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Further Aspects of Bastiat’s Life and Thought

[Updated: 24 June, 2017.]

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)
Map of Les Landes in SW France

Introduction

In each of the volumes of Liberty Fund’s Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat we have included introductions, glossaries, notes, and appendices to explain various aspects of his life and thought. Here many of them are combined for ease of use by the reader. They come from the Appendices from CW2, CW3, and CW4 on “Further Aspects of Bastiat’s Life and Thought” as well as parts from the Introduction to CW3. We plan to add more as we continue to works on volumes 5 (Economic Harmonies) and 6 (The French Free Trade Movement).

For additional information see:

Table of Contents

  1. Anti-Socialism: Bastiat’s Anti-socialist Pamphlets, or “Mister Bastiat’s Little Pamphlets” (CW4 final draft)
  2. The “Apparatus” or Structure of Exchange (CW4 final draft)
  3. Armies: Standing Armies, Militias, and the Utopia of Peace (CW3 book)
  4. Bentham: The Benthamite Origins of Bastiat’s Critique of Sophisms and Fallacies (intro to CW2 book)
  5. Ceteris paribus, or other things being equal (CW4 final draft)
  6. Class: Bastiat’s Theory of Class: The Plunderers vs. the Plundered (CW3 book)
  7. Conversations: Bastiat and Conversations about Liberty (CW3 book)
  8. Crusoe Economics: Bastiat’s Invention of "Crusoe Economics" (intro to CW2 book)
  9. Death: The Cause of Bastiat’s Untimely Death (CW2 book)
  10. Disturbing and Restorative Factors (CW4 final draft)
  11. Dupes: Bastiat on Enlightening the "Dupes" about the Nature of Plunder (intro to CW2 book)
  12. The Format of the Economic Sophisms (intro to CW2 book)
  13. Great Market: Society is one Great Market or Bazaar (CW4 final draft)
  14. Guillaumin: Bastiat’s Publisher, the Librairie de Guillaumin (CW2 book)
  15. Harmony and Disharmony (CW4 final draft)
  16. Individualism: The Concept of Individualism (CW2 book)
  17. Industry: The Concepts of "Industry" and "Plunder" (Spoliation) (CW2 book)
  18. Human Action (CW4 final draft)
  19. Laissez-faire: The Idea of Laissez-faire (CW2 book)
  20. Leisure: The Importance of Leisure (CW4 final draft)
  21. Loss: The Double Incidence of Loss (CW3 book)
  22. Malthus: On Malthus and Malthusian Limits to the Growth of the State (CW3 book)
  23. Paillottet: Bastiat’s Editor and Executor, Prosper Paillottet (1804–78) (CW2 book)
  24. Bastiat’s Political Sophisms (intro to CW2 book)
  25. Power: Speaking Truth to Power: "The Miller of Sans-Souci" (CW2 book)
  26. Revolutionary: The Law-Abiding Revolutionary (CW2 book)
  27. Bastiat the Revolutionary Journalist and Politician (intro to CW2 book)
  28. Rhetoric: Bastiat’s Rhetoric of Liberty: Satire and the "Sting of Ridicule" (intro to CW2 book)
  29. Ricochet Effect: The Sophism Bastiat Never Wrote: The Sophism of the Ricochet Effect (CW3 book)
  30. Service for Service (CW4 final draft)
  31. Social Economy (CW4 final draft)
  32. The Social Mechanism and its Driving Force (CW4 final draft)
  33. State: The State as the "Great Fiction" (CW2 book)
  34. Tariffs: Bastiat’s Policy on Tariffs (CW3 book)
  35. Utopias: Classical Liberal vs Socialist Utopias (CW2 book)
  36. Work: The Right to Work vs the Right or Freedom of Working (CW2 book)

 


 

Bastiat’s Anti-socialist Pamphlets, or “Mister Bastiat’s Little Pamphlets” (CW4 final draft)

Between May 1848 and July 1850 Bastiat wrote a series of 12 anti-socialist pamphlets, or what the Guillaumin publishing firm marketed in their Catalog as the “Petits pamphlets de M. Bastiat” (Mister Bastiat’s Little Pamphlets), which included several for which Bastiat has become justly famous such as “The State” (Sept. 1848), “The Law” (July 1850), and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen” (July 1850).

The pamphlets sold well for Guillaumin and they were reprinted several times and even marketed as a set which could be purchased for 7 fr. for the complete set of 12. Some originally appeared in journals such as the JDE, while others were written as stand alone pamphlets. In May 1849 five of them were bundled together as set or perhaps a single volume (it is not clear which) with the title Petits pamphlets de M. Frédéric Bastiat which was reviewed rapturously by an unnamed reviewer in the JDE. 2144 The reviewer, probably the young economist, colleague, formidable debating partner in the political “Club de la Liberté du travail,” and friend of Bastiat, Alcide Fonteyraud, 2145 praised the author for having combined science and truth (which he thought French thinkers had in abundance) with something it had lacked up until now, namely “du bouquet et que ce bouquet soit de haut goût, du bon goût surtout” (a (certain) bouquet, which should be of elevated taste, and especially of good taste). What Fonteyraud realised, perhaps better than many of his older colleagues, was the brilliance with which Bastiat was able to combine mastery of economic theory, with a clever and witty style which appealed to a broad range of readers, and a fervent commitment to justice and a belief in individual liberty, a combination which was rare anywhere, even in France. 2146

De quelle reconnaissance ne devons-nous donc pas être animés lorsque sous la même plume se présentent à la fois une pensée originale et forte, un sentiment profond du juste et du vrai, un ardent amour pour la liberté, un style où les rigueurs de la logique se dérobent sous la grâce piquante de l'expression, et où l'on retrouve, à côté de l'ironie ailée, de l'atticisme élégant d'un jouteur littéraire, cette bonhomie charmante qui berce la passion comme au son d'une idylle! What gratitude we therefore owe for being so enriched when someone comes along and with the same pen expresses original and deep thoughts along with a profound sense of justice and truth, an ardent love of liberty, a style where logical rigor is cloaked with a biting and charming turn of phrase, and where one finds upon the wings of irony the Attic elegance of a literary jouster, this charming bonhomie which beguiles the passions with the sounds of a romantic idyll!
Or, cette reconnaissance nous la devons à M. Bastiat, car il n'a cessé de poursuivre la veine piquante de ses Sophismes économiques — devenus aujourd'hui un livre classique dans la bibliothèque de tous ceux qui comptent encore l'esprit pour quelque chose. Now we owe this debt of gratitude to M. Bastiat because he has not ceased pursuing the biting style of his Economic Sophisms , which today have become a classic work in the libraries of all those who still regard the mind as something important.
Il n'a cessé de revendiquer à haute et intelligible voix les droits méconnus du producteur, du consommateur, de l'ouvrier : traquant le monopole et l'abus dans leurs positions les plus inaccessibles ; lançant ses traits hardis et ses apologues vengeurs à la face des maltôtiers, des douaniers, des puissants de la Banque, de la soie, de la laine ou du fer ; prêchant l'Évangile de l'abondance, de la liberté , de la paix et du bien-être ; rendant la science agréable et facile aux esprits rétifs et encroûtés ; combattant le socialisme sous tous ses déguisements, et jusque dans la personne du coryphée de la paix armée, de l'ordonnateur des fortifications de Paris et des fortifications de la rue de Poitiers ; enfin, traçant le programme d'une démocratie sage, laborieuse, point bruyante, point dépensière, et faisant tout cela, prêchant, traquant, combattant, écrivant, disant, le coeur ému, mais le calme au front et le sourire aux lèvres. He never ceased defending in a loud and intelligible voice the unsung rights of the producers, the consumers, the workers: hunting down monopolies and abuses even in their most inaccessible positions; firing his sharp arrows and his avenging parables in the face of tax collectors, customs officials, powerful bankers, silk, woollen, and iron manufacturers; preaching the Gospel of material abundance and liberty, of peace and well-being; making economic science enjoyable and easy to understand for lazy minds and those stuck in a mental rut; fighting socialism in all its different guises, even in the person of the chorus masters of the armed peace, of the organiser of the fortifications of Paris (Adolphe Thiers) and the fortifications of the rue de Poitiers (where the Party of Order had its HQ); finally, mapping out the program of a democratic (party) which was wise, hard working, not at all demanding or big spending, and doing all this by preaching, pursuing (abuses), fighting, writing, and speaking, with his heart full of emotion but with a calm face and a smile on his lips.

After briefly reviewing the five “little pamphlets” Fonteyraud concluded that in the middle of a Revolution which had overturned France yet again, Bastiat had firmly “planted the flag of political economy” on the political barricades. 2147 Bastiat had once written a “Little Arsenal” of ideas to be used in the battle against protectionism. 2148 In these pamphlets we see a veritable arsenal of ideas which he assembled in the struggle against socialism and other forms of statism, or what Fonteyraud correctly called “l'intervention à outrance de l'Etat” (State intervention pushed to the extreme):

M. Bastiat en plantant ainsi, au sommet de l'idée philosophique du juste , le drapeau de l'économie politique, déchiré par les balles du socialisme et par les ciseaux de la douane, a fait acte de bon citoyen autant que de penseur original. A un moment où il se dépense tant de sophismes et de vilain langage à propos d'erreurs, ce n'est pas un petit mérite que de dépenser en faveur de la vérité infiniment d'esprit et de savoir. So, by planting the flag of political economy on the summit of the philosophical idea of what is just , a flag which had been shredded by the bullets of socialism and the knives of the Customs Service, Monsieur Bastiat had declared himself to be just as good a citizen as he was an original thinker. At a time when he was exhausting himself (opposing) the errors of so many sophisms and (other) appalling language, it was no small merit to do so in favour of the truth with such boundless spirit and wisdom.
M. Bastiat a eu ce rare mérite. Peut-être aura-t-il encore celui de faire, par la verve insinuante de son style, l'éducation de notre pays et d'ouvrir les yeux aux optimistes de toute couleur. Bastiat had this rare skill. Perhaps he will still have enough of it, by dint of the clever eloquence of his style, to educate our country and to open the eyes of optimists of all persuasions.

Bastiat helpfully identified the specific targets of his formidable pen in two of his Electoral Manifestos which he wrote for his supporters back in Mugron when he was standing for re-election in 1849, an excerpt of which we include below. 2149 He wrote several other anti-socialist essays and articles after this which are also listed below.

The “Small Pamphlets” included the following titles. The order of publication is provided by his editor Prosper Paillottet in the Oeuvres complètes , vol. 4, p. 274. We have added the price for each pamphlet from an advertisement we found in the back of one of the Guillaumin books. The Paris Chamber of Commerce estimated that average wage per day for an ordinary worker in Paris at the time was about 3 fr. 80 c., 2150 so, fr example, the cost for a worker who purchased the pamphlet Damn Money! and the State for 40 c. was nearly 11% of their daily wage.

  1. Propriété et Loi, suivi de Justice et Fraternité (40 c.) - “Propriété et loi” (Property and Law), JDE, 15 May 1848, in CW2, pp. 43-59, and “Justice et fraternité" (Justice and Fraternity) JDE, 15 June 1848, in CW2, pp. 60-81. ” Propriété et loi" was directed at Louis Blanc and critiques of property in general. “Justice et fraternité" was directed against Pierre Leroux.
  1. Protectionisme et Communisme. Lettre à M. Thiers (35 c.) - Protectionnisme et communisme (Protectionism and Communism. A Letter to M. Thiers) (Jan. 1849), in CW2, pp. 235-65, was directed at the conservative and protectionist Mimerel committee whom Bastiat accused of adopting communist ideas
  1. Capital et Rente (35 c.) - (Capital and Rent) (Feb. 1849), in CW4, below, pp 000, was directed at Proudhon.
  1. Paix et Liberté, ou le Budget républicain (60 c.) - (Peace and Liberty, or the Repubican Budget) (February 1849. n.p.), in CW2, pp. 282-327, was directed at critics of his proposed budget cuts
  1. Incompatibilités parlementaires (40 c.) - ( Parliamentary Conflicts of Interest (March 1850), in CW2, pp. 366-400, was directed at bureaucrats and civil servants.
  1. Maudit argent! - L'État (40 c.) - "Maudit argent!” (Damn Money!) 15 Avril 1849, in CW4, below, pp. 000, was directed at general misperceptions about the nature of money and “L'État” (The State) (JDD, 25 Sept. 1848), in CW2, pp. 93-104, was against the radical “Montagnard” socialist faction in the Assembly.
  1. Gratuité du Crédit. Correspondence entrer MM. F. Bastiat et Proudhon (1 fr. 75 c.) - (Free Credit. Correspondence between Bastiat and Proudhon) (Oct. 1849 - Feb. 1850), in CW4, below, pp. 000, was directed again at Proudhon
  1. Baccalauréat et Socialisme (60 c.) - ( Baccalaureate and Socialism ) (early 1850), in CW2, pp. 185-234, was written to oppose a bill before the Chamber in early 1850 on education reform which was supported by the conservative Adolphe Thiers
  1. Spoliation et Loi (40 c.) - in Spoliation et loi. - Mélanges. “Spoliation et loi” (Plunder and Law), JDE, 15 May 1850, in CW2, pp. 266-76, was written against Louis Blanc and the Luxembourg Commission
  1. La Loi (60 c.) - “La Loi” (The Law) (Mugron, July 1850), in CW2, pp. 107-46, was written against Louis Blanc and his 18th century predecessors including most notably Rousseau
  1. Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas, ou l'Économie politique en une leçon (60 c.) -(What is Seen and What is Not Seen, or Political Economy in One Lesson) (July 1850), in CW3, pp. 401-52, was directed against all those who misunderstood the operation of the free market

Other anti-socialist essays he wrote during this period include:

  1. “Individualisme et fraternité” (Individualism and Fraternity) (c. June 1848), in CW2, pp. 82-92, was directed against Louis Blanc.
  1. “Propriété et spoliation” (Property and Plunder), ( Journal des débats , 24 July 1848), in CW2, pp. 147-184, was directed against Victor Considérant and against critics of ownership of land and the charging of rent.
  1. Chap. VIII. “Propriété, Communauté” (Private Property and Communal Property) in Harmonies économiques (written mid 1849 and published in first edition of EH in Jan. 1850), in CW5 (forthcoming), was a direct appeal to socialists by FB, explicitly mentions Proudhon’s maxim “propriété, c'est le vol” (property is theft)
  1. “Le capital” (Capital), Almanach Républicain pour 1849 (Paris: Pagnerre, 1849)., in CW4, below, pp. 000, was written to appeal to ordinary people who were influenced by the ideas of Proudhon and Blanc concerning capital and the charging of interest on loans.

In his “Statement of Electoral Principles” in April 1849 2151 Bastiat chronicles for the sake of his potential voters his solid anti-socialist credentials a part of which we include below. He explained to his sceptical supporters the political dilemma a classical liberal like himself faced when caught between the left and the right, “on some occasions I had to vote with the left and on others with the right; with the left when it defended liberty and the Republic, with the right when it defended order and security.” He also reminded them that he had been a most unusual political representative in that he had been active in two very different types of struggles to defend liberty and oppose socialism and statism, direct action on the streets of Paris, as well as vigorous intellectual debate through his writing. In his own words he stated:

Nommé membre et vice-président du comité des Finances, il fut bientôt manifeste que nous aurions à résister à une opinion alors fort accréditée parce qu'elle est fort séduisante. Sous prétexte de donner satisfaction au peuple, on voulait investir d'une puissance exorbitante le Gouvernement révolutionnaire ; on voulait que l'État suspendît le remboursement des caisses d'Épargne et des Bons du Trésor ; qu'il s'emparât des chemins de fer, des assurances, des transports. Le ministère poussait dans cette voie, qui ne me semble autre chose que la spoliation régularisée par la loi et exécutée par l'impôt. J'ose dire que j'ai contribué à préserver mon pays d'une telle calamité. I was nominated as member and vice president of the finance committee, to which committee it was soon clear that we would have to fight against an extremely seductive proposal much vaunted at the time. On the grounds of satisfying popular demand, some people wanted to bestow an inordinate degree of power on the revolutionary government. They wanted the state to suspend the reimbursement of the savings bank and treasury bonds and take over the railways, insurance, and transport systems. The government was pushing in this direction, which does not appear to me to be anything other than plunder regularized by law and executed through taxes . I dare to say that I have contributed to preserving my country from such a calamity.
Cependant une collision effroyable était menaçante. Le travail vrai des ateliers particuliers était remplacé par le travail mensonger des ateliers nationaux. Le peuple de Paris organisé et armé était le jouet d'utopistes ignorants et d'instigateurs de troubles. L'Assemblée, forcée de détruire une à une, par ses votes, ces illusions trompeuses, prévoyait le choc et n'avait guère, pour y résister, que la force morale qu'elle tenait de vous. Convaincu qu'il ne suffisait pas de voter, mais qu'il fallait éclairer les masses, je fondai un autre journal qui aspirait à parler le simple langage du bon sens, et que, par ce motif, j'intitulai Jacques Bonhomme, Il ne cessait de réclamer la dissolution, à tout prix, des forces insurrectionnelles. La veille même des Journées de Juin, il contenait un article de moi sur les ateliers nationaux. Cet article, placardé sur tous les murs de Paris, fit quelque sensation. Pour répondre à certaines imputations, je le fis reproduire dans les journaux du Département. However, a frightful collision was threaten ing . The genuine work carried out by individual workshops was replaced by the bogus production of the national workshops. The organized and armed people of Paris were the plaything of ignorant utopians and fomenters of disorder. The Assembly, forced to destroy these deceptive illusions one by one through its votes, foresaw the storm but had few means of resisting it other than the moral strength that it received from you. Convinced that voting was not enough , the masses needed to be enlightened , I founded another newspaper which aimed to speak the simple language of good sense and which, for this reason, I entitled Jacques Bonhomme . It never stopped calling for the disbanding of the forces of insurrection, whatever the cost. On the eve of the June Days, it contained an article by me on the national workshops. This article, plastered over all the walls of Paris, was something of a sensation. To reply to certain charges, I had it reproduced in the newspapers in the D épartement.
La tempête éclata le 24 juin. Entré des premiers dans le faubourg Saint-Antoine, après l'enlèvement des formidables barricades qui en défendaient l'accès, j'y accomplis une double et pénible tâche : Sauver des malheureux qu'on allait fusiller sur des indices incertains ; pénétrer dans les quartiers les plus écartés pour y concourir au désarmement. Cette dernière partie de ma mission volontaire, accomplie au bruit de la fusillade, n'était pas sans danger. Chaque chambre pouvait cacher un piège ; chaque fenêtre, chaque soupirail pouvait masquer un fusil. The storm broke on 24 June. One of the first to enter the Faubourg Saint Antoine following the removal of the formidable barricades which protected access to it, I accomplished a twin and difficult task, to save those unfortunate people who were going to be shot on unreliable evidence and to penetrate into the most far-flung districts to help in the disarmament. This latter part of my voluntary mission, accomplished under gunfire, was not without danger. Each room might have hidden a trap, each window or basement window a rifle.
Après la victoire, j'ai prêté un concours loyal à l'administration du Général Cavaignac, que je tiens pour un des plus nobles caractères que la Révolution ait fait surgir. Néanmoins, j'ai résisté à tout ce qui m'a paru mesure arbitraire, car je sais que l'exagération dans le succès le compromet. L'empire sur soi-même, la modération en tous sens, telle a été ma règle, ou plutôt mon instinct. Au faubourg Saint-Antoine, d'une main je désarmais les insurgés, de l'autre je sauvais les prisonniers. C'est le symbole de ma conduite parlementaire. Following victory, I gave loyal assistance to the administration of General Cavaignac, whom I hold to be one of the noblest characters brought to the fore by the Revolution. Nevertheless, I resisted anything I considered to be an arbitrary measure as I know that any exaggeration about success compromises it. Self-control and moderation in every sense have been my rule or rather my instinct. In the Faubourg Saint Antoine, I disarmed insurgents with one hand and saved prisoners with the other. This has been the symbol of my conduct in parliament.
Vers cette époque, j'ai été atteint d'une maladie de poitrine qui, se combinant avec l'immensité de l'enceinte de nos délibérations, m'a interdit la tribune. Je ne suis pas pour cela resté oisif. La vraie cause des maux et des dangers de la société résidait, selon moi, dans un certain nombre d'idées erronées, pour lesquelles ces classes qui ont pour elle le nombre et la force s'étaient malheureusement enthousiasmées. Il n'est pas une de ces erreurs que je n'aie combattues. Certes, je savais que l'action qu'on cherche à exercer sur les causes est toujours très lente, qu'elle ne suffit pas quand le danger fait explosion. Mais pourriez-vous me reprocher d'avoir travaillé pour l'avenir, après avoir fait pour le présent tout ce qu'il m'a été possible de faire ? Around this time, I was stricken with a chest ailment which, combined with the huge size of our debating chamber, barred me from the tribune. I did not remain idle for all that. The true cause of society’s ills and dangers lies, in my opinion, in a certain number of mistaken ideas, in favor of which those classes who have number and strength on their side unfortunately became enamored. There is not one of these errors that I have not combated. Of course, I knew that the action that one seeks to exercise over causes is always very slow and that such action is inadequate when the danger explodes. But can you criticise me for having worked for the future, after having done for the present all that I possibly could?

Aux doctrines de Louis Blanc, j'ai opposé un écrit intitulé : Individualisme et Fraternité .

La Propriété est menacée dans son principe même ; on cherche à tourner contre elle la législation : je fais la brochure : Propriété et loi.

On attaque cette forme de Propriété particulière qui consiste dans l'appropriation individuelle du sol : je fais la brochure : Propriété et spoliation, laquelle, selon les économistes anglais et américains, a jeté quelque lumière sur la difficile question de la rente des terres.

To the doctrines of Louis Blanc I opposed a treatise entitled Individualism and Fraternity .

When the very principle of ownership was threatened and efforts were made to direct the legislation against it, I wrote the brochure Property and Law .

The form of individual property which consists in the individual appropriation of land was under attack. So I wrote the brochure Property and Plunder , which, according to English and American economists, shed some light on the vexatious question of rent from land .

On veut fonder la fraternité sur la contrainte légale ; je fais la brochure : Justice et Fraternité.

On ameute le travail contre le capital ; on berce le Peuple de la chimère de la Gratuité du crédit ; je fais la brochure : Capital et rente.

Le communisme nous déborde. Je l'attaque dans sa manifestation la plus pratique, par la brochure : Protectionisme et Communisme.

L'École purement révolutionnaire veut faire intervenir l'État en toutes choses et ramener ainsi l'accroissement indéfini des impôts ; je fais la brochure intitulée : l'État, spécialement dirigée contre le manifeste montagnard.

People wished to found fraternity on legal coercion, so I wrote the brochure Justice and Fraternity .

Rivalry was stirred up between labor and capital; the people were deluded with the illusion of Free Credit . I wrote the brochure Capital and Rent .

Communism was overwhelming us so I attacked it in its most practical manifestation, through the brochure Protectionism and Communism .

The purely revolutionary school wanted the state to intervene in every matter and thus bring back a continuous increase in taxes. I wrote the brochure entitled The State , which was particularly directed against the manifesto of the Montagnards.

Il m'est démontré qu'une des causes de l'instabilité du Pouvoir et de l'envahissement désordonné de la fausse politique, c'est la guerre des Portefeuilles ; je fais la brochure : Incompatibilités parlementaires.

Il m'apparaît que presque toutes les erreurs économiques qui désolent ce pays proviennent d'une fausse notion sur les fonctions du numéraire ; je fais la brochure : Maudit argent.

Je vois qu'on va procéder à la réforme financière par des procédés illogiques et incomplets ; je fais la brochure : Paix et liberté, ou le Budget Républicain.

It was proved to me that one of the causes of the instability of government and the disorientating intrusion of false politics was the struggle for office. I wrote the brochure P arliamentary Conflicts of Interest .

I was convinced that almost all the economic errors that plague this country arise from a false concept of the functions of money. I wrote the brochure Damned Money .

I saw that financial reform was going to be carried out using illogical and inadequate procedures. I wrote the brochure Peace and Liberty, or the Republican Budget .

Ainsi, dans la rue par l'action, dans les esprits par la controverse, je n'ai pas laissé échapper une occasion, autant que ma santé me l'a permis, de combattre l'erreur, qu'elle vînt du Socialisme ou du Communisme, de la Montagne ou de la Plaine.

Voilà pourquoi j'ai dû voter quelquefois avec la gauche, quelquefois avec la droite ; avec la gauche quand elle défendait la liberté et la république, avec la droite quand elle défendait l'ordre et la sécurité.

In this way, through action in the street or appealing to the mind through controversy/debate, as far as my health allowed, I did not let a single opportunity slip to combat error, whether arising from socialism or communism, the Montagne or the Plains.

This is why on some occasions I had to vote with the left and on others with the right; with the left when it defended liberty and the Republic, with the right when it defended order and security.

Endnotes

2144 The collection included I. Protection et communisme, II. Capital et rente, III. Incompatibilités parlementaires, IV. Paix et liberté, ou le Budget républicain, and V. L'Etat. Maudit argent! They were reviewed by “?” (probably Alcide Fonteyraud by the style of the writing), Review of “Petits pamphlets de M. Frédéric Bastiat,” JDE, T. 23, no. 98, 15 Mai 1849, pp. 203-8.

2145 See the glossary entry on “Fonteyraud.” Fonteyraud was a precocious Ricardo scholar, and a close companion of Bastiat and Molinari when they launched their revolutionary journal Jacques Bonhomme on the streets of Paris in June 1848. He died at the age of 27 during the cholera epidemic which swept through France in August 1849, soon after this piece was written.

2146 Fonteyraud’s review, p. 203.

2147 Fonteyraud review, p. 208.

2148 ES2 15 "The Free Trader’s Little Arsenal" (LE, 26 Apr. 1847), in CW3, pp. 234-40.

2149 “Profession de foi électorale d'avril 1849” (Statement of Electoral Principles in April 1849) [OC7.65, p. 255] [CW1] and “Profession de foi électorale de 1849. À MM. Tonnelier, Oegos, Bergeron, Camors, Oubroca, Pomeoe, Fauret, etc.” (Statement of Electoral Principles in 1849. To MM. Tonnelier, Oegos, Bergeron, Camors, Oubroca, Pomeoe, Fauret, etc.) [OC1.17, p. 507] [CW1]

2150 Chambre de Commerce de Paris [Horace Say], Statistique de l'Industrie a Paris résultant de l'enquête. Faite par la Chambre de commerce pour les années 1847-1848 (Paris: Guillaumin, 1851). “Chap. XXII. 13e Groupe - Imprimerie, Gravure, Papeterie,” pp. 187-94.

2151 CW1, pp. 390-95.

 


 

The “Apparatus” or Structure of Exchange (CW4 final draft)

As a true nineteenth century social theorist Bastiat made use of several mechanical or astronomical metaphors to describe the structure and operation of social, economic, and political institutions, structures, and processes. These included the idea that society was like a clock or a mechanism (with wheels, springs, and movements), or a machine or an engine (with a motor driven by steam and other physical forces), or like a mechanical or scientific apparatus of some kind, or like orbiting planets which moved under the influence of gravity. 2152 Thus, individuals were described as pursuing their self-interest which was likened to “un mobile interne” (an internal driving force), and society as a whole was described as being driven by “un moteur social” (a social engine or motor), and both government institutions and markets were compared to complex machines or apparatuses which functioned in particular ways in order to satisfy certain needs.

Bastiat also spoke about the individuals (mainly socialists and Rousseau-ian legislators) who wanted to reorganise or plan society “artificially” as if it really were an engine or mechanism and they were the “mechanics,” “engineers,” and “inventors” of “the social mechanism” or society, while the ordinary workers and consumers were like so many cogs and wheels with which they could use to build it. 2153 Interestingly, he thought of himself and the other economists as the equivalent of the astronomer Laplace or the mathematician Newton who observed the operation of the planets and other physical objects, learned the laws which governed their behaviour, and had the good sense not to tinker with the great “Providential plan” which would ensure the “harmonious” and just operation of the social universe, if only it were left free to do so.

In other sections of this volume we discuss his use of the metaphors of “le mécanisme social” (the social mechanism); “les forces perturbatrices” (disturbing forces) and “les forces réparatrices” (restorative forces), and “l'harmonie” (harmony) and “la discordance” (disharmony). Here we discuss his use of the metaphor of “l'appareil” (apparatus). 2154

Bastiat used the word “l'appareil” frequently in his writings (60) and it could be translated quite differently depending upon the context in which it appeared. He used it in reference to the following things:

  1. human biology, as in the eye which he described as “l'harmonieux mécanisme de cet admirable appareil” (the harmonious mechanism of this admirable organ) 2155 , or in “l'appareil pulmonaire” (the pulmonary system) 2156
  2. the law, as in “l'appareil de la sanction légale” (the system of legal sanctions) or “l'appareil légal” (the legal system) 2157
  3. human intelligence and moral behaviour, as in “cet appareil complexe et merveilleux appelé l'intelligence” (this complex and marvellous faculty called intelligence), 2158 and in “cet appareil (un système complet de Peines et de Récompenses fatales) à la fois correctif et progressif” (this apparatus, this complete system of inevitable pain and rewards, which is correcting and progressive at the same time) 2159
  4. war and the military, as in “l'appareil de la guerre” (the apparatus of war), 2160 and “le dispendieux et dangereux appareil militaire et diplomatique” (the expensive and dangerous military and diplomatic apparatus) 2161
  5. the government and bureaucracy, as in “le vaste appareil gouvernemental” (the vast apparatus (edifice) of government), 2162 and my favourite,“cet appareil de magistrature, police, gendarmerie et prison au service du spoliateur” (this apparatus of the courts, police, gendarmerie, and prisons, all in the service of the plundering class) 2163
  6. but above all he used it reference to economics, such as “l'appareil commercial” (the apparatus of commerce) and “l'appareil de l'échange” (the apparatus of exchange or trade)

Before his work on Economic Harmonies , Bastiat’s use of the idea of “l'appareil” was either innocuous, as in his references to biological organs such as the eye, or strongly negative in his references to military, governmental, or bureaucratic structures or apparatuses. However, in the book he began to use the term in a much more positive, economic sense for the first time, especially in Chapter IV on “Exchange,” where he frequently used the terms “l'appareil commercial” (the apparatus of commerce) and “l'appareil de l'échange” (the apparatus of exchange or trade). It is not clear why he had this change of heart but the term must have seemed to be a useful one to him when he was writing this chapter, probably over the summer of 1849 in the seclusion of the hunting lodge at Butard.

Both Stirling and FEE translated “l'appareil de l'échange” as the “machinery” of exchange (the apparatus of exchange or trade). Concerning “l'appareil commercial” FEE translated it as commercial “machinery,” “mechanism,” or “apparatus,” while Stirling consistently used the term commercial “apparatus.” Another possible translation is the word “system” as in “the system of trade, or the trading system.” We have translated both as “apparatus” to retain Bastiat’s consistent use of the term.

However, Bastiat means more by “apparatus” than the physical objects which make trade or commerce possible or easier, what he called “la partie matérielle” (the material part) such as building a bridge across a river, paving a road across the countryside, or the increasing density of populations living in towns and cities, but also “la partie morale” (the moral or human part). The human component of the apparatus of trade and commerce can improve opportunities for mutually beneficial trade by doing a number of things: 2164

(Ils) savent mieux se partager les occupations, unir leurs forces, s'associer pour fonder des écoles et des musées, bâtir des églises, pourvoir à leur sécurité, établir des banques ou des compagnies d'assurances, en un mot, se procurer des jouissances communes avec une beaucoup moins forte proportion d'efforts pour chacun. (They) are more capable of engaging in the division of labour, associating to found schools and museums, building churches, providing for their security, establishing banks or insurance companies, in a word acquiring common advantages for far less individual effort.

A third factor in the functioning of the “apparatus of exchange” is money and credit, or as Bastiat put it “Ce que j'appelle l'appareil de l'échange, c'est la monnaie, les billets à ordre, les billets de banque et même les banquiers.” (What I call the apparatus of exchange is money, promissory notes, banks notes, and even bankers). 2165

Thus what Bastiat seems to be arguing is that the relatively simple act of engaging in trade is in fact a much more complex affair which involves new technology, capital investment, the division of labour, the actions of skilled people such as traders and bankers, and a set of institutions which protect life and property, and provide banking and insurance services for all those involved. In other words, he has given Destutt de Tracy’s idea that society itself is made up of a series of exchanges a new twist, namely that acts of exchange encourage cooperative behaviour and the formation of institutions which come to be known as “Society.”

Endnotes

2152 See “The Social Mechanism and its Driving Force” in Further Aspect of Bastiat’s Thought , below, pp. 000, for further discussion of this topic.

2153 See “Natural and Artificial Organizations,” above, pp. 000.

2154 I would like to thank Alberto Mingardi for bringing to my attention the importance Bastiat placed on the notion of “l'appareil.”

2155 In a Note added to EH2 XX. “Responsibility,” FEE ed., pp. 000.

2156 In the article “Economic Harmonies I, II, III” (JDE), above, pp. 000.

2157 Both in a Note added to EH2 XX. “Responsibility,” FEE ed., pp. 000.

2158 In EH2 XXII. “The Motive Force of Society,” FEE ed. pp. 000.

2159 In a Note to EH2 XX “Responsibility,” FEE ed., pp. 000.

2160 In EH2 XXI. “Solidarity,” FEE ed., pp. 000.

2161 In “The League’s Second Campaign” (LE, 7 Nov. 1847), CW6 (forthcoming).

2162 “To the Electors of the Arrondissement of Saint-Séver" (Mugron, July 1, 1846), in CW1, p. 359-60.

2163 In reference to the system of "legal plunder” in “The Law,” CW2, p. 115.

2164 EH1, IV “Exchange.” FEE ed. p. 79

2165 EH1 IV “Exchange,” FEE ed. p. 178.

 


 

Standing Armies, Militias, and the Utopia of Peace(CW3 book)

Bastiat shared his suspicion of standing armies and his preference for local, decentralized militias with many of the Economists. The closest thing France had to a militia in Bastiat’s lifetime was the National Guard, which had been founded in 1789 as a national armed citizens' militia in Paris and soon spread to other cities and towns in France.[23] Its function was to maintain local order, protect private property, and defend the principles of the Revolution. The Guard consisted of sixteen legions of sixty thousand men and was under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette. It was a volunteer organization, and members had to satisfy a minimum tax-paying requirement and had to purchase their own uniform and equipment. They were not paid for service, which limited its membership to the more prosperous members of the community. The Guard was closed down in 1827 for its opposition to King Charles X but was reconstituted after the 1830 Revolution and played an important role during the July Monarchy in support of the constitutional monarchy. Membership was expanded or “democratized” in a reform of 1837 and opened to all males in 1848, tripling its size to about 190,000. Since many members of the Guard supported the revolutionaries in June 1848, they refused to join the army in suppressing the rioting. The Guard gradually began to lose what cohesion it had, and further reforms in 1851 and 1852 forced it to abandon its practice of electing its officers and to give up much of its autonomy. Because of its active participation in the 1871 Paris Commune, many of its members were massacred in the postrevolutionary reprisals, and it was closed down in August 1871.

The Economists were appalled at the cost and destruction caused by the standing armies of the Napoleonic period (whether professional or conscript).[24] This was reflected in the writings of Jean-Baptiste Say, especially the Cours complet d'économie politique pratique (1828–33), where he severely criticized standing armies and argued strongly in favor of militias of citizens.[25] The following passage from Say is something Bastiat would have read and no doubt agreed with:

I ask you, sirs, not to confuse the system of arming an entire nation with its militias, with the extravagant project of making an entire nation an army [militaire]; that is to say, transforming it into mobile and seasoned warrior units ready to support diplomatic intrigues and the ambition of despots. This madness has only ever been able to enter the minds of those who are total strangers to social economy. A farmer, a manufacturer, a merchant, an artisan, a worker, a doctor, and all the other useful professions work to supply society with what it needs to eat and to maintain itself. A soldier destroys what the others produce. To turn the productive classes into destructive classes, or to only give greater importance to the latter is to confuse the accessory with the principal, to give precedence to the famine which kills over the abundance which gives life. A nation of soldiers can only live by brigandage; not producing anything and unable to do anything but consuming, it must out of necessity pillage those who produce; and after having pillaged everything within reach, whether friend or foe, as a matter of course or tumultuously, it must then devour itself. History provides us with examples of this without number.[26]

Bastiat expressed his hostility to standing armies very clearly on a number of occasions.[27] In “The Utopian” (ES2 11), someone (presumably Bastiat) dreams about what he would do if appointed a minister with the power to implement any and all of the liberal reforms he had dreamed about. Among the many measures for cutting taxes and slashing the size of the government is his proposal to end conscription and to “disband the army” (congédier, to dismiss, sack, fire)—except for “some specialized divisions” which are not specified, but possibly the artillery and similar groups—and replace it with local militias.

To put this proposal into perspective, it should be noted that according to the budget passed on 15 May 1849, the size of the French army was 389,967 men and 95,687 horses. (This figure rises to 459,457 men and 97,738 horses for the entire French military, including foreign and colonial forces.) The expenditure on the army in 1849 was fr. 346,319,558 and for the navy and colonies fr. 119,206,857 for a combined total of fr. 465,526,415. Total government expenditure in 1849 was fr. 1.573 billion, with expenditure on the armed forces making up 29.6 percent of the budget. Bastiat calculates that he can save roughly fr. 100 million for every 100,000 men in the armed forces who are dismissed. In order to maintain an army at about 400,000 men with sevenyear enlistments, the French government had to recruit about 80,000 new men each year by a combination of voluntary enlistment, conscription (by drawing lots), and substitutions. The liberal journalist and anticonscription campaigner Émile de Girardin estimated that about one-quarter of the entire French Army consisted of replacements who had been paid fr. 1,800–2,400 to take the place of some young man who had been called up but did not want to serve. The schedule of payments depended on the type of service: fr. 1,800–2,000 for the infantry; 2,000–2,400 for the artillery, cavalry, and other specialized forces.[28] Only quite well-off men could afford to pay these amounts to avoid army service, thus placing a greater burden on poor agricultural workers and artisans. During the 1848 Revolution there was a pamphlet war calling for the abolition of conscription, but this was unsuccessful.

Under criticism from the other unnamed protagonist in “The Utopian,” Bastiat makes a distinction between “disbanding the army” and “disarming the country.” The former is run by the state using coercion to get recruits both by means of conscription and by funding from the taxpayers, whereas defense provided by the latter will be voluntary and run “just like any other profession.” The Utopian states that his “maxim” for governing is that “Every citizen must know two things: how to provide for his own existence and how to defend his country.” In other words, all individuals must be productive and be able to earn a living without being a burden on others, and they must be able to defend themselves and their neighbors when their life, liberty, or property is threatened by outsiders.

In order to create this decentralized, voluntary militia, the Utopian proposes two “articles,” which have the flavor of decrees, although this is not spelled out.

Article 1. All eligible citizens, without exception, will remain under the flag for four years, from the ages of 21 to 25, in order to receive military instruction.

Article 2. Unless they can prove at the age of 21 that they have successfully attended a training unit.

The first article seems to be just another form of conscription until one realizes what a large proviso the second article entails—that as long as a young man becomes involved in a local militia and receives some military training, he is exempt from enlisting in what remains of the state-run army. The Utopian thinks that this will create a trained citizenry of some ten million men out of a total population of France of thirty-six million. He rather optimistically concludes that “finally, without causing grief to families [because their sons are conscripted] and without upsetting the principle of equality [since only the sons of the wealthy can pay for substitutes]” the citizen army of “10 million defenders [would be] capable of meeting a coalition of all the standing armies in the world.”

After dreaming up fantasy after fantasy of deregulation, tax cutting, and dismissing government employees, the Utopian has his majority withdrawn and he realizes that since the nation does not share his views on these matters, his “plans remain what they are, just so many utopias.”

Bastiat returned briefly to the issue of conscription in the Manifesto or statement of principles which he and Molinari drew up for their revolutionary journal La République française, which had a brief existence in February and March 1848. They list nine demands for change which their journal will be promoting. The seventh of these is “No more conscription; voluntary recruitment for the army.”

In addition to writing about how to drastically reduce the size of the French military, Bastiat was also an active member of an international association called the Friends of Peace and took a great interest in their congresses in spite of finding it difficult to attend them because of his declining health. The first International Peace Congress was held in London in 1843 on the initiative of the American Peace Society and Joseph Sturge. Some 340 delegates attended, the bulk of which were British. The second was organized by Elihu Burritt and chaired by the Belgian lawyer Auguste Visschers and took place in Brussels in September 1848. The third Congress was held in Paris 22–24 August 1849 and was chaired by the novelist Victor Hugo.[29]

Because of his ill health and political commitments Bastiat was able to attend only the Paris congress in August 1849, at which he gave an address on “Disarmament, Taxes, and the Influence of Political Economy on the Peace Movement” (our title). Richard Cobden organized follow-up meetings in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Bradford, all of which Bastiat attended. In his correspondence (CW, vol. 1) there are several letters to Cobden[30] in which Bastiat makes repeated pleas for Cobden to pressure the British government into reducing the size of its army and navy, a move that would encourage the French government to do likewise.

We include a contemporary translation of Bastiat’s speech in this volume.[31] It has never been republished before.[32] In this speech Bastiat called for the simultaneous disarmament of all nations and a corresponding reduction of taxation. Émile de Girardin summarized on the title page of his book the resolutions of the 1849 Paris Peace Congress as follows: “reduction of armies to 1/200 of the size of the population of each state, the abolition of compulsory military service, the freedom of [choosing one’s] vocation, the reduction of taxes, and balanced budgets.” Since France’s population in 1849 was about thirty-six million, this would mean a maximum size of 180,000 for the French armed forces. Thus, Bastiat and the other attendees at the Peace Congress were calling for a reduction of 279,457, or 61 percent, in the size of the French armed forces.

The year after he gave his speech on “Disarmament and Taxes” to the Paris Peace Congress, Bastiat returned to this topic with a more detailed treatment in “Dismissing Members of the Armed Forces” (WSWNS 2). In this chapter Bastiat proposes immediately reducing the size of the French Army by 100,000 men from its total in 1849 of about 390,000 men (a reduction of 25.6 percent). Again, to put this in some kind of persective, an equivalent cut in the size of the U.S. armed forces would be about 373,000 men and women.[33] Bastiat spends most of the chapter attempting to disarm criticism by showing that discharging a quarter of the army is a good example of what he calls “the seen” and “the unseen.” The critics see only the loss of payment to the soldiers and their families and the businesses around army towns who will lose custom; they do not see the tax money which is saved and kept by the taxpayers who now have an equivalent amount in their pockets to spend on themeselves, their families, and the businesses located where they live.

In a letter written on 17 August 1850, to the president of the 1850 Peace Congress (Frankfurt) a few months before his death, Bastiat expresses his regrets that his “ailment of the larynx” prevented his attendance, but he supports the continued promotion of the cause of peace in Europe. In the following passage he argues that the desire for peace is not the utopian wish he seemed to think it was in January 1847 when he wrote “The Utopian” but something which the expansion of free trade and industrialization was making increasingly inevitable:

I would have joined my efforts to yours in favor of such a holy cause with zeal and enthusiasm.

In truth, universal peace is considered in many places an illusion, and as a result the Congress is considered to be an honorable effort but with no far-reaching effect. Perhaps this feeling is more prevalent in France than elsewhere because this is a country in which people are more weary of utopias and where ridicule is the more to be feared.

For this reason, if it had been given to me to speak at the Congress, I would have concentrated on correcting such a false assessment.

There was doubtless a time when a peace congress would have had no chance of success. When men made war to acquire loot, land, or slaves, it would have been difficult to stop them by moral or economic considerations. Even various forms of religion have failed to do this.

But today, two circumstances have changed the question radically.

The first is that wars no longer have vested interest as their cause or even their pretext, since they are always contrary to the real interests of the masses.

The second is that they no longer depend on the whims of a leader, but on public opinion.

The result of the combination of these two circumstances is that wars are due to become increasingly rare and finally disappear through the force of events and independently of any intervention by the Congress, since an event that harms the general public and which depends on the general public is bound to cease.

What, therefore, is the role of the Congress? It is to hasten this inevitable result by showing, to those who do not yet perceive this, how and why wars and arms are harmful to the general interest.

What element of utopia is there in such a mission?[34]

 

Endnotes

[23] For a history of the National Guard, see Comte, Histoire complète de la Garde nationale.

[24] See Amboise Clément, “Armées permanentes,” in DEP 1:70–75.

[25] See Say, Cours complet d'économie politique pratique, chap. 20, “De la défense de l'état par des milices,” 2:291–95.

[26] Ibid., 294–95.

[27] See WSWNS 2.

[28] See Allyre, Plus de conscription!; and Girardin, “Le Remplacement militaire,” in Les 52: Abolition de l'esclavage militaire, pp. 66–84 (pp. 73–74 for the cost of substitution).

[29] The fourth Congress was held in Frankfurt in August 1850, with six hundred delegates, the fifth in London in July 1851, the sixth in Manchester in 1852, and the seventh in Edinburgh in 1853. The Congresses came to an end with the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854.

[30] Bastiat’s forty-four letters to Cobden are listed in CW1, p. 522. See especially Letter 83 (15 October 1847), pp. 132–35; Letter 84 (9 November 1847), pp. 135–36; Letter 96 (5 April 1848), pp. 146–47; and Letter 157 (31 December 1849), pp. 226–28.

[31] See “Bastiat’s Speech on ‘Disarmament and Taxes’ (August 1849),” in Addendum: Additional Materials by Bastiat.

[32] See “Speech,” in Report of the Proceedings of the Second General Peace Congress, pp. 49–52.

[33] As vice president of the National Assembly’s Finance Committee in 1848–49, Bastiat had access to the most recent figures. See Projet de loi pour la fixation des recettes et des dépenses de l'exercice 1850, pp. 13–14; and Courtois, “Le Budget de 1849,” pp. 18–28.

[34] “Letter to the President of the Peace Congress in Frankfurt (Paris, 17 August 1850)” (CW1, pp. 265–66).

 


 

The Benthamite Origins of Bastiat’s Critique of Sophisms and Fallacies (intro to CW2 book)

It is interesting to ask where Bastiat got the idea of writing short, pithy essays for a popular audience in which he debunked misconceptions (“sophisms” or “fallacies”) about the operations of the free market in general and of free trade in particular.

The most likely source is Bentham’s Handbook of Political Fallacies (1824), which had originally appeared in French, edited by Étienne Dumont, in 1816 with the title Traité des sophismes politiques.[5] Bastiat was an admirer of Bentham and chose two passages from Bentham’s Théorie des peines et des récompenses (1811) as the opening quotation for both the First and Second Series of Economic Sophisms. In the opening paragraph of this work Bentham offers the following definition of “fallacy,” which Bastiat shared:

By the name of fallacy it is common to designate any argument employed or topic suggested for the purpose, or with the probability of producing the effect of deception, or of causing some erroneous opinion to be entertained by any person to whose mind such an argument may have been presented.[6]

Bentham’s purpose in categorizing and discussing the varieties of political fallacies which he had identified was to expose “the semantics of persuasion”[7] used by conservative political groups to delay or prevent muchneeded political reforms. Bentham organized his critique around the main sets of arguments which facilitated “the art of deception”[8] and which caused a “hydra of sophistries”[9] that permitted “pernicious practices and institutions to be retained.”[10] “Reason,” on the other hand, was the “instrument”[11] which would enable the reformer to create this new “good government” by a process of logical analysis and classification. As he stated:

To give existence to good arguments was the object of the former work [the Theory of Legislation]; to provide for the exposure of bad ones is the object of the present one—to provide for the exposure of their real nature, and hence for the destruction of their pernicious force. Sophistry is a hydra of which, if all the necks could be exposed, the force would be destroyed. In this work, they have been diligently looked out for, and in the course of it the principal and most active of them have been brought in view.[12]

Bastiat shared Bentham’s view of “deception” as an ideological weapon used by powerful vested interests to protect their political and economic privileges. Bastiat saw that his task in writing the Sophisms was to enlighten “the dupes” who had been misled by la ruse, or the “trickery,” “fraud,” and “cunning” of the powerful beneficiaries of tariff protection and state subsidies.

Bentham recognized a variety of “sophistries” (or “sophisms”) which allowed pernicious government to protect itself from reform, but he believed that they all could be categorized into four classes based on the purpose or strategy the sophistry was designed to promote: the fallacies of authority, the fallacies of danger, the fallacies of delay, and the fallacies of confusion.[13] Arguments from “authority” were designed to intimidate and hence repress the individual from reasoning through things himself; arguments about “imminent danger” were designed to frighten the would-be reformer with the supposed negative consequences of any change; arguments which urged caution and “delay” were designed to postpone discussion of reform until it could be ignored or forgotten; and arguments designed to promote “confusion” in the minds of reformers and their supporters were designed to make it difficult or impossible to form a correct judgment on the matter at hand.[14]

Bastiat, on the other hand, categorized the types of sophisms he was opposing along the lines of the particular social or political class interests the sophisms were designed to protect. Thus he recognized “theocratic sophisms,” “economic sophisms,” “political sophisms,” and “financial sophisms,” which were designed to protect the interests (the “legal plunder”) of the established Church; the Crown, the aristocracy, and elected political officials; the economic groups who benefited from protection and subsidies; and the bankers and debt holders of the government, respectively.[15] Bastiat planned to address this broad range of “sophisms” in a book he never completed.[16] What he did have time to complete were two volumes exposing one of these sets of sophisms, namely “economic sophisms.”

Thus, it is quite likely that Bentham’s writing was the inspiration not only for the name “sophismes” (which is how Dumont translated Bentham’s term “fallacies” for the French edition) for the title of Bastiat’s essays and books, but also for his adoption of a purpose similar to Bentham’s, namely, to debunk “any argument employed which causes some erroneous opinion to be entertained by any person to whose mind such an argument may have been presented.” Furthermore, whereas Bentham focused on “political fallacies” used by opponents of political reforms, Bastiat’s interest was in exposing “economic fallacies” which were used to prevent reform of the policies of government taxation, subsidies to industry, and most especially protection of domestic industry via tariffs.[17]

Whereas Bentham uses relentless reasoning and classification to make his points, Bastiat uses other methods, such as humor, his reductio ad absurdum approach to his opponents' arguments, and his many references to classical French literature, popular song, and poetry. Nevertheless, Bastiat’s modification of Bentham’s rhetorical strategy seems to describe Bastiat’s agenda and method in opposing the ideas of the protectionists in France in the mid1840s quite nicely, and shows the considerable influence Bentham had on Bastiat’s general approach to identifying and debunking “fallacies.”

Endnotes

[5] Bentham, “Traité des sophismes politiques.” An English version of the book appeared with the editorial assistance of the Benthamite Peregrine Bingham the Younger, the Handbook of Political Fallacies, which appeared in 1824. See Bentham, Handbook of Political Fallacies; and also Bentham, “The Book of Fallacies: From Unfinished Papers of Jeremy Bentham,” /titles/1921#lf0872-02_head_315. See also the entry for “Jeremy Bentham” in the Glossary of Persons and “Bastiat’s Political Sophisms,” in the Introduction.

[6] Bentham, Handbook of Political Fallacies, p. 3.

[7] Ibid., p. xi.

[8] Ibid., p. 5.

[9] Bastiat used the image of an indestructible “polyp.” See the opening quotation in the Introduction, p. xlix and ES3 15, p. 341.

[10] Bentham, Handbook of Political Fallacies, p. 6.

[11] Ibid., p. 6.

[12] Bentham, Handbook of Political Fallacies, p. 7.

[13] Ibid., p. 11.

[14] Ibid., p. 9.

[15] See ES1 Conclusion, pp. 103–10, especially pp. 109–10 and ES2 1.

[16] See “Bastiat on Enlightening the ‘Dupes’ about the Nature of Plunder,” in this Introduction.

[17] In spite of his preference for exposing economic sophisms, Bastiat did on occasion write sophisms of a more political nature. See “Bastiat’s Political Sophisms,” in this Introduction.

 


 

Ceteris paribus, or other things being equal (CW4 final draft)

Bastiat was one of the first economists in the Paris group in the 1840s to regularly use the important economic expression "ceteris paribus" 2166 (other things being equal) and its related phrase “toutes choses égales d'ailleurs” (all other things being equal) in his explanations of economic phenomena. 2167 According to Reutlinger et al. 2168 the Latin phrase "ceteris paribus" had entered English economic thought in the 17th century in William Petty’s Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1662), who used it in a discussion of the relative prices of silver and corn, and was taken up by Bernard Mandeville in the early 18th century in "The Fable of the Bees" (1714) to describe changes in fashion and manners. It was sparingly used by English political economists in the early 19th century such as Malthus, Bentham, James Mill, Nassau Senior, and McCulloch, 2169 but it was not until J.S. Mill’s the Principles of Political Economy (1848) that it became a central part of classical economic theory. It is instructive to compare how Bastiat and Mill used this key term at much the same time, namely in the late 1840s, before it became more widely used.

The Bentham-James Mill-John Stuart Mill connection is an interesting one to consider, although exactly what Bastiat knew of their work is uncertain. Bentham used the term several times, mostly in his legal writings, many of which did not appear in print until Bowring’s edition of his works between 1838 and 1843. James Mill used it in an article on “Beggars” in the 1824 Supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica in which he uses the concept to link the opportunity cost of war to the impoverishment of the people and the growth in the number of beggars on the streets following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. As he noted:

Of all the causes of beggary, war may undoubtedly be assumed as one of the most extraordinary. We have already seen in what manner the people converted by it into soldiers swell the ranks of mendicity; but this is only a small part of the deplorable effects. It brings the condition of the whole of the labouring mass down nearer to the mendicant level; and, of course, a new and additional portion down to it altogether. This it does by the consumption which it produces. Exactly in proportion as money is spent upon war, exactly in that proportion is the means of employing labour, that is, of buoying up the condition of the people, destroyed; exactly in that proportion must the people, cæteris paribus , sink. These are conclusions which may be regarded as scientific, and which will never be called in dispute except by those who are ignorant of the subject. It is not impossible for war to be accidentally accompanied with circumstances which counter-balance this tendency, even in respect to wealth; but this is exceedingly rare. The great men very often gain by war: the little almost always lose. (Emphasis added.) 2170

His son John Stuart Mill began using the term in some newspaper articles in 1823 such as this one on “Malthus’s Measure of Value” in the Morning Chronicle (5 Sept. 1823):

When we say that value depends upon labour, we mean, that according as the quantity of labour expended in producing a commodity is increased or diminished, ceteris paribus , its value rises or falls. In like manner, if we say that value depends, wholly or partially, upon profits, it is implied, that when profits rise values shall rise; when profits fall, values shall fall. 2171

And again three years later in a speech on “The British Constitution” when, sounding very much like his father (as quoted above), he lamented the great loss of life suffered by the British during the Napoleonic Wars, such as “the poor privates” who were sent home “to loiter about Chelsea hospital with one leg,” while those like Sir Arthur Wellesley reaped profits and accolades and “empty praise”:

They talk of the last war, and seem to think it highly honourable to our Constitution that having first got us into what they call an arduous struggle, it afterwards at the expense of many myriads of lives got us out again. But let me ask, what was gained by the last war, and who gained it? We knocked down one despot, and set up a score; this was their concern not ours. Then as to the substantial part of the gain, the money and glory. The generals and admirals and colonels and lieutenant colonels and all the rest of them got money, and most of them a little glory, some a great deal. The poor privates who took the disagreeable part of the business, and who were sent home when it was over to loiter about Chelsea hospital with one leg or follow the plough with two, they got no glory; any more than those at home who paid the piper. The contractors who had the fingering of the loans got no glory, but they got what was much better, many millions of pounds sterling which made them very comfortable at our expense. Sir, I grudge nobody his glory, if he would pay for it himself. I have a great respect for Sir Arthur Wellesley, and ceteris paribus I would much rather that he should be, as he is, a hero and a duke, than not: but when I consider that every feather in his cap has cost the nation more than he and his whole lineage would fetch if they were sold for lumber, I own that I much regret the solid pudding which we threw away in order that he might obtain empty praise. (Emphasis added.)

His next use of “ceteris paribus” was in a couple of articles on money, on “Paper Currency and Commercial Distress” in 1826, and then on “The Currency Juggle” in 1833. In the latter he uses it in a discussion of an inflationary expansion of the money supply which he lamented had been recognised by philosophers like Smith and Hume but had been unfortunately neglected by economists since then:

The important truth, that currency is lowered ( cæteris paribus ) in value, by being augmented in quantity, was known solely to speculative philosophers, to Locke and Hume.

After a hiatus of ten years Mill returned to using the concept with some passing references to it in his book on A System of Logic (1843) and then several times in his Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (1844), before taking it up in earnest with 17 references in his Principles of Political Economy (1848). A typical example of his use of the term in Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (1844) is the following discussion of a carpenter’s labour:

To this it was, or might have been, answered, that according to this classification, a carpenter’s labour at his trade is productive labour, but the same individual’s labour in learning his trade was unproductive labour. Yet it is obvious that, on both occasions, his labour tended exclusively to what is allowed to be production: the one was equally indispensable with the other, to the ultimate result. Further, if we adopted the above definition, we should be obliged to say that a nation whose artisans were twice as skilful as those of another nation, was not, ceteris paribus , more wealthy; although it is evident that every one of the results of wealth, and everything for the sake of which wealth is desired, would be possessed by the former country in a higher degree than by the latter. 2172

Other early users of the term in English, in an economic sense, included the populariser of free market ideas Harriet Martineau who used it in her Illustrations of Political Economy (1834). In “The Moral of Many Fables” she states that “If home producers can compete with foreign producers, they need no protection, as, ceteris paribus , buying at hand is preferable to buying at a distance. Free competition cannot fail to benefit all parties.” 2173 Her work was known to Molinari who reviewed a French translation in the JDE but Bastiat does not cite her work. 2174

In the French speaking world, J.B. Say preferred to use the phrase “toutes choses d'ailleurs égales” in his Traité d'économie politique (4 times) which the American translator Princep in his 1822 edition translated as “ceteris paribus” for some reason. In the Cours complet (1826) Say used the phrase “cœteris paribus” only once and the phrase “toutes choses d'ailleurs égales” six times and it is likely that it is from Say or possibly Malthus, both of whom Bastiat read closely, that Bastiat may have picked it up. Very few other contemporaries of Bastiat did the same at this time.

Bastiat used the Latin phrase six times in his writings and the French equivalent “toutes choses égales d'ailleurs” (all other things being equal) 12 times. He was thus one of the first economists in the Guillaumin network to regularly use the phrase. His first use of “toutes choses égales d'ailleurs” occurred in April 1834 in a memo on the Customs Service; 2175 his first use of "ceteris paribus" occurred in November 1846 in a letter to the editors of La National newspaper concerning the impact of "good" and "bad" taxes on the economy 2176 and there are half a dozen uses of the term in Economic Harmonies (1850). In this volume Bastiat uses the phrase in the following four articles and essays:

 

From “On Competition” (JDE, May 1846): 2177

Toutes choses égales d'ailleurs , il y a plus de profits aux travaux dangereux qu'à ceux qui ne le sont pas; aux états qui exigent un long apprentissage et des déboursés longtemps improducti f s, ce qui suppose, dans la famille, le long exercice de certaines vertus, qu'à ceux où suffit la force musculaire; aux professions qui réclament la culture de l'esprit et font naître des goûts délicats, qu'aux métiers où il ne faut que des bras. Tout cela n'est-il pas juste? Or la concurrence établit nécessairement ces distinctions : la société n'a pas besoin qu'un Fourier ou un père Enfantin en décident. All other things being equal , moreover, there is more profit in dangerous projects than in ones that are not, in trades that require long apprenticeships , and outlays that are unproductive for long periods of time, which assumes the long-term exercise within the family of certain virtues , than in trades where physical strength is all that is needed, or in occupations that require development of the mind a nd give rise to refined tastes than in those that just require manual labor. Is all this not just ? Well, c ompetition of necessity establishes these distinctions; society does not need a Fourier or a father-figure like Enfantin to decide this.

 

From Capital and Rent (Feb. 1849): 2178

D'après quelle loi s'établit le taux de ces services rémunératoires du prêt ? D'après la loi générale qui règle l'équivalence de tous les services, c'est-à-dire d'après la loi de l'offre et de la demande. Plus une chose est facile à se procurer, moins on rend service en la cédant ou prêtant. L'homme qui me donne un verre d'eau, dans les Pyrénées, ne me rend pas un aussi grand service que celui qui me céderait un verre d'eau, dans le désert de Sahara. S'il y a beaucoup de rabots, de sacs de blé, de maisons dans un pays, on en obtient l'usage ( cæteris paribus ) à des conditions plus favorables que s'il y en a peu, par la simple raison que le prêteur rend en ce cas un moindre service relatif. What law governs the rate for these repayment services on the loans? The general law that governs the equivalence of all services, that is to say, the law of supply and demand. The easier it is to acquire an item, the less of a service is provided in selling or lending it. A man who gives me a glass of water in the Pyrenees is not providing me with as great a service as one who lets me have a glass of water in the Sahara desert. If there are a great many planes or sacks of wheat or houses in a region, you can obtain the use of them ( coeteris paribus ) on more favorable conditions than if they are scarce, for the simple reason that the lender is providing less of a service relatively speaking .

From Damn Money! (April, 1849): 2179

— Ainsi, selon vous, les trésors qu'on trouve en Californie n'accroîtront pas la richesse du monde ?

— Je ne crois pas qu'ils ajoutent beaucoup aux jouissances, aux satisfactions réelles de l'humanité prise dans son ensemble. Si l'or de la Californie ne fait que remplacer dans le monde celui qui se perd et se détruit, cela peut avoir son utilité. S'il en augmente la masse, il la dépréciera. Les chercheurs d'or seront plus riches qu'ils n'eussent été sans cela. Mais ceux entre les mains de qui se trouvera l'or actuel au moment de la dépréciation, se procureront moins de satisfactions à somme égale. Je ne puis voir là un accroissement, mais un déplacement de la vraie richesse, telle que je l'ai définie.

— Tout cela est fort subtil. Mais vous aurez bien de la peine à me faire comprendre que je ne suis pas plus riche, toutes choses égales d'ailleurs , si j'ai deux écus, que si je n'en ai qu'un.

— Aussi n'est-ce pas ce que je dis.

ABC: So, according to you, the treasure that is being found in California is not increasing the world’s wealth?

Economist F: I do not believe that it adds very much to the benefits and genuine satisfactions of the human race as a whole. If the gold in California replaces only the gold that is lost and destroyed in the world, it may be useful. If it increases the quantity of it, it will lower its value. Gold prospectors will be wealthier than they would be if this did not happen. But those prospectors who have an amount of gold in hand at the very moment of its depreciation will get less satisfaction in the future than they would have for the same amount before. I cannot see this as an increase but a displacement of genuine wealth as I have defined it.

ABC: All of this is very subtle. But it will be very difficult for you to get me to understand that I am not wealthier, all other things being equal , if I have two écus instead of one.

Economist F: This is not what I am saying.

 

From “Abundance” (1850): 2180

On dira peut-être qu'il ne suffit pas que les produits abondent  ; qu'il faut encore qu'ils soient équitablement répartis. Rien n'est plus vrai. Mais ne confondons pas les questions. Quand nous défendons l'abondance, quand nos adversaires la décrient, les uns et les autres nous sous-entendons ces mots : cæteris paribus , toutes choses égales d'ailleurs , l'équité dans la répartition étant supposée la même. Perhaps it might be said that it is not enough for products to be abundant ; they also need to be distributed justly. . Nothing is truer than this. But let us not confuse matters. When we support abundance while our opponents decry it, both sides understand these words: coeteris paribus , all other things being equal, with equity in distribution being assumed to be the same .

We will conclude this discussion of Bastiat’s use of the the idea of ceteris paribus with an example of how he applied it to the problem of population growth and the impact of population density on economic development, a topic which occupied him in several essays in this volume. It comes from a letter he wrote to Fontenay during his final months at the spa town of Les Eaux-Bonnes in which he argues that an increasing density of population actually increases the possibilities for greater production instead of reducing them: 2181

Quant à la population, il est incompréhensible que M. Clément m'attaque sur un sujet que je n'ai pas encore abordé ! Et au fond, nier cet axiome : La densité de la population est une facilité de production, c'est nier toute la puissance de l'échange et de la division du travail. De plus c'est nier des faits qui crèvent les yeux. — Sans doute la population s'arrange naturellement de manière à produire le plus possible ; et pour cela, selon l'occurrence, elle diverge ou converge, elle obéit à une double tendance de dissémination et de concentration ; mais plus elle augmente, cœteris paribus , — c'est-à-dire à égalité de vertus, de prévoyance, de dignité, — plus les services se divisent, se rendent facilement, plus chacun tire parti de ses moindres qualités spéciales, etc… As for population, it is incomprehensible that M. Clément can attack me on a subject that I have not yet tackled! And basically, to deny the axiom that the density of the population is an advantage for production is to deny all the power of trade and the division of labor . What is more, it is to deny facts that are blindingly obvious. Doubtless, populations naturally organize themselves so as to produce as much as possible, and to do this they divide or merge as circumstances require; they obey a double tendency to spread out and to concentrate, but the more they increase, ceteris paribus , that is to say, all their virtues, forward planning, and dignity being equal, the more services become specialised and are more easily provided, the more each person is rewarded for the least of his particular qualities, etc.

 

Thus, it appears that Bastiat, like Mill in the English-speaking world, was an independent early adopter of the phrase and it reveals the depth and growing sophistication of his thinking about economic problems and their solution.

A final interesting observation can be made about some comments J.S. Mill made in his essay “On the Definition of Political Economy; and on the Method of Philosophical Investigation in that Science” which appeared in the London and Westminster Review (Oct., 1836) which have some striking similarities to Bastiat’s ideas about “disturbing factors” which upset the operation of the free market, and his theory of “the seen and the unseen.” Their connection with “ceteris paribus” lies in Mill’s attempts to identify the effects of multiple causes which influence a given state of society by examining one while holding the others constant (i.e. “other things being equal” at least temporarily), and to warn the observer to be on the lookout for causes which “are not absolutely hidden, perhaps, from any one, but are commonly seen through a mist,” or which are only “partial views” of a complex society. As Mill put it:

(The speculative politician) must make a large allowance for the disturbing influence of unforeseen causes, and must carefully watch the result of every experiment, in order that any residuum of facts which his principles did not lead him to expect, and do not enable him to explain, may become the subject of a fresh analysis, and furnish the occasion for a consequent enlargement or correction of his general views. …

With all the precautions which have been indicated there will still be some danger of falling into partial views; but we shall at least have taken the best securities against it. All that we can do more, is to endeavour to be impartial critics of our own theories, and to free ourselves, as far as we are able, from that reluctance from which few inquirers are altogether exempt, to admit the reality or relevancy of any facts which they have not previously either taken into, or left a place open for in, their systems. …

Effects are commonly determined by a concurrence of causes. If we have overlooked any one cause, we may reason justly from all the others, and only be the further wrong. Our premises will be true, and our reasoning correct, and yet the result of no value in the particular case. There is, therefore, almost always room for a modest doubt as to our practical conclusions. …

The principles which we have now stated are by no means alien to common apprehension: they are not absolutely hidden, perhaps, from any one, but are commonly seen through a mist. We might have presented the latter part of them in a phraseology in which they would have seemed the most familiar of truisms: we might have cautioned inquirers against too extensive generalization, and reminded them that there are exceptions to all rules. … The error, when there is error, does not arise from generalizing too extensively; that is, from including too wide a range of particular cases in a single proposition. Doubtless, a man often asserts of an entire class what is only true of a part of it; but his error generally consists not in making too wide an assertion, but in making the wrong kind of assertion: he predicated an actual result, when he should only have predicated a tendency to that result—a power acting with a certain intensity in that direction. … There are two laws, each possibly acting in the whole hundred cases, and bringing about a common effect by their conjunct operation. If the force which, being the less conspicuous of the two, is called the disturbing force, prevails sufficiently over the other force in some one case, to constitute that case what is commonly called an exception, the same disturbing force probably acts as a modifying cause in many other cases which no one will call exceptions. 2182

Endnotes

2166 Also written as “cæteris paribus,” “cœteris paribus,” and “ceteris paribus.”

2167 There are 12 references to “toutes choses égales d'ailleurs” beginning with his article “Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons Relating to the Customs Service” (April 1834), in CW2, pp. 000; and 5 instances of Bastiat using the term “ceteris paribus” in his work beginning in November 1846 with “To the Editors of Le National ” in Courrier français (11 Nov. 1846), CW6 (forthcoming). Interestingly, J.B. Say preferred a slightly different phrase, “toutes choses d'ailleurs égales” in the Cours complet . There is only one reference to “cœteris paribus” there.

2168 Alexander Reutlinger, Gerhard Schurz, and Andreas Hüttemann, "Ceteris Paribus Laws" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , Spring 2014 edition (Mar 14, 2011) < http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/ceteris-paribus/ >.

2169 For example, McCulloch used the term only once in the 1825 edition of Principles of Political Economy when he quoted Petty directly. However, in the 3rd edition of 1843 he used it three times on his own accord, as in "There is no longer any doubt of the maxim that money is the sinews of war; that the wealthiest nation is, coeteris paribus, the most powerful" (p. 159). See The Principles of Political Economy: with a Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Science (Edinburgh: Tait, William & Tait, 1825). Third edition Tait 1843.

2170 James Mill, “Beggar” in Supplement to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. With Preliminary Dissertations on the History of the Science. Illustrated by Engravings. (Edinburgh, Archibald Constable and Company, 1824).

2171 John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I , ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986), p. 53.

2172 J.S. Mill, “On the Words Productive and Unproductive”, Essay III in Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (1844), in John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IV - Essays on Economics and Society Part I, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).

2173 Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 9, “The Moral of Many Fables,” p. 114.

2174 Molinari, [CR] “Contes sur l'économie politique, par miss Harriet Martineau,” JDE, T. 23, N° 97, 15 avril 1849, pp. 77-82.

2175 T.5 [1834.04] "Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons Relating to the Customs Service, CW2, pp. 1-9.

2176 T.87 "To the Editors of Le National (2)", Le Courrier français , 11 Nov. 1846. CW6 (forthcoming).

2177 “On Competition” (1846), above, pp. 000.

2178 Capital and Rent (Feb. 1849), above, pp. 000.

2179 Damn Money! (April, 1849), above, pp. 000.

2180 “Abondance”, DEP, (1852), below, pp. 000.

2181 Letter 180 to M. de Fontenay344 (Les Eaux-Bonnes, 3 July 1850), CW1, p. 256.

2182 “On the Definition of Political Economy; and on the Method of Philosophical Investigation in that Science,” London and Westminster Review , IV and XXVI (Oct., 1836), 1-29. In John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume IV - Essays on Economics and Society Part I , ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967), pp. 335-37.

 


 

Bastiat’s Theory of Class: The Plunderers vs. the Plundered(CW3 book)

A recurring theme in many essays in the Economic Sophisms is that of plunder (la spoliation) of one group of people by another group. According to Bastiat, his intention in writing the sophisms was to bring to the attention of the French people the fact that they were being deceived and that wholesale plundering was going on around them under the guise of subsidies to industry, tariffs on imported goods, taxes on essential items such as salt and sugar, and high military spending (see “Bastiat on Enlightening the ‘Dupes’ about the Nature of Plunder” in the Introduction). A corollary of his ideas about plunder was his view of class, or the specific relationships which developed at any given historical moment between the group who benefited from institutionalized plunder and the group who were being plundered.

This was a topic Bastiat planned to discuss in much greater detail in a future book on the history of plunder, which he did not live long enough to complete. Fortunately, he left us many clues about what it would have contained, but these are scattered across a dozen or more essays and chapters, several of which are in his three collections of Economic Sophisms and in the booklet WSWNS, which constitute this volume of his Collected Works. This note attempts a partial reconstruction of Bastiat’s theory of class from these fragments.

The basis for Bastiat’s theory of class was the notion of plunder, which he defined as the taking of another person’s property without their consent, by force or fraud. Those who lived by plunder constituted “les spoliateurs” (the plunderers) or “la classe spoliatrice” (the plundering class). Those whose property was taken constituted “les spoliés” (the plundered) or “les classes spoliées” (the plundered classes). Before the Revolution of February 1848, Bastiat used the pairing of “les spoliateurs” (the plunderers) and “les spoliés” (the plundered); after the Revolution he preferred the pairing of “la classe spoliatrice” (the plundering class) and “les classes spoliées” (the plundered classes), which is one indication of how deeply the events of 1848 and the rise of socialism affected his thinking.[38] The intellectual origins of this way of thinking can be traced back to the innovative ideas of Jean-Baptiste Say concerning “productive” and “unproductive” labor, which he developed in his Treatise of Political Economy (1803),[39] and the work of two lawyers and journalists who were inspired by Say’s work during the Restoration, Charles Comte (1782–1837)[40] and Charles Dunoyer (1786–1862).[41] Comte and Dunoyer took the idea that those who were engaged in productive economic activity of any kind, or what they called “l'industrie,” creating either goods or services, comprised a class which they called “les industrieux” (industrious or productive workers). Dunoyer in particular developed from these ideas an “industrialist” theory of history and class analysis which was very influential among French liberals leading up to 1848. Bastiat’s reading of these three authors during the 1820s and 1830s laid the theoretical foundation of his own thinking about productive and unproductive labor, the nature of exploitation or plunder, and the system of class rule which was created when the unproductive class used their control of the state to live off the productive labor of the mass of the people.[42]

Bastiat took the ideas of Say, Comte, and Dunoyer about plunder and the plundering class which he had absorbed in his youth and developed them further during his campaign against protectionism between early 1843 and the beginning of 1848. Thus, it is not suprising that his definition originally began as an attempt to explain how an “oligarchy” of large landowners and manufacturers exploited consumers by preventing them from freely trading with foreigners and forcing them to buy from more expensive state-protected local producers. This perspective is clearly shown in Bastiat’s lengthy introduction to his first book on Cobden and the League, which was published by Guillaumin in July 1845.[43] He wanted to apply to France his analysis of the English class system of an oligarchy protected by tariffs and to adapt the strategies used by Cobden and the Anti–Corn Law League to France, which he attempted to do, unsuccessfully as it turned out, between 1846 and early 1848. He returned to the English class system in the essay “Anglomania, Anglophobia” (c. 1847),[44] where he discusses “the great conflict between democracy and aristocracy, between common law and privilege” and explains how this class conflict was playing out in England. In “The People and the Bourgeoisie” (May 1847), he also analyzed the class relationship between the aristocracy and the nation in France, which he viewed as having such “an undeniable hostility of interests” that it would lead inevitably to conflict of some kind, such as “la guerre sociale” (class or social war).[45]

He later expanded his understanding of class and plunder to include other forms of exploitation, such as ancient slavery, medieval feudalism, oppression by the Catholic Church, and in his own day financial and banking privileges, as well as redistributive socialism, which began to emerge during 1848. We can see this clearly in the chapter “The Physiology of Plunder,” which opened the second series of Economic Sophisms, published in January 1848 but written in late 1847, where he defined plunder in the following rather abstract way, using his terminology of any exchange as the mutual exchange of “service for service”: “The true and just law governing man is ‘the freely negotiated exchange of one service for another.’[46] Plunder consists in banishing by force or fraud the freedom to negotiate in order to receive a service without offering one in return.”[47] Thus, the slave was plundered by the slaveowner because the violent capture and continued imprisonment of the slave did not allow any free negotiation with the slave-owner over the terms of contract for doing the labor which the slave was forced to do. Similarly, the French manufacturer protected by a tariff or ban on imported foreign goods prevented the domestic purchaser from freely negotiating with a Belgian or English manufacturer to purchase the good at a lower price.

What turned what might have been just a one-off act of violence against a slave or a domestic consumer into a system of class exploitation and rule was its regularization, systematization, and organization by the state.[49] All societies had laws which prohibited theft and fraud by some individuals against other individuals. When these laws are broken by thieves, robbers, and conmen, we have an example of what Bastiat called “la spoliation extra-légale” (plunder which takes place outside the law),[50] and we expect the police authorities to attempt to apprehend and punish the wrongdoers. However, all societies have also established what Bastiat termed “la spoliation légale” (plunder which is done with the sanction or protection of the law) or “la spoliation gouvernementale” (plunder by government itself ).[51] Those members of society who are able to control the activities of the state and its legal system can get laws passed which provide them with privileges and benefits at the expense of ordinary people. The state thus becomes what Bastiat termed “la grande fabrique de lois” (the great law factory),[52] which makes it possible for the plundering class to use the power of the state to exploit the plundered classes in a systematic and seemingly permanent fashion.[53]

We know Bastiat had plans to apply his class analysis to European history going back to the ancient Romans. When working through his papers in preparation for publishing the second part of Economic Harmonies, his friend and literary executor Prosper Paillottet states that Bastiat had sketched out in seven proposed chapters what would in effect have been his History of Plunder: Chapter 16. Plunder, 17. War, 18. Slavery, 19. Theocracy, 20. Monopoly, Government Exploitation, 22. False Brotherhood or Communism. This list was included in the second expanded edition of Economic Harmonies (1851), which “the friends of Bastiat” (Prosper Paillottet and Roger de Fontenay) put together from his papers after his death.[54]

The historical form of plunder which Bastiat discussed in most detail in his sketches and drafts was “theocratic plunder,” especially in ES2 1, “The Physiology of Plunder.”[55] Bastiat believed that the era of theocratic plunder provided a case study of how trickery and sophistic arguments could be used to ensure compliance with the demands of the plundering class. He argued that the rule of the Church in European history was one which had practiced plunder and deception “on a grand scale.” The Church had developed an elaborate system of theocratic plunder through its tithing of income and production, and on top of this it created a system of “sophisme théocratique” (theocratic sophistry and trickery) based upon the notion that only members of the church could ensure the people’s passage to an afterlife. This and other theocratic sophisms created dupes of the ordinary people, who duly handed over their property to the Church. Bastiat had no squabble with a church in which the priests were “the instrument of the religion,” but for hundreds of years religion had become instead “the instrument of its priest.”[56] The challenge to this theocratic plundering came through the invention of the printing press, which enabled the transmission of ideas critical of the power and intellectual claims of the Church and gradually led to the weakening of this form of organized, legal plunder. The Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment gradually exposed the theocratic sophisms for what they really were—so many tricks, deceptions, lies, and contradictions—and many people were thus no longer willing to be the dupes of the Church.

In a similar manner, Bastiat thought, the modern bureaucratic and regulatory state of his day was, like the Church, based upon a mixture of outright violence and coercion, on the one hand, and trickery and sophisms, on the other. The violence and coercion came from the taxes, tariffs, and regulations which were imposed on taxpayers, traders, and producers; the ideological dimension which maintained the current class of plunderers came from a new set of political and economic sophisms which confused, misled, and tricked a new generation of dupes into supporting the system. The science of political economy, according to Bastiat, was to be the means by which the economic sophisms of the present would be exposed, rebutted, and finally overturned, thus depriving the current plundering class of their livelihood and power: “I have said enough to show that Political Economy has an obvious practical use. It is the flame that destroys this social disorder which is Plunder, by unveiling Fraud and dissipating Error.”[57]

The outbreak of revolution in February 1848 and the coming to power of organized socialist groups forced Bastiat to modify his theory in two ways. The first was to adopt the very language of “class” used by his socialist opponents, as we have seen with his change in usage from the pairing of “les spoliateurs” (the plunderers) and “les spoliés” (the plundered) before the Revolution to that of “la classe spoliatrice” (the plundering class) and “les classes spoliées” (the plundered classes) after the Revolution. The second way he changed his theory was to consider more carefully how state-organized plunder would be undertaken by a majority of the people instead of a small minority. Before the socialists became a force to be reckoned with in the Second Republic, when they introduced the National Workshops program under Louis Blanc, a small minority of powerful individuals, such as slaveowners, high Church officials, the military, or large landowners and manufacturers, used the power of the state to plunder the ordinary taxpayers and consumers. Bastiat termed this “la spoliation partielle” (partial plunder).[58] He believed that what the socialists were planning during 1848 was to introduce a completely new kind of plunder, which he called “la spoliation universelle” (universal plunder) or “la spoliation réciproque” (reciprocal plunder). In this system of plunder, the majority (that is to say, the ordinary taxpayers and consumers who made up the vast bulk of French society) would plunder itself, now that the minority of the old plundering class had been removed from political power. Bastiat thought that this was unsustainable in the long run, and in his famous essay on “The State” ( June, September 1848) called the socialist-inspired redistributive state “the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.”[59]

I don’t think Bastiat fully grasped at this time how the modern welfare state might evolve into a new form of class rule in the name of the people where “les fonctionnaires” (state bureaucrats and other functionaries), supposedly acting in the name of the people, siphoned off resources for their own needs. Bastiat gives hints that this might happen in his discussion of the “parasitical” nature of most government services[60] and his ideas about “la spoliation gouvernementale” (plunder by government) and “le gouvernementalisme” (rule by government bureaucrats),[61] which suggest the idea that government and those who work for it have their own interests which are independent of other groups in society. These are insights which Bastiat’s younger friend and colleague Gustave de Molinari took up two years after Bastiat’s death, in his class analysis of how Louis Napoléon came to power and brought the Second Republic to an end.[62]

In two private letters to Madame Hortense Cheuvreux, the wife of a wealthy benefactor who helped Bastiat find time to work on his economic treatise during the last two years of his life, Bastiat makes some interesting observations about the nature of the class antagonisms which were dividing France. In the first letter ( January 1850), he offered Mme Cheuvreux an analysis of the conflict between the people and the bourgeoisie, based upon what he had observed during the Revolution. He concludes that French bourgeoisie had had an opportunity to bring class rule in France to an end and by not doing so had alienated a large section of the working class:

    In France, I can see two major classes, each of which can be divided into two. To use hallowed although inaccurate terms, I will call them the people and the bourgeoisie. The people consist of a host of millions of human beings who are ignorant and suffering, and consequently dangerous. As I said, they are divided into two; the vast majority are reasonably in favor of order, security, and all conservative priciples, but, because of their ignorance and suffering, are the easy prey of ambitious sophists. This mass is swayed by a few sincere fools and by a larger number of agitators and revolutionaries, people who have an inborn attaction for disruption or who count on disruption to elevate themselves to fortune and power. The bourgeoisie, it must never be forgotten, is very small in number. This class also has its ignorance and suffering, although to a different degree. It also offers dangers, but of a different nature. It too can be broken down into a large number of peaceful, undemonstrative people, partial to justice and freedom, and a small number of agitators. The bourgeoisie has governed this country, and how has it behaved? The small minority did harm and the large majority allowed them to do this, not without taking advantage of this when they could. These are the moral and social statistics of our country.[63]

In the second letter (23 June 1850), he is even more pessimistic in believing that France (and perhaps all of Europe) is doomed to never-ending “guerre sociale” (social or class war). He talks about how history is divided into two alternating phases of “struggle” and “truce” to control the state and the plunder which flows from this:

As long as the state is regarded in this way as a source of favors, our history will be seen as having only two phases, the periods of conflict as to who will take control of the state and the periods of truce, which will be the transitory reign of a triumphant oppression, the harbinger of a fresh conflict.[64]

Bastiat’s way of looking at plunder and class did not end with his death on 24 December 1850. His ideas inspired one of his colleagues associated with the Journal des Économistes, Ambroise Clément,[65] to write an article “De la spoliation légale” (On Legal Plunder) in July 1848,[66] in which he developed some of Bastiat’s ideas further with a more detailed categorization of the kinds of legal state theft or plunder, such as aristocratic theft, monarchical theft, theft by government regulation, industrial theft, theft under the guise of philanthropy, and administrative theft by the government itself.

