The Life and Work of Frédéric Bastiat: One Man’s Call for Liberty

by Dec 30, 2012

Originally published in: The Journal of Free Enterprise, Summer 1994, pp. 35-52

I. Introduction

The famous bank robber, Willie Sutton, was once asked why he continued to rob banks. He responded by saying, “Because that’s where they keep the money.” Mr. Sutton’s response is certainly insightful in modern day America which faces many economic problems ranging from the mounting national debt and continuing deficits to urban economic decay and violence. To confuse matters more, these problems exist at a point in time when the economy is poised to reap tremendous economic gains from exploiting the numerous benefits of advanced computer technology. Yet economic hardship resides right beside what could potentially be the greatest prospect for economic growth in all human history. In one short statement, Mr. Sutton has pinpointed the cause of this problem. In general, the American people today are convinced that all wealth flows from a fountain located in Washington D.C. and have lined up there to drink their fill. Government solutions are sought for problems ranging from the elimination of poverty to the funding of the arts to the provision of cheap, high quality health care.

Unfortunately, governmental solutions to economic problems are largely mythical and are based upon fundamental fallacies of thought. The nineteenth century French economist, Frederic Bastiat, saw a similar situation occurring in his own country and endeavored to expose the fallacies in his writings. His favorite method of revealing falsehood was to logically exaggerate the positions of his opponents to show the irrationality of them. As Henry Hazlitt has pointed out, Bastiat “was the master of the reductio ad absurdum.”[1] With single-minded purpose he destroyed the arguments of protectionists and socialists and, in so doing, defined what he believed to be the appropriate role of government. This definition is particularly useful today in understanding the current situation in the United States as well as other “mixed economies”.[2]

II. Bastiat’s View of the Proper Role of Government

Shortly before his death in 1850, Bastiat wrote, The Law, which captures succinctly his view of the proper role of government. Following the natural law tradition of John Locke and others, Bastiat argued that “life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”[3] Thus he argued that governments are formed primarily to protect the general populace from people who would violate the their lives, destroy their liberty, or plunder their property. Government then, “is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.”[4]

In this view, the purpose of government is to punish wrongdoers. That is, it is the collective use of force to protect the endowed natural rights of each individual. Therefore, it is recognized that the individual can rightly defend his life, liberty, and property against the violation of them by other people. But instead of taking matters into one’s own hands, the individual relies largely upon the collective use of force to protect him from the offenses of others. In Bastiat’s view, this is the only legitimate basis for law and government.

This understanding of the purpose of law led Bastiat to a staunch defense of the free market. He noted that the world into which all are born requires work and labor to achieve one’s ends whether those ends are for mere survival or for the enjoyment of some luxury. Bastiat further recognized that people may achieve their ends either by their own productive efforts or by seizing the produce of someone else. In his view, this natural situation gives rise to property rights which ought to be defended by the government. In one of his many essays he writes:

People believe that, when we demand free trade, we are motivated exclusively by the desire to allow labor and capital to take the direction most advantageous to them. Public opinion is mistaken on this point; this is merely a secondary consideration with us. What grieves us, afflicts us, horrifies us in the protectionist system is that it is the negation of law, justice, and property rights; that it turns the law, which should guarantee justice and the right to property, against them; that it both subverts and perverts the conditions under which society exists.[5]

Given this understanding of the proper function of the law, Bastiat explored the reasons why unconstrained democracy tended toward socialistic policies, as was the case in France during his life. He gave two reasons for this situation: greed and false philanthropy. The first reason is easy to understand. Greed is a powerful passion in the human heart. It leads people bound by its grip to participate in the act of stealing the property of others. Using the power of government to plunder one’s neighbor is a very effective means of theft. When an individual is successful at gaining political power so that the collective force is used to seize his neighbor’s property he no longer need fear retribution. That is, the thief no longer need worry about being punished for his crime for it has been artificially legitimized. As a result, stealing goes on with impunity. Unfortunately, this situation tends to blur people’s vision of the true meaning of justice.

