Equalizing Of The Facilities Of Production
It is said ... but, for fear of being accused of manufacturing Sophisms
for the mouths of the protectionists, I will allow one of their most
able reasoners to speak for himself.
It is our belief that protection should correspond to, should be the
representation of, the difference which exists between the price of an
article of home production and a similar article of foreign
production.... A protecting du
y calculated upon such a basis does
nothing more than secure free competition; ... free competition can
only exist where there is an equality in the facilities of production.
In a horse-race the load which each horse carries is weighed and all
advantages equalized; otherwise there could be no competition. In
commerce, if one producer can undersell all others, he ceases to be a
competitor and becomes a monopolist.... Suppress the protection which
represents the difference of price according to each, and foreign
productions must immediately inundate and obtain the monopoly of our
Every one ought to wish, for his own sake and for that of the
community, that the productions of the country should be protected
against foreign competition, whenever the latter may be able to
undersell the former.
This argument is constantly recurring in all writings of the
protectionist school. It is my intention to make a careful investigation
of its merits, and I must begin by soliciting the attention and the
patience of the reader. I will first examine into the inequalities which
depend upon natural causes, and afterwards into those which are caused
by diversity of taxes.
Here, as elsewhere, we find the theorists who favor protection, taking
part with the producer. Let us consider the case of the unfortunate
consumer, who seems to have entirely escaped their attention. They
compare the field of production to the turf. But on the turf, the race
is at once a means and an end. The public has no interest in the
struggle, independent of the struggle itself. When your horses are
started in the course with the single object of determining which is the
best runner, nothing is more natural than that their burdens should be
equalized. But if your object were to send an important and critical
piece of intelligence, could you without incongruity place obstacles to
the speed of that one whose fleetness would secure the best means of
attaining your end? And yet this is your course in relation to industry.
You forget the end aimed at, which is the well-being of the community.
But we cannot lead our opponents to look at things from our point of
view, let us now take theirs; let us examine the question as producers.
I will seek to prove
1. That equalizing the facilities of production is to attack the
foundations of all trade.
2. That it is not true that the labor of one country can be crushed by
the competition of more favored climates.
3. That, even were this the case, protective duties cannot equalize the
facilities of production.
4. That freedom of trade equalizes these conditions as much as possible;
5. That the countries which are the least favored by nature are those
which profit most by freedom of trade.
I. The equalizing of the facilities of production, is not only the
shackling of certain articles of commerce, but it is the attacking of
the system of mutual exchange in its very foundation principle. For this
system is based precisely upon the very diversities, or, if the
expression be preferred, upon the inequalities of fertility, climate,
temperature, capabilities, which the protectionists seek to render null.
If Guyenne sends its wines to Brittany, and Brittany sends corn to
Guyenne, it is because these two provinces are, from different
circumstances, induced to turn their attention to the production of
different articles. Is there any other rule for international exchanges?
Again, to bring against such exchanges the very inequalities of
condition which excite and explain them, is to attack them in their very
cause of being. The protective system, closely followed up, would bring
men to live like snails, in a state of complete isolation. In short,
there is not one of its Sophisms, which if carried through by vigorous
deductions, would not end in destruction and annihilation.
II. It is not true that the unequal facility of production, in two
similar branches of industry, should necessarily cause the destruction
of the one which is the least fortunate. On the turf, if one horse gains
the prize, the other loses it; but when two horses work to produce any
useful article, each produces in proportion to his strength; and because
the stronger is the more useful, it does not follow that the weaker is
good for nothing. Wheat is cultivated in every department of France,
although there are great differences in the degree of fertility existing
among them. If it happens that there be one which does not cultivate it,
it is because, even to itself, such cultivation is not useful. Analogy
will show us, that under the influence of an unshackled trade,
notwithstanding similar differences, wheat would be produced in every
kingdom of Europe; and if any one were induced to abandon entirely the
cultivation of it, this would only be, because it would be her
interest to employ otherwise her lands, her capital, and her labor. And
why does not the fertility of one department paralyze the agriculture of
a neighboring and less favored one? Because the phenomena of political
economy have a suppleness, an elasticity, and, so to speak, a
self-leveling power, which seems to escape the attention of the school
of protectionists. They accuse us of being theorists, but it is
themselves who are theorists to a supreme degree, if being theoretic
consists in building up systems upon the experience of a single fact,
instead of profiting by the experience of a series of facts. In the
above example, it is the difference in the value of lands, which
compensates for the difference in their fertility. Your field produces
three times as much as mine. Yes. But it has cost you three times as
much, and therefore I can still compete with you: this is the sole
mystery. And observe how the advantage on one point leads to
disadvantage on the other. Precisely because your soil is more fruitful,
it is more dear. It is not accidentally but necessarily that the
equilibrium is established, or at least inclines to establish itself;
and can it be denied that perfect freedom in exchanges is, of all the
systems, the one which favors this tendency?
