Some Thoughts on Editing, Translating, and Displaying online the Work of the French “Économistes”

The Trials and Tribulations of an Editor and Translator

[Note: See this page for a list of my writings on the Paris School of Political Economy.]

Inevitably there are a number of editorial and translation issues which arise when one attempts to translate, in the case of Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), 1 million words of a sometimes highly specialized nature (economic theory) written over 170 years ago. The plan was to publish Bastiat’s Collected Works in six large volumes with the appropriate scholarly apparatus of introductions, footnotes, glossaries, essays, data tables, and appendices.

This task was complicated by the fact that the original editor and translator died along the way, creating a problem like “the curse of the mummy” for those who were left behind.

As I worked on the project I had in mind some models of what I thought were outstanding examples of editorial work of important and complex scholarly texts. These included the following (in chronological order of publication):

  1. The Glasgow Edition of the Works of Adam Smith in 6 or 7 volumes. (Oxford University Press 1976; Liberty Fund 1981-1987). Edited and with Introductions by D.D. Raphael and A.L. Macfie, R H. Campbell, A.S. Skinner, W.P.D. Wightman, J.C. Bryce, R.L. Meek, P. G. Stein, E. C. Mossner and I. S. Ross.
  2. John Robson’s edition of the Collected Works of J.S. Mill in 33 volumes: Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. J.M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963-1991), 33 vols. Edited and with Introductions by Lord Robbins, V.W. Bladen, Joseph Hamburger, R.F. McRae, Alan Ryan, F.E.L. Priestley, F.E. Sparshott, F.A. Hayek, Francis E. Mineka, Dwight N. Lindley, Alexander Brady, John C. Cairns, Stefan Collini, Ann P. Robson, John M. Robson, Bruce L. Kinzer, Martin Moir, and Marion Filipiuk.
  3. the Complete Works of J.B. Say under André Tiran’s direction which began in 2003: Jean-Baptiste Say, Œuvres Complètes. André Tiran et al. (Paris: Economica, 2003-). 10 volumes.

Editorial Issues and Problems

Identifying and Planning the Arrangement of the Content

An important first stage in the project, which was not achieved or even attempted, should have been to make a complete list of all Bastiat’s known works in chronological order and to give them a unique ID number, to provide full bibliographic information including the place and date of first publication, and its location (where applicable) in the two Oeuvres complètes editions of his work edited by his friends Paillottet and Fontenay in the 1850s and 1860s. This I did somewhat later when I came to realize how important this was (although I could not convince my colleagues of the importance of doing this).[1]

Then a search should have been made for other works by Bastiat which were not included in the original Oeuvres Complètes (1854-55 and 1862-64)[2] which formed the basis of the new translation. I did this once the project was underway and found additional letters and speeches in the Chamber of Deputies, along with different versions of journal and encyclopedia articles which Bastiat had revised for republication in other places.

This same mistake has not been made with the massive and very ambitious Collected Works of Molinari which Benoît Malbranque is currently doing for the Institut Coppet. [3]

My preference, as an historian, is for the works to be organised in chronological order in order to show how his interests and opinions changed over time. The original editor of the Liberty Fund edition of Bastiat’s Collected Works wanted to arrange the material by “theme” which was a very poor choice in my view as much of what Bastiat wrote cut across disciplines, which one might have expected given the fact that he was a “political economist” who also was a pioneer in liberal sociological analysis of the state and its ruling class. So for Bastiat where does “politics” end and “economics” begin, I wonder? There were also very clear breaks in Bastiat’s career which caused him to focus on very different matters at different times in his life, for example his writings done his home town and province before he moved to Paris, his early years working purely on free trade matters, then his career as an elected politician during and after the 1848 Revolution, his shift to opposing the rise of socialism, and all the while he was also working on a theoretical economic treatise which he never lived long enough to complete.

Putting the Content into its Theoretical and Historical Context

Some of the noteworthy aspects of the editions of Smith, Mill, and Say mentioned above which I wanted to replicate in the Bastiat edition were the following:

  • the lengthy and informative introductions written by experts;
  • the extensive footnotes which identified changes made to the text in different versions, for example a chapter in his treatise might have started out as an article in the Journal des économistes, reprinted as a pamphlet, and then used again in his book with slight changes made for each format
  • the source of the ideas the author was arguing for or against, especially in the form of quotations of other texts
  • the identity and intellectual viewpoint of the many individuals mentioned by the author (whether politicians of the day, historical figures, other theorists, or personal friends),
  • the historical events and institutions referred to (often in passing) which might be unfamiliar to modern day readers,
  • and in the case of Bastiat the economic journalist, the source of the economic data he referred to and the accuracy of the economic data he used to make his points
  • for key concepts and terms, some of which were invented by Bastiat and hence unique to him, one needed to identify when they were first used, how they may have changed over time, and the connections which existed between it and other related terms and expressions (what I called “vocabulary clusters”)
  • with the hundred or so letters by Bastiat which we have, to identify the people, organisations, and “networks” in which he moved, and the nature of his personal relationships
  • given his literary bent, his sense of humor and wicked wit, and his penchant for satire and puns, to identify the source of his quotations from, say Molière, to note any changes he made to Molière’s quote which he would sometimes make to serve his own political purposes (such as changing the names of historical political figures to more contemporary ones), or creating his own poems which parodied a classic version.

Here I will give two more detailed examples of what I thought needed to be done as an editor and translator:

  1. checking Bastiat’s accuracy as an economic journalist and his many critiques of government spending and taxation, especially concerning tariffs and the military budget; which led to me reconstruct the French government budget for 1848-49 (in CW vol. 3) based upon official French government documents
  2. identifying and mapping out the connections between some of the key terms and concepts Bastiat used in his economic and social theory; which led to me creating a visual way to illustrate the cluster of terms he used in what is commonly called a “concept or mind map”

Assessing Bastiat’s Accuracy as an Economic Journalist

Here is one page from Appendix 4 “French Government’s Budgets for Fiscal Years 1848 and 1849” in CW3 (pp. 509-16) OLL online version which contains my reconstruction of the French government’s budget for the years 1848 and 1849, which was the time he served in the Chamber of Deputies and was appointed Vice-President of the Finance Committee which advised the Chamber on economic matters.

What surprised me was how accurate Bastiat was in his writing about economic matters. I could only find one example of Bastiat asserting that the government had spent a certain amount on something (in this case subsidizing the colony in Algeria) which I could not independently verify.

Translation Issues and Problems


A difficulty with a large project like the translation of the Collected Works of Bastiat which is large in size (over 1 million words organised into six large volumes) as well as being conducted over more than a decade, is to ensure consistency. Another problem is the fact that an economist like Bastiat used a very specific technical vocabulary which only a translator trained in economics or the history of economic thought would appreciate. Other translators who might be proficient as business or commercial translators might not appreciate the specific historical context in which Bastiat was writing and the vocabulary which was current at the time. Other translators who specialized in political thought might not appreciate the uniqueness and specialized nature of economic terminology and the necessity to translate the same term the same way each time. Too often, the need to avoid “repetition” for stylistic reasons would result in the use of a “synonym” and therefore interfere with the technical precision the author was trying to maintain.

Hence the need to draw up a “vocabulary list” of key terms and expressions in order to be able to translate the same word or term the same way each time they occurred in the text. This was not done at the very beginning and so left the door open to serious problems later in the project. The lack of consistency in word choice became a problem for the Liberty Fund project as to date there have been four translators used over a period of two decades, with different practices adopted at various times.

An example of the “vocabulary list”:

I might also mention the problem English speakers face, given the close historical connection between the French and English languages (I refer here to the “Norman Conquest” of course), to resort to using English cognates of French words. This is an example of linguistic laziness which would sometimes result in significant misunderstandings.

When making a new translation of a work which has been translated before there is a need for the editor to flag any changes or new terms used and to explain why the change was made. In the case of some of Bastiat’s works, such as his treatise Economic Harmonies, readers would be familiar with the translation made by Stirling in the 1860s and 1870s[4] and that by FEE in the 1960s[5], and so might resist any changes made in a new translation unless an adequate reason was provided. This was done in numerous footnotes in the new Liberty Fund translation.

Four good examples of changes in terminology which I thought were necessary were “la spoliation” (plunder), “la classe” (class), “la déplacement” (displacement or misallocation), and “par ricochet” (the ricochet effect). For each term Bastiat had a very specific meaning in mind, and each was crucial to his sophisticated and sometimes complex social and economic theory. In order to clarify these matters I wrote a number of small essays to explain the origin and significance of these key terms which I included in an Appendix.

