There is only one good policy, that of Justice.
Complete Works, Volume 2, pages 39 to 44 (in French)
January 31st, 1847
Frédéric Bastiat ponders here protectionnist measures aiming to help farmers. Writing to the address of the latter, he shows them that these measures are absolutely useless for them because they are suspended in case there is a food shortage (the government having then the good idea of allowing the import of wheat in order to avoid a famine). As a consequence, agriculture is protected when its production is abundant, the prices are low and there is no reason to fear foreign competition but is not protected when its production is low and the prices are high because imports allow the prices to be driven back down.
What Frédéric Bastiat notes is that the government prefers a functioning supply against food shortages by using the means of freedom in order to increase exchange efficacy. It is unfortunate that suffering is the only motivation for such an action (the country would be richer if exchange efficacy were authorised permanently) but it is also very unfair. Indeed, farmers end up being in a de facto non-protected competitive situation while the manufactures, which cannot be at the origin of food shortages, keep their monopolies. “Earning less and spending more” is not really a winning proposition for 70% of the population, whose living depended on farms at the time.
This is the context in which today’s quote appears while he also describes some other nefarious aspects of the protectionnist regime, which “rests on the mistake that each product is not considered for its utility in consumption but for its utility towards the producer”.