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The Economics of Robinson Crusoe

A Lesson in Free Trade

Background: The French economist and writer Frederic Bastiat used the simplest economic system he could think of, the duo of Robinson Crusoe and Friday, to illustrate the folly of protectionism in "Something Else," one of a scries of essays he called Soplmmes économiques, published between 1844 and 1850. In the original story, Robinson's protectionist instincts won out, and the pair lost the benefits of free trade. In this version, they agree to try Friday's free-trade approach, with unexpected results.

Robinson and Friday had decided to work together in providing for their his game; and he, of our vegetables; and needs. In the morning, they hunted for four hours and brought back two baskets of game. In the afternoon, they worked in their garden for four hours and obtained two baskets of vegetables. This amount of effort provided them with ample food but left them little time for making new tools or maintaining their lodge.

One day a longboat landed on the Isle of Despair. A stranger disembarked and was invited for dinner. He tasted and highly praised the products of the garden and said to them, "Generous islanders, I dwell in a land where game is much more plentiful than it is here but where horticulture is unknown. It will be easy for me to bring you two baskets of game every day if you will give me one basket of vegetables."

At these words, Robinson (R) and Friday...

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