Remembering the wisdom of Frédéric Bastiat

In recognition of the 209th anniversary of the birth of one of the world’s greatest theorists and economists, below is a section from Sheldon Richman’s Annotated Bibliography of Frédéric Bastiat:

Bastiat’s first book, Economic Sophisms, is a collection of short essays showing with unparalleled imagination the fallacy of government intervention. The underlying theme is that when government interferes with peaceful, productive activities, it sets obstacles against the process that improves the well-being of all. The most famous essay in this work is “A Petition,” in which the candle makers of France petition for relief from the “ruinous competition of a foreign rival who works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price.” The rival? The sun. The remedy requested? The mandatory shuttering of all windows. The result promised? The encouragement of not only of the candle industry, but also of all industries that supply it. Bastiat here mocked the multiplier effect long before Keynes was born.

Richman concludes with the idea that while Bastiat was neither the first nor the last political economist to recommend a free society nor was he the most influential, he remains among the most important. 

“… he has few peers when it comes to presenting the case for liberty with clarity and wit,” Richman writes. “Who can not see the folly of the proposal for the negative railroad or of the petition of the candle makers? And who can forget the formulation of ‘the seen and the unseen?’

“These and other literary gems constitute Bastiat’s genius, making his works a treasure trove that can still instruct and delight readers who happen across them today.”

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