One should also note that Bastiat’s ideas on plunder and class were taken up in a few places in the Dictionnaire de l'Économie politique (1852), most notably in the article “La Loi” (Law), which consisted mostly of very large quotations from Bastiat’s own essay, a short entry “Fonctionnaires” (civil servants) by Ambroise Clément, and a very interesting article “Parasites” by Renouard.[67]

Bastiat’s ideas also probably influenced the thinking of his younger friend and colleague Gustave de Molinari, who began to develop his own ideas about class analysis in more detail after Bastiat’s death in December 1850. After he left Paris in a self-imposed exile to Brussels after Louis Napoléon’s coup d'état of December 1851, he gave a lecture in which he explored the nature of the class dynamics which had brought Louis Napoléon to power—"Les Révolutions et le despotisme envisagés au point de vue des intérêts matériel“ (Revolutions and Despotism Seen from the Perspective of Material Interests).[68] Molinari would return to writing on class theory after a stint as editor of the prestigious Journal des Débats in the late 1860s and 1870s, when he published two important works of historical sociology in which the evolution of the state and market institutions, and the class relationships between producers and the state would play a very important role—L'évolution économique du XIXe siècle: théorie du progrès (The Economic Evolution of the 19th Century: A Theory of Progress, 1880), and L'évolution politique et la Révolution (Political Evolution and the Revolution, 1884).[69]

In conclusion, to show the various theoretical threads Bastiat was pursuing in formulating his theory of class, we list here in chronological order the main works where he discusses plunder and class. Note that of the fifteen items, six are from the Economic Sophisms and two are from WSWNS:

  1. "Introduction” to Cobden and the League ( July 1845),[70] in which he discusses the English “oligarchy” which benefited from the system of tariffs which Cobden and his Anti–Corn Law League were trying to get repealed.
  2. ES1 “Conclusion” (November 1845), where he reflects on the use of force throughout history to oppress the majority, and the part played by “sophistry” (ideology and false economic thinking) to justify this.
  3. ES2 9 “Theft by Subsidy” ( JDE, January 1846), where he insists on the need to use “harsh language"—like the word "theft"—to describe the policies of governments which give benefits to some at the expense of others.[71]
  4. ES3 6 "The People and the Bourgeoisie” (LE, 23 May 1847), in which he rejects the idea that there is an inevitable antagonism, “la guerre sociale” (war between social groups or classes), between the people and the bourgeoisie, while there is one between the people and the aristocracy; he also introduces the idea of “la classe électorale” (the electoral class) which controls the French state by severely limiting the right to vote to the top one or two percent of the population.
  5. ES2 1 “The Physiology of Plunder” (c. 1847), his first detailed discussion of the nature of plunder, which is contrasted with “production,” and the historical progression of stages through which plunder has evolved from war, slavery, theocracy, and monopoly.
  6. ES2 2 “Two Moral Philosophies” (c. 1847), where he distinguishes between religious moral philosophy, which attempts to persuade the men who live by plundering others (e.g., slave-owners and protectionists) to voluntarily refrain from doing so, and economic moral philosophy, which speaks to the victims of plundering and urges them to resist by understanding the true nature of their oppression and making it “increasingly difficult and dangerous” for their oppressors to continue exploiting them.
  7. ES3 14 “Anglomania, Anglophobia” (c. 1847), where he discusses “the great conflict between democracy and aristocracy, between common law and privilege” and how this class conflict is playing out in England.
  8. “Justice and Fraternity” (15 June 1848, JDE),[72] where Bastiat first used the terms “la spoliation extra-légale” (extra-legal plunder) and “la spoliation légale” (legal plunder); he describes the socialist state as “un intermédiaire parasite et dévorant” (a parasitic and devouring intermediary) which embodies “la Spoliation organisée” (organized plunder).
  9. “Property and Plunder” ( JDD, 24 July 1848),[73] in the “Fifth Letter” of which Bastiat talks about how transitory plunder gradually became “la spoliation permanente” (permanent plunder) when it became organized and entrenched by the state.
  10. “Conclusion” to the first edition of Economic Harmonies (late 1849),[74] where he sketches what his unfinished book would have included, such as the opposite of the factors leading to “harmony,” namely “les dissonances sociales” (the social disharmonies), such as plunder and oppression, or what he also calls “les causes perturbatrices” (disturbing factors); here he concentrates on theocratic and protectionist plunder.
  11. “Plunder and Law” ( JDE, 15 May 1850),[75] where he addresses the protectionists who have turned the law into a “sword” or “un instrument de Spoliation” (a tool of plunder) which the socialists will take advantage of when they get the political opportunity to do so.
  12. “The Law” ( June 1850),[76] Bastiat’s most extended treatment of the natural law basis of property and how it has been “perverted” by the plunderers who have seized control of the state, where “la loi a pris le caractère spoliateur” (the law has taken on the character of the plunderer); he reminds the protectionists that the system of exploitation they had created before 1848 has been taken over, first by the socialists and soon by the Bonapartists, to be used for their own purposes, thus creating a new form of plundering by a new kind of class rule by “gouvernementalisme” (government bureaucrats).
  13. WSWNS 3 “Taxes” ( July 1850), on the conflict between the taxpayers and the payment of the salaries of civil servants, whom he likens to so many thieves, who provide no (or very little) benefit in return for the money they receive, and thus create a form of “legal parasitism.”
  14. WSWNS 6 “The Middlemen” ( July 1850), where he describes the government’s provision of some services as a form of “dreadful parasitism.”
  15. Economic Harmonies, part 2, chapter 17, “Private Services, Public Services” (published posthumously in 1851),[77] an examination of the extent to which “public services” are productive or plunderous; he discusses how in the modern era “la spoliation par l'impôt s'exerce sur une immense échelle” (plunder by means of taxation is exercized to a high degree), but rejects the idea that they are plunderous “par essence” (by their very nature); beyond a very small number of limited activities (such as public security, managing public property) the actions of the state are “autant d'instruments d'oppression et de spoliation légales” (only so many tools of oppression and legal plunder); he warns of the danger of the state serving the private interests of “les fonctionnaires” (state functionaries) who become plunderers in their own right; the plundered class is deceived by sophistry into thinking that they will benefit from whatever the plundering classes seize as a result of the “ricochet” or trickle down effect[78] as they spend their ill-gotten gains.

 

Endnotes

[39] Bastiat’s first use of the terms “la classe spoliatrice” and “les classes spoliées” occurred in “The Law” ( July 1850) and then in Economic Harmonies 17 “Services privés, services publiques,” CW5 (forthcoming).

[40] Say, Jean-Baptiste, Traité d'économie politique (1st ed. 1803).

[41] Comte, Charles, Traité de législation, 4 vols. (1827); Traité de la propriété, 2 vols. (1834).

[42] Dunoyer, Charles, L'Industrie et la morale considérées dans leurs rapports avec la liberté (1825); “Esquisse historique des doctrines auxquelles on a donné le nom industrialisme, c'est-à-dire, des doctrines qui fondent la société sur l'Industrie,” Revue encyclopédique, février 1827, vol. 33, pp. 368–94; De la liberté du travail (1845).

[43] On the rich but not well-known French liberal theory of class, see Leonard P. Liggio, “Charles Dunoyer and French Classical Liberalism” (1977); Ralph Raico, “Classical Liberal Exploitation Theory: A Comment on Professor Liggio’s Paper” (1979); “Classical Liberal Roots of the Marxist Doctrine of Classes” (1992); “The Centrality of French Liberalism” (2012); David M. Hart, Class Analysis, Slavery and the Industrialist Theory of History in French Liberal Thought, 1814–1830 (1994).

[44] This will appear in CW6 (forthcoming). A shortened version of the Introduction also appeared as an article in the JDE: “Situation économique de la Grande-Bretagne. Réformes financières. Agitation pour la liberté commerciale,JDE, June 1845, T. XI, no. 43, pp. 233–65.

[45] ES3 14, pp. 327–41.

[48] All societies had laws which prohibited theft and fraud by some individuals against other individuals. When these laws are broken by thieves, robbers, and con-

[46] ES3 6, “The People and the Bourgeoisie” (22 May 1847, Le Libre-Échange), pp. 11–12. In this volume, pp. 281–86. Bastiat first began to use the phrase “social or class war” in 1847 and used it several times in early 1849 in speeches in the Chamber of Deputies and in his campaign for re-election in April 1849.

[47] In French the key phrase is “L'échange librement débattu de service contre service.

[48] ES2 1, p. 117.

[49] On “la Spoliation organisée” (organized plunder) by the state, see “Justice and Fraternity,” CW2, p. 78 and online http:// oll.libertyfund.org/ titles/ 2450#Bastiat_1573-02_564.

[50] Bastiat first used the terms “la spoliation extra-légale” and “la spoliation légale” in the essay “Justice and Fraternity” (15 June 1848, JDE) and CW2, pp. 60–81; and then in “The Law” ( June 1850).

[51] ES2 1, “The Physiology of Plunder,” pp. 113–30.

[52] WSWNS, chap. 7 “Trade Restrictions,” pp. 427–32.

[53] Bastiat used the phrase “la spoliation permanente” (permanent plunder) in “Property and Plunder” ( July 1848), CW2, pp. 147–84 and online /titles/2450#lf1573-02_label_218.

[54] See the “List of Chapters,” in Frédéric Bastiat, Harmonies économiques. 2me édition (1851). List on p. 335. They can also be found in the FEE edition, p. 554, and online /titles/79#lf0187_head_074.

[55] ES2 1, “The Physiology of Plunder,” pp. 113–30; FEE, pp. 16ff. He also talks about theocratic plunder in the conclusion to ES1, ES2 2 “Two Moral Philosophies,” the conclusion to part 1 of Economic Harmonies, and EH 16 “On Population.”

[56] ES2 1. “The Physiology of Plunder,” p. 123; FEE, pp. 20–21.

[57] ES2 1. “The Physiology of Plunder,” p. 116; FEE, pp. 132.

[58] Bastiat first used the terms “partial” and “universal” plunder in “Plunder and the Law” (15 May 1850, CW2, p. 275) and then again in “The Law” ( July 1850, CW2, p. 117).

[59] CW2, p. 97 and online /titles/2450#Bastiat_1573-02_671.

[60] See the scattered references to parasites in WSWNS 3, “Taxes,” CW3, pp. 410–13; and WSWNS 6, “The Middlemen,” CW3, pp. 422–27.

[61] “The Law,” CW2, pp. 107–46 and online /titles/2450# Bastiat_1573-02_1015.

[62] See Gustave de Molinari, Les Révolutions et le despotisme envisagés au point de vue des intérêts matériel (1852).

[63] “159. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux” (2 January 1850), CW1, pp. 229–31.

[64] “176. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux” (23 June 1850), CW1, pp. 251–52.

[65] Ambroise Clément (1805–86) was an economist and secretary to the mayor of Saint-Étienne for many years. In the mid-1840s he began writing on economic matters and so impressed Guillaumin that the latter asked him to assume the task of directing the publication of the important and influential Dictionnaire de l'économie politique, in 1850.

[66] Ambroise Clément, “De la spoliation légale,” Journal des économistes, 1 July 1848, T. 20, no. 83, pp. 363–74.

[67] Bastiat, “La Loi,” DEP, vol. 2, pp. 93–100; A. Clément, “Fonctionnaires,” DEP, vol. 1, pp. 787–89; and Renouard, “Parasites,” DEP, vol. 2, pp. 323–29.

[68] Gustave de Molinari, Les Révolutions et le despotisme envisagés au point de vue des intérêts matériel (1852).

[69] Gustave de Molinari, L'évolution économique du XIXe siècle (1880), and L'évolution politique et la Révolution (1884).

[70] In CW6 (forthcoming).

[71] In his parody of Molière’s parody of an oath of induction into the fraternity of doctors, Bastiat has a would-be customs officer promise “to steal, plunder, filch, swindle, and defraud” travellers. ES2 9, p. 176.

[72] CW2, pp. 60–81 and online http:// oll.libertyfund.org/ titles/ 2450#lf1573-02_label_153.

[73] CW2, pp. 147–84 and online http:// oll.libertyfund.org/ titles/ 2450#lf1573-02_label_218.

[74] In CW5 (forthcoming). See also the FEE edition online /titles/79#lf0187_head_074.

[75] CW2, pp. 266–76 and online http:// oll.libertyfund.org/ titles/ 2450#lf1573-02_label_331.

[76] CW2, pp. 107–46 and online http:// oll.libertyfund.org/ titles/ 2450#lf1573-02_label_197.

[77] In CW5 (forthcoming). See also the FEE edition online /titles/79#lf0187_label_179.

[78] This, “the trickle down effect,” is the second meaning Bastiat gave to the term “ricochet effect,” which he later reserved to the idea of perhaps unintended flow on effects of government intervention. See pp. 457–61.

 

 


 

Bastiat and Conversations about Liberty(CW3 book)

The “constructed dialogue” format was the second most common format which Bastiat used, appearing in fourteen of the seventy-five sophisms (19 percent of the total) he wrote between 1845 and 1850. The third most common format was the “economic tale or fable” (eight essays or 11 percent of the total), of which five contained substantial dialogue. These nineteen sophisms will be considered here as part of Bastiat’s “conversations about liberty.”[35]

The use of dialogue was a deliberate strategy adopted by Bastiat to make his discussions of economic principles less “dull and dry,” especially for the more popular audience he was trying to reach through journals like Le Libre-échange or workers rioting on the streets of Paris in February 1848. He would have the “Economist,” “Friday,” or “Jacques Bonhomme” present the free-market position while the protectionist position was presented by “An Artisan,” “Robinson Crusoe,” or a government official like the tax collector “Mr. Blockhead.” In this technique he was influenced by other free-trade writers such as Jane Marcet (1769–1858), Harriet Martineau (1802–76), and Thomas Perronet Thompson (1783–1869).

Bastiat’s younger friend and colleague Gustave de Molinari also used the dialogue format to good effect in three books which consisted entirely of “conversations” between various figures representing different economic points of view. It is most likely that he was greatly influenced by Bastiat’s conversations and little plays which had proven to be quite popular. In Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare (1849), which was published while Bastiat was still alive, Molinari has an Economist debate a range of economic issues with a “Socialist” and a “Conservative,” with the Economist always getting the better of his opponents.[36] Shortly after Bastiat’s death Molinari returned to this theme in another book made up of conversations, Conversations familières sur le commerce des grains (1855), which consisted of a series of conversations on free trade in wheat between a “Rioter,” a “Prohibitionist,” and an “Economist.”[37]

Also in 1849 another very similar book appeared by Zéphirin Jouyne, a lawyer in the Customs Administration at the Court of Appeal in Aix and a member of the Agricultural Congress of Paris (1847), with five conversations between a free-trade Economist and a protectionist Manufacturer in which the Economist argued strongly for the abolition of the protectionist system.4 Thus it seems that in free-market circles the constructed dialogue was a popular format, but it is unclear how effective it was in converting people to the free-market cause.

Of the economic sophisms which use the constructed dialogue format, the following are particularly interesting and innovative. In “Theft by Subsidy” (ES2 9) Bastiat describes a meeting of businessmen at one of the General Councils in which there is a discussion between a shipowner, a sailor, a civil servant, and a government minister (with interjections from a farmer and a weaver) on whether tariffs or taxes are a better way to subsidize French industry. It is in this dialogue that Bastiat introduces his classic “Oath of Induction” for tax collectors, which is based on Molière’s parody of doctors in Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid). It is one of the wittiest things Bastiat ever wrote.

Bastiat presents his most detailed list of the reforms which he would like to see introduced in French society in “The Utopian” (ES2 11). A free-trade “Utopian,” obviously modeled on Bastiat, is mysteriously made a minister in the government with a majority which would allow him to introduce any reforms he likes. In a long conversation he then outlines in some detail his plans to deregulate the economy, cut taxes, eliminate protection, and disband the army. He comes to realize that all this is impossible unless he has the people on his side as well and, since they are not, he resigns. This sophism reveals Bastiat’s realism about the prospects of radical reform given the prevailing climate of opinion in France and his reluctance to see top-down reforms imposed on the people by politicians.

Perhaps Bastiat’s most complex conversations take place in “Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates” (ES2 13), which takes the form of a short play in four scenes where three magistrates, Pierre, Paul, and Jean, scheme to get the Council and the people of Paris to agree to adopt tariffs and trade prohibitions in order to benefit themselves by excluding out-of-town competition. Twenty years later Jacques’s father is tired of the poverty that protectionism has brought to Paris and Jacques is determined to right the wrong. In a series of speeches to the crowd, Jacques and Pierre urge the people to either support free trade ( Jacques) or protectionism (Pierre), but the people are fickle and keep changing their minds. This sophism shows Bastiat trying to expand the conversational form into a longer piece more like a play than an amusing essay. It is the only example we have of this form, as Bastiat seemed to prefer shorter and funnier essays which were less complex in structure.

Another quite complex conversation takes place in “Something Else” (ES2 14). This sophism contains a dialogue within a dialogue. It begins with a discussion between an unnamed free trader and a skeptic. In the course of the discussion the free trader introduces the economic problems faced by Robinson Crusoe on his island. There is then a brief dialogue between Crusoe and Friday in which Friday defends free trade and Crusoe defends protectionism. This sophism is very important because it is an early example of Bastiat’s use of Robinson Crusoe to explain economic concepts, which I believe is one of his most significant innovations in thinking about economics.

In one of the last sophisms he wrote before the outbreak of the Revolution in February 1848, “The Mayor of Énios” (ES3 18), Bastiat tells an elaborate story about the mayor of a small village who wants to make his town richer by applying the same policies the French government does, but on a local scale. If tariffs and protection can increase the wealth of France by keeping out foreign-made goods, the mayor reasons, why can’t his village increase its wealth by keeping out goods produced outside the village? After formulating a tariff (as a council of one), he convenes the municipal council to get his policy enacted. He then tells members of the council how they individually will benefit from having village tariffs, and they agree to vote the law he wants. The prefect of the département hears of his plan and summons him for a dressing-down. Although the prefect is a staunch protectionist when it come to national policy, he is very much a free trader when it comes to internal trade and therefore rescinds the mayor’s law. This confuses the mayor because he truly believes protection is valid at all levels of government. This story reveals a number of aspects of Bastiat’s thinking just before he was to become active in politics during the Revolution as an agitator and an elected politician. It shows Bastiat’s realistic understanding of how local councils can be manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and his frustration with the national government for their intellectual inconsistency in favoring internal free trade but not international free trade.

This sampling of Bastiat’s conversations about liberty shows how much effort he expended in trying to find the best way to express his ideas and to reach his readers. It was in this context that he experimented with writing short plays, making parodies of classic French plays, using fictional characters like Robinson Crusoe to explore the nature of economic reasoning, and fantasizing about what he might do if he were made one of the king’s ministers. It is proof that Bastiat’s creativity was not limited to economic and political theory but also extended to the literary forms his journalism would take.

Endnotes

[35] Essays in dialogue form (14) can be found in ES1 13, 16, 21; ES2 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15; ES3 2, 13, 15, 16; and WSWNS 7. Bastiat’s economic tales (8) can be found in ES1 8, 10; ES2 7, 13; and ES3 4, 11, 12, 18. Of the latter group, substantial dialogue occurs in ES1 8; ES2 7, 13; and ES3 4, 12.

[36] Molinari, Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare.

[37] Molinari, Conversations familières sur le commerce des grains.

[38] Jouyne, Abolition du système prohibitif des douanes.

 


 

Bastiat’s Invention of “Crusoe Economics” (intro to CW2 book)

Modern readers of economics do not find it strange when an economist uses “thought experiments” to help simplify and clarify complex economic arguments. Members of the Austrian school resort to this process as a matter of course because it helps them establish the logic of “human action” which every economic actor must face when making decisions about what to produce or what to exchange. Bastiat, too, found it helpful to offer thought experiments that used the fictional figure of Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked on his Island of Despair, to show the obstacles he needed to overcome in order to achieve some level of prosperity, the opportunity costs of using his time on one task rather than another, the need to deprive himself of some comforts in order to accumulate some savings, and (when Friday and visitors from other islands appear on the scene) the benefits of the division of labor and the nature of comparative advantage in trade.

The relative simplicity of the choices Crusoe had to make (first just one person and then two with the arrival of Friday) makes this a useful device for economists when making “thought experiments” to illustrate basic economic principles, and Bastiat is one of the first economists (perhaps even the first) to make extensive use of “Crusoe economics” to do so. In a search of the economic works in the Online Library of Liberty[32] for references to “Robinson Crusoe” in works written before 1847, we find that there are no references at all in the works of Adam Smith, in J.-B. Say’s Treatise on Political Economy, or in the works of David Ricardo. There are only single references scattered across the writings of economists who were writing in the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s, such as Jeremy Bentham, Jane Marcet, Thomas Babbington

Macaulay, Richard Whately, and Thomas Hodgskin, and none of them uses the Robinson Crusoe analogy to express serious economic ideas. Whately firmly rejected the use of Crusoe in any discussion of the nature of political economy because in his view the study of economics was the study of “exchanges” and, since Crusoe did not engage in any exchanges, he was “in a situation of which Political-Economy takes no cognizance.”[33] Thus, Bastiat’s extensive use of “Crusoe economics” between 1847 and 1850 may well be an original contribution to economic reasoning.[34]

Bastiat may have read Daniel Defoe’s novel The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner (1719) in English, but he would also have had access to several translations into French: one in 1817, one in 1827, one in 1836, and one in 1837. One of the translations which appeared in that year was by the romantic writer Pétrus Borel, who wrote, under the nom de plume of “Wolfman,” several stories published in the journal Le Commerce, which may have brought him to Bastiat’s attention.[35] The second translation of 1837 was by the poet Mme Amable Tastu (1798–1885) and included a glowing essay on Defoe by the economist Louis Reybaud, who was known to Bastiat.[36] Reybaud did not directly discuss the economic aspects of the Crusoe story but instead focused on the political and moral aspects of Defoe’s interesting and varied life. This makes Bastiat’s use of the economic predicament of Robinson Crusoe as an aid to thinking about economic decision making even more remarkable for its originality.

Bastiat uses Crusoe to make his points in both Economic Sophisms and Economic Harmonies.[37] In an unpublished outline or sketch written sometime in 1847, “Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill” (ES3 16), Bastiat uses Robinson Crusoe for the first time to simplify the economic arguments for free trade and provides an excellent statement of his methodology:

Let us run off to the island to see the poor shipwrecked sailor. Let us see him in action. Let us examine the motives, the purpose, and the consequences of his actions. We will not learn everything there, in particular not those things that relate to the distribution of wealth in a society of many people, but we will glimpse the basic facts. We will observe general laws in their simplest form of action, and political economy is there in essence.

Let us apply this method to just a few problems… .

In “Something Else” (ES2 14), Bastiat, as he often does, has created a conversation between two intellectual opponents (in this case a protectionist and a free trader) where the protectionist asks the free trader to explain the effects of protectionism. The free trader replies, “That is not easy. Before moving on to complicated examples, we would have to study it in its simplest form,” and launches into a discussion of how Crusoe made a plank of wood without a saw. After two weeks of intense labor chipping away at a log with an axe, Crusoe finally has his plank (and a blunt axe). The free trader then presents an alternative scenario: what if Crusoe had not commenced making his plank and saw that the tide had washed ashore a proper saw-cut plank (the new plank is an obvious reference to a cheaper overseas import which the protectionists believed would harm the national French economy). Bastiat puts some protectionist notions into Crusoe’s head, and Crusoe concludes that he can make more labor for himself (and therefore be better off according to the protectionists' theory) if he pushes the plank back out to sea. The free trader exposes this economic sophism by saying that there is something that is “not seen” by the protectionist at first glance, namely, “Did Robinson not see that the time he saved he could devote to doing something else?

Bastiat then raises the level of complexity in his economic arguments by introducing a second and then a third person on Crusoe’s island. With the introduction of a second person, Friday, Crusoe now has someone with whom he can cooperate. They can pool their resources, plan their economic activities, develop a simple form of the division of labor, and even trade with each other. When a third person arrives from another island and proposes a trading relationship whereby Crusoe and Friday trade their vegetables for the visitor’s game, Bastiat now can explore the benefits of international comparative advantage in trade. Bastiat uses this three-way conversation to make his points. Interestingly, he gives the European Crusoe the protectionist arguments; the native islander Friday is given the domestic free-trade arguments, and the visitor becomes an advocate of international free trade.

Endnotes

[32] /groups/42.

[33] Whately, Introductory Lectures on Political Economy, Chapter: Lecture I. “A man, for instance, in a desert island, like Alex. Selkirke, or the personage his adventures are supposed to have suggested, Robinson Crusoe, is in a situation of which Political-Economy takes no cognizance,” p. 8, /titles/1377#Whately_0208_28.

[34] DEP has a brief article on Defoe under “Foë (Daniel de).” It focuses on Defoe’s minor economic writings such as his Essay on the Treaty of Commerce with France (1713), Giving Alms no Charity (1704), and A Plan of the English Commerce (1728), but there is no mention of Robinson Crusoe.

[35] Robinson Crusoé, par Daniel de Foë.

[36] Tastu, Aventures de Robinson Crusoé, par Daniel de Foé, 2:371–84.

[37] References to Robinson Crusoe can be found in ES3 16, pp. 345–50, and ES2 14, pp. 227–34. In addition, there is a discussion of how a negotiation might have taken place between Robinson and Friday about exchanging game and fish in “Property and Plunder” (CW2, p. 155), and there are sixteen references to “Robinson” in Economic Harmonies, especially in chapter 4, “Exchange.”

 


 

The Cause of Bastiat’s Untimely Death (CW2 book)

It is not entirely clear what killed Bastiat on Christmas Eve 1850 in Rome. Originally Bastiat had been sent to Pisa by his doctor because of the “better air” there compared with the damp of Paris. We know that Bastiat suffered from a throat condition of some kind and that he lost his ability to speak (a considerable handicap for an elected politician). It was not uncommon for people in his era to die ahead of their time because of serious ailments like tuberculosis (or consumption), but it is also possible that he suffered from throat cancer. According to the minutes of a meeting of the Société d'économie politique, we are given some pieces of information about his condition.30

Bastiat had been an enthusiastic member of the Société d'économie politique, and as the minutes of the society’s meetings show, he attended regularly. His last attendance was the meeting of 10 September 1850, when he came to say farewell to his colleagues before leaving to spend the winter in Italy on his doctor’s advice. He and his colleagues must have known that this was the last time they would see each other, as Bastiat had been ill for some time; he had been getting worse as he struggled to finish the second part of the Economic Harmonies, and indeed he passed away on 24 December later that year. The following comments in the minutes suggest that Bastiat’s illness might have been cancer of the throat and not consumption:

M. Frédéric Bastiat, representative of the people, came to this meeting in order to say farewell to the members of the society. Accepting the wise advice of his doctor Andral, M. Bastiat was going to spend the winter in Pisa in order to improve his health which had changed because of the Paris climate and his excessive work load: at this moment he was suffering from a persistent sore throat [mal de gorge persistant], which [414] has caused him to completely lose his voice. We hope that the brilliant author of the Sophisms and the Economic Harmonies, enjoying the better Italian climate, will be able to soon finish the second volume of the latter work, which is already well advanced.

Endnotes

30.

“Séance du septembre 1850.”

 

 


 

Disturbing and Restorative Factors (CW4 final draft)

Central to Bastiat’s economic theory is the idea that, if left unmolested by government intervention or violence by other individuals, human societies have a tendency to follow a path towards economic development which was “pacifique, régulier et progressif” (peaceful, steady, and progressive). 2183 He believed that society would reach a “just” and “harmonious” state of equilibrium as a result of the operation of the natural economic laws, which the economists had identified and studied, as well as the behaviour of human beings who had a common and observable nature. The natural economic laws which the economists had identified included such things as “the law of population growth” and the “law of supply and demand.” The nature of human beings which affected their economic behaviour included such things as self-interest (which Bastiat believed was “le mobile interne” (the internal driving force) of human action), the desire to avoid hard work wherever possible, to economise on the use of their scarce resources, and to satisfy their needs by working and trading with others. Of course, he was aware that societies rarely pursued the peaceful, steady, and progressive path towards economic development without interruption, and this is where his theory of “les causes/forces perturbatrices" (disturbing factors or forces) came into play to explain these deviations from peace and prosperity. Also related to this was his countervailing theory of "les causes/forces réparatrices” (restorative factors or forces) which gradually took effect to move the world back towards its “just” and “harmonious” state.

One source for Bastiat’s thinking on this topic came from the mathematical work of Laplace 2184 in accounting for the perturbations in the orbits of Saturn, Jupiter, and the moon which seemed to violate the idea of some presumed “l'harmonie céleste” (celestial harmony). In the gravitational tug of war between the planetary giants of Jupiter and Saturn and the smaller objects in space it appeared that the disturbing forces exerted by the giants would pluck the smaller objects from their course and send them crashing into the sun. Laplace’s mathematical analysis of these “celestial mechanics” showed that the perturbations oscillated in a predicable way and that “restorative forces” were at work to keep them in orbit. Bastiat applied these Laplacian ideas for the first time to economics in his “Letter to Lamartine” written in February 1845.

Among “les forces perturbatrices” (disturbing forces) which upset the harmony of the free market Bastiat included war, slavery, theocratic plunder, high and unequal taxes, government regulations, economic privileges, industrial subsidies, and tariffs. This idea was so important that Bastiat intended to devote a chapter to it in his treatise Economic Harmonies which was never completed, 2185 and an entire volume to follow it on “A History of Plunder” or what have also been entitled with some justification "Economic Disharmonies.“ 2186 He first began talking about disturbing forces in the seminal article he wrote in response to Lamartine’s defence of the idea of the "right to a job” in February 1845 on the eve of his coming to Paris to meet with the Economists. Bastiat’s reply to the charge that workers were unemployed and poor through no fault of their own and “society” had an obligation to assist them, was to argue that they were poor because of the disturbing forces previously introduced by the state into the smooth functioning of the free market through war, tariffs and taxes on food, and restrictions which hampered the growth of industry. Increasing taxes and regulations to help some of the poor would be at the expence of the broader society of workers and consumers and would not solve the original problem caused by high taxes and too many regulations. If these taxes and regulations were cut, Bastiat believed, there were self-correcting mechanisms within the free market system, what he called “les forces réparatrices” (repairing or restorative forces) or “la force curative” (the curative or healing force), 2187 driven ultimately by the motive of self-interest, whereby the market would begin to restore economic equilibrium after it had been upset by “les forces perturbatrices” (disturbing forces). As he pointed out to Lamartine:

L'économie des sociétés a eu aussi ses Laplace. S'il y a des perturbations sociales, ils ont aussi constaté l'existence de forces providentielles qui ramènent tout à l'équilibre, et ils ont trouvé que ces forces réparatrices se proportionnent aux forces perturbatrices, parce qu'elles en proviennent. Ravis d'admiration devant cette harmonie du monde moral, ils ont dû se passionner pour l'œuvre divine et répugner plus que les autres hommes à tout ce qui peut la troubler. Aussi n'a-t-on jamais vu, que je sache, les séductions de l'intérêt privé balancer dans leur cœur cet éternel objet de leur admiration et de leur amour. Political economy also has its Laplaces. They have observed that, when social disturbances appear, there also exist providential forces that bring everything back into equilibrium. They have discovered that these restorative forces are proportional to the disturbing forces because the one gives rise to the other. In delighted admiration for this harmony in the moral world, they have conceived a passion for the divine work and they, more than other people, reject everything that might disrupt it. For this reason, as far as I know, there has never been an instance when the attraction of private interest has come to rival in their hearts this eternal object of their admiration and love.

Thus he was firmly convinced that economic “liberty tended to restore equilibrium” only if it were allowed to function. As he stated in EH1 Chapter VIII “Private Property and Communal Property” the pursuit of individual self-interest and the operation of natural economic laws was like a form of internal “gravitation” which would propel society towards greater equality, economic progress, and harmony in only it were left free to do so: 2188

Quand nous admirons la loi providentielle des transactions, quand nous disons que les intérêts concordent, quand nous en concluons que leur gravitation naturelle tend à réaliser l'égalité relative et le progrès général, apparemment c'est de l'action de ces lois et non de leur perturbation que nous attendons l'harmonie. Quand nous disons : laissez faire, apparemment nous entendons dire : laissez agir ces lois, et non pas : laissez troubler ces lois. When we admire the providential law governing transactions, when we say that interests are in agreement, when we conclude from this that their natural gravitation tends to achieve relative equality and general progress, it is clearly from the action of these laws and not from their disruption that we expect harmony. When we say: laissez faire, we clearly mean to say: let these laws act, and not let these laws be disrupted.

Bastiat did not return to the topic until he was preparing his draft chapters “On Population” and “Competition” sometime during 1849 for publication in EH1 in early 1850. He added several important sentences on disturbing forces which were not in the original 1846 JDE articles. For example, to the article “On Population” he added the following passage: 2189

La guerre, l'esclavage, les impostures théocratiques, les priviléges, les monopoles, les restrictions, les abus de l'impôt, voilà les manifestations les plus saillantes de la spoliation. On comprend quelle influence des forces perturbatrices d'une aussi vaste étendue ont dû avoir et ont encore, par leur présence ou leurs traces profondes, sur l'inégalité des conditions ; nous essayerons plus tard d'en mesurer l'énorme portée. War, slavery, theocratic deception, privilege, monopoly, trade restrictions, tax abuses, are all the most obvious examples of plunder. It is easy to understand the influence that such wide-ranging disturbing forces must have had and still have on the inequality of situations by their very presence or the deep-rooted traces they leave. Later, we will endeavor to measure their huge effect.

In the chapter on “Competition” he added the following passage: 2190

J'expose maintenant des lois générales que je crois harmoniques, et j'ai la confiance que le lecteur commence à se douter aussi que ces lois existent, qu'elles agissent dans le sens de la communauté et par conséquent de l'égalité. Mais je n'ai pas nié que l'action de ces lois ne fût profondément troublée par des causes perturbatrices . Si donc nous rencontrons en ce moment un fait choquant d'inégalité, comment le pourrions-nous juger avant de connaître et les lois régulières de l'ordre social et les causes perturbatrices de ces lois ? I will now set out general laws that I believe to be harmonious, and I am confident that the reader also will begin to guess at the existence of these laws, that they act in favor of the community and consequently of equality. However, I have not denied that the action of these laws has been profoundly disrupted by disturbing factors. Therefore, if we now find some shocking example of inequality, how can we judge it without being conversant with both the regular laws of social order and the disturbing factors which distort these laws?

There was another kind of distortion or disturbance which Bastiat talked about which took place in capital and labor markets as a result of government intervention in the economy, namely when “la population et le travail (sont) législativement déplacés” (people and labour are legislatively displaced or dislocated). 2191 As a consequence of prohibiting or taxing foreign imports entire industries are built behind the protection of the tariff wall drawing in capital and labour where they would not have gone if the wall were not there. Capital for the protected industries like woollen manufacturers is diverted from other industries such as farming. There has been no increase in the amount of productive capital. Some workers in the new industries might benefit from wages (the seen) but others lose out because they have to pay higher prices for clothes (the unseen). As he stated in a speech for the Free Trade Association in Lyon in August 1847: 2192

Donc, d'où sort ce capital ? Le soleil ou la lune l'ont-ils envoyé mêlé à leurs rayons, et ces rayons ont-ils fourni au creuset l'or et l'argent, emblèmes de ces astres ? ou bien l'a-t-on trouvé au fond de l'urne d'où est sortie la loi restrictive ? Rien de semblable. Ce capital n'a pas une origine mystérieuse ou miraculeuse. Il a déserté d'autres industries, par exemple, la fabrication des soieries. N'importe d'où il soit sorti, et il est positivement sorti de quelque part, de l'agriculture, du commerce et des chemins de fer, là, il a certainement découragé l'industrie, le travail et les salaires, justement dans la même proportion où il les a encouragés dans la fabrication du drap. — En sorte que vous voyez, Messieurs, que le capital ou une certaine portion de capital ayant été simplement déplacé, sans accroissement quelconque, la part du salaire reste parfaitement la même. Il est impossible de voir, dans ce pur remue-ménage (passez-moi la vulgarité du mot), aucun profit pour la classe ouvrière. Mais, a-t-elle perdu ? Non, elle n'a pas perdu du côté des salaires (si ce n'est par les inconvénients qu'entraîne la perturbation, inconvénients qu'on ne remarque pas quand il s'agit d'établir un abus, mais dont on fait grand bruit et auxquels les protectionnistes s'attachent avec des dents de boule-dogues quand il est question de l'extirper) ; la classe ouvrière n'a rien perdu ni gagné du côté du salaire, puisque le capital n'a été augmenté ni diminué, mais seulement déplacé. Mais reste toujours cette cherté du drap que j'ai constatée tout à l'heure, que je vous ai signalée comme l'effet immédiat, inévitable, incontestable de la mesure ; et à présent, je vous le demande, à cette perte, à cette injustice qui frappe l'ouvrier, où est la compensation ? Si quelqu'un en sait une, qu'il me la signale. So where does this capital come from? Have the sun and moon sent it down mixed with their rays and have these rays poured gold and silver, the symbols of these two heavenly bodies, into the crucible? It has been taken from other industries, silk manufacture, for example. No matter where it has come from, it has definitely come from somewhere, from farming, commerce, or the railways, where it has certainly discouraged industry, labor, and rates of pay , in exactly the same proportion that it has encouraged these things in woolen cloth manufacture. So that you see, Gentlemen, that since capital or a certain proportion of capital has simply been displaced , without any increase whatever, the share of pay remains exactly the same. It is impossible to see in this pure jiggery-pokery (forgive me this homely expression) any benefit for the working class. But has it lost anything? No, it has lost nothing from the point of view of pay (other than the disadvantages produced by the upheaval, which are not noticed when it is a question of establishing an abuse but which are trumpeted far and wide and to which protectionists cling like bulldogs when it is a question of eliminating one); the working class has neither gained nor lost with regard to pay since capital has neither been increased nor decreased, but merely displaced . But there still remains the high price of woolen cloth that I noted just now and that I pointed out as being the immediate, inevitable and indisputable effect of the measure, and now I put the question to you, where is the compensation for this loss and injustice inflicted on workers? If anyone has the answer, please let me know.

Endnotes

2183 EH II “Needs, Efforts, and Satisfactions,” pp. 000. FEE p. 24.

2184 See the glossary entry on “Laplace” and the Editor’s Introduction to “Letter from an Economist to M. de Lamartine” (Feb. 1845), above, pp. 000.

2185 It did not appear in EH1 which was published in early 1850 but the introductory section to a draft chapter on it did appear in the posthumous EH2. See EH2 Chapter XVIII “Disturbing Factors,” (FEE ed.), pp. 466-74.

2186 He gives some indication of what this second book might have covered in chapters XVIII and XXII of Economic Harmonies ("Causes perturbatrices" (Disturbing Factors) and "Moteur social" (The Motive Force of Society)) and in ES2 I "Physiologie de la Plunder" (The Physiology of Plunder) in CW3, pp. 113-30.

2187 Bastiat refers to “the healing force” in his article “On Population,” above, pp. 000.

2188 EH1 Chapter VIII “Private Property and Communal Property” (our translation, but see also FEE ed., p. 203.

2189 See “On Population,” above, pp. 000 and the Editor’s Introduction.

2190 See “Competition,” above, pp. 000 and the Editor’s Introduction.

2191 In EH XVII “Private and Public Services.” In the Fee translation “déplacé” is translated as “dislocated,” p. 461.

2192 In CW6 (forthcoming).

 


 

Bastiat on Enlightening the “Dupes” about the Nature of Plunder (intro to CW2 book)

Had Bastiat lived longer, he would have written at least two more books: the first to complete his main theoretical work on political economy, Economic Harmonies, which he left half-finished at his death; the second, on the history of plunder. The latter was mentioned by Paillottet as something that was very much on Bastiat’s mind in his last days in Rome on the eve of his death. Paillottet quotes Bastiat:

A very important task to be done for political economy is to write the history of plunder [la spoliation]. It is a long history in which, from the outset, there appeared conquests, the migrations of peoples, invasions, and all the disastrous excesses of force in conflict with justice. Living traces of all this still remain today and cause great difficulty for the solution of the questions raised in our century. We will not reach this solution as long as we have not clearly noted in what and how injustice, when making a place for itself among us, has gained a foothold in our customs and our laws.[18]

Perhaps realizing that his time was limited and that it was unlikely he could achieve his ambitious goals, Bastiat inserted the few sketches he had about the theory of plunder at the end of the First Series (dated 2 November 1845) and at the beginning of the Second Series (which appeared in January 1848). These sketches sit rather awkwardly with his other sophisms and look as if they were added at a late stage in the editing,[19] as if Bastiat wanted to provide a broader theoretical framework for his sophisms which otherwise was lacking. Thus the “Conclusion” to the First Series and the first two chapters of the Second Series, “The Physiology of Plunder” (ES2 1) and “Two Moral Philosophies” (ES2 2), along with a few scattered remarks in footnotes in Economic Harmonies, can be seen as the theoretical excursus I think they are.[20]

In “Monita Secreta: The Secret Book of Instruction” (ES3 20), Bastiat wrote a satirical “guidebook for rulers” on how to go about deceiving (or duping) the consumers and undermining the lobbying efforts of the advocates of free trade, such as himself. There is a slight bitterness in some of his remarks, as they obviously were based on what he observed going on in the Chamber of Deputies when a free-trade bill was before the Chamber and which the advocates of protection were able to have defeated in committee between April and July 1847. This is where Bastiat’s job begins. As he states at the end of the First Series, the “sophistry” used by the ruling elite to hide their plundering ways must be exposed by economists like him so that the people will no longer be duped:

But at least in civilized nations, the men who produce the wealth have become sufficiently numerous and strong to defend it. Is this to say that they are no longer dispossessed? Not at all; they are just as dispossessed as ever and, what is more, they mutually dispossess each other.

