Art Carden  

Four Readings from Frederic Bastiat

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File Frederic Bastiat under "under-appreciated thinkers." I'm talking about Public Choice in my principles of macroeconomics class tomorrow, and here are a few readings from Bastiat that continue to inspire me:

1. "What is Seen, and What is Not Seen." Henry Hazlitt used it as the basis for Economics in One Lesson, and Thomas Sowell referred to economics as "the art of thinking past stage 1" by looking at the long-run effects and unintended consequences. Sadly, Bastiat's isn't a lesson that many people have internalized.

2. A Petition. Most arguments for government privileges for different industries are this absurd, but serious.

3. The State. Bastiat explains that governments aren't magic and that using government resources to do one thing necessarily requires taking resources from somewhere else. Yes, MegaCorp decided to locate in your state because you offered them lots of juicy subsidies, but you had to tax home-grown MinorCorp to pay for it.*

4. The Law. Bastiat explains how the law can be and has been "perverted" to serve not the general interest, but special interests.

*-I think industrial policy runs into the knowledge problem--how do we know which winners to pick?--and creates bad incentives. For every "successful" industrial recruitment action in Alabama, for example, we can point at another scheme that didn't work out. That said, I'm sympathetic to the view that state and local governments can price discriminate in their tax practices.



COMMENTS (2 to date)
ThomasH writes:

All of this is absolutely fundamental; without it we will go very much astray in considering state action. Unfortunately, some people think it is ALL we need to know.

Julie Novak writes:

Nice post, Art.

It is difficult to argue against your selection of "first-tier" readings for anybody wanting to familiarise themselves with Bastiat's writings.

If I could humbly nominate a fifth piece, it would be "Property and Law," found conveniently in Volume Two of Liberty Fund's Collected Works of Bastiat series. It is a perfect intellectual antidote to the "overlordship" idea, still popular amongst modern socialists, which suggests that property rights are not natural, but a contingent set of privileges dispensed by the state.

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