Which is the best for man or for society, abundance
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.
Has not Mr. de Saint Cricq said, “Production
is superabundant”? Then he fears abundance.
Do we not see workmen destroying and
breaking machinery? They are frightened by the
excess of production; in other words, they fear abundance.
Has not Mr. Bugeaud said, “Let
bread be dear and the agriculturist will be rich”?
Now bread can only be dear because it is scarce.
Then Mr. Bugeaud lauded scarcity.
Has not Mr. d’Argout produced
the fruitfulness of the sugar culture as an argument
against it? Has he not said, “The beet cannot
have a permanent and extended cultivation, because
a few acres given up to it in each department, would
furnish sufficient for the consumption of all France”?
Then, in his opinion, good consists in sterility and
scarcity, evil in fertility and abundance.
“La Presse,” “Le
Commerce,” and the majority of our journals,
are, every day, publishing articles whose aim is to
prove to the chambers and to government that a wise
policy should seek to raise prices by tariffs; and
do we not daily see these powers obeying these injunctions
of the press? Now, tariffs can only raise prices
by diminishing the quantity of goods offered for sale.
Then, here we see newspapers, the legislature, the
ministry, all guided by the scarcity theory, and I
was correct in my statement that this theory is by
far the most popular.
How then has it happened, that in
the eyes at once of laborers, editors and statesmen,
abundance should appear alarming, and scarcity advantageous?
It is my intention to endeavor to show the origin of
A man becomes rich, in proportion
to the profitableness of his labor; that is to say,
in proportion as he sells his productions at a high
price. The price of his productions is high
in proportion to their scarcity. It is plain
then, that, as far as regards him at least, scarcity
enriches him. Applying successively this mode
of reasoning to each class of laborers individually,
the scarcity theory is deduced from it.
To put this theory into practice, and in order to favor
each class of labor, an artificial scarcity is forced
in every kind of production, by prohibition, restriction,
suppression of machinery, and other analogous measures.
In the same manner it is observed
that when an article is abundant it brings a small
price. The gains of the producer are, of course,
less. If this is the case with all produce, all
producers are then poor. Abundance then ruins
society. And as any strong conviction will always
seek to force itself into practice, we see, in many
countries, the laws aiming to prevent abundance.
This sophism, stated in a general
form, would produce but a slight impression.
But when applied to any particular order of facts,
to any particular article of industry, to any one
class of labor, it is extremely specious, because
it is a syllogism which is not false, but incomplete.
And what is true in a syllogism always necessarily
presents itself to the mind, while the incomplete,
which is a negative quality, an unknown value, is
easily forgotten in the calculation.
Man produces in order to consume.
He is at once producer and consumer. The argument
given above, considers him only under the first point
of view. Let us look at him in the second character
and the conclusion will be different. We may
The consumer is rich in proportion
as he buys at a low price. He buys at
a low price in proportion to the abundance of the article
in demand; abundance then enriches him. This
reasoning extended to all consumers must lead to the
theory of abundance!
It is the imperfectly understood notion
of exchange of produce which leads to these fallacies.
If we consult our individual interest, we perceive
immediately that it is double. As sellers
we are interested in high prices, consequently in
scarcity. As buyers our advantage is in
cheapness, or what is the same thing, abundance.
It is impossible then to found a proper system of
reasoning upon either the one or the other of these
separate interests before determining which of the
two coincides and identifies itself with the general
and permanent interests of mankind.
If man were a solitary animal, working
exclusively for himself, consuming the fruit of his
own personal labor; if, in a word, he did not exchange
his produce, the theory of scarcity could never have
introduced itself into the world. It would be
too strikingly evident, that abundance, whencesoever
derived, is advantageous to him, whether this abundance
might be the result of his own labor, of ingenious
tools, or of powerful machinery; whether due to the
fertility of the soil, to the liberality of nature,
or to an inundation of foreign goods, such as
the sea bringing from distant regions might cast upon
his shores. Never would the solitary man have
dreamed, in order to encourage his own labor, of destroying
his instruments for facilitating his work, of neutralizing
the fertility of the soil, or of casting back into
the sea the produce of its bounty. He would understand
that his labor was a means not an end,
and that it would be absurd to reject the object,
in order to encourage the means. He would understand
that if he has required two hours per day to supply
his necessities, any thing which spares him an hour
of this labor, leaving the result the same, gives him
this hour to dispose of as he pleases in adding to
his comforts. In a word, he would understand
that every step in the saving of labor, is a
step in the improvement of his condition. But
traffic clouds our vision in the contemplation of
this simple truth. In a state of society with
the division of labor to which it leads, the production
and consumption of an article no longer belong to
the same individual. Each now looks upon his
labor not as a means, but as an end. The exchange
of produce creates with regard to each object two
separate interests, that of the producer and that
of the consumer; and these two interests are always
directly opposed to each other.
