Freeman

ARTICLE

Justice Versus Restrictions On Trade

APRIL 01, 1958 by FREDERIC BASTIAT

Come with me into one of those wooden cabins that cling to the French side of the Pyrenees [in 1846].

We discover that the father of the family has not been able to earn much in that mountainous section of the country. His poorly-clothed chil­dren shiver in the icy blast. The fire is out and the table bare.

On the other side of the mountain in Spain, there are wool, firewood, and corn. But the poor father is for­bidden to use them because they are grown in another country!

By law, the foreign pine may not warm his cabin; his children may not taste the Spanish corn; the wool of Navarre may not warm their cold bodies.

We are told that national interest (general utility) demands this. If this is so, then it must be admitted that national interest is in conflict with justice.

The government has absolute con­trol over the lives of consumers and uses these consumers in the name of national industry. This is an en­croachment upon their liberty. The law forbids the people to exchange their goods and services for the goods and services of their neighbors on the other side of the frontier. Since the willing exchange of goods and services is not immoral, then the law commits an act of injustice.

The writers of the "protectionist school" claim that this is necessary to protect national industry and pub­lic prosperity. Thus the advocates of tariffs and other restrictions against trade are faced with this sad con­clusion: Justice and the public in­terest are incompatible.

Translated by Dean Russell from Selected Works of Frederic Bastiat, Volume 1. Paris: Guillaumin, 1863. Pp. 87-88.

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April 1958

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Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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