Yves Guyot accuses all those who seek Protection from foreign competition of being “Socialists” (1893)

Yves Guyot

The French laissez-faire economist and politician Yves Guyot (1843-1928) accuses all political groups who call for state intervention in the economy, whether from the left with its demand for minimum wages, or from the right with the demand of large land owners for government protection from cheap foreign food stuffs, “Socialists”:

Yes, large and small proprietors alike, those of you are Socialists, who beg for customs duties. For what is it you ask, if not for the intervention of the State to guarantee the revenue of your property? What is it you ask for, tradesmen and manufacturers of every kind, who seek the imposition of import duties, if not for the intervention of the State to guarantee your profits? And what is it the Socialists ask, if not for the intervention of the State to guarantee to the workman a maximum of work, a minimum of wage? In a word, what is it you all ask, if not for the intervention of the State to protect you all against competition? The Protectionist asks for protection from the competition of progress from without—the Socialist asks for protection from the competition of activity within—and in aid of what? To throw political interference into the scale so as to violate the Law of Supply and Demand for the arbitrary benefit of such and such a class of producers or workmen, and to the detriment of all consumers and ratepayers, which means—everybody.

Yves Guyot is remarkable for a couple of reasons, one for being a radical free trade political economist in the tradition of Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), and two for holding a quite high office (he was elected in 1885 to the national Chamber of Deputies and in 1889 he was appointed Minister of Public Works). It is quite likely that he was writing this book while he held this government post so it must have made for some interesting and spirited cabinet meetings! One should note that Guyot also applies Herbert Spencer’s notion of the inherent antagonism between the “militant” and “industrial” types of society to his analysis of French society in the late 19th century. The editor of the English translation, J.H. Levy, was part of a group of radical English individualists and a member of the Personal Rights Association.