8 votes

Frederic Bastiat's "Petition From the Manufacturers of Candles, Lanterns... and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting"


From the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, Candlesticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from the Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting.

To the Honorable Members of the Chamber of Deputies.


You are on the right track. You reject abstract theories and have little regard for abundance and low prices. You concern yourselves mainly with the fate of the producer. You wish to free him from foreign competition, that is, to reserve the domestic market for domestic industry.

We come to offer you a wonderful opportunity for applying your—what shall we call it? Your theory? No, nothing is more deceptive than theory. Your doctrine? Your system? Your principle? But you dislike doctrines, you have a horror of systems, and, as for principles, you deny that there are any in political economy; therefore we shall call it your practice—your practice without theory and without principle.

We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a foreign rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging war on us so mercilessly that we suspect he is being stirred up against us by perfidious Albion (excellent diplomacy nowadays!), particularly because he has for that haughty island a respect that he does not show for us.

We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds—in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country, a country that cannot, without betraying ingratitude, abandon us today to so unequal a combat.

Be good enough, honorable deputies, to take our request seriously, and do not reject it without at least hearing the reasons that we have to advance in its support.

First, if you shut off as much as possible all access to natural light, and thereby create a need for artificial light, what industry in France will not ultimately be encouraged?

If France consumes more tallow, there will have to be more cattle and sheep, and, consequently, we shall see an increase in cleared fields, meat, wool, leather, and especially manure, the basis of all agricultural wealth.

If France consumes more oil, we shall see an expansion in the cultivation of the poppy, the olive, and rapeseed. These rich yet soil-exhausting plants will come at just the right time to enable us to put to profitable use the increased fertility that the breeding of cattle will impart to the land.

Our moors will be covered with resinous trees. Numerous swarms of bees will gather from our mountains the perfumed treasures that today waste their fragrance, like the flowers from which they emanate. Thus, there is not one branch of agriculture that would not undergo a great expansion.

The same holds true of shipping. Thousands of vessels will engage in whaling, and in a short time we shall have a fleet capable of upholding the honor of France and of gratifying the patriotic aspirations of the undersigned petitioners, chandlers, etc.

But what shall we say of the specialties of Parisian manufacture? Henceforth you will behold gilding, bronze, and crystal in candlesticks, in lamps, in chandeliers, in candelabra sparkling in spacious emporia compared with which those of today are but stalls.

There is no needy resin-collector on the heights of his sand dunes, no poor miner in the depths of his black pit, who will not receive higher wages and enjoy increased prosperity.

It needs but a little reflection, gentlemen, to be convinced that there is perhaps not one Frenchman, from the wealthy stockholder of the Anzin Company to the humblest vendor of matches, whose condition would not be improved by the success of our petition.

We anticipate your objections, gentlemen; but there is not a single one of them that you have not picked up from the musty old books of the advocates of free trade. We defy you to utter a word against us that will not instantly rebound against yourselves and the principle that guides your entire policy.

Will you tell us that, though we may gain by this protection, France will not gain at all, because the consumer will bear the expense?

We have our answer ready:

You no longer have the right to invoke the interests of the consumer. You have sacrificed him whenever you have found his interests opposed to those of the producer. You have done so in order to encourage industry and to increase employment. For the same reason you ought to do so this time too.

Indeed, you yourselves have anticipated this objection. When told that the consumer has a stake in the free entry of iron, coal, sesame, wheat, and textiles, "Yes," you reply, "but the producer has a stake in their exclusion." Very well! Surely if consumers have a stake in the admission of natural light, producers have a stake in its interdiction.

"But," you may still say, "the producer and the consumer are one and the same person. If the manufacturer profits by protection, he will make the farmer prosperous. Contrariwise, if agriculture is prosperous, it will open markets for manufactured goods." Very well! If you grant us a monopoly over the production of lighting during the day, first of all we shall buy large amounts of tallow, charcoal, oil, resin, wax, alcohol, silver, iron, bronze, and crystal, to supply our industry; and, moreover, we and our numerous suppliers, having become rich, will consume a great deal and spread prosperity into all areas of domestic industry.

Will you say that the light of the sun is a gratuitous gift of Nature, and that to reject such gifts would be to reject wealth itself under the pretext of encouraging the means of acquiring it?

But if you take this position, you strike a mortal blow at your own policy; remember that up to now you have always excluded foreign goods because and in proportion as they approximate gratuitous gifts. You have only half as good a reason for complying with the demands of other monopolists as you have for granting our petition, which is in complete accord with your established policy; and to reject our demands precisely because they are better founded than anyone else's would be tantamount to accepting the equation: in other words, it would be to heap absurdity upon absurdity.

Labor and Nature collaborate in varying proportions, depending upon the country and the climate, in the production of a commodity. The part that Nature contributes is always free of charge; it is the part contributed by human labor that constitutes value and is paid for.

If an orange from Lisbon sells for half the price of an orange from Paris, it is because the natural heat of the sun, which is, of course, free of charge, does for the former what the latter owes to artificial heating, which necessarily has to be paid for in the market.

Thus, when an orange reaches us from Portugal, one can say that it is given to us half free of charge, or, in other words, at half price as compared with those from Paris.

