The Law

by Frédéric Bastiat

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The Enormous Power of Government

As long as these ideas prevail, it is clear that the responsibility of government is enormous. Good fortune and bad fortune, wealth and destitution, equality and inequality, virtue and vice -- all then depend upon political administration. It is burdened with everything, it undertakes everything, it does everything; therefore it is responsible for everything.

If we are fortunate, then government has a claim to our gratitude; but if we are unfortunate, then government must bear the blame. For are not our persons and property now at the disposal of government? Is not the law omnipotent?

In creating a monopoly of education, the government must answer to the hopes of the fathers of families who have thus been deprived of their liberty; and if these hopes are shattered, whose fault is it?

In regulating industry, the government has contracted to make it prosper; otherwise it is absurd to deprive industry of its liberty. And if industry now suffers, whose fault is it?

In meddling with the balance of trade by playing with tariffs, the government thereby contracts to make trade prosper; and if this results in destruction instead of prosperity, whose fault is it?

In giving protection instead of liberty to the industries for defense, the government has contracted to make them profitable; and if they become a burden to the taxpayers, whose fault is it?

Thus there is not a grievance in the nation for which the government does not voluntarily make itself responsible. Is it surprising, then, that every failure increases the threat of another revolution in France?

And what remedy is proposed for this? To extend indefinitely the domain of the law; that is, the responsibility of government.

But if the government undertakes to control and to raise wages, and cannot do it; if the government undertakes to care for all who may be in want, and cannot do it; if the government undertakes to support all unemployed workers, and cannot do it; if the government undertakes to lend interest- free money to all borrowers, and cannot do it; if, in these words that we regret to say escaped from the pen of Mr. de Lamartine, "The state considers that its purpose is to enlighten, to develop, to enlarge, to strengthen, to spiritualize, and to sanctify the soul of the people" -- and if the government cannot do all of these things, what then? Is it not certain that after every government failure -- which, alas! is more than probable -- there will be an equally inevitable revolution?

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.