Utopian Ideas

If I were His Majesty's Minister!

--Well, what would you do?

--I should begin by--by--upon my word, by being very much embarrassed.

For I should be Minister only because I had the majority, and I should

have that only because I had made it, and I could only have made it,

honestly at least, by governing according to its ideas. So if I

undertake to carry out my ideas and to run counter to its
deas, I shall

not have the majority, and if I do not, I cannot be His Majesty's


--Just imagine that you are so, and that consequently the majority is

not opposed to you, what would you do?

--I would look to see on which side justice is.

--And then?

--I would seek to find where utility was.

--What next?

--I would see whether they agreed, or were in conflict with one another.

--And if you found they did not agree?

--I would say to the King, take back your portfolio.

--But suppose you see that justice and utility are one?

--Then I will go straight ahead.

--Very well, but to realize utility by justice, a third thing is


--What is that?


--You conceded that.


--Just now.


--By giving me the majority.

--It seems to me that the concession was rather hazardous, for it

implies that the majority clearly sees what is just, clearly sees what

is useful, and clearly sees that these things are in perfect accord.

--And if it sees this clearly, the good will, so to speak, do itself.

--This is the point to which you are constantly bringing me--to see a

possibility of reform only in the progress of the general intelligence.

--By this progress all reform is infallible.

--Certainly. But this preliminary progress takes time. Let us suppose it

accomplished. What will you do? for I am eager to see you at work,

doing, practicing.

--I should begin by reducing letter postage to ten centimes.

--I heard you speak of five, once.

--Yes; but as I have other reforms in view, I must move with prudence,

to avoid a deficit in the revenues.

--Prudence? This leaves you with a deficit of thirty millions.

--Then I will reduce the salt tax to ten francs.

--Good! Here is another deficit of thirty millions. Doubtless you have

invented some new tax.

--Heaven forbid! Besides, I do not flatter myself that I have an

inventive mind.

--It is necessary, however. Oh, I have it. What was I thinking of? You

are simply going to diminish the expense. I did not think of that.

--You are not the only one. I shall come to that; but I do not count on

it at present.

--What! you diminish the receipts, without lessening expenses, and you

avoid a deficit?

--Yes, by diminishing other taxes at the same time.

(Here the interlocutor, putting the index finger of his right hand on

his forehead, shook his head, which may be translated thus: He is

rambling terribly.)

--Well, upon my word, this is ingenious. I pay the Treasury a hundred

francs; you relieve me of five francs on salt, five on postage; and in

order that the Treasury may nevertheless receive one hundred francs, you

relieve me of ten on some other tax?

--Precisely; you understand me.

--How can it be true? I am not even sure that I have heard you.

--I repeat that I balance one remission of taxes by another.

--I have a little time to give, and I should like to hear you expound

this paradox.

--Here is the whole mystery: I know a tax which costs you twenty francs,

not a sou of which gets to the Treasury. I relieve you of half of it,

and make the other half take its proper destination.

--You are an unequaled financier. There is but one difficulty. What tax,

if you please, do I pay, which does not go to the Treasury?

--How much does this suit of clothes cost you?

--A hundred francs.

--How much would it have cost you if you had gotten the cloth from


--Eighty francs.

--Then why did you not get it there?

--Because it is prohibited.


--So that the suit may cost me one hundred francs instead of eighty.

--This denial, then, costs you twenty francs?


--And where do these twenty francs go?

--Where do they go? To the manufacturer of the cloth.

--Well, give me ten francs for the Treasury, and I will remove the

restriction, and you will gain ten francs.

--Oh, I begin to see. The treasury account shows that it loses five

francs on postage and five on salt, and gains ten on cloth. That is


--Your account is--you gain five francs on salt, five on postage, and

ten on cloth.

--Total, twenty francs. This is satisfactory enough. But what becomes of

the poor cloth manufacturer?

--Oh, I have thought of him. I have secured compensation for him by

means of the tax reductions which are so profitable to the Treasury.

What I have done for you as regards cloth, I do for him in regard to

wool, coal, machinery, etc., so that he can lower his price without


--But are you sure that will be an equivalent?

--The balance will be in his favor. The twenty francs that you gain on

the cloth will be multiplied by those which I will save for you on

grain, meat, fuel, etc. This will amount to a large sum, and each one of

your 35,000,000 fellow-citizens will save the same way. There will be

enough to consume the cloths of both Belgium and France. The nation will

be better clothed; that is all.

--I will think on this, for it is somewhat confused in my head.

--After all, as far as clothes go, the main thing is to be clothed. Your

limbs are your own, and not the manufacturer's. To shield them from cold

is your business and not his. If the law takes sides for him against

you, the law is unjust, and you allowed me to reason on the hypothesis

that what is unjust is hurtful.

--Perhaps I admitted too much; but go on and explain your financial


--Then I will make a tariff.

--In two folio volumes?

--No, in two sections.

--Then they will no longer say that this famous axiom No one is

supposed to be ignorant of the law is a fiction. Let us see your


--Here it is: Section First. All imports shall pay an ad valorem tax

of five per cent.

--Even raw materials?

--Unless they are worthless.

--But they all have value, much or little.

--Then they will pay much or little.

--How can our manufactories compete with foreign ones which have these

raw materials free?

