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
First Series, Chapter 22
Sometimes a sophism expands until it permeates the whole fabric of a long and elaborate theory. More often it contracts and shrinks, assumes the form of a principle, and takes cover behind a word or a phrase.
81* used to pray, “May the good Lord deliver us from the snares of the devil—and of the metaphor!” And indeed, it would be hard to say which does more mischief in this world. It is the devil, you say; he puts the spirit of plunder into the hearts of all of us, frail creatures that we are. Yes, but he leaves the repression of abuses entirely to the counteraction of those who suffer from them. What paralyzes this counteraction is
sophistry. The sword that
malice puts into the hand of the assailant would be powerless if
sophistry did not shatter the shield on the arm of the man who is assailed; and Malebranche
82* was right when he wrote on the frontispiece of his book:
Error is the cause of man’s misery.
Let us see how this takes place. Ambitious hypocrites may have some evil objective, such as, for instance, planting the seeds of international discord in the mind of the public. These fateful seeds may germinate, lead to general warfare, arrest the progress of civilization, cause torrents of blood to be shed, and inflict on the country that most dreadful of all catastrophes—
invasion. In any case, and aside from this, these feelings of hostility lower us in the estimation of other nations and compel Frenchmen who have retained any sense of justice to blush for their country. These are undoubtedly great evils; and for the public to protect itself against the machinations of those who would expose it to such risks, it needs no more than a clear insight into their nature. How has it been deprived of this insight? By the use of
metaphors. Twist, stretch, or pervert the meaning of three or four words, and the whole job is done.
invasion itself is a good example of this.
A French ironmaster says: “We must protect ourselves from the
invasion of English iron!” An English landlord cries: “We must repel the
invasion of French wheat!” And they urge the erection of barriers between the two nations. Barriers result in isolation; isolation gives rise to hatred; hatred, to war; war, to
invasion. “What difference does it make?” say the two
sophists. “Is it not better to risk the possibility of invasion than to accept the certainty of invasion?” And the people believe them, and the barriers remain standing.
And yet, what analogy is there between an exchange and an
invasion? What possible similarity can there be between a warship that comes to vomit missiles, fire, and devastation on our cities, and a merchant vessel that comes to offer us a voluntary exchange of goods for goods?
The same is true of the word
flood. This word is customarily used in a pejorative sense, for floods often ravage fields and crops. If, however, what they deposited on our soil was of greater value than what they washed away, like the floods of the Nile, we should deify and worship them, as the Egyptians did. Before crying out against the
floods of foreign goods, before putting up onerous and costly obstacles in their way, do people ask themselves whether these are floods that ravage or floods that fertilize? What should we think of Mohammed Ali
83* if, instead of spending great sums to raise dams across the Nile so as to extend the area covered by its
floods, he used his piastres to dredge out a deeper channel for it, so that Egypt would not be soiled by this
foreign slime brought down from the Mountains of the Moon?
84* We display exactly the same degree of wisdom and judgment when we try, by spending millions of francs, to protect our country—from what? From being flooded by the blessings that Nature has bestowed upon other lands.
metaphors that conceal an altogether pernicious theory, none is more widespread than that which is contained in the words
These words have become so common that people treat them as synonymous with
purchaser, and use either the one pair or the other indiscriminately.
tribute is as different from a
purchase as a
theft is from an
exchange; and I should as lief hear it said that Cartouche
85* broke into my strongbox and
purchased a thousand crowns from it, as hear it reiterated in our legislative chambers that we have paid Germany
tribute for the thousand horses she sold us.
For what differentiates the action of Cartouche from a
purchase is that he has not put into my strongbox, and with my consent, a value equivalent to that which he took out of it.
And what differentiates the payment of 500,000 francs that we have made to Germany from a
tribute is precisely the fact that she has not received the money for nothing, but has delivered to us in exchange a thousand horses that we ourselves have judged to be worth over 500,000 francs.
Is it really necessary to subject such linguistic abuses to serious criticism? Why not, since they figure seriously in newspapers and books?
And it should not be supposed that these are mere slips of the pen on the part of certain ignorant writers. For every writer that refrains from using such expressions I can name you ten that employ them, including the cleverest—the D’Argouts, the Dupins, the Villèles,
86* peers, deputies, cabinet ministers—men, in short, whose word is law, and whose most glaring sophisms serve as the basis on which the country is governed.
A celebrated modern philosopher has added to the categories of Aristotle the sophism that consists in begging the question by the use of a single word. He cites several examples of it. He could have added the word
tributary to his list. The question actually at issue here is whether purchases made abroad are advantageous or harmful. They are harmful, you say. Why? Because they make us tributaries of foreigners. But this is simply to use a word that already presupposes the fact in question.
How did this deceptive figure of speech come to be introduced into the rhetoric of the monopolists?
leaves the country to satisfy the greed of a victorious enemy. Money
also leaves the country to pay for imports. The two events are treated as analogous by taking into account only the respects in which they resemble each other and disregarding those in which they differ.
However, the latter, that is, the nonreimbursement in the first case, and the reimbursement voluntarily agreed to in the second, establishes between these two events such a difference that it is not really possible to put them in the same category. It is one thing to
be forced to hand over a hundred francs to one who has you by the throat, and quite another to do so
willingly to one who supplies you with what you want. You might as well say that it makes no difference whether you throw bread into the river or eat it, because the bread is
destroyed in either case. What is wrong with this reasoning, as with that involving the word
tribute, is that it treats two events as alike in every respect simply because of their resemblance in one respect and disregards the respects in which they differ.
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.]