I have cited an agricultural example; I might as easily have taken one
from any trade. There are tailors at Quimper, but that does not prevent
tailors from being in Paris also, although the latter have to pay a much
higher rent, as well as higher price for furniture, workmen, and food.
But their customers are sufficiently numerous not only to re-establish
the balance, but also to make it lean on their side.
When therefore the question is about equalizing the advantages of labor,
it would be well to consider whether the natural freedom of exchange is
not the best umpire.
This self-leveling faculty of political phenomena is so important, and
at the same time so well calculated to cause us to admire the
providential wisdom which presides over the equalizing government of
society, that I must ask permission a little longer, to turn to it the
attention of the reader.
The protectionists say, Such a nation has the advantage over us, in
being able to procure cheaply, coal, iron, machinery, capital; it is
impossible for us to compete with it.
We must examine the proposition under other aspects. For the present, I
stop at the question, whether, when an advantage and a disadvantage are
placed in juxtaposition, they do not bear in themselves, the former a
descending, the latter an ascending power, which must end by placing
them in a just equilibrium.
Let us suppose the countries A and B. A has every advantage over B; you
thence conclude that labor will be concentrated upon A, while B must be
abandoned. A, you say, sells much more than it buys; B buys more than it
sells. I might dispute this, but I will meet you upon your own ground.
In the hypothesis, labor, being in great demand in A, soon rises in
value; while labor, iron, coal, lands, food, capital, all being little
sought after in B, soon fall in price.
Again: A being always selling and B always buying, cash passes from B to
A. It is abundant in A--very scarce in B.
But where there is abundance of cash, it follows that in all purchases a
large proportion of it will be needed. Then in A, real dearness, which
proceeds from a very active demand, is added to nominal dearness, the
consequence of a superabundance of the precious metals.
Scarcity of money implies that little is necessary for each purchase.
Then in B, a nominal cheapness is combined with real cheapness.
Under these circumstances, industry will have the strongest possible
motives for deserting A, to establish itself in B.
Now, to return to what would be the true course of things. As the
progress of such events is always gradual, industry from its nature
being opposed to sudden transits, let us suppose that, without waiting
the extreme point, it will have gradually divided itself between A and
B, according to the laws of supply and demand; that is to say, according
to the laws of justice and usefulness.
I do not advance an empty hypothesis when I say, that were it possible
that industry should concentrate itself upon a single point, there must,
from its nature, arise spontaneously, and in its midst, an irresistible
power of decentralization.
We will quote the words of a manufacturer to the Chamber of Commerce at
Manchester (the figures brought into his demonstration are suppressed):
Formerly we exported goods; this exportation gave way to that of thread
for the manufacture of goods; later, instead of thread, we exported
machinery for the making of thread; then capital for the construction
of machinery; and lastly, workmen and talent, which are the source of
capital. All these elements of labor have, one after the other,
transferred themselves to other points, where their profits were
increased, and where the means of subsistence being less difficult to
obtain, life is maintained at a less cost. There are at present to be
seen in Prussia, Austria, Saxony, Switzerland, and Italy, immense
manufacturing establishments, founded entirely by English capital,
worked by English labor, and directed by English talent.
We may here perceive, that Nature, or rather Providence, with more
wisdom and foresight than the narrow rigid system of the protectionists
can suppose, does not permit the concentration of labor, the monopoly of
advantages, from which they draw their arguments as from an absolute and
irremediable fact. It has, by means as simple as they are infallible,
provided for dispersion, diffusion, mutual dependence, and simultaneous
progress; all of which, your restrictive laws paralyze as much as is in
their power, by their tendency towards the isolation of nations. By this
means they render much more decided the differences existing in the
conditions of production; they check the self-leveling power of
industry, prevent fusion of interests, and fence in each nation within
its own peculiar advantages and disadvantages.
