Wednesday, May 13, 2009

E-Book of the Week

Frédéric Bastiat’s 19th century What is Free Trade? offers a refreshing look back on the origins of natural economic thought, and provided is with a benchmark to understand where a society can stray away from it.

We may here perceive that Nature, with more wisdom and foresight than the narrow and rigid system of the protectionists can suppose, does not permit the concentration of labor, and the monopoly of advantages, from which they draw their arguments as from an absolute and irremediable fact. It has, by means as simple as they are infallible, provided for dispersion, diffusion, mutual dependence, and simultaneous progress; all of which, your restrictive laws paralyze as much as is in their power, by their tendency towards the isolation of nations.

By this means they render much more decided the differences existing in the conditions of production; they check the self-levelling power of industry, prevent fusion of interests, neutralize the counterpoise, and fence in each nation within its own peculiar advantages and disadvantages.
The lessons offered by Bastiat are as timely as ever, just as the populist arguments trying to tug humanity away from the things that functionally make a free society free, we find the emotionalism of those notions have not changed. This is much like as we saw it recently on these pages when we spied into the sad acceptance of the oppressive subjugation of man to central authority that Edward Bellamy proposed as “progress” in the 19th century.

Then, as now, the emotionalized and buffoonish inversions of the nature of the way people behave in their self-interest is the tool of those who want to dictate upon others the terms upon which they want you to live for THEIR purposes. Then as now they do this without respect to the judgment of the individual or a trust of people in any substantive way. Bastiat’s dialog clearly indicates that the argument against those things that lets free societies BE free have not changed or advanced in complexity, they just managed to produce more mass graves, almost all of them on the European continent where an obscene degree of central authority has always been employed, even when there is little reason to.

What’s strikingly similar in those who oppose free trade imagine is that they seem to imagine that the world is static, and that all history has ended at the moment of their birth. The dynamism of a diverse world where you can’t necessarily anticipate every thought people have, or more to the point – to realize that they need not be fearful of it – are lost on them. It’s just too complex when charlatans offer the argument that there is some way to get something for nothing by way of the use of government’s power.

Claude Frédéric Bastiat lives, as does this accessible translated adaptation of his work.

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