“It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me,
what do they teach them at these schools!”
– Digory Kirke in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle
The way Professor Kirk feels about Plato is how I feel about Frederick Bastiat. Whenever I hear someone repeating an economic fallacy online I have a tendency to cry out, “It’s all in Bastiat, all in Bastiat: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!”
Unfortunately, Bastiat, whose 215th birthday is today, is not often taught in schools, whether in high school or college. That’s a shame for he was one of the greatest political and economic thinkers of the 19th century. Bastiat, a farmer turned politician and pamphleteer, had a inimitable gift for explaining economic and political concepts in way that make them not only understandable but seem downright commonsensical.
Bastiat, as Charles Kaupke notes, drew on his Catholic faith and the writings of Adam Smith and John Locke to articulate a vision of limited, efficient government that respects each citizen’s God-given dignity. And as Religion and Liberty adds,
He typified that rare breed of liberal who holds a deep and powerful belief in a personal and transcendent God, and who incorporates this belief in a wide ranging social philosophy centering on the proposition that when left alone society will most clearly display the wisdom and intent of the Creator.
A particular concept of Bastiat’s that has profoundly influenced my thinking is the idea that God arranged the social world. “I believe that He Who arranged the material world,” wrote Bastiat, “was not to remain foreign to the arrangements of the social world.” I wholeheartedly agree. That is why I never tire of arguing about how God created such economic phenomena as the price system and comparative advantage in order to coordinate human flourishing.
There are dozens of ideas in his writings like this one that are worthy of close attention, but here are four particularly important concepts of Bastiat’s that you should know: