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Selected Essays on Political Economy; Bastiat, Frédéric
54 paragraphs found.
About the Author
About the Author

Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) was a French economist, statesman, and author. He led the free-trade movement in France from its inception in 1840 until his untimely death in 1850. The first 45 years of his life were spent in preparation for five tremendously productive years writing in favor of freedom. Bastiat was the founder of the weekly newspaper, Le Libre Échange, a contributor to numerous periodicals, and the author of sundry pamphlets and speeches dealing with the pressing issues of his day. Most of his writing was done in the years directly before and after the Revolution of 1848—a time when France was rapidly embracing socialism. As a deputy in the Legislative Assembly, Bastiat fought valiantly for the private property order, but unfortunately the majority of his colleagues chose to ignore him. Frederic Bastiat remains one of the great champions of freedom whose writings retain their relevance as we continue to confront the old adversary.

Preface to the English-Language Edition, by George B. de Huszar

by George B. de Huszar

Preface to the
English-Language Edition

Frédéric Bastiat wrote numerous essays or pamphlets which he used to promote his ideas and to combat errors. Many of his important essays or pamphlets are included in this volume. Of these, "The Law" and "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen" are well known; others are not so familiar. Henry Hazlitt in his Economics in One Lesson said this regarding "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen": "The following work may, in fact, be regarded as a modernization, extension, and generalization of the approach found in Bastiat's pamphlet." The Editor is responsible for the arrangement of the essays in the present volume.


This translation follows as faithfully as possible the original French standard edition of the complete works of Bastiat. Cross references have been included among the three volumes of the present translation.


Three types of notes are included: Translator's notes are directed at the general reader and are mainly about persons and terms. Editor's notes refer to notes by the editor of the French edition; Bastiat's notes stand without such notations. Only the Translator's notes are at the bottom of the page; Editor's notes and Bastiat's notes are at the end of the volume. The latter two are more important but were put at the back to avoid cluttering the pages and to promote readability. Where the French editor has indicated a cross reference to a chapter or passage in either Economic Harmonies or Economic Sophisms, the original reference to the French edition has been replaced by one directing the reader to the English translation.


Although these three volumes of English translations of Bastiat are published simultaneously, there is some repetition of the Translator's notes and the editorial Prefaces. This is necessary because some may obtain only one volume of this three-volume series, and therefore each volume has been made as self-sufficient as possible.

Introduction, by F. A. Hayek

by F. A. Hayek


Even those who may question the eminence of Frédéric Bastiat as an economic theorist will grant that he was a publicist of genius. Joseph Schumpeter calls him "the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived." For the purpose of introducing the present volume, which contains some of the most successful of his writings for the general public, we might well leave it at that. One might even grant Schumpeter's harsh assessment of Bastiat that "he was not a theorist" without seriously diminishing his stature. It is true that when, at the end of his extremely short career as a writer, he attempted to provide a theoretical justification for his general conceptions, he did not satisfy the professionals. It would indeed have been a miracle if a man who, after only five years as a regular writer on public affairs, attempted in a few months, and with a mortal illness rapidly closing in on him, to defend the points on which he differed from established doctrine, had fully succeeded in this too. Yet one may ask whether it was not only his early death at the age of forty-nine that prevented him. His polemical writings, which in consequence are the most important ones he has left, certainly prove that he had an insight into what was significant and a gift for going to the heart of the matter that would have provided him with ample material for real contributions to science.


Nothing illustrates this better than the celebrated title of the first essay in the present volume. "What is seen and what is not seen in political economy!" No one has ever stated more clearly in a single phrase the central difficulty of a rational economic policy and, I would like to add, the decisive argument for economic freedom. It is the idea compressed into these few words that made me use the word "genius" in the opening sentence. It is indeed a text around which one might expound a whole system of libertarian economic policy. And though it constitutes the title for only the first essay in this volume, it provides the leading idea for all. Bastiat illustrates its meaning over and over again in refuting the current fallacies of his time. I shall later indicate that, though the views he combats are today usually advanced only in a more sophisticated guise, they have basically not changed very much since Bastiat's time. But first I want to say a few words about the more general significance of his central idea.