It is essential to analyze and study
the nature of each. Let us then suppose a producer
of whatever kind; what is his immediate interest?
It consists in two things: 1st, that the smallest
possible number of individuals should devote themselves
to the business which he follows; and 2dly, that the
greatest possible number should seek the articles of
his produce. In the more succinct terms of Political
Economy, the supply should be small, the demand large;
or yet in other words: limited competition, unlimited
What on the other side is the immediate
interest of the consumer? That the supply should
be large, the demand small.
As these two interests are immediately
opposed to each other, it follows that if one coincides
with the general interest of society the other must
be adverse to it.
Which then, if either, should legislation
favor as contributing most to the good of the community?
To determine this question, it suffices
to inquire in which the secret desires of the majority
of men would be accomplished.
Inasmuch as we are producers, it must
be confessed that we have each of us anti-social desires.
Are we vine-growers? It would not distress us
were the frost to nip all the vines in the world except
our own: this is the scarcity theory.
Are we iron-workers? We would desire (whatever
might be the public need) that the market should offer
no iron but our own; and precisely for the reason
that this need, painfully felt and imperfectly supplied,
causes us to receive a high price for our iron:
again here is the theory of scarcity. Are
we agriculturists? We say with Mr. Bugeaud, let
bread be dear, that is to say scarce, and our business
goes well: again the theory of scarcity.
Are we physicians? We cannot
but see that certain physical améliorations,
such as the improved climate of the country, the development
of certain moral virtues, the progress of knowledge
pushed to the extent of enabling each individual to
take care of his own health, the discovery of certain
simple remedies easily applied, would be so many fatal
blows to our profession. As physicians, then,
our secret desires are anti-social. I must not
be understood to imply that physicians allow themselves
to form such desires. I am happy to believe that
they would hail with joy a universal panacea.
But in such a sentiment it is the man, the Christian,
who manifests himself, and who by a praiseworthy abnegation
of self, takes that point of view of the question,
which belongs to the consumer. As a physician
exercising his profession, and gaining from this profession
his standing in society, his comforts, even the means
of existence of his family, it is impossible but that
his desires, or if you please so to word it, his interests,
should be anti-social.
Are we manufacturers of cotton goods?
We desire to sell them at the price most advantageous
to ourselves. We would willingly consent
to the suppression of all rival manufactories.
And if we dare not publicly express this desire, or
pursue the complete realization of it with some success,
we do so, at least to a certain extent, by indirect
means; as for example, the exclusion of foreign goods,
in order to diminish the quantity offered,
and to produce thus by forcible means, and for our
own profits, a scarcity of clothing.
We might thus pass in review every
business and every profession, and should always find
that the producers, in their character of producers,
have invariably anti-social interests. “The
shop-keeper (says Montaigne) succeeds in his business
through the extravagance of youth; the laborer by
the high price of grain; the architect by the decay
of houses; officers of justice by lawsuits and quarrels.
The standing and occupation even of ministers of religion
are drawn from our death and our vices. No physician
takes pleasure in the health even of his friends;
no soldier in the peace of his country; and so on with
If then the secret desires of each
producer were realized, the world would rapidly retrograde
towards barbarism. The sail would proscribe steam;
the oar would proscribe the sail, only in its turn
to give way to wagons, the wagon to the mule, and
the mule to the foot-peddler. Wool would exclude
cotton; cotton would exclude wool; and thus on, until
the scarcity and want of every thing would cause man
himself to disappear from the face of the globe.
