Abundance Scarcity

Which is the best for man or for society, abundance or scarcity?

How, it may be exclaimed, can such a question be asked? Has it ever been

pretended, is it possible to maintain, that scarcity can be the basis of

a man's happiness?

Yes; this has been maintained, this is daily maintained; and I do not

hesitate to say that the scarcity theory is by far the most popular of

the day. It furnishes t
e subject of discussions, in conversations,

journals, books, courts of justice; and extraordinary as it may appear,

it is certain that political economy will have fulfilled its task and

its practical mission, when it shall have rendered common and

irrefutable the simple proposition that in abundance consist man's


Do we not hear it said every day, Foreign nations are inundating us

with their productions? Then we fear abundance.

Has not Mr. de Saint Cricq said, Production is superabundant? Then he

fears abundance.

Do we not see workmen destroying and breaking machinery? They are

frightened by the excess of production; in other words, they fear


Has not Mr. Bugeaud said, Let bread be dear and the agriculturist will

be rich? Now bread can only be dear because it is scarce. Then Mr.

Bugeaud lauded scarcity.

Has not Mr. d'Argout produced the fruitfulness of the sugar culture as

an argument against it? Has he not said, The beet cannot have a

permanent and extended cultivation, because a few acres given up to it

in each department, would furnish sufficient for the consumption of all

France? Then, in his opinion, good consists in sterility and scarcity,

evil in fertility and abundance.

La Presse, Le Commerce, and the majority of our journals, are,

every day, publishing articles whose aim is to prove to the chambers and

to government that a wise policy should seek to raise prices by tariffs;

and do we not daily see these powers obeying these injunctions of the

press? Now, tariffs can only raise prices by diminishing the quantity of

goods offered for sale. Then, here we see newspapers, the legislature,

the ministry, all guided by the scarcity theory, and I was correct in my

statement that this theory is by far the most popular.

How then has it happened, that in the eyes at once of laborers, editors

and statesmen, abundance should appear alarming, and scarcity

advantageous? It is my intention to endeavor to show the origin of this


A man becomes rich, in proportion to the profitableness of his labor;

that is to say, in proportion as he sells his productions at a high

price. The price of his productions is high in proportion to their

scarcity. It is plain then, that, as far as regards him at least,

scarcity enriches him. Applying successively this mode of reasoning to

each class of laborers individually, the scarcity theory is deduced

from it. To put this theory into practice, and in order to favor each

class of labor, an artificial scarcity is forced in every kind of

production, by prohibition, restriction, suppression of machinery, and

other analogous measures.

In the same manner it is observed that when an article is abundant it

brings a small price. The gains of the producer are, of course, less. If

this is the case with all produce, all producers are then poor.

Abundance then ruins society. And as any strong conviction will always

seek to force itself into practice, we see, in many countries, the laws

aiming to prevent abundance.

This sophism, stated in a general form, would produce but a slight

impression. But when applied to any particular order of facts, to any

particular article of industry, to any one class of labor, it is

extremely specious, because it is a syllogism which is not false, but

incomplete. And what is true in a syllogism always necessarily

presents itself to the mind, while the incomplete, which is a negative

quality, an unknown value, is easily forgotten in the calculation.

Man produces in order to consume. He is at once producer and consumer.

The argument given above, considers him only under the first point of

view. Let us look at him in the second character and the conclusion will

be different. We may say,

The consumer is rich in proportion as he buys at a low price. He buys

at a low price in proportion to the abundance of the article in demand;

abundance then enriches him. This reasoning extended to all consumers

must lead to the theory of abundance!

It is the imperfectly understood notion of exchange of produce which

leads to these fallacies. If we consult our individual interest, we

perceive immediately that it is double. As sellers we are interested

in high prices, consequently in scarcity. As buyers our advantage is

in cheapness, or what is the same thing, abundance. It is impossible

then to found a proper system of reasoning upon either the one or the

other of these separate interests before determining which of the two

coincides and identifies itself with the general and permanent interests

of mankind.

