Bastiat's "Economic Sophisms”, translated by Dr. Patrick James Stirling, were eagerly welcomed by students of political economy who were not really familiar with French. His object in this work was, as he says, "to refute the fallacies of the Protectionist School, then predominant in France, and to clear the way for the establishment of what he maintained to be the true system of economic science, which he desired to ﬁnd on a new and peculiar theory of value, afterwards fully developed by him in the Harmonies."
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Economic Sophisms, F. Bastiat
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Translated by Patrick James Stirling (1809 – 1891)
Economic Sophisms. First Series.2
I. Abundance, Scarcity.5
II. Obstacle, Cause.12
III. Effort, Result.15
IV. To Equalize The Conditions Of Production.21
V. Our Products Are Burdened With Taxes.34
VI. Balance Of Trade.39
VII. Of The Manufacturers. 42
VIII. Differential Duties.46
IX. Immense Discovery.47
XI. Nominal Prices.52
XII. Does Protection Raise The Rate Of Wages?. 55
XIII. Theory, Practice.59
XIV. Conflict Of Principles.64
XV. Reciprocity Again.67
XVI. Obstructed Navigation Pleading For The Prohibitionists.69
XVII. A Negative Railway.70
XVIII. There Are No Absolute Principles.71
XIX. National Independence.74
XX. Human Labour, National Labour.76
XXI. Raw Materials.80
I. Physiology Of Spoliation.95
II. Two Principles Of Morality.109
III. The Two Hatchets.115
IV. Lower Council Of Labour.118
VI. To Artisans And Workmen.128
VII. A Chinese Story.135
VIII. Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.139
IX. The Premium Theft.141
X. The Taxgatherer.147
XI. The Utopian Free-Trader.152
XII. The Salt-Tax, Rates Of Postage, And Customhouse Duties.159
XIII. Protection; Or, The Three City Magistrates. 171
XIV. Something Else.179
XV. The Little Arsenal Of The Free-Trader.186
XVI. The Right Hand And The Left.191
XVII. Domination By Labour.196
Bastiat's two great works on Political Economy—the Sophismes Économiques, and the Harmonies Économiques—may be regarded as counterparts of each other. He himself so regarded them: "the one," he says, "pulls down, the other builds up." His object in the Sophismes was to refute the fallacies of the Protectionist school, then predominant in France, and so to clear the way for the establishment of what he maintained to be the true system of economic science, which he desired to found on a new and peculiar theory of value, afterwards fully developed by him in the Harmonies. Whatever difference of opinion may exist among economists as to the soundness of this theory, all must admire the irresistible logic of the Sophismes, and "the sallies of wit and humour," which, as Mr Cobden has said, make that work as "amusing as a novel."
The system of Bastiat having thus a destructive as well as a constructive object, a negative as well as a positive design, it is perhaps only doing justice to his great reputation as an economist to put the English reader in a position to judge of that system as a whole. Hence the present translation of the Sophismes is intended as a companion volume to the translation of the Harmonies.
It is unnecessary for me to say more here by way of preface, the gifted author having himself explained the design of the work in a short but lucid introduction.
My design in this little volume is to refute some of the arguments which are urged against the Freedom of Trade.
I do not propose to engage in a contest with the protectionists; but rather to instil a principle into the minds of those who hesitate because they sincerely doubt.
I am not one of those who say that Protection is founded on men's interests. I am of opinion rather that it is founded on errors, or, if you will, upon incomplete truths. Too many people fear liberty, to permit us to conclude that their apprehensions are not sincerely felt.
It is perhaps aiming too high, but my wish is, I confess, that this little work should become, as it were, the Manual of those whose business it is to pronounce between the two principles. Where men have not been long accustomed and familiarized to the doctrine of liberty, the sophisms of protection, in one shape or another, are constantly coming back upon them. In order to disabuse them of such errors when they recur, a long process of analysis becomes necessary; and every one has not the time required for such a process—legislators less than others. This is my reason for endeavouring to present the analysis and its results cut and dry.
But it may be asked, Are the benefits of liberty so hidden as to be discovered only by Economists by profession?
* The first series of the Sophismes Économiques appeared in the end of 1845; the second series in 1848.—Editor.
We must confess that our adversaries have a marked advantage over us in the discussion. In very few words they can announce a half-truth; and in order to demonstrate that it is incomplete, we are obliged to have recourse to long and dry dissertations.
This arises from the nature of things. Protection concentrates on one point the good which it produces, while the evils which it inflicts are spread over the masses. The one is visible to the naked eye; the other only to the eye of the mind. In the case of liberty, it is just the reverse.
In the treatment of almost all economic questions, we find it to be so.
You say, Here is a machine which has turned thirty workmen into the street.
Or, Here is a spendthrift who encourages every branch of industry.
Or, The conquest of Algeria has doubled the trade of Marseilles.
