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 (F) withdrew to confer, and the debate they had is too interesting not to report here in full:

F: “Friend, what do you think of it?”

R: “If we accept, we are ruined.”

F: “Are you quite sure of that? Let us reckon what it comes to.”

R: “I have already reckoned it, and there can be no doubt about the outcome. This trade will simply mean the end of our hunting industry.”

F: “What difference does that make if we have the game? Instead of going hunting every morning, we can work two hours in the garden to obtain the basket of vegetables for the stranger and four hours in the afternoon to obtain vegetables for ourselves. He will give us two baskets of game in exchange for the one basket of vegetables.”

R: “We shall be unemployed a large part of the day. If we don’t work, we will surely go hungry.”

F: “Friend, you are making an enormous mistake. We will have the same quantity of food we do now, and we will have more free horns in which to do other things.”

R: “You may be right about that part of it, but don’t you see the political reasons for not doing it?”

F: “Political reasons?”

R: “Yes. First, he is making this offer only because it is advantageous to him.”

F: “So much the better, since it is better for us, too.”

R: “Then, by this traffic, we shall make ourselves dependent upon him.”

F: “And he will make himself dependent upon us. We shall have need of we shall all live in great friendship.”

R: “Suppose the stranger learns to cultivate a garden and that his island is more fertile than ours. Do you see the consequence?”

F: “Yes. Our relations with the stranger will be severed. He will no longer take our vegetables, since he will have them at home with less labor. He will no longer bring us game, since we shall have nothing to give him in exchange, and we shall be in precisely the same situation that you want us to be in today.”

R: “You do not see that after destroying our hunting industry by flooding us with game he will destroy our gardening industry by flooding us with vegetables'”

F: “But as this will happen we shall be in a position to give him something else, that is to say, we shall be able to find something else to produce with a saving in labor for ourselves.”

R: “I am not convinced, but I am willing to give it a try, if only to prove you are wrong. If we are not satisfied with the arrangement, we can terminate it and return to hunting any time we please.”

The stranger was delighted to hear that his offer had been accepted, and months went by during which he delivered two baskets of game every day and took back his basket of vegetables. Robinson and Friday very much enjoyed the game and found many useful and pleasurable things to do in their free time.

Then, one day, the stranger brought the game, as usual, but declined to take the vegetables in exchange. He explained that, copying their methods, he now had a successful garden of his own. His vegetables were growing so profusely that he no longer needed theirs. Did they have anything else to trade? Robinson and Friday were greatly distressed, not wanting to lose the benefits to which they had grown accustomed. They withdrew to discuss the matter.

R: “It is just as I predicted. His island not only has better game, but is more fertile as well. This trade will be the ruin of us.”

F: “Not at all. I was right about the benefits we have enjoyed so far, wasn’t I?”

R: “I must admit that much. But what do we do now?”

F: “We can continue to benefit. The problem is only one of finding something else to trade.”

R: “But what? We don’t have anything he wants.”

F: “This island is larger than we need. Perhaps we could trade a tiny part of it for game.”

R: “What? Trade capital for current consumption? Your ideas will be the ruin of us.”

F: “My dear friend, I am astonished at your ignorance of economic principles. Free trade can never be harmful. Bv definition, voluntary trade benefits both parties; otherwise they would not do it.”

Robinson could not counter this master stroke of logic, so he agreed to try the proposed arrangement. After all, he said, if we change our minds we shall be no worse off than when we started. They returned to the stranger with the new proposal. The stranger bowed and smiled, and the deal was made.

Years went by, during which Robinson and Friday enjoyed the delicious game brought by the stranger on his daily visits, as well as their leisurely mornings. Their satisfaction with the arrangement was marred only by their concern about the growing portion of the island that lay behind the stranger’s fence. Finally, when the fence started to encroach on their garden area, they decided to have a talk with the stranger(s).

R: “Stranger, we are now being crowded out of our garden, and we must make some other arrangements with von so that we can continue to raise our vegetables and enjoy the wonderful game von bring us. We cannot give up any more land.”

S: “Very well, what do von wish to trade?”

R: “We have nothing else except the vegetables we grow.”

S: “That is a problem, since I no longer need your vegetables. However, perhaps we can continue to do business. Suppose the two of you hunt for game, in the part of the island I now own, for six hours in the morning. That will net three baskets of game. You may keep two of the baskets and give me only one. That way, your needs will be satisfied and I shall have a small profit.”

At this shocking proposal, Robinson and Friday withdrew to discuss the matter between themselves. They didn’t like the new arrangement, since it would require them to hunt for two hours longer than before they first met the stranger but have no more game for their efforts. They decided to make one last effort to negotiate a more favorable arrangement.

R: “Stranger, we have enjoyed our friendship and our mutually beneficial trade. We would like to continue both the friendship and the trade, but we must have an arrangement other than the one you have suggested.”

S: “I am afraid there has been a misunderstanding. We have been trading partners, not friends. The trade has been beneficial to me, and I trust that you have also benefited. However, the new arrangement I have proposed is the only one in which I can see continued benefit for me.”

Robinson and Friday withdrew again and argued at length about free trade and how a series of mutually beneficial transactions could have brought them to their present predicament. Finally, they decided that, since they no longer owned enough of the island to gather game for themselves, they had no choice but to accept the stranger’s terms.

The deal made, the stranger again bowed and smiled as he reembarked in the longboat and left the Isle of Despair.