If man were a solitary animal, working exclusively for himself,

consuming the fruit of his own personal labor; if, in a word, he did not

exchange his produce, the theory of scarcity could never have introduced

itself into the world. It would be too strikingly evident, that

abundance, whencesoever derived, is advantageous to him, whether this

abundance might be the result of his own labor, of ingenious tools, or

of powerful machinery; whether due to the fertility of the soil, to the

liberality of nature, or to an inundation of foreign goods, such as

the sea bringing from distant regions might cast upon his shores. Never

would the solitary man have dreamed, in order to encourage his own

labor, of destroying his instruments for facilitating his work, of

neutralizing the fertility of the soil, or of casting back into the sea

the produce of its bounty. He would understand that his labor was a

means not an end, and that it would be absurd to reject the object,

in order to encourage the means. He would understand that if he has

required two hours per day to supply his necessities, any thing which

spares him an hour of this labor, leaving the result the same, gives him

this hour to dispose of as he pleases in adding to his comforts. In a

word, he would understand that every step in the saving of labor, is a

step in the improvement of his condition. But traffic clouds our vision

in the contemplation of this simple truth. In a state of society with

the division of labor to which it leads, the production and consumption

of an article no longer belong to the same individual. Each now looks

upon his labor not as a means, but as an end. The exchange of produce

creates with regard to each object two separate 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 and study the nature of each. Let us then

suppose a producer of whatever kind; what is his immediate interest? It

consists in two things: 1st, that the smallest possible number of

individuals should devote themselves to the business which he follows;

and 2dly, that the greatest possible number should seek the articles of

his produce. In the more succinct terms of Political Economy, the supply

should be small, the demand large; or yet in other words: limited

competition, unlimited consumption.

What on the other side is the immediate interest of the consumer? That

the supply should be large, the demand small.

As these two interests are immediately opposed to each other, it follows

that if one coincides with the general interest of society the other

must be adverse to it.

Which then, if either, should legislation favor as contributing most to

the good of the community?

To determine this question, it suffices to inquire in which the secret

desires of the majority of men would be accomplished.

Inasmuch as we are producers, it must be confessed that we have each of

us anti-social desires. Are we vine-growers? It would not distress us

were the frost to nip all the vines in the world except our own: this

is the scarcity theory. Are we iron-workers? We would desire (whatever

might be the public need) that the market should offer no iron but our

own; and precisely for the reason that this need, painfully felt and

imperfectly supplied, causes us to receive a high price for our iron:

again here is the theory of scarcity. Are we agriculturists? We say

with Mr. Bugeaud, let bread be dear, that is to say scarce, and our

business goes well: again the theory of scarcity.

Are we physicians? We cannot but see that certain physical

ameliorations, such as the improved climate of the country, the

development of certain moral virtues, the progress of knowledge pushed

to the extent of enabling each individual to take care of his own

health, the discovery of certain simple remedies easily applied, would

be so many fatal blows to our profession. As physicians, then, our

secret desires are anti-social. I must not be understood to imply that

physicians allow themselves to form such desires. I am happy to believe

that they would hail with joy a universal panacea. But in such a

sentiment it is the man, the Christian, who manifests himself, and who

by a praiseworthy abnegation of self, takes that point of view of the

question, which belongs to the consumer. As a physician exercising his

profession, and gaining from this profession his standing in society,

his comforts, even the means of existence of his family, it is

impossible but that his desires, or if you please so to word it, his

interests, should be anti-social.

Are we manufacturers of cotton goods? We desire to sell them at the

price most advantageous to ourselves. We would willingly consent to

the suppression of all rival manufactories. And if we dare not publicly

express this desire, or pursue the complete realization of it with some

success, we do so, at least to a certain extent, by indirect means; as

for example, the exclusion of foreign goods, in order to diminish the

quantity offered, and to produce thus by forcible means, and for our

own profits, a scarcity of clothing.

We might thus pass in review every business and every profession, and

should always find that the producers, in their character of

producers, have invariably anti-social interests. The shop-keeper

(says Montaigne) succeeds in his business through the extravagance of

youth; the laborer by the high price of grain; the architect by the

decay of houses; officers of justice by lawsuits and quarrels. The

standing and occupation even of ministers of religion are drawn from our

death and our vices. No physician takes pleasure in the health even of

his friends; no soldier in the peace of his country; and so on with


If then the secret desires of each producer were realized, the world

would rapidly retrograde towards barbarism. The sail would proscribe

steam; the oar would proscribe the sail, only in its turn to give way to

wagons, the wagon to the mule, and the mule to the foot-peddler. Wool

would exclude cotton; cotton would exclude wool; and thus on, until the

scarcity and want of every thing would cause man himself to disappear

from the face of the globe.

