general defense and the feudal lords and the burghers of the cities and towns had a monopoly of local defense.

In certain communes, policing was under the direction of an administration elected by city burghers, as in Flanders, for example. Elsewhere, policing was set up as a privileged corporation such as the bakers, butchers, and shoe makers, or in other words like all the other industries.

In England this latter form of the production of security has persisted until modern times. In the City of London, for example, policing was until not long ago still in the hands of a privileged corporation. And what was extraordinarily strange, this corporation refused to come to any agreement with the police of other districts, to such an extent that the City became a veritable place of refuge for criminals. This anomaly was not removed until the era of Sir Robert Peel’s reforms.[655]

What did the French Revolution do? It took from the king of France the monopoly of the general defense; but it did not destroy this monopoly. It put it in the hands [314] of the nation, organized henceforth like one immense commune.

The little communes into which the former kingdom of France was divided, continued to exist. Their number was even considerably increased. The government of the large commune had the monopoly of general defense, while the governments of the small communes, under the surveillance of the central government, exercised the monopoly of local defense.

This, however, was not the end of it. Both at general commune level and at individual commune level, other industries were organized, notably education, religion, and transport, etc., and citizens were variously taxed to defray the costs of these industries which were organized communally.

Later, the socialists, poor observers of what was going on if ever there were any, not noticing that the industries which were organized in the general commune or the individual communes, functioned both more expensively and less efficiently than the industries which remained free, demanded the communal organization of all branches of production. They wanted the general commune and the individual communes no longer to limit themselves to policing, to building schools, constructing roads, paying the salaries of priests, opening libraries, subsidizing theaters, maintaining stud farms, manufacturing tobacco, carpets, porcelain, etc., but rather to set about producing everything.

The public’s sound common sense was shocked by this most distasteful utopia, but it did not react further. People understood well enough that it would be disastrous to produce everything in common. What they [315] did not understand was that it was also ruinous to produce certain specific things in this way. They continued therefore to engage in partial communism, while despising the socialists calling at the top of their voices for full communism.

The conservatives, however, supporters of partial communism and opponents of full communism, today find themselves divided on an important issue.

Some of them want partial communism to continue to operate mainly in the general commune; they support centralization.

The others, on the other hand, demand a much larger allocation of resources for the small communes. They want the latter to be able to engage in diverse industries such as founding schools, constructing roads, building churches, subsidizing theaters, etc., without needing to get the authorization of the central government. They demand decentralization.

Experience has revealed the faults of centralization.[656] It has shown that industries run by the large commune, by the state, supply dearer goods and ones of lower quality than those produced by free industry.

Is it the case, however, that decentralization is superior? Is the implication that it is more useful to free the communes, or – and this comes down to the same thing – allow them freely to set up schools and charitable institutions, to build theaters, subsidize religion, or even also engage freely in other industries?

What do communes need to meet the expenses of the services of which they charged with? They need capital. Where can they get access to it? In [316] private individuals’ pockets and nowhere else. Consequently they have to levy various taxes on the people who live in the communes.

These taxes consist for the most part today, in the extra centimes added to the taxes paid to the state. Certain communes, however, have also received authorization to set up around their boundaries a small customs office to exact tolls.[657] This system of customs, which applies to most of the industries which have remained free, naturally increases the resources of the commune considerably. So the authorization for setting up tolls is frequently sought from the central government. The latter rarely grants it[658] and, in this, is acting wisely; on the other hand it quite often permits the communes to exert their authority in an extra-ordinary manner, or to put it another way, it permits the majority of the administrators of the commune to set up an extraordinary tax which all the people they administer are obliged to pay.

Let the communes be emancipated, permit the majority of the inhabitants in each locality to have the right to set up as many industries as they please, and force the minority to contribute to the expenses of these industries organized communally, then let the majority be authorized to establish freely every kind of local tax, and you will soon see as many small, various, and separate states being set up in France as one can count communes. You will see in succession, forty four thousand internal customs created in order to meet the local tax bill, under the title tolls; you will see in a word the reconstitution of the middle ages.

Under this regime, free trade and the liberty of working [317] will be under assault, both by the monopolies which the communes will grant to certain branches of production, and by the taxes which they will levy on certain other branches of production to support the industries operated communally. The property of all will be exposed to the mercy of majorities.

I ask you, in the communes where socialist ideas predominate, what will happen to property? Not only will the majority levy taxes to meet the expenses of policing, road maintenance, religion, charitable institutions, schools, etc., but it will levy them also to set up communal workshops, trading outlets, etc. Will not the non-socialist minority be obliged to pay these local taxes?

Under such a regime, what happens to the people’s sovereignty? Will it not disappear under the tyranny of the majority?

More directly even than centralization, decentralization leads to complete communism, that is to say to the complete destruction of sovereignty.

What has to be done to restore to men that sovereignty which monopoly robbed them of in the past; and which communism, that extended monopoly, threatens to rob them of in the future?

Quite simply the various industries formerly established as monopolies and operated today communally, need to be given their freedom. Industry still managed or regulated by the state or by the communes, must be handed over to the free activity of individuals.

In this way, man possessing, as was the case before the establishment of societies, the right to apply his faculties freely, to any kind of labor, without hindrance [318] or any charge, will once again fully enjoy his sovereignty.


You have reviewed the various branches of industry which are still monopolies, or enjoy privileges, or are subject to controls, proving to us, with greater or lesser success, that for the common good such production should be left in freedom. Very well then. I do not wish to return to a worn-out subject. Is it really possible, however, to take away from the state and from the communes the task of general and local defense?


And the administration of justice too?


Yes, and the administration of justice. Is it possible that these industries, to use your word, might be undertaken other than collectively, by the nation and the commune?


I would perhaps be willing to say no more about these two particular communisms if you were to agree very frankly to leave me all the others; if you would agree to reduce the size of the state so that henceforth it would be only a policeman, a soldier, and a judge. This, however, is impossible! ...  For communism in matters of security is the keystone of the ancient edifice of servitude. Anyway, I see no reason to grant you this one rather than the others.

You must choose one or the other:

Either communism is better than freedom, and in that case all industries should be organized in common, in the state or in the commune. [319]

Or freedom is preferable to communism, and in that case all industries still organized in common should be made free, including justice and police, as well as education, religion, transport, production of tobacco, etc.


This is logical.


But is it possible?


Let us see! Are we talking about justice? Under the old regime the administration of justice was not organized and its workforce paid, communally. It was organized as a monopoly and its workforce paid by those who made use of it.

For a number of centuries, no activity was more independent. It constituted, like all the other forms of material or non-material production, a privileged corporation. The members of this corporation could bequeath their offices or functions to their children, or even sell them. Possessing these offices in perpetuity, the judges made themselves well-known for their independence and integrity.

Unfortunately these arrangements had, looked at in another way, all the vices inherent in monopoly. Monopolized justice was paid for very dearly.


And God knows how many complaints and claims required the payment of bribes to the judges.[659] Witness the little verse scrawled on the door of the Palais de Justice after a fire: [320]

One fine day, Dame Justice
Set the palace all on fire
Because she’d eaten too much spice.[660]

Should not justice be essentially free of charge? Now, does not being free of charge entail collective organisation?


The complaints were about the justice system receiving too many bribes. It was not a complaint about the bribing itself. If the system had not been set up as a monopoly, if the judges had been able to demand only what was their legitimate payment for their industry, people would not have been complaining about the corruption.

In some countries, where those due to be tried had the right to choose their judges, the vices of monopoly were greatly alleviated. The competition established in this case by the different courts improves the justice process and makes it cheaper. Adam Smith attributed the progress of the administration of justice in England to this cause. His words are striking and I hope the passage will allay your doubts: [321]

The fees of court seem originally to have been the principal support of the different courts of justice in England. Each court endeavoured to draw to itself as much business as it could, and was, upon that account, willing to take cognizance of many suits which were not originally intended to fall under its jurisdiction. The court of king’s bench, instituted for the trial of criminal causes only, took cognizance of civil suits; the plaintiff pretending that the defendant, in not doing him justice, had been guilty of some trespass or misdemeanor. The court of exchequer, instituted for the levying of the king’s revenue, and for enforcing the payment of such debts only as were due to the king, took cognizance of all other contract debts; the plaintiff alleging that he could not pay the king, because the defendant would not pay him. In consequence of such fictions it came, in many cases, to depend altogether upon the parties before what court they would chuse to have their cause tried; and each court endeavoured, by superior dispatch and impartiality, to draw to itself as many causes as it could. The present admirable constitution of the courts of justice in England was, perhaps, originally in a great measure, formed by this emulation, which antiently took place between their respective judges; each judge endeavouring to give, in his own court, the speediest and most effectual remedy, which the law would admit, for every sort of injustice. Originally the courts of law gave damages only for breach of contract. The court of chancery, as a court of conscience, first took upon it to enforce the specifick performance of agreements. When the breach of contract consisted in the non–payment of money, the damage sustained could be compensated in no other way than by ordering payment, which was equivalent to a specifick performance of the agreement. In such cases, therefore, the remedy of the courts of law was sufficient. It was not so in others. When the tenant sued his lord for having unjustly outed him of his lease, the damages which he recovered were by no means equivalent to the possession of the land. Such causes, therefore, for some time, went all to the court of chancery, to the no small loss of the courts of law. It was to draw back such causes to themselves that the courts of law are said to have invented the artificial and fictitious writ of ejectment, the most effectual remedy for an unjust outer or dispossession of land. [661]

But once again would not a system with no charges be preferable?


So you have not yet given up the illusion of something being free of charge. Do I need to demonstrate to you again that the administration of justice without charges is more expensive than the alternative, given the cost of collecting the taxes paid out to maintain your free courts and to give salaries to your free judges.[662] Need I show you again that the provision of justice at no charge is necessarily unjust because not everyone makes equal use of the justice system and not everyone is equally litigious? What is more, justice is far from free under the present regime, as you are aware. [322]


Legal proceedings are ruinously expensive. Can we complain, however, about the present administration of justice? Is not the organization of our courts beyond reproach?


Goodness! Beyond reproach! An Englishman whom I accompanied one day to the Criminal Court, came away from the hearing quite indignant. He could not conceive how a civilized people could permit a prosecutor of the Crown or the Republic to engage in rhetoric when calling for a death sentence. He was horror-struck that such eloquence could be used to provide bodies to the executioner. In England they are content to lay out the accusation before the court; they do not try to inflame it.


Add to that the proverbial delays in our law courts, the sufferings of the unfortunates who await their sentences for months, sometimes for years, when the inquiry could be conducted in a few days; the costs and the enormous losses which these delays entail, and you will be convinced that the administration of justice has scarcely advanced in France.


We should not exaggerate, however. Today, thank Heaven, we have the jury system.


Which means that, not content with forcing taxpayers to pay the costs of the justice system, we also make them carry out the functions of judges. This is pure communism: ab uno disce omnes.[663] Personally, I do not think [323] the jury is any better at judging than the National Guard, another communist institution!, is at making war.[664]


Why is that?


Because the only thing one does well is one’s trade or speciality, and the jury’s speciality is not acting as a judge.


So it suffices for the jury to identify the crime and to understand the circumstances in which it was committed.


This is to say that it carries out the most difficult, most thorny function of the judge. It is a task so delicate, demanding judgment so sane and so practiced, a mind so calm, so dispassionate, so impartial, that we entrust the job to the chance of names in a lottery. It is exactly as if one drew by lot the names of the citizens who would be entrusted every year with the making of boots or the writing of tragedies for the community.[665]


The comparison is forced.


It is more difficult in my opinion to deliver a good judgment than to make a fine pair of boots or to produce a few hundred decent rhyming couplets. A perfectly enlightened and impartial judge is rarer than a skillful shoemaker or a poet capable of writing for the Théâtre Français.

In criminal cases, the jury’s lack of skill [324] is revealed every day. Sad to say, however, only scant attention is ever paid to mistakes made in the Criminal Court. Nay, I would go further. People regard it almost as a crime to criticize a judgment rendered in court. In political cases does not the jury tend to pronounce according to its opinion, white (conservative) or red (radical), rather than according to what justice demands? Will not any man who is condemned by a conservative jury be absolved by a radical one and vice versa?


True alas!


Already minorities are very weary of being judged by juries belonging to majorities. See how it turns out ... 

Is the point at issue the industry which supplies our external and internal defense?[667] Do you think it is worth much more than the effort committed to justice? Do not our police and especially our army cost us very dearly for the real services they supply us with?[668]

In short, is there no disadvantage in this industry of defense being in the hands of the majority?

Let us examine this issue.

In a system in which the majority determines the level of taxation, and directs the use of public funds, must not taxation weigh more or less heavily on certain parts of the society, according to the predominant influences? Under the monarchy, when the majority was purely notional, when the upper class claimed for itself the right to govern the country to the exclusion of the rest of the nation,[669] did not taxation weigh principally on the consumption [325] of the lower classes, on salt, wine, meat, etc.?[670] Doubtless the bourgeoisie played its part in paying these taxes, but the range of its consumption being infinitely wider than that of the consumption of the lower classes, its income ended up, all said and done, much less affected. To the extent that the lower class, in becoming better educated, will gain more influence in the state, you will see a contrary tendency emerge. You will see progressive taxation, today turned against the lower class, turned against the upper class. The latter will doubtless resist this new tendency with all its powers. It will cry out and protest, quite rightly, against this plunder and this theft; but if the communal institution of universal suffrage is maintained, if a surprise reversal of power does not once again put the government of society into the hands of the rich classes, to the exclusion of the poor classes, the will of the majority will prevail, and progressive taxation will be established. Part of the property of the rich will then be legally confiscated to relieve the burden of the poor, just as a part of the property of the poor has been confiscated for too long in order to relieve the burden of the rich.[671]

But there is worse still.

Not only can the majority of a communal government set the level of taxation wherever it chooses, but it can also make whatever use of that taxation it chooses, without taking account of the will of the minority.

In certain countries, the government of the majority uses a portion of public monies to protect essentially illegitimate and immoral properties. In [326] the United States, for example, the government guarantees the southern planters the ownership of their slaves.[672] There are, however, in the United States, abolitionists who rightly consider slavery to be a theft. It counts for nothing! The communal mechanism obliges them to contribute out of their wealth to the maintenance of this sort of theft. If the slaves were to try one day to free themselves of this wicked and dreadful yoke, the abolitionists would be required to go and defend, by force of arms, the property of the planters. That is the law of majorities.

Elsewhere, it can come about that the majority, pushed by political intrigue or by religious fanaticism, declares war on some foreign nation. However much the minority are horrified by this war, and curse it, they are obliged to contribute their blood and their funds to it. Once again this is the law of the majority.

So what happens? What happens is that the majority and the minority are in perpetual conflict and that war sometimes comes down from the parliamentary arena into the streets.

Today it is the red minority which is in revolt.[673] If this minority were to become a majority, and if using its majority rights, it reshaped the constitution as it wished, if it decreed progressive taxation, forced loans, and paper money, who could assure you that the whites would not be in revolt tomorrow?

There is no lasting security under this system. And do you know why? Because it endlessly threatens property; because it puts at the mercy of a majority, whether blind or enlightened, moral or immoral, the persons and the goods of everybody.

If the communal regime, instead of being applied [327] as in France, to a multitude of objects, found itself narrowly limited as in the United States, the causes of disagreement between the majority and the minority being less numerous, the disadvantages of this regime would be fewer. They would not, however, disappear entirely. The recognized right of the majority to tyrannise over the will of the smaller, would still in certain circumstances be likely to cause a civil war.[674]


Once again, though, it is not easy to see how industry which provides the security of persons and property, could be managed, if it were made free. Your logic leads you to dreams worthy of an inmate at Charenton.[675]


Oh, come on ! Let us not get angry. I suppose that after having recognized that the partial communism of the state and of the commune is decidedly bad, we could let all the branches of production operate freely, with the exception of the administration of justice and public defense. Thus far I have no objection. But a radical economist, a dreamer,[676] comes along and says: Why then, after having freed the various uses of property, do you not also set free those who guarantee the upholding of property rights? Just like the others, will not these industries be carried out in a way more just and useful if they are made free? You maintain that it is impracticable. Why? On the one hand, are there not, in society, men especially suited, some to judge the disputes which arise between proprietors and to assess the offenses committed against property, others [328] to defend the property of persons and of things, against the assaults of violence and fraud? Are there not men whom their natural aptitudes make especially fit to be judges, policemen, or soldiers? On the other hand, do not all proprietors, without exception, have need for security and justice? Are not all of them inclined, therefore, to impose sacrifices on themselves to satisfy this urgent need, above all if they are powerless to satisfy it themselves, or can do so only by expending a lot of time and money?

Now, if on the one hand there are men suitable for meeting one of society’s needs, and on the other hand men ready to make sacrifices to obtain the satisfaction of this need, is it not enough to allow both groups to go about their business freely[677] so that the good demanded, whether material or non-material, is produced and that the need is satisfied?

Will not this economic phenomenon be produced irresistibly, inevitably, like the physical phenomenon of falling bodies?

Am I not justified in saying, therefore, that if a society renounced the provision of public security, this important industry would nonetheless be carried out? Am I not right to add that it would be done better in the régime of liberty than the régime of community?


In what way?


That does not concern the Economists. Political economy [329] can say: if such a need exists, it will be satisfied and done better in a regime of complete freedom than under any other. There is no exception to this rule. As to how this industry will be organized, what its technical procedures will be, that is something which political economy cannot tell us.[678]

Thus I can affirm that if the need for food is plainly visible in society, this need will be satisfied, and satisfied all the better, when each person remains as free as possible to produce food or to buy from whomever he thinks fit.

I can give assurances, too, that things will work out in exactly the same way, if rather than food, security is the issue.

Therefore, I maintain that if a community were to announce that after a given delay, say perhaps a year, it would give up financing the pay of judges, soldiers, and policemen, at the end of the year that community would not possess any fewer courts and governments ready to function; and I would add that if, under this new regime, each person kept the right to engage freely in these two industries and to buy their services freely from them, security would be generated as economically and as well as possible.


I still say that this is inconceivable.


At the time when the regulatory regime kept industry prisoner within its communal boundaries, and when each privileged corporation had exclusive control of [330] the communal market, people said that society was threatened, each time some audacious innovator strove to attack that monopoly. If anyone had come and said at that time that instead of the feeble and stunted industries of the privileged corporations, liberty would one day build immense factories turning out cheaper and superior products, this dreamer would have been very smartly put in his place. The conservatives of that time would have sworn by all the gods that such a thing was inconceivable.


Oh come on! How can it be imagined that each individual has the right to create his own government, or to choose his government, or even not choose it ... ? How would things turn out in France, if having freed all the other industries, French citizens announced by common agreement, that after a year, they would cease to support the government of the community?


On this subject all I can do is conjecture. This, however, is more or less how things would turn out. Since the need for security is still very great in our society, it would be profitable to set up businesses which provide government services.[679] Investors could be certain of covering their costs. How would these firms be set up? Isolated individuals would not be adequate, any more than they would suffice for building railways, docks etc. Huge companies would be set up, therefore, in order to produce security. These would acquire the resources and the workers they needed. As soon as they felt ready to operate, [331] these property-insurance companies[680] would look for a clientele. Each person would take out a subscription[681] with the one which inspired him with most confidence and whose terms seemed to him the most favorable.


We would queue up to take out subscriptions. Most definitely we would queue up!


This industry being free, we would see as many companies set up as could usefully be formed. If there were too few, if, consequently the price of security[682] rose too high, people would find it profitable to set up new ones. If there were too many, the surplus ones would not take long to be dissolved. The price of security would in this way always be led back to the level of its costs of production.


How would these free companies arrange things among themselves in order to provide national security?


They would reach agreement as do monopoly or communist governments today, because they would have an interest in so doing. The more, in fact, they agreed to share facilities for the apprehension of thieves and murderers, the more they would reduce their costs.

By the very nature of their industry, these property-insurance companies would not be able to venture outside certain prescribed limits: they would lose by maintaining police in places where they had very few clients. Within their district they would nevertheless not be able [332] to oppress or exploit their clients, on pain of seeing competition spring up immediately.


And if the existing company wanted to prevent the competitors establishing themselves?


In a word, if they encroached on the property of their competitors and on the sovereignty of all ... Oh! In that case all those whose property and independence were threatened by the monopolists would rise up and punish them.


And if all the companies agreed to establish themselves as monopolies, what then? What if they formed a holy alliance[683] in order to impose themselves on their peoples , and if, emboldened by this coalition, they mercilessly exploited the unfortunate consumers of security, and if they extracted from them by way of heavy taxes the greater part of the fruit of the labor of these peoples ?


If, to tell the whole story, they started doing again what the old aristocracies did right up until our era ... Well, then, in that case the peoples would follow the advice of Béranger:

People of the world, form a Holy Alliance
And take each other by the hand.[684]

They would unite in their turn and since they possess means of communication which their ancestors did not, and since they are a hundred times more numerous than their old rulers, the holy alliance of the aristocracies would soon be destroyed. No one would any longer be tempted in this case, I swear to you, to set up a monopoly. [333]


What would one do under this regime to repulse a foreign invasion?


What would be the interest of the companies? It would be to repel the invaders, for they themselves would be the first victims of the invasion. They would agree among themselves, therefore, in order to repel them, and they would demand from those they insured, a supplementary premium[686] for saving them from this new danger. If the insured preferred to run the risks of invasion, they would refuse to pay this supplementary premium; if not they would pay it and they would thus put the companies in a position to ward off the danger of invasion.

Just as war is inevitable in a regime of monopoly, so peace is inevitable under a regime of free government.[687]

Under this regime governments can gain nothing through war; on the contrary they can lose everything. What interest would they have in undertaking a war? Would this be to increase their clientele? But the consumers of security, being free to create their own government as they saw fit, would escape their conquerors. If the latter wished to impose their domination on them, after having destroyed the existing government, the oppressed would immediately demand the help of other nations ... .

Wars of company against company could take place, moreover, only insofar as the shareholders[688] were willing to advance the costs. Now, war no longer being able to bring to anyone an increase in the number of clients, since consumers will no longer allow themselves to be conquered, the [334] costs of war would obviously no longer be covered. Who would want therefore to advance them the funds?

I conclude from this that war would be physically impossible under this system, for no war can be waged without an advance of funds.


What conditions would a property-insurance company impose on its clients?


These conditions would be of several different kinds.

In order to be in a position to guarantee full security of person and property to those they have insured, it would be necessary:[689]

1. For the insurance companies to establish certain penalties for offenders against persons and property, and for those insured to accept these penalties, in the event of their committing offenses against persons and property.
2. For the companies to impose on the insured certain restrictions intended to facilitate the detection of those responsible for offenses.
3. For the companies, on a regular basis, in order to cover their costs, to levy a certain premium, varying with the situation of the insured and their individual occupations, and the size, nature and value of the properties to be protected.

If the conditions stipulated were acceptable to the consumers of security, the deal would be concluded; otherwise the consumers would approach other companies, or provide for their security themselves.

Follow this hypothesis in all its details, and I think you will be convinced of the possibility of [335] transforming monopolistic or communist governments into free governments.


I still see plenty of difficulties in this. For example, who will pay the national debt?[690]


Do you think that in selling all the property today held in common – roads, canals, rivers, forests, and buildings used by all the commune governments, the equipment of all the communal services – we would not very easily succeed in paying off the debt? The latter does not exceed six billion. The value of communal property in France is quite certainly far greater than that.


Would not this system entail the destruction of any sense of nationality? If several property-insurance companies established themselves in a country, would not national unity be destroyed?


First of all, national unity would have to exist before it could be destroyed. Well, I do not see national unity in these shapeless agglomerations of people, formed out of violence, which violence alone maintains, for the most part.

Next, it is an error to confuse these two things, which are naturally very distinct: the nation[691] and the government. A nation is one when the individuals who compose it have the same customs, the same language, the same civilisation; when they constitute a distinct and original variety of the human race. Whether this nation [335] has two governments or only one, matters very little, unless one of these government surrounds, with an artificial barrier, the territories under its domination, and undertakes incessant wars against its neighbors. In this last instance, the instinct of nationality will react against this barbarous fragmentation and artificial antagonism imposed on a single people, and the disunited fractions of the people will very quickly attempt to draw together again.

Now governments have until our time divided people in order to retain them the more easily in obedience; divide and rule, such has been at all times the fundamental maxim of their policy. Men of the same race, to whom a common language would supply an easy means of communication, have reacted vigorously against the enactment of this maxim; at all times they have striven to destroy the artificial barriers which separated them. When they achieved this result, they wished to have a single government in order not to be disunited again. Note, however, that they have never demanded that this government should separate them from other people ... So the instinct of nationality is not selfish, as is often claimed; it is, on the contrary, essentially sympathetic towards others. Once the various governments cease dragging peoples apart and dividing them, you will see a given nationality happily accepting several others. A single government is no more necessary to the unity of a people, than a single bank, a single school, a single religion, a single grocery store, etc. [337].


There, in truth, we have a very strange solution to the problem of government!


It is the sole solution consistent with the nature of things.[692]



15. The Twelfth and Last Evening

Editor’s Note

This Soirée is the last of the three Soirées devoted to a more specialized topic which Molinari treats in some detail. They are S10 (population growth and charity), S11 (the private provision of police and defense), S12 (his theory of rent, his summing up, and his rousing concluding speech).

In this final Soirée Molinari discusses his theory of rent before giving two of his mini-lectures or speeches on what he believes - this time his "summation" speech of the contents of the entire book and his "Spartacus" speech where he concludes the book with an impassioned plea for liberty and a description of how its full implementation has been prevented throughout history, and the stark choice which now faces France.

