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Bastiat

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Frédéric Bastiat
Classical liberalism
Born June (1801-Template:MONTHNUMBER-30)30 1801
Bayonne, France
Died December 24 1850(1850-Template:MONTHNUMBER-24) (aged 49)
Rome, Papal States
Nationality French
Influences Richard Cobden, Adam Smith, John Locke
Influenced Arthur Latham Perry, Gustave de Molinari, Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, Ron Paul, Thomas Sowell

Claude Frédéric Bastiat (Template:IPA-fr; 30 June 1801[1] – 24 December 1850) was a French classical liberal theorist, political economist, and member of the French assembly. He was notable for developing the important economic concept of opportunity cost, and for penning the influential Parable of the Broken Window.

LifeEdit

Bastiat was born in Bayonne, Aquitaine, a port town in the south of France on the Bay of Biscay, on 30 June 1801. His father, Pierre Bastiat, was a prominent businessman in the town. His mother died in 1808 when Frédéric was seven years old.[2] His father moved inland to the town of Mugron with Frédéric following soon after. The Bastiat estate in Mugron had been acquired during the French Revolution and had previously belonged to the Marquis of Poyanne. Pierre Bastiat died in 1810, leaving Frédéric an orphan. He was taken in by his paternal grandfather and his maiden aunt, Justine Bastiat.[2] He attended a school in Bayonne, but his aunt thought poorly of it and so enrolled him in Saint-Sever. At 17, he left school at Sorèze to work for his uncle in his family's export business. It was the same firm where his father had been a partner. Economist Thomas DiLorenzo suggests that this experience was crucial to Bastiat's later work since it allowed young Frédéric to acquire first-hand knowledge of how regulation can affect markets.[3] Sheldon Richman notes that "he came of age during the Napoleonic wars, with their extensive government intervention in economic affairs."[4]

Bastiat began to develop an intellectual interest. He no longer wished to work with his uncle and dreamed of going to Paris for formal studies. This dream never came true as his grandfather was in poor health and wished to go to the Mugron estate. Bastiat accompanied him and took care of him. The next year, when Bastiat was 24, his grandfather died, leaving the young man the family estate, thereby providing him with the means to further his theoretical inquiries.[2] Bastiat developed intellectual interests in several areas including "philosophy, history, politics, religion, travel, poetry, political economy and biography."[3] "After the middle-class Revolution of 1830, Bastiat became politically active and was elected justice of the peace of Mugron in 1831 and to the Council General (county-level assembly) of Landes in 1832. He was elected to the national legislative assembly after the French Revolution of 1848."[1]

His public career as an economist began only in 1844 when his first article was published in the Journal des economistes in October of that year. It was cut short by his untimely death in 1850. Bastiat had contracted tuberculosis, probably during his tours throughout France to promote his ideas, and that illness eventually prevented him from making further speeches (particularly at the legislative assembly to which he was elected in 1848 and 1849) and took his life. In the fall of 1850, he was sent to Italy by his doctors. He first traveled Pisa, then on to Rome. On 24 December 1850, Bastiat called those with him to approach his bed. He murmured twice the words "the truth" then passed away.[2]

WritingEdit

Bastiat was the author of many works on economics and political economy, generally characterized by their clear organization, forceful argumentation, and acerbic wit. Economist Murray Rothbard wrote that "Bastiat was indeed a lucid and superb writer, whose brilliant and witty essays and fables to this day are remarkable and devastating demolitions of protectionism and of all forms of government subsidy and control. He was a truly scintillating advocate of an unrestricted free market."[1] On the other hand, Bastiat himself declared that subsidy should be available, but limited: "under extraordinary circumstances, for urgent cases, the State should set aside some resources to assist certain unfortunate people, to help them adjust to changing conditions."[5] Also, in his 1850 essay "Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas" ("What is Seen and What is Unseen"),[6]? through? The Parable of the broken window? he introduces the concept of? opportunity cost? in all but name; this term was not coined until over 50 years after his death in 1914 by? Friedrich von Wieser. In the same essay he made some statements that seem to support an idea of? Economic stimulus, a point by? Bradford DeLong.[7]

