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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4491/war-as-spoliation/

War as Spoliation

December 28, 2005 by

This essay by the great French economist Frederic Bastiat is reprinted as a reminder of the dangers to all sides of using military force as a means of securing resources or to bring freedom to foreign peoples. “For the conquered race, nothing remains but ruined huts, squalid garments, the hard hand of labour, or the cold hand of charity.” FULL ARTICLE

{ 39 comments }

Roger M December 28, 2005 at 8:53 am

Which demonstrates the uniqueness of the US. For rather than steal from those we conquered, we have spent billions to restore them.

Cory Brickner December 28, 2005 at 11:01 am

Oh what a grand idea! Rape, murder, pillage, then bilk your taxpayers for rebuilding those conquered. How Roman Empire! Been there. Done that. Obviously learned nothing from it.

Clarence H. Smithson December 28, 2005 at 11:49 am

Has George Bush and his staff seen this? IF SO, WOULD THEY UNDERSTAND IT?

Ken Zahringer December 28, 2005 at 1:21 pm

How war ends.

Spoliation, like Production, having its source in the human heart, the laws of the social world would not be harmonious, even to the limited extent for which I contend, if the latter did not succeed in the long-run in overcoming the former.

Yeah, and in the long run we are all dead, too.

If I am living someplace like the former Soviet Union, or in Iraq under Saddam Hussein (BTW, they found another mass grave yesterday), I have three options: I can consent to being oppressed, and live and die a slave. Or I can use violence to attempt to eliminate my oppressor. Or I can pray that someone bigger will use violence on my behalf. It’s rather foolish to expect a change of heart on the part of your oppressor.

Bastiat, as usual, is right on the mark in this essay. It is a big mistake, though, to then say that all uses of violence fall under this description. Cory, if you think the US military rapes, murders, and pillages as a matter of course, then you need to talk to someone who lived in Nazi Germany, or one of the 70-80% of Iraqis who say their life is better now than under Saddam. Ask them what they think of their “conquerors”. It may not be worth what it’s costing us, but we’re not the Roman Empire.

Roger M December 28, 2005 at 1:22 pm

I think you guys missed the point of the article. Bastiat argued that theft is the motivation for war. The US has not stolen anything from an enemy, except possibly taking the Western US from Mexico. In fact we give an enourmous amount to the defeated country.

Curt Howland December 28, 2005 at 2:27 pm

Rodger, you missed it entirely.

The nature of war is a zero sum game. Negative, actually, since the effort itself uses up resources. As such, war is always less efficient than commerce. Always.

I do not excuse the former Iraqi government, any more than I excuse the American government: Both live by despoiling others. They are equally evil and just as worthy of destruction for the benefit of those they despoil. But they’re not destroyed, the winners always set up another despoiling government.

So one strong-man beats out another strong-man. You expect me to be happy about that? I’m ashamed it’s been done with my money taken from me at gun point.

People are being killed using the wealth I produced. What the !@#$ to I care if they happen to be in another spot on the globe or next door (“the mass graves”)? They’re still dead.

David White December 28, 2005 at 2:34 pm

Roger M,

“We” don’t give an enormous amount to the defeated country; our government takes an enormous amount from us and then does what it pleases, whether for wartime or peacetime purposes.

Either way, theft is the motivation, never mind that it’s couched in one euphemism or another.

Roger M December 28, 2005 at 2:54 pm

Curt and David operate under the assumption that all government is evil by definition, so anything and everything they do is evil. For the rest of us who can see and value the differences between systems of government, policies, and actions, which I think Bastiat did, the US is unique among empires.

SteamshipTime December 28, 2005 at 2:59 pm

I remember complaining to people that it was ridiculous to bomb the Balkans/Afghanistan/Iraq because we would just end up paying billions to rebuild the Balkans/Afghanistan/Iraq.

I want a real imperial conquest, not this squishy social democrat stuff. Bomb the place into rocks, install a ruthless governor, grab the mineral resources, then leave.

I’m being hyperbolic, of course. But the idea of spending billions to rebuild what you spent billions to bomb is as silly as it is evil.

Steve December 28, 2005 at 3:26 pm

So the impression that I’m getting here is that ubercommerce will overcome any crime lord who has powers of state? In other words, if there’s another country (Iran, for instance) that is actively seeking to build a nuclear bomb to use against the Western world, all we have to do is to actively trade with the mullahs ruling Iran in order to make war go away? Look, I’m all for free enterprise, but many of you people need to quit being so naive. Quit thinking that mere commerce will get rid of power hungry dictators that will invade another country at the first opportunity that offers a good chance of success.

We left Hitler and his cronies alone for a long twenty years and look what happened – a major world war. If France hadn’t been so squeamish, they would’ve stepped in militarily as soon as Hitler crossed the Rhine with his troops, and the ensuing world war would’ve been still-born. We don’t necessarily prevent wars by just leaving potential disaster areas to fester and grow like a disease out of control.

Maybe the rest of the libertarian crowd has a naive belief in the innate goodness of Man, but this libertarian here knows better.

‘Nuff said.

Paul Edwards December 28, 2005 at 3:55 pm

“the US is unique among empires.”

“but many of you people need to quit being so naive.”

Life: sometimes it just makes you go “hmmm”.

Evans M December 28, 2005 at 3:58 pm

“Which demonstrates the uniqueness of the US. For rather than steal from those we conquered, we have spent billions to restore them.”

It is an absurdity to desire to ‘conquer’ something just so that you can ‘restore’ it.
Now,Roger and your kind, what the American warmongers have stolen from both Americans and Iraqis in capital through corcive taxation, productive human labor, and knowledge is economically incalculable. You may see what the problem really is if you look at it as a neutral observer with no American interests or prejudices.

Steven Smith December 28, 2005 at 4:04 pm

Hm, affronting marshalings of inconvenient facts rooted in coherent & humane principles such as Bastiat’s essay are a big reason why authoritarians such as myself are always being made to look bad: this really takes the air from the sails of the explicitly cynical arm of American isolationism–usually presented pejoratively but so appealing to me psychologically I just had to embrace it straight-forwardly–that America is too good for the benighted, primitive, backward, purblind, superstitious, thuggish, vapid, destructive, wasteful, drug addled & other wise deficient & undeserving rest of mankind so we must meanly refuse to intervene because the result would be unmerited net benefit; that we thereby also simultaneously forgo all the loot we would other wise inevitably take & which practically begs to be taken would be 1 more justifcation for us to cover ourselves in proud righteousness. See how much fun giving your ideologic foes & detractors the moral high ground can be? Hold the same positions you did when you were a naif idealist weinie but now for all the wrong & definitely crass reasons! Who says downward mobility, economic marginality & personal inconsequentiality in a national police state can not be fun?

David White December 28, 2005 at 4:11 pm

Roger M,

Bastiat saw not difference but sameness:

“The State is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

Whatever its form, in other words, the state is organized theft. And since theft is always and everywhere evil, the state is always and everywhere evil.

You’re right about the American empire being unique, however, as SteamshipTime pointed out. It doesn’t invade, occupy, and plunder like the empires of old; it invades, occupies, plunders, and rebuilds. Or at least it attempts to do so until the Monopoly money it has to print out of thin air in order to finance its largesse becomes worthless. (It already is, actually, but the Asian banks haven’t decided to call it quits yet, accent on yet.)

Roger M December 28, 2005 at 4:21 pm

The value of what we have given Iraq is incalculable. Even without our bombing, the Iraqi economy was dying, as fast as the Iranian one. Ever wonder why Iran, with the second largest oil reserves in the world, is so poor? Iranians today are one-fourth as wealthy as they were under the Shah because the mullahs destroyed property rights. So had Hussein in Iraq.

With a republican government and rule of law, the Iraqis will have secure property rights. Investment will return and the economy will explode. Five years from now Iraq will be the envy of the Middle East.

Melinda Pillsbury-Foster December 28, 2005 at 4:47 pm



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While I have read this piece before in
the long ago time when I still believed that Libertarianism had
potential as a political tool, I enjoyed reading it again. Insight
and wisdom well enunciated are timeless.

Having said that, theft is theft
and one of the problems that plagues us today is the inability of
most of the Freedom Movement to see how the tools and rhetoric of
commerce, along with the rhetoric of freedom, have been converted to
tools of war.

