The Modern Bastiat
By David Henderson
If you have never read Frederic Bastiat, you’re missing a real treat. He was the French economic journalist who wrote a spate of articles in his 40s, before dying in 1850, laying out economics in a very clear way. When I have my students read his “What is Seen and What is Not Seen,” some of them comment that so much of what he writes seems as if it were written today. Many of the issues haven’t changed that much.
Bastiat is the one famous for:
. The “broken window” fallacy (in the article referenced above),
. The Candlemakers’ Petition (his clever reductio ad absurdum about protectionism),
. His argument about why it’s better for the rest of society for a rich guy to save rather than consume (in the article referenced above),
. Why demobilization of soldiers won’t, after adjustment, destroy jobs (in the article referenced above–also see my “The U.S. Postwar II Miracle” for empirical support for Bastiat’s claim),
and many more.
So here’s my question: “If you were asked to name a modern economist of whom Bastiat is the 19th-century counterpart, whom would you name?” Multiple answers are accepted.
At about 9:00 p.m. EST today, I’ll do an update telling you why I ask that question. If you’ve figured out why, please don’t say so in a comment.
Update: Many of the commenters below gave the names of the people I would have said. The one that comes closest to saying what I would have said, is Don Boudreaux. Except that he is too modest and excludes himself. I would also include Steve Horwitz. And I’m not too modest and so I would include myself, but I wouldn’t put myself in the top category.
Here’s why I asked. In this blog post, Joshua Gans refers to Paul Krugman as the modern Bastiat, just as Karl Smith did below. I was shocked. It’s not because Krugman isn’t a liberal whereas Bastiat was. It’s because Krugman makes some of the very same economic mistakes that Bastiat criticized: the broken window fallacy, how saving is bad for an economy, how it’s good to build defenses against non-existent threats from outer space because that will put people back to work, etc.