Selected Essays on Political Economy

Frédéric Bastiat
Bastiat, Frédéric
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Seymour Cain, trans.
First Pub. Date
Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc.
Pub. Date
Includes Preface by George B. de Huszar, introduction by Friedrich A. Hayek
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Declaration of War against the Professors of Political Economy**84


We know how bitterly the men who restrict the trade of others for their own advantage complain that political economy obstinately refuses to sing the praises of these restrictions. If they do not hope to obtain the suppression of this discipline, they at least seek the dismissal of those who profess it, taking from the Inquisition the wise maxim: "Do you want to win the argument with your opponents? Just shut their mouths."


Hence, we were not all surprised to learn that, on the occasion of the draft of a law for the organization of the university faculties, they addressed a very lengthy memorandum to the Minister of Public Education, from which we reproduce a few extracts.


"Do you realize what you are doing, sir? You want to introduce the teaching of political economy into the university curriculum! But then it is a foregone conclusion that our privileges are to be brought into disrepute!


"If any maxim is venerable, it is certainly this: In all countries education must be in harmony with the system of government. Do you think that at Sparta or Rome the public treasury would have paid professors to declaim against the loot taken in war or against slavery? And in France you would permit them to discredit restrictions on trade!**85


"Nature, sir, has willed that nations can exist only by the products of their labor, and at the same time it has made labor painful. That is why we observe among men in all ages and in all countries an incurable disposition to despoil one another. It is so agreeable to place the burden of pain on one's neighbor and to keep the remuneration for oneself!


"War was the first means to be thought of. There's no quicker and simpler way to get hold of other people's property.


"Slavery came next. It is a more refined means, and it has been demonstrated that it was a great step towards civilization to make a slave of the prisoner instead of killing him.


"Finally, the passing of time has substituted for these two crude modes of plunder a much more subtle one, which, precisely because of its subtlety, has much more chance of enduring, the more so as its very name, protection, is admirably fitted to conceal its odiousness. You have no idea how much names sometimes deceive us about things.


"You see, sir, to preach against protection in modern times would be the same as preaching against war and slavery in antiquity. It would mean disturbing the social order and troubling the peace of a very respectable class of citizens. And if pagan Rome showed great wisdom, a foresighted spirit of conservatism, in persecuting that new sect that had come into its midst to proclaim the dangerous words peace and fraternity, why should we have more pity today for the professors of political economy? Still, our ways are so gentle, our moderation so great, that we do not require that you throw them to the lions. Just keep them from talking, and we shall be satisfied.


"Or, at least, if they have such a passion for discussion, can they not carry it on with some impartiality? Can they not adjust their science a little to our wishes? By what fatality have the professors of political economy in all countries been given the right to turn the weapon of reason against the protectionist system? If this system has some inconveniences, certainly it also has some advantages, for it is convenient for us. Cannot the professors gloss over the inconveniences and emphasize the advantages?


"Besides, of what use are scholars if not to make scientific discoveries? Who keeps them from inventing a political economy just for us? Evidently there is some ill will on their side. When the Holy Inquisition at Rome deemed it bad that Galileo had made the earth turn, that great man did not hesitate to make it motionless. He even made his declaration on his knees. It is true that on arising he murmured, it is said: E pur si muove. ('And yet it moves.') Let our professors also declare publicly and on their knees that freedom is worthless, and we shall pardon them if they mutter, provided it is under their breath: E pur è buona. ('And yet it is good.')


"But we wish, besides, to push moderation still further. You will not deny, sir, that one must be impartial above all. All right, since there are two conflicting doctrines in the world, one bearing the motto: Allow trade, and the other: Prevent trade, for heaven's sake, keep the balance equal and have both doctrines professed. See to it that our variety of political economy is also taught.


"Is it not very discouraging to see science always siding with freedom, and ought it not to share its favors a little? But, no, a chair is no sooner set up than there appears, like a Medusa head, the face of a freetrader.


