‘La Loi’ de Frédéric Bastiat

Posted by Guest Blogger on Monday, 20 April 2009 19:39.

by Happy Cracker

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Frédéric Bastiat was a Frenchmen who lived from 1801 to 1850, in the last decade of his life producing several treatises on free market economics and political economy. He was an enemy of socialism and wrote several books demonstrating the absurdity of socialist economic premises. His writing is notable for its clarity and conciseness; and readers who value their time will no doubt be grateful for his mercifully paired-down writing style, which lets several of his works be read in an afternoon. In addition to these traits, he has value to us for being a non-Jewish voice in the advocacy of economic liberty and against socialism.

I’m going to publish here a smattering - no, make that two smatterings - of various quotes from his work ‘La Loi’ (The Law), a work primarily aimed against socialism and the laws inherited from the government of Robespierre.

Bastiat is credited with the analogy of the Broken Window (sometimes called the Broken Window Fallacy) which basically refutes the idea, common to certain readings of economics, that the breaking of a window as a consequence of a children’s ball game could be seen as causing economic growth, because the glazier has to be paid to put in a new window, thus generating money. He disproves this by showing that the store proprietor has to pay the cost of the broken window; thus while the broken window does lead to increased “economic activity”, it doesn’t in fact result in net wealth creation. Some important statistics frequently used by modern economists have this fallacy built into them, for example, the national GDP - probably the most commonly cited economic indicator in the economic press - would reflect the action of the glazier to repay the window, and could thus be explained by pundits (or any public figure) as signifying economic growth. [Chip in on the comments thread if you know the other reasons why GDP is less useful than commonly supposed.]

Bastiat’s take on the role of the state in society:

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

Here he describes the moral ploy inherent in socialist schemes - which we identified in a former post as being ameliorative of the citizen’s struggle to exist, thus inherently delegitimizing and mitigating that struggle:

The Seductive Lure of Socialism

Here I encounter the most popular fallacy of our times. It is not considered sufficient that the law should be just; it must be philanthropic. Nor is it sufficient that the law should guarantee every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education and morality throughout the nation.

Bastiat’s writings about freedom of association seem very prescient, given the ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation’ projects we now are forced to live under - :

Enforced Fraternity Destroys Liberty

Mr. de Lamartine once wrote to me thusly: “Your doctrine is only the half of my program. You have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity.” I answered him: “The second half of your program will destroy the first.”

In fact, it is impossible for me to separate the word fraternity from the word voluntary. I cannot possibly understand how fraternity can be legally enforced without liberty being legally destroyed, and thus justice being legally trampled underfoot.

Bastiat goes on to describe the various schemes for benevolent statist expropriation, which he rightly calls “Plunder”:

Three Systems of Plunder

The sincerity of those who advocate protectionism, socialism, and communism is not here questioned. Any writer who would do that must be influenced by a political spirit or a political fear. It is to be pointed out, however, that protectionism, socialism, and communism are basically the same plant in three different stages of its growth. All that can be said is that legal plunder is more visible in communism because it is complete plunder; and in protectionism because the plunder is limited to specific groups and industries. Thus it follows that, of the three systems, socialism is the vaguest, the most indecisive, and consequently the most sincere state of development.

.... The law can be an instrument of equalization only as it takes from some persons and gives to other persons. When the law does this, it is an instrument of plunder.

With this in mind, examine the protective tariffs, subsidies, guaranteed profits, guaranteed jobs, relief and welfare schemes, public education, progressive taxation, free credit, and public works. You will find that they are always based on legal plunder, organized injustice.

Bastiat’s observations can be quite funny because they are so pointed, here is one I enjoyed:

The Choice Before Us

This question of legal plunder must be settled once and for all, and there are only three ways to settle it:

1. The few plunder the many.
2. Everybody plunders everybody.
3. Nobody plunders anybody.

We must make our choice among limited plunder, universal plunder, and no plunder.

Bastiat comments on one of the most interesting trends in socialist politics, in my view, which is the tendency for socialist ideas - once given entry - to grow and infect the entire system, for lack of a counter-concept to reign in their excesses:

Socialists, like all other monopolists, desire to make the law their own weapon. And when once the law is on the side of socialism, how can it be used against socialism? For when plunder is abetted by law, it does not fear your courts, your gendarmes, and your prisons. Rather, it may call upon them for help.

.... it [socialist laws] is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law - which may be an isolated case - is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system. The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights.

...The acceptance of these arguments will build legal plunder into the whole system.

He puts a very fine point on it thus:

The present-day delusion is an attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it.

Bastiat then enters into a discussion of the motivations and ideas behind socialist schemes:

The Socialists Wish to Play God

Socialists look upon people as raw material to be formed into social combinations. This is so true that, if by chance, the socialists have any doubts about the success of these combinations, they will demand that a small portion of mankind be set aside to experiment upon.

It is no wonder that the writers of the nineteenth century look upon society as an artificial creation of the legislator’s genius. This idea - the fruit of classical education - has taken possession of all the intellectuals and famous writers of our country. To these intellectuals and writers, the relationship between persons and the legislator appears to be the same as the relationship between the clay and the potter.

The Socialists Despise Mankind

According to these writers, it is indeed fortunate that Heaven has bestowed upon certain men - governors and legislators - the exact opposite inclinations [of the average Lumpenproletariat - MR] not only for their own sake but also for the sake of the rest of the world! While mankind tends towards evil, the legislators yearn for good; while mankind advances toward darkness, the legislators aspire for enlightenment; while mankind is drawn toward vice, the legislators are attracted towards virtue.

Open any book on philosophy, politics, or history and you will probably see how deeply rooted in our country is this idea…that mankind is merely inert matter, receiving life, organization, morality, and prosperity from the power of the state. And even worse, it will be stated that mankind tends towards degeneration, and is stopped from this downward course only by the mysterious hand of the legislator.

It seems fit to end the essay with the quote which appears on the book’s back cover, which sums up the problems of having an omnipotent state run by humans, thus by people guilty of the same spiritual frailties as those they are attempting to govern:

If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?

This is a recapitulation in prose of Juvenal’s famous line Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - who will watch the watchmen themselves?



Comments:


1

Posted by James Browy on Mon, 20 Apr 2009 21:13 | #

And yet you support statist Nazism.


2

Posted by James Bowery on Mon, 20 Apr 2009 21:35 | #

My objectivist twin speaks!


3

Posted by James Bowy on Mon, 20 Apr 2009 22:05 | #

Wow, you have a similar name to myself.


4

Posted by James Bowery on Mon, 20 Apr 2009 23:28 | #

To respond to the article on behalf of the real James Bowery which happens to be yours truly:

“Socialism” of a kind is inherent in the social contract upon which government is founded.  It reminds me of a fellow Ron Paul supporter in the Washington State Republican Party Platform Committee conference daring to use the phrase “sanctity of property rights”.  A right to lifer rightfully jumped on him for using that phrase.  Right to life is a natural right which we enforce with our very beings.  Property rights enjoy “sanctity” only to the extent that they are animal territory—the kind of “property” that we use to sustain life itself and will therefore fight to the death to obtain.  Governments almost invariably claim that it is _not_ lawful for a man to kill another man for land even if the killer needs the land to live and reproduce.  They then put themselves in the awkward position of trying to claim that the landless have no material rights and yet they have the right to “life”.  This works ok for Jews and other urbane ethnies, but for the rest of us, it is basically genocide.

So governments continually redress the material needs of the landless to remedy the fact that no man would sign a social contract dooming him to either go off into a corner and die quietly or become a slave to another man.

A social contract that corrects this insanity with minimum socialism is my Actuarial Militia Reform.

Yours truly,

James Bowery


5

Posted by Happy Cracker on Tue, 21 Apr 2009 00:17 | #

James, those are as always interesting cogitations coming from you.

Right to life is a natural right which we enforce with our very beings.  Property rights enjoy “sanctity” only to the extent that they are animal territory—the kind of “property” that we use to sustain life itself and will therefore fight to the death to obtain.  Governments almost invariably claim that it is _not_ lawful for a man to kill another man for land even if the killer needs the land to live and reproduce.  They then put themselves in the awkward position of trying to claim that the landless have no material rights and yet they have the right to “life”.  This works ok for Jews and other urbane ethnies, but for the rest of us, it is basically genocide.

