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
Author’s Introduction to the French Edition
and little to do.—Bentham.
I have attempted, in this brief volume,
*2 to refute some of the arguments that are raised against the introduction of free trade.
I am not engaging here in controversy with the protectionists. Rather, I am trying to instill a principle into the minds of sincere men who hesitate to take a stand on the issue because they are in doubt.
I am not one of those who say that the advocates of protectionism are motivated by self-interest. Instead, I believe that the opposition to free trade rests upon errors, or, if you prefer, upon
half-truths. The mistrust of free trade is quite sincere. Otherwise there would not be so many people who express fear of it.
I am, perhaps, aiming too high, but—I confess—I should like this brief work to become, as it were, the
handbook of those who are called upon to judge between the two principles. Unless one has a long-standing familiarity with the doctrines of free trade, his ideas are continually being colored by the sophisms of protectionism in one form or another. To clear his mind of them, he must each time go through a lengthy process of analysis; and not everyone has the time to undertake this task, legislators least of all. That is why I have tried to furnish such an analysis ready-made.
But, it may be asked, are the benefits of freedom so well hidden that they are evident only to professional economists?
Yes, we must admit that our opponents in this argument have a marked advantage over us. They need only a few words to set forth a half-truth; whereas, in order to show that it is a half-truth, we have to resort to long and arid dissertations.
This situation is due to the nature of things. Protection concentrates at a single point the good that it does, while the harm that it inflicts is diffused over a wide area. The good is apparent to the outer eye; the harm reveals itself only to the inner eye of the mind.
*3 In the case of free trade, it is just the reverse.
The same is true of almost all economic questions.
You may say, “Here is a machine that has put thirty workmen out on the street.”
Or, “Here is a spendthrift whose behavior encourages every branch of industry.”
Or, again, “The conquest of Algiers has doubled the trade of Marseilles.”
Or, finally, “Government expenditures provide a living for a hundred thousand families.”
Everyone will understand you, for your propositions are lucid, simple, and self-evident. You may go further, and deduce the following principles from them:
Machinery is an evil.
Extravagance, conquests, and heavy taxes are all good.
And your theory will be all the more widely accepted because you will be able to support it with undeniable facts.
But, for our part, we cannot limit ourselves to the consideration of a single cause and its immediate effect. We know that this effect itself becomes in its turn a cause. In order to pass judgment on a measure, we must, then, trace it through the whole chain of its effects to its final result. In other words, we are reduced, quite frankly, to
an appeal to reason.
But at once we find ourselves assailed by the familiar clamor: You are theorists, metaphysicians, ideologists,
*4 utopians, and doctrinaires; and all the prejudices of the public are roused against us.
What, then, are we to do? We must invoke the patience and good will of the reader, and, if we can, present our conclusions in so clear a light that truth and error show themselves plainly; so that once and for all the victory will go to either protectionism or free trade.
In this connection I have an important observation to make.
Some excerpts from this brief volume have appeared in the
Journal des économistes.
In an otherwise favorable criticism that the Vicomte de Romanet
*5 published (cf. the
Moniteur industriel,*6 May 15 and 18, 1845), he alleges that I am asking for the
abolition of tariffs. M. de Romanet is mistaken. What I am asking for is the abolition of the protectionist system. We do not refuse to pay taxes to the government; but, if it were possible, we should like to dissuade the governed from taxing one another. Napoleon once said: “The tariff should be, not an instrument of taxation, but a means of protecting industry.” We maintain the contrary, and say: “The tariff should not be an instrument of reciprocal robbery in the hands of the workers, but it can be a mechanism for taxation as good as any other.” We are so far—or, to involve only myself in this struggle, I am so far—from asking for the abolition of tariffs, that I view them as a key element of our future financial stability. I believe them capable of producing immense revenues for the treasury; and, to speak plainly, in view of the slowness with which sound economic doctrines are spreading as compared to the rapidity with which government expenditures are increasing, I rely more upon the needs of the treasury than upon the power of an enlightened public opinion for achieving commercial reform.
“But, after all,” I may be asked, “what are your conclusions?”
I have no need to reach conclusions. I am only combatting sophisms; that is all.
“But,” people may insist, “it is not enough to tear down; you must offer something constructive.” I, for my part, think that to tear down an error is to build up the truth that stands opposed to it.
Beyond that, I have no reluctance to state what my wishes are. I should like to have public opinion persuaded to approve a tariff law framed in something like these terms:
ad valorem rates shall be imposed:
|Goods of prime necessity||. . . . . . . . . . . . . .||5%|
|Goods of secondary necessity||. . . . . . . . . . . . . .||10%|
|Luxury goods||. . . . . . . . . . . . . .||15% or 20%|
No doubt these distinctions belong to a domain of ideas entirely foreign to political economy properly so called, and I am far from thinking them to be as useful and as just as people commonly suppose them to be. However, that is not my subject here.
Book of Fallacies probably suggested to Bastiat the title of the present work.—TRANSLATOR.]
Economic Sophisms appeared at the end of 1845. Several chapters in it had been published in the
Journal des économistes, in the April, July, and October, 1845, issues.—EDITOR.]
(Selected Essays on Political Economy, chap. 1).—EDITOR.]
Rapport fait au Comité central pour la défense du travail national (1843), publicist, and protectionist.—TRANSLATOR.]
Economic Harmonies, chap. 11.—EDITOR.]
high price (“cheapness” in English). It is quite noteworthy that the people instinctively express this idea by this paraphrase: advantageous market,
good market [bon marché]. The protectionists really ought to do something about changing this expression. It implies a whole economic system that is the converse of theirs.
Economic Harmonies, chap. 11, and, in another form, in the article “Abundance” written for the
Dictionnaire de l’économie politique.—EDITOR.]
First Series, Chapter 2
infra, Second Series, chap. 14, and
Economic Harmonies, chaps. 3 and 11.—EDITOR.]
First Series, Chapter 3
centiare here should read
are (1/100 of a hectare): with about 35,000 communes in France, there would be about 0.45 hectare, or forty-five ares, per commune in sugar beets.—TRANSLATOR.]
infra, Second Series, chap. 16, and
Economic Harmonies, chap 6.—EDITOR.]
First Series, Chapter 4