Economic Sophisms

Economic Sophisms

Author:
Frédéric Bastiat
Author:
Frédéric Bastiat
Format:
epub
language:
English

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Author: Bastiat, Frédéric, 1801-1850
Free trade
Economic Sophisms

ECONOMIC SOPHISMS

By Frederic Bastiat

Translated From the Fifth Edition of the French,
by Patrick James Stirling, LLD., F.R.S.E.

Edinburgh: Oliver And Boyd, Tweeddale Court.

1873


CONTENTS
TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE.

ECONOMIC SOPHISMS. FIRST SERIES.
INTRODUCTION.
I. ABUNDANCE, SCARCITY.
II. OBSTACLE, CAUSE.
III. EFFORT, RESULT.
IV. TO EQUALIZE THE CONDITIONS OF PRODUCTION.
V. OUR PRODUCTS ARE BURDENED WITH TAXES.
VI. BALANCE OF TRADE.
VII. OF THE MANUFACTURERS
VIII. DIFFERENTIAL DUTIES.
IX. IMMENSE DISCOVERY.
X. RECIPROCITY.
XI. NOMINAL PRICES.
XII. DOES PROTECTION RAISE THE RATE OF WAGES?
XIII. THEORY, PRACTICE.
XIV. CONFLICT OF PRINCIPLES.
XV. RECIPROCITY AGAIN.
XVI. OBSTRUCTED NAVIGATION PLEADING FOR THE PROHIBITIONISTS.
XVII. A NEGATIVE RAILWAY.
XVIII. THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTE PRINCIPLES.
XIX. NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE.
XX. HUMAN LABOUR, NATIONAL LABOUR.
XXI. RAW MATERIALS.
XXII. METAPHORS.
CONCLUSION.

SECOND SERIES.
I. PHYSIOLOGY OF SPOLIATION.
II. TWO PRINCIPLES OF MORALITY.
III. THE TWO HATCHETS.
IV. LOWER COUNCIL OF LABOUR.
V. DEARNESS-CHEAPNESS.
VI. TO ARTISANS AND WORKMEN.
VII. A CHINESE STORY.
VIII. POST HOC, ERGO PROPTER HOC.
IX. THE PREMIUM THEFT.
X. THE TAXGATHERER.
XI. THE UTOPIAN FREE-TRADER.
XII. THE SALT-TAX, RATES OF POSTAGE, AND CUSTOMHOUSE DUTIES.
XIII. PROTECTION; OR, THE THREE CITY MAGISTRATES. Demonstration in Four
XIV. SOMETHING ELSE.
XV. THE LITTLE ARSENAL OF THE FREE-TRADER.
XVI. THE RIGHT HAND AND THE LEFT.
XVII. DOMINATION BY LABOUR.


TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE.

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.

P.J.S.


ECONOMIC SOPHISMS. FIRST SERIES.


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.


I. ABUNDANCE, SCARCITY.

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 toward

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