It seems this paradox you’ve hit upon is even older than our present post-1950s quagmire, correct?
This idea has lots of interesting ramifications…. have you organized your work into any kind of corpus where it can all be read at once?

“Bowry” - I never ever claimed here or anywhere else to support Nazism. I’m not even enough of an idealist to paste together an idea of what the ideal system would look like, much less take upon myself a study of an older system with a view to implenting it today. I believe in the 14 words, and I’m sure that any implementation of that will have cons as well as pros.


6

Posted by Ernest Wesley on Tue, 21 Apr 2009 05:34 | #

Bought a copy of ‘The Law’ when I was 17 but lost it since. Thanks for the excellent reminder. James Bowery, the Actuarial Militia Reform is very free market anarchist. Isn’t it and ethno-nationalism a bit too much for the average person? Still I believe our side naturally is more libertarian. We support the bonds that bind in liberty, those of kin and blood, from the root of our being to the tip of our actions. Obviously the diversity commissars can never say the same. I suppose, because of this, ethnic homogeneity is required for liberty.


7

Posted by James Bowery on Tue, 21 Apr 2009 14:29 | #

HC: It seems this paradox you’ve hit upon is even older than our present post-1950s quagmire, correct?

Yes, but the reason we see the post-1950s quagmire as fundamental is because it is the first time that the American yeoman was actually suffering from massive secular fertility reduction due to this kind of “free market” exploitation.  We had a taste of it in the 1930s, after so much of the population had been either cleared from the land or were turned into tenant farmers.  But WW II required a redistribution of wealth to win and control the returning GIs—so a substitute was found for the homestead of the 1800s: A GI-bill college degree, a suburban house, a car to commute to an urban job, low interest rates and lifetime secure employment to make the payments on the above on one income so they could relax and reproduce.  Once the GI’s had been bought off, they were then fed their grandchildren by economically exploiting the boomers born after 1950.  (Notice that all the “boomer” presidents and vice presidents have been born before 1950—even though it is a minority of the boomers—_except_ for Obama who is POST the peak of boomers and not really properly called a boomer despite his birth year.)

So now, the jig is up.

HC: have you organized your work into any kind of corpus where it can all be read at once

I keep meaning to do so but you know how it is paying the rent.

EW: the Actuarial Militia Reform is very free market anarchist. Isn’t it and ethno-nationalism a bit too much for the average person?

An actuarial militia is only as ethic as the majority votes it to be.  Of course, since people tend to sort ethnically, just as they do religiously, by sexual orientation, etc. we can expect there to be some very profitable and effective actuarial militias that would exhibit ethnonationalist characteristics.

And as to their acceptance of such “free market anarchist” militias, the Wall Street Journal reports that:

‘Facing pressure to crack down on crime amid a record budget deficit, Oakland is joining other U.S. cities that are turning over more law-enforcement duties to private armed guards.’

 

 


8

Posted by Matra on Tue, 21 Apr 2009 16:42 | #

  Enforced Fraternity Destroys Liberty

  Mr. de Lamartine once wrote to me thusly: “Your doctrine is only the half of my program. You have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity.” I answered him: “The second half of your program will destroy the first.”

Doesn’t liberty also destroy, or at the very least undermine, fraternity?  Although correlation doesn’t equal causation it is generally the case that societies with the fewest infringements on liberty/freedom are the societies where people behave as if they what they’ve really been liberated/freed from is their bond to their own people.


9

Posted by James Bowery on Tue, 21 Apr 2009 17:22 | #

Matra: I know it is confusing.  Here’s the reality:  The foundation of all liberty is the freedom _not_ to associate with those you find objectionable—freedom from nonconsentual social intercourse.  From that you can construct all other legitimate liberties by the simple expedient of associating with those who share your definition of “liberty”.  Hence, “the politics of exclusion” and “liberty” are one and the same. 

Now, understanding this, run your correlations again.


