2nd Post on Frederic Bastiat. Please click here and then scroll to the bottom of the site to add a comment.


Frederic Bastiat

 

“All the measures of law should protect property and punish plunder”      

Frederic Bastiat, 1849

“The Law perverted!  And the police powers of the state perverted along with it!  The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law becomes the weapon of every kind of greed!  Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!  If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.”      

Frederick Bastiat, 1849

Drat!  The plan being to move on to my next post, away from Frederic Bastiat and on to the next historical beacon of free market wisdom is foiled.  Just as I didn’t feel one post (see the Liberty Through Knowledge blog’s first two posts) on Friedrich Hayek was sufficient, I now realize that one on Frederic Bastiat will not do sufficient justice to his message and this blog’s intent of establishing a parallel between historical figures of his caliber and our modern times.

My last post touched on Bastiat’s book The Law.  In continuing to read this book, one finds that the parallels between Bastiat’s concerns about France’s rapid descent into socialism in 1848, and our current political and economic quandary become frighteningly prescient.  I use the word frighteningly with neither malice nor forethought.  (Well, OK, maybe just a little malice and a touch of forethought.  🙂  )

The Law is solely a compilation of short statements.  It being impossible to do justice to the book as a whole, I’ll review a few of these statements and then briefly illustrate their parallels to the current philosophical and economic mindset in Foggy Bottom.  (Acknowledged, professed, declared, … or not.)

What follows is a brief explanation of a few selected statements/paragraphs from The Law and their applicability to our modern times.

The Law- Property and Plunder

The main gist of the title of this paragraph is best illuminated by Bastiat’s quote:  “…it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice.”  OK, this one’s easy.  How about income redistribution?  (Yes, a rhetorical question.)  Income redistribution can be viewed as a textbook definition of plundering someone’s property.  How about the new never-ending surtax proposals on the rich [i]or a bureaucrat’s definition of rich), or cash for clunkers: [ii]$24K thereabouts- yes that’s three zero’s, yes that’s per vehicle, and yes that’s per tax payer – per clunker purchased.  So that’s 24K of taxpayer’s dollars redistributed (to newly government and union owned GM and Chrysler and new car buyers) for a regulatory czar’s personal concept (see the last paragraph of this post) of the [iii]“greater good”.

The Law- What is Law?

An excerpt from What is Law? states:  “…Since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty or property of another individual, then the [“common good”] – for the same reason – cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.”  The first modern parallel that comes to mind is the infamous Kelo decision.  Upheld by five of the non-originalist members of the Supreme Court, this decision removed the property of the plaintiff. (Susan Kelo’s home.)  Amendment V of the constitution states “…nor shall private property be taken for public use…”  (Emphasis added.)  Happily for detractors of Bastiat, including those who don’t believe in the uniform rule of law, the property was usurped to allow a private company to use the land, exercising the tortured viewpoint that tax revenues would benefit the “public use”.  Although admittedly Amendment V essentially explains eminent domain rather than authorizes it, a history of solid case law explains the founder’s intent.  For example much modern case law on eminent domain delineates its application to matters of public safety, public health, valid transportation requirements, and law and order.  Not to tax revenues from a private concern.

And by the way the private company granted land rights through this decision has pulled up stakes and skedaddled.  (How ironic…  😕   This development inadvertently left out of the NYT?)

The Law- The Results of Legal Plunder

The title leads us in perfectly, as does Bastiat’s own first sentence: “…the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder”.  His description of the purpose of law is to support justice.  Therefore any law specifically designed to favor one special interest group or another, forces an unwanted contradiction upon the law-abiding citizen.  When citizens recognize an immoral public statute, they now find themselves in a quandary: give up your moral sense of justice or lose respect for the law.  The clear recognition of legal plunder forces law-abiding citizens into this conundrum.

Fast forwarding into the 21st century, let’s illuminate where we’re going with this.  The recent Senate passage of health care legislation contained several peculiar sops to a few particular states.  (Specifically Nebraska, Florida and Louisiana.)  Health care legislation also could force individuals against their will off of employer health care and on to a public option, while exempting the very legislators voting for the bill (60% of the Senate right down party lines by the way) from its egregious mandates.  How (yes… again meant rhetorically) would Bastiat with his concern for a moral sense of the law and respect for uniformly applied justice view these modern shenanigans?