It is curious that Molinari has the Socialist interrupt the Economist here to ask for a “clarification” on the nature of rent just as he is about to provide us with a resumé of the book's arguments.. It seems that Molinari felt obliged for some reason to insert at this late stage a ten page digression on the nature of rent. Normally in economic treatises one begins with the basic principles such as prices, exchange, production, labor, interest, profit, and rent before moving onto other matters. Molinari discusses interest in S5 which is where a discussion of rent might have been expected as well. The reason might lie in the work of other economists who were providing new theories of rent with which Molinari disagreed, and this was his opportunity to reply to them.[693]

Socialists like Proudhon, Louis Blanc, and Victor Considerant had spent a great deal of time in the 1840s and into the Second Republic criticizing the classical economists’ views on the legitimacy of profit, interest, and rent as they regarded this income as “unearned.” Throughout 1849 Bastiat had taken time away from completing his treatise on economics, the Economic Harmonies, in order to write a stream of pamphlets replying to the socialists’ critique of property, profit, interest, and rent. He had already published “Capitale et rente” (Capital and Rent) (February 1849), “Le capital” (Capital) (possibly early 1849), and was about to launch into a long correspondence with Proudhon between October 1849 and March 1850 which was published as a book “Gratuité du crédit” (Free Credit) in March 1850.[694] When time permitted he was also getting ready for publication a long chapter on rent which would be published in the first edition of Economic Harmonies which appeared in early 1850. In his new theory of rent he argued that rent was justified because it was just another example of the mutual exchange of “a service for a service” and that there was nothing special about the productivity of land or the “les services agricoles” (farming services) which brought the products of the land to the consumer.

Also during 1849 Molinari had been replying to critiques of property, interest, and rent in articles in the JDE such as his review of Thiers’ book De la propriété in January and a letter to the editor in June in which he criticized both Proudhon and Bastiat.[695] He may have seen a draft of Bastiat’s forthcoming chapter on rent in Economic Harmonies and which might have been the immediate trigger for his digression on rent which was inserted rather awkwardly in S12. Molinari thought that rent was a temporary abnormal increase in returns caused by “une perturbation” (a disturbance or disruption) or “les circonstances artificielles” (artificial circumstances) (such as a bad harvest or a government subsidy) which would eventually disappear as economic equilibrium was re-established.[696] In S12 he argues that most people have things back to front when they try to explain the origin of rent. The farmer does not, in his view “sell his wheat at a higher price because he pays a rent; he pays a rent because he sells his wheat at a higher price. Rent does not act as a cause in the formation of prices; it is only a result.” From this he concludes that “rent represents no work completed nor any compensation for losses undergone or to be undergone” which is in direct opposition to Bastiat’s theory of compensation for a service rendered.

Molinari would expand on his ideas about the connection between rent and temporary disturbances in his treatise Cours d'économie politique (1855) in two lengthy chapters on land and rent.

As soon as the Economist has finished talking about how the disturbing factors which give rise to rent gradually disappear, both the Conservative and the Socialist leap in to interrupt him to demand that he provide a summary of the discussions they have had over the previous 11 evenings and bring the book to a close. The Economist obliges with a lengthy two-part speech of some 3,500 words which continues until the second last page. The culmination of his summary of the book is a restatement of one of the natural laws of political economy, that of "la loi de progression des valeurs" (the natural law of value, or the progression of value), which will see “the market price of all things, labor, capital, and goods, gravitating incessantly and irresistibly towards the limit of the cost of production of these things,” with the only proviso that the market be left to operate in “un milieu libre” (in a free milieu), that is “a milieu in which the property rights of each person with respect to his faculties and the results of his labor are fully respected.”[697]

Without stopping to let his interlocuteurs respond, the Economist launches into his second speech on the centuries-long struggle by the oppressed slaves and serfs of Europe for greater liberty, epitomized by Spartacus and the slave uprising against the Romans he organized, and the enormous obstacles they have faced up until the present. The struggle as the Economist now sees it is between two groups who oppose property rights, the socialists who want “to increase the number of restrictions and levies which already weigh on property” and the conservatives who want “purely and simply to preserve those which already exist.” On the very last page, as he finishes this speech, the Socialist meekly capitulates to the weight of the Economist’s arguments and the Conservative reluctantly agrees as well.

The Economist's last words with which he concludes Les Soirées makes it very clear that the reader must choose between two different social systems, one based upon state control of property ("communism") or one based upon private property. The current "régime bâtard" (bastard or hybrid regime) of part-property and part-communism he believed was unsustainable in the long run both practically and morally.


SUMMARY: Rent. – Its nature and its origin. – Resumé and conclusion. THE ECONOMIST.

Our discussions are drawing to a close. Do you want me to give you a resumé of our work, as they say in the National Assembly?


I have a clarification to ask of you before that.

You have told us that the costs of production of anything are made up of the labor costs and the interest on capital; you added that the market price of things tends naturally and irresistibly to an equilibrium with their costs of production. You have not, however, said a word about rent.


Rent does not play any part in the cost of production of things.


What are you saying? Do you deny that thousands of individuals exist, not on interest payments or wages, but on a rent?


I will not deny it. [339]


So where does that rent reside if not in the price of things? If the smallholder paid no rent to his proprietor, would he not be able to sell his wheat cheaper? When he produces wheat, is he not bound to include the rent in his costs of production?


He does not sell his wheat at a higher price because he pays a rent; he pays a rent because he sells his wheat at a higher price. Rent does not act as a cause in the formation of prices; it is only a result.


Cause or result, is it any the less a fact, any the less unjust? Goodness! There we have a man who possesses, by way of inheritance, a huge expanse of land on which neither he nor his family have expended any labor. This land belongs to him because it once fell into the hands of one of his ancestors, the chief of one of the barbarian hordes which invaded and devastated the country.[698] Since that time the lord of this land has obliged the peasant to hand over a third or a half of the fruits of his hard labor, by way of rent. Thousands of men have lived and still live by extracting this payment from the labor of their peers. Is this just?

Should not governments put an end to this monstrous abuse, either by seizing the land in order to restore it to the workers, or by imposing on the proprietors obligations which absorb the value of the rent? All incomes have their origin in labor, saving only this one. Is it not time that this exception was stopped? Did not J.-B. Say, himself, agree that the [340] income derived from rent was the least respectable of all?[699] Give me what you take in rent and I will allow you to keep your property.


Grant me property and I will guarantee you that the rent will vanish of its own accord.


Rent vanish on its own? That would be curious!


Rent is not, as you seem to believe, the fruit of property. Rent is on the contrary, the product of various attacks made on property, since societies began.

In his researches on the origin of rent, Ricardo recognized that it was not part of the costs of production.[700] This means that if products never sell at a price higher than their costs of production, above the quantity of labor they have required, there would be no rent.

If rent is not part of the costs of production, what is it then?

It is the difference which exists between the market price of things (the price at which they sell) and their cost of production.


What does it matter, I repeat, that rent is not reckoned in the costs of production, if it is counted in the market price and therefore paid?


This matters enormously. The costs of production, [341] being made up of the labor necessary for the production of a product, cannot help but be part of the price paid. Whatever exceeds the costs of production, on the contrary, cannot be part of of the price paid.


I am beginning to understand.


And I think I have understood all too well.


Do not worry. If rent is not included in the costs of production, the implication is:

1. That it (rent) represents no work completed nor any compensation for losses undergone or to be undergone.
2. That it is the result of artificial circumstances, which are bound to disappear along with the causes which gave rise to them.

What are these causes? What causes are there which raise and maintain the market price of things above their costs or production, or make them fall below these costs, against the force of the natural law which acts constantly to align the market price with the costs of production?

That is how the question should be framed.


If the economic law which brings the market price closer to the cost of production is the same as the physical law which governs the fall of bodies and maintains the equilibrium of liquid surfaces, I do not understand why its action should be disturbed by artificial causes.


You are not thinking about the dams and the uneven pieces of ground which disturb the natural flow of the water. [342]


Yes but the level always re-establishes itself.


You are wrong. New artificial levels are established. The natural level does not reappear until after the dam has been broken. Now, with each person having wanted to increase the flow of water on his side without bothering about his neighbor, the field of production has been criss-crossed by a multitude of dams. Some of them have had more water than they needed; others have been drained.

The economic equivalents of dams are called monopolies and privileges.

Now we will see how the workings of monopoly and privileges generate rent.[701]

If an industry is subject to the law of free competition, it will not for very long be able to sell its products at prices higher or lower than its costs of production. Therefore it will not give rise to any rent. Those who manage it will receive only the legitimate return to their labor and the compensation necessary for the use of their capital.

If, on the contrary, certain producers enjoy the exclusive privilege of selling their merchandize in a given district, these producers will be able to conspire in always supplying this good in a quantity lower than that demanded. By this means they will succeed in raising its market price above the costs of production. The difference constitutes their rent.

On the other hand, when a commodity has been overproduced, in relation to the number of [343] consumers who can reimburse its costs of production, the market price falls below those costs, and the difference once again constitutes a rent. Only this rent, instead of being paid by the consumer, is payed by the producer. Of course, this could happen only accidentally.

The production of goods of prime necessity can just on its own give rise to a considerable rent.

If one lowers the supply of luxury goods in an artificial way, with the price rising, demand will contract. In this circumstance, the price will fall rapidly, and the rent with it.

Suppose the question concerns wheat. If supply is lower than demand, the going price of wheat can rise in almost unlimited fashion. Let us examine how things work out in this connection and how the rent of land is established.

A tribe lives in the midst of a vast tract of land. It is small in numbers, and content to bring into cultivation the best fields, those which yield a sizable product, in exchange for rather little effort. This tribe’s numbers start to grow. If it cannot extend its territory further, either because of lack of security against the outside, or because of internal obstacles making difficult its natural expansion, what will happen?

If it is not permitted to get its shortfall of food from outside, that is from regions where the fertile lands more than suffice to feed the population, domestic shortages will force it to pay a [344] price for wheat above its costs of production. In this instance a rent from land will be created.

The rise in the price of wheat, however, will immediately initiate the cultivation of cereals on land of second quality, or more precisely lands less suitable for that particular crop. Since the production of wheat on this land is more expensive than on land of the first quality, the owners will obtain less rent. It may even happen that the marketing of a new quantity of wheat will push the market price down to the level of the cost of production of the lands recently brought under cultivation, or perhaps even lower than that. In the first case, the owners of these lands will cover just the bill for their cost of production, and will receive no rent; in the second case, the cost of production will not even be covered, and the rent will fall as a result; which will bring about the abandonment of the lands cultivated beyond the basic requirements.

If, on the contrary, the lands recently put into cultivation are still not enough to make good the deficit in demand, with the market price continuing to yield a rent, yet further lands, of lower quality than the previous ones, will be brought into wheat production. This trend will continue until the market price ceases to exceed the cost of production of cereals in the lands most recently put into cultivation.[702]

Thus we see in certain countries where the population has grown excessively without being able to spread out, and where at the same time food from outside cannot gain access, soil which is almost barren bearing stunted crops of wheat, while good lands give rise to an enormous rent. [345]


Do you believe that if no artificial obstacle had got in the way of the natural expansion of populations, if no institution or preconceived notion had over-stimulated the growth of the population, if, in a word, the movement of food had always been free, the rent from land would never have been created?


I am sure that such is the case. In those circumstances, what would have happened is this. The various people on the land would have planted in each type of land whatever cultivable crop was most appropriate for that land to grow, and they would have survived by exchanging their surplus natural production for the commodities produced under the same conditions by the other peoples. As long as the demand for these diverse commodities, cultivated on their specific lands, did not exceed supply, there would be no rent created. Now, with this mode of natural land-use, with the soil yielding maximum production, the population would easily have been able to align itself always with the available means of subsistence.


This would be true if the various resources which the land contains and which labor transforms into consumable products, turned out to be proportional in their quantities to the various needs of man; if the extent of the wheat-lands were proportionate to the overall consumption of wheat; if the fields of olive-trees and rape seeds were proportionate to the overall consumption of oil; if deposits of ore and coal matched the overall consumption of metals and coal; but does this harmony between our [346] various needs and the resources necessary to satisfy them, exist naturally? Is it not true that certain things are not found in sufficient abundance, given the need for them, and isn’t one therefore always obliged to pay a price for them which is higher than the costs of production? The lands which contain raw materials and the people provided with the faculties with which to gain access to them, do they not enjoy a true natural monopoly in the sense that they must either pay or receive a rent?


There are no natural monopolies. Providence has precisely proportioned to our various needs the diverse riches she has put at our disposal. If we have used our free will and our powers, however, to destroy or waste some of these riches instead of using them all, if we have spent centuries quarreling over small patches of land instead of spreading ourselves freely across the immense areas opening out before us; if, by confining ourselves within narrow limits, we have directly or indirectly overstimulated the reproduction of our species, if we have refused commodities coming from places where they were produced to best advantage, in order to produce them ourselves counter to nature, if in our ignorance we have thus distorted the essential order which the creator had in his wisdom established, is this the fault of Providence?

If, to speak only of France, our institutions of state charity have encouraged the abnormal growth [347] of the population; if at the same time, our customs regulations have blocked the entry of foreign cereals, in such a way that it has become advantageous to chop down magnificent stands of olive-trees in order to replace them with wheat fields of wretched quality, is this Providence’s fault?

If our legislation on mines, by stopping the development of mineral production, while our customs regulations were preventing the import of mineral products from abroad, has created an artificial gap in our supply of iron, lead, copper, tin, etc., is this the fault of Providence?

If a detestable monopoly, by deflecting education from its natural path, has made a large number of people unequipped for many useful employments and at at the same time steered others to an excess of training in other areas, is that the fault of Providence?

If, finally, as a result of the perverse outcomes in the natural order of society, arising from monopoly and privileges, with certain individuals becoming masters at satisfying their wildest desires, while the masses can barely meet their primary needs, the natural order of consumption has been distorted, such that some commodities have been too much in demand and others too little, is that the fault of Providence?


No, you are right, it is the fault of mankind!


Just let these disturbing factors disappear,[703] however, and you will soon see the natural order of society re-establishing itself, as one sees the natural course of water re-establishing itself after the destruction of a dam; you will see production [348] concentrated in the areas where it can operate most advantageously and consumption reassume its normal proportions; you will see as a consequence large fluctuations in the market price and the natural price growing smaller and smaller, becoming almost undetectable and finally disappearing, taking rent with them. Then you will see production operating with the maximum abundance and distribution working in conformity with the laws of justice.

You will see this even more clearly when I have summarized for you the ideas of which I have given you an account in these discussions.


Please be so kind, then, as to give us this summary.


With pleasure!

We took man as our starting-point. Man is driven by his physical, moral, and intellectual needs to engage in production. To this end, he employs his physical, moral, and intellectual faculties. The effort he imposes on these faculties in order to produce is called “labor." Each effort requires a corresponding process of recovery, otherwise the powers are wasted, the faculties deteriorate, and the human being wastes away, instead of maintaining themselves or progressing.

Since every effort entails some pain, and every payment received or good consumed provides some enjoyment, man, driven by his self-interest, naturally devotes himself [349] to expending less effort and receiving more things suitable for his consumption.

This result is obtained by means of the division of labor.

The division of labor implies exchange, relationships, society.

Here a serious problem emerges.

In the state of nature (assuming that this condition has ever existed) the efforts of man are at their minimum strength, but the individual who carries them out awards himself all the benefit. He consumes everything he produces.

In the social state, man’s efforts acquire their maximum strength, thanks to the division of labor. Can each producer, however, always preserve intact the result of his efforts? Does the social condition allow the same justice, from this point of view, as the state of nature? How, for example, can a man who spends his life producing the tenth part of a pin,[705] obtain payment as fairly matching his efforts, as can the isolated savage, who, having brought down a deer, consumes this product of his labor all on his own?

How? By means of property.

What is property? It is the natural right to freely use one’s faculties and the product of one’s labor.

How do the production and distribution of wealth operate under the regime of property?

Man produces all the things he needs by means of his labor, acting on the raw materials [350] provided by nature. His labor is of two kinds:

When man exerts himself to produce something, this effort is called labor. When the effort is complete, when the result has been a product, this product takes the name “capital." All capital consists of accumulated labor.

Now all production requires the contribution of these two factors: present labor and accumulated labor.

It is between these two factors that the product is shared.

How is it shared? In proportion to the costs of production of each party, that is to say the sacrifices endured or the efforts made by both the owner of present labor, or worker, and the owner of accumulated labor, or capitalist.

In what do the costs borne by the capitalist consist?

They consist in the labor provided by the capitalist, in supplying his capital to a productive endeavor, of the sacrifice he imposes on himself, and the risks he runs in engaging his capital in production.

This labor, this sacrifice, and these risks, are the constituent elements of interest.

In what does the cost of production borne by the worker consist?

In the total effort which the worker expends in putting his abilities to work. These abilities are of various kinds – physical, moral, and intellectual – according to the nature of the work. They require, if they are to be carried out, without impairing the worker’s productive abilities, a certain [351] flow of compensation, again varying with the nature of the work.

This compensation, which is necessary to the accomplishment of the labor, constitutes the elements of wages.

The combination of interest and wages represent the cost of production of products of all kinds.

For example:

Of what do the costs of production of a piece of calico consist?

They consist, in the first place:

Of the wages and salaries of workers, foremen, and the entrepreneurs in the weaving industry.

Of the interest on the capital set to work by the entrepreneurs in the weaving industry. This capital comprises buildings, machinery, raw materials, cash for paying the workers, etc. The capitalist who has relinquished the use of this cash, receives interest covering his work as a lender or shareholder, his sacrifices, and his risk of capital deterioration or loss.

This results in the initial interest payments and initial wages and salaries.

Before being woven, the cotton has been spun. To spin it, it was necessary, in the same way, to set the capital and labor in motion – the labor of entrepreneurs, foremen, spinners; capital expenditure on buildings, machines, fuel, raw materials, and cash.

This is the second set of interest payments and wages and salaries.

Before being spun, the cotton was transported. To transport it, the cooperation of merchants, brokers, porters, ship-owners, entrepreneurs in the haulage business[706] were required: the work of merchants, brokers, [352] porters, ship-owners, sailors, carters; capital in the form of shops and stores, offices, wagons, ships, provisions for the crew, coaches or wagons, and cash.

This is the third set of interest payments and payments of wages.

Before being transported, the cotton had to be grown. Again, this required capital and labor: the labor of the plantation managers, of foremen and workers; capital in the form of land made cultivable, of buildings, seed, machinery, cash. (If the workers are free, they are usually paid in cash; if they are slaves, they are paid, without any free negotiation, in food, clothing, and lodging; in both cases, the price of cotton must cover their costs, along with the earnings of the entrepreneur and the foremen, as well as the interest on the capital advanced to the workers before the sale of whatever product the harvesting yields).

This is the fourth set of interest payments and wages.

Add to this the payments made to storekeepers who put the pieces of calico within the reach of the consumer and cut them up for him according to his specified needs, and the interest on the capital put to work by these indispensable intermediaries, and you will have the overall costs of the production of calico.

Let us suppose that a plantation had supplied a thousand bales of cotton, and that from these thousand bales, twenty five thousand pieces of calico of fifty ells in length have been manufactured. Suppose, also, that these twenty five thousand pieces have been further cut into unbleached sections, at a price of 30 centimes per ell and you will have a total of… fr. 375,000. [353]

This sum of fr. 375,000 will have been distributed among all those who have contributed to the production of the calico, from the slave and the planter, to the shopkeeper and his assistant.

According to what law, however, did the distribution of this sum of fr. 375,000 between all those who contributed to forming its value, actually operate? What law determined the fair rate of interest of the capitalists, and the fair wages of the workers, as also the fair price of the product which yielded this interest and these wages?

This law, which is the true regulator of the economic world, I have explained thus:

When supply exceeds demand in arithmetic progression, the price falls in geometric progression, and, likewise, when demand exceeds supply in arithmetic progression, the price rises in geometric progression.

Under the rule of this law, operating in a free milieu,[707] no one can set a price for interest, wages, or products above or below the sum necessary to place that interest, wage, or product on the market, that is to say at above or below the sum of all the efforts and sacrifices which they really cost.

This is because, consistent with this law, the market price of all things, whether interest, wages, or products, is immediately and irresistibly pulled to the level of their costs of production.


Man is both a producer and a consumer and is endlessly obliged, in a society where the division of labor has resulted in most acts of production being specialized, [354] to supply what he produces so that he can demand, in exchange, the things which he needs.

When one asks for a thing, one consults only the extent and the intensity of the need one has for it; nor is one concerned with what it might have cost to produce. It may therefore happen that one imposes on oneself, in order to acquire it, sacrifices and efforts considerably greater than those which its production cost. As the witness of experience shows, this is what happens when a great number of individuals need a commodity and few individuals produce it, when it is in much demand and there is little supply of it. In this case, experience also shows that a slight disproportion between demand and supply, engenders a rapid movement in price. When the disproportion increases in arithmetic progression, the change in price grows and accelerates in geometric progression.

As the price increases, however, it also acts more strongly to bring back the equilibrium between supply and demand.

When the price at which a thing sells greatly exceeds the efforts and sacrifices which its production required, the host of men occupied in less advantageous production, or whose capital, intelligence, and labor happen just now to be inactive, are immediately motivated to produce this thing. The inducement is all the stronger when the price rises higher, when the gap between demand and supply is more notable. Under the pull of this inducement, a greater or a lesser number of competitors comes forward therefore, to increase production and satisfy demand more completely. [355]

There will, however, be a limit to this increase in production. What will this limit be?

If the price rises in geometric progression when demand rises above supply, it likewise falls in geometric progression, when supply exceeds demand. If therefore, spurred by the lure of profit, producers increase supply, a point will come when the market price of the good falls to the level of its cost of production. If people in this situation continue bringing to the market larger and larger quantities of this good, and if the increase in demand does not balance that of supply, we will see the market price falling progressively below the costs of production.

But, to the degree that the disparity increases in this way, the producers who are less able to cover their costs have greater interest in turning towards other branches of production. To the degree that the price drops even further, this will cause supply to slow more rapidly until the point is reached where the price returns to the cost of production.

Thus we see the market price of all things, labor, capital, and goods, gravitating constantly and inevitably towards the limit of the cost of production of these things, that is to say towards the sum of the real efforts and sacrifices that their production incurred.[708] [356]

If the price of all these things, however, is constantly and inevitably driven back to the limit of their cost of production, to the sum of real efforts and sacrifices which they have incurred, each person must inevitably receive, in the social state as much as in a state of nature, the just payment of his efforts and sacrifices.

With this difference: that a man who lives alone, producing everything for himself, is forced to spend much effort in securing a small number of satisfactions, while a man who lives in society, enjoying the advantage of the division of labor, can obtain lots of satisfaction for very little effort. This satisfaction will be all the more and the [357] effort all the less, to the degree that progress has further developed the division of labor, and thereby cut the cost of production of things.

Unfortunately,[709] if numerous efforts have served to develop production economically, numerous obstacles have been raised at the same time, by ignorance or human perversity, both to impede this development and to disturb the natural and just distribution of wealth.

It is in a free milieu, in a milieu in which the property rights of each person with respect to his faculties and the results of [358] his labor are fully respected, that production develops to the maximum, and that the distribution of wealth is proportioned inevitably according to the efforts and sacrifices each person has made.

Now from the beginning of the world, the strongest and most dishonest men have infringed the internal or external property of other men, in order to consume some of their share in the fruits of production. From this arose slavery, monopolies, and privileges.

At the same time as they destroyed the just distribution of wealth, such slavery, monopolies, and privileges slowed down production, either by reducing the incentive producers had to make things, or in deflecting them away from the kind of production they could most usefully pursue. Oppression engendered poverty.

For long centuries, humanity groaned in the limbo of servitude. From one age to another, however, the somber clamor of distress and anger echoed in the hearts of the enslaved and exploited masses. The slaves rose up against their masters, demanding liberty.

Liberty! That was the cry of the captives of Egypt, the slaves of Spartacus,[710] the peasants of the Middle Ages, and more recently of the bourgeoisie oppressed by the nobility and religious corporations, of the workers oppressed by masters and guilds. Liberty! That was the cry of all those who found their property confiscated by monopoly and privilege. Liberty! That was the burning aspiration of all those whose natural rights had been forcibly repressed. [359]

A day came when the oppressed found themselves strong enough to rid themselves of oppressors. It was at the end of the eighteenth century. The main industries providing for the needs of all were still organized in closed and privileged corporations. The nobility who provided internal and external defense and security were a corporation; the Parliaments which dispensed justice were a corporation; the clergy who conducted religious services were a corporation; the university and the religious orders who provided education were a corporation; the bakers, the butchers: corporations. These different Estates[711] were, for the most part, independent of each other, but all found themselves subordinate to the armed body which guaranteed the material privileges of each one.

Unfortunately, when it seemed the hour had come to pull down this regime of injustice, no one knew with what to replace it. Those who had some notion of the natural laws which govern society, spoke out in favor of laissez-faire. Those who did not believe in the existence of these natural laws protested, on the contrary, with all their might against laissez-faire and demanded the substitution of a new organisation in place of the old. The leading supporter of laissez-faire was Turgot.[712] At the head of the organizers and neo-regulators,[713] was Necker.[714]

These two opposed tendencies, without including people of a reactionary persuasion, divided the French Revolution between them. The liberal element dominated the Constituent Assembly, but it was not pure. The liberals themselves did not yet have enough faith in freedom to entrust [360] the direction of human affairs entirely to it. Most material production was freed from the bonds of privilege, but non-material production, with, first and foremost, the defense of property and justice, were organized on the basis of communist theories. Less enlightened than the Constituent Assembly, the Convention proved to be even more communist. Compare the two Declarations of the Rights of Man of 1791 and 1793, and you will see the proof of this.[715] Finally, Napoleon, who combined the passions of a Jacobin with the prejudices of a reactionary, without any tinge of liberalism, tried to reconcile the communism of the Convention, with the monopolies and privileges of the Ancien Régime. He organized communalist[716] education, subsidized communalist religion, set up a department of bridges and highways with the purpose of establishing a vast communalist network of communication, and decreed the introduction of conscription, that is to say a communalist army. Furthermore, he centralized France like some vast commune. Nor was it any fault of his that in that centralized commune all production was not organized on the model of the University[717] and the state control of the tobacco industry.[718] If war had not prevented him, as he himself declared in his Mémoires, he would certainly have accomplished these great things. On the other hand, he revived in this organized France most of the privileges and restrictions of the Ancien Régime;[719] he reconstituted the nobility’s prerogative; reestablished the privileges of the meat trade, of baking, [361] of printing, of the theaters and of banks; restricted the free arrangement of labor by legislation on apprenticeships, on labor workbooks and on labor unions; the right to lend by the law of 1807; the right to make wills by the Civil Code; the right to trade by the Continental Blockade and the multitude of decrees and regulations relating to the customs. In a word, he refashioned, under the influence of two inspirations born of opposite viewpoints but equally regulatory, the old network of obstacles which had in former times shackled property.

