Sophisms of the Protectionists
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Sophisms of the Protectionists is "the most effective work" in political economy! Claude-Frédéric Bastiat was a French economist and the author of this text published in 1848. Read as Bastiat uses his economic prowess and wit to break down the heavy subject matter. Bastiat developed "opportunity cost" and was one of the greatest economic journalists ever.

of the

M. Frederic Bastiat

Sophisms of the Protectionists


A previous edition of this work has been published under the title of “Essays on Political Economy, by the late M. Frederic Bastiat.” When it became necessary to issue a second edition, the Free-Trade League offered to buy the stereotype plates and the copyright, with a view to the publication of the book on a large scale and at a very low price. The primary object of the League is to educate public opinion; to convince the people of the United States of the folly and wrongfulness of the Protective system. The methods adopted by the League for the purpose have been the holding of public meetings and the publication of books, pamphlets, and tracts, some of which are for sale at the cost of publication, and others given away gratuitously.

In publishing this book the League feels that it is offering the most effective and most popular work on political economy that has as yet been written. M. Bastiat not only enlivens a dull subject with his wit, but also reduces the propositions of the Protectionists to absurdities.

Free-Traders can do no better service in the cause of truth, justice, and humanity, than by circulating this little book among their friends. It is offered you at what it costs to print it. Will not every Free-Trader put a copy of the book into the hands of his Protectionist friends?

It would not be proper to close this short preface without an expression on the part of the League of its obligation to the able translator of the work from the French, Mr. Horace White, of Chicago.

Office of The American Free-Trade League,
9 Nassau Street, New-York, June, 1870.

Preface to First Edition

This compilation, from the works of the late M. Bastiat, is given to the public in the belief that the time has now come when the people, relieved from the absorbing anxieties of the war, and the subsequent strife on reconstruction, are prepared to give a more earnest and thoughtful attention to economical questions than was possible during the previous ten years. That we have retrograded in economical science during this period, while making great strides in moral and political advancement by the abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of the freedmen, seems to me incontestable. Professor Perry has described very concisely the steps taken by the manufacturers in 1861, after the Southern members had left their seats in Congress, to reverse the policy of the government in reference to foreign trade. He has noticed but has not laid so much stress as he might on the fact that while there was no considerable public opinion to favor them, there was none at all to oppose them. Not only was the attention of the people diverted from the tariff by the dangers then impending, but the Republican party, which then came into power, had, in its National Convention, offered a bribe to the State of Pennsylvania for its vote in the Presidential election, which bribe was set forth in the following words:

Resolved, That while providing revenue for the support of the General Government by duties upon imports, sound policy requires such an adjustment of these imposts as to encourage the development of the industrial interests of the whole country; and we commend that policy of national exchanges which secures to the workingmen liberal wages, to agriculture remunerative prices, to mechanics and manufacturers an adequate reward for their skill, labor and enterprise, and to the nation commercial prosperity and independence.” — Chicago Convention Platform, 1860.

It is true that this resolution did not commit anybody to the doctrine that the industrial interests of the whole country are promoted by taxes levied upon imported property, however “adjusted,” but it was understood, by the Pennsylvanians at least, to be a promise that if the Republican party were successful in the coming election, the doctrine of protection, which had been overthrown in 1846, and had been in an extremely languishing state ever since, should be put upon its legs again. I am far from asserting that this overture was needed to secure the vote of Pennsylvania for Mr. Lincoln in 1860, or that that State was governed by less worthy motives in her political action than other States. I only remark that her delegates in the convention thought such a resolution would be extremely useful, and such was the anxiety to secure her vote in the election that a much stronger resolution might have been conceded if it had been required. I affirm, however, that there was no agitation on the tariff question in any other quarter. New England had united in passing the tariff of 1857, which lowered the duties imposed by the act of 1846 about fifty per cent., i.e., one-half of the previously existing scale. The Western States had not petitioned Congress or the convention to disturb the tariff; nor had New York done so, although Mr. Greeley, then as now, was invoking, more or less frequently, the shade of Henry Clay to help re-establish what is deftly styled the “American System.”

The protective policy was restored, after its fifteen years’ sleep, under the auspices of Mr. Morrill, a Representative (now a Senator) from Vermont. Latterly I have noticed in the speeches and votes of this gentleman (who is, I think, one of the most conscientious, as he is one of the most amiable, men in public life), a reluctance to follow to their logical conclusion the principles embodied in the “Morrill tariff” of 1861. His remarks upon the copper bill, during the recent session of Congress, indicate that, in his opinion, those branches of American industry which are engaged in producing articles sent abroad in exchange for the products of foreign nations, are entitled to some consideration. This is an important admission, but not so important as another, which he made in his speech on the national finances, January 24, 1867, in which, referring to the bank note circulation existing in the year 1860, he said: “And that was a year of as large production and as much general prosperity as any, perhaps, in our history.” If the year immediately preceding the enactment of the Morrill tariff was a year of as large production and as much general prosperity as any in our history, of what use has the Morrill tariff been? We have seen that it was not demanded by any public agitation. We now see that it has been of no public utility.

