From “The Law,” Frederic Bastiat on the origins of the “welfare state.”
Men naturally rebel against the injustice of which they are victims. Thus, when plunder is organized by law for the profit of those who make the law, all the plundered classes try somehow to enter—by peaceful or revolutionary means—into the making of laws. According to their degree of enlightenment, these plundered classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they attempt to attain political power: Either they may wish to stop lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.
Woe to the nation when this latter purpose prevails among the mass victims of lawful plunder when they, in turn, seize the power to make laws!
Until that happens, the few practice lawful plunder upon the many, a common practice where the right to participate in the making of law is limited to a few persons. But then, participation in the making of law becomes universal. And then, men seek to balance their conflicting interests by universal plunder. Instead of rooting out the injustices found in society, they make these injustices general. As soon as the plundered classes gain political power, they establish a system of reprisals against other classes. They do not abolish legal plunder. (This objective would demand more enlightenment than they possess.) Instead, they emulate their evil predecessors by participating in this legal plunder, even though it is against their own interests.
It is as if it were necessary, before a reign of justice appears, for everyone to suffer a cruel retribution—some for their evilness, and some for their lack of understanding.
It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.
What are the consequences of such a perversion? It would require volumes to describe them all. Thus we must content ourselves with pointing out the most striking.
In the first place, it erases from everyone’s conscience the distinction between justice and injustice.
No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them. The nature of law is to maintain justice. This is so much the case that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are one and the same thing. There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are “just” because law makes them so. Thus, in order to make plunder appear just and sacred to many consciences, it is only necessary for the law to decree and sanction it. Slavery, restrictions, and monopoly find defenders not only among those who profit from them but also among those who suffer from them.
If you suggest a doubt as to the morality of these institutions, it is boldly said that “You are a dangerous innovator, a utopian, a theorist, a subversive; you would shatter the foundation upon which society rests.”
If you lecture upon morality or upon political science, there will be found official organizations petitioning the government in this vein of thought: “That science no longer be taught exclusively from the point of view of free trade (of liberty, of property, and of justice) as has been the case until now, but also, in the future, science is to be especially taught from the viewpoint of the facts and laws that regulate French industry (facts and laws which are contrary to liberty, to property, and to justice). That, in government-endowed teaching positions, the professor rigorously refrain from endangering in the slightest degree the respect due to the laws now in force.”
Thus, if there exists a law which sanctions slavery or monopoly, oppression or robbery, in any form whatever, it must not even be mentioned. For how can it be mentioned without damaging the respect which it inspires? Still further, morality and political economy must be taught from the point of view of this law; from the supposition that it must be a just law merely because it is a law.
Another effect of this tragic perversion of the law is that it gives an exaggerated importance to political passions and conflicts, and to politics in general.
I could prove this assertion in a thousand ways. But, by way of illustration, I shall limit myself to a subject that has lately occupied the minds of everyone: universal suffrage.
The followers of Rousseau’s school of thought—who consider themselves far advanced, but whom I consider twenty centuries behind the times—will not agree with me on this. But universal suffrage—using the word in its strictest sense—is not one of those sacred dogmas which it is a crime to examine or doubt. In fact, serious objections may be made to universal suffrage.
In the first place, the word universal conceals a gross fallacy. For example, there are 36 million people in France. Thus, to make the right of suffrage universal, there should be 36 million voters. But the most extended system permits only 9 million people to vote. Three persons out of four are excluded. And more than this, they are excluded by the fourth. This fourth person advances the principle of incapacity as his reason for excluding the others.
Universal suffrage means, then, universal suffrage for those who are capable. But there remains this question of fact: Who is capable? Are minors, females, insane persons, and persons who have committed certain major crimes the only ones to be determined incapable?
A closer examination of the subject shows us the motive which causes the right of suffrage to be based upon the supposition of incapacity. The motive is that the elector or voter does not exercise this right for himself alone, but for everybody.
The most extended elective system and the most restricted elective system are alike in this respect. They differ only in respect to what constitutes incapacity. It is not a difference of principle, but merely a difference of degree.
If, as the republicans of our present-day Greek and Roman schools of thought pretend, the right of suffrage arrives with one’s birth, it would be an injustice for adults to prevent women and children from voting. Why are they prevented? Because they are presumed to be incapable. And why is incapacity a motive for exclusion? Because it is not the voter alone who suffers the consequences of his vote; because each vote touches and affects everyone in the entire community; because the people in the community have a right to demand some safeguards concerning the acts upon which their welfare and existence depend.
I know what might be said in answer to this; what the objections might be. But this is not the place to exhaust a controversy of this nature. I wish merely to observe here that this controversy over universal suffrage (as well as most other political questions) which agitates, excites, and overthrows nations, would lose nearly all of its importance if the law had always been what it ought to be.
In fact, if law were restricted to protecting all persons, all liberties, and all properties; if law were nothing more than the organized combination of the individual’s right to self defense; if law were the obstacle, the check, the punisher of all oppression and plunder—is it likely that we citizens would then argue much about the extent of the franchise?
Under these circumstances, is it likely that the extent of the right to vote would endanger that supreme good, the public peace? Is it likely that the excluded classes would refuse to peaceably await the coming of their right to vote? Is it likely that those who had the right to vote would jealously defend their privilege?
If the law were confined to its proper functions, everyone’s interest in the law would be the same. Is it not clear that, under these circumstances, those who voted could not inconvenience those who did not vote?
But on the other hand, imagine that this fatal principle has been introduced: 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—whether farmers, manufacturers, shipowners, artists, or comedians. Under these circumstances, then certainly every class will aspire to grasp the law, and logically so.
The excluded classes will furiously demand their right to vote—and will overthrow society rather than not to obtain it. Even beggars and vagabonds will then prove to you that they also have an incontestable title to vote. They will say to you:
“We cannot buy wine, tobacco, or salt without paying the tax. And a part of the tax that we pay is given by law— in privileges and subsidies—to men who are richer than we are. Others use the law to raise the prices of bread, meat, iron, or cloth. Thus, since everyone else uses the law for his own profit, we also would like to use the law for our own profit. We demand from the law the right to relief, which is the poor man’s plunder. To obtain this right, we also should be voters and legislators in order that we may organize Beggary on a grand scale for our own class, as you have organized Protection on a grand scale for your class. Now don’t tell us beggars that you will act for us, and then toss us, as Mr. Mimerel proposes, 600,000 francs to keep us quiet, like throwing us a bone to gnaw. We have other claims. And anyway, we wish to bargain for ourselves as other classes have bargained for themselves!”
And what can you say to answer that argument!
In short, the welfare state, as it it is traditionally thought of today, is a symptom of legal plunder.
Charles Rowley, the “Dean of Public Choice, commenting from his blog on the recent presidential election.
American exceptionalism was driven from the earliest years of colonialism through the first 150 years of the Republic by large white male majorities, many enthused by the Protestant work ethic. From the 1920s on, female white voters, of the same European stock, swelled the ranks of such voters. Not all such voters, of course, were enthused by American exceptionalism. However, save for the FDR and the Lyndon Johnson years, those white voters, supplemented by others, proved sufficient to uphold the exceptionalism ideal.
This is no longer the case. On November 6, 2012, Mitt Romney secured 60 per cent of the aggregate white vote – men and women combined. He secured 73 per cent of the white male vote. In 1980 that would have carried him easily into the White House. In 2012, given poor support from so-called minorities – 5 per cent among blacks and 15 per cent among Hispanics – the Electoral College proved to be out of reach. The white population in the United States is sliding towards minority status, as European immigration relatively declines and as birth rates among the black, Hispanic and Asian communities far exceed those among whites.
As the state itself grows, under such impulses, so welfare dependency expands. The relationship is symbiotic. That has been the hidden and enormously successful objective of progressive politics since FDR took office in 1932. By 2016, with Obamacare by then controlling one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the impulse will be irreversible.
It is no surprise that sub-populations that live significantly off the welfare state vote for candidates and parties that promise to sustain and to extend that welfare state. As food stamps expand from 31 per cent to 43 per cent of the population, as occurred during Obama’s first term, and as the Clinton-Gingrich welfare reforms are rolled back by presidential edicts, as occurred in 2012, so the social market economy digs down ever – deeper roots.
The Democratic Party makes one major error in quietly gloating over this transformation. Social market economics is not the monopoly jurisdiction of any single party. By 2014, the Republican Party will have adjusted to political reality. Mitt Romney was its last shot in support of American exceptionalism. Both parties henceforth will become social democratic in nature. And American exceptionalism will be a historical relic.
In short, the welfare state–in this instance one driven by non-white demographic changes–is the root of legal plunder. That’s how Mr. Rowley answers Bastiat.
My response to the likes of Mr. Rowley is that the “classical liberal” model can perhaps plausibly explain one side of the equation–the rise of welfare subsistence transfer payments. But it fails miserably at explaining other things. For example, I don’t think single black mothers, stoner hippes and hispanic immigration explain a banking oligarchy, a vast, encompassing military-intelligence complex and burgeoning prison complex that makes its coin by imprisoning this said welfare underclass.
The classical libertarian position, however, can explain both things. In this sense it is a science of political economy. Unfortunately, Mr. Rowley’s position is a moral preference masquerading as a science.
Further, I would also refer to the excellent scholarship of Thaddeus Russell to undercut Rowley’s moral preference regarding the implicit superiority of white protestant work ethic culture. And I would reference the work of the classical French libertarians regarding the very definition of civilization. Civilization, one that is advancing, is marked by an increasing satisfaction of increased human wants and desires. Unfortunately, Mr. Rowley seems to share the conservative position that views civilization as a form of vice.
Finally, this business of “American Exceptionalism” that Rowley refers to. Exceptionalism literally means “exception to the rule.” In our context, this can mean either one of two things. One, the historical exception of American Legal Jurisprudence from the corrupting influence of rent-seeking on the monopoly provision of law. In other words, the actual existence of a “rule of law” immune(or relatively immune) from political rent-seeking. Or two, the very definition of immorality: exempting yourself from the moral rules that you enforce on(or expect from) others. In other words, lawlessness. The classical libertarian position views American Exceptionalism as the national morality that legitimizes and glorifies legal plunder.
Libertarianism and “classical liberalism” are not the same things…