Jane Haldimand Marcet, in a popular tale written for ordinary readers, shows the benefits to workers of foreign trade, especially at Christmas time (1833)

Jane Haldimand Marcet

Jane Haldemand Marcet was a successful popularizer of free market ideas in 19th century Britain. In a series of short “tales” in the book John Hopkins’s Notions on Political Economy (1833) she has various characters discuss topics such as the benefits to ordinary people of foreign trade, especially at Christmas time:

“So you see, my friends,” continued the landlord, “foreign trade has two advantages; for it not only procures things better and cheaper, but things which our climate renders it impossible for us to produce at home; such as wine, sugar, tobacco, plums, currants, rice, spices, cotton, silks, and other things without number.” “Oh, then,” cried the good woman, “I could not even treat my children with a plum pudding at Christmas without foreign trade; for there’s no making it without plums and spices.”

In spite of the rather condescending tone of the all-knowing landlord there are some sound economic truths here aimed at the working classes of Britain in the 1830s. This quotation was selected as millions of consumers in the west go about their Christmas shopping, perhaps not knowing about the benefits of “globalisation” and the international division of labor. So much of what is purchased and which provides happiness and joy at this time of the year depends upon a complex web of international trade. Today we have the electronic equivalent of the “plums and spices” mentioned in the Marcet homily.