A Negative Railway

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This article was first published in the first series of Economic Sophisms (1845). The Mises Institute has republished it in The Bastiat Collection (2007).

I have said that when, unfortunately, one has regard to the interest of the producer – and not to that of the consumer – it is impossible to avoid running counter to the general interest, because the demand of the producer as such is only for efforts, wants, and obstacles.

I find a remarkable illustration of this in a Bordeaux newspaper.

Mr. Simiot proposes this question:

Should the proposed railway from Paris to Madrid offer a break of continuity at Bordeaux?

He answers the question in the affirmative, and gives a multiplicity of reasons, which I shall not stop to examine except this one:

The railway from Paris to Bayonne should have a break at Bordeaux for if goods and passengers are forced to stop at that town, profits will accrue to bargemen, porters, commissionaires, hotel-keepers, etc.

Here we have clearly the interest of labor put before the interest of consumers.

But if Bordeaux has a right to profit by a gap in the line of railway, and if such profit is consistent with the public interest, then Angouleme, Poitiers, Tours, Orleans, nay, more – all the intermediate places (Ruffec, Chatellerault, etc.) – should also demand gaps as being for the general interest and, of course, for the interest of national industry. For the more these breaks in the line are multiplied, the greater will be the increase of consignments, commissions, trans-shipments, etc., along the whole extent of the railway.

In this way, we shall succeed in having a line of railway composed of successive gaps, and which may be denominated a Negative Railway.

Let the protectionists say what they will, it is not less certain that the principle of restriction is the very same as the principle of gaps: the sacrifice of the consumer’s interest to that of the producer – in other words, the sacrifice of the end to the means.

Reprinted from Mises.org.

Frdric Bastiat was the great French proto-Austrolibertarian whose polemics and analytics run circles around every statist clich. His primary desire as a writer was to reach people in the most practical way with the message of the moral and material urgency of freedom.

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