Only, the thing which promotes it has changed; it is no longer by force but by fraud that public wealth can be seized.

In order to steal from the public, it is first necessary to deceive them. To deceive them it is necessary to persuade them that they are being robbed for their own good; it is to make them accept imaginary services and often worse in exchange for their possessions. This gives rise to sophistry. Theocratic sophistry, economic sophistry, political sophistry, and financial sophistry. Therefore, ever since force has been held in check, sophistry has been not only a source of harm, it has been the very essence of harm. It must in its turn be held in check. And to do this the public must become cleverer than the clever, just as it has become stronger than the strong.[21]

He believed it was highly unlikely that the powerful beneficiaries of stateorganized “legal plunder” would give up their privileges voluntarily, so they needed to be persuaded by one or both of the “Two Moral Philosophies” (ES2 2) which were at hand. He was doubtful that “religious morality” would be strong enough for the task, but he believed that political economy had the tools required to bring the system of plunder to an end:

Let religious morality therefore touch the hearts of the Tartuffes, the Caesars, the colonists, sinecurists, and monopolists, etc. if it can. The task of political economy is to enlighten their dupes.

Which of these two procedures works more effectively toward social progress? Do we have to spell it out? I believe it is the second. I fear that humanity cannot escape the necessity of first learning a defensive moral philosophy.

No matter how much I look, whatever I read or observe and whatever the questions I ask, I cannot find any abuse carried out on anything like a wide scale that has been destroyed through the voluntary renunciation of those benefiting from it.

On the other hand, I have found many that have been overcome by the active resistance of those suffering from them.

Describing the consequences of abuse is therefore the most effective way of destroying it. And how true this is, especially when it concerns abuses like protectionism, which, while inflicting genuine harm on the masses, nurture only illusion and disappointment in those who believe they are benefiting from them.[22]

Thus it was to begin enlightening “the dupes” about the real circumstances of their oppression by the organized plunderers that Bastiat used his pen, dipped in a mixture of angry denunciation and witty satire and devastating humor.

Endnotes

[18] ES1 Conclusion, p. 110n16 (in Paillottet’s note).

[19] See his apology in the last lines of ES1 Conclusion: “Good public, it is with this last thought in mind that I am addressing this first essay to you, although the preface has been strangely transposed and the dedication is somewhat belated” (p. 110).

[20] See “Bastiat on Plunder and Class” in appendix 1. See also ES3 6, where Bastiat talks about the class conflict between the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and the people; WSWNS 3, where he talks about the conflict between taxpayers and government employees; and his letter to Mme Cheuvreux of 23 June 1850, where Bastiat talks about how history is divided into two stages of class warfare: “As long as the state is regarded in this way as a source of favors, our history will be seen as having only two phases, the periods of conflict as to who will take control of the state and the periods of truce, which will be the transitory reign of a triumphant oppression, the harbinger of a fresh conflict” (CW1, p. 252); and “Plunder and Law” (CW2, pp. 266–76) for additional thoughts on this topic. See also Paillottet’s footnote at the end of chapter 10 of Economic Harmonies (OC, vol. 6, “Concurrence,” p. 357), in which he relates Bastiat’s plans for further work on the theory and history of plunder.

[21] ES1 Conclusion, pp. 109–10.

[22] ES2 2, pp. 109–10.

 


 

The Format of the Economic Sophisms (intro to CW2 book)

The Economic Sophisms in this volume were written over a period of five years, stretching from mid-1845 to mid-1850 (the year in which What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen was published a few months before Bastiat’s death). In writing these essays Bastiat used a variety of formats, which are listed below:

  1. Conversations, or “constructed” dialogues, between individuals who represented different points of view.
  2. Stand-alone economic tales and fables.
  3. Fictional letters and petitions to government officials and other documents.
  4. More formal or academic prose.
  5. Direct appeals to the workers and citizens of France.

These five different formats reveal the wide range of Bastiat’s writing, from informal to academic, and the equally wide range of audiences he was trying to reach in presenting his ideas. Whether he was appealing to prospective members of the French Free Trade Association, manufacturers who belonged to the protectionist Association for the Defense of National Employment, or workers rioting on the streets of Paris in February 1848, Bastiat believed that all would respond to his efforts to defend free trade and individual liberty.

Bastiat was quite innovative in his use of some of these formats and may have even invented one. His use of the “constructed dialogue” between an advocate of free trade and a skeptic can be traced back to earlier writings by Harriet Martineau, and his use of the “economic tale” can be traced back to the fables of La Fontaine, although his insertion of economic principles is probably unique to him. More original are his small plays[3] in which he develops economic arguments at some length over several “acts” with characters like Jacques Bonhomme, the French “everyman,” who appears frequently in his stories. However, his most original invention is the use of Robinson Crusoe[4] (and sometimes Friday) in a kind of “thought experiment,” which is used to illustrate the deeper underlying principles of economic theory, or what one might call “the pure theory of choice.” In these stories he discusses the options facing Crusoe in choosing how to use his scarce resources and limited time, what is most urgent for him to do now, how will he survive if he wants to do something other than finding food, how does he maintain his capital stock of tools, and so on. Although this argument is standard modern textbook material today, it is possible that Bastiat used it for the first time in some of his sophisms.

The most appropriate style to use when writing the sophisms was something Bastiat could never settle on, whether he should use the amusing and satirical style for which he had a certain flair, or something more serious and formal. Bastiat was stung by a critical review of the First Series, which accused him of being too stiff and too formal, and so he was determined to make the Second Series more lighthearted and amusing. Yet during the course of 1847, when he was compiling the next collection of sophisms, which were to appear in January 1848, the defeat of the free traders in the Chamber by a better-organized protectionist lobby and the rising power of socialist groups on the eve of the Revolution of February 1848 led him to declare that the time for witty and clever stories was over and that more difficult times called for the use of “blunt” and perhaps even “brutal” language. Thus he oscillated between the two different approaches, never being able to decide which was better for his purposes. This is no better illustrated than in the turmoil he experienced when he was writing What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, which he lost once and rewrote twice, tossing one draft into the fire because it was too serious in style.

Endnotes

[3] See especially ES2 13, which was described as “a staged argument in four scenes.”

[4] The dialogues in which Robinson Crusoe appears can be found in ES2 14 and ES3 16. There is also a discussion of how a negotiation might have taken place between Robinson and Friday about exchanging game and fish. See “Property and Plunder” (CW2, p. 155).

 


 

Great Market: Society is one Great Market or Bazaar (CW4 final draft)

Building upon Destutt de Tracy’s view that society could be understood as “nothing but a continual succession of exchanges,” 2193 Bastiat came to the conclusion that society as a whole was just one big market place or bazaar. As a result of growing trade and the potential to expand this even further with policies of free trade which were in the air in the 1840s there was increasingly what he called “le marché général du monde” (the general market place of the world), or what we might call today a “global market.” Marvelling at the bounty of goods imported from all over the world was a common rhetorical device used by free traders at this time. It was probably invented by Adam Smith who used it to good effect in his story of the ordinary worker’s woollen jacket and later adopted in another form and made very popular by an orator of the Anti-Corn Law League, William J. Fox (1786-1864). 2194

In Smith’s telling of the story he makes the point that “that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people” such as “the most common artificer or day-labourer.” He goes on to say: 2195

Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people of whose industry a part, though but a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation. The woollen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver, the fuller, the dresser, with many others, must all join their different arts in order to complete even this homely production. How many merchants and carriers, besides, must have been employed in transporting the materials from some of those workmen to others who often live in a very distant part of the country! how much commerce and navigation in particular, how many ship-builders, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers, must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners of the world! What a variety of labour too is necessary in order to produce the tools of the meanest of those workmen! To say nothing of such complicated machines as the ship of the sailor, the mill of the fuller, or even the loom of the weaver, let us consider only what a variety of labour is requisite in order to form that very simple machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool. The miner, the builder of the furnace for smelting the ore, the feller of the timber, the burner of the charcoal to be made use of in the smelting-house, the brick-maker, the brick-layer, the workmen who attend the furnace, the mill-wright, the forger, the smith, must all of them join their different arts in order to produce them. Were we to examine, in the same manner, all the different parts of his dress and household furniture, the coarse linen shirt which he wears next his skin, the shoes which cover his feet, the bed which he lies on, and all the different parts which compose it, the kitchen-grate at which he prepares his victuals, the coals which he makes use of for that purpose, dug from the bowels of the earth, and brought to him perhaps by a long sea and a long land carriage, all the other utensils of his kitchen, all the furniture of his table, the knives and forks, the earthen or pewter plates upon which he serves up and divides his victuals, the different hands employed in preparing his [14] bread and his beer, the glass window which lets in the heat and the light, and keeps out the wind and the rain, with all the knowledge and art requisite for preparing that beautiful and happy invention, without which these northern parts of the world could scarce have afforded a very comfortable habitation, together with the tools of all the different workmen employed in producing those different conveniencies; if we examine, I say, all these things, and consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we shall be sensible that without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be provided, even according to, what we very falsely imagine, the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated. Compared, indeed, with the more extravagant luxury of the great, his accommodation must no doubt appear extremely simple and easy; and yet it may be true, perhaps, that the accommodation of an European prince does not always so much exceed that of an industrious and frugal peasant, as the accommodation of the latter exceeds that of many an African king, the absolute master of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages.

By the 1840s when the Anti-Corn Law League was in full swing William Fox used a similar story to mock the anti-free trade large landowners who, like everybody else in England, were already heavily dependent on goods made by foreigners, even before free trade had become government policy in 1846. On 25 January 1844 he have a speech at Covent Garden Theatre which become so popular that it was reprinted and circulated as part of the Anti-Corn Law League’s propaganda. Bastiat quoted from this speech at length in his book Cobden and the League (1845) and highlighted it by italicizing the names of the countries from which all the products came from. This is the original version from Fox’s speech (emphasis added):

… It is a favourite theme, this independence of foreigners. One would imagine that the patriotism of the landlord’s breast must be most intense. Yet he seems to forget that he is employing guano to manure his fields; that he is spreading a foreign surface over his English soil, through which every atom of corn is to grow; becoming thereby polluted with the dependence upon foreigners which he professes to abjure.

To what is he left, this disclaimer against foreigners and advocate of dependence upon home? Trace him through his career. This was very admirably done by an honourable gentleman, who just now addressed you, at the Salisbury contest. His opponent urged this plea, and Mr. Bouverie stripped him, as it were, from head to foot, that he had not an article of dress upon him which did not render him in some degree dependent upon foreigners. We will pursue this subject, and trace his whole life. What is the career of the man whose possessions are in broad acres? Why, a French cook dresses his dinner for him, and a Swiss valet dresses him for dinner; he hands down his lady, decked with pearls that never grew in the shell of a British oyster; and her waving plume of ostrich-feathers certainly never formed the tail of a barn-door fowl. The viands of his table are from all the countries of the world; his wines are from the banks of the Rhine and the Rhone . In his conservatory, he regales his sight with the blossoms of South-American flowers. In his smoking room, he gratifies his scent with the weed of North America . His favourite horse is of Arabian blood; his pet dog of the St. Bernard ’s breed. His gallery is rich with pictures from the Flemish school, and his statues from Greece . For his amusements, he goes to hear Italian singers warble German music, followed by a French ballet. If he rises to judicial honours, the ermine which decorates his shoulders is a production that was never before on the back of a British beast. His very mind is not English in its attainments; it is a mere picnic of foreign contributions. His poems and philosophy are from Greece and Rome ; his geometry is from Alexandria ; his arithmetic is from Arabia ; and his religion from Palestine . In his cradle, in his infancy, he rubbed his gums with coral from Oriental oceans; and when he dies, his monument will be sculptured in marble from the quarries of Carrara . 2196

Not surprisingly Bastiat also liked to talk about “le grande marché” (the great market or market place, or “the great market place of society” as FEE translates it), 2197 as in “le grand marché où toutes les classes portent leurs services respectifs, où s'échangent les travaux de diverses natures” (the great market place to which all the classes bring their respective services and in which labor of a variety of kinds is exchanged). 2198 In his speeches for the Free Trade Association he liked to use a more colorful expression, that of a “bazaar,” which suggested something more exotic, oriental, and perhaps more unstructured than the traditional market places of London or Paris. He talked about “un vaste bazar” (a vast bazaar). Like Fox, he described the world market in this way, stating in September 1846 that “Le monde, au point de vue économique, peut être considéré comme un vaste bazar où chacun de nous apporte ses services et reçoit en retour” (From the economic point of view, the world can be considered to be a vast bazaar to which each of us can bring our services and receive others in return); 2199 or in his unpublished note from 1849 on “The Mutuality of Services” where he talks about society in a way reminiscent of Destutt de Tracy, that “la société peut être considérée comme un immense bazar où chacun va d'abord déposer ses produits, en faire reconnaître et fixer la valeur” (society may be thought of as a huge bazaar to which everyone initially brings their products, and has their value acknowledged and set). 2200

In the latter sketch, probably written at the time when Bastiat was engaged in his debate with Proudhon over interest and rent, 2201 he responds to another of Proudhon’s plans to create a permanent “Société de l'Exposition” (Exposition Company) to enable workers to better buy and sell their goods and labor. It would be modelled on the Great Exposition which was being planned for London in 1851 but run and organised by workers themselves. Proudhon predicted that this would become “un magnifique bazar” (a magnificent bazaar) where workers could display their wares themselves, cut out the parasitic middlemen such as retailers and merchants, and bring more order to the chaos of the free market. 2202 Bastiat’s response to Proudhon was that this is exactly what the free market was already providing with the expanding global market and free trade, thereby creating what he called “ce bazar d'échange” (this trading bazaar). To quote his conclusion from his note:

Nous avons donc exactement ce que demandait M. Proudhon. Nous avons ce bazar d'échange, dont on a tant ri ; et la société, plus ingénieuse que M. Proudhon, nous le donne en nous épargnant le dérangement matériel d'y transporter nos marchandises. Pour cela, elle a inventé la monnaie, moyennant quoi elle réalise l'entrepôt à domicile. We thus have exactly what Mr. Proudhon was asking for. We have this trading bazaar, which has been so laughed at, and society, which is more ingenious than Mr. Proudhon, gives us this bazaar while sparing us the inconvenience of having to physically take our goods to it. To achieve this, it has invented money, by means of which it creates an entrepôt (trading post) in (one’s own) home.

Interestingly, Bastiat wrote his own version of William Fox’s paean to global trade with his story of the simple “un menuisier de village” (village carpenter) in his article on “Natural and Artificial Organisation” (January 1848) which he also used as a chapter in EH1. Here he marvels at how economically interdependent every individual is, depending on others for the building of the roads, the food supply, and teaching their children, as well as on foreign trade since, taking the example of an item of clothing, “Americans need to have produced cotton, Indians indigo, Frenchmen wool and linen, and Brazilians leather.” 2203 He attributes this extraordinary bounty and the extensive coordination of activity to “le mécanisme social” (the social mechanism) which became an important part of his economic and social theory. 2204

Prenons un homme appartenant à une classe modeste de la société, un menuisier de village, par exemple, et observons tous les services qu'il rend ‘_ société et tous ceux qu'il en reçoit; nous ne tarderons pas à re frappés de l'énorme disproportion apparente. Let us take a man who belongs to a modest class in society, a village carpenter, for example, and let us observe all the services he provides to society and all those he receives from it; it will not take us long to be struck by the enormous apparent disproportion.
Cet homme passe sa journée à raboter des planches, monter des bois de lits, fabriquer des tables et des armoires; il se plaint de sa condition, et cependant que reçoit-il en réalité de cette société, en échange de son travail? This man spends his day sanding planks and making tables and wardrobes; he complains about his situation and yet what does he receive from this same society in return for his work?
D'abord, tous les jours en se levant, il s'habille et il n'a personnellement fait aucune des nombreuses pièces de son vêtement. Or, pour . que ces vêtements, tout simples qu'ils sont, soient à sa disposition, il faut qu'une énorme quantité de travail, d'industrie, de transports, d'inventions ingénieuses, aient été accomplis. Il faut que des Américains aient produit du coton, que des Indiens aient produit de l'indigo, que des Français aient produit de la laine et du lin, que des Brésiliens aient produit des cuirs, que tous ces matériaux aient été transportés en certains lieux, qu'ils y aient été ouvrés, filés, tissés, teints, etc. First of all, each day when he gets up he dresses, and he has not personally made any of the many items of his outfit. However, for these garments, however simple, to be at his disposal, an enormous amount of work, industry, transport, and ingenious invention needs to have been accomplished. Americans need to have produced cotton, Indians indigo, Frenchmen wool and linen, and Brazilians leather. All these materials need to have been transported to a variety of towns, worked, spun, woven, dyed, etc.
Ensuite il déjeune. Pour que le pain qu'il mange lui arrive tous les matins, il faut que des terres aient été défrichées, closes, labourées, fumées, ensemencées; il faut que les récoltes aient été préservées avec soin du pillage; il faut qu'une certaine sécurité ait régné au milieu d'une innombrable multitude; il faut que le froment ait été récolté, broyé, pétri et préparé; il faut que le fer, l'acier, le bois, la pierre, aient été convertis par le travail en instruments de travail; que certains hommes se soient emparés de la force des animaux, d'autres du poids d'une chute d'eau, etc.; toutes choses dont chacune, prise isolément, suppose une masse incalculable de travail mies en jeu, non-seulement dans l'espace, mais dans le temps. He then has breakfast. In order for the bread he eats to arrive each morning, land had to be cleared, fenced, ploughed, fertilized, and sown. Harvests had to be stored and protected from pillage. A degree of security had to reign over an immense multitude of people. Wheat had to be harvested, ground, kneaded, and prepared. Iron, steel, wood, and stone had to be changed by human labor into tools. Some men had to make use of the strength of animals, others the weight of a waterfall, etc.; all things each of which, taken singly, implies an incalculable mass of labor put to work , not only in space but also in time.
Cet homme ne passera pas la journée sans employer un peu de sucre, un peu d'huile, quelques ustensiles. This man will not spend his day without using a little sugar, a little oil, or a few utensils.
Il enverra son fils à l'école, et là l'enfant recevra une instruction, qui, quoique bornée, n'e'n suppose pas moins des recherches, des études antérieures, des connaissances dont l'imagination est effrayée. He will send his son to school to receive instruction, which although limited, nonetheless implies research, previous studies, and knowledge which would startle the imagination.
Il sort; il trouve une rue pavée et éclairée. He goes out and finds a road that is paved and lit.
On lui conteste une propriété : il trouvera des avocats pour défendre ses droits, des juges pour l'y maintenir, des officiers de justice pour faire exécuter la sentence; toutes choses qui supposent encore des Connaissances acquises, par conséquent des lumières et des moyens d'existence. His ownership of a piece of property is contested; he will find lawyers to defend his rights, judges to maintain them, officers of the court to carry out the judgment, all of which once again imply acquired knowledge, and consequently understanding and a certain standard of living.
Il va à l'église: elle est un monument prodigieux, et le livre qu'il y porte est un monument peut-être plus prodigieux encore de l'intelligence humaine. On lui enseigne la morale, on éclaire son esprit, un élève son âme; et, pour que tout cela se fasse, il faut qu'un autre homme ait pu recueillir dans une bibliothèque, dans des séminaires, toutes les sources de la tradition humaine, et pour cela qu'il ait pu vivre sans rien faire pour pourvoir directement aux besoins de son corps. He goes to church; it is a prodigious monument and the book he carries is a monument to human intelligence perhaps more prodigious still. He is taught morality, his mind is enlightened, his soul elevated, and in order for all this to happen, another man had to be able to go to libraries and seminaries and draw on all the sources of the human tradition; he had to have been able to live without taking direct care of his bodily needs.
Si notre menuisier [artisan in EH1, and EH2] entreprend un voyage, il trouve que, pour lui épargner du temps et diminuer sa peine, d'autres hommes ont aplani, nivelé le sol, comblé des vallées, abaissé des montagnes, amoindri tous les frottements, placé des véhicules à roues sur des blocs de grès ou des bandes de fer, dompté les chevaux ou la vapeur, etc. If our craftsman sets out on a journey, he finds that, to save him time and increase his comfort, other men have flattened and leveled the ground, filled in the valleys, lowered the mountains, spanned the rivers, increased the smooth passage on the route, set wheeled vehicles on paving stones or iron rails, and mastered the use of horses, steam, etc.
Il est impossible de ne pas être frappé de la disproportion véritablement incommensurable qui existe entre les satisfactions que cet homme puise dans la société et celles qu'il pourrait se donner s'il était réduit à ses propres forces. J'ose dire que, dans une seule journée, il consomme des choses qu'il ne pourrait produire lui—même dans dix siècles. It is impossible not to be struck by the truly immeasurable disproportion that exists between the satisfactions drawn by this man from society and those he would be able to provide for himself if he were to be limited to his own resources. I am bold enough to say that in a single day, he consumes things he would not be able to produce by himself in ten centuries.
Ce qui rend le phénomène plus étrange encore, c'est que tous les autres hommes sont dans le même cas que lui. Chacun de ceux qui composent la société a absorbé des millions de fois plus qu'il n'aurait pu produire; et cependant ils ne se sont rien dérobé mutuellement. Et si l'on regarde les choses de près, on s'aperçoit que ce menuisier a payé en services tous les services qui lui ont été rendus. S'il tenait ses comptes avec une rigoureuse exactitude, on se convaincrait qu'il n'a rien reçu sans le payer au moyen de sa modeste industrie ; que quiconque a été employé à son service, dans le temps ou dans l'espace, a reçu ou recevra sa rémunération. What makes the phenomenon stranger still is that all other men are in the same situation as he. Each one of those who make up society has absorbed a million times more than he would have been able to produce; nevertheless they have not robbed each other of anything. And if we examine things more closely, we see that this carpenter has paid in services for all the services he has been rendered. If he kept his accounts with rigorous accuracy we would be convinced that he has received nothing that he has not paid for by means of his modest industry, and that whoever has been employed in his service, either at any time or in a given period, has received or will receive his remuneration.
Il faut donc que le mécanisme social soit bien ingénieux, bien puissant, puisqu'il conduit à ce singulier résultat, que chaque homme, même celui que le sort a placé dans la condition la plus humble, a plus de satisfactions en un jour qu'il n'en pourrait produire en plusieurs siècles. For this reason, the social mechanism needs to be either very ingenious or very powerful since it leads to this strange result, that each man, even he whom fate has placed in the humblest of conditions, receives more satisfaction in a single day than he could produce in several centuries.
Ce n'est pas tout, et ce mécanisme social paraîtra bien plus ingénieux encore, si le lecteur veut bien tourner ses regards sur lui-même. That is not all, and this social mechanism will appear still more ingenious, if the reader would just consider his own case.

It would appear that Bastiat’s story has much in common with Leonard Read’s famous story of “I, Pencil” (1958), so it would not be out of place to call his “I, Carpenter” as a mark of respect to Read. 2205

Endnotes

2193 In the opening chapter “On Society” in his Traité d'économie politique (1823) Destutt de Tracy stated that “a société est purement et uniquement une série continuelle d'échanges” (society was purely and simply a continual series of exchanges) and “la société ne consiste que dans une suite continuelle d'échanges” (society is nothing but a continual succession of exchanges). In Traité d'économie politique, par le comte Destutt de Tracy (Paris: Bouget et Levi, 1823. Chap. I. “De la Société”, pp. 65-80. Quote, pp. 68-69. See also the discussion in the glossary “Service for Service.”

2194 See the glossary entry on “Fox.”

2195 From Book I, Chapter 1 “Of the Division of Labour,” Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, edited with an Introduction, Notes, Marginal Summary and an Enlarged Index by Edwin Cannan (London: Methuen, 1904). Vol. 1, pp. 000???

2196 W.J. Fox, speech given at the Covent Garden Theatre on January 25, 1844, Collected Works, vol. IV: Anti-Corn Law Speeches , pp. 62-63. Lengthy extracts from the meeting were included in Bastiat’s book on Cobden and the League (1845) including Fox’s speech, OC3, pp. 223 ff, Fox’s speech on “being independent from foreigners in trade matters, pp. 232-34.

2197 EH (FEE edition), p. 440.

2198 In "On Population” (mid 1846), below, pp. 000.

2199 “Second Speech given in the Montesquieu Hall in Paris” (29 Sept. 1846), in CW6 (forthcoming).

2200 See the Editor’s Introduction to “Money and the Mutuality of Services,” above, pp. 000.

2201 See Free Credit (Oct. 1849 to March 1850), below pp. 000.

2202 “Appendice: Société de l'Exposition perpétuelle: projet,” in Appendix to Théorie de la propriété. Deuxième édition (1866), pp. 249-308. The discussion of the permanent bazaar is on p. 297.

2203 See below, pp. 000. Bastiat also has a story about “The Feeding of Paris” where he makes a similar argument about how no central planner organises or even can organise the vast task of feeding a city of one million people very day. See, ES1 18 "There Are No Absolute Principles" in CW3, p. 84.

2204 See “The Social Mechanism and its Driving Force” in Further Aspect of Bastiat’s Thought , below, pp. 000.

2205 Leonard E. Read, I Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Reed (Irvington-on-Hudson, New York: Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1999).

 


 

Bastiat’s Publisher, the Librairie de Guillaumin (CW2 book)

Bastiat, like most of those involved in the free-trade and classical liberal circles, had his books published by Gilbert Guillaumin’s publishing firm, Librairie de Guillaumin et Cie, a publishing dynasty that lasted from 1835 to around 1910. Guillaumin’s firm had become the focal point for the classical liberal movement in France, eventually developing into the major publishing house for classical liberal ideas in nineteenth-century France.8

Gilbert-Urbain Guillaumin (1801–64) was orphaned at the age of five and brought up by his uncle. He came to Paris in 1819 and worked in a bookstore before founding his publishing firm in 1835. Guillaumin became active in liberal politics after the revolution of 1830 brought the July Monarchy to power and made contact with a number of free-market economists. In addition to his publishing firm, Guillaumin helped found Le Journal des économistes in 1841 and the Société d'économie politique in 1842. Bastiat was a regular contributor to Le Journal des économistes before his death at the end of 1850, and he was a regular attendee of the monthly meetings of the Société d'économie politique, which oft en debated his books and ideas.

Guillaumin’s firm published hundreds of books on economic issues, making its catalog a virtual who’s who of the liberal movement in France. The firm’s 1866 catalog listed 166 separate book titles, not counting journals and other periodicals. For example, Guillaumin published the works of Quesnay, [405] Turgot, Jean-Baptiste Say, Dunoyer, Bastiat, Molinari, and many others, including translations of works by Hugo Grotius, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Darwin. The 1849 Guillaumin catalog was five pages long, and Bastiat’s “Petits Pamphlets” were prominently displayed on page 3. The first and second series of his Economic Sophisms could be purchased for four francs each, and The State for only forty centimes. There was also an announcement of Bastiat’s forthcoming work Economic Harmonies. In the 1866 Guillaumin catalog (now thirty-three pages long) one could purchase the newly announced volume seven of the Paillottet edition of Bastiat’s Œuvres complètes for three francs.

By the mid-1840s Guillaumin’s home and business had become the focal point of the classical liberal lobby in Paris, which debated and published material opposed to a number of causes that they believed threatened liberty in France: statism, protectionism, socialism, militarism, and colonialism. After Guillaumin’s death in 1864, the firm’s activities were continued by his oldest daughter, Félicité, and after her death the firm was handed over to his youngest daughter, Pauline. The Guillaumin firm continued in one form or another from 1835 to 1910, when it merged with the publisher Félix Alcan. The business was located at 14 rue de Richelieu, in a central part of Paris not far from the Seine, the Tuileries Gardens, the Louvre, the Palais Royal, the Comédie Française, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

The crowning glory of the Guillaumin publishing firm in the mid-nineteenth century was the two-volume, double-columned, two-thousand-page Dictionnaire d'économie politique, which Guillaumin co-edited with Charles Coquelin.9 The dictionary contains a number of articles written by Bastiat, and the spirit of his ideas pervades throughout. By its sheer size, breadth, and scope, the Dictionnaire d'économie politique is truly one of the cornerstones of nineteenth-century classical liberal scholarship.

Endnotes

8.

See Garnier, “Nécrologie. Guillaumin. Ses funérailles—sa vie et son œuvre”; and Levan-Lemesle, “Guillaumin, éditeur d'économie politique 1801–1864.”

9.

Coquelin, Dictionnaire de l'économie politique.

 

 


 

Harmony and Disharmony (CW4 final draft)

Introduction: The Harmony of the Providential Plan

The idea of "harmony" and "disharmony" in the social and economic realm was a central component of Bastiat’s social theory, in which he referred to some version or other of the words "harmony" or "harmonious" over 500 times in his work. Since Voltaire popularised the work of Newton in France in 1738 2206 it was a commonplace to believe that the universe was a mechanism which was governed by natural laws like that of gravitation which produced "une harmonie céleste" (a celestial harmony) or what he also called "des harmonies de la mécanique céleste" (the harmonies of the celestial machine or mechanism). Closer to Bastiat’s own time he was very well aware of the work of the French mathematicians and astronomers Laplace in the first decade of the 19th century and François Arago in the 1840s. 2207 From seeing the important role discoverable natural laws played in the harmonious operation of the stars, or "des harmonieuses et simples lois de la Providence" (harmonious and simple laws of Providence), it was only a short mental jump for a deist like Bastiat to seeing them at work in the social realm as well. This is very clearly stated in the concluding paragraph of Bastiat’s essay "Natural and Artificial Organisation" (Jan. 1848) where he also makes the important observation that in the social universe the "atoms" which obey these laws are thinking, acting, and choosing individuals: 2208

Ne condamnons pas ainsi l'humanité avant d'en avoir étudié les lois, les forces, les énergies, les tendances. Depuis qu'il eut reconnu l'attraction, Newton ne prononçait plus le nom de Dieu sans se découvrir. Autant l'intelligence est au-dessus de la matière, autant le monde social est au-dessus de celui qu'admirait Newton, car la mécanique céleste obéit à des lois dont elle n'a pas la conscience. Combien plus-de raison aurons-nous de nous incliner devant la Sagesse éternelle à l'aspect de la mécanique sociale, où vit aussi la pensée universelle, mens agitat molem, mais qui présente de plus ce phénomène extraordinaire que chaque atome est un être animé, pensant, doué de cette énergie merveilleuse, de ce principe de tente moralité, de toute dignité, de tout progrès, attribut exclusif de l'homme, la liberté! Let us not condemn the human race in this way before having examined its laws, forces, energies, and tendencies. From the time he recognized gravity, Newton no longer pronounced the name of God without taking his hat off. Just as much as “the mind is above matter,” the social world is above the (physical) one admired by Newton, for celestial mechanics obey laws of which it is not aware. How much more reason (then) would we have to bow down before eternal wisdom (and also universal thought) as we contemplate the social mechanism (and see there how) “the mind moves matter” (mens agitat molem). Here is displayed the extraordinary phenomenon that each atom (in this social mechanism) is a living, thinking being, endowed with that marvelous energy, with that source of all morality, of all dignity, of all progress, an attribute which is exclusive to man, namely FREEDOM!

Bastiat believed that it was part of "le plan providentiel" (the providential plan) that human beings were endowed with certain patterns of behaviour or internal drives (les mobiles) such as the pursuit of self-interest, the avoidance of pain or hardship and the seeking of pleasure or well-being, free will, the ability to plan for the future, and to choose from among alternatives that are presented to them. Or in other words, that mankind had a certain "nature." These were all part of the natural laws which governed human behaviour and made economies operate in the way that they did. His conclusion was that if human beings were allowed to go about their lives freely and in the absence of government or other forms of coercion the result would be a "harmonious society." In a very revealing passage in the essay on "Capital and Rent" (Feb. 1849) he links Newton and Laplace, the cogs and wheels of the social mechanism, the "mobile" or driving force of society, and the providential plan in his paean to the benefits of leisure: 2209

Mais voyez ! le loisir n'est-il pas un ressort essentiel dans la mécanique sociale ? sans lui, il n'y aurait jamais eu dans le monde ni de Newton, ni de Pascal, ni de Fénelon ; l'humanité ne connaîtrait ni les arts, ni les sciences, ni ces merveilleuses inventions préparées, à l'origine, par des investigations de pure curiosité ; la pensée serait inerte, l'homme ne serait pas perfectible. D'un autre côté, si le loisir ne se pouvait expliquer que par la spoliation et l'oppression, s'il était un bien dont on ne peut jouir qu'injustement et aux dépens d'autrui, il n'y aurait pas de milieu entre ces deux maux : ou l'humanité serait réduite à croupir dans la vie végétative et stationnaire, dans l'ignorance éternelle, par l'absence d'un des rouages de son mécanisme ; ou bien, elle devrait conquérir ce rouage au prix d'une inévitable injustice et offrir de toute nécessité le triste spectacle, sous une forme ou une autre, de l'antique classification des êtres humains en Maîtres et en Esclaves. Je défie qu'on me signale, dans cette hypothèse, une autre alternative. Nous serions réduits à contempler le plan providentiel qui gouverne la société avec le regret de penser qu'il présente une déplorable lacune. Le mobile du progrès y serait oublié, ou, ce qui est pis, ce mobile ne serait autre que l'injustice elle-même. — Mais non, Dieu n'a pas laissé une telle lacune dans son œuvre de prédilection. Gardons-nous de méconnaître sa sagesse et sa puissance ; que ceux dont les méditations incomplètes ne peuvent expliquer la légitimité du loisir, imitent du moins cet astronome qui disait : À tel point du ciel, il doit exister une planète qu'on finira par découvrir, car sans elle le monde céleste n'est pas harmonie, mais discordance. By expressing myself in this way, I know that I am upsetting a great many preconceived ideas, but look, is not leisure an essential spring in the social mechanism? Without it there would never have been any Newtons, Pascals, or Fénélons in the world; the human race would have no knowledge of art, the sciences, nor any of the marvelous inventions originally made by investigation out of pure curiosity. Thought would be inert, and man would not have the ability to advance. On the other hand, if leisure could be explained only as a function of plunder and oppression, if it were a benefit that could be enjoyed only unjustly and at the expense of others, there would be no middle way between two evils: either the human race would be reduced to squatting in a vegetative and immobile life, in eternal ignorance because one of the cog wheels in its mechanism was missing, or it would have to conquer this cog wheel at the price of inevitable injustice and be obliged to offer the world the sorry sight in one form or another of the division of human beings into masters and slaves as in classical times. I challenge anyone to suggest an alternative outcome within the terms of this analysis. We would be reduced to contemplating the providential plan that orders society with the regretful thought that something is very sadly missing. The driving force of progress would either have been forgotten, or what is worse, this driving force would constitute nothing other than injustice itself. But no, God has not left out an element like this from his creation. Let us be careful to acknowledge fully his wisdom and power. Let those whose imperfect thinking fails to explain the legitimacy of leisure at least echo that astronomer who said: “At a certain point in the heavens there has to be a planet which we will one day discover, for without it the celestial world is not harmony but disharmony.”

The Harmony of Natural Laws

In addition to the astronomical and Providential sources of his thinking about harmony there is the strong tradition within French political economy of natural law both as a justification for the ownership of property and for the freedom to produce and trade with others. This notion of natural law was more than a moral or legal justification for certain practices and institutions but also a explanation of how those practices and institutions arose in the course of history and how they operated in the present. We can trace ideas about the existence of natural laws within economics in France back to the Physiocrats such as François Quesnay, the work of Jean-Baptiste Say, and many of the Paris school of economists with whom Bastiat worked, especially Gustave de Molinari. The latter developed the most complete and elaborate theory of the natural laws which governed the economic realm in his popular book Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare which had as its subtitle the very revealing sentence "entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété" (discussions about economic laws and the defence of property) 2210 and then in later works such as Les Lois naturelles de l'économie politique (1887) in which he summarised his life’s work on this topic. 2211 Molinari believed that there were at least six major “natural laws of economics” on which he elaborated at some length over many decades. 2212 Bastiat belonged in this tradition with his ideas about the economic natural laws such as the law of supply and demand and Malthusian population growth.

Bastiat may well have also been influenced by Scottish thinkers like Adam Ferguson who understood how complex social and economic structures might emerge as “the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design” simply by allowing the "harmonious laws" which governed society to come into play. 2213 Bastiat did not quote Ferguson directly but Ferguson was well known to the Paris economists as his book on The History of Civil Society was translated into French shortly after it appeared and his work was praised in an entry on him in the JDE. 2214 It is not hard to hear echoes of Ferguson’s ideas about spontaneous and harmonious orders in Bastiat’s well known discussion of the feeding of Paris: 2215

En entrant dans Paris, que je suis venu visiter, je me disais : Il y a là un million d'êtres humains qui mourraient tous en peu de jours si des approvisionnements de toute nature n'affluaient vers cette vaste métropole. L'imagination s'effraie quand elle veut apprécier l'immense multiplicité d'objets qui doivent entrer demain par ses barrières, sous peine que la vie de ses habitants ne s'éteigne dans les convulsions de la famine, de l'émeute et du pillage. Et cependant tous dorment en ce moment sans que leur paisible sommeil soit troublé un seul instant par l'idée d'une aussi effroyable perspective. D'un autre côté, quatre-vingts départements ont travaillé aujourd'hui, sans se concerter, sans s'entendre, à l'approvisionnement de Paris. Comment chaque jour amène-t-il ce qu'il faut, rien de plus, rien de moins, sur ce gigantesque marché ? Quelle est donc l'ingénieuse et secrète puissance qui préside à l'étonnante régularité de mouvements si compliqués, régularité en laquelle chacun a une foi si insouciante, quoiqu'il y aille du bien-être et de la vie ? Cette puissance, c'est un principe absolu, le principe de la liberté des transactions. Nous avons foi en cette lumière intime que la Providence a placée au cœur de tous les hommes, à qui elle a confié la conservation et l'amélioration indéfinie de notre espèce, l'intérêt, puisqu'il faut l'appeler par son nom, si actif, si vigilant, si prévoyant, quand il est libre dans son action. Où en seriez-vous, habitants de Paris, si un ministre s'avisait de substituer à cette puissance les combinaisons de son génie, quelque supérieur qu'on le suppose ? s'il imaginait de soumettre à sa direction suprême ce prodigieux mécanisme, d'en réunir tous les ressorts en ses mains, de décider par qui, où, comment, à quelles conditions chaque chose doit être produite, transportée, échangée et consommée ? On entering Paris, which I had come to visit, I said to myself: Here there are a million human beings who would all die in a few days if supplies of all sorts did not flood into this huge metropolis. The mind boggles when it tries to assess the huge variety of objects that have to enter through its gates tomorrow if the lives of its inhabitants are not to be snuffed out in convulsions of famine, uprisings, and pillage. And in the meantime everyone is asleep, without their peaceful slumber being troubled for an instant by the thought of such a frightful prospect. On the other hand, eighty departments have worked today without being in concert and without agreement to supply Paris. How does it happen that every day what is needed and no more or less is brought to this gigantic market? What is thus the ingenious and secret power that presides over the astonishing regularity of such complicated movements, a regularity in which everyone has such blind faith, although well-being and life depend on it? This power is an absolute principle, the principle of free commerce. We have faith in this intimate light that Providence has placed in the hearts of all men to whom it has entrusted the indefinite preservation and progress of our species, self-interest, for we must give it its name, that is so active, vigilant, and farsighted when it is free to act. Where would you be, you inhabitants of Paris, if a minister took it into his head to substitute the arrangements he had thought up, however superior they are thought to be, for this power? Or if he took it into his head to subject this stupendous mechanism to his supreme management, to gather together all these economic activities in his own hands, to decide by whom, how, or under what conditions each object has to be produced, transported, traded and consumed?

As is clear from this passage and the one above on leisure, Bastiat believed that Providence (sometimes God) had created an ordered and harmonious world which operated according to discoverable natural laws, such as gravitation, and then stepped back to let it operate on its own. The human equivalent of gravitation was for Bastiat "le moteur social" (the social driving force) of self-interest. 2216 There is no evidence to think that Bastiat thought Providence or God had intervened in human life at any time since then. The world which had been created was more of a stately Newtonian clockwork-like universe (or mechanism) with regular behaviour which could be studied and from which "natural laws" governing its operation could be discovered by social theorists like economists. One might term this a theory of "harmonious design" rather than of "intelligent design." From our perspective today, this view of a rather static and not dynamic universe is rather naive as the universe is known to be a violent and "disharmonious" place where stars are torn from their orbits and ejected out of their galaxy, stars collapse and then explode, that some massive stars form black holes out of which nothing can escape, space is filled with intense radiation which kills all life forms, and planets with life can be pounded with meteors which wipe them out periodically. But from Bastiat’s perspective in mid-nineteenth century France the Newtonian and Laplacian theory of celestial order and harmony seemed a logical and scientifically advanced one.

Harmonies Social and Economic

Of the over 500 uses of the word "harmony" and related terms we can identify the following key expressions. In addition to many general references to things being "en harmonie" (in harmony) with each other, Bastiat used the words "harmonique," or "harmonieux" or "harmonieuse" (harmonious) in reference to orders, organisations, associations, human development, individual interests, and laws being "harmonious." Most notably, he used the expressions "l'harmonie sociale" or "les harmonies sociales" (social harmony or harmonies), and "les harmonies économique" (economic harmonies always in the plural) to describe the social and economic theory he was working on before his untimely and premature death.

Concerning the word "harmonique" (harmonious) his first two uses of the word occur in the very important pair of articles which he wrote on the eve of his arrival in Paris in May 1845, which show the advanced state of his thinking on this topic before he came into contact with the Paris economists. The first use can be found in his unpublished review of Dunoyer’s book De la liberté du travail probably in January or February 1845 where he says: 2217

Il (le socialisme) consiste à rejeter du gouvernement du monde moral tout dessein providentiel;  à supposer que du jeu des organes sociaux, de l'action et de la réaction libre des intérêts humains, ne résulte pas une organisation merveilleuse, harmonique, et progressive … It (socialism) consists in rejecting any providential designs in the governance of the moral world; in supposing that a marvelous, harmonious, and progressive order cannot result from the to and fro of social groups and the free action and reaction of human interests …

His second use comes from an article we have mentioned several times as being a kind of show case of Bastiat’s orignal and provocative ideas which he brought with him to Paris, namely his critique of Lamartine for having strayed from the straight and narrow path of free market orthodoxy. Here he is chastising Lamartine for advocating coercive, state charity instead of a completely free and voluntary system to aid needy workers: 2218

Ensuite, l'économie politique distingue la charité volontaire de la charité légale ou forcée. L'une, par cela même qu'elle est volontaire, se rattache au principe de la liberté et entre comme élément harmonique dans le jeu des lois sociales ; l'autre, parce qu'elle est forcée, appartient aux écoles qui ont adopté la doctrine de la contrainte, et inflige au corps social des maux inévitables. Next, political economy distinguishes between voluntary charity and state or compulsory charity. The first, for the very reason that it is voluntary, relates to the principles of freedom and is included as an element of harmony in the interplay of social laws; the other, because it is compulsory, belongs to the schools of thought that have adopted the doctrine of coercion and inflict inevitable harm on the social body.

Other important uses of "harmonique" occur often with respect to "les lois harmoniques" (harmonious laws) or "les lois naturelles harmoniques" (harmonious natural laws) as in his opening "Address to the Youth of France" in EH1 (probably written late 1849) where he defines liberty as "la liberté ou le libre jeu des lois harmoniques, que Dieu a préparées pour le développement et le progrès de l'humanité" (liberty, or the free play of the harmonious laws which God has prepared for the development and progress of humanity), 2219 or “Enfin j'appellerai l'attention du lecteur sur les obstacles artificiels que rencontre le développement pacifique, régulier et progressif des sociétés humaines. De ces deux idées : Lois naturelles harmoniques, causes artificielles perturbatrices, se déduira la solution du Problème social” (Finally, I will draw the reader’s attention to the artificial obstacles that the peaceful, regular, and progressive development of human societies encounter. From these two concepts, harmonious natural laws and artificial disturbing factors (causes artificielles perturbatrices), the resolution of the social problem will be deduced.) 2220

However, Bastiat’s two most important concepts relating to harmony are "les harmonies sociales" (social harmonies) and "les harmonies économiques" (economic harmonies) 2221 and his affiliated ideas of "discordance" and "dissonance" (disharmony and dissonance) which he often paired with them. As early as June 1845, the month after he arrived in Paris, Bastiat was planning a large work with the title of "Social Harmonies" as he explained to his close friend and neighbour Félix Coudroy back in Mugron: 2222

Si mon petit traité, Sophismes économiques , réussit, nous pourrions le faire suivre d'un autre intitulé : Harmonies sociales . Il aurait la plus grande utilité, parce qu'il satisferait le penchant de notre époque à rechercher des organisations, des harmonies artificielles, en lui montrant la beauté, l'ordre et le principe progressif dans les harmonies naturelles et providentielles. If my small treatise, Economic Sophisms , is a success (it was published in January 1846), we might follow it with another entitled Social Harmonies. It would be of great use because it would satisfy the tendency of our epoch to look for (socialist) organizations and artificial harmonies by showing it the beauty, order, and progressive principle in natural and providential harmonies.

Details about his planned book on "social harmonies" can be gleaned from scattered remarks in letters he wrote to his friends and supporters, and occasionally in some of his own writings. He first began work on the project in the fall of 1847 when he gave some lectures at the Taranne Hall in Paris to some Law and Medical students, using the first volume of his Economic Sophisms as the text book. In another letter to Félix written in August 1847 he described his plans for the course of lectures to present his ideas on "l'harmonie des lois sociales" (the harmony of social laws) and where he suggests he and Félix had been discussing this for some time: 2223

(A) partir de novembre prochain, je ferai à cette jeunesse un cours, non d'économie politique pure, mais d'économie sociale, en prenant ce mot dans l'acception que nous lui donnons, Harmonie des lois sociales. (F)rom next November I will be giving a course (of lectures) to these young people (at the School of Law), not on pure political economy but on social economics, using this in the meaning we have given it, the "Harmony of Social Laws."

Sometime during the fall when his lectures were underway he wrote an ironic letter to himself in the form of a "Draft Preface" to the book he hoped to write. In this letter Bastiat chastises himself for having been too preoccupied with only one aspect of freedom, namely free trade or what he disparagingly called this "l'uniforme croûte de pain sec" (single crust of dry bread as food), and having neglected the broader social picture. To rectify this he wanted to apply the ideas of J.B. Say, Charles Comte, and Charles Dunoyer, to a study of "toutes les libertés" (all forms of freedom) in a very ambitious research project in liberal social theory. 2224

In July 1847 in a letter to Richard Cobden, to whom he often confided his private thoughts and hopes as he felt many of his Parisian colleagues did not fully understand or appreciate what he was attempting to do, he stated that his book on "la vraie théorie sociale" (real social theory) would contain 12 chapters on some very broad topics: 2225

ce que je considère comme la vraie théorie sociale, sous ces douze chapitres : Besoins, production, propriété, concurrence, population, liberté, égalité, responsabilité, solidarité, fraternité, unité, rôle de l'opinion publique >what I consider to be the true/real social theory in the following twelve chapters: “Needs,” “Production,” “Property,” “Competition,” “Population,” “Liberty,” “Equality,” “Responsibility,” “Solidarity,” “Fraternity,” “Unity,” and “The Role of Public Opinion” …

At the same time as he was giving these lectures at the School of Law in late 1847 he was preparing the second volume of his Economic Sophisms which would appear in January 1848. The two opening chapters which were undated but possibly also written at this time, dealt with the nature of plunder. Bastiat’s friend and editor Paillottet reveals in a footnote that Bastiat also planned to write another volume on the history of plunder.

In their "Foreword" to the expanded second edition of EH which they published 6 months after Bastiat’s death, Fontenay and Paillottet concluded that Bastiat was planning to write "at least" three volumes which would be made up of a volume on "Social Harmonies," one on "Economic Harmonies," and one on plunder which might have been fittingly entitled “Social and Economic Disharmonies.”

Bastiat himself seems to have been torn over how he should approach writing the books given the very severe time constraints placed upon him by his parliamentary duties and his worsening health. In an undated note quoted by Fontenay and Paillottet Bastiat discusses the problem he faced in organising the project: 2226

J'avais d'abord pensé à commencer par l'exposition des Harmonies Économiques, et par conséquent à ne traiter que des sujets purement économiques: Valeur, Propriété, Richesse, Concurrence, Salaire, Population, Monnaie , Crédit, etc. — Plus tard, si j'en avais eu le temps et la force, j'aurais appelé l'attention du lecteur sur un sujet plus vaste: les Harmonies sociales. C'est là que j'aurais parlé de la Constitution humaine, du Moteur social, de la Responsabilité, de la Solidarité, etc.. L'œuvre ainsi conçue était commencée, quand je me suis aperçu qu'il était mieux de fondre ensemble que de séparer ces deux ordres de considérations. Mais alors la logique voulait que l'étude de l'homme précédât les recherches économiques. Il n'était plus temps ; puisse-je réparer ce défaut dans une autre édition! … I had at first thought of beginning with an exposition of the Economic Harmonies, and therefore only dealing with purely economic subjects, such as value, property, wealth, competition, wages, population, money, credit, etc. Later, if I had had the time and the energy, I would have brought to the attention of the reader a much bigger subject (un sujet plus vaste), namely the Social Harmonies. There I would have spoken about human nature (la Constitution humaine), the driving force of society, (individual) responsibility, (social) solidarity, etc. I had commenced work on the project conceived in this way when I realised that it would have been better to merge them together rather than treating these two different kinds of matters separately. But then logic demanded that the study of man should precede research into economic matters. There no longer enough time; perhaps I can fix this error in a future edition!

It would appear that he planned to write a very large volume on "social harmonies" to explain the big picture and a companion volume to explain the nature, origins, and history of the "social disharmonies" which disturbed or disrupted those harmonies. But as his health was failing and time was running out he realised he had to limit himself to an important subset of this larger project and this eventually became the "economic harmonies." He only managed to finish and publish in his lifetime the first volume of EH which he wrote over the summer of 1849 and which appeared in print in early 1850. His friends cobbled together what unfinished papers and chapters they could find in his effects and published "vol. 2" (EH2) in July 1851 six months after Bastiat’s death.

An interesting question to ask is how much of this ambitious project had Bastiat conceived while he was still living in Mugron before he came to Paris in May 1845 and how much of it evolved as he became involved in the free trade movement and the circle of economists who were part of the Guillaumin network. Perhaps the idea had been germinating in his mind over the previous 20 years of intense reading of economics in his home town of Mugron?

What did he mean by "social harmonies"?

One of the best examples of what Bastiat meant by "social harmony" (singular) can be found in a passage in the new introduction to his essay "On Competition" which was originally published in May 1846 in the JDE which he revised over the summer of 1849 and became Chapter X of EH1. 2227 He takes the example of what he calls two "indomitable forces," individual self-interest and competition which, individually could cause conflict and social disharmony but, when combined together in a free society, create "Social Harmony." 2228

… Dieu, qui a mis dans l'individualité l'intérêt personnel qui, comme un aimant, attire toujours tout à lui, Dieu, dis-je, a placé aussi, au sein de l'ordre social, un autre ressort auquel il a confié le soin de conserver à ses bienfaits leur destination primitive : la gratuité, la communauté. Ce ressort, c'est la Concurrence. … God, who has placed in individuals the self-interest that, like a magnet, constantly draws everything to itself, this God, I say, has also placed within the social order another mainspring (ressort) to which he has entrusted the care of maintaining his gifts such that they conform to their original objective: to be freely available (la gratuité) and common to all (la communauté). This mainspring is Competition.
Ainsi l'Intérêt personnel est cette indomptable force individualiste qui nous fait chercher le progrès, qui nous le fait découvrir, qui nous y pousse l'aiguillon dans le flanc, mais qui nous porte aussi à le monopoliser. La Concurrence est cette force humanitaire non moins indomptable qui arrache le progrès, à mesure qu'il se réalise, des mains de l'individualité, pour en faire l'héritage commun de la grande famille humaine. Ces deux forces qu'on peut critiquer, quand on les considère isolément, constituent dans leur ensemble, par le jeu de leurs combinaisons, l'Harmonie sociale. Thus, Self-interest is this indomitable individual force that drives us to seek progress, makes us achieve it, and spurs us on, but which also makes us inclined to monopolize it. Competition is the no less indomitable humanitarian force that snatches progress as it is achieved from the hands of individuals in order to make it part of the common heritage of the great human family. These two forces, which can be criticized when considered separately, constitute Social Harmony when taken together because of their interplay when (acting) in combination.

In another passage in a chapter on "Producers and Consumers" which appeared in EH2 Bastiat describes what he calls "la loi essentielle de l'harmonie sociale" (the essential law of social harmony), namely that man is perfectible, that the standard of living will continue to improve over time, and that more and more people will approach this increasingly common, higher standard of living: 2229

Si le niveau de l'humanité ne s'élève pas sans cesse, l'homme n'est pas perfectible. If the standard of living (niveau) of the human race does not increase constantly, man is not perfectible.
Si la tendance sociale n'est pas une approximation constante de tous les hommes vers ce niveau progressif, les lois économiques ne sont pas harmoniques. If the tendency of society is not the continual approach of all men to this improving standard of living, the laws of economics are not harmonious.
Or comment le niveau humain peut-il s'élever si chaque quantité donnée de travail ne donne pas une proportion toujours croissante de satisfactions, phénomène qui ne peut s'expliquer que par la transformation de l'utilité onéreuse en utilité gratuite ? Well, how can the standard of living of the human race rise if each given quantity of labor does not provide an ever-increasing proportion of satisfaction, a phenomenon that can be explained only by the transformation of cost-bearing/onerous utility into free/gratuitous utility?
Et, d'un autre côté, comment cette utilité, devenue gratuite, rapprocherait-elle tous les hommes d'un commun niveau, si en même temps elle ne devenait commune ? And on the other hand, how would the utility that has become free/gratuitous bring everyone closer to the same standard of living if it did not at the same time become common to all?
Voilà donc la loi essentielle de l'harmonie sociale. This is therefore the essential law of social harmony.

He makes a similar comment in a passage in the article on "Population" in the JDE (Oct. 1846) where he equates "the social harmonies" with equal access for all people to the benefits of progress and a rising standard of living: 2230

La théorie que nous venons d'exposer succinctement conduit à ce résultat pratique, que les meilleures formes de la philanthropie, les meilleures institutions sociales sont celles qui, agissant dans le sens du plan providentiel tel que les harmonies sociales nous le révèlent, à savoir, l'égalité dans le progrès, font descendre dans toutes les couches de l'humanité, et spécialement dans la dernière, la connaissance, la raison, la moralité, la prévoyance. The theory that we have just set out briefly leads to the practical result that the best forms of philanthropy and the best social institutions are those that, when they operate in line with the Providential plan as revealed to us by the social harmonies, that is to say, equality in progress (l'égalité dans le progrès = equal progress for all), spread knowledge, reason, morality, and foresight throughout all of the social strata of humanity, especially the lowest.

What did he mean by "economic harmonies"?

By "economic harmonies" Bastiat meant that subset of "harmonies" which were part of the broader framework of "social harmonies" discussed above. These would include what he described as "purely economic subjects, such as value, property, wealth, competition, wages, population, money, credit." They were also meant as a companion volume to his Economic Sophisms which he described in a letter to Cobden in June 1846 as "un petit livre intitulé : Harmonies économiques . Il ferait le pendant de l'autre; le premier démolit, le second édifierait" (a small book entitled Economic Harmonies . It will make a pair with the other; the first knocks down and the second would build up). 2231 He made a similar comment to Cobden a year later where he described the book on Economic Harmonies as providing "the positive point of view" and the Economic Sophisms "the negative point of view." 2232

He offered another explanation of his purpose in the conclusion to Part I of the article on "Economic Harmonies" which appeared in the JDE in Sept. 1848. 2233 He wanted to demonstrate to others the "sublime and reassuring harmonies in the play of natural laws governing society", to use this "one true, simple, and fruitful notion … to resolve some of the problems that still arouse controversy: competition, mechanization, foreign trade, luxury, capital, rent," and to "show the relationships, or rather the harmonies, of political economy with the other moral and social sciences."

Qu'ils me pardonnent; que ce soit la vérité elle-même qui me presse ou que je sois dupe d'une illusion, toujours est-il que je sens le besoin de concentrer dans un faisceau des idées que je n'ai pu faire accepter jusqu'ici pour les avoir présentées éparses et par lambeaux. Il me semble que j'aperçois dans le jeu des lois naturelles de la société de sublimes et consolantes harmonies. Ce que je vois ou crois voir, ne dois-je pas essayer de le montrer à d'autres, afin de rallier ainsi autour d'une pensée de concorde et de fraternité bien des intelligences égarées, bien des cœurs aigris? Si, quand le vaisseau adoré de la patrie est battu parla tempête, je parais m'éloigner quelquefois, pour me recueillir, du poste auquel j'ai été appelé, c'est que mes faibles mains sont inutiles à la manœuvre. Est-ce d'ailleurs trahir mon mandat que de réfléchir sur les causes de la tempête elle-même, et m'efforcer [108] d'agir sur ces causes? Et puis, ce que je ne ferais pas aujourd'hui, qui sait s'il me serait donné de le faire demain? I hope they will forgive me! Whether it is truth itself that harries me or just that I am the victim of delusion, I still feel the need to concentrate on a range of ideas for which I have not been able to gain acceptance up to now because I have presented them in dribs and drabs. I think that I discern sublime and reassuring harmonies in the play of natural laws governing society. Should I not try to show others what I see or think I see, in rallying a great many mistaken minds and embittered hearts around a way of thinking based upon concord and fraternity? If I appear to drift away from the post to which I have been called in order to gather my thoughts, at a time when the beloved ship of State is buffeted by storms, it is because my weak hands cannot help hold the tiller. Besides, am I betraying my mission when I reflect on the causes of the storm itself and endeavor to act on these causes? What is more, if I do not do this now, who knows whether I will have the opportunity to do it later?
Je commencerai par établir quelques notions économiques. M'aidant des travaux de mes devanciers, je m'efforcerai de résumer la Science dans un principe vrai, simple et fécond, qu'elle entrevit dès l'origine, dont elle s'est constamment approchée et dont peut-être le moment est venu de fixer la formule. Ensuite, à la clarté de ce flambeau, j'essayerai de résoudre quelques-uns des problèmes encore controversés, concurrence, machines, commerce extérieur, luxe, capital, rente, etc. Enfin, je montrerai [signalerai in EH1] les relations ou plutôt les harmonies de l'économie politique avec les autres sciences morales et sociales, en jetant un coup d'œil sur les graves sujets exprimés par ces mots : Intérêt personnel, Propriété, Liberté, Responsabilité, Solidarité, Egalité, Fraternité, Unité. I will start by setting out a few economic notions. With the help of the work carried out by my predecessors, I will endeavor to epitomize this mode of explanation in one true, simple, and fruitful notion, one that it foresaw from the outset and to which it has constantly drawn near, with the time perhaps having come to establish its wording definitively. Then by this beacon, I will try to resolve some of the problems that still arouse controversy: competition, mechanization, foreign trade, luxury, capital, rent, etc. I will show the relationships, or rather the harmonies, of political economy with the other moral and social sciences by casting a glance on the serious matters encapsulated in the following words: Self-Interest, Property, Liberty, Responsibility, Solidarity, Equality, Fraternity, and Unity.

And there is his moving last ditch attempt to explain what he wanted to do in the Conclusion to EH1 when he must have known in his heart that he would never live to see the project completed. In this passage he ties together several of his key ideas on harmony and disharmony, property and plunder, freedom and oppression: 2234

Nous avons vu toutes les Harmonies sociales contenues en germe dans ces deux principes : Propriété, Liberté. — Nous verrons que toutes les dissonances sociales ne sont que le développement de ces deux autres principes antagoniques aux premiers : Spoliation, Oppression. We have seen the germs of all the Social Harmonies encapsulated in the following two principles: PROPERTY and FREEDOM. We will see that all social disharmony (toutes les dissonances sociales) is merely the development of two other principles that conflict with the first: PLUNDER and OPPRESSION.
Et même, les mots Propriété, Liberté n'expriment que deux aspects de la même idée. Au point de vue économique, la liberté se rapporte à l'acte de produire, la Propriété aux produits. — Et puisque la Valeur a sa raison d'être dans l'acte humain, on peut dire que la liberté implique et comprend la Propriété. — Il en est de même de l'Oppression à l'égard de la Spoliation. And likewise the words Property and Freedom express only two aspects of the same idea. From the point of view of economics, Freedom relates to the act of producing and Property to the products. And since Value owes its very reason for existing to human activity, it may be said that Freedom implies and encompasses Property. This is also true of Oppression with regard to Plunder.
Liberté ! voilà, en définitive, le principe harmonique. Oppression ! voilà le principe dissonant ; la lutte de ces deux puissances remplit les annales du genre humain. Freedom! This is the definitive principle of harmony (le principe harmonique). Oppression! This is the principle of disharmony (le principe dissonant), and the struggle between these two forces fills the annals of the human race.

We have attempted to reconstruct what Bastiat’s multi-volume magnum opus on "Harmonies and Disharmonies" might have looked like had he lived long enough to complete it. It will be included in our CW5 which will contain the Economic Harmonies book.

Bastiat’s Theory of Disharmony

As a counterpoint to his theory of harmony Bastiat also had a theory of its opposite, namely "disharmony." He used several words to describe this, such as “la discordance” (disharmony), “la dissonance” (dissonance, or discord), "la perturbation" (disturbance, disruption), and "l'antagonisme" (antagonism, or opposition). He often paired "l'harmonie" with either “la discordance” or “la dissonance” as its opposite. He also paired "la perturbation" with its opposite, as in the expressions "les forces perturbatrices" (disturbing forces) and "les forces réparatrices" (restorative or repairing forces). 2235

The bulk of the references to disharmony occur in his book Economic Harmonies for the obvious reason that he was able to contrast it with the main topic of his interest. However, there were a few references before he began work in earnest on his book, such as this one from the Introduction to his book on Cobden and the League (July 1845) where it is very clear from the context that what caused disharmony was the use of violence to enforce a protectionist trade policy: 2236

Si la Balance du commerce est vraie en théorie ; si, dans l'échange international, un peuple perd nécessairement ce que l'autre gagne ; s'ils s'enrichissent aux dépens les uns des autres, si le bénéfice de chacun est l'excédant de ses ventes sur ses achats, je comprends qu'ils s'efforcent tous à la fois de mettre de leur côté la bonne chance, l'exportation ; je conçois leur ardente rivalité, je m'explique les guerres de débouchés. Prohiber par la force le produit étranger, imposer à l'étranger par la force le produit national, c'est la politique qui découle logiquement du principe. Il y a plus, le bien-être des nations étant à ce prix, et l'homme étant invinciblement poussé à rechercher le bien-être, on peut gémir de ce qu'il a plu à la Providence de faire entrer dans le plan de la création deux lois discordantes qui se heurtent avec tant de violence ; mais on ne saurait raisonnablement reprocher au fort d'obéir à ces lois en opprimant le faible, puisque l'oppression, dans cette hypothèse, est de droit divin et qu'il est contre nature, impossible, contradictoire que ce soit le faible qui opprime le fort. If the balance of trade is true in theory, if in international trade one nation necessarily loses what another gains, if nations become wealthy at each others’ expense, if the profits of each lie in an excess of sales over purchases, I understand that they all endeavor at the same time to procure good luck or exports for themselves, I understand their ardent rivalry and find an explanation for the war for markets. To prohibit foreign products by force and impose on foreigners our products by force is a policy that is a logical result of this principle. What is more, since the well-being of nations is at this price and man is ineluctably impelled to seek well-being, we may complain that Providence was happy to introduce into the plan of creation two disharmonious laws (deux lois discordantes) that conflict so violently with each other. However, we cannot reasonably criticise the strong for obeying these laws by oppressing the weak, since oppression, in this scenario, is the result of divine right and it would be unnatural, impossible, and contradictory for the weak to oppress the strong.

This was repeated in a very similar fashion five years later in his address “To the Youth of France” where he states a lack of harmony in the world clearly shows a lack of liberty and justice due to the actions of oppressors and plunders: 2237

Si les lois providentielles sont harmoniques, c'est quand elles agissent librement, sans quoi elles ne seraient pas harmoniques par elles-mêmes. Lors donc que nous remarquons un défaut d'harmonie dans le monde, il ne peut correspondre qu'à un défaut de liberté, à une justice absente. Oppresseurs, spoliateurs, contempteurs de la justice, vous ne pouvez donc entrer dans l'harmonie universelle, puisque c'est vous qui la troublez. If the laws of Providence are harmonious, it is when they act freely, otherwise they would not be harmonious of themselves. Therefore, when we note a lack of harmony in the world it can only be the result of a lack of freedom or of justice that is absent. Oppressors, plunderers, those who hold justice in contempt, you can never be part of universal harmony since you are the people who are upsetting it.

An early explicit pairing of harmony and disharmony can be found in his "Second Letter to Lamartine" (JDE, Oct. 1846) in which he again criticises Lamartine for straying from the free trade fold and supporting price controls on food during emergencies: 2238

C'est pour moi une bien douce consolation que la doctrine de la liberté ne me montre qu'harmonie entre ces divers intérêts ; et, avec votre âme, vous devez être bien malheureux, puisque vous ne voyez entre eux qu'une irrémédiable dissonance. I find it very comforting that the doctrine of freedom reveals to me only harmony among these various interests and, with your soul, you must be very unhappy, since you see in them just an unavoidable disharmony (dissonance).

Fundamental to Bastiat’s view of harmony of the free market was that the interests of individuals were not inherently "disharmonious" or in conflict with each. His proviso was that these interests had to be "bien compris" (rightly understood) or "légitimes" (legitimate), otherwise they would clash and produce disharmony. In his pamphlet "Baccalaureate and Socialism" (early 1850) he stated: 2239

Les intérêts des hommes, bien compris, sont harmoniques, et la lumière qui les leur fait comprendre brille d'un éclat toujours plus vif. Donc les efforts individuels et collectifs, l'expérience, les tâtonnements, les déceptions même, la concurrence, en un mot, la Liberté — font graviter les hommes vers cette Unité, qui est l'expression des lois de leur nature, et la réalisation du bien général. Properly understood, the interests of men are harmonious and the light that enables men to understand them shines with an ever more brilliant glow. Therefore, individual and collective efforts, experience, stumbling (trial and error), and even deceptions, competition—in a word, freedom—make men gravitate toward this unity (of interests) that is an expression of the laws of their nature and the achievement of the general good.

By "rightly understood interests," Bastiat realised that individuals were fallible and would make mistakes, but because they were thinking beings capable of planning and choosing between alternatives, they were able to correct their mistakes, better understand what their true interests were, and act accordingly. Thus, the disharmony caused by poor decisions was self-correcting.

In the Introduction to EH1, his address "To the Youth of France," (written late 1849) he asserts that "tous les intérêts légitimes sont harmoniques" (all legitimate interests are harmonious) and that this idea was "l'idée dominante de cet écrit" (the dominant idea of this work). By "legitimate interests," Bastiat meant any activity which was undertaken without coercion or fraud, which was engaged in voluntarily by both parties to an exchange, and where the property rights of each individual were respected. Interests which were pursued by means of force or fraud were illegitimate in his view and caused considerable disruption and disharmony to the social order. However, he realised that this notion was rejected by the socialist critics of his day who argued the opposite, that men’s interests were "naturally antagonistic" and hence a cause of disharmony. This lead to a stark choice for efforts to solve "le problème social" (the social problem or question), if interests were naturally harmonious then individual liberty and the free market could be trusted to solve it; if interests were naturally antagonistic or disharmonious, then force had to used to prevent further antagonism and disharmony: 2240

Non, certes ; mais je voudrais vous mettre sur la voie de cette vérité : Tous les intérêts légitimes sont harmoniques. C'est l'idée dominante de cet écrit, et il est impossible d'en méconnaitre l'importance. … Certainly not, but I would like to set you on the path to this truth: All legitimate interests are harmonious. This is the dominant idea in this book, and it is impossible not to recognize its importance. … 
Or cette solution (to "le problème social"), vous le comprendrez aisément, doit être toute différente selon que les intérêts sont naturellement harmoniques ou antagoniques. Well, this solution (to the social problem), as you will easily understand, has to be very different, depending on whether interests are [naturally] in harmony (harmoniques) or in conflict (antagoniques).
Dans le premier cas, il faut la demander à la Liberté ; dans le second, à la Contrainte. Dans l'un, il suffit de ne pas contrarier ; dans l'autre, il faut nécessairement contrarier. In the first case, we must call for Freedom, in the second, for Coercion (contrainte). In the first case, it is enough not to interfere with other people (contrarier), in the other, you have of necessity to interfere with other people.
Mais la Liberté n'a qu'une forme. Quand on est bien convaincu que chacune des molécules qui composent un liquide porte en elle-même la force d'où résulte le niveau général, on en conclut qu'il n'y a pas de moyen plus simple et plus sûr pour obtenir ce niveau que de ne pas s'en mêler. Tous ceux donc qui adopteront ce point de départ : Les intérêts sont harmoniques, seront aussi d'accord sur la solution pratique du problème social : s'abstenir de contrarier et de déplacer les intérêts. But Freedom has just one form. When people are fully convinced that each of the molecules that make up a liquid carry within itself the force that results in (reaching) a general level (le niveau général = niveau also translated as standard of living, which is suggested here as well as solution to the social problem), they conclude that there is no simpler or surer means of obtaining this level than to leave it alone [mêler = not to meddle in it]. All those, therefore, who adopt the thesis, Interests are harmonious, will also agree on the practical solution to the social problem: refrain from interfering with and disrupting (déplacer) these interests.
La Contrainte peut se manifester, au contraire, par des formes et selon des vues en nombre infini. Les écoles qui partent de cette donnée : Les intérêts sont antagoniques, n'ont donc encore rien fait pour la solution du problème, si ce n'est qu'elles ont exclu la Liberté. Il leur reste encore à chercher, parmi les formes infinies de la Contrainte, quelle est la bonne, si tant est qu'une le soit. Et puis, pour dernière difficulté, il leur restera à faire accepter universellement par des hommes, par des agents libres, cette forme préférée de la Contrainte. By contrast, Coercion may assume an infinite number of forms and points of view. The schools of thought that start from the assumption that Interests are in conflict (antagoniques), have therefore not yet done anything to solve this problem except for excluding Freedom. It still remains for them to identify from the infinite number of forms of Coercion the one that is right, if there can indeed be one. Then, as a final difficulty, they will still have to have this preferred form of Coercion universally accepted by the people, by these free agents (des agents libres = these free and acting beings).

Of course, Bastiat was acutely aware that society was not harmonious in the way it functioned, given the glaring facts of the existence of poverty, war, slavery, and various other forms of oppression, not to mention the social and political problems which gave rise to the recent Revolution of February 1848, facts which the socialist critics of political economy in his day frequently pointed out.

Bastiat had several responses to this line of criticism. Firstly, he argued that there was a tendency for societies to be harmonious ("les grandes tendances sociales sont harmoniques") but nothing inevitable about this occurring because men had free will, were fallible, and often made mistakes. However, if left free to act and make choices, men would correct their mistakes and they individually and society in general would more towards a more harmonious situation. In other words, there existed a self-correcting mechanism which elsewhere he described as "les forces restoratives" (restorative forces). 2241 In a new passage which he added to the JDE essay on “Des besoins de l'homme” for the chapter in EH1 he observed that: 2242

Pour que l'harmonie fût sans dissonance, il faudrait ou que l'homme n'eût pas de libre arbitre, ou qu'il fût infaillible. Nous disons seulement ceci: les grandes tendances sociales sont harmoniques, en ce que, toute erreur menant à une déception et tout vice à un châtiment, les dissonances tendent incessamment à disparaître. For harmony to exist with no disharmony it would be necessary either for man to have no free will or for him to be infallible. We will just say this: the major social tendencies are harmonious, in that since all error leads to disappointment and all vice to punishment, disharmony tends to disappear quickly.

Since Bastiat was very witty and loved to play with words, as we can see so ably demonstrated in many of his "Economic Sophisms", it is not surprising that he came up with a clever phrase to encapsulate how free societies were self-correcting. In this case it is "une dissonance harmonique" or a "harmonious disharmony.“ 2243 By this he meant that when people make poor decisions and suffer some temporary "disharmony" or discomfort as a result, they have an incentive to correct their behaviour and restore economic "harmony" to their lives. In other words, the disharmony acts as a corrective to its own existence and eventually helps bring about the restoration of harmony, acting somewhat like Schumpeter’s notion of "creative destruction" or what might here be called "harmonising disharmonies."

Secondly, he believed that many people erred in not understanding their "rightly understood interests" and how they were not inherently antagonistic with the interests of others (see the discussion above).

Thirdly, that people had been duped by the sophistical arguments put forward by numerous vested interests which sought government subsidies, monopolies, and protection for their particular industries at the expence of taxpayers and consumers. The political struggles which this system of privilege created led to enormous antagonism and disharmony within society as people jostled for the ear of the King or the Chamber of Deputies to get their special interests protected by "la grande fabrique de lois" (the great law factory) in Paris. 2244 Dispelling these "sophisms" was of course the purpose behind the two volumes of Economic Sophisms which Bastiat published between 1845 and 1848. The key sophism Bastiat had identified, what he called "the root stock sophism" was Montaigne’s claim that "the gain of one is the loss of another," in other words that the economy was a zero sum game where someone could gain only at the expence of another person. 2245

His final and perhaps most important response, was to agree with the socialists that ruling elites, like the "oligarchy" which ruled England and "la classe électorale" (the voting or electoral class) which controlled France before 1848, ruthlessly plundered their own people by institionalising plunder, or what Bastiat called "la spoliation légale" (legal plunder). 2246 Until this system of plunder was removed, disharmony and antagonism would remain an intrinsic part of English and French society. Hence his great interest in writing another, possibly third book, on The History of Plunder ” to expose and denounce the cause of all theses disharmonies. In his view war and legal plunder were the two "disturbing factors" which did the most to create and entrench disharmony in society. An idea of what he had in mind for this book can be found in the opening chapter of ES2 "The Physiology of Plunder" (written late 1847), his address "To the Youth of France" in the opening to EH1 and the Conclusion (both written in mid or late 1849), as well as a number of pamphlets such as Property and Plunder (July 1848). 2247

Paillottet tells us in a footnote that Bastiat had told him on the eve of his death how important he thought this project was: 2248

Un travail bien important à faire, pour l'économie politique, c'est d'écrire l'histoire de la Spoliation. C'est une longue histoire dans laquelle, dès l'origine, apparaissent les conquêtes, les migrations des peuples, les invasions et tous les funestes excès de la force aux prises avec la justice. De tout cela il reste encore aujourd'hui des traces vivantes, et c'est une grande difficulté pour la solution des questions posées dans notre siècle. On n'arrivera pas à cette solution tant qu'on n'aura pas bien constaté en quoi et comment l'injustice, faisant sa part au milieu de nous, s'est impatronisée dans nos mœurs et dans nos lois. A very important task to be done for political economy is to write the history of plunder. It is a long history in which, from the outset, there appeared conquests, the migrations of peoples, invasions, and all the disastrous excesses of force in conflict with justice. Living traces of all this still remain today and cause great difficulty for the solution of the questions raised in our century. We will not reach this solution as long as we have not clearly noted in what and how injustice, when making a place for itself amongst us, has gained a foothold in our customs and our laws.

But of course he did not live long enough to see his books on Social and Economic Harmonies completed, let alone another volume on the History of Plunder . This volume might rank alongside Lord Acton’s much anticipated History of Liberty as one of the most important classical liberal books never written. 2249

Endnotes

2206 Voltaire published the first edition of Éléments de la Philosophie de Newton in 1738 and then an expanded edition in 1741.

2207 Laplace wrote a multi-volume work on Traité de mécanique céleste (Treatise on Celestial Mechanics) (1799-1805) and Arago was a friend of Bastiat who worked at the Paris Observatory and also served in the provisional Government in 1848 as Minister of War. See the glossary entries on "Laplace" and "Arago."

2208 See above, pp. 000.

2209 See above, pp. 000.

2210 Molinari, Gustave de, Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare; entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété. (Paris: Guillaumin, 1849).

2211 Gustave de Molinari, Les Lois naturelles de l'économie politique (Paris: Guillaumin, 1887).

2212 These were “la loi naturelle de l'économie des forces ou du moindre effort” (the natural law of the economising of forces, or of the least effort), “la loi naturelle de la concurrence” (the natural law of competition) or “la loi de libre concurrence” (the law of free competition), “la loi naturelle de la valeur” (sometimes also expressed as “la loi de progression des valeurs”) (the natural law of value, or the progression of value), “la loi de l'offre et de la demande” (the law of supply and demand), “la loi de l'équilibre” (the law of economic equilibrium), and “Malthus' law of population growth.”

2213 From Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society, 5th ed. (London: T. Cadell, 1782). </titles/1428>.

2214 The French edition was Adam Ferguson, Essai sur l'histoire de la société civile , 2 vols. Translated by Jean Nicolas Démeunier (Paris: Chez la Veuve Desaint, 1783). See the entry on "Fergusson, Adam," (sic) in DEP, vol. 1, pp. 758-59.

2215 ES1 18 "There Are No Absolute Principles" in CW3, pp. 84-85.

2216 See “The Social Mechanism and its Driving Force” in Further Aspect of Bastiat’s Thought , below, pp. 000.

2217 See above, pp. 000.

2218 See “Letter from an Economist to M. de Lamartine" (JDE, February 1845), above, pp. 000.

2219 See EH, FEE ed. p. xxxv.

2220 Interestingly, this sentence was not in the version which appeared in the JDE article but was added to the version which appeared as a chapter in EH1 II. Besoins, Efforts, Satisfactions".

2221 It should be noted that Bastiat talked about "social harmony" in the singular and "social harmonies" in the plural but only about "economic harmonies" in the plural.

2222 Letter 39 to Félix Coudroy (Paris, 5 June 1845), in CW1, p. 64.

2223 Letter 81 to Félix Coudroy (Paris, Aug. 1847), CW1, p. 131.

2224 "A Draft Preface to the Economic Harmonies " (Fall 1847), CW1, pp. 316-20.

2225 Letter 80 to Richard Cobden (Paris, 5 July 1847), in CW1, pp. 000.

2226 See the undated note by Bastiat on the "Economic and Social Harmonies” found among his papers (c. June 1845), above pp. 000.

2227 See above, pp. 000.

2228 Our translation in CW5 (forthcoming).

2229 Our translation, in EH2 11 "Producers and Consumers"; FEE ed. p. 325.

2230 See above, pp. 000.

2231 Letter 65 to Richard Cobden (Mugron, 25 June 1846) in CW1, 106.

2232 Letter 80 to Cobden (Paris, 5 July, 1847), in CW1, p. 131.

2233 See above, pp. 000.

2234 Our translation. FEE ed., p. 319.

2235 See “Disturbing and Restorative Factors” in Further Aspect of Bastiat’s Thought , below, pp. 000.

2236 Our translation in CW6 (forthcoming).

2237 Our translation, EH FEE ed. p. xxiv.

2238 See above, pp. 000.

2239 "Baccalaureate and Socialism," in CW2, p. 225.

2240 Our translation, but see also FEE ed., pp. xxi-xxii.

2241 See “Disturbing and Restorative Factors” in Further Aspect of Bastiat’s Thought , below, pp. 000.

2242 See above, pp. 000.

2243 FEE translated this as "harmonious discord", EH1 Conclusion, p. 319.

2244 VII. "Trade Restrictions" in WSWNS, CW3, p. 428.

2245 See ES3 15 "One Man’s Gain is Another Man’s Loss," in CW3, pp. 341-43.

2246 See "Justice and Fraternity" (June 1848), in CW2, p. 76.

2247 CW2, pp. 147–84.

2248 See footnote in CW3, p. 110.

2249 See Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Action: A Study in Conscience and Politics (University of Chicago Press, 1962), pp.221-22, where she sates that "The History of Liberty that was to have been his monument as an historian was never constructed. Only fragments of it can be pieced together from essays and lectures posthumously published and from notes bequeathed to future historians.“

 


 

Human Action (CW4 final draft)

Scattered throughout Bastiat’s writings are many intriguing statements which prefigure some key ideas of the Austrian School of economic thought which emerged during the 1870s as represented by Carl Menger and Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, and in the twentieth century by Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Murray Rothbard. We say "prefigure” because he did not present a coherent Austrian theory of subjective value theory, time preference, or the business cycle, but he did have an understanding of other things like the fact that only individuals choose, that exchange is fundamental to the economic order, that utility is based upon subjective evaluations, that the price system is important in giving direction to what is produced, that money is not neutral, and that social institutions are often the result of human action and not “artificially” designed. We have indicated in the footnotes when Bastiat expresses a view which is close to that of the Austrian school. This happens frequently enough to suggest that this is not an accident, but that he was slowly moving in their direction some 20 years ahead of his time. More detail of this line of thinking will be given in volume 5 of the Collected Works which will contain his treatise Economic Harmonies .

In the mid-twentieth century economists like Joseph Schumpeter and Hayek had little which was good to say about Bastiat as a theorist other than he was a very good economic journalist and popularizer of economic ideas. 2250 In the 1950s and 1960s Murray Rothbard realized he had been underestimated and began arguing for a reassessment of his contributions to economic thought, seeing Bastiat as an important “transition figure” between the classical school and the Austrian school. 2251 More recently a younger generation of Austrian economists, such as Joseph Salerno, Mark Thornton, Tom DiLorenzo, and Jörg Guido Hülsmann, have identified many Austrian insights in Bastiat’s thinking and have claimed him as one of their own. 2252 They all thought Bastiat had insights about economics which were Austrian in nature and ahead of their time. Interestingly, there is also now a group which argues that Bastiat was a Public Choice theorist of some kind, such as James Dorn, Stringham, Bryan Caplan, and Mike Munger. 2253

However, the floodgates of the Bastiat renaissance were opened at the bicentennial conference on Bastiat held in Mugron in June 2001 where 14 papers were given re-evaluating the work of Bastiat 200 years after his birth. These were published in a special edition of Journal des Économistes et des Études Humaines (June 2001) edited by Pierre Garello. 2254 The general consensus which comes out of this conference is that Bastiat was an Austrian to all intents and purposes - that “he was a praxeologist ahead of his time” (Bramoullé), and “very Austrian indeed” (Thornton) are two typical comments.

However, here we will limit our remarks to Bastiat’s understanding of the notion of “human action” which is key to Mises' formulation of the Austrian approach.

