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Gary M. Galles - Contributor

Mr. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. [go to Galles index]

 


Seeking 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 necessity for 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 else.

...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 than good...

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 systems....

...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.

Unfortunately, that 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

copyright 2004 Gary M. Galles

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