Why should I persist in this arid science, Political Economy?
Why? The question is reasonable. All work is sufficiently repellent by nature for us to have the right to ask where it is leading.
So let us examine the matter.
I am not addressing the philosophers who make a profession of adoring destitution, if not in their own name at least in the name of humanity.
I am speaking to those who consider Wealth as something worthwhile. Let us understand by this term, not the opulence of a few but the prosperity, well-being, security, independence, education and the dignity of all.
There are only two ways of acquiring the things that are necessary for the preservation, improvement and betterment of life: PRODUCTION and PLUNDER.
Some people say: “PLUNDER is an accident, a local and transitory abuse, stigmatized by moral philosophy, condemned by law and unworthy of the attentions of Political Economy.”
But whatever the benevolence and optimism of one’s heart one is obliged to acknowledge that PLUNDER is exercised on too a vast scale in this world, that it is too universally woven into all major human events, for any social science, above all Political Economy, to feel justified in disregarding it.
I will go further. What separates the social order from a state of perfection (at least from the degree of perfection it can attain) is the constant effort of its members to live and progress at the expense of one another.
So that, if PLUNDER did not exist, society would be perfect and the social sciences would be superfluous.
I will go even further. When PLUNDER has become the means of existence of a large group of men mutually linked by social ties, they soon contrive to pass a law that sanctions it and a moral code that glorifies it.
You need name only a few of the most clear-cut forms of Plunder to show the place it occupies in human affairs.
First of all, there is WAR. Among savage peoples, the victor kills the vanquished in order to acquire a right to hunt game that is if not incontestable, at least uncontested.
Then there is SLAVERY. Once man grasps that it is possible to make land fertile through work, he strikes this bargain with his fellow: “You will have the fatigue of work and I will have its product.”
Next comes THEOCRACY. “Depending on whether you give me or refuse to give me your property, I will open the gates of heaven or hell to you.”
Lastly, there is MONOPOLY. Its distinctive characteristic is to allow the great social law, a service for a service,193 to continue to exist, but to make force part of the negotiations and thus distort the just relationship between the service received and the service rendered.
Plunder always carries within it the deadly seed that kills it. Rarely does the majority plunder the minority.194 In this case, the minority would immediately be reduced to the point where it could no longer satisfy the greed of the majority, and Plunder would die for want of sustenance.
It is almost always the majority that is oppressed, and Plunder is also destined in this case as well to receive a death sentence.
For if the use of Force is Plunder’s agent, as it is for War and Slavery, it is natural for Force to go over to the side of the majority in the long run.
And if the agent is Fraud, as in Theocracy and Monopoly, it is natural for the majority to become informed on this score, or intelligence would not be intelligence.
Another providential law that has planted a second deadly seed in the heart of Plunder is this:
Plunder does not only redistribute wealth, it always destroys part of it.
War annihilates many things of value.
Slavery paralyses a great many human abilities.
Theocracy diverts a great deal of effort to puerile or disastrous purposes.
Monopoly also moves wealth from one pocket to another but a great deal is lost in the transfer.
This law is admirable. In its absence, provided that there were a stable balance of power between the oppressors and the oppressed, Plunder would have no end. Thanks to this law, the balance always tends to be upset, either because the Plunderers become aware of the loss of so much wealth, or, where this awareness is lacking, because the harm constantly grows worse and it is in the nature of things that constantly deteriorate to come to an end.
In fact, there comes a time when, in its gradual acceleration, the loss of wealth is so great that Plunderers are less rich than they would have been if they had remained honest.
An example of this is a nation for which the cost of war is greater than the value of its booty;
A master who pays more for slave labor than for free labor;
A Theocracy that has so stupefied the people and sapped their energy that it can no longer wring anything out of them;
A Monopoly that has to increase its efforts to suck consumers dry as there is less to be sucked up, just as the effort needed to milk a cow increases as the udder dries up.195
As we see, Monopoly is a Species of the Genus, Plunder. There are several Varieties of it, including Sinecure, Privilege and Trade Restriction.
Among the forms it takes, there are some that are simple and naïve. Such were feudal rights. Under this regime the masses were plundered and knew it. It involved the abuse of force and perished with it.
Others are highly complex. In this case, the masses are often plundered unaware. It may even happen that they think they owe everything to Plunder; what is left to them, as well as what is taken from them and what is lost in the operation. Further than that I would propose as time goes on, and given the highly ingenious mechanism of custom, many Plunderers are plunders without knowing it and without wishing it. Monopolies of this type are generated through Fraud and they feed on Error. They only disappear with Enlightenment.
