Plundering Fools

“The law perverted!” writes Frédéric Bastiat, “The law become the tool of every kind of avarice, instead of being its check!” The proper aim of law is to protect the person, liberty and property of individuals. Any attempt to extend law beyond that protection necessarily must infringe on the rights it was set out to protect in the first place. The result is inevitably “legal plunder.” The law directly or indirectly takes the liberty or property from one individual or class to give to another individual or class. Take for example, the Reinheitsgebot.

Modern brewers make much of the Reinheitsgebot, also known as the German Purity Law. Under this 16th century Bavarian law, the only acceptable ingredients in beer are water, hops and barley. The name of the law implies that the purpose was to protect the consumer from “inferior ingredients.” But that was not the purpose. The original purpose was to serve as protection for the bakers’ guilds. As long as brewers were allowed to use wheat or rye in their beer, simple supply and demand dictated that the price of those grains would be higher, hurting the bakers’ bottom line. But by restricting beer to barley, the prices on other grains stayed low. The law successfully served the interest of one class (the bakers) at the expense of others (the brewers and their customers.)

Once this system of using law as a way to gain at the expense of others, it is only a matter of time before the oppressed get control of the law and use it to their own ends. Originally, only Bavaria was subject to the Purity Law. But when the German unification occurred, the Bavarians insisted that the Reinheitsgebot become national. And why would they be so insistent? Because now the law could be used to drive out competition. Brewers in parts of Germany that had not been so restricted before were now forced to change their recipes or close shop. Beers from Holland and England were excluded from the German markets because they had other ingredients. The Bavarian brewers, the original victims of this legal plunder were now on the receiving end.

Today, Germany still has a version of this law on the books. It is no longer the Reinheitsgebot, but it is similar. And it similarly acts to protect the established brewers against innovative competition. Now, the Reinheitsgebot proper is primarily a popular marketing tool to advertise the quality and purity of beers. Even some wheat beers claim to be brewed in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, though under the law wheat was definitely verboten.

Beer of the Week: König Pilsener – Marketing ploy though it may be, beers such as König Pilsener, which boast of their compliance with the Reingeitsgebot, are a pleasant departure from adjunct lagers brewed with sugar, rice or corn and lord knows what chemicals. König Pilsener, itself is a great example of what an expert brewer can do with only 3 ingredients. It is a crisp, dry beer with a light and pleasant lingering flavor of hops. Would make for an excellent everyday beer.

Reading of the week: The Law by Frédéric Bastiat – This short excerpt from the beginning of the essay leaves one thirsty for more. “The law perverted!” is followed by the law defined. The definition is formulated and explained in this excerpt. Not given here is Bastiat’s explanation of how law is perverted or by whom, neither is his systematic dismantling of social philosophers who view all of humanity as clay with which their “superior” minds could mold a perfect society. The entire essay is worth reading, but it will take more than one beer to get through it.

Question of the week: Bastiat defines the law as the organization of the natural right of individuals to self-defense. Once individual laws are made that extend beyond that scope, is it no longer “law” or does the definition of law simply change?

One Comment on “Plundering Fools”

  1. muriel says:

    We were wondering about the origin of “getting down to brass tacks” and thought you may be interested in answers at

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