Frederic Bastiat was a French economic theorist who died in 1850 at the age of 49 apparently from tuberculosis. His most famous book, The Law, has been the basis of much free market thinking over the years.
His last book, Economic Harmonies, was an attempt to explain the workings of the social order under liberty, and how this capacity of people to cooperate is the source of civilization.
In “The Law” he addresses not economic theory but political theory. He asks, what is the law? He argues that it came after liberty and after property. It did not create them. The purpose of law is to serve to bolster the institutions that make social and economic life work. It is the servant, not the master of liberty and property.
His book opens with this statement: “The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish! If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow citizens to it.”
The man was ahead of his time wasn’t he? Keep in mind that this was written more than 160 years before our modern police state and before the control of what has come to be called “the deep state.” Here’s a little more: “It is not true that the function of the law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents or our pleasures. The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights, and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of these same rights by any other person.”
He sounds a little like Thomas Jefferson doesn’t he. Like Jefferson, he believed that each of us has a natural right-from God-to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two.
Where have we gone wrong then because this is 2016 not 1850. Bastiat’s goal was to help people come to understand this difference. When a thief steals your property, true law helps you get it back and hopefully punish the thief. When the law is perverted, the law itself steals your property and makes it a crime to try to get it back. This is what he called legalized plunder.
Law was created to protect its creator—the individual. It is meant to be servant to the individual, not the master. When the law no longer serves the people as individuals, the law begins to serve only a few at the expense of the many. “Law by no means confines itself to its proper functions. And when it has exceeded its proper functions, it has not done so merely in some inconsequential and debatable matters. The law has gone further than this and acted in direct opposition to its own purpose.”
If only Mr. Bastiat could see what has happened to the law in our day. Originally the law was a form of organized self defense, but now it has come to monopolize life, liberty, and property and instead of guaranteeing them becomes an actual violator of all three. Today the law is the exclusive product and responsibility of the state.
The function of law is not to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents, our pleasures. The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of these rights by any other person.
One way the law is now converted to legalized plunder as Bastiat put it, is when the state seeks to legitimize itself is by inviting public participation in legalized plunder. Once the law is thus perverted, then democracy itself becomes the greatest danger to the social order. Under the pretense of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement the law takes property from one person and gives it to another; the law takes the wealth of all and gives it to a few. Under these circumstances, then every class will aspire to grasp the law. Each group seeks power to use the law for its own benefit.
In our modern state the system has reached such a level of perversion that our democratically elected leaders can always claim that whatever they do is what the public has approved through the voting process. But, the state has nothing except what it takes from others and thus the system is in reality, legalized plunder.
This all results in what some have started to call the deep state where law is the property of those who gain power and use it. Bastiat lists a few of these uses; 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 etc.
I can add just a few from our world of today. Drug companies spent $229 million influencing those who make our laws in 2014 alone so life preserving cancer drugs cost 600 times what they do anywhere else.
The military industrial complex, as President Eisenhower called it, pulls strings behind the scenes of those who make our laws to make sure the U.S. is involved in constant, never-ending wars around the globe. That’s the reason why no matter who is elected we are always at war. It’s why we have 1000 military bases in 150 countries and why our country is the number one arms dealer in the world.
We can’t afford it anymore and we don’t have to. We can change this system if we really want to, and when we do it will be a time of sweet liberty but until we do it will be a part of our daily lives and it will get worse and worse.
At least that’s the way I see it.