  1. Stirling and other 19th century translators were quite happy to translate “la spoliation” with the antiquated English word “spoliation” or sometimes “exploitation”.
  2. Bastiat’s theory of class and his class analysis of society was not appreciated by any of the previous translators of his work and the nuances of his theory were largely ignored. On both “class” and “plunder” see “Bastiat’s Theory of Class: The Plunderers vs. the Plundered” (CW3, pp. 473-85); and also “History of Plunder” (CW5).
  3. In order to understand how government intervention in the economy caused problems, Bastiat developed the idea of “la déplacement” (displacement or the Austrian notion of misallocation), especially of labour and capital. By this he meant the distortions or misallocation of resources into economically unviable areas which would sooner or later have to be allocated elsewhere or lost. Previous translators did not understand this and thus did not translate the term properly. See “Theory of Displacement” (CW5); also see the related terms “Disturbing and Restorative Factors” (CW4).
  4. The term “ricochet” was also largely ignored by earlier translators who would sometimes use the English word “indirect” (FEE) or nothing at all, to describe an important concept in Bastiat’t emory of how parts of an economy are interlinked with each other, often through price signals. See “The Sophism Bastiat never wrote: The Sophism of the Ricochet Effect” (CW3, pp. 457-61)

Concept Maps and Vocabulary Clusters

After spending some years on the project I noticed a ‘“clustering” of terms around certain key concepts like “class” and “plunder”. Having his entire body of work in French and in electric form made it easy to explore the interconnections between related concepts, the common pairing of terms (such as “natural” and “artificial”), his use of synonyms, and when he began using these terms.

In order to “map” his use of these terms I created a number of diagrams to illustrate these “vocabulary clusters”. I identified about a dozen of these “clusters” and have created “maps” for six of them so far (in bold). These maps can be found in the Appendix below, and also here:

  1. theory of plunder
  2. theory of class
  3. human action
  4. harmony vs. disharmony
  5. disturbing vs restorative factors
  6. the seen and the unseen
  7. the ricochet effect and the transmission if information through prices: metaphor of water, hydraulics, electricity
  8. social mechanism and the driving force of society
  9. apparatus of exchange
  10. service for service
  11. sophism, fraud, and dupes

To illustrate in detail what these word “clusters” involve, here is the image followed in text form the key terms and related words and expressions for the cluster on “La Spoliation” (Plunder):

(See a larger version (3,000px) of the image here.)


  • la spoliation
  • le monopole
  • le pillage
  • le vol
  • l’exploitation
  • le parasite/parasitisme
  • spolier
  • dérober
  • voler
  • dépouiller
  • piller
  • raviser
  • filouter

Class [see related word cluster “La Classe”]:

  • “la classe spoliatrice” or “les spoliateurs” (the plundering class or the plunderers)
  • les hommes de spoliation (men who plunder)
  • les classes spoliées (the plundered classes)


  • la spoliation partielle (partial plunder)
  • la spoliation réciproque (mutual or reciprocal plunder)
  • la spoliation universelle (universal plunder)
  • l’absence de spoliation (no plunder)


  • la spoliation transitoire (transitory plunder)
  • la spoliation permanente (permanent plunder)


  • la spoliation extra-légale (extra-legal plunder)
  • la spoliation légale (legal plunder)
  • le parasite extra-légal vs.le parasite légal
  • la spoliation organisée (organised plunder)
  • la spoliation gouvernementale (plunder by government)
  • le régime de la spoliation
  • la spoliation par l’impôt (plunder by taxation)
  • se spolier législativement (to be plundered by means of law)
  • la spoliation, réduite en système de gouvernement
  • la spoliation militaire (military plunder)
  • l’exploitation des théocraties sacerdotales (the exploitation by priestly theocracies)
  • spoliateurs de tous costumes et de toutes dénominations (plunderers (who wear) all kinds of robes and (who come from) all kinds of denominations)


  • “la spoliation au dedans” or “la spoliation intérieure”(plunder within a country) e.g. taxation, govt. jobs, monopolies, protection
  • “la spoliation au dehors” or “la spoliation extérieure”(plunder outside the country) e.g. war, conquest, colonies


  • Internal market limits to plunder
  • economic inefficiency of slavery vs. free wage labour results in growing economic losses for Plunderers
  • Malthusian law of growth limits ability of state to plunder indefinitely beyond its “means of existence”

The Challenges for the Translator created by the “Rhetoric of Liberty “ used by Bastiat

Over a period of three years (1845-1847) Bastiat developed his unique rhetorical style in the course of writing articles for a more popular audience in which he used humor and satire to make economics less “dry and boring”, a very provocative vocabulary of “theft” and other acts of violence in order to expose the follies and crimes of the policies of the ruling elite and their system of “legal plunder”, and to undermine their authority and legitimacy with “the sting of ridicule”. He also cleverly and wittily adopted the practice of telling stories to explain economic concepts. He would quote from the plays of Molière and the fables of La Fontaine which nearly every French school kid would have known, make up his own stories in a similar vein (such as his stories about the French “everyman” Jacques Bonhomme), or more complex and sophisticated thought experiments involving Robinson Crusoe and Friday on their “island of despair.” These more popular writings were published as two volumes of Economic Sophisms which appeared in 1846 and 1848.[6]

The pinnacle of his use of stories to illustrate economic matters occurred in his magnum opus Economic Harmonies (1850,1851) in which I identified 55 “economic stories” (34 in EH1 (1850) and 18 in EH2 (1851), and 3 in the Taranne Hall lecture).

A list of the rhetorical devices used by Bastiat in the Economic Sophisms and the Economic Harmonies shows the breadth and complexity of what one might call his “rhetoric of liberty.”[7] These literary and rhetorical devices pose a special problem for the translator in capturing the spirit and humor of the original language, tracking down the original literary reference or quote which Bastiat often changed to suit his own time and circumstances, and his penchant for punning. The latter placed the translator in the difficult position of having to explain his joke in a footnote, which would tend to make it less funny for the reader. The devices Bastiat used includes the following: [8]

  1. A standard prose format which one would normally encounter in
    a newspaper.
  2. The single authorial voice in the form of a personal conversation
    with the reader.
  3. A serious, constructed dialogue between stock figures who represented
    different viewpoints (in this Bastiat was influenced by
    Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau; Gustave de Molinari continued
    Bastiat’s format in some of his writings in the late 1840s and
  4. Satirical “official” letters or petitions to government officials or
    ministers, and other fabricated documents written by Bastiat (in
    these Bastiat would usually use a reductio ad absurdum argument
    to mock his opponents’ arguments).
  5. The use of Robinson Crusoe “thought experiments” to make serious
    economic points or arguments in a more easily understandable
  6. “Economic tales” modeled on the works of classic French authors,
    such as La Fontaine’s fables and Andrieux’s short stories
  7. Parodies of well-known scenes from French literature, such as
    Molière’s plays.
  8. Quoting scenes of plays where the playwright mocks the pretensions
    of aspiring bourgeois who want to act like the nobles who
    disdain commerce (e.g., Molière, Beaumarchais).
  9. Quoting poems with political content, such as Horace’s ode on
    the transience of tyrants.
  10. Quoting satirical songs about the foolish or criminal behavior of
    kings or emperors (such as Napoléon). Bastiat seems to be familiar
    with the world of the “goguettiers” (political song writers, especially
    Béranger) and their interesting sociological world of drinking and
    singing clubs.
  11. The use of jokes and puns (such as the names he gave to characters
    in his dialogues (“Mr. Blockhead”), or place names [“Stulta” and
    “Puera”), and puns on words such as “Highville” and “gaucherie”).

A good example of Bastiat’s parodying famous works of French literature (in fact Bastiat makes a parody of Molière’s parody) is his creation of an oath which recently appointed customs officials would have to make, modeled on the oath newly qualified doctors had to make in Molière’s play “The Hypochondriac”.

Here is Molière’s original version (in “dog Latin”) along with FEE’s excellent translation, which is followed by Bastiat’s amusing parody (which is actually a parody of Molière’s parody):

Ego, cum isto boneto
Venerabili et doctor,
Don tibi et concedo
Virtutem et puissanciam
Et occidendi
Impune per total terram.

I give and grant you
Power and authority to Practice medicine,
and Kill
With impunity
Throughout the whole world

And Bastiat’s parody of Molière from “Theft by Subsidy” (ES2 9):

Dono tibi et concendo
Virtutem et puissantiam
Et escroquandi,
Impunè per totam istam Viam.
I give to you and I grant
virtue and power
to steal
to plunder
to filch
to swindle
and to defraud
At will, along this whole road

Some Other Technical Issues


The Bastiat translation project began in 2001 as a result of a conference held in Mugron (the village where Bastiat lived in the south of France) to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. Unfortunately the first editor was not well acquainted with the internet and the digitization of texts and so the project was not fully digital from the very beginning, as it should have been, although one of its end products was to have been an online version.

