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
A Chinese Tale
Second Series, Chapter 7
People bewail the greed and selfishness of our age!
I, for my part, find the world, especially Paris, peopled with Deciuses.
Open the thousand books, the thousand newspapers, the thousand pamphlets, that the Parisian presses spew forth every day over the country. Are they not all the work of little saints?
What animation in the painting of the vices of our day! What moving concern for the masses! With what liberality the rich are invited to share with the poor, if not the poor with the rich! What a host of plans for social reforms, social improvements, social organizations! Is there any hack scribbler who is not devoting himself to the welfare of the toiling masses? For an advance of a few crowns,
32* he will find the opportunity to indulge himself in humanitarian lucubrations.
And yet people talk about the selfishness and individualism of our era!
There is nothing that does not pretend to serve the well-being and the edification of the people—nothing, not even the
customhouse. You think, perhaps, that it is just another instrument of taxation, like the license bureau or the tollhouse at the end of the bridge? Nothing of the kind. It is essentially an institution for the advancement of civilization, fraternity, and equality. What do you expect? To be in fashion today, one must show, or pretend to show, feeling, sentimental sensibility, everywhere, even at the customhouse window where they ask, “What do you have there, friend?”
But for realizing these humanitarian aspirations, the customhouse has, it must be confessed, some rather strange procedures.
It musters an army of directors, assistant directors, inspectors, deputy inspectors, superintendents, auditors, collectors, department heads, assistant department heads, clerks, supernumeraries, candidates for the jobs of supernumeraries, and candidates for the candidacy, to say nothing of those on
active service—all with the object of exercising over the productive activities of the people the negative action that can be summed up in the word
Notice that I do not say
tax, but quite genuinely
bar, not acts repugnant to morality or dangerous to public order, but transactions that are innocent and, as is admitted, conducive to peace and harmony among nations.
Nevertheless, mankind is so flexible and adaptable that in one way or another it always surmounts these
barriers. It is just a matter of applying more labor.
If people are barred from importing their food from abroad, they produce it domestically. This is more laborious, but one must eat. If they are barred from passing through the valley, they climb over the mountains. This way is longer, but one must reach one’s destination.
All this is regrettable, but it does have its ridiculous side. When the law has in this way created a certain number of obstacles, and when, in order to overcome them, mankind has diverted a corresponding amount of labor from other employments, you are no longer allowed to demand the reform of the law; for if you point out the
obstacle, the jobs that it makes for are pointed out to you, and if you say, “These are not jobs that have been
displaced, by the obstacle,” you are answered in the words of
L’Ésprit public: “Only our impoverishment is certain and immediate; as for our enrichment, that is more than problematical.”
This reminds me of a Chinese story.
Once upon a time there were, in China, two great cities: Chin and Chan. They were connected by a magnificent canal. The emperor judged it desirable to have enormous blocks of stone thrown into it, in order to put it out of service.
Seeing this, Kuang, his chief mandarin, said to him:
“Son of Heaven, you are making a mistake.”
To which the emperor replied:
“Kuang, you are talking like a fool.”
(Of course I am reporting here only the gist of their conversation.)
After three moons had passed, the celestial emperor sent for the mandarin and said to him:
“Kuang, look yonder.”
And Kuang opened his eyes and looked.
And he saw, some distance from the canal, a multitude of men
at work. Some were excavating, others were raising embankments, still others were leveling the ground, and others laying paving stones; and the mandarin, who was very well read, thought to himself: They are making a highway.
After three more moons had passed, the emperor summoned Kuang and said to him:
And Kuang looked.
And he saw that the highway was completed, and he noticed that at different points all along the road, inns were being built. A host of pedestrians, carts, and palanquins were coming and going; and innumerable Chinese, overcome with fatigue, were carrying heavy burdens from Chin to Chan and from Chan to Chin. And Kuang said to himself: “It was the destruction of the canal that provided jobs for these poor people.” But it never occurred to him that their labor had been
diverted from other employments.
And three more moons passed by, and the emperor said to Kuang:
And Kuang looked.
And he saw that the inns were always full of travelers, and, grouped around them, were the shops of butchers, bakers, and dealers in swallows’ nests, to feed the hungry travelers. And, inasmuch as these worthy artisans could not go about naked, there had also settled among them tailors, shoemakers, and dealers in parasols and fans; and since people do not sleep out in the open air, even in the Celestial Empire, there were also carpenters, masons, and roofers. Then there were police officials, judges, and fakirs; in brief, a city with its suburbs had grown up around each inn.
And the emperor said to Kuang, “What do you think of it?”
And Kuang replied: “I should never have thought that the destruction of a canal could create jobs for so many people”; for it never occurred to him that these jobs had not been created, but
displaced, and that the travelers used to eat just as well when they went along the canal as they did after they were forced to use the highway.
However, to the great astonishment of the Chinese, the emperor died, and this Son of Heaven was laid to rest.