In combating, by arguments and illustrations adapted to the comprehension of the mass of mankind, the errors and sophisms with which protectionists deceive themselves and others, M. Bastiat is the most lucid and pointed of all writers on economical science with whose works I have any acquaintance. It is not necessary to accord to him a place among the architects of the science of political economy, although some of his admirers rank him among the highest. It is enough to count him among the greatest of its expounders and demonstrators. His death, which occurred at Pisa, Italy, on the 24th December, 1850, at the age of 49, was a serious loss to France and to the world. His works, though for the most part fragmentary, and given to the public from time to time through the columns of the Journal des Economistes, the Journal des Debats, and the Libre Echange, remain a monument of a noble intellect guided by a noble soul. They have been collected and published (including the Harmonies Economiques, which the author left in manuscript) by Guillaumin & Co., the proprietors of the Journal des Economistes, in two editions of six volumes each, 8vo. and 12mo. When we reflect that these six volumes were produced between April, 1844, and December, 1850, by a young man of feeble constitution, who commenced life as a clerk in a mercantile establishment, and who spent much of his time during these six years in delivering public lectures, and laboring in the National Assembly, to which he was chosen in 1848, our admiration for such industry is only modified by the thought that if he had been more saving of his strength, he might have rendered even greater services to his country and to mankind.

The Sophismes Economiques, which fill the larger portion of this volume, were not expected by their author to outlast the fallacies which they sought to overthrow. But these fallacies have lived longer and have spread over more of the earth’s surface than any one a priori could have believed possible. It is sometimes useful, in opposing doctrines which people have been taught to believe are peculiar to their own country and time, to show that the same doctrines have been maintained in other countries and times, and have been exploded in other languages. By what misuse of words the doctrine of Protection came to be denominated the “American System,” I could never understand. It prevailed in England nearly two hundred years before our separation from the mother country. Adam Smith directed the first formidable attack against it in the very year that our independence was declared. It held its ground in England until it had starved and ruined almost every branch of industry — agriculture, manufactures, and commerce alike. It was not wholly overthrown until 1846, the same year that witnessed its discomfiture in the United States, as already shown. It still exists in a subdued and declining way in France, despite the powerful and brilliant attacks of Say, Bastiat, and Chevalier, but its end cannot be far distant in that country. The Cobden-Chevalier treaty with England has been attended by consequences so totally at variance with the theories and prophecies of the protectionists that it must soon succumb.

As these pages are going through the press, a telegram announces that the French Government has abolished the discriminating duties levied upon goods imported in foreign bottoms, and has asked our government to abolish the like discrimination which our laws have created. Commercial freedom is making rapid progress in Prussia, Austria, Italy, and even in Spain. The United States alone, among civilized nations, hold to the opposite principle. Our anomalous position in this respect is due, as I think, to our anomalous condition during the past eight or nine years, already adverted to — a condition in which the protected classes have been restrained by no public opinion — public opinion being too intensely preoccupied with the means of preserving the national existence to notice what was doing with the tariff. But evidences of a reawakening are not wanting.

There is scarcely an argument current among the protectionists of the United States that was not current in France at the time Bastiat wrote the Sophismes Economiques. Nor was there one current in his time that is not performing its bad office among us. Hence his demonstrations of their absurdity and falsity are equally applicable to our time and country as to his. They may have even greater force among us if they thoroughly dispel the notion that Protection is an “American system.” Surely they cannot do less than this.

There are one or two arguments current among the protectionists of the United States that were not rife in France when Bastiat wrote his Sophismes. It is said, for instance, that protection has failed to achieve all the good results expected from it, because the policy of the government has been variable. If we could have a steady course of protection for a sufficient period of time (nobody being bold enough to say what time would be sufficient), and could be assured of having it, we should see wonderful progress. But, inasmuch as the policy of the government is uncertain, protection has never yet had a fair trial. This is like saying, “if the stone which I threw in the air had staid there, my head would not have been broken by its fall.” It would not stay there. The law of gravitation is committed against its staying there. Its only resting-place is on the earth. They begin by violating natural laws and natural rights — the right to exchange services for services — and then complain because these natural laws war against them and finally overcome them. But it is not true that protection has not had a fair trial in the United States. The protection has been greater at some times than at others, that is all. Prior to the late war, all our revenue was raised from customs; and while the tariffs of 1846 and 1857 were designated “free trade tariffs,” to distinguish them from those existing before and since, they were necessarily protective to a certain extent.