This is simply that if we judge measures of economic policy solely by their immediate and concretely foreseeable effects, we shall not only not achieve a viable order but shall be certain progressively to extinguish freedom and thereby prevent more good than our measures will produce. Freedom is important in order that all the different individuals can make full use of the particular circumstances of which only they know. We therefore never know what beneficial actions we prevent if we restrict their freedom to serve their fellows in whatever manner they wish. All acts of interference, however, amount to such restrictions. They are, of course, always undertaken to achieve some definite objective. Against the foreseen direct results of such actions of government we shall in each individual case be able to balance only the mere probability that some unknown but beneficial actions by some individuals will be prevented. In consequence, if such decisions are made from case to case and not governed by an attachment to freedom as a general principle, freedom is bound to lose in almost every case. Bastiat was indeed right in treating freedom of choice as a moral principle that must never be sacrificed to considerations of expediency; because there is perhaps no aspect of freedom that would not be abolished if it were to be respected only where the concrete damage caused by its abolition can be pointed out.


Bastiat directed his arguments against certain ever recurring fallacies as they were employed in his time. Few people would employ them today quite as naively as it was still possible to do then. But let the reader not deceive himself that these same fallacies no longer play an important role in contemporary economic discussion: they are today expressed merely in a more sophisticated form and are therefore more difficult to detect. The reader who has learnt to recognize these stock fallacies in their simpler manifestations will at least be on his guard when he finds the same conclusions derived from what appears to be a more scientific argument. It is characteristic of much of recent economics that by ever new arguments it has tried to vindicate those very prejudices which are so attractive because the maxims that follow from them are so pleasant or convenient: spending is a good thing, and saving is bad; waste benefits and economy harms the mass of the people; money will do more good in the hands of the government than in those of the people; it is the duty of government to see that everybody gets what he deserves; etc., etc.


None of these ideas has lost any of its power in our time. The only difference is that Bastiat, in combatting them, was on the whole fighting on the side of the professional economists against popular beliefs exploited by interested parties, while similar proposals are today propagated by an influential school of economists in a most impressive and, to the layman, largely unintelligible garb. It is doubtful whether there is one among the fallacies which one might have hoped Bastiat had killed once and for all that has not experienced its resurrection. I shall give only one example. To an account of Bastiat's best-known economic fable, The Petition of the Candlemakers against the Competition of the Sun (contained in a companion volume to this), in which it is demanded that windows should be prohibited because of the benefit which the prosperity of the candlemakers would confer on everyone else, a well-known French textbook of the history of economics adds in its latest edition the following footnote: "It should be noted that according to Keynes—on the assumption of underemployment and in accordance with the theory of the multiplier—this argument of the candlemakers is literally and fully valid."


The attentive reader will notice that, while Bastiat grapples with so many economic panaceas which are familiar to us, one of the main dangers of our time does not appear in his pages. Though he has to deal with various queer proposals for using credit which were current in his time, straight inflation through a government deficit seemed in his age not a major danger. An increase of expenditure means for him necessarily and immediately an increase in taxation. The reason is that, as among all people who have gone through a major inflation within living memory, a continuous depreciation of money was not a thing with which people would have put up with in his day. So if the reader should be inclined to feel superior to the rather simple fallacies that Bastiat often finds it necessary to refute, he should remember that in some other respects his compatriots of more than a hundred years ago were considerably wiser than our generation.

