By Frédéric Bastiat
Translated from French by Ludovic Lea, Institut Coppet
Introduction by Damien Theillier
While both have roots in common, a much more serious enemy than protectionism rose from the 1848 revolution in France : it was socialism. The socialist wanted to organize labor and re-think society. They wanted to coerce entrepreneurs into selling their businesses, to concentrate all properties under the control of the state, to set up social factories, to print billions worth of paper-money, etc. Bastiat stood up against this new opponent, and he never gave up on fighting these dreamy concepts. As soon as the revolution began, he started to write in La République Française, a short-lived newspaper.
Original publication : La République Française, Œuvres Complètes, vol. 7, 47. Article 6. (Paris, February 28, 1848).
(In French here)
The common good, the greatest sum of happiness for all, the immediate relief of the suffering classes, — that is the subject of every desire, every wish, every concern.
That also guarantees order. Men are never better disposed to help each other than when they do not suffer from anything, or at least when they cannot accuse anyone, especially not the state, of those miseries which necessarily come with human imperfection.
The revolution started as some were demanding reform. That word did not only concern one of our constitution’s provisions. It is still reform that we want nowadays, a profound, radical reform in the country’s economic structure. (…)
As we have previously said, two systems which have both been long-debated by polemicists are here at stake.
One system wishes to make the people happy by taking direct measures.
It says : “If someone suffers in any way, the state will be in charge of with relieving him. It will provide any of those in need with bread, clothes, work, health care, education.” If that system was feasible, only monsters could reject it. And if the state has got, somewhere on the moon for example, an inextinguishable, easy-to-reach wellspring of food, clothes and remedies, who could possibly blame it for drilling and drilling again, for the benefit of those who are poor and the destitute?
On the contrary, if the state does not actually own by itself or produce any of these things; if only work can create them; if all the state can do is taking these things from the workers who created them through taxes, and deliver them to those who did not create them; if the natural result of this operation, nowhere near improving the overall amount of these things, made them more difficult to produce; if, of this reduced amount, the state must keep some part for its agents; if those agents in charge of the operations are themselves removed from productive activities; if, in the end, this system, however appealing it may seem at first glance, must cause a much greater harm than what it may heal, then doubts are conceivable and it should be allowed to wonder whether the masses’ welfare may not arise from another method.
The system we have described can only be implemented through a continuous increase in taxes, for obvious reasons. Unlike those children who stamp their feet whenever they do not obtain what cannot be obtained, we must concede that if we make the state responsible for spreading prosperity, we must give it the means to tax everything and everywhere: it can only give what has previously been taken.
Yet, extended taxes always mean extended hindrances. Asking France a mere five to six millions requires an extremely simple financial mechanism. Now, if fifteen to eighteen millions are needed, every ploy of taxation should be resorted to. It takes the excise duty, taxes on salt, taxes on drinks, extortionate taxes on sugar; it takes hampering travelers, burdening entrepreneurs, restraining consumers; it takes an army of collectors; it takes a countless bureaucracy; it takes infringing upon citizens’ liberties – and that brings about abuses, a desire for public offices, corruption, etc.
One can see a system where affluence is drilled by the State on the people, to be spent on the people, has a few advantages; it has also got its downsides.
As far as I am concerned, I am convinced it is a bad system, and it exists another one for the good people’s sake, or rather: for the good people to act for its own sake. It consists in giving the State every necessary mean so that it can truly fulfill its main mission, which is to ensure safety within the country and around, that persons and properties are well-respected, that abilities may be expressed freely, that crimes, frauds, felonies are repressed – and once that has been munificently provided for, in keeping the rest for yourself.
For the people is soon to be called upon to exert its right, which is to choose between these two systems, we [the deputies] will often compare them before it, reviewing every one of their political, moral, financial and economic aspects.