Digital technology made it possible to do some very interesting things with the underlying text, but it also posed certain challenges for the editors and translators, which I will discuss below.

Using Gallica and Google Books to find copies of the texts

I have made considerable use of the ambitious digitization programs of two bodies, the digital collection “Gallica” of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (began in October 1997)[9] and Google Books (began December 2004)[10]. I was able to use them to find copies of the first editions of Bastiat’s works, as well as later editions which sometimes were different from the first editions. The early versions of the texts were often poorly scanned with blurry or missing pages, and sometimes the operators of the scanning machines accidentally scanned their hands and fingers in the process. Over the years I have made a sizable collection of images of what I call “Google fingers”.

The different strengths and weaknesses of Gallica vs. Google Books meant that I had to use both for different purposes: the Google Books search function (especially across multiple texts) was better than Gallica’s, but the bibliographical information available for each text was far better at Gallica than for Google Books (which is in fact appalling).

The better search function of Google Books meant that it was possible to search for a string of text, say a line from a play by Molière, and find an edition of the text Bastiat may well have used, which is the one I would then cite in a footnote.

Creating a searchable electronic version of the Texts

The next step after finding suitable PDF versions of the texts was to create a searchable text version (an Apple Pages file). In the early days OCR technology was fairly primitive and created lots of errors. Eventually I was able to create one single and very large file of the seven volume 1864 edition of Bastiat’s Oeuvres complètes and several other texts which were not included in that edition (another volume of letters, some speeches in the Chamber, and some other shorter pieces). I then organised the texts into chronological order. This file contained just over 1 million words (in French) and was 8.1 MB in size.

The creation of this file made it possible to do word searches over the entire body of his work to identify things like the “cluster” of terms he used for each of his main key concepts (such as “plunder” and “class” and “human action”), as well as his first use of terms which was required to track the evolution of his thinking over time. For example, it became apparent that a seminal article in the development of his thinking as well as his word use was an article on the “right to a job” which appeared in Journal des Économistes, Feb. 1845. Below is the standard identification (“T” = “text”) and bibliographic format I used for all items in the collection:

T.23 (1845.02.15) “Letter from an Economist to M. de Lamartine. On the occasion of his article entitled: The Right to a Job” (Un économiste à M. de Lamartine. A l’occasion de son écrit intitulé: Du Droit au travail), Journal des Économistes, Feb. 1845, T. 10, no. 39, pp. 209-223 [OC1.9, pp. 406-28] and [CW4].

Once I had identified a number of key terms, such as “ricochet” and “la déplacement”, which had been mistranslated or translated inconsistently, I was able to find all such occurrences of the term and then make sure the new translation was consistent.

Coding the Texts

We spent a considerable amount of time working with a firm to develop a suitable DTD (Document Type Definition) for the conversion of the texts to an archival XML and then to HTML. To be brief, one of the key features was to make the “paragraph” the key element in the text, where each one would have a unique ID number so that word searches and citations of the text would point to the particular paragraph in which the key word or phrase was located.

Citing the Texts

My philosophy in building an online library of digital texts is to have the texts available in a variety of formats (facsimile PDF, HTML, and various eBook formats). The facsimile PDF is very important because I believe we must always go back to the original, or at least have it readily available, in order, if you will, “keep us honest” and to be able to show the reader that we have not altered the text in any significant ways (other than say simple formatting).

Within the HTML version it is important to include the original page numbers so that the reader can cite the relevant page in a footnote or scholarly article. Since each paragraph in the HTML version of the text has a unique ID number the reader can also make a direct URL link to it, also for the purposes of citation.

For example, to cite a passage in one of my French language editions of Bastiat’s work, his classic Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas (What is Seen and what is not Seen) (1850) I could use the page number [in bold] or the direct URL (to “para-14”) here:


Dans la sphère économique, un acte, une habitude, une institution, une loi, n’engendrent pas seulement un effet, mais une série d’effets. De ces effets, le premier seul est immédiat; il se manifeste simultanément avec sa cause, on le voit. Les autres ne se déroulent que successivement, on ne les voit pas, heureux si on les prévoit!

Entre un mauvais et un bon Économiste, voici toute la différence: l’un s’en lient à l’effet visible; l’autre tient compte et de l’effet qu’on voit et de ceux qu’il faut prévoir.

Mais cette différence est énorme, car il arrive presque toujours que, lorsque la conséquence immédiate est favorable, les conséquences ultérieures sont funestes, et vice versâ. — D’où il suit que le mauvais Économiste poursuit un petit bien actuel qui sera suivi d’un grand mal à venir, tandis que le [4] vrai Économiste poursuit un grand bien à venir, au risque d’un petit mal actuel.

I have also adopted in my own scholarly writing the practice of citing in parallel the French original and the English translation. Here is the same passage alongside the Liberty Fund edition of CW3 (which unfortunately does not include the original page numbers of the text) and At the OLL:

Dans la sphère économique, un acte, une habitude, une institution, une loi, n’engendrent pas seulement un effet, mais une série d’effets. De ces effets, le premier seul est immédiat; il se manifeste simultanément avec sa cause, on le voit. Les autres ne se déroulent que successivement, on ne les voit pas, heureux si on les prévoit! In the sphere of economics an action, a habit, an institution, or a law engenders not just one effect but a series of effects. Of these effects only the first is immediate; it is revealed simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The others merely occur successively; they are not seen; we are lucky if we foresee them.
Entre un mauvais et un bon Économiste, voici toute la différence: l’un s’en lient à l’effet visible; l’autre tient compte et de l’effet qu’on voit et de ceux qu’il faut prévoir. The entire difference between a bad and a good Economist is apparent here. A bad one relies on the visible effect, while the good one takes account both of the effect one can see and of those one must foresee.
Mais cette différence est énorme, car il arrive presque toujours que, lorsque la conséquence immédiate est favorable, les conséquences ultérieures sont funestes, et vice versâ. — D’où il suit que le mauvais Économiste poursuit un petit bien actuel qui sera suivi d’un grand mal à venir, tandis que le [4] vrai Économiste poursuit un grand bien à venir, au risque d’un petit mal actuel. However, the difference between these is huge, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous and vice versa. From which it follows that a bad Economist will pursue a small current benefit that is followed by a large disadvantage in the future, while a true Economist will pursue a large benefit in the future at the risk of suffering a small disadvantage immediately.

Here is an example of my use of a parallel quote in an essay which also contains footnotes:

Displaying the electronic version of the texts

I believe that it would be very useful to be able to show the entire text, not just selected paragraphs, in this parallel, side-by-side manner. I have experimented using the HTML element “iFrame” in order to do this. [See the entry HTML element – Wikipedia.] This enables the viewing of the original French text (either a facsimile PDF out HTML) against the English translation, and to compare English translations side-by-side (say Stirling’s vs. FEE’s).

The iFrame feature also allows a more ambitious and richer way to view a heavily annotated text, such as the ones I have created, which allows the “footnotes” to be viewed in one frame (I prefer the left), and the large middle frame with the main body of the text, and on the right any glossaries or appendices. This minimises the need for scrolling online or turning pages with a physical book. Thus one can jump from the main text to an endnote or glossary and back again in order to keep reading. This manner of viewing texts was the original idea behind “hypertext”[11] but it has never really caught on, perhaps because of the need for a large screen in order to show the text properly. However, this problem has largely disappeared with the dramatic fall in prices of wide screen monitors, but the preference of many people to read texts on “mobile devices” is a further impediment to viewing complex hypertexts.

Here is a screen snapshot of an iFrame page showing in four frames the table of contents (top frame), an older English translation (left frame), the French original (centre frame), and another English translation (right frame).I used this a great deal to compare the word choices made by different translators of the same French word.

Here is another screen snapshot showing in four frames a way of reading a complex, heavily annoyed text, with the table of contents (top frame), the footnotes or endnotes (left frame), the English translation (centre frame), and glossaries and other supplementary material (right frame):

Some Final Thoughts

My engagement with the “Paris School” of political economy began in 1978-79 when I first met Leonard Liggio who introduced me to it, which resulted in me writing my first scholarly piece on the ideas of Gustave de Molinari (1979),[12] and then the work of Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer (1983-86).[13] Bastiat came much later.

In a rash moment I decided in 2016 to write a screenplay for a film on the life and work of Bastiat, especially his involvement in the Revolution of February 1848. I was interested in how ideas might be depicted in a film, on which I have written a couple of pieces.[14] A model I had in mind was Warren Beatty’s great film “Reds” (1980) about the American journalist John Reed in Bolshevik Revolution. The result was “Broken Windows”.[15]

Appendix 1: Word Maps and Vocabulary Clusters for Bastiat’s Key Terms and Concepts

See “Vocabulary Clusters in the Thought of Frédéric Bastiat” (July 2022) here for more details.