I have said enough to show that Political Economy has an obvious practical use. It is the flame that destroys this social disorder which is Plunder, by unveiling Fraud and dissipating Error. Someone, I believe it was a woman196 and she was perfectly right, defined political economy thus: It is the safety lock on popular savings.
If this small volume were intended to last for three or four thousand years, to be read, reread, meditated upon and studied sentence by sentence, word by word and letter by letter by one generation after another like a new Koran, if it were bound to attract avalanches of annotations, explanations and paraphrases in all the libraries around the world, I would be able to abandon to their fate the foregoing thoughts with their slightly obscure precision. But because they need to be commented upon, I consider it prudent to do this myself.
The true and just law governing man is “The freely negotiated exchange of one service for another.”197 Plunder consists in banishing by fraud or force the freedom to negotiate in order to receive a service without offering one in return.
Plunder by force is exercised as follows: People wait for a man to produce something and then seize it from him at gun point.
This is formally condemned by the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal.
When it takes place between individuals, it is called theft and leads to prison; when it takes place between nations, it is called conquest and leads to glory.
Why is there this difference? It is useful to seek its cause. It will show us an irresistible power, Opinion, which, like the atmosphere, envelops us so completely that we no longer notice it. For Rousseau never spoke a truer word than when he said “A great deal of philosophy is needed to observe facts that are too close to us.”198
A thief, by the very fact that he acts alone, has public opinion against him. He alarms everyone who surrounds him. However, if he has a few accomplices, he brags to them of his achievements and we start to see in this the force of Opinion, for he needs only the approval of his accomplices to free him of any feeling of shame for his wicked acts and even to make him proud of his ignominy.
A warrior lives in another environment. The Opinion that reviles him is elsewhere, in the nations that have been conquered; he does not feel pressure from them. However, the Opinion that is around him approves and supports him. His companions and he feel keenly the solidarity that binds them. The fatherland, which created enemies and dangers for itself, needs to exalt the courage of its children. It confers on the boldest of these, those who extend its frontiers and bring back the most plunder to it, honors, renown and glory. Poets sing of their exploits and women weave them wreaths. And such is the power of Opinion that it removes the idea of injustice from Plunder and strips away the very awareness of their wrongs from plunderers.
Opinion which rejects military plunder is not located among those doing the plundering but among those being plundered, and therefore exercises very little influence. However, it is not totally ineffective, and still less when nations have relations with one another and understand each other more. From this angle, we see that a study of languages and free communication between peoples tends to lead to the predominance of opinion against this type of plunder.
Unfortunately, it often happens that the nations surrounding the plundering people are themselves plunderers whenever they can and are henceforth imbued with the same preconceived ideas.
If this is so, there is only one remedy, time. Nations have to learn by hard experience the huge disadvantage there is in plundering each other.
Another brake may be mentioned: raising moral standards. However, the aim of raising moral standards is to increase the number of virtuous actions. How then will it restrict acts of plunder when such acts are raised by Opinion to the rank of the highest virtues? Is there a more powerful means of raising the moral standards of a nation than Religion? Has there ever been a Religion more disposed toward peace and more universally accepted than Christianity? And yet, what have we seen in the last eighteen centuries? We have seen men fighting, not only in spite of Religion but in the very name of Religion.
A conquering nation does not always carry out an offensive war. It also has bad times. Its soldiers then defend their homes and hearths, property, families, independence and freedom. War takes on an aura of sanctity and greatness. The flag, blessed by the ministers of the God of Peace, represents all that there is sacred on earth; people adhere to it as to the living image of the fatherland and honor, and warlike virtues are exalted above all the other virtues. But once the danger has passed, Opinion remains, and the spirit of revenge (which is often confused with patriotism) gives rise to the natural response of people who love to parade their beloved flag from city to city. It appears that it is in this way that nature might have prepared the punishment of the aggressor.
It is the fear of this punishment and not the progress of philosophy that keeps weapons within arsenals for, it cannot be denied, the most advanced and civilized nations make war and take little notice of justice as long as they have no reprisals to fear. Examples of this are the Himalayas199, the Atlas mountains200 and the Caucasus201.
If Religion has been powerless, if philosophy is powerless, how will we put an end to war?
Political Economy shows that, even when you consider only the victors, war is always waged in the interest of a minority and at the expense of the masses. All that is needed therefore is that the masses see this truth clearly. The weight of Opinion, which is still divided, will come down totally in favor of peace.202
Plunder exercised by force takes yet another form. People do not wait for a man to have produced something to snatch it from him. They take hold of the man himself; he is stripped of his own personality and forced to work. Nobody says to him “If you take this trouble on my behalf, I will take this trouble for you” but instead “You will have all of the fatigue of labor and I will have all the enjoyment of its products”. This is Slavery, which always involves the abuse of force.
