My object in this little volume has been to refute some of the arguments
usually advanced against Free Trade.
I am not seeking a combat with the protectionists. I merely advance a
principle which I am anxious to present clearly to the minds of sincere
men, who hesitate because they doubt.
I am not of the number of those who maintain that protection is
supported by interests. I believe that i
is founded upon errors, or, if
you will, upon incomplete truths. Too many fear free trade, for this
apprehension to be other than sincere.
My aspirations are perhaps high; but I confess that it would give me
pleasure to hope that this little work might become, as it were, a
manual for such men as may be called upon to decide between the two
principles. When one has not made oneself perfectly familiar with the
doctrines of free trade, the sophisms of protection perpetually return
to the mind under one form or another; and, on each occasion, in order
to counteract their effect, it is necessary to enter into a long and
laborious analysis. Few, and least of all legislators, have leisure for
this labor, which I would, on this account, wish to present clearly
drawn up to their hand.
But it may be said, are then the benefits of free trade so hidden as to
be perceptible only to economists by profession?
Yes; we confess it; our adversaries in the discussion have a signal
advantage over us. They can, in a few words, present an incomplete
truth; which, for us to show that it is incomplete, renders necessary
long and uninteresting dissertations.
This results from the fact that protection accumulates upon a single
point the good which it effects, while the evil inflicted is infused
throughout the mass. The one strikes the eye at a first glance, while
the other becomes perceptible only to close investigation. With regard
to free trade, precisely the reverse is the case.
It is thus with almost all questions of political economy.
If you say, for instance: There is a machine which has turned out of
employment thirty workmen;
Or again: There is a spendthrift who encourages every kind of industry;
Or: The conquest of Algiers has doubled the commerce of Marseilles;
Or, once more: The public taxes support one hundred thousand families;
You are understood at once; your propositions are clear, simple, and
true in themselves. If you deduce from them the principle that
Machines are an evil;
That sumptuous extravagance, conquest, and heavy imposts are blessings;
Your theory will have the more success, because you will be able to base
it upon indisputable facts.
But we, for our part, cannot stop at a cause and its immediate effect;
for we know that this effect may in its turn become itself a cause. To
judge of a measure, it is necessary that we should follow it from step
to step, from result to result, until through the successive links of
the chain of events we arrive at the final effect. We must, in short,
But here we are assailed by clamorous exclamations: You are theorists,
metaphysicians, ideologists, utopians, men of maxims! and immediately
all the prejudices of the public are against us.
What then shall we do? We must invoke the patience and candor of the
reader, giving to our deductions, if we are capable of it, sufficient
clearness to throw forward at once, without disguise or palliation, the
true and the false, in order, once for all, to determine whether the
victory should be for Restriction or Free Trade.
I wish here to make a remark of some importance.
Some extracts from this volume have appeared in the Journal des
In an article otherwise quite complimentary published by the Viscount de
Romanet (see Moniteur Industriel of the 15th and 18th of May, 1845),
he intimates that I ask for the suppression of custom houses. Mr. de
Romanet is mistaken. I ask for the suppression of the protective
policy. We do not dispute the right of government to impose taxes,
but would, if possible, dissuade producers from taxing one another. It
was said by Napoleon that duties should never be a fiscal instrument,
but a means of protecting industry. We plead the contrary, and say, that
duties should never be made an instrument of reciprocal rapine; but that
they may be employed as a useful fiscal machine. I am so far from asking
for the suppression of duties, that I look upon them as the anchor on
which the future salvation of our finances will depend. I believe that
they may bring immense receipts into the treasury, and, to give my
entire and undisguised opinion, I am inclined, from the slow progress of
healthy, economical doctrines, and from the magnitude of our budget, to
hope more for the cause of commercial reform from the necessities of
the Treasury than from the force of an enlightened public opinion.