We have lived until now under this dreadful regime, one aggravated further by the Bourbon Restoration (involving the reestablishment of the sale of offices[720] in 1816 and the increasing of Customs barriers in 1822), but far from the injustices and poverty of our present day society being attributed to that regime, property and freedom have been held to blame. The learned men of socialism, misunderstanding the natural organization of society, and unwilling to recognize the deplorable outcomes of the restoration of the privileges of the ancien régime, along with the introduction of revolutionary or Imperial communism, maintained that the former society was offensive in its very foundations, namely property, and strove to organize a new society on a different basis. That led them to utopias, some merely absurd, others immoral and abominable. Moreover, we have seen them at work.[721]

Fortunately, the conservatives put up a barrier against the terrifying incursions of socialism; but having no more precise idea of the natural organization of society than their opponents, they could not defeat them other than out in the streets.[722] The conservatives, supporters of the status quo because [362] they found it profitable and moreover not worth worrying too much about, opposed the socialist innovations just as they had in the course of the preceding years, opposed the property-based innovations of the supporters of the freedom of education and commerce.

It is between these two sorts of opponents of property, the former wishing to increase the number of restrictions and levies which already weigh on property, the others wishing purely and simply to preserve those which already exist, that the debate occurs today. On the one hand we have M. Thiers[723] and the old committee of the Rue de Poitiers;[724] and on the other Messieurs Louis Blanc, Pierre Leroux, Cabet, Considerant, Proudhon. The spirit of Necker dominates both groups. I no longer detect the influence of Turgot.


If society is naturally organized and all that is required is to destroy the obstacles blocking the free play of its organization, that is to say the attacks made on property, in order to raise total production to the maximum consistent with the present state of advancement in the arts and sciences, and thereby render the distribution of wealth fully just, it is assuredly pointless to look any more to artificial organizations. There is nothing else to do other than to bring society back to a situation of pure property rights.[725]


But how many changes must we make to reach that point? It makes one shudder!


Not so, because all the reforms needed to achieve this are consistent with justice and utility and would not offend any legitimate [363] interest nor cause any harm to society.


Furthermore, one way or another, reforms, either for property or against property, will have to be made. Two systems are before us: communism and property. We have to go in one direction or the other. The regime of part-property and part-communism under which we live, cannot last.


It has already meant appalling catastrophes for us and perhaps some new ones lie in wait for us too.




We must therefore escape from this dilemma. Well, we can only leave by way of communism or by the way of property:

You must choose!


Molinari’s Long Quotation from Adam Smith on Market and Natural Prices

Without determining this law, and also without defining very precisely the role it plays in the production, Adam Smith clearly indicated it in this passage:

8. The market price of every particular commodity is regulated by the proportion between the quantity which is actually brought to market, and the demand of those who are willing to pay the natural price of the commodity, or the whole value of the rent, labor, and profit, which must be paid in order to bring it thither. Such people may be called the effectual demanders, and their demand the effectual demand; since it may be sufficient to effectuate the bringing of the commodity to market. It is different from the absolute demand. A very poor man may be said in some sense to have a demand for a coach and six; he might like to have it; but his demand is not an effectual demand, as the commodity can never be brought to market in order to satisfy it.
9. When the quantity of any commodity which is brought to market falls short of the effectual demand, all those who are willing to pay the whole value of the rent, wages, and profit, which must be paid in order to bring it thither, cannot be supplied with the quantity which they want. Rather than want it altogether, some of them will be willing to give more. A competition will immediately begin among them, and the market price will rise more or less above the natural price, according as either the greatness of the deficiency, or the wealth and wanton luxury of the competitors, happen to animate more or less the eagerness of the competition. Among competitors of equal wealth and luxury the same deficiency will generally occasion a more or less eager competition, according as the acquisition of the commodity happens to be of more or less importance to them Hence the exorbitant price of the necessaries of life during the blockade of a town or in a famine.
10. When the quantity brought to market exceeds the effectual demand, it cannot be all sold to those who are willing to pay the whole value of the rent, wages and profit, which must be paid in order to bring it thither. Some part must be sold to those who are willing to pay less, and the low price which they give for it must reduce the price of the whole. The market price will sink more or less below the natural price, according as the greatness of the excess increases more or less the competition of the sellers, or according as it happens to be more or less important to them to get immediately rid of the commodity. The same excess in the importation of perishable, will occasion a much greater competition than in that of durable commodities; in the importation of oranges, for example, than in that of old iron.
11. When the quantity brought to market is just sufficient to supply the effectual demand and no more, the market price naturally comes to be either exactly, or as nearly as can be judged of, the same with the natural price. The whole quantity upon hand can be disposed of for this price, and cannot be disposed of for more. The competition of the different dealers obliges them all to accept of this price, but does not oblige them to accept of less ...
15. The natural price, therefore, is, as it were, the central price, to which the prices of all commodities are continually gravitating. Different accidents may sometimes keep them suspended a good deal above it, and sometimes force them down even somewhat below it. But whatever may be the obstacles which hinder them from settling in this center of repose and continuance, they are constantly tending towards it.[726]



16. Addendum

Editor’s Introduction

The following Addendum includes two important essays Molinari wrote before the publication of Les Soiréesin September 1849 (“The Right to Vote” (July 1846) and “The Production of Security” (JDE, Feb. 1849); the minutes of the three meetings of the Political Economy Society in late 1849 and early 1850 which discussed some of the issues about the proper function of the the state which Molinari had raised in his February article and then in his book; and seven of the 30 entries he wrote for the DEP which appeared in 1852 and which he was probably working on concurrently with his book over the course of 1849.

The two most controversial issues Molinari raised in Les Soirées which raised the ire of his colleagues in the Political Economy Society was his opposition to the government’s power to confiscate private property for public works programs, such as the building of the railroads and stations, and the fortification wall around Paris, the so-called “Thiers Wall” (discussed in S3); and his arguments about the private provision of security by insurance companies (in S11). The two essays he wrote before his book and the minutes of the discussion of the PES throw some light on these two matters.

While he was writing Les Soirées over the summer of 1849 Molinari was also working on 30 articles which would appear in the most important publication the Guillaumin publishing form had undertaken up to that time, namely the Dictionary of Political Economy. Both Les Soirées and the DEP were part of the Guillaumin  firm’s strategy of opposing “false” economic ideas concerning protectionism and socialism among ordinary people (for whom Les Soirées and Bastiat’s many pamphlets were written) as well as among the political and intellectual elite (for whom the DEP was written). The purpose of the latter was to assemble a compendium of the state of knowledge of liberal political economy with hundreds of articles written by leading economists on key topics, biographies of important historical figures, annotated bibliographies of the most important books in the field, and tables of economic and political statistics. Molinari explained the reasons behind the DEP project in a review of the work he wrote for the JDE in December 1853 after the second volume had appeared in print: [727]

Thus M. Guillaumin had at his disposal the workers he required to erect a monument which would be worthy of political economy. Circumstances were also most favorable for the construction of this monument. The February Revolution had revealed what chasms had opened up under society because of the ignorance of economics of governments and the people. Wasn’t this the moment to present in a vast and harmonious whole the achievements of the science which had plumbed these chasms and shown how to fill them in? M. Guillaumin understood this and he began the publication of the Dictionary of Political Economy in the last months of 1850.

The DEP project was most likely conceived in late 1848 or early 1849, was announced in the Guillaumin catalog of May 1849 as being “in preparation,” was made available in subscription form in August 1849, and the first volume of which was printed in book form in early to mid-1852. So, Molinari would have been working on both projects during 1849 and it is not surprising therefore to see a certain overlap between Molinari’s two concurrent projects for which he used much the same source material, used the same examples to illustrate his arguments, and even quoted from the same texts. The result was a two volume, nearly 2,000 page, double-columned, nearly 2 million word encyclopedia of political economy which appeared in 1852-53.

Molinari was a major contributor, writing 25 principle articles and 5 biographical articles. In the acknowledgements he was mentioned as one of the five key collaborators on the project. Among the articles he wrote which have a bearing on Les Soiréesare the following: Beaux-arts (Fine Arts), Céréales (Grain), Liberté du commerce, liberté des échanges (Free Trade), Paix, Guerre (Peace and War), Propriété littéraire (Literary Property), Tarifs de douane (Tariffs), Theâtres (Theatres), Travail (Labour), Union douanière (Customs Union), Usure (Usury). Other major contributors included the editor Charles Coquelin (with 70 major articles), Horace Say (29), Joseph Garnier (28), Ambroise Clément (22), and Courcelle-Seneuil (21). Maurice Block wrote most of the biographical entries. The complete list of Molinari’s contributions to the DEP is as follows (the entries which appear in this Addendum are in bold):

Biographical Articles (5):

1. “Necker,” T. 2, pp. 272-74.

3. “Peel (Robert),” T. 2, pp. 351-54.

4. “Saint-Pierre (abbé de),” T. 2, pp. 565-66.

5. “Sully (duc de),” T. 2, pp. 684-85.

Principle Articles (25):

1. “Beaux-arts” (Fine Arts), T. 1, pp. 149-57.

2. “Céréales” (Grain), T. 1, pp. 301-26.

3. “Civilisation” (Civilization), T. 1, pp. 370-77.

4. “Colonies,” T. 1, pp. 393-403.

5. “Colonies agricoles” (Agricultural Colonies), T. 1, pp. 403-5.

6. “Colonies militaires” (Military Colonies), T. 1, p. 405.

7. “Émigration” (Emigration), T. 1, pp. 675-83.

8. “Esclavage” (Slavery), T. 1, pp. 712-31.

9. “Liberté des échanges (Associations pour la)” (Free Trade Associations), T. 2, p. 45-49.

10. “Liberté du commerce, liberté des échanges” (Freedom of Commerce. Free Trade), T. 2, pp. 49-63.

11. “Mode” (Fashion), T. 2, pp. 193-96.

12. “Monuments publics” (Public Monuments), T. 2, pp. 237-8.

13. “Nations” (Nations), T. 2, pp. 259-62.

14. “Noblesse” (The Nobility), T2, pp. 275-81

15. “Paix, Guerre” (Peace. War), T. 2, pp. 307-14.

16. “Paix (Société et Congrès de la Paix)” (The Society and Congress for Peace), T. 2, pp. 314-15.

17. “Propriété littéraire et artistique” (Literary and Artistic Property), T. 2, pp. 473-78

18. “Servage” (Serfdom), T. 2, pp. 610-13

19. “Tarifs de douane” (Customs Tariffs), T. 2, pp. 712-16.

20. “Théâtres” (Theaters), T. 2, pp. 731-33.

21. “Travail” (Labor), vol. 2, pp. 761-64.

22. “Union douanière” (Customs Union), vol. 2, p. 788-89.

23. “Usure” (Usury), vol. 2, pp. 790-95.

24. “Villes” (Towns), T. 2, pp. 833-38.

25. “Voyages” (Travel), T. 2, pp. 858-60.

The topics he focused on were two that were dear to his heart and on which he had already written, namely free trade and slavery. Concerning free trade, he wrote the articles on Grain, Free Trade Associations, Freedom of Commerce. Free Trade, Customs Tariffs, and Customs Union. Concerning slavery, he wrote the articles on Slavery and Serfdom. On more specialised topics on which he would also write in Les Soirées, we should note those on Fine Arts, Literary and Artistic Property, Theaters, Labor, and Usury. Another group of topics that deserve special mention are those to which one normally would not expect to see economic analysis applied, such as Emigration, Fashion, Public Monuments, and Travel. The latter suggest that Molinari had an innovative way of thinking about all manner of social and cultural problems and using economic analysis to deepen our understanding of them in new and interesting ways.

Thirty years after the appearance of the DEP the American political scientist and economist John Joseph Lalor (1840-1899) attempted to do something similar for the English-speaking world with his Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States (first ed. 1881-84, second edition 1899). In addition to his own formidable list of American authors he included translations of one hundred articles from the DEP including many by Bastiat, Henri Baudrillart, Michel Chevalier, Cherbuliez, Ambroise Clément, Charles Coquelin, Léon Faucher, Joseph Garnier, J.E. Horn, Louis Leclerc, H. Passy, members of the Say family, Courcelle-Seneuil, and of course Molinari. This constituted a veritable “who’s who” of the economists in the Guillaumin network. Just as America was moving further into the protectionist camp, Lalor and his colleagues were translating some of the hardest of hard-core French free trade advocates, such as Molinari’s “Freedom of Commerce. Free Trade,” and offering it to American readers. The impact of this infusion of French political economy into America seems to have been minimal if anything, but it was a remarkably undertaking.

We have revised and updated Lalor’s translations of Molinari’s contributions to the Cyclopedia for inclusion in this Addendum. Some terms have been changed to be in accordance with the terminology used throughout Les Soirées. We have included Molinari’s own footnotes in the following articles. All the others are by the editor. Many of Molinari’s footnotes are vary sparse so we have made the references more complete where necessary. Some passages that were cut from the Lalor version have been restored and this has been indicated in the footnotes.

“The Right to Vote” (23 July, 1846)


Originally published in Courrier français (23 juillet 1846). Republished in Questions d’économie politique (1861), vol. 2, Section III. La Liberté de gouvernement — La Guerre, pp. 271-75.


Men join together in a society with the goal of guaranteeing the security of their persons and their goods. The state is nothing more than a big mutual insurance company.[728]

Every person who consents to be part of society, every person who wishes to enjoy the benefits that society provides its members ought naturally to contribute to the costs of the association; every person ought to contribute to the support of the government which is charged by society to establish security for the benefit of all.

All members of the association have a right to equal protection by the government. However, everybody does not contribute in an equal manner to the public expenses.

The inequality which exists in the distribution of the charges is a result of the inequality which exists in human abilities and in the inequality of wealth, which is a natural consequence of the former.

Since all humans beings are not endowed with equal abilities, they do not receive equal value for the use of their faculties. In a society where one does not intend to interfere with the free employment of human faculties, the wealth of the various members of the association would be in proportion to the extent and the strength of each person’s faculties.

Wealth and property thus being unequal, the state will naturally devote unequal amounts to their protection. In general, it will spend for the protection of each piece of property a sum which is proportional to the value of the thing which is being protected or insured.

From this we get the combination of the principle of the proportionality of the public charges paid with that of the principle of the equality of the protection provided.

Now it is a matter of determining to what degree the citizens who are equally protected by the government but unequally burdened to contribute to the maintenance of the government, ought to participate in the management of public affairs.

Every citizen who pays a share of the public expenses is a shareholder in society.[729] He contributes to the maintenance of society in proportion to the value of his shares, that is in proportion to the taxes which he pays.

In every well organized business the rights of the shareholder are proportional to the value of his investment. An investment represents in effect a certain quantity of work which the shareholder voluntarily gives up, but only on the condition that he can direct and supervise its use. If this power of direction and supervision does not correspond to each person’s investment, if for example, the shareholders whose investment is worth two shares do not have a greater power of direction and supervision than those whose investment is worth only one share, obviously there would be an injustice, an inequality; there would be a reduction in the rights of some and an irrational increase in the rights of others; there would be plunder of the more intelligent and active workers to the profit of the less intelligent and less active workers.

By following this train of thought one inevitably comes to this conclusion: that the right to vote, the right to take part in the management of the affairs of this large mutual insurance company that is called “society,” is proportional and as a result ought to be proportional to the investment made by each shareholder; that is to say, to the amount of taxation levied on each citizen.

This proportionality of the right to vote, far from harming political equality, as some incorrectly assert, is the surest and best guarantee of it.

Apart from this just and necessary proportionality, there is in fact only two political systems which are equally contrary to political equality.

The first consists in refusing all voting rights to the smaller shareholders in society, i.e. to citizens who pay the smallest amount of taxes. Under the rule of this political system, we know what happens: the large shareholders, the payers of the “cens” tax have the right to vote,[730] and govern society entirely for their own profit; the laws which ought to equally protect all citizens are used to increase the property of the strongest shareholders to the detriment of the property of the weakest ones; and political equality is thus destroyed.

The second political system consists in making the right to vote universal and uniform. In this system there arises a problem opposed to that which one might expect: the property of intelligent and hard working men is found to be at the mercy of the mass of incapable and lazy men. No respect for one’s acquired rights, no effective protection for one’s life and property can exist under such a régime. Now, when the rights of citizens cease to be be effectively protected, when the caprice of the masses prevails over the law, when it transpires, as in the United States for example, that fear of displeasing the people paralyses the free exercise of the rights of individuals, what happens to political equality?

Since the natural consequence of the proportionality of paying public charges is the proportionality in the right to vote, the latter therefore, to repeat ourselves, is the true guarantee of political equality and, as a result, the only rational basis for the government which is charged with providing it.

It now remains for us to examine the means to apply this system.

Doubtless it is impossible today to evaluate the amount of taxes paid by each citizen;[731] but on the other hand, we can measure the income of each citizen. Every citizen who wishes to enjoy the right to vote can declare and verify the amount of his income. Now, in principle at least, since tax represents only a proportionate fraction of each person’s income, it does not matter if one takes as a a basis for the right to vote the amount of income earned or the tax paid.

We know full well that in practice tax is not exactly proportional to the income of each person, but it is a failing of our fiscal machine which we think is not useful to hold to account, given the general result which the application of this system would provide.

It is estimated that the income of France is 8 to 9 billion francs.[732] Now since the total income of the present class of “censitaires” (tax payers) - taking an average income of 10,000 francs, which is admittedly on the high side - does not surpass as a result the sum of 2 billion 500 million francs, if the right to vote was at the same time made universal and proportional, the present class of “censitaires” would number no more than a quarter of the total number of (national) representatives.

Whatever the particular inequalities might be, inequalities which the general application of the principle of liberty would moreover quickly make disappear, the rights of the masses would inevitably receive by the introduction of this political system a significant and immediate benefit, without at the same time the rights of the current privileged minority being sacrificed.

“The Production of Security” (JDE, Feb. 1849)


Gustave de Molinari, "De la production de la sécurité," Journal des Economistes, Vol. XXII, no. 95, 15 February, 1849, pp. 277-90.

Published as a separate pamphlet: De la Production de la sécurité, par M. G. de Molinari. Extrait du n° 95 du “Journal des économistes”, 15 février 1849. (Paris : Guillaumin, 1849). In-8° , 16 p.

The Production of Security [733]

There are two ways of considering society. According to some, the development of different human associations is not subject to providential, unchangeable laws. Rather, these associations, having originally been organized in a purely artificial manner by early legislators, can later be modified or remade by other legislators, in step with the progress of social science. In this system the government plays a considerable role, because it is upon it, the custodian of the principle of authority, that the daily task of modifying and remaking society devolves.

According to others, on the contrary, society is a purely natural fact. Like the earth on which it stands, society moves in accordance with general, preexisting laws. In this system, there is no such thing, strictly speaking, as social science; there is only economic science, which studies the natural organism of society and shows how this organism functions.[734]

We propose to examine, within the latter system, what is the function of government and its natural organization.


In order to define and delimit the function of government,[735] it is first necessary to investigate what society is and what its purpose is.

What natural impulse do men obey when they come together to form a society? They are obeying the impulse, or, to speak more exactly, the instinct of sociability. The human race is essentially sociable. Like beavers and the higher animal species in general, men have an instinctive inclination to live in society.

What is the raison d'être of this instinct?

Man experiences a multitude of needs, on whose satisfaction his happiness depends, and whose non-satisfaction entails suffering. Alone and isolated, he could only provide in an incomplete, insufficient manner for these constant needs. The instinct of sociability brings him together with his fellow humans, and pushes him to communicate with them. Once this has been established, under the impulse of the self-interest of the individuals thus brought together, a certain division of labor is established, necessarily followed by exchanges. In brief, we see an organization emerge, by means of which man can much more completely satisfy his needs than he could by living in isolation.

This natural organization is called society.[736]

The purpose of society is therefore the most complete satisfaction of man's needs. The division of labor and exchange are the means by which this is accomplished.

Among the needs of man, there is one particular type which plays an immense role in the history of humanity, namely the need for security.

What is this need?

Whether they live in isolation or in a society, men are, above all, interested in preserving their existence and the fruits of their labor. If the sense of justice were universally prevalent on earth; if, consequently, each man confined himself to laboring and exchanging the fruits of his labor, without wishing to take the life or to to seize by violence or fraud, the fruits of other men's labor; if everyone had, in a word, an instinctive horror of any act harmful to another person, it is certain that security would exist naturally on earth, and that no artificial institution would be necessary to establish it. Unfortunately this is not the way things are. The sense of justice seems to be the preserve of only a few higher and exceptional temperaments. Among the inferior races, it exists only in a rudimentary state. Hence the innumerable violations, ever since the beginning of the world, since the days of Cain and Abel, of the lives and property of individuals.

Hence also the creation of institutions whose purpose is to guarantee to everyone the peaceful possession of his person and his goods.

These institutions were called governments.

Everywhere, even among the least enlightened tribes, one encounters a government, so universal and urgent is the need for security provided by a government.

Everywhere, men resign themselves to the most extreme sacrifices rather than do without government and hence security, without realizing that in so doing, they are thinking incorrectly.

Suppose that a man found his person and his standard of living constantly menaced; wouldn't his first and most pressing preoccupation be to protect himself from the dangers that surrounded him? This preoccupation, these efforts, this labor, would necessarily absorb the greater portion of his time, as well as the most energetic and active faculties of his mind. In consequence, he could only devote insufficient and uncertain efforts, and his divided attention, to the satisfaction of his other needs.

Even though this man might be asked to surrender a very considerable portion of his time and his labor to someone else who takes it upon himself to guarantee the peaceful possession of his person and his goods, wouldn't it be to his advantage to agree to this transaction?

Still, it would obviously be no less in his self-interest to procure his security at the lowest price possible.


If there is one well-established truth in political economy, it is this:

That in all cases, for all commodities that serve to provide for the material or non-material needs of the consumer, it is in the consumer's best interest that labor and trade remain free, because the freedom of working and of trade have as their necessary and permanent result the maximum lowering of prices.

And this as well:

That the interests of the consumer of any commodity whatsoever should always prevail over the interests of the producer.

Now in pursuing these principles, one arrives at this rigorous conclusion:

That the production of security should, in the interests of the consumers of this non-material good, remain subject to the law of free competition. [737]

Whence it follows:

That no government should have the right to prevent another government from going into competition with it, or to require consumers of security [738] to come exclusively to it for this commodity.

Nevertheless, I must admit that, up until the present, one recoiled before this rigorous implication of the principle of free competition.

One economist who has done as much as anyone to extend the application of the principle of liberty, M. Charles Dunoyer, thinks "that the functions of government will never be able to fall into the domain of private activity.”[739]

Now here is a a clear and obvious exception to the principle of free competition.

This exception is all the more remarkable for being unique.

Undoubtedly, one can find economists who establish more numerous exceptions to this principle; but we may emphatically affirm that these are not pure economists. True economists are generally agreed, on the one had, that the government should restrict itself to guaranteeing the security of its citizens, and on the other hand, that the freedom of working and of trade should otherwise be complete and absolute.

But why should an exception be made for security? What special reason is there that the production of security cannot be left to free competition? Why should it be subjected to a different principle and organized according to a different system?

On this point, the masters of economic science are silent, and M. Dunoyer, who has clearly noted this exception, does not investigate the grounds on which it is based.


We are consequently led to ask ourselves whether his exception is well founded, in the eyes of an economist.

It offends reason to believe that a well established natural law can admit of any exceptions. A natural law must hold everywhere and always, or be invalid. I cannot believe, for example, that the law of universal gravitation, which governs the physical world, is ever suspended at any moment or at any place in the universe. Now I consider economic laws to be like natural laws, and I have just as much faith in the principles of the division of labor, the freedom of working, and free trade, as I have in the law of universal gravitation. I believe that while these principles can be subject to disturbances, they admit of no exceptions.

But, if this is the case, the production of security should not be removed from the law of free competition; and if it is removed, society as a whole will suffer a loss.

Either this is logical and true, or else the principles on which economic science is based are invalid.


It thus has been demonstrated a priori, to those of us who have faith in the principles of economic science, that the exception indicated above has no raison d’être, and that the production of security, like anything else, should be subject to the law of free competition.

Once we have acquired this conviction, what remains for us to do? It remains for us to investigate how it has come about that the production of security has not been subjected to the law of free competition, but rather has been subjected to different principles.

What are those principles?

Those of monopoly and communism.

In the entire world, there is not a single institution of the security industry[740] that is not based on monopoly or on communism.

In this connection, we add, in passing, a simple remark.

Political economy has disapproved equally of monopoly and communism in the various branches of human activity, wherever it has found them. Is it not then strange and unreasonable that it accepts them in the security industry?


Let us now examine how it is that all known governments have either been subjected to the law of monopoly, or else organized according to the communistic principle.

First let us investigate what is understood by the words monopoly and communism.

It is an observable truth that the more urgent and necessary are man's needs, the greater will be the sacrifices he will be willing to endure in order to satisfy them. Now, there are some things that are found abundantly in nature, and whose production does not require a great expenditure of labor, but which, since they satisfy these urgent and necessary wants, can consequently acquire an exchange value all out of proportion with their natural value.[741] Take salt for example. Suppose that a man or a group of men succeed in having the exclusive production and sale of salt assigned to themselves.[742] It is apparent that this man or group could raise the price of this commodity well above its value, well above the price it would have under a regime of free competition.

One will then say that this man or this group possesses a monopoly, and that the price of salt is a monopoly price.

But it is obvious that the consumers will not consent freely to paying the excessive  monopoly surtax. It will be necessary to compel them to pay it, and in order to compel them, the employment of force will be necessary.

Every monopoly necessarily rests on force.

When the monopolists are no longer as strong as the consumers they exploit, what happens?

In every instance, the monopoly finally disappears either violently or as the outcome of an amicable transaction. What is it replaced with?