Well, it is a profound question to ascertain whether or not it is in the nature of an incontestably dominating force to always take advantage of its position. As for me, I do not trust it, and would as much expect a falling stone to to have the power to halt its own fall as entrust coercion to set its own limit.
I would like at least to be shown a country or an era in which Slavery has been abolished by the free and gracious will of the masters.
Slavery supplies a second and striking example of the inadequacy of religious and philanthropic sentiments in the face of a powerful sense of self-interest. This may appear a source of regret to certain modern Schools that seek the reforming principle of society in self-denial. Let them begin then by reforming the nature of man.
In the Antilles,203 the masters have professed the Christian religion from father to son from the time slavery was instituted. Several times a day, they repeat these words, “All men are brothers; loving your neighbor is to fulfill the law in its entirety.” And yet they have slaves. Nothing seemed to them to be more natural and legitimate. Do modern reformers hope that their moral principles will ever be as universally accepted, as popular, with as much authority and as often heard on everyone’s lips as the Gospel? And if the Gospel has been unable to pass from lips to hearts over or through the great defensive wall of self-interest, how do they hope that their moral principles will accomplish this miracle?
What then! Is Slavery therefore invulnerable? No, what founded it will destroy it; I refer to Self-Interest, provided that, in order to reinforce the special interests that created the wound, the general interests that have to cure it are not thwarted.
Another truth demonstrated by Political Economy is that free labor is essentially dynamic and slave labor is of necessity static. For this reason, the triumph of the former over the latter is inevitable. What has happened to the cultivation of indigo by black people?204
Free labor applied to the cultivation of sugar will make the price decrease more and more. As this happens, slaves will be less and less profitable for their masters. Slavery would have collapsed a long time ago of its own accord in America, if the laws in Europe had not raised the price of sugar artificially. We therefore see the masters, their creditors and delegates actively working to maintain these laws, which now form the pillars of the edifice.
Unfortunately, they still have the sympathy of the populations within which slavery has disappeared, which shows us once again that Opinion is still sovereign here.
If it is sovereign, even in the context of power, it is even more so in the world of Fraud. To tell the truth, this is its real domain. Fraud is the abuse of knowledge; the progress of Opinion is the progress of knowledge. The two powers are at least of the same nature. Fraud by a plunderer involves credulity in the person being plundered, and the natural antidote to credulity is truth. It follows that to enlighten minds is to remove the sustenance from this type of plunder.
I will review briefly a few of the forms of plunder that are exercised by Fraud on a grand scale.
The first to come forward is Plunder by theocratic fraud.
What is this about? To get people to provide real services, in the form of foodstuffs, clothing, luxury, consideration, influence and power, in return for imaginary ones.
If I said to a man “I am going to provide you with some immediate services”, I would have to keep my word, otherwise this man would know what he was dealing with and my fraud would be promptly unmasked.
But if I told him “In exchange for your services, I will provide you with immense services, not in this world but in the next. After this life, you will be able to be eternally happy or unhappy and this all depends on me; I am an intermediary between God and his creation and can, at will, open the gates of heaven or hell to you.” Should this man believe me at all, he is in my power.
This type of imposture has been practiced widely since the beginning of the world, and we know what degree of total power Egyptian priests achieved.
It is easy to see how impostors behave. You have to only ask yourself what you would do in their place.
If I came, with ideas like this in mind, amongst an ignorant clan and succeeded by dint of some extraordinary act and an amazing appearance to be taken for a supernatural being, I would pass for an emissary of God with absolute discretion over the future destiny of men.
I would then forbid any examination of my titles. I would go further; since reason would be my most dangerous enemy, I would forbid the use of reason itself, at least when applied to this awesome subject. I would make this question, and all those relating to it, taboo, as the savages say. To solve them, discuss them or even think of them would be an unpardonable crime.
It would certainly be the height of skill to set up a taboo as a barrier across all the intellectual avenues that might lead to the discovery of my deception. What better guarantee of its longevity is there than to make doubt itself a sacrilege?
However, to this fundamental guarantee I would add ancilliary ones. For example, in order that enlightenment is never able to reach down to the masses, I would grant to my accomplices and myself the monopoly of all knowledge. I would hide it under the veils of a dead language and a hieroglyphic script and, so that I would never be taken by surprise by any danger, I would take care to invent an institution which would, day after day, enable me to enter into the secret of all consciences.
It would also not be a bad thing for me to satisfy some of the genuine needs of my people, especially if, by doing so, I was able to increase my influence and authority. Given that men have a great need of education and moral instruction, I would take it upon myself to dispense this. Through this, I would direct the minds and hearts of my people as I saw fit. I would weave morality and my authority into an indissoluble chain; I would represent them as being unable to exist without each other, so that if a bold individual attempted to raise a question that was taboo, society as a whole, unable to live without a moral code, would feel the earth tremble beneath its feet and would turn in anger against this daring innovator.
