… is from pages 244-245 of the 2012 Volume 2 – titled “The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings (edited expertly by David Hart) – of Liberty Fund’s The Collected Works of Frederic Bastiat; specifically, it’s from Bastiat’s January 1849 essay “Protection and Communism” (“Protectionisme et communisme”):
It seems as though intervention by the state reconciles us with plunder by attributing responsibility for it to everyone, that is to say, to no one, with the result that people can enjoy the property of others with a perfectly clear conscience.
DBx: The history of protectionism is a history of state power being used to plunder consumers and politically impotent producers (both existing and, especially, prospective) in order to enrich existing, politically potent producers. It is, in short, a history of cronyism.
Most apologists for this plunder are so economically ignorant that they actually believe it to be socially productive. This belief, though, is no more valid than is the belief that burglary is socially productive. The fact that successful burglars are enriched by their plunder does not, of course, mean that society at large is thereby enriched. Yet while no one (not even the burglar) mistakes the burglar’s gains as being social gains, many protectionists mistake the gains of protected producers as being social gains.
A handful of protectionists, it must be admitted, are a bit less gullible than is the run-of-the-mill protectionist. This handful of protectionists understand that it isn’t obvious that the burglar’s gains are gains to society at large. One of the ploys, then, that this handful of protectionists resort to is to assert that, because in democratic societies protectionist measures are implemented at the behest of democratically elected governments, the People must in fact somehow be enriched because, well, after all, it’s their government that imposes the trade restraints. (Such protectionists are ignorant not only of basic economics, but also of public choice.)