9 Bastiat Quotes for his 214th Birthday

By Amelia Hamilton Published on June 30, 2015

Exactly 214 years ago this Tuesday, Claude Frederic Bastiat was born. Before his death just 49 years later, his  work on political theory and economics would make him a leader in both fields. We now remember him as a father of the Austrian and libertarian schools of thought.

Among his key accomplishments is the concept of Opportunity Cost, the idea that there is something to be lost in choosing the best option in any given situation, since the second-best option would also have held value. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines Opportunity Cost as “The cost of something in terms of an opportunity forgone.” This is illustrated in Bastiat’s “Parable of the Broken Window” in his 1850 work That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.

Rather than summarize it here, I’ll leave you to enjoy the parable yourself. Here suffice it to say that anyone who understood the parable and the concept behind it would also understand the folly of policies like “Cash for Clunkers,” an Obama-backed taxpayer money pit that sought to juice the economy by paying people to junk their old but functioning vehicles. The idea was that they would then go buy a better replacement vehicle and soon all would be rainbows and unicorns. I don’t mean the kind of rainbow in everyone’s Facebook feed for the last few days. I mean pot-of-gold-rainbows, the kind we never seem to be able to get to the end of in this Obama economy, one so bent on ignoring the principle of opportunity cost.

Let’s hear more about Bastiat’s beliefs, in his own words. Here are 9 Bastiat quotes to keep in mind on his birthday.

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.”

“If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race?”

“But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”

“Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state lives at the expense of everyone.”

“The mission of law is not to oppress persons and plunder them of their property, even though the law may be acting in a philanthropic spirit. Its mission is to protect property.”

“It is not true that the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property. The existence of persons and property preceded the existence of the legislator, and his function is only to guarantee their safety.”

“When a portion of wealth is transferred from the person who owns it — without his consent and without compensation, and whether by force or by fraud — to anyone who does not own it, then I say that property is violated; that an act of plunder is committed.”

“Law and charity are not the same.”

“What is freedom? It is the sum total of freedoms. To be free, under one’s own responsibility, to think and act, to speak and write, to work and trade, to teach and learn, that alone is to be free.”

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Opportunity for the Impossible
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