III. To say that by a protective law the conditions of production are
equalized, is to disguise an error under false terms. It is not true
that an import duty equalizes the conditions of production. These remain
after the imposition of the duty just as they were before. The most that
the law can do is to equalize the conditions of sale. If it should be
said that I am playing upon words, I retort the accusation upon my
adversaries. It is for them to prove that production and sale are
synonymous terms, which if they cannot do, I have a right to accuse
them, if not of playing upon words, at least of confounding them.
Let me be permitted to exemplify my idea.
Suppose that several Parisian speculators should determine to devote
themselves to the production of oranges. They know that the oranges of
Portugal can be sold in Paris at ten centimes, whilst on account of the
boxes, hot-houses, etc., which are necessary to ward against the
severity of our climate, it is impossible to raise them at less than a
franc apiece. They accordingly demand a duty of ninety centimes upon
Portugal oranges. With the help of this duty, say they, the conditions
of production will be equalized. The legislative body, yielding as
usual to this argument, imposes a duty of ninety centimes on each
Now I say that the relative conditions of production are in no wise
changed. The law can take nothing from the heat of the sun in Lisbon,
nor from the severity of the frosts in Paris. Oranges continuing to
mature themselves naturally on the banks of the Tagus, and
artificially upon those of the Seine, must continue to require for their
production much more labor on the latter than the former. The law can
only equalize the conditions of sale. It is evident that while the
Portuguese sell their oranges at a franc apiece, the ninety centimes
which go to pay the tax are taken from the French consumer. Now look at
the whimsicality of the result. Upon each Portuguese orange, the country
loses nothing; for the ninety centimes which the consumer pays to
satisfy the tax, enter into the treasury. There is improper
distribution, but no loss. Upon each French orange consumed, there will
be about ninety centimes lost; for while the buyer very certainly loses
them, the seller just as certainly does not gain them, for even
according to the hypothesis, he will receive only the price of
production. I will leave it to the protectionists to draw their
IV. I have laid some stress upon this distinction between the conditions
of production and those of sale, which perhaps the prohibitionists may
consider as paradoxical, because it leads me on to what they will
consider as a still stranger paradox. This is: If you really wish to
equalize the facilities of production, leave trade free.
This may surprise the protectionists; but let me entreat them to
listen, if it be only through curiosity, to the end of my argument. It
shall not be long. I will now take it up where we left off.
If we suppose for the moment, that the common and daily profits of each
Frenchman amount to one franc, it will indisputably follow that to
produce an orange by direct labor in France, one day's work, or its
equivalent, will be requisite; whilst to produce the cost of a
Portuguese orange, only one-tenth of this day's labor is required; which
means simply this, that the sun does at Lisbon what labor does at Paris.
Now is it not evident, that if I can produce an orange, or, what is the
same thing, the means of buying it, with one-tenth of a day's labor, I
am placed exactly in the same condition as the Portuguese producer
himself, excepting the expense of the transportation? It is then certain
that freedom of commerce equalizes the conditions of production direct
or indirect, as much as it is possible to equalize them; for it leaves
but the one inevitable difference, that of transportation.
I will add that free trade equalizes also the facilities for attaining
enjoyments, comforts, and general consumption; the last an object which
is, it would seem, quite forgotten, and which is nevertheless all
important; since consumption is the main object of all our industrial
efforts. Thanks to freedom of trade, we would enjoy here the results of
the Portuguese sun, as well as Portugal itself; and the inhabitants of
Havre, would have in their reach, as well as those of London, and with
the same facilities, the advantages which nature has in a mineralogical
point of view conferred upon Newcastle.
