That Which Is Seen, And That Which Is Not Seen
by Frederic Bastiat (1850)
In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a
law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of
effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it
manifests itself simultaneously with its cause -it is seen. The
others unfold in succession -they are not seen: it is well for
us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this
constitutes the whole difference -the one takes account of the
visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which
are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now
this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that
when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate
consequences are fatal, and the converse. Hence it follows that
the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be
followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist
pursues a great good to come, -at the risk of a small present
In fact, it is the same in the science of health, arts, and in
that of morals. It often happens, that the sweeter the first
fruit of a habit is, the more bitter are the consequences. Take,
for example, debauchery, idleness, prodigality. When, therefore,
a man absorbed in the effect which is seen has not yet learned to
discern those which are not seen, he gives way to fatal habits,
not only by inclination, but by calculation.
This explains the fatally grievous condition of mankind.
Ignorance surrounds its cradle: then its actions are determined
by their first consequences, the only ones which, in its first
stage, it can see. It is only in the long run that it learns to
take account of the others. It has to learn this lesson from two
very different masters-experience and foresight. Experience
teaches effectually, but brutally. It makes us acquainted with
all the effects of an action, by causing us to feel them; and we
cannot fail to finish by knowing that fire burns, if we have
burned ourselves. For this rough teacher, I should like, if
possible, to substitute a more gentle one. I mean Foresight. For
this purpose I shall examine the consequences of certain
economical phenomena, by placing in opposition to each other
those which are seen, and those which are not seen.
I. - THE BROKEN WINDOW
Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James
B., when his careless son happened to break a square of glass? If
you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly
bear witness to the fact, that every one of the spectators, were
there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered
the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation -"It is an ill
wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would
become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?"
Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it
will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is
precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the
greater part of our economical institutions.
Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that
the accident brings six francs to the glazier's trade -that it
encourages that trade to the amount of six francs -I grant it; I
have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The -
glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs
Ms hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this
is that which is seen.
But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too
often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it
causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry
in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call
out, "Stop there! your theory is confined to that which is seen;
it takes no account of that which is not seen."
It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon
one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that
if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have
replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In
short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which
this accident has prevented.
Let us take a view of industry in general, as affected by this
circumstance. The window being broken, the glazier's trade is
encouraged to the amount of six francs; this is that which is
seen. If the window had not been broken, the shoemaker's trade
(or some other) would have been encouraged to the amount of six
francs; this is that which is not seen.
And if that which is -not seen is taken into consideration,
because it is a negative fact, as well as that which is seen,
because it is a positive fact, it will be understood that neither
industry in general, nor the sum total of national labour, is
affected, whether windows are broken or not.
Now let us consider James B. himself. In the former supposition,
that of the window being broken, he spends six francs, and has
neither more nor less than he had before, the enjoyment of a
In the second, where we suppose the window not to have been
broken, he would have spent six francs on shoes, and would have
had at the same time the enjoyment of a pair of shoes and of a
Now, as James B. forms a part of society, we must come to the
conclusion, that, taking it altogether, and making an estimate of
its enjoyments and its labours, it has lost the value of the
When we arrive at this unexpected conclusion: "Society loses the
value of things which are uselessly destroyed;" and we must
assent to a maxim which will make the hair of protectionists
stand on end -To break, to spoil, to waste, is not to encourage
national labour; nor, more briefly, "destruction is not profit."
What will you say, Monsieur Industriel --what will you say,
disciples of good M. F. Chamans, who has calculated with so much
precision how much trade would gain by the burning of Paris, from
the number of houses it would be necessary to rebuild?
I am sorry to disturb these ingenious calculations, as far as
their spirit has been introduced into our legislation; but I beg
him to begin them again, by taking into the account that which is
not seen, and placing it alongside of that which is seen. The
reader must take care to remember that there are not two persons
only, but three concerned in the little scene which I have
submitted to his attention. One of them, James B., represents the
consumer, reduced, by an act of destruction, to one enjoyment
instead of two. Another under the title of the glazier, shows us
the producer, whose trade is encouraged by the accident. The
third is the shoemaker (or some other tradesman), whose labour
suffers proportionably by the same cause. It is this third person
who is always kept in the shade, and who, personating that which
is not seen, is a necessary element of the problem. It is he who
shows us how absurd it is to think we see a profit in an act of
destruction. It is he who will soon teach us that it is not less
absurd to see a profit in a restriction, which is, after all,
nothing else than a partial destruction. Therefore, if you will
only go to the root of all the arguments which are adduced in its
favour, all you will find will be the paraphrase of this vulgar
saying -What would become of the glaziers, if nobody ever broke
II. - THE DISBANDING OF TROOPS.
It is the same with a people as it is with a man. If it wishes to
give itself some gratification, it naturally considers whether it
is worth what it costs. To a nation, security is the greatest of
advantages. If, in order to obtain it, it is necessary to have an
-army of a hundred thousand men, I have nothing to say against
it. It is an enjoyment bought by a sacrifice. Let me not be
misunderstood upon the extent of my position. A member of the
assembly proposes to disband a hundred thousand men, for the sake
of relieving the tax-payers of a hundred millions.
If we confine ourselves to this answer -"The hundred millions of
men, and these hundred millions of money, are indispensable to
the national security: it is a sacrifice; but without this
sacrifice, France would be torn by factions, or invaded by some
foreign power," -I have nothing to object to this argument, which
may be true or false in fact, but which theoretically contains
nothing which militates against economy. The error begins when
the sacrifice itself is said to be an advantage because it
Now I am very much mistaken if, the moment the author of the
proposal has taken his seat, some orator will not rise and say -
"Disband a hundred thousand men! do you know what you are saying?
What will become of them? Where will they get a living? Don't you
know that work is scarce everywhere? That every field is
overstocked? Would you turn them out of doors to increase
competition, and weigh upon the rate of wages? Just now, when it
is a hard matter to live at all, it would be a pretty thing if
the State must find bread for a hundred thousand individuals?
Consider, besides, that the army consumes wine, clothing, arms -
that it promotes the activity of manufactures in garrison towns
that it is, in short, the god-send of innumerable purveyors. Why,
any one must tremble at the bare idea of doing away with this
immense industrial movement."
This discourse, it is evident, concludes by voting the
maintenance of a hundred thousand soldiers, for reasons drawn
from the necessity of the service, and from economical
considerations. It is these considerations only that I have to
A hundred thousand men, costing the tax-payers a hundred millions
of money, live and bring to the purveyors as much as a hundred
millions can supply. This is that which is seen.
But, a hundred millions taken from the pockets of the tax-payers,
cease to maintain these taxpayers and the purveyors, as far as a
hundred minions reach. This is that which is not seen. Now make
your calculations. Cast up, and tell me what profit there is for
I will tell you where the loss lies; and to simplify it, instead
of speaking of a hundred thousand men and a million of money, it
shall be of one man, and a thousand francs.
We will suppose that we are in the village of A. The recruiting
sergeants go their round, and take off a man. The tax-gatherers
go their round, and take off a thousand francs. The man and the
sum of money are taken to Metz, and the latter is destined to
support the former for a year without doing anything. If you
consider Metz only, you are quite right; the measure is a very
advantageous one: but if you look towards the village of A., you
will judge very differently; for, unless you are very blind
indeed, you will see that that village has lost a worker, and the
thousand francs which would remunerate his labour, as well as the
activity which, by the expenditure of those thousand francs, it
would spread around it.
At first sight, there would seem to be some compensation. What
took place at the village, now takes place at Metz, that is all.
But the loss is to be estimated in this way: -At the village, a
man dug and worked; he was a worker. At Metz, he turns to the
right about, and to the left about; he is a soldier. The money
and the circulation are the same in both cases; but in the one
there were three hundred days of productive labour; in the other,
there are three hundred days of unproductive labour, supposing,
of course, that a part of the army is not indispensable to the
Now, suppose the disbanding to take place. You tell me there will
be a surplus of a hundred thousand workers, that competition will
be stimulated, and it will reduce the rate of wages. This is what
But what you do not see is this. You do not see that to dismiss a
hundred thousand soldiers is not to do away with a million of
money, but to return it to the tax-payers. You do not see that to
throw a hundred thousand workers on the market, is to throw into
it, at the same moment, the hundred millions of money needed to
pay for their labour; that, consequently, the same act which
increases the supply of hands, increases also the demand; from
which it follows, that your fear of a reduction of wages is
unfounded. You do not see that, before the disbanding as well as
after it, there are in the country a hundred millions of money
corresponding with the hundred thousand men. That the whole
difference consists in this: before the disbanding, the country
gave the hundred millions to the hundred thousand men for doing
nothing; and that after it, it pays them the same sum for
working. You do not see, in short, that when a tax-payer gives
his money either to a soldier in exchange for nothing, or to a
worker in exchange for something, all the ultimate consequences
of the circulation of this money are the same in the two cases;
only, in the second case, the tax-payer receives something, in
the former he receives nothing. The result is -a dead loss to the
The sophism which I am here combating will not stand the test of
progression, which is the touchstone of principles. If, when
every compensation is made, and all interests are-satisfied,
there is a national profit in increasing the army, why not enroll
under its banners the entire male population of the country?
III. - TAXES.
Have you ever chanced to hear it said "There is no better
investment than taxes. Only see what a number of families it
maintains, and consider how it reacts on industry; it is an
inexhaustible stream, it is life itself."
In order-to combat this doctrine, I must refer to my preceding
refutation. Political economy knew well enough that its arguments
were not so amusing that it could be said of them, repetitions
please. It has, therefore, turned the proverb to its own use,
well convinced that, in its mouth. repetitions teach.
The advantages which officials advocate are those which are seen.
The benefit which accrues to the providers is still that which is
seen. This blinds all eyes.
But the disadvantages which the tax-payers have to get rid of are
those which are not seen. And the injury which results from it to
the providers, is still that which is not seen, although this
ought to be self-evident.
When an official spends for his own profit an extra hundred sous,
it implies that a tax-payer spends for his profit a hundred sous
less. But the expense of the official is seen, because the act is
performed, while that of the tax-payer is not seen, because,
alas! he is prevented from performing it.
You compare the nation, perhaps, to a parched tract of land, and
the tax to a fertilizing rain. Be it so. But you ought also to
ask yourself where are the sources of this rain and whether it is
not the tax itself which draws away the moisture from the ground
and dries it up?
Again, you ought to ask yourself whether it is possible that the
soil can receive as much of this precious water by rain as it
loses by evaporation?
There is one thing very certain, that when James B. counts out a
hundred sous for the tax-gatherer, he receives nothing in return.
Afterwards, when an official spends these hundred sous and
returns them to James B., it is for an equal value of corn or
labour. The final result is a loss to James B. of five francs.
It is very true that often, perhaps very often, the official
performs for James B. an equivalent service. In this case there
is no loss on either side; there is merely in exchange.
Therefore, my arguments do not at all apply to useful
functionaries. All I say is, -if you wish to create an office,
prove its utility. Show that its value to James B., by the
services which it performs for him, is equal to what it costs
him. But, apart from this intrinsic utility, do not bring forward
as an argument the benefit which it confers upon the official,
his family, and his providers; do not assert that it encourages
When James B. gives a hundred pence to a Government officer, for
a really useful service, it is exactly the same as when he gives
a hundred sous to a shoemaker for a pair of shoes.
But when James B. gives a hundred sous to a Government officer,
and receives nothing for them unless it be annoyances, he might
as well give them to a thief. It is nonsense to say that the
Government officer will spend these hundred sous to the great
profit of national labour; the thief would do the same; and so
would James B., if he had not been stopped on the road by the
extra -legal parasite, nor by the lawful sponger.
Let us accustom ourselves, then, to avoid judging of things by
what is seen only, but to judge of them by that which is not
Last year I was on the Committee of Finance, for under the
constituency the members of the opposition were not
systematically excluded from all the Commissions: in that the
constituency acted wisely. We have heard M. Thiers say -"I have
passed my life in opposing the legitimist party, and the priest
party. Since the common danger has brought us together, now that
I associate with them and know them, and now that we speak face
to face, I have found out that they are not the monsters I used
to imagine them."
