In the state of isolation, our wants exceed our productive capacities.
In society, our productive capacities exceed our wants.
Frédéric Bastiat starts this chapter by warning us that one should write a whole book on exchange and that this chapter will not be sufficient to cover all its important aspects. He must have been heard by Ludwig von Mises whose part IV of Human Action on catallactics take up more than four hundred pages.
I shall retain seven quotes from this chapter, the first one concluding the introduction. What the author tells us in three dense pages and the reading of which I should not recommend enough, is that exchange, which is at the core of economic science is also at the core of society as an essential attribute or even as a defining item of it (there is no exchange without society, nor is there any society without exchange).
According to him and contrary to what Rousseau may have thought, society constitutes the natural state of man and today’s quote, if right, proves it. Indeed, if our wants exceeded our productive capacities, man would not be viable; Bastiat will also use the caracter of Robinson Crusoe to support this hypothesis. The second term of the proposition explains why human society has been progressing since time immemorial and why it will continue to progress in the future. What the following pages will attempt to demonstrate is that exchange is the engine of society and the fact that the latter allows our productive capacities to exceed our wants, (free) exchange is a condition of progress.