An impoverished farmer of the Gironde had lovingly tended a vine slip. After much fatigue and toil he finally had the good fortune to harvest enough grapes from it to make a cask of wine, and he forgot that each drop of this precious nectar had cost his brow a drop of sweat. “I shall sell it,” he told his wife, “and with the price I shall buy enough material to enable you to furnish a trousseau for our daughter.”

The honest peasant took his cask of wine to the nearest town, and there he met a Belgian and an Englishman. The Belgian said to him: “Give me your cask of wine, and I will give you fifteen parcels of yarn in exchange.”

The Englishman said: “Give me your wine, and I will give you twenty parcels of yarn; for we English spin it at lower cost than the Belgians.”

But a customs officer who was there said: “My good man, trade with the Belgian, if you wish, but my orders are to keep you from trading with the Englishman.”

“What!” exclaimed the countryman. “You want me to be content with fifteen parcels of yarn from Brussels, when I could have twenty from Manchester?”

“Certainly; do you not see that France would lose if you received twenty parcels instead of fifteen?”

“I find that hard to understand,” said the vineyardist.

“And I find it hard to explain,” replied the customs official; “but it is a fact; for all our deputies, cabinet ministers, and journalists agree that the more a nation receives in exchange for a given quantity of its products, the poorer it becomes.”

The farmer had to make his bargain with the Belgian. The farmer’s daughter got only three-quarters of her trousseau, and these good people are still wondering how it happens that a person is ruined by receiving four parcels of yarn instead of three, and why a person is richer with three dozen towels than with four dozen.


This segment of Economic Sophisms is found at the Library of Economics and Liberty.
The original image used to make the cover is in public domain (CC0 1.0).
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