By Frédéric Bastiat
Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) was a French economist, statesman, and author. He was the leader of the free-trade movement in France from its inception in 1840 until his untimely death in 1850. The first 45 years of his life were spent in preparation for five tremendously productive years writing in favor of freedom. Bastiat was the founder of the weekly newspaper
Le Libre Échange, a contributor to numerous periodicals, and the author of sundry pamphlets and speeches dealing with the pressing issues of his day. Most of his writing was done in the years directly before and after the Revolution of 1848—a time when France was rapidly embracing socialism. As a deputy in the Legislative Assembly, Bastiat fought valiantly for the private property order, but unfortunately the majority of his colleagues chose to ignore him. Frédéric Bastiat remains one of the great champions of freedom whose writings retain their relevance as we continue to confront the old adversary.
Arthur Goddard, trans., trans.
First Pub. Date
Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc.
Introduction by Henry Hazlitt
The text of this edition is under copyright
- About the Author
- Preface to the English-Language Edition, by Arthur Goddard
- Introduction, by Henry Hazlitt
- S.1, Author's Introduction to the French Edition
- S.1, Ch.1, Abundance and Scarcity
- S.1, Ch.2, Obstacle and Cause
- S.1, Ch.3, Effort and Result
- S.1, Ch.4, Equalizing the Conditions of Production
- S.1, Ch.5, Our Products Are Burdened with Taxes
- S.1, Ch.6, The Balance of Trade
- S.1, Ch.7, A Petition
- S.1, Ch.8, Differential Tariffs
- S.1, Ch.9, An Immense Discovery
- S.1, Ch.10, Reciprocity
- S.1, Ch.11, Money Prices
- S.1, Ch.12, Does Protectionism Raise Wage Rates
- S.1, Ch.13, Theory and Practice
- S.1, Ch.14, Conflict of Principles
- S.1, Ch.15, Reciprocity Again
- S.1, Ch.16, Obstructed Rivers as Advocates for the Protectionists
- S.1, Ch.17, A Negative Railroad
- S.1, Ch.18, There Are No Absolute Principles
- S.1, Ch.19, National Independence
- S.1, Ch.20, Human vs. Mechanical Labor and Domestic vs. Foreign Labor
- S.1, Ch.21, Raw Materials
- S.1, Ch.22, Metaphors
- S.1, Ch.23, Conclusion
- S.2, Ch.1, The Physiology of Plunder
- S.2, Ch.2, Two Systems of Ethics
- S.2, Ch.3, The Two Hatchets
- S.2, Ch.4, Subordinate Labor Council
- S.2, Ch.5, High Prices and Low Prices
- S.2, Ch.6, To Artisans and Laborers
- S.2, Ch.7, A Chinese Tale
- S.2, Ch.8, Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc
- S.2, Ch.9, Robbery by Subsidy
- S.2, Ch.10, The Tax Collector
- S.2, Ch.11, The Utopian
- S.2, Ch.12, Salt, the Postal Service, and the Tariff
- S.2, Ch.13, Protectionism, or the Three Aldermen
- S.2, Ch.14, Something Else
- S.2, Ch.15, The Little Arsenal of the Freetrader
- S.2, Ch.16, The Right Hand and the Left
- S.2, Ch.17, Domination through Industrial Superiority
Conflict of Principles
First Series, Chapter 14
One thing that confuses me is this:
Sincere political theorists, after studying economic problems solely from the producers’ point of view, arrive at the following two conclusions:
“Governments should compel the consumers who are subject to their laws to do what is beneficial for domestic industry.
“Governments should make foreign consumers subject to their laws in order to compel them to do what is beneficial for domestic industry.”
The first of these policies is called
protectionism; the second,
opening up markets for our products.
The premise on which both are based is what is called the
balance of trade:
“A nation impoverishes itself when it imports, and enriches itself when it exports.”
For, if every purchase from abroad is a
tribute paid and a national loss, it is quite natural to restrict, and even to prohibit, imports.