"It is thus that J. B. Say has set an example that Messrs. Blanqui,*117 Rossi,*118 Michel Chevalier,*119 and Joseph Garnier*120 have hastened to follow. What would have become of us if your predecessors had not taken great care to restrict this harmful teaching? Who knows? This very year we might have had to suffer the consequences of a low price for bread.


"In England, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart,*121 Nassau Senior, and a thousand others have produced the same scandal. Moreover, the University of Oxford creates a chair of political economy and puts in it .... whom?—a future archbishop;**86 and thereupon Mr. Archbishop sets about teaching that religion agrees with science in condemning that part of our profits which comes from the protective system. And so, what has been the result? Little by little public opinion has let itself be seduced, and within two years the English will have the misfortune to be free in their selling and buying. May they be ruined as they deserve!


"The same thing is happening in Italy. Kings, princes, and dukes, great and small, have had the imprudence to tolerate instruction in economics, without imposing on the professors the obligation to make science produce views favorable to restrictions on trade. Innumerable professors, like Genovesi,*122 Beccaria,*123 and, in our day, Sr. Scialoja,*124 as might have been expected, set themselves to preaching freedom; and now Tuscany has free trade, and Naples is cutting its tariffs.


"You know what have been the results in Switzerland of the intellectual movement that has always in that country directed men's minds towards economic knowledge. Switzerland is free and seems placed in the center of Europe, like a light in a chandelier, expressly to embarrass us. For when we say: "The consequence of free trade is to ruin agriculture, commerce, and industry," people never fail to point to Switzerland. For a moment we did not know what to reply. Thank heaven, La Presse relieved us of our embarrassment by furnishing us this precious argument: Switzerland has not been ruined because it is small.


"Science, accursed science, threatens to let loose the same calamity in Spain. Spain is the classic land of protection. And look how it has prospered! And, without taking account of the treasures it has drained from the New World or of the richness of its soil, the protectionist system is enough to explain the degree of splendor to which it has attained. But Spain has professors of political economy, men like La Sagra*125 and Florez Estrada;*126 and now the Minister of Finance, Sr. Salamanca,*127 proposes to restore the credit of Spain and increase its income solely by the power of free trade.


"Well, sir, what more do you want? In Russia there is only one economist, and he is for free trade.


"You see, the conspiracy of all the scholars in the world against trade barriers is flagrant. And what self-interest impels them? None. They could just as well preach protection if they liked; they would be no nearer starvation. It is, then, pure spitefulness on their part. This unanimity has the gravest dangers. Do you know what people will say? Seeing economists so completely in agreement, people will conclude that they are united in the same belief for the same reason that all the geometers in the world think the same way, since the days of Archimedes, about the square of the hypotenuse.


"When, sir, we beg you to have two contradictory doctrines taught impartially, this can be only a makeshift on our part, for we foresee what will happen: he whom you entrust with the teaching of the protectionist doctrine may well be led by his studies to embrace the doctrine of freedom.


"The best thing is to proscribe, once and for all, economics and economists, and to return to the wise traditions of the Empire. Instead of creating new chairs of political economy, simply do away with those, fortunately few in number, that still remain. Do you know how political economy has been defined? The science that teaches workers to keep what belongs to them. Obviously a good fourth of the human race would be lost if this fatal science were to be widely propagated.


"Let us hold fast to the good old classical education, which can do nobody any harm. Let us cram our young people with Greek and Latin. When they scan the hexameters of The Eclogues on their fingertips from morning to night, what harm can that do us? Let them live in Roman society, with the Gracchi and Brutus, in the midst of a Senate whose members always speak of war, and in a Forum where booty is always in question; let them be imbued with the gentle philosophy of Horace:

Tra la la la, our youth,
Tra la la la, is formed there.