If we now go on to consider the immediate
interest of the consumer, we shall find it
in perfect harmony with the public interest, and with
the well-being of humanity. When the buyer presents
himself in the market, he desires to find it abundantly
furnished. He sees with pleasure propitious seasons
for harvesting; wonderful inventions putting within
his reach the largest possible quantity of produce;
time and labor saved; distances effaced; the spirit
of peace and justice diminishing the weight of taxes;
every barrier to improvement cast down; and in all
this his interest runs parallel with an enlightened
public interest. He may push his secret desires
to an absurd and chimerical height, but never can
they cease to be humanizing in their tendency.
He may desire that food and clothing, house and hearth,
instruction and morality, security and peace, strength
and health, should come to us without limit and without
labor or effort on our part, as the water of the stream,
the air which we breathe, and the sunbeams in which
we bask, but never could the realization of his most
extravagant wishes run counter to the good of society.
It may be said, perhaps, that were
these desires granted, the labor of the producer constantly
checked would end by being entirely arrested for want
of support. But why? Because in this extreme
supposition every imaginable need and desire would
be completely satisfied. Man, like the All-powerful,
would create by the single act of his will. How
in such an hypothesis could laborious production be
Imagine a legislative assembly composed
of producers, of whom each member should cause to
pass into a law his secret desire as a producer;
the code which would emanate from such an assembly
could be nothing but systematized monopoly; the scarcity
theory put into practice.
In the same manner, an assembly in
which each member should consult only his immediate
interest of consumer would aim at the systematizing
of free trade; the suppression of every restrictive
measure; the destruction of artificial barriers; in
a word, would realize the theory of abundance.
It follows then,
That to consult exclusively the immediate
interest of the producer, is to consult an anti-social
To take exclusively for basis the
interest of the consumer, is to take for basis the
Let me be permitted to insist once
more upon this point of view, though at the risk of
A radical antagonism exists between
the seller and the buyer.
The former wishes the article offered
to be scarce, supply small, and at a high price.
The latter wishes it abundant,
supply large, and at a low price.
The laws, which should at least remain
neutral, take part for the seller against the buyer;
for the producer against the consumer; for high against
low prices; for scarcity against abundance. They
act, if not intentionally at least logically, upon
the principle that a nation is rich in proportion
as it is in want of every thing.
For, say they, it is necessary to
favor the producer by securing him a profitable disposal
of his goods. To effect this, their price must
be raised; to raise the price the supply must be diminished;
and to diminish the supply is to create scarcity.
Let us suppose that at this moment,
with these laws in full action, a complete inventory
should be made, not by value, but by weight, measure
and quantity, of all articles now in France calculated
to supply the necessities and pleasures of its inhabitants;
as grain, meat, woollen and cotton goods, fuel, etc.
Let us suppose again that to-morrow
every barrier to the introduction of foreign goods
should be removed.
Then, to judge of the effect of such
a reform, let a new inventory be made three months
Is it not certain that at the time
of the second inventory, the quantity of grain, cattle,
goods, iron, coal, sugar, etc., will be greater
than at the first?
So true is this, that the sole object
of our protective tariffs is to prevent such articles
from reaching us, to diminish the supply, to prevent
low prices, or which is the same thing, the abundance
Now I ask, are the people under the
action of these laws better fed because there is less
bread, less meat, and less sugar in the
country? Are they better dressed because there
are fewer goods? Better warmed because
there is less coal? Or do they prosper
better in their labor because iron, copper, tools
and machinery are scarce?
But, it is answered, if we are inundated
with foreign goods and produce, our coin will leave
Well, and what matters that?
Man is not fed with coin. He does not dress in
gold, nor warm himself with silver. What difference
does it make whether there be more or less coin in
the country, provided there be more bread in the cupboard,
more meat in the larder, more clothing in the press,
and more wood in the cellar?
To Restrictive Laws, I offer this dilemma:
Either you allow that you produce scarcity, or you
do not allow it.
If you allow it, you confess at once
that your end is to injure the people as much as possible.
If you do not allow it, then you deny your power to
diminish the supply, to raise the price, and consequently
you deny having favored the producer.
You are either injurious or inefficient. You
can never be useful.