Claude Frederic Bastiat was a man who dealt with topics on individual rights and the state, and 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 of 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 events in the life of Claude Frederic Bastiat, enough evidence does exist to give us a good overview of his life and works. He was born in 1801 in Bayonne, France. His childhood was characterized by adversity, with both parents dying and then his 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 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 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. In the 1840's 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. In his view, 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 incompatible 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. 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 blames ignorance as the cause of man's ill fate. Often the only way men learn is by experience, which can often cause grave effects, such as the control of the producer over the consumer. He gives the example of "the son of James B" breaking a glass window; when it comes time to replace it many people will be affected, including the shopkeeper, the factory workers, the producer, etc. 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 viewed as a positive event because it caused money to circulate and encourages the furtherance of industry.
From a historical perspective, Frederic Bastiat stands out as one of the more unique contributors to the field of economics. However, his ideas have not been integrated into modern economics thought, and have largely been forgotten. While most of his economic views would be viewed as extreme by modern economics, it is still worth reading his works; Bastiat presented his material in highly articulate logic, and often with a most entertaining and interspersed humor.
- 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