Imagine a light company trying to sue the sun for stealing its jobs. Sounds ridiculous, but these types of protectionist complaints actually happen today in real life. In Frédéric Bastiat’s “Candlestick Makers Petition” he uses satire to explain protectionism. But his comical piece later turned into a reality when a landscaping labor union tried to sue goats for stealing their jobs.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: So our listeners are no stranger to Frederic Bastiat or Bastiat, as they would say in France, I guess. We’ve talked about him quite a bit, but that’s because he’s really important. In fact, when people ask me how I first got into Liberty and Free Markets, I always tell them it started by reading his book, the Law, and of course the Tuttle twins. We have the version of the law as well. So if you don’t have that one, pick that one up. But today I wanna talk about another essay he wrote, and this one is called The Candle Maker or Candlestick Maker Petition. And it’s hilarious. It’s probably one of my favorite things he’s written. And you and I have both commented that we love Boston because he is a little bit sassy, right? He’s a little bit, yeah. Right. He’s a little bit edgy in his writing. And this to me is one of his Sassiest writings, and that’s because it’s satire. And satire is when someone uses humor or exaggerates something to expose something ridiculous that is occurring in the world. Something true. So the site Babylon Bead, they do this a lot. And I believe Connor, didn’t you do a podcast episode with them recently?
Connor: Yeah, I did. So, I guess we can link to that on the show notes page for people who want to see, they’re, a fun team over there and you know, they’re not the first one. There still is a company called The Onion, that does satire, but I feel.
Brittany: They’re not funny anymore.
Connor: Yeah, they’re not really funny anymore and no one really hears from them anymore, but, they’re, you know, they do it as well. Clearly these guys, none of these guys invented satire, but, what satire does so well is it makes a point, it makes an argument in a way that brings humor, which I think is always really important, especially with like controversial or awful things. And, it also helps expose the hypocrisy of the other person. satire can often show why the other person is, is wrong when they think they’re right or point out, as I said, hypocrisy where they say they’re doing something, but they’re not actually doing that thing. They’re kind of pretending. And satire is often a good way at kind of poking a little bit at them and being like, no, you’re not quite right. It’s just a fairly effective way of communicating. And anyone who’s watched the Babylon Bee, like on Instagram or Facebook, you know exactly what we’re talking about because these guys, especially like during the pandemic and, and all this stuff, they pointed out, you know, the silliness of so much of what these big government people have been doing.
Brittany: I think that’s absolutely right. And I wanted to before I dive into this, I’m actually gonna put, you on the spot a little bit here, and I want you to tell our listeners, we’ve talked about it before, but I want you to remind them what protectionism means and then we’ll get into the satire.
Connor: Okay? Yeah, cuz because what Bastiat’s talking about in this essay, which is a phenomenal essay, we’ll link, we’ll page, so that’s Tuttletwins.com/podcast. He’s using satire, but he is, the issue he’s talking about in his satire is Brittany, well, you just said it’s protectionism. And so we talk about this in the Tuttle twins and the food truck fiasco. If you our listeners remember that story, Bob’s big barbecue, right Bob, he’s getting his buddy, the mayor and the city to create laws that punish food trucks. And so the food trucks are being negatively impacted because of what the government did. The government created a law that benefited certain businesses or a certain industry over others. And so when the government protects someone against someone else’s competition, that is protectionism.
Brittany: Yep. And that’s a great way to put it. And this is like you said, this essay is all about protectionism. So to set the stage for it, so during this time, it was about 1840s protectionism was becoming a huge problem in France. And you and I talked in a previous episode about the French Revolution being very kind of not kind of socialist, communist, right? So this is one of those things that they love, they want the government to protect people’s jobs, want them to protect certain businesses. So in 1845, excuse me, that was happening. And so Bastiat wrote what was called like an open letter. So he wrote like published in like a newspaper kind of thing where you just write an open letter to someone. He wrote his to the French Parliament, which is like their Congress, it would be like their Senate and their House of Representatives. But he did it on, and I’m gonna quote what he calls it here on behalf of manufacturers of candles, tapers, lanterns sticks, street lamps, snuffers extinguishers, producers of tallow oil, resin alcohol, and generally everything connected with lighting. So all those words that I said that you’re thinking, what does that mean? All of them have to do with some sort of artificial form of flight. So like a candle, right? So we talked about before, you know, the founders wrote the declaration and they listed all their grievances against the king. Well, in Bastiat’s essay, he’s listing the grievances from the candlestick maker’s perspective, and they’re talking about their greatest enemy, which in this case is the sun, which I think is hilarious, So Bastiat is joking, but he’s hilariously calling for the government to regulate the sun in order to protect the light industry from competition. So think about that for a second, how silly that is and how silly that sounds. So he’s hitting here in one line, he says, we are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it in an incredibly low price. Well, connect that a little.