F. A. Hayek
Chapter 1, What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen
[This pamphlet, published in July, 1850, is the last that Bastiat wrote. It had been promised to the public for more than a year. Its publication had been delayed because the author had lost the manuscript when he moved his household from the rue de Choiseul to the rue d'Algen. After a long and fruitless search, he decided to rewrite his work entirely, and chose as the principal basis of his demonstrations some speeches recently delivered in the National Assembly. When this task was finished, he reproached himself with having been too serious, threw the second manuscript into the fire, and wrote the one which we reprint.—Editor.]
[Auguste, Vicomte de Saint-Chamans (1777—1861), Deputy and Councillor of State under the Restoration, protectionist and upholder of the balance of trade. His celebrated stand on the "obstacle" here quoted by Bastiat comes from his Nouvel essai sur la richesse des nations, 1824. This work was later (1852) incorporated in his Traité d'économie politique.—Translator.]
[In French, "M. Prohibant": this ironic term for a protectionist, coined, as Bastiat says, by Charles Dupin, could be roughly translated as "Mr. Restrainer-of-Trade" or "Mr. Protectionist."—Translator.]
Chapter 2, The Law
[Pierre Auguste Remi Mimerel de Roubaix (1786-1872), textile manufacturer and politician. After his protectionist activities, which aroused Bastiat's ire in 1848-49, he was appointed by Napoleon III to the Advisory Council and to the Commission of Manufacturers. He was elected Representative in 1849 and named Senator by Napoleon in 1852.—Translator.]
[Bastiat is alluding here to the lung trouble that was to prove fatal to him. Cf. p. 301 infra.—Translator.]
[Victor Considérant (1808-1893), as a socialist of the Fourier school, is the frequent object of Bastiat's criticism.—Translator.]
[Followers of Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), French social theorist and experimenter, a prolific writer on political and economic questions, for the most part radical or anarchistic in viewpoint. Bastiat and he had a fiery controversy over his proposal of loans without interest.—Translator.]
[Louis Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877), French statesman and historian, opponent of free trade, and, in Bastiat's time, advocate of an aggressively anti-English policy for France.—Translator.]
Chapter 3, Property and Law
[François Vidal (1814-1872), journalist, politician, and writer on economic subjects. An ardent advocate of government intervention in the relations between labor and capital, he edited a number of publications, including La Presse. After the Revolution of 1848, Louis Blanc made him secretary of the commission for the organization of labor. He later took an active part in the political opposition to Louis Bonaparte. His most famous work, to which Bastiat's French editor makes reference on p. 327 infra, is entitled De la rèpartition de richesses ou De la justice distributive en èconomie sociale (1846). It is a critical examination of the economic doctrines of his day.—Translator.]
[In 1846, Bastiat helped to organize the first Association for Free Trade in Bordeaux, and soon thereafter he was named secretary of a similar association established in Paris—Translator.]
Chapter 4, Justice and Fraternity
[Writing before the time of Karl Marx, Bastiat uses this term, of course, to designate generally those political theorists, like the others whose names follow, who advocated collectivism as a means to advance equality.—Translator.]
[At the moment when a public convention in favor of free trade was being proposed at Marseilles in August, 1847, Bastiat encountered M. de Lamartine in that city and conversed a long time with him about commercial freedom, and then about freedom in general, the fundamental dogma of political economy. See, in Vol. II (of the French edition), the note that follows the address delivered at Marseilles. See also, in Vol. I, the two letters to M. de Lamartine.—Editor.]
Chapter 6, Property and Plunder

Protest of M. Considérant
and Reply of F. Bastiat. **46

I have not fought, at the Luxembourg, the doctrines of M. Louis Blanc, I have not been many times attacked by M. Proudhon as one of the most tenacious defenders of property, in order to allow M. Bastiat, without protest on my part, to make me figure in your minds, with those two socialists, in a sort of anti-property triumvirate.


As I should not want to be forced to ask you to print, out of fairness, any very considerable specimens of my prose in your columns, and as you must be in agreement with my desire in this matter, I request of you permission to address to M. Bastiat, before he goes any further, certain observations designed to shorten greatly the replies that he may compel me to make to him and perhaps even spare me them entirely.


1. I do not want M. Bastiat, even when he believes he is analyzing my thought quite faithfully, to present within quotation marks, and as if they were textual citations from my pamphlet on the right to property and the right to employment, or from any other writings of mine, phrases which are his own, even though, notably in the next to the last of those that he attributes to me, they do render my ideas very exactly. This procedure is not a happy one and can lead the one who employs it very much further than he would want to go himself. Condense and analyze as you like—that is your right; but do not give the character of a textual citation to your analytic abbreviation.