If the aroused and rebellious consumers secure the means of production of the salt industry, in all probability they will confiscate this industry for their own profit, and their first thought will be, not to leave it to free competition, but rather to exploit it, in common, for their own account. They will then name a director or a directive committee to operate the saltworks, to whom they will allocate the funds necessary to defray the costs of salt production. Then, since past experience has made them suspicious and distrustful, since they will be afraid that the director named by them will seize production for his own benefit, and simply reconstitute by open or hidden means the old monopoly for his own profit, they will elect delegates or representatives entrusted with appropriating the funds necessary for production, with watching over their use, and with making sure that the salt produced is equally distributed to those entitled to it. The production of salt will be organized in this manner.

This form of the organization of production has been named communism.

When this organization is applied to a single commodity, the communism is said to be partial.

When it is applied to all commodities, the communism is said to be complete.

But whether communism is partial or complete, political economy is no more tolerant of it than it is of monopoly, of which it is merely an extension.


Isn't what has just been said about salt applicable to security?[743] Isn't this the history of all monarchies and all republics?

Everywhere, the production of security began by being organized as a monopoly, and everywhere, nowadays, it tends to be organized communistically. Here is why.

Among the material and non-material commodities necessary to man, none, with the possible exception of wheat,[744] is more indispensable, and therefore none can support quite so large a monopoly tax.

Nor is any quite so prone to monopolization.

What, indeed, is the situation of men who need security? It is weakness. What is the situation of those who undertake to provide them with this necessary security? It is force. If it were otherwise, if the consumers of security were stronger than the producers, they obviously would not need their assistance.

Now, if the producers of security[745] are originally stronger than the consumers, won't it be easy for the former to impose a monopoly on the latter?

Everywhere, when societies originate, we see the strongest, most warlike races seizing the government of these societies exclusively for themselves. Everywhere we see these races seizing the monopoly of security[746] within certain more or less extensive boundaries, depending on their number and strength.

And, this monopoly being, by its very nature, extraordinarily profitable, everywhere we see the races invested with the monopoly of security devoting themselves to bitter struggles, in order to add to the extent of their market, the number of their coerced consumers, and hence the size of their profits.

War has been the necessary and inevitable consequence of the establishment of the monopoly of security.

Another inevitable consequence has been that this monopoly of security has engendered all the other kinds of monopolies.

When they saw the situation of the monopolizers of security,[747] the producers of other commodities could not help but notice that nothing in the world is more advantageous than monopoly. They, in turn, were consequently tempted to add to the profits from their own industry by the same process. But what did they require in order to create a monopoly of the commodity they produced, to the detriment of the consumers? They required the use of force. However, they did not possess the force necessary to contain the resistance of the consumers whose interests were being harmed. What did they do? They borrowed it, for a financial consideration, from those who had it. They petitioned and obtained, at the price of an agreed upon fee, the exclusive privilege of carrying on their industry within certain determined boundaries. Since the taxes[748] for these privileges brought the producers of security a considerable sum of money, the world was soon covered with monopolies. Labor and trade were everywhere shackled, chained up, and the condition of the masses remained as miserable as possible.

Nevertheless, after long centuries of suffering, as enlightenment spread through the world little by little, the masses who had been smothered under this web of privileges began to rebel against the privileged, and to demand liberty, that is to say, the suppression of monopolies.

This process took many forms. What happened in England, for example? Originally, the race which governed the country[749] and which was organized into orders (feudalism), having at its head a hereditary director (the king), and an equally hereditary administrative council (the House of Lords), originally set the price of security, which it had monopolized, at whatever rate it pleased. There was no negotiation between the producers of security and the consumers. This was the regime of “serving at the King’s pleasure.”[750] But as time passed, the consumers, having become aware of their numbers and strength, rose up against this regime of pure arbitrary rule, and they obtained the right to negotiate with the producers over the price of this commodity. For this purpose, they sent delegates to the House of Commons to discuss the level of taxes, that is, the price of security.[751] They were thus able to obtain some relief from the financial pressure they were under. Nevertheless, the producers of security had a direct say in the naming of the members of the House of Commons, so that debate was not entirely free, and the amount of the tax, the price of this commodity, remained above its natural value. One day the exploited consumers rose up against the producers and dispossessed them of their industry.[752] They then undertook to carry on this industry by themselves and chose for this purpose a director of operations[753] assisted by a Council. Thus communism replaced monopoly. But the scheme did not work, and twenty years later, primitive monopoly was re-established. Only this time the monopolists were wise enough not to restore the absolutist rule of “the king’s pleasure”; they accepted free debate over taxes, being careful, all the while, constantly to corrupt the delegates of the opposition party. They gave these delegates control over various posts in the administration of security,[754] and they even went so far as to allow the most influential (of them) into the heart of their Upper Council. Nothing could have been more clever than thus behavior. Nevertheless, the consumers of security finally became aware of these abuses, and demanded the reform of Parliament. This long contested reform was finally achieved,[755] and since that time, the consumers have won a significant lightening of their burdens.

In France, the monopoly of security, after having similarly undergone frequent vicissitudes and various modifications, has just been overthrown for the second time.[756] As once happened in England, monopoly for the benefit of one caste, and then in the name of a certain class of society, was finally replaced by communal production.[757] The consumers as a whole, behaving like shareholders,[758] named a director responsible for supervising the actions of the director and of his administration.

We will content ourselves with making one simple observation on the subject of this new regime.

Just as the monopoly of security logically had to give rise to all the other monopolies, so communistic security[759] must logically give rise to all the other forms of communism.

In reality, we have a choice of two things:

Either communistic production is superior to free production, or it is not.

If it is, then it must be for all things, not just for security.

If not, progress requires that it be replaced by free production.

Complete communism or complete liberty: that is the alternative![760]


But is it conceivable that the production of security could be organized other than as a monopoly or communistically? Could it conceivably be left to free competition?

The response to this question on the part of political writers is unanimous: No.

Why? We will tell you why.

Because these writers, who are concerned especially with governments, know nothing about society. They regard it as an artificial construction, and believe that the mission of government is to modify and remake it constantly.

Now in order to modify or remake society, it is necessary to be empowered with an authority which is superior to that of the various individuals of which it is composed.

Monopolistic governments[761] claim to have obtained from God himself this authority which gives them the right to modify or remake society according to their fancy, and to dispose of persons and property however they please. Communistic governments appeal to human reason, as manifested in the majority of the sovereign people.

But do monopolistic governments and communistic governments truly possess this superior, irresistible authority? Do they in reality have a higher authority than that which free governments[762] could have? This is what we must investigate.


If it were true that society were not naturally organized, if it were true that the laws which govern its motion were to be constantly modified or remade, the legislators would necessarily have to have an unchangeable and sacred authority. Being the heirs of Providence on earth, they would have to be regarded as almost equal to God. If it were otherwise, would it not be impossible for them to fulfill their mission? Indeed, one cannot intervene in human affairs, one cannot attempt to direct and regulate them, without daily offending a multitude of interests. Unless the custodians of power are believed to belong to a higher species or have been charged with a mandate from heaven, those whose interests have been harmed will resist.

From this idea comes the fiction of divine right.

This fiction was certainly the best imaginable. If you succeed in persuading the multitude that God himself has chosen certain men or certain races to give laws to society and to govern it, no one will dream of revolting against these appointees of Providence, and everything the government does will be accepted as well done. A government based on divine right is indestructible.

On one condition only, namely that one believes in divine right.

Indeed, if one dares to think that the leaders of nations do not receive their inspirations directly from Providence itself, that they obey purely human impulses, the prestige that surrounds them will disappear and one will irreverently resist their sovereign decisions, as one resists anything manmade whose utility has not been clearly demonstrated.

It is accordingly fascinating to see the pains theorists of divine right take to establish the superhuman nature of the races who have taken possession of human government.

Let us listen, for example, to M. Joseph de Maistre:[763]

Man cannot create a sovereign. At most he can serve as an instrument for dispossessing a sovereign and delivering his estates into the hands of another sovereign, himself a prince by birth. Moreover, there has never been a sovereign family whose origin could be identified as plebeian. If such a phenomenon were to appear, it would be a new era for the world.
… It is written: It is I who make the kings. This is not a statement made by the Church, nor a preacher’s metaphor; it is the literal, simple, and palpable truth. It is a law of the political world. God makes kings, quite literally so. He prepares royal families. He nurtures them within a cloud which hides their origin. Finally they appear, crowned with glory and honor. Then they assume their place.[764]

According to this system, which embodies the will of Providence in certain men and which invests these chosen ones, these anointed ones with a quasi-divine authority, the subjects evidently have no rights at all. They must submit, without question, to the decrees of the sovereign authority, as if they were the decrees of Providence itself.

According to Plutarch, the body is the instrument of the soul, and the soul is the instrument of God.[765] According to the divine right school, God selects certain souls and uses them as instruments for governing the world.

If men had faith in this theory, surely nothing could unsettle a government based on divine right.

Unfortunately, they have completely lost faith.


Because one fine day they took it into their heads to question and to reason, and in questioning, in reasoning, they discovered that their governors governed them no better than they, simply mortals without any communication with Providence, could have done themselves.

It was free inquiry that discredited the fiction of divine right, to the point where the subjects of monarchs or of aristocracies based on divine right obey them only insofar as they think it in their own self-interest to obey them.

Has the communist fiction fared any better?

According to the communist theory, of which Rousseau is the high-priest, authority does not descend from on high, but rather comes up from below. The government no longer looks to Providence for its authority, it looks to united mankind, to the one, indivisible, and sovereign nation.

Here is what the communists, the partisans of the sovereignty of the people, assume. They assume that human reason has the power to discover the best laws and the organization which most perfectly suits society; and that, in practice, these laws reveal themselves at the conclusion of a free debate between conflicting opinions. If there is no unanimity, if there is still dissension after the debate, the majority is in the right, since it comprises the larger number of reasonable individuals. (These individuals are, of course, assumed to be equal, otherwise the whole structure collapses.) Consequently, they insist that the decisions of the majority must become law, and that the minority is obliged to submit to it, even if it is contrary to its most deeply rooted convictions and injures its most deeply held interests.

That is the theory; but, in practice, does the authority of the decision of the majority really have this irresistible, absolute character as assumed? Is it always, in every instance, respected by the minority? Could it be?

Let us take an example.

Let us suppose that socialism succeeds in propagating itself among the working classes in the countryside as it has already among the working classes in the cities; that it consequently becomes the majority in the country and that, profiting from this situation, it sends a socialist majority to the Legislative Assembly and names a socialist president.[766] Suppose that this majority and this president, invested with sovereign authority, decrees the imposition of a tax on the rich of three billions, in order to organize the labor of the poor, as M. Proudhon demanded.[767] Is it probable that the minority would submit peacefully to his iniquitous and absurd, yet legal and constitutional plunder?[768]

No, without a doubt it would not hesitate to disown the authority of the majority and to defend its property.

Under this regime, as under the preceding, one obeys the custodians of authority only insofar as one thinks it in one's self-interest to obey them.

This leads us to affirm that the moral foundation of authority is neither as solid nor as wide, under a regime of monopoly or of communism, as it could be under a regime of liberty.


Suppose nevertheless that the partisans of an artificial organization, either the monopolists or the communists, are right; that society is not naturally organized, and that the task of making and unmaking the laws that regulate society continuously devolves upon men, look in what a sad and sorry situation the world would find itself. The moral authority of governors rests, in reality, on the self-interest of the governed. The latter having a natural tendency to resist anything harmful to their self-interest, authority which was not recognized would continually require the help of physical force.

The monopolists and the communists, furthermore, completely understand this necessity.

If anyone, says M. de Maistre, attempts to detract from the authority of God's chosen ones, let him be turned over to the secular power, let the hangman perform his duties.[769]

If anyone does not recognize the authority of those chosen by the people, say the theorists of the school of Rousseau, if he resists any decision whatsoever of the majority, let him be punished as an enemy of the sovereign people, let the guillotine perform its justice.

These two schools, which both take artificial organization as their point of departure, necessarily lead to the same conclusion: TERROR.


Allow us now to formulate a simple hypothesis.

Let us imagine a newly created society: The men who are part of it it are busy working and exchanging the fruits of their labor. A natural instinct reveals to these men that their persons, the land they occupy and cultivate, the fruits of their labor, are their property, and that no one, except themselves, has the right to dispose of or touch this property. This instinct is not hypothetical; it exists. But man being an imperfect creature, this awareness of the right of everyone to his person and his goods will not be found to the same degree in every soul, and certain individuals will attempt to attack, by violence or by fraud, the persons or the property of others.

Hence, the need for an industry that prevents or suppresses these violent or fraudulent aggressions.

Let us suppose that a man or a combination of men comes and says:

In return for a payment, I will undertake to prevent or suppress attacks against against persons and property.
Let those who wish their persons and property to be protected from all aggression just talk to me.

Before making a deal with this producer of security,[770] what will the consumers do?

In the first place, they will find out if he is really strong enough to protect them.

In the second place, whether he offers a moral guarantee so that one would not have to fear him undertaking the very aggressions he has promised to suppress.

In the third place, whether any other producer of security, offering equal guarantees, is willing to offer them this commodity on better terms.

These terms would be of various kinds.

In order to be able to guarantee the consumers full security of their persons and their property, and, in case of harm, to pay them compensation which is proportioned to the loss suffered,[771] it would be necessary, therefore:

1. that the producer of security would establish certain penalties for those who committed offences against individuals and those who violated property, and that the consumers of security would accept being subjected to these penalties in the case where they themselves committed any offences against person or property;
2. that the producer of security would impose on the consumers of security certain obligations for the purpose of assisting it (the producer) in discovering the perpetrators of the offences
3. that the producer of security would regularly impose a certain premium[772] to cover its costs of production as well as the normal profit for its industry, which would vary according to the situation of the consumers, the particular occupations in which they were engaged, and the extent, value, and nature of their property.[773]

If these terms, necessary for carrying on this industry, are agreeable to the consumers, a deal will be made. Otherwise the consumers will either do without security, or seek out another producer.

Now if we consider the particular nature of the security industry, it is apparent that the producers will necessarily restrict their clientele to certain territorial boundaries. They would be unable to cover their costs if they tried to provide police services[774] in localities comprising only a few clients. Their clientele will naturally be clustered around their business headquarters.[775] They would nevertheless be unable to abuse this situation by dictating conditions to their consumers. In the event of an exorbitant rise in the price of security, the consumers would always have the option of giving their patronage to a new entrepreneur, or to a neighboring entrepreneur.[776]

This option the consumer retains of being able to buy security wherever he pleases brings about continual competition[777] among all the producers, each producer striving to maintain or increase his clientele by attracting them with cheaper prices[778] or of faster, more complete, and better justice.[779]

If, on the contrary, the consumer is not free to buy security wherever he sees fit,[780] you will immediately see open up considerable opportunities for businesses to engage in arbitrary practices and bad management. Justice becomes slow and costly, the police become troublesome, individual liberty is no longer respected, the price of security[781] is raised exorbitantly and is unequally levied, according to the power and influence of this or that class of consumers. The insurers (who provide security)[782] will engage in bitter struggles to wrest customers from one another. In a word, all the abuses inherent in monopoly or in communism suddenly begin to appear.

Under the regime of free competition, war between the producers of security entirely loses its justification. Why would they make war? To conquer consumers? But the consumers would not allow themselves to be conquered. They certainly would be careful not to have their persons and property insured[783] by men who would unscrupulously attack the persons and property of their competitors. If some audacious conqueror tried to impose the law on them, they would immediately call to their aid all the free consumers[784] menaced by this aggression, and they would bring him to justice. Just as war is the natural consequence of monopoly, peace us the natural consequence of liberty.

Under a regime of liberty, the natural organization of the security industry would be no different from that of other industries. In small districts a single entrepreneur[785] could suffice. This entrepreneur might leave his business to his son, or sell it to another entrepreneur. In larger districts, one company by itself would bring together enough resources to carry on this important and difficult business adequately. If it were well managed, this company could easily last, and security would last with it. In the security industry, just as in most of the other branches of production, the latter mode of organization (one large company) will probably replace the former (a single entrepreneur), in the end.

In one case this might result in a monarchy, in the other case it might result in a republic; but it would be a monarchy without a monopoly and a republic without communism.

In both cases, this authority would be accepted and respected in the name of utility, and would not be an authority imposed by terror.

It will undoubtedly be disputed whether such a hypothetical situation is realizable. But, at the risk of being considered a utopian, we affirm that this is not disputable, that a careful examination of the facts will decide the problem of government more and more in favor of liberty, just as it does all other economic problems. We are convinced, so far as we are concerned, that one day associations will be established to agitate for free government,[786] as they have already been established on behalf of free trade.

And we will not hesitate to add that after this reform has been achieved, and all artificial obstacles to the free action of the natural laws that govern the economic world have disappeared, the situation of the various members of society will become the best possible.

Minutes of the meetings of La Société d'économie politique discussing the Role of the State (Oct. 1849 - Feb. 1849

Editor’s Note

We include in this Addendum the minutes of three meetings of the Political Economy Society which held monthly meetings in Paris to discuss issues of the day and newly published books of interest to its members. These three meetings  (October, 1849, January 1850, and February 1850) were on the topic of the limits to the size and scope of government activities, a topic which had been sparked by the publication of Molinari’s provocative article on “The Production of Security” (JDE, Feb. 1849) and Les Soirées (Sept. 1849).

The members of the PES found many of Molinari’s arguments about eliminating government monopolies for the provision of public goods and fully protecting the property rights of individuals from encroachment by the state very controversial and provocative. They especially objected to his arguments in S3 where he rejected completely the principle of the compulsory expropriation of property by the state for reasons of public utility, and S11, where he advocated the private and competitive provision of security (both police and national defense) by voluntary associations such as insurance companies.

The Society seemed to be split into four camps.[787] At the furthest extreme was Gustave de Molinari who did not attend any of the sessions as he was universally criticized for his advocacy of the private provision of all public goods, including police protection and national defense, and probably thought it better not to provoke his colleagues with his physical presence. Next to him, with an “ultra-minimalist” view of state functions was Bastiat and Hovyn-Tranchère who believed the state should limit itself strictly to protecting the liberty and property of citizens and providing only a very few public goods such as water supply, rivers, and managing the state-owned forests.[788] The bulk of the members of the Society seemed to be supporters of a limited state along the lines defined by Adam Smith, namely, police and defense, and a broader range of public goods than the “ultra-minimalists” like Bastiat wished to allow, such as the delivery of letters and issuing currency. The fourth group was a heterogenous group of members such as the economist Wolowski and various lawyers and politicians who thought the government should be involved in providing subsidized land credit, savings banks, and other services to citizens because it could do so better than private enterprise.

Three members of the Society defended the third view more formally in a series of rebuttals to Molinari’s more extreme position. The first was Charles Coquelin, the editor of the DEP, who reviewed Les Soirées very critically in November, the month following the first meeting, in November 1849.[789] The second was Ambroise Clément who wrote an essay “The Rational Duties of Political Authority,” which was published in the February 1850 issue of the JDE.[790] The third was by the permanent president of the Society, Charles Dunoyer, who had summed up the feelings of the Society at the meeting with his statement that Molinari “s’est laissé égarer par des illusions de logique” (has allowed himself to be carried away by delusions of logic). Dunoyer would go onto write the entry on “Government” for the DEP (1852) and a follow up article in the JDE on “The Limits of Political Economy and the Functions of Government (Dec. 1852).[791]

In spite of this opposition from his colleagues, Molinari continued to work on these ideas for at least the next 30 years.

The minutes of these meetings were first published in Bastiat’s Collected Works, vol. 4 (forthcoming), and are reproduced here in a slightly edited form. Some of the more detailed footnotes have been omitted and not all of the participants have been identified for reasons of space.

1. Minutes of the October 1849 meeting of La Société d'économie politique


“Séance de 10 oct. 1849,” in “Chronique,” JDE, T. 24, no. 103, October 1849, pp. 315-16; also ASEP (1889), pp. 82-86.


[The meeting began with a discussion of the progress which had been made in the teaching of political economy, before turning to the topic of the functions of the state.]

After these discussions M. (Horace) Say who presided at the meeting, proposed to bring the conversation around to a very difficult subject (one which had already been abandoned in a previous meeting because of a digression on the topic of state assistance to the poor), namely on the question of knowing where the limits were between the functions of the state and individual activity; if these limits were well defined, and if there was a way to make them more precise. Unfortunately, as M. Say said, this subject was suggested to him by reading the book just published by M. Molinari (Evenings on Saint Lazarus Street, dialogs on several principles of social economy) and it wouldn’t take very much more for the main question to once again be treated very timidly and for the discussion to get sidetracked onto the other topics treated by Molinari such as the principle of compulsory expropriation of property by the state for reasons of public utility, which he had fought against in a very absolute manner.[792] Nevertheless, the conversation was very lively and instructive at the same time. The following gentlemen spoke in turn (on the topic): Messieurs (Charles) Coquelin, Bastiat, (Félix Esquirou) de Parieu, (Louis) Wolowski, (Charles) Dunoyer, (Pierre) Sainte-Beuve (Representative of l’Oise, who was attending for the first time, as was M. (Salomon) Lopès-Dubec, Representative of la Gironde), (Denis Louis) Rodet, and (Claude-Marie) Raudot (Representative of Saône-et-Loire).

M. Coquelin took as his starting point M. Molinari’s opinion that in the future competition will be established between insurance companies which will be capable of guaranteeing security for the citizens who would be their clients. He noted that M. Molinari had not taken care to ensure that, without a supreme authority, justice had a legal sanction, and that competition, which was the sole remedy against fraud and violence, and which alone was capable of making the nature of things triumph in the mutual relations between human beings, could not exist without this supreme authority, without the state. Beneath the state, competition is possible and productive; above the state, it is impossible to put competition into practice and even to conceive of it. Bastiat spoke in the same vein as M. Coquelin. He believes that the functions of the state ought to be confined to guaranteeing justice and security; but, since this guarantee only exists through force, and that force can only be the attribute of a supreme power, he does not understand how society would function with a similar power assigned to groups which were equal to each other, and which would not have a superior point of reference. M. Bastiat then wondered if this idea, that the state ought to undertake no other function than to guarantee security, when expressed in such a very well-defined, clear, and obvious manner, might become useful and effective propaganda given the presence of socialist ideas which are expressed everywhere, even in the minds of those who would like to fight it.

M. de Parieu, following Molinari in his discussion of a very distant ideal society, thought that the question which was raised by the latter concerned the struggle between liberty and nationalism.[793] Now, it was possible that the two principles could be reconciled quite naturally. Switzerland already offered the example of populations which let go of old cantons in order to form independent States. They decentralized power in a certain way but they remained united by the tie of nationality. M. Rodet similarly cited analogous examples from the history of the American Union.

M. Wolowski expressed the opinion that civilisation consists of the coexistence of the two principles marching in parallel: the principle of liberty of the individual and the principle of the social state, which ought not be misunderstood and which is endowed with its own life. The Honorable Representative did not think that the future lay with the breaking up of nations, on the contrary he believed in their enlargement by means of successive annexations of territory.

M. Dunoyer, like M. Coquelin and M. Bastiat, thinks that M. de Molinari let himself be mislead by illusions of logic, and that competition between companies exercising government-like functions was utopian, because it would lead to violent struggles. Now these struggles would only come to an end with the use of force, and it is more prudent to leave force where civilisation had put it, in the hands of the state. Furthermore, M. Dunoyer believes that in fact competition had already entered into government by the role played by representative institutions. For example, in France all the parties are engaged in a real competition, and each of them offers its services to the public who really make a choice every time they vote in elections. M. Dunoyer also wanted to say that if M. de Molinari had been too absolute in forbidding any kind of expropriation of property for reasons of public utility, perhaps it was because some others in recent times had been too ready to violate property rights; he cited the actions of the government before February 1848, as well as the theories espoused within the Constituent Assembly itself, with the support it must be said of the majority. M. Saint-Beuve and M. Bastiat did not accept this accusation directed against the majority of the Assembly to which they belonged. The fact remains that if indeed the Constituent Assembly made any decisions in the sense mentioned by M. Dunoyer there was always grounds to believe that it wasn’t the perfectly sound judgement of the majority, not one based upon economic reason, but one taken by the spirit of political reaction against the extreme left, dominated by socialism, that caused them to act in this way.

M. Raudot, who spoke last, shared M. Wolowski’s opinion about the probability which favored the formation of larger and larger States in the future; but he thought that this concentration of political power would lead people to the greatest tyranny and greatest poverty imaginable, if the state continued to want to absorb everything and to bring the municipalities under a tutelage which would anger the communes and give rise to socialism, the dangers of which we were beginning to understand.

As one can see, the original question put forward by M. Say had not been specifically addressed but several members at the meeting promised to return to it in the future.

2. Minutes of the January 1850 meeting of La Société d'économie politique


“Séance de 10 jan. 1850,” in “Chronique,” JDE, 15 January 1850, T. XXV, pp. 202-205; also ASEP (1889), pp. 94-100.


One of the most sensitive questions that one can examine, one which at the same time applies to political economy and all the other sciences, including that of political philosophy, has been touched upon, and several other matters treated in depth, at the previous meeting of the Political Economy Society.

Already on more than one occasion, at the insistence of some members, this question has been made the order of the day, but the conversation constantly ended up in a digression or focused on one particular case, such as state assistance for the poor, expropriation of private property on the grounds of public utility, etc. This time, although some members who took part in this interesting discussion took pleasure in pursuing some particular questions, such as the state monopoly of insurance, land credit, as well as others, were happy to see that the problem was frankly taken up, probed, dug into, clarified, and even partly resolved.

To begin, the floor was given to M. Wolowski, Representative of the People, who would like to expand the functions of the state and to make it grease the wheels of the administration and take advantage of state centralization to introduce a better system of insurance, and to establish in France institutions of land credit such as that which have been established in Germany and Poland. M. Wolowski thinks that it would be both useful and advantageous for the state, while not becoming involved in the operations of banking itself, to be able to centralize the payment of interest on land debt and mortgages, the repayment of this debt, and to provide a guarantee for the paper which covers these debts and mortgaged property. In addition he thinks that the state can be usefully employed in the organization of retirement savings banks because it will inspire the greatest confidence possible for bank transfer payments and provide the greatest security for the payment of retirement pensions.