And if every sale to a foreign country is a
tribute received and a national profit, it is quite natural to
open up markets for our products, even by force.
protectionist system and the
colonial system are, then, simply two aspects of one and the same theory.
Preventing our fellow citizens from buying from foreigners and
forcing foreigners to buy from our fellow citizens are simply two consequences of one and the same principle.
Now, it is impossible not to recognize that, according to this doctrine—if it is true—the general welfare depends upon
monopoly, or domestic plunder, and
conquest, or foreign plunder.
I enter one of the cottages that cling to the French side of the Pyrenees.
The head of the family receives only a slender wage for his work. His half-naked children shiver in the icy north wind; the fire is out, and there is nothing on the table. On the other side of the mountain there are wool, firewood, and corn; but these goods are forbidden to the family of the poor day-laborer, for the other side of the mountain is not in France. Foreign spruce will not gladden the cottage hearth; the shepherd’s children will not know the taste of Biscayan maslin;
67* and wool from Navarre will never warm their numbed limbs. All this is, we are told, in the interest of the general welfare. Very well. But then it must be admitted that in this instance the general welfare is in conflict with justice.
To regulate consumers by law and limit them to the products of domestic industry is to encroach upon their freedom by forbidding them an action—exchange—that in itself is in no way contrary to morality; in short, it is to do them an
And yet, we are told, this is necessary if production is to be maintained and the prosperity of the country is not to receive a fatal blow.
The writers of the protectionist school thus reach the melancholy conclusion that there is a radical incompatibility between justice and the general welfare.
On the other hand, if it is in the interest of all nations to
sell and not to
buy, a succession of violent actions and reactions must be the natural state of their relations; for each will strive to impose its products on all, and all will attempt to reject the products of each.
In reality, a sale implies a purchase; and since, according to this doctrine, to sell is to profit, and to buy is to lose, every international transaction is to the advantage of one country and to the detriment of another.
But, on the one hand, men are irresistibly impelled toward what benefits them; on the other hand, they instinctively resist what harms them. Hence, the conclusion is inescapable that each nation contains within itself a natural tendency toward expansion and a no less natural tendency to resist encroachment on its own domain, and that both these tendencies are equally harmful to all other nations; or, in other words, that antagonism and war are the natural state of human society.
Thus, the theory that I am discussing may be summed up in these two axioms:
The general welfare is incompatible with justice at home.
The general welfare is incompatible with peace abroad.
Now, what astonishes me, what amazes me, is that a political theorist or a statesman who sincerely professes an economic doctrine whose basic principle runs so violently counter to other principles that are indisputable, can enjoy a moment’s calm or peace of mind.
For my own part, I think that if my study of the science of economics had led me to such conclusions, if I did not clearly perceive that freedom, the general welfare, justice, and peace are not only compatible but also closely connected and, so to speak, identical, I should endeavor to forget all I had learned; and I should ask myself:
“How could God have willed that men should attain prosperity only through injustice and war? How could He have willed that they should renounce war and injustice only at the price of their well-being?
“Is this science not misleading me when it requires me to accept the frightful blasphemy that this dilemma implies? How can I dare take it upon myself to make such a doctrine the basis of the laws of a great nation? And when a long succession of illustrious scholars has drawn more reassuring conclusions from the same science after devoting their entire lives to its study; when they assert that freedom and the general welfare are perfectly compatible with justice and peace, and that all these great principles run parallel to one another and will do so through all eternity without ever coming into conflict, do they not have on their side the presumption that stems from all that we know of the goodness and wisdom of God, as manifested in the sublime harmony of the physical universe? In the face of such a presumption and so many impressive authorities, am I, after a merely cursory investigation, to believe that this same God saw fit to introduce antagonism and discord into the laws of the moral universe? No; before concluding that all the principles of social order run counter to and neutralize one another and are in anarchic, eternal, and irreconcilable conflict; before imposing on my fellow citizens the impious system to which my reasoning has led me; I intend to review every step in the argument and make sure that there is not some point along the route where I have gone astray.”