He also famously engaged in a debate, between 1849 and 1850, with? Pierre-Joseph Proudhon? about the legitimacy of interest.[8]? As Robert Leroux argued, Bastiat had the conviction that Proudhon's doctrine "was the complete antithesis of any serious approach".Template:Citation needed

Economic SophismsEdit

Among his better known works is Economic Sophisms,[9] which contains many strongly worded attacks on statist policies. Bastiat wrote the work while living in England to advise the shapers of the French Republic on pitfalls to avoid.

Contained within Economic Sophisms is the famous satirical parable known as the "Candlemakers' petition"[10] which presents itself as a demand from the candlemakers' guild to the French government, asking the government to block out the Sun to prevent its unfair competition with their products.[11] He also facetiously "advocated" forbidding the usage of everyone's right hand, based on the assumptions that more difficulty means more work and more work means more wealth.[12]

The LawEdit

Bastiat's most famous work, however, is undoubtedly The Law, originally published as a pamphlet in 1850. It defines, through development, a just system of laws and then demonstrates how such law facilitates a free society.

ViewsEdit

Bastiat asserted that the sole purpose of government is to defend and protect the right of an individual to life, liberty, and property. From this definition, Bastiat concluded that the law cannot defend life, liberty, and property if it promotes socialist policies, which are inherently opposed to these very things. In this way, he says, the law is perverted and turned against the only things (life, liberty, and property) it is supposed to defend.[13]

He was also a strong supporter of free trade. He "was inspired by and routinely corresponded with Richard Cobden and the English Anti-Corn Law League and worked with free-trade associations in France."[1]

In The Law, Bastiat explains that, if the privileged classes use the government for "legalized plunder", this will encourage the lower classes to revolt or use socialist "legalized plunder" and that the correct response to both the socialists and the corporatists is to cease all "legalized plunder". Bastiat also explains why his position is that the law cannot defend life, liberty, and property if it promotes socialist policies. When used to obtain "legalized plunder" for any group, he says, the law is perverted and turned against the thing it is supposed to defend.[13] Template:Liberalism sidebar

Because of his stress on the role of consumer demand in initiating economic progress, Bastiat has been described by Mark Thornton, Thomas DiLorenzo,[3] and other economists as a forerunner of the Austrian School. In his Economic Harmonies, Bastiat states that,

We cannot doubt that self-interest is the mainspring of human nature. It must be clearly understood that this word is used here to designate a universal, incontestable fact, resulting from the nature of man, and not an adverse judgment, as would be the word selfishness.

Thornton posits that Bastiat, through taking this position on the motivations of human action, demonstrates a pronounced "Austrian flavor."[14]

File:Bastiat big.jpg

One of Bastiat's most important contributions to the field of economics was his admonition to the effect that good economic decisions can be made only by taking into account the "full picture." That is, economic truths should be arrived at by observing not only the immediate consequencesTemplate:Spaced ndashthat is, benefits or liabilitiesTemplate:Spaced ndashof an economic decision, but also by examining the long-term second and third consequences. Additionally, one must examine the decision's effect not only on a single group of people (say candlemakers) or a single industry (say candlemaking), but on all people and all industries in the society as a whole. As Bastiat famously put it, an economist must take into account both "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." Bastiat's "rule" was later expounded and developed by Henry Hazlitt in his work Economics in One Lesson, in which Hazlitt borrowed Bastiat's trenchant "Broken Window Fallacy" and went on to demonstrate how it applies to a wide variety of economic falsehoods.