The second reason for the rise of democratic socialism is more subtle. It flows from the individual’s desire to have compassion on others. As such, there is an abiding temptation to use the resources one voluntarily controls to lobby legislatures so as to tap into the larger means available in the public treasury. If the efforts are successful, then the individual will be able to control the flow of far more resources for his “good” cause. Ruinously though, such efforts will be at the expense of justice since it perverts the very basis and purpose of the law and allows people to seize property from others by the use of force.

Having established a sound aim for government, and having examined reasons why that aim is abandoned in practice, Bastiat developed some of the necessary consequences which would follow if the law were diverted from its fundamental purpose.[6] This was an especially important task for him given his country’s penchant for decidedly socialistic government policies. The consequences he identified include the demise of the general understanding of the distinction between justice and injustice, the rise of prejudicial politics that fosters hatred and discord between citizens, the reduction in the economic well being of the citizenry below what would otherwise have been achieved, and, finally, the categorical destruction of liberty.

Interestingly, Bastiat’s basic understanding of the proper role of government, and of the resulting consequences of its deviation from this role, was shared by many early Americans. For example, John Adams is quoted as saying, “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” In his farewell address George Washington warned the nation to be on guard against special interest groups and associations which “are likely in the course of time and things to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” Additionally, Grover Cleveland posed the question, “If the government supports the people, who will support the government?” In fact, an examination of early American views of government shows that they were generally consistent with those which Bastiat held.[7] Since this is the case, and since the American experience during much of the twentieth century has been the movement away from its roots, it seems worthwhile to examine the extent to which the country has suffered the consequences enumerated by Bastiat.

III. America’s Move Toward Democratic Socialism

In his book, The Flight From Reality, Clarence Carson describes the philosophical drift that allowed for America’s move to democratic socialism.[8] Carson points out that the push for social reform has been largely embraced by the intellectual community because it has generally given up on its quest for truth. Rather, it has embraced a thoroughgoing relativism which rejects the notion of fundamental principles of nature. When people believe that there are no principles of economics, or of physics, or of anything else, then all is imaginable. “The centerpiece of the delusion is the belief that there are no limits to man’s creativity. Reality can be endlessly shaped and reshaped to suit the purposes of men.”[9] This view, that there are no natural laws or fixed attributes of nature or unalterable statutes that prescribe appropriate human behavior, is dominant in the modern academy.

Alternatively, on a practical level, everyone knows that this view is inoperable and simply not true. Every day the behavior of those who espouse relativism demonstrates that they do not fundamentally live in accordance with their proclamations. Numerous natural laws, both physical and moral, are taken for granted. Put bluntly, everyone lives practically by trusting in the law of noncontradiction, the principle that certain results always follow from certain actions, and that sense perception provides generally reliable information. For example, the most outspoken relativists do not drive their cars with their eyes closed as if it made no difference. Nor do they attempt to cross busy streets by assuming that oncoming cars are not really there. Nor do they teach their children or students to lie, because they understand the damage that such behavior would ultimately cause. The practical side of human nature keeps them from behaving foolishly in daily life; yet, strange as it seems, relativists continue to deny an objective reality when giving lectures, writing books, or taking positions on new social reforms.

Having given up the intellectual belief that there is a fundamental human nature, reformists aim to use the force of government to recreate mankind in their own image. This action, by definition, introduces violence into daily life and destroys the peace of civilization. “For what is civilization but order, peace, settled and regularized relations among men and groups, and conditions of liberty among individuals?”[10] This explanation goes a long way at explaining why reformists continue to push reform plans even though the vast evidence records the total failure of past reforms which have led to massive hardship, rising violence, and the destruction of civilization. The reformists remain undaunted by the evidence because they are simply not interested in the real consequences of their proposals. Rather, they see utopia rising out of the ashes of destruction. “Insofar as [they neglect] to take into account the nature of man and the universe, as most modern utopians have, [they are] engaged in a full-fledged flight from reality.”[11]

Instead of attempting to discover the underlying nature of things, and then proceeding to adapt one’s behavior to a better understanding of that which is, reformists are always interested in comparing the current situation to some perfect, but fictional utopia. Of course current reality can never measure up because the current situation is made up of the consequences of all human behavior, both good and bad.

