Gary M. Galles - Contributor
Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University.
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Liberty in the Election
Frederic Bastiat on Government...
[Gary M. Galles] 10/19/04
By this point in a presidential election, the competing promises,
commitments, proposals, and other voter bait brings to mind
H.L. Mencken's dictum that "Every election is a sort of
advance auction sale of stolen goods." And that, in turn,
brings to mind the 1848 essay, Government, by Frederic Bastiat,
one of history's most ardent defenders of liberty, in which
he gave what may still be the most insightful critique of our
current government problems.
I should be glad...if you had really discovered a beneficent
and inexhaustible being, calling itself the Government...which
can provide for all our wants...correct all our errors,
repair all our faults, and exempt us henceforth from the
foresight, prudence, judgment, sagacity, experience, order,
economy, temperance, and activity...
Man...recoils from trouble...yet he is condemned by nature to
the suffering of privation, if he does not take the trouble to
work...What means can he adopt to avoid both?...to enjoy the
labor of others. [But]...our disposition to defend our property
prevents direct and open plunder from being easy.
The oppressor no longer
acts directly and with his own powers upon his victim...there
is an intermediate person between them,
which is the Government...We say to it "...I should like...to
take a part of the possessions of others. But this would be dangerous.
Could you not facilitate the thing for me?...for the law will
have acted for me, and I shall have all the advantages of plunder,
without its risk or its disgrace."
[But] Government cannot satisfy one party without adding to
the labor of the others... Government is the great fiction through
which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody
...everyone is, more
or less, for profiting by the labors of others...Government
is applied to, and every class in its turn
comes and says, "You, who can take justifiably and honestly,
take from the public, and we will partake." Alas, Government
is only too much disposed to follow this diabolical advice...to
be the judge and the master of the destinies of all...But the
most remarkable part of it is the astonishing blindness of the
public...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...
But the thing that...never will be seen or conceived is that
Government can restore more to the public than it has taken from
it...to confer a particular benefit upon any one...without inflicting
a greater injury upon the community as a whole...to do more harm
In all times, two political systems have been in existence...According
to one of them, Government ought to do much, but then it ought
to take much. According to the other, this two-fold activity
ought to be little felt. We have to choose between these two
...we consider that Government is and ought to be nothing but
the united power of the people, 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.
Frederic Bastiat noted
the U.S. as an exception to the government-directed plunder
of the people by the people: "[T]here is no chimerical
creation, no abstraction, from which the citizens may demand
everything. They expect nothing except from themselves and their
own energy." That is, our government then accorded well
with its legitimate role of protecting our rights and liberties.
vision of America's government has been replaced by coercive
intervention and redistribution whenever
and wherever those "in charge" see fit. That is our
central governance problem, and why elections are tiresome competitions
of candidates trying to convince voters they will steal for them,
while the "other guy" will steal from them. But if
we are as sick of it as we say, we should follow Bastiat's conclusion
in The Law: "Away with the whims of governmental administrators...and
try liberty." CRO
2004 Gary M. Galles