Or, The budget secures subsistence for a hundred thousand families.
You are understood at once and by all. Your propositions are in themselves clear, simple, and true. What are your deductions from them?
Machinery is an evil.
Luxury, conquests, and heavy taxation, are productive of good.
And your theory has all the more success that you are in a situation to support it by a reference to undoubted facts.
On our side, we must decline to confine our attention to the cause, and its direct and immediate effect. We know that this very effect in its turn becomes a cause. To judge correctly of a measure, then, we must trace it through the whole chain of results to its definitive effect. In other words, we are forced to reason upon it.
But then clamour gets up: You are theorists, metaphysicians, idealists, utopian dreamers, doctrinaires; and all the prejudices of the popular mind are roused against us.
What, under such circumstances, are we to do? We can only invoke the patience and good sense of the reader, and set our deductions, if we can, in a light so clear, that truth and error must show themselves plainly, openly, and without disguise,—and that the victory, once gained, may remain on the side of restriction, or on that of freedom.
And here I must set down an essential observation.
Some extracts from this little volume have already appeared in the Journal des Economistes.
In a critique, in other respects very favourable, from the pen of M. le Vicomte de Romanet, he supposes that I demand the suppression of customs. He is mistaken. I demand the suppression of the protectionist regime. We don't refuse taxes to the Government, but we desire, if possible, to dissuade the governed from taxing one another. Napoleon said that "the customhouse should not be made an instrument of revenue, but a means of protecting industry." We maintain the contrary, and we contend that the customhouse ought not to become in the hands of the working classes an instrument of reciprocal rapine, but that it may be used as an instrument of revenue as legitimately as any other. So far are we—or, to speak only for myself, so far am I—from demanding the suppression of customs, that I see in that branch of revenue our future anchor of safety. I believe our resources are capable of yielding to the Treasury immense returns; and to speak plainly, I must add, that, seeing how slow is the spread of sound economic doctrines, and so rapid the increase of our budgets, I am disposed to count more upon the necessities of the Treasury than on the force of enlightened opinion for furthering the cause of commercial reform.
You ask me, then, What is your conclusion? and I reply, that here there is no need to arrive at a conclusion. I combat sophisms; that is all.
But you rejoin, that it is not enough to pull down—it is also necessary to build up. True; but to destroy an error, is to build up the truth which stands opposed to it.
After all, I have no repugnance to declare what my wishes are. I desire to see public opinion led to sanction a law of customs conceived nearly in these terms:—
Articles of primary necessity to pay a duty, ad valorem, of 5 per cent.
Articles of convenience, 10 per cent.
Articles of luxury, 15 to 20 per cent.
These distinctions, I am aware, belong to an order of ideas which are quite foreign to Political Economy strictly so called, and I am far from thinking them as just and useful as they are commonly supposed to be. But this subject does not fall within the compass of my present design.
Which is best for man, and for society, abundance or scarcity?
What! you exclaim, can that be a question? Has any one ever asserted, or is it possible to maintain, that scarcity is at the foundation of human wellbeing?
Yes, this has been asserted, and is maintained every day; and I hesitate not to affirm that the theory of scarcity is much the most popular. It is the life of conversation, of the journals, of books, and of the tribune; and strange as it may seem, it is certain that Political Economy will have fulfilled its practical mission when it has established beyond question, and widely disseminated, this very simple proposition: "The wealth of men consists in the abundance of commodities."
Do we not hear it said every day, "The foreigner is about to inundate us with his products?" Then we fear abundance.
Did not M. Saint Cricq exclaim, "Production is excessive?" Then he feared abundance.
Do workmen break machines? Then they fear excess of production, or abundance.
Has not M. Bugeaud pronounced these words, "Let bread be dear, and agriculturists will get rich?" Now, bread cannot be dear but because it is scarce. Therefore M. Bugeaud extols scarcity.
Does not M. d'Argout urge as an argument against sugar-growing the very productiveness of that industry? Does he not say, "Beetroot has no future, and its culture cannot be extended, because a few acres devoted to its culture in each department would supply the whole consumption of France?" Then, in his eyes, good lies in sterility, in dearth, and evil in fertility and abundance.
The Presse, the Commerce, and the greater part of the daily papers, have one or more articles every morning to demonstrate to the Chambers and the Government, that it is sound policy to raise legislatively the price of all things by means of tariffs. And do the Chambers and the Government not obey the injunction? Now tariffs can raise prices only by diminishing the supply of commodities in the market! Then the journals, the Chambers, and the Minister, put in practice the theory of scarcity, and I am justified in saying that this theory is by far the most popular.
How does it happen that in the eyes of workmen, of publicists, and statesmen, abundance should appear a thing to be dreaded, and scarcity advantageous? I propose to trace this illusion to its source.
