It is perhaps not idle to point out that laws of this nature are iniquitous and disastrous, whatever may be the opinion of either oppressed or oppressor toward them.

Frédéric Bastiat
Economic Harmonies

Now that the benefits of competition have been explained, Bastiat exposes the opposite, viz. legislation in favour of the ones or the others that creates market distorsions detrimental to its good functioning and the optimisation of production. The era was particularly sensitive towards pure mercantilist protectionism conducted through tariffs and bounties while the recent abolition of the Corn Laws in the United Kingdom allowed to get a glimpse at the way landlords had benefited from protectionism there outrageously.

What is reminded to us here is that the opposition to laisser-faire is restriction and that while it may be necessary against reprehensible actions, it cannot be beneficial in other circumstances. The second part of today’s quote seems particularly interesting to me and still valid nowadays, underlining two things:

  • that those who put in place a detrimental legislation like protectionist laws and regulations are not always cynical themselves and sometimes simply guilty of ignorance
  • that those who support protectionism are often its very victims, misled by the iniquitous or ignorant beneficiaries as well as those who fit the purpose of implementing it.

On a broader view, it reflects the fact (rather frequent in economics, up to this day) that ignorance can be prejudicial and that it often leads to the victims of a specific policy to support it themselves.

Other quotes from Landed Property:
Introduction – Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Conclusion

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