His father, Pierre Bastiat, was a prominent businessman in the town. The Bastiat estate in Mugron had been acquired during the French Revolution and had previously belonged to the Marquis of Poyanne. He was fostered by his paternal grandfather and his maiden aunt Justine Bastiat. He attended a school in Bayonne, but his aunt thought poorly of it and so enrolled him in the school Saint-Sever. It was the same firm where his father had been a partner.
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His contributions to liberty have been many, but while so many advocates of free markets focus on The Law , there is another book that represents his legacy even better: Economic Sophisms. This short work of essays epitomizes perhaps his most important contribution: using taut logic and compelling prose to bring the dry field of economics to hundreds of thousands of laymen.
Bastiat did not, generally, clear new ground in the field of economics. He read Adam Smith and Jean-Baptiste Say and found little to add to these giants of economic thought.
But Bastiat possessed a keen wit and a clear, pithy writing style. His writings have become immensely popular. Bastiat makes three central contributions in Economic Sophisms. First, he reminds us that we should care about the consumer, not just the producer. Second, he dismantles the argument that there are no economic laws. Third, and more generally, he is one of the few politicians and writers who thought with his head, not with his heart.
Bastiat used logic to clearly lay out the consequences of political actions instead of hiding behind good intentions.
Surplus, Not Scarcity Economic Sophisms expresses a common theme over and over again: we should craft policies that focus on consumers, not on producers. When Bastiat uses these phrases, it can be easy to misinterpret him. Keynes, writing years after Bastiat, hijacked the terms. When he discusses how consumption is the end goal of the economy, what he means is: having goods which benefits consumers is more important than making goods which benefits producers.
Put another way, producers prefer scarcity, because it drives up prices. Consumers prefer surplus for the opposite reason.
Producers advocate all sorts of methods for reducing the total quantity of goods theirs excepted, of course. Producers seek to tax goods from other countries that compete with their own. They outlaw machines that would replace them. Producers even favor policies like burning food to drive up food prices, a policy that caused much starvation when it was enacted in the United States during the Great Depression.
Consumers, by contrast, prefer abundance. They are happiest when they have a plethora of goods to choose from at a low price. Bastiat points out that we are all consumers, including the producers. The man who produces railroads also uses his wages to buy goods. But one cannot imagine a world with no consumption. In such a world, man would not eat or drink, have clothing or buy luxuries.
Taken to its logical extreme, such a policy is absurd. Would anyone truly argue that total scarcity is preferable to having plenty? In essay after essay, Bastiat destroys this myth. Economics is not a foggy morass where up is sometimes down, left can be right, and there are no absolute truths. Economics is not like nutrition, where a glass of wine can heal while two gallons can kill.
In economics, a cause will produce a correlational effect, regardless of how large the cause is. If small X causes small Y, large X causes large Y. The effect does not vary, only the size of it. Opponents of mechanization want to force railroads to stop at one city and unload goods, thereby generating work for the porters? Very well, says Bastiat. Why not have them stop at three cities instead?
Surely that would generate even more work for the porters. Why not stop at twenty cities? Why not have a railroad composed of nothing but stops that will make work for the porters?
By carrying concepts to their logical conclusion, Bastiat provides a firm antidote to the fuzzy thinking of protectionist advocates.
Good intentions were enough. Make-work, for instance, has always been a favorite policy of those who think with their hearts. They see men and women unemployed and demand government take action.
Often, this action takes the form of impeding human progress: using porters instead of railroads, for instance. The initial consequence, for the porters, is positive: more end up employed. But Bastiat recognizes that such policies, while they may protect the porters, harm the economy as a whole. They raise prices and create scarcity. Bastiat looked at more than just the direct consequence of an action.
He examined all the outcomes, using taut chains of logic to demonstrate how each policy would impact those whom he was most focused on — the consumer. But the clear logic with which he thought through economic ideas, and the clear and witty prose with which he lambasted those who did not do so, have made him one of the most popular economic figures of all time. His insights have been appropriated by dozens of prominent thinkers.
As we make note of his th birthday, perhaps we should raise a toast to the man whose ideas — in all their adopted formats — have done so much for the cause of liberty.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.
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Bastiat lived in a revolutionary period. He was fourteen when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and exiled to St. Bastiat was, beyond all other men, an economic pamphleteer, the greatest exposer of economic fallacies, the most powerful champion of free trade on the European Continent. He was the master of the redutio ad absurdum. He used exaggeration to ridicule political ideas that reduced economic efficiency. If local farmers need to be protected against foreigners, why not protect candle-makers from the superior competition of the sun?
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He himself so regarded them: "the one," he says, "pulls down, the other builds up. Whatever difference of opinion may exist among economists as to the soundness of this theory, all must admire the irresistible logic of the Sophismes, and "the sallies of wit and humour," which, as Mr Cobden has said, make that work as "amusing as a novel. Hence the present translation of the Sophismes is intended as a companion volume to the translation of the Harmonies. It is unnecessary for me to say more here by way of preface, the gifted author having himself explained the design of the work in a short but lucid introduction. My design in this little volume is to refute some of the arguments which are urged against the Freedom of Trade. I do not propose to engage in a contest with the protectionists; but rather to instil a principle into the minds of those who hesitate because they sincerely doubt. I am of opinion rather that it is founded on errors, or, if you will, upon incomplete truths.
His contributions to liberty have been many, but while so many advocates of free markets focus on The Law , there is another book that represents his legacy even better: Economic Sophisms. This short work of essays epitomizes perhaps his most important contribution: using taut logic and compelling prose to bring the dry field of economics to hundreds of thousands of laymen. Bastiat did not, generally, clear new ground in the field of economics. He read Adam Smith and Jean-Baptiste Say and found little to add to these giants of economic thought. But Bastiat possessed a keen wit and a clear, pithy writing style. His writings have become immensely popular.
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Start your review of Economic Sophisms Write a review Shelves: economics , liberalism Absolutely brilliant, proving economic theory need not be dry or boring, and also showing how very relevant to daily living it remains. Perhaps if more people had been more conversant with Bastiat, Lord Maynard Keynes John Maynard Keynes never would have gotten off the ground. Bastiat explodes so many myths prevalent in his day, and sadly, still prevalent today. Chiefly he contrasts abundance with scarcity and shows how protectionism, luddite opposition to technology and automation, and efforts Absolutely brilliant, proving economic theory need not be dry or boring, and also showing how very relevant to daily living it remains. Chiefly he contrasts abundance with scarcity and shows how protectionism, luddite opposition to technology and automation, and efforts to increase labor all lead to scarcity, while their opposites lead to abundance. So while the former methods may lead to higher cash incomes, they lead to less wealth to be had for all, while the latter method, though it may include dislocation from time to time, leads to abundance and greater wealth for all, even the cash-poor. Bastiat reveals the open secret to his method: "Protection concentrates on one point the good which it produces, while the evils which it inflicts are spread over the masses.