Bastiat and the always-popular “Theory of Scarcity”

Which is preferable for man and for society, abundance or scarcity?

“What!” people may exclaim. “How can there be any question about it? Has anyone ever suggested, or is it possible to maintain, that scarcity is the basis of man’s well-being?”

Yes, this has been suggested; yes, this has been maintained and is maintained every day, and I do not hesitate to say that the theory of scarcity is by far the most popular of all theories. It is the burden of conversations, newspaper articles, books, and political speeches; and, strange as it may seem, it is certain that political economy will not have a completed its task and performed its practical function until it has popularized and established as indisputable this very simple proposition: “Wealth consists in an abundance of commodities.”

Do we not hear it said every day: “Foreigners are going to flood us with their products”? Thus, people fear abundance.

Has not M. de Saint-Cricq7* said: “There is overproduction”? Thus, he was afraid of abundance.

Do not the workers wreck machines? Thus, they are afraid of overproduction, or—in other words—of abundance.

Has not M. Bugeaud8* uttered these words: “Let bread be dear, and the farmer will be rich”? Now, bread can be dear only because it is scarce. Thus, M. Bugeaud was extolling scarcity.

Has not M. d’Argout9* based his argument against the sugar industry on its very productivity? Has he not said again and again: “The sugar beet has no future, and its cultivation cannot be extended, because just a few hectares of sugar beets in each department10* would be enough to supply all the consumers in France”? Thus, as he sees things, good consists in barrenness and scarcity; and evil, in fertility and abundance.

Do not La Presse, Le Commerce, and the majority of the daily newspapers publish one or more articles every morning to prove to the Chambers11* and to the government that it is sound policy to legislate higher prices for everything through manipulation of the tariff? Do not the Chambers and the government every day comply with this injunction from the press? But tariffs raise the prices of things only because they reduce their supply in the market! Thus, the newspapers, the Chambers, and the government put the theory of scarcity into practice, and I was right to say that this theory is by far the most popular of all theories.

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