As for the shortage of work that is created by machines, there has never been a larger misunderstanding since the world was created.

Richard Cobden, translated by Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works, Volume 3, pages 179 to 189 (in French)
Opera House, May 13th 1843

In this first weekly speech at the Opera House, Richard Cobden touches upon the three essential themes that are monopoly, Luddism and peace. Concerning the first theme, we can read between the lines about the issue of public choice that will be developed a century later by James McGill Buchanan and Gordon Tullock when he exposes the conflicts of interest in parliament, the members of which are “wheat and meat merchants” and he reminds us “What is the monopoly on bread? It is bread shortage”. The third theme is touched upon in the conclusion when he asserts that commercial freedom is “the only human way to unite all nations through the bonds of a sustainable peace”.

Today’s quote is to be found at the heart of a development on Luddism (which he does not call as such) in which he illustrates what “machines” are and the productivity gains that they create. He exposes the inconsistency of those who complain about them but use them on a daily basis themselves, as these fishermen who work with a net and do not use “lines and hooks”. He also shows that the machines that are in use in the county of Lancaster have led to a domestic “immigration” from the neighbouring counties in order to face the workload increase rather than reducing the need for labour.

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