It is vain to say that the interest of a man is in opposition to the that of another man; according to me, this is a serious and anti-social mistake.

Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works volume I, page 11 (in French)
Letter dated July 1829

Today’s quote is interesting because it forces us to think harder. Indeed, the fact that the interest of a man is opposed to the interest of another appears to be self-evident and illustrations of it can be found on a daily basis. This is true on the surface, even when looking at our daily exchanges – how could a trade be made if the buyer and the seller had the same interest?

If Frédéric Bastiat thinks this is a serious and anti-social mistake, it is because he gives a much larger dimension to the term “interest” than the one commonly admitted through daily shortcuts. As Adam Smith wrote, it is the self-interest of the baker that brings food on our table but the only way for him to serve his self-interest is to serve ours in responding to our needs. In this sense, our interests are not in opposition and society benefits from this matter of fact (hence the idea that antagonistic interests would be anti-social).

Man is a social animal and his aspiration to happiness is better served by respecting the aspiration of happiness from his fellow creatures than by opposing it.

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