In doing all this. M. Wolowski believes that the state can act without using force against anyone, and should act only by making these facilities open in such as way as to stimulate and enrich the planning of the citizens, and at the same time removing parasitical jobs from the body politic. The Honorable Representative thinks that, although our country is too given to state intervention, and he is fearful every time this intervention is used to regulate the production of wealth, he finds that it (intervention) is advantageous in all those institutions whose purpose is the preservation of this wealth.

M. Hovyn-Tranchère put on trial the mania for state intervention in general. He had in mind for good reason the example of socialism pure and simple; and he showed that between the economic theories of the Luxembourg Palace[794] and many of those men who belonged to the parties most opposed to them there was no more difference than logic pushed to its extreme by the revolutionaries of the kind we have just mentioned, and that logic which is incompletely followed by the others. state intervention is the scourge of our day; M. Hovyn-Tranchère believes that we have to fight it everywhere and to the bitter end, and that at the present moment it is even dangerous to halt the discussion at more specialised topics where there might perhaps be some advantage in letting the state intervene more or less.

Directing our attention to the matter of land credit, M. Hovyn-Tranchère, said with good reason that the numerous illusions which are floating about concerning this matter (and which have been entertained by many members of the Constituent Assembly, notably by the Agriculture Committee, (on this see the very surprising report by M. Flandin), have no other cause than ignorance of the most elementary principles of political economy. After some reflection on this, the Honorable Representative thinks that the greatest and sole service which could be given to the system of land credit and to indebted land owners is to facilitate the sale of their goods and their bankruptcy by reducing the property transfer tax.

This subject naturally led the Honorable Member to speak about the present state of eduction which he judged by the fruits which they bear, namely with the greatest harshness. The majority of men who become active in political affairs make concessions to socialism. They speak so eloquently about “order” and “liberty;” they demonstrate their courage but leave no trace of their passage. Since the level of understanding and public morality is getting lower, the Honorable Member concluded that if the tree has produced such fruit for such a long time then it is maggot ridden and it is time to cut it down.

As his general conclusion M. Hovyn-Tranchère thinks that the men charged with the administration of the country ought to stop abruptly and immediately going down the path which intervention is taking us to our ruin.

M. Bastiat spoke along the same lines as M. Hovyn. It is precisely the progress made by the insurance industry which shows what kind of a future the principle of state supported association has, and the danger that it would have posed had the state seized control of this branch of human activity; it would have found its progress ipso facto halted and paralyzed, and would have never made any progress if, from the beginning, the state had intervened with its shackles and its bureaucratic practices. He finds the same arguments apply to the development of workers’ self-help banks,[795] and he insisted especially on this point that the state by intervening halts individual activity, gets in the way of social action, and weakens the energy which drives the human species to improve and develop itself. M. Bastiat only recognizes and accepts the utility of state intervention in the enforcement and guarantee of security, things which require the use of force.

The Honorable Member (Bastiat) opposed a point made by M. Wolowski by arguing that the state had even less reason to involve itself in the preservation of wealth than in its production, since it required more moral strength, foresight, and individual energy to keep what one had acquired than to earn it.

M. Cherbuliez suddenly entered the conversation by asking what could be a solution to the problem posed by the Political Economy Society, namely to identify the general principles, so to speak the higher and governing principles, by means of which it would be possible to determine whether a given function of the state was within the purview of the government or whether it ought to be left to private industry.

By analyzing state activity in this way, M. Cherbuliez thinks that it includes three things: the unity of its goal, the unity of its management, and the bringing together of the force needed to achieve this goal.

By testing the issues of security and education against this principle he showed that in the case of security there was necessarily unity of purpose and unity of management for all members of the society, since everyone was interested in having order maintained and justice provided in the same manner; and finally in order to achieve this result, that is was essential that society gather together all its forces. It is not the same for education. Here, the unity of purpose does not exist; citizens are catholics, protestants, jews, etc., believers and non-believers; there are a thousand ways open to them to provide education for their children, and the unity of management simply leads to tyranny for education, and for learning under this bastard of a standard under which we now groan.

M. de Colmont, continuing the discussion on the topic of finding a general principle, thought that the activity of government ought to be brought to bear in the defense of all interests, and be restricted to the maintenance of all liberties and all faculties, expressions which are, so to speak, synonyms. It is this which should occupy the administration of justice and the levying of taxes which this task requires. This is why the government, led by the way things are, has to retain the monopoly of the issuing of money, since there are advantages and security for everyone that this issuing of money be confined to its sole care. It is the same for the Postal Service and all state functions where it is recognized that state action is indispensable to maintain the full exercise of the liberties and faculties of every person.

In the eyes of M. (Horace) Say, the most practical criterium for judging if a function ought to be reserved to the state, or to be forbidden to it, is this: Does the state do better or worse than private industry? For example, by analyzing labor and the development of mutual Benefit Societies M. Say showed that the state would never have been able to avoid the difficulties which this industry faced; that it would never have been able to assess the risks; and that it would never have been able to know how to combat the false declarations and claims with the same skill as the Companies driven by private interest. It is quite the opposite with security, concerning which it is impossible to do better than to place a part of the state’s revenue in common, so that officers of an association which has been organized in the general interest[796] can guarantee us security, justice, order, and the freedom of working, consuming, bequesting, giving away our goods, and exchanging with whomever it seems in our interest to do so. It goes without saying that in several of these matters the state in no way achieves its goal, and that liberty is still strangely unknown to it.

M. Coquelin recalled a general principle which he had already expressed in a previous discussion.[797] According to him, the state must intervene in matters of security and justice; it alone, soaring above all human activities like a Mount Sinai, can guarantee liberty and competition which are the life blood of all industries. But below this Mount Sinai, M. Coquelin allows no exceptions to the principle of competition, not even that of the railways, which he does however appreciate might cause some people to hesitate.

Before closing the meeting, the President of the Society M. Charles Dunoyer was keen to make one observation of some usefulness, especially for those who might conclude from the general tendency of economists to reduce the functions of the state, that their intention would be to reduce it to nothing. He said that the simplest government, one which only looked after guaranteeing security, justice, liberty, the property of all citizens, would still necessarily intervene in all human activity; that it would intervene more than ever only in a legitimate manner, to pass good laws which would suppress everything which was bad and improper, as well as to enforce the application of these laws. It is not a small service, for example, to provide justice; today it (this service) is only provided in a very incomplete manner, and it is only by including it in its great and good area of specialization that the state will be able to perfect its activity, to better guarantee security, to better help liberty and equality triumph among mankind, and to better serve civilisation.

With the observation by M. Joseph Garnier that this discussion had led to the production of several general principles which needed to be thought about, gone into more detail, and compared, the Society decided that it would take up this matter again at a future meeting.

3. Minutes of the February 1850 meeting of La Société d'économie politique


“Séance de 10 fev. 1850,” in “Chronique,” JDE, T. XXV, no. 107, 15 fev., 1850, pp. 202-5; also ASEP (1889), pp. 100-5.


We are publishing in this issue a well-researched article by our colleague (Clément)[798] on the fundamental question of the limit to the reasonable functions of political authority, with which the Political Economy Society concerned itself in its last two meetings.

We summarized the substance of the ideas which were expressed on this tricky subject in the meeting of 10 January, and we sketched in just a few words the opinions of the Members who spoke at the last meeting, according to the resumé of the previous discussion which was presented by M. Joseph Garnier, upon the invitation of the President M. Dunoyer.

M. Michel Chevalier established that in principle the solution to the problem posed by the Society was only found in an ideal world which civilisation would gradually reach; this ideal world consists of a maximum of liberty granted to the citizens and of a minimum of functions reserved for the government. But it is difficult to specify what this maximum and this minimum are, since they depend on the potential of individual industry, the aptitudes of citizens, and the energy of society. It is even necessary that we give up the desire to formulate these limits; and to imitate the English and Americans who, every time they had to get the state to intervene in large enterprises, did not dream of turning their “conduct of the moment” into a general system, but left it as a measure of expediency.[799]

When it was a question of the Erie canal, people were not troubled with the question of knowing whether it was worth more if the state built the canals or didn’t; they asked who could do it: and as it was stated earlier if individuals couldn’t undertake the building of this public utility the state intervened; but the intervention of the state was the rule of the moment, and later private companies were allowed to do it. Things happened the same way in England.

Furthermore, in the state of New York, they realized that there were not enough college professors, that there were not enough of them to satisfy the needs of the public; and the government, without establishing the principle that it would take control of education, set up a university, all the while not getting itself involved in secondary education, the need for which the free schools were fully satisfying.

In France, we have the all too frequent habit of wanting to generalize and establish some unchanging principles which apply to everything. Thus, there are those who, by turning some things into principles, have reached the conclusion that the state should never alone be responsible for the railways. In this way too, opponents of commercial liberty have pushed their opposition to the extreme and have created this mad theory of national labor,[800] something which is incompatible with all progress and all reforms.

M. Bastiat remarked that the English appeared to him to be be much more willing to take up questions of principle than M. Michel Chevalier said. When it was a question of free trade,[801] M. Cobden and his friends at the very start went down to the basics of the doctrine and during the memorable campaign they never stopped proclaiming its legitimacy and drawing conclusions from that.

Returning to the main point of the discussion, M. Bastiat said that, since society was based upon a general exchange of services, this exchange ought to be undertaken freely and that the state, by intervening and by wishing to provide services, violated the liberty of the buyers of these services, by forcing them (the buyers) to accept them and to pay for them at a fixed price. From this he concluded once again the injustice of government intervention everywhere, except in the production of security and the administration of some commonly owned property, such as water supply, rivers, etc., to which some group of citizens, as a collective entity, had delegated some of its rights and powers in order to support.

M. Charles Renouard, a Councillor in the Supreme Court (Cassation) and one of the vice-presidents of the Society, recognized that the state had two duties, outside of which its intervention appeared to him to be harmful.

The first of these duties of the state was not to oppose the free development of morality and liberty by mixing itself in the affaires of its citizens; the second was to administer well what comprised the common interest, to maintain security and justice within the country, to guarantee the independence of the country, to maintain good relations with other societies across the world, and to establish a public force with sufficient men and finances to inspire respect. Beyond the fulfilling of these duties, the government would usurp its proper functions.

In an animated and thoughtful conversation M. Renouard insisted on the importance of not doing harm; assuredly, doing good was preferable, but in the absence of doing good, the absence of doing)harm is a great good next to harm. Now, it is in abstaining more and more from seizing control of various branches of work that governments will at least stop doing a certain amount of harm, and will leave society to free itself from its diapers and advance towards liberty, morality, and civilisation. M. Renouard was pleased to say that taking everything into consideration mankind was steadily advancing towards progress, and that one could see this march just by considering some quite short periods of time. Society was much better off than it was 50 years ago, and 50 years ago it was much better than it had been in the time of Louis XIV, who was a great king but under whom none of us today would want to live.

The floor was then given to M. (Alphonse) Rodière, professor in the Faculty of Law in Toulouse and who was also teaching a free course in political economy to some students in that town. M. Rodière was currently in Paris as an examiner at the School of Law in Paris and had been invited to attend the meeting by the Society. M. Rodière remarked that there were only two logical positions to take in this serious matter: that of the socialists who want the state to do everything, and that of the economists who want the state to concern itself only with what is necessary or indispensable. The state ought to ensure respect for good laws, whether between one nation and another, or between one individual or another; it ought to maintain security, justice, the organization of a public armed force, and to concern itself with some other related matters. At this time in France, the state has obviously gone beyond the limits of these natural functions, since there is a government employee for every 16 inhabitants[802], and perhaps even one for every nine if one includes the army in this average. By going to the root of the matter one can see in this fact the principle cause of the political spasms and the revolutions which have followed one after the other in our country.

M. Dussart, former Councillor of State, emphasised the necessity of the government in exercising its control over everything. He cited on this subject, the activity of the communal authorities who have to look after lighting, paving, running water, etc. activities which have been neglected in England, to the point where, in researching the causes of the high mortality rate)during the cholera epidemic, it was revealed that is some parts of London some sewers and dung pits had not been emptied for 50 years.[803] He cited this recent law passed by Parliament which ordered an Irish land owner to “do justice to his land,” that is to say to invest the necessary capital to maintain it or abandon it. From these and other facts, M. Dussart concluded that, without being too specific, he was in favor of quite extensive intervention by the state. His observations provoked several objections. As for the law on Ireland, it is doubtful whether experience has shown it to be profitable, and that this attack on the liberty of the landowners has been useful to the unfortunate people of that country.

M. Rodet, who completely supported the opinions expressed by M. Michel Chevalier, replied to M. Dussart that, had the system of intervention, control, and centralization existed then, the town of Bourges would never have been able to give Jacques Cujas a teaching position.[804] Today the state would say to the municipal government of this town: “It is I alone who ought to teach the law.” M. Rodet added that the state should only do what the communes cannot do, and that the latter should only concern themselves with a few general matters which were unrelated to the work of its citizens.

M. Howyn-Tranchère closed the meeting by explaining clearly that in England and America, examples cited by M. Michel Chevalier and M. Rodet, that the principle of non-intervention was accepted; that the problem had been resolved in the public mind and in the government’s mind; and that it was quite the opposite in our country, where as a result the principle of non-intervention had to be brought to the public’s attention every time they strayed from it. M. Howyn remarked that, furthermore, the acts of intervention which have been cited are those of a particular state, of a “politicised" state, and not those of the state in the abstract; while here at home intervention always comes from the central state, from the central bureaucracy.

A Selection of Articles from the DEP (1852-53)


While he was writing Les Soirées over the summer of 1849 Molinari was also working on 30 articles which would appear in the most important publication the Guillaumin publishing form had undertaken up to that time, namely the Dictionary of Political Economy.[805] Both Les Soirées and the DEP were part of the Guillaumin  firm’s strategy of opposing “false” economic ideas concerning protectionism and socialism among ordinary people (for whom Les Soirées and Bastiat’s many pamphlets were written) as well as among the political and intellectual elite (for whom the DEP was written). The purpose of the latter was to assemble a compendium of the state of knowledge of liberal political economy with hundreds of articles written by leading economists on key topics, biographies of important historical figures, annotated bibliographies of the most important books in the field, and tables of economic and political statistics.

The DEP project was most likely conceived in late 1848 or early 1849, was announced in the Guillaumin catalog of May 1849 as being “in preparation,” was made available in subscription form in August 1849, and the first volume of which was printed in book form in early to mid-1852. So, Molinari would have been working on both projects during 1849 and it is not surprising therefore to see a certain overlap between Molinari’s two concurrent projects for which he used much the same source material, used the same examples to illustrate his arguments, and even quoted from the same texts.

We have made considerable use of the DEP in our research into French economic thought as it provides a great deal of information about French government policy, economic data on a broad range of topics, contemporary literature on economic thought, and most importantly, the state of mind of the French political economists in the mid-19th century.

Molinari was a major contributor to the Project, writing 25 principle articles and five biographical articles. Other major contributors included the editor Charles Coquelin (with 70 major articles), Horace Say (29), Joseph Garnier (28), Ambroise Clément (22), and Courcelle-Seneuil (21). Maurice Block wrote most of the biographical entries. Molinari’s articles were the following (those in bold are inlcuded in this Addendum):

Biographical Articles (5):

1. “Necker,” T. 2, pp. 272-74.

3. “Peel (Robert),” T. 2, pp. 351-54.

4. “Saint-Pierre (abbé de),” T. 2, pp. 565-66.

5. “Sully (duc de),” T. 2, pp. 684-85.

Principle Articles (24):

1. “Beaux-arts” (Fine Arts), T. 1, pp. 149-57.

2. “Céréales” (Grain), T. 1, pp. 301-26.

3. “Civilisation” (Civilization), T. 1, pp. 370-77.

4. “Colonies,” T. 1, pp. 393-403.

5. “Colonies agricoles” (Agricultural Colonies), T. 1, pp. 403-5.

6. “Colonies militaires” (Military Colonies), T. 1, p. 405.

7. “Émigration” (Emigration), T. 1, pp. 675-83.

8. “Esclavage” (Slavery), T. 1, pp. 712-31.

9. “Liberté des échanges (Associations pour la)” (Free Trade Associations), T. 2, p. 45-49.

10. “Liberté du commerce, liberté des échanges” (Freedom of Commerce. Free Trade), T. 2, pp. 49-63.

11. “Mode” (Fashion), T. 2, pp. 193-96.

12. “Monuments publics” (Public Monuments), T. 2, pp. 237-8.

13. “Nations” (Nations), T. 2, pp. 259-62.

14. “Noblesse” (The Nobility), T2, pp. 275-81

15. “Paix, Guerre” (Peace. War), T. 2, pp. 307-14.

16. “Paix (Société et Congrès de la Paix)” (The Society and Congress for Peace), T. 2, pp. 314-15.

17. “Propriété littéraire et artistique” (Literary and Artistic Property), T. 2, pp. 473-78

18. “Servage” (Serfdom), T. 2, pp. 610-13

19. “Tarifs de douane” (Customs Tariffs), T. 2, pp. 712-16.

20. “Théâtres” (Theaters), T. 2, pp. 731-33.

21. “Travail” (Labor), vol. 2, pp. 761-64.

22. “Union douanière” (Customs Union), vol. 2, p. 788-89.

23. “Usure” (Usury), vol. 2, pp. 790-95.

24. “Villes” (Towns), T. 2, pp. 833-38.

25. “Voyages” (Travel), T. 2, pp. 858-60.

The topics he focused on were two that were dear to his heart and on which he had already written, namely free trade and slavery. Concerning free trade, he wrote the articles on Grain, Free Trade Associations, Freedom of Commerce. Free Trade, Customs Tariffs, and Customs Union. Concerning slavery, he wrote the articles on Slavery and Serfdom. On more specialised topics on which he would also write in Les Soirées, we should note those on Fine Arts, Literary and Artistic Property, Theaters, Labor, and Usury. Another group of topics that deserve special mention are those to which one normally would not expect to see economic analysis applied, such as Emigration, Fashion, Public Monuments, and Travel. The latter suggest that Molinari had an innovative way of thinking about all manner of social and cultural problems and using economic analysis to deepen our understanding of them in new and interesting ways.

Interestingly, some thirty years later the American political theorist John Joseph Lalor (1840-1899) edited an American version of the DEP in 1881, the Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States, which included 100 entries from the DEP which he had translated, including seven by Molinari (which are included in this Addendum). Just as America was moving further into the protectionist camp, Lalor and his colleagues were translating some of the hardest of hard-core French free trade advocates, such as Molinari’s “Freedom of Commerce. Free Trade,” and offering it to American readers. The impact of this infusion of French political economy into America seems to have been minimal if anything, but it was a remarkably undertaking.

We have included Molinari’s own footnotes in the following articles. All the others are by the editor. Many of Molinari’s footnotes are vary sparse so we have made the references more complete where necessary. Some passages that were cut from the Lalor version have been restored and this has been indicated in the footnotes. Furthermore, Lalor’s translations have been updated and modernized and some terms have been changed to be in accordance with the terminology used throughout Les Soirées.

Cities and Towns


“Villes,” DEP, T. 2, pp. 833-38.

In John Joseph Lalor, Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States by the best American and European Authors, ed. John J. Lalor (New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., 1899). First edition 1881. Vol 1 Abdication-Duty, “Cities and Towns,” pp. 468-73. Trans. E. J. Leonard.


I. How towns originate. Circumstances which determine the choice of location or lead to its abandonment.

Towns are aggregations of people and of industries, and they are formed under the natural pressure to satisfy certain needs. Their development is in no way arbitrary. Sometimes princes have entertained the illusion that they had only to issue a royal fiat to make a new city rise and flourish; but experience has rarely failed to convince them that they had presumed too much with their power. Without doubt, a monarch may, by changing the seat of his empire, as Peter the Great did, for example, create a center of population and wealth. The public functionaries of all grades and those who aspire to these positions, being obliged to live in the capital and to spend their salaries or incomes there, necessarily attract around them a population of tradesmen, artisans, and domestic servants; but, unless the new city provides a location favorable for certain branches of production (and in this case the intervention of the government is not necessary in order to found it) there will be no significant development. However, here one exception should be made. If the government continually enlarges its functions, if it attempts to pursue of a policy of centralisation and communism[806] at the expense of the liberties of the country, and, in consequence, increases the number of persons in its employ, the town where it has established the seat of its power will not fail to grow and to acquire wealth: but it is questionable whether the country will have a reason, in this case, to be pleased with the prosperity of its capital. If, on the contrary, the government has only limited powers, if it has only a few persons in its employ, its capital, in case no other industry can be advantageously established there, will be forced to occupy a very modest position in comparison with the centers of manufacturing or commercial production. Such is the case with Washington, the capital of the American Union. J. B. Say has clearly shown in his Traité this powerlessness of governments to establish cities and towns and make them prosperous.

“It is not sufficient,” he says, “to lay out a town and to give it a name, for it to exist in fact, it must be furnished by degrees with industrial talents, with tools, raw materials, and everything necessary to maintain the workmen until their products may be completed and sold; otherwise, instead of founding a town, one has only put up theatrical scenery, which will soon fall, because nothing sustains it. This was the case with Yekaterinoslav, in Taurida, as the emperor Joseph II. foreshadowed, when, after having been invited to lay in due form the second stone of that town, he said to those around: ‘I have finished a vast enterprise in one day, with the empress of Russia; she has laid the first stone of a town, and I the last.’
Nor does moneyed capital suffice to establish a large manufacturing business and the active production necessary to form a town and make it grow: a locality and national institutions which favor that growth are also necessary. There are perhaps some deficiencies connected with the location of the city of Washington, which prevent its becoming a great capital; for its progress has been very slow in comparison with what is common in the United States. While the situation of Palmyra, in former times, rendered it populous and rich, notwithstanding the sandy desert by which it was surrounded, simply because it had become the entrepôt of the commerce of the Orient with Europe. The prosperity of Alexandria and Thebes in Egypt was due to the same cause. The decree of its rulers would not alone have sufficed to make it into a city with a hundred gates and as populous as Herodotus represents it. The key to its importance must be sought in its position between the Red Sea and the Nile, between India and Europe.[807]

Let us now attempt to give a brief outline of the requirements which have determined the establishment of towns and the choice of their location. The necessity of providing for their security must, more than any other cause, have originally prompted men to create towns. They understood that by joining together in fortified places, they would be more secure than if they were scattered over a vast extent of territory. To this necessity, which was felt by mankind in the earlier ages, were joined the special advantages of manufacturers and commerce. While agricultural production extends, from its nature, over a considerable surface, most of the branches of industrial and commercial production require, on the contrary, a certain concentration. Let any one examine them in the various civilized countries, and he will find they have collected about a few centres. Thus, in France, the silk industry has its principal seats at Lyons and Saint Etienne; the cotton industry at Lille, Rouen, and Mulhouse; the wool industry at Rheims, Elbeuf, Sédan, etc.; and the fashion industry is in Paris. What particular causes have determined the establishment of any industry in any particular locality rather than another, is of itself an interesting subject of investigation. Sometimes it has been the vicinity of the raw material, or of a market, sometimes the special aptitudes of the people, and again a combination of these various circumstances.

The location of the industries does not stop here: in the towns where they become established, we see them select certain quarters and certain streets as their centres. This sub-localization by quarters and streets is notably observable in Paris; and one may find some interesting remarks on the subject in the Inquiry into the Industries of Paris undertaken under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce.[808] The same fact is observable in civilizations which have little analogy with ours. To cite only one example: a Spanish traveler, Don Rodrigo de Vivéro, who gave, in 1608, an interesting description of Yeddo, the capital of Japan, mentions this distribution of the industries through certain quarters and streets as the most salient feature which had attracted his attention.[809]

“All the streets,” he says, “have covered galleries, and each one is occupied by persons of the same business. Thus the carpenters have one street, the tailors another, the jewelers another, etc. The tradesmen are distributed in the same manner. Provisions are also sold in places appropriated to each kind. Lastly, the nobles and important personages have a quarter by themselves. This quarter is distinguished by the armorial bearings, sculptured or painted over the doors of the houses.”

With the exception of a few slight differences, is not this description applicable to most of the capitals of Europe? Thus the same economic necessities are felt in the most varied civilizations, and give them a common form.

Numerous causes, however, are constantly at work, to change the location of industries, and in consequences, of the centres of population supported by these industries. The usual result of every industrial or commercial improvement is to move the place where production occurs. When the route around the cape of Good Hope was discovered, Venice lost much of her importance. Later, the invention of machines for spinning and weaving cotton built up the prosperity of Manchester at the expense of that of Benares and other cities of India, which had previously been the centres of cotton manufactures. In like manner we to-day see steam locomotion give rise to new cities or exert sudden pressure on old ones which were remaining stationary. The city of Southampton, for example, acquired in a few years considerable importance, because its port was thought well adapted to be a center to some lines of ocean steamers. Let a new system of navigation appear, and perhaps Southampton will be abandoned for another port whose situation is more in harmony with the particular requirements of the new system. Thus cities and towns experience, to their advantage or detriment, the influence of causes which modify from day to day the conditions of existence and production.

We said above that governments have only have a weak power to create new towns, and, above all, to make them prosperous. We might add that neither do they possess to any higher degree the power of destroying existing towns or changing their location. In vain did the victorious barbarians employ fire and sword in the cities they had conquered; in vain did they plow up the ground of these condemned cities and sow them with salt: as it was not in their power to destroy the natural advantages which had led the people to gather there, in a few years the mischief was repaired and life circulated more freely than ever in the very places that a foolish pride had devoted to eternal solitude. Barriers to the free circulation of men and things have unfortunately been more effective than projectiles or incendiary torches, in destroying the centres of population and wealth. Many a flourishing city has been transformed into a veritable necropolis by restrictions depriving it of its commerce or of a market for its products. In the seventeenth century we find a notable instance of this. The Dutch, jealous of the prosperity of Antwerp, succeeded in obtaining the closing of the Scheldt river (by the Treaty of Munster 1648) and this barbarous measure, which was continued in force for two centuries, gave a mortal blow to the commerce of Antwerp and to the industries of the Flemish people, of which the Antwerp merchants had been the active intermediary agents. More recently, we have seen the port of Bordeaux, formerly one of the most frequented in France, deserted as a result of the system of trade prohibition.