The protectionists may suppose me in a paradoxical humor, for I go
farther still. I say, and I sincerely believe, that if any two countries
are placed in unequal circumstances as to advantages of production,
that one of the two which is the least favored by nature, will gain
most by freedom of commerce. To prove this, I shall be obliged to turn
somewhat aside from the form of reasoning which belongs to this work. I
will do so, however; first, because the question in discussion turns
upon this point; and again, because it will give me the opportunity of
exhibiting a law of political economy of the highest importance, and
which, well understood, seems to me to be destined to lead back to this
science all those sects which, in our days, are seeking in the land of
chimeras that social harmony which they have been unable to discover in
nature. I speak of the law of consumption, which the majority of
political economists may well be reproached with having too much
Consumption is the end, the final cause, of all the phenomena of
political economy, and, consequently, in it is found their final
No effect, whether favorable or unfavorable, can be arrested permanently
upon the producer. The advantages and the disadvantages, which, from
his relations to nature and to society, are his, both equally pass
gradually from him, with an almost insensible tendency to be absorbed
and fused into the community at large; the community considered as
consumers. This is an admirable law, alike in its cause and its effects,
and he who shall succeed in making it well understood, will have a right
to say, I have not, in my passage through the world, forgotten to pay
my tribute to society.
Every circumstance which favors the work of production is of course
hailed with joy by the producer, for its immediate effect is to enable
him to render greater services to the community, and to exact from it a
greater remuneration. Every circumstance which injures production, must
equally be the source of uneasiness to him; for its immediate effect
is to diminish his services, and consequently his remuneration. This is
a fortunate and necessary law of nature. The immediate good or evil of
favorable or unfavorable circumstances must fall upon the producer, in
order to influence him invincibly to seek the one and to avoid the
Again, when a workman succeeds in his labor, the immediate benefit of
this success is received by him. This again is necessary, to determine
him to devote his attention to it. It is also just; because it is just
that an effort crowned with success should bring its own reward.
But these effects, good and bad, although permanent in themselves, are
not so as regards the producer. If they had been so, a principle of
progressive and consequently infinite inequality would have been
introduced among men. This good, and this evil, both therefore pass on,
to become absorbed in the general destinies of humanity.
How does this come about? I will try to make it understood by some
Let us go back to the thirteenth century. Men who gave themselves up to
the business of copying, received for this service a remuneration
regulated by the general rate of profits. Among them is found one, who
seeks and finds the means of multiplying rapidly copies of the same
work. He invents printing. The first effect of this is, that the
individual is enriched, while many more are impoverished. At the first
view, wonderful as the discovery is, one hesitates in deciding whether
it is not more injurious than useful. It seems to have introduced into
the world, as I said above, an element of infinite inequality.
Guttenberg makes large profits by this invention, and perfects the
invention by the profits, until all other copyists are ruined. As for
the public,--the consumer,--it gains but little, for Guttenberg takes
care to lower the price of books only just so much as is necessary to
undersell all rivals.
But the great Mind which put harmony into the movements of celestial
bodies, could also give it to the internal mechanism of society. We will
see the advantages of this invention escaping from the individual, to
become forever the common patrimony of mankind.
The process finally becomes known. Guttenberg is no longer alone in his
art; others imitate him. Their profits are at first considerable. They
are recompensed for being the first who make the effort to imitate the
processes of the newly invented art. This again was necessary, in order
that they might be induced to the effort, and thus forward the great and
final result to which we approach. They gain much; but they gain less
than the inventor, for competition has commenced its work. The price
of books now continually decreases. The gains of the imitators diminish
in proportion as the invention becomes older; and in the same proportion
imitation becomes less meritorious. Soon the new object of industry
attains its normal condition; in other words, the remuneration of
printers is no longer an exception to the general rules of remuneration,
and, like that of copyists formerly, it is only regulated by the
general rate of profits. Here then the producer, as such, holds only
the old position. The discovery, however, has been made; the saving of
time, labor, effort, for a fixed result, for a certain number of
volumes, is realized. But in what is this manifested? In the cheap price
of books. For the good of whom? For the good of the consumer,--of
society,--of humanity. Printers, having no longer any peculiar merit,
receive no longer a peculiar remuneration. As men,--as consumers,--they
no doubt participate in the advantages which the invention confers upon
the community; but that is all. As printers, as producers, they are
placed upon the ordinary footing of all other producers. Society pays
them for their labor, and not for the usefulness of the invention.
That has become a gratuitous benefit, a common heritage to mankind.