The Law- The Socialists Despise Mankind, and The Socialists Wish to Play God

These two paragraphs are the last I’ll review in this post.  (And I thank the readers for accommodating one final time traveling parallel.)  This section of  The Law offer truly stunning similarities between our hero Bastiat’s 19th century concerns, and this current disconcerting challenge to our liberty.  Bastiat here ponders the tendency of socialists (read the House Financial Services Committee) to “…. Look upon people as raw material to be formed into social combinations”, as in “… between the inventor and his elements [or] the Gardner and his trees”.

So here’s the “stunning similarities angle”:  Our current President, when questioned about the wisdom of government intervention in the economy while he was campaigning said this (paraphrased): “Just as in the space program, I intend to experiment to find out what works until a solution is found”.  Bastiat calls this mentality (direct quote) “high-handed at the least”.  The attitude here being that with enough experimenting government can rectify all of society’s ills.  Bastiat then – with tongue firmly implanted in cheek – states that: “the socialists believe that they have a creative power whose sublime mission is to mold these scattered materials [read people] into a society.”

Our friend Frederic then continues this description of 1849 France’s legislators (and by inference our current political majority party’s) mindset:   Paraphrased:  [iv]Mankind = evil, legislators = good; mankind = darkness, legislators = enlightened;  mankind = drawn towards vice, legislators = virtuous.  So by inference, our law makers’ arrogance now becomes instituted by force.  Either by actual force as in communism, or by as Friedrich Hayek puts it: arbitrary coercion.

*  *  *

Arbitrary coerciveness by the government knows no bounds: LBJ’s Great Society programs, the Community Reinvestment Act, high corporate taxes (et al.), affirmative action, [v]politically correct textbook alteration  (yes censoring), and one more essential example of unjust coerciveness that can’t be left out:  [vi]the Supreme Court decision granting enemy combatants constitutional protections.

*  *  *

The rule of law and a moral sense of justice are evaporating into the ether.  Destructive altruism, invasive social engineering and moral superiority by our lawmakers seep past our constitutional protections just as water leaks through a dam.  Heed Frederic Bastiat’s good counsel.

Comments con and pro most welcome.  Really!


[i] Is someone who starts a business and invests their life savings, builds up debt over 5 years, assumes a massive amount of risk, and then finally, if they are one of the lucky few who make it and turn a profit of over let’s say 250K the 6th year rich?  What is rich?  Cash flow?  Assets minus 5 years worth of liabilities?  Personal bank account after life savings depleted?  Future revenue expectations?  So what is rich by the current administration’s definition regarding tax liabilities for being “too privileged”?  What about the majority of business starts that don’t make it and therefore can’t hire workers?  Are they now victims?  Should they have their risk based losses reimbursed by the taxpayers? Please  google “moral hazard”.

[ii] edmunds.com Senior Analyst David Tompkins, PhD

[iii] For those not convinced that “Cash for Clunkers” isn’t a greater good: consider estimates by the Dept. of Energy of a total of 4.5 hours driving worth of gas saved per year U.S. wide.  So you’re still not convinced this isn’t worth five figures of tax payers $ per vehicle?  How about the unintended consequences – as the vast majority of govt. intervention results in – of the loss of business/jobs for used car parts manufacturers, the reduction of the number of used cars on the market driving up prices for those who can’t afford a new car, the new cars that would have been purchased anyway, the energy required to build a false excess (non free market mandated) of new vehicles, or the extra miles some people might drive due to getting higher mpg?  How do those of our legislators with the current trendy entitlement saturated altruistic frame of mind explain these results?  With an “oops” – I didn’t mean for that to happen.  Oh well, on to the next social experiment.  (As in the above reference to our current President’s method of managing the economy like NASA’s modus operandi of experimenting until finding something that works.

[iv] I don’t think Bastiat would have an issue with mankind’s ongoing internal struggle with ‘evil darkness and vice’, it’s the assumption of ‘good enlightened and virtuous’ regarding some of our elected representatives he would take issue with.  🙂

[v] Here’s a few of the directives California educators have mandated for their textbooks:  The nation’s Founding Fathers must be referred to as “The Framers”.  (Too paternalistic mind you.)  Images of unsafe foods – hot dogs, sodas, cake, etc. – have been banned.  Mount Rushmore can no longer be pictured because “it appears to offend” some Native Americans.  Yachts cannot be depicted in textbooks because theyseem elitist.  Trust me, it doesn’t end here.

