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What Is Free Trade? By Frédérick Bastiat Characters: 5850

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Man is naturally in a state of entire destitution.

Between this state, and the satisfying of his wants, there exist a number of obstacles which it is the object of labor to surmount.

I wish to make a journey of some hundred miles. But between the point of my departure and my destination there are interposed mountains, rivers, swamps, forests, robbers; in a word-obstacles. To overcome these obstacles it is necessary that I should bestow much labor and great efforts in opposing them; or, what is the same thing, if others do it for me, I must pay them the value of their exertions. It is evident that I would have been better off had these obstacles never existed. Remember this.

Through the journey of life, in the long series of days from the cradle to the tomb, man has many difficulties to oppose him. Hunger, thirst, sickness, heat, cold, are so many obstacles scattered along his road. In a state of isolation he would be obliged to combat them all by hunting, fishing, agriculture, spinning, weaving, architecture, etc., and it is very evident that it would be better for him that these difficulties should exist to a less degree, or even not at all. In a state of society he is not obliged personally to struggle with each of these obstacles, but others do it for him; and he, in turn, must remove some one of them for the benefit of his fellow-men. This doing one kind of labor for another, is called the division of labor.

Considering mankind as a whole, let us remember once more that it would be better for society that these obstacles should be as weak and as few as possible.

But mark how, in viewing this simple truth from a narrow point of view, we come to believe that obstacles, instead of being a disadvantage, are actually a source of wealth!

If we examine closely and in detail the phenomena of society and the private interests of men as modified by the division of labor, we perceive, without difficulty, how it has happened that wants have been confounded with riches, and the obstacle with the cause.

The separation of occupations, which results from the division of labor, causes each man, instead of struggling against all surrounding obstacles, to combat only one; the effort being made not for himself alone, but for the benefit of his fellows, who, in their turn, render a similar service to him.

It hence results that this man looks upon the obstacle which he has made it his profession to combat for the benefit of others, as the immediate cause of his riches. The greater, the more serious, the more stringent, may be this obstacle, the more he is remunerated for the conquering of it, by those who are relieved by his labors.

A physician, for instance, does not busy himself in baking his bread, or in manufacturing his clothing and his instruments; others do it for him, and he, in return, combats the maladies with which his patients are afflicted. The more d

angerous and frequent these maladies are, the more others are willing, the more, even, are they forced, to work in his service. Disease, then, which is an obstacle to the happiness of mankind, becomes to him the source of his comforts. The reasoning of all producers is, in what concerns themselves, the same. As the doctor draws his profits from disease, so does the ship-owner from the obstacle called distance; the agriculturist from that named hunger; the cloth manufacturer from cold; the schoolmaster lives upon ignorance, the jeweler upon vanity, the lawyer upon cupidity and breach of faith. Each profession has then an immediate interest in the continuation, even in the extension, of the particular obstacle to which its attention has been directed.

Theorists hence go on to found a system upon these individual interests, and say: Wants are riches: Labor is riches: The obstacle to well-being is well-being: To multiply obstacles is to give food to industry.

Then comes the statesman; and as the developing and propagating of obstacles is the developing and propagating of riches, what more natural than that he should bend his efforts to that point? He says, for instance: If we prevent a large importation of iron, we create a difficulty in procuring it. This obstacle severely felt, obliges individuals to pay, in order to relieve themselves from it. A certain number of our citizens, giving themselves up to the combating of this obstacle, will thereby make their fortunes. In proportion, too, as the obstacle is great, and the mineral scarce, inaccessible, and of difficult and distant transportation, in the same proportion will be the number of laborers maintained by the various branches of this industry.

The same reasoning will lead to the proscription of machinery.

Here are men who are at a loss how to dispose of their petroleum. This is an obstacle which other men set about removing for them by the manufacture of casks. It is fortunate, say our statesmen, that this obstacle exists, since it occupies a portion of the labor of the nation, and enriches a certain number of our citizens. But here is presented to us an ingenious machine, which cuts down the oak, squares it, makes it into staves, and, gathering these together, forms them into casks. The obstacle is thus diminished, and with it the fortunes of the coopers. We must prevent this. Let us proscribe the machine!

To sift thoroughly this sophism, it is sufficient to remember that human labor is not an end but a means.

Labor is never without employment. If one obstacle is removed, it seizes another, and mankind is delivered from two obstacles by the same effort which was at first necessary for one. If the labor of coopers could become useless, it must take another direction. To maintain that human labor can end by wanting employment, it would be necessary to prove that mankind will cease to encounter obstacles.

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