  1. See “The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat in Chronological Order” (Updated: 16 November, 2020) here.  ↩
  2. Oeuvres complètes de Frédéric Bastiat, mises en ordre, revues et annotées d’après les manuscrits de l’auteur.Ed. Prosper Paillottet and biographical essay by Royer de Fontenay. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1st ed. 1854-55, 6 vols; 2nd ed. 1862-64, 7 vols; 3rd ed. 1870-73; 4th ed. 1878-79; 5th ed. 1881-84; 6th ed. 1907). I have put this online here.  ↩
  3. Gustave de Molinari, Œuvres Complètes, ed. Benoît Malbranque (Institut Coppet, 2019) here; and my blog post on this project “The Institut Coppet’s Collected Works of Molinari” (9 Dec. 2020) here.  ↩
  4. Harmonies of Political Economy. Translated from the French with a Notice of the Life and Writings of the Author by Patrick James Stirling (London: John Murrary, 1860); Harmonies of Political Economy, by Frédéric Bastiat. Part II., Comprising Additions from the Third Edition of the French, with Notes and an Index to both Parts (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1870). This contains chaps 11-25 which were included in the 2nd edition of 1851 and then in subsequent editions. The 3rd edition refers to the one included in Paillottet’s edition of the Oeuvres Complètes of 1854; Harmonies of Political Economy, by Frédéric Bastiat. Translated from the Third Edition of the French, with a Notice of the Life and Writings of the Author. Second Edition (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1880). This contains the complete text in one volume. See the HTML version .  ↩
  5. Economic Harmonies, translated from the French by W. Hayden Boyers. Edited by George B. de Huszar (Irvington-on-Hudson, New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1964) (1st edition D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc. 1964. Copyright William Volker Fund).  ↩
  6. Sophismes économiques (Paris: Guillaumin, 1846). First series. [Signed and dated by Bastiat, Mugron 2 November 1845]; and Sophismes économiques. Deuxiéme Série. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1848). Both translated in CW3.  ↩
  7. See my paper “Opposing Economic Fallacies, Legal Plunder, and the State: Frédéric Bastiat’s Rhetoric of Liberty in the Economic Sophisms (1846-1850)”. A paper given at the July 2011 annual meeting of the History of Economic Thought Society of Australia (HETSA) at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Online.  ↩
  8. See my comments in CW3: “Bastiat’s Rhetoric of Liberty: Satire and the ‘Sting of Ridicule’,” in the Introduction to CW3, pp. lviii-lxiv. Here.  ↩
  9. See Your search – Bastiat Frédéric Author/Contributor : 25 Results – Gallica  ↩
  10. Google Books collection of Bastiat books in full view in French here.  ↩
  11. See the entries on Hypertext – Wikipedia and History of hypertext – Wikipedia.  ↩
  12. My main “Molinari page” here and my undergraduate thesis on Molinari “Gustave de Molinari and the Anti-statist Liberal Tradition” (1979) here.  ↩
  13. David M. Hart, Class Analysis, Slavery and the Industrialist Theory of History in French Liberal Thought, 1814-1830: The Radical Liberalism of Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer (unpublished PhD, King’s College Cambridge, 1994) accessible from here.  ↩
  14. David M. Hart, “Bastiat goes to the Movies, or “Filming Freddie”: How to Popularise Economic Ideas in Film” (2017). A paper given at the APEE Annual Conference, April 2017, Maui, Hawaii online; and “Some Thoughts on an ‘Austrian Theory Of Film’: Ideas and Human Action in a Film about Frédéric Bastiat” (Sept. 2019). A paper given at the Libertarian Scholars Conference, New York City (28 Sept. 2019) online.  ↩
  15. “’Broken Windows’. A Screenplay about the Life and Work of Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)” (2016) online with an accompanying “Illustrated History of the Life and Work Frédéric Bastiat” here.  ↩

Frédéric Bastiat’s Philosophy of Markets


The French political economist, politician, and journalist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) placed “markets” and mutually beneficial “exchange” at the very heart of of his theory of economics which he elaborated in a two volume collection of essays Sophismes économiques (Economic Sophisms) (1846, 1848), a long essay on “La Loi” (The Law) (1850), and his unfinished treatise Harmonies économiques (Economic Harmonies) (1850, 1851)

His ideas are a sophisticated and theoretically rich “philosophy of markets” as he combined into a coherent whole the following aspects:

  • moral theory (the natural right to own property, opposition to the initiation of coercion against others),
  • economic theory (efficiency, prosperity, the primacy of the consumer), and
  • sociology (the class structure of the state, the organisation and history of “la spoliation” (plunder).

Bastiat’s Theory of Markets

Bastiat’s theory of markets has the following key points:

He believed that all individuals have needs and desires (des besoins) which they attempt to satisfy by taking action (l’action, les efforts) , either alone or by interacting with others in “markets”.

In order to explain how an individual makes choices when acting alone, Bastiat developed a theory of “Crusoe economics” to illustrate the nature of “human action” (l’action humaine) which influenced the thinking of Murray Rothbard in the 1950s and 60s when he was writing his treatise Man, Economy, and State (1962).

When individuals interact with others to satisfy their needs they create “markets” (or “the market”) which are made up of a multiplicity of individual exchanges.

He defined an exchange as the voluntary and mutually beneficial exchange of “service for service” (service pour service).

Over time there emerges an “apparatus of exchange” (l’appareil de l’échange) which is a collection of practices, beliefs, customs, laws, and institutions which make markets / exchange possible on a large scale and which continues over long periods of time.

Like Destutt de Tracy Bastiat thought that society could be regarded as “one Great Bazaar” (un immense bazar), in which there existed a huge number of interlocking / parallel markets satisfying a large number of of very diverse and often complex needs of the consumers which were satisfied by an equally large and very diverse number of producers. His concept of the “Great Bazaar” is very similar to Friedrich Hayek’s notion of the “Great Society” which was the global scale “spontaneous order” within which there were a myriad of smaller spontaneous orders often local in scale.

Markets are normally / potentially “harmonious” for all the participants (domestic or international, consumers and producers) unless they are disrupted by coercion and other “disturbing factors” (des causes perturbatrices) which creates “disharmony” (la dissonance).

If markets are allowed to flourish unmolested they can produce peace, prosperity and justice for those who participate in them.

On the other hand, if they are “disturbed” by government intervention markets can become “distorted” (déplacé), as in the misallocation of capital, and labour, and cause economic hardship, conflict, and injustice (economic recessions, war, plunder)

Thus markets are both fragile and robust at the same time. They can be broken or distorted by “disturbing factors” like coercion, war, plunder, and the granting of privileges to a favored few; yet they can also be quite robust since they have a self-repairing feature or what Bastiat termed “restorative factors” (des causes réparatrices)), which were driven by the self-interest of consumers and producers, price signals in the market, and the sense of “responsibility” and “solidarity” help by most people.

In order to properly understand the complexity of markets, especially if they are “disturbed” by government intervention, Bastiat developed his famous theory of “the seen” and “the unseen”. By “the seen” Bastiat meant that which was obvious and immediately visible to observers; and by “the unseen” he meant the hidden, delayed, or unexpected consequences of that intervention into markets which are not so obvious and apparent but nevertheless inevitable and apparent to the insightful and patient observer.

The opposite of the “harmony” of markets is “disharmony” (la dissonance”) caused by “la spoliation” (plunder) of various kinds. Bastiat had plans to write a multi-volume work of social theory which would deal with “Social Harmonies”, “Economic Harmonies” (the only volume to appear), and the Disharmonies caused by Plunder, the history of which Bastiat planned to write another volume but died before he could finish it.

In summary, one could say that the ideal of liberals like Bastiat and his friend Richard Cobden is that there should be “free markets in everything”.

Further Reading

Works by and about Bastiat here.

  • David M. Hart, “Bastiat on the Seen and the Unseen: An Intellectual History” here.
  • David M. Hart, “Bastiat on Harmony and Disharmony” here.
  • David M. Hart, ”The Paris School of Liberal Political Economy, 1803-1853” here.

The schematics I have created to illustrate the complex “word clusters” he used:

Blog Post: “Some Key Terms used by Bastiat in his Economic Theory” (22 Dec. 2019) here.

Website: “Vocabulary Clusters in the Thought of Frédéric Bastiat” here.

