M. de Saint-Cricq inquires: “Are we sure that foreigners will buy from us as much as they sell to us?”

M. de Dombasle would like to know: “What reason have we to believe that English producers will look to our country, rather than to any other, for the products they may need, or that the value of what they import from us will equal that of their exports to us?”

I marvel how men who call themselves practical above everything else can employ reasoning so completely divorced from all practice!

In practice, is there one exchange in a hundred, in a thousand, in possibly even ten thousand, that involves the direct barter of one product for another? Ever since there has been money in the world, has any farmer said to himself: “I wish to purchase shoes, hats, counsel, and lessons only from the shoemaker, the hatter, the lawyer, or the teacher who will buy my wheat from me for exactly the equivalent value”? Why, then, should nations impose such an inconvenience upon themselves?

How is business actually transacted?

Suppose that a nation does not trade with the rest of the world, and that one of its inhabitants has produced some wheat. He sells it in the domestic market at the highest price he can get, and in exchange he receives …. what? Money, that is, warrants or drafts that are infinitely divisible, by means of which he may lawfully withdraw from the supply of domestic goods, whenever he deems it opportune, and subject to due competition, as much as he may need or want. Ultimately, at the end of the entire operation, he will have withdrawn from the total precisely the equivalent of what he put into it, and, in value, his consumption will exactly equal his production.

If the exchanges of this nation with the outside world are free, it is no longer the domestic market, but the general or world market, to which each individual sends his products and from which each withdraws the means of satisfying his wants and needs. It is no concern of his whether what he sends to the market is purchased by a fellow countryman or by a foreigner; whether the money he receives comes to him from a Frenchman or an Englishman; whether the commodities for which he afterwards exchanges this money in order to satisfy his needs were produced on this or the other side of the Rhine or the Pyrenees. For each individual there is always an exact balance between what he puts into and what he withdraws from the great common reservoir; and if this is true of each individual, it is true of the nation as a whole.

The sole difference between the two cases is that in the latter each unit has a wider market in which to buy and sell, and it consequently has more opportunities for carrying on both operations advantageously.

But, it may be objected, if everyone agrees not to buy the products of a given individual when they are brought to market, he cannot, in his turn, buy anything from anyone else. The same is true of nations.

The reply to this is that, if a nation cannot buy anything from any other nation, it will no longer sell anything on the world market; it will work for itself. It will be forced in that case to submit to what you want to impose on it from the outset, i.e., isolation.

And this will realize the ideal of the protectionist system.

Is it not ridiculous that you are now inflicting such a system upon the nation for fear that we might otherwise run the risk of coming to it some day without your interference?


This segment of Economic Sophisms is found at the Library of Economics and Liberty.
The original image used to make the cover was taken by Joe Lodge (CC BY 2.0 — photoshopped).
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