However, when lawmakers tax and prohibit trade, if their ideas are hopelessly wrong, this error has to become the general rule of conduct of a great nation.
Today’s quote is the translation found on the Online Library of Liberty but I would suggest the following translation that does not address beliefs on trade in particular but is applicable to any policys: “However, when lawmakers mandate and prohibit, if their ideas are hopelessly wrong, this error has to become the general rule of conduct of a great nation.”
This theme of the balance of trade had already been exposed five years earlier but Frédéric Bastiat reverts back to it brilliantly during an intervention proving that there are still some in parliament who have not grasped the concept. And this is still the case nowadays when mercantilists regularly stop snoring and start to explain to the people that exports are good and imports are bad.
What is interesting in today’s quote is that it can be extended beyond issues of balance of trade. If François Mauguin ridicules himself with a concept that he does not understand, it is not less true that he does not hesitate to impose his beliefs on others through legislative power. And yet, beyond the balance of trade, are there not numerous examples on which parliament legislates through tight minorities, implying that a large minority believes in the opposite? Can we really think that, because there is a larger amount of members of parliament who believe they know the truth and what is good for the people that it is really the case?
I am convinced that one of the major issues of today’s democracies is to have omitted to limit in a strong way the extent of responsibilities of the institutions, which has multiplied the instances of “hopelessly wrong” errors becoming “the general rule of conduct of a great nation”. On this topic, I should not recommend enough chapter 12 of Law, Legislation and Liberty by Friedrich Hayek.