--The expenses of the State being certain, if we close this source of

revenue, we must open another; this will not diminish the relative

inferiority of our manufactories, and there will be one bureau more to

organize and pay.

--That is true; I reasoned as if the tax was to be annulled, not

changed. I will reflect on this. What is your second section?

--Section Second. All exports shall pay an ad valorem tax of five per


--Merciful Heavens, Mr. Utopist! You will certainly be stoned, and, if

it comes to that, I will throw the first one.

--We agreed that the majority were enlightened.

--Enlightened! Can you claim that an export duty is not onerous?

--All taxes are onerous, but this is less so than others.

--The carnival justifies many eccentricities. Be so kind as to make this

new paradox appear specious, if you can.

--How much did you pay for this wine?

--A franc per quart.

--How much would you have paid outside the city gates?

--Fifty centimes.

--Why this difference?

--Ask the octroi[14] which added ten sous to it.

--Who established the octroi?

--The municipality of Paris, in order to pave and light the streets.

--This is, then, an import duty. But if the neighboring country

districts had established this octroi for their profit, what would


--I should none the less pay a franc for wine worth only fifty centimes,

and the other fifty centimes would pave and light Montmartre and the


--So that really it is the consumer who pays the tax?

--There is no doubt of that.

--Then by taxing exports you make foreigners help pay your


--I find you at fault, this is not justice.

--Why not? In order to secure the production of any one thing, there

must be instruction, security, roads, and other costly things in the

country. Why shall not the foreigner who is to consume this product,

bear the charges its production necessitates?

--This is contrary to received ideas.

--Not the least in the world. The last purchaser must repay all the

direct and indirect expenses of production.

--No matter what you say, it is plain that such a measure would paralyze

commerce; and cut off all exports.

--That is an illusion. If you were to pay this tax besides all the

others, you would be right. But, if the hundred millions raised in this

way, relieve you of other taxes to the same amount, you go into foreign

markets with all your advantages, and even with more, if this duty has

occasioned less embarrassment and expense.

--I will reflect on this. So now the salt, postage and customs are

regulated. Is all ended there?

--I am just beginning.

--Pray, initiate me in your Utopian ideas.

--I have lost sixty millions on salt and postage. I shall regain them

through the customs; which also gives me something more precious.

--What, pray?

--International relations founded on justice, and a probability of peace

which is equivalent to a certainty. I will disband the army.

--The whole army?

--Except special branches, which will be voluntarily recruited, like all

other professions. You see, conscription is abolished.

--Sir, you should say recruiting.

--Ah, I forgot, I cannot help admiring the ease with which, in certain

countries, the most unpopular things are perpetuated by giving them

other names.

--Like consolidated duties, which have become indirect


--And the gendarmes, who have taken the name of municipal guards.

--In short, trusting to Utopia, you disarm the country.

--I said that I would muster out the army, not that I would disarm the

country. I intend, on the contrary, to give it invincible power.

--How do you harmonize this mass of contradictions?

--I call all the citizens to service.

--Is it worth while to relieve a portion from service in order to call

out everybody?

--You did not make me Minister in order that I should leave things as

they are. Thus, on my advent to power, I shall say with Richelieu, the

State maxims are changed. My first maxim, the one which will serve as a

basis for my administration, is this: Every citizen must know two

things--How to earn his own living, and defend his country.

--It seems to me, at the first glance, that there is a spark of good

sense in this.

--Consequently, I base the national defense on a law consisting of two


Section First. Every able-bodied citizen, without exception, shall be

under arms for four years, from his twenty-first to his twenty-fifth

year, in order to receive military instruction.--

--This is pretty economy! You send home four hundred thousand soldiers

and call out ten millions.

--Listen to my second section:

SEC. 2. Unless he proves, at the age of twenty-one, that he knows the

school of the soldier perfectly.

--I did not expect this turn. It is certain that to avoid four years'

service, there will be a great emulation among our youth, to learn by

the right flank and double quick, march. The idea is odd.

--It is better than that. For without grieving families and offending

equality, does it not assure the country, in a simple and inexpensive

manner, of ten million defenders, capable of defying a coalition of all

the standing armies of the globe?

--Truly, if I were not on my guard, I should end in getting interested

in your fancies.

The Utopist, getting excited: Thank Heaven, my estimates are relieved

of a hundred millions! I suppress the octroi. I refund indirect

contributions. I--

Getting more and more excited: I will proclaim religious freedom and

free instruction. There shall be new resources. I will buy the

railroads, pay off the public debt, and starve out the stock gamblers.

--My dear Utopist!

--Freed from too numerous cares, I will concentrate all the resources of

the government on the repression of fraud, the administration of prompt

and even-handed justice. I--

--My dear Utopist, you attempt too much. The nation will not follow you.

--You gave me the majority.

--I take it back.

--Very well; then I am no longer Minister; but my plans remain what they

are--Utopian ideas.

[Footnote 14: The entrance duty levied at the gates of French towns.]

[Footnote 15: I understand M. Bastiat to mean merely that export duties

are not necessarily more onerous than import duties. The statement that

all taxes are paid by the consumer, is liable to important

modifications. An export duty may be laid in such way, and on such

articles, that it will be paid wholly by the foreign consumer, without

loss to the producing country, but it is only when the additional cost

does not lessen the demand, or induce the foreigner to produce the same

article. Translator.]