Human commerce, the consensual
exchange of values, grew out of the human values of trust and
cooperation that are at the foundation of all that is positive in
human culture. Appropriate commerce, good for both parties, depends
on building a capital of trust into the future from which subsequent
exchanges can come. ‘Commerce’ that depends on deceit is a form of
war.

When any exchange or ‘commerce’
takes place using deceit, manipulation and outright violence it is
not commerce no matter how profitable it is to some. Willfully
overlooking this because those funds may then be available to us,
either as donations or through our own later transactions with the
thieves is second hand theft and distorts the standards of the
society as a whole.

Profits are now lining the pockets
of those who have converted the honorable rhetoric of commerce and
freedom to disguise their war both on the American people and on the
world at large.

By so doing the respect due to
commerce when conducted honorably is being devalued along with the
rhetoric and understanding of freedom.

The Movement needs to be more
discerning and recognize the nature of what is happening. At the
same time we need to awaken to the chain of actions and compromises
in our own past that made this possible.

Reshuffling the tools of commerce
so that you tax Americans to provide the means for acquiring oil
resources for a constituency of petroleum companies who want to steal
with impunity is profitable in every way. It has let Bush & Co.
repay these companies for campaign contributions and also to profit
most directly through their own stock holdings.

However, it is not commerce but war
carried out simultaneously on Americans through manipulation of their
loyalty to the presently misunderstood ideals of America and on those
invaded who cannot defend themselves. It is action carried out using
deceit, manipulation and violence.

It was Patton who said that the
best war was one where you never had to fire a shot. War, the use
any set of tools to steal, is still war when not a shot is fired.
Understanding the dynamics of war and how any tools can be subverted
is the best defense. One should also remain armed.

Look at the underpinnings of the
action and the reality is clearly writ. The tools of civil governance
have been subverted and converted through the use of deceit. That
began with the rhetoric and ideas of freedom that defined what
America was to be.

The mission statement of America was
enunciated beautifully by Jefferson in the Declaration of
Independence.

“We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these
are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our rights are an absolute. They
are not granted by government and cannot be rescinded or modified by
government. If the right to life, liberty, and property is not
affirmed in each of us then none of us has rights, only privileges
granted at whim by government.

Today we live with a government
that ‘grants rights,’ clearly refuting that principle. Reading the
transcript relating to the Patriot Act will curl your hair.

Human nature is what it is and
expecting those entrusted with the piggy bank of power not to steal
was naive. The NeoCons have been especially clever with their use of
tools originating in the Freedom Movement to justify their thievery.
Their prime suppliers for method and policy were handily located near
Congress and even made deliveries free of change. Sort of like pizza
– Call CATO for Extra Cheese.

Which brings us to another point we
need to understand clearly. Jefferson has something to say about
this, too. The Constitution was the Founder’s tool for organizing
what government they assumed was needed.

“That to secure these rights,
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from
the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government
becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to
alter or to abolish it.”

No government has rights, no state
government, county entity or federal government possess a right.
Arguments making that assertion are evidence of moral bankruptcy or a
desire to receive stolen goods.

Rights come to human society as
values internal to each of us as individuals. Government is just the
tool through which services that could not be made available in
another way were supplied. Government is your plumber not your king.

A government that refuses to
recognize your rights is illegitimate. The means for ‘altering or
abolishing’ it are and have ever been, as Jefferson said, in our
hands.


Roger M December 28, 2005 at 4:58 pm

“Reshuffling the tools of commerce
so that you tax Americans to provide the means for acquiring oil
resources for a constituency of petroleum companies who want to steal
with impunity is profitable in every way. It has let Bush & Co.
repay these companies for campaign contributions and also to profit
most directly through their own stock holdings.”

No one is stealing anything in Iraq. You guys need to get your facts straight and quit living in a dream world. I suppose you would have let Saddam Hussein steal, rape and pillage at will, not only his own country, but neighbors as well? What a convenient morality! As long as you don’t see the evil, it’s OK!

David White December 28, 2005 at 5:26 pm

Roger M,

Your naivete is astounding. The US government backed Saddam when it was convenient to do so — http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82 — just as it backed bin Laden and the Mujahadeen when it was convenient to do so.

