Petition of Jacques Bonhomme, Carpenter,
to M. Cunin-Gridaine, Minister of Commerce

 

Mr. Manufacturer and Cabinet Minister:

I am a carpenter, as Jesus was; I wield the hatchet and the adze to serve you.

Now, while I was chopping and hewing from dawn to dusk on the states of our lord the king, it occurred to me that my labor is as much a part of our domestic industry as yours.

And ever since, I have been unable to see any reason why protection should not come to the aid of my woodyard as well as your factory.

For after all, if you make cloth, I make roofs. We both, in different ways, shelter our customers from the cold and the rain.

Yet I have to run after my customers, whereas yours run after you. You have found a way of forcing them to do so by preventing them from supplying themselves elsewhere, while my customers are free to turn to whomever they like.

What is so astonishing about this? M. Cunin, the cabinet minister, has not forgotten M. Cunin, the textile manufacturer: that is only natural. But, alas, my humble craft has given no cabinet minister to France, although it did give a God to the world.

And in the immortal code this God bequeathed to man, there is not the slightest expression that could be interpreted as authorizing carpenters to enrich themselves at the expense of others, as you do.

Consider my position, then. I earn thirty sous a day, except Sundays and holidays. If I offer you my services at the same time as a Flemish carpenter offers you his, and if he is prepared to work for a sou less than I, you will prefer him.

But suppose I want to buy myself a suit of clothes? If a Belgian textile manufacturer offers his cloth on the market in competition with yours, you drive both him and his cloth out of the country.

Thus, forced to enter your shop, although it is the more expensive, my poor thirty sous are really worth only twenty-eight.

What am I saying! They are not worth more than twenty-six, for instead of expelling the Belgian manufacturer at your expense (which would be the very least you could do), you make me pay for the people whom, in your interest, you set at his heels.

And since a great number of your fellow legislators, with whom you have a perfect understanding, each takes from me a sou or two—one under the pretext of protecting iron; another, coal; this one, oil; and that one, wheat—I find, when everything is taken into account, that of my thirty sous I have been able to save only fifteen from being plundered.

You will doubtless tell me that these little sous, which pass in this way, without compensation, from my pocket to yours, provide a livelihood for the people around your castle and enable you to live in grand style. May I point out to you in reply that if you left the money in my hands, it would have provided a livelihood for the people around me.

Be that as it may, Mr. Cabinet Minister and Manufacturer, knowing that I should be ill-received, I do not come to you and demand, as I have a full right to do, that you withdraw the restriction you are imposing on your customers; I prefer to follow the prevailing fashion and claim a little protection for myself.

At this point, you will raise a difficulty for me: “My friend,” you will tell me, “I should really like to protect you and others of your craft; but how are we to go about conferring tariff benefits upon the work of carpenters? Are we to forbid the importation of houses by land or by sea?”

This would quite obviously be absurd; but, by dint of much reflection on the matter, I have discovered another means of benefiting the sons of St. Joseph; and you will welcome it all the more readily, I hope, as it in no way differs from the means you employed in maintaining the privilege that you vote for yourself every year.

The wonderful means I have in mind consists in forbidding the use of sharp hatchets in France.

I maintain that this restriction would be no more illogical or more arbitrary than the one to which you subject us in the case of your cloth.

Why do you drive out the Belgians? Because they undersell you. And why do they undersell you? Because they are in some respect superior to you as textile manufacturers.

Between you and a Belgian, consequently, there is exactly the same difference as between a dull hatchet and a sharp hatchet.

And you are forcing me—me, a carpenter—to buy from you the product of a dull hatchet.

Look upon France as a workman who is trying, by his labor, to obtain everything he needs, including cloth.

There are two possible ways of doing this:

The first is to spin and weave the wool himself.

The second is to produce other commodities—for instance, clocks, wallpaper, or wine—and to exchange them with the Belgians for the cloth.

Of these two procedures the one that gives the better result may be represented by the sharp hatchet; the other, by the dull hatchet.

You do not deny that at present, in France, it requires more labor to obtain a piece of cloth directly from our looms (the dull hatchet) than indirectly by way of our vines (the sharp hatchet). You are so far from denying this that it is precisely because of this additional toil (which, according to you, is what wealth consists in) that you request, nay more, you impose, the use of the poorer of the two hatchets.

Now, at least be consistent; be impartial; and if you mean to be just, give us poor carpenters the same treatment you give yourself.

Enact a law to this effect:

“No one shall use beams or joists save those produced by dull hatchets.”

Consider what the immediate consequences will be.

Where we now strike a hundred blows with the hatchet, we shall then strike three hundred. What we now do in one hour will take three hours. What a mighty stimulus to employment! Apprentices, journeymen, and masters, there will no longer be enough of us. We shall be in demand, and therefore well paid. Whoever wants to have a roof made will be henceforth obliged to accept our demands, just as whoever wants cloth today is obliged to submit to yours.

And if the free-trade theorists ever dare to call into question the utility of this measure, we shall know perfectly well where to find a crushing retort. It is in your parliamentary report of 1834. We shall beat them over the head with it, for in it you have made a wonderful plea on behalf of protectionism and of dull hatchets, which are simply two names for one and the same thing.

 


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 Ida Myrvold (CC BY 2.0 — photoshopped).
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