Posts tagged with: frederic bastiat

Hurricane IkeAfter 6,712 cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes the evidence is clear: Bastiat was right all along.

In 1850, the economic journalist Frédéric Bastiat introduced the parable of the broken window to illustrate why destruction, and the money spent to recover from destruction, is not actually a net benefit to society (see the video at the end of this post for an explanation of the broken window fallacy). For most people the idea that destruction doesn’t help society would seem too obvious to warrant mentioning. But some liberal economists argue that destruction can lead to an economic boom, mainly because it provides the government with an opportunity to spend more money.

If the liberal economists are right, then we should find that destructive storms lead to economic growth. But a pair of researchers, Solomon M. Hsiang and Amir S. Jina, have recently published a study that shows the exact opposite. Using meteorological data, they reconstructed every country’s exposure to the 6,712 cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes that occurred during 1950-2008 and then measured the long-term growth:
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cherrypieShould we always take the side of the individual consumer?

That’s the question Rod Dreher asks in a recent post on “Amazon and the Cost of Consumerism.” It’s a good question, one that people have been asking for centuries. The best answer that has been provided—as is usually the case when it comes to economic questions—was provided by the nineteenth-century French journalist Frédéric Bastiat.

Bastiat argues, rather brilliantly, that,

consumption is the great end and purpose of political economy; that good and evil, morality and immorality, harmony and discord, everything finds its meaning in the consumer, for he represents mankind.

He summarizes his argument as follows:

There is a fundamental antagonism between the seller and the buyer.

The former wants the goods on the market to be scarce, in short supply, and expensive.

The latter wants them abundant, in plentiful supply, and cheap.

Our laws, which should at least be neutral, take the side of the seller against the buyer, of the producer against the consumer, of high prices against low prices, of scarcity against abundance.

They operate, if not intentionally, at least logically, on the assumption that a nation is rich when it is lacking in everything.

Bastiat uses this as the basis of his argument that the interests of the consumer, rather than the producer, align more closely with the interests of mankind (see addendum below for more on this reasoning). Producers want scarcity since it increases their profits. If they can’t produce scarcity in the market, they’ll seek out government protections that create artificial scarcity (which is why those who are pro-business are rarely pro-market).

Book publishers don’t like the fact that Amazon is reducing the scarcity of their product, because it lowers the cost. But what is the result from the consumer side? The lower prices allow consumers to consume more books than they otherwise would be able to afford.
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Radio Free ActonIt’s time again for another edition of Radio Free Acton, and we think this one is well worth the listen. Today, Paul Edwards talks with scholar, author, economist, occasional guest host of the nation’s largest talk radio show and all-around great guy Dr. Walter E. Williams about Frederic Bastiat’s classic The Law and the insights into modern America by reading that classic defense of limited government, authentic justice and human freedom. Williams wrote the introduction for the latest edition of Bastiat’s work, which is available for purchase in the Acton Bookshop at the link above, and said of the book that it “created order in my thinking about liberty and just human conduct.”

The lively conversation between Edwards and Williams is available via the audio player below.

Panel moderator Elise Amyx, blogger Jacqueline Otto Isaacs, panelist Taylor Barkley

Panel moderator Elise Amyx, blogger Jacqueline Otto Isaacs, panelist Taylor Barkley

While acknowledging that the Bible is not a book of political theory, a recent panel hosted by The Institute for Faith, Work and  Economics asked whether or not Christianity and libertarianism were compatible. The panel, moderated by former Acton Institute intern Elise Amyx, was made up of young evangelicals eager to tackle the question. They came up with 5 reasons that Christianity and libertarianism were indeed compatible.

1. Christianity Celebrates Voluntary Action, Value Creation

Jacqueline Otto Isaacs, a blogger at Values & Capitalism, explained that the Christian worldview also supports libertarianism. ‘The message of the Gospel, the good news, is that salvation from our sins is offered through Christ — this salvation is voluntary and individual, and this is the core message of Christianity, Isaacs declared.

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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, June 27, 2013

Man-of-Steel-General-Zod-HelmetIn the new movie Man of Steel, Superman engages in a fight with his fellow aliens from Krypton that causes significant damage to Metropolis. Disaster expert Charles Watson estimates the costs of the physical damage done to the city to be about $2 trillion. To put that in context, 9/11’s physical damage cost $55 billion, with a further economic impact of $123 billion.

What would be the impact of Superman’s fight on the economy? According to some liberal economists, it would lead to a economic boom. In defending President Obama’s stimulus proposal in 2011, Paul Krugman proposed a peculiar solution for economic recovery that mimics the one in Man of Steel: prepare for an alien invasion.

“If we discovered that, you know, space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months,” he declared, arguing in favor of the president’s stimulus package. “And then if we discovered, oops, we made a mistake, there aren’t any aliens, we’d be better [off].”

Man of Steel must be Krugman’s favorite movie: you not only get an alien invasion (Kal-El, General Zod and his soldiers) but you get alien destruction on a massive scale. Just think of all the economic benefit Metropolis gained!
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In a new paper, “Concepts and Implications of Altruism Bias and Pathological Altruism,” Barbara Oakley of Oakland University argues that scientists and social observers have mostly ignored the harm that can come from altruism. Though “the profound benefits of altruism in modern society are self-evident,” Oakley observes, the “potential hurtful aspects of altruism have gone largely unrecognized in scientific inquiry.”

heartback

Aiming to lay the groundwork for such inquiry, Oakley focuses on what she calls “pathological altruism” — “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.” As for whether such behavior is “intended,” Oakley believes it can emerge from “a mix of accidental, subconscious, or deliberate causes,” though it can be more clearly identified by whether an external observer would conclude that the harm was “reasonably foreseeable.”

In other words, the pathologically altruistic have a sort of tunnel vision, a way of looking at the world around them that lends toward destructive self-sacrifice. Some already know it, others simply should. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 22, 2013

Trade and Mutual AidIn the forthcoming issue of Comment magazine, I examine how free trade orients us towards the good of others. In doing so, I argue against the value of pious banalities and cheap slogans. I include examples like, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” or, “When goods do not cross borders, armies will.” The latter is often attributed to Bastiat, and while it captures the spirit, if not the letter of Bastiat’s views, the closest analogue is actually found in Otto Tod Mallery: “If soldiers are not to cross international boundaries on missions of war,” wrote Mallery in 1943, then “goods must cross them on missions of peace.”

I was struck by the disconnect between ideology and reality, or between idealism and realism, in an anecdote from a recent foreign policy speech from Sen. Rand Paul. As Paul notes,

In George Kennan’s biography, John Gaddis describes President Clinton asking Strobe Talbot “why don’t we have a concept as succinct as ‘containment.’” Talbot’s response [was] “that ‘containment’ had been a misleading oversimplification; strategy could not be made to fit a bumper sticker. The president laughed… “that’s why Kennan’s a great diplomat and scholar and not a politician.”

I guess that’s also the reason that I’ll never be a politician, either. As Lord Acton observed, “Every doctrine to become popular, must be made superficial, exaggerated, untrue. We must always distinguish the real essence from the conveyance, especially in political economy.” The key for responsible governance is not to lose sight of the complexity that lies behind popular exaggerations and conveyances.

As I argue in “Trade and Mutual Aid,” the temptation to rest easy with simple formulas to complex problems is common, but must be resisted: “Divorced
from a more comprehensive conception of the human person and social flourishing, an uncritical reliance on free trade to solve the world’s problems can well become destructive.” Even so, I conclude, “Free trade is a system that imperfectly, and yet with some measure of success—as Bono and countless others are beginning to recognize anew—orients us toward the good of others.” In the course of this piece, I draw on a variety of sources, including Frédéric Bastiat, Adam Smith, John Calvin, Johannes Althusius, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Pope Paul VI, and Friedrich Hayek.

To get your copy of the Comment issue on the topic of persuasion, including my piece on the fundamental persuasive nature of exchange, “Trade and Mutual Aid,” subscribe by March 1. You’ll also find content from new editor James K.A. Smith, Anne Snyder, Jim Belcher, Ashley Berner, Jonathan Chaplin, Marilyn McEntyre, Janet Epp Buckingham, D. Bruce Lockerbie, Calvin Seerveld, Natalie Race Whitaker, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Blog author: rjmoeller
posted by on Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One night during either my sophomore or junior year of college, while delaying the doing of homework by walking around the upstairs of Taylor University’s library looking for embarrassing books I could hide in friends’ backpacks so the alarm would go off when we walked out together and they’d have to sheepishly present them at the front desk, I stumbled upon a little treatise called The Law by some French dude named Frederic Bastiat I had never heard of.  I checked it out, cautiously put it in my own backpack as I checked for retaliatory plants, and headed back to the dorm for a spirited bout of Mario Kart 64.

Later that same week, while sitting in my “International Business” class (and wishing Jesus would return at that precise moment to end my boredom), I pulled Bastiat out and began reading these opening words . . .

We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life — physical, intellectual, and moral life.

But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course.

Life, faculties, production — in other words, individuality, liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.

Powerful stuff.  I kept wondering, “Where had such clear-headed rhetoric like this been my entire life?” (more…)

Hurricanes almost always leave two things in their aftermath: broken windows and articles advocating the broken window fallacy.

As economist Don Boudreaux wrote earlier today, “Americans will soon be flooded by commentary that assures us that the silver lining around the destruction caused by hurricane Sandy is a stronger economy. Such nonsense always follows natural disasters.” The only detail Boudreaux gets wrong is that such nonsense has preceded the actual disaster. The Atlantic, wanting to get a jump on being wrong, published an article today at noon arguing that Hurricane Sandy will “stimulate the economy” in two ways:

First, the threat of a dangerous event pulls economic activity forward. Families stock up on extra food and supplies to prepare for a disaster. Second, and much more significantly, the aftermath of storms requires “replacement costs” that raise economic activity by forcing business and government to rebuild after a destructive event.

Frederic Bastiat provided the ultimate rebuttal to this spurious thinking 162 years ago in his essay ‘That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen.’ So why do we people make the same claim that destruction is economically beneficial? Could it be that people are simply unaware of Bastiat’s “parable of the broken window”?

Back in August economist Bryan Caplan asked why the one group that should be familiar with Bastiat’s essay—economists—don’t universally love it:
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Blog author: ckaupke
posted by on Friday, June 29, 2012

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)

This Saturday, June 30, is the 211th birthday of Frédéric Bastiat, one of the greatest political philosophers of the modern era. Considered among the founding fathers of classical liberalism, Bastiat is known for his simple and direct explanations of political and economic realities, his arguments against oppressive economic regulations and his clear and concise vision of a government of limited, enumerated powers, operating under the rule of law and unencumbered by favoritism or distributionist policies.

Bastiat 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, strictly adheres to the rule of law, and allows for a largely un-regulated economy in which individuals are free to pursue their interests through peaceable exchange with each other. His best-known works, and those most central to his ideas, are The Law and The Seen and the Unseen, articulating his central political and economic ideas, respectively. (more…)