Robbery By Bounties
They find my little book of Sophisms too theoretical, scientific, and
metaphysical. Very well. Let us try a trivial, commonplace, and, if
necessary, coarse style. Convinced that the public is duped in the
matter of protection, I have desired to prove it. But the public wishes
to be shouted at. Then let us cry out:
Midas, King Midas, has asses' ears!
An outburst of frankness often accomplishe
more than the politest
To tell the truth, my good people, they are robbing you. It is harsh,
but it is true.
The words robbery, to rob, robber, will seem in very bad taste to
many people. I say to them as Harpagon did to Elise, Is it the word or
the thing that alarms you?
Whoever has fraudulently taken that which does not belong to him, is
guilty of robbery. (Penal Code, Art. 379.)
To rob: To take furtively, or by force. (Dictionary of the Academy.)
Robber: He who takes more than his due. (The same.)
Now, does not the monopolist, who, by a law of his own making, obliges
me to pay him twenty francs for an article which I can get elsewhere for
fifteen, take from me fraudulently five francs, which belong to me?
Does he not take it furtively, or by force?
Does he not require of me more than his due?
He carries off, he takes, he demands, they will say, but not furtively
or by force, which are the characteristics of robbery.
When our tax levy is burdened with five francs for the bounty which this
monopolist carries off, takes, or demands, what can be more furtive,
since so few of us suspect it? And for those who are not deceived, what
can be more forced, since, at the first refusal to pay, the officer is
at our doors?
Still, let the monopolists reassure themselves. These robberies, by
means of bounties or tariffs, even if they do violate equity as much as
robbery, do not break the law; on the contrary, they are perpetrated
through the law. They are all the worse for this, but they have nothing
to do with criminal justice.
Besides, willy-nilly, we are all robbers and robbed in the business.
Though the author of this book cries stop thief, when he buys, others
can cry the same after him, when he sells. If he differs from many of
his countrymen, it is only in this: he knows that he loses by this game
more than he gains, and they do not; if they did know it, the game would
Nor do I boast of having first given this thing its true name. More than
sixty years ago, Adam Smith said:
When manufacturers meet it may be expected that a conspiracy will be
planned against the pockets of the public. Can we be astonished at this
when the public pay no attention to it?
An assembly of manufacturers deliberate officially under the name of
Industrial League. What goes on there, and what is decided upon?
I give a very brief summary of the proceedings of one meeting:
A Ship-builder. Our mercantile marine is at the last gasp (warlike
digression). It is not surprising. I cannot build without iron. I can
get it at ten francs in the world's market; but, through the law, the
managers of the French forges compel me to pay them fifteen francs. Thus
they take five francs from me. I ask freedom to buy where I please.
An Iron Manufacturer. In the world's market I can obtain
transportation for twenty francs. The ship-builder, through the law,
requires thirty. Thus he takes ten francs from me. He plunders me; I
plunder him. It is all for the best.
A Public Official. The conclusion of the ship-builder's argument is
highly imprudent. Oh, let us cultivate the touching union which makes
our strength; if we relax an iota from the theory of protection,
good-bye to the whole of it.
The Ship-builder. But, for us, protection is a failure. I repeat that
the shipping is nearly gone.
A Sailor. Very well, let us raise the discriminating duties against
goods imported in foreign bottoms, and let the ship-builder, who now
takes thirty francs from the public, hereafter take forty.
A Minister. The government will push to its extreme limits the
admirable mechanism of these discriminating duties, but I fear that it
will not answer the purpose.
A Government Employe. You seem to be bothered about a very little
matter. Is there any safety but in the bounty? If the consumer is
willing, the tax-payer is no less so. Let us pile on the taxes, and let
the ship-builder be satisfied. I propose a bounty of five francs, to be
taken from the public revenues, to be paid to the ship-builder for each
quintal of iron that he uses.
Several Voices. Seconded, seconded.
A Farmer. I want a bounty of three francs for each bushel of wheat.
A Weaver. And I two francs for each yard of cloth.
The Presiding Officer. That is understood. Our meeting will have
originated the system of drawbacks, and it will be its eternal glory.
What branch of manufacturing can lose hereafter, when we have two so
simple means of turning losses into gains--the tariff and drawbacks.
The meeting is adjourned.
Some supernatural vision must have shown me in a dream the coming
appearance of the bounty (who knows if I did not suggest the thought
to M. Dupin?), when some months ago I wrote the following words:
It seems evident to me that protection, without changing its nature or
effects, might take the form of a direct tax levied by the State, and
distributed in indemnifying bounties to privileged manufacturers.
And after having compared protective duties with the bounty:
I frankly avow my preference for the latter system; it seems to me more
just, more economical, and more truthful. More just, because if society
wishes to give gratuities to some of its members, all should contribute;
more economical, because it would save much of the expense of
collection, and do away with many obstacles; and, finally, more
truthful, because the public could see the operation plainly, and would
know what was done.
Since the opportunity is so kindly offered us, let us study this
robbery by bounties. What is said of it will also apply to robbery by
tariff, and as it is a little better disguised, the direct will enable
us to understand the indirect, cheating. Thus the mind proceeds from the
simple to the complex.
