Monday, June 08, 2009

No legal plunder

In The Law, Frédéric Bastiat argues that a lack of what he derisively refers to as legal plunder is “the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, harmony, and logic.”

Although it was written more than a century and a half ago, Bastiat's frank criticisms have held their edge, but public ministers continue making the same mistakes he so harshly condemns. Consider the section called The Proper Function of the Law:

And, in all sincerity, can anything more than the absence of plunder be required of the law? Can the law — which necessarily requires the use of force — rationally be used for anything except protecting the rights of everyone?
Note that Bastiat uses “rights” in the same sense as Jefferson and Locke did, under which all are equal and must abide within the limits of this universal equality. Some characterize the concept as “negative rights,” e.g. no one may steal from, defraud, or murder others. Columnist Charley Reese put it in downhome terms: “The best way to understand the difference between a true right and a falsely claimed right is that a true right does not compel anyone else to do anything except leave us alone.”

Although not at all glamorous, Bastiat asserts (and later supports) that protecting these rights is a big enough problem for the law. He uses the rhetorical question to assert that broadening the scope of the law beyond this essential function is irrational.

I defy anyone to extend it beyond this purpose without perverting it and, consequently, turning might against right. This is the most fatal and most illogical social perversion that can possibly be imagined.
As experience and history show plainly, placing great power in the hands of a few rulers creates a vicious struggle to control its reigns. The concern moves from seeing that right prevails to becoming the mighty. During the Bush years, Democrats wailed about the abominable “Patriot” act and how it was forced upon them, but they then nominated for vice-president a man who claimed to be its intellectual forebear. Now that they control the White House and the congress, the alleged party of the common man has failed through inaction as terribly as the alleged party of small government that levied this surveillance-state measure.
It must be admitted that the true solution — so long searched for in the area of social relationships — is contained in these simple words: Law is organized justice.
Although anathema to the wonks and their grand schemes, they need to first master their humble assignment before pursuing more ambitious goals. Bastiat continues concerning justice:
Now this must be said: When justice is organized by law — that is, by force — this excludes the idea of using law (force) to organize any human activity whatever, whether it be labor, charity, agriculture, commerce, industry, education, art, or religion. The organizing by law of any one of these would inevitably destroy the essential organization — justice. For truly, how can we imagine force being used against the liberty of citizens without it also being used against justice, and thus acting against its proper purpose?
Consider the horrid mess of the Wall Street bailouts. Diane Feinstein openly admitted constituents' opposition was better than 9-1, but this “representative” voted for it anyway. The U.S. auto industry is a complete trainwreck, but Washington is forcing Americans to continue propping it up despite years of bailouts in the form of protective tariffs. Californians overwhelmingly rejected proposals for huge tax hikes, and now with the prospect of a federal bailout for Arnold & Co. (rivers of paper money flowing into the Golden State!), the people are likely to be forced to pay up even though the vox populi spoke an unmistakable No!

Unjust measures all! Each one is legal plunder. Carry the economist's old saw “there ain't no such thing as a free lunch” a step further: who must pay, and is it justice or might-cum-right?

No comments: