[Updated: 22 June, 2017 of a "work in progress"]
Note: for Parts 1-3 we have added final draft versions of material which will appear in the Collected Works, vol.3 "Economic Sophisms and WSWNS" and vol. 4 "Miscellaneous Writings on Economics." The material in this Part will come from CW5 (forthcoming).
Title Page of the 1st ed. of Economic Harmonies (Jan., 1850)
|Bastiat's tombstone in Rome||Title Page of the 2nd posthumous edition (July 1851)|
|Plan and pictures of the Butard hunting lodge where Bastiat wrote vol. 1 of Economic Harmonies over the summer of 1849|
Frédéric Bastiat’s 6 volume Collected Works published by Liberty Fund is a thematic collection.
There will also be an online edition of Bastiat’s writings in chronological order. We have divided Bastiat’s works into 4 parts based upon the key periods and events in his life:
For further information, see:
The abbreviations used in this paper:
The full method of citation for Bastiat’s writings (which is sometimes abbreviated in this article for reasons of space):
Youth of France! You will find the title of this book very ambitious. ECONOMIC HARMONIES! Have I aspired to reveal the plans of Providence in the social order and the workings of all the forces provided to the human race for the achievement of progress? 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.
(Dedication “To the Youth of France,” Economic Harmonies (1850).)
Throughout this period (1848–50) the serious throat condition which would eventually kill Bastiat worsened and he faced a race against time to finish his treatise on economics, the Economic Harmonies. He described the purpose of the Economic Harmonies as being the opposite to that of the Economic Sophisms - the latter was designed to “demolish” economic falsehood, while the former was designed to “build” economic truth. He first began work on it in the fall of 1847 when he gave some lectures at the Taranne Hall in Paris when he also probably wrote a touching “draft preface” in the form of an ironic letter to himself. In this letter he chastises himself for being too preoccupied with only one aspect of freedom, namely free trade or what he disparagingly called this “single crust of dry bread as food,” and having neglected the broader picture. To rectify this he wanted to apply the ideas of J.B. Say, Charles Comte, and Charles Dunoyer, to a study of “all forms of freedom” in a very ambitious research project in liberal social theory. In several letters he refers to his project as a multi-volume study of “social harmonies” which would include a social, legal, and historical aspect, in addition to the economic. The plan was to devote one volume to the basic theory of social harmony before devoting another volume to the economic dimension, and then at least one volume to the “disturbing factors” which disrupted social harmony. The latter volume would be a study of the “disharmonies” which resulted from the upsetting of the natural harmony of voluntary and non-violent human interaction by “disturbing factors” (causes perturbatrices) such as war, slavery, and legal plunder. In other words, this volume would be “The History of Plunder” he had also planned to write. Because he was so pressed for time he decided to focus on one aspect, the “economic harmonies”, and leave the others to another time.
It is possible to reconstruct the outlines of these proposed treatises from the scattered comments he made in letters, the Economic Sophisms, some essays (such as “Property and Plunder” (July 1848), and unpublished drafts made available by Paillottet and Fontenay in the Oeuvres complètes. Here is one format it might have taken:
What follows is a reconstruction of Bastiat’s theory and history of plunder (using his own words) which comes from "The Physiology of Plunder" ES2 2:
There are only two ways of acquiring the things that are necessary for the preservation, enhancement, and improvement of life: PRODUCTION and Plunder.
Plunder is exercised on a vast scale in this world and is too universally woven into all the major events in the annals of humanity for any moral science, and above all Political Economy, to feel justified in disregarding it.
What separates the social order from perfection (at least from the degree of perfection it can attain) is the constant effort of its members to live and progress at the expense of one another.
When Plunder has become the means of existence of a large group of men (the class of plunderers) mutually linked by a social connection to others (the plundered), they soon contrive to pass a law that sanctions it (legal plunder) and a moral code that glorifies it.
[The stages of plunder in history]. First of all, there is WAR… SLAVERY… THEOCRACY… MONOPOLY.
The true and just law governing man is "The freely negotiated exchange of one service for another." Plunder consists in banishing by force or fraud the freedom to negotiate in order to receive a service without returning one in exchange. Plunder by force is exercised as follows: People wait for a man to produce something and then seize it from him with weapons. This is formally condemned by the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal. When it takes place between individuals, it is called theft and leads to prison; when it takes place between nations, it is called conquest and leads to glory. When it takes place within a nation, between the government and its citizens, it is called legal plunder.
[In summary] Plunder consists in banishing by force or fraud the freedom to negotiate in order to receive a service without receiving another in return.
Having decided to focus his attention on finishing as much of the second volume on Economic Harmonies as he could, Bastiat returned to working on the project periodically as time permitted, publishing 4 draft chapters in the Journal des Économistes between September and December 1848 but seemed to drop the project soon after.
He returned to it again during the summer of 1849 when the wealthy manufacturer and financial supporter of the economists, Casimir Cheuvreux, made a secluded hunting lodge on the outskirts of Paris available to Bastiat so he could work on his treatise in peace. By the end of the year, Bastiat had enough material to publish the first part of Economic Harmonies (10 chapters) which appeared in January 1850. He died on Christmas Eve, 1850 in Rome without having finished the second part of the treatise. Another 15 chapters were assembled from his papers by two of his friends, Paillottet and Fontenay, who published a second, larger edition of Economic Harmonies in June 1851. A proposed list of chapters is all we have of what Bastiat intended to include in this magnum opus.
