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 REPORT TO THE KING)
The Right Hand and the Left
Second Series, Chapter 16
When we see the advocates of free trade boldly disseminating their doctrine, and maintaining that the right to buy and to sell is included in the right to own property (a piece of insolence that has found its true champion in M. Billault),
102* we may quite properly feel serious concern about the fate of our
domestic industry; for to what use will the French people put their hands and their minds when they live under a system of free trade?
The government that you have honored with your confidence has been obliged to concern itself with so grave a situation, and has sought in its wisdom to discover a means of
protection that might be substituted for the present one, which seems endangered. They propose
that you forbid your loyal subjects to use their right hands.
Sire, do not do us the injustice of thinking that we have lightly adopted a measure that at first sight may seem bizarre. Deep study of the
protectionist system has revealed to us this syllogism, upon which the whole of it is based:
The more one works, the richer one is.
The more difficulties one has to overcome, the more one works.
Ergo, the more difficulties one has to overcome, the richer one is.
What, in fact, is
protection, if not an ingenious application of this line of reasoning, so cogent and conclusive that it must resist even the subtlety of M. Billault himself?
Let us personify the country and view it as a collective being with thirty million mouths and, as a natural consequence, sixty million hands. It makes a clock that it intends to exchange in Belgium for ten quintals of iron.
But we tell it: “Make the iron yourself.”
“I cannot,” it replies; “it would take too long. I could not make more than five quintals in the time that I can make one clock.”
“Utopian dreamer!” we reply; “that is precisely the reason why we are forbidding you to make the clock and ordering you to make the iron. Do you not see that we are providing employment for you?”
Sire, it could not have escaped your discernment that this is exactly the same as if we were to say to the country:
Work with your left hand, and not with your right.
The old system of
restriction was based on the idea of creating obstacles in order to multiply job opportunities. The new system of
restriction that we are proposing to take its place is based on exactly the same idea. Sire, to make laws in this fashion is not to innovate; it is to carry on in the traditional way.
As for the efficacy of the measure, it is incontestable. It is difficult, much more difficult than people think, to do with the left hand what one is accustomed to doing with the right. You will be convinced of this, Sire, if you will deign to put our system to the test in performing some act that is familiar to you, such as, for instance, that of shuffling cards. We can, therefore, flatter ourselves on opening to labor an unlimited number of job opportunities.
Once the workers in every branch of industry are restricted to the use of their left hands alone, imagine, Sire, the immense number of people that will be needed to meet the present demand for consumers’ goods, assuming that it remains constant, as we always do when we compare different systems of production. So prodigious a demand for manual labor cannot fail to bring about a considerable rise in wages, and pauperism will disappear from the country as if by magic.
Sire, your paternal heart will rejoice at the thought that this law will extend its benefits also to the more interesting part of the large family whose destiny engages all your solicitude. What future is there now for women in France? The bolder and hardier sex is imperceptibly driving them from every branch of industry.
There was a time when they could always get a job in the lottery offices. These have been closed by a pitiless humanitarianism, and on what pretext? “To save,” it was said, “the pennies of the poor.” Alas! Have the poor ever enjoyed, for the price of a single coin, entertainment as mild and as innocent as that provided by the mysterious urn of Fortune? Deprived as they were of all the sweets of life, when they used to put, fortnight after fortnight, the price of a day’s labor on a
quaterne sec,103* think how many hours of delightful anticipation they gave their families! There was always a place for hope at the domestic hearth. The garret the family occupied was peopled with illusions: the wife hoped to eclipse her neighbors by the splendor of her wardrobe; the son would see himself as a drum major; and the daughter imagined herself led to the altar on the arm of her betrothed.
There is something to be said, after all, for dreaming
Oh, the lottery was the poetic vision of the poor, and we have let it slip awayl
Now that the lottery is gone, what other means do we have for taking care of the ladies we are seeking to protect? The tobacco industry and the postal service.
Let it be the sale of tobacco, by all means; its use is spreading, thank heaven, and thanks also to the genteel habits that our elegant young men have been most skillfully taught by the example of certain august personages.