But is there no simpler variety of robbery? Certainly, there is highway
robbery, and all it needs is to be legalized, or, as they say
I once read the following in somebody's travels:
When we reached the Kingdom of A---- we found all industrial pursuits
suffering. Agriculture groaned, manufactures complained, commerce
murmured, the navy growled, and the government did not know whom to
listen to. At first it thought of taxing all the discontented, and of
dividing among them the proceeds of these taxes after having taken its
share; which would have been like the method of managing lotteries in
our dear Spain. There are a thousand of you; the State takes a dollar
from each one, cunningly steals two hundred and fifty, and then divides
up seven hundred and fifty, in greater or smaller sums, among the
players. The worthy Hidalgo, who has received three-quarters of a
dollar, forgetting that he has spent a whole one, is wild with joy, and
runs to spend his shillings at the tavern. Something like this once
happened in France. Barbarous as the country of A---- was, however, the
government did not trust the stupidity of the inhabitants enough to make
them accept such singular protection, and hence this was what it
The country was intersected with roads. The government had them
measured, exactly, and then said to the farmers, 'All that you can steal
from travelers between these boundaries is yours; let it serve you as a
bounty, a protection, and an encouragement.' It afterwards assigned to
each manufacturer and each ship-builder, a bit of road to work up,
according to this formula:
Dono tibi et concedo,
Virtutem et puissantiam,
Impune per totam istam,
Now it has come to pass that the natives of the Kingdom of A---- are so
familiarized with this regime, and so accustomed to think only of what
they steal, and not of what is stolen from them, so habituated to look
at pillage but from the pillager's point of view, that they consider the
sum of all these private robberies as national profit, and refuse to
give up a system of protection without which, they say, no branch of
industry can live.
Do you say, it is not possible that an entire nation could see an
increase of riches where the inhabitants plundered one another?
Why not? We have this belief in France, and every day we organize and
practice reciprocal robbery under the name of bounties and protective
Let us exaggerate nothing, however; let us concede that as far as the
mode of collection, and the collateral circumstances, are concerned,
the system in the Kingdom of A---- may be worse than ours; but let us
say, also, that as far as principles and necessary results are
concerned, there is not an atom of difference between these two kinds
of robbery legally organized to eke out the profits of industry.
Observe, that if highway robbery presents some difficulties of
execution, it has also certain advantages which are not found in the
For instance: An equitable division can be made between all the
plunderers. It is not thus with tariffs. They are by nature impotent to
protect certain classes of society, such as artizans, merchants,
literary men, lawyers, soldiers, etc., etc.
It is true that bounty robbery allows of infinite subdivisions, and in
this respect does not yield in perfection to highway robbery, but on
the other hand it often leads to results which are so odd and foolish,
that the natives of the Kingdom of A---- may laugh at it with great
That which the plundered party loses in highway robbery is gained by the
robber. The article stolen remains, at least, in the country. But under
the dominion of bounty robbery, that which the duty takes from the
French is often given to the Chinese, the Hottentots, Caffirs, and
Algonquins, as follows:
A piece of cloth is worth a hundred francs at Bordeaux. It is
impossible to sell it below that without loss. It is impossible to sell
it for more than that, for the competition between merchants forbids.
Under these circumstances, if a Frenchman desires to buy the cloth, he
must pay a hundred francs, or do without it. But if an Englishman
comes, the government interferes, and says to the merchant: Sell your
cloth, and I will make the tax-payers give you twenty francs (through
the operation of the drawback). The merchant, who wants, and can get,
but one hundred francs for his cloth, delivers it to the Englishman for
eighty francs. This sum added to the twenty francs, the product of the
bounty robbery, makes up his price. It is then precisely as if the
tax-payers had given twenty francs to the Englishman, on condition that
he would buy French cloth at twenty francs below the cost of
manufacture,--at twenty francs below what it costs us. Then bounty
robbery has this peculiarity, that the robbed are inhabitants of the
country which allows it, and the robbers are spread over the face of
It is truly wonderful that they should persist in holding this
proposition to have been demonstrated: All that the individual robs
from the mass is a general gain. Perpetual motion, the philosopher's
stone, and the squaring of the circle, are sunk in oblivion; but the
theory of progress by robbery is still held in honor. A priori,
however, one might have supposed that it would be the shortest lived of
all these follies.
Some say to us: You are, then, partisans of the let alone policy?
economists of the superannuated school of the Smiths and the Says? You
do not desire the organization of labor? Why, gentlemen, organize
labor as much as you please, but we will watch to see that you do not
Others say, bounties, tariffs, all these things may have been
overdone. We must use, without abusing them. A wise liberty, combined
with moderate protection, is what serious and practical men claim. Let
us beware of absolute principles. This is exactly what they said in
the Kingdom of A----, according to the Spanish traveler. Highway
robbery, said the wise men, is neither good nor bad in itself; it
depends on circumstances. Perhaps too much freedom of pillage has been
given; perhaps not enough. Let us see; let us examine; let us balance
the accounts of each robber. To those who do not make enough, we will
give a little more road to work up. As for those who make too much, we
will reduce their share.
Those who spoke thus acquired great fame for moderation, prudence, and
wisdom. They never failed to attain the highest offices of the State.
As for those who said, Let us repress injustice altogether; let us
allow neither robbery, nor half robbery, nor quarter robbery,
they passed for theorists, dreamers, bores--always parroting the same
thing. The people also found their reasoning too easy to understand. How
can that be true which is so very simple?