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by Viv Forbes, 16/8/1992, from his private archive

To the Honourable President and Members of Parliament assembled, we the members of the Candle and Lamp Makers Guild present our petition:

We in the lighting industry are suffering from ruinous competition from a foreign rival whose low production costs allow him to flood our markets with lighting at an incredibly low price. This unfair competitor, the sun, is dumping his products so shamelessly that, from the moment his light appears, our sales cease and our important industry is reduced to stagnation.

We therefore beseech you to pass a law to prevent this unfair competition. This law should require the closing of all windows, shutters, curtains and doors from sunrise to sunset.

This bold action will greatly stimulate the lighting industry, with increased demand for candles, lamp oil and coal. Glass making and transport will revive and there will be a great increase in employment in these important industries.

The first version of the above petition was written in 1844 by that brilliant French essayist and politician, Frederic Bastiat. It has become famous as “The Candlemakers’ Petition”. I acknowledge my debt to this great economic teacher and recommend his book Economic Sophisms.

Nonsensical though it sounds, not a week goes by without someone proposing another version of the Candlemakers’ Petition.

Sunlight is a gift of nature which arrives free. Only a fool (or a Professor of Social Science) would reject such a boon.

However there is a gift element in every import, be it from the neighbouring farm, the next town, interstate or overseas.

For example, imagine the banana industry before federation. Because of its unfair access to the supply of cheap sunlight, Queensland was able to produce more bananas than they needed.

Bananas could be grown in all colonies. In Victoria, they grew slowly and then only in hot-houses, whereas in Queensland they flourished under natural conditions. As a result, bananas from Moreton Bay were landed on the Victorian goldfields by coastal steamers and Cobb & Co at half the cost of producing them in Victoria. The difference in costs represents the free gift of natural sunlight. Had it not been for the guarantee of free interstate trade inserted in the Australian Constitution, the protectionist Victorians would surely have presented petitions to hamper the entry of cheap Queensland bananas. Just like the Candlemakers’ Petition, its effect would have been to shut out from Victoria the benefits of free sunlight in Queensland.

Undoubtedly a stiff tariff on Queensland bananas would have improved employment prospects in Victorian hot-houses, but the costs to the Bendigo miners and all other banana consumers would far outweigh these artificial benefits. And banana smuggling would have soon rivalled bush-ranging in profitability.

Sunlight is not the only free gift of nature whose benefits are not distributed “fairly”.

Not every city, state or country is blessed by good rainfall, fertile soils, artesian water, good harbours, oil riches, cheap coal or abundant minerals. And only a few have low taxes, stable laws and competitive markets — these too are like free gifts to those living in such enlightened environments.

Any society with an abundance of these gifts of nature or politics is able to pass on some of their windfall in lower prices for their products. To erect barriers against these gifts is like shutting out the sun.

But what about “unfair” competition, where the government subsidises exports? Or “dumping”, where goods are sold at below “normal costs”, whatever that is.

When the subsidy is 100%, it is called “charity” or “welfare” or “international aid” and universally lauded.

But charity destroys jobs, just like free sunlight. Should local employment in the rag trade be protected by tariffs on clothing distributed by the Smith Family? Why not stop the disease where it starts by banning the donation of clothes and things to local charities? Maybe the IAC should conduct an anti-dumping enquiry into the St Vincent de Paul Society?

It is also nonsense to believe that tariffs create wealth. Economic wealth is an abundance of goods and services — every trade barrier must thus reduce total community wealth. Protectionism may well increase employment, but not wealth. In the hermit economy, we will all slave from daylight to dark on our subsistence plots, each family trying to produce its own supply of food, clothing, shelter and transport.

There will be no early retirement, no easy life for grandma, no idle kids, no vacations to the coast — just an over-abundance of back-breaking labour in the garden, in the milk shed, at the loom, mending the hot house, or down in the workshop.

Even if job creation were our sole or chief goal, tariffs destroy jobs just as effectively as they create them. For example, if we allow sugar manufacturers to exploit consumers under the protection of a heavy tariff on sugar imports, we immediately threaten the prosperity of local manufacturers who use sugar. Those who make alcohol, breakfast cereals, cakes, canned fruit, chocolate, confectionery, cordials, glaces, ice cream, icing sugar, jams, jellies, soft drinks and tarts are immediately put at a disadvantage compared to competitors able to buy sugar on world markets. Soon we would be importing sugar products, instead of sugar.

So too an artificial price for wool will destroy our exports of woollen goods, a tariff on outboard motors will cripple our boat builders, barriers to cheap food will make our wages un-competitive and a tariff on steel will cause losses to most farms, factories and mines.