What has been said of printing can be extended to every agent for the
advancement of labor; from the nail and the mallet, up to the locomotive
and the electric telegraph. Society enjoys all, by the abundance of its
use, its consumption; and it enjoys all gratuitously. For as their
effect is to diminish prices, it is evident that just so much of the
price as is taken off by their intervention, renders the production in
so far gratuitous. There only remains the actual labor of man to be
paid for; and the remainder, which is the result of the invention, is
subtracted; at least after the invention has run through the cycle which
I have just described as its destined course. I send for a workman; he
brings a saw with him; I pay him two francs for his day's labor, and he
saws me twenty-five boards. If the saw had not been invented, he would
perhaps not have been able to make one board, and I would have paid him
the same for his day's labor. The usefulness then of the saw, is for
me a gratuitous gift of nature, or rather it is a portion of the
inheritance which, in common with my brother men, I have received from
the genius of my ancestors. I have two workmen in my field; the one
directs the handle of a plough, the other that of a spade. The result of
their day's labor is very different, but the price is the same, because
the remuneration is proportioned, not to the usefulness of the result,
but to the effort, the labor given to attain it.
I invoke the patience of the reader, and beg him to believe, that I have
not lost sight of free trade: I entreat him only to remember the
conclusion at which I have arrived: Remuneration is not proportioned to
the usefulness of the articles brought by the producer into the market,
but to the labor.
[Footnote 11: It is true that labor does not receive a uniform
remuneration; because labor is more or less intense, dangerous,
skillful, etc. Competition establishes for each category a price
current; and it is of this variable price that I speak.]
I have so far taken my examples from human inventions, but will now go
on to speak of natural advantages.
In every article of production, nature and man must concur. But the
portion of nature is always gratuitous. Only so much of the usefulness
of an article as is the result of human labor becomes the object of
mutual exchange, and consequently of remuneration. The remuneration
varies much, no doubt, in proportion to the intensity of the labor, of
the skill which it requires, of its being a propos to the demand of
the day, of the need which exists for it, of the momentary absence of
competition, etc. But it is not the less true in principle, that the
assistance received from natural laws, which belongs to all, counts for
nothing in the price.
We do not pay for the air we breathe, although so useful to us, that we
could not live two minutes without it. We do not pay for it, because
Nature furnishes it without the intervention of man's labor. But if we
wish to separate one of the gases which compose it, for instance, to
fill a balloon, we must take some trouble and labor; or if another takes
it for us, we must give him an equivalent in something which will have
cost us the trouble of production. From which we see that the exchange
is between troubles, efforts, labors. It is certainly not for hydrogen
gas that I pay, for this is every where at my disposal, but for the work
that it has been necessary to accomplish in order to disengage it; work
which I have been spared, and which I must refund. If I am told that
there are other things to pay for; as expense, materials, apparatus; I
answer, that still in these things it is the work that I pay for. The
price of the coal employed is only the representation of the labor
necessary to dig and transport it.
We do not pay for the light of the sun, because Nature alone gives it to
us. But we pay for the light of gas, tallow, oil, wax, because here is
labor to be remunerated;--and remark, that it is so entirely labor and
not utility to which remuneration is proportioned, that it may well
happen that one of these means of lighting, while it may be much more
effective than another, may still cost less. To cause this, it is only
necessary that less human labor should be required to furnish it.
When the water-carrier comes to supply my house, were I to pay him in
proportion to the absolute utility of the water, my whole fortune
would not be sufficient. But I pay him only for the trouble he has
taken. If he requires more, I can get others to furnish it, or finally
go and get it myself. The water itself is not the subject of our
bargain; but the labor taken to get the water. This point of view is so
important, and the consequences that I am going to draw from it so
clear, as regards the freedom of international exchanges, that I will
still elucidate my idea by a few more examples.
The alimentary substance contained in potatoes does not cost us very
dear, because a great deal of it is attainable with little work. We pay
more for wheat, because, to produce it Nature requires more labor from
man. It is evident that if Nature did for the latter what she does for
the former, their prices would tend to the same level. It is impossible
that the producer of wheat should permanently gain more than the
producer of potatoes. The law of competition cannot allow it.
