by Frederic Bastiat
Bastiat says that:
A science of economics must be developed before a science of politics can be logically formulated. Essentially, economics is the science of determining whether the interests of human beings are harmonious or antagonistic. This must be known before a science of politics can be formulated to determine the proper function of government.This is a pretty perceptive statement, considering that it was written in the middle of the 19th century. The Law is a short book that makes a serious attempt to answer the question: "What is the proper function of government?" The answer that Bastiat arrives at is logical but, by the standards of existing governments, somewhat extreme: the role of government is simply to be an obstacle to injustice. As such, the government must not take money (or anything else) involuntarily from any citizen. This leaves open the question of how national defense can be supported and critical infrastructure can be built. Using donations, possibly? No convincing answer is provided.
The value of The Law, I think, is not that it describes society as it must exist. Rather, it is a very lucid enumeration of the perils of forcibly taking money from people to satisfy the wants or needs of others. Clearly this taking (taxation) should be minimized. Just as clearly, however, a certain amount of taxation can be supported without destroying individual initiative and liberty, as modern France, America, and other countries demonstrate. So, I would recommend this book because I think it can lead to clearer thinking about the role of government, but not because the system of government it describes occupies some sort of moral high ground.
copyright © 2001 John Regehr