Charles Fourier (1772-1837)

“The Vices of Commerce”

Source: The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier. Selected Texts on Work, Love, and Passionate Attraction. Translated, Edited and with an Introduction by Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu. Published by Jonathan Cape, 1972;
First Published: Manuscrits de Charles Fourier. Années 1857-58.
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden
Proofread: by Andy Carloff 2010.

What are the vices inherent in the commercial mechanism? Others have defined it in flattering terms; I am going to adopt a very different tone and show commerce to be the source of all sorts of crimes and misdeeds. I will refer to just seven.

The first disorder is Bankruptcy which scoffs at the efforts of legislators and triumphs in spite of all their legal codes.[20] Just recently French legislation was put to shame when it purported to repress bankruptcy with a new code of commerce. Bankruptcy has only become bolder and more confident in changing its form, and the new code is merely a weapon with which the bankrupt threaten the creditors whom they wish to rob.

The second vice is Smuggling by which commerce rebels openly against authority and forms industrial Vendees against which the state must maintain parasitical armies of customs officers. Certain cities like Basel and other such centres of contraband exploit neighbouring empires in the same way that the Algerian pirates exploit seafarers. The ones are sea-robbers and the others are land-robbers. I shall prove in one of the chapters of this work that, by means of its contraband, the city of Basel alone exacts an annual tribute of several million from France. You can draw your own conclusions about the extent of the smuggling carried on each year over the whole territory of France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

What shall I say of the Usurers who, under the name of bankers, are waging war against property owners? Take for example the hordes of Jews and vagabonds who have practically overrun the four departments on the right bank of the Rhine. They would soon have gobbled up most of the French property there if the government had not restrained them by decrees and by means of an economic struggle that involved the Bank of France, which is an agent of resistance against usury.

Speculation is the fourth of the plagues to which I am calling attention; it is another one of the weapons used by commerce against governments. Speculation abuses public confidence and makes sport of the ascendency of the noblest heroes. Witness the campaign of Austerlitz during which a horde of Parisian speculators ravaged French industry, discredited the Bank of France and the government bonds, and created all the symptoms of a panic at the very moment when the Empire was echoing with cries of admiration and blind confidence in its illustrious chief.

Hoarding is not the least of the mercantile feats. It creates famine in the midst of abundance; by means of contrived panics it can double the price of goods and exploit society in the interest of the commercial vampires.

Parasitism is a less obvious but not less harmful disorder. Hosts of merchants encumber the cities, and the streets are cluttered with solicitors who swarm without limit or purpose. There was competition enough when their number was only a quarter of what it is today, and then agriculture profited from the capital and labour of the crowd of parasites with which commerce is now inundating the cities.

Of all the commercial vices Cheating is the one which is making the most rapid progress. Today it has reached such a point that merchants of the old type are thought to be incompetent because they don’t know the tricks to which abusive competition has given rise.