Each Thursday the AUSFL Blog will post a new short summary of an important figure in liberty, focusing on ones applicable to students at AU. Next up, Frederic Bastiat:
Don't let the stuffy cravat fool you, Bastiat was the original snarky economist
Frederic Bastiat was a French classical liberal economist, writer, and thinker. His greatest work is titled What is Seen and What is Not Seen. That book was one of the first real origins of the idea of unintended consequences.
So why should you care?
He popularized the fallacy of the broken broken window fallacy and is one of the liberty movement’s great forefathers. Bastiat’s pieces like The Negative Railroad and the Candlemaker’s Petition are great works of satire, especially thinking that he was writing entirely before 1850. The idea of making change through satire and popular analogies can be seen to this day, and can be traced as far back as his writing.
On untended consequences, the idea is one of the most important concepts of economic thought, and was further expanded by Henry Hazlitt in Economics in One Lesson. On top of that, it’s highly applicable to the poli sci, IR, or other social science field you’re probably studying. For poli sci, you have to look at whether a law will do more than what it is intended once enacted. In IR, and especially development, it’s important to make sure what you’re doing isn’t hurting those you’re trying to help.
If you read only one thing…
The Economics of Freedom: What Your Professor Won't Tell You, produced by Students For Liberty and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. It’s a great collection of his most important writings, condensed into a convenient book. Can't wait for the book? Check out free, easy to read, and online version of The Bastiat Collection
For some definite laughs, write a satirical op-ed in the same vain as he did and submit it to a newspaper. It’s a fun way to spread the ideas of good economic thinking.