If, after an unprejudiced investigation, repeated twenty times over, I always arrived at the appalling conclusion that one must choose between material goods and the moral good, I should be so disheartened that I should reject this science, I should bury myself in voluntary ignorance, and, above all, I should decline to participate in any way in public affairs, leaving to men of another character the burden of, and the responsibility for, so painful a choice.
De l’administration commerciale opposée a l’économie politique, page 5.—EDITOR.]*
every school, that is, all the men who have studied the question, have reached the conclusion that, after all, freedom is better than coercion, and the laws of God are wiser than those of Colbert?
First Series, Chapter 14
la méture, a rather rare dialect word. Maslin is a mixture of different kinds of grain, usually wheat and rye, or a bread baked from such a mixture. Biscay and Navarre are provinces of Spain just across the Pyrenees from France.—TRANSLATOR.]
infra, chaps. 18 and 20, and the letter to M. Thiers entitled “Protectionism and Communism,”
Selected Essays on Political Economy, chap. 7.—EDITOR.]
First Series, Chapter 16
Fourth Epistle of the French poet Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711).—TRANSLATOR.]
First Series, Chapter 17
Gare du chemin de fer de Paris à Bordeaux (Bordeaux: Durand, 1846), and subsequently representative of the Gironde in the Constituent Assembly.—TRANSLATOR.]
First Series, Chapter 18
Economic Harmonies, chap. 1—EDITOR.]*
First Series, Chapter 19
Economic Sophisms was written, and an opponent of France.—TRANSLATOR.]
Selected Essays on Political Economy, chap. 4. Cf. also the Introduction to “Cobden and the English League,” and the “Second Campaign of the League,” in Vol. II (of the French edition).—EDITOR.]
First Series, Chapter 20
First Series, Chapter 21
labor already performed; secondly, because under the general term
labor I include not only the wages of the workingman but also the legitimate recompense of all factors co-operating in the work of production; and thirdly, and above all, because the production of manufactured goods is, like that of raw materials, burdened with interest charges and costs other than those for
manual labor, so that the objection, in itself absurd, would apply to the most complicated spinning operation just as well as, and even better than, to the most primitive kind of agriculture.
First Series, Chapter 22
Pamphlet des pamphlets.—TRANSLATOR.]
La Recherche de la vérité.—TRANSLATOR.]
First Series, Chapter 23 Conclusion
“j’en passe, et des meilleurs,” a line from the famous and controversial play
Hernani, by Victor Hugo (1801-1885). It was spoken by the Spanish grandee, Don Ruy Gomez de Silva, as he exhibited the portraits of his ancestors.—TRANSLATOR.]
Economic Harmonies. Here again we find on the author’s part, a desire to undertake the writing of this last work at the first suitable opportunity.—EDITOR.]
The Would-Be Gentleman (Le Bourgeois gentilhomme), by J. B. P. Molière (1622-1673), M. Jourdain, a bourgeois being trained in the manners of gentlemen, had never realized that common speech could have the high-sounding name of “prose.”—TRANSLATOR.]
The Would-Be Gentleman, the fencing master assures M. Jourdain that dueling is not at all dangerous, for all M. Jourdain need do is hit his adversary and not be hit in return.—TRANSLATOR.]
Economic Sophisms, was to be taken up again and expanded by the author at the beginning of the second series. The impact of plunder upon the fate of man concerned him deeply. Having touched on this subject several times in
Economic Sophisms and
Selected Essays on Political Economy (cf., in particular, “Property and Plunder,” chap. 6, and “Plunder and Law,” chap. 8), he reserved a place for a lengthy discussion of it in the second part of
Economic Harmonies, among the “Disturbing Factors,” chap. 18. Final testimony of the importance that he attached to it was his statement on the eve of his death: “An important task for political economy is to write the history of plunder. It is a long history involving, from the very beginning, conquests, migrations of peoples, invasions, and all the disastrous excesses of violence at grips with justice. All this has left an aftermath that still continues to plague us and that renders it more difficult to solve the problems of the present day. We shall not solve them so long as we are unaware of the way, and of the extent to which, injustice, present in our very midst, has gained a foothold in our customs and laws.”—EDITOR.]