2. M. Bastiat says: "They [the three socialists among whom I figure] seem to think that in the struggle that is going to take place, the poor have a stake in the triumph of the right to employment and the rich in the defense of the right to property." I, for my part, do not believe, and I do not even believe that I seem to believe, anything of the kind. I believe, on the contrary, that the rich today have a greater stake than the poor in the recognition of the right to employment. That thought has dominated all my writing and was published for the first time, not today, but ten years ago, in an effort to give the government and property owners a salutary warning, and, at the same time, to defend property against the formidable logic of its adversaries. I believe, further, that the right to property is just as much in the interest of the poor as in that of the rich; for I regard the denial of this right as the denial of the principle of individuality; and its suppression, in any state of society whatever, would appear to me as the indication of a return to the state of savagery, of which I have never, to my knowledge, shown myself very partisan.


3. Finally, M. Bastiat expresses himself thus:


I demand a thousand pardons of M. Bastiat, but there is not a word in my pamphlet that authorizes him to attribute to me the opinions that he ascribes to me quite gratuitously here. In general I disguise my thought very little, and when I mean "noon," I am not in the habit of saying "2:00 P.M." Let M. Bastiat, then, if he wants to do me the honor of attacking my pamphlet, direct his criticism against what I have set down there, and not against what he has put into it. I did not write a word against land rent there; the question of land rent, which I am aware of as everyone else is, is not touched on there even remotely, either in substance or even in appearance; and when M. Bastiat has me say, "that the action of Nature.... should be free of charge," and that the landowners turn it "unjustly to their profit," and "this is what constitutes," according to me, "usurpation of the rights of the human race," he remains still and always in a realm of ideas very far from any that I have ever held; he attributes to me an opinion which I consider absurd, and which is even diametrically opposed to my whole doctrine. I do not, in fact, complain at all that the landowners profit from the action of Nature; I demand for those who do not profit from it the right to an employment that will permit them, along with the landowners, to be able to create products and to live by their labor when property (agricultural or industrial) does not offer them the means.


For the rest, sir, I will not make so bold as to demand the right, in opposition to M. Bastiat, to set forth my opinions in your columns. It is a favor and an honor to which I am not entitled. Let M. Bastiat, then, make what he will of my system: I believe I have the right to claim your hospitality for a rebuttal only in so far as it is necessary to correct misunderstandings occasioned by his attributing to me doctrines of which I have in no wise assumed the responsibility. I know quite well that it is often easy to win an argument by representing one's opponent as saying what one wants him to have said instead of what he actually said; I know too that it is easier to win a triumph over the socialists when one attacks them en masse than when one criticizes the particular proposals of each of them; but, rightly or wrongly, I hold myself accountable for none but my own.


The discussion that M. Bastiat has undertaken in your columns bears, Mr. Editor, on such very delicate and such very serious subjects that, in this respect at least, you must be of my opinion. Hence, I am quite certain that you will approve the justice of my reaction and that, in all fairness, you will give my protest a visible and prominent place in your columns.

V. Considérant
Representative of the People

This is what I should like to try to demonstrate in so far as it can be done in the columns of a newspaper.

F. Bastiat
[See at the end of this pamphlet the protest that this first letter provoked from M. Considérant, and the reply of Bastiat.—Editor.]
[This is an allusion to an anecdote, The Miller of Sans-Souci (Le Meunier de Sans-Souci), recounted by Andrieux, an eighteenth-century wit, poet, and playwright. When Frederick the Great was making plans to construct his estate of Sans-Souci, he discovered that the view of one of the proposed avenues was blocked by a mill. He summoned the owner and offered to purchase the offending mill at a good price. The miller stubbornly refused to sell at any price. Becoming angry, Frederick said, "Don't you know that if I wanted to, I could take your mill away from you by force and not pay you anthing?"

