External exploitation corresponds to war, conquests, colonies. Internal exploitation corresponds to taxes, government offices, monopolies.

Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works, Volume 3, pages 6 to 20

In this first part of the introduction to Cobden and the League, Frédéric Bastiat attempts to set the record straight as to the causal relationship between misery and liberalism. Observing that there exist immense inequalities and pauperism among a large part of the people in England, public opinion quickly assign them to capitalism. Indeed, England is the cradle of the economic school since Adam Smith and this is the place, more than others, where it is possible to observe trace of liberalism and the main agitation against protectionism.

Over the last 250 years, countries are in a precarious equilibrium between liberalism and constructivism: the advocates of one or the other system are bound to explain misery for the presence of the opposing system and prosperity to be due to their own beliefs. The question is to assess what is predominant and not to be satisfied with some correlation that is necessarily partial to explain misery or prosperity.

What Frédéric Bastiat is showing here is that the English system before the abrogation of the Corn Laws is far from the liberal ideal and that the country is in an oppressive system in the hands of the aristocracy. According to him, misery has not been created by the limited freedom granted to the people but to the oppression under which it lives. Today’s quote reminds us that the colonial system (still in place – the United States being the only ones to have freed themselves by then) is not liberal and that concerning the domestic policies, the aristocracy is conducting plunder, be it through the example of the fiscal policy of the day or through the monopoly on land. What he is exposing here is that attributing misery to liberalism is nonsense.

Pages 1 to 6 – Pages 6 to 20 – Pages 20 to 30 – Pages 30 to 38 – Pages 38 to 56 – Pages 56 to 72 – Pages 72 to 80

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