Mises Daily Articles
The Little Arsenal of the Free-Trader
[The Bastiat Collection (2011); originally from the second series of Economic Sophisms (1848)]
If anyone says that agriculture is the mother's milk of the country, reply, "What nourishes the country is not exactly agriculture, but wheat."
If anyone tells you that the basis of the food of the people is agriculture, reply, "The basis of the people's food is wheat. This is the reason why a law that gives us, by agricultural labor, two quarters of wheat, when we could have obtained four quarters without such labor, and by means of labor applied to manufactures, is a law not for feeding but for starving the people."
If anyone remarks that restriction upon the importation of foreign wheat gives rise to a more extensive culture, and consequently to increased home production, reply, "It induces men to sow grain on comparatively barren and ungrateful soils. To milk a cow and go on milking her, puts a little more into the pail, for it is difficult to say when you will come to the last drop. But that drop costs dear."
If anyone tells you that when bread is dear, the agriculturist, having become rich, enriches the manufacturer, reply, "Bread is dear when it is scarce, and then men are poor, or, if you like it better, they become rich starvelings."
If you are further told that when bread gets dearer, wages rise, reply by pointing out that in April 1847, five-sixths of our workmen were receiving charity.
If you are told that the wages of labor should rise with the increased price of provisions, reply, "This is as much as to say that in a ship without provisions, everybody will have as much biscuit as if the vessel were fully victualled."
If you are told that it is necessary to secure a good price to the man who sells wheat, reply, "That in that case it is also necessary to secure good wages to the man who buys it."
If it is said that the proprietors, who make the laws, have raised the price of bread without taking thought about wages, because they know that when bread rises wages naturally rise, reply, "Upon the same principle, when the workmen come to make the laws, don't blame them if they fix a high rate of wages without busying themselves about protecting wheat, because they know that when wages rise, provisions naturally rise also."
If you are asked, "What, then, is to be done?" reply, "Be just to everybody."
If you are told that it is essential that every great country should produce iron, reply, "What is essential is, that every great country should have iron."
If you are told that it is indispensable that every great country should produce cloth, reply, "The indispensable thing is that the citizens of every great country should have cloth."
If it be said that labor is wealth, reply, "This is not true."
And, by way of development, add, "Letting blood is not health, and the proof of it is that it is resorted to for the purpose of restoring health."
If it is said, "To force men to mine rocks, and extract an ounce of iron from a hundredweight of ore, is to increase their labor and consequently their wealth," reply, "To force men to dig wells by prohibiting them from taking water from the brook is to increase their useless labor, but not their wealth."
If you are told that the sun gives you his heat and light without remuneration, reply, "So much the better for me, for it costs me nothing to see clearly."
And if you are answered that industry in general loses what would have been paid for artificial light, rejoin, "No; for having paid nothing to the sun, what he saves me enables me to buy clothes, furniture, and candles."
In the same way, if you are told that these rascally English possess capital that is dormant, reply, "So much the better for us; they will not make us pay interest for it."
If it is said, "These perfidious English find coal and iron in the same pit," reply, "So much the better for us; they will charge us nothing for bringing them together."
If you are told that the Swiss have rich pasturages, which cost little, reply, "The advantage is ours, for they will demand a smaller amount of our labor in return for giving an impetus to our agriculture, and supplying us with provisions."
If they tell you that the lands of the Crimea have no value, and pay no taxes, reply, "The profit is ours, who buy corn free from such charges."
If they tell you that the serfs of Poland work without wages, reply, "The misfortune is theirs and the profit is ours, since their labor does not enter into the price of the wheat their masters sell us."
Finally, if they tell you that other nations have many advantages over us, reply, "By means of exchange, they are forced to allow us to participate in these advantages."
If they tell you that under free trade we are about to be inundated with bread, beef a la mode, coal, and winter clothing, reply, "In that case we shall be neither hungry nor thirsty."
If they ask, "How we are to pay for these things?" reply, "Don't let that disquiet you. If we are inundated, it is a sign we have the means of paying for the inundation; and if we have not the means of paying, we shall not be inundated."