Bastiat refers several times to humans as “un être actif” (an acting or active being), “un agent” (an agent, or actor), “un agent intelligent” (an intelligent or thinking actor), and to their behaviour in the economic world as “l'action humaine” (human action) or “l'action de l'homme” (the action of human beings, or human action), and to the guiding principle behind it all as “le principe actif" or "le principe d'activité” (the principle of action). Less common were expressions such as “l'être agissant” (acting being) or “l'homme agissant" (acting man) which only appear in the notes he left behind for inclusion in EH2. These ideas were beginning to come together in the Economic Harmonies which he began writing in earnest in 1848 with the essays "Natural and Artificial Organization" (Jan. 1848) and the opening chapters "Economic Harmonies I, II, III” (Sept. 1848, and number IV in December 1848. 2255 For example, in “Natural and Artificial Organization,” the essay which would eventually begin Economic Harmonies , he notes that “il faut pourtant bien reconnaître que la société est une organisation qui a pour élément un agent intelligent, moral, doué de libre arbitre et perfectible. Si vous en ôtez la liberté, ce n'est plus qu'un triste et grossier mécanisme.” (one must nevertheless recognize that society is an organization whose components are intelligent and moral actors endowed with free will, and are capable of being perfectible. If you take freedom away from this actor, he becomes merely a sad and sorry mechanism). 2256

In “Economic Harmonies IV” (Dec. 1848) he begins the article with the statement which includes his first use of the term “le principe actif” (the action principle or the principle of action):

J'ai dit, en commençant cet écrit, que l'économie politique avait pour objet l' homme , considéré au point de vue de ses besoins et des moyens par lesquels il lui est donné d'y pourvoir. At the beginning of this work , I said that the object of political economy is man , considered from the point of view of his needs and the means by which it is given to him to meet them.
Il est donc naturel de commencer par étudier l'homme et son organisation. It is therefore natural to start by examining man and his nature.
Mais nous avons vu aussi qu'il n'est pas un être solitaire; si ses besoins et ses satisfactions , en vertu de la nature de la sensibilité, sont inséparables de son être, il n'en est pas de même de ses efforts , qui naissent du principe actif . Ceux-ci sont susceptibles de transmission. En un mot, les hommes travaillent les uns pour les autres. But we have also seen that he is not a solitary being; while his needs and his satisfactions , given the nature of his sensations , are inseparable from his being, this is not true of his efforts , which arise from the principle of action . Efforts can be transferred . In a word, men work for each other’s benefit.

He would use this term again in the chapters on “Exchange” and “On Value” in EH1.

Also in “Economic Harmonies IV” he uses for the first time the phrase “l'action humaine” (human action), as in the following statement which is interesting because it also contains a suggestion of his growing appreciation of the subjective nature of values: 2257

L'action humaine, laquelle ne peut jamais arriver à créer de la matière, constitue seule le service que l'homme isolé se rend à lui-même ou que les hommes en société se rendent les uns aux autres, et c'est la libre appréciation de ces services qui est le fondement de la valeur ; Human action, which can never create matter, is the sole constituent of the service that a man in isolation can render (to) himself or that men living in society can render (to) e ach other, and it is the freely (given) appraisal of these services that is the basis of value .

There are 8 uses of the term “l'action humaine” (human action) in total, all of which occur in the articles and chapters which would make up EH. The other version of this concept which he used was “l'action de l'homme” which he also began using in 1848 in his First Letter on Property and Plunder written to Considerant and then in EH. Here he contrasts “l'action de l'homme” with “l'action de la nature” (the action of nature). 2258 A third version he used was the plural form of “les actions humaines” (human actions) which he used to refer to specific and numerous instances of human activity but also in the abstract sense of “human action” in general. An example of the latter more Austrian use can be found in EH2 Chapter XVIII “Disturbing Factors” where he says “l'intérêt personnel, dans la sphère économique, est le mobile des actions humaines et le grand ressort de la société” (in the sphere of economics, self-interest is the driving force of human actions and the great spring (driving force) of society.)

The two very intriguing terms with very strong Austrian associations, expressions such as “l'être agissant” (acting being) or “l'homme agissant" (acting man), only appear once each in his writings, in unfinished notes and sketches which Paillottet and Fontenay gathered together for the additional reconstructed chapters which appeared in EH2 in 1851. This suggests they were concepts relatively new to his thinking and which he was grappling with just before he died. The former appeared in some additional notes appended to chapter XX "Responsibility”: 2259

Toute action humaine, — faisant jaillir une série de conséquences bonnes ou mauvaises, dont les unes retombent sur l'auteur même de l'acte, et dont les autres vont affecter sa famille, ses proches, ses concitoyens et quelquefois l'humanité tout entière, — met, pour ainsi dire, en vibration deux cordes dont les sons rendent des oracles : la Responsabilité et la Solidarité. All human action that produces a series of good or harmful consequences, of which some affect the actual author of the action and others affect his family, his relations and fellow-citizens, and on occasion the entire human race, causes two cords to vibrate, so to speak, whose notes produce the oracles which we know as Responsibility and Solidarity.
La responsabilité, c'est l'enchaînement naturel qui existe, relativement à l'être agissant, entre l'acte et ses conséquences ; c'est un système complet de Peines et de Récompenses fatales, qu'aucun homme n'a inventé, qui agit avec toute la régularité des grandes lois naturelles, et que nous pouvons par conséquent regarder comme d'institution divine. Elle a évidemment pour objet de restreindre le nombre des actions funestes, de multiplier celui des actions utiles. Responsibility is the natural link that exists between an action and its consequences with regard to the acting being (person who acts). It is a complete and inexorable system of punishments and rewards, which no human (person) invented, one which acts with all the regularity of great natural laws and which we may consequently consider a divine institution. Its obvious object is to limit the number of disastrous actions and to increase the number of useful ones.
Cet appareil à la fois correctif et progressif, à la fois rémunérateur et vengeur, est si simple, si près de nous, tellement identifié avec tout notre être, si perpétuellement en action, que non-seulement nous ne pouvons le nier, mais qu'il est, comme le mal, un de ces phénomènes sans lesquels toute vie est pour nous inintelligible.“ This structure (appareil), at once corrective and progressive, which hands out both rewards and retribution, is so simple and close to us, so intimately identified with our entire being, so perpetually in action that not only can we not deny it but, like evil, it is one of the phenomena without which all life would be unintelligible to us.

The second phrase "l'homme agissant" (acting man) was used in a posthumously published chapter in EH2 on "Le Moteur social” (The Social Motor, or the Engine which drives Society), which was probably written in 1849 or 1850: 2260

Jamais l'idée ne leur (Nos publicistes) vient que l'humanité est un corps vivant, sentant, voulant et agissant selon des lois qu'il ne s'agit pas d'inventer, puisqu'elles existent, et encore moins d'imposer, mais d'étudier ; qu'elle est une agglomération d'êtres en tout semblables à eux-mêmes, qui ne leur sont nullement inférieurs ni subordonnées ; qui sont doués, et d'impulsion pour agir, et d'intelligence pour choisir ; qui sentent en eux, de toutes parts, les atteintes de la Responsabilité et de la Solidarité ; et enfin, que de tous ces phénomènes, résulte un ensemble de rapports existants par eux-mêmes, que la science n'a pas à créer, comme ils l'imaginent, mais à observer. The idea never enters their heads (political writers like Rousseau) that mankind is a living body, feeling, wanting, and acting in accordance with laws that are not a question of inventing, since they already exist, and still less of imposing on sociedty, but rather a question of studying them. They do not see that mankind is made up of a mass/agglomeration of beings similar to themselves in all respects; who are in no way inferior or subordinate to them, and are endowed with both an incentive to act and the intelligence to choose. They feel within themselves on every side the effects/demands of responsibility and solidarity and in a word, from all these phenomena there results a set of relationships which already exist in their own right, that science does not have to create, as they imagine, but has to observe.

In this same chapter, Bastiat brought many of these proto-Austrian ideas together in the following paragraph: 2261

Ce mobile interne, impérissable, universel, qui réside en toute individualité et la constitue être actif, cette tendance de tout homme à rechercher le bonheur, à éviter le malheur, ce produit, cet effet, ce complément nécessaire de la sensibilité, sans lequel elle ne serait qu'un inexplicable fléau, ce phénomène primordial qui est l'origine de toutes les actions humaines, cette force attractive et répulsive que nous avons nommée le grand ressort de le Mécanique sociale, a eu pour détracteurs la plupart des publicistes ; et c'est certes une des plus étranges aberrations que puissent présenter les annales de la science. This internal, indestructible and universal driving force (mobile interne) that is within each individual and makes him an acting being (être actif), this tendency in everyone to seek happiness and avoid misfortune, this product, this effect, this necessary complement to the faculty of sensation, without which it (sensation) would be just an inexplicable scourge, this primordial phenomenon that is the origin of all human action (les actions humaines), this force of attraction and repulsion which we have called the mainspring of the social mechanism has had the majority of political writers as its detractors, and this is certainly one of the strangest aberrations that the annals of science can produce.

Bastiat’s proof of the truth of his understanding of human action is also quite Austrian, or rather Misesian, in that he thinks that it is a self-evident truth which comes from a combination of self-inspection and observation of the world around one - or what Mises called “apodictic truths.”

The real thing which is the subject matter of praxeology, human action, stems from the same source as human reasoning. Action and reason are congeneric and homogeneous; they may even be called two different aspects of the same thing. That reason has the power to make clear through pure ratiocination the essential features of action is a consequence of the fact that action is an offshoot of reason. The theorems attained by correct praxeological reasoning are not only perfectly certain and incontestable, like the correct mathematical theorems. They refer, moreover, with the full rigidity of their apodictic certainty and incontestability to the reality of action as it appears in life and history. Praxeology conveys exact and precise knowledge of real things. 2262

Bastiat’s version of this argument appears in “Economic Harmonies IV” where he states in a very similar fashion that: 2263

Quand on considère d'une manière générale et, pour ainsi dire, abstraite, l'homme, ses besoins, ses efforts, ses satisfactions, sa constitution, ses penchants, ses tendances, on aboutit à une série d'observations qui paraissent à l'abri du doute et se montrent dans tout l'éclat de l'évidence, chacun en trouvant la preuve en lui-même. C'est au point que l'écrivain ne sait trop comment s'y prendre pour soumettre au public des vérités si palpables et si vulgaires : il craint de provoquer le sourire du dédain. Il lui semble, avec quelque raison , que le lecteur courroucé va jeter le livre, en s'écriant : « Je ne perdrai pas mon temps k apprendre ces trivialités.» When you consider man, his needs, efforts, satisfactions, constitution, leanings or tendencies in general and in an abstract fashion, so to speak, you arrive at a series of observations that appear to be free of any doubt and which are seen to be blindingly obvious, with each carrying its own proof within it. This is so true that the writer is at a loss as to how to present such palpable and widely known truths to the general public, for fear of arousing a scornful smile. It seems to him quite rightly that the annoyed reader will toss aside the book saying, “I will not waste my time being told such trivialities.”
Et cependant ces vérités, tenues pour si incontestables tant qu'elles sont présentées d'une manière générale, que nous souffrons à peine qu'elles nous soient rappelées, ne passent plus que pour des erreurs ridicules, des théories absurdes sitôt que l'on observe l'homme dans le milieu social. And yet these truths, held so incontrovertible when presented generally that we scarcely allow ourselves to be reminded of them, now appear to be just ridiculous errors and absurd theories when man is observed in a social setting.

It was to help readers see these self-evident truths that Bastiat used his thought experiments involving Robinson Crusoe to explain the nature of human action in the abstract. 2264 He also used a similar method in some of his Letters to Proudhon where he tell stories about the Carpenter and the Worker in L4, the Borrower and the Lender in L6, the Joiner and the Blacksmith in L10, and the rebuilding of the world by Hellen following the flood in L14. 2265

Endnotes

2250 See, Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis. Edited from Manuscript by Elizabeth Boody Schumpeter (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974). 1st ed. 1954), pp. 500–01, and Hayek’s “Introduction,” Bastiat, Selected Essays (FEE ed.), p. ix.

2251 Rothbard, Classical Economics: An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought. Volume II (Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006). See, especially chap. 14 “After Mill: Bastiat and the French laissez-faire tradition,” pp. 439–75.

2252 See, Salerno, J.T. (1988) “The Neglect of the French Liberal School in Anglo-American Economics: A Critique of Received Explanations.” The Review of Austrian Economics 2: 113–56.; Thornton, Mark, “Frédéric Bastiat as an Austrian Economist,” Journal des Économistes et des Études Humaines , vol. 11, no. 2/3 (June 2001), pp. 387-98; Thomas J. DiLorenzo, “Frédéric Bastiat: Between the French and Marginalist Revolutions,” in 15 Great Austrian Economists. Edited and with and Introduction by Randall G. Holcombe (Auburn Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999), pp. 59–69; Jörg Guido Hülsmann, “Bastiat’s Legacy in Economics,” The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics , vol. 4, no. 4, (Winter 2001), pp. 55–70.

2253 James A. Dorn, “Bastiat: A Pioneer in Constitutional Political Economy” Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines , vol. 11, no. 2/3 (June 2001), pp. 399-413; Caplan, Bryan; Stringham, Edward (2005). “Mises, Bastiat, Public Opinion, and Public Choice”. Review of Political Economy 17: 79–105; and Michael C. Munger, “Did Bastiat Anticipate Public Choice?” in Liberty Matters: Robert Leroux, “Bastiat and Political Economy” (July 1, 2013) /pages/bastiat-and-political-economy#conversation3 .

2254 Garello et al., Journal des Économistes et des Études Humaines, vol. 11, no. 2/3 (June 2001). Editor-in-Chief: Garello, Pierre.

2255 See above, pp. 000 and pp. 000.

2256 See above, pp. 000.

2257 See above, pp. 000.

2258 In CW2, p. 150.

2259 EH2 XX “Responsibility,” pp. 000. FEE ed. p. 496. FEE translates “l'être agissant” as “the person performing an act.”

2260 Our new translation but see FEE ed. pp. 523-24.

2261 Our translation of EH2 XXII “The Motive Force of Society.” See also FEE ed. p. 521.

2262 Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, in 4 vols., ed. Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). Vol. 1, Part I Human Action, Chapter 2: The Epistemological Problems of the Sciences of Human Action, 3: The A Priori and Reality, p. 39.

2263 “Economic harmonies IV”, above pp. 000.

2264 See “Bastiat’s Invention of Crusoe Economics” in the Editor’s Introduction to CW3, pp. lxiv-lxvii.

2265 See above, pp. 000.

 


 

The Concept of Individualism (CW2 book)

In nineteeth-century France the word individualism had strong negative connotations, and Bastiat seemed to share some of the contemporary reservations about embracing the term to describe his own philosophy.17 Nevertheless, by the end of the century he was definitely categorized by his free-market heirs as one of the leading members of the French school of individualism.

The term individualism was coined by conservative counterrevolutionary theorists in the early nineteenth century to criticize the Enlightenment’s overemphasis on the rights of individuals at the expense of crown, church, and community. This idea had manifested itself, Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre believed, in the excesses of the French Revolution and had also been taken up by Saint-Simon and other French socialist thinkers in the 1820s and 1830s in order to contrast the more “socially responsible” rule by a technocratic elite (Saint-Simon) or by “the people” themselves (Louis Blanc) with the economic and political order created by the free market, in which individuals subordinated all broader social concerns to their own narrow selfish interests.

Many French free-market political economists were aware of the writings of Adam Smith and other members of the Scottish Enlightenment, who argued that the reverse was in fact the case: that human beings were naturally sociable and that their search for private benefits resulted in the creation of public benefits (Bernard de Mandeville) as if “an invisible hand” (Adam Smith) were guiding their activity. This more-positive view of individualism (even though Bastiat was wary of directly adopting the word) lies at the heart of his notion of “economic harmony,” which was the title of his magnum opus (Economic Harmonies). Bastiat rejected the idea that there [408] were only three means by which society could be organized: authority (of the church and the state), individualism, or fraternity (under socialism). The proper distinction according to Bastiat was between coerced association (whether by church or state or by “the people”) and voluntary association (which lay at the heart of his idea of the free market).

Liberal conservatives, on the other hand, like Alexis de Tocqueville writing in the late 1830s, worried that the democracy unfolding in America would result in a form of individualism that would weaken the ability of intermediate institutions to reduce its deleterious effects. Later in the century attitudes to individualism had changed significantly. In the entry on “Individualism” in the Nouveau dictionnaire de économie politique (1891–92), a clear distinction is made between “egoism” (which is rejected) and “individualism” (which was a legitimate reaction against socialism, militarism, and statism). Among the individualists the author mentioned approvingly were Wilhelm von Humboldt, Böhm-Bawerk, Karl Menger, Eugen Richter from the Austro-German school; Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer, Henry Sumner Maine from the Anglo-Scottish school; and Jean-Baptiste Say, Charles Dunoyer, Gustave de Molinari, and of course Bastiat from the French school.18

Endnotes

17.

See Lukes, Key Concepts in the Social Sciences: Individualism; and Schatz, L'Individualisme économique et social.

18.

Bouctot, “Individualisme,” in Nouveau dictionnaire de économie politique, vol. 2, pp. 64–66.

 

 


 

The Concepts of “Industry” and “Plunder” (Spoliation) (CW2 book)

Bastiat got many of his ideas from reading a number of classical liberal theorists who were active during Napoléon’s empire and the restoration, most notably the economist Jean-Baptiste Say (1767–1832) and the lawyers and journalists Charles Comte (1782–1837) and Charles Dunoyer (1786–1862). The latter developed an “industrialist theory” of history in which the class of industriels played an important role.21 According to this school of thought there were only two means of acquiring wealth: by productive activity and voluntary exchanges in the free market (l'industrie, which included agriculture, trade, factory production, and services, etc.) or by coercive means (or “plunder,” such as conquest, theft, taxation, subsidies, protection, transfer payments, and slavery).

Anybody who acquired wealth through voluntary exchange and productive activities belonged to a class of people collectively called les industrieux. In contrast to les industrieux were those individuals or groups who acquired their wealth by force, coercion, conquest, slavery, or government privileges. [410] The latter group was seen as a ruling class, or as “parasites” and plunderers, who lived at the expense of les industrieux.22 A parallel group of thinkers who shared many of these views developed around Henri Saint-Simon, who advocated rule by a technocratic elite rather than the operations of the free market as did Say, Comte, Dunoyer, and Bastiat.

In contrast to Bastiat’s use of the term industry is his use of the word la spoliation (or plunder), which was a key idea in his pamphlet “Propriété et spoliation,” which we have translated as “Property and Plunder.”23

It was the latter principle that had come to prominence during the revolution of 1848, exemplified in the National Workshops and the “right to work” movement, the opposition to which occupied a considerable amount of Bastiat’s time as a deputy.

Endnotes

21.

See Hart, Class, Slavery, and the Industrialist Theory of History in French Liberal Thought, 1814–1830.

22.

See Dunoyer, L'Industrie et la morale considérées dans leurs rapports avec la liberté. See also the entries for “Say, Jean-Baptiste”; “Comte, Charles”; and “Dunoyer, Barthélémy-Pierre-Joseph-Charles,” in the Glossary of Persons.

23.

See “Property and Plunder,” pp. 147–84 in this volume.

 

 


 

The Idea of Laissez-faire (CW2 book)

Bastiat is now seen as one of the leading advocates of the idea of laissez-faire in the nineteenth century, yet the origin of the term is surrounded by controversy.19 In English the phrase “laissez-faire” has come to mean the economic system in which there is no regulation of economic activity by the state. Other terms have also been used to mean the same thing, such as the “Manchester School” or “Cobdenism,” thus linking this policy prescription to the ideas of Richard Cobden and the Anti–Corn Law League.

The origins of the term laissez-faire are not clear. One account attributes the origin to the merchant and physiocrat Vincent de Gournay (1712–59), who used a slightly longer version of the phrase, “laissez faire, laissez passer” [409] (let us do as we wish, let us pass unrestricted) to describe his preferrred government economic policy. Another physiocrat, Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727–81), attributes the phrase “laissez-nous faire” (let us do as we wish) to the seventeenth-century merchant Legendre, who used the phrase in an argument with the French minister of finance Colbert about the proper role of government in the economy. Yet a third physiocrat, François Quesnay (1694–1774), combined the term with another phrase: “Laissez-nous faire. Ne pas trop gouverner” (Let us do as we wish. Do not govern us too much) to make the same point.

A contemporary of Bastiat, Joseph Garnier (1813–81), in the entry for “laissez faire, laissez passer” in the Dictionnaire de l'économie politique, explained laissez-faire to mean “laissez travailler” (leave us free to work as we wish) and laissez passer to mean “laissez échanger” (leave us free to trade as we wish).20 By all these measures, Bastiat is certainly an advocate of laissez-faire in the fullest sense.

Endnotes

19.

Other manifestations of the term were “laissez faire, laissez passer”; “laissez-nous faire”; and “Laissez-nous faire. Ne pas trop gouverner.” See Oncken, Die Maxime laissez faire et laisser passez.

20.

Garnier, “Laissez faire, laissez passer” in Coquelin, Dictionnaire de l'économie politique, vol. 2, p. 19.

 

 


 

Leisure: The Importance of Leisure (CW4 final draft)

At the end of Letter 4 to Proudhon Bastiat has some quite lyrical reflections on the importance of leisure in which he argues that there is more to life than just working. This would seem quite unusual for an economist regularly accused of being “heartless (sans entrailles) by the socialists. He goes on to argue that it is only by increasing wealth and capital accumulation that leisure is made possible for an increasing number of people, including the poorest, and how this in turn is so important for the development of a person’s emotional and aesthetic life.

This "reflection on leisure” as he called it, is similar to a statement he made in his "Draft Preface to the Harmonies" in Sept. 1847 about his perhaps excessive concentration on the cause of free trade to the exclusion of other aspects of economic and social life, which he likened to eating “a single crust of bread.” In an ironic letter written to himself he criticizes himself quite harshly in the following way: 2266

… Il semble que tu t'attaches à mettre sous le boisseau toute clarté qui ne jette sur ce théorème qu'un jour indirect. Il semble que tu t'appliques à refouler dans ton cœur toutes ces flammes sacrées que l'amour de l'humanité y avait allumées. … You seem very keen on keeping from the light of day any knowledge which does not directly support this preemptive postulate. You seem set on extinguishing in your heart all these sacred flames which a love for humanity once lit there.
Ne crains-tu pas que ton esprit se sèche et se rétrécisse à cette œuvre analytique, à cette éternelle contention toujours concentrée sur un calcul algébrique ? Are you not afraid that your mind will dry up and wither with all this analytical work, this endless argumentation focused on an algebraic calculation? …
Au lieu de cela, te voilà tout occupé d'éclaircir un seul des problèmes économiques que Smith et Say ont déjà démontré cent fois mieux que tu ne pourras le faire. Te voilà analysant, définissant, calculant, distinguant. Te voilà, le scalpel à la main, cherchant ce qu'il y a au juste au fond de ces mots prix, valeur, utilité, cherté, bon marché, importations, exportations. Instead of that, there you are, fully occupied with illuminating a single one of the economic problems that Smith and Say have already explained a hundred times better than you could ever do. There you are, analyzing, defining, calculating, and distinguishing. There you are, scalpel in hand, seeking out what there is of worth in the depths of the words price, utility, high prices, low prices, imports, and exports.
Mais, enfin, si ce n'est pour toi, si tu ne crains pas de t'hébéter à l'œuvre, crois-tu avoir choisi, dans l'intérêt de la cause, le meilleur plan qu'il y ait à suivre ? Les peuples ne sont pas gouvernés par des X, mais par des instincts généreux, par des sentiments, par des sympathies. Il fallait leur présenter la chute successive de ces barrières qui parquent les hommes en communes ennemies, en provinces jalouses, en nations guerroyantes. Il fallait leur montrer la fusion des races, des intérêts, des langues, des idées, la vérité triomphant de l'erreur dans le choc des intelligences, les institutions progressives remplaçant le régime du despotisme absolu et des castes héréditaires, les guerres extirpées, les armées dissoutes, la puissance morale remplaçant la force physique, et le genre humain se préparant par l'unité aux destinées qui lui sont réservées. Voilà ce qui eût passionné les masses, et non point tes sèches démonstrations. But finally, if it is not for you yourself, and if you do not fear becoming dazed by the task, do you think you have chosen the best plan to follow in the interest of the cause? Peoples are not governed by equations but by generous instincts, by sentiment and sympathy. It was necessary to present them with the successive dismantling of the barriers which divide men into mutually hostile communities, into jealous provinces, or into warring nations. It was necessary to show them the merging of races, interests, languages, ideas, and the triumph of truth over error, witnessed in the intellectual shock it effects, with progressive institutions replacing the regime of absolute despotism and hereditary castes, wars eliminated, armies disbanded, moral power replacing physical force, and the human race preparing itself through unity for the destiny reserved for it. This is what would have inflamed the masses, and not your dry proofs.
Et puis, pourquoi te limiter ? pourquoi emprisonner ta pensée ? Il me semble que tu l'as mise au régime cellulaire avec l'uniforme croûte de pain sec pour tout aliment, car te voilà rongeant soir et matin une question d'argent. J'aime autant que toi la liberté commerciale. Mais tous les progrès humains sont-ils renfermés dans cette liberté ? … Mais tu fais comme un mécanicien qui s'évertue à expliquer, sans en rien omettre, tout ce qu'il y a de minutieux détails dans une pièce isolée de la machine. On est tenté de lui crier : Montrez-moi les autres pièces ; faites-les mouvoir ensemble ; elles s'expliquent les unes par les autres… In any case, why limit yourself? Why imprison your thoughts? It seems to me that you have subjected them to a prison regime of a single crust of dry bread as food, since there you are, chewing night and day on a question of money. I love freedom of trade as much as you do. But is all human progress encapsulated in that freedom? … But you act like a mechanic who makes a virtue of explaining an isolated part of a machine in the smallest detail, not forgetting anything. The temptation is strong to cry out to him, “Show me the other parts; make them work together; each of them explains the others. …

In his debate with Proudhon he returns to the topic of his anguished "Preface” and reflects on how increasing wealth makes leisure possible and why it is necessary important for individuals to escape from “the yoke of inexorable and constant work”: 2267

Quelle que soit mon admiration sincère pour les admirables lois de l'économie sociale, quelque temps de ma vie que j'aie consacré à étudier cette science, quelque confiance que m'inspirent ses solutions, je ne suis pas de ceux qui croient qu'elle embrasse toute la destinée humaine. Production, distribution, circulation, consommation des richesses, ce n'est pas tout pour l'homme. Il n'est rien, dans la nature, qui n'ait sa cause finale ; et l'homme aussi doit avoir une autre fin que celle de pourvoir à son existence matérielle. Tout nous le dit. D'où lui viennent et la délicatesse de ses sentiments, et l'ardeur de ses aspirations ; sa puissance d'admirer et de s'extasier ? D'où vient qu'il trouve dans la moindre fleur un sujet de contemplation ? que ses organes saisissent avec tant de vivacité et rapportent à l'âme, comme les abeilles à la ruche, tous les trésors de beauté et d'harmonie que la nature et l'art ont répandus autour de lui ? D'où vient que des larmes mouillent ses yeux au moindre trait de dévouement qu'il entend raconter ? D'où viennent ces flux et des reflux d'affection que son cœur élabore comme il élabore le sang et la vie ? D'où lui viennent son amour de l'humanité et ses élans vers l'infini ? Ce sont là les indices d'une noble destination qui n'est pas circonscrite dans l'étroit domaine de la production industrielle. L'homme a donc une fin. Quelle est-elle ? Ce n'est pas ici le lieu de soulever cette question. Mais quelle qu'elle soit, ce qu'on peut dire, c'est qu'il ne la peut atteindre si, courbé sous le joug d'un travail inexorable et incessant, il ne lui reste aucun loisir pour développer ses organes, ses affections, son intelligence, le sens du beau, ce qu'il y a de plus pur et de plus élevé dans sa nature ; ce qui est en germe chez tous les hommes, mais latent et inerte, faute de loisir, chez un trop grand nombre d'entre eux Whatever sincere admiration I have for the admirable laws of social economy, whatever period of my life I have devoted to studying this science, whatever confidence is inspired in me by its solutions, I am not one of those who believe that it embraces the entire destiny of man. Production, distribution, circulation, and the consumption of wealth are not the sum of all things for man. There is nothing in nature that does not have a final aim, and man also has to have a goal other than that of providing for his material existence. Everything tells us this. Where do the sensitivity of his feelings and the ardor of his aspirations, his ability to admire and experience enchantment come from? Whence comes his ability to find in the slightest flower a subject of contemplation, or the excitement with which his senses receive and transmit to his spirit, like bees to the hive, all the treasures of beauty and harmony that nature and art have spread around him? How shall we explain the tears that moisten his eyes when he hears about the slightest act of devotion? What is the origin of that ebb and flow of feeling which his heart fashions, much as it directs his life-blood? Where does his love of humanity and his reaching out for the infinite come from? These are the marks of a noble destiny, which is not limited by the narrow bounds of industrial production. There is a purpose to man’s existence. What is it? This is not the place to raise this question. But, whatever it is, what we can say is that he cannot achieve it if, bowed under the yoke of inexorable and constant work, he has no leisure to develop his senses, his affections, his mind, his sense of the beautiful, and what is purest and most elevated in his nature; the germ of which is in all men but in a latent and inert form because of a lack of leisure in all too many of them.

He then asks himself, what makes it possible for this general increase in wealth which makes leisure possible? His answer is a veritable "hymn to capital,“ the accumulation and investment of which enables the expansion of production and the dissemination of wealth to the masses. He calls it "a friend, a benefactor to all men, and particularly to the long suffering classes”:

Quelle est la puissance qui allégera pour tous, dans une certaine mesure, le fardeau de la peine ? Qui abrégera les heures de travail ? Qui desserrera les liens de ce joug pesant qui courbe aujourd'hui vers la matière, non-seulement les hommes, mais les femmes et les enfants qui n'y semblaient pas destinés ? — C'est le capital ; le capital qui, sous la forme de roue, d'engrenage, de rail, de chute d'eau, de poids, de voile, de rame, de charrue, prend à sa charge une si grande partie de l'œuvre primitivement accomplie aux dépens de nos nerfs et de nos muscles ; le capital qui fait concourir, de plus en plus, au profit de tous, les forces gratuites de la nature. Le capital est donc l'ami, le bienfaiteur de tous les hommes, et particulièrement des classes souffrantes. Ce qu'elles doivent désirer, c'est qu'il s'accumule, se multiplie, se répande sans compte ni mesure. — Et s'il y a un triste spectacle au monde, — spectacle qu'on ne pourrait définir que par ces mots : suicide matériel, moral et collectif, — c'est de voir ces classes, dans leur égarement, faire au capital une guerre acharnée. — Il ne serait ni plus absurde, ni plus triste, si nous voyions tous les capitalistes du monde se concerter pour paralyser les bras et tuer le travail. What is the power that, to a certain extent, will lighten the burden of hardship for all? What will shorten working hours? What will loosen the bonds of the heavy yoke, which bows not only men but also women and children down to material things when they appear not to be destined for this? It is capital; the capital which, in the form of wheels, gears, rails, waterfalls, weights, sails, oars, or ploughs takes over such a great portion of the work originally carried out at the expense of our sinews and muscles; the capital that increasingly causes the free forces of nature to make a contribution for the benefit of all. Capital is therefore a friend, a benefactor to all men, and particularly to the long suffering classes. What they ought to want is that it accumulates, increases, and is spread around beyond reckoning or measure. And if there is one sad sight in the world, a sight that can be defined only by these words: material, moral, and collective suicide, it is to see these classes, in their misguidedness, wage relentless war on capital. It would not be more absurd nor sadder to see all the capitalists in the world join forces to paralyze arms and legs and kill labour.

In a short undated piece he wrote on “The Morality of Wealth” 2268 there is another statement similar to the one here on leisure where Bastiat reflects on the point of acquiring wealth in the first place. He begins by criticising the Greeks and Romans (such as the Stoics), and their modern counterparts (such as many socialists), who thought having wealth was immoral or something to be shunned. The key point for Bastiat was how that wealth was acquired, either by voluntary transactions or by plunder, not the amount that one had. He concludes by reversing Montaigne’s statement that “one man’s gain is another man’s loss” with his own that “the morality of wealth is proven by this maxim: the profit of one peson is the profit of another.” 2269

Endnotes

2266 “Draft Preface for the Harmonies ,” CW1, pp. 318-20.

2267 Letter 4 to Proudhon, above, pp. 000.

2268 See above, pp. 000.

2269 See the economic sophism ES3 15 “One Man’s gain is another Man’s Loss”([c.1847), in CW3, pp. 341-43; and Montaigne, “Le profit d'un et dommage de l'autre,” in Montaigne, Michel de. Essais de Montaigne, suivis de sa correspondance et de la servitude voluntaire d'Estienne de la Boëtie. Édition variorum, accompangné d'une notice biographique de notes historiques, philologiques, etc. et d'un index analytique par Charles Louandre . 4 Vols. Paris: Charpentier, 1862. Tome 1, chapter XXI “Le profit d'un et dommage de l'autre,” pp. 130-31.

 


 

The Double Incidence of Loss(CW3 book)

This is a theory first formulated by the anti–Corn Law campaigner Colonel Perronet Thompson (1783–1869) in 1834–36 and taken up by Bastiat in 1847 in which it is argued that tariff protection or subsidies to industry result in a directly observable and obvious profit for one industry (and its workers) but at the expense of two other participants in the market. These other participants (or would-be participants) suffer a loss equal to the benefit gained by the first party: the consumer loses by having to pay a higher price for a good which he or she could have bought more cheaply from another supplier (often foreign), and unknown third parties also lose because the consumer who was forced to pay more for a good which is protected or subsidized has that much less to spend on other goods and services. Hence there is one party which benefits and two which lose out to the same amount, hence “the double incidence of loss.”

The phrase appears in Thompson’s “A Running Commentary on AntiCommercial Fallacies,” which was published in 1834, in which he observes that “the (part) of the sum gained to the monopolists and lost twice over by the rest of France,—(viz. once by a corresponding diminution of business to some other French traders, and once more by the loss to the consumers, who are the nation)… . The understanding of the misery of this basis, depends upon a clear comprehension of the way in which the gain to the monopolist is lost twice over by other parties; or what in England has been called the double incidence of loss.”[2]

Bastiat recognized that this was a powerful argument which could be used against defenders of tariff protection and subsidies to industry. He used it for the first time in May 1847 in “One Profit versus Two Losses” (ES3 4) and “Two Losses versus One Profit” (ES3 7). It was an early version of his theory of “the seen” and “the unseen” where the issue was simplified to cover only three parties, and hence make it more understandable to his readers. The first party, the one receiving the tariff protection or the subsidies, was immediate and obvious to all and thus “seen,” while the other two parties' losses were indirect and perhaps long-term and thus “unseen” to casual observers. Thus the long-delayed pamphlet What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen should really be seen as an extended essay on the theory of “the double incidence of loss” first formulated by Perronet Thompson. Bastiat was to take these ideas much further in order to cover the economic impact on more than three parties in his theory of the ricochet effect.

Endnotes

[2] See Thompson, Letters of a Representative to His Constituents, pp. 188–89.

 


 

On Malthus and Malthusian Limits to the Growth of the State(CW3 book)

Thomas Malthus is best known for his writings on population, in which he asserted that population growth (increasing at a geometric rate) would outstrip the growth in food production (growing at a slower arithmetic rate):

I said that population, when unchecked, increased in a geometrical ratio; and subsistence for man in an arithmetical ratio… . This ratio of increase, though short of the utmost power of population, yet as the result of actual experience, we will take as our rule; and say, That population, when unchecked, goes on doubling itself every twenty-five years or increases in a geometrical ratio… . It may be fairly said, therefore, that the means of subsistence increase in an arithmetical ratio. Let us now bring the effects of these two ratios together… . No limits whatever are placed to the productions of the earth; they may increase for ever and be greater than any assignable quantity; yet still the power of population being a power of a superior order, the increase of the human species can only be kept commensurate to the increase of the means of subsistence, by the constant operation of the strong law of necessity acting as a check upon the greater power.[14]

His ideas were very influential among nineteenth-century political economists, especially An Essay on the Principle of Population.[15] Most of the Economists were Malthusian in their views about population growth. However, Bastiat rejected the idea that individuals could not exercise “moral restraint” and thus voluntarily limit the size of their families, and that economic output could increase only at an arithmetic rate. He presented his alternate view in a series of articles and in a chapter of Economic Harmonies which provoked spirited opposition within the Political Economy Society between 1849 and 1851.[16]

The question of whether mankind’s reproductive behavior was like that of a plant or an animal, or something quite different, was crucial in Bastiat’s rethinking of Malthus’s theory in the period between 1846, when he wrote an article on “Population” for Le Journal des économistes, and 1850, when the Economic Harmonies appeared.[17] Bastiat came to believe that, unlike plants and animals, humans were thinking and reasoning creatures who could change their behavior according to circumstances: “Thus, for both plants and animals, the limiting force seems to take only one form, that of destruction. But man is endowed with reason, with foresight; and this new factor alters the manner in which this force affects him.”[18] He also came to the conclusion that there was a significant difference between the “means of subsistence” and the “means of existence,” the former being fixed physiologically speaking (either one had sufficient food to live or one did not) and the latter being an infinitely flexible and expanding notion which depended upon the level of technology and the extent of the free market.[19] Malthus focused on the former, while Jean-Baptiste Say, Bastiat, and later Molinari focused on the latter.[20]

One of Bastiat’s objections to the Chamber of Deputies' plan to subsidize the colonization of Algeria was his rejection of the Malthusians' argument that this was an effective way for France to dispose of its “surplus population.” Bastiat rejected this concept for a number of reasons.[21] Bastiat believed that people constituted a valuable form of “human capital” (although he did not use this phrase) which was very productive if left free to be so, and that the free market and free trade could produce far more than merely “arithmetic increases” in output.

However, there was one aspect of Malthus’s theory which Bastiat did accept and adapt for his own purposes, namely that there was an upper limit to the expansion or growth of an entity due to the fact that resources were limited. Whereas Malthus applied this principle to argue that there was an upper limit to human population caused by a lack of agricultural resources to feed that population, Bastiat applied the theory of a “Malthusian limit” to the growth of the state and the groups which lived by plundering the productive population. According to Bastiat’s theory of plunder, a state would continue to expand in size until it reached a limit imposed on it by the capacity of the taxpaying people to continue to fund the state at this level. In “The Physiology of Plunder” (ES2 1) Bastiat states that

Plunderers obey Malthus’s law: they multiply in line with the means of existence, and the means of existence of swindlers is the credulity of their dupes. It is no good searching; you always find that opinion needs to be enlightened… .

The state is also subject to Malthus’s law. It tends to exceed the level of its means of existence, it expands in line with these means, and what keeps it in existence is whatever the people have. Woe betide those peoples who cannot limit the sphere of action of the state. Freedom, private activity, wealth, well-being, independence, and dignity will all disappear.[22]

Endnotes

[14] Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), chap. 2, “The Different Ratios in Which Population and Food Increase,” /titles/311#Malthus_0195_32.

[15] Around the time Bastiat was writing, there were four French-language editions of Malthus’s Principles of Population translated by P. Prévost: Geneva, 1809; Geneva, 1824; Paris (Guillaumin), 1845, with editorial matter by Pellegrino Rossi, Charles Comte, and Joseph Garnier; and a second Guillaumin edition of 1852 with additional editorial matter by Garnier in defense of Malthus against his critics.

[16] Malthusian population theory was one of three topics which convulsed the regular monthly meetings of the Political Economy Society in the last years of Bastiat’s life. Challenges were made to three orthodox positions held by most of their members, namely the Smithian view of the role of the state (challenged by Molinari in JDE, February 1849, with his article “De la production de la sécurité,” and again in the 11th Soirée of Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare); Malthus’s theory of population (challenged by Bastiat in Economic Harmonies, chap. 16, “Population”); and Ricardo’s theory of rent (also challenged by Bastiat, Economic Harmonies, chap. 13, “Rent”).

[17] Bastiat, “Population,” JDE 15 (October 1846): 217–34.

[18] Economic Harmonies, FEE edition, p. 426.

[19] Economic Harmonies, FEE edition, pp. 431ff.

[20] See chap. 16, “Population,” in the 1851 edition of Economic Harmonies, and Roger de Fontenay’s Addendum, pp. 454–64; in CW5 (forthcoming). The Addendum is reprinted in Economic Harmonies, FEE edition, pp. 557–67.

[21] See WSWNS 10, pp. 439–43.

[22] ES2 1, pp. 124, 125.

 


 

Bastiat’s Editor and Executor, Prosper Paillottet (1804–78) (CW2 book)

Prosper Paillottet10 was a successful businessman who was drawn to Bastiat’s free-trade association, the Association pour la liberté des échanges, in the mid-1840s, joining it in its earliest days. Paillottet eventually became a [406] firm friend of and companion to the ailing Bastiat, caring for him when he was very ill in Italy. Paillottet was with Bastiat during his last few days and formed the Société des amis de Bastiat (Society of the Friends of Bastiat) only five days after Bastiat’s death in order to preserve his papers and draft s and to edit his collected works.