Yes, distrust is exaggerated, hatred is fostered among parties
who never mix; and if the majority would allow the minority to be
present at the Commissions, it would perhaps be discovered that
the ideas of the different sides are not so far removed from each
other, and, above all, that their intentions are not so perverse
as is supposed. However, last year I was on the Committee -of
Finance. Every time that one of our colleagues spoke of fixing at
a moderate figure the maintenance of the President of the
Republic, that of the ministers, and of the ambassadors, it was
"For the good of the service, it is necessary to surround certain
offices with splendour and dignity, as a means of attracting men
of merit to them. A vast number of unfortunate persons apply to
the President of the Republic, and it would be placing him in a
very painful position to oblige him to be constantly refusing
them. A certain style in the ministerial saloons is a part of the
machinery of constitutional Governments."
Although such arguments may be controverted, they certainly
deserve a serious examination. They are based upon the public
interest, whether rightly estimated or not; and as far as I am
concerned, I have much more respect for them than many of our
Catos have, who are actuated by a narrow spirit of parsimony or
But what revolts the economical part of my conscience, and makes
me blush for the intellectual resources of my country, is when
this absurd relic of feudalism is brought forward, which it
constantly is, and it is favourably received too:-
"Besides, the luxury of great Government officers encourages the
arts, industry, and labour. The head of the State and his
ministers cannot give banquets and soirees without causing life
to circulate through all the veins of the social body. To reduce
their means, would starve Parisian industry, and consequently
that of the whole nation."
I must beg you, gentlemen, to pay some little regard to
arithmetic, at least; and not to say before the National Assembly
in France, lest to its shame it should agree with you, that an
addition gives a different sum, according to whether it is added
up from the bottom to the top, or from the top to the bottom of
For instance, I want to agree with a drainer to make a trench in
my field for a hundred sous. Just as we have concluded our
arrangement, the tax-gatherer comes, takes my hundred sous, and
sends them to the Minister of the Interior; my bargain is at end,
but the Minister will have another dish added to his table. Upon
what ground will you dare to affirm that this official expense
helps the national industry? Do you not see, that in this there
is only a reversing of satisfaction and labour? A Minister has
his table better covered, it is true, but it is just as true that
an agriculturist has his field worse drained. A Parisian tavern-
keeper has gained a hundred sous,I grant you; but then you must
grant me that a drainer has been prevented from gaining five
francs. It all comes to this, -that the official and the tavern-
keeper being satisfied, is that which is seen; the field
undrained, and the drainer deprived of his job, is that which is
not seen. Dear me! how much trouble there is in proving that two
and two make four; and if you succeed in proving it, it is said,
"the thing is so plain it is quite tiresome," and they vote as if
you had proved nothing at all.
IV. - THEATRES AND FINE ARTS
Ought the State to support the arts?
There is certainly much to be said on both sides of this
question. It may be said, in favor of the system of voting
supplies for this purpose, that the arts enlarge, elevate, and
harmonize the soul of a nation; that they divert it from too
great an absorption in material occupations, encourage in it a
love for the beautiful, and thus act favourably on its manners,
customs, morals, and even on its -industry. It may be asked, what
would become of music in France without her Italian theatre and
her Conservatoire; of the dramatic art. without her Theatre-
Francais; of painting and sculpture, without our collections,
galleries, and museums? It might even be asked, whether, without
centralization, and consequently the support of fine arts, that
exquisite taste would be developed which is the noble appendage
of French labour, and which introduces its productions to the
whole world? In the face of such results, would it not be the
height of imprudence to renounce this moderate contribution from
all her citizens, which, in fact, in the eyes of Europe, realizes
their superiority and their glory?
To these and many other reasons, whose force I do not dispute,
arguments no less forcible may be opposed. It might, first of
all, be said, that there is a question of distributive justice in
it. Does the right of the legislator extend to abridging the
wages of the artisan, for the sake of adding to the profits of
the artist? M. Lamartine said, "If you cease to support the
theatre, where will you stop? Will you not necessarily be led to
withdraw your support from your colleges, your museums, your
institutes, and your libraries?" It might be answered, if you
desire to support everything which is good and useful, where will
you stop? Will you not necessarily be led to form a civil list
for agriculture, industry, commerce, benevolence, education?
Then, is it certain that government aid favours the progress of
This question is far from being settled, and we see very well
that the theatres which prosper are those which depend upon their
own resources. Moreover, if we come to higher considerations, we
may observe, that wants and desires arise, the one from the
other, and originate in regions which are more and more refined
in proportion as the public wealth allows of their being
satisfied; that Government ought not to take part in this
correspondence, because in a certain condition of present fortune
it could not by taxation stimulate the arts of necessity, without
checking those of luxury, and thus interrupting the natural
course of civilization. I may observe, that these artificial
transpositions of wants, tastes, labour, and population, place
the people in a precarious and dangerous position, without any
These are some of the reasons alleged by the adversaries of State
intervention in what concerns the order in which citizens think
their wants and desires should be satisfied, and to which,
consequently, their activity should be directed. I am, I confess,
one of those who think that choice and impulse ought to come from
below and not from above, from the citizen and not from the
legislator; and the opposite doctrine appears to me to tend to
the destruction of liberty and of human dignity.
But, by a deduction as false as it is unjust, do you know what
economists are accused of? It is, that when we disapprove of
Government support, we are supposed to disapprove of the thing
itself whose support is discussed; and to be the enemies of every
kind of activity, because we desire to see those activities, on
the one hand free, and on the other seeking their own reward in
themselves. Thus, if we think that the State should not interfere
by taxation in religious affairs, we are atheists. If we think
the State ought not to interfere by taxation in education, we are
hostile to knowledge. If we say that the State ought not by
taxation to give a fictitious value to land, or to any particular
branch of industry, we are enemies to property and labour. If we
think that the State ought not to support artists, we are
barbarians who look upon the arts as useless.
Against such conclusions as these I protest with all my strength.
