A farmer in rural Iowa says to his wife, “My love: I will take our corn to market, and from the proceeds I will buy our daughter a dress!” So, he loads up his truck with his corn (which was grown with the sweat of his brow) and takes it to Iowa City. He enters the market and a Frenchman says:
“Sir! How fine it is to see you! I have just what you are looking for. I have this collection of fine dresses from Paris. If you give me your corn, I can sell you four dresses for your lovely daughter.”
A Bostonian then approaches the farmer and says: “I will give you two dresses for your corn.”
The farmer considers both offers and decides to deal with the Frenchman.
“Wait!” says the custom officer. “Do not buy those four dresses from Europe. My orders are to keep you from buying French goods. Rather, for the same price, you can buy these two dresses from Boston. You, and our nation, will be better for it. Surely you can see America will be worse if you get the four dresses rather than the two.”
“Two dresses for the same price as the four? How will such a deal make me wealthier?”
“Oh, I can’t answer that question!” says the customs official. “But it is a fact; for all our secretaries and department heads and legislators and journalists agree that the more a nation receives for its goods, the poorer it becomes.”
And so the farmer deals with the Bostonian, but he (and everyone else) is left wondering why a person is ruined receiving four dresses instead of two.
(With special thanks to Frederic Bastiat for inspiring this modern retelling of his Tale of the Winemaker)