We already posted a Reason article today, but Virginia Postrel’s addition to our recent article on the same subject is too good to miss.
Trade should be free. This is an area where Trump is very challenged. Goods should flow across borders as easily as possible.
On a shopping trip to the butcher’s, young Miss la Genne wore her new, form-fitting jacket, a stylish cotton print with large brown flowers and red stripes on a white background. It got her arrested.
Another young woman stood in the door of her boss’ wine shop sporting a similar jacket with red flowers. She too was arrested. So were Madame de Ville, the lady Coulange, and Madame Boite. Through the windows of their homes, law enforcement authorities spotted these unlucky women in clothing with red flowers printed on white. They were busted for possession.
It was Paris in 1730, and the printed cotton fabrics known as toiles peintes or indiennes—in English, calicoes, chintzes, or muslins—had been illegal since 1686. It was an extreme version of trade protectionism, designed to shelter French textile producers from Indian cottons. Every few years the authorities would tweak the law, but the fashion refused to die.
Frustrated by rampant smuggling and ubiquitous scofflaws, in 1726 the government increased penalties for traffickers and anyone helping them. Offenders could be sentenced to years in galleys, with violent smugglers put to death. Local authorities were given the power to detain without trial anyone who merely wore the forbidden fabrics or upholstered furniture with them.