Far from entertaining the absurd idea of doing away with
religion, education, property, labour, and the arts, when we say
that the State ought to protect the free development of all these
kinds of human activity, without helping some of them at the
expense of others, -we think, on the contrary, that all these
living powers of society would develop themselves more
harmoniously under the influence of liberty; and that, under such
an influence no one of them would, as is now the case, be a
source of trouble, of abuses, of tyranny, and disorder.
Our adversaries consider, that an activity which is neither aided
by supplies, nor regulated by Government, is an activity
destroyed. We think just the contrary. Their faith is in the
legislator, not in mankind; ours is in mankind, not in the
Thus M. Lamartine said, "Upon this principle we must abolish the
public exhibitions, which are the honour and the wealth of this
country." But I would say to M. Lamartine, -According to your way
of thinking, not to support is to abolish; because, setting out
upon the maxim that nothing exists independently of the will of
the State, you conclude that nothing lives but what the State
causes to live. But I oppose to this assertion the very example
which you have chosen, and beg you to remark, that the grandest
and noblest of exhibitions, one which has been conceived in the
most liberal and universal spirit -and I might even make use of
the term humanitary, for it is no exaggeration -is the exhibition
now preparing in London; the only one in which no Government is
taking any part, and which is being paid for by no tax.
To return to the fine arts: -there are, I repeat, many strong
reasons to be brought, both for and against the system of
Government assistance. The reader must see, that the especial
object of this work leads me neither to explain these reasons,
nor to decide in their favour, nor against them.
But M. Lamartine has advanced one argument which I cannot pass by
in silence, for it is closely connected with this economic study.
"The economical question, as regards theatres, is comprised in
one word -labour. It matters little what is the nature of this
labour; it is as fertile, as productive a labour as any other
kind of labour in the nation. The theatres in France, you know,
feed and salary no less than 80,000 workmen of different kinds;
painters, masons, decorators, costumers, architects, &c., which
constitute the very life and movement of several parts of this
capital, and on this account they ought to have your sympathies."
Your sympathies! say, rather, your money.
And further on he says: "The pleasures of Paris are the labour
and the consumption of the provinces, and the luxuries of the
rich are the wages and bread of 200,000 workmen of every
description, who live by the manifold industry of the theatres on
the surface of the republic, and who receive from these noble
pleasures, which render France illustrious, the sustenance of
their lives and the necessaries of their families and children.
It is to them that you will give 60,000 francs." (Very well; very
well. Great applause.) For my part I am constrained to say, "Very
bad! Very bad!" Confining his opinion, of course, within the
bounds of the economical question which we are discussing.
Yes, it is to the workmen of the theatres that a part, at least,
of these 60,000 francs will go; a few bribes, perhaps, may be
abstracted on the way. Perhaps, if we were to look a little more
closely into the matter, we might find that the cake had gone
another way, and that these workmen were fortunate who had come
in for a few crumbs. But I will allow, for the sake of argument,
that the entire sum does go to the painters, decorators, &c.
This is that which is seen. But whence does it come? This is the
other side of the question, and quite as important as the former.
Where do these 60,000 francs spring from? and where would they go
if a vote of the Legislature did not direct them first towards
the Rue Rivoli and thence towards the Rue Grenelle? This is what
is not seen. Certainly, nobody will think of maintaining that the
legislative vote has caused this sum to be hatched in a ballot
urn; that it is a pure addition made to the national wealth; that
but for this miraculous vote these 60,000 francs would have been
for ever invisible and impalpable. It must be admitted that all
that the majority can do, is to decide that they shall be taken
from one place to be sent to another; and if they take one
direction, it is only because they have been diverted from
This being the case, it is clear that the taxpayer, who has
contributed one franc, will no longer have this franc at his own
disposal. It is clear that he will be deprived of some
gratification to the amount of one franc; and that the workman,
whoever he may be, who would have received it from him, will be
deprived of a benefit to that amount. Let us not, therefore, be
led by a childish illusion into believing that the vote of the
60,000 francs may add any thing whatever to the well-being of the
country, and to the national labour. It displaces enjoyments, it
transposes wages -that is all.
Will it be said that for one kind of gratification, and one kind
of labour, it substitutes more urgent, more moral, more
reasonable gratifications and labour? I might dispute this; I
might say, by taking 60,000 francs from the tax-payers, you
diminish the wages of labourers, drainers, carpenters,
blacksmiths, and increase in proportion those of the singers.
There is nothing to prove that this latter class calls for more
sympathy than the former. M. Lamartine does not say that it is
so. He himself says, that the labour of the theatres is as
fertile, as productive as any other (not more so); and this may
be doubted; for the best proof that the latter is not so fertile
as the former lies in this, that the other is to be called upon
to assist it.
But this comparison between the value and the intrinsic merit of
different kinds of labour, forms no part of my present subject.
All I have to do here is to show, that if M. Lamartine and those
persons who commend his line of argument have seen on one side
the salaries gained by the providers of the comedians, they ought
on the other to have seen the salaries lost by the providers of
the taxpayers; for want of this, they have exposed themselves to
ridicule by mistaking a displacement for a gain. If they were
true to their doctrine, there would be no limits to their demands
for Government aid; for that which is true of one franc and of
60,000 is true, under parallel circumstances, of a hundred
millions of francs.
When taxes are the subject of discussion, Gentlemen, you ought to
prove their utility by reasons from the root of the matter, but
not by this unlucky assertion -"The public expenses support the
working classes." This assertion disguises the important fact,
that public expenses always supersede private expenses, and that
therefore we bring a livelihood to one workman instead of
another, but add nothing to the share of the working class as a
whole. Your arguments are fashionable enough, but they are too
absurd to be justified by anything like reason.
V. - PUBLIC WORKS
Nothing is more natural than that a nation, after having assured
itself that an enterprise will benefit the community, should have
it executed by means of a general assessment. But I lose
patience, I confess, when I hear this economic blunder advanced
in support of such a project. "Besides, it will be a means of
creating labour for the workmen."
