Dialogues on the Grain Trade
Fov ~ su::~vy of Galiani’s life, see the excerpt from On Money
(chapter a.). The publication in .··c of Dialogues sur le commerce des bleds
(Dialogues on the Grain Trade) caused a firestorm; free-market friends
cried betrayal, and one of them, abbé Morellet, attacked him in a lengthy
.··c pamphlet (censored until a change of government made possible its
publication in .··¡). Galiani pursued this polemic in a brief parody, La
bagarre, which has been rediscovered only in the twentieth century.
In .·6¡, the French government passed an edict designed to assure the
free export of grain. In the midst of an economic crisis in .·6·, and a gen-
eral controversy over the wisdom of the .·6¡ edict, Galiani’s Dialogues
was the most influential critique. The dialogue involves three characters.
The Marquis is a socially well-connected conformist proud of having
read all the latest and most fashionable writings—mostly by the Phys-
iocrats—on economic policy. The Knight (Chevalier) was a well-
traveled gentleman who had been away from Paris since .·6¡ and who
prided himself on having read none of the Physiocrats’ writings, and on
resting his economic judgments upon his travels and observations alone.
He certainly represents the views of the author. The President, who en-
ters the conversation midway through the work, serves as a foil who
facilitates the conversation.
The present excerpt from the seventh of the eight dialogues was cho-
sen because it provides both a convenient summary of the core discus-
sion up to that point and a sample of the distinctive narrative and rhetor-
ical style of the author. The translation is based on the .··c London edi-
tion of Dialogues sur le commerce des bleds, pp. acc–a.a. All notes are by
the present editor.
Dialogues on the Grain Trade
The Marquis
And what were we supposed to do to encourage agriculture and make it
The Knight
Oh, you want to know too many things at the same time. Let us con-
tinue . . .
The Marquis
You want to continue, and I am stopping you. I still feel sore about this
bet you unfairly won, and I am asking for revenge. I want to bet.
The Knight
On what?
The Marquis
Listen carefully. This time I am definitely betting that you are against the
[free] export [of grain]; that you agree with me on the fact that we must
withdraw the Edict [of .·6¡],
and go back to our former situation—as
I told you when you trapped me with a comparison that was pleasing but
had nothing to do with what we were saying.
Dialogues on the Grain Trade ·oo
.. [The Royal Edict of July .o, .·6¡, went far toward explicitly guaranteeing the free
export of grain, though the Physiocrats sometimes claimed that it did not go far enough;
see “Lettre de M. Le Trosne, Avocat du Roi à Orléans, sur la nécessité de l’entière li-
berté du commerce des grains,” in Ephémérides du citoyen, vol. ¡ (Nov. .·6·).]
The Knight
Will you bet a lot?
The Marquis
Everything you’d like! One scruple stops me, though, and it is that I am
betting for real; I can read it in your eyes.
The Knight
And will the President bet as well?
The President
I would be tempted.
The Knight
On what grounds?
The President
Here they are: You have proven to us that we must not let France export
grain other than the real surplus of an ordinary year. You have then
proven to us that it was very doubtful that this surplus existed, and that
nobody knew about it or could have known about it until now. And you
ended up concluding that it would be better that way, because the pur-
pose of any good government must be the increase in a population that
would consume all the harvest, and not the increase in the latter’s depar-
ture to foreign countries. After setting up that purpose, you left us un-
certain about the choice of means. But you had us consider [several
First, the weight and volume of grain, in increasing transportation
costs, decreases the profit in trade. Second, the difficulty of preservation
in transit increases the losses and risks even more. Third, the same prob-
lem remains if it is kept in storage, which obliges the trader either to
suffer waste, or to sell hastily, and thus miss opportunities to sell at a high
price. Fourth, one always encounters the most adverse season when the
grain must necessarily be sold without being able to wait for the good
season. Fifth, it [the grain trade] is neither the treasure nor the wealth of
6cc vvvbix~xbo c~ii~xi
any country in particular; as it comes from everywhere, and may run out
everywhere, this trade—always vague, uncertain, fortuitous, and short-
lived—is not fixed in regular channels or subject to a steady and contin-
uous turnover; so that this trade—which is not as quiet as others—looks
more like looting than like an honest trade. Sixth, since it is abandoned
by most merchants, whether from lack of means or of courage, it is au-
tomatically reduced to a monopoly, if one wants to trade wholesale with
foreign countries. On the contrary, the domestic retail trade in grain is
teeming with cleverness, fraud, and petty cheating. Its technical details,
swallowing honest gains, force one into illicit conduct. Seventh, grain
purchases under current conditions are impracticable, and in general, it
is almost impossible to effect them without arousing complaints and dis-
turbing whole provinces. There are no human means to balance, on the
one hand, the secret of extraordinary commissions that must be main-
tained with salesmen, and on the other, the necessity not to let ordinary
supplies run out or become expensive on a market that has just been
caught off guard, as it were. Eighth, if purchasing is tedious, the internal
turnover is even longer, more inconvenient, tangled in detail, and ex-
ceedingly prone to loss and waste. So many intermediaries harm the true
usefulness of trade, which should only aim at enriching and encouraging
the productive class. The number of hazards—as it increases propor-
tionally to the number of different hands that handle this trade—raises
the price by at least a third above ordinary cost. Finally, because the in-
numerable methods that are required to transform grain into bread pre-
vent the farmer from selling it directly to the consumer, they leave him
with only a very meager benefit from high prices. Therefore, in conclu-
sion, it must be said that, if bread is the object ranked first among the
needs of men, it is ranked last as far as commercial profit is concerned. If
it is the dearest to the administration, it is the most unrewarding, the
most often treacherous and costly for the trader; it is the most indispen-
sable, but also the least reliable way for each state to become rich when
it sells to its neighbors. The current condition of all purely agricultural
nations, which you have described for us, is striking proof. According
to the very coherent chain of reflections you have just presented to us—
and I must confess that most of them were new to me—what other
Dialogues on the Grain Trade 6c.
conclusion would you draw, except that we must completely abandon the
system of export adopted by the economists?
The Knight
But will you bet?
The President
I am not bold enough for that.
The Knight
And you are right, because you would have lost. Marquis, it pains me to
say so, but to tell you the truth—and this will be my final word—I am in
favor of free export.
The Marquis
You mean against, don’t you?
The Knight
I am in favor, not against.
The Marquis
You are pulling our leg as usual. This can’t be possible.
The Knight
It is just as I tell you, though.
The Marquis
But on what grounds?
The Knight
Before sharing them with you, I want to tell you a little story.
6ca vvvbix~xbo c~ii~xi
a. [“Economists” was at that time a synonym for the Physiocrats, such as Quesnay and
Mirabeau. For an introduction to their doctrine, see the essay by Du Pont de Nemours,
chapter .. of this volume.]
The Marquis
You have good ones sometimes. Let’s hear this one.
The Knight
A few years ago in Rome, there was a young Abbot, whom I knew well.
His family was fairly rich, and his mother deeply wanted him to become
a Prelate. So he was bought a prelacy, and as soon as he had taken holy
orders, he was given a position as a magistrate in one of the courts of
Rome, called the Buon governo. It is roughly like the Châtelet in Paris.
On the day he was to start his term of office, luck would have it that a
case that had become famous because of quite extraordinary circum-
stances was about to come before the court. (It dealt with the validity of
a will.) It was the talk of the town; people looked forward to the judg-
ment of that Court. It was composed of only twelve Prelates. In serious
cases, each Judge writes his opinion and reads it aloud; and it is custom-
ary in Rome to let the verdict of each Judge leak out; no one makes a
mystery out of it as in other countries. Now you must know that our man
was an idiot.
The Marquis
Who? The young Prelate?
The Knight
Yes, the young Prelate was still a fool, even though he was already a
Prelate, and as a result, he did not want to look like it. He felt strongly
that he had to shine in his début, that everybody would talk about
his “voto,” and that he had to make his reputation for insight and knowl-
edge on this fortunate occasion. Therefore, without thinking twice (for
he did not beat about the bush), he had a famous Lawyer, whom he
strongly urged to give him something good, whatever the price might be,
write a verdict for him. He wanted it to be well filled with quotations
and extracts from Latin authors—and the best ones. The Lawyer, an
honest man, did his best. Justinian, Gratian, the Gloss, Accursius, and
Dialogues on the Grain Trade 6c.
.. [I.e., a court of common civil and criminal pleas, of first instance.]
Cujas—every one of them was resorted to,
and it must be acknowledged
that the opinion he received in writing was magnificent. It proved as
clear as daylight that the will had to be quashed. On the very morning of
that fateful judgment day, the Lawyer brought this writing to his Lord-
ship, who received it with transports of enthusiasm, gratitude, and re-
ward; he then perused the verdict two or three times to be able to read it
smoothly, declaimed it a little in his bedroom, folded it, pocketed it, had
his horses harnessed, and set off for the Palace, head held high. He felt
in possession of something that would allow him to aspire to immortal-
ity. But one is never aware of everything, and one cannot avoid one’s des-
tiny. Unfortunately for him that day, he was not the first person to pro-
nounce himself. Two Prelates were to speak before him, and both
pronounced themselves in favor of the validity of the will. What a disas-
ter! Faced with this unexpected blow, our man was in despair. The idea
hit him that all the other Judges would pronounce themselves for the
will, and that he would remain alone with his verdict. What shame!