Negative railroadEdit

A famous section of Economic Sophisms concerns the way that tariffs are inherently counterproductive. Bastiat posits a theoretical railway between Spain and France that is built in order to reduce the costs of trade between the two countries. This is achieved, of course, by making goods move to and from the two nations faster and more easily. Bastiat demonstrates that this situation benefits both countries' consumers because it reduces the cost of shipping goods, and therefore reduces the price at market for those goods.

However, each country's producers begin to criticize their governments because the other country's producers can now provide certain goods to the domestic market at reduced price. Domestic producers of these goods are afraid of being outcompeted by the newly viable industry from the other country. So, these domestic producers demand that tariffs be enacted to artificially raise the cost of the foreign goods back to their pre-railroad levels, so that they can continue to compete.

Bastiat raises two significant points here:

  1. Even if the producers in a society are benefited by these tariffs (which, Bastiat claims, they are not), the consumers in that society are clearly hurt by the tariffs, as they are now unable to secure the goods they want at the low price at which they should be able to secure them.
  2. The tariffs completely negate any gains made by the railroad and therefore make it essentially pointless.

To further demonstrate his points, Bastiat suggests that, rather than enacting tariffs, the government should simply destroy the railroad anywhere that foreign goods can outcompete local goods. Since this would be just about everywhere, he goes on to suggest that this government should simply build a broken or "negative" railroad right from the start, and not waste time with tariffs and rail building.

Bastiat's tombEdit

File:Bastiat Tomb.JPG

Bastiat died in Rome and is buried at San Luigi dei Francesi in the center of that city. He declared on his deathbed that his friend Gustave de Molinari (publisher of Bastiat's 1850 book The Law) was his spiritual heir.

Bastiat in English translationEdit

The following titles were originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington-on-Hudson, NY, and are made available online by The Library of Economics and Liberty.

A collection of Bastiat's major works is available from the Ludwig von Mises Institute:

  • 2007. The Bastiat Collection, Volume 1[15] and Volume 2[16] Ludwig von Mises Institute.
  • The Man and the Statesman, The Correspondence and Articles on Politics (2009) Jacques de Guenin, General Editor; Introduction by Jacques de Guenin and Jean-Claude Paul Dejean; Dennis O'Keeffe, Translation Editor; David M. Hart, Academic Editor. Liberty Fund. Book overview

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Thornton, Mark (2011-04-11) Why Bastiat Is Still Great, Mises Institute
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Roche III, George Charles (1971). Frédéric Bastiat: A Man Alone. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House. ISBN 0-87000-116-7.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 DiLorenzo, Thomas. "Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850): Between the French and Marginalist Revolutions." Mises.org.
  4. Richman, Sheldon. "Frédéric Bastiat: An Annotated Bibliography." The Library of Economics and Liberty. 2000.
  5. Justice and fraternity, in Journal des Économistes, 15 June 1848, pg. 313
  6. Bastiat: Selected Essays, Chapter 1, What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen | Library of Economics and Liberty
  7. Brad DeLong: Two More Economists Support the Obama Fiscal Stimulus, the ARRA
  8. "Bastiat-Proudhon Debate on Interest". Praxeology.net. http://praxeology.net/FB-PJP-DOI.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-02.
  9. Bastiat, Frédéric. "Economic Sophisms". http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basSoph.html. Retrieved 2008-12-12.
  10. Bastiat, Frédéric. "Candlemakers' petition". http://silentpc.org/university/Candlemaker.pdf. Retrieved 2008-12-12.
  11. Candlemakers' Petition, on Facebook
  12. "Bastiat: Economic Sophisms, Series 2, Chapter 14–17". Library of Economics and Liberty. http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basSoph8.html#S.2,%20Ch.16,%20The%20Right%20Hand%20and%20the%20Left. Retrieved 2008-12-02.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Bastiat, Frédéric. The Law. Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2007.
  14. Thornton, Mark. "Frédéric Bastiat as an Austrian Economist." Mises.org.
  15. Mises.org
  16. Mises.org

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