Population and wealth are not only changed by being displaced from one town to another; they change from place to place within the same town. New quarters arise within the towns or in their suburbs, while the old ones are abandoned and fall into decay. These local changes are brought about by causes, manifest or latent, whose action modifies in the course of time the requirements or conveniences which had determined the choice of the first location. The general improvement in in security may be considered the most important of these causes. Let us dwell a moment on this point.

The old towns of Europe were, for the most part, built on elevated plateaus or on hills more or less steep; so that their inhabitants had constantly to ascend and descend, which occasioned a considerable waste of energy in daily transportation. Besides, these towns were usually restricted to a narrow enclosure, the dwellings pressed upon one another like the cells in a hive. Why was it that our ancestors dwelt in a manner so devoid of economy, so uncomfortable, and sometimes so unhealthy? To explain this curious fact we must take into account the condition of Europe after the invasion of the barbarians. Insecurity was then universal. The conquerors had built retreats for themselves in the most inaccessible places, and they swept down like vultures from their nests, over the neighboring regions, to pillage or make them pay ransom money. Too weak to resist, the former inhabitants of the country, who were the victims of their plundering, came to terms with them, as one comes to terms with bandits in countries where the government is without power. They secured the protection of the most powerful bands by paying them a regular tribute, and they had their dwellings as near as possible to their protectors. They generally settled around strong castles, so as to be able to take refuge in them in case of danger. The first houses were situated just below the castle, and the others were placed lower and lower down the slope, like an amphitheatre. As soon as the inhabitants became sufficiently numerous, they surrounded their city with walls and towers to complete their system of defense. Thus were built most of the towns which originated in the middle ages.

When we consider the necessities of the times, the narrowness of the streets is also explicable. It was due to the fact that the fortifications had been made within as restricted a circle as possible, in order to make the defense easier and less costly. When the population increased, they were consequently obliged to build their houses higher and to reduce the width of the streets, in order to keep within their original limits. Sometimes, indeed, they moved the walls back; but it was only as a last resort that they submitted to a measure so costly.

But by degrees general security increased. The feudal system disappeared, and with it the internal wars ended. Then began a movement which resulted in changing the location of the city population. From the heights to which care for their safety had obliged them to confine themselves, they descended to the plains, where they could dwell more comfortably and at less expense. The faubourgs (suburbs) owe their origin to that increase of security which allowed peaceable men engaged in the industries to live henceforth outside the city fortifications.[810] Accelerated, moreover, by another cause, which we shall consider later, this displacement of the town population has become generally more and more general: everywhere we see the inhabitants of the old towns leave the homes they have dwelt in for ages, to occupy new homes, less expensive, more comfortable, and more healthful.

II. Of the relative size of city or town and country population. Causes which determine and modify it.

The foundation and choice of location of cities and towns are determined, as we have just seen, by the state of civilization and of the technology of production. The same is true of the proportion between the population and wealth of towns and of rural districts. This proportion is essentially diverse and variable. It differs according to the countries and the time. When production has made little progress, when men are obliged, in consequence, to employ the greater part of the productive forces at their disposal in procuring for themselves the necessities of life, the industries which provide for less urgent wants can not be developed, for lack of consumers. The towns where these industries center because of their nature and their special fitness for them, progress in that case only with extreme slowness. It is then in countries and at times when production, and especially agricultural production, has realized the most progress, that the town population must be, and in fact is, the greatest.

Let us take for examples two countries whose positions in the scale of production are very unlike, viz., England and Russia. In England, where the town population exceeds by far the rural population, the number of families engaged in agriculture was estimated in 1840 at only 961,134, while that of families engaged in manufactures, commerce, etc., was 2,453,041.

The 961,134, families engaged in agriculture furnished 1,055,982 effective laborers, who produced enough food to sustain the greater part of the English people. In countries where agriculture is less advanced, two or three times as many hands, relatively, are required to give an equivalent product: and the natural result is that the town population can not be so numerous.[811] Such is the case in France; such is especially the case in Russia, where the agricultural production undertaken by the serfs has remained in its infancy. According to M. Tégoborski, one can only count 733 towns having a population of 5,356,000 inhabitants out of a total population of about 60 million, while in Austria there are 773 towns, in Prussia 979, in France 901, for populations numerically smaller. The backward state of Russian agriculture is certainly the primary cause of the small growth of urban population in Russia. The peculiar organization of the industries there has also had somewhat to do with the result.[812]

“The manufacture of small articles,” says M. Tegoborski, “such as are made in the various trades, is located, in Russia, in the rural districts rather than in the towns: it is carried on by village communities, which take the product of their labor to the fairs: this is why the fairs in Russia are of more importance than in other countries. In other countries the workmen in the towns, for the most part, supply the demands of the rural districts: with us, it is often the reverse, and the shoemakers, joiners, and locksmiths of the villages provide for the wants of the townsmen. … Any one may obtain convincing proof of this lack of artisans in Russia, in most of our towns, by examining the statistics of the trades of other countries and taking some of the most common as a basis of comparison. Thus, for example, in Prussia, the trades of shoemakers, glove makers, joiners, wheelwrights, glaziers, blacksmiths, locksmiths, and braziers numbered, in 1843, 322,760 masters and journeymen for a population of 15,471,765, being 21 workmen to 1,000 inhabitants: and when we take the statistics of the towns, this proportion rises in the large towns, to 40 workmen, masters and journeymen, belonging to these various trades, to 1,000 inhabitants of the total town population, which is three, four, or even more times the proportion we find in the towns of Russia.”

In our day improvements which effect an economic change in production result in a rapid increase of the town population. From what has heretofore been said we may conceive that it would be so.[813]

“In France, for example,” says M. Alf. Legoyt, “the population increased, from 1836 to 1851, 6.68 per cent. For the entire period, or 0.44 per cent. per annum. In 166 towns having 10,000 souls and over, the increase in the same interval was 24.24 per cent. or 1.616 per cent. a year. In 10 years the increase of the town population was then 16 per cent., while that of the total population was only 6 per cent.

The case is similar in England. According to the tables of the last census, the town population of Great Britain (England and Scotland), which was in 1801 only 3,046,371, attained in 1851 the number of 8,410,021. This is an increase of 176 per cent., while the total increase of the population in the same period, was only 98 per cent. And if we observe in what towns the increase has been the most considerable, we find in the first place the great manufacturing towns and the commercial ports. While the population of the county towns increased only 122 per cent., that of the manufacturing ones increased 224 per cent., and that of the seaports, London excepted, 195 per cent. In the towns devoted especially to iron industries, the increase was 289 per cent., and in the centres of cotton manufacture, 282 per cent.

Every improvement in the technology of production can only accelerate this increase of the town population. Should we lament it, or rejoice at it? This is a much contested question, but the economists agree in deciding it in favor of the cities. Adam Smith and J. B. Say, notably, prove that the multiplication and the enlargement of towns are desirable, even looking at the matter with reference to the interests of the rural districts. Adam Smith, who examined this subject with his usual insight, concludes that the rural districts have derived three principal benefits from the development of manufacturing and commercial towns.[814]

1. By affording a great and ready market for the rude produce of the country, they gave encouragement to its cultivation and further improvement. This benefit was not even confined to the countries in which they were situated, but extended to all those with which they had any dealings.
2. The wealth acquired by the inhabitants of cities was frequently employed in purchasing such lands as were to be sold, of which a great part would frequently be uncultivated. Merchants are commonly ambitious of becoming country gentlemen; and when they do, they are generally the best of all improvers. A merchant is accustomed to employ his money chiefly in profitable projects; whereas a mere country gentleman is accustomed to employ it chiefly in expense, etc.
3, and lastly. Commerce and manufacturers gradually introduced order and good government, and, with them, the liberty and security of individuals, among the inhabitants of the country, who had before lived almost in a continual state of war with their neighbors, and of servile dependency upon their superiors.

The development of the town population is not then a fact at which we need be troubled. Doubtless temptations are greater and bad examples more numerous in town than in the country; but how much more abundant and within the reach of all are the means of enlightenment and moral improvement! The statistics of criminal justice show, that the town population does not furnish a proportionally greater contingent of criminals than the rural population; and yet it is worthy of note that the police is much more effective in towns than it can be in the rest of the country.[815]

The same improvements which increase the town population, tend also to improve their dwellings. Under the influence of improved security, we have seen towns descend from the summit of plateaus and the sides of hills, to the plains: we shall see them, according to all appearances, extend over a wider and wider surface, as means of communication become less expensive and more rapid. Great improvements have already been realized in this direction. As well as in the cleanliness and repair of streets, and the internal comfort of dwellings and economy in their management. Who can predict what the future may yet have in store for us?

III. The administration of cities and towns. What it is, and what it ought to be

Towns have commonly an administration of their own. Sometimes each quarter even has its own. This administration sometimes is appointed by a superior authority, in other cases from the inhabitants of the city themselves. This latter way of appointing (an administration), which obliges the administrators to answer for their actions to those who are administered, is usually the better. As to the course to pursue in order to govern a city well, it does not differ from that which should be pursued in the government of a nation. A city administration, like a national one, should exercise only such functions which, by their nature, cannot be left to competition between private individuals.[816] Now these functions are not numerous, and they become less and less so, as progress causes the obstacles to disappear which either prevent or obstruct the action of competition.[817] In fact, whatever the zeal or the devotion of a municipal administration, it is not in the nature of things that the services which are organized in common in the city should be of as much importance as those which are left to private individuals. Doubtless the desire to merit public esteem should press the administrators to do well: but does this motive ever prove as powerful as the interest which stimulates private industry? We may prefer the intervention of municipalities to that of the government for the organization of certain services, and the establishment and maintenance of certain regulations of public utility; but it is well, as far as possible, to dispense with both.

Unfortunately, municipal administrations have the defect of all governments; they like to assume importance, and, with that view, they are constantly enlarging their powers and, in consequence, the amount of their expenses. In our times they are especially possessed with a mania for undertaking public works and buildings. They appear convinced that by demolishing old quarters at the expense of new; by by erecting building upon building; by giving, on the least pretext, balls, concerts, and grand displays of fire works, they contribute effectively to the prosperity and greatness of their cities. Need we say that they are going directly away from the end they wish to attain? These public works, these buildings, these sumptuous entertainments, are very costly, and recourse must always be had at last to taxes, to cover the expenses. Then they tax a multitude of things which serve to feed, clothe, shelter, and warm the population, among whom exists a class, unfortunately the most numerous, who barely possess the means of providing for the absolute necessities of (their) existence. In a word, the expense of city living is artificially increased. And with what result? Population and manufactures relocate as far as possible from a locality where lavishly spending city administrators have permanently established high prices: they settle in preference outside the limits where this economic plague rages.[818] And (and it is a point worthy of note) this change of location, so fatal to landowners in the old towns, has become easier and easier. At a time when lack of security forced people to concentrate in localities which nature had fortified and where technology came to the aid of nature, when, on the other hand, the difficulty of constructing artificial means of communication and maintaining them in good condition rendered the natural ways, such as navigable rivers more valuable, the number of locations suited to become centres of population, was very limited. At the same time the slowness with which private dwellings and public buildings were constructed, (years were sometimes devoted to the building of a house, and centuries to the construction of a cathedral), condemned the people who changed their location, to endless privations and discomforts. Circumstances combined to give existing towns, considered as places of residence, a veritable natural monopoly. But, influenced by the progress already mentioned, this monopoly is disappearing more and more, and as a result, it daily becomes easier for the people to rid themselves of the burden which a bad administration imposes upon them. Nor do they neglect to do so; for we see them abandoning towns where the expenses of living is too great, (commencing in the quarters less favorably situated), and enlarging the faubourgs or creating, farther away, new centres of activity and wealth.[819] Thus, by drawing largely on the wallets of tax payers and unscrupulously issuing any number of bills of credit on future generations, high spending city administrators) far from adding to the prosperity of their cities, end by precipitating them into inevitable ruin. Economy in expenditure should be the supreme rule in the government of cities, as well as in the government of nations. By observing this rule, much more than by increasing the number of old buildings demolished, new ones built, or by holding public festivals, municipal administrations may acquire serious and lasting claims to public gratitude.



“Civilisation,” DEP, T. 1, pp. 370-77.

Lalor: John Joseph Lalor, Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States by the best American and European Authors, ed. John J. Lalor (New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., 1899). Vol. 1 Abdication-Duty. “Civilization,” pp. 485-93.


Civilization is made up of the combined material and moral progress that humanity has made and that it continues to make every day. The source of this progress is to be found in the faculty which has been given to man of learning about himself and the world in which he lives, and of accumulating this knowledge, passing it on to others, and combining these all together. Thus material progress is the result of the more and more extended knowledge which observation gives us of [486] the natural resources of our globe, and of the means of developing them; moral progress likewise is developed by means of the more and more exact and complete ideas which observation provides, of our nature, the society in which we live, and our destiny.

Man’s wants are the powerful stimulants which urge him to increase his observation and to accumulate knowledge. Nature furnishes him with the material necessary to satisfy these wants, but this material he must collect and fashion for his use. None of his appetites can be satisfied without effort and labor. Now, this effort, this labor, by the very nature of his constitution, implies suffering. It is his interest, consequently, to reduce his labor as much as possible, while increasing his satisfaction; it is his interest to obtain a maximum of satisfaction with a minimum of labor. How can he reach this end? By one means and by one means only, by applying more and more efficient processes to the production of the things he needs. And how can he discover these processes? Only by observation and experience.

Urged by hunger, primitive man attacked the animals that were least able to defend themselves, and devoured them. He discovered that the flesh of some of these animals was fit to appease his hunger, and agreeable to the taste; but it was hard for him to procure a sufficient quantity of it regularly, for most of these animals were swifter of foot than he was. Spurred on by want, he endeavored to overcome this difficulty, and succeeded. A savage more intelligent than the rest, noticing the property in certain kinds of wood which allowed them to be bent without breaking, and to straiten out again with a violent recoil after being bent, thought of utilizing this force to hurl projectiles. The bow was invented. It at once became easier for man to feed himself. He could now turn his thoughts to observation in another field and combine his observations so as to increase his enjoyments and diminish his pains. At the same time his moral wants, awakened by a multitude of mysterious phenomena, urged him onward in this direction, as well as his physical wants. Must not the terrible phenomenon of death, for instance, by filling his soul with curiosity, dread, and sometimes with grief, have incited him to penetrate the secret of his destiny? Thus, incessantly urged onward by the increasing and irresistible wants of his nature, man has never ceased, since the beginning of the world, to pile observation on observation, one kind of knowledge on another, and thus to improve his material and moral condition.

Civilization, therefore, seems to us a natural fact; it is the result of man’s very nature, of his intelligence, and his needs. Its source is in observation stimulated by self interest, and it has no limit but that of the knowledge which is given to man to accumulate and combine under the pressure of his needs. Now, this limit we can not see; whence it follows that it has been possible to say with truth that progress is indefinite.

Civilization, however, although inherent in human nature, has not equally developed among all nations. Certain peoples have remained, even to our day, plunged in the darkness of primitive barbarism, while at their very side we find civilization arrayed in all its power. To what is this inequality of development to be attributed? We must attribute it to the inequality of the physical and moral faculties of the different races of men; we must attribute it also to the surroundings in the midst of which each race is developed. We must attribute it, to use the language of economists, to the amount of natural goods, both external and internal,[820] which the Creator has bestowed upon each people. Now, these raw materials of civilization are very unequally distributed: between the ignorant Botocudo[821] and the Anglo-Saxon, who has become his neighbor, the distance, from both a physical and a moral point of view, is immense, and between these two varieties of the human species, who seem to form the extreme links in the chain of the varieties, of man, we find a whole multitude of races all unequal, all different; just as, between the sands of the Sahara and the alluvial soil of Senegal there are many degrees of fertility!

We must carefully examine how these natural inequalities have acted upon civilization. If two nations, unequally favored with internal goods, be placed in similar environments, it is evident that the one best provided with this natural capital,[822] will develop more rapidly and more completely than the other. It is also clear that if two nations, equally favored with internal gifts, be placed amid unequal environments, their development also will be unequal. The influence of natural goods, and of their unequal distribution upon civilization, has not as yet, we believe, been sufficiently studied and appreciated. On the other hand, the influence of external surroundings has been much better recognized and more attention has been called to it. Jean Bodin,[823] Montesquieu,[824] and Herder,[825] clearly demonstrated its importance. They might even be accused of having exaggerated it.

However this may be, by taking well into account these natural elements of civilization, we can readily understand how certain races have reached a very high degree of civilization, while others have remained plunged in barbarism. If, for instance, we but study the natural history of the various races of men who inhabit the archipelagoes of the Pacific ocean, and their physical surroundings, we will comprehend why they have remained the most backward of the human species. In the first place, these tribes are generally of very weak intellect; they have but a small share of that faculty of observing, and of accumulating and combining their observations, which constitutes the essential driving force of civilization. In the second place, the mildness of the climate and the natural fertility of the soil enabling them to satisfy, without labor, their most basic needs, leaves their minds without any stimulant to action. Finally, their topographical situation, by isolating them from the rest of mankind, has restricted them to the development of their own resources, to their own limited elements of civilization. To obtain other resources or elements of civilization, they would have had to cross the abyss of the ocean. But to traverse the ocean, they would have had to know the art of navigation, to be acquainted with the compass, etc., a knowledge beyond the reach of their understanding. These tribes of men, lost in the immensity of the ocean, were thus condemned to languish for a longer time than the rest of mankind in the darkness of barbarism. In all probability they would still be plunged in this darkness had not light come to them from without, had not nations already advanced in civilization begun to visit them.

But suppose that these tribes, instead of being separated from civilization by the depths of the ocean, had lived on or near the main land, their condition certainly would have been very different. In the course of time they would have communicated with one another, they could have intermingled, they would have exchanged their discoveries and their products. This contact and this intermingling of tribes differently endowed, would have resulted in a civilization, coarse and incomplete, no doubt, but which would have produced a social state far superior to that of all the isolated tribes of the Polynesian archipelagoes. This is one example of the influence of natural goods, internal and external, upon civilization.

Let us give another illustration. At the opposite extremity of the scale of civilization is Great Britain. The inhabitants of Great Britain are a composite people, the product of six or seven races, which successively invaded British soil, whose different aptitudes united and combined to develop it. The natural conditions of the soil, climate, and topographical situation of Great Britain, admirably assisted the work of civilization. The soil is fertile, but its fertility is not exuberant enough to allow those who cultivate it to become the victims of indolence. The climate, although not exceedingly rigorous, renders clothing and shelter necessary to man. Lastly, Great Britain is separated from the continent by an arm of the sea, which, while it protects the inhabitants from foreign invasion, allows them easy communication with other nations abundantly provided with the elements necessary to progress. Favored by such a combination of natural advantages, civilization could not but develop rapidly.

Let us suppose, however, that the inhabitants of Great Britain had been cast upon the shores of New Zealand;[826] that, consequently, they could not intermingle with such people as those who successively came to settle beside them, nor communicate with a continent on which civilization had already shed its light, is it not likely that they would today differ very little from the natives of New Zealand? Now that the influence which the distribution of natural goods, both internal and external, exercises on civilization is clearly recognized, let us see what influence the state of the relations which men bear to one another may exercise on their progressive activity; under what social circumstances they are most stimulated to utilize the elements of progress at their disposal.

If civilization is a product of our mind, stimulated by our needs, it is evident that it will develop more rapidly in proportion as man may more freely employ his faculties in channels suitable to them, and in proportion as he is himself certain of enjoying the fruit of his efforts. If I have an aptitude for mathematics, and am forced, without any regard for my talent, to devote myself to painting, the most active and powerful part of my mind will remain almost inactive. I might have been able to solve a number of mathematical problems; but as I was forbidden to devote myself to this work, for which I was naturally fitted, the problems which I might have solved will not be solved at all, or at least they will be solved later, and civilization will be thereby retarded by so much. On the other hand, I may paint, but, as I have little talent for the art of painting, I shall contribute nothing to its progress. A good mathematician has been spoiled in me to make a bad painter. To interfere with the liberty of working, therefore, is to nullify and to suppress the forces which would have stimulated human progress; it is in some sense to amputate that part of the mind which would have contributed most effectively to the advancement of civilization. The progress of civilization is permanently hindered by the restrictions which close the ranks of certain professions to men who might excel in them, or when admission to them is rendered expensive and difficult, when immutable rules prescribe for each the career he must follow.[827]

All attacks on the right of property[828] are another cause which retards civilization. Why does a man condemn his mind to the labor of accumulating, combining, and applying observations to the satisfaction of his needs? Is it not because this labor procures him enjoyment or spares him trouble? He has no other aim. But if he be deprived of this enjoyment, in whole or in part; if the fruit of his self-imposed labor be consumed by others, what reason would he have left to put his mind to work or otherwise? If, for instance, another compels this man to work for him, to cultivate his field, to grind his corn, and leaves him barely enough of the fruit of his own labor to subsist upon; if, in a word, he be a slave, what interest can he have to improve the cultivation of his land or the grinding of corn? What will it avail him? Does he not know that the fruit of his laborious research will belong entirely to his master, that is, to his natural enemy, to the person who each day robs him of his legitimate wages to appropriate them to himself? Why, then, should he add to the gratification of a man who unjustly deprives him of his own? Slavery, therefore, which is, however, but one of the innumerable forms of plunder, appears as one of the most serious obstacles that impede human progress;[829] in like manner, every arbitrary or legal act which injures or menaces property, natural or [488] acquired, delays the progress of civilization, by weakening the incentive which urges men to extend the circle of their knowledge and their acquisition.

Liberty, which allows every man to draw the utmost possible benefit from the gifts with which nature has endowed him, and the right of property, which entitles him to the absolute enjoyment of these gifts, and of the fruit which he can derive from them, are the necessary conditions of human progress. Plunder, under the multitude of forms which it assumes, is the great obstacle that retards, and has, from the beginning of the world, retarded the development of civilization

This being the case, it would seem that men should have, from the very beginning, contrived some means of maintaining inviolable their rights of liberty and property. Unfortunately they have learned only after a long and hard experience, how essential respect for liberty and property is to their well being. If we try to leave this experience out of consideration, and examine the natural conditions in which men were placed in the beginning, taking into account their instincts, their wants, and the means which they had of satisfying them, we will be convinced that they could not begin except by plunder.

Ignorant men, barely having left the state of nature,[830] with no other guide than their instincts, no acquired experience either of the world or of themselves, were obliged to supply needs felt anew every day, and which had to be satisfied under pain of death. Lacking the tools and knowledge necessary to assure them a regular food supply, they were incessantly exposed to the hardship of extreme hunger. When one of these ignorant and famished beings met one of his fellowmen, who, more fortunate than he, had succeeded in getting some prey, a struggle for it was inevitable. Why should not a starving and destitute man attempt to possess himself of the booty which came his way? Having no scruples about robbing the bee of its honey or devouring a sheep, why should he respect man? There is undoubtedly a natural instinct which prompts beings of the same species not to injure one another, but must not this instinct, whose intensity varies in different individuals, have yielded before the all-powerful pressure of want? Let us picture to ourselves what would happen even in our day, notwithstanding the great progress we have made, notwithstanding our acquisitions in the physical and moral order, if there were no superior force established to suppress individual cruelty, and society were abandoned to anarchy. The most frightful disorder would inevitably result from this condition of things. Robberies and murders would increase in a frightful manner, until such time as men had reorganized a force to repress this. For still stronger reasons must not the result have been the same in the first ages of the world?

History proves, moreover, that abuse of power was widespread in these first historical periods, whose innocence has been so loudly vaunted by the poets. The liberty and property of the weak were always at the mercy of the strong. Every one was thus constantly exposed to be robbed of the fruit of his labors. Consequently, no one took any interest in increasing his possessions or accumulating property. Progress was impossible under this system. What was the result? The experience of the evils of anarchy led men to combine together in order to better protect their liberty and property. Associations were formed everywhere, and in them murder and robbery were forbidden and punished. Still the action of restoring peace of these mutual protection companies[831] was at first very limited: if men appreciated clearly enough the necessity of living at peace with their immediate neighbors, the inconveniences of a war with men a little farther away did not impress them so forcibly. They often even believed it to be in their interest to conquer and plunder them. Experience had gradually to extend the domain of peace, that is, the systematized and organized respect for liberty and property.[832] Little by little, people dwelling in close proximity to one another, and nearly equal in strength, became convinced, by the results of their various encounters, that they lost more than they gained by making war. They, therefore, agreed to suspend their hostilities, to make truces, particularly, if they were employed in agriculture, especially during seed-time and harvest. They finally entered into alliances, whether to attack or to defend themselves in common. Between these people who had declared truces or concluded treaties there was regular communication. They imparted to each other the knowledge they had acquired and accumulated. Exchange of products and exchange of ideas took place at the same time. Thus we find that civilization developed in proportion as the experience of the evils of war enlarged the sphere of peace.[833] The same result was obtained when one group extended its dominion over other people, for the conquerors soon perceived that it was to their interest to maintain peace in the regions under their rule. Under the domination of the Romans, for example, the most civilized nations of the world ceased to make war on one another, and magnificent roads united these nations which had so long been strangers and enemies. The progress made by each of them in its isolation extended to all. The Christianity of Judea, the philosophy and arts of Greece, the legislation of Rome spread to Africa, Spain, Gaul, and Germany, and reached even to Great Britain. At the same time commerce was developing, and useful plants, together with the art of cultivating them, passed from one country to another: the cherry was imported from Asia Minor into Europe, the vine was transported into Gaul; in a word, civilization under all its forms progressed from the east to the west

Nevertheless, in these first ages of humanity, peace could be neither general nor lasting: in the midst of the pacified nations, slavery in all its degrees appeared as a permanent cause of conflict. From without, hordes of barbarians coveted the wealth accumulated by these civilized peoples. All the early centres of civilization, Persia, Egypt, the Roman empire, after a thousand intestine struggles, became, as is well known, the prey of barbarians.

