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.
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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? Why not petition the Chamber of Deputies to outlaw windows to increase the production of candles?
If politicians wanted to prevent free trade by forcing trains to stop and transfer their cargo to increase jobs, why not force all trains to reload every ten miles? Bastiat had more than scintillating wit and felicity of expressions.
His logic, too, was powerful. Once he had grasped and explained a principle, he could put the argument in so many forms as to leave no one an excuse for missing or evading it.
Bastiat is accused of being something of a polemicist and he was. It was unfortunate that for so long he stood alone, while other "orthodox" economists refrained from criticizing socialism or defending capitalism for fear of losing their reputations for "scientific impartiality," and so left the field entirely to the socialist and communist agitators who were less timorous in this respect. We could use more Bastiats today. The scene takes place in the mansion of Peter, an alderman. The window looks out upon a beautiful grove of trees; three gentlemen are seated at a table near a blazing fire.
Peter: I must say, there is nothing like a good fire after a satisfying meal. You have to admit that it is very agreeable indeed. A charitable idea that must be an inspiration from Heaven has just occurred to me. You see those fine trees? I want them cut down and the wood distributed among the poor. Paul and John: What! Free of charge? Peter: Not exactly. My good deeds would soon be at an end if I dissipated my estate that way. I estimate my grove of trees to be worth a thousand livres; 2 by chopping them down, I shall get a good deal more for them.
Paul: Not so. Your wood as it stands is worth more than that of the neighboring forests, because it performs services that the latter cannot perform. Once your trees are chopped down, they will be good only for firewood, like the rest, and not be worth a denier 3 more per load.
Peter: Ho, ho! Theorist, you are forgetting that I am a practical man. I should think my reputation as a speculator well enough established to prevent me from being taken for a fool. Do you think I am going to amuse myself by selling my wood at the same price as floated wood? Peter: How naive you are! And suppose I stop floated wood from reaching Paris? Paul: That would change matters. But how would you go about it?
Peter: Here is the whole secret. You know that floated wood pays ten sous a load on entering the city. Tomorrow I persuade the alderman to raise the duty to , , livres -- in short, high enough to keep even a single log from getting in.
Now do you understand? If the good people do not want to die of cold, they will have no alternative but to come to my woodyard. They will scramble for my wood, I shall sell it for its weight in gold, and this well-organized charitable undertaking will put me in a position to conduct others.
Paul: What a wonderful project! It gives me the idea for another just as efficacious. John: Tell us what it is. Does it also involve philanthropy? Paul: What do you think of this butter from Normandy?
John: Excellent. Paul: Well, maybe! It seemed tolerable to me a moment ago. But do you not find that it bums your throat? I intend to produce a better quality in Paris. I shall have four or five hundred cows and arrange to distribute milk, butter, and cheese among the poor. Peter and John: What!
As charity? Paul: Nonsense! Let us always maintain an appearance of charity. It has so fair a face that even its mask is an excellent passport. I shall give my butter to the people, and the people will give me their money. Do you call that selling? John: Not according to Le Bourgeois gentilhomme; 5 but whatever you may choose to call it, you will ruin yourself.
Can Paris compete with Normandy in the raising of cows? Paul: I shall gain the advantage by saving the costs of transportation. John: All right. But even after paying these costs, the Normans can still bear the Parisians. John: That is the customary term. The fact remains that you will be the one who is beaten.
Paul: Yes, like Don Quixote. The blows will fall on Sancho. John, my friend, you forget the octroi. John: The octroi! What connection does it have with our butter? Paul: From tomorrow on, I shall demand protection; I shall persuade the commune to keep butter from Normandy and Brittany from entering Paris.
Then the people will either have to get along without it or buy mine, and at my price, too. John: I must say, gentlemen, I feel myself quite caught up in the wave of your humanitarianism. No one shall say that I am an unworthy alderman. Peter, this crackling fire has set your soul aflame; Paul, this butter has activated your intellectual faculties; and now I feel that this piece of salt pork is likewise sharpening my wits.
Tomorrow I shall vote, and have others vote, for the exclusion of pigs, living or dead; that done, I shall build superb pens in the head of Paris For the unclean animal forbidden to the Hebrews. I shall become a swineherd and pork butcher. Let us see how the good people of Paris will avoid coming to provision themselves at my shop.
Peter: Not so fast, gentlemen. If you increase the price of butter and salt pork in this way, you will cut beforehand the profit I was expecting from my wood. Paul: Well, my project will no longer be so wonderful either, if you levy tribute on me for your logs and your hams. John: And what shall I gain by overcharging you for my sausages, if you overcharge me for faggots and for the butter on my bread? Peter: Well, there is no reason why we should quarrel this.
Let us rather co-operate with one another and make reciprocal concessions. Must we not make sure the people are warm? Paul: Quite true. And the people must have butter to spread on their bread.
John: Undoubtedly. And a bit a bacon for their stew. All: Hurrah for charity! Long live humanitarianism! Tomorrow we shall take the City Hall by storm. Peter: Ah! I forgot. One more word; it is essential. My friends, in this age of selfishness, the world is distrustful; and the purest intentions are often misinterpreted.
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.
He was born in Bayonne, France on June 29th, After the middle-class Revolution of , Bastiat became politically active and was elected Justice of the Peace in and to the Council General county-level assembly in He was elected to the national legislative assembly after the French Revolution of Bastiat was inspired by and routinely corresponded with Richard Cobden and the English Anti-Corn Law League and worked with free-trade associations in France. Bastiat wrote sporadically starting in the s, but in he launched his amazing publishing career when an article on the effects of protectionism on the French and English people was published in the Journal des Economistes which was held to critical acclaim.
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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.
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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.