We remark that a man grows richer in proportion to the return yielded by his exertions, that is to say, in proportion as he sells his commodity at a higher price. He sells at a higher price in proportion to the rarity, to the scarcity, of the article he produces. We conclude from this, that, as far as he is concerned at least, scarcity enriches him. Applying successively the same reasoning to all other producers, we construct the theory of scarcity. We next proceed to apply this theory, and, in order to favour producers generally, we raise prices artificially, and cause a scarcity of all commodities, by prohibition, by restriction, by the suppression of machinery, and other analogous means.
The same thing holds of abundance. We observe that when a product is plentiful, it sells at a lower price, and the producer gains less. If all producers are in the same situation, they are all poor. Therefore it is abundance that ruins society And as theories are soon reduced to practice, we see the law struggling against the abundance of commodities.
This sophism in its more general form may make little impression, but applied to a particular order of facts, to a certain branch of industry, to a given class, of producers, it is extremely specious; and this is easily explained. It forms a syllogism which is not false, but incomplete. Now, what is true in a syllogism is always and necessarily present to the mind. But incompleteness is a negative quality, an absent datum, which it is very possible, and indeed very easy, to leave out of account.
Man produces in order to consume. He is at once producer and consumer. The reasoning which I have just explained considers him only in the first of these points of view. Had the second been taken into account, it would have led to an opposite conclusion. In effect, may it not be said:—
The consumer is richer in proportion as he purchases all things cheaper; and he purchases things cheaper in proportion to their abundance; therefore it is abundance which enriches him. This reasoning, extended to all consumers, leads to the theory of plenty.
It is the notion of exchange imperfectly understood which leads to these illusions. If we consider our personal interest, we recognise distinctly that it is double. As sellers we have an interest in dearness, and consequently in scarcity; as buyers, in cheapness, or what amounts to the same thing, in the abundance of commodities. We cannot, then, found our reasoning on one or other of these interests before inquiring which of the two coincides and is identified with the general and permanent interest of mankind at large.
If man were a solitary animal, if he laboured exclusively for himself, if he consumed directly the fruit of his labour—in a word, if he did not exchange—the theory of scarcity would never have appeared in the world. It is too evident that, in that case, abundance would be advantageous, from whatever quarter it came, whether from the result of his industry, from ingenious tools, from powerful machinery of his invention, or whether due to the fertility of the soil, the liberality of nature, or even to a mysterious invasion of products brought by the waves and left by them upon the shore. No solitary man would ever have thought that in order to encourage his labour and render it more productive, it was necessary to break in pieces the instruments which saved it, to neutralize the fertility of the soil, or give back to the sea the good things it had brought to his door. He would perceive at once that labour is not an end, but a means; and that it would be absurd to reject the result for fear of doing injury to the means by which that result was accomplished. He would perceive that if he devotes two hours a day to providing for his wants, any circumstance (machinery, fertility, gratuitous gift, no matter what) which saves him an hour of that labour, the result remaining the same, puts that hour at his disposal, and that he can devote it to increasing his enjoyments; in short, he would see that to save labour is nothing else than progress.
But exchange disturbs our view of a truth so simple. In the social state, and with the separation of employments to which it leads, the production and consumption of a commodity are not mixed up and confounded in the same individual. Each man comes to see in his labour no longer a means but an end. In relation to each commodity, exchange creates two interests, that of the producer and that of the consumer; and these two interests are always directly opposed to each other.
It is essential to analyze them, and examine their nature.
Take the case of any producer whatever, what is his immediate interest? It consists of two things: 1st, that the fewest possible number of persons should devote themselves to his branch of industry; 2dly, that the greatest possible number of' persons should be in quest of the article he produces. Political economy explains it more succinctly in these terms, Supply very limited, demand very extended; or in other words still, Competition limited, demand unlimited.
What is the immediate interest of the consumer? That the supply of the product in question should be extended, and the demand restrained.
Seeing, then, that these two interests are in opposition to each other, one of them must necessarily coincide with social interests in general, and the other be antagonistic to them.
But which of them should legislation favour, as identical with the public good—if, indeed, it should favour either?
To discover this, we must inquire what would happen if the secret wishes of men were granted.
In as far as we are producers, it must be allowed that the desire of every one of us is anti-social. Are we vine-dressers? It would give us no great regret if hail should shower down on all the vines in the world except our own: this is the theory of scarcity. Are we iron-masters? Our wish is, that there should be no other iron in the market but our own, however much the public may be in want of it; and for no other reason than that this want, keenly felt and imperfectly satisfied, shall ensure us a higher price: this is still the theory of scarcity. Are we farmers? We say with M. Bugeaud, Let bread be dear, that is to say, scarce, and agriculturists will thrive: always the same theory, the theory of scarcity.