Bastiat would have understood Carson’s argument. He too was interested in showing the irrationality of the reformists of his day. He endeavored to discredit the notion that life in this world can be lived without tension, as is suggested by the reformers, because the reality of the true nature of things prohibits such a life. In one essay he wrote:

I demand nothing better, you may be sure, than that you should really have discovered outside of us a benevolent and inexhaustible being, calling itself the state, which has bread for all mouths, work for all hands, capital for all enterprises, credit for all projects, ointment for all wounds, balm for all suffering, advice for perplexities, solutions for all problems, truths for all minds, distractions for all varieties of boredom, milk for children and wine for oldage, which provide for all our needs, foresees all our desires, satisfies all our curiosity, corrects all our errors, amends all our faults, and exempts us all henceforth from the need for foresight, prudence, judgment, sagacity, experience, order, economy, temperance, and industry.[12]

Having embraced the reformist mindset against sound judgment and reason, relativists in America set out to reform the system. A major obstacle which had to be overcome in the United States was its Constitution which strictly limited government powers. In his initial attempts to expand government through New Deal legislation, Roosevelt initially encountered a Supreme Court unwilling to allow the Constitution to be violated. Rather than back away from his reform agenda, Roosevelt took the offensive and sought to reorganize the Court. In the end, Roosevelt succeeded in appointing likeminded reformists who were willing to reinterpret the Constitution in order to allow for almost any legislative reform which could pass Congress. This change served to undercut the primary purpose of the Constitution: namely to limit the size and power of government and, hence, to limit democracy. The foundational premise for writing a constitution is the idea that some things are not to be put up for a vote. Thus, the aim of a constitution is the prevention of the tyranny of the majority. However, as a result of judicial activism which allows for the reinterpretation of the Constitution, the Court opened the door so that almost anything could be voted on. This change was a fundamental prerequisite for the development of democratic socialism in the United States.[13]

In the years since the onset of judicial activism, the American people have become totally misinformed of their heritage. This was most recently shown in the Senate judicial hearings held to consider the presidential appointments of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Both these men were highly criticized for their views and only one achieved the necessary confirmation in a very close vote. As Carson points out:

The present low state of political thought and ignorance of our political heritage and terminology is currently being illustrated by the professed amazement of Senators and journalists over the candidacy of Judge Clarence Thomas to become a justice on the Supreme Court. Thomas has made known his attachment to the natural law philosophy. That should augment his qualifications for the post to which the President would appoint him, for the Founders of the United States were generally devotees of the natural law.[14]

Prior to the success of the social reform movement in the United States, there was no ‘American Dream’. Rather, there were individual Americans who had individual dreams which they pursued in a free land. They interacted with one another on a voluntary basis as each pursued his or her dream. “The American Way was the voluntary way.”[15] The purpose of the state was to maintain the public peace by thwarting nonvoluntary arrangements that some would attempt to force on others. Otherwise, the success or failure of each individual to achieve his dream was largely the individual’s responsibility.

This is not to say that perfect justice reigned in America. There are many instances where the state overstepped its bounds and many cases where individuals were never punished for their victimization of others. However, on the whole, America was the best known example in all of human history of a country in which the law served its primary function. Unhappily, during the later half of the twentieth century the nation has steadily drifted away from its foundation.

IV. Is America Experiencing the Consequences of Perverted Law as Enumerated by Bastiat?

As stated above, Bastiat argued that the perversion of the law would lead to certain consequences in the nation. These included the demise of the general understanding of the distinction between justice and injustice, the rise of prejudicial politics that fosters hatred and discord between citizens, the reduction in the economic well being of the citizenry below what would otherwise have been achieved, and, finally, the categorical destruction of liberty. Therefore, given the United States movement toward democratic socialism, it is worthwhile to examine these consequences more thoroughly and seek to know whether or not they have actually been realized.[16]

A. The Destruction of the Distinction of Justice and Injustice

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.[17]

Bastiat argued that as the law was diverted from its true purpose to a false one, the citizens’ understanding of justice would be lost. This situation arises precisely because civilization needs the law in order to promote peace and harmony among individuals. People naturally recognize the human propensity to inflict pain and hardship on others for personal gain and, hence, the need to use force for protection purposes. Furthermore, it is recognized that the collective use of force to achieve such ends is generally more effective at limiting abuses. Therefore, it is quite natural to look to the law for justice.