Now, it is precisely on the basis of its being semigratuitous (pardon the word) that you maintain it should be barred. You ask: "How can French labor withstand the competition of foreign labor when the former has to do all the work, whereas the latter has to do only half, the sun taking care of the rest?" But if the fact that a product is half free of charge leads you to exclude it from competition, how can its being totally free of charge induce you to admit it into competition? Either you are not consistent, or you should, after excluding what is half free of charge as harmful to our domestic industry, exclude what is totally gratuitous with all the more reason and with twice the zeal.

To take another example: When a product—coal, iron, wheat, or textiles—comes to us from abroad, and when we can acquire it for less labor than if we produced it ourselves, the difference is a gratuitous gift that is conferred upon us. The size of this gift is proportionate to the extent of this difference. It is a quarter, a half, or three-quarters of the value of the product if the foreigner asks of us only three-quarters, one-half, or one-quarter as high a price. It is as complete as it can be when the donor, like the sun in providing us with light, asks nothing from us. The question, and we pose it formally, is whether what you desire for France is the benefit of consumption free of charge or the alleged advantages of onerous production. Make your choice, but be logical; for as long as you ban, as you do, foreign coal, iron, wheat, and textiles, in proportion as their price approaches zero, how inconsistent it would be to admit the light of the sun, whose price is zero all day long !



Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Bump for more to see, thanks

Bump for more to see, thanks for this.

This is hilarious. Bastiat is

This is hilarious. Bastiat is a genius.

The funniest part? I remember hearing that Britain, at one time, actually adopted such a ridiculous measure by creating a tax based on how many windows one's home had.

Simple Facts and Plain Arguments
A common sense take on politics and current events.


Cyril's picture

You're much welcome.

You're much welcome.

For so long ignored, so, so, so so long...

His time has come, too, for truth.

Keep sharing far and wide.

Let's keep debunk the Supermen Fraudulent Idea.

Let's keep denouncing the lie.

Let's keep denouncing what can ONLY fail justice.

Let's keep standing and speaking out:

For free markets.

For sound money.

For fair trade.

For liberty.

"Cyril" pronounced "see real". I code stuff.


"To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." -- Confucius



'Stulta and Puera'

Once upon a time there were, no matter where, two cities, Stulta and Puera. At great expense they built a highway from one to the other. When it was completed, Stulta said to herself: "Here is Puera flooding us with her products; we must do something about it." Consequently, she created and salaried a corps of Obstructors, so called because their function was to set up obstacles in the way of traffic from Puera. Soon afterward, Puera also had a corps of Obstructors.

At the end of several centuries, during which there had been great advances in knowledge, Puera became sufficiently enlightened to see that these mutual obstacles could only be mutually harmful. She sent a diplomat to Stulta, who, except for official phraseology, spoke in this wise: "First we built a highway, and now we are obstructing it. That is absurd. It would have been better to have left things as they were. We should not, in that case, have had to pay, first for the highway, and then for the obstructions. In the name of Puera, I come to propose to you, not that we remove all at once the obstacles we have erected against each other—for that would be acting in accordance with a principle, and we despise principles as much as you do—but that we lessen these obstacles a little, taking care to balance equitably our respective sacrifices in this regard."

Thus spoke the diplomat. Stulta asked for time to consider the proposal. She consulted by turns her manufacturers and her farmers. Finally, after several years, she declared that she was breaking off the negotiations.

On receiving this news, the inhabitants of Puera held a meeting. An old man (it has always been suspected that he was secretly in the pay of Stulta) rose and said: "The obstacles created by Stulta are a hindrance to the sale of our goods to her. That is a misfortune. Those that we ourselves have created are a hindrance to our purchases from her. That too is a misfortune. There is nothing we can do about the first situation, but we can do something about the second. Let us deliver ourselves at least from that one, since we cannot eliminate them both. Let us remove our Obstructors without demanding that Stulta do the same. Some day, no doubt, she will come to know her own interests better."

A second councillor, a practical man of affairs, undefiled by principles and reared on the venerable experience of his ancestors, replied: "Do not listen to this dreamer, this theorist, this innovator, this utopian, this economist, this Stultophile. We should all be lost if the obstacles on the highway between Stulta and Puera were not equalized and kept in perfect balance. It would be more difficult to go than to come, and to export than to import. We should be, in relation to Stulta, in the same situation of inferiority in which Le Havre, Nantes, Bordeaux, Lisbon, London, Hamburg, and New Orleans find themselves in relation to the cities located at the headwaters of the Seine, the Loire, the Garonne, the Tagus, the Thames, the Elbe, and the Mississippi; for it is more difficult to go upstream than downstream."

A voice: "The cities at the mouths of rivers have prospered more than those at the headwaters."

"That is impossible."

Same voice: "But it is a fact."

"Very well, then they have prospered against the rules."

Reasoning so conclusive convinced the assembly. The orator followed up his victory by speaking of national independence, national honor, national dignity, domestic industry, inundation by foreign products, tribute paid to foreigners, and murderous competition; in short, his motion in favor of the maintenance of obstacles was carried; and if you are at all curious about the matter, I can take you into a certain country where you will see with your own eyes highway maintenance men and obstructors working side by side in the most friendly way in the world, under laws enacted by the same legislative assembly, and at the expense of the same taxpayers, the former to clear the road, and the latter to block it.

Cyril's picture

My comment:

My comment:

I interpret this text from Bastiat as his denouncing the absurdity of the law makers and regulators to stubbornly wish to control the markets, against the laws of nature, and denying the free markets' demand/supply laws.

"Cyril" pronounced "see real". I code stuff.


"To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." -- Confucius