Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Frédéric Bastiat!

Claude Frédéric Bastiat (30 June 1801 – 24 December 1850) was a French classical liberal theorist, political economist, and member of the French assembly.

Bastiat asserted that the sole purpose of government is to defend and protect the right of an individual to life, liberty, and property. From this definition, Bastiat concluded that the law cannot defend life, liberty, and property if it promotes socialist policies, which are inherently opposed to these very things. In this way, he says, the law is perverted and turned against the only things (life, liberty, and property) it is supposed to defend.

Those regular readers of The Tireless Agorist will recall an early essay, The Unseen in Economics, where we explored Bastiat's essay What is seen and what is not seen in political economy.

Bastiat's definition of the state, in his essay, The State, is one of the most succinct expressions of the political zero-sum game ever written.
The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.
In Justice and Fraternity, his analysis of socialism was a harbinger of what we see today among the world's welfare states.
[The socialists declare] that the State owes subsistence, well-being, and education to all its citizens; that it should be generous, charitable, involved in everything, devoted to everybody; ...that it should intervene directly to relieve all suffering, satisfy and anticipate all wants, furnish capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm for all wounds, asylums for all the unfortunate, and even aid to the point of shedding French blood, for all oppressed people on the face of the earth.

Who would not like to see all these benefits flow forth upon the world from the law, as from an inexhaustible source? ... But is it possible? ... Whence does [the State] draw those resources that it is urged to dispense by way of benefits to individuals? Is it not from the individuals themselves? How, then, can these resources be increased by passing through the hands of a parasitic and voracious intermediary?

...Finally...we shall see the entire people transformed into petitioners. Landed property, agriculture, industry, commerce, shipping, industrial companies, all will bestir themselves to claim favors from the State. The public treasury will be literally pillaged. Everyone will have good reasons to prove that legal fraternity should be interpreted in this sense: "Let me have the benefits, and let others pay the costs." Everyone's effort will be directed toward snatching a scrap of fraternal privilege from the legislature. The suffering classes, although having the greatest claim, will not always have the greatest success.
In his work The Law, Bastiat states that "each of us has a natural right — from God — to defend his person, his liberty, and his property". The State is a "substitution of a common force for individual forces" to defend this right. The law becomes perverted when it punishes one's right to self-defense in favor of another's acquired right to plunder. He even tells us how to recognize this legal plunder.
But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.
Reading Bastiat, most of whose works are over 150 years old, gives one a different perspective on the battle between individualism and collectivism than the one popular among the intelligensia today.

For those interested in exploring his works, Bastiat.org is a great source for more information about Bastiat and his works.

...and that's all I have to say about that.

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