David R. Henderson  

When Goods Don't Cross Borders, Armies Will

Farewell to a great historian... Only a Biologist Can Go to Uni...

One quote that Bastiat lovers--I include myself--love to cite is Bastiat's famous quote, "When goods don't cross borders, armies will." There's one little problem with the quote: he never said it.

He should have said it. One can imagine, with Bastiat's penchant for the pithy, that he would have said it. But in a thorough search of his on-line work conducted early this year, David Hart, an historian at Liberty Fund and a Bastiat expert and aficionado, finds that he didn't say it.

Here's what David Hart writes:

Following a lead provided by [Nicholas] Snow I've done a bit more digging and found that the quote comes from Otto T. Mallery (1881-1956) who wrote a book Economic Union and Durable Peace (Harper and Brothers, 1943). This sounds very like Bastiat but he does not cite Bastiat in the book.

For more Bastiat, see here and scroll down to Bastiat.

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CATEGORIES: International Trade

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Paul Walker writes:

I looked into the Bastiat non-quote a few years ago. The little I came up with is explained in the following blog posts: here and here.

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

Bastiat was before 1914 so did not live to see a highly integrated economy engage in civil war.

And goods were also passing borders in 1941.

Don Boudreaux writes:

To Bedarz Illaci: The argument is not that the slightest bit of international commerce ensures world peace; it is, rather, that the greater the commercial integration between two societies, the less likely are the governments of those societies to launch wars against each other. There is good empirical evidence for this proposition. See, for example, this 2006 paper by Solomon Polachek and Carlos Seiglie:

I first heard of Otto Mallery in Jeffry Frieden's 2006 book Global Capitalism (although in that book Frieden misspelled Mallery's name as "Maller"):


Eric Hanneken writes:

Good research, but why does David Hart believe that Otto T. Mallery got the idea from Bastiat?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Bedarz Iliaci,
What Don Boudreaux said.
Plus, notice that the quote doesn't say, "If goods do cross borders, armies won't." So your counterexamples are not counters to the claim at hand.

Socal Bill writes:

David, this is funny. A couple years ago I posted that same quote in the comments section here, attributing it to Bastiat and got my wrist slapped by your post screener. I felt embarrassed at first, but guess what, I still use the phrase and give Bastiat credit and people seem impressed...so there!

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

There is good empirical evidence for this proposition.

The greatest wars in the entire history were fought between the countries that were very well integrated and were advanced democracies to boot.

The claim that trade leads to peace implies that wars are generally rational.

The evidence for the proposition, does it weigh wars in some manner?

Otherwise, it would be like the famous IQ-wealth correlation that, without properly weighing the national populations, grants equal weights to China and Andorra.

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