Montesquieu

Some effects of exten­sive navi­ga­tion

It some­ti­mes hap­pens that a nation that enga­ges in com­merce of eco­nomy, nee­ding from one coun­try a pro­duct that can be tra­ded for pro­ducts of ano­ther coun­try, is willing to make lit­tle pro­fit, and some­ti­mes none, on some of them in the hope or cer­tainty of making a good deal on the others. Thus, when Holland was plying almost alone the route from the south to the north of Europe, the wines of France, which she car­ried north, ser­ved her sim­ply, in a way, as an asset to trade with in the north.

To be sure, in Holland some types of com­mo­di­ties from afar do not sell for any more than they cost at the point of ori­gin. The rea­son given is this : a cap­tain who needs bal­last for his ship will take on mar­ble ; if he needs wood to load his cargo with, he will buy some ; and pro­vi­ded he lose nothing on the deal, he will be very plea­sed with it. That is why Holland also has its quar­ries and its forests.

Not only a trade that yields nothing, but even a disad­van­ta­geous trade can be use­ful. I have heard it said in Holland that wha­ling in gene­ral almost never yields what it costs ; but those who have been employed in the cons­truc­tion of the ves­sel, those who have fur­ni­shed the rig­ging, the para­pher­na­lia, and the pro­vi­sions, are also those who take the prin­ci­pal inte­rest in wha­ling. Were they to lose on the wha­ling, they have gai­ned on the sup­plies. This com­merce is a sort of lot­tery, and eve­ryone is taken in by the hope of a win­ning ticket. Everyone likes to gam­ble, and the wisest peo­ple gam­ble willin­gly when they do not see the appea­ran­ces of gam­bling : its exces­ses, its vio­lence, its dis­si­pa­tions, its loss of time and even of a whole life.