Connor: I just gotta say that part always makes me laugh. He’s basically saying the sun is like an unfair competitor. Yes. And he is calling on parliament to like shut it down. Right? And so, I actually, love what he says next. I’m gonna read it and then, unpack it a bit. So he is basically, as I said, calling on parliament to regulate the sun, or, here’s what he says. We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside, shutters, curtains, casements, bullseye, blah, blah blah. Kind of goes on in short, all openings, holes, chinks and fishers through which the light of the sun is want to enter houses to the detriment of the fair industries with which we are proud to say we have endowed the country, a country that cannot, without betraying in gratitude, abandon us today to so unequal a combat. The end of that got a little confusing. What he’s saying is like, Hey, parliament, please pass a law, right? Making, requiring everyone to close all their blinds, their shutters, their curtains to block out the light because of this important industry of, you know, candlestick makers and these other, all the different people, if you remember the miraculous pencil and like all the things that go into making a pencil and the list that you read, Brittany, he’s going like the tall and the oil, and like all these things, those are all components of making a candle. And so all of the people involved in the various like ingredients and parts of a candlestick, are all impacted by the sun, right? Because they’re all, oh, the, the sun is comp. Like we could sell way more candles if only parliament would pass a law saying that, you know, you had to, to shut all these things. And so he is basically saying that he’s pointing out that they want protectionism in this satire. So he later says, and this isn’t very subtle of a jab, aimed at members of parliament who often, you know, they often pretended and Congress today, they still pretend, yeah, still do to support consumers or customers by creating these monopolies. it’s for their own-wellbeing, right? So here’s, what bo like this happens all the time today. The Congress will like regulate things and be like, oh, this is for the good of consumers when really, really it’s just about helping certain parts of the industry to be shielded from the competition. What what’s really good for consumers is when you have competition, cuz that’s gonna drive prices down. But when you know congress or the government comes in and creates laws that protect right, it keeps prices high because you don’t get that competition. And so here’s what Bastiat continues to say. He says, you no longer have the right to invoke the interests of the consumer. You have sacrificed him whenever you have found his interests opposed to those of the producer, in this case, candlestick makers. You have done so in order to encourage industry and to increase employment for the same reason you ought to do so this time too. So, you know, we’ll link to the whole essay so that you can read. But as ridiculous as this is Bastiat letter, as I was just saying with like congress, like, you, you don’t really, this isn’t fiction, right? Like and this wasn’t just France 200 years ago. This is happening in America today.
Brittany: Yes. And in fact, now I get to share one of my favorite stories, and I wrote about this, I guess four years ago now. But, so at the University of Michigan, there was a local union and they had an exclusive contract, which means they had like, they can only work with one group. So the school had a contract where they could only work with labor representatives to do their landscaping, which means like mowing lawn planting, plants, things like that. So in this case, mowing the lawn is what became a big issue. So there was a lot of poisonous brush, which just means like, bushes, things like that. And overgrown vegetation, same thing. So it’s like high grass, things like that. And this was extremely difficult for humans to remove. And this is all on the college campus. And it became even worse during the summer months when everything was growing. So the university decided to utilize goats to get the job done. So they rented a team of 20 goats from a local resident. So like the whole economy was, you know, actually benefiting from this. They were borrowing some goats and the livestock they were expected to complete, I think it was 15 acres, which is a pretty decent size. They were gonna clear all that brush before the students returned to the campus in the fall. But the union freaked out and started accusing the goats of stealing their jobs.