If anyone says, "I should approve of free trade, if the foreigner, in sending us his products, would take our products in exchange; but he carries off our money," reply, "Neither money nor coffee grows in the fields of Beauce, nor are they turned out by the workshops of Elbeuf. So far as we are concerned, to pay the foreigner with money is the same thing as paying him with coffee."
If they bid you eat butcher's meat, reply, "Allow it to be imported."
If they say to you, in the words of La Presse, "When one has not the means to buy bread, he is forced to buy beef," reply, "This is advice quite as judicious as that given by M. Vautour to his tenant:
Quand on n'a pas de quoi payer son terme,
Il faut avoir une maison a soi.
If, again, they say to you, in the words of La Presse, "The government should teach the people how and why they must eat beef," reply, "The government has only to allow the beef to be imported, and the most civilized people in the world will know how to use it without being taught by a master."
If they tell you that the government should know everything, and foresee everything, in order to direct the people, and that the people have simply to allow themselves to be led, reply by asking, "Is there a state apart from the people? Is there a human foresight apart from humanity? Archimedes might repeat every day of his life, 'With a fulcrum and lever I can move the world; but he never did move it, for want of a fulcrum and lever. The lever of the state is the nation, and nothing can be more foolish than to found so many hopes upon the state, which is simply to take for granted the existence of collective science and foresight, after having set out with the assumption of individual imbecility and improvidence."
If anyone says, "I ask no favor, but only such a duty on bread and meat as shall compensate the heavy taxes to which I am subjected; only a small duty equal to what the taxes add to the cost price of my wheat," reply, "A thousand pardons; but I also pay taxes. If, then, the protection you vote in your own favor has the effect of burdening me as a purchaser of corn with exactly your share of the taxes, your modest demand amounts to nothing less than establishing this arrangement as formulated by you: 'Seeing that the public charges are heavy, I, as a seller of wheat, am to pay nothing, and you my neighbor, as a buyer of wheat, are to pay double, viz., your own share and mine into the bargain.' Mr. Grain-merchant, my good friend, you may have force at your command, but assuredly you have not reason on your side."
If anyone says to you, "It is, however, exceedingly hard upon me, who pays taxes, to have to compete in my own market with the foreigner, who pays none," reply, "In the first place, it is not your market, but our market. I who live upon wheat and pay for it, should surely be taken into account."
"Second, Few foreigners at the present day are exempt from taxes."
"Third, If the taxes you vote yield you in roads, canals, security, etc., more than they cost you, you are not justified in repelling, at my expense, the competition of foreigners, who, if they do not pay taxes, have not the advantages you enjoy in roads, canals, and security. You might as well say, 'I demand a compensating duty because I have finer clothes, stronger horses, and better ploughs than the hard-working peasant of Russia.'"
"Fourth, If the tax does not repay you for what it costs, don't vote it."
"Fifth, In short, after having voted the tax, do you wish to get free from it? Try to frame a law that will throw it on the foreigner. But your tariff makes your share of it fall upon me, who have already my own burden to bear."
If anyone says, "For the Russians free trade is necessary to enable them to exchange their products with advantage" (Opinion of M. Thiers in the Bureaux, April, 1847), reply, "Liberty is necessary everywhere, and for the same reason."
If you are told, "Each country has its wants, and we must be guided by that in what we do" (M. Thiers), reply, "Each country acts thus of its own accord, if you don't throw obstacles in the way."
If they tell you, "We have no sheet-iron, and we must allow it to be imported" (M. Thiers), reply, "Many thanks."
If you are told, "We have no freights for our merchant shipping. The want of return cargoes prevents our shipping from competing with foreigners" (M. Thiers), reply, "When a country wishes to have everything produced at home, there can be no freights either for exports or imports. It is just as absurd to desire to have a mercantile marine under a system of prohibition as it would be to have carts when there is nothing to carry."
If you are told that, assuming protection to be unjust, everything has been arranged on that footing; capital has been embarked; rights have been acquired; and the system cannot be changed without suffering to individuals and classes, reply, "All injustice is profitable to somebody (except, perhaps, restriction, which in the long run benefits no one). To argue from the derangement that the cessation of injustice may occasion to the man who profits by it is as much as to say that a system of injustice, for no other reason than that it has had a temporary existence, ought to exist for ever."