Claude Frederic Bastiat was a man who dealt with topics on individual rights and the state, he was not afraid to speak his mind about his animosity towards the government. He was a strong liberal who wanted to make the world a better place for the individual. He supported the consumer rather than the producer on the issue of free trade. He believed that the best way people could learn was by experiencing life for themselves. These radical views were too liberal for most other economists of his time and they thought that since he had not obtained a degree, his ideas had no foundation and therefore were not very worthwhile. The following provides an overview if Claude Bastiat's life experiences and how they related to his role in economics.
Though lost accounts have left a good deal of mystery over some of the particular events in the life of Claude Frederic Bastiat, evidence does exist as testament to the more important facts. He was born in 1801 in Bayonne, France. His childhood was characterized by adversity, because of his mother's and father's deaths, becoming an orphan, and contracting tuberculosis of the lungs before reaching the age of ten. He attended the Benedictine College of Soreze, though he did not complete his studies; in fact, he never achieved a college degree. He attempted a brief stint working in business for his uncle in Bayonne, though he found little success in this area. He was abruptly summoned to his grandfather's estate and farm, where in 1825, upon the death of his grandfather, Bastiat would inherit the land and assume its ownership. His agricultural endeavors included some attempts at reforming farming processes. However, these ventures also, proved rather fruitless and disappointing.
Throughout his struggle to find a field of work which suited him, Bastiat developed and maintained an interest in the French political and economic issues of his day. At the urging of a neighborly estate owner, Bastiat submitted an essay on free trade to a journal in Paris, which published it. Much public interest was taken in the widely read essay. Motivated by its success, Bastiat moved to Paris and began vigorous efforts in authoring newspaper commentaries and pamphlets. His works gained him a national notoriety in France, as a witty and logical critic of government intervention in economic processes. It was within the latter period of the 1840's, that Bastiat's best noted books, such as The Law and That Which Is Seen, And That Which Is Not Seen, were produced. In 1848, he was elected to the National Assembly where he championed a pro-laissez faire ideology, before dying an untimely death in 1850.
Claude Frederic Bastiat was no coward when it came to expressing his liberal views on a variety of topics. He was an outspoken man with modern ideas. He constantly criticized the government and always sided with the individual against the state. He was a staunch liberal, always fighting against socialism and protectionism. He preached that liberty and private property were what made the world turn and that the government had too much control and influence.
Social progress was economic progress, and this could only happen through a more liberal society where there was more freedom. He wanted to create a civilized harmony that would allow many aspects of life to work together towards what was good and prosperous.
Bastiat eventually stopped trying to dispel all other economists and began to make his work blend with theirs. In the case of the Ricardian theories, he tried to incorporate his idea of value as a utility with Ricardo's Labor Theory of Value into what was called the Theory of Value as Service. Most of Bastiat's views clashed with Ricardo's, such as Ricardo's theory of ground rent which was proved invalid with Bastiat's theory that land produces utility, not value.
He supported free trade which benefitted the consumer. He thought protective tariffs were the evil whereby the producers robbed the consumer. Tariffs interrupt the harmony that one should live their life by. Tariffs are bestowed upon the consumer and because of this, the producers end up owning more property and gain more control, not only in the business world, but also in politics. It is as if a vicious cycle takes over and disrupts the harmony that life is trying to obtain.
In the book, That Which is Seen, And That Which Is Not Seen, Bastiat credits ignorance with the causation for the fate that man has presented himself with. Often the only way man knows how to learn is by experience, which can often cause grave effects, such as the control of the producer over the consumer. He states that everything has a cause and effect, such as his example of the son of James B breaking the glass window in, That Which is Seen, And That Which Is Not Seen . When it comes time to replace it, many will be affected, including the shop keeper, the factory workers, the producer, etc. There are many people involved in the process of glass. It also affects James B because he will not be able to spend his money on something else, like a book. This will in turn affect the bookseller because he will not be gaining the money he had coming to him before the incident of the broken window. This incident could be looked up as a positive incidence because it caused money circulate and the encourages the furtherence of industry.
Bastiat's views on the political economy were utilized and theorized during his life time and after, but modern economists have been disappointed. His influence has not really stretched beyond his own existence. He has not had a profound affect upon modern economics as he did upon economic theory during his time.
From a historical perspective, Frederic Bastiat certainly stands out as one of the more unique contributors to the field of economics. Many personal, ideological, and stylistic factors separate him from the historical class of conventional economists. A personal historical sketch reveals that his formal education in economics was not extensive, as he never received a college degree. His literary contributions, including pamphlets and newspaper commentaries did not begin until he was past 40 years of age. The views he expressed were controversial, given the time period and the society in which they were communicated. His suggestions that the government of France did not involve itself in the economic activities of the country and its major industries ran opposition to the mainstream beliefs and policy agendas of the French government. His belief that a free market economy would function most effectively if left to the natural forces of human nature would likely even have been considered extreme by Adam Smith. In terms of the way Bastiat presented his material, perhaps there never was an equal to his ability to articulate logic, and often with a most entertaining and interspersed humor. Though Claude Frederic Bastiat did not bestow his talents on the discipline of economics for a very long time, his contributions to the evolution of economic theory and practice, were no doubt substantial.
- Grewel, Subir. The Life and Work of Federic Bastiat.
- Heilbroner, Robert L. The Worldly Philosophers. New York City, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967
- Sills, David C., Editor. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, volume 2: Frederick Bastiat. United States: The Macmillan Company and The Free Press, 1968
- Grolier Incorporated. Encyclopedia Americana volume 3: Frederick Bastiat. United States: Grolier Incorporated, 1997
Works on E2:
- The Law
- That Which Is Seen, And That Which Is Not Seen