THE BATTLEFIELD FOR EVERYBODY’S DREAMS AND EVERYBODY’S COVETOUSNESS

Illustration shows a gigantic boar wearing a crown with "$" and a shawl labeled "Plutocratic Greed" and holding the U.S. Capitol dome labeled "Special Privilege", inverted to form a bucket from which it is sowing seeds labeled "Abuse of Power, Arrogance, [and] Contempt of Law" onto a field sprouting "Socialist votes". It is stepping on an American flag and a Liberty cap. (from here)
Illustration shows a gigantic boar wearing a crown with “$” and a shawl labeled “Plutocratic Greed” and holding the U.S. Capitol dome labeled “Special Privilege”, inverted to form a bucket from which it is sowing seeds labeled “Abuse of Power, Arrogance, [and] Contempt of Law” onto a field sprouting “Socialist votes”. It is stepping on an American flag and a Liberty cap. (from here)
In his day (1801 – 1850) and with brilliant intellectual rigor and honesty, Frédéric Bastiat fiercely fought the Socialism that had become a national plague in France. Hence we have his Essays on Political Economy.

In our last visit to Bastiat’s work (WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO MAKE AMERICA AMERICA AGAIN?), we considered the meaning of the idea that made America America.  Here we will consider in more detail what makes Socialism organized injustice.

Socialism poses as a solution for many serious societal ills. Why doesn’t Socialism work?

You say, “There are men who have no money,” and you apply to the law. But the law is not a self-supplied fountain, whence every stream may obtain supplies independently of society. Nothing can enter the public treasury, in favour of one citizen or one class, but what other citizens and other classes have been forced to send to it. If every one draws from it only the equivalent of what he has contributed to it, your law, it is true, is no plunderer, but it does nothing for men who want money–it does not promote equality. It can only be an instrument of equalisation as far as it takes from one party to give to another, and then it is an instrument of plunder. Examine, in this light, the protection of tariffs, prizes for encouragement, right to profit, right to labour, right to assistance, right to instruction, progressive taxation, gratuitousness of credit, social workshops, and you will always find at the bottom legal plunder, organised injustice.

You say, “There are men who want knowledge,” and you apply to the law. But the law is not a torch which sheds light abroad which is peculiar to itself. It extends over a society where there are men who have knowledge, and others who have not; citizens who want to learn, and others who are disposed to teach. It can only do one of two things: either allow a free operation to this kind of transaction, i.e., let this kind of want satisfy itself freely; or else force the will of the people in the matter, and take from some of them sufficient to pay professors commissioned to instruct others gratuitously. But, in this second case, there cannot fail to be a violation of liberty and property,–legal plunder.

You say, “Here are men who are wanting in morality or religion,” and you apply to the law; but law is force, and need I say how far it is a violent and absurd enterprise to introduce force in these matters?

As the result of its systems and of its efforts, it would seem that socialism, notwithstanding all its self-complacency, can scarcely help perceiving the monster of legal plunder. But what does it do? It disguises it cleverly from others, and even from itself, under the seductive names of fraternity, solidarity, organisation, association. And because we do not ask so much at the hands of the law, because we only ask it for justice, it supposes that we reject fraternity, solidarity, organisation, and association; and they brand us with the name of individualists.

We can assure them that what we repudiate is, not natural organisation, but forced organisation.

It is not free association, but the forms of association which they would impose upon us.

It is not spontaneous fraternity, but legal fraternity.

It is not providential solidarity, but artificial solidarity, which is only an unjust displacement of responsibility. (from here)

Still, should we not have a social safety net, at least a little bit of Socialism that prevents the worst societal ills? No. As Bastiat observed: “I have no hesitation in answering, Law is common force organised to prevent injustice;–in short, Law is Justice.” That is, the Law exists solely to prevent us from infringing upon each others rights. How can we trust the people who administer the Law both to protect our rights and to step on our rights?

Nothing can be more clear and simple, more perfectly defined and bounded, or more visible to every eye; for justice is a given quantity, immutable and unchangeable, and which admits of neither increase or diminution.