The State opens a road, builds a palace, straightens a street,
cuts a canal; and so gives work to certain workmen -this is what
is seen: but it deprives certain other workmen of work, and this
is what is not seen.
The road is begun. A thousand workmen come every morning, leave
every evening, and take their wages -this is certain. If the road
had not been decreed, if the supplies had not been voted, these
good people would have had neither work nor salary there; this
also is certain.
But is this all? does not the operation, as a whole, contain
something else? At the moment when M. Dupin pronounces the
emphatic words, "The Assembly has adopted," do the millions
descend miraculously on a moon-beam into the coffers of MM. Fould
and Bineau? In order that the evolution may be complete, as it is
said, must not the State organise the receipts as well as the
expenditure? must it not set its taxgatherers and tax-payers to
work, the former to gather, and the latter to pay? Study the
question, now, in both its elements. While you state the
destination given by the State to the millions voted, do not
neglect to state also the destination which the taxpayer would
have given, but cannot now give, to the same. Then you will
understand that a public enterprise is a coin with two sides.
Upon one is engraved a labourer at work, with this device, that
which is seen; on the other is a labourer out of work, with the
device, that which is not seen.
The sophism which this work is intended to refute, is the more
dangerous when applied to public works, inasmuch as it serves to
justify the most wanton enterprises and extravagance. When a
railroad or a bridge are of real utility, it is sufficient to
mention this utility. But if it does not exist, what do they do?
Recourse is had to this mystification: "We must find work for the
Accordingly, orders are given that the drains in the Champ-de-
Mars be made and unmade. The great Napoleon, it is said, thought
he was doing a very philanthropic work by causing ditches to be
made and then filled up. He said, therefore, "What signifies the
result? All we want is to see wealth spread among the labouring
But let us go to the root of the matter. We are deceived by
money. To demand the cooperation of all the citizens in a common
work, in the form of money, is in reality to demand a concurrence
in kind; for every one procures, by his own labour, the sum to
which he is taxed. Now, if all the citizens were to be called
together, and made to execute, in conjunction, a work useful to
all, this would be easily understood; their reward would be found
in the results of the work itself.
But after having called them together, if you force them to make
roads which no one will pass through, palaces which no one will
inhabit, and this under the pretext of finding them work, it
would be absurd, and they would have a right to argue, "With this
labour we have nothing to do; we prefer working on our own
A proceeding which consists in making the citizens cooperate in
giving money but not labour, does not, in any way, alter the
general results. The only thing is, that the loss would react
upon all parties. By the former, those whom the State employs,
escape their part of the loss, by adding it to that which their
fellow-citizens have already suffered.
There is an article in our constitution which says: -"Society
favours and encourages the development of labour -by the
establishment of public works, by the State, the departments, and
the parishes, as a means of employing persons who are in want of
As a temporary measure, on any emergency, during a hard winter,
this interference with the tax-payers may have its use. It acts
in the same way as securities. It adds nothing either to labour
or to wages, but it takes labour and wages from ordinary times to
give them, at a loss it is true, to times of difficulty.
As a permanent, general, systematic measure, it is nothing else
than a ruinous mystification, an impossibility, which shows a
little excited labour which is seen, and bides a great deal of
prevented labour which is not seen.
Society is the total of the forced or voluntary services which
men perform for each other; that is to say, of public services
and private services.
The former, imposed and regulated by the law, which it is not
always easy to change, even when it is desirable, may survive
with it their own usefulness, and still preserve the name of
public services, even when they are no longer services at all,
but rather public annoyances. The latter belong to the sphere of
the will, of individual responsibility. Every one gives and
receives what he wishes, and what he can, after a debate. They
have always the presumption of real utility, in exact proportion
to their comparative value.
This is the reason why the former description of services so
often become stationary, while the latter obey the law of
While the exaggerated development of public services, by the
waste of strength which it involves, fastens upon society a fatal
sycophancy, it is a singular thing that several modern sects,
attributing this character to free and private services, are
endeavouring to transform professions into functions.
These sects violently oppose what they call intermediates. They
would gladly suppress the capitalist, the banker, the speculator,
the projector, the merchant, and the trader, accusing them of
interposing between production and consumption, to extort from
both, without giving either anything in return. Or rather, they
would transfer to the State the work which they accomplish, for
this work cannot be suppressed.
The sophism of the Socialists on this point is showing to the
public what it pays to the intermediates in exchange for their
services, and concealing from it what is necessary to be paid to
the State. Here is the usual conflict between what is before our
eyes, and what is perceptible to the mind only, between what is
seen, and what is not seen.
It was at the time of the scarcity, in 1847, that the Socialist
schools attempted and succeeded in popularizing their fatal
theory. They knew very well that the most absurd notions have
always a chance with people who are suffering; malisunda fames.
Therefore, by the help of the fine words, "trafficking in men by
men, speculation on hunger, monopoly," they began to blacken
commerce, and to cast a veil over its benefits.
"What can be the use," they say, "of leaving to the merchants the
care of importing food from the United States and the Crimea? Why
do not the State, the departments, and the towns, organize a
service for provisions, and a magazine for stores? They would
sell at a return price, and the people, poor things, would be
exempted from the tribute which they pay to free, that is, to
egotistical, individual, and anarchical commerce."
The tribute paid by the people to commerce, is that which is
seen. The tribute which the people would pay to the State, or to
its agents, in the Socialist system, is what is not seen.
In what does this pretended tribute, which the people pay to
commerce, consist? In this: that two men render each other a
mutual service, in all freedom, and under the pressure of
competition and reduced prices.
When the hungry stomach is at Paris, and corn which can satisfy
it is at Odessa, the suffering cannot cease till the corn is
brought into contact with the stomach. There are three means by
which this contact may be effected. 1st. The famished men may go
themselves and fetch the corn. 2nd. They may leave this task to
those to whose trade it belongs. 3rd. They may club together, and
give the office in charge to public functionaries. Which of these
three methods possesses the greatest advantages? In every time,
in all countries, and the more free, enlightened, and experienced
they are, men have voluntarily chosen the second. I confess that
this is sufficient, in my opinion, to justify this choice. I
cannot believe that mankind, as a whole, is deceiving itself upon
a point which touches it so nearly. But let us consider the
For thirty-six millions of citizens to go and fetch the corn they
want from Odessa, is a manifest impossibility. The first means,
then, goes for nothing. The consumers cannot act for themselves.
