We published an article entitled Dearness-Cheapness, which gained for
us the two following letters. We publish them, with the answers:
DEAR MR. EDITOR:--You upset all my ideas. I preached in favor of
free trade, and found it very convenient to put prominently forward
the idea of cheapness. I went everywhere, saying, With free trade,
bread, meat, woolens, linen, iron and coal will fall in price. This
displeased those who sold, but delighted those who bought. Now, you
raise a doubt as to whether cheapness is the result of free trade.
But if not, of what use is it? What will the people gain, if foreign
competition, which may interfere with them in their sales, does not
favor them in their purchases?
MY DEAR FREE TRADER:--Allow us to say that you have but half read the
article which provoked your letter. We said that free trade acted
precisely like roads, canals and railways, like everything which
facilitates communications, and like everything which destroys
obstacles. Its first tendency is to increase the quantity of the article
which is relieved from duties, and consequently to lower its price. But
by increasing, at the same time, the quantity of all the things for
which this article is exchanged, it increases the demand, and
consequently the price rises. You ask us what the people will gain.
Suppose they have a balance with certain scales, in each one of which
they have for their use a certain quantity of the articles which you
have enumerated. If a little grain is put in one scale it will gradually
sink, but if an equal quantity of cloth, iron and coal is added in the
others, the equilibrium will be maintained. Looking at the beam above,
there will be no change. Looking at the people, we shall see them better
fed, clothed and warmed.
DEAR MR. EDITOR:--I am a cloth manufacturer, and a protectionist. I
confess that your article on dearness and cheapness has led me to
reflect. It has something specious about it, and if well proven,
would work my conversion.
MY DEAR PROTECTIONIST:--We say that the end and aim of your restrictive
measures is a wrongful one--artificial dearness. But we do not say
that they always realize the hopes of those who initiate them. It is
certain that they inflict on the consumer all the evils of dearness. It
is not certain that the producer gets the profit. Why? Because if they
diminish the supply they also diminish the demand.
This proves that in the economical arrangement of this world there is a
moral force, a vis medicatrix, which in the long run causes inordinate
ambition to become the prey of a delusion.
Pray, notice, sir, that one of the elements of the prosperity of each
special branch of industry is the general prosperity. The rent of a
house is not merely in proportion to what it has cost, but also to the
number and means of the tenants. Do two houses which are precisely alike
necessarily rent for the same sum? Certainly not, if one is in Paris and
the other in Lower Brittany. Let us never speak of a price without
regarding the conditions, and let us understand that there is nothing
more futile than to try to build the prosperity of the parts on the ruin
of the whole. This is the attempt of the restrictive system.
Competition always has been, and always will be, disagreeable to those
who are affected by it. Thus we see that in all times and in all places
men try to get rid of it. We know, and you too, perhaps, a municipal
council where the resident merchants make a furious war on the foreign
ones. Their projectiles are import duties, fines, etc., etc.
Now, just think what would have become of Paris, for instance, if this
war had been carried on there with success.
Suppose that the first shoemaker who settled there had succeeded in
keeping out all others, and that the first tailor, the first mason, the
first printer, the first watchmaker, the first hair-dresser, the first
physician, the first baker, had been equally fortunate. Paris would
still be a village, with twelve or fifteen hundred inhabitants. But it
was not thus. Each one, except those whom you still keep away, came to
make money in this market, and that is precisely what has built it up.
It has been a long series of collisions for the enemies of competition,
and from one collision after another, Paris has become a city of a
million inhabitants. The general prosperity has gained by this,
doubtless, but have the shoemakers and tailors, individually, lost
anything by it? For you, this is the question. As competitors came, you
said: The price of boots will fail. Has it been so? No, for if the
supply has increased, the demand has increased also.
Thus will it be with cloth; therefore let it come in. It is true that
you will have more competitors, but you will also have more customers,
and richer ones. Did you never think of this when seeing nine-tenths of
your countrymen deprived during the winter of that superior cloth that
This is not a very long lesson to learn. If you wish to prosper, let
your customers do the same.
When this is once known, each one will seek his welfare in the general
welfare. Then, jealousies between individuals, cities, provinces and
nations, will no longer vex the world.