But the postal service!…. We shall say nothing about it; it will constitute the subject of a special report.
Thus, apart from the sale of tobacco, what employment remains for your female subjects? Nothing but embroidering, knitting, and sewing—sorry makeshifts that the barbarous science of mechanics is limiting more and more.
But as soon as your new law is promulgated, as soon as all right hands are either cut off or tied down, things will change. Twenty times, thirty times as many embroiderers, pressers and ironers, seamstresses, dressmakers and shirtmakers, will not suffice to meet the national demand (shame to him who thinks ill of it), always assuming, as before, that it remains constant.
It is true that this assumption may be disputed by dispassionate theorists; for dresses will cost more, and so will shirts. The same could be said of the iron that we extract from our mines, as compared with what we could obtain
in exchange for the produce of our vineyards. Hence, this argument is no more acceptable against
left-handedness105* than against
protectionism; for this high cost is itself at once the result and the sign of the superabundance of effort and labor that is precisely the basis on which, in the one case as in the other, we maintain that the prosperity of the working class is founded.
Yes, we may picture a touching scene of prosperity in the dressmaking business. Such bustling about! Such activity! Such animation! Each dress will busy a hundred fingers instead of ten. No young woman will any longer be idle, and we have no need, Sire, to indicate to your perspicacity the moral consequences of this great revolution. Not only will more young women be employed, but each of them will earn more, for all of them together will be unable to satisfy the demand; and if competition reappears, it will no longer be among the workers who make the dresses but among the fine ladies who wear them.
You see, Sire, our proposal is not only in accord with the economic traditions of the government, but is essentially moral and democratic as well.
In order to appreciate its consequences, let us assume that it has been put into effect, and, transporting ourselves in imagination into the future, let us imagine that the system has been in operation for twenty years. Idleness has been banished from the country; steady employment has brought affluence, harmony, contentment, and morality to every household; poverty and prostitution are things of the past. The left hand being very clumsy to work with,
106* jobs are superabundant, and the pay is satisfactory. Everything has been organized on this basis; consequently, the workshops are thronged. Is it not true, Sire, that if at such a time utopian dreamers were suddenly to appear, demanding freedom for the right hand, they would throw the country into a panic? Is it not true that this supposed reform would upset everyone’s life? Hence, our system must be good, since it cannot be destroyed without causing suffering.
And yet we have a gloomy foreboding that one day there will be formed (so great is human perversity!) an association for the freedom of right hands.
We have the feeling that we can already hear the advocates of freedom for the right hand, at Montesquieu Hall,
107* speaking in this manner:
“My friends, you think yourselves richer because you have been deprived of the use of one hand; you take account only of the additional employment which that brings you. But, I beg you, consider also the high prices that result from it, and the forced diminution in the supply of consumers’ goods of all kinds. This measure has not made capital more abundant, and capital is the fund from which wages are paid. The waters that flow from this great reservoir are directed into other channels, but their volume has not been increased; and the ultimate consequence for the nation as a whole is a loss of wealth equal to all that the millions of right hands could produce over and above what the same number of left hands can turn out. Therefore, let us form an association, and, at the price of a few inevitable dislocations, let us win the right to work with both hands.”
Happily, Sire, there will be formed an
association in defense of labor with the left hand, and the advocates of
left-hand labor will have no trouble in demolishing all these generalities, speculations, assumptions, abstractions, reveries, and utopian fantasies. They will need only to exhume the
Moniteur industriel of 1846; and they will find ready-made arguments against
freedom of trade that will do quite as well against
freedom for the right hand if they will merely substitute one expression for the other.
The Parisian league for
free trade did not doubt that it would receive the support of the workers. But the workers are no longer men to be led about by the nose. They have their eyes open, and they are better informed about political economy than our Ph.D. professors….. “Free trade,” they replied, “would deprive us of our jobs, and our jobs are all that we really possess. Employment is the great sovereign that rules over our destinies.
With employment, with jobs abundant, the price of commodities is never beyond our reach. But without a job, even if bread costs only one sou per pound, the workingman is forced to die of hunger. Now, your doctrines, instead of increasing the present number of jobs in France, will lessen it, which means that you will reduce us to poverty.” [Issue of October 13, 1846.]
When there are too many commodities in the market, it is true that their price falls; but as wages fall when commodity prices drop, the result is that, instead of being in a position to buy more, we are no longer able to buy anything. Therefore, it is when commodities are at their lowest price that the workingman is in the worst situation. [Gauthier de Rumilly,
Moniteur industriel, November 17.]
It will not be inappropriate for the proponents of
left-hand labor to intermingle a few threats among their fine theories. Here is a model for them:
“What! You wish to substitute the labor of the right hand for that of the left, and thus force down, if not entirely abolish, wages, the sole resource of almost the entire nation!
“And this at a time when poor harvests are already imposing painful sacrifices upon the worker, causing him to worry about his future, and making him more readily disposed to listen to bad advice and to abandon the wise course of conduct to which he has hitherto adhered!”
We are confident, Sire, that, armed with such cogent reasoning, if it comes to a battle, the left hand will emerge the victor.
Perhaps there will also be formed an association with the aim of inquiring whether the right hand and the left hand are not both wrong, and whether a third hand can be found to mediate between them.
After depicting the advocates of freedom for the right hand as misled by the
apparent latitude of a principle whose correctness has not yet been tested by experience, and the proponents of left-handed labor as entrenching themselves in the positions they have gained, the association may argue as follows:
Can it be denied that there is a third position that can be taken in the midst of the conflict? Is it not evident that the workers have to defend themselves at one and the same time against those who want nothing changed in the present situation, because they find it advantageous, and those who dream of an economic revolution of which they have calculated neither the extent nor the implications?
[National of October 16.]
Nevertheless, we do not intend to conceal from Your Majesty that there is one respect in which our project is vulnerable. We may be told that in twenty years all left hands will be as skillful as right hands are now, and it will then no longer be possible to count on
left-handedness to increase the number of jobs in the country.
Our reply to this is that, according to learned doctors, the left side of the human body has a natural weakness that is completely reassuring for the future of labor.
If, then, Your Majesty consents to sign the decree, a great principle will be established:
All wealth stems from the intensity of labor. It will be easy for us to extend and vary its applications. We shall ordain, for example, that it shall no longer be permissible to work except with the foot. This is no more impossible (as we have seen) than to extract iron from the mud of the Seine. Men have even been known to write without using either hands or feet. You see, Sire, that we shall not be lacking in means of increasing the number of job opportunities in your realm. As a last resort, we should take recourse to the limitless possibilities of amputation.
Finally, Sire, if this report were not intended for publication, we should call your attention to the great influence that all measures of the kind we are proposing to you are likely to confer upon men in power. But this is a matter that we prefer to reserve for a private audience.
Le Libre échange, March 21, 1847.—EDITOR.]
Robinson Crusoe, the famous novel by the English author, Daniel Defoe (1659-1731). A number of students of economics, including Bastiat, have used what has been called the “Crusoeist” approach to economic problems by starting with the simplest possible economic organization.—TRANSLATOR.]
supra, First Series, chaps. 2 and 3, and
Economic Harmonies, chap. 6.—EDITOR.]
Second Series, Chapter 15
Le Libre échange, April 26, 1847.—EDITOR.]
Mr. Vulture (Monsieur Vautour), by the French dramatist Marc Antoine Madeleine Désaugiers (1772-1827). The name became a common slang expression used to typify the heartless usurer, creditor, and landlord.—TRANSLATOR.]
Second Series, Chapter 16
Le Libre échange, December 13, 1846.—EDITOR.]
gaucherie means both “left-handedness” and “clumsiness;” and Bastiat clearly intended this double sense.—TRANSLATOR.]
La main gauche étant fort gauche à la besogne,….—TRANSLATOR.]
Second Series, Chapter 17
Le Libre échange, February 14, 1847.—EDITOR.]
Economic Sophisms. The chief contents of such a book would appear to have already been published in the columns
Le Libre échange.—EDITOR.]