There are a couple of general rules here.

Firstly, every tariff will reduce the incentive for value-added industries using that product.

Secondly, the introduction of a tariff will inevitably cause demands for more tariffs in the value adding industries using that product. If this destructive process is allowed to continue, it will result in contraction of that whole industry from farm to factory as export markets disappear. They will all work harder, and become poorer.

Not even the ACTU or the Chamber of Manufacturers would advocate we shut out the sun. But some of their special pleadings are just as silly.

Let’s expose them all to the bright sunlight.

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Lang Hancock's Five Point Plan to Cripple Australia
  2. Put Windmills in National Parks
  3. Magnifying National Disasters
  4. Please Don't Feed the Animals
  5. Buy Birdsville Made?
  6. The Economics of Flood Risk
  7. Touring Bureaucrats
  8. Our slip-shod laws to blame
  9. Why Wind Won't Work
  10. A Profusion of "Prices"
  11. R.I.P. Ron Kitching - pioneer, explorer, author, family man, entrepreneur, scholar
  12. The Carbon Pollution Lie
  13. Closing Down Australia
  14. The Anti-Industry
  15. The Pyramid Builders
  16. Carbon Tax Bribery
  17. Crown Monopolies
  18. Carbon Tax Job Losses
  19. What Next, a Tax on Water?
  20. Carbon Health Warnings Coming Soon
  21. Growth Mythology
  22. The Tax Collection Industry
  23. Propaganda Puts Paid to Proof
  24. The Milk of the Welfare Teat is Watered Down
  25. "Crops for Cars" as Bad as Everlasting Drought
  26. Poll speech sets record
  27. The Emissions Trading Casino
  28. The Contract Society
  29. A Model Ministry
  30. The Five Point Plan to kill the economy with High Cost Electricity
  31. Put a Sunset Clause in the Carbon Tax
  32. Stuck on Red
  33. Time to Butcher "Aussie Beef"
  34. Carbon Tax Lies and Bribes
  35. The Middle of the Road
  36. United against taxes
  37. Call for Govt administrator
  38. Property & Prosperity
  39. "The Science is Settled" BUT Durban Climate Summit Not Cancelled
  40. No End to Fuelish Policies?
  41. The Right to Discriminate
  42. Sell the CES
  43. Free Water Costs Too Dam Much
  44. Creating Unemployment
  45. Viv Forbes Wins 1986 Adam Smith Award
  46. 1985 news item on Tax Payers United, Centre 2000 and the Australian Adam Smith Club
  47. Having the numbers is not the same as having the truth
  48. Who's Who in the Workers Party
  49. David Russell Leads 1975 Workers Party Queensland Senate Team
  50. Caught in a welfare whirlpool
  51. Global Warming Season
  52. Mining in Queensland, Past, Present and Future
  53. WEATHER IS USUALLY UNUSUAL
  54. Political branch formed
  55. Ron Manners on the Workers Party
  56. Viv Forbes on Libertarian Strategy and the Constant Resources Myth
  57. The New Brisbane Line?
  58. Carbon Lies
  59. We Mine to Live
  60. Save the taxpayer
  61. Solving Three Canberra Problems
  62. Vested Interests in the Climate Debate
  63. Carbon Tax Retrospective?
  64. Carbon Price Propaganda Taxes the Truth
  65. Don't Burn Food for Motor Spirit - Feed People not Cars
  66. Two Big Climate Taxes
  67. Greens Rediscover Hydrogen Car
  68. Atlas of Australia
  69. Shutting Out The Sun
  70. Safety Mania
  71. Coal - Sinking in the Swamps
  72. Hobbling the Competition
  73. Cubic Currency Coming
  74. "Dear Government"
  75. Viv Forbes mocks Flannery in 1988
  76. What we have is not a drug problem but a drug law problem
  77. Smoking, Health and Freedom
  78. Privatise Now! while they are still worth something
  79. The Electoral Act should allow voters to choose "none of the above"
  80. The New Federalism
  81. Sunset for Solar Subsidies
  82. The mouse will roar
  83. The Road to Homelessness
  84. Planning & Prosperity
  85. Viv Forbes and Jim Fryar vs Malcolm Fraser in 1979
  86. Quip, Quote, Rant and Rave: four of Viv Forbes' letters to the editor in The Australian in 1979
  87. Australia's First Official Political Party Poet Laureate: The Progress Party's Ken Hood in 1979
  88. Our homeless regulation refugees
  89. Progress Party and Workers Party lead The Australian
  90. Viv Forbes in 1978 on loss-making government, the Berlin Wall and misdirected blasts of hot-air
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