Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on June 15, 2017

in Innovation, Myths and Fallacies, Technology, Trade, Work

… is from pages 250-251 of Liberty Fund’s newly published, expanded English-language edition, brilliantly edited by David Hart, of Frédéric Bastiat’s great work Economic Sophisms and “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen”; specifically, this passage is from the new translation of Bastiat’s February 1847 essay “Domination through Work” (“Domination par le travail”) (original emphasis):

The illusion arises from the fact that there is something we do not see.  This is that foreign superiority only ever blocks national production in a specific area and makes it redundant only in this specific area by putting at our disposal the output of the very labor which has been destroyed in this way.  If men lived in bells under water and had to provide themselves with air by means of a pump, there would be a huge source of work in this.  Damaging this work while leaving men in this situation would be to do them frightful harm.  But if the work ceases only because there is no longer any need for it, because men are placed in a different milieu in which air enters effortlessly into contact with their lungs, then the loss of this work is no cause for regret, except in the eyes of those who insist on seeing the value of work only in the work itself.

It is precisely this type of work that machines, free trade and progress of all sorts are gradually destroying; not useful work, but work that has become superfluous, redundant, pointless and ineffectual.  On the other hand, protection restores it; it puts us back under the water in order to supply us with the opportunity to pump, it forces us to demand gold from our inaccessible national mine rather than from our national looms.  Its entire effect is encapsulated in this term: wasted efforts.


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