Regrettably, not all legislated laws are just. Unjust laws can be readily identified. If the collective force is used in a way which would be an unjust act on the part of an individual, then the law has been subverted. This understanding provides a clear meaning to one clause of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution which states that the govenment is to, “promote the general Welfare.” Consequently, the intention of this clause is to restrict the scope of government so that it may not engage in any action which would benefit one group at the expense of another. Sadly, there are many examples in Amercian history where the government failed to remain within this bound. For example, slavery and segregation are but two cases where the law was perverted.

When the law is unjust, tension develops. On the one hand, each individual knows the inherent value of the law in promoting peace and order in society. Therefore, people have a tendency to believe that what is legal is also right. So much is this the case, that it is not unusual to find the victims of an unjust law continue to support it because they believe that whatever is legal is right. On the other hand, when one actually understands that he has been victimized by the law, his recognition generally leads to a disregard for all laws; both good and bad. People are, therefore, torn between these polar attitudes.

Modern experience attests to the validity of this proposition. It is not uncommon for politicians to run for office proclaiming a current crisis of ethics in government and the need for reform. In fact, the crisis of ethics is bemoaned throughout the country. For example, business schools are attempting to incorporate the teaching of ethics into their curriculums as businesses suffer from losses due to the dishonesty of their employees. In all such cases, it appears that Bastiat and Carson are right. As the reformists succeed in proliferating their reforms and in perverting the law, the general understanding of right and wrong is largely lost. This loss in moral understanding results, however, in real negative consequences as individuals behave more inconsistently within an objective reality.

B. The Rise of Prejudicial Politics Which Foster Hatred and Discord

“Men naturally rebel against the injustice of which they are victims.”[18] Everyone can at some time or another remember an occasion of being victimized by someone else. The natural human response to victimization is the desire to get even. Actually, the human reaction is more than a mere desire for retribution. Rather, the deeper desire is to inflict greater pain upon the offender. This tendency results in a potentially serious political problem for a democracy.

Consider the case where a group of people have been victimized by the law over a period of time. Initially, they may suffer under the affliction without seeking relief to the extent they are either duped into believing that the law is to their benefit or erroneously believe that justice is always defined by that which is legal. Nevertheless, eventually the afflicted class of people will realize the injustice of the law and seek relief.

The obvious solution to the problem is the elimination of the unjust law. However, those who have been victimized are tempted to use the law themselves to inflict their own brand of injustice on others. If this course is taken, then the law will be further perverted and greater injustice will prevail. The logical outgrowth of this situation is the increase in violence as more and more people enter the political process hoping to acquire control of the law for their own personal gain. If this action is taken, then all special interest groups will be pitted against one another in a never ending struggle as each seeks recompense politically. “Instead of rooting out the injustices found in society, they make these injustices general.”[19]

Once again, an example of this can be found in the American experience. Segregation laws in the South were a good example of injustice which victimized a group of citizens and deprived them of their natural rights. The realization of this situation eventually led to the civil rights movement and the elimination of these laws. Disastrously, the movement did not stop with the reestablishment of just law, but instead pushed for governmental mandates which sought to reverse the direction of the victimization. As a result, we have seen numerous laws created which destroy the liberty and property rights of other individuals in society thus compounding the error and creating even greater friction in society.[20]