"Ah, yes, you could do that," replied the miller, "if there weren't any judges in Berlin."

Highly amused at this naïveté, Frederick, according to Andrieux, allowed the miller to keep his mill. Bastiat evidently found this story an apt illustration, for he refers to it elsewhere.—Translator.]

[Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), French professor of political economy, champion of free trade. His views influenced Bastiat greatly.—Translator.]
[Pierre Jean de Béranger (1780-1857). The song in question, named simply La Liberté, was written in 1822 in protest against the suppression of free speech under the Restoration. The original French words cited by Bastiat are:
Mon coeur en belle haine
A pris la liberté.
Fi de la liberté!
À bas la liberté!
Chapter 7, Protectionism and Communism

I indicated my surprise at this. "What!" they said. "M. Bastiat dares to say that communism is not dangerous? Then he is a communist! Oh, well, we suspected as much, for communists, socialists, and economists are birds of a feather." I had some difficulty in getting myself out of this predicament. But the interruption itself proved the truth of my thesis. No, communism is not dangerous when it appears in its most naive form, that of pure and simple plunder. It is not dangerous, because it inspires horror.

Chapter 8, Plunder and Law
[On April 27, 1850, following a very curious discussion, published in the Moniteur, the General Council of Manufacturing, Agriculture, and Commerce passed the following resolution:

"That professors paid by the government should teach political economy not only from the theoretical viewpoint of free trade, but also and especially from the viewpoint of the facts and of the laws which regulate French industry."

It is to this resolution that Bastiat replied with the pamphlet, "Plunder and Law" (chap. 8 of this volume), first published in the Journal des économistes, May 15, 1850.—Editor.]

[One of several quotations Bastiat makes from Beaumarchais' The Barber of Seville. In this instance he apparently quoted from memory, for approximately these words are spoken by old Bartolo, the guardian, not by the music master.—Translator.]
Chapter 9, Academic Degrees and Socialism
[It is important to distinguish between the American system of independent colleges and universities, free, within very broad limits, to establish their own requirements for academic degrees, and the French system, established by the First Empire, against which Bastiat protests. In France all higher education was completely unified under a university corps, the "University" ( l'Université), headed by a "Grand Master" ( le grand maître) and a "Supreme Council" ( le Conseil Supérieur). This corps had full control over curriculum, methods, and requirements leading to the various academic degrees in all the schools and universities in the country. Bastiat does not exaggerate, therefore, the monopolistic power held by the "University." Reforms in the direction of liberalization did not come until the decade of 1875-1885 under the Third Republic.—Translator.]
[Jules Barthélemy de Saint-Hilaire (1805-1887), French scholar and author, professor of Latin and Greek in the Collège de France, Minister of Education under Cousin in 1840. He entered politics in 1848, serving as first head of the Secretariat of the Provisional Government, then as Deputy. During this time he publicly defended the existing "University" system against the attacks of Bastiat and others on the occasion of the "Law of 1850." Known as very conservative and even reactionary, he became much more liberal in his later political career. As a protest against Napoleon III, he resigned his professorship and administrative duties at the Collège de France. After 1870, as a supporter of Thiers, he was elected to the National Assembly, became a member of the Thiers cabinet, was elected Senator for life in 1875, and, in 1880, served as Minister of Foreign Affairs.—Translator.]
Chapter 10, Declaration of War against the Professors of Political Economy
[Three years before the resolution that provoked the pamphlet "Plunder and Law" (chap. 8 of this volume), the dismissal of the professors and the abolition of the chairs of political economy had been formally demanded by the members of the Mimerel Committee, which soon became more moderate and limited itself to demanding that the theory of protection must be taught as well as that of free trade.

It was with the weapon of irony that Bastiat, in the June 13, 1847, issue of the newspaper Le Libre échange, fought this demand, which was put forward then for the first time.—Editor.]

