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Quotation of the Day…

… is from the new David Hart translation – still only on-line, but forthcoming in print – of Frédéric Bastiat’s 1850 Economic Harmonies; specifically, it is from the chapter titled “Competition” (footnotes excluded; emphasis added):

I believe that people fail to realize the genuine progress that the human race has made since the very recent period when the partial emancipation of labour began to take place. It has been said, and rightly so, that a great deal of philosophizing was needed to identify the facts that are constantly being witnessed. What a respectable and hard-working family of the working class consumes does not surprise us, because habit has accustomed us to this strange phenomenon. If, however, we were to compare the well-being this family has achieved with the situation that would be its lot under a social order in which competition was excluded, if statisticians, armed with accurate instruments, were able to measure as though with a dynamometer the relationship between the work of this family and the composition of its consumption at two different periods, we would recognize that freedom, as restricted as it still is, has achieved something extraordinary for this family, something whose very duration makes it pass unnoticed. The amount of human effort needed to produce a given result has been drastically cut and is truly incalculable.

DBx: So true.

Those people who shout through microphones, or peck out on their smartphones’ keyboards, that innovative free markets in which consumers are free to spend as they choose, and each entrepreneur and business is free, within the rules of private property and contract law, to experiment with ways to attract as much as possible of this consumer spending – “capitalism” – “isn’t working” simply do not know what they’re talking and writing about.

Each of us in modern society swims daily in a magnificent ocean of capitalism’s marvels – marvels now so commonplace that we take them for granted and assume, when we think of the matter at all, that they are somehow ‘natural.’ We are so fabulously rich that we have the luxury of asking ‘What causes poverty?’, oblivious to the reality that poverty is humanity’s default mode, and that what must be caused is wealth.

Some people even write much-praised books that have among their premises the fantastic notion that, except in the most extreme circumstances, the value of capital – the tools used not only to keep filled, but to expand, this magnificent ocean of capitalism’s marvels – grows automatically, independently of human agency, ideas, effort, creativity, risk-taking, and institutions.

Other people win political power by playing on the false belief that those whose glasses are ‘only’ 95 percent full are impoverished victims of those whose glasses are 99 percent full. “You’re poor because he’s rich” is today false in two ways. First, you’re not poor. Second, in almost all cases, not only did his riches not make you less-rich, his riches are a result of him making you richer than you would have been otherwise.


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