Are we physicians? We cannot avoid seeing that certain physical ameliorations, improving the sanitary state of the country, the development of certain moral virtues, such as moderation and temperance, the progress of knowledge tending to enable each man to take better care of his own health, the discovery of certain simple remedies of easy application, would be so many blows to our professional success. In as far as we are physicians, then, our secret wishes would be anti-social. I do not say that physicians form these secret wishes. On the contrary, I believe they would hail with joy the discovery of a universal panacea; but they would not do this as physicians, but as men, and as Christians. By a noble abnegation of self', the physician places himself in the consumer's point of view. But as exercising a profession, from which he derives his own and his family's subsistence, his desires, or, if you will, his interests, are anti-social.
Are we manufacturers of cotton stuffs? We desire to sell them at the price most profitable to ourselves. We should consent willingly to an interdict being laid on all rival manufactures; and if we could venture to give this wish public expression, or hope to realize it with some chance of success, we should attain our end, to some extent, by indirect means; for example, by excluding foreign fabrics, in order to diminish the supply, and thus produce, forcibly and to our profit, a scarcity of clothing.
In the same way, we might pass in review all other branches of industry, and we should always find that the producers, as such, have anti-social views. "The shopkeeper," says Montaigne, "thrives only by the irregularities of youth; the farmer by the high price of corn, the architect by the destruction of houses, the officers of justice by lawsuits and quarrels. Ministers of religion derive their distinction and employment from our vices and our death. No physician rejoices in the health of his friends, nor soldiers in the peace of their country; and so of the rest."
Hence it follows that if the secret wishes of each producer were realized, the world would retrograde rapidly towards barbarism. The sail would supersede steam, the oar would supersede the sail, and general traffic would be carried on by the carrier's waggon; the latter would be superseded by the mule, and the mule by the pedlar. Wool would exclude cotton, cotton in its turn would exclude wool, and so on until the dearth of all things had caused man himself to disappear from the face of the earth.
Suppose for a moment that the legislative power and the public force were placed at the disposal of Mimeral's committee, and that each member of that association had the privilege of bringing in and sanctioning a favourite law, is it difficult to divine to what sort of industrial code the public would be subjected?
If we now proceed to consider the immediate interest of the consumer, we shall find that it is in perfect harmony with the general interest, with all that the welfare of society calls for. When the purchaser goes to market, he desires to find it well stocked. Let the seasons be propitious for all harvests; let inventions more and more marvellous bring within reach a greater and greater number of products and enjoyments; let time and labour be saved; let distances be effaced by the perfection and rapidity of transit; let the spirit of justice and of peace allow of a diminished weight of taxation; let barriers of every kind be removed;—in all this the interest of the consumer runs parallel with the public interest. The consumer may push his secret wishes to a chimerical and absurd length, without these wishes becoming antagonistic to the public welfare. He may desire that food and shelter, the hearth and the roof, instruction and morality, security and peace, power and health, should be obtained without exertion, and without measure, like the dust of the highways, the water of the brook, the air which we breathe; and yet the realization of his desires would not be at variance with the good of society.
It may be said that if these wishes were granted, the work of the producer would become more and more limited, and would end with being stopped for want of aliment. But why? Because, on this extreme supposition, all imaginable wants and desires would be fully satisfied. Man, like Omnipotence, would create all things by a simple act of volition. Well, on this hypotheses, what reason should we have to regret the stoppage of industrial production?
I made the supposition, not long ago, of the existence of an assembly composed of workmen, each member of which, in his capacity of producer, should have the power of passing a law embodying his secret wish, and I said that the code which would emanate from that assembly would be monopoly systematized, the theory of scarcity reduced to practice.
In the same way, a chamber in which each should consult exclusively his own immediate interest as a consumer, would tend to systematize liberty, to suppress all restrictive measures, to overthrow all artificial barriers—in a word, to realize the theory of plenty.
Hence it follows:
That to consult exclusively the immediate interest of the producer, is to consult an interest which is anti-social.
That to take for basis exclusively the immediate interest of the consumer, would be to take for basis the general interest.
Let me enlarge on this view of the subject a little, at the risk of being prolix.
A radical antagonism exists between seller and buyer.*
The former desires that the subject of the bargain should be scarce, its supply limited, and its price high.
The latter desires that it should be abundant, its supply large, and its price low.
The laws, which should be at least neutral, take the part of the seller against the buyer, of the producer against the consumer, of dearness against cheapness,** of scarcity against abundance.
* The author has modified somewhat the terms of this proposition in a posterior work.—See Harmonies Économiques, chapter xi.—Editor.
** We have not in French a substantive to express the idea opposed to that of dearness (cheapness). It is somewhat remarkable that the popular instinct expresses the idea by this periphrase, marche avantageux, bon marche'. The protectionists would do well to reform this locution, for it implies an economic system opposed to theirs.
They proceed, if not intentionally, at least logically, on this datum: a nation is rich when it is in want of everything.
For they say, it is the producer that we must favour by securing him a good market for his product. For this purpose it is necessary to raise the price, and in order to raise the price we must restrict the supply; and to restrict the supply is to create scarcity.