What ridicule! The whole town would say he was alone! This prospect
made him blush, blanch, and tremble. He swore and cursed inwardly:
“Damn, that treacherous Lawyer! He deceived me, tricked me, even
though I paid him well. The rogue! He makes me stand out from the
rest.” He then realized what a drawback it was to have only one verdict.
He said to himself: “Ah, how foolish of me! How much would it have
cost me to order the two opposing verdicts so as to use them as occasion
warranted? Just a little more money, what would it have mattered? When
one’s honor is at stake, one must know how to spend without stinting.”
But all his useless regrets fell on his afflicted heart, and he had no time
left for anything; he had to accept it, the fateful hour of his reading was
drawing closer. And yet what to do? What side to take? What is to be-
come of him? He could very well say in a nutshell that he agreed with the
Prelates who had preceded him; but the verdict, that lovely, costly ver-
dict—what would become of it? Everyone would say that he had not
6c¡ vvvbix~xbo c~ii~xi
¡. [The Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I (r. ·a·–6·) codified Roman Law in the
Corpus Juris Civilis; Gratian was an Italian legal scholar whose Decretum (c. ..¡c) syn-
thesized Church law; Francesco Accursius (..·a–.a6c) was a Bolognese legal scholar who
compiled a glossary of the whole body of law; Jacques Cujas (.·aa–oc) was a French ju-
rist and close student of the Corpus Juris Civilis.]
studied the case, that he had no verdict, and everyone would have it
wrong, since he had it in his pocket. Finally despair gave him courage,
and he bravely made up his mind; he took his paper out, read it loudly
and clearly, with grace and dignity, without changing anything in it. The
only thing was that, when he came to the solemn words of the conclu-
sion, instead of saying, “I am for quashing the will,” he said, “I am for the
validity of the will.” The Cardinal, who presided over the Court and sus-
pected nothing, believed it was a misunderstanding, and said immedi-
ately: “Surely, my Lord, you are mistaken, you mean you are for quash-
ing it.” Our Prelate modestly replied: “I beg your pardon, your Honor, I
am for the will.” The Cardinal answered: “But how is that? You have just
proven the contrary.” Our man kept repeating: “It does not matter, your
Honor, I am for the will. I agree with these gentlemen who were for it
too.” They all looked at one another, puzzled, scarcely daring to believe
their ears. Everyone asked him questions in turn: Why? How? By what
reasoning? He continued to answer to everyone that he was for the will.
Finally, he let out a few barely articulate words, saying that he did not
want to be the talk of the town for his lonesome opinion. His neighbor
heard the words, understood the enigma, and discovered that in his own
mind, he was unbelievably convinced that one had to have the same
opinions as everyone else, just as one had to have the same clothes.
The Marquis
Ah, my good Sir, now I’ve got you. You knew you were greatly suspected
of making up your stories on the spur of the moment; for this occasion I
am convinced of it. Your story was too convenient. To tell you the truth,
as soon as you uttered the words, “I am for [free] export,” I said to my-
self: “What is that? Surely the Knight sees that he would be the only man
of wit [homme d’esprit], the only man of good company who would be
against free export, he is completely ashamed of being on his own, and
he has decided to follow the crowd for fear of being anathematized.”
The Knight
So you do not believe that I have more wit than that Prelate? Well, I as-
sure you that the story is true, and that I told it to you on purpose, so as
to forestall your suspicions. I will never be afraid to hold my opinions
Dialogues on the Grain Trade 6c·
alone—even against the whole of nature. If, after distrusting my reason-
ing for a long time, I was firmly certain about my opinion, I would not
fear to say it either, even at the risk of being deafened by the shouts that
would rise against me. But the reason why I favor freedom of export is
surely due neither to the smile of favor upon my conformity, nor to the
pleasure of being ranked among the witty [gens d’esprit], admitted into
good company by the sole title of exportationist. I have other reasons for
committing myself to it.
The President, to the Knight
If the marquis wished to amuse himself and joke around for a little while,
do not doubt that he saw as well as I that, even if you gave us innumer-
able reflections on the nature of grain which no one had deigned to pon-
der or penetrate, it is possible that you are in favor of [free] export for
other reasons which have been either neglected or barely mentioned by
the very people who defended it. Therefore, I would not be surprised if
you combatted exportation with the same reasons that were used to rec-
ommend it, and then defended it with the opposite arguments. It would
be quite a remarkable phenomenon, but I expect it.
The Marquis, to the President
The President is so kind as to ascribe to me intentions I do not have. I
say and I persist in maintaining that the Knight claimed he was in favor
of exportation solely to be like everybody else, or to exasperate us. Let
him speak, and you will see whether I am right. Let us see why you have
decided in favor of exportation.