"What need is there to teach them the laws of labor and exchange? Rome teaches them to despise labor, servile opus, and not to recognize as legitimate any other exchange than the vae victis! ('Woe to the conquered!'), the cry of the warrior slaveowner. In this way we shall prepare our youth well for life in our modern society. There are, to be sure, a few small dangers. Our young people will be somewhat republican; they will have strange ideas about freedom and property; in their blind admiration for brute force, they will be found, perhaps, a little disposed to pick quarrels with all Europe and to settle political questions in the street with the aid of paving stones. It is inevitable, and frankly, sir, thanks to Titus Livy, we have all more or less wallowed in that sink. After all, these are dangers of the kind you can take care of with a few good policemen. But what police force can you oppose to the subversive ideas of the economists, who have brazenly written at the head of their program the following atrocious definition of property: When a man has produced a thing with the sweat of his brow, since he has the right to consume it, he has the right to exchange it.**87


"No, no, with such people it is labor lost to have recourse to refutation.


"Quick—a gag, two gags, three gags!"

Notes for this chapter

[Three years before the resolution that provoked the pamphlet "Plunder and Law" (chap. 8 of this volume), the dismissal of the professors and the abolition of the chairs of political economy had been formally demanded by the members of the Mimerel Committee, which soon became more moderate and limited itself to demanding that the theory of protection must be taught as well as that of free trade.

It was with the weapon of irony that Bastiat, in the June 13, 1847, issue of the newspaper Le Libre échange, fought this demand, which was put forward then for the first time.—Editor.]

[That this is evidently the germ of "Academic Degrees and Socialism" (chap. 9 of this volume) will become even more apparent in the following pages.—Editor.]
[Jérôme Adolphe Blanqui (1798-1854), French economist and head of the Paris École de Commerce.—Translator.]
[Pellegrino Luigi Eduardo Rossi (1787-1848), politician, jurist, and distinguished political economist. Exiled for fighting for Italian unification, he became (1819) professor of law at the Academy of Geneva, as well as Deputy from Geneva to the Federal Diet. He became professor of political economy in the Collège de France in 1833, and professor of constitutional law at the Sorbonne in 1834. He was assassinated in 1848. Along with J. B. Say, he represented the practical idealism which for Bastiat was the essence of political economy.—Translator.]
[Michel Chevalier (1806-1879), French economist and publicist. After an early period of enthusiasm for Saint-Simonianism, during which he was editor of Le Globe, he became the champion of enlightened industrialism as the means of assuring both social progress and individual liberty. In this respect, and also in his advocacy of free trade, he was an associate of Bastiat. Along with Cobden he negotiated the famous Anglo-French commercial treaty of 1860.—Translator.]
[Clement Joseph Garnier (1813-1881), commentator on Adam Smith and generally recognized as one of the ablest of the French economists. Professor in the Paris École de Commerce.—Translator.]
[Dugald Stewart (1753-1828), Scottish philosopher of the "common sense" school, initiated by Thomas Reid, and political economist of the classical school.—Translator.]
[Mr. Whateley, Archbishop of Dublin, who established a chair of political economy in that city, had a professorship at Oxford.—Editor.]
[Antonio Genovesi (1712-1769), Italian philosopher and economist, professor at the University of Naples. As a liberal and a disciple of Locke, he reflected the spirit of the French Enlightenment.—Translator.]
[Cesare Bonesana de Beccaria (1738-1794), Italian philosopher, criminologist, and economist. He was an ardent disciple of the French Enlightenment and in his own country an eloquent and beloved advocate of justice and more humane criminal procedures. His work Crimes and Punishments (1764) is a classic treatise on criminal justice.—Translator.]
[Antonio Scialoja (1817-1877), Italian economist and statesman, professor of political economy at the University of Turin, and advocate of free trade. After 1860 he served the Italian government as Deputy and cabinet minister.—Translator.]
[Ramón de La Sagra (1798-1871), botanist, member of the Cortes, and economist. His important works in the last capacity include Lecciones de economia social (1840), Organización de trabajo (1848), and Banco del pueblo (1849).—Translator.]
[Alvaro Florez Estrada (1765-1833), Spain's most distinguished economist of the first half of the nineteenth century—Translator.]
[José de Salamanca y Mayol (1811-1883), Spanish banker and politician. In addition to serving as Minister of Finance, he was later both Deputy and Senator. He was also a builder of Spanish railroads.—Translator.]
[See, in Vol. II (of the French edition), the declaration of principles of the Society for Free Trade.—Editor.]


End of Notes

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