  1. Class:
  2. Disturbing Factors
  3. Harmony – Disharmony
  4. Human Action
  5. Plunder
  6. The Seen and the Unseen

The Negative Political Party


There was a sizable swing in the 2022 Federal election to the DNV (did not vote) camp as well as the “informal” vote, though this is less marked with the revised updated results than with the early and incomplete result I used in my earlier post. I now calculate that the total number of people who did not vote or whose vote was “informal” and thus not counted (I+DNV) increased from 13.19% in the 2019 election to 14.84% in the 2022 election, or in absolute terms 388,241 people.

I think it is as important to take into account those who did not vote for a candidate or party as those who did. Not voting at all or not voting “properly” (i.e. in the state approved manner) is also an expression of a political viewpoint which needs to be taken into account when trying to understand voter attitudes. I call this the “negative vote” as opposed to the “positive vote” which most journalists and academics consider when analyzing the results of an election. And the combined vote of the DNV (did not vote) and the “informal” vote (I) might be termed the “negative candidate” who stands for a “negative political party”. This “negative political party” did quite well in the last election, coming 3rd behind the two major parties and ahead of the Greens in the House of Representatives with a combined vote of 2,554,391 or 14.84%; and in the Senate similarly, also placing 3rd behind the two major parties and ahead of the Greens with a combined vote of 2,172,775 (12.62%). By my reckoning this makes the “negative political party” a potentially powerful force in Australian politics.

I have taken my terminology of the “negative political party” from the brilliant and clever essay by Frédéric Bastiat called “Un chemin de fer négativ” (The Negative Railway) which was first published in his first collection of Economic sophisms which was published in 1846. [English version CW3, p. 81; French version here.] In this essay, he satirises the politicians and rent-seekers who want to force the railway company building a new line from Bordeaux to Spain to have as many stops as possible in order to benefit the local restaurants and hotels near the railway station who would profit by forcing the passengers to stop, change trains, and move their luggage, and possibly have to stay overnight. This, they argued, would increase work, wages, and thus increase the national wealth. Bastiat mockingly implies that if this were true, then the more “breaks” in the line the better, so many in fact that the railway would no longer be a railway at all, as the passengers and their luggage would never get to their destination, but the “nation’s wealth” would supposedly have been increased by these measures.

[Note: In the edition I edited for Liberty Fund I included in the Appendix a witty piece by Mark Twain who noticed something similar when he was visiting Australia, in having to change trains in the middle of the night at Albury on his way to Melbourne from Sydney. See CW3 – Appendix 5. Mark Twain and the Australian Negative Railroad, 517.]

The House of Representatives

Data source: the Australian Electoral Commission website for the 2022 election results; for the 2019 election results.

In the 2019 election in the HR there were the following:

  • 16,419,543 eligible voters of whom
  • 14,253,393 (86.68%) voted “formally” (i.e. in the government approved manner) and
  • 835,223 (5.09%) voted informally for a combined total of 91.77%.
  • 1,330,927 (8.11%) Did Not Vote (DNV)
  • which made a total of 2,166,150 (13.19%) who did not vote or whose vote was not counted (I+DNV). If this group were considered as a “negative candidate” or a “negative party” it would have placed 3rd behind the two major parties and ahead of the Greens with a combined vote of 2,166,150 or 13.19%.

In the 2022 election in the HR there were the following:

  • 17,213,433 eligible voters of whom
  • 14,659,942 (85.16%) voted “formally” and
  • 802,337 (4.66%) voted informally for a combined total of 89.83%
  • 1,752,054 (10.18%) DNV
  • which made a total of 2,554,391 (14.84%) who did not vote or whose vote was not counted (I+DNV). If this group were considered as a “negative candidate” or a “negative party” it would have placed 3rd behind the two major parties and ahead of the Greens with a combined vote of 2,554,391 or 14.84%.

[See a larger version.]

Thus compared to 2019, in 2022 there was

  • a slight decline in the number “formal” votes (86.68% down to 85.16%) as well as “informal” votes (5.09% down to 4.66%).
  • but there was an increase in those who DNV, up from 8.11% to 10.18%. In absolute numbers this was an increase of 421,127, which is a sizable number of the eligible voters (2.45% of all eligible voters)
  • thus the total number of people who did not vote or whose vote was not counted (I+DNV) increased from 13.19% to 14.84%, or in absolute terms 388,241 people

In the NSW seat/division of Mackellar in the Northern Beaches region of Sydney a safe Liberal seat was won by one of the new “Teal” light Green independents. The sitting Liberal member won the primary vote (36.87%) but the collapse in the votes for the Labor candidate (from 15% to 7,34%) and the Green candidate (10.15% to 5.43%) meant that he second place Teal candidate won on preferences with 34% of the primary vote. Compared to the 2019 election, the informal vote decreased slightly (from 4.38% to 3.49%) and the DNV increased slightly from 6.95% to 7.46%). The combined I + DNV decreased slightly from 11.33% of the vote to 10.96%. With the collapse in the vote for the Labor Party, the previous Independent (now replaced by the Teal), and the Greens, the DNV “candidate” went from 5th position ion 2019 to 3rd in 2022.

See a larger version.

The Senate

To simplify a very complex matter, I will only consider the primary vote for Senate candidate, nit the final, allocation of seats by quota.

In the 2022 election there were the following

  • 17,213,433 eligible voters, of whom
  • 15,040,658 (87.38%) voted “formally” and
  • 532,003 (3.09%) voted “informally” for a combined total of 15,213,433 (89.82%)
  • 1,640,772 (9.53%) Did Not Vote
  • which made a total of 2,172,775 (12.62%) who did not vote or whose vote was not counted (I+DNV). If this group were considered as a “negative candidate” or a “negative party” it would have placed 3rd behind the two major parties and ahead of the Greens with a combined vote of 2,172,775 (12.62%).
  • 40 of the 76 Senates seats were contested with the Greens winning 6, Labor 11, and Liberal/National 17. Who knows how many seats my “negative political party” might of won in this election.

[See a larger version


The large number of disaffected, disillusioned, and indifferent voters in Australia is large and increasing as voters turn off the mainstream political parties and either look elsewhere among the smaller parties and independents, or give up and could no longer be bothered with voting at all. My “negative political party” is one way to measure this disaffection. All this party needs now is a “negative prime minister” to whip it into shape.

On Making the Argument/s for Liberty

[Honoré Daumier’s “Le Défenseur (Council for the Defense),” c. 1862-1865.]

Note: This is part of a collection of posts on “The Current State of Liberty and the Threats it faces”.

In this post I want to discuss the following issues:

  1. the multi-dimensional nature of Liberty requires a multi-dimensional approach to arguing for it
  2. the main kinds of arguments we can use: moral, economic, political, historical
  3. identifying those who might be sympathetic to arguments for Liberty
  4. identifying those who are likely to be resistant to arguments for Liberty
  5. the impediments we face in making the argument for Liberty

The Multi-Dimensional Nature of Liberty requires a Multi-Dimensional Approach to arguing for it

I will quote again here the important observation of the French political economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) who most eloquently made the point that “Liberty” is made up of a collection of other “freedoms”:

[French original] – Et qu’est-ce que la Liberté, ce mot qui a la puissance de faire battre tous les cœurs et d’agiter le monde, si ce n’est l’ensemble de toutes les libertés, liberté de conscience, d’enseignement, d’association, de presse, de locomotion, de travail, d’échange; d’autres termes, le franc exercice, pour tous, de toutes les facultés inoffensives; en d’autres termes encore, la destruction de tous les despotismes, même le despotisme légal, et la réduction de la Loi à sa seule attribution rationnelle, qui est de régulariser le Droit individuel de légitime défense ou de réprimer l’injustice.

[my revised translation 13 Aug. 2021] – And what is “Liberty,” this word that has the power of making all hearts beat faster and of moving the entire world, if it is not the sum of all freedoms? — freedom of conscience, teaching, and association, freedom of the press, freedom to travel, work, and trade, in other words, the free exercise by all people of all their non-aggressive abilities. And, in still other terms, isn’t freedom the destruction of all despotic regimes, even legal despotism, and the limiting of the law to its sole rational function which is to regulate the individual’s right of legitimate self defense and to prevent injustice?

In my formulation of this insight, I group these “freedoms” into 4 major categories: personal freedoms, economic freedoms, political freedoms, and legal freedoms.

[See my post on “Liberty as the Sum of All Freedoms” (26 April, 2022) here and this accompanying schematic.]


Different political ideologies may (or may not) focus on a few freedoms from this broader list (or “palette” if you like) but only the CL appreciates the importance of “the group of four” as comprising a consistent whole based upon the foundational principles of avoiding the use of coercion and respecting every individual’s rights to life, liberty, and property.

