The book “Economic sophism” was published around 1840 in the then language, and the translator tried to maintain the weight of the meaning of the then language. The book is an attempt to refute the contentions raised against the implementation of free trade targeted towards the ideas of the protectionists; that is based on errors and sophisms about the status of foreign trade. The major reason for this book is to appeal to reason concerning the ideas of protectionism or free trade by playing around with the ideas of the architects of sophism; whose arguments he uses against their erratic formations. The writer talks of the dangers of subsidies, tariffs, and protectionism on free trade about the sophist views regarding protectionism and the need fulfillment process.
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The author’s thesis in this book is to reduce the erroneous ideas and half-truths of the sophists through exposing the sophism in their ideas, by getting the readers to think beyond the initial results of the ideas but also considering the long-term implications of their contentions. Through this he hopes to expose the area of protectionism; practical obstacles on the way of need fulfillment; currency depletion; and acquired rights.
In the first chapter the author talks of abundance and scarcity; where he argues that abundance works against the welfare of Man’s wellbeing and scarcity to the advantage of his welfare. As a justification for this; the writer argues that when there is overproduction of a given commodity, the prices of the given good become as low as possible based on the operation of the law of scarcity. On the other hand when a given commodity is scarce the price it fetches always increases, as the producer expects to get higher returns in proportion to the scarcity due to the high demand associated with the scarce nature of the product. From the forces of production it is evident that wealth increases with the better use of resources and labor force. On the other hand it is evident that the policy-making institutions and governments; raise the tariffs on products to raise their prices and as a result cut down its abundance. Therefore as a measure to ensure that all producers are favored through artificial rising of prices of products; to bring about scarcity goods through protectionist restrictive measures like the elimination of machinery and other measures to avoid overproduction. The author at this point gives the contrast between the needs of the producer, who is favored by the scarcity that leads to higher prices and the consumer who is favored by abundance that leads to low prices. This phenomenon of scarcity is created by those in the market by eliminating their rivals through technical means; which leads to the understanding that labor is not an end in itself but a means. Explained are also antisocial attitudes like the physician hoping that people’s health deteriorates so as to get his services needed. This in the long run means that if these secret wishes of individuals were to be met; the world would retrogress in the direction of Barbarism where every producer and good would ban the rival until total scarcity would be attained making the welfare of men fade away. However it is evident that perfect harmony is achieved when the immediate self-interest of the customer is balanced with the general interest; because all the needs and wants are met soundly. This balance helps ensure that selfish interests like monopoly are not executed using policies and other tools, against opposing parties like the seller against the buyer. However these laws and regulations are either injurious or ineffective.
In the second chapter the author talks of obstacles and causes that often lead to the mistaking of scarcity for abundance. In the course of satisfying wants there are obstacles that are often mistaken to be the causes of needs and which are solved by labor. Some of the obstacles that lie between birth and the grave include the need for food; protection from adverse weather; prevention from diseases, and are met through activities like fishing, hunting and building. From the livelihood of mankind it is also evident that the life of individuals and the society, in general, would be easier, if the obstacles were easier to overcome and as few as can be. This phenomenon leads to individuals confusing the obstacles for cause and wants for wealth; that further leads to the division of labor where individuals address one another’s obstacles. This situation leads to the individual perceiving the immediate cause for his prosperity as being the obstacle that he overcomes for the others. Examples under this area include hunger for the farmer; ignorance for the teacher and illnesses for the doctor. It also goes without saying that the bigger the obstacle the more manpower it employs therefore creating more wealth, which further leads to the proscription of machinery.
In the third chapter the author talks of effort and result that constitute the productive capacities employed to achieve the result of satisfying the obstacles. The question about the measure of an individual’s wellbeing is then; if it amounts from the result of the effort or the effort itself. Both sides of the argument have received support from political economists in the argument that wealth is the result of labor and on the other hand that effort itself constitutes and is the measure of wealth.
In the fourth chapter the author talks of equalizing the conditions of production under the situation where tariffs are put in place to support the production of the home country or institution; so as to be able to compete with the products of the competitors of the given business. This is the case when a country protects the market of its products by placing tariffs and subsidies, to be able to compete with the foreign producers who supply the same products at cheaper prices. The author here argues that to encourage the conditions of free trade, the conditions of trade and production should be universal for all producers foreign and home-based; without the use of protective tariffs and leveling the terms of exchange.
The fifth chapter of the book talks of the levying of taxes on foreign products so as to neutralize the effects of the tax imposed on domestic products. Due to this insincerity and imposition of selfish interests, the conditions of free trade are compromised as the taxes render the conditions of production in the foreign countries less favorable than in the country that is free of the taxes.