10

Posted by Desmond Jones on Tue, 21 Apr 2009 17:31 | #

Doesn’t liberty also destroy, or at the very least undermine, fraternity?

Not at all.

SOMETIME IN 1941 A GROUP of “Slavic” workers travelled from Alberta to Ontario in search of skilled jobs in war industries. All the workers were Canadian-born and all had been trained under the government’s War Emergency Training Programme. Yet despite shortages in skilled labour in Ontario, they were unable to obtain work. Upon learning their names, Ontario employers refused to hire them, and the workers were eventually forced to return to Alberta.1 The rejection of these workers, despite their Canadian birth and training, baffles the contemporary reader. Were these workers of Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak, Serbian, or Croatian descent? Did they trace their origins to countries at war with Canada or ones allied with it? Ontario employers apparently considered such information irrelevant. Not the national heritage of these “Slavic” workers, but their “race” convinced prospective employers that they were unfit to work in war industries.

Freedom of association allows exclusion. Classical liberalism is racialised.

A clear indication that more than war-created anxiety concerning enemy aliens was at work in the years between 1939 and 1941 was the vulnerability of people with accents or foreign-sounding names, even if they were born in Canada or in countries allied with Canada. These women and men lost their jobs because employment was still scarce in Canada in the early war years, and many Canadians of British descent believed that they had greater claim to them than so-called foreigners.19 Their anti-foreign sentiments were based on their understanding of race, not nationality. The author of a letter to the Windsor Daily Star, for example, drew no distinctions among them when he asked why “the foreign element such as Italians, Jews, Russians, Pol[es were] all working and holding down good jobs, while our English-speaking boys are on welfare, walking the streets.“20 Many Canadians believed that some groups of immigrants were less deserving of jobs because they did not — indeed could not — form part of the Canadian nation. Allegedly inherent, or racial, differences from Canada’s two “founding races,” the British and the French, relegated such workers to perpetual “foreignness.”


11

Posted by Tanstaafl on Tue, 21 Apr 2009 22:06 | #

Bastiat is credited with the analogy of the Broken Window (sometimes called the Broken Window Fallacy) which basically refutes the idea, common to certain readings of economics, that the breaking of a window…

or the burden placed on schools, hospitals, police, courts, prisons, utilities, parks, roads, etc by immigrants

...could be seen as causing economic growth

Today it’s as if Bastiat’s refutation had never been made, and the Broken Window Fallacy is compounded with another - that building fences or deporting immigrants is “too expensive”.


12

Posted by Tanstaafl on Tue, 21 Apr 2009 22:08 | #

Oh and, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.


13

Posted by Matra on Wed, 22 Apr 2009 01:59 | #

JB: The foundation of all liberty is the freedom _not_ to associate with those you find objectionable—freedom from nonconsentual social intercourse.  From that you can construct all other legitimate liberties by the simple expedient of associating with those who share your definition of “liberty”.  Hence, “the politics of exclusion” and “liberty” are one and the same.

DJ: Freedom of association allows exclusion. Classical liberalism is racialised.

Exclusionary freedom of association under racialised liberalism existed in Canada, the US, Australia and other polities yet it failed the test of time in all of them. Clearly there was some weakness that allowed enough members of other ethnic groups to get in and use their influence to change what was meant by liberalism. How did these outsiders get in in the first place?  Some members of the majority ethnic group obviously had an interest in bringing newcomers to North America and had so much liberty to act in their own narrow interests that they didn’t fear communal punishment

Liberty and individualism seem to go together over time. Individualism undermines group solidarity. Feel free to correct me with examples.


14

Posted by Desmond Jones on Wed, 22 Apr 2009 03:10 | #

Exclusionary freedom of association under racialised liberalism existed in Canada, the US, Australia and other polities yet it failed the test of time in all of them.

Not that familiar with Oz, but in the Canadian case, IMO, failure to institutionalise, via a constitution, the freedom of speech and association, led to their neutering. In the US speech, as a right, is far more secure than in Canada. No doubt if free association had been preserved in a separate amendment, it would exist today. It doesn’t mean that constitutions cannot be revised, however, an amending formula makes it much more difficult.