But of course this means nothing to someone who sees the world in dream world black and white.

averros December 28, 2005 at 6:14 pm

Ken Zahringer wrote:

If I am living someplace like the former Soviet Union, or in Iraq under Saddam Hussein (BTW, they found another mass grave yesterday), I have three options: I can consent to being oppressed, and live and die a slave. Or I can use violence to attempt to eliminate my oppressor. Or I can pray that someone bigger will use violence on my behalf. It’s rather foolish to expect a change of heart on the part of your oppressor.

I lived in the USSR. I also helped it to fall. No violence was used – the population simply withdrew its support and refused to cooperate, thus initiating (the still on-going) sequence of bloodless anticommunist revolutions. The battle against the regimes by and large is a battle of ideas and beliefs. An armed insurrection on an invasion only provides justification for the peoples’ tyrants claims about the need for “protection from enemies”. It is a very dangerous fallacy to think that a nation can be “liberated” from its own government by the extenal force.

Etienne de la Boetie was proven to be absolutely right by the recent history.

averros December 28, 2005 at 6:28 pm

Roger M wrote:

Which demonstrates the uniqueness of the US. For rather than steal from those we conquered, we have spent billions to restore them.

Which demonstrates the total lack of comprehension of what the war is about: the governments wage “liberation” wars not against some remote dictators, but against their homeland populations. These wars are mere means to extort more money from scared sheepie by making them feel good about being mighty and invincible. Meanwhile, government spends some minor share of the loot on the visible “good works”, and its cronies pocket the rest.

US is only unique in the hold the swindler’s rhetoric has on its population, I guess. In most other places governments are trusted far less, which limits belligerence of these governments.

MLS December 28, 2005 at 6:35 pm

” I suppose you would have let Saddam Hussein steal, rape and pillage at will, not only his own country, but neighbors as well? What a convenient morality! As long as you don’t see the evil, it’s OK!”

I suppose you like it when George Bush, et al. steal, rape and pillage at will, not only his own country, but distant ones as well?

As long as you see AND pay for the evil, it’s OK! Now that’s a convenient morality!

Curt Howland December 28, 2005 at 7:15 pm

Roger, since you’re posting here I can assume you’re not fighting. That’s hypocrisy.

You are correct, “The value of what we have given Iraq is incalculable.” The war dead number in the hundreds of thousands, millions before that in the 10 years of active economic and infrastructure destruction deliberately perpetrated by the US, there is no way to calculate the loss.

Beyond the revulsion I feel for your hypocrisy, the fact that you think the awful condition of the Iraqi economy was some kind of natural phenomena demonstrates a profound ignorance of a decade of continuous military intervention and restriction of trade imposed by the US against Iraq.

If you bother to read this, I suggest you do a search for “assassination politics”. Rather than indulging in your paranoia that everyone against aggressive war is somehow in favor of “tyranny”, examine alternatives to killing innocent people in bombings and invasion. It is aggressive war I am against, because it is the ultimate in government intervention and as such never has the benefits that it is rationalized to have.

If the real purpose had ever been simply eliminating Saddam, simple assassination would have eliminated the deaths of innocents. And before you try to argue the immorality of assassination, you’ve already argued the morality of open war, how you are in favor of killing of many thousands of people who not only never threatened you but never *could* have threatened you.

The only reason it’s not murder is because governments do it. Oh, wait, that’s the Nuremburg Defense! People were hanged for following orders! That’s why Saddam is on trial for his life right now, even though he acted as “government” doing everything that the American government is doing.

But both Saddam and the Germans were on the losing side, and it’s easy to punish the losers for whatever the winners want.

I would be very pleased if the American government officials were held to the same standard. Very pleased indeed.

salome December 28, 2005 at 8:59 pm

geeeee whiz—war is good for nothing and solves nothing.
let’s try communism again
or hitler’s germany.
pol pot’s a little more recent but for some reason our elite teaching establishment doesn’t get into him at all…..
how many millions murdered ?

