Here are some more excerpts from Essays on Political Economy by
What did Bastiat see as the source of the trouble? Was it the politicians? Not really. The problem is we each want something for nothing.
Man recoils from trouble–from suffering; and yet he is condemned by nature to the suffering of privation, if he does not take the trouble to work. He has to choose, then, between these two evils. What means can he adopt to avoid both? There remains now, and there will remain, only one way, which is, to enjoy the labour of others. Such a course of conduct prevents the trouble and the satisfaction from preserving their natural proportion, and causes all the trouble to become the lot of one set of persons, and all the satisfaction that of another. This is the origin of slavery and of plunder, whatever its form may be–whether that of wars, impositions, violence, restrictions, frauds, &c.–monstrous abuses, but consistent with the thought which has given them birth. Oppression should be detested and resisted–it can hardly be called absurd. (from here)
The problem is that we, the great mass of humanity, are all selfish, not just politicians. Fortunately, slavery is not as popular an institution as it used to be, or is it? How do some people enslave other people in this day and age?
The oppressor no longer acts directly and with his own powers upon his victim. No, our conscience has become too sensitive for that. The tyrant and his victim are still present, but there is an intermediate person between them, which is the Government–that is, the Law itself. What can be better calculated to silence our scruples, and, which is perhaps better appreciated, to overcome all resistance? We all, therefore, put in our claim, under some pretext or other, and apply to Government. We say to it, “I am dissatisfied at the proportion between my labour and my enjoyments. I should like, for the sake of restoring the desired equilibrium, to take a part of the possessions of others. But this would be dangerous. Could not you facilitate the thing for me? Could you not find me a good place? or check the industry of my competitors? or, perhaps, lend me gratuitously some capital, which you may take from its possessor? Could you not bring up my children at the public expense? or grant me some prizes? or secure me a competence when I have attained my fiftieth year? (from here)
Sound ridiculous? Well, we can be ridiculous. We can each go to the government and asks for favors at the expense of others, and our leaders will say, “no problem”. Thus, we can all end up paying each others bills, and our leaders will happily take a cut from each transaction.
Shortsighted, we can fail to consider what we are throwing away. We can forget that We the People must insist upon the morality of our leaders.
But the most remarkable part of it is the astonishing blindness of the public through it all. When successful soldiers used to reduce the vanquished to slavery, they were barbarous, but they were not absurd. Their object, like ours, was to live at other people’s expense, and they did not fail to do so. What are we to think of a people who never seem to suspect that reciprocal plunder is no less plunder because it is reciprocal; that it is no less criminal because it is executed legally and with order; that it adds nothing to the public good; that it diminishes it, just in proportion to the cost of the expensive medium which we call the Government?
And it is this great chimera which we have placed, for the edification of the people, as a frontispiece to the Constitution. The following is the beginning of the introductory discourse:–
“France has constituted itself a republic for the purpose of raising all the citizens to an ever-increasing degree of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.”
Thus it is France, or an abstraction, which is to raise the French, or realities, to morality, well-being, &c. Is it not by yielding to this strange delusion that we are led to expect everything from an energy not our own? Is it not giving out that there is, independently of the French, a virtuous, enlightened, and rich being, who can and will bestow upon them its benefits? Is not this supposing, and certainly very gratuitously, that there are between France and the French–between the simple, abridged, and abstract denomination of all the individualities, and these individualities themselves–relations as of father to son, tutor to his pupil, professor to his scholar? I know it is often said, metaphorically, “the country is a tender mother.” But to show the inanity of the constitutional proposition, it is only needed to show that it may be reversed, not only without inconvenience, but even with advantage. Would it be less exact to say–
“The French have constituted themselves a Republic, to raise France to an ever-increasing degree of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.”
Now, where is the value of an axiom where the subject and the attribute may change places without inconvenience? Everybody understands what is meant by this–“The mother will feed the child.” But it would be ridiculous to say–“The child will feed the mother.”
The Americans formed another idea of the relations of the citizens with the Government when they placed these simple words at the head of their Constitution:–
“We, the people of the United States, for the purpose of forming a more perfect union, of establishing justice, of securing interior tranquillity, of providing for our common defence, of increasing the general well-being, and of securing the benefits of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, decree,” &c.
Here there is no chimerical creation, no abstraction, from which the citizens may demand everything. They expect nothing except from themselves and their own energy. (from here)
Don’t we all know that government is horribly inefficient? Don’t we all know that requesting special favors from politicians is dishonest? Don’t we all know that the fact “everybody does it” does not make what is dishonest honest? Then why do we believe dishonest politicians who promise to give us things we have not earned? Perhaps it is time we reconsidered.
Citizens! In all times, two political systems have been in existence, and each may be maintained by good reasons. According to one of them, Government ought to do much, but then it ought to take much. According to the other, this twofold activity ought to be little felt. We have to choose between these two systems. But as regards the third system, which partakes of both the others, and which consists in exacting everything from Government, without giving it anything, it is chimerical, absurd, childish, contradictory, and dangerous. Those who parade it, for the sake of the pleasure of accusing all Governments of weakness, and thus exposing them to your attacks, are only flattering and deceiving you, while they are deceiving themselves.
For ourselves, we consider that Government is and ought to be nothing whatever but common force organized, not to be an instrument of oppression and mutual plunder among citizens; but, on the contrary, to secure to every one his own, and to cause justice and security to reign. (from here)
Not certain of your choice? Then consider reading all of this great work, Essays on Political Economy.