Some Thoughts on Strategy

  1. if someone expresses interest in, say, economic liberty but not so much (if at all) for the other forms of liberty, then we need to show them the necessary and logical connections between the different kinds of liberty; this of course assumes that people think that logical consistency matters; this view was shared by Milton Friedman who believed economic and political liberty were intimately connected and that you couldn’t have one without the other (the existence of Singapore might be a good reason for rethinking Friedman’s position)
  2. if someone expresses interest in one kind of economic liberty but not other kinds, we need again to show them how one liberty is connected to the others, and how they rest on the same or very similar principles

The main Kinds of Arguments we can use: moral, economic, political, historical

It is my view that there are four grounds on which the case for CL rests: moral, economic, political, and historical grounds. These grounds can be used as the basis for different kinds of arguments we can use to advocate CL. Very briefly they can be summarised as follows:

  1. the moral grounds: CLs believe that there is a strong moral argument for having respect for the individual as a unique and important person with rights to themselves (self-ownership), and also rights to property and liberty; and that the use of coercion violates these fundamental rights
  2. the economic grounds: letting people be free to engage in all kinds of non-coercive economic activity, to trade with each for mutual benefit, is the best way we know how to increase prosperity for both these individuals and for the broader society in which they live and work
  3. the political grounds: “liberal democracy” operating within a constitutional framework and “the rule of (just) law” is the best means we know to limit the power of the predatory state in order to allow individuals to live their lives and go about their business as they fit, to guarantee the ownership and enjoyment of property, and protect the functioning of “civil society” [note here Hayek’s important distinction between “law” and “legislation” – the “rule of law” is completely different from the “rule of legislation”.]
  4. the historical grounds: in spite of the fact that I think that the old “Whig interpretation of history” and the more recent arguments of Francis Fukuyama about “the end of history” are incorrect, it is true that after centuries of often bitter and bloody conflict some countries were able to build fairly liberal societies which protected individual rights to life, liberty and property (what I have called “the Great Emancipation”), which was the precondition for “the Great Enrichment” the benefits of which we still enjoy today. The fact that this actually occurred in “liberal societies” and not authoritarian or communist ones is a very important factor in the case for CL. The other side of the coin, which CLs should not tire of telling people about, are the catastrophic results of central planning, whether attempted on a universal scale in the Soviet Union and Communist China, but also on a more modest scale by all governments around the world (in Australia the National Broadband Network is a good example, as was the attempt during the Covid lockdowns to bureaucratically decide which was an “essential industry” and which was not).

[See my posts on “Classical Liberalism as a Revolutionary Ideology of Emancipation” (13 Oct. 2021) here, and “A Balance Sheet of the Success and Failures of Classical Liberalism” (21 Apr. 2022) here.]

Since different people respond differently to different kinds of arguments, it is important to choose the right kind of argument to suit a particular person’s interests and inclinations.

Some Thoughts on Strategy

  1. Some people find “economic” arguments repulsive / heartless and respond better to ones based on moral or ethical arguments
  2. Other people reject ethical arguments (say based on natural law and natural rights principles) and thus are more interested in “hard headed” economic or utilitarian arguments which stress the waste and economic inefficiency of government intervention, or the impediments intervention erects in front of economic expansion and development
  3. if people insist that in a crisis “the government has to do something” we can point out how similar efforts have failed in the past (historical), how such efforts are usually doomed to failure (economic), and how such efforts usually result in an increase in the size and power of government which is very hard (if not impossible) to remove afterwards (political, historical)
  4. people often argue that there are certain “public goods” which only the government can provide; this argument can be countered with the many historical examples we have of non-government, voluntary, and for profit market solutions to these problems (historical)

Identifying those who might be sympathetic to arguments for Liberty

In spite of the pro-state and anti-market stance taken for decades in the school curriculums and adopted for the most part in the universities, there are still a few individuals who are sympathetic to the ideals of the free market and the limited state. Many have become disconnected from the political mainstream (and do not vote at all or vote “informal”, i.e. in non-state approved methods) or are resigned to choosing the “least-bad” alternative in elections, and therefore “hold their nose” when they are in the voting booth.

Here is my list of those who might be sympathetic to arguments for Liberty and on whom we might focus our limited time and resources:

  1. the disconnected voter or the “swinging” voter who is “shopping around”; it is the job of a CL political party to find these people and persuade them to vote for candidates who truly believe in individual liberty and free markets. [See my post on this group in “Some Thoughts on the May 2022 Federal Election in Australia” (26 May 2022) here.]
  2. people who are still forming their political and economic opinions, such as students, or those who have become disillusioned with the status quo and are looking for an alternative; this is the job for groups like Mannkal, CIS, IPA, or FEE in the US
  3. educated people who might be swayed at the margin to vote for lower taxes and more limited government; they are not “true believers” but might be persuaded to become one in time (CIS, IPA, the Cato Institute in the US)
  4. sympathetic academics and intellectuals such as journalists, writers, artistic types (if there are any!) (IPA, CIS, Liberty Fund in the US)
  5. those groups who resent paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits, who are appalled at the waste and inefficiency of government, or who disapprove of some of the recipients of government subsidies and transfer payments; some of these people have been attracted to anti-establishment parties like One Nation or United Australia; whether they can be persuaded to join a more consistent CL group remains to be seen as they have “populist” economic notions which run against free market principles

It helps in identifying political groups which are close to CL on some issues and thus potential allies, to have a more sophisticated way of positioning political parties than that provided by the traditional “left-Right” spectrum.

[See my posts on “Plotting Liberty: The Multi-Dimensionality of Classical Liberalism and the Need for a New ‘Left-Right’ Political Spectrum” (17 April, 2022) here and “The Spectrum of State Power: or a New Way of Looking at the Political Spectrum” (10 Aug., 2021) .]

I prefer a 4-way matrix like the following. It is my attempt to place Australian political parties in a matrix made up of “economic freedoms” on the y-axis and “social freedoms:” on the x-axis. There is a clustering of parties in the “Populist” quadrant, the “Centrist” position is populated by both the two major parties which are hostile to both sorts of freedoms, and there is only one party in the “Libertarian” quadrant which supports both kinds of freedoms. This shows how “interventionist” all the Australian political parties in fact are. The “Liberal” and Labor Parties are circling each other in the centre trying to attract the same set of voters.

Some Thoughts on Strategy

  1. I have indicated above which organisations might be the most appropriate ones to focus on these different groups of potential supporters of the ideal of liberty
  2. Given the small size of the CL movement in Australia it is important that we focus our limited resources according to a division of labour and expertise
  3. as my “Four-Way Political Matrix” shows, CL or libertarian political groups have more in common with “the left” on many social freedoms (gay rights, same-sex marriage, decriminalization of drug production/sale/use) than they do with “conservatives”; on the other hand they have more in common with populist groups who have a strong distrust in and dislike of traditional political elites and high taxes; and with the “Old” Liberal party when it came to deregulation and cutting taxes and when it has a so-called “Dries” faction which seems now to have become thoroughly “wet”.
  4. the tactic which a small group of CL elected representatives could adopt in Parliament is a version of Bill Clinton’s policy of “triangulation” where the CL politicians side with “the left” on social issues which promote liberty and with “the right” on economic issues which promote liberty.

Identifying those who are likely to be resistant to arguments for Liberty

I believe that there is a strong correlation between the ideas one holds and the interests one has, and that this connection cuts both ways. One’s interests often influence the ideas (and values) one holds – for example if one sees that there is easy money to be had by selling something to the government or getting a government privilege (like a monopoly or a protective tariff), then one quite likely has political views which support the right and duty of the government to provide these benefits and the obligation of taxpayers to pay for them, and to vote accordingly at election time. Conversely, if one has strong beliefs in the need for a powerful and interventionist welfare state one is probably inclined to work for an institution which makes this possible, such as in a government department dispensing welfare to the people, or in a university teaching students about the benefits of a welfare state and the evils of unregulated “capitalism”, thus one’s job provides one with an “interest” to protect, such as salary, retirement benefits, psychic satisfaction, and so on, which one will defend at the polling booth at election time.

Here is my list of those who are likely to be the most resistant to arguments for Liberty for the reasons given above:

  1. those who work for the state, such as politicians, senior bureaucrats, and their advisors; this group is commonly known as the “political class”
  2. another important group of people who work for the state are school teachers who work in the pubic schools
  3. those who benefit from the state, such as those who receive government privileges (subsidies, monopolies), and who receive benefits (welfare, pension) – the former are known as “crony capitalists”, the latter as the “dependent class” of welfare recipients
  4. those who are ideologically committed to a powerful state and large-scale government intervention in the economy, such as avowed socialists, Greens, Left wing academics and journalists (the ABC??)

