In order to feed the people, we are appealing to this very freedom, which was said to be a principle of suffering and ruin.

Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works, Volume 2, pages 22 to 25 (in French)
January 30th, 1847

In three pages, Frédéric Bastiat shows the power of free markets through price discovery. He gives as example (real or imagined, it makes no difference) a simple case of shortage created by regulation of a market (viz. the implementation of a price ceiling on transportation) and shows how a free market allowing entrepreneurs to generate profits is the only way to reallocate ressources for demand to be fulfilled (and therefore avoid shortages). Guillaumin mentions in a footnote that this theme will be the topic of Chapter 6. The Middlemen of What is seen and what is unseen – I shall never recommend enough to read it.

What inspired him is the fact that the British and French governments then attempted to fight against contemporary famines by freeing provisorily the wheat market. This is also what triggers today’s quote in which he exposes the absurdity of restrictive legislation that is suspended or abolished once the government is looking for abundance – these suspensions being proof that this kind of legislation going against freedom is also going against general interest.

He takes this opportunity to place his argument against state intervention that may look expeditious in case of crisis because “if the first effect of government action is to overcome the present obstacle, the second effect is to drive away and cripple all individual forces, all commercial activity.”

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