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Business Cronyism as Plunder: Bastiat Revisited

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- April 1, 2020

“The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.”

“Legal plunder has two roots: one of them … is in human greed; the other is in misconceived philanthropy.” 

“What is freedom? It is the sum total of freedoms. To be free, under one’s own responsibility, to think and act, to speak and write, to work and trade, to teach and learn, that alone is to be free.” 

A major subject at MasterResource is cronyism in the wind-power, solar-power, ethanol, battery, carbon capture and storage, and electric-vehicle industries. To this end, timeless wisdom pertaining to special government favor to politically adept businesses, aka corporate welfare, is worth repeating.

With the current Pandemic, notice how not only the government-dependent wind and solar industries but also conventional energies are lined up trying to get their share of government largess.

French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850) authored books and essays on political economy, the most influential of which is a slim volume called The Law. Classical-liberal Sheldon Richman summarized the genius and flair of Bastiat:

Bastiat marshaled logic, clarity, and exuberant wit in the cause of understanding society, prosperity, and liberty. In a series of brief essays and pamphlets, and a treatise on political economy, Bastiat taught, contra Rousseau, that there is a natural harmonious order to the social world, an order that emanates from the free exchange between human beings driven to satisfy unlimited wants with limited resources.

The result is a steady progress in the material well-being of all. Interference with that freedom, and with its corollaries, property and competition, he wrote, leaves people poorer as well as oppressed. This is so because interference bars individuals from the creative action they otherwise would have engaged in. The fruits of the creativity thus forgone are “what is not seen” in any act of intervention.

Some classic Bastiat quotations follow:

“… legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on.” 

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” 

“To rob the public, it is necessary to deceive them. To deceive them, it is necessary to persuade them that they are robbed for their own advantage, and to induce them to accept in exchange for their property, imaginary services, and often worse.” 

“The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights. He will claim that the state is obligated to protected and encourage his particular industry; that this procedure enriches the state because the protected industry is thus able to spend more and to pay higher wages to the poor workingmen.”

“Do not listen to this sophistry by vested interests. The acceptance of these arguments will build legal plunder into a whole system. In fact, this has already occurred. The present-day delusion is an attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it.” 

“If the fatal principle should come to be introduced, that, under pretense of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law may take from one party in order to give to another, help itself to the wealth acquired by all the classes that it may increase that of one class, whether that of the agriculturists, the manufacturers, the ship owners, or artists and comedians; then certainly, in this case, there is no class which may not try, and with reason, to place its hand upon the law, that would not demand with fury its right of election and eligibility, and that would overturn society rather than not obtain it. Even beggars and vagabonds will prove to you that they have an incontestable title to it.” 

“Often the masses are plundered and do not know it.” 

Free Trade

“Trade protection accumulates upon a single point the good which it effects, while the evil inflicted is infused throughout the mass. The one strikes the eye at a first glance, while the other becomes perceptible only to close investigation.” 

“When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will.” 

“Ought not the protectionist to blush at the part he would make society play?  … Now, any society that would listen to this sophist, burden itself with taxes to satisfy him, and not perceive that the loss to which any trade is exposed is no less a loss when others are forced to make up for it—such a society, I say, would deserve the burden inflicted upon it.” 

For more Bastiat quotations, see here and here.

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