C. The Reduction in the Economic Well Being

Of the two reasons for the lure of socialism; greed and false philanthropy; Bastiat believed that false philanthropy was the most prominent in explaining the general acceptance of perverted law. For Bastiat, “political economy is resolved to ask of the law nothing but universal justice.”[21] Alternatively, socialists ask that the law should produce fraternity, love, and good will among people. Further, they cannot conceive of how good will could arise apart from legal mandate; but this is more than the law can accomplish. The law can create high costs for unjust behavior and, hence, limit that behavior, but it cannot cause people to be self-sacrificing. Government action taken to force people to love one another inevitably devolves into capricious actions of officials which circumvent the natural rights of people and creates an atmosphere of great uncertainty. “Truly, is it not madness to believe that a nation can enjoy any peace of mind or any material prosperity when it is an accepted principle that, from one day to the next, the legislator can cast the whole country into whichever one of the hundred thousand fraternitarian molds he may momentarily prefer?”[22]

The result of the matter is that everyone will attempt to gain as much from the public treasury as possible while contributing as little as possible to it. As all economists know, this rent-seeking behavior leads to a dead weight loss in the economy. This process tends to make people’s lives worse; not better. “It is fundamentally impossible for [the state] to confer a particular advantage on some of the individuals who constitute the community without inflicting a greater damage on the entire community.”[23]

When people begin to look to the state to provide for their needs, they have embraced a contradiction. Within this contradiction lie two great expectations: expanding benefits and no taxes. Under normal circumstances such a position would be untenable among rational people. However, having engaged in a “flight from reality”, as developed by Carson, the American people have eagerly embraced the myth. In fact, the denial of ultimate reality has resulted in numerous contradictions. Commenting on our culture, Daniel Boorstin writes:

In this book I describe the world of our making, how we have used our wealth, our literacy, our technology, and our progress, to create the thicket of unreality which stands between us and the facts of life…[E]ach of us individually provides the market and the demand for the illusions which flood our experience.

We want and we believe these illusions because we suffer from extravagant expectations. We expect too much of the world. Our expectations are extravagant in the precise sense of the word–“going beyond the limits of reason or moderation.” They are excessive.

When we pick up our morning newspaper at breakfast, we expect–we even demand–that it bring us momentous events since the night before. We turn on the car radio as we drive to work and expect “news” to have occurred since the morning newspaper went to press. Returning in the evening, we expect our houses not only to shelter us, to keep us warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but to relax us, to dignify us, to encompass us with soft music and interesting hobbies, to be a playground, a theater, and a bar…

We expect anything and everything. We expect the contradictory and the impossible. We expect compact cars which are spacious; luxurious cars which are economical. We expect to be rich and charitable, powerful and merciful, active and reflective, kind and competitive. We expect to be inspired by mediocre appeals for “excellence”, to be made literate by illiterate appeals for literacy. We expect to eat and stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever more neighborly, to go to a “church of our choice” and yet feel its guiding power over us, to revere God and to be God.

Never have people been more the masters of their environment. Yet never has a people felt more deceived and disappointed. For never has a people expected so much more than the world could offer.[24]

In this introduction to his book, The Image, Boorstin has captured the many contradictions that the American people have embraced as a result of their “flight from reality.” The embrace of fundamentally contradictory positions has led to the proliferation of socialistic policies. These in turn have depressed the citizenry’s ability to progress economically. The examples are too numerous to mention, but the current debate over national health care is a prime illustration. Anyone with a sound understanding of the principles of economics should know that it is impossible for the government to provide health care more cheaply than the market. Yet, political polls indicate the vast number of Americans believe that such a program will actually provide them with something for nothing.

D. The Loss of Liberty

The final consequence of greater socialism is the loss of freedom. As more and more people attempt to live off state largess they not only enslave those from whom they would steal, but they enslave themselves as well. The number of people who are completely dependent on welfare payments rise each year. In real 1990 dollars, federal government expenditures have increased from $8.3 billion in 1900 to $1,450.0 billion in 1992. Per capita this is an increase in spending from about $109 per person in 1900 to $4,760 per person in 1992. In 1900 the average family paid about $1,400 in taxes as compared to $16,000 in 1992.[25] One group yearly estimates Tax Freedom Day for the average taxpayer. Each year the date occurs later and later in the year and some individuals argue that the calculation seriously underestimates the real burden of taxation.[26]

In his essay entitled, “Whose Bread I Eat–His Song I Sing”, J.G. McDaniel uses a story from his childhood to describe the situation very effectively. Mr. McDaniel heard the story as a child at a barbecue he attended with his father.[27] The barbecue was held on the bank of the Ocmulgee River in Georgia and was the occasion of an address given by Congressman Stephen Pace. Mr. Pace was there to tell the people why he was opposed to a federal spending bill that would subsidize farmers. Given that Pace represented a rural district, many farmers were naturally in attendance.

