The great French economist, Frédéric Bastiat, was born on June 29, 1801, 211 years ago today. He spent his advocating free markets, particularly free trade, and fighting the socialist policies of his native country. What makes him my hero is that he fought the good fight with great humor, wit and satire. His writings were so clear that they read like the good contemporary writing in The Economist or the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal.
His most widely quoted passage is his facetious petition to the French parliament on behalf of the French candle makers seeking passage of a law requiring the closing of all blinds, shutters etc., to block out the sunlight, which was unfair competition to the candle makers in the provision of light.
Probably his next most familiar passage is his Broken Window Fallacy, whereby a broken window caused by a thrown brick would lead to a chain of new spending that would stimulate the economy.
His negative railroad is probably next in line. Force the train to stop at towns along the route to stimulate their local economies. Pretty soon, you’ll have a “negative railroad.”
Bastiat probably would have thought of his native France as plenty socialist already, but, nevertheless, would have been dismayed by its recent election of a socialist president and parliament. Not to mention the recent move to socialized medicine in the United States.
I spoke at Bastiat’s 200th birthday party in Dax France in 2001. As our group visited his birthplace and country home and other landmarks, we were followed and harassed by French demonstrators whose main cause was the Tobin Tax, or a tax on financial transactions. It looks like that tax is now destined to be part of the “cure” for the European debt crisis. By the way, the French socialist demonstrators called our little band of capitalists, “gangsters.”
You can buy some of Bastiat’s books. My favorite is his collection of Economic Sophisms. (Think fallacies.) The Liberty Fund has undertaken a massive project to retranslate Bastiat’s works into English, the first volume of which is the first English translation of his letters. You can order it from the Liberty Fund, but I believe there is currently a backlog of orders. This translation project is headed by a wonderful Frenchman named Jacques de Guenin, who has devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of Bastiat alive. I’d call that the Lord’s work.