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“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.” – Frédéric Bastiat, The Law
In addition to our member Dr. Bastiat, Frédéric Bastiat is a well-known author here on Ricochet, also used by our Editor Jon Gabriel for a Quote of the Day. Like many, I wasn’t exposed to Bastiat until the last 25 years or so, after New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani introduced the “broken windows” theory of government, which led me to Bastiat’s “broken windows fallacy.” Like many brilliant writers such as Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman, Bastiat can explain important ideas in plain language. The quote above seems so obvious, yet many on the left they continue to argue against it, saying that the right kind of Socialism hasn’t been tried yet.
Of course, Bastiat has an answer for those who think conservatives limit progress:
“I do not dispute their right to invent social combinations, to advertise them, to advocate them, and to try them upon themselves, at their own expense and risk. But I do dispute their right to impose these plans upon us by law – by force – and to compel us to pay for them with our taxes.”
Again, Bastiat has a reasonable way to maximize freedom in a Classical Liberal society. Since World War II, the US has allowed many social combinations, such as the Beatniks, Hippies, Yuppies, Marxists, etc., and survived them all. But it is hard to expect these groups, such as the Hippies at Woodstock or the radical Marxists (i.e., Antifa) to accomplish their freedom without their expenses and risks absorbed by the society. Neither conservatives nor leftists would deny medical treatment, police services, or other general governmental operations to these unique social combinations.
Do we have an answer to Bastiat on how a society can balance freedom against society costs?