Reading Bastiat's Economic Sophism
By Alberto Mingardi
Christmas break is a wonderful season to catch up with some long-procrastinated reading. These days I’m reading Bastiat’s Economic Sophisms eventually cover to cover. I’m quite ashamed I never did it before — but, as it happens with classics, you just skim them, relying on secondary literature. This is a trivial sin if you pretend to be acquainted with an author, a serious one if you want to study him or her.
I like Bastiat and I am, so to say, favourably biased in his favour. And yet I’m amazed by how insightful, brilliant, and cogent the Sophisms are.
Just consider the very first one. It begins with Bastiat pointing out that:
it is certain that political economy will not have completed its task and performed its practical function until it has popularized and established as indisputable this very simple proposition: “Wealth consists in an abundance of commodities.”
This is a seemingly commonsensical insight. But Bastiat shows beautifully how protectionists of different kinds are consistently forgetting it, in order to make things rare and scarce. Read the whole thing. You can see that Bastiat is still relevant when you see that many highly intelligent people still believe there is no point in maintaining the welfare of consumers takes precedence over that of producers (see this post by the great Don Boudreaux).