Depart from this point, make the law religious, fraternal, equalising, industrial, literary, or artistic, and you will be lost in vagueness and uncertainty; you will be upon unknown ground, in a forced Utopia, or, which is worse, in the midst of a multitude of Utopias, striving to gain possession of the law, and to impose it upon you; for fraternity and philanthropy have no fixed limits, like justice. Where will you stop? Where is the law to stop? One person, as M. de Saint Cricq, will only extend his philanthropy to some of the industrial classes, and will require the law to dispose of the consumers in favour of the producers. Another, like M. Considerant, will take up the cause of the working classes, and claim for them by means of the law, at a fixed rate, clothing, lodging, food, and everything necessary for the support of life. A third, as, M. Louis Blanc, will say, and with reason, that this would be an incomplete fraternity, and that the law ought to provide them with instruments of labour and the means of instruction. A fourth will observe that such an arrangement still leaves room for inequality, and that the law ought to introduce into the most remote hamlets luxury, literature, and the arts. This is the high road to communism; in other words, legislation will be–what it now is–the battle-field for everybody’s dreams and everybody’s covetousness. (from here)

A battlefield? Does that not describe this year’s elections? A war of words verging on violence? As the cartoon above indicates, when we give the ruling classes more power than is needed just to protect our rights, they soon begin to abuse that power and demand more, often using their own failures as an excuse. It is just a matter of time before voting will not matter. What will matter is power, who controls the military and police forces.

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO MAKE AMERICA AMERICA AGAIN?

When I started to write this post, it occurred to me that I would not likely be the first to call to make America America again. So I wondered what others might have said.

Perhaps the most recent call came in a speech at the Republican National Convention by Scott Baio.

Did Baio  say anything wonderfully profound? Not really, at least not apparently. Yet consider these words.

But for you first-time voters, it’s important for you to know what it means to be an American. It doesn’t mean getting free stuff.  It means sacrificing. Winning. Losing. Failing. Succeeding. And sometimes doing the things you don’t want to do — including the hard work — in order to get where you want to be. And that’s what it means to be an American. (from here)

Why would Baio say this is what it means to be an American? Well, America has never been what it promised to be and yet…

In his Essays on Political Economy, Frédéric Bastiat speaks of the Unites States (or America) as a good example. Nevertheless, even in his day Bastiat (1801 – 1850) had to admit that Americans perverted the Law and used it to engage in legal plunder. Continue reading “WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO MAKE AMERICA AMERICA AGAIN?”

HOW WE GET THE GOVERNMENT TO DO OUR DIRTY WORK

"The protectors of our industries". Cartoon showing Cyrus Field, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Russell Sage, seated on bags of "millions", on large heavy raft being carried by workers. (from here)
“The protectors of our industries”. Cartoon showing Cyrus Field, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Russell Sage, seated on bags of “millions”, on large heavy raft being carried by workers. (from here)

Were the gentlemen pictured above robber barons? I am not in a position to say. I just think that if we changed the names and faces that cartoon would be even more relevant today.

Frédéric Bastiat was a first-rate satirist of Crony Capitalism. Here is an example from Essays on Political Economy.

M. Prohibant (it was not I who gave him this name, but M. Charles Dupin) devoted his time and capital to converting the ore found on his land into iron. As nature had been more lavish towards the Belgians, they furnished the French with iron cheaper than M. Prohibant; which means, that all the French, or France, could obtain a given quantity of iron with less labour by buying it of the honest Flemings. Therefore, guided by their own interest, they did not fail to do so; and every day there might be seen a multitude of nail-smiths, blacksmiths, cartwrights, machinists, farriers, and labourers, going themselves, or sending intermediates, to supply themselves in Belgium. This displeased M. Prohibant exceedingly.

At first, it occurred to him to put an end to this abuse by his own efforts: it was the least he could do, for he was the only sufferer. “I will take my carbine,” said he; “I will put four pistols into my belt; I will fill my cartridge box; I will gird on my sword, and go thus equipped to the frontier. There, the first blacksmith, nail-smith, farrier, machinist, or locksmith, who presents himself to do his own business and not mine, I will kill, to teach him how to live.” At the moment of starting, M. Prohibant made a few reflections which calmed down his warlike ardour a little. He said to himself, “In the first place, it is not absolutely impossible that the purchasers of iron, my countrymen and enemies, should take the thing ill, and, instead of letting me kill them, should kill me instead; and then, even were I to call out all my servants, we should not be able to defend the passages. In short, this proceeding would cost me very dear, much more so than the result would be worth.”