If by a happy miracle the fertility of all arable lands were to be
increased, it would not be the agriculturist, but the consumer, who
would profit by this phenomenon; for the result of it would be,
abundance and cheapness. There would be less labor incorporated into an
acre of grain, and the agriculturist would be therefore obliged to
exchange it for a less labor incorporated into some other article. If,
on the contrary, the fertility of the soil were suddenly to deteriorate,
the share of Nature in production would be less, that of labor greater,
and the result would be higher prices. I am right then in saying that it
is in consumption, in mankind, that at length all political phenomena
find their solution. As long as we fail to follow their effects to this
point, and look only at immediate effects, which act but upon
individual men or classes of men as producers, we know nothing more of
political economy than the quack does of medicine, when, instead of
following the effects of a prescription in its action upon the whole
system, he satisfies himself with knowing how it affects the palate and
The tropical regions are very favorable to the production of sugar and
coffee; that is to say, Nature does most of the business and leaves but
little for labor to accomplish. But who reaps the advantage of this
liberality of Nature? Not these regions, for they are forced by
competition to receive simply remuneration for their labor. It is
mankind who is the gainer; for the result of this liberality is
cheapness, and cheapness belongs to the world.
Here in the temperate zone, we find coal and iron ore, on the surface of
the soil; we have but to stoop and take them. At first, I grant, the
immediate inhabitants profit by this fortunate circumstance. But soon
comes competition, and the price of coal and iron falls, until this gift
of Nature becomes gratuitous to all, and human labor is only paid
according to the general rate of profits.
Thus natural advantages, like improvements in the process of production,
are, or have a constant tendency to become, under the law of
competition, the common and gratuitous patrimony of consumers, of
society, of mankind. Countries therefore which do not enjoy these
advantages, must gain by commerce with those which do; because the
exchanges of commerce are between labor and labor; subtraction being
made of all the natural advantages which are combined with these labors;
and it is evidently the most favored countries which can incorporate
into a given labor the largest proportion of these natural advantages.
Their produce representing less labor, receives less recompense; in
other words, is cheaper. If then all the liberality of Nature results
in cheapness, it is evidently not the producing, but the consuming
country, which profits by her benefits.
Hence we may see the enormous absurdity of the consuming country, which
rejects produce precisely because it is cheap. It is as though we should
say: We will have nothing of that which Nature gives you. You ask of
us an effort equal to two, in order to furnish ourselves with articles
only attainable at home by an effort equal to four. You can do it
because with you Nature does half the work. But we will have nothing to
do with it; we will wait till your climate, becoming more inclement,
forces you to ask of us a labor equal to four, and then we can treat
with you upon an equal footing.
A is a favored country; B is maltreated by Nature. Mutual traffic then
is advantageous to both, but principally to B, because the exchange is
not between utility and utility, but between value and value.
Now A furnishes a greater utility in a similar value, because the
utility of any article includes at once what Nature and what labor
have done; whereas the value of it only corresponds to the portion
accomplished by labor. B then makes an entirely advantageous bargain;
for by simply paying the producer from A for his labor, it receives in
return not only the results of that labor, but in addition there is
thrown in whatever may have accrued from the superior bounty of Nature.
We will lay down the general rule.
Traffic is an exchange of values; and as value is reduced by
competition to the simple representation of labor, traffic is the
exchange of equal labors. Whatever Nature has done towards the
production of the articles exchanged, is given on both sides
gratuitously; from whence it necessarily follows, that the most
advantageous commerce is transacted with those countries which are the
most favored by Nature.
* * * * *
The theory of which I have attempted, in this chapter, to trace the
outlines, would require great developments. But perhaps the attentive
reader will have perceived in it the fruitful seed which is destined in
its future growth to smother Protection, at once with Fourierism, Saint
Simonism, Commonism, and the various other schools whose object is to
exclude the law of COMPETITION from the government of the world.
Competition, no doubt, considering man as producer, must often interfere
with his individual and immediate interests. But if we consider the
great object of all labor, the universal good, in a word, Consumption,
we cannot fail to find that Competition is to the moral world what the
law of equilibrium is to the material one. It is the foundation of true
Commonism, of true Socialism, of the equality of comforts and condition,
so much sought after in our day; and if so many sincere reformers, so
many earnest friends to the public rights, seek to reach their end by
commercial legislation, it is only because they do not yet understand