They must, of necessity, have recourse to intermediates,
officials or agents.
But, observe, that the first of these three means would be the
most natural. In reality, the hungry man has to fetch his corn.
It is a task which concerns himself; a service due to himself. If
another person, on whatever ground, performs this service for
him, takes the task upon himself, this latter has a claim upon
him for a compensation. I mean by this to say that intermediates
contain in themselves the principle of remuneration.
However that may be, since we must refer to what the Socialists
call a parasite, I would ask, which of the two is the most
exacting parasite, the merchant or the official?
Commerce (free, of course, otherwise I could not reason upon it),
commerce, I say, is led by its own interests to study the
seasons, to give daily statements of the state of the crops, to
receive information from every part of the globe, to foresee
wants, to take precautions beforehand. It has vessels always
ready, correspondents everywhere; and it is its immediate
interest to buy at the lowest possible price, to economize in all
the details of its operations, and to attain the greatest results
by the smallest efforts. It is not the French merchants only who
are occupied in procuring provisions for France in time of need,
and if their interest leads them irresistibly to accomplish their
task at the smallest possible cost, the competition which they
create amongst each other leads them no less irresistibly to
cause the consumers to partake of the profits of those realized
savings. The corn arrives; it is to the interest of commerce to
sell it as soon as possible, so as to avoid risks, to realize its
funds, and begin again the first opportunity.
Directed by the comparison of prices, it distributes food over
the whole surface of the country, beginning always at the highest
price, that is, where the demand is the greatest. It is
impossible to imagine an organization more completely calculated
to meet the interest of those who are in want; and the beauty of
this organization, unperceived as it is by the Socialists,
results from the very fact that it is free. It is true, the
consumer is obliged to reimburse commerce for the expenses of
conveyance, freight, store-room, commission, &c.; but can any
system be devised, in which he who eats corn is not obliged to
defray the expenses, whatever they may be, of bringing it within
his reach? The remuneration for the service performed has to be
paid also: but as regards its amount, this is reduced to the
smallest possible sum by competition; and as regards its justice,
it would be very strange if the artisans of Paris would not work
for the artisans of Marseilles, when the merchants of Marseilles
work for the artisans of Paris.
If, according to the Socialist invention, the State were to stand
in the stead of commerce, what would happen? I should like to be
informed where' the saving would be to the public? Would it be in
the price of purchase? Imagine the delegates of 40,000 parishes
arriving at Odessa on a given day, and on the day of need;
imagine the effect upon prices. Would the saving be in the
expenses? Would fewer vessels be required, fewer sailors, fewer
transports, fewer sloops, or would you be exempt from the payment
of all these things? Would it be in the profits of the merchants?
Would your officials go to Odessa for nothing? Would they travel
and work on the principle of fraternity? Must they not live? must
not they be paid for their time? And do you believe that these
expenses would not exceed a thousand times the two or three per
cent which the merchant gains, at the rate at which he is ready
And then consider the difficulty of levying so many taxes, and of
dividing so much food. Think of the injustice, of the abuses
inseparable for such an enterprise. Think of the responsibility
which would weigh upon the Government.
The Socialists who have invented these follies, and who, in the
days of distress, have introduced them into the minds of the
masses, take to themselves literally the title of advanced men;
and it is not without some danger that custom, that tyrant of
tongues, authorizes the term, and the sentiment which it
involves. Advanced! This supposes that these gentlemen can see
further than the common people; that their only fault is, that
they are too much in advance of their age, and if the time is not
yet come for suppressing certain free services, pretended
parasites, the fault is to be attributed to the public, which is
in the rear of socialism. I say, from my soul and my conscience,
the reverse is the truth; and I know not to what barbarous age we
should have to go back, if we would find the level of Socialist
knowledge on this subject. These modern sectarians incessantly
oppose association to actual society. They overlook the fact,
that society, under a free regulation, is a true association, far
superior to any of those which proceed from their fertile
Let me illustrate this by an example. Before a man, when he gets
up in the morning, can put on a coat, ground must have been
enclosed, broken up, drained, tilled, and sown with a particular
kind of plant; flocks must have been fed, and have given their
wool; this wool must have been spun, woven, dyed, and converted
into cloth; this cloth must have been cut, sewed, and made into a
garment. And this series of operations implies a number of
others; it supposes the employment of instruments for ploughing,
&c., sheepfolds, sheds, coal, machines, carriages, &c.
If society were not a perfectly real association, a person who
wanted a coat would be reduced to the necessity of working in
solitude; that is, of performing for himself the innumerable
parts of this series, from the first stroke of the pickaxe to the
last stitch which concludes the work. But, thanks to the
sociability which is the distinguishing character of our race,
these operations are distributed amongst a multitude of workers;
and they are further subdivided, for the common good, to an
extent that, as the consumption becomes more active, one single
operation is able to support a new trade.
Then comes the division of the profits, which operates according
to the contingent value which each has brought to the entire
work. If this is not association, I should like to know what is.
Observe, that as no one of these workers has obtained the
smallest particle of matter from nothingness, they are confined
to performing for each other mutual services, and to helping each
other in a common object, and that all may be considered, with
respect to others, intermediates. If, for instance, in the course
of the operation, the conveyance becomes important enough to
occupy one person, the spinning another, the weaving another, why
should the first be considered a parasite more than the other
two? The conveyance must be made, must it not? Does not he who
performs it devote to it his time and trouble? and by so doing
does he not spare that of his colleagues? Do these do more or
other than this for him? Are they not equally dependent for
remuneration, that is, for the division of the produce, upon the
law of reduced price? Is it not in all liberty, for the common
good, that these arrangements are entered into? What do we want
with a Socialist then, who, under pretence of organizing for us,
comes despotically to break up our voluntary arrangements, to
check the division of labour, to substitute isolated efforts for
combined ones, and to send civilization back? Is association, as
I describe it here, in itself less association, because every one
enters and leaves it freely, chooses his place in it, judges and
bargains for himself on his own responsibility, and brings with
him the spring and warrant of personal interest? That it may
deserve this name, is it necessary that a pretended reformer
should come and impose upon us his plan and his will, and as it
were, to concentrate mankind in himself?