His successor sent for Kuang and said: “Have the canal opened up.”
And Kuang said to the new emperor:
“Son of Heaven, you are making a mistake.”
And the emperor answered:
“Kuang, you are talking like a fool.”
But Kuang persisted and said, “Sire, what do you have in mind?”
“I have in mind,” the emperor said, “facilitating the movement of men and things between Chin and Chan by making transportation less expensive, so that the people may have tea and clothing at lower cost.”
But Kuang was all prepared. The evening before, he had received several issues of the
Moniteur industriel, a Chinese newspaper. Knowing his lesson well, he asked permission to reply; after obtaining it, he prostrated himself nine times and said:
“Sire, by facilitating transporation, you hope to reduce the price of consumers’ goods, in order to put them within reach of the people, and to this end, you begin by making them lose all the jobs that the destruction of the canal gave rise to. Sire, in political economy, low prices…”
The emperor: “You seem to be reciting this from memory.”
Kuang: “You are right; it will be more convenient for me to read it to you.”
And, after unfolding
L’Ésprit public, he read:
In political economy, low prices for consumers’ goods are of only secondary importance. The real problem consists in establishing an equilibrium between the price of labor and that of the means of subsistence. The wealth of a nation consists in the amount of employment it provides its labor force, and the best economic system is that which provides the greatest possible number of jobs. The question is not whether it is better to pay four cash or eight cash for a cup of tea, five taels or ten taels for a shirt. These are childish considerations unworthy of a mature mind. No one disputes your thesis. The problem is whether it is better to have to pay more for a commodity, but to have, thanks to the abundance of jobs and the higher price of labor, more means of acquiring it; or whether it is better to limit the number of job opportunities, reduce the total quantity of domestic production, and transport consumers’ goods by water, doubtless at lower cost, but at the same time denying some of our workers the possibility of buying them even at these reduced prices.
Since the emperor was still not entirely convinced, Kuang said to him: “Sire, deign to wait. I still have the
Moniteur industriel to read to you.”
But the emperor said:
“I do not need your Chinese newspapers to know that to create
obstacles is to divert and displace labor. But that is not my mission. Go out there and clear the obstacles from the canal. After that, we’ll reform the tariff.”
And Kuang went off, tearing at his beard and lamenting: “O Fô! O Pê! O Lî! and all other monosyllabic, circumflected gods of Cathay, take pity on your people; for there has come to us an emperor of the
English school, and I can see that before long we shall be in want of everything, since we shall no longer need to do anything.”
Courier français (September 18, 1846), whose columns were opened to the author so that he could reply to the attacks which had appeared in L’Atelier. It was only two months later that the newspaper
Le Libre échange appeared.—EDITOR.]
Second Series, Chapter 7
Écus, obsolete French coins approximating in size the later silver five-franc piece.—TRANSLATOR.]
Second Series, Chapter 8
Le Libre échange, December 6, 1846.—EDITOR.]
Second Series, Chapter 9
Journal des économistes, January, 1846.—EDITOR.]
Le Misanthrope, in which Alceste, the misanthrope, is trying to tell Oronte, a silly nobleman, that a sonnet of Oronte’s is literarily worthless. The problem arises from the fact that Alceste, an upright man, is severely limited by strict rules on his conduct and speech. He is, however, a personal advocate of frankness, so that after several circumlocutions he bursts out with the last line.—TRANSLATOR.]
L’Avare, Harpagon, the miser, asks this question of Élise, his daughter, regarding “marriage.”—TRANSLATOR.]
protected class. This circumstance should disarm criticism. It shows that, if he does use harsh words, they are directed against the thing itself, and not against anyone’s motives.
The Wealth of Nations, Bk. I, chap. x, Pt. II.—TRANSLATOR.]
surtaxes on goods entering under foreign flags. Our tariff laws, as you know, are generally directed toward this end, and, little by little, the surtax of ten francs, established by the law of April 28, 1816, being often insufficient, is disappearing, to give place to…. a form of protection that is more efficacious and more consonant with the relatively
high cost of our shipping.” (M. Cunin-Gridaine, meeting of December 15, 1845, opening statement.) The expression “…. is disappearing” is really precious!
supra, First Series, chap. 5.—EDITOR.]
real de vellón, a base-silver coin, of which there were twenty to the piaster (peso). The
real de plata was presumably sterling and valued at one-eighth of a piaster, which consequently was a “piece of eight.”—TRANSLATOR.]
The Imaginary Invalid (Le Malade imaginaire). Molière says in macaronic Latin: “I give and grant you / Power and authority to / Practice medicine, / Purge, / Bleed, / Stab, / Hack, / Slash, / and Kill / With impunity / Throughout the whole world.”—TRANSLATOR.]
Laissez passer: “allow to pass,” substantially equivalent to
Second Series, Chapter 10
Second Series, Chapter 11