Should things reach this pass, it is clear that this people would belong to me more surely than if they were my slaves. Slaves curse their chains, while my people would bless theirs, and I would have succeeded in imprinting the stamp of servitude not on their foreheads, but in the depths of their conscience.
Opinion alone is capable of tearing down an edifice of iniquity like this, but how will it set about this if each stone is taboo? It is a question of time and the printing press.
God forbid that I should wish to undermine here the consoling beliefs that link this life of trials to a life of happiness! No one, not even the head of the Christian church,205 could deny that the irresistible urge which leads us to these beliefs has been taken advantage of. There is, it seems to me, a sign by which we can see whether a people have been duped or not. Examine Religion and priest alike; see whether the priest is the instrument of Religion or Religion the instrument of the priest.
If the priest is the instrument of Religion, if he thinks only of spreading its morals and benefits around the world, he will be gentle, tolerant, humble, charitable and full of zeal. His life will reflect that of his divine model. He will preach freedom and equality among men, peace and fraternity between nations; he will reject the attractions of temporal power, not wishing to ally himself with what most needs to be restricted in this world. He will be a man of the people, a man of good counsel and gentle consolation, a man of good Opinion and a Man of the Gospel.
If, on the other hand, Religion is the instrument of the priest, he will treat it as some people treat an instrument that is altered, bent and turned in many ways so as to draw the greatest benefit for themselves. He will increase the number of questions that are taboo; his moral principles will bend according to the climate, men and circumstances. He will seek to impose it through studied gestures and attitudes; he will mutter words a hundred times a day whose meaning has disappeared and which are nothing other than empty conventionalism. He will peddle holy things, but just enough to avoid undermining faith in their sanctity and he will take care to see that this trade is less obviously active where the people are more keen-sighted. He will involve himself in terrestrial intrigue and always be on the side of the powerful, on the sole condition that those in power ally themselves with him. In a word, in all his actions, it will be seen that he does not want to advance Religion through the clergy but the clergy through Religion, and since so much effort implies an aim and as this aim, according to our hypothesis, cannot be anything other than power and wealth, the definitive sign that the people have been duped is when priests are rich and powerful.
It is very clear that one can abuse a true Religion as well as a false one. The more its authority is respectable, the greater is the danger that it may be improperly used. But the results are very different. Abuse always revolts the healthy, enlightened and independent sector of a nation. It is impossible for faith not to be undermined and the weakening of a true Religion is more of a disaster than the undermining of a false one.
Plunder using this procedure and the clear-sightedness of a people are always in inverse proportion one to the other, for it is in the nature of abuse to proceed wherever it finds a path. Not that pure and devoted priests are not to be found within the most ignorant population, but how do you prevent a swindler from putting on a cassock and having the ambition to don a miter? Plunderers obey Malthus’s law206: they multiply in line with the means of existence, and the means of existence of swindlers is the credulity of their dupes. It is no good searching; you always find that opinion needs to be enlightened. There is no other panacea.
Another type of Plunder by fraud is commercial fraud, a name that I think is too limited since not only are merchants who adulterate their goods and give short measure guilty of this, but also doctors who get paid for disastrous advice, lawyers who overcomplicate lawsuits, etc. In these exchanges of services, one is done in bad faith, but in this instance, as the service received is always agreed upon voluntarily in advance, it is clear that Plunder of this kind is bound to retreat as public clear-sightedness increases.
Next comes the abuse of government services, a huge field of Plunder, so huge that we can only cast a glance at it.
If God had made man to be a solitary animal, each would work for his own benefit. Individual wealth would be in proportion to the services that each person rendered to himself.
However, as man is sociable, services are exchanged for one another, a proposition that you can, if you like, construct in reverse.
In society, there are needs that are so general and universal that its members supply them by organizing government services. An example of this is the need for security. People consult with other and agree to tax themselves in order to pay with various services those who supply the service of watching over common security.
There is nothing in this that is outside the scope of Political Economy: Do this for me and I will do that for you. The essence of the transaction is the same, the procedure of paying for it alone is different, but this difference is of far-ranging importance.
In ordinary transactions, each person remains the judge either of the service he receives or of the service he renders. He can always either refuse the exchange or make it elsewhere, which gives rise to the necessity of bringing into the market only services that will be voluntarily agreed upon.
This is not so with regard to the State, especially before the arrival of representative governments. Whether we need its services or not, whether they are good or bad quality,207 the State always obliges us to accept them as they are supplied and pay for them at the price it sets.
