But this is where the loss lies. In the village, one man dug and ploughed: he was a worker. At Metz, he turns his head left and right: he is a soldier.

Frédéric Bastiat
What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen

What Bastiat is showing us here, is that the civil service may be useful and legitimate but may also be useless and illegitimate. In any case, when it is useless, to use economic arguments to maintain it is not acceptable.

The debate at the time was about keeping or not keeping hundred thousand men in the army. Today, it is easy to conclude that the level of government spending is proof of it being bloated and that there are individuals within government offices who are turning their head left and right. The difficulty is to assess who they are. Teachers? Policemen drowning in red tape? Bureaucrats dictating new sanitary norms? What Bastiat does not say here but is at the heart of the arguments in favour of a market economy is that the freer the individuals are to take their own decisions, the closer to a satisfaction of real needs we get and the further from the risk of monumental errors applied to the whole country we go (as for instance, having hundred thousand useless soldiers instead of hundred thousand workers).

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