The Knight
First, if the quantity of grain France produces is uncertain, there might
be a real surplus that must be either exported or left to rot. Second, if the
true purpose of government is population, and if that population is be-
low what is possible in France, this gap will not be bridged for several
generations. While waiting for this fortunate epoch, one must take the
most sensible course of action for the moment. Legislation must always
concern itself with the current situation, and never the future, because
6c6 vvvbix~xbo c~ii~xi
there is always time to modify the law when change occurs. Third, if the
true wealth of a State must be expected from the progress of Manufac-
there is a way to reconcile moderate, regulated exports with a low-
paid labor force. Fourth, if grain is resistant to trade, as it were, because
of its weight, delicacy, perishability, and difficulty of circulation in win-
ter, it is, however, certain that a grain trade exists, and that it is the prin-
cipal preoccupation of almost every poor and agrarian country. As far as
France is concerned, it could be a source of profit which should not be
neglected, even though one should not expect from it all the good it has
been praised for. Fifth, if wholesale trade with foreign countries becomes
a monopoly on its own, if retail trade evades the speculation of honest
traders, if purchases are difficult and pressing, if the turnover is long, te-
dious, and full of hazards and waste, it is also true that art corrects Na-
ture in almost everything, and that with time and care, it sometimes
manages to completely conquer and tame her. Sixth, if the profits of
trade and the value of grain remain almost entirely absorbed by hands
that are less dear to the government than those of the Farmer, it is still
more fitting that these profits should go into the hands of intermediaries
rather than to nobody if the grain were left to rot in lofts. Seventh,
finally, property and liberty are sacred rights of men; they are the first
among our rights, they are part of us, they constitute our political essence
as the body and soul constitute our physical one. Except for the links at-
taching us to society, nothing must disrupt them. Interests and harm
done to third parties belong to the field of justice. The common interest
and general harm belong to the field of politics. But when both power-
ful and demanding Goddesses were pacified, and when nothing hurt
their feelings any more, when nothing concerned them, men then re-
ceived their rights, they became free property owners again, and I know
no other legitimate power on earth that could deprive them of these.
Neither a Despot’s whims on the one hand, nor a Metaphysician’s spec-
ulations on the other, neither the demented screams of the crowd, nor
the unfounded fears of a government that is unjust through weakness
and arbitrary through timidity, have any legitimate right or valid excuse
to meddle in our affairs.
Dialogues on the Grain Trade 6c·
·. [This had been the argument earlier in the work; see Dialogue Five, pp. ..c–.o.]
The Marquis
You see how right I was; the Knight agrees with everyone. I mean every
true wit [bel esprit]. He says the same thing as all those wits, he speaks
like them, and he has eventually come to use those high-flown words—
property and liberty! This is the fundamental basis; this is what we must
come to in the end!
The President
I beg your pardon, Marquis, but the Knight is far from agreeing with the
Authors you have read. Do you see the exceptions he added to the rights
to property and liberty?—The interest of a third party and the common
interest. These exceptions are not as small as they seem to you. They can
lead him very far. As for his reasons for adopting [free] export, I find him
to be in no more agreement with anyone. He announces that exports will
not produce those wonderful effects that were expected of them, but
lesser ones. He claims that the profit will end up in other hands than
those of the farmer. And finally, he wants art to correct everything that
Nature opposes to the grain trade, and all the evil that manufactures
would receive from an unlimited, ill-considered freedom of exportation.
Nothing like that has been said, as far as I know. It was always firmly be-
lieved that all you needed was to pass an Edict for commerce, exports,
and exchanges to run smoothly on their own, without complications or
bad effects. It was even believed that no art, no rule, no precaution was
necessary, and it was constantly maintained that agriculture was to be the
foundation of national wealth, and that exportation was to be the basis
of agriculture.
The Marquis
I was wrong, I concede. But by the way, my good Knight, how did the
trial turn out for our Prelate?
The Knight
His misfortune was complete. All those who gave their verdicts after him
agreed with his verdict, and disagreed with him. The will was quashed.
6c· vvvbix~xbo c~ii~xi
The Marquis
Ah, I am so glad for the sake of the Lawyer’s honor. Now if I wanted to
be mean, I would use your story to utter a prophecy concerning you, but
I will not do it. I want to be kind and to keep still. I want to believe that
you are genuinely convinced of the usefulness of free exportation as such.
You will agree, however, that you cannot be greatly enthusiastic about
this exportation, since you do not prefer the trade in foodstuffs over that
of manufactures, and even in the grain trade, you maintained that the
bulk of the profits will not end up in the farmer’s hands.
Dialogues on the Grain Trade 6co

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