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A Fable of the OC : Michael Munger
5 paragraphs found.

From Bureaucracy, by Ludwig von Mises:

Whether one likes it or not, it is a fact that the main issues of present-day politics are purely economic and cannot be understood without a grasp of economic theory. Only a man conversant with the main problems of economics is in a position to form an independent opinion on the problems involved. All the others are merely repeating what they have picked up by the way. They are an easy prey to demagogic swindlers and idiotic quacks.

Their gullibility is the most serious menace to the preservation of democracy and to Western civilization. The first duty of a citizen of a democratic community is to educate himself and to acquire the knowledge needed for dealing with civic affairs. The franchise is not a privilege but a duty and a moral responsibility. The voter is virtually an officeholder; his office is the supreme one and implies the highest obligation. A citizen fully absorbed by his scientific work in other fields or by his calling as an artist may plead extenuating circumstances when failing in this task of self-instruction. Perhaps such men are right in pretending that they have more important tasks to fulfill. But all the other intelligent men are not only frivolous but mischievous in neglecting to educate and instruct themselves for the best performance of their duties as sovereign voters.

See also Bryan Caplan's two-part essay, "Mises and Bastiat on How Democracy Goes Wrong", contrasting Mises's view with Bastiat's on the question of democracy and economic understanding: Part I, Part II.


Anthony de Jasay wrote an interesting article, here at Econlib, describing the importance of analysis. Jasay repeated Frédéric Bastiat's admonition to focus on what comes down to opportunity cost: "When a man is impressed by the effect that is seen and has not yet learned to discern the effects that are not seen, he indulges in deplorable habits, not only through natural inclination, but deliberately." (Bastiat, par. 1.4.)


From Anthony de Jasay, "The Seen and the Unseen: The Costly Mistake of Ignoring Opportunity Cost".

Perhaps the most important area where public policy tends to overlook opportunity cost is in the defence of "what is seen". Bastiat takes issue with the poet and revolutionary deputy Lamartine over subsidies to the arts and the theatre. Maintaining these activities by state aid serves a worthy aim, including employment for artists, actors and artisans, but Lamartine sees only what is thus preserved. He does not see the opportunity cost, namely that the resources devoted to the arts would have served other aims that corresponded to what people actually chose rather than to what the state induced them to choose by subsidizing a particular branch of activity. Bastiat does not deal with the idea of "merit goods" that ought to be produced whether the public wants them or not. But he stresses that promoting the fine arts can only be done at the cost of cutting back other things—a loss we do not see. It is, he notes, impossible to promote everything at the expense of everything else. This echoes his famous definition of the state, "the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else" ([Bastiat] online, pars. 1.69-1.73.).


Bastiat, Frederic. 1848. "What is Seen and Not Seen."