Two fertile sources of income were made available to the younger sons: the Treasury and the colonial system.

Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works, Volume 3, pages 20 to 30

Frédéric Bastiat gives us here an interesting and original explanation to the existence of the colonial system. We know that the mercantilist argument is that it extends the market – considering that countries prohibited international commerce through tariffs, conquering colonies allowed to open new markets for domestic products and buy colonial ressources for the domestic market. He gives us a more pedestrian explanation. Due to the fact that nobility considered labour as “infamous”, it was necessary to give a situation to their younger sons (who did not inherit the family Estate). The standard way was to place them in the clergy or in the army. Colonisation was a way to justify the formation of a large army and navy as well as its maintenance. Thus, colonies were less of a market for products (which would have circulated in a free-trade system as well) than a market to place the younger sons of nobility, all financed by government.

Besides, England had then already experimented with decolonisation in America. Frédéric Bastiat, supported by official figures, shows that the mercantilist argument is bunk and that trade between England and the United States (as well as England and France) developed in a much stronger way since independence than between England and its 45 colonies of the time.

Frédéric Bastiat was convinced that liberalisation that was occurring in England would lead to decolonisation. He may have been too optimistic on the timeframe (it took a little over a century from then on) but he was not wrong on that count. He gives us here all the arguments explaining his point of view.

Pages 1 to 6 – Pages 6 to 20 – Pages 20 to 30 – Pages 30 to 38 – Pages 38 to 56 – Pages 56 to 72 – Pages 72 to 80

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