--What is restriction?
--A partial prohibition.
--What is prohibition?
--An absolute restriction.
--So that what is said of one is true of the other?
--Yes, comparatively. They bear the same relation to each other that the
arc of the circle does to the circle.
--Then if prohibition is bad, restriction cannot be good.
--No more than the arc can be straight if the circle is curved.
--What is the common name for restriction and prohibition?
--What is the definite effect of protection?
--To require from men harder labor for the same result.
--Why are men so attached to the protective system?
--Because, since liberty would accomplish the same result with less
labor, this apparent diminution of labor frightens them.
--Why do you say apparent?
--Because all labor economized can be devoted to something else.
--That cannot and need not be determined.
--Because, if the total of the comforts of France could be gained with a
diminution of one-tenth on the total of its labor, no one could
determine what comforts it would procure with the labor remaining at its
disposal. One person would prefer to be better clothed, another better
fed, another better taught, and another more amused.
--Explain the workings and effect of protection.
--It is not an easy matter. Before taking hold of a complicated
instance, it must be studied in the simplest one.
--Take the simplest you choose.
--Do you recollect how Robinson Crusoe, having no saw, set to work to
make a plank?
--Yes. He cut down a tree, and then with his ax hewed the trunk on both
sides until he got it down to the thickness of a board.
--And that gave him an abundance of work?
--Fifteen full days.
--What did he live on during this time?
--What happened to the ax?
--It was all blunted.
--Very good; but there is one thing which, perhaps, you do not know. At
the moment that Robinson gave the first blow with his ax, he saw a plank
which the waves had cast up on the shore.
--Oh, the lucky accident! He ran to pick it up?
--It was his first impulse; but he checked himself, reasoning thus:
If I go after this plank, it will cost me but the labor of carrying it
and the time spent in going to and returning from the shore.
But if I make a plank with my ax, I shall in the first place obtain
work for fifteen days, then I shall wear out my ax, which will give me
an opportunity of repairing it, and I shall consume my provisions, which
will be a third source of labor, since they must be replaced. Now,
labor is wealth. It is plain that I will ruin myself if I pick up this
stranded board. It is important to protect my personal labor, and now
that I think of it, I can create myself additional labor by kicking this
board back into the sea.
--But this reasoning was absurd!
--Certainly. Nevertheless it is that adopted by every nation which
protects itself by prohibition. It rejects the plank which is offered
it in exchange for a little labor, in order to give itself more labor.
It sees a gain even in the labor of the custom house officer. This
answers to the trouble which Robinson took to give back to the waves
the present they wished to make him. Consider the nation a collective
being, and you will not find an atom of difference between its reasoning
and that of Robinson.
--Did not Robinson see that he could use the time saved in doing
--What 'something else'?
--So long as one has wants and time, one has always something to do. I
am not bound to specify the labor that he could undertake.
--I can specify very easily that which he would have avoided.
--I assert, that Robinson, with incredible blindness, confounded labor
with its result, the end with the means, and I will prove it to you.
--It is not necessary. But this is the restrictive or prohibitory system
in its simplest form. If it appears absurd to you, thus stated, it is
because the two qualities of producer and consumer are here united in
the same person.
--Let us pass, then, to a more complicated instance.
--Willingly. Some time after all this, Robinson having met Friday, they
united, and began to work in common. They hunted for six hours each
morning and brought home four hampers of game. They worked in the garden
for six hours each afternoon, and obtained four baskets of vegetables.
One day a canoe touched at the Island of Despair. A good-looking
stranger landed, and was allowed to dine with our two hermits. He
tasted, and praised the products of the garden, and before taking leave
of his hosts, said to them:
Generous Islanders, I dwell in a country much richer in game than this,
but where horticulture is unknown. It would be easy for me to bring you
every evening four hampers of game if you would give me only two baskets
At these words Robinson and Friday stepped on one side, to have a
consultation, and the debate which followed is too interesting not to be
given in extenso:
Friday. Friend, what do you think of it?
Robinson. If we accept we are ruined.
Friday. Is that certain? Calculate!
Robinson. It is all calculated. Hunting, crushed out by competition,
will be a lost branch of industry for us.
Friday. What difference does that make, if we have the game?
Robinson. Theory! It will not be the product of our labor.
Friday. Yes, it will, since we will have to give vegetables to get it.
Robinson. Then what shall we make?
Friday. The four hampers of game cost us six hours' labor. The
stranger gives them to us for two baskets of vegetables, which take us
but three hours. Thus three hours remain at our disposal.
Robinson. Say rather that they are taken from our activity. There is
our loss. Labor is wealth, and if we lose a fourth of our time we are
Friday. Friend, you make an enormous mistake. The same amount of game
and vegetables and three free hours to boot make progress, or there is
none in the world.
Robinson. Mere generalities. What will we do with these three hours?
Friday. We will do something else.
Robinson. Ah, now I have you. You can specify nothing. It is very easy
to say something else--something else.
Friday. We will fish. We will adorn our houses. We will read the
Robinson. Utopia! Is it certain that we will do this rather than that?
Friday. Well, if we have no wants, we will rest. Is rest nothing?
Robinson. When one rests one dies of hunger.
Friday. Friend, you are in a vicious circle. I speak of a rest which
diminishes neither our gains nor our vegetables. You always forget that
by means of our commerce with this stranger, nine hours of labor will
give us as much food as twelve now do.
Robinson. It is easy to see that you were not reared in Europe.
Perhaps you have never read the Moniteur Industriel? It would have
taught you this: All time saved is a dear loss. Eating is not the
important matter, but working. Nothing which we consume counts, if it is
not the product of our labor. Do you wish to know whether you are rich?