Don Beezley December 29, 2005 at 12:06 am

The war in Iraq is a perfect manifestation of G W Bushes Leftist/Altruist leanings–in contravention of both the word and spirt of the Constitution. The principles in the Declaration are fundamentally based on self interest–My life, My (right to) liberty, My priorites/values (“Happiness”) as determined by and for Me. The Constitution, relatively speaking in the history of Man, made a valient, though obviously flawed (based on the continuning, deteriorating outcome) attempt to codify this ideal into the governing principles of the US. The only appropriate foreign policy that can confer any legitimacy (as Jefferson noted) for a government of a “sovereign nation ” is one that serves these self interested principles: essentially, deflecting aggressors (internal or external) who would seek to violate these principles. The Constitution provides for the defence of the UNITED STATES, not Iraq. Iraq was not an agressor against the United States (though the US was an agressor against Iraq). Sacrificing Americans (by getting them killed on the battlefield or stealing resources from them to fight it) in defense of a country that is not their own is both a violation of law and morally reprehensible, although quite altruistic. A pro war/save the Iraqis friend asked me, “wouldn’t you intervene if you saw a woman being raped”? Yes I would, is the answer–but it’s MY decision with MY life in accordance with MY values to do so. The government has no right to COMPEL me to do so. Whether the Iraqis are better off or not is irrelevant (though I suspect they may be; whether they are better off or worse off, the end neither justifies nor delegitimizes the means.

If the last twenty years saw aggressive engagement through trade; no invasions; no stationing of military bases in the middle east; and no subisidies to the various corrupt governments, we would not be involved in the government’s latest war–the one on terror.

Is this a blame America first theory? No. “America” is not its government, America is the good men and women who get up every day and go to work, or take care of their kids or live otherwise peaceful, productive lives, in spite of this appendage that is attached to them and calls itself “government.” Most of us are held accountable for our lives and actions every day. Government is never held accoutnable.

In the last thousand years, I would suspect that 99.9% of human beings killed intentionally at the hands of other human beings have been killed at the behest of governments. All philosophy aside, perhaps it’s time to try a little less government.

P.M.Lawrence December 29, 2005 at 3:38 am

Oh, Roger M! you show that you lack some of the basic context to make sense of the range of things Bastiat was considering.

In the (French) Revolutionary Wars at the end of the 18th century, and then again in North Africa in the 19th century – a conquest Bastiat also covered – France had applied indirect means of looting and wealth transference via currency manipulation, basically the same thing countries do to themselves via inflation these days.

So, Bastiat was well aware of these indirect methods and was not ruling them out. The USA has applied these techniques, quite widely; it is no exception to the idea of indirect looting that Bastiat also knew about.

P.M.Lawrence December 29, 2005 at 7:00 am

Oh, Roger M! you show that you lack some of the basic context to make sense of the range of things Bastiat was considering.

In the (French) Revolutionary Wars at the end of the 18th century, and then again in North Africa in the 19th century – a conquest Bastiat also covered – France had applied indirect means of looting and wealth transference via currency manipulation, basically the same thing countries do to themselves via inflation these days.

So, Bastiat was well aware of these indirect methods and was not ruling them out. The USA has applied these techniques, quite widely; it is no exception to the idea of indirect looting that Bastiat also knew about.

Perhaps a specific example of US invasion would help illustrate things: Panama. The USA has (indirectly) got far more out of that than it ever put in. And that is not an isolated example.

Alex MacMillan December 29, 2005 at 11:26 am

As I understand it in reading these comments, and I certainly may have it wrong, there are those who would argue that the British should not have entered the Second World War against Germany in 1939 merely because Germany had invaded Chechoslovakia and Poland.

Alex MacMillan December 29, 2005 at 11:28 am

Darn, didn’t preview my post. Exchange first “h” for a “z” in Czechoslovakia.

SteamshipTime December 29, 2005 at 11:34 am

Roger M,

Why should I give a s*** about Iraqis? More specifically, why should I give $6B/mo. worth of a s*** about them?

In terms of realpolitik, we traded a secular Sunni dictatorship that allowed Christian and even Jewish worship for a bunch of Shi’ite and Kurdish rabble who are going to live off US foreign aid for the next century.

Curt Howland December 29, 2005 at 1:05 pm

Steamship, it’s comforting to find myself agreeing with your position.

This reinforces the idea that everyone holds something in their lives that they believe government must not infringe upon. The essence of Liberty is recognizing that no only is everyone’s sacred thing different, it is also no less valid than anyone else’s.