Some Thoughts on Strategy

  1. The sad conclusion I have reached is that it may not be worth sacrificing our limited resources in appealing to most of these groups as they are made up of committed interventionists and statists who are adamantly opposed to free markets.
  2. some public sector school teachers (of economics, history, geography) might be reachable if they had alternative sources of information concerning the benefits of free markets (“capitalism”), the harms caused by state intervention, and the myths (both scientific and historical) concerning “the science” of catastrophic climate change; I do not know of any groups in Australia who are undertaking this important task of “re-educating the educators”; I have given some talks over the years to high school teachers and others about how they might better teach free market ideas to their students; I have done this via the Bastiat Society in the US [see some of my lectures here] as well as David Schmidt’s group at the University of Arizona – link. We need a branch of the Bastiat Society in Australia to find and reach out to people in the community who might be sympathetic.
  3. English high school teachers need to be provided with intellectual ammunition in order to defend the teaching of the classics or “Great Books”of the Western Tradition, which I believe has a very strong CL component within it [see my website]; I have been active for many years with the Association of Core Texts and Courses which is the professional association of college teachers of great books programs in the US; the Ramsay Institute has recently been set up in Sydney to promote the teaching of and learning about “Western Civilisation” which has been met with strong opposition from within the universities; I do not know if they have a program to reach out to high school teachers; so far they have largely ignored me in spite of many emails
  4. for decades Liberty Fund has organised small-group conferences (15 people) for academics who are sympathetic to CL ideas but who are “trapped” within very hostile academic institutions where they work on a day to day basis; many Australian academics have been fortunate to attend LF conferences both here (organised by Geoff Brennan) and in the US; there is nothing like that here in Australia and whether we have enough resources to do something similar for our academics is a moot point; I worked for LF for nearly 20 years building the Online Library of Liberty website to promote its publishing, conference, and Great Books of Liberty programs; it was getting millions of hits and downloads every year when I was summarily sacked in late 2019 and forced into early retirement.

The Impediments we Face in making the Argument for Liberty

The impediments we face in making the case for a more liberal society have been created by a combination of economic “interests” and false thinking (the “ideas” which they hold). Those who earn a salary paid for by taxpayers, enjoy a subsidy or monopoly, receive a welfare benefit, and so on will be very reluctant to relinquish these if a true CL party ever came to power and began dismantling the welfare/administrative state. People are likely to dismiss the intellectual arguments for a free market out of hand if they have deeply held misunderstandings about the benefits of free markets and the harms caused by government intervention. Thus, the combination of having a vested interest in the continuation of the status quo, as well as having false ideas about the government and free markets, is a very potent obstacle to the creation of a free society.

Some of the beliefs that people hold (both people in government as well as the voters) about the legitimacy of what the state does and what the people who work for the state do to deserve their position, are as follows:

  1. the state and the people who work for it are doing good things for society at large that would not be done at all if left to the market (public goods, HEW)
  2. that the free market (capitalism) is a dangerous rapacious force which tends towards monopoly and exploitation unless held tightly in check by the government and the regulatory state
  3. that although the state can make “mistakes” they are minor compared to the harms caused by “unfettered capitalism” and can be controlled by good people working within a well-intentioned government and bureaucratic structure
  4. that things can continue as they are, or continue to steadily improve indefinitely, with more government and bureaucratic intervention when necessary, regardless of the tax burden on tax payers, the regulatory burden on producers, and the financial burden on everybody caused by government borrowing and artificially low interest rates.

The following is a list of four key ideas which I think are common to many if not all forms of justifications for state control and intervention in the economy and in people’s lives in general; the morality of using coercion, overstating the extent of “market failure”, ignoring the extent of “government failure”, and the widespread ignorance of economic principles. To undermine or refute any one of these key ideas would, I think, take us a long way to persuading people to rethink their faith in government intervention in our lives:

  1. the morality of using coercion: traditional CLs (both “radical” liberals and “moderate” liberals in my terminology) believe that the initiation of the use of coercion against individuals is immoral and should be banned (note: some “modern” liberals reject this view as too “absolutist” and accept a considerable use of coercion by the state as an unfortunately “necessary evil” but this should be kept to an minimum if possible). Most people however see the state’s use of coercion as not only necessary but just if certain socially desirable results are to be achieved – this is the policy of “expediency”. Most people also do not see the actions of the state as coercive in the first place. To them, the coercive “iron fist” of the state is not visible – which leads me to conclude that here we have, to rephrase Adam Smith, the problem of “the invisible fist” of the state. This widespread belief has resulted in what I call “the normalisation of state coercion”. By this I mean the acceptance by the vast majority of the people that the use of state coercion is normal, necessary and inevitable in order to solve our social and economic problems. They thus hardly ever question this belief and demonstrate strong opposition when CLs/libertarians do question it.
  2. the frequency of market failure – there is a widespread belief that the market has inherent flaws which inevitably lead to serious problems unless “corrected” by government action (i.e government coercion). These “market failures” are typically thought to be things like the monopoly and predatory power of large corporations, the boom-bust economic cycle, environmental “degradation” caused by any industrial activity, and the inability to provide all kinds of “public goods”.
  3. ignoring the extent of government failure – the theoretical counterpart to the concept of “market failure” is the notion of “government failure” which is largely ignored; there is a near universal belief that governments and “experts” (technocrats) employed by the government can solve problems, “manage” the economy, and provide services which private individuals cannot; this belief has been maintained in spite of the many disastrous attempts by government in the 20th century to “plan” or “manage” the economy, and the theoretical work of the Public Choice school of economics, whose insights are almost universally ignored by the economics profession
  4. there is near universal public ignorance of basic economic insights which makes points 2 and 3 possible; for example, that there are opportunity costs for every economic decision one makes; that there are “the seen and the unseen” consequences of economic actions (especially government intervention in the economy); the idea that every action has a cost and a benefit which is different for different people and groups; the inevitability of “unintended consequences” of government regulations, and so on

Some Thoughts on Strategy

  1. making visible “the invisible fist” of the state – it should be the role of journalists to expose the true nature of state regulation by showing how those regulated and those who oppose this regulation are in fact coercively treated by the state and its officers; some coercive acts by the police were brought to our attention during the almost fascist lockdown in the state of Victoria last year, but it was largely ignored by the public (which in itself, shows the depth of the problem CLs face); the problem then is for us to find those journalists who are sympathetic to the free market, cultivate and encourage their work, and to educate them further in sound thinking about liberal political economy
  2. making the moral case that the use of coercion is wrong – in the 19thC in Britain there was widespread popular belief in moral principles such as “self help” and “minding one’s own business” and leaving others free to go about their business, as well as the utter immorality of slavery; this provided the moral backbone to the broader liberal movement of that period; we need to cultivate a similar set of moral principles in Australia but how this might be achieved in a moot point; such moral principles used to be part of dissenting church doctrine like the Methodists and the Quakers; however, most churches today preach a version of “the social gospel” which in my view is a form of socialism not liberalism;
  3. teaching the public about basic economic theory – especially concerning the benefits of the free market, the harms of government intervention, the myths about “market failure”, and the pervasiveness of “government failure; we need something like an Australian version of the “Bastiat Society” organised at the grass roots level to help teachers, self-employed people, and professionals learn more about economic ideas; if we were looking for the Australian equivalent of Bastiat we might look at William Hearn (1826-1888) the first professor of economics at the University of Melbourne, who was in fact a follower of Bastiat, or Bruce Smith (1851-1937) who was a member of the NSW Parliament and a radical liberal [I have put some of their work online at my personal website]; Bastiat made a name for himself by writing short articles for newspapers in an attempt to expose the fallacies of economic thinking which were widely held by the public and government officials; we need something similar today – a good modern example of someone working in the tradition of Bastiat are the “letters to the editor” written by Don Boudreaux at the Café Hayek) website.


The above comments paint a rather bleak picture of the threats which face the liberty movement and the enormous difficulties which we face in trying to resist them. I will conclude by saying that my recommendation is that we in the liberty movement should constantly stress the following two points, namely to emphasize the benefits of liberty to both individuals and the communities in which they live, and the harms caused by the use of state coercion and intervention.

One might hope that if these alternative visions of the benefits of liberty and the harms of state coercion can be presented to enough people in a form they find appealing and persuasive, then we in the liberty movement might be more confident about the future of liberty.

The Threats to Liberty Part 2: The Size and Power of the State

[James Gillray, ”More PIGS than TEATS, or the new Litter of hungry Grunters sucking John Bull’s old Sow to death” (1806)]

Note: This is part of a collection of posts on “The Current State of Liberty and the Threats it faces”.

