How can individuals delegate rights that they do not possess?

Frédéric Bastiat
Economic Harmonies

After establishing that public services are governed by legislation rather than personal interest, Frédéric Bastiat deduces that one of the characteristics is then not to evolve. To be stable but sclerotic. Moreover, force is used to make sure legislation is respected. It is therefore essential to ensure public services are legitimate to allow progress to take place elsewhere and to restrict the use of force.

Hence, he comes back to what was developed in his indispensable essay The Law, namely that its source must be the legitimate defense of the individual. Today’s quote allows to create a simple analytical framework to identify what should be governed by legislation and what should not. As public services are governed by legislation, it allows then to identify if a public service is legitimate or not.

The sovereign functions of the State (Justice, Defense and Police) are legitimate because they aim at defending the freedom of individuals (who can therefore delegate this right) but not the other functions. Thus, when the Vietnamese government subsidises the Hanoï Opera, it makes its own people pay by force for the benefit of some tourists. Is an individual legitimate in forcing his neighbour to pay for the happiness of tourists (the latter might even be a client of the said individual)? Of course not. As a consequence, this public service is not legitimate.

Other quotes from Private and Public Services:
Exchange – Value – Monopoly – Individual – Responsibility – Rights – Revolution – Ethics

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