In the state of isolation, one man’s prosperity is inimical to that of all others.
Today’s quote is complementing the one that was selected in the introduction of this chapter on exchange.
The aim of this fourth part is to try and understand how exchange could be moral. To start with, it reiterates one of the enlightening idea from Adam Smith who wrote in the Wealth of Nations (book 1, chapter 2, part II): “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest”, viz. that even if commercial actions are not motivated by others’ good but by personal interest, their consequence is to improve the economic order and the well-being of all of us, as if they had been aimed at others’ prosperity.
Here, Frédéric Bastiat goes further and exposes the fallacious idea according to which “The profit of the one is the loss of the other” (which is true in the context of theft but not in the context of freely agreed commercial exchange). What he is here underlining is that isolation means that men would necessarily have antagonistic interests while society emerges specifically in order to exchange and, as we have seen in the first part of the present chapter, to cooperate and to prosper thanks to value-creating exchanges.