Well, all men tend to see the services they render through the small end of the telescope and the services they receive through the large end,208 and things would be in a fine state if we did not have the guarantee of a freely negotiated price in private transactions.
We do not have or scarcely have this guarantee in our transactions with the government. And yet the State, made up of men (although these days the contrary is insinuated), obeys the universal trend. It wants to serve us a great deal, indeed with more than we want, and make us accept as a genuine service things that are sometimes far from being so, in order to require us to supply it with services or taxes in return.
The State is also subject to Malthus’s Law. It tends to exceed the level of its means of existence, it expands in line with these means and what keeps it in existence is whatever the people have. Woe betide those peoples who cannot limit the sphere of action of the State. Freedom, private activity, wealth, well-being, independence and dignity will all disappear.
For there is one fact that should be noted and it is this: of all the services we require from the State, the principal one is security. In order to guarantee this to us, it has to have a force capable of overcoming all other forces, whether individual or collective, internal or external, which might compromise it. If we link this thought with the unfortunate tendency we have noted in men to live at the expense of others, there is a danger here that leaps to the eye.
This being so, just look at the immense scale on which Plunder has been carried out throughout history by the abuse and excesses of the government? One might well ask what services were provided to the people and what services were exacted by governments in the Assyrian, Babylonian, Roman, Persian, Turkish, Chinese, Russian, English, Spanish and French states! The mind boggles at this huge disparity.
Eventually, the representative system of government was invented, and a priori it might have been thought that the disorder would disappear as though by magic.
In practice, the operating principle of these governments is this:
“The population itself will decide, through its representatives, on the nature and extent of the functions that it considers appropriate to establish as government services and the amount of revenue it intends to allocate to these services.”
The tendency to seize the goods of others and the tendency to defend one’s own were thus brought face to face. It was bound to be thought that the latter would overcome the former.
Certainly I am convinced that in the long run this outcome will prevail. But it has to be said that up to now it has not done so.
Why? For two very simple reasons: governments have understood things only too well and the populace not well enough.
Governments are very wily. They act methodically and consistently according to a plan that has been well thought out and constantly improved by tradition and experience. They study men and their passions. If they see, for example, that they have an inclination to war, they whip up and excite this deadly tendency. They surround the nation with dangers through the actions of their diplomats, and very naturally, as a result, they require the nation to provide soldiers, sailors, arsenals and fortifications; often they have little trouble in having these supplied to them: after all they have honors, pensions and positions to hand out. They need a great deal of money for this, and taxes and loans exist for this purpose.
If the nation is generous, governments take it upon themselves to cure all the ills of humanity. They will revive commerce, they say, they will bring prosperity to agriculture, develop factories, encourage arts and letters, abolish poverty, etc. etc. All that is needed is to create some new government functions and pay for some new functionaries.
In a word, the tactic consists in presenting as real services things that are only hindrances; the nation then pays, not for services but for disservices. Governments take on gigantic proportions and end up absorbing half of the total revenue. And the people are surprised at having to work so hard, at hearing the announcement of astonishing inventions that will infinitely increase the number of products and … to always be like Gros-Jean and never learn.209
This is because, while the government is displaying such skill, the people are showing very little. Thus, when called upon to choose those who will wield authority, those who will have to determine the sphere and remuneration of government action, whom do they choose? Government officials. They make the executive power responsible for setting the limits on its own action and requirements. They imitate the Bourgeois Gentilhomme210 who, in choosing the style and number of his suits, relies on the advice of … his tailor.211
Meanwhile, things go from bad to worse and the people’s eyes are at last opened, not to the remedy (they have not yet reached this stage), but to the illness.
Governing is such a pleasant job that everyone aspires to it. The councilors of the people therefore constantly tell them “We see your suffering and we deplore it. Things would be different if we were governing you.”
This period, normally very long, is that of rebellion and uprising. When the people have been conquered, the cost of the war is added to their burdens. When they are the conquerors, the people in government change and the abuses remain.
And this continues until at last the people learn to recognize and defend their true interests. We therefore always reach this point: The only option lies in the progress of Public Reasoning.
Certain nations appear to be astonishingly well disposed to becoming the prey of government Plunder. They are the ones in which men, totally disregarding their own dignity and energy, think that they would be lost if they were not being administered and governed in every sphere. Although I have not traveled a great deal, I have seen countries in which it is thought that agriculture cannot make any progress if the State did not keep experimental farms, that there would soon be no more horses if the State did not have a stud farm, that fathers would not bring up their children or would have them taught only immoral things if the State did not decide what was fit to be learned, etc. etc. In a country like this, revolutions may follow one another in quick succession and governments fall one after the other. But those being governed will be no less governed to within an inch of their lives (for the disposition I am pointing out here is the very stuff of which governments are made), until the point is reached at which the people finally see that it is better to leave as many services as possible in the category of those that interested parties exchange for a freely negotiated price212.