[Pellegrino Luigi Eduardo Rossi (1787-1848), politician, jurist, and distinguished political economist. Exiled for fighting for Italian unification, he became (1819) professor of law at the Academy of Geneva, as well as Deputy from Geneva to the Federal Diet. He became professor of political economy in the Collège de France in 1833, and professor of constitutional law at the Sorbonne in 1834. He was assassinated in 1848. Along with J. B. Say, he represented the practical idealism which for Bastiat was the essence of political economy.—Translator.]
[Michel Chevalier (1806-1879), French economist and publicist. After an early period of enthusiasm for Saint-Simonianism, during which he was editor of Le Globe, he became the champion of enlightened industrialism as the means of assuring both social progress and individual liberty. In this respect, and also in his advocacy of free trade, he was an associate of Bastiat. Along with Cobden he negotiated the famous Anglo-French commercial treaty of 1860.—Translator.]
Chapter 11, Speech on the Suppression of Industrial Combinations

M. Frédéric Bastiat: In its desire to arrive at a certain impartiality, at least on paper, since it is impossible in fact, the committee had two ways to take in regard to the expressions "unjustly" and "abusively" that Article 414 contains.


M. Bastiat: There was a famine in 1832 and another, severer one, in 1842.


M. Bastiat: My argument applies with even more force to the year 1842. In times of scarcity like those, what happens? The income of nearly the whole population is used to buy necessities. They do not buy manufactured goods; the workshops are idle; many workers must be laid off; the labor market is glutted; and wages are lowered.


M. Bastiat: You say it is an evil; I say, on the contrary, that it is a great good. The workers perceived that the rate of wages does not depend on the employers, but on other social laws, and they said to themselves: "Why have not our wages risen? The reason for it is simple: it is because we are forbidden to work for export or at least to receive foreign wheat in payment. It is, then, wrong for us to blame our employers; we must blame the aristocratic class, which not only owns the soil but makes the laws, and we shall have an influence on wages only when we shall have won our political rights."


M. Bastiat: Really, gentlemen, to find something extraordinary in this very simple and natural conduct on the part of the English workers is almost to bring to this tribunal a protest against universal suffrage in France. [More approval on the Left.]

[Articles 413, 415, and 416 of the Penal Code punish, though in a very unequal manner, combinations of employers and of workers. A proposal to repeal these three articles had been referred by the Legislative Assembly to a committee, which judged repeal inadmissible and thought that it was absolutely necessary to maintain the repressive provisions, while modifying them, however, to make them impartial.

This aim, one may say, was not attained by the proposed modifications. M. Morin, manufacturer and representative from Drôme, convinced that the sole basis on which harmony between workers and employers could be established was equality before the law, wanted to amend the conclusions of the committee in conformity with this principle. The amendment that he presented was supported by Bastiat at the session of November 17, 1849.—Editor.]


[The reader will recall that only a little more than a year later Bastiat died of tuberculosis.—Translator.]
Chapter 12, Reflections on the Amendment of M. Mortimer-Ternaux
[At the Legislative Assembly's session of April 1, 1850, during the discussion of the budget for public education, M. Mortimer-Ternaux, one of the Representatives, proposed an amendment to decrease by 300,000 francs the expenditures on lycées and collèges, institutions attended by the children of the middle class.

On this question the Representatives of the extreme Left voted with the extreme Right. The amendment, put to the vote, was rejected by a slight majority.

On the very next day Bastiat published in a daily newspaper the opinion on this vote which we reproduce here.—Editor.]


Chapter 13, The Balance of Trade
[At the time of the discussion of the general budget of expenditures in 1850, M. Mauguin naïvely expounded the old and false theory of the balance of trade. ( Moniteur of March 27.) Bastiat, who had already refuted it in his Economic Sophisms, believed he ought to attack it anew; and as his health no longer permitted him to mount the rostrum, he sent to a daily newspaper, on March 29, 1850, the reflections which we here reproduce. It is to be noted that he simplifies the hypothetical calculations whereby he elucidates his thesis, excluding some of the items that he had employed in 1845. (See chap. 6 of Economic Sophisms, First Series.)—Editor.]

NOTES TO The Law, translated by Dean Russell