Some members of the majority ethnic group obviously had an interest in bringing newcomers to North America…

Generally, yes, cheap labour has always been an attraction. There were riots in the north of England, in the 1840s, when cheap Irish labour threatened to take jobs away from English navvies. In Canada, MacDonald was resolute, no Chinese no railroad, however, that was reversed when civil unrest/insurrection was a possibility. Once Canadians stopped fighting for their rights in the street, after WWII, it wasn’t long before the rights were lost.

Of the Chinese immigrants drawn to what is now Canada, many came through the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, adjoining Guandong Province. They, too, were destined for rail work. The Canadian Confederation came into being in 1867, when four eastern colonies agreed to form Canada; and just four years later British Columbia agreed to join the new confederation on the condition that Canada build a transcontinental railroad linking western and eastern Canada. Sir John A. Macdonald, the prime minister of Canada at that time, insisted that the government employ laborers from China to construct the railroad in order to reduce costs. The railways paid Chinese laborers only one-fifth of what they paid white workers for the same work. Transcontinental railway construction in Canada lagged similar construction in the United States by 20 years. In 1880, five years before the railway would be completed, the Canadian Pacific Railway signed several agreements with Chinese labor contractors in Guangdong Province. Initially, more than five thousand laborers came through these contracts directly from China, and another seven thousand Chinese railway workers were recruited from California. Thousands more came to Canada as contract laborers over the next several years.

When the transcontinental railroads were completed, the demand for cheap Chinese labor dropped precipitously Chinese laborers began to compete with white workers, and public opinion in California and the other western states shifted strongly against the presence of the Chinese. Because the Chinese were willing to work for a fraction of the wages paid to white workers, the participation of Chinese in the labor market exerted downward pressure on wages generally.


15

Posted by Tanstaafl on Wed, 22 Apr 2009 10:37 | #

Matra writes:

How did these outsiders get in in the first place? Some members of the majority ethnic group obviously had an interest in bringing newcomers to North America and had so much liberty to act in their own narrow interests that they didn’t fear communal punishment.

Which worked mainly because of a chameleon-like ability known as passing. In the near future genetic testing will make it possible to unmask chameleons, but a polity will still need to possess the will to expel xenophiles who would welcome outsiders.

No doubt if free association had been preserved in a separate amendment, it would exist today. It doesn’t mean that constitutions cannot be revised, however, an amending formula makes it much more difficult.

The chameleon/xenophiles don’t permit amendment rules to constrain them. They see whatever they wish to see in the “emanations of a penumbra” while lecturing others to strictly follow amendment rules.

Freedom of association was precisely what drove the founders to revolt, to separate themselves and their posterity from England. Freedom of association preceded and produced the United States, and its founding documents are predicated upon that freedom. If the chameleon/xenophiles can fabricate rights to abortion, affirmative action, gay marriage, and anchor baby citizenship, etc, from the wispier emanations of lesser penumbras, then the freedom of association can be seen as an emanation of the mother of all penumbras.

James Bowery is right. All other rights and freedoms flow from the freedom of association.


16

Posted by James Bowery on Wed, 22 Apr 2009 11:14 | #

Matra writes:

Exclusionary freedom of association under racialised liberalism existed in Canada, the US, Australia and other polities yet it failed the test of time in all of them.

This “exclusionary freedom of association” you speak of was a group liberty, a liberty taken from individuals, which was “granted” back to individuals.  That “grant” could be rescinded and lo and behold, it was!  When it was, the individuals had no recourse.

The problem is that the kinds of individuals who tend to rule groups that have monopolized land are exactly the kinds of people who tend to defect against those they rule.  They tend to like slavery which attacks their coethnics either indirectly through “the iron law” of wage slavery or by enslaving them directly.  The only way out is to break the land monopoly by recognizing that individuals have a natural right to land hence a natural right to individual secession with assortative migration forming new territories occupied by mutual consent.


17

Posted by Thunder on Fri, 24 Apr 2009 21:14 | #

Just in case it is not mentioned here yet.  You can download free Bastiat’s book from the Von Mises website.  I put it onto my iPod so I can listen to it wherever, in bed after at night is good.



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