Frederic Bastiat: His Works

Frederic Bastiat was a French classical liberal. He lived from 1801 to 1850, a short but effective life. Unlike the modern liberal, a classical liberal believes in limited government, self-ownership, private property, etc…. (To read more on this see John Locke.) Bastiat wrote several works. I will discuss his four most important ones here.

The Motive Force of Society deals with the following question: “Does society emerge from self-directed behavior of individuals or from lawmakers imposing blueprints.” According to a classical liberal such as Bastiat, the answer would be the first. Bastiat believed in letting society direct and unfold itself. A man named Rousseau, who was not a classical liberal, said that the lawmakers were the creators of society and that the lawmakers should mold society.  Bastiat said that this would lead to people who relied on the government and weren’t independent.

Another famous work is The Petition of the Candle Makers. This work is a satire. It attacks government protectionism. In it candle makers are protesting to the government because they have unfair competition: the sun, who provides light free of charge. They ask the government to force people to close their windows, so that the candle makers will have more business.

That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen states that a true economist must look at not only the immediate results, but also the long term consequences. To demonstrate this, Bastiat created the Broken Window fallacy. This is the following: A boy breaks a baker’s window. The public praises the boy because now the glass maker will have more business than he would otherwise have had. However, Bastiat says we must look also at the unseen: the business the baker would have brought another merchant had he not had to repair his window.

Bastiat’s best known work is his short book The Law. In it, Bastiat says that law is the organization of the natural right of self-defense. He then says the law becomes perverted and encourages legalized plunder. Bastiat described legalized plunder as “the involuntary transfer of wealth from the original owner to the new owner.” This, said the Frenchman, was a perversion of the law.

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