Paillottet made his living in the jewelry business, and his modest wealth enabled him to devote most of his energies to philanthropic causes. He was vice president of the Labor Tribunal (Conseil des prud'hommes) and a member of the Commission for the Encouragement of Workers' Associations (Conseil de l'encouragement aux associations ouvrières) and of the recently formed Société d'économie politique (meetings of which Bastiat also attended). Paillottet was very active in the Association pour la liberté des échanges, even learning English in order to help Bastiat translate material on or by the Anti–Corn Law League. Much of this material probably ended up in Bastiat’s book on the English Anti–Corn Law League, Cobden et la Ligue, ou l'agitation anglaise pour la liberté du commerce (1845), which consisted mostly of translations of Anti–Corn Law League pamphlets, newspaper articles, and speeches.11

As Bastiat’s health worsened during 1850, Paillottet became his virtual secretary, editor, and research assistant, assisting with the editing and publishing of Bastiat’s pamphlet Property and Plunder and the second edition of Economic Harmonies, which was published by the Société des amis de Bastiat.12

On his deathbed Bastiat authorized Paillottet to collect his manuscripts and papers and to publish them in his complete works, the first edition of which appeared in 1854–55, with a second edition in 1862–64. The various volumes of the series remained in print for much of the nineteenth century.13 In Paillottet’s edition, which forms the basis of our translation, the reader is guided by the frequent and oft en intriguing footnotes and comments inserted by Bastiat’s close friend throughout the volumes.

Paillottet wrote several articles and book reviews of his own that appeared in Le Journal des économistes. Two of those articles were published separately [407] in book form:14 an essay on intellectual property rights,15 and a translation of a religious work by William Johnson Fox, who had been a popular orator in the Manchester League and a Unitarian minister.16

Endnotes

10.

For some details on Paillottet’s life see Passy, “Nécrologie. Prosper Paillottet.”

11.

Bastiat’s introduction to this book lays out his thoughts on Cobden’s free-trade movement and its relevance for France. (OC, vol. 3, p. 1, “Introduction.”)

12.

Bastiat, Harmonies économiques.

13.

Bastiat, Œuvres complètes de Frédéric Bastiat.

14.

Paillottet, Des Conseils de prud'hommes, and De l'encouragement aux associations ouvrières.

15.

Paillottet, De la propriété intellectuelle.

16.

Paillottet, Des idées religieuses.

 

 


 

Bastiat’s Political Sophisms (intro to CW2 book)

Bastiat also wrote what might be called “political sophisms” in order to debunk fallacies of a political nature, especially concerning electoral politics and the ability of political leaders to initiate fundamental reforms. He had hinted in the “Conclusion” to the First Series that he had more in mind than the debunking of economic sophisms. He explicitly mentions four specific types of sophistry: theocratic, economic, political, and financial sophistry. Bastiat devoted most of his efforts to exposing economic sophisms, mentioning theocratic and financial sophisms only in passing if at all. He did, however, write a number of political sophisms which will be briefly discussed here.

The “economic” and “political” sophisms are closely related in Bastiat’s mind because the advocates of protectionism were able to get special privileges only because they controlled the Chamber of Deputies and the various councils which advised the government on economic policy. Bastiat wrote five sophisms which can be categorized as political sophisms. One he explicitly called “Electoral Sophisms” (undated but probably written during 1847), which is a Benthamite listing of the kinds of false arguments people give for why they might prefer voting for one candidate over another. Another is called “The Elections” (also written sometime in 1847) and is a dialogue in which a “countryman” (a farmer) argues with a political writer, a parish priest, and an electoral candidate.[38]

Two of the sophisms which appear in this volume, although they focus on significant economic issues, also deal with political matters and thus can be regarded as political sophisms. In “The Tax Collector” (ES2 10, ca. 1847) an amusing and somewhat convoluted discussion about the nature of political representation takes place between Jacques Bonhomme and a tax collector, wickedly called “Mr. Blockhead.” Bonhomme is merely confused by the trickery of the tax collector’s euphemisms that portray the elected deputies in the Chamber as his true representatives. The second is “The Utopian” (ES2 11, January 1847), where Bastiat discusses the problems faced by a freemarket reform-minded minister who is unexpectedly put in charge of the country. In the face of the utopian reformer’s many proposals, Bastiat presents the dilemmas and ultimate failure of top-down political and economic reform.

The fifth essay which might also be regarded as a political sophism is his famous essay “The State,” which appeared initially as a draft in the magazine Jacques Bonhomme (11–15 June 1848) and then in a longer form in Le Journal des débats (September 1848).[39] Here he attempts to rebut the folly of the idea which was widespread during the first few months following the February Revolution that the state could and should take care of all the needs of the people by taxing everybody and giving benefits to everybody.

Endnotes

[38] “Electoral Sophisms” (CW1, pp. 397–404); “The Elections” (CW1, pp. 404–9).

[39] See “The State (draft)” (CW2, pp. 105–6) and “The State” (CW2, pp. 93–104).

 


 

Speaking Truth to Power: “The Miller of Sans-Souci” (CW2 book)

In his writings Bastiat makes many references to literary works in order to make his political and economic points. He oft en quoted the playwright Molière as well as the more contemporary poet and playwright François Andrieux (1759–1833). Andrieux had been a member of the liberal Girondin group during the Revolution before taking up a number of academic positions under Napoléon. Bastiat was particularly interested in Andrieux’s tale “The Miller of Sans-Souci,” which was read at a public meeting of the institute on 15 Germinal an 5 (4 April 1797).

The story is about a German who had the courage to speak the truth to power, namely, Frederick the Great. One might say that Bastiat is the Frenchman of his day who had the courage to speak some unpalatable truths to power, in his case the socialists and interventionists who had come to power during the revolution of 1848. Bastiat refers to this tale several times in his writings, and it is not hard to see why it became one of his favorite anecdotes.31

The liberal republican Andrieux depicts an entrepreneurial mill owner who is determined to keep his property when ordered to hand it over to the state in order to satisfy the whim of Frederick the Great, who wishes to expand the size of his palace. Not only does Frederick take the name of the mill, “Sans-Souci,” as the name for his palace, but he also wants to tear down the mill and its large rotating blades in order to have a clear view of the countryside. The mill owner refuses, saying that he does not want to sell the mill and the property to anybody, that his father is buried there, that his son was born there, and that the mill is as valuable to him as Potsdam is to the Prussian emperor.

Frederick slyly replies that if he wanted to he could seize the miller’s property, as he was the “master.” The resolute and fearless miller says to Frederick’s face, “You? Take my mill? Yes, (you might) if we didn’t have judges in Berlin.” Frederick smiles at the thought that his subjects really believed that [415] justice existed under his reign and tells his courtiers to leave the miller alone. Andrieux concludes his tale with a reflection on the nature of the power of emperors, reminding his readers that the warrior Frederick had seized Silesia and put Europe to the torch: “These are the games princes play. They respect a miller but steal a province.”32

This story is quite similar to one related by St. Augustine in Book 4 of The City of God, where a pirate who had been seized and brought before Alexander the Great asks Alexander what is the real difference between a pirate and an emperor apart from the scale of their actions? The pirate asks the emperor, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”33

Bastiat despised the teaching of classical Latin authors to the youth of France because such authors were slave owners and warriors and thus, in Bastiat’s mind, had the moral philosophy of plunderers and conquerors. However, Bastiat was never shy about quoting from more-contemporary authors like Andrieux, who had a more-relevant moral, political, or economic story to tell about individuals who courageously stood up to the state to protect their liberty and their property. Bastiat was one of those individuals who, in the extraordinary times in which he lived, did exactly this, until he lost both his voice and then his life.

Endnotes

31.

See “Property and Plunder,” p. 159 in this volume.

32.

“The Miller and Sans-Souci” first appeared in Contes et opuscules en vers et en prose (1800) and was reprinted in Œuvres de François-Guillaume-Jean-Stanislas Andrieux, vol. 3, pp. 205–8.

33.

Augustine, City of God, bk. 4, ch. 4, in e.

 

 


 

The Law-Abiding Revolutionary (CW2 book)

In a review of a collection of letters Bastiat wrote to the Cheuvreux family, the young economist Gustave de Molinari reminisced about his revolutionary [402] activities with Bastiat in 1848.2 Bastiat was then forty-seven and Molinari twenty-nine. Molinari notes that the February revolution forced the young radical liberals to “replace our economic agitation [for free trade] with a politico-socialist agitation,” which they did on 24 February, the same date that Molinari and a young friend decided to start a new magazine to be called La République. The prime minister at the time, François Guizot, was forced to resign on 23 February, and a provisional government was formed on 26 February. (Thus, Molinari and his friend tried to start their new journal the day after the revolution broke out.) Molinari asked Bastiat if he would join him as co-editor; Bastiat agreed to do so with the understanding that they would abide by the censorship laws, which at the time called for approval by the government before publication took place. Molinari wryly noted that Bastiat told them that “we may be making a revolution but revolutions do not violate the laws!”

The three of them proceeded to the Hôtel de Ville in order to have their hastily written screed approved by the government, but the building was in complete turmoil with armed revolutionaries milling about. They wisely decided that the provisional government was “otherwise occupied,” and Bastiat consented to publish the journal without prior approval. In Montmartre, on their way to the printer, they came across another would-be revolutionary who was hawking a journal that had already taken the name La République—such was the competition at the time for catchy titles. The three decided on the spot to rename their journal La République française and had five thousand copies printed and distributed. Like most periodicals at the time, La République française lasted a very short while, but it did include a number of “striking” articles penned by Bastiat directed at the working class, who were pushing the revolution in an increasingly socialist direction. As Molinari notes, their journal “was decidedly not at the peak of the events” that were swirling about them, and it soon folded.

Undaunted, Molinari and Bastiat decided to launch another journal, this time directed squarely at working people, to be called Jacques Bonhomme, a wordplay on the nickname given to the average working Frenchman. Molinari and Bastiat joined with Charles Coquelin, Alcide Fonteyraud, and Joseph Garnier to launch the new journal in June 1848, just before the June [403] Days uprising (23–26 June). On 21 June the government, because of out-of-control expenses, decided to close the so-called National Workshops, which were a government program to provide state-subsidized employment to unemployed workers. This action was promptly followed by a mass uprising in Paris to protest the decision, and troops were called in to suppress the protesters, causing considerable loss of life. During this time, Bastiat sent Molinari and the editorial committee an article he had written titled “Dissolve the National Workshops!” which appeared on the front page of the very last issue of Jacques Bonhomme.

Jacques Bonhomme seems to have lasted for only four issues (June–July 1848), its lifespan abruptly truncated when Bastiat and his colleagues wisely decided to shut it down because the troops were shooting people in the streets of Paris.

Endnotes

2.

Molinari wrote a book review of the collection of letters Bastiat wrote to the Cheuvreux family in Le Journal des économistes. See Molinari, “Frédéric Bastiat: Lettres d'un habitant des Landes.”

 

 


 

Bastiat the Revolutionary Journalist and Politician (intro to CW2 book)

With the failure of the free traders to get tariff reform successfully through committee in the Chamber of Deputies in the middle of 1847, Bastiat and his colleagues suffered a significant defeat. The outbreak of revolution in February 1848, the abdication of Louis-Philippe, and the creation of the Second Republic provided another opportunity for Bastiat to spread his ideas on free trade and free markets, which he seized with enthusiasm in spite of his rapidly failing health. This he did in part by immediately starting a magazine aimed at ordinary working people, La République française, which he, Hippolyte Castille, and Gustave de Molinari handed out on the streets of Paris two days after the revolution broke out.[40]

We include in this volume two short articles which appeared originally in the 12 March issue of La République française.[41] In the Œuvres complètes Paillottet called them “Petites affiches de Jacques Bonhomme” (Small Posters by Jacques Bonhomme) because they were one-page articles designed as posters which could be pasted on walls at head height around the streets of Paris so they could be read by rioters and revolutionaries who walked the streets at all hours.[42] These posters reveal another side of Bastiat the writer trying to appeal to the working class of Paris in the middle of a revolution. He addresses the people in the familiar tu form as he makes his case for limited government, free markets, and low taxes.

Bastiat wrote seventeen articles for La République française that we know about, four of which appear in this volume and thirteen of which have been published in a previous volume.[43] He wrote on many topics which should not surprise us, such as the need for disarmament in order to lower taxes, the freedom of the press, freedom of education, the high level of taxation which fell on ordinary working people, the excessive size of the government bureaucracy, and so on. What is a bit surprising is the fervor of his republican sentiments which he expressed in a statement of principles in the first issue of the magazine.[44]

Needless to say, Bastiat was not successful. He did not manage to sway the masses to the cause of free trade and limited government in March 1848 and closed the magazine in order to concentrate on standing for the April elections, which he felt would offer him another opportunity to spread his ideas on free trade and free markets. On 23 April 1848 Bastiat was elected to the Constituent Assembly to represent the département of the Landes and served from 4 May 1848 until 27 May 1849. Given his expertise in economic matters, it is not surprising that he was chosen to serve on the Finance Committee, to which he was appointed vice president an extraordinary eight times. His job was to make periodic reports to the Chamber on Finance Committee matters. Politically, he supported General Cavaignac in the Chamber against Louis-Napoléon, but he sometimes voted with the left or the right depending on the specific issue. For example, he voted with the left on the right of citizens to form trade unions (which he saw as just another voluntary organization which individuals had the right to join or not join) but against the left when it came to taxpayer-funded unemployment relief in the National Workshops.

Bastiat’s activities in the Chamber still await their historian, but a summary of some of the issues on which he voted follows: for the banishment of the royal family, against the reintroduction of caution money for publishers, for postal reform and the ending of the government monopoly, against the arrest and trial of the socialist Louis Blanc for his role in the June Days rioting, against the reintroduction of corporal punishment, against the death penalty, against the declaration of martial law in Paris, against military intervention in Rome, and against allowing public servants to also sit in the Chamber as elected representatives.

While Bastiat was working in the Constituent Assembly, he took another opportunity to become engaged in revolutionary journalism on the streets of Paris, this time in his journal Jacques Bonhomme. The magazine was founded by Bastiat with the assistance of Gustave de Molinari, Charles Coquelin, Alcide Fonteyraud, and Joseph Garnier. It appeared approximately weekly in four issues between 11 June and 13 July, with a break between 24 June and 9 July because of the rioting during the June Days uprising.[45] He wrote on the nature of freedom, laissez-faire economic policies, the fraudulent claims of the government to be able to give whatever the voters wanted, and most interestingly, a draft of what was to become one of his best-known essays, “The State.”[46] As the June Days rioting became increasingly violent, Bastiat and his friends were forced to close the magazine.

Bastiat’s experiences in working on La République française and Jacques Bonhomme during two of the most tumultuous and violent periods of the 1848 Revolution reveal a man who was not merely an armchair economic and political theorist. He saw at first hand the anger and determination of the people to change French society, and he also saw how the government was prepared to defend itself by calling out the troops to shoot down the protesters. In a couple of subdued and understated letters to friends he describes being on or near the barricades when these events took place and even taking steps to use his influence as a deputy to call the troops off long enough to drag people to safety in the side streets. The following two brief quotations, one from February and the other from June, should be sufficient to show how close Bastiat was to events:

27 February 1848, Paris

As you will see in the newspapers, on the 23rd everything seemed to be over. Paris had a festive air; everything was illuminated. A huge gathering moved along the boulevards singing. Flags were adorned with flowers and ribbons. When they reached the Hôtel des Capucines, the soldiers blocked their path and fired a round of musket fire at point-blank range into the crowd. I leave you to imagine the sight offered by a crowd of thirty thousand men, women, and children fleeing from the bullets, the shots, and those who fell.

An instinctive feeling prevented me from fleeing as well, and when it was all over I was on the site of a massacre with five or six workmen, facing about sixty dead and dying people. The soldiers appeared stupefied. I begged the officer to have the corpses and wounded moved in order to have the latter cared for and to avoid having the former used as flags by the people when they returned, but he had lost his head.

The workers and I then began to move the unfortunate victims onto the pavement, as doors refused to open. At last, seeing the fruitlessness of our efforts, I withdrew. But the people returned and carried the corpses to the outlying districts, and a hue and cry was heard all through the night. The following morning, as though by magic, two thousand barricades made the insurrection fearsome. Fortunately, as the troop did not wish to fire on the National Guard, the day was not as bloody as might have been expected.

All is now over. The Republic has been proclaimed. You know that this is good news for me. The people will govern themselves.[47]

29 June 1848, Paris

Cables and newspapers will have told you [ Julie Marsan]

all about the triumph of the republican order after four days of bitter struggle.

I shall not give you any detail, even about me, because a single letter would not suffice.

I shall just tell you that I have done my duty without ostentation or temerity. My only role was to enter the Faubourg Saint-Antoine after the fall of the first barricade, in order to disarm the fighters. As we went on, we managed to save several insurgents whom the militia wanted to kill. One of my colleagues displayed a truly admirable energy in this situation, which he did not boast about from the rostrum.[48]

Eleven months after these events Bastiat was reelected to the Chamber, this time the newly created Legislative Assembly in which he sat from 28 May 1849 until he took a leave of absence on the grounds of ill health sometime in mid-1850. During this period he continued to work as vice president of the Finance Committee, but his activities in the Assembly were reduced because his deteriorating health meant that he was less able to speak in the Chamber. Nevertheless, he was able to write articles and pamphlets on matters before the Chamber which he distributed as pamphlets such as “Protectionism and Communism,” “Peace and Freedom,” “Damned Money!,” “Plunder and the Law,” “The Law,”[49] and his last pamphlet, which appears in this volume: What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen. All the while, he continued to work on his magnum opus on economic theory, Economic Harmonies. Although he gave fewer speeches in the Assembly, he was present to vote for the abolition of the tax on alcohol, for the right to form and join unions, for free trade in the wine industry, and against the power of the National University to set the curriculum for all schools. On 9 February 1850 Bastiat made his last appearance in the Chamber, speaking on behalf of the Finance Committee. He later sought a leave of absence on the grounds of ill health and spent his time writing, most notably What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen and the second part of Economic Harmonies. On the advice of his doctor he decided to travel to Italy, and on 10 September he bade farewell to his friends in the Political Economy Society (Société d'économie politique) before heading to Rome, where he died on Christmas Eve 1850.

Economic Sophisms and the other writings in this volume show Bastiat at his creative and journalistic best: his skill at mixing serious and amusing ways of making his arguments is unsurpassed; the quality of his insights into profound economic issues is often exceptional and sometimes well ahead of his time; his ability to combine his political lobbying for the Free Trade Movement, his journalism, his political activities during the 1848 Revolution, and his scholarly activities is most unusual; and his humor, wit, and literary knowledge, which he scatters throughout his writings, demonstrate that he deserves his reputation as one of the most gifted writers on economic matters who still deserves our close attention today.

Endnotes

[40] Molinari has some interesting reminiscences about how the magazine came into existence. See “The Law-Abiding Revolutionary” (CW2, pp. 401–3).

[41] See ES3 21 and ES3 22.

[42] See ES3 21, pp. 377–78n3.

[43] For a complete list of the articles Bastiat wrote for La République française and where they appear in the Collected Works, see appendix 6, “Bastiat’s Revolutionary Magazines.”

[44] See “A Few Words about the Title of Our Journal The French Republic,” in Addendum: Additional Material by Bastiat.

[45] Bastiat wrote eight articles, four of which appeared in CW1 and one in CW2. See also the list of articles Bastiat wrote for La République française and Jacques Bonhomme in appendix 6, “Bastiat’s Revolutionary Magazines.” The editor of the Œuvres completes, Paillottet, attributed the authorship of several of these unsigned articles to Bastiat with the assistance of Bastiat’s friend Molinari. We have followed Paillottet’s practice.

[46] The draft of “The State” and the final version which appeared in September 1848 in Le Journal des débats can be found in CW2, pp. 105–6, and CW2, pp. 93–104, respectively.

[47] Letter to Mme Marsan, 27 February 1848 (CW1, p. 142).

[48] Letter to Mme Marsan, 29 June 1848 (CW1, pp. 156–57).

[49] All of these pamphlets except “Damned Money!” can be found in CW2.

 


Bastiat’s Rhetoric of Liberty: Satire and the “Sting of Ridicule” (intro to CW2 book)

Bastiat’s goals in organizing a French free-trade movement, engaging in popular economic journalism, and standing for election can be summarized as follows: to expose the bad effects of government intervention in the economy; to uproot preconceived and incorrect economic ideas; to arouse a sense of injustice at the immoral actions of the government and its favored elites; to create “justified mistrust among the oppressed masses” of the beneficiaries of government privilege; and to open the eyes and stiffen the resistance of “the dupes” of government policies. The problem he faced was discovering the best way to achieve this for a popular audience who were gullible about the government’s professed motives in regulating the economy and who were largely ignorant of economic theory.

A major problem Bastiat is acutely aware of is that political economy had a justified reputation for being “dry and dull,”[23] and it was this reputation that Bastiat wanted to overcome with the style he adopted in the Sophisms. The issue was how to be appealing to popular readers whom he believed had become “the dupes” of those benefiting from the system of legal plunder. The means Bastiat adopted to achieve his political goals was to write in a style which ordinary people would find appealing, amusing, and convincing, and an analysis of the devices he used in composing his Sophisms reveals the great pains Bastiat took in trying to do this.

The style and the rhetorical devices Bastiat used in the individual sophisms show considerable variety and skill in their construction. Bastiat has been justly recognized for his excellent style by economists such as Friedrich Hayek and the historian of economic thought Joseph Schumpeter, but his methodology has not been studied in any detail. Schumpeter described Bastiat in very mixed terms as a brilliant economic journalist but as “no theorist” at all:

Admired by sympathizers, reviled by opponents, his name might have gone down to posterity as the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived. . . . I do not hold that Bastiat was a bad theorist. I hold that he was no theorist.[24]

Friedrich Hayek seems to agree with Schumpeter that Bastiat was not a major theorist but that he was “a publicist of genius” who did pioneering work in exposing economic fallacies held by the general public.[25] Nevertheless, Schumpeter did acknowledge a key aspect of Bastiat’s style, noting that “[a] series of Sophismes économiques followed, whose pleasant wit … has ever since been the delight of many.” However, some contemporary economists reject this view and see Bastiat as fundamentally challenging the classical school of economics by attempting to go beyond its theoretical limitations, especially concerning Malthusian population theory (Bastiat believed that technological innovation and free markets would enable people to break free of the Malthusian trap) and the Ricardian theory of rent (Bastiat believed there was nothing especially productive about land and that it was just another form of an exchange of “service for service” as was profit and interest).

His innovations in a number of areas suggest that had he lived long enough to complete Economic Harmonies he might have taken his insights into subjective value theory (predating the Marginal Revolution of the 1870s by twenty years) and public choice theory about the behavior of political actors (predating the work of James Buchanan and others by over a hundred years), into realms that were much ahead of their time.

A list of the rhetorical devices used by Bastiat in the Sophisms shows the breadth and complexity of what one might call his “rhetoric of liberty,” which he formulated to expose the follies of the policies of the ruling elite and their system of “legal plunder” and to undermine their authority and legitimacy with “the sting of ridicule”:

  1. A standard prose format which one would normally encounter in a newspaper.
  2. The single authorial voice in the form of a personal conversation with the reader.
  3. A serious, constructed dialogue between stock figures who represented different viewpoints (in this Bastiat was influenced by Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau; Gustave de Molinari continued Bastiat’s format in some of his writings in the late 1840s and 1850s).
  4. Satirical “official” letters or petitions to government officials or ministers, and other fabricated documents written by Bastiat (in these Bastiat would usually use a reductio ad absurdum argument to mock his opponents' arguments).
  5. The use of Robinson Crusoe “thought experiments” to make serious economic points or arguments in a more easily understandable format.
  6. “Economic tales” modeled on the works of classic French authors, such as La Fontaine’s fables and Andrieux’s short stories.[26]
  7. Parodies of well-known scenes from French literature, such as Molière’s plays.
  8. Quoting scenes of plays where the playwright mocks the pretensions of aspiring bourgeois who want to act like the nobles who disdain commerce (e.g., Molière, Beaumarchais).
  9. Quoting poems with political content, such as Horace’s ode on the transience of tyrants.
  10. Quoting satirical songs about the foolish or criminal behavior of kings or emperors (such as Napoléon). Bastiat seems to be familiar with the world of the goguettiers (political song writers, especially Béranger) and their interesting sociological world of drinking and singing clubs.
  11. The use of jokes and puns (such as the names he gave to characters in his dialogues [Mr. Blockhead], or place names [Stulta and Puera], and puns on words such as Highville and gaucherie).

Our study of Bastiat’s Sophisms reveals a well-read man who was familiar with classic French literature, contemporary songs and poems, and opera. The sheer number and range of materials which Bastiat was able to draw upon in his writings is very impressive. It not only includes the classics of political economy in the French, Spanish, Italian, and English languages but also a very wide collection of modern French literature which includes the following: fables and fairy tales by La Fontaine and Perrault; plays by Molière, Beaumarchais, Victor Hugo, Regnard, Désaugiers, and Collin d'Harleville; songs and poems by Béranger and Depraux, short stories by Andrieux, odes by Horace, operas by Rossini, poems by Boileau-Despréaux and Viennet, and satires by Courier de Méré. The plays of Molière were Bastiat’s favorite literary source from which to quote, and he used Le Tartuffe, ou l'imposteur (Tartuffe, or the Imposter, 1664), Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope, 1666), L'Avare (The Miser, 1668), Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-Be Gentleman, 1670), and Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid, or the Hypochondriac, 1673).

Sometimes Bastiat goes beyond quoting a famous scene from a wellknown classic work and adapts it for his own purposes by rewriting it as a parody. A good example of this is Molière’s parody of the granting of a degree of doctor of medicine in the last play he wrote, Le malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid, or the Hypochondriac), from which Bastiat quotes in “Theft by Subsidy” (ES2 9). Molière is suggesting that doctors in the seventeenth century were quacks who did more harm to their patients than good, as this translation of his dog Latin clearly suggests:

I give and grant you
Power and authority to Practice medicine,
Purge,
Bleed,
Stab,
Hack,
Slash,
and Kill
With impunity
Throughout the whole world.[27]

Bastiat takes Molière’s Latin and writes his own pseudo-Latin, this time with the purpose of mocking French tax collectors. In his parody Bastiat is suggesting that government officials, tax collectors, and customs officials were thieves who did more harm to the economy than good, so Bastiat writes a mock “swearing in” oath which he thinks they should use to induct new officials into government service:

I give to you and I grant
virtue and power
to steal
to plunder
to filch
to swindle
to defraud
At will,
along this whole road

If a pattern emerges from the examples cited above, it is that Bastiat likes to use literary references to show his readers that economic issues need not be “dry and dull” and to help him expose the nature of politicians and the political and economic power they wield. Thus in a witty and clever way he induces readers to share his disdain for those who misuse their power and, through this unfiltered view of reality, to no longer think like “dupes.”

The Sophisms also reveal a man who has a very good sense of humor and an understanding of how humor can be used for political purposes as well as to make political economy less “dry and dull” for average readers. Sprinkled throughout the Sophisms are Bastiat’s own jokes, plays on words, and puns. For example, in “The Tax Collector” (ES2 10), Bastiat creates a dialogue between Jacques Bonhomme (a wine producer like Bastiat himself ) and a tax collector, a M. “Lasouche.” Lasouche is a made-up name which Bastiat creates to poke fun at his adversaries. In the FEE edition,[28] “M. Lasouche” is translated as “Mr. Clodpate.” Since “la souche” means a tree stump, log, or plant stock, we thought “Mr. Blockhead” might be appropriate in our new translation.

It is interesting to speculate whether the strategy of using irony, sarcasm, parody, mockery, puns, and other forms of humor in Bastiat’s writing was an explicit and deliberate one, or one that just naturally arose out of his jovial personality. A clue comes from material written soon after the appearance of the First Series of Economic Sophisms. In an article in Le Journal des économistes of January 1846, “Theft by Subsidy” (later to become ES2 9), he opens with the following testy remarks:

People find my small volume of Sophisms too theoretical, scientific, and metaphysical. So be it. Let us try a superficial, banal, and, if necessary, brutal style. Since I am convinced that the general public are easily taken in as far as protection is concerned, I wanted to prove it to them. They prefer to be shouted at. So let us shout:

Midas, King Midas has ass’s ears! [In other words, the emperor has no clothes.]

An explosion of plain speaking often has more effect than the politest circumlocutions. Do you remember Oronte and the difficulty that the Misanthropist, as misanthropic as he is, has in convincing him of his folly?[29]

It seems that he was stung by some critical reviews of the First Series as “too theoretical, scientific, and metaphysical” and thus failing to achieve his major aim, which was to appeal to a broader popular audience. As a result he may well have decided deliberately to use more sarcasm, humor, and parody in future Sophisms. The essay “Theft by Subsidy” was unusually angry and bitter for Bastiat, as it contained some strong words about the need to call a spade a spade (or appeller un chat un chat, as the French would say) regardless of the sensitivities of common opinion; in this case he wanted to call most government policies a form of theft and the protectionist system in France a form of “mutual theft”:[30]

Frankly, my good people, you are being robbed. That is plain speaking, but at least it is clear.

The words theft, to steal, and thief seem to many people to be in bad taste. Echoing the words of Harpagon to Elise, I ask them: Is it the word or the thing that makes you afraid?[31]

Endnotes

[23] ES2 2, p. 135. The original French phrase is de sécheresse et de prosaïsme.

[24] Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, p. 500.

[25] Hayek, “Introduction,” in Selected Essays on Political Economy, FEE edition, p. ix.

[26] A study of the economic ideas expressed by La Fontaine in his fables was not made until twenty-five years after Bastiat first made use of them in the Sophisms. See Boissonade, La Fontaine, économiste.

[27] Molière, Théâtre complet de J.-B. Poquelin de Molière, Third Interlude, p. 286. Thanks to Arthur Goddard’s excellent translation in Economic Sophisms, FEE edition, p. 194n (courtesy of FEE.org).

[28] Economic Sophisms, FEE edition, p. 198.

[29] ES2 9, p. 170.

[30] ES2 9, p. 177.

[31] Ibid., p. 171.

 


 

The Sophism Bastiat Never Wrote: The Sophism of the Ricochet Effect(CW3 book)

As the Second Series of Economic Sophisms was being printed in January 1848, Bastiat expressed some regret in a public lecture he gave for the Free Trade Association at the Salle Montesquieu in Paris that he had never gotten around to writing a sophism explicitly about what he called le sophisme des ricochets (the sophism of the ricochet effect). He had used the term several times during the course of 1847, but he had never gathered his thoughts on the topic in any coherent way, and he was to continue using the term until late in 1850 when his throat condition brought his work to an end.[3] Many in the audience must have read his earlier thoughts on the matter, as they responded very positively to his comments about his plans for “the next edition” of the Economic Sophisms,[4] which he promised would contain such an essay. He was not able to publish a third series of the Economic Sophisms as he had hoped since the February Revolution of 1848 intervened, and he spent much of his time in the following two years working in the Chamber of Deputies, where he was the vice president of the Finance Committee.

In an essay he wrote soon after his January 1848 speech, “Monita secreta” (ES3 20, published in Le Libre-Échange of 20 February 1848), he mentioned the term “ricochet” five times, but it never saw publication in a third collection of Sophisms in his lifetime. His next spurt of interest came in 1849 and 1850 when he was frantically writing chapters for the Economic Harmonies. There was no mention of ricochet in the first part, which was published in his lifetime. However, the second half of the treatise, which Paillottet put together from the notes and fragments he left behind, and which appeared in 1851, contained five mentions of the theory of the ricochet effect. These uses may constitute a hint of the growing significance Bastiat was attaching to this new kind of economic sophism.

Bastiat does not say where he got the idea of “the ricochet effect,” but the term had been used by the socialist Charles Fourier in Le Nouveau monde industriel et sociétaire (1829) as part of his theory of class,[5] by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in Qu'est-ce que la propriété? (1841) in his critique of private property,[6] and by a fellow liberal from whom he most likely heard the term, Louis Reybaud, who used it in his amusing critiques of French society and politics, Mémoires de Jérôme Paturot, which appeared in serial form between 1843 and 1848.[7] Most notably, Reybaud used the term “ricochet” to satirize influence peddling within the state bureaucracy, which surely would have grabbed Bastiat’s attention.

Whereas Fourier, Proudhon, and Reybaud used the term “ricochet” in a vertical sense, of waves of hatred and disdain going up and down the social hierarchy, or ties of power and influence going up and down the levels within a bureaucracy, Bastiat used the word in a horizontal sense. In fact, he seems to view it much like horizontal flows of water (or electricity) which radiate out from a central point. Thus, by “the ricochet effect” Bastiat meant the concatenation of effects caused by a single economic event which “rippled” outward from its source, causing indirect flow-on effects to third and other parties.[8] A key insight behind this term is the idea that all economic events are tied together by webs of connectivity and mutual influence. The analogies he liked to use often involved water, such as glisser (to slide or slip over something),[9] or flows of communication through canaux secrets (hidden channels),[10] or lines of force or electricity which stretched out in parallel lines to infinity.[11] What is clear from this analysis is that Bastiat had the option of using the word in its vertical sense to refer to flows of disdain or political power from a higher class to a lower class, but he chose not to. He wanted to use the word in its horizontal sense of circles of influence expanding outward from a source of economic action which affect countless other actors and economic decisions throughout the economy. Thus we have translated ricochet as “flow on” and not “trickle down” to reflect Bastiat’s choice.

Bastiat’s theory of “the ricochet (or flow-on) effect” was a further development of a simpler idea, that of the double incidence of loss, which involved only three parties who were affected by some economic action. Bastiat gradually came to the realization that economic actions affected more than just three parties since the economy was so interrelated and interconnected. Thousands, perhaps millions, of economic actors were affected by some economic actions, some positively and some negatively. Another complication was that the losses to one party and gains to another might not be exactly equal, as he had first thought. Perhaps if a sufficiently large number of participants were involved, the relative gains and losses would gradually diminish (much as the concentric waves caused by a stone being thrown into water gradually dissipate) and thus have to be calculated using mathematics which he did not possess, especially as the impact became more distant and indirect over time. Hence his appeal to François Arago (1786–1853), who was one of the leading physicists of his day and active in liberal politics, to come up with some mathematics which would calculate scientifically the gains and losses to the relevant parties and thus make his theoretical arguments against tariffs and subsidies “invincible.”[12] His theory of “the ricochet (or flow-on) effect” attempted to take into account these more widespread economic effects; however, he did not have time to fully develop it before his untimely death. From what one can piece together from his scattered references, it is clear that Bastiat thought there were two different kinds of ricochet effect which made themselves felt within the economy: negative ricochet effects (NRE) and positive ricochet effects (PRE). In the work he published in 1846–48 he focused on the negative ricochet effects (NRE) because they better suited his political agenda of fighting protectionism. As he gradually turned more to economic theory, he realized that the ricochet effect could have profound positive consequences as well, but unfortunately he had less time to explore this dimension of the theory.

An example of the negative effects is a tax or tariff which raises the price of a particular commodity. It may have been designed to benefit a particular favored industry and its employees (who may have been promised higher wages as a side benefit), but it has a ricochet effect in that the higher price eventually flows through to all consumers, including the protected or subsidized workers, and even other producers. If many other industries also receive benefits from the state in the form of subsidies and tariffs, the cost structure of the entire economy is eventually raised as a result of similar ricochet effects. As Bastiat argues, all increased costs and taxes are eventually borne by consumers:

In relation to the profit or loss that initially affect this or that class of producers, the consumer, the general public, is what earth is to electricity: the great common reservoir. Everything comes out of this reservoir, and after a few more or less long detours, after the generation of a more or less great variety of phenomena, everything returns to it.

We have just noted that the economic results just flow over ( glisser) producers, to put it this way, before reaching consumers, and that consequently all the major questions have to be examined from the point of view of consumers if we wish to grasp their general and permanent consequences.[13]

Examples of a positive ricochet effect include the benefits of international free trade and technological inventions such as the printing press and steam-powered transport. According to Bastiat, international free trade in the medium and long term has the effect of dramatically lowering costs and increasing choices for consumers. These lower costs and greater choice eventually flow on to all consumers, thereby improving their standard of living. Technological inventions like steam-powered locomotives or ships lower the cost of transport for every consumer and industry in an economy, thus lowering the overall cost structure and having an economy-wide PRE. Gutenberg’s invention of movable type likewise had a profound impact on lowering the cost of the transmission of knowledge which all consumers could benefit from as the savings worked their way through the economy.

It is interesting to speculate how Bastiat might have written his most famous sophism, “The Broken Window” ( July 1850), if François Arago had provided him with the necessary mathematics to calculate the gains and losses of all third parties to an economic action to the nth degree. How would he have calculated the spread of the “seen” gains to the glazier and all the businesses which benefited from the expenditure of the six francs he made from replacing Jacques Bonhomme’s broken window? How would he have calculated the “seen” and “unseen” losses to Jacques Bonhomme and all the business enterprises which did not benefit from his spending of those same six francs? How would he have compared the two amounts?

It is also interesting to speculate on what Bastiat might have done with this idea if he had lived longer. The ricochet effect seems very similar to the Keynesian notion of the multiplier effect of the positive benefits of increased government spending to stimulate demand in a time of economic recession. Bastiat might have gone on to describe PRE in terms of a “multiplier effect” of the benefits of free trade which gradually spread throughout an economy by lowering costs and increasing consumer choice, and NRE in terms of a “negative multiplier effect” (or “divider effect”) of the losses and harm caused by tariffs and government subsidies which spread through an economy by raising prices and reducing consumer choice. The tragedy of Bastiat’s early death means that we will never know where he would have taken many of the ideas he was developing in the last year or so of his life.

Endnotes

[3] Bastiat makes no explicit reference to the ricochet effect in ES1; there are nine explicit references in ES2 and ES3, with a maximum of five references in ES3 18. There are four references in speeches and other writings in 1847–48, one reference in 1849, and seven in 1850 (two in other writings and five in Economic Harmonies), for a total of twenty-one uses of the word.

[4] Appearing in this volume as “Third Series.”

[5] Fourier, Le Nouveau monde industriel et sociétaire (1841), chap. 36, “Des accords transcendants, ou ralliements de seize antipathies naturelles,” pp. 324–25.

[6] Proudhon, Qu'est-ce que la propriété?, p. 203.

[7] Reybaud, Jérôme Paturot à la recherche d'une position sociale, chap. 13, “Paturot publiciste officiel. Son ami l'homme de lettres,” pp. 126–27.

[8] Other words one could use for “ricochet” include ripples, trickle down, flow on, knock on, cascading, bouncing, indirect effects, and so on.

[9] Bastiat also uses other words, such as rejaillir (to spill, cascade, or splash over). Bastiat uses glisser in ES1 4, p. 32n7, and ES3 17, p. 353n5; and rejaillir in ES3 12, p. 317n7.

[10] See WSWNS 8, p. 436.

[11] See ES3 7, p. 291.

[12] See ES3 7, p. 289.

[13] OC, vol. 6, p. 358, “Producteur, consommateur.” Quotation is found on pp. 371–72. See chap. 11 “Producer—Consumer,” in CW5 (forthcoming).

 


 

Service for Service (CW4 final draft)

The idea that exchange could be understood as “les services réciproques” (the reciprocal exchange of services) or “service pour service” (one service exchanged for another), rather than the exchange of “goods for goods” or “goods for money,” became central to Bastiat’s understanding of the market and which he would explore in more detail in EH1 Chapter IV “Exchange.” He used several combinations of words to describe this relationship, such as the following:

  1. “service pour service” or “service contre service” (service for service)
  2. “l'échange des services” (the exchange of services)
  3. “les services réciproques” or “la réciprocité des services” (the reciprocal (exchange) of services)
  4. “la mutualité des services” (the mutual (exchange) of services) 2270
  5. “l'équivalence des services” (the equivalence of services, or the exchange of equivalent services)

He finally settled on “les services réciproques” (the reciprocal exchange of services), “la mutualité des services” (the mutual exchange of services), and “l'équivalence des services” (the equivalence of services,) to use in his treatise Economic Harmonies where he used them a total of 44 times.

Bastiat’s thinking about reciprocal exchanges was strongly influenced by Destutt de Tracy who had argued in 1817 that society itself consisted of an interlocking collection of exchanges: 2271

Maintenant, qu'est-ce donc que la société vue sous cet aspect? Je ne crains point de le dire : la société est purement et uniquement une série continuelle d'échanges; elle n'est jamais autre chose dans aucune époque de sa durée, depuis son commencement le plus informe jusqu'à sa plus grande perfection; et c'est là le plus grand éloge qu'on en puisse faire, car l'échange est une transaction admirable dans laquelle les deux contractans gagnent toujours tous deux : par conséquent la société est une suite non interrompue d'avantages sans cesse renaissans pour tous ses membres. Ceci demande à être expliqué. Now what is society viewed under this aspect? I do not fear to announce it. Society is purely and solely a continual series of exchanges. It is never any thing else, in any epoch of its duration, from its commencement the most unformed, to its greatest perfection. And this is the greatest eulogy we can give to it, for exchange is an admirable transaction, in which the two contracting parties always both gain; consequently society is an uninterrupted succession of advantages, unceasingly renewed for all its members. This demands an explanation.
D'abord la société n'est qu'une suite d'échanges: en effet, commençons par les premières conventions sur lesquelles elle est fondée. Tout homme , avant d'entrer dans l'état de société, a, comme nous l'avons vu, tous les droits et nul devoir, pas même celui de ne pas nuire aux autres, et les autr e s sont de même à son égard. Il est évident qu'ils n e pourraient pas vivr e ens emb le, si, par une co n vention formelle ou tacite, ils ne se promettaient pas réciproquement sûreté. Eh bien ! cette convention formelle est un véritable échange. Chacun renonce à une certaine manière d'employer ses forces, et re ç oit en retour le même sacrifice de la part de tous les autres. Une fois la sécurité établie par ce moyen, les hommes ont entre eux une multitude de relations qui viennent toutes se ranger sous une des trois classes suivantes. Elles consistent ou à rendre des services pour recevoir un salaire , ou à troquer une marchandise quelconque contre une autre, ou à exécuter quelque ouvrage en commun. Dans les deux premiers cas, l'échange est manifeste; dans le troisième, il n'est pas moins réel: car, quand plusieurs hommes se réunissent pour travailler en commun, chacun d'eux fait le sacrifice aux autres de ce qu'il aurait pu faire pendant ce temps-là pour son utilité particulière, et il reçoit pour équivalent sa part de l'utilité commune résultante du travail commun. Il échange une manière de s'occuper contre une autre qui lui devient plus avantageuses lui-même que ne l'aurait été la première. Il est donc vrai que la société ne consiste que dans une suite continuelle d'échanges. First, society is nothing but a succession of exchanges. In effect, let us begin with the first conventions on which it is founded. Every man, before entering into the state of society, has as we have seen all rights and no duty, not even that of not hurting others; and others the same in respect to him. It is evident they could not live together, if by a convention formal or tacit they did not promise each other, reciprocally, surety. Well! this convention is a real exchange; every one renounces a certain manner of employing his force, and receives in return the same sacrifice on the part of all the others. Security once established by this mean, men have a multitude of mutual relations which all arrange themselves under one of the three following classes: they consist either in rendering a service to receive a salary, or in bartering some article of merchandize against another, or in executing some work in common. In the two first cases the exchange is manifest. In the third it is not less real; for when several men unite, to labour in common, each makes a sacrifice to the others of what he could have done during the same time for his own particular utility; and he receives, for an equivalent, his part of the common utility resulting from the common labour. He exchanges one manner of occupying himself against another, which becomes more advantageous to him than the other would have been. It is true then that society consists only in a continual succession of exchanges.