Do not look at your comforts, but at your trouble. This is what the
Moniteur Industriel would have taught you. I, who am not a theorist,
see but the loss of our hunting.
Friday. What a strange perversion of ideas. But--
Robinson. No buts. Besides, there are political reasons for
rejecting the interested offers of this perfidious stranger.
Friday. Political reasons!
Robinson. Yes. In the first place he makes these offers only because
they are for his advantage.
Friday. So much the better, since they are for ours also.
Robinson. Then by these exchanges we shall become dependent on him.
Friday. And he on us. We need his game, he our vegetables, and we will
live in good friendship.
Robinson. Fancy! Do you want I should leave you without an answer?
Friday. Let us see; I am still waiting a good reason.
Robinson. Supposing that the stranger learns to cultivate a garden,
and that his island is more fertile than ours. Do you see the
Friday. Yes. Our relations with the stranger will stop. He will take
no more vegetables from us, since he can get them at home with less
trouble. He will bring us no more game, since we will have nothing to
give in exchange, and we will be then just where you want us to be now.
Robinson. Short-sighted savage! You do not see that after having
destroyed our hunting, by inundating us with game, he will kill our
gardening by overwhelming us with vegetables.
Friday. But he will do that only so long as we give him something
else; that is to say, so long as we find something else to produce,
which will economize our labor.
Robinson. Something else--something else! You always come back to
that. You are very vague, friend Friday; there is nothing practical in
The contest lasted a long time, and, as often happens, left each one
convinced that he was right. However, Robinson having great influence
over Friday, his views prevailed, and when the stranger came for an
answer, Robinson said to him:
Stranger, in order that your proposition may be accepted, we must be
quite sure of two things:
The first is, that your island is not richer in game than ours, for we
will struggle but with equal arms.
The second is, that you will lose by the bargain. For, as in every
exchange there is necessarily a gainer and a loser, we would be cheated,
if you were not. What have you to say?.
Nothing, nothing, replied the stranger, who burst out laughing, and
returned to his canoe.
--The story would not be bad if Robinson was not so foolish.
--He is no more so than the committee in Hauteville street.
--Oh, there is a great difference. You suppose one solitary man, or,
what comes to the same thing, two men living together. This is not our
world; the diversity of occupations, and the intervention of merchants
and money, change the question materially.
--All this complicates transactions, but does not change their nature.
--What! Do you propose to compare modern commerce to mere exchanges?
--Commerce is but a multitude of exchanges; the real nature of the
exchange is identical with the real nature of commerce, as small labor
is of the same nature with great, and as the gravitation which impels an
atom is of the same nature as that which attracts a world.
--Thus, according to you, these arguments, which in Robinson's mouth are
so false, are no less so in the mouths of our protectionists?
--Yes; only error is hidden better under the complication of
--Well, now, select some instance from what has actually occurred.
--Very well; in France, in view of custom and the exigencies of the
climate, cloth is an useful article. Is it the essential thing to make
it, or to have it?
--A pretty question! To have it, we must make it.
--That is not necessary. It is certain that to have it some one must
make it; but it is not necessary that the person or country using it
should make it. You did not produce that which clothes you so well, nor
France the coffee it uses for breakfast.
--But I purchased my cloth, and France its coffee.
--Exactly, and with what?
--But you did not make the specie, nor did France.
--We bought it.
--With our products which went to Peru.
--Then it is in reality your labor that you exchange for cloth, and
French labor that is exchanged for coffee?
--Then it is not absolutely necessary to make what one consumes?
--No, if one makes something else, and gives it in exchange.
--In other words, France has two ways of procuring a given quantity of
cloth. The first is to make it, and the second is to make something
else, and exchange that something else abroad for cloth. Of these two
ways, which is the best?
--I do not know.
--Is it not that which, for a fixed amount of labor, gives the greatest
quantity of cloth?
--It seems so.
--Which is best for a nation, to have the choice of these two ways, or
to have the law forbid its using one of them at the risk of rejecting
--It seems to me that it would be best for the nation to have the
choice, since in these matters it always makes a good selection.
--The law which prohibits the introduction of foreign cloth, decides,
then, that if France wants cloth, it must make it at home, and that it
is forbidden to make that something else with which it could purchase
--That is true.
--And as it is obliged to make cloth, and forbidden to make something
else, just because the other thing would require less labor (without
which France would have no occasion to do anything with it), the law
virtually decrees, that for a certain amount of labor, France shall
have but one yard of cloth, making it itself, when, for the same amount
of labor, it could have had two yards, by making something else.
--But what other thing?
--No matter what. Being free to choose, it will make something else
only so long as there is something else to make.
--That is possible; but I cannot rid myself of the idea that the
foreigners may send us cloth and not take something else, in which case
we shall be prettily caught. Under all circumstances, this is the
objection, even from your own point of view. You admit that France will
make this something else, which is to be exchanged for cloth, with
less labor than if it had made the cloth itself?
--Then a certain quantity of its labor will become inert?
--Yes; but people will be no worse clothed--a little circumstance which
causes the whole misunderstanding. Robinson lost sight of it, and our
protectionists do not see it, or pretend not to. The stranded plank thus
paralyzed for fifteen days Robinson's labor, so far as it was applied to
the making of a plank, but it did not deprive him of it. Distinguish,
then, between these two kinds of diminution of labor, one resulting in
privation, and the other in comfort. These two things are very
different, and if you assimilate them, you reason like Robinson. In the
most complicated, as in the most simple instances, the sophism consists
in this: Judging of the utility of labor by its duration and intensity,
and not by its results, which leads to this economic policy, a
reduction of the results of labor, in order to increase its duration and