In Part 1 I discussed state expenditure now and historically in “The Threats to Liberty Part 1: Government Expenditure” (29 June, 2022) here.

In this post I want to discuss “The Size and Power of the State” by looking at a few indicators concerning public sector employment and the bureaucratic structure of the government, especially in Australia.

The size and power of the state can be measured in a number of ways. In a previous post I listed the following indicators as important:

  • how many people worked for the state in institutions such as the military, the courts, the customs service, the police, the diplomatic service, the post office, and so on
  • how many people received benefits or privileges from the state in the form of monopolies, subsidies, restrictions on competitors, hand-outs, pensions, “civl lists”, and so on
  • how much money was taken by the government from the people in the form of taxes, excise, tariffs, fees, and in kind (such as forced labour)
  • how much did the government spend on its various activities in the form of income received from taxes, sales of goods and services from government owned enterprises, fees, and borrowings from government banks (Central banks), private banks and investors.
  • how much burden (cost) did the government place on people in the form of prohibitions on work, buying and selling, entering an occupation of one’s choice, and regulations in general
  • how many people did the state kill or imprison for engaging in economic and other activities which the state did not approve of

In this post I want to look at how many people work for the state and in what capacity, and how states are organized to employ these people to administer, regulate, and redistribute people, money, and economic activity to achieve its goals.

  • How many people work at “the sharp end” of government, i.e. in the military, and how much does the state spend on this
  • How many people work for the government in its other capacities, i.e. HEW, regulating private and economic life, and how much does the state spend on this
  • How the government is structured to carry out these tasks, i.e. the number of departments and other entities under its control.

Countries Ranked in Size by Total Revenue and Expenditure

This table gives us some idea of which are the biggest and most powerful states on the planet, ranked by total revenue and expenditure. The US is by far the biggest and most powerful state with total expenditure close to $10 trillion; Germany is 3rd with $2 trillion; France 5th with $1.6 trillion; Britain 6th with $1.4 trillion; and Australia is a surprising 12th with close to $600 million.

Military Personnel and Expenditure

One indicator of a country’s power is the size of its military, the number of its military personnel, and how much the state spends on this. The table shows that the US is by the far the most powerful state when it comes to military spending at $801 billion p.a. which is 3.5% of its GDP. Australia comes in at no. 12 with $31 billion p.a. which is 2.0% of its GDP.

A second indicator is the number of military personnel. China and India have the highest number, which is not surprising given the sheer size of their populations. The US is ranked 3rd with 1,388,100 active military, and Australia is ranked 59th with 58,600; NZ is ranked 129th with 9,000 personnel.

Another indicator of military power is the number of times a state interferes militarily in the affairs of other nations. I will not go into this aspect here, only to note that Australia has been very active in fighting alongside Britain and then the US in overseas wars, and in numerous “peace keeping” actions.

Public Sector Employees

State spending on the military used to be the single biggest item in the budget until it was replaced by spending on health, education, and welfare HEW in the 20thC. The dramatic rise in “social spending” (as opposed to “anti-social” spending??) since the 1930s can bee seen in this graph.

In 2016 France spent 31.55% of its GDP on “social spending”; the UK 21.49%; the US 19.32%; and Australia 19.15%.

Another way to measure this is the number of public sector employees as a percentage of the total workforce, shown in this table:

Scandinavian countries, like Norway (35.6%), with a large welfare state rank very high in spite of the fact that other areas of their economic are highly competitive and exposed to the world market. France is also high at 28%; the UK is 21.5%; Australia is 20.4”; the US is 17.6% (although the Mercatus Insitute calculates the level as 19%); and NZ is surprisingly low at 13.4%.

The Public Sector in Australia

Turning to the size of the public sector in Australia the following tables are informative.

The above table shows the number of public sector employees and the total amont spent on their wages/salaries at the Commonwealth, State, and local levels. By far the biggest employer are the states with 1,662,400 employees (led by NSW with 495,900 employees, followed by Victoria with 399,600 employees), and with the Commonwealth employing a relatively modest number of 247,600. The total number of public sector employees in Australia is 2,100,800 which cost the Australian taxpayers a total of about $183 billion out of total revenue of $593.2 billion or 31%.

The breakdown of where these public sector employees work is interesting:

This table shows that the majority are employed in the following three areas

  1. Public administration and safety – 659,800
  2. Education and training – 641,100
  3. Health care and social assistance – 570,800

for a total of 1,871,700 or 89% of the total.

The Bureaucratic Structure of Government

The millions of public sector workers in Australia, as elsewhere, are organized into a bewildering array of departments, agencies, bodies, and “entities”, the true extent and cost of which are hard to determine. Although there is a huge amount of information is accessible online, it is often hidden in plain sight, buried under mountains of detail, or divided across more than one website. What I would like to know and have more readily available in one location is the following:

  • how many and what kind of government entities exist and what they do exactly do
  • how many people work for them and how much do they cost
  • what are the salaries and benefits of those at the highest levels

For example, I have been able to find three interesting and very densely packed summaries of some of this information. The NSW government provides a “Governance Arrangements Chart” here in PDF; the Commonwealth government provides a “FlipChart” of Commonwealth Government Entities & Companies here of here in PDF; and the Commonwealth’s online “Australian Government Organisations Register (AGOR)” here.

What struck me was the astonishing number of such entities and the complexity of their arrangement / structure.

Below is a small section of the Federal government “Flipchart” as the entire piece is too large to display in a blog post:

The Commonwealth of Australia

We learn that the Commonwealth has 16 Departments or “Portfolios” (NSW on the other hand has “Clusters”) with an additional 4 departments called “Parliamentary Departments”. These Departments are in turn made up of 187 (or 189 depending on the source of information) “Principal Bodies”, which in turn are made up of a total of 1,306 individual bodies.

For example, the AGOR reveals that there are:

  • Principal bodies (187 or 14%) – bodies connected with government policies, purposes or services which are prescribed under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and the related rules.
  • Secondary bodies (677 or 52%) – committees, councils, boards, statutory office holders, consultative bodies and working groups linked to the Australian Government.
  • Other bodies (442 or 34%) – Subsidiaries of corporate Commonwealth entities and Commonwealth companies; Joint ventures, partnerships and other companies; National Law bodies; and Bodies linked to the Australian Government through statutory contracts, agreements and delegations.

These in turn were composed of 12 groups of “bodies” known as “governance types” (labelled “A” to “L”):

  1. A. Non Corporate Commonwealth Entity – 98
  2. B. Corporate Commonwealth Entity – 71
  3. C. Commonwealth Company – 18
  4. D. Advisory Body – Policy and Stakeholder Consultation – 284
  5. E. Statutory Office Holder Offices and Committees – 224
  6. F. Non-Statutory Function with Separate Branding – 34
  7. G. Ministerial Councils and Related Bodies including those Established by the COAG – 59
  8. H. Inter Jurisdictional and International Bodies – 76
  9. I. Subsidiaries of Corporate Commonwealth Entities and Commonwealth Companies – 118
  10. J. Joint Ventures, Partnerships and Interests in Other Companies – 234
  11. K. National Law Bodies – 26
  12. L. Bodies Linked to the Australian Government through Statutory Contracts Agreements and Delegations – 64

For a total number of “bodies” – 1,306.

The State Government of NSW

Similarly with the image of the NSW “Governance Arrangements Chart”, since it too big and complex to display in a blog post, here is a snippet:

Concerning the NSW government (with the help of the Wikipedia article “List of New South Wales government agencies” here) we learn that it is bureaucratically organised into 10 “clusters” or “super” ministries, which include (the clusters in quote marks have especially inappropriate names):

  1. Premier and Cabinet – 3,835 employees
  2. Regional NSW – 4,428
  3. Enterprise, Investment and Trade – ?
  4. Treasury – 2,293
  5. Health – 124,086
  6. Education – 110,507
  7. “Stronger Communities” – 52,342
  8. Transport – 26,454
  9. “Customer Service” – 8,210
  10. Planning and Environment – 16,103

which in turn are made up of the following components:

  1. 39 departments, which are the lead agencies in each cluster
  2. 28 executive agencies, which are agencies related to the departments
  3. 4 “other services”, which include the large “Health Service” (127,156 employees), NSW Police Force (21,879 employees), the “Teaching Service” (99,702 employees), and the “Transport Service” (13,645 employees)
  4. 19 separate agencies, which operate independently of departments but can still be within clusters
  5. 8 state-owned corporations
  6. 10 universities (37,238 employees)
  7. statutory authorities, which are established under legislation but sit outside clusters
  8. subsidiaries of the NSW Government established under the Corporations Act
  9. councils under the Local Government Act (possibly 54,900 employees)