… is from page 386 of Liberty Fund’s 2017 expanded English-language edition, brilliantly edited by David Hart, of Frédéric Bastiat’s indispensable work Economic Sophisms and “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen”; specifically, it’s from Bastiat’s March 1848 essay “Disastrous Illusions” (“Funestes illusions”) (footnote deleted):
What used those who governed to say repeatedly? At the slightest gleam of prosperity, they attributed its entire merit to themselves without ceremony; they made no mention of the popular virtues that are its basis nor of the activity, order and economy of the workers. No, they claimed the authorship of this prosperity, which incidentally is highly doubtful. Less than two months ago, I heard the minister of trade say: “Thanks to the active intervention of the government, thanks to the wisdom of the king, thanks to the patronage of science, all the productive classes are flourishing.” Should we be surprised that the people have ended up believing that they obtain well-being from above, like manna from heaven, and that they now turn their gaze to the regions of power? When you claim the merit for all the good that occurs, you incur responsibility for all the harm that arises.
DBx: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (I’m informed by my dearest friend, who’s from France, that the French never utter this phrase. But we native English speakers think that they do…. And the audience for this blog consists overwhelmingly of native English speakers.)
To this day, governments take credit for all economic development. “We – the political class – built the roads!” “We subsidize education!” “We imposed tariffs!” “We subsidized this with cash grants and that with special tax breaks!” “Because We are in charge, all that is beneficial is ultimately due to Us! But all that is bad, of course, is due exclusively to our evil or stupid enemies – internal and external – or to the failure of the
pawns people over whom we rule to carry out completely and precisely the glorious commands that we issue.”