Reading Bastiat

We are reading The Collected Works of Frederic Bastiat for the No Due Date book club, and it is quite a volume. The sheer size of the tome is daunting, and a translated text written a few centuries ago requires a careful read. Bastiat loves to reference which makes for a collection of footnotes (interesting to be sure) at the lower edge of every page. The pace is slow.

What makes it fun are the successive anecdotes which call out for a subtitle: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same. His primary objective in the first section is to point out the fallacies of protectionism. He talks of fears. The fear the rich will become richer and the poor will become poorer. The fear machines will replace workers. The fear workers will not receive their due for their labor. The fear that trade produces war, not peace.

There’s a section from chapter 22, Metaphores, where he discusses the impact of inflamatory language, in particular the use of the word ‘invasion.’

Take the word invasion itself.

A French ironmaster says: “May we be preserved from an invasion of iron from England.” An English landlord exclaims: “Let us reject the invasion of wheat from France!” And they propose that the barriers between the two peoples be raised. Barriers constitute isolation, isolation leads to hatred, ha tred to war, and war to invasion. “What does it matter?” say the two sophists, “is it not better to be exposed to the risk of invasion than to accept certain invasion?” And the people believe them and the barriers remain.

And yet, what analogy is there between an exchange and an invasion? What similarity can be established between a warship which comes to vomit shells, fire, and devastation on our towns and a merchant ship that comes to offer us the opportunity of exchanging goods for other goods freely and voluntarily?

Words that vomit misrepresentation. Too funny.

Bastiat (1801-1850) was born in Bayonne which is within ten miles of where this photo was taken.