[vi] The consequences of course endangering U.S. citizens by the necessary release of classified information outside of military tribunals.  This arbitrary and unjust application of the law by necessity hamstrings our soldiers on the battlefield by potentially putting them into the position of granting Miranda Rights to enemy combatants; non-uniformed mind you.  (Not to mention having to pick up shell casings with a pencil, ala Miami CSI?… Or is that Kandahar CSI?  Sarcasm unfortunately very much intended.)

 

Frederic Bastiat and Us. Please click here and scroll to the bottom of the site to add a comment.


It’s raining dollars!  What would Frederic Bastiat have to say about this if he could speak to us from 1848?


As government regulations grow slowly, we become used to the harness – Judge Robert Bork

Hail 1840s French Liberalism!

Frederic Bastiat


We interrupt our regular programming.  The President has just banned windows in order to benefit candle makers; candle production, he says, will stimulate the economy as long as candles aren’t melted by sunlight.  The administration also announces it will nationalize candle manufacturing, allow greedy wax suppliers only 10% of the money they are owed by the candle makers, plus grant a 30% share of Acme Candles, Inc.  to the UCMDWU (United Candle Mold Delivery Workers’ Union).   New York Times White House correspondent asks Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what most enchanted the President before he was blessed with this economic epiphany.

OK, I’ve got the facetiousness out of my system.  I wish I could take credit for this prescient concept.  I’ll admit to only my personal sarcasm in tying the philosophy of that remarkably witty proponent of freedom and liberty: Frederic Bastiat, (see link to Wikipedia entries from the pictures on the sidebar) to our current state of affairs.  Frederic Bastiat was a member of what was known as the French Liberal School in the 1840s (liberal as in the classical/original free market definition), warning of the folly of government intervention in the marketplace.  His parable of a fictitious petition by candle makers to the French government to eliminate windows in order to prevent candles from melting – thereby increasing economic prosperity by insuring the success of the candle industry (at the expense of the window industry…oops) – is a hilarious anecdote.  It also unfortunately illustrates the genesis of the president’s belief system.

Obviously above, I make reference to the bailout of GM, the perversion of the rule of law in throwing Chrysler bond holders to the wolves, and the artificial propping up of the UAW rather than normal bankruptcy pecking order.  Bastiat’s fable of altruistic but ultimately damaging marketplace intervention, is echoed consistently by the current administration’s adherence to this paradigm of unlimited spending by fiat justified by its immediate/short term effects on various and sundry interest groups.  In fact, Friedrich Hayek (see my previous two posts) said in a review of Bastiat that, according to 1930s economist John Maynard Keynes, the assumption of a multiplier effect (simply meaning a belief that the government can stimulate the economy by spending, producing a return greater than the cost of the stimulus; thereby increasing employment) on general economic prosperity would precisely mimic the argument of the candle makers!

Cash for clunkers (and maybe the upcoming Stimulus II cash for “cluckers” chicken farm bailout?) would most certainly fit neatly into these fallacies: money will do more good in the hands of the government, and it is the duty of government  to see that all get what they “deserve”.

Lastly, Frederic Bastiat’s landmark book: The Law has remarkable parallels to the economically damaging entitlement philosophies of the current congressional majority.  For example Bastiat says in the section The Results of Legal Plunder, “No society can exist unless the laws are respectable to a certain degree.  The safest ways to make laws respected is to make them respectable.”  This quote illustrates the current congress’s path towards a society in which greater than 50% of workers pay no taxes, and receive payments in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Therefore, this non-tax paying majority – the receivers of public services and governmental largess – are able to award themselves through the ballot ever increasing free goods and services from the minority: the tax payers/suppliers of public services and governmental largess.  I see no end to this increase in receivers, to include the resulting unconstructive inertia towards manufactured dependence.

So to bring my polemic to a close, I quote Bastiat one more time: “Legal plunder is identified as “… the law takes from some persons [what] belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong…The person who profits from this law… will claim that the state is obligated to protect and encourage his particular industry…”

— Or nationality, ethnicity, income demographic, religion, color, blue collar, white collar, government employee, Woodstock museum, first time home buyer, union member, sexual preference, illegal immigrant, home in foreclosure, Wall St., Main St., small business, large business, self esteem damaging tatoo removers (I didn’t make this one up: see   http://www.mcclatchydc.com/226/story/63697.html), “green” energy producer, municipality, farmer, auto parts supplier, environmentalist, “too big to fail” bank and insurance companies, student, teacher, cop, mechanic, ethanol producer, the bicycle spoke hooker-uppers’ guild, donut shop owners’ amalgamated, and last but not least……….Acme Candles, Inc.

Comments on the blog con or pro most welcome.

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