Just a few days ago I commented on my desire for Americans to learn more about economics. I also finished the post adding the need to learn about history. The writings of Frederic Bastiat prove this second point. Bastiat died in 1850 yet 160 years after his death words speak to many of the issues that we encounter today.
In The Law, written shortly before his death, Bastiat makes a compelling case that law in France at the time was being misused to commit legal plunder. Laws passed that allow government to take from one person and give it to other persons to whom it does not belong do not change the fact that something is TAKEN from the first person or plundered. The passage of such laws make the plunder legal. We most recognize this plunder in the form of taxes.
Making plunder legal does not make it right. The Law, written about Bastiat’s France, applies to many nations today. Bastiat discusses France’s early slide toward socialism, economic and social experimentation, and subsequent revolutions. Most of the things that happened in France have happened or are happening in America. This book should be required reading. One of the things that I do when I read a book is to place post-it tabs on pages that contain pertinent points that I want to relate when I review the book. The Law is a scant 104 pages, yet I have 23 passages marked and will provide a few points in Bastiat’s own words:
“As a friend of mine once remarked, this negative concept of law is so true that the statement, the purpose of the law is to cause justice to reign, is not a rigorously accurate statement. It ought to be stated that the purpose of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. In fact, it is injustice, instead of justice, that has an existence of its own. Justice is achieved only when injustice is absent.” [emphasis added]
I had never thought about Law this way before. As I think about laws, their affect, and the reasons given for their passage, I cannot think of any in recent memory that were passed to PREVENT INJUSTICE! If only politicians would give a litmus test to all legislation to see if any law prevents injustice and pass only those where the answer is affirmative. I can dream.
“he [French leader] would use the law to secure for them a guaranteed minimum of clothing, housing, food, and all other necessities of life…that these minimum guarantees are merely the beginning of complete fraternity; he would say that the law should give tools of production and free education to all working people…All of these proposals are the high road to communism; legislation will then be – in fact, it already is – the battlefield for the fantasies and greed of everyone.”
Sone would argue that using the term “communism” is going a little far, but remember the mantra of communism that “to each according to his needs and from each according to his ability.” How far are we removed from that position of spreading the wealth around?
As he concludes The Law, Bastiat asks a simple question that we should all consider;
“Look at the entire world. Which countries contain the most peaceful, the most moral, and the happiest people? Those people are found in hte countries where the law least interferes with private affairs; where government is least felt; where the individual has the greatest scope; and free opinion the greatest influence; where administrative powers are fewest and simplest; where taxes are lightest and most nearly equal; and popular discontent the least excited and the least justifiable; where individuals and groups most actively assume their responsibilities…”
How far has America moved from this position? Can we get back?
The Law has so much more to offer and I could go on and on and on. I highly recommend that you read this book. After you read this book, it would be great to follow up with Cleon Skousen’s 5000 Year Leap.