The affections, feelings, and outpourings of love and friendship will not, as they are today, be buried in the depths of people’s hearts by the hand of the tax man.

Frédéric Bastiat
Economic Sophisms Second Series

Bastiat takes the opportunity of the postal service reform in England to revisit with some humour the equivalent in France. For those of you who are used to laugh at the level of service at the post office towards the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, look at where we are coming from with 242 possible options for one letter at a time when computers required a crank handle to operate. The Royal Mail had just launched the penny stamp for any letter, to be paid by the sender, which was obviously of tremendous efficiency (and created a growth of 360 per cent in the number of letters there).

I take the quote above from a discussion about the pros and cons of tax financing for the light it sheds on the unintended consequences of government action. While it is difficult to imagine that a pamphlet titled “Salt, the mail, and the customs service” could have anything to do with emotions, Bastiat shows us here that, unfortunately, bad political decisions have real consequences on the life of the population, even if this was not their intention.

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