Brittany: Yes. So this whole thing is ridiculous. And it sounds obviously very similar to the candlestick maker petition, except for that was written as a joke and this was not. So side note unions, we’ve talked about unions before, but unions are a group of people who, what’s called a collective bargain. And so they speak on behalf of a group of workers and a lot of time there’s a lot of abuse that goes on. So they can get special government privileges like this that let them, that basically says, we’re the only people who are allowed to do this job and we have to get paid this amount to do it, and maybe we’re only gonna work a few hours a day. So unions are, there are some private unions, but for the most part, unions are as ridiculous as the story I’m about to finish telling. So, you know, where Bastiat used the satire to actually make fun of something, this was happening in real life and the union didn’t even realize how ridiculous they were being, and the goats ended up being harder workers than the union employees. And they finished the work at a fraction of the time, which just made the union even angrier. So the goats had been rented for the season and they were still in the care of the university, but it’s, you have to feed goats, right? Right. So the university was like, you know what, we’re just gonna let them graze on campus. They already finished their job, we’re gonna let them graze on campus, they can eat the grass, like kill two birds with one stone. That’s great. Okay. So then, then the union gets so mad because it turns out they’re mowing the lawn and they’re more cost-effective at mowing the lawns. So the campus is thinking like, this is great, we just saved money. So.
This is crazy to me, right? Because like, here’s the union thinking that they have like a monopoly on landscaping, right? Yeah. Like they’re complaining about these goats and like, you know, I remember this story, the unions actually said that these like goat crews, had crews of ghosts, groups of goats were jeopardizing the livelihoods of their members. Like the landscapers who were outta work. They claim these animals have like stolen jobs from their members since the goats offered like the same service at a lower cost. And so they were arguing like this school was in violation of their contract with the union and they were trying to sue, I just looked this up. So the union’s president, this guy’s name is Dennis. He, here’s a quote from this guy. He says that the union takes protecting the jobs of its members very seriously. And we have an agreed upon collective bargaining agreement that’s like a contract, with Western Michigan. And then he says, we expect the contract to be followed, and in circumstances where we feel it’s needed, we file a grievance. You know, and like these guys are trying to create contracts, these agreements that shield them, that protect them, to use the right word for protectionism, that protect them from competition, right? These unions do not like competition, because they’ve always depended upon the government. These unions have, they want the government to prop up their monopoly. I, remember, you know, this is how taxis often were when Uber and Lyft came to town. They had to fight against these governments and these taxi unions because the taxis knew that a competitor like Uber or Lyft could easily do things cheaper and better. And like no one liked riding taxis. They’re, you know, often before Uber and Lyft kind of created that pressure of competition, they were often dirty, you know, and just like not pay.
Brittany: Mean, the drivers were mean.
Connor: Nah, there’s no good customer service. Yeah. The prices were super high. And so now that they face competition, now that the customers really want Uber and Lyft, the taxis have had to really reform themselves and face that pressure because they want to stay in business. And at first in many of the cities, especially the big like, liberal cities, instead of responding to that competition with like better service, right? Cleaner cars, friendlier drivers, they instead tried to get the government to shut Uber and Lyft down and say, no, the government, we have this agreement, only taxis are allowed. And that is protectionism. it’s to the detriment of the customer, right? Because we all benefit when either we get to use Uber and Lyft or we want to use a taxi, but the taxis are now way better and cheaper because they have some actual competition and that’s what protectionism is a problem for. It prevents you from having competition and better quality. And that’s why Bastiat satire even written, you know, like 200 years ago or whatever is still as relevant today. Like with the story you’re mentioning with goats because we see people all the time when they have a bad product, a bad service, they always turn to the government for a handout and say, Hey, please help shield us from this competition.
Brittany: No, absolutely. And what I really like about this is what Bastiat said was so ridiculous, right? Like, you can’t sue the sun yet that there was actually a union that wanted to sue goats. And it’s like, you say this out loud and you think, can the union hear themselves? Like, can, they know what they’re saying? I remember when I found this story. So, one way I get inspired to write about things is I look at local news. And that’s why I found this goat story is I was looking at local Michigan newspapers and I remember just like the Bastiat thing popped in my head and I was like, this is so perfect and dead on. Like, I don’t think Bastiat himself could even predicted that he could hit the nail in the head this well.
Connor: Well if you guys haven’t read it, we will link to it on the show notes page Tuttletwins.com/podcast. This essay is definitely worth the read. Take your time with it as with all things written nearly 200 years ago, and translate it from another language. You know, you wanna make sure you fully understand it, but it’s not that hard to read. It’s very enjoyable. And Bastiat’s humor and his wit is definitely gonna come through. And so, Tuttletwins.com/podcast. Go check that out. Thanks as always for listening and Brittany, until next time, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.