The more we examine these advanced schools, the more do we become
convinced that there is but one thing at the root of them:
ignorance proclaiming itself infallible, and claiming despotism
in the name of this infallibility.
I hope the reader will excuse this digression. It may not be
altogether useless, at a time when declamations, springing from
St. Simonian, Phalansterian, and Icarian books, are invoking the
press and the tribune, and which seriously threaten the liberty
of labour and commercial transactions.
VII. - RESTRICTIONS
M. Prohibant (it was not I who gave him this name, but M. Charles
Dupin) devoted his time and capital to converting the ore found
on his land into iron. As nature had been more lavish towards the
Belgians, they furnished the French with iron cheaper than M.
Prohibant, which means, that all the French, or France, could
obtain a given quantity of iron with less labour by buying it of
the honest Flemings; therefore, guided by their own interest,
they did not fail to do so, and every day there might be seen a
multitude of nail-smiths, blacksmiths, cartwrights, machinists,
farriers, and labourers, going themselves, or sending
intermediates, to supply themselves in Belgium. This displeased
M. Prohibant exceedingly.
At first, it occurred to him to put an end to this abuse by his
own efforts; it was the least he could do, for he was the only
sufferer. "I will take my carbine," said he; "I will put four
pistols into my belt; I will fill my cartridge box; I will gird
on my sword, and go thus equipped to the frontier. There, the
first blacksmith, nailsmith, farrier, machinist, or locksmith,
who presents himself to do his own business and not mine, I will
kill, to teach him how to live." At the moment of starting, M.
Prohibant made a few reflections which calmed down his warlike
ardour a little. He said to himself, "In the first place, it is
not absolutely impossible that the purchasers of iron, my
countrymen and enemies, should take the thing ill, and, instead
of letting me kill them, should kill me instead; and then, even
were I to call out all my servants, we should not be able to
defend the passages. In short, this proceeding would cost me very
dear; much more so than the result would be worth."
M. Prohibant was on the point of resigning himself to his sad
fate, that of being only as free as the rest of the world, when a
ray of light darted across his brain. He recollected that at
Paris there is a great manufactory of laws. "What is a law?" said
he to himself. "It is a measure to which, when once it is
decreed, be it good or bad, everybody is bound to conform. For
the execution of the same a public force is organized, and to
constitute the said public force, men and money are drawn from
the nation. If, then, I could only get the great Parisian
manufactory to pass a little law, 'Belgian iron is prohibited,' I
should obtain the following results: The Government would replace
the few valets that I was going to send to the frontier by 20,000
of the sons of those refractory blacksmiths, farmers, artisans,
machinists, locksmiths, nailsmiths, and labourers. Then, to keep
these 20,000 custom-house officers in health and good humour, it
would distribute amongst them 25,000,000 of francs, taken from
these blacksmiths, nailsmiths, artisans, and labourers. They
would guard the frontier much better; would cost me nothing; I
should not be exposed to the brutality of the brokers, should
sell the iron at my own price, and have the sweet satisfaction of
seeing our great people shamefully mystified. That would teach
them to proclaim themselves perpetually the harbingers and
promoters of progress in Europe. Oh! it would be a capital joke,
and deserves to be tried."
So M. Prohibant went to the law manufactory. Another time,
perhaps, I shall relate the story of his underhand dealings, but
now I shall merely mention his visible proceedings. He brought
the following consideration before the view of the legislating
"Belgian iron is sold in France at ten francs, which obliges me
to sell mine at the same price. I should like to sell at fifteen,
but cannot do so on account of this Belgian iron, which I wish
was at the bottom of the Red Sea. I beg you will make a law that
no more Belgian iron shall enter France. Immediately I raise my
price five francs, and these are the consequences: "For every
hundred-weight of iron that I shall deliver to the public, I
shall receive fifteen francs instead of ten; I shall grow rich
more rapidly, extend my traffic, and employ more workmen. My
workmen and I shall spend much more freely to the great advantage
of our tradesmen for miles around. These latter, having more
custom, will furnish more employment to trade, and activity on
both sides will increase in the country. This fortunate piece of
money, which you will drop into my strong-box, will, like a stone
thrown into a lake, give birth to an infinite number of
Charmed with his discourse, delighted to learn that it is so easy
to promote, by legislating, the prosperity of a people, the law-
makers voted the restriction. "Talk of labour and economy," they
said, "what is the use of these painful means of increasing the
national wealth, when all that is wanted for this object is a
And, in fact, the law produced all the consequences announced by
M. Prohibant; the only thing was, it produced others which he had
not foreseen. To do him justice, his reasoning was not false, but
only incomplete. In endeavouring to obtain a privilege, he had
taken cognizance of the effects which are seen, leaving in the
background those which are not seen. He had pointed out only two
personages, whereas there are three concerned in the affair. It
is for us to supply this involuntary or premeditated omission.
It is true, the crown-piece, thus directed by law into M.
Prohibant's strong-box, is advantageous to him and to those whose
labour it would encourage; and if the Act had caused the
crownpiece to descend from the moon, these good effects would not
have been counterbalanced by any corresponding evils.
Unfortunately, the mysterious piece of money does not come from
the moon, but from the pocket of a blacksmith, or a nail-smith,
or a cartwright, or a farrier, or a labourer, or a shipwright; in
a word, from James B., who gives it now without receiving a grain
more of iron than when he was paying ten francs. Thus, we can see
at a glance that this very much alters the state of the case; for
it is very evident that M. Prohibant's profit is compensated by
James B.'s loss, and all that M. Prohibant can do with the crown-
piece, for the encouragement of national labour, James B. might
have done himself. The stone has only been thrown upon one part
of the lake, because the law has prevented it from being thrown
Therefore, that which is not seen supersedes that which is seen,
and at this point there remains, as the residue of the operation,
a piece of injustice, and, sad to say, a piece of injustice
perpetrated by the law!
