The Wisdom of Frédéric Bastiat:
“Once the legislator is placed at this incommensurable distance from other men, and believes, in all conscience, that he can dispose of their time, their labor, and their transactions, all of which are their property, what man in the whole country has the least knowledge of the position in which the law will forcibly place him and his line of work tomorrow? And, under such conditions, who can or will undertake anything?”
“What must be the consequence of all this? Capital and labor will be frightened; they will no longer be able to count on the future. Capital, under the impact of such a doctrine, will hide, flee, be destroyed. And what will become, then, of the workers, those workers for whom you profess an affection so deep and sincere, but so unenlightened? Will they be better dressed when no one dares to build a factory? Will they have more employment when capital will have disappeared?”
“Whereas the legislator’s principle involves virtual slavery, the economists’ principle implies liberty. Property, the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor, the right to work, to develop, to exercise one’s faculties, according to one’s own understanding, without the state intervening otherwise than by its protective action—this is what is meant by liberty. And I still cannot understand why the numerous partisans of the systems opposed to liberty allow the word liberty to remain on the flag of the Republic.”
“Let us never forget that, in fact, the government has no resources of its own. It has nothing, it possesses nothing that it does not take from the workers. When, then, it meddles in everything, it substitutes the deplorable and costly activity of its own agents for private activity.”
Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) was a French economist and legislator who devoted himself to the promotion and protection of Liberty. The ideas and ideals expressed in his writings are as relevant today as they were when they were written over 160 years ago. So many of the large problems that we face today as a nation could have been avoided if we had not ignored the ideas of such great thinkers as Adam Smith, or Edmund Burke, or the subject of this post, Frederic Bastiat.
I have added a new page devoted to a slightly excerpted version of Bastiat’s essay on Property and Law, which I encourage everyone to link to here.