Just let us suppose that at the present moment, when all these laws are in full force, we make a complete inventory, not in value, but in weight, measure, volume, quantity, of all the commodities existing in the country, which are fitted to satisfy the wants and tastes of its inhabitants—corn, meat, cloth, fuel, colonial products, etc.
Suppose, again, that next day all the barriers which oppose the introduction of foreign products are removed.
Lastly, suppose that in order to test the result of this reform, they proceed three months afterwards to make a new inventory.
Is it not true that there will be found in France more corn, cattle, cloth, linen, iron, coal, sugar, etc., at the date of the second, than at the date of the first inventory?
So true is this, that our protective tariffs have no other purpose than to hinder all these things from reaching us, to restrict the supply, and prevent depreciation and abundance.
Now I would ask, Are the people who live under our laws better fed because there is less bread, meat, and sugar in the country? Are they better clothed, because there is less cloth and linen? Better warmed, because there is less coal? Better assisted in their labour, because there are fewer tools and less iron, copper, and machinery?
But it may be said, If the foreigner inundates us with his products, he will carry away our money.
And what does it matter? Men are not fed on money. They do not clothe themselves with gold, or warm themselves with silver. What matters it whether there is more or less money in the country, if there is more bread on our sideboards, more meat in our larders, more linen in our wardrobes, more firewood in our cellars.
Restrictive laws always land us in this dilemma:—
Either you admit that they produce scarcity, or you do not. If you admit it, you avow by the admission that you inflict on the people all the injury in your power. If you do not admit it, you deny having restricted the supply and raised prices, and consequently you deny having favoured the producer.
What you do is either hurtful or profitless, injurious or ineffectual. It never can be attended with any useful result.
The obstacle mistaken for the cause,—scarcity mistaken for abundance,—this is the same sophism under another aspect; and it is well to study it in all its phases.
Man is originally destitute of everything.
Between this destitution and the satisfaction of his wants, there exist a multitude of obstacles which labour enables us to surmount. It is curious to inquire how and why these very obstacles to his material prosperity have come to be mistaken for the cause of that prosperity.
I want to travel a hundred miles. But between the starting-point and the place of my destination, mountains, rivers, marshes, impenetrable forests, brigands—in a word, obstacles—interpose themselves; and to overcome these obstacles, it is necessary for me to employ many efforts, or, what comes to the same thing, that others should employ many efforts for me, the price of which I must pay them. It is clear that I should have been in a better situation if these obstacles had not existed.
On his long journey through life, from the cradle to the grave, man has need to assimilate to himself a prodigious quantity of alimentary substances, to protect himself against the inclemency of the weather, to preserve himself from a number of ailments, or cure himself of them. Hunger, thirst, disease, heat, cold, are so many obstacles strewn along his path. In a state of isolation he must overcome them all, by hunting, fishing, tillage, spinning, weaving, building; and it is clear that it would be better for him that these obstacles were less numerous and formidable, or, better still, that they did not exist at all. In society, he does not combat these obstacles personally, but others do it for him; and in return he employs himself in removing one of those obstacles which are encountered by his fellow-men.
It is clear also, considering things in the gross, that it would be better for men in the aggregate, or for society, that these obstacles should be as few and feeble as possible.
But when we come to scrutinize the social phenomena in detail, and men's sentiments as modified by the introduction of exchange, we soon perceive how they have come to confound wants with wealth, the obstacle with the cause.
The separation of employments, the division of labour, which results from the faculty of exchanging, causes each man, instead of struggling on his own account to overcome all the obstacles which surround him, to combat only one of them; he overcomes that one not for himself but for his fellow-men, who in turn render him the same service.
The consequence is that this man, in combating this obstacle which it is his special business to overcome for the sake of others, sees in it the immediate source of his own wealth. The greater, the more formidable, the more keenly felt this obstacle is, the greater will be the remuneration which his fellow-men will be disposed to accord him; that is to say, the more ready will they be to remove the obstacles which stand in his way.
The physician, for example, does not bake his own bread, or manufacture his own instruments, or weave or make his own coat. Others do these things for him, and in return he treats the diseases with which his patients are afflicted. The more numerous, severe, and frequent these diseases are, the more others consent, and are obliged, to do for his personal comfort. Regarding it from this point of view, disease, that general obstacle to human happiness, becomes a cause of material prosperity to the individual physician. The same argument applies to all producers in their several departments. The shipowner derives his profits from the obstacle called distance; the agriculturist from that called hunger; the manufacturer of cloth from that called cold; the schoolmaster lives upon ignorance; the lapidary upon vanity; the attorney on cupidity; the notary upon possible bad faith,—just as the physician lives upon the diseases of men. It is quite true, therefore, that each profession has an immediate interest in the continuation, nay in the extension, of the special obstacle which it is its business to combat.