It follows that the only moral position possible is one where people are left to follow their own paths unmolested.

SteamshipTime December 29, 2005 at 1:12 pm

“It follows that the only moral position possible is one where people are left to follow their own paths unmolested.”

Hippie talk. This is ultimately a meaningless statement.

Brett_McS December 29, 2005 at 7:15 pm

What people need to see from libertarians/anarchists is their plan to tackle islamic terrorism (as a topical example). Be warned: your plan would then be subject to criticism and may be made a laughing stock, but at least you would have a chance at being taken seriously.

I know you love to live in a little self-supporting, purist tribe, so to remain isolated and ineffectual is perhaps no threat, but, come on, you have to grow up some time. College was a long time ago for most of you.

Evans M December 29, 2005 at 7:17 pm

“With a republican government and rule of law, the Iraqis will have secure property rights.”

Roger M,
Respect for property rights does not emerge from the mythical’ rule of Law’ or republican government’ nor still from some contents of some human-made Constitution; but rather from valuable traditions that recognise that respect for other people’s property is in fact a safeguard for one’s own property.

quincunx5 December 29, 2005 at 9:03 pm

Brett,

“College was a long time ago for most of you.”

Considering that colleges are a hot bed of statism, I do not see how this makes sense.

“What people need to see from libertarians/anarchists is their plan to tackle islamic terrorism (as a topical example). Be warned: your plan would then be subject to criticism and may be made a laughing stock, but at least you would have a chance at being taken seriously. ”

How about stop intruding?
Keep the bounty on the terrorists let private bounty hunters compete for the prize.

Brett_McS December 29, 2005 at 10:19 pm

quincunx5, that’s the spirit! That is a good plan. Now how about one for the world we have now? You know, the world before we actually achieve libertarian nirvana, the world in which George Bush and the rest of us actually have to operate? Sorry for the intrusion into the perfect world. I’ll wipe my feet next time.

Brett_McS December 29, 2005 at 10:34 pm

Oh, “College was a long time ago..” means “the time of irresponsible adolescence (I know, I was there) has passed”; the time when theory was more important than the real world.

Heh, I’m a subscriber to Von Mises report also, I just can’t stand this constant sniping from the sidelines against people who are at least trying to tackle real, difficult issues, rather than wish them all away. It is not helping us (I mean me and you), and it is not helping anyone but the enemies of civilization. Let’s try to be less tribal!

quincunx5 December 29, 2005 at 11:27 pm

“I just can’t stand this constant sniping from the sidelines against people who are at least trying to tackle real, difficult issues, rather than wish them all away.”

Merely “tackling real difficult issues” any old way does not help, but in fact hinders.

The attackers of 9/11 were stiking out against our wealth and prosperity – very much the same way that the federal government stikes out against wealth and properity. The terrorist’s action was compressed into an instant – where as the action of the government is spread out over time.

The money put into the unnecessary war could have been used to built several new world trade centers in almost every big US city (not that I support that either).

Do you honestly believe that war will solve terrorism? or is it more likey to raise a whole generation of father-less sons who will seek vengence?

I think strategic thinking is the best way to achieve the desired goal. There is a bounty on Osama, but no one (including US muslims) are willing to risk their life trying to infiltrate terrorist networks, if they can easily be exposed and captured by our own troops.

Even if you disagree with the above, you may still contend that that should have been tried first! Most thinking people test the bath water first, and then get in.

I’m not even going into the fact that the government has supported the terrorists in the past.

Curiously, why do you think our action is proper, and will actually achieve its objective?

Curt Howland December 30, 2005 at 8:24 am

Steamship, “Hippie talk. This is ultimately a meaningless statement.”

Insulting and hypocritical. I’m sorry I complemented you at all. My mistake, I will not make it again.

Brett, “What people need to see from libertarians/anarchists is their plan to tackle islamic terrorism”

Done, many times. “Terrorism” is a political label for a violent crime. Since it is a crime, treat it as such.

You don’t even have to go to “libertarians/Anarchists” to find this answer. Go rent _Wanted: Dead Or Alive_ with Rutger Hauer and Gene Simmons.

Skip January 7, 2006 at 10:31 am

I do not beleive F. Bastiat ever had any use for insurance. Insurance like the need for self defense.

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