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Bastiat’s has a utopian dream of drastically reducing the size of the French state (1847)

In an article he wrote in January 1847 the French free trade advocate Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) dreams he is appointed Prime Minister had outlines his plans to the King to drastically reduce taxes and slash government spending by 50 percent:

[The King] “… Is this all?” [[Utopian Prime Minister] “I have scarcely begun.” “I beg you, let me into your other Utopian plans.” “I have lost 60 million on salt and the postal services. I have recovered them on Customs duties, which have given me something even more precious.” “And what is that, if you please?” “International relationships based on justice, and the likelihood of peace, which is almost a certainty. I would disband the army.” “The entire army?” “Except for some specialized divisions, which would recruit voluntarily just like any other profession. And as you can see, conscription would be abolished.” …

“I will think about this. So, now we have settled salt, the postal services and customs duties. Is this all?”

“I have scarcely begun.”

“I beg you, let me into your other Utopian plans.”

“I have lost 60 million on salt and the postal services. I have recovered them on Customs duties, which have given me something even more precious.” “And what is that, if you please?”

“International relationships based on justice, and the likelihood of peace, which is almost a certainty. I would disband the army.”

“The entire army?”

“Except for some specialized divisions, which would recruit voluntarily just like any other profession. And as you can see, conscription would be abolished.” …

“Truly, if I were not on my guard, I would end up by being interested in your fantasies.”

The Utopian becomes excited: “Thank heavens; my budget has been reduced by 200 million! I will abolish city tolls, I will reform indirect taxes, I …” “Just a minute Mr. Utopian!”

The Utopian becomes increasingly excited: “I will proclaim the freedom of religion and freedom of education. New projects: I will purchase the railways, I will reimburse the debt, and I will starve stockjobbing of its profits.”

“Mr. Utopian!”

“Freed from responsibilities which are too numerous to mention, I will concentrate all of the forces of government on repressing fraud and distributing prompt and fair justice to all, I …”

“Mr. Utopian, you are taking on too much, the nation will not follow you!” “You have given me a majority.”

“I withdraw it.”

“About time, too! So I am no longer a Minister, and my plans remain what they are, just so many UTOPIAS.”

About this Quotation:

August 28 was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a Dream” speech. Classical liberals like Mary Wollstonecraft, Richard Cobden, and Frédéric Bastiat also had dreams of liberty which they eloquently discussed. This “I have a dream” speech was written by Bastiat in January 1847 in which he dreams of being appointed Prime Minister (“The Utopian”) of France with full power to implement his classical liberal dream of an ultra-minimal state. He discusses his plans with the King of abolishing some taxes completely (indirect taxes such as the octroi or city tolls), cutting other taxes by 75% or more (on letters and salt), halving the rate of tariffs, abolishing entire sectors of government activity (subsidizing churches and government funded education), and even abolishing conscription and disbanding the army of 400,000 men and replacing it with local militias. His cost cutting would total nearly F700 million out of an annual budget of F1.4 billion of government spending, or roughly 50%. As he increasingly gets carried away with his utopian plans for reform of the state he suddenly realises that his dream would be impossible to put into practice unless the people were convinced of the correctness of his classical liberal ideas of individual liberty and free markets. Since in 1847 they were not, the Utopian accepts the fact that he must resign and that his plans are just so many utopian dreams to be realised at some future date.

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