Observing this, theorists make their appearance, and, founding a system on their individual sentiments, tell us: Want is wealth, labour is wealth, obstacles to material prosperity are prosperity. To multiply obstacles is to support industry.
Then statesmen intervene. They have the disposal of the public force; and what more natural than to make it available for developing and multiplying obstacles, since this is developing and multiplying wealth? They say, for example: If we prevent the importation of iron from places where it is abundant, we place an obstacle in the way of its being procured. This obstacle, keenly felt at home, will induce men to pay in order to be set free from it. A certain number of our fellow-citizens will devote themselves to combating it, and this obstacle will make their fortune. The greater the obstacle is—that is, the scarcer, the more inaccessible, the more difficult to transport, the more distant from the place where it is to be used, the mineral sought for becomes—the more hands will be engaged in the various ramifications of this branch of industry. Exclude, then, foreign iron, create an obstacle, for you thereby create the labour which is to overcome it.
The same reasoning leads to the proscription of machinery.
Here, for instance, are men who are in want of casks for the storage of their wine. This is an obstacle; and here are other men whose business it is to remove that obstacle by making the casks that are wanted. It is fortunate, then, that this obstacle should exist, since it gives employment to a branch of national industry, and enriches a certain number of our fellow-citizens. But then we have ingenious machinery invented for felling the oak, cutting it up into staves, and forming them into the wine-casks that are wanted. By this means the obstacle is lessened, and so are the gains of the cooper. Let us maintain both at their former elevation by a law, and put down the machinery.
To get at the root of this sophism, it is necessary only to reflect that human labour is not the end, but the means. It never remains unemployed. If one obstacle is removed, it does battle with another; and society is freed from two obstacles by the same amount of labour which was formerly, required for the removal of one. If the labour of the cooper is rendered unnecessary in one department, it will soon take another direction. But how and from what source will it be remunerated? From the same source exactly from which it is remunerated at present; for when a certain amount of labour becomes disposable by the removal of an obstacle, a corresponding amount of remuneration becomes disposable also. To maintain that human labour will ever come to want employment, would be to maintain that the human race will cease to encounter obstacles. In that case labour would not only be impossible; it would be superfluous. We should no longer have anything to do, because we should be omnipotent; and we should only have to pronounce our fiat in order to ensure the satisfaction of all our desires and the supply of all our wants.*
* See post, ch. xiv. of second series of Sophismes Economiques, and ch. iii. and xi. of the Harmonies Économiques.
We have just seen that between our wants and the satisfaction of these wants, obstacles are interposed. We succeed in overcoming these obstacles, or in diminishing their force by the employment of our faculties. We may say in a general way, that industry is an effort followed by a result.
But what constitutes the measure of our prosperity, or of our wealth? Is it the result of the effort? or is it the effort itself? A relation always subsists between the effort employed and the result obtained. Progress consists in the relative enhancement of the second or of the first term of this relation.
Both theses have been maintained; and in political economy they have divided the region of opinion and of thought.
According to the first system, wealth is the result of labour, increasing as the relative proportion of result to effort increases. Absolute perfection, of which God is the type, consists in the infinite distance interposed between the two terms—in this sense, effort is nil, result infinite.
The second system teaches that it is the effort itself which constitutes the measure of wealth. To make progress is to increase the relative proportion which effort bears to result. The ideal of this system may be found in the sterile and eternal efforts of Sisyphus.*
The first system naturally welcomes everything which tends to diminish pains and augment products; powerful machinery which increases the forces of man, exchange which allows him to derive greater advantage from natural agents distributed in various proportions over the face of the earth, intelligence which discovers, experience which proves, competition which stimulates, etc.
Logically, the second invokes everything which has the effect of increasing pains and diminishing products; privileges, monopolies, restrictions, prohibitions, suppression of machinery, sterility, etc.
It is well to remark that the universal practice of mankind always points to the principle of the first system. We have never seen, we shall never see, a man who labours in any department, be he agriculturist, manufacturer, merchant, artificer, soldier, author, or philosopher, who does not devote all the powers of his mind to work better, to work with more rapidity, to work more economically—in a word, to effect more with less.
The opposite doctrine is in favour only with theorists, deputies, journalists, statesmen, ministers—men, in short, born to make experiments on the social body.
* For this reason, and for the sake of conciseness, the reader will pardon us for designating this system in the sequel by the name of sisyphism.
At the same time, we may observe, that in what concerns themselves personally, they act as every one else does, on the principle of obtaining from labour the greatest possible amount of useful results.
Perhaps I may be thought to exaggerate, and that there are no true sisyphists.
If it be argued that in practice they do not press their principle to its most extreme consequences, I willingly grant it. This is always the case when one sets out with a false principle. Such a principle soon leads to results so absurd and so mischievous that we are obliged to stop short. This is the reason why practical industry never admits sisyphism; punishment would follow error too closely not to expose it. But in matters of speculation, such as theorists and statesmen deal in, one may pursue a false principle a long time before discovering its falsity by the complicated consequences to which men were formerly strangers; and when at last its falsity is found out, the authors take refuge in the opposite principle, turn round, contradict themselves, and seek their justification in a modern maxim of incomparable absurdity: in political economy, there is no inflexible rule, no absolute principle.
Let us see, then, if these two opposite principles which I have just described do not predominate by turns, the one in practical industry, the other in industrial legislation.
I have already noticed the saying of M. Bugeaud (that "when bread is dear, agriculturists become rich"); but in M. Bugeaud are embodied two separate characters, the agriculturist and the legislator.
As an agriculturist, M. Bugeaud directs all his efforts to two ends,—to save labour, and obtain cheap bread. When he prefers a good plough to a bad one; when he improves his pastures; when, in order to pulverize the soil, he substitutes as much as possible the action of the atmosphere for that of the harrow and the hoe; when he calls to his aid all the processes of which science and experiment have proved the efficacy,—he has but one object in view, viz., to diminish the proportion of effort to result. We have indeed no other test of the ability of a cultivator, and the perfection of his processes, than to measure to what extent they have lessened the one and added to the other. And as all the farmers in the world act upon this principle, we may assert that the effort of mankind at large is to obtain, for their own benefit undoubtedly, bread and all other products cheaper, to lessen the labour needed to procure a given quantity of what they want.
This incontestable tendency of mankind once established, should, it would seem, reveal to the legislator the true principle, and point out to him in what way he should aid industry (in as far as it falls within his province to aid it); for it would be absurd to assert that human laws should run counter to the laws of Providence.
And yet we have heard M. Bugeaud, as a deputy, exclaim: "I understand nothing of this theory of cheapness; I should like better to see bread dearer and labour more abundant." And following out this doctrine, the deputy of the Dordogne votes legislative measures, the effect of which is to hamper exchanges, for the very reason that they procure us indirectly what direct production could not procure us but at greater expense.
Now, it is very evident that M. Bugeaud's principle as a deputy is directly opposed to the principle on which he acts as an agriculturist. To act consistently, he should vote against all legislative restriction, or else import into his farming operations the principle which he proclaims from the tribune. We should then see him sow his corn in his most sterile fields, for in this way he would succeed in working much to obtain little. We should see him throwing aside the plough, since hand-culture would satisfy his double wish for dearer bread and more abundant labour.
Restriction has for its avowed object, and its acknowledged effect, to increase labour.
It has also for its avowed object, and its acknowledged effect, to cause dearness, which means simply scarcity of products; so that, carried out to its extreme limits, it is pure sisyphism, such as we have defined it,—labour infinite, product nil.
Baron Charles Dupin, the light of the peerage, it is said, on economic science, accuses railways of injuring navigation; and it is certain that it is of the nature of a more perfect, to restrict the use of a less perfect means of conveyance. But railways cannot hurt navigation except by attracting traffic; and they cannot attract traffic but by conveying goods and passengers more cheaply; and they cannot convey them more cheaply but by diminishing the proportion which the effort employed bears to the result obtained, seeing that that is the very thing which constitutes cheapness. When, then, Baron Dupin deplores this diminution of the labour employed to effect a given result, it is the doctrine of sisyphism which he preaches. Logically, since he prefers the ship to the rail, he should prefer the cart to the ship, the pack-saddle to the cart, and the pannier to all other known means of conveyance, for it is the latter which exacts the most labour with the least result.
"Labour constitutes the wealth of a people," said M. de Saint-Cricq, that Minister of Commerce who has imposed so many restrictions upon trade. We must not suppose that this was an elliptical expression, meaning, "The results of labour constitute the wealth of a people." No, this economist distinctly intended to affirm that it is the intensity of labour which is the measure of wealth, and the proof of it is, that from consequence to consequence, from one restriction to another, he induced France (and in this he thought he was doing her good) to expend double the amount of labour, in order, for example, to provide herself with an equal quantity of iron. In England, iron was then at eight francs, while in France it cost sixteen francs. Taking a day's labour at one franc, it is clear that France could, by means of exchange, procure a quintal of iron by subtracting eight days' work from the aggregate national labour. In consequence of the restrictive measures of M. de Saint-Cricq, France was obliged to expend sixteen days' labour in order to provide herself with a quintal of iron by direct production. Double the labour for the same satisfaction, hence double the wealth. Then it follows that wealth is not measured by the result, but by the intensity of the labour. Is not this sisyphism in all its purity?
