Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Definition of The State

Today is the 204th birthday of French economist Frédéric Bastiat, author of The Law and other works. The Foundation for Economic Education has Bastiat's 1849 essay "The State" online; he has nice things to say about the American Constitution in comparison with his own country's, but the rest of the essay sounds ominously current.

I wish someone would offer a prize—not of a hundred francs but of a million, with crowns, medals, and ribbons—for a good, simple, intelligible definition of the term, The State.

What an immense service such a definition would render to society!

The State! What is it? Where is it? What does it do? What should it do? We only know that it is a mysterious being; and, it is certainly the most petitioned, the most harassed, the most bustling, the most advised, the most reproached, the most invoked, and the most challenged of any being in the world. ...

Man recoils from effort, from suffering. Yet, he is condemned by nature to the suffering of privation if he does not make the effort to work. He has only a choice then, between these two: privation, and work. How can he manage to avoid both? He always has and always will find, only one means: to enjoy the labor of others; to arrange it so that the effort and the satisfaction do not fall upon each in their natural proportion, but that some would bear all the effort while all the satisfaction would go to others. ...

"I am dissatisfied with the ratio between my labor and my pleasures. In order to establish the desired balance, I should like to take part of the possessions of others. But that is a dangerous thing. Couldn’t you facilitate it for me? Couldn’t you give me a good post? Or restrain my competitors’ business? Or perhaps lend me some interest-free capital, which you will have taken from its rightful owners? Or bring up my children at the taxpayers’ expense? Or grant me a subsidy? Or assure me a pension when I reach my fiftieth year? By this means I shall achieve my goal with an easy conscience, for the law will have acted for me. Thus I shall have all the advantages of plunder, without the risk or the disgrace!" All of us are petitioning The State in this manner, yet it has been proven that The State has no means of granting privileges to some without adding to the labor of others.

The State is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody.

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