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The Candlemakers’ Petition

by Jeff Thomas, International Man:

French economist Frédéric Bastiat was a man far ahead of his time. He was a “classical liberal,” which today would identify him as a libertarian. He expanded upon the free-market argument set forth by Adam Smith in 1776.

In 1845, the French government levied protective tariffs on scores of items, from sewing needles to locomotives. The intent was to protect French industries from companies outside France that could produce the goods more cheaply.

The reaction from Mister Bastiat was to publish “The Candlemakers’ Petition,” a satirical proposal to the government that was intended to help them see the nonsense of protective tariffs.

The petition was presented as having been sent by “the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, Sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting.”

Their plea to the Chamber of Deputies was that the government 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.”

Mister Bastiat’s satirical petition did an exemplary job of exposing the tendency of governments to pander to special interest groups to the detriment of everyone else.

Throughout the ages, protective tariffs have been created for this purpose and, historically, they work only briefly, if at all.

In 1930, the US introduced the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which raised tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods. Not surprisingly, the source countries for those goods retaliated by passing their own tariffs against the importation of American goods.

The net effect, in addition to the new laws cancelling each other out, was that free trade took a major hit. Consumers in all countries affected had less access to a variety of goods, and the GDP of each nation suffered as overseas orders dried up.

Of course, the justification for Smoot-Hawley was that the US had suffered a stock market crash and the demand to protect surviving businesses was considerable. It’s not surprising, then, that whenever a given country finds itself in an economic squeeze, industry leaders shout “foul!” and governments appease them with tariffs.

Read More @ InternationalMan.com

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