We have seen that society is based on an exchange of services. It ought to be just an exchange of good and honest services. But we have also noted that men had a great interest and consequently an irresistible urge to exaggerate the relative value of the services they rendered. And in all truth I cannot see any other limit to this pretension than leaving the people to whom these services are offered the freedom to accept or refuse them.
From this it results that certain men have recourse to the law to reduce the natural prerogatives of this freedom for others. This type of plunder is called Privilege or Monopoly. Note well its origin and character.
Everybody knows that the services he brings to the general marketplace will be all the more appreciated and remunerated the scarcer they are. Everyone will therefore beg for the law to intervene to remove from the marketplace all those who come to offer similar services or, what amounts to the same thing, if the use of a tool is essential for the service to be rendered, he will demand from the law its exclusive possession.213
Since this type of Plunder is the principal subject of this volume, I will not dwell on it here and will limit myself to one observation.
When monopoly is an isolated occurrence, it is sure to make the person empowered by the law rich. It may then happen that each class of workers claims a similar monopoly for itself, instead of working toward the downfall of this monopoly. This characteristic of Plunder, reduced to a system, then becomes the most ridiculous hoax of all for everyone, and the final result is that each person thinks that he is gaining more from a general market that is totally impoverished.214
It is not necessary to add that this strange regime also introduces universal antagonism between all classes, professions and peoples; that it requires constant but uncertain interference from the government; that it abounds in the abuses described in the preceding paragraph; it puts all areas of production into a position of irremediable insecurity and accustoms men to attributing the responsibility for their own existence to the law and not themselves. It would be difficult to imagine a more active cause of social unrest.215
People will say: “Why are you using this ugly word, Plunder? Apart from the fact that it is crude, it is upsetting, irritating and turns calm and moderate men against you. It poisons the debate.”216
I will declare loudly that I respect people. I believe in the sincerity of almost all the advocates of Protection and I do not claim the right to suspect the personal probity, scrupulousness and philanthropy of anyone at all. I repeat once more that Protection is the work, the disastrous work, of a common error of which everyone or at least the great majority is both victim and accomplice. After that, I cannot stop things being what they are.
Imagine a sort of Diogenes217 sticking his head outside his barrel and saying: “People of Athens, you have yourselves served by slaves. Have you never thought that you are exercising over your brothers the most iniquitous type of plunder?”
Or again, a tribune in the Forum saying: “People of Rome, you have based all of your means of existence on the repeated pillage of all other peoples.”
They would certainly be expressing only an incontrovertible truth. Should we then conclude that Athens and Rome were inhabited only by dishonest people? That Socrates and Plato, Cato218 and Cincinnatus219 were despicable men?
Who could entertain such a thought? However these great men lived in an environment that robbed them of any awareness of their injustice. We know that Aristotle was unable even to entertain the idea that a society could live without slavery.
In modern times, slavery has existed up to the present time without generating many scruples in the souls of plantation owners. Armies have been the instruments of great conquests, that is to say, great forms of plunder. Is this to say that they are not full of soldiers and officers who are personally just as scrupulous and perhaps more scrupulous than is generally the case in careers in industry, men whom the very thought of theft would cause to blush and who would face a thousand deaths rather than stoop to a base act?
What is condemnable are not individuals but the general milieu that carries them along and blinds them, a milieu for which society as a whole is guilty.
This is the case of Monopoly. I accuse the system and not individuals, society as a whole and not any particular one of its members. If the greatest philosophers have been able to delude themselves over the iniquity of slavery, how much more reason have farmers and manufacturers to be mistaken with regard to the nature and effects of the protectionist regime?
193 [DMH - Bastiat uses the phrase “service pour service.” See the glossary entry on “Servie for Service”.]
194 It was this very topic that Bastiat addressed later in June 1848 in his pamphlet "The State". He had become concerned that during the revolution the French people thought they could now plunder the entire country for their own benefit, a task which Bastiat criticised as a "fiction". A draft of this essay appeared in June in his revolutionary newspaper Jacques Bonhomme which was handed out on the streets of Paris, and a revised and expanded version of which was published in the Journal des Débats in September. It was shortly thereafter published as a stand alone pamphlet by Guillaumin. See the Collected Works, vol. 2, pp. 93-106. See the glossary entries on “Jacques Bonhomme [journal]” and “Journal des Débats.”
195 Bastiat here uses the metaphor of the drying up of a cow's udder to make a point about how monopoly "swallows" or "absorbs" the property of consumers. We have continued the metaphor to that of "sucking consumers dry".