And in order that there may be no mistake as to his meaning, the Minister takes care afterwards to explain more fully his ideas; and as he had just before called the intensity of labour wealthy he goes on to call the more abundant results of that labour, or the more abundant supply of things proper to satisfy our wants, poverty. "Everywhere," he says, "machinery has taken the place of manual labour; everywhere production superabounds; everywhere the equilibrium between the faculty of producing, and the means of consuming, is destroyed." We see, then, to what, in M. de Saint-Cricq's estimation, the critical situation of the country was owing—it was to having produced too much, and her labour being too intelligent, and too fruitful. We were too well fed, too well clothed, too well provided with everything; a too rapid production surpassed all our desires. It was necessary, then, to put a stop to the evil, and for that purpose, to force us, by restrictions, to labour more in order to produce less.
I have referred likewise to the opinions of another Minister of Commerce, M. d'Argout. They deserve to be dwelt upon for an instant. Desiring to strike a formidable blow at beet-root culture, he says, "Undoubtedly, the cultivation of beet-root is useful, but this utility is limited. The developments attributed to it are exaggerated. To be convinced of this, it is sufficient to observe that this culture will be necessarily confined within the limits of consumption. Double, triple, if you will, the present consumption of France, you will always find that a very trifling portion of the soil will satisfy the requirements of that consumption." (This is surely rather a singular subject of complaint!) "Do you desire proof of this? How many hectares had we under beet-root in 1828? 3130, which is equivalent to 1-10, 540th of our arable land. At the present time, when indigenous sugar supplies one-third of our consumption, how much land is devoted to that culture? 16,700 hectares, or 1-1978th of the arable land, or 45 centiares in each commune. Suppose indigenous sugar already supplied our whole consumption, we should have only 48,000 hectares under beet-root, or 1-689th of the arable land."*
There are two things to be remarked upon in this citation—the facts and the doctrine. The facts tend to prove that little land, little capital, and little labour are required to produce a large quantity of sugar, and that each commune of France would be abundantly provided by devoting to beet-root cultivation one hectare of its soil. The doctrine consists in regarding this circumstance as adverse, and in seeing in the very power and fertility of the new industry, a limit to its utility.
* It is fair to M. d'Argout to say that he put this language
in the mouth of the adversaries of beet-root culture. But he
adopts it formally, and sanctions it besides, by the law
which it was employed to justify.
I do not mean to constitute myself here the defender of beet-root culture, or a judge of the strange facts advanced by M. d'Argout; * but it is worth while to scrutinize the doctrine of a statesman, to whom France for a long time entrusted the care of her agriculture and of her commerce.
I remarked in the outset that a variable relation exists between an industrial effort and its result; that absolute imperfection consists in an infinite effort without any result; absolute perfection in an unlimited result without any effort; and perfectibility in the progressive diminution of effort compared with the result.
But M. d'Argout tells us there is death where we think we perceive life, and that the importance of any branch of industry is in direct proportion to its powerlessness. What are we to expect, for instance, from the cultivation of beet-root? Do you not see that 48,000 hectares of land, with capital and manual labour in proportion, are sufficient to supply all France with sugar? Then, this is a branch of industry of limited utility; limited, of course, with reference to the amount of labour which it demands, the only way in which, according to the ex-Minister, any branch of industry can be useful. This utility would be still more limited, if, owing to the fertility of the soil, and the richness of the beet-root, we could reap from 24,000 hectares, what at present we only obtain from 48,000. Oh! were only twenty times, a hundred times, more land, capital, and labour necessary to yield us the same result, so much the better. We might build some hopes on this new branch of industry, and it would be worthy of state protection, for it would offer a vast field to our national industry. But to produce much with little! that is a bad example, and it is time for the law to interfere.
* Supposing that 48,000 or 50,000 hectares were sufficient to supply the present consumption, it would require 150,000 for triple that consumption, which M. d'Argout admits as possible. Moreover, if beet-root entered into a six years' rotation of crops, it would occupy successively 900,000 hectares, or 1-38th of the arable land.
But what is true with regard to sugar, cannot be otherwise with regard to bread. If, then, the utility of any branch of industry is to be estimated not by the amount of satisfactions it is fitted to procure us with a determinate amount of labour, but, on the contrary, by the amount of labour which it exacts in order to yield us a determinate amount of satisfactions, what we ought evidently to desire is, that each acre of land should yield less corn, and each grain of com less nourishment; in other words, that our land should be comparatively barren; for then the quantity of land, capital, and manual labour that would be required for the maintenance of our population would be much more considerable; we could then say that the demand for human labour would be in direct proportion to this barrenness. The aspirations of MM. Bugeaud, Saint-Cricq, Dupin, and d'Argout, would then be satisfied; bread would be dear, labour abundant, and France rich—rich at least in the sense in which these gentlemen understand the word.
What we should desire also is, that human intelligence should be enfeebled or extinguished; for, as long as it survives, it will be continually endeavouring to augment the proportion which the end bears to the means, and which the product bears to the labour. It is in that precisely that intelligence consists.
Thus, it appears that sisyphism
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