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What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen


Have you ever heard anyone say: “Taxes are the best investment; they are a life-giving dew. See how many families they keep alive, and follow in imagination their indirect effects on industry; they are infinite, as extensive as life itself.”

The advantages that government officials enjoy in drawing their salaries are what is seen. The benefits that result for their suppliers are also what is seen. They are right under your nose.

But the disadvantage that the taxpayers try to free themselves from is what is not seen, and the distress that results from it for the merchants who supply them is something further that is not seen, although it should stand out plainly enough to be seen intellectually.

When a government official spends on his own behalf one hundred sous more, this implies that a taxpayer spends on his own behalf one hundred sous the less. But the spending of the government official is seen, because it is done; while that of the taxpayer is not seen, because — alas! — he is prevented from doing it.

From Selected Essays on Political Economy by Frederic Bastiat, as reprinted in the January 1975 issue of The Freeman.

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    Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) was a leader of the free-trade movement in France and a member of the French legislature. His most famous essay is "The Law."