The great invasions which occupy so large a place in the history of the world had not everywhere and always the same results. They were, according to circumstances, favorable or disastrous to the progress of humanity. In order to appreciate the influence they exercised from this point of view, we must ascertain first, what amount of material and non-material capital[834] was destroyed in the course of the invasion; we must examine also whether, the conquest once completed, the conquerors and the conquered gained by their contact with each other more liberty and security; whether the forces leading to progress were increased. Anarchy, slavery, and war are the great obstacles in the way of civilization; but frequently these obstacles either destroyed or weakened one another. Sometimes slavery put an end to anarchy, and sometimes war to slavery. There was retrogression wherever the result of the conflict was a decrease in the liberty or security which had been acquired, and, on the other hand, there was progress whenever the sum total of liberty and security in the world was increased by the conflict: at least whenever the destruction of capital caused by the conflict was not great enough to counterbalance the gain which had been made.

We can not say, for instance, whether the invasion of the Roman empire by the barbarians of the north hastened or retarded the progress of civilization; whether or not the immense destruction of material and non-material capital occasioned by this cataclysm was compensated for by acquisitions of another nature;[835] whether or not, if the Roman empire had lasted, the different varieties of men who today inhabit Europe would have been so advantageously intermingled; whether or not slavery would have continued for a longer time. We have not the data necessary to solve this historical problem. We can, however, conjecture that, if the establishment of Roman domination over nations, most of which had adopted slavery, could still serve the cause of civilization by causing peace to reign among these nations, by increasing, consequently, the amount of security which the world enjoyed, without noticeably diminishing the sum total of its liberty; in like manner, the establishment of the barbarians upon the ruins of the Roman domination contributed to the progress of civilization by hastening the abolition of slavery, and thus increasing the amount of liberty possessed by the human race.

Be this as it may, liberty and security have been making constant progress ever since the downfall of the Roman empire, and especially since the end of the feudal barbarism which replaced it.[836] This progress, whether quickened or not by the invasion of the barbarians who overran the old civilized countries, wonderfully aided the development of modern civilization. Thenceforth, as man had greater liberty to employ for the increase of his well-being the elements of progress at his disposal, and felt more assured of being able to preserve the fruit of his labors, he gave greater scope to his activity. He explored the material and the moral world with a power and a success of which he before had no idea. He discovered all at once the means of better preserving the things he had already acquired, and of multiplying and propagating new ones more rapidly. Some of these discoveries have exercised such an influence upon the march of civilization that we must dwell upon them for a moment.

We will mention first the invention of gunpowder. The immediate effect of this discovery was to change the proportion between the labor and capital necessary to the exercise of what we may call the military industry.[837] It required less labor and more capital, fewer men and more machines. One piece of cannon served by eight men took the place of a hundred archers. What was the result? Civilized nations acquired an enormous advantage over barbarous peoples from the point of view both of attack and defense. The superiority of their tools of war, together with their superiority in the capital necessary to put this costly machinery[838] in operation, assured them predominance. Thenceforth new invasions of barbarians coming to destroy the things previously acquired by civilization were no longer to be feared. Moreover, now that they were freed from the corruption of slavery, which might in time render invasions useful, the civilized nations acquired in this respect a security which they did not enjoy in ancient times. Instead of being subjugated anew by the barbarians, they everywhere began to subject the barbarians to their rule.[839]

Thus were the achievements of civilization permanently assured, while a process was soon after discovered whereby to propagate, at small expense and with marvelous rapidity, the knowledge accumulated by the human mind: we refer to the invention of printing. But a short time ago, the diffusion of the non-material capital of humanity was difficult and costly; sometimes even a part of previously acquired knowledge was lost. Thanks to the printing press, it became possible to reproduce indefinitely the same observation, the same thought, and the same invention, and to send it thus multiplied through the immensity of the ages.[840]

Nor is this all. Civilization in ancient times was local. Each nation, separated from neighboring nations, either by physical obstacles, or by the hatred or prejudices of centuries, had its own narrow and isolated civilization.[841] Thus, in the first place, a more and more extended experience of the evils of war, together with the progress of moral and political sciences, began to draw nations together by showing them that it was to their interest to dwell together in peace, and exchange with one another the products of their industry. Thus, again, the application of steam and electricity to locomotion, by annihilating space, so to speak, renders more and more practicable this exchange, which is now recognized as useful. Thus, thanks to this material and moral progress, local civilizations, formerly isolated, hostile, and without regular communication, began to unite, preserving in a general civilization their own peculiar characteristics.

But if we seek out the origin of this great progress which has assured and accelerated the march of civilization, we shall find that it comes, like all other progress, from the employment of the human mind in the observation of the phenomena of the moral and physical world; an employment which has become more general and more fruitful in proportion as men have been more interested in engaging in it. The men who have systematized the method of observation, and first among them Sir Francis Bacon,[842] have been objects of great praise, and surely this is only just. We must not, however, forget that this method was known and practiced from the very beginning of the world, since it is to observation, and to experience which is but another form of observation, that all human progress is due. If it was less fruitful in ancient times, it was, primarily, because the collection of previous knowledge which could be used to acquire new knowledge was less; it resulted also from the fact that, as liberty and property were less generally guaranteed than now, fewer men were interested in observing and in utilizing their observations. The use of technology,[843] for instance, which was abandoned for the most part to slaves, remained of necessity at a standstill. What interest would the slaves have had in improving it? But must not this lack of progress in certain essential branches of human knowledge in turn slowing down the rise of all the others? Do we not know that all progress is connected, and that discoveries made in any part of the domain of industry lead to others, frequently in an opposite end of this domain? There is certainly little connection between the manufacture of glass and the observation of celestial bodies; and still, how much has the progress in the art of glass-making advanced the progress of astronomy! In ancient times the lack of progress in technology, which slavery had degraded, deprived men of the ideas and tools necessary to enlarge the circle of their knowledge. In consequence, the method of observation was less effective in their hands, and sometimes even remained sterile. What was the result? Men, pressed for the solution of certain problems, and not perceiving how to solve them, declared the method of observation powerless, and built, upon the fragile basis of hypothesis, systems to which science was destined to do justice at a later day. The method of observation was discredited, especially when certain classes believed themselves interested in maintaining the solutions given by hypotheses; but this discrediting of the method of observation which had its first source in slavery was inevitably bound to disappear with it. In proportion as slavery disappeared, and the gap in the progress of technology began to be filled up, the method of observation, provided with new tools, acquired a range which no one would before have imagined it capable of. Its efficacy in solving problems which had before been regarded as beyond the human mind, then became manifest to all. The honor of being the first to recognize this fact belongs to Bacon; but does not the credit of popularizing and universalizing the method of observation belong still more to liberty than to Bacon? Isn’t it from the very moment when observation acquired liberty as an all-powerful ally and, to the degree that it had more liberty, observation increased its efforts and obtained the most marvelous results? Since the advent of industrial liberty, for example, has not the domain of civilization extended more, in one century, than it had in twenty centuries before?

By becoming more general, under the influence of the progress we have just described, the power of civilization has increased in an incalculable degree. Formerly, each isolated nation was confined almost exclusively to its own resources to develop its knowledge and increase its prosperity. Now, as the aptitudes of men are essentially different, according to race, climate, and circumstances of place; as the qualities of the soil are no less so, and the same piece of land is not equally well adapted for all kinds of crops; each isolated civilization necessarily remained incomplete. Only certain privileged individuals could use for the satisfaction of their wants, products brought from other parts of the globe.[844] The mass of the people were obliged to content themselves with the products of their own country, and the small extent of the market proved an insurmountable obstacle to the progressive developments of these products. The lack of communication was to a certain extent compensated for by artificially increasing the number of national industries, by learning about the industries of foreign nations. Unfortunately, this assimilation, useful when restricted within certain limits, was carried too far. Countries wished to produce everything, even those things which cost less when bought from foreign countries; and in this they partially succeeded by banning the use of imported goods.[845] But they still failed to attain the desired result, which was to increase the amount of things calculated to satisfy the needs of their inhabitants. Instead of increasing the number of their satisfactions, they reduced them. Instead of advancing in civilization, they relapsed into barbarism. We must add, however, that observation and experience are constantly endeavoring to do away with this error, as they have already done away with so many others. The more enlightened nations begin to perceive that it is their interest to obtain the greatest possible amount of satisfaction, for the smallest amount of effort, and that they can never attain this end by barricading themselves against the cheapness of goods. The time will come when they themselves will tear down the artificial barriers with which they have surrounded themselves in place of the natural barriers which the steam engine had broken down. On that day the elements of civilization which God has placed at the disposal of the human race, and the material and non-material capital which man has accumulated in the course of the centuries, will be best and most fruitfully employed; on that day also will the natural division of labor among the different nations, now impeded by artificial restrictions, be fully developed. We do not know, and it would be superfluous to conjecture, to what height civilization thus universalized will rise, and to what degree it will increase man’s moral and material satisfactions, while diminishing his efforts and his suffering. All that we can say is, that considering the progress which civilization has already made, the human mind, provided with a capital which increases so much more rapidly the more it accumulates; provided with all the tools necessary to preserve and propagate what it has required; urged on by needs which have never yet been satisfied, and which seem insatiable, will continue constantly to advance with a more rapid and a surer step until it reaches the undefined limit beyond which it cannot go.

Nevertheless, some minds are still in doubt as to the future of civilization, and present various objections on this point which it will be well to answer. Their principal objection may be thus stated: if civilized nations have no longer to fear the invasions of barbarians from without, are they not, on the other hand, daily more and more exposed to be overrun by the barbarians from within?[846] Do they not run the risk of falling back into barbarism, or at least of remaining for a long time stationary, by becoming the prey of those men who have not ceased to wallow in primitive ignorance. Doubtless civilization may be retarded in a country by ignorance, or, what amounts to the same thing, by the mistaken interest of a ruling class.[847] Nevertheless, this cause, antagonistic to civilization, has not so much influence as is attributed to it. If it is a multitude, imbued with utopian ideas, that seizes control of the government of society, experience, or even the simple discussion of these theories, readily proves to them their emptiness, and, as the multitude is most interested in the good government of society, a reaction takes place in its midst; it divests itself of its dangerous illusions, and civilization at once resumes its onward march. If society is, on the contrary, under the domination of a class attached to the maintenance of old abuses, the evil caused by these abuses after a greater or less delay, according to the more or less advanced state of the communication of ideas finally becomes manifest to every one. Then the pressure of public opinion puts an end to it.

A grave question here presents itself incidentally. Is it well to crush, if necessary, the resistance of the class attached to established abuses, to resort to revolutions to destroy these abuses, or is it better to wait till they disappear of themselves under pressure of the progress made outside the range of their baneful influence? This question plainly admits of two solutions, according to the circumstances of time and place. It may be affirmed, however, that in our day the peaceful solution is generally the better. Think, indeed, with an unprejudiced mind, of the results of certain events of quite recent occurrence, the enormous amount of capital they consumed, the active forces they absorbed, the dire calamities they produced; take into account, at the same time, the progress made since the invention of printing, and the application of steam to locomotion, and be convinced that revolution is too high a price to pay for progress in our day, and that it is best, therefore, to abstain from it, even in the interest of civilization.

A second objection, no less frequently urged, is the following: material wellbeing is not developed except at the expense of public morality; men become morally more corrupt, in proportion as their condition improves materially, and their civilization, so brilliant on the surface, is rotted from within. Nothing could be more false.[848] In the first place, the history of civilization proves that the branches of human knowledge which contribute to improving the moral nature of man, do not develop less rapidly than those which tend to develop his material prosperity. Religion, for instance, has never ceased, in the course of ages, to grow in perfection and purity, and to exercise, for this very reason, a most beneficial influence over human morality.[849] How superior is Christianity to Paganism in this respect! And can we not easily perceive progress in Christianity itself? Is not the Christian religion of today a more perfect instrument of moralization than it was in the days of the St. Dominics and the Torquemadas?[850] Do not the philosophical sciences also, and political economy in particular, labor more effectively every day to improve men’s morals by showing them every day more clearly that the observance of the laws of morality is an essential condition of their existence and well-being? In the second place, ought not material progress of itself, far from being an obstacle to the moral development of the human race, contribute, on the contrary, to sustain it? By rendering man’s labor more fruitful, and his existence easier, must it not tend to diminish the force and frequency of the temptations which impel him to violate the laws of morality in order to satisfy his material appetites? Experience, moreover, confirms these deductions drawn from the observation of our nature. The criminal records prove that the poorer classes commit, other things being equal, a greater number of crimes than the [492] richer classes; they prove also that crime decreases and morals improve in proportion as the comforts of life are extended to the lower strata of society. This objection, based upon a so-called moral erosion of nations occasioned by the development of material prosperity, is therefore at variance with observation and experience.

The third objection claims that the progress of industry has increased inequality among men. It holds that the tendency of industrial progress is to concentrate, on the one hand, masses of capital, and, on the other, multitudes of men whose condition becomes every day more miserable. Historical facts give the lie to this assertion. Compare the social inequality which exists in our day with that which existed in the time of the Roman empire; contrast with the slaves of the latifundia and the powerful head of a patrician family, the poorest workman with the richest of our bankers; and say whether the extremes of the social scale, far from having become more widely separated, have not come nearer together! Progress favors equality, or at least its continual tendency is to reduce social inequalities to the level of natural inequalities. We notice, in fact, that liberty and property are better guaranteed in proportion as civilization gains ground, and that the progress made in guaranteeing liberty and property, is the essential condition of all other progress. Now, if each man is obliged to depend upon his own industry for a livelihood; if there is no longer any plunder, open or hidden, to give to one man the fruits of another’s labor; if, in a word, the most powerful and active causes of inequality disappear, must not social differences inevitably end by coming down to the level of the differences which nature has made between men?

The only cause that could maintain and even aggravate these inequalities, by attributing to those who control the means of subsistence and the tools of labor an unwarranted predominance, is the permanent excess of population. Fortunately, the multiplication of the human species does not depend solely upon man’s power to reproduce; it depends also upon his foresight. Man has the power to control the production of beings like himself; he can speed up or slow down this production, depending upon whether he foresees that his own condition and that of the beings whom he brings into the world will be improved or impaired thereby.[851] But this foresight, which puts a beneficial limit to reproduction, naturally acquires greater strength and greater control in proportion as man becomes more enlightened.

In his Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain, Condorcet demonstrated[852] that there would be less and less reason to fear an excess of population, owing to the natural development of foresight under the influence of civilization.[853]

Suppose,” he says, “the limit (at which population pressed on the means of subsistence) has been reached, no dreadful consequences would result, either to the well-being of the human species, or to its indefinite perfectibility; provided we suppose that before that limit was reached the progress of reason kept pace with the progress of the arts and sciences; … men would then know that, if they had duties to beings not yet in existence, these duties consist, not in giving them existence, but happiness; these duties have for their object the general well-being of the human species, or of the society in which those who are bound by them live or of the family to which they belong; and not the puerile idea of loading down the earth with useless and unhappy beings. There might, therefore, be a limit to the sum total of the means of subsistence, and consequently to the possible maximum of population, without its resulting in the premature destruction of a portion of living beings, which is so contrary to nature and social prosperity.”

We see that the different elements of our nature, and of the world in which we live, are so disposed that civilization appeared as an inevitable and irresistible fact. There is nothing, however, of fatality about it, inasmuch as it continually feels the influence of our free will. If it is not in the power of any one to stop it, or cause it to go backwards, each one can nevertheless exert an influence over its progress, and perhaps also over its end result. Infringe the liberty and property of others; do not utilize as much as you might the productive forces at your disposal; be lazy, ignorant and wasteful; and you will retard civilization. On the contrary, set an example of moral virtue, of respect for liberty and property, of the spirit of research, of diligent and hard work, and you will contribute your share toward advancing it. Each individual acts upon civilization for good or for evil, within the more or less extended sphere of his activity. Only, each one being more and more interested to act in such a manner as to contribute to its progress, the number of the acts which advance it surpass every day more and more the number of those which retard it. The general impulse given to civilization depends upon the sum of the faculties and needs which have been assigned to man, and upon the natural resources which have been placed at his disposal; but nonetheless it still remains subject to the action of man’s free will for any mishaps in its unfolding. Civilisation is a providential not an inevitable matter.

Now that we have described the elements of civilization, and have shown with the aid of what material and moral instruments the great work is carried on, how it can be accelerated and how retarded, let us sum up in a few words the economic characteristics by which civilization is recognized, and the end toward which it tends.

Civilization is seen to be the development of the power of man over nature. Now, there is an external sign by which this development may be recognized: the division of labor. The country in which labor is most divided in all its branches, where, for this very reason, social relations are most developed, is therefore evidently that in which civilization is most advanced.

Civilization has for its end the better satisfaction of our material and moral needs. It leads us, by progressively ameliorating the conditions of our existence, toward the ideal of the power and of the beauty adapted to our nature and the resources which the Creator has placed at our disposal.

The idea of an indefinitely improving civilization is modern.[854] In ancient times, when material progress was impeded by slavery, men could not conceive of any other progress than that of the sciences and the fine arts. Still the sight of the dangers to which civilized people were exposed, the destruction of so many local civilizations by the invasion of barbarians, must have eradicated all ideas of general and uninterrupted progress. This idea could hardly appear until after the invention of gunpowder and of printing. Its germination was slow. Vico prepared the way for it by collecting, in a systematic manner, the observations which he had made upon the development of civilized nations;[855] but Turgot was the first who enunciated it, supporting it by positive data (in his Discours en Sorbonne, and in his Essais de géographie politique).[856] Condorcet, with some differences, amplified the ideas of Turgot. In Germany, Kant discovered civilization in the spread of human liberty;[857] Herder studied, somewhat vaguely perhaps, its natural elements;[858] the economist Storch undertook to propound the theory of it.[859] Although incomplete, and faulty in certain respects, this theory is still worthy of study. At a later period Guizot drew a picture of the progress of civilization in Europe, and especially in France:[860] but the insufficiency of his economic knowledge is seen in his work, which is otherwise one of the most remarkable of the French historical school.[861] Lastly, civilization has also had its fiction writers. Taking no account either of the nature of man, nor of the conditions of his development, as observation and experience reveal them to us; the socialists have built up imaginary civilizations, as false or incomplete as the data upon which they rest.[862] Observation, which is the first tool of civilization, is also the only tool we can use to recognize and describe it.



“Mode,” DEP, T. 2, pp. 193-96.

Lalor: John Joseph Lalor, Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States by the best American and European Authors, ed. John J. Lalor (New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., 1899). First edition 1881. Vol. 2 East India Co. - Nullification. “Fashions, Political Economy of,” pp. 161-64.


Fashion exercises considerable influence on a number of industries, particularly on those pertaining to clothing and lodging. Every change in fashion is a source of profit to some persons and of loss to others. A man who invents a new design or a new combination of colors in dry goods, or a new style of furniture or of a coat, and who succeeds in bringing his invention into fashion, may derive great profits from it, especially if his right to it is guaranteed him.[863] (See “Literary and Artistic Property.”)[864] On the other hand, the individuals who possess a supply of articles which are out of fashion, experience a loss. It is the same with the manufacturers and workmen who devote themselves to the production of these articles, when the new fashion varies noticeably from the old.

“It is well known,” said Malthus, “how subject particular manufactures are to fail, from the caprices of taste. The weavers of Spitalfields were plunged into the most severe distress by the fashion of muslins instead of silks; and great numbers of workmen in Sheffield and Birmingham were for a time thrown out of employment, owing to the adoption of shoe strings and covered buttons, instead of buckles and metal buttons”[865]

Thousands of similar examples might be cited.

McCulloch finds in these disturbances occasioned by fashion an argument for the poor-tax.

“It may be observed,” he says, “that owing to changes of fashion, … those engaged in manufacturing employments are necessarily exposed to many vicissitudes. And when their number is so very great as in this country [England], it is quite indispensable that a resource should be provided for their support in periods of adversity.”[866]

We do not wholly share the opinion of Mr. McCulloch on this subject. How, in fact, does fashion operate on certain industries and on certain classes of laborers? It acts as a risk. Now this risk, which may result in losses to the manufacturers and in stoppage of work to the workmen, must necessarily be covered, so that the profits of the one class and the wages of the other may be in just proportion to the average profits and wages in other branches of production. If it were otherwise, if the risk arising from the fluctuations of fashion were not completely covered, capital and labor would soon cease to be directed to branches of industry subject to this particular risk. Then, competition diminishing in these branches, profits and wages would not fail to increase until there was compensation for the risk. This being granted, suppose a law intervenes to guarantee to the workman a minimum amount of food during the time he is thrown out of employment in consequence of the variations of fashion; what will be the result? The risk arising from that cause being partially covered or compensated, the result will be that the wages of the workman will be lowered by an amount precisely equal to the risk covered, that is to say, by the amount of the tax. How then can the tax be an advantage to the workman, since it will not in reality have increased the amount of his resources? Doubtless the workman might have squandered his wages and have found himself destitute when the fashion changed, and the consequences of the risk fell upon him. The poor-tax is nothing but a compulsory savings bank, whose funds are levied from his wages, and on which he has the right to draw when out of employment. But must not a bank of this kind, by freeing the workman from the necessity of foreseeing the critical periods and providing for them, perpetuate his intellectual and moral inferiority? Is it not an insurance for which he pays too high a premium? (See “Wages” and the “Poor Tax.”)[867]

J. B. Say looked at the influence of fashion from a different point of view. According to that eminent economist, the frequency of changes in fashion occasions a ruinous waste.

“A nation and private individuals will give evidence of wisdom,” he says, “if they will seek chiefly articles of slow consumption but in general use. The fashions of such articles will not be very changeable. Fashion has the privilege of spoiling things before they have lost their utility, often even before they have lost their freshness: it increases consumption, and condemns what is still excellent, comfortable and pretty, to being no longer good for anything. Consequently, a rapid succession of fashions impoverishes a state by the consumption it occasions and that which it arrests.”[868]

These words of M. Say are evidently most judicious but we need not because of them, or because of the above-quoted observation of Malthus, condemn fashion from an economic point of view; for if fashion causes a certain harm and certain disturbances, especially when its fluctuations are too frequent, in return, it is one of the prime movers of artistic and industrial progress. This will be apparent from a single hypothetical case.

Let us suppose that fashion should cease to exercise its influence; that the same taste and the same style should continue to prevail indefinitely, in respect to clothing, furniture, and dwellings will not this permanence of fashion give a mortal blow to artistic and industrial progress? Who, pray, will exercise his ingenuity to invent anything new in the line of clothing, furniture, or dwellings, if the consumers have a dread of change, if every modification of fashion is considered an outrage, or even forbidden by law? People, in that case, will always do the same things, and, in all likelihood, will always do them, besides, in the same manner. Let the taste of the consumers, on the other hand, be variable, and the spirit of invention, of improvement, will be powerfully stimulated. Every new combination adapted to please the taste of consumers becoming then a source of profit to the inventor, every one will exercise his ingenuity in devising something new, and the activity thus given to the spirit of invention will be most favorable to the development of industry and the fine arts. It will sometimes happen, doubtless, that ridiculous fashions will replace elegant ones; but under the influence of a desire for change, for flitting about like a butterfly, as a Fourierist would say,[869] which gives birth to fashion, this invasion of bad taste would be transient, and people would continually advance by improvement upon improvement.

On examining the influence which fashion exercises over the development of industry and the fine arts, one becomes convinced that the invigorating impulse which it gives to the spirit of invention and improvement more than compensates for any injury it causes. Besides, fashions have their life expectancy, whose average may be easily calculated, and which the experience of producers, since they do not have have a “table of mortality rates” prepared ad hoc, is skilled in estimating. Rarely does an intelligent manufacturer produce more of any design or shade than the consumption can absorb before this design or this shade is out of fashion; and if, perchance, his forecast has proved incorrect, if the fashion passes by sooner than he had foreseen, he easily finds some way of getting rid of the excess of his merchandise among the large class of consumers who are behind the times. A certain kind of fabric or a certain hat which has become out of date in Paris, may yet, after two or three years, delight the ladies of lower Brittany or of South America.

We have just pointed out the influence fashion has on production. Let us now consider briefly its characteristics and the causes which determine its variations. Fashion is not alone affected by the physical influence of the temperature of a country and the moral influence of the taste and character of the population, it is also largely subject to the influence of the social and economic organization. The institutions of a people are reflected in it as in a mirror. Consequently, in countries where the abuses of privilege and despotism permit a class considered to be superior to maintain their idleness at the expense of the rest of the nation, the fashions are commonly ostentatious and complicated. They are ostentatious, because those who are privileged feel the necessity of dazzling the multitude by the splendor of their external appearance, and of thus convincing them that they are made of superior clay: “from porcelain clay of earth,” as the poet Dryden said.[870] The fashions are also complicated, because the privileged class have all the leisure necessary to devote a long time to their appearance, the sumptuousness of which serves, as has been said, to inspire in the vulgar an exalted idea of those who wear it. But let the condition of society be changed; let those who are privileged disappear; let the upper classes, henceforth subject to the law of competition, be obliged to employ their faculties in earning their living; we at once see fashions become simpler; and the embroidered coats, short clothes, dresses with trains or with paniers, in a word, all the magnificent and complicated apparel of aristocratic fashion are seen to disappear, to give place to attire easily adjustable and comfortable to wear.