We can trace the evolution of his thinking on this topic during the crucial formative period of 1845-46 when he used a variety of expressions before settling on his preferred terminology. For example, in an unpublished review of Charles Dunoyer’s book De la Liberté du travail (before March 1845) he says that “La société, au point de vue économique, est un échange de services rémunérés” (Society, from the economic point of view is an exchange of services which are paid for); 2272 in the article, “On Competition” ( Encyclopédie early 1846, and JDE May 1846) he defines “l'économie politique : c'est la théorie des services que les hommes se rendent les uns aux autres à charge de revanche” (political economy is the theory of services which men render to each each other tit for tat); 2273 in an article “To Artisans and Workers” (18 Sept. 1846) he says “le commerce n'est qu'un ensemble de trocs pour trocs, produits contre produits, services pour services” (commerce is only a collection of barter for barter, products for products, and services for services); 2274 and then in a “Speech for the Free Trade Association” in Sept. 1846 in Paris he says “Le monde, au point de vue économique, peut être considéré comme un vaste bazar où chacun de nous apporte ses services et reçoit en retour” (From the perspective of economics, the world can be considered to be a vast bazaar where each of us brings his services and receives them in return). 2275

By the summer of 1847 when he began giving lectures on economics at the School of Law he settled on the three expressions which he used in his treatise Economic Harmonies : “les services réciproques” (reciprocal services) which he used for the first time in a speech he gave for the French Free Trade Association in Paris (3 July 1847) 2276 and then 15 times in Economic Harmonies; “la mutualité des services” (the mutual or reciprocal exchange of services) which he interestingly borrowed from his arch rival Proudhon and used for the first time in the essay “Property and Plunder" (24 July 1848), 2277 then began using it himself in Capital and Rent (Feb. 1849), and 10 times in Economic Harmonies; and "l'équivalence des services” which he used for the first time in the “Fifth Letter” of the pamphlet Property and Plunder (July 1848) 2278 and then 19 times in Economic Harmonies.

By the time he came to write the pamphlet Capital and Rent (February 1849) his thinking had evolved to the point where he believed that any and all gains from transactions, whether profit, interest, or rent, came from the same essential thing, namely an exchange of services between individuals. In the context of this pamphlet Bastiat is appealing to workers who had been influenced by socialists like Proudhon, and so he takes a phrase used by Proudhon 2279 “la mutualité des services” (the mutuality of services) and adapts it for his own purposes (meaning here “the mutual exchange of services”). Proudhon, unlike his other socialist colleagues such as Considerant and Louis Blanc, approved of some transactions on the free market between equal parties where there was some mutual benefit to the exchange. However, he did did not think this was possible in the case of interest paid on loans. Thus, here Bastiat was trying to turn Proudhon’s own argument back on himself in a rhetorical turn of phrase which he was much skilled at, as his Economic Sophisms demonstrate.

Bastiat argues in Capital and Rent that:

À proprement parler, l'Échange c'est la mutualité des services. Les parties se disent entre elles : « Donne-moi ceci, et je te donnerai cela ; » ou bien : « Fais ceci pour moi, et je ferai cela pour toi. » Il est bon de remarquer (car cela jettera un jour nouveau sur la notion de valeur ) que la seconde formule est toujours impliquée dans la première. Quand on dit : « Fais ceci pour moi, et je ferai cela pour toi, » on propose d'échanger service contre service. De même quand on dit : « Donne-moi ceci, et je te donnerai cela, » c'est comme si l'on disait : « Je te cède ceci que j'ai fait, cède-moi cela que tu as fait. » Le travail est passé au lieu d'être actuel ; mais l'Échange n'en est pas moins gouverné par l'appréciation comparée des deux services, en sorte qu'il est très-vrai de dire que le principe de la valeur est dans les services rendus et reçus à l'occasion des produits échangés, plutôt que dans les produits eux-mêmes. Strictly speaking, Exchange is the mutual exchange of services . The parties say to one another: “Give me this and I will give you that” or “Do this for me and I will do that for you.” It should be noted (as this will shed new light on the notion of value ) that the second formula is always implicit in the first. When people say “Do this for me and I will do that for you,” they are offering to exchange one service for another. Similarly, when they say: “Give me this and I will give you that” it is as if they were saying “I will hand over to you this item that I have made; hand over to me one that you have made.” The work is in the past instead of being in the present, but the Exchange is no less governed by a comparative evaluation of the two services, so that it is very true to say that the principle of value is inherent in the services given and received when products are exchanged rather than in the products themselves.

By the end of 1847 when he wrote the opening chapters for Economic Sophisms Series II he was able to distill what he called “the great social law” governing man into the following statement, that is was “the freely negotiated exchange of one service for another.” 2280 Equally pithily, he concluded in one of the draft chapters of Economic Harmonies (date written is unknown) that “la Liberté — ou l'équivalence des services” (Liberty was the exchange of equivalent services). 2281

Another twist in his understanding of “services” is his distinction between “les services réels” (real services) or “services effectifs” (real or actual services), which were exchanged by participants voluntarily in the free market, and “les services fictifs” (false or imaginary services), which were promised by the state or other privileged institutions like the Church to ordinary tax-payers and consumers and not adequately provided (or not even at all) and which were justified by the use of “sophisms,” i.e. by false and sophistical arguments. As he explained it in the “Conclusion” to ES1: 2282

Pour voler le public, il faut le tromper. Le tromper, c'est lui persuader qu'on le vole pour son avantage ; c'est lui faire accepter en échange de ses biens des services fictifs, et souvent pis. — De là le Sophisme. — Sophisme théocratique, Sophisme économique, Sophisme politique, Sophisme financier. In order to steal from the public, it is first necessary to deceive them. To deceive them it is necessary to persuade them that they are being robbed for their own good; it is to make them accept imaginary services and often worse in exchange for their possessions. This gives rise to sophistry. Theocratic sophistry, economic sophistry, political sophistry, and financial sophistry.

Another innovative idea which Bastiat develop alongside his idea of exchange as the mutual exchange of services, is the idea that an exchange is a result of a comparative evaluation of the two services by the two parties involved in any transaction. The “value” which is exchanged when services are given and received is determined by the individuals involved in the transaction rather than residing in the products themselves as some kind of abstract “labor” or “utility.” This is one of Bastiat’s most original and profound economic insights which went to the heart of the Smithian and Ricardian tradition of economic thought, which asserted that there was something inherent within the objects being exchanged (such as labour or utility) and that this thing could be objectively assessed, measured, and valued. Bastiat’s insight was to reject the objectivity of this “value” and to see that it was the subjective valuations, the “appréciation comparée” (comparative evaluation or judgement), of the two parties to the exchange which made exchange both possible and worth while for both parties. He went even further in arguing that all exchanges could be viewed as “exchanges of services,” including such things as the payment of interest and rent, a claim which provoked his colleagues in the Political Economy Society, not to mention Proudhon, to strenuously object to this novel formulation and to ultimately reject Bastiat’s ideas.

Endnotes

2270 See the two short pieces Bastiat wrote sometime in 1849 “On the Value of Services” and “Money and the Mutuality of Services,” above, pp. 000 and pp. 000.

2271 English version: Antoine Louis Claude, Comte Destutt de Tracy, A Treatise on Political Economy: to which is Prefixed a Supplement to a Preceding Work on the Understanding or Elements of Ideology; with an Analytical Table, and an Introduction on the Faculty of the Will (Georgetown: Joseph Milligan, 1817), pp. 6-7. French version: Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy, Traité d'économie politique (Paris: Bouquet et Lévi, 1823). pp. 68-69.

2272 See above, pp. 000.

2273 See above, pp. 000.

2274 He first used the phrase “services pour services” (services for services) in an article “To Artisans and Workers” in the Courrier français , 18 September 1846, which was republished in ES2 6, in CW3, p. 157.

2275 In CW6 (forthcoming).

2276 He stated: “Scientifiquement, la richesse, c'est l'ensemble des services réciproques que se rendent les hommes, et à l'aide desquels la société existe et se développe” (Scientifically speaking, wealth is the ensemble/collection of reciprocal services which men render to each other and with the aid of which society exists and grows). “Third Speech given in Paris at the Taranne Hall” (3 July 1847), CW6 (forthcoming).

2277 See his critique of Proudhon in the First Letter of his essay “Property and Plunder” ( JDD , 24 July 1848), CW2, p. 150.

2278 Here he argues that “la Spoliation consiste à employer la force ou la ruse pour altérer à notre profit l'équivalence des services” (Plunder consists in the use of force or fraud to change the equivalence of services to one’s own benefit), CW2, p. 171.

2279 Proudhon uses the phrase “mutualité des services” in Lettre à M. Blanqui sur la propriété. Deuxième mémoire (Paris: Prévot, 1841), p. 27; and Système des Contradictions économiques (Guillaumin, 1846), Tome II, “Chap. XI. La Propriété,” p. 262-63.

2280 Here he uses the phrase “service contre service”, as in “Échange librement débattu de service contre service.” ES2 1 “The Physiology of Plunder,” CW3, pp. 114, 117.

2281 EH XVIII “Disturbing factors,” FEE ed., p. 467.

2282 ES1 “Conclusion,” in CW3, pp. 110.

 


 

Social Economy (CW4 final draft)

Most of the time when Bastiat used the expression “l'économie sociale” (social economy) he did so as a synonym for the more commonly used “l'économie politique” (political economy). On half a dozen occasions however he used “social economy” to mean something broader than the more limited sphere of "pure political economy" which encompassed the traditional economic matters of production, trade, and the buying and selling goods and services. "Social economy" included all aspects of human activity in the social realm, namely any human activity which was voluntary and involved groups of individuals coming together for social purposes. In other words, what we would today call sociology. As he stated in a letter to his friend and neighbour Félix Coudroy in August 1847 about his plans to give a course of lectures to some students at the Faculty of Law: 2283

à partir de novembre prochain, je ferai à cette jeunesse un cours, non d'économie politique pure, mais d'économie sociale, en prenant ce mot dans l'acception que nous lui donnons, Harmonie des lois sociales. (F)rom next November I will be giving a course (of lectures) to these young people (at the School of Law), not on pure political economy but on social economics, using this in the meaning we have given it, the "Harmony of Social Laws."

In the Conclusion to the first series of Economic Sophisms which appeared in January 1846 he makes a similar statement about “le cercle étroit” (the narrow or cramped circle) of traditional political economy which was interested in things like trade restrictions, vested interests (“droits acquis” or acquired rights), economic downturns (“inopportunité” or difficulties or inconveniences), and the debasement of the currency. Here he lists a large number of other topics which fell within the domain of “social economy” such as the numerous socialist schools of thought and their criticisms of society, the problem of luxury, and so on. The following quote provides an interesting list of these other topics which though fell outside the narrow circle of traditional political economy: 2284

Mais l'économie sociale n'est pas renfermée dans ce cercle étroit. Le fouriérisme, le saint-simonisme, le communisme, le mysticisme, le sentimentalisme, la fausse philanthropie, les aspirations affectées vers une égalité et une fraternité chimériques, les questions relatives au luxe, aux salaires, aux machines, à la prétendue tyrannie du capital, aux colonies, aux débouchés, aux conquêtes, à la population, à l'association, à l'émigration, aux impôts, aux emprunts, ont encombré le champ de la science d'une foule d'arguments parasites, de sophismes qui sollicitent la houe et la binette de l'économiste diligent. But social economy is not limited to this narrow circle. Fourierist doctrine, Saint-Simonian doctrine, communism, mysticism, sentimentalism, bogus philanthropy, affected aspirations to illusionary equality and fraternity, questions relating to luxury, to wages, to machines, to the alleged tyranny of capital, to colonies, markets, conquests, population, association, emigration, taxes and loans: these have cluttered the field of science with a host of parasitic arguments, sophisms that call for the hoe and harrow of a diligent economist.

Also within the purview of social economy was the issue of leisure which he referred to several times in his writing but most especially at the conclusion of his Fourth Letter in the Bastiat-Proudhon debate on Free Credit. 2285 He criticises traditional economic thinking for ignoring the other ends and purposes individuals might have other than providing for their material existence. Leisure was one of these other purposes in life, but in an interesting twist to the argument, he adds an economic dimension to the discussion by saying that more and more people will be able to enjoy wealth as more capital is acquired and their working hours become more productive as a result. This, he argued, could only be provided by a free economy. In earlier societies like the Romans, the only people who could enjoy much leisure for creative purposes were the slave owners:

Quelle que soit mon admiration sincère pour les admirables lois de l'économie sociale, quelque temps de ma vie que j'aie consacré à étudier cette science, quelque confiance que m'inspirent ses solutions, je ne suis pas de ceux qui croient qu'elle embrasse toute la destinée humaine. Production, distribution, circulation, consommation des richesses, ce n'est pas tout pour l'homme. Il n'est rien, dans la nature, qui n'ait sa cause finale ; et l'homme aussi doit avoir une autre fin que celle de pourvoir à son existence matérielle. Whatever sincere admiration I have for the admirable laws of social economy, whatever period of my life I have devoted to studying this science, whatever confidence is inspired in me by its solutions, I am not one of those who believe that it embraces the entire destiny of man. Production, distribution, circulation, and the consumption of wealth are not the sum of all things for man. There is nothing in nature that does not have a final aim, and man also has to have a goal other than that of providing for his material existence.

Perhaps the clearest statement Bastiat made about there being two different kinds of economic activity, and thus two different kinds of economics, social and political, comes in his unfinished chapter on “Private and Public Services” in EH2. Here he argues that society and government are very different entities with entirely different “processes” or ways of functioning when it comes to economic activity or trade. He compares society to a large circle which literally encircles the smaller domain of state activity. The kinds of exchanges and services provided within the circle of “society” are voluntary, cooperative, and competitive; while those that are provided with the circle of “government” are “entirely different in themselves and in their effects” since they are based upon taxation, coercion, and political privilege. 2286

Ainsi considérés en eux-mêmes, dans leur nature propre, à l'état normal, abstraction faite de tout abus, les services publics sont, comme les services privés, de purs échanges. Thus, considered on their own, with respect to their own nature and normal condition, leaving aside any question of abuse, public services, like private services, are purely forms of exchange.
Mais les procédés par lesquels, dans ces deux formes de l'échange, les services se comparent, se débattent, se transmettent, s'équilibrent et manifestent leur valeur, sont si différents en eux-mêmes et quant à leurs effets, que le lecteur me permettra sans doute de traiter avec quelque étendue ce difficile sujet, un des plus intéressants qui puissent s'offrir aux méditations de l'économiste et de l'homme d'État. À vrai dire, c'est ici qu'est le nœud par lequel la politique se rattache à l'économie sociale. C'est ici qu'on peut marquer l'origine et la portée de cette erreur, la plus funeste qui ait jamais infecté la science, et qui consiste à confondre la société et le gouvernement — la société, ce tout qui embrasse à la fois les services privés et les services publics, et le gouvernement, cette fraction dans laquelle n'entrent que les services publics. However, the procedures by which services, in these two forms of exchange, are compared, negotiated, transmitted, balanced and come to reveal their value, are so different in themselves and in their effects, that the reader will probably allow me to deal rather broadly with this difficult subject, one of the most interesting offering itself to the reflection of economists and Statesmen alike. Truth to tell this is the knot that ties politics to social economy. It is here that the origin and scope of that error, the most disastrous ever to have infected economic science, can be pinpointed, the mistake which consists in confusing society and government: society, the entity that embraces simultaneously both private and public services and government, the fraction that encompasses public services only.

The source for Bastiat’s views on this distinction probably come from Jean-Baptiste Say, who sometimes talked about social economy, via Charles Dunoyer, whose work had a profound impact on Bastiat. In 1830 Dunoyer published a large work entitled Nouveau traité d'économie sociale (A New Treatise on Social Economy) which he later expanded into his magnum opus De la liberté du travail which was published in 1845 and which Bastiat reviewed. 2287 Dunoyer’s aim was to expand the study of political economy away from an exclusive focus on the creation and distribution of wealth, which was its inheritance from Adam Smith, towards a new kind of economics which had a “social dimension” and would concern itself with mattes of race, culture, slavery, technology, intellectual development, the economic evolution of society through various stages, class, and industry (broadly understood). The boldness of this approach was to show how all these social factors interacted with each other and how they were in turn affected by economic matters, with the overall intention of showing how they all contributed to the development of a free society, or “LIBERTY” as Dunoyer grandiosely called it. The similarities to Bastiat’s plans for his multi-volume work on social theory are readily apparent.

Endnotes

2283 Letter 81 to Félix Coudroy (Paris, Aug. 1847), CW1, p. 131.

2284 Conclusion to ES1, CW3, p. 104

2285 See, above, pp. 000, and the glossary entry on “The Importance of Leisure” pp. 000.

2286 EH2, XVII Private Services and Public Services, our translation. See also FEE ed. p. 445. The FEE translator translates “l'économie sociale” as “political economy” and “la science” as “political economy,” thus confusing the issue.

2287 Dunoyer, Charles, Nouveau traité d'économie sociale, ou simple exposition des causes sous l'influence desquelles les hommes parviennent à user de leurs forces avec le plus de LIBERTÉ, c'est-à-dire avec le plus FACILITÉ et de PUISSANCE (Paris: Sautelet et Mesnier, 1830), 2 vols.

 


 

The Social Mechanism and its Driving Force 2288 (CW4 final draft)

As a true nineteenth century social theorist Bastiat made use of several mechanical, biological, or astronomical metaphors to describe the structure and operation of social, economic, and political institutions, structures, and processes. These included the idea that society was like a clock or a mechanism (with wheels, springs, and movements), or a machine with an engine or motor (driven by steam or other physical forces), or like a mechanical or scientific apparatus of some kind (with different parts which operated together in a coordinated fashion), or a "celestial mechanism" like orbiting planets which moved under the influence of gravity, normally in a "harmonious" manner but which sometimes could be knocked out of their orbit by some external disturbing factor.

The vocabulary he used to describe this can be divided into various components: the mechanism or machine itself, the power source, the machine’s parts, and the designer or operator of the machine. An added complication comes from whether he was discussing society as a whole or the individuals who engaged in voluntary exchanges within that society. Both societies as well as individuals had a "driving force or motor" (la force motrice, le moteur) according to Bastiat.

For the mechanism or machine itself he used the following terms: “le mécanisme social” (the social mechanism), “la mécanique sociale” (the social machine, engine), “le mécanisme de la société” (the mechanism of society), “la machine sociale” (the social machine), and “l'appareil de l'échange” (the apparatus of exchange or trade).

For the power source: "le moteur social," “le mobile social,” or “la force motrice de la Société” (the social engine or driving force of society), and “le ressort” (the spring, or the mainspring). 2289

And for the machine’s parts: “les rouages," (the cogs and wheels) "les ressorts," (the springs or mainspring) and "les mobiles” (the movement or driving force).

There were two different sets of expressions to describe the designer or operator of the machine depending upon his distinction between "natural and artificial" ways of organising societies. 2290 For the former there was the "natural" organiser which was “Providence” or the natural laws which governed the operation of the world (both physical and economic), and for the latter there was the "artificial" organiser which was “le grand Mécanicien” (the Great Mechanic), “le législateur” (the legislator - especially the Rousseau-ian Legislator), “le Prince” (the Prince), or even "le jardinier" (the gardener). In this volume we have the example of Pancho in the story “Barataria” who is given the opportunity to be a socialist mechanic or engineer who rules the island of Barataria but refuses to do so. 2291

The diversity of expressions Bastiat used suggests his thinking was evolving and he had not yet settled on a single set of expressions to describe what he meant by "social mechanism."

As he stated in the article "Natural and Artificial Organisations" Bastiat believed there were two ways in which societies could be organised, by "artificial" means such as coercion and central planning, or by "natural" means such as voluntary cooperation and exchange in the market. Socialists believed in "artificial kinds of organisation" which could be designed and built by well-meaning social reformers like Louis Blanc or Victor Considerant. The socialists’s big mistake he argued was to think that individual human beings were inanimate objects (like metal cogs and wheels, or pieces of putty, or plants and tress) who could be manipulated by a central planner, designer, or “mechanic” and not thinking, choosing, acting individuals with free will. For these reformers, societies or economies were just "les inventions sociales" (social inventions or creations) and individuals were like pieces of putty in their hands which could be molded into any shape they wished, or like bushes which could be clipped into strange shapes by "social gardeners."

Bastiat, on the other hand, believed in "natural kinds of organisation." These types of organisations emerged "providentially" or "spontaneously" (to use Hayek’s term) and evolved gradually over time. Their operation could be studied by economists empirically from the outside, or by introspection from the inside (as it were). A big difference with the socialist model of organisation was that Bastiat believed that the "cogs and wheels" which comprised the social mechanism were thinking, choosing, acting individuals with free will and personal interests they were pursuing. As he noted in "Natural and Artificial Organisation" (Jan. 1848): 2292

Ces rouages sont des hommes, c'est-à-dire des êtres capables d'apprendre, de réfléchir, de raisonner, de se tromper, de se rectifier, et par conséquent d'agir sur l'amélioration ou sur la détérioration du mécanisme lui-même. Je dois ajouter aussi que ces ressorts sont capables de satisfaction et de douleur, et c'est en cela qu'ils sont non— seulement les rouages, mais les ressorts du mécanisme. Ils sont plus que cela encore, ils en sont l'objet même et le but, puisque c'est en satisfactions et en douleurs individuelles que tout se résout en définitive. Its wheels are men, that is to say, beings capable of learning, reflecting, reasoning, making mistakes, rectifying them, and consequently acting to improve or worsen the (operation) of the mechanism itself. They are capable of feeling satisfaction and pain, and this makes them not only cogs and wheels but also the springs of the mechanism. They are also its driving force because the principle of action resides in them. They are still more than that, they are the object of the mechanism itself, and its purpose, since it is in individual satisfactions and pain that everything is finally resolved.

And also: 2293

ce phénomène extraordinaire que chaque atome est un être animé, pensant, doué de cette énergie merveilleuse, de ce principe de tente moralité, de toute dignité, de tout progrès, attribut exclusif de l'homme, la liberté! the extraordinary phenomenon that each atom (in this social mechanism) is a living, thinking being, endowed with th at marvelous energy , with that source of all morality, of all dignity , of all progress , an attribute which is exclusive to man, namely FREEDOM !

Individuals had “un mobile/force interne” (an internal driving force), which he likened to "a kind of gravitation," which impelled them to do what they did and when taken in the aggregate this in turn created "un mobile social" (a social driving force) or “le moteur social” (the social motor or driving force). He also called it “la force motrice de la Société” (the driving or motive force of society).

The internal driving force for individuals was the desire to avoid pain or harm and to seek pleasure or well-being, in other words to pursue their "l'intérêt personnel" (self-interest). 2294 As he noted in the Chapter on “The Social Motor” in EH2: 2295

Ce mobile interne, impérissable, universel, qui réside en toute individualité et la constitue être actif, cette tendance de tout homme à rechercher le bonheur, à éviter le malheur, ce produit, cet effet, ce complément nécessaire de la sensibilité, sans lequel elle ne serait qu'un inexplicable fléau, ce phénomène primordial qui est l'origine de toutes les actions humaines, cette force attractive et répulsive que nous avons nommée le grand ressort de le Mécanique sociale, a eu pour détracteurs la plupart des publicistes ; et c'est certes une des plus étranges aberrations que puissent présenter les annales de la science. This internal, indestructible, and universal driving force that is within each individual and makes him into an acting being, this tendency in everyone to seek happiness and avoid unhappiness, this product, effect and complement essential to the faculty of sensation and without which it would be just an inexplicable scourge, this primordial phenomenon that is the origin of all human action, this force of attraction and repulsion that we have called the driving force of the social mechanism has had the majority of political writers as its detractors, and this is certainly one of the strangest aberrations that the annals of science can produce.

Although Bastiat believed that the primary motive force for individuals was self-interest, he also thought that there was a second "autre mobile" (another motive force) which was an innate feeling of sympathy for others. As he put it in a speech on free trade in September 1847: 2296

Sans doute, la fraternité prend aussi sa source dans un autre ordre d'idées plus élevées. La religion nous en fait un devoir ; elle sait que Dieu a placé dans le cœur de l'homme, avec l'intérêt personnel, un autre mobile : la sympathie. L'un dit : Aimez-vous les uns les autres ; et l'autre : Vous n'avez rien à perdre, vous avez tout à gagner à vous aimer les uns les autres. Et n'est-il pas bien consolant que la science vienne démontrer l'accord de deux forces en apparence si contraires? No doubt fraternity has as its source another set of ideas which are more elevated. Religion makes it a duty for us. It says that God has placed in the hearts of men, along with self-interest, another driving force, namely sympathy (for others). One says “love one another” and the other says “you have nothing to lose and everything to gain in loving one another.” Isn’t it very consoling that science is able to demonstrate the agreement/harmony of these two forces so apparently contrary to each other?

The role of the political economists was not to tinker with the social mechanism as the socialists wanted to do, but to study how it worked, what its driving force was, how the different parts contributed to its smooth or harmonious operation, and how external disturbing forces sometimes upset its operation. As he wrote in one of his last articles "Abundance": 2297

C'est une vaste et noble science, en tant qu'exposition, que l'économie politique. Elle scrute les ressorts du mécanisme social et les fonctions de chacun des organes qui constituent ces corps vivants et merveilleux, qu'on nomme des sociétés humaines. Elle étudie les lois générales selon lesquelles le genre humain est appelé à croître en nombre, en richesse, en intelligence, en moralité. Et néanmoins, reconnaissant un libre arbitre social comme un libre arbitre personnel, elle dit comment les lois providentielles peuvent être méconnues ou violées; quelle responsabilité terrible naît de ces expérimentations fatales, et comment la civilisation peut se trouver ainsi arrêtée, retardée, refoulée et pour longtemps étouffée. In terms of its powers of exposition, political economy is a grand and noble science. It scrutinizes the mainspring of the social mechanism and the functions of all the various organs of that marvelous living body known as human society. It studies the general laws according to which the human race is stimulated to increase in numbers, wealth, knowledge, and morality. However, by recognizing the existence of a social free will like we do the existence of an individual free will, political economy makes clear how providential laws may be misinterpreted or violated, what terrible responsibility arises from these disastrous experiments, and how civilization may, as a result, be halted, set back, buried, and stifled for lengthy periods.

Bastiat was also keenly aware that the same self-interest which drove the social mechanism and impelled men to improve their condition through production and trade also drove them to engage in plunder. It was thus a two edged sword which had to be carefully studied and understood. The socialists’s mistake he thought was to think that self-interest inevitably led to war and class conflict and that it could not be directed or harnessed by better laws and institutions to improve mankind’s well-being instead.

As he stated in an unfinished sketch for a chapter on War in EH2: 2298

La spoliation par voie de guerre, c'est-à-dire la spoliation toute naïve, toute simple, toute crue, a sa racine dans le cœur humain, dans l'organisation de l'homme, dans ce moteur universel du monde social : l'attrait pour les satisfactions et la répugnance pour la douleur ; en un mot, dans ce mobile que nous portons tous en nous-mêmes : l'intérêt personnel.

Et je ne suis pas fâché de me porter son accusateur. Jusqu'ici on a pu croire que j'avais voué à ce principe un culte idolâtre, que je ne lui attribuais que des conséquences heureuses pour l'humanité, peut-être même que je l'élevais dans mon estime au-dessus du principe sympathique, du dévouement, de l'abnégation. — Non, je ne l'ai pas jugé ; j'ai seulement constaté son existence et son omnipotence. Cette omnipotence, je l'aurais mal appréciée, et je serais en contradiction avec moi-même, quand je signale l'intérêt personnel comme le moteur universel de l'humanité, si je n'en faisais maintenant découler les causes perturbatrices, comme précédemment j'en ai fait sortir les lois harmoniques de l'ordre social.

Plunder by means of war, that is to say totally naïve, simple and crude plunder, has its roots in the human heart, in the organization of mankind, and in the universal driving force (moteur) of the social world: namely our attraction to satisfaction and aversion to pain. In a word, in this driving force (mobile) which we all carry within us: self-interest.

And it does not upset me to step forward for the prosecution. Up to now, it might have been thought that I had given idolatrous devotion to this principle, that I attributed only favorable consequences for the human race to it and perhaps even that I raised it in my estimation to a level above the principles of sympathy for others, devotion, and self-sacrifice. No, I have not passed judgment on it; I have merely noted its existence and omnipotence. I would have assessed this omnipotence incorrectly, and would be contradicting myself in identifying self-interest as the universal driving force of the human race, if I did not now make clear the disturbing factors which flow from it, just as I previously identified the harmonious laws of the social order that (also flow from it).

So, the question he put to his socialist opponents was the following: 2299

Ensuite, ils (publicistes) sont conduits à condamner le principe même d'action des hommes, je veux dire l'intérêt personnel, puisqu'il a amené un tel état de choses. Remarquons que l'homme est organisé de telle façon qu'il recherche la satisfaction et évite la peine; c'est de là, j'en conviens, que naissent tous les maux sociaux, la guerre, l'esclavage, la spoliation, le monopole, le privilège; mais c'est de la aussi que viennent tous les biens, puisque la satisfaction des besoins et la répugnance pour la douleur sont les mobiles de l'homme. La question est donc de savoir si ce mobile qui, d'individu devient social, n'est pas en lui-même un principe de progrès. Next, they are led to condemn the very principle governing men’s action, I mean self-interest , since it has led to such a state of affairs. We should note that man is organized in such a way that he seeks satisfaction and avoids pain; I agree that this is the cause of all social harm s – war, slavery, plunder, monopoly , and privilege - but it is also from this that all good arises, since the satisfaction of needs and aversion to pain are the driving forces (mobiles) for men. The question is therefore to ascertain whether this driving force , which in origin is individual but becomes social, is not itself a principle of progress.

Endnotes

2288 See also “The ‘Apparatus” or Structure of Exchange" and “Disturbing and Restorative Factors” in Further Aspect of Bastiat’s Thought , below, pp. 000, and pp. 000, for further details of Bastiat’s ideas concerning the mechanisms and forces which governed the workings of society and its institutions.

2289 The expression "le moteur social" which was used as the title of a chapter in EH2 was translated by Stirling as "the social motive force" and by FEE as "the motive force of society."

2290 See “Natural and Artificial Organizations,” below, pp. 000.

2291 See below, pp. 000.

2292 New passage added to EH1 and not in original JDE article.

2293 See above, pp. 000.

2294 Two of many examples which could be cited are: "ce moteur universel du monde social : l'attrait pour les satisfactions et la répugnance pour la douleur ; en un mot, dans ce mobile que nous portons tous en nous-mêmes : l'intérêt personnel" (this universal motor or driving force of the social world (is) the attraction to satisfactions and repugnance for pain/suffering, in a word, in this driving force which we all carry within ourselves, namely self-interest) and "je signale l'intérêt personnel comme le moteur universel de l'humanité" (I mean by self-interest the universal driving force of humanity).

2295 In EH2 XXII. Moteur social, CW5 (forthcoming). Our translation. FEE ed. pp. 000.

2296 In T.152 (1847.09.15) "Minutes of a Public Meeting in Marseilles by the Free Trade Association: Speech by M. Bastiat", JDE, Septembre 1847, T. XVIII, no. 70, pp. 163-165. Report also given in LE 5 Sept. 1847, no. 41, pp. 325-27. [DMH] [CW6]

2297 “Abondance” (Abundance), below, pp. 000.

2298 In EH XIX. Guerre

2299 "Natural and Artificial Organisation" below, pp. 000.

 


 

The State as the “Great Fiction” (CW2 book)

Bastiat’s essay L'État (The State) is probably his best-known work in English. In this volume we are reprinting a draft of his essay that appeared in the 11–15 June 1848 issue of Jacques Bonhomme, about a week before the shootings of the rioters began in Paris and shortly before the journal was forced to close. The essay was written to appeal to people on the streets of Paris and to attempt to woo them away from the spread of socialist ideas. Three months later Bastiat rewrote the piece, and it appeared in the 25 September 1848 issue of Le Journal des débats, where it was featured on the front page of the journal’s four very densely printed pages.3

Bastiat’s famous definition of the state is given in the pamphlet: “The state is the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.”4 Bastiat’s theory of the state was taken up for discussion in some detail in a meeting of the Société d'économie politique, of which Bastiat was a member, on 10 January 1850.5

In the meeting, the liberal economist Louis Wolowski defended a more expansive role for the state but was challenged by Bastiat and other members [404] of the society. Bastiat’s pamphlet stirred up so much interest that future meetings of the society were set aside for futher discussion of the matter.

The entry “L'État” by Charles Coquelin (who attended the January meeting) in the Dictionnaire de l'économie politique (1852)6 quoted so extensively from Bastiat’s pamphlet that one could say that the dictionary entry was half written by him—an indication of the influence that Bastiat’s ideas had on the closely knit circle of political economists. Even fifty years later the reverberations of Bastiat’s ideas were still being felt. At a meeting of the society on 5 August 1899, the topic for discussion was Bastiat’s acclaimed definition of the state with the additional topic, “Is this always the case, and what will it become in the future?”7

Endnotes

3.

Bastiat, “L'État,” Le Journal des débats, 25 September 1848, pp. 1–2. See also “The State,” p. 93 in this volume.

4.

See “The State,” p. 97, in this volume.

5.

Société d'économie politique, “Séance du 10 janvier 1850,” in Annales de la société d'économie politique.

6.

Coquelin, “L'État,” in the Dictionnaire de l'économie politique.

7.

Letort, “Société d'économie politique: Réunion du 5 août 1899.”

 

 


 

Bastiat’s Policy on Tariffs(CW3 book)

Bastiat distinguishes between a policy of “protectionism,” which imposes tariffs or duties on the importation of foreign goods in order to “protect” domestic producers from foreign competition, and a policy of “prohibition,” which prevents or prohibits the importation of any foreign goods in order to prevent any competition from challenging the position of domestic producers. This should be distinguished from the modern policy of “prohibition,” such as of alcohol or certain drugs, which makes it illegal for anyone, domestic or foreign, to produce, sell, or consume these products anywhere under threat of punishment by the state.

Furthermore, free traders like Bastiat and Cobden distinguished between two kinds of tariffs: “fiscal tariffs,” which were solely designed to raise revenue for the government (it should be noted that income taxes did not exist at this time) and which they approved, and “protectionist tariffs,” which were designed to provide government favors to particular vested-interest groups and which they fervently opposed.[1] In his essay “The Utopian” (written 17 January 1847 and published in the Second Series [ES2 11]), Bastiat says he would like to reduce tariffs to 5 percent across the board (for both imports and exports) in order to achieve the former goal.

In the introduction to the First Series, Bastiat says that he is in favor of a tariff policy which imposes a 5 percent ad valorem tariff on “objects of prime necessity,” 10 percent on “objects of normal usefulness,” and 15 or 20 percent on “luxury objects.” However, he qualifies this recommendation by saying that these proposed rates are based on political considerations rather than “political economy as such.”

Endnotes

[1] See “French Tariff Policy,” in appendix 3, “Economic Policy and Taxation.”

 


 

Classical Liberal vs Socialist Utopias (CW2 book)

An important part of the classical liberal critique of socialism was its analysis of the utopian vision many socialists had of a future community where their ideals of common ownership of property, the equality of economic conditions, state-planned and state-funded education, and strictly regulated economic activity for the “common good” were practiced. Bastiat makes many references in his writings to the ideas and proposed communities of people like Fénelon, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen.

In an article titled “Utopie,” by Hippolyte Passy,26 which summed up the thinking of the liberal political economists on this topic just two years after Bastiat’s death, Passy stated that Bastiat had provided the key insight into the differences between the socialists’ vision and the economists' vision of the future of society: the socialist vision was a “factice,” or artificial one, with an order imposed by a ruling elite, party, or priesthood; while the liberal vision was a “natural,” or spontaneous, one that flowed “harmoniously” from the voluntary actions of individuals in the marketplace. Given the harshness of the economists' rejection of socialist utopian schemes,27 it is rather ironic that the classical liberals also had their utopian moments. One could mention Condorcet’s vision of a fully liberal and enlightened future in his Tenth Stage: The Future Progress of the Human Mind (1795),28 Charles Comte’s and Charles Dunoyer’s idea of the “industrial stage” of economic development [413] (1820s), and Gustave de Molinari’s vision of a fully privatized society where there was no role left for the state (1849).29

Endnotes

26.

Passy, “Utopie,” in Coquelin, Dictionnaire de l'économie politique, vol. 2, pp. 798–803.

27.

See also Reybaud, Études sur les réformateurs contemporains.

28.

See Condorcet’s Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain, suivie de Réflexions sur l'esclavage des nègres. (This is a French edition to which Bastiat might have had access.)

29.

Molinari first presented his ideas on the private provision of public goods in an article in Le Journal des économistes in February 1849, which sparked a very spirited debate in the Société d'économie politique. He was still arguing for a variation of this idea fifty years later. See Molinari, “De la production de la sécurité,” Les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare, and Esquisse de l'organisation politique et économique de la société future.

 

 


 

The Right to Work vs the Right or Freedom of Working (CW2 book)

The “right to work” (le droit au travail, which one might translate in English as the “right to a job”) had been a catch phrase of the socialists throughout the 1840s. What they meant by this term was that the state had the duty to provide work for all men who demanded it. In contrast, the classical liberal economists called for the “right of working,” or the “freedom to work” (la liberté du travail, or le droit de travailler), by which they meant the right of any individual to pursue an occupation or activity without any restraints imposed upon him by the state. The latter point of view was articulated by Charles Dunoyer in his De la liberté du travail and by Bastiat in many of his writings. The socialist perspective was provided by Louis Blanc in L'Organisation du travail and Le Socialisme, droit au travail and by Victor Considérant in La Théorie du droit de propriété et du droit au travail.

Matters came to a head in May 1848, when a committee of the Constituent Assembly was formed to discuss the issue of “the right to work” just prior to the closing of the state-run National Workshops, which prompted widespread rioting in Paris. In a veritable “who’s who” of the socialist and liberal movements of the day, a debate took place in the Assembly and was [411] duly published by the classical liberal publishing firm of Guillaumin later in the year along with suitable commentary by such leading liberal economists as Léon Faucher, Louis Wolowski, Joseph Garnier, and, of course, Bastiat.24 Here is the beginning of the “opinion” Bastiat wrote for the volume, in which he distinguished between the right to work (droit au travail, where “work” is used as a noun and thus might be rendered as the “right to a job”) and the “right to work” (droit de travailler, where “work” is used as a verb):

My dear Garnier,

You ask for my opinion of the “right to a job” (droit au travail), and you seem to be surpised that I did not present it on the floor of the National Assembly. My silence is due solely to the fact that when I asked for the floor, thirty of my colleagues were lined up before me.

If one understands by the phrase “right to a job” (droit au travail) the right to work (droit de travailler) (which implies the right to enjoy the fruit of one’s labor), then one can have no doubt on the matter. As far as I’m concerned, I have never written two lines that did not have as their purpose the defense of this notion.

But if one means by the “right to a job” that an individual has the right to demand of the state that it take care of him, provide him with a job and a wage by force, then under no circumstances does this bizarre thesis bear close inspection.

First of all, does the state have any rights and duties other than those that already exist among the citizens? I have always thought that its mission was to protect already existing rights. For example, even if we abstract the state away from consideration, I have the right to work (droit de travailler) and to dispose of the fruit of my work. My fellow citizens have the same rights, and we have in addition the right to defend them even by the use of force. This is why we have the community, the communal force. The state can and ought to protect us in the exercise of these rights. It is its collective and regularized action that is substituted for individual and disordered action, and the latter is the raison d'être for the former.25

[412]

We can see clearly in these passages that Bastiat has a strong view of individual rights, that they exist prior to the formation of the state, that the state exists only to protect these preexisting rights, and that if state force is used to do anything else then it steps outside of its just boundaries. It was precisely this expansion of illegitimate state power that Bastiat was battling during the revolution in 1848 and 1849.

Endnotes

24.

See Le Droit au travail à l'Assemblée Nationale. See also Faucher, “Droit au travail” in Coquelin, Dictionnaire de l'économie politique, vol. 1. pp. 605–19.

25.

Le Droit au travail à l' Assemblée Nationale, pp. 373–74.

 

 


 

Last modified June 24, 2017