If we now go on to consider the immediate interest of the consumer, we

shall find it in perfect harmony with the public interest, and with the

well-being of humanity. When the buyer presents himself in the market,

he desires to find it abundantly furnished. He sees with pleasure

propitious seasons for harvesting; wonderful inventions putting within

his reach the largest possible quantity of produce; time and labor

saved; distances effaced; the spirit of peace and justice diminishing

the weight of taxes; every barrier to improvement cast down; and in all

this his interest runs parallel with an enlightened public interest. He

may push his secret desires to an absurd and chimerical height, but

never can they cease to be humanizing in their tendency. He may desire

that food and clothing, house and hearth, instruction and morality,

security and peace, strength and health, should come to us without limit

and without labor or effort on our part, as the water of the stream, the

air which we breathe, and the sunbeams in which we bask, but never could

the realization of his most extravagant wishes run counter to the good

of society.

It may be said, perhaps, that were these desires granted, the labor of

the producer constantly checked would end by being entirely arrested

for want of support. But why? Because in this extreme supposition every

imaginable need and desire would be completely satisfied. Man, like the

All-powerful, would create by the single act of his will. How in such an

hypothesis could laborious production be regretted?

Imagine a legislative assembly composed of producers, of whom each

member should cause to pass into a law his secret desire as a

producer; the code which would emanate from such an assembly could be

nothing but systematized monopoly; the scarcity theory put into


In the same manner, an assembly in which each member should consult only

his immediate interest of consumer would aim at the systematizing of

free trade; the suppression of every restrictive measure; the

destruction of artificial barriers; in a word, would realize the theory

of abundance.

It follows then,

That to consult exclusively the immediate interest of the producer, is

to consult an anti-social interest.

To take exclusively for basis the interest of the consumer, is to take

for basis the general interest.

* * * * *

Let me be permitted to insist once more upon this point of view, though

at the risk of repetition.

A radical antagonism exists between the seller and the buyer.

The former wishes the article offered to be scarce, supply small, and

at a high price.

The latter wishes it abundant, supply large, and at a low price.

The laws, which should at least remain neutral, take part for the seller

against the buyer; for the producer against the consumer; for high

against low prices; for scarcity against abundance. They act, if not

intentionally at least logically, upon the principle that a nation is

rich in proportion as it is in want of every thing.

For, say they, it is necessary to favor the producer by securing him a

profitable disposal of his goods. To effect this, their price must be

raised; to raise the price the supply must be diminished; and to

diminish the supply is to create scarcity.

Let us suppose that at this moment, with these laws in full action, a

complete inventory should be made, not by value, but by weight, measure

and quantity, of all articles now in France calculated to supply the

necessities and pleasures of its inhabitants; as grain, meat, woollen

and cotton goods, fuel, etc.

Let us suppose again that to-morrow every barrier to the introduction of

foreign goods should be removed.

Then, to judge of the effect of such a reform, let a new inventory be

made three months hence.

Is it not certain that at the time of the second inventory, the

quantity of grain, cattle, goods, iron, coal, sugar, etc., will be

greater than at the first?

So true is this, that the sole object of our protective tariffs is to

prevent such articles from reaching us, to diminish the supply, to

prevent low prices, or which is the same thing, the abundance of goods.

Now I ask, are the people under the action of these laws better fed

because there is less bread, less meat, and less sugar in the

country? Are they better dressed because there are fewer goods? Better

warmed because there is less coal? Or do they prosper better in their

labor because iron, copper, tools and machinery are scarce?

But, it is answered, if we are inundated with foreign goods and produce,

our coin will leave the country.

Well, and what matters that? Man is not fed with coin. He does not dress

in gold, nor warm himself with silver. What difference does it make

whether there be more or less coin in the country, provided there be

more bread in the cupboard, more meat in the larder, more clothing in

the press, and more wood in the cellar?

* * * * *

To Restrictive Laws, I offer this dilemma:

Either you allow that you produce scarcity, or you do not allow it.

If you allow it, you confess at once that your end is to injure the

people as much as possible. If you do not allow it, then you deny your

power to diminish the supply, to raise the price, and consequently you

deny having favored the producer.

You are either injurious or inefficient. You can never be useful.