In a witty pamphlet entitled England, Ireland and America, by a Manchester Manufacturer,[871] Richard Cobden pointed out, in 1835, with much acuteness and humor, the necessities which had operated within a half century to bring about this economic change of fashion. Mr. Cobden depicted the old London merchant with his magnificent costume and his formal manners, and showed how merciless competition caused the disappearance of this model of the good old times, to replace it with a modern type, with dress and habits infinitely more economical.[872]

“Such of our readers,” he says, “as remember the London tradesman of thirty years ago, will be able to call to mind the powdered wig and the queue, the precise shoes and buckles, and the unwrinkled silk hose and tight inexpressibles that characterized the shop-keeper of the old school. Whenever this stately personage walked abroad on matters of trade, however pressing or important, he never forgot for a moment the dignified step of his forefathers, while nothing gratified his self-complacency more than to take his gold-headed cane in hand, and, leaving his own shop all the while, to visit his poorer neighbors, and to show his authority by inquiring into their affairs, settling their disputes, and compelling them to be honest and to manage their establishments according to his plan. His business was conducted throughout upon the formal mode of his ancestors. His clerks, his shopmen and porters, all had their appointed costumes; and their intercourse with each other was disciplined according to established laws of etiquette. Every one had his especial department of duty, and the line of demarcation at the counter was marked out and observed with all the punctilio of neighboring but rival states. The shop of this trader of the old school retained all the peculiarities and inconveniences of former generations; its windows displayed no gaudy wares to lure the vulgar passer-by, and the panes of glass, inserted in ponderous wooden frames, were constructed exactly after the ancestral pattern…
The present age produced a new school of traders, whose first innovation was to cast off the wig, and cashier the barber with his pomatum-box,[873] by which step an hour was gained in the daily toilet. Their next change was, to discard the shoes and the tight unmentionables, whose complicated details of buckles and straps and whose close adjustment occupied another half hour, in favor of Wellingtons and pantaloons, which were whipped on in a trice, and gave freedom, though, perhaps, at the expense of dignity, to the personal movements during the day. Thus accoutered, these supple dealers whisked or flew, just as the momentary calls of business became more or less urgent; while so absorbed were they in their own interests that they scarcely knew the names of their nearest neighbors, nor cared whether they lived peaceably or not, so long as they did not come to break their windows.
Nor did the spirit of innovation end here; for the shops of this new race of dealers underwent as great a metamorphosis as their owners. While the internal economy of these was reformed with a view to give the utmost facility to the labor of the establishment, by dispensing with forms and tacitly agreeing even to suspend the ordinary deferences due to station, lest their observance might, however slightly, impede the business in hand; externally, the windows, which were constructed of plate glass, with elegant frames extending from the ground to the ceiling, were made to blaze with all the tempting finery of the day.
We all know the result that followed from this very unequal rivalry. One by one, the ancient and quiet followers of the habits of their ancestors yielded before the active competition of their more alert neighbors. Some few of the less bigoted disciples of he old school adopted the new-light system; but all who tried to stem the stream were overwhelmed; for with grief we add, that the very last of these very interesting specimens of olden time that survived, joining the two generations of London tradesmen whose shops used to gladden the soul of every Tory pedestrian in Fleet street, with its unreformed windows, has at length disappeared, having lately passed into the Gazette, that Schedule A of anti-reforming traders.[874]

From this ingenious and clever sketch we can clearly see the necessity which determined the simplification of the fashions of the old régime. This necessity arose from the suppression of the ancient privileges which permitted a member of the corporate body of tradesmen, or a manufacturing mechanic who had attained the rank of master, to pass his time attending to his appearance, or to meddle in the quarrels of his neighbors, instead of giving his attention to his own business: it arose from the extensive growth of competition, which obliged every merchant, every manufacturer, every head of a business enterprise, to take into account the value of time, under penalty of seeing his name finally inscribed under the fatal heading of a bankrupt. A régime of competition does not permit the same fashions as a régime of privilege; and fashion is as sensitive to modifications arising from the interior economy of society as it is to changes of temperature.

This being so, it is obvious that it is wrong for a government to attempt to influence fashion by obliging, for example, its servants to wear sumptuous and elaborate apparel. In fact, one of two results follow. Either the state of society is such that the ruling classes find it to their advantage to display a certain ostentation in their dress; and in this case it is useless to impose it on them, or even to recommend it to them. Or the state of society is such that people in all ranks of society have something better to do than to spend a long time over their appearance and dress: in this case, what good can result from the intervention of government in matters of fashion? If sumptuousness of attire becomes general, if men accustom themselves to spending part of their time to their way of dressing which is demanded by their business affairs, will not society suffer harm? If, on the contrary, the example given above is not followed, if the magnificence of the costumes of the court and the ante-chamber is not imitated, will not this display form a shocking disharmony in the business world?[875] Will it not produce an impression analogous to that one receives from a masquerade? A government should then carefully avoid interference in this matter, even if it means encouraging lace trimming and embroidery within the nation. It should follow fashions, not guide them.

To recapitulate: Fashion, looked at from an economic point of view, exercises on the improvement of production an influence whose utility more than compensates for the damage which may result from its fluctuations. On the other hand, it is naturally established and modified by various causes, among which economic causes hold an important place. When people do not understand the necessities which determine its changes, they establish artificial fashions, which have the double disadvantage of being anti-economic and ridiculous.

Fine Arts


“Beaux-arts,” DEP, T. 1, pp. 149-57.

Lalor: John Joseph Lalor, Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States by the best American and European Authors, ed. John J. Lalor (New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., 1899). First edition 1881. Vol. 2 East India Co. - Nullification. “Fine Arts,” Vol. 2, pp. 206-11.


The taste for the beautiful, that is to say, the need felt for a certain order and a certain harmony in things which affect the senses and the mind, either in sound, color, form, or movement, gave birth to the fine arts. To arrange sounds, forms, colors, or movements in a manner which shall produce an agreeable impression upon the senses or the mind, is the object of the musician, the painter, the architect, the sculptor, the poet, or, to use a general term, of the artist. In the specialist dictionaries the domain of the fine arts is commonly restricted to painting, sculpture, architecture, and music. Some even give the name of art only to the imitation by mechanical means of all forms in their highest degree of natural or ideal beauty. This is what the Germans call plastic art. This word embraces only such arts as drawing, painting, sculpture, and architecture, together with engraving and mosaic work.[876] But this definition is obviously too narrow. When a musician or a dancer awakens in the mind a sense of the beautiful, the one by harmonious cadences, the other by graceful and expressive movements, they are artists in the same sense that the painter, the sculptor, or the architect is. It is of little importance what may be the material or the instrument which the artist employs to operate upon the senses and the mind, provided he succeeds in pleasing them. The fine arts might, therefore, be defined in a general manner as any application of human labor to the production of the beautiful.

The fine arts are found among all nations, even the most barbarous, but they are more or less perfect, more or less developed, according to the state of civilization and the peculiar aptitudes of the people. The Greeks seem to have possessed in the highest degree the taste for the beautiful, and the faculties necessary to satisfy this elevated need of the senses and the mind. Hence Greece was for a long time a wonderful studio, in which painters, sculptors, architects, musicians, and poets vied with each other in ministering to the ruling passion of an artistic people. Other nations, like the ancient Mexicans, seem to have been entirely destitute of the feeling of the beautiful. The forms of the Grecian statues and monuments are as beautiful as those of the Mexican statues and monuments are hideous.

Man could make no great advance in the fine arts until after his more pressing needs were satisfied. Music and dancing probably were the first. Although the art of the architect and the sculptor could not be developed before the trade of the mason or the stone-worker, man needed only the graceful play of the limbs to invent dancing, and the free use of his voice or to dare blowing into a reed to invent music.

In his little known essay “Of the Nature of that Imitation which takes place in what are called the Imitative Arts,” Adam Smith devotes himself to making some ingenious conjectures concerning the origin of music, danse, and poetry, and also in what way the first steps of progress in these different arts had to have taken place:[877]

After the pleasures which arise from the gratification of the bodily appetites, there seem to be none more natural to man than Music and Dancing. In the progress of art and improvement they are, perhaps, the first and earliest pleasures of his own invention; for those which arise from the gratification of the bodily appetites cannot be said to be his own invention. No nation has yet been discovered so uncivilized as to be altogether without them. It seems even to be amongst the most barbarous nations that the use and practice of them is both most frequent and most universal, as among the negroes of Africa and the savage tribes of America. In civilized nations, the inferior ranks of people have very little leisure, and the superior ranks have many other amusements; neither the one nor the other, therefore, can spend much of their time in Music and Dancing. Among savage nations, the great body of the people have frequently great intervals of leisure, and they have scarce any other amusement; they naturally, therefore, spend a great part of their time in almost the only one they have.
What the ancients called Rhythmus, what we call Time or Measure, is the connecting principle of those two arts; Music consisting in a succession of a certain sort of sounds, and Dancing in a succession of a certain sort of steps, gestures, and motions, regulated according to time or measure, and thereby formed into a sort of whole or system; which in the one art is called a song or tune, and in the other a dance; the time or measure of the dance corresponding always exactly with that of the song or tune which accompanies and directs it.
The human voice, as it is always the best, so it would naturally be the first and earliest of all musical instruments: in singing, or in its first attempts towards singing, it would naturally employ sounds as similar as possible to those which it had been accustomed to; that is, it would employ words of some kind or other, pronouncing them only in time and measure, and generally with a more melodious tone than had been usual in common conversation. Those words, however, might not, and probably would not, for a long time have any meaning, but might resemble the syllables which we make use of in fol-faing, or the [416] derry-down-down of our common ballads; and serve only to assist the voice in forming sounds proper to be modulated into melody, and to be lengthened or shortened according to the time and measure of the tune. This rude form of vocal Music, as it is by far the most simple and obvious, so it naturally would be the first and earliest.
In the succession of ages it could not fail to occur, that in room of those unmeaning or musical words, if I may call them so, might be substituted words which expressed some sense or meaning, and of which the pronunciation might coincide as exactly with the time and measure of the tune, as that of the musical words had done before. Hence the origin of Verse or Poetry.

It was possible to develop painting, sculpture, and, above all, architecture, only by the aid of technology. The trade of building must necessarily have preceded architecture. It was the latter’s mission to give to each individual edifice the kind of beauty appropriate to its purpose and to local exigencies. In architecture, as in literature, the same style would not apply equally well to all kinds of work. The architect is bound to give, for example, a religious character to a church, a secular character to be theatre or ball room. The Gothic style up to the present time seems to be that which is most appropriate to the manifestation of religious sentiment. In the Gothic cathedral, the ethereal height of the arches, the vast depth of the nave, and the mysterious subdued light from the windows, join with the profound and solemn accents of the Gregorian chant and the grave and majestic tones of the organ, in awakening the sentiment of veneration. The colorful style of the renaissance is better calculated to excite mundane and worldly thoughts. Hence it is the one chosen for theatres and ball rooms.

The original propensities of nations have naturally exercised a great influence upon the development of the fine arts. Only a religious and melancholy people could have invented Gothic architecture. In Greek architecture is found that exquisite elegance which marked all the customs as well as all the works of the privileged Hellenic race. The affected and bizarre customs of the Chinese are also found reflected in their architecture as well as in their dress.

The necessities of climate and the configuration of the ground have exercised a great influence upon the development of architecture, and they have often determined the character of it. Necessities of another order have also operated upon the development of architecture and other arts.

Throughout all antiquity is seen the influence which the fine arts exercised over the mind. For a long time they were considered as an instrumentum regni (tool of the king), as a means of appealing to and mastering the imagination by terror or respect. The gigantic constructions of the Assyrians and Egyptians, constructions the utility of which we vainly endeavor to discover to-day, had perhaps no other object. These exterior signs of power were then necessary to make a simple-minded people accept the absolute dominion of a race or caste. Those who claimed to be the representatives of divinity upon earth were obliged to show themselves superior to other men, in everything that was considered to be a manifestation of strength or majesty. The co-operation of the fine arts was indispensable to the display of their power. They needed them to construct their temples and palaces, to ornament them with magnificent decorations, and to fashion their garments and their arms. Architects, painters, sculptors, musicians, and poets were no less necessary to them than soldiers and priests in sustaining the imperfect and vicious structure of their dominion. Hence the particular care which governments in all ages have given to the development of the fine arts, and the ostentatious protection which they have accorded them, very frequently to the great detriment of other branches of production.

Although, in the past, the fine arts were powerful auxiliaries of politics and religion, fortunately, as nations have developed intellectually and morally as their minds and sentiments have broadened and become refined, this display has exercised less influence over the minds of the people, and the fine arts have lost their political and religious importance. The taste for the beautiful has ceased little by little to be used as an instrument of domination.

Economists have asked themselves two main questions on the subject of the fine arts. They have inquired, first, whether the fine arts are a kind of national wealth and second, whether the intervention of the government to [208] protect them is necessary.

Do the products of the fine arts constitute a kind of wealth? As regards all that concerns architecture, painting, and sculpture, there can be no doubt as to the answer. A building, a statue, and a picture are material riches, the accumulation of which evidently augments the capital of a nation. But can as much be said of the products of music and dancing? Can the talent of the musician and the dancer be regarded as productive? Adam Smith says, no; J. B. Say and Dunoyer[878] say, yes. According to Smith’s doctrine, the name “products” can not be given to things which are consumed at the very moment of their creation. To which J. B. Say answers, and rightly, as we think:[879]

If we descend to things of pure enjoyment, we can not deny that the representation of a good comedy gives as much pleasure as a box of bonbons or an exhibition of fire-works. I do not consider it reasonable to claim that the painter’s talent is productive, and that the musician’s is not so.

But although J. B. Say recognizes the musician’s talent as productive, he does not admit that its products can contribute to the increase of a nation’s capital. He states his reasons for this opinion as follows:[880]

It results from the very nature of immaterial products that there is no way to accumulate them, and that they can not serve to augment the national capital. A nation which contains a great number of musicians, of priests and of clerks, might be a nation well endowed as to amusements and doctrines, and admirably well administered, but its capital would not receive from all the work of these men any increase, because their products would be consumed as fast as they were created.

But does it follow, because a product, material or nonmaterial, is consumed immediately after having been created, that it does not increase the capital of a nation? May it not increase, if not its external capital, at least its internal capital, or, to make use of Storch’s expression,[881] the capital of its physical, intellectual, and moral faculties? Would a population deprived of the services of clergymen, administrators, musicians, and poets, a population, consequently, to which religious, political and artistic education was wanting, be worth as much as one sufficiently provided with those different services? Would not man, considered at the same tme as capital and as an agent of production, be worth less under the former circumstances than under the latter?

In his work, De la liberté du travail, M. Charles Dunoyer has completely demonstrated that the consumption of the material or non-material products of the fine arts develops in man valuable and essential faculties;[882] whence it results that artistic products of the fine arts develops in man valuable faculties; whence it results that artistic production, material or non-material, cannot be considered unproductive.

Let us complete this demonstration of the productiveness of the fine arts by means of a simple hypothesis. Suppose her musicians and singers were taken away from Italy, would she not be deprived of a kind of wealth, even if these artists were replaced by an equal number of laborers, carpenters, and blacksmiths? Italy profits by the work of her musicians and her singers as absolutely as she does from the products of agriculture or of manufacturing industry.[883] In the first place she consumes a part of it herself, and this consumption serves to educate the Italian people by developing their minds, by refining and polishing their manners. Then, another part of the products of the fine arts, of which Italy is the nursery, is exported each year. Italy supplies a great number of foreign theatres with its composers, its musicians, and its singers. In exchange for their non-material products, these art-workers receive other products purely material, a part of which they commonly bring back to their own country. What laborer, for instance, would have added so much as Rossini to the wealth of Italy? What seamstress or dressmaker, however capable or industrious, would have been worth as much as Catalani[884] or Pasta[885] from the same point of view? The production of the fine arts can not then be considered unproductive for Italy.

The fine arts, then, can contribute directly to increase the capital of a nation, whether material capital or non-material capital, which resides in the physical, moral, and intellectual faculties of the population. They are in consequence productive in the same degree and in the same sense that all the other branches of human work are.

Artistic production also, like all others, is effected by previous accumulation, the co-operation of capital and labor. In this respect artistic production offers no particular point of interest, except that it gives birth more frequently than any other kind of production, agricultural industry excepted, to natural monopolies. Great artists possess a natural monopoly, in this sense, that the competition among them is not sufficient to limit the price of their work to the level of what is strictly necessary for them to execute it. Jenny Lind[886] possessed a natural monopoly, for the remuneration which she obtained on account of the rarity of her voice, was very disproportionate to what was strictly necessary for her to exercise her profession of a singer. The difference forms a kind of rent, of the same nature exactly as rent derived from land.[887] If nature and art had produced a thousand Jenny Linds, instead of producing but one, it is evident that the monopoly which she enjoyed would not have existed, or that it would have been infinitely less productive. Painters, sculptors, and architects possess in their reputation a still more extensive monopoly, for it exists and is principally developed after their death. The value of this monopoly depends upon the merit of the artist and upon the quantity of his works. According as the number of works produced by a painter or sculptor is more or less considerable, the price of each one is more or less high. Where the merit is equal, the pictures or statues of the masters who produced the least have a greater pecuniary value than those of the masters whose productions are numerous. Thus, for example, an ordinary picture by the Dutch painter, Hobbema,[888] commonly sells for more than an ordinary picture by Rubens,[889] although Hobbema does not rank so high in art as Rubens. But the former produced only a small number of pictures, while the latter left an enormous number of works. Supposing, also, that the pictures of Ingres[890] and Horace Vernet[891] were equally prized by amateurs, the former would always have a higher monetary value to the latter, simply because they are rarer. The differences in the price of objects of art, and the variations which their value in exchange undergoes, notably when fashion takes up again a style which it had abandoned, are curious to study; some valuable ideas are found here in regard to the influence which the fluctuations of demand and supply exercise upon prices, also some interesting information as to the origin, progress, and end of natural monopolies.

After having examined the question of the productiveness of the fine arts, we must now see if this kind of production should be specially directed and encouraged by the government, or should be abandoned to the free action of individuals, like all other kinds of production.

The Egyptians and almost all the nations of antiquity condemned to slavery their prisoners of war, and sometimes entire nations whom they had subjugated. They employed these slaves to construct their monuments. We know that the Israelites helped to build the pyramids. But the Egyptian monuments are more remarkable for their gigantic proportions than for their beauty. It is plain that the object of the people, or rather of the caste which instructed them, was to inspire the mind with awe rather than to charm it. In Greece the products of the fine arts have quite a different character. They bear above all the imprint of liberty. Greek art was not subject to a government or a caste. The greatest number of Greek monuments were built by means of voluntary contributions. The famous temple of Diana at Ephesus, for instance, was erected by the aid of contributions from the republics and kings of Asia, as later was St. Peter’s at Rome in part by the money of Christendom. When Erostratus reduced it to ashes, a new subscription was made to rebuild it. All the citizens of Ephesus considered it an honor to contribute. The women even sacrificed their jewels.[892] At Delphos, also, the temple was rebuilt, after a fire, at the public expense. The architect, Spantharus of Corinth, was engaged to complete it, for the sum of 300 talents. Three-fourths of this sum was furnished by the different cities of Greece, and the other fourth by the inhabitants of Delphos, who collected money even in the most distant countries to aid in completing their quota. A certain Athenian added a sum of money for the decorations, which were not included in the original plan. The greater part of the ornaments of the temple were offerings from the cities of Greece or from private citizens. Thirteen statues by Phidias were a gift from the Athenians. These statues were the result of a tenth part of the plunder taken by the Athenians from the plains of Marathon. A great number of other objects of art commemorated the victories of the different peoples of Greece in their intestine wars.[893]

A part of the revenue of the Greek temples was applied to the support of the priests, and another part to the support and decoration of the buildings. The priests made the greatest sacrifices to ornament the dwelling place of the gods, and these sacrifices were rarely unproductive, for in Greece, as elsewhere, the best lodged gods were always those which brought in the most revenue. The fine arts were also nurtured by the rivalries of the small states, into which Greek territory was divided, as to which should have the finest temples, statues, and pictures. This competition, pushed to excess gave rise to more than one abuse. Thus it was agreed, after the invasion of the Persians, that henceforth a contribution should be levied upon Greece to defray the common expenses, and that the Athenians should be made the holders of it. Pericles did not hesitate to divert these funds from their proper destination, and employ them for the decoration of Athens. Such an odious abuse of confidence aroused the indignation of all Greece against the Athenians, and was one of the principal causes of the Peloponnesian war.

The Romans, less happily endowed than the Greeks, from an artistic point of view, did not make such considerable sacrifices for the encouragement of the fine arts. At Rome, as in Egypt, the arts were chiefly employed to display to the conquered nations the power and majesty of the sovereign people. The construction of monuments of the arts was still among the Romans a means of keeping their troops in habits of work and of occupying their slaves. The taste for the beautiful did not enter much into these enterprises, and art naturally felt the effects of this. Still, under Augustus, there was at Rome a great artistic movement, a movement which was due in great part to the development of communication between Rome and Greece. Augustus had built the portico of Octavia, the temple of Mars Ultor, the temple of Apollo, the new Forum, and many other monuments of less importance. His friends, L. Cornificius, Asinius Pollion, Marcius Philippus, Cornclius Balbus, and his son-in-law Agrippa, erected at their own expense a great number of monuments. Attributing to himself, as is common among sovereigns, all the merit of the advance which the arts had made under his reign, Augustus said, some time before his death: “I found Rome a city of clay bricks, and left it a city of marble.”[894] At Rome, as in Greece, the statues were innumerable. The greater part of the chief citizens erected statues to themselves at their own expense. The censors endeavored to deprive them of this trifling satisfaction, by forbidding the erection of statues at Rome without their permission. But as this prohibition did not extend to the statues which decorated country houses, the rich citizens evaded the ordinance of the censors, by multiplying their effigies in their splendid villas.

At the time of the downfall of the Roman empire, the barbarians destroyed with stupid rage the finest masterpieces of ancient art. The fine arts then disappeared with the temporary eclipse of civilization. But they soon sprang up again, thanks to the expansion of the religious sentiment supported by municipal liberties. Gothic art owes its birth and progress to the Christian sentiment developed in the emancipated communes of the middle age. A fact which is generally ignored is, that the expense of constructing the greater number of the magnificent cathedrals which adorn European cities, was in great part defrayed by voluntary contributions of residents of the city, nobles, bourgeois, or simple journeymen. Nothing is more interesting, even from the simple economic point of view, than the history of these wonders of Gothic art. At a time when poverty was universal, nothing but religious enthusiasm could have made people decide to impose upon themselves the necessary sacrifices for their erection. And nothing was neglected to rouse and excite this enthusiasm. The bishop and the priests furnished an example by sacrificing a part of their revenues to aid in constructing the cathedral; indulgences without end were promised to those who contributed to the holy work, either by their time or their money. When there was need of it, miracles happened to animate the languishing zeal of the faithful. By casting a glance over the history of the principal cathedrals, one will be convinced that diplomatic skill was no less needed than artistic genius to bring those great religious enterprises to fruition. At Orléans, for instance, Saint Euverte[895] having undertaken the construction of the first cathedral in the fourth century, an angel revealed to this pious bishop the very place where it should be built. In digging the foundations of the building the workmen found a considerable amount of treasure; and the very day of the consecration of the church, at the moment when Saint Euverte was celebrating mass, a dazzling cloud appeared above his head, and from this cloud issued forth a hand, which blessed three times the temple, the clergy, and the assembled people! This miracle converted more than seven thousand pagans, and gave a great reputation to the church of Orléans.

At Chartres, Bishop Fulbert[896] devoted in the first place three years’ income and the income from the abbey, to the construction of the cathedral; afterward he bequeathed a considerable sum to continue the work. The pious Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, was associated with him in his work, and gave the greater part of the lead roofing of the cathedral. A physician of Henry I. built at his own expense one of the lateral portals.[897] Those who had no money gave their work. Artisans[898] from all professions voluntarily offered their services as workers in this entreprise which had been blessed by heaven. A large number of the inhabitants of Rouen and others dioceses in Normandy, equipped with the blessing of their archbishop or bishop, came to join these workers. The band of pilgrims choose a leader from among selves who allocated to each person the job that he had to carry out. The works was carried out with reverence, and during the night altar candles were placed on the wagons around the church and they stayed awake by singing.

At Strasburg, great indulgences were promised to the faithful who would contribute to the building of the cathedral. Gifts flowed in from all parts. Still the construction of that magnificent cathedral lasted for nearly four centuries. Commenced in the twelfth century, it was not finished till the fifteenth. The construction of the cathedral gave a great reputation to the stone-workers of Strasburg. These workmen, who furnished the greatest architects of the time, formed in the German empire, as well as in France, a body distinct from that of ordinary masons. Up to the time of the French revolution, they continued to be in charge of the repair and preservation of the Strasburg cathedral.[899]

The cathedrals of Europe, therefore, the most magnificent and most original monuments which it possesses, are due, in a great part, to the zeal and the faith of individuals. Sometimes, doubtless, this faith and zeal were excited by pious frauds;[900] sometimes also the pride of the bourgeois and the workmen were appealed to, to induce them to construct a more spacious and more beautiful cathedral than that of a neighboring and rival city; but in general no recourse was had to coercive measures; there was no levying of taxes to be specially devoted to the construction of churches, the sacrifices which the clergy generously imposed upon themselves and the voluntary gifts of the faithful were sufficient, and assured the multiplication of masterpieces of the Gothic art in an age of universal misery and barbarism.

In Italy the constitution of a multitude of small municipal republics was especially favorable to the development of the fine arts. Rivals in commerce, the Italian republics were also rivals in the arts. The rich merchants of Genoa, of Pisa, of Florence, and of Venice made it a point of honor to protect the arts and to endow their cities with magnificent monuments. This spirit of emulation seized the popes, and Rome disputed with Florence for the great artists of Italy. The basilica of St. Peter’s was commenced; but as the ordinary resources of the papacy were insufficient to complete this immense enterprise, recourse was had to a special issue of indulgences; unfortunately this particular kind of paper, having been made too common, depreciated in value, and ended by being refused in a great number of Christian countries. So the gigantic basilica was never completely finished. With the political and commercial decline of the republics, which spread like a network over Italian soil, commenced that of the fine arts in Italy. The encouragement of despotism was never able to restore them to the splendor which they had in the time of the municipal republics of the middle ages and of the renaissance.

In France, Louis XIV, thought that in his own interests it was his duty to protect the arts. So prompted by the great king, Colbert[901] founded the Academy of Fine Arts.[902] Unfortunately, the great king and his minister did not continue to support this innovation. Louis XIV. spent enormous sums upon his royal dwellings. Under his reign the fine arts became the auxiliaries of war in crushing other nations.

In his learned Histoire de la vie et de l’administration de Colbert, M. Pierre Clément[903] estimated at 165,000,000 livres in the money of the period, the sums which Louis XIV. spent on buildings, and in the encouragement of the fine arts and manufactures. The details are as follows:



Total expense of Versailles: Churches, Trianon, Clagny, St. Cyr: the Marly machine; the river Eure; Noisv and Molineaux


Pictures, stuffs, silverware, antiques


Furniture and other expenses


Chapel (constructed 1699-1710)