Again, it is said that there is need of diversifying our industry — as though industry would not diversify itself sufficiently through the diverse tastes and predilections of individuals — as though it were necessary to supplement the work of the Creator in this behalf, by human enactments founded upon reciprocal rapine. The only rational object of diversifying industry is to make people better and happier. Do men and women become better and happier by being huddled together in mills and factories, in a stifling atmosphere, on scanty wages, ten hours each day and 313 days each year, than when cultivating our free and fertile lands? Do they have equal opportunities for mental and moral improvement? The trades-unions tell us, No. Whatever may be the experience of other countries where the land is either owned by absentee lords, who take all the product except what is necessary to give the tenant a bare subsistence, or where it is cut up in parcels not larger than an American garden patch, it is an undeniable fact that no other class of American workingmen are so independent, so intelligent, so well provided with comforts and leisure, or so rapidly advancing in prosperity, as our agriculturists; and this notwithstanding they are enormously overtaxed to maintain other branches of industry, which, according to the protective theory, cannot support themselves. The natural tendency of our people to flock to the cities, where their eyes and ears are gratified at the expense of their other senses, physical and moral, is sufficiently marked not to need the influence of legislation to stimulate it.

It is not the purpose of this preface to anticipate the admirable arguments of M. Bastiat; but there is another theory in vogue which deserves a moment’s consideration. Mr. H.C. Carey tells us, that a country which exports its food, in reality exports its soil, the foreign consumers not giving back to the land the fertilizing elements abstracted from it. Mr. Mill has answered this argument, upon philosophical principles, at some length, showing that whenever it ceases to be advantageous to America to export breadstuffs, she will cease to do so; also, that when it becomes necessary to manure her lands, she will either import manure or make it at home. A shorter answer is, that the lands are no better manured by having the bread consumed in Lowell, or Pittsburgh, or even in Chicago, than in Birmingham or Lyons. But it seems to me that Mr. Carey does not take into account the fact that the total amount of breadstuffs exported from any country must be an exceedingly small fraction of the whole amount taken from the soil, and scarcely appreciable as a source of manure, even if it were practically utilized in that way. Thus, our exportation of flour and meal, wheat and Indian corn, for the year 1860, as compared with the total crop produced, was as follows:

Sophisms of the Protectionists


Flour and Meal, bbls._______________Wheat, bu._______________Corn,bu.


Flour and Meal, bbls._______________Wheat, bu._______________Corn, bu.

Percentage of Exportation to Total Crop.

This was the result for the year preceding the enactment of the Morrill tariff. It is true that our exports of wheat and Indian corn rose in the three years following the enactment of the Morrill tariff, from an average of eight million bushels to an average of forty-six million bushels, but this is contrary to the theory that high tariffs tend to keep breadstuffs at home, and low ones to send them abroad. There is need of great caution in making generalizations as to the influence of tariffs on the movement of breadstuffs. Good or bad harvests in various countries exercise an uncontrollable influence upon their movement, far beyond the reach of any legislation short of prohibition. The market for breadstuffs in the world is as the number of consumers; that is, of population. It is sometimes said in the way of reproach, (and it is a curious travesty of Mr. Carey’s manure argument,) that foreign nations will not take our breadstuffs. It is not true; but if it were, that would not be a good reason for our passing laws to prevent them from doing so; that is, to deprive them of the means to pay for them. Every country must pay for its imports with its exports. It must pay for the services which it receives with the services which it renders. If foreign nations are not allowed to render services to us, how shall we render them the service of bread?

The first series of Bastiat’s Sophismes were published in 1845, and the second series in 1848. The first series were translated in 1848, by Mrs. D.J. McCord, and published the same year by G.P. Putnam, New York. Mrs. McCord’s excellent translation has been followed (by permission of her publisher, who holds the copyright,) in this volume, having been first compared with the original, in the Paris edition of 1863. A very few verbal alterations have been made, which, however, have no bearing on the accuracy and faithfulness of her work. The translation of the essay on “Capital and Interest” is from a duodecimo volume published in London a year or two ago, the name of the translator being unknown to me. The second series of the Sophismes, and the essay entitled “Spoliation and Law,” are, I believe, presented in English for the first time in these pages.


Chicago, August 1, 1869.

Part I.
Sophisms of Protection
First Series


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 it 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, reason.

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 Economistes.”

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.

Abundance — Scarcity

Which is the best for man or for society, abundance or scarcity?

How, it may be exclaimed, can such a question be asked? Has it ever been pretended, is it possible to maintain, that scarcity can be the basis of a man’s happiness?

Yes; this has been maintained, this is daily maintained; and I do not hesitate to say that the scarcity theory is by far the most popular of the day. It furnishes the subject of discussions, in conversations, journals, books, courts of justice; and extraordinary as it may appear, it is certain that political economy will have fulfilled its task and its practical mission, when it shall have rendered common and irrefutable the simple proposition that “in abundance consist man’s riches.”

Do we not hear it said every day, “Foreign nations are inundating us with their productions”? Then we fear abundance.

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