Thoughts on Trump & Bastiat’s “The Law”

fredericbastiatquote

I have issues with Donald Trump: I’ve made this quite clear if you’ve even read a single post here (at least, that doesn’t pertain to Bernie Sanders). I’ve made it quite clear that I do not like the Donald due to his stances on privacy and the 4th Amendment, with his support for the Patriot Act and warrantless NSA Spying, and his reckless stance on Defense spending.

But what does it matter? I’m just a dumb liberal college kid who has no idea what he’s talking about, or, at least, that’s what the Trumpites will think of me, since I’m not at Donald Trump’s feet, bowing to the God figure. No, I don’t pray to that fake god, for I am a Christian, and he is not.

So what keeps me from supporting him? A lot. But what is at the root of it all? I’m reading Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law”, and if you have not read this little, short book (or long essay, either way), then I highly recommend it. You can find it online in PDF form (for free) here, and on YouTube as an audiobook.

What does Bastiat have to do with Trump? Currently, I’m working through his sections on legal plunder, which are indeed very relevant to today, especially with the actions of our current government. What is legal plunder, you may ask? Bastiat writes on page 14:

“See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons whom it does not belong.”

You and I may know this in a more modern sense as socialism, as did Bastiat himself back when he was writing “The Law”, but he had many other names for this legal pluner of which he spoke. He gave examples of what legal plunder was in practice on page 15, stating:

“Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it [legal punder]: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guarunteed jobs, guarunteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on. All these plans as a whole – with their common aim of legal plunder – constitute socialism.

Now, stop and think for a moment here: which of these examples of legal plunder has Trump been in support of? I’ve specifically highlighted some of the one’s we know he continues to support, though the arguement can be made that he has supported all of these, and in the eyes of Bastiat, supported socialism.

How is each one socialism? Let’s go through each one:

  • Tariffs: The idea behind tariffs is that if the government raises a tariff on imported goods, manufacturing said goods at home would grown, meaning more jobs and a more flourishing economy. So what is the issues here? Instead of paying the old price from before, consumers in that goods market now have to buy more expensive (but same quality) goods at a price that they believe to be above equilibrium point, meaning that while you may have helped domestic production short term, long term, you’ve driven up the price, and helped increase the black market for that good, which will always have things for a cheaper price. For more on this, I suggest you read this piece on Bastiat’s views on tariffs over at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).
  • Protectionism: Protectionism is the imposing of guidelines in a sector of the economy to shield that sector from outside effects,  such as changes in the market, foreign competition, and so on. What’s wrong with this that it constitutes socialism? It’s an artificial imposing of some sort of aid to that sector, and thus, a taking from the public treasury from one group of people to a small, specific group of people (in this case, businesses). It is a redistribution of wealth, you could argue.
  • Benefits: Benefits are certain bonuses a sector or business may get from government, giving it an advantage against it’s competitors. Why is this socialism? Because like protectionism, it involves some sort of aid from the public treasury through redistribution, in the form of perhaps a subsidy.
  • Subsidies: This is a direct redistribution of wealth from one group of people to another through the public treasury. This is socialism. Treat it as such.
  • Encouragements: I believe what he is getting at here is incentives, which is probably the modern term, which provide some sort of benefit should a company or group do whatever the incentive try to incentivize. This is, again, a transfer of wealth from one group of people to another, and of course, it’s by force.
  • Progressive Taxation: Here, the law is supposedly promoting legal equality, or at least, in the eyes of the progressive leftists. In reality, it is legal injustice, perpetuated on the belief that the rich owe more. Again, this is a textbook transfer of wealth from one group to another via the public treasury, which constitutes socialism. Conservatives should be well aware of this.

I saved Progressive Taxation for the end because I wanted to point out the other examples of legal plunder before going to that one, which we all pretty much are aware of. Many conservatives (and even liberals) do not see certain of these examples to be legal plunder, but only see them as good things, without looking for the unseen consequences [1].

What does any of this have to do with Trump? He has come out in support of protectionism, tariffs, progressive taxation, subsidies, and so on. These are examples of legal plunder, and by extension, socialism. Is it fair to say that Trump is a socialist? Maybe, but he certainly doesn’t know it, and his supporters will never listen if you or I say he were. But, the fact stands that Trump supports many of these methods of legal plunder, and that’s only if he’s telling the truth, for which, we can never really be certain.

In talking about how politicians try to remedy problems, Bastiat writes on page 22:

“He attempts to remedy the evil by increasing and perpetuating the very thing that caused the evil in the first place: legal plunder.”

Listen to Trump and his words: when has he talked about reducing legal plunder? I’ve yet to find anything that would say he would, which worries me, along with many freedom-loving people. It’s a shame that the American people have fallen so far from the days when Bastiat, a Frenchman, idealized and practically adored Americans for their individualism and courage; their toughness and freedom, and their respect for liberty. It is a shame that now, so many have become enamored in perpetuating their version of legal plunder onto others.

Bastiat writes on page 16 about three types of ways to plunder, in which they are:

  1. The few plunder the many.

  2. Everybody plunders everybody.

  3. Nobody plunders anybody.

In a free society, the third option would be in place. But, today, we have the first option, and are rapidly moving towards the 2nd option, where everyone plunders each other. I could only imagine what a society based on that would look like, and with Trump as a possible future President, I can only see it coming closer and closer.

Endnotes:

[1]: For a good book on this, I highly recommend Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson”, available online in PDF, Audio, and eBook for free

[2]: For more info on Bastiat and his ideas, give the Bastiat Institute a look over. I love their work and what they say, and any lover of freedom would do well to give him more attention.

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