196 [DMH - We have not been able to track down the origin of this quotation. The woman Bastiat has in mind might be either Jane Haldimand Marcet (1769-1858) or Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) both of whom wrote popular works on political economy which were translated into French and both of whom were strong advocates of saving by the poorer classes as a means to get out of their poverty. Both writers had biographical articles written about them for the Dictionnaire d’économie politique and so their works were probably know to Bastiat. It is perhaps more likely to have been Martineau to whom Bastiat was referring as her work was the more recent and had been translated into French in the early 1830s and republished by the liberal Guillaumin publishing company sometime in the late 1840s. It was reviewed very favourably by Gustave de Molinari, a colleague of Batiat’s, in April 1849 (so after the writing of the second part of the Sophisms during 1847) who said about her that “[s]he deserves her double reputation for being an ingenious story teller and a learned professor of political economy.” See the glossary entries on “Harriett Martineau” and “Jane Marcet.”]
197 [DMH - Bastiat uses the phrase “Échange librement débattu de service contre service.” See the glossary entry on “Servie for Service”.]
198 [DMH - The quote comes from J.J. Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, Part I, p. 90 (Cranston trans.) but Bastiat is quoting from memory here and it is not exactly correct. The French states: “…ce n’est pas chez lui [l’homme sauvage] qu’il faut chercher la philosophie dont l’homme a besoin, pour savoir observer une fois ce qu’il a vu tous les jours.” Rousseau, Du contrat social et autres oeuvres politiques, ed. J. Ehrard, p. 49. [.. and we should look in vain to him for that philosophy which a man needs if he is to know how to notice once what he has seen everyday]. Bastiat was so impressed with this statement that he refers to it several times in the Economic Harmonies. See the glossary entry on “Rousseau.”]
199 Bastiat may have in mind the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842) which was fought by British Empire for control of Afghanistan which is located in the western part of the Himalayan mountains.
200 This is a possible reference to the French conquest of Algeria which began in 1830. The Atlas mountains stretch across the north western part of Africa and include what is now Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
201 The Caucasus Mountains are located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and are often regarded as forming the boundary between Europe and Asia. The Russian Empire fought wars in this region (1817–1864) in order to expand its empire. In Bastiat's day there was fierce resistance led by Imam Shamil who led attacks against the invading Russians with some success between 1843 and 1845.
202 (Paillottet’s note) See the letter addressed to the President of the Peace Congress in Frankfurt in Tome I, p. 197. [This can be found in the Collected Works, vol. 1, pp. 265-66. Bastiat was an active member of an international association called the Friends of Peace and took a great interest in their congresses, one of which was held in Brussels in 1848, one in Paris (chaired by Victor Hugo) in 1849, and one in Frankfurt in 1850. Because if his ill health and political commitments Bastiat was only able to attend the Paris congress in August 1849 at which he gave an address on "Disarmament, Taxes, and the Influence of Political Economy on the Peace Movement" (our title). See Report of the Proceedings of the Second General Peace Congress, held in Paris, on the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of August, 1849. Compiled from Authentic Documents, under the Superintendence of the Peace Congress Committee. (London: Charles Gilpin, 5, Bishopsgate Street Without, 1849), pp. 49-52. See the glossary entry on "Peace Congress".] See the Appendix with Bastiat’s speech to the Congress.
203 The French once had extensive possessions in the Caribbean where slavery was used to produce sugar and other crops. Most of these possessions were lost as a result of the Revolution (Haiti in particular) and the defeat of Napoleon by the British. In Bastiat's day what was left included Martinique and Guadeloupe. Slavery in the French Antilles was abolished during the 1848 Revolution (27 April 1848). See Bastiat’s veiled remarks about sugar production in Martinique (Saccharinique) (ES3 XVII. “Antediluvian Sugar”, below, pp. ???) and the glossary entry on “Slavery in France.”
204 The production of indigo in the French Antilles dropped as a result of the more efficient and cheaper production from Bengal which was controlled by the British.
205 Bastiat uses the phrase "le chef de la chrétienté" which we have translated as "the head of the Christian church". The translator of the FEE edition translated this as "the Pope," p. 138.
206 Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1858) is best known for his writings on population, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1st ed., 1798; rev. 3rd ed., 1826). He was professor of political economy at the East India Company College (Haileybury). Malthus’s Law of Population states: “I said that population, when unchecked, increased in a geometrical ratio; and subsistence for man in an arithmetical ratio... This ratio of increase, though short of the utmost power of population, yet as the result of actual experience, we will take as our rule; and say, That population, when unchecked, goes on doubling itself every twenty-five years or increases in a geometrical ratio… It may be fairly said, therefore, that the means of subsistence increase in an arithmetical ratio. Let us now bring the effects of these two ratios together… No limits whatever are placed to the productions of the earth; they may increase for ever and be greater than any assignable quantity; yet still the power of population being a power of a superior order, the increase of the human species can only be kept commensurate to the increase of the means of subsistence, by the constant operation of the strong law of necessity acting as a check upon the greater power.” [Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, "Chapter II. The Different Ratios In Which Population and Food Increase", (1st ed. 1798) </title/311/8824>. See the glossary entry on "Bastiat and Malthus."
207 Bastiat uses an interesting combination of phrases to describe the compulsory services provide by the State - they may be "de bon ou mauvais aloi" which literally refers to "sound or counterfeit" currency (good or bad alloy). It is not surprising that Bastiat would choose the example of the government monopoly of the supply of money and its common practice of debasing the currency as a metaphor for government services in general. See his essay “Maudit argent!” (Damned Money!) (April 1849) in Collected Works, vol. 4 (forthcoming).
208 In other words, people imagine the services they provide other people are larger than they really are, and that the services they receive are smaller than they really are.
209 Bastiat concludes this paragraph with a reference to the fictional character Gros-Jean (Big John) who in many respects is the opposite of Jacques Bonhomme (Jack Goodfellow), the wily French peasant everyman. Gros-John is quite stupid and does not learn from his mistakes. He was popularized by La Fontaine in his fable about "The Milk Maid and the Pail". After daydreaming about how she will spend the money she has not yet earned at the markets, Perrette spills her pail of milk and ends up with nothing. She concludes the story by saying "I am Gros-Jean just like before." See the glossary entry on “Fontaine.”
210 Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (or Molière) (1622- 1673) was a playwright in the late 17th century during the classical period of French drama. Bastiat quotes Molière many times in the Sophisms as he finds his comedy of manners very useful in pointing out political and economic confusions. See the glossary entry on "Molière."
211 (Paillottet’s note) See the letter addressed to Mr. Larnac in vol. 1 and the Parliamentary Conflicts of Interest in vol.2. [The letter Paillottet refers to is “On Parliamentary Reform” (1846), CW, vol. 1, pp. 367-70 where Bastiat objects to the practice of tax-payer funded public servants being permitted to run for election and sitting in a Chamber which can determine their level of pay (p.368). Bastiat likens this to allowing wig makers to create the laws which regulate hair dressing, which would result in a state where “we would soon be inordinately well groomed, indeed to the point of tyranny” (p. 370).
212 (Paillottet’s note) See The State and The Law in vol.2 and chapter XVII entitled Private Services and Public Services in vol 5. [vol. 5 contains the Economic Harmonies.]
213 (Paillottet’s note) For the distinction between true monopolies and what have been called natural monopolies, see the note that accompanies the account of the doctrine of Adam Smith on value in chapter V of vol 5.
214 This chapter was probably written in in late 1847 and prefigures Bastiat’s definition of the state as “the great fiction by which everyone endeavours to live at the expense of everyone else” which he developed during the course of 1848. A draft of the essay appeared in his revolutionary magazine Jacques Bonhomme in June 1848 (see CW, vol. 2, pp. 105-06), a larger article on “The State” appeared in the Journal des débats in September 1848, and it was subsequently published as a separate booklet of the same name later that same year (see CW, vol. 2 , pp.93-104).
215 (Paillottet’s note) The author was soon to witness the development of this cause of unrest and combat it energetically. See The State later in vol 2, Disastrous Illusions in this volume and the final pages of chapter IV in vol. 5.
216 The choice of words appropriate to describe these actions is one Bastiat grappled with repeatedly. See especially ES2 IX “Theft by Subsidy”, below, p. ??? where Bastiat says it is time to use a more “brutal style” of language to describe things like protectionism and subsidies to businesses. See also “Plain Speaking” in the “Note on the Translation” and more generally the Introduction to this volume.
217 Diogenes (413-327 BC) was a Greek philosopher who renounced wealth and lived by begging from others and sleeping in a barrel in the market place. His purpose was to live simply and virtuously by giving up the conventional desires for power, wealth, prestige, and fame. His philosophy went under the name of Cynicism and had an important influence on the development of Stoicism.
218 Cato the Younger (Cato Minor) was a politician in the late Roman Republic and a noted defender of "Roman Liberty" and opponent of Julius Caesar. See the glossary entry on “Cato the Younger.”
219 Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (520-430 BC) served as consul in 460 BC and briefly as Roman dictator in 458 and 439 BC. when Rome was threatened by invasion. He was admired for his willingness to give up the powers of dictator and return to his farm after the military crisis was over. See the glossary entry on “Cincinnatus.”