The congressman told the following story about some wild hogs that had once lived along the river. It seems that no one was sure how the hogs had gotten there nor how it was that they were able to survive the floods, fires, freezes and droughts which occurred in the area. Not even the hunters were able to kill them off. Of course there was the occasion when one of the hogs would be killed by a pack of dogs or by a hunter, but that was not the norm.

One day a man showed up at the country store inquiring as to the whereabouts of the hogs. He was a slim, patient, deliberate man. In his wagon he carried a lantern, some quilts, an ax, some corn, and a shotgun. After obtaining the desired information, the man went on his way.

The storeowner had forgotten about the man until he showed up a few months later in search of assistance in moving the hogs out of the swamp. He said that he had them all in a pen. Of course before the townspeople would believe it they had to see the hogs in the pen for themselves. Upon viewing the sight, they were all amazed and wondered how he had been able to capture all the animals.

The man said, “It was all very simple. First I put out some corn. For three weeks they would not eat it. Then some of the young ones grabbed an ear and ran off into the thicket. Soon they were all eating it; then I commenced building a pen around the corn, a little higher each day. When I noticed that they were all waiting for me to bring the corn and had stopped grubbing for acorns and roots, I built a trap door. Naturally, they raised quite a ruckus when they seen they was trapped, but I can pen any animal on the face of the earth if I can jist get him to depend on me for a free handout.”[28]

V. Conclusion

America’s flight toward socialism is the outgrowth of its flight toward irrationality and the embracing of many contradictions. From the academy to the political forum people are more concerned with what is new or progressive or involves change rather than what is true. People no longer seem to recognize that ultimate objective reality, by its very nature, is unchanging. Therefore, they are increasingly willing to abandon truths which have been discovered for that which is vogue or fashionable. As a result, the utopian reformist arguments are readily accepted for almost any ill, either real or imagined, from education to health care.

All social engineers attempt to create utopia through recreating the human race by manipulating government institutions. Reprehensibly, these efforts ultimately reduce people to mere statistics. The world’s experience with such efforts this century reveals the devastation to human lives and the hardship and suffering inflicted on real people. Yet, despite the mounting evidence that their reforms are failures, socialists continue to pursue their utopias undaunted by the facts.

Nobel Prize winning economist, Friedrich Hayek, spent much of his career refuting the misguided notions of social engineers. In his book, The Fatal Conceit:The Errors of Socialism[29] Hayek destroys any scientific position which might be claimed by those seeking to recreate human nature and human institutions for utopian purposes. In destroying the socialist argument he states:

So, priding itself on having built its world as if it had designed it, and blaming itself for not having designed it better, humankind is now to set out to do just that. The aim of socialism is no less than to effect a complete redesigning of our traditional morals, law, and language, and on this basis to stamp out the old order and the supposedly inexorable, unjustifiable conditions that prevent the institution of reason, fulfillment, true freedom, and justice.[30]

Or as Bastiat has written:

Present-day writers–especially those of the socialist school of thought–base their various theories upon one common hypothesis: They divide mankind into two parts. People in general…form the first group. The writer, all alone, forms the second and most important group. Surely this is the weirdest and most conceited notion that ever entered a human brain!

In fact, these writers on public affairs begin by supposing that people have within themselves no means of discernment; no motivation to action. The writers assume that people are inert matter, passive particles, motionless atoms, at best a kind of vegetation indifferent to its own manner of existence. They assume that people are susceptible to being shaped–by the will and hand of another person–into an infinite variety of forms, more or less symmetrical, artistic, and perfected.