M. Prohibant was on the point of resigning himself to his sad fate, that of being only as free as the rest of the world, when a ray of light darted across his brain. He recollected that at Paris there is a great manufactory of laws. “What is a law?” said he to himself. “It is a measure to which, when once it is decreed, be it good or bad, everybody is bound to conform. For the execution of the same a public force is organised, and to constitute the said public force, men and money are drawn from the whole nation. If, then, I could only get the great Parisian manufactory to pass a little law, ‘Belgian iron is prohibited,’ I should obtain the following results:–The Government would replace the few valets that I was going to send to the frontier by 20,000 of the sons of those refractory blacksmiths, farriers, artizans, machinists, locksmiths, nail-smiths, and labourers. Then to keep these 20,000 custom-house officers in health and good humour, it would distribute among them 25,000,000 of francs taken from these blacksmiths, nail-smiths, artizans, and labourers. They would guard the frontier much better; would cost me nothing; I should not be exposed to the brutality of the brokers; should sell the iron at my own price, and have the sweet satisfaction of seeing our great people shamefully mystified. That would teach them to proclaim themselves perpetually the harbingers and promoters of progress in Europe. Oh! it would be a capital joke, and deserves to be tried.”

So M. Prohibant went to the law manufactory. Another time, perhaps, I shall relate the story of his underhand dealings, but now I shall merely mention his visible proceedings. He brought the following consideration before the view of the legislating gentlemen.

“Belgian iron is sold in France at ten francs, which obliges me to sell mine at the same price. I should like to sell at fifteen, but cannot do so on account of this Belgian iron, which I wish was at the bottom of the Red Sea. I beg you will make a law that no more Belgian iron shall enter France. Immediately I raise my price five francs, and these are the consequences:–

“For every hundred-weight of iron that I shall deliver to the public, I shall receive fifteen francs instead of ten; I shall grow rich more rapidly, extend my traffic, and employ more workmen. My workmen and I shall spend much more freely, to the great advantage of our tradesmen for miles around. These latter, having more custom, will furnish more employment to trade, and activity on both sides will increase in the country. This fortunate piece of money, which you will drop into my strong-box, will, like a stone thrown into a lake, give birth to an infinite number of concentric circles.”

Charmed with his discourse, delighted to learn that it is so easy to promote, by legislating, the prosperity of a people, the law-makers voted the restriction. “Talk of labour and economy,” they said, “what is the use of these painful means of increasing the national wealth, when all that is wanted for this object is a decree?” (from here)

Was the law that M. Prohibant had passed to protect the profitability of his mines a bad law? Bastiat goes on to explain that it was. So if M. Prohibant’s idea strikes you as fine and excellent, please click on the link and read about the consequences of M. Prohibant’s law.

What is the lesson here? We like to blame others, but we have a republic. By themselves robber barons cannot gain the passage of restrictive trade legislation. By themselves they don’t have enough votes.

Consider.  Was M. Prohibant the only gainer from the law he proposed? Like M. Prohibant we each tend to think the laws we benefit from are good. It is the law that other people use to restrict us that we dislike. It is that self-interest that our leaders use to pit us against each other. It is that self interest that allows robber barons to buy our leaders. Instead of electing honorable men and women who refuse to be bought, we elect people who give us what we want.

What we need to do is consider the laws we want from the point of view of others. If what we want is intended only to help “me”, then we are not being neighborly. We are just being selfish.

Jesus gave us a challenging assignment.

John 15:12-14 New King James Version (NKJV)

12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

How do we love one another as Jesus loved? We can debate that, but is it not safe to say we should not use the law to gain privileges from each other that we do not deserve?

WHAT IS GOVERNMENT?

The daisy chain is a pretty thing children love, but its method of construction features flower stem after flower stem passing through flower stem after flower stem until flower has been pointlessly damaged for the sake of another. (from here)
The daisy chain is a pretty thing children love, but its method of construction features flower stem after flower stem passing through flower stem after flower stem until each flower has been pointlessly damaged for the sake of another. (from here)

Here are some more excerpts from Essays on Political Economy by Frédéric Bastiat. The subject here is Government. At the time Bastiat wrote (1848), competing groups of Socialists politicians promised the impossible to the people of France. Then what happened in France looked much like what is happening here today.

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.