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In the sixth chapter the author talks of the balance of trade; which is the difference between the values of products exported from that of those imported. The author argues that nations lose money through foreign trade to other foreign countries. An example of this situation is that of France that imports 200 million francs more than it exports. This simply translates that the 200 million Francs used on the excessive importation are drawn from the state’s savings that result in to ruin of the economy.
In the seventh chapter the author talks of petitions made to invoke the interests of the consumer; in the cases that their interests go against those of the producer. This is done with the view of encouraging the increase of levels of employment and industrial performance; through improving the profitability of producers through protection that directly impacts the productivity of raw material producers among other parties within the economic network.
In the eighth chapter the author evaluates the issue of differential tariffs; here he accounts that the more a state receives in exchange for a specified amount of products, the more impoverished it becomes due to the effect of the differential application of tariffs. In the tenth chapter the author talks of the immense discoveries involved in overcoming the costs of transportation among other obstacles. The author further argues that the revenues used in funding these efforts cost the customer more on importing certain goods than others that are similar. As a solution to the price problem the author proposes that the price of the two products should be leveled to compensate for each other’s low and excessive costs. With this, a price drop for the highly custom duty charged product is realized. Chapter ten talks of reciprocity where fair trade should be based on both parties eliminating associated barriers, to make foreign trade more efficient. Chapter eleven talks of money prices as they affect the price of labor and living conditions then in chapter twelve; the author talks of the protectionism policies that make individuals pay more prices while receiving a proportionate increase in wages. In the long run this does not bring much of a difference in the financial status of individuals.
In chapter thirteen the author talks of the activists of free trade; as being theorists who never make practice of the free trade theories they theorize. In chapter fourteen he talks of the conflict of principles; on whether the government should compel the local or the foreign consumers towards the benefit of its domestic industry. In chapter fifteen the author argues that for a nation to avoid trade isolation it should be ready to sell produce out; to receive reciprocal produce from the other nations. In chapter sixteen the author talks of obstructed rivers and improved transport and communication as activists for the protectionists due to the price drop; that result from the improved transportation to raise the prices so as to maintain the competition from local producers. The author in chapter seventeen talks of negative transport networks; that are broken between the source and destination so as to create service and business opportunities at the stop area. In chapter eighteen the author talks of the lack of absolute principles on whether the law should permit free trade or forbid international trade in the fear for the local market.
In chapter nineteen the author talks of the nationalist independence notion that is employed in support of the protectionist scheme; while in the twentieth chapter he talks of the alternate use of human and mechanical labor; foreign against domestic labor, with the view to create more employment for the domestic population by eliminating the competition on local human labor. In chapter twenty one the author talks of raw materials where he argues that the best exchange is that which involves the importation of raw materials in exchange for manufactured goods; for the reason that the raw materials are the center of life for domestic labor in the process of conversion to finished goods. In chapter twenty the author argues of the distortion of elaborate theories with time; to make poisonous metaphors that threaten the progress of civilization and trade.
The evidence used in this book is very exclusive, descriptive and highly persuasive as seen from the quoted phrase “France imports 200 million above its exports. Therefore France loses 200 million every year”. The book is very persuasive because it’s interactive and involving to the audience as can be seen from the quoted phrase; “Tell me, workers, suppose a man were to stand on the dock…”
The intended audiences of this book include; common citizens, workers, protectionists, traders, and virtually everyone involved in the free trade vs. protectionist campaign. The author would have been more persuasive to the audience and the readers if he was to carry out some interviews; that he would document to account for the views of the different parties. The author’s style of writing is excellent as he uses an interactive writing approach, and argues out the different ideas from different perspectives. The writing is very animated and engaging as he seems to address the reader one on one and he also addresses different parties in the book. The accessibility of the book is not the best as the different-sided approach to the topic makes the ideas repetitive and rather complex.
Frederick Bastiat was a French politician and economist who were wrongfully ignored in France; despite his recognition as an author of great significance by many foreign countries. More information about him is covered by Subir Grewal and the “Ludwig Von Mises Institute”. Some of the information given includes his life ranging from 1801-1850; being a member of the French liberal; marshaled logic; and being an excellent wit in the way of comprehending the society.
The sophism covered in this paper covers the areas of protectionism policy; practical obstacles in economies; attained rights; and currency variations. However, all the sophisms covered in this work have a common root that is much based on the disregard of men’s wellbeing at their level as consumers. It can also be argued that result with less or without effort is the phenomena the trade sector holds, rather than the effort without result phenomena. Also discussed are the personal views regarding the book from the writer’s point of view.
Bastiat, Frederic. “Economic sophisms / by F. Bastiat. Trans: from the 5th edition of the French, by P.J. Stirling Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1873.