This is not all. I have said that there is always a third person
left in the back-ground. I must now bring him forward, that he
may reveal to us a second loss of five francs. Then we shall have
the entire results of the transaction.
James B. is the possessor of fifteen francs, the fruit of his
labour. He is now free. What does he do with his fifteen francs?
He purchases some article of fashion for ten francs, and with it
he pays (or the intermediate pay for him) for the hundred-weight
of Belgian iron. After this he has five francs left. He does not
throw them into the river, but (and this is what is not seen) he
gives them to some tradesman in exchange for some enjoyment; to a
bookseller, for instance, for Bossuet's "Discourse on Universal
Thus, as far as national labour is concerned, it is encouraged to
the amount of fifteen francs, viz.: -ten francs for the Paris
article; five francs to the bookselling trade.
As to James B., he obtains for his fifteen francs two
1st. A hundred-weight of iron.
2nd. A book.
The Decree is put in force. How does it affect the condition of
James B.? How does it affect the national labour?
James B. pays every centime of his five francs to M. Prohibant,
and therefore is deprived of the pleasure of a book, or of some
other thing of equal value. He loses five francs. This must be
admitted; it cannot fail to be admitted, that when the
restriction raises the price of things, the consumer loses the
But, then, it is said, national labour is the gainer.
No, it is not the gainer; for, since the Act, it is no more
encouraged than it was before, to the amount of fifteen francs.
The only thing is that, since the Act, the fifteen francs of
James B. go to the metal trade, while, before it was put in
force, they were divided between the milliner and the bookseller.
The violence used by M. Prohibant on the frontier, or that which
he causes to be used by the law, may be judged very differently
in a moral point of view. Some persons consider that plunder is
perfectly justifiable, if only sanctioned by law. But, for
myself, I cannot imagine anything more aggravating. However it
may be, the economical results are the same in both cases.
Look at the thing as you will; but if you are impartial, you will
see that no good can come of legal or illegal plunder. We do not
deny that it affords M. Prohibant, or his trade, or, if you will,
national industry, a profit of five francs. But we affirm that it
causes two losses, one to James B., who pays fifteen francs where
he otherwise would have paid ten; the other to national industry,
which does not receive the difference. Take your choice of these
two losses, and compensate with it the profit which we allow. The
other will prove not the less a dead loss. Here is the moral: To
take by violence is not to produce, but to destroy. Truly, if
taking by violence was producing, this country of ours would be a
little richer than she is.
VIII. - MACHINERY
"A curse on machines! Every year, their increasing power devotes
millions of workmen to pauperism, by depriving them of work, and
therefore of wages and bread. A curse on machines!"
This is the cry which is raised by vulgar prejudice, and echoed
in the journals.
But to curse machines, is to curse the spirit of humanity!
It puzzles me to conceive how any man can feel any satisfaction
in such a doctrine.
For, if true, what is its inevitable consequence? That there is
no activity, prosperity, wealth, or happiness possible for any
people, except for those who are stupid and inert, and to whom
God has not granted the fatal gift of knowing how to think, to
observe, to combine, to invent, and to obtain the greatest
results with the smallest means. On the contrary, rags, mean
huts, poverty, and inanition, are the inevitable lot of every
nation which seeks and finds in iron, fire, wind, electricity,
magnetism, the laws of chemistry and mechanics, in a word, in the
powers of nature, an assistance to its natural powers. We might
as well say with Rousseau -"Every man that thinks is a depraved
This is not all; if this doctrine is true, since all men think
and invent, since all, from first to last, and at every moment of
their existence, seek the cooperation of the powers of nature,
and try to make the most of a little, by reducing either the work
of their hands, or their expenses, so as to obtain the greatest
possible amount of gratification with the smallest possible
amount of labour, it must follow, as a matter of course, that the
whole of mankind is rushing towards its decline, by the same
mental aspiration towards progress, which torments each of its
Hence, it ought to be made known, by statistics, that the
inhabitants of Lancashire, abandoning that land of machines, seek
for work in Ireland, where they are unknown; and, by history,
that barbarism darkens the epochs of civilization, and that
civilization shaies in times of ignorance and barbarism.
There is evidently in this mass of contradictions something which
revolts us, and which leads us to suspect that the problem
contains within it an element of solution which has not been
Here is the whole mystery: behind that which is seen, lies
something which is not seen. I will endeavour to bring it to
light. The demonstration I shall give will only be a repetition
of the preceding one, for the problems are one and the same.
Men have a natural propensity to make the best bargain they can,
when not prevented by an opposing force; that is, they like to
obtain as much as they possibly can for their labour, whether the
advantage is obtained from a foreign producer, or a skillful
The theoretical objection which is made to this propensity is the
same in both cases. In each case it is reproached with the
apparent inactivity which it causes to labour. Now, labour
rendered available, not inactive, is the very thing which
determines it. And, therefore, in both cases, the same practical
obstacle -force, is opposed to it also. The legislator prohibits
foreign competition, and forbids mechanical competition. For what
other means can exist for arresting a propensity which is natural
to all men, but that of depriving them of their liberty?
In many countries, it is true, the legislator strikes at only one
of these competitions, and confines himself to grumbling at the
other. This only proves one thing, that is, that the legislator
Harm Of False Premise
We need not be surprised at this. On a wrong road, inconsistency
is inevitable; if it were not so, mankind would be sacrificed. A
false principle never has been, and never will be, carried out to
Now for our demonstration, which shall not be a long one.
James B. had two francs which he had gained by two workmen; but
it occurs to him, that an arrangement of ropes and weights might
be made which would diminish the labour by half. Thus he obtains
the same advantage, saves a franc, and discharges a workman.
He discharges a workman: this is that which is seen.
And seeing this only, it is said, "See how misery attends
civilization; this is the way that liberty is fatal to equality.
The human mind has made a conquest, and immediately a workman is
cast into the gulf of pauperism. James B. may possibly employ the
two workmen, but then he will gi