This is legal plunder, the worst of all.
Complete Works, Volume 2, pages 63 to 68 (in French)
May 8th, 1847
In this article dated May the 8th but published on the 9th in Libre Echange, Frédéric Bastiat complains about protectionnist restrictions that worsen food shortages in restricting the importation of food products. This is inconsistent with the article dated December 27th 1846 in which he welcomed the opening of French ports to cereals (“As of today, the French ports are open to cereals from anywhere in the world”). I cannot explain this discrepancy – were the tariffs restricting the importation of cereals in place or not?
Whatever the real situation, protective tariffs existed at least on other products and the reasoning is not altered. Today’s quote is of universal reach and desserves to be reminded to all those who see each market failure as a good reason for the government to intervene on everything and anything. Indeed there are private interests that are dishonest (fraud and theft in particular) and need to be fought against for what they are. However, the solution is not systematically to substitute government and public action for private action. The issue with the power of government is that it is not possible to oppose it and, if plunder is enforced legally, it won’t be possible to avoid it. In this sense, this is the worst kind of plunder and Frédéric Bastiat has fought against it relentlessly.