Moreover, not one of these writers on governmental affairs hesitates to imagine himself…as this will and hand, this universal motivating force, this creative power whose sublime mission is to mold these scattered materials…into a society…

Socialists look upon people as raw material to be formed into social combinations…Moreover, even where they have consented to recognize a principle of action in the heart of man–and a principle of discernment in man’s intellect–they have considered these gifts from God to be fatal gifts. They have thought that persons, under the impulse of these two gifts, would fatally tend to ruin themselves. They assume that if the legislators left persons free to follow their own inclinations, they would arrive at atheism instead of religion, ignorance instead of knowledge, poverty instead of production and exchange.[31]

The point should be clear. Any beneficial reform is only that change which restores, or for the first time assigns, the law to its proper domain so that justice might prevail in the community. If this is done, then government’s use of force will be continually and more effectively limited to the protection of life, liberty, and property. Only then is it possible for peace and prosperity to develop. As Bastiat admonishes the reformers of the world, “Ah, you miserable creatures! You who think that you are so great! You who judge humanity to be so small! You wish to reform everything! Why don’t you reform yourselves? That task would be sufficient enough.”[32]


[1] Frederic Bastiat, Economic Sophisms, The Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington, NY, 1964, p. xiii.

[2] The term mixed economy is used here with some reluctance given S.G. Littlechild’s excellent refutation of such economies in his book, The Fallacy of the Mixed Economy, 2nd edition, The Institute of Economic Affairs, 1986. I use the term only to note the movement of the United States away from a basically free market economy.

[3] Frederic Bastiat, The Law, The Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington, NY, 1987, p.6.

[4] Ibid, p.6.

[5] Frederic Bastiat, “Plunder and Law”, Selected Essays on Political Economy, edited by George B. de Huszar, Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington, NY, 1964, p.234.

[6] see The Law, pp. 12-19.

[7] Clarence Carson’s work in examining American history is excellent. Two works are particularly interesting: A Basic History of the United States and Basic American Government. American Textbook Committee:Wadley, AL.

[8] Clarence Carson, The Flight From Reality, Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington, NY, 1969.

[9] Ibid, p.17.

[10] Ibid, p. 6.

[11] Ibid, p. 74.

[12] Frederic Bastiat, “The State”, Selected Essays on Political Economy, Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington, NY, 1964, p. 142.

[13] This analysis was developed by Clarence Carson in his Basic American Government and A Basic History of the United States, volume 5.

[14] Ibid, p 14.

[15] Clarence Carson, The Flight From Reality, p. 98.

[16] The development of this section is largely based on Bastiat’s, The Law. Except were otherwise noted, the presentation made is assumed to be referenced to that work.

[17] Isaiah 5:20

[18] Ibid, p.11.

[19] Ibid, p.12.

[20] The work of Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams has been especially helpful in revealing the results of these types of government policies.

[21] Frederic Bastiat, “Justice and Fraternity”, Selected Essays on Political Economy, p. 116.

[22] Ibid, p. 121.

[23] Frederic Bastiat, “The State”, Selected Essays on Political Economy, p. 146.

[24] Daniel Boorstin, The Image:A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, 25th edition, Atheneum: New York, 1987, pp. 3-4.

[25] These figures are taken from Stephen Moore, “The Growth of Government in America”, The Freeman, Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington, NY, 43.4, April 1993, pp.124-36.

[26] See for example, John D. McGinnis, “The Costs of Tax and Spend”, The Freeman, Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington, NY, 43.4, April 1993, pp. 151-53.

[27] McDaniel, J.G., “Whose Bread I Eat-His Song I Sing”, Essays on Liberty , The Foundation for Economic Education: Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, vol IX, 1962, pp. 19-21.

[28] Ibid, p. 20.

[29] Friedrich A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, edited by W. W. Bartley III, The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1988, p.67.

[30] Ibid, p. 67.

[31] Frederic Bastiat, The Law, pp. 33-35.

[32] Ibid p.55.

Paul Cleveland

Boundary Stone was started by Dr. Paul Cleveland. Working as a professor for over 35 years has allowed him to study and think deeply about issues of political economy. He has discovered ways to communicate these sometimes illusive concepts to today's students, often through story telling, which makes understanding these principles more accessible to all of us.


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