Some of his friends and colleagues didn’t know what to make of Bastiat’s treatise. They objected to his rejection of Malthusian pessimism concerning population growth - Bastiat believed Malthus had seriously underestimated the productive power of the free market once its shackles had been removed, and the ability and willingness of rational people to plan the size of their families. Others objected to his new theory of exchange as the mutually beneficial exchange of “services” which departed from the traditional view that “products were exchanged for products”, and his more general theory of rent (he saw it as just another service like any other) which denied the special nature of returns from land. The American economist Henry Carey accused him of plagiarising his idea of “economic harmony”. Still others could not see that behind his witty journalism, like the story of “The Broken Window” or “One Profit versus Two Losses” (May 1847), or his playful but clever use of Robinson Crusoe and Friday thought experiments in Economic Harmonies, lay some profound and original insights about opportunity costs (a concept Bastiat probably invented), the multiplier effect and the mathematical calculation of economic losses, and the nature of human economic action, respectively. Even his friend and colleague, Gustave de Molinari, regarded his contribution to economics as being more like that of the popularizer Benjamin Franklin, than a true original thinker like J.B. Say.
Modern economists are divided over the originality of Bastiat’s Economic Harmonies, with opinion ranging from the harshly dismissive - Schumpeter said he was no theorist at all - to modern Austrian economists who see him as an Austrian economist ahead of his time, and Public Choice economists who believe Bastiat had a sophisticated understanding of the economics of political decision-making.
Some of Bastiat’s interesting and innovative ideas in Economic Harmonies include the following:
To these should be added other economic ideas which he discussed at greater length elsewhere in his writings:
The circuitous and difficult progression of his unfinished treatises can be seen in the following:
Faced with the double blow of being shunned by his colleagues in the Political Economy Society and knowing that he would not live to finish his book, Bastiat wrote in July 1850 to one of his friends, Roger Fontenay, who would compile the second, enlarged edition of Economic Harmonies after his death. It is a suitable epitaph for his life:
Perhaps you are too ardently in favor of the Harmonies in the face of opposition from Le Journal des économistes. Middle-aged men do not easily abandon well-entrenched and long-held ideas. For this reason, it is not to them but to the younger generation that I have addressed and submitted my book. People will end up acknowledging that value can never lie in materials and the forces of nature. From this can be drawn the absolutely free characteristic of gifts from God in all their forms and in all human transactions.
This leads to the mutual nature of services and the absence of any reason for men to be jealous of and hate each other. This theory should bring all the schools together on a common ground. Since I live with this conviction, I am waiting patiently, since the older I become the clearer I perceive the slowness of human evolution.
However, I do not conceal a personal wish. Yes, I would like this theory to attract enough followers in my lifetime (even if only two or three) for me to be assured before dying that it will not be abandoned if it is true. Let my book generate just one other and I will be satisfied. This is why I cannot encourage you too strongly to concentrate your thinking on capital, which is a huge subject and may well be the cornerstone of political economy. I have no more than touched upon it; you will go further than I and will correct me if need be. Do not fear that I will take offence. The economic horizons are unlimited: to see new ones makes me happy, whether it was I that discovered them or someone else that is showing them to me.
Most historians have thought Bastiat died of tuberculosis (which killed his parents when he was a young boy) but in some of his letters he talk about a lump in his throat, which suggests something more like throat cancer. See, Letter 184 to M. Cheuvreux, Mugron 14 July 1850, CW1, p.260–62: "For some time now, I have had a very local pain in the larynx that is unbearable because it is continuous."; Letter 191 to Louise Cheuvreux, Lyons 14 Sept. 1850, CW1, pp. 270–73: "Oh, how fragile is the human frame! Here I am, the plaything of a tiny pimple (lump) growing in my larynx."; and Letter 203 to Félix Coudroy, Rome 11 Nov. 1850, CW1, pp. 288–89: "I would ask for one thing only, and that is to be relieved of this piercing pain in the larynx; this constant suffering distresses me. Meals are genuine torture for me. Speaking, drinking, eating, swallowing saliva, and coughing are all painful operations." In the Foreword to the second enlarged edition of Economic Harmonies (July 1851) Prosper Paillottet and Roger de Fontenay state that by the end of the summer of 1850 Bastiat had completely lost the use of his voice. See, "The Cause of Bastiat's Untimely Death," in Bastiat's Political Writings: Anecdotes and Reflections, in CW1, pp. 413–14. ↩
In a letter to Richard Cobden (Aug. 1848) he explained that his aim was “to set out the true principles of political economy as I see them, and then to show their links with all the other moral sciences”, Letter 107 to Richard Cobden, Paris, 18 August 1848, CW, pp. 160–61. In a letter to Casimir Cheuvreux (July 1850) he stated that “When I said that the laws of political economy are harmonious, I did not mean only that they harmonize with each other, but also with the laws of politics, the moral laws, and even those of religion”, Letter 184 to M. Cheuvreux, Mugron, 14 July 1850, CW1, p.260–62. See also, his Letter 39 to Félix Coudroy, Paris, 6 June 1845, CW1, pp. 62–65; and Letter 108 to Félix Coudroy, Paris, 26 August 1848, CW1, pp. 161–63. Prosper Paillottet and Roger de Fontenay’s “Foreword” to the second enlarged edition of Economic Harmonies (July 1851) quote an unpublished piece by Bastiat on this plan. ↩
In a note at the end of the “Conclusion” to ES1 Paillottet tells us that “The influence of plunder on the destiny of the human race preoccupied him greatly. After having covered this subject several times in the Sophisms and the Pamphlets (see in particular T.220 ”Property and Plunder“ (July 1848), CW2, pp. 147–184, and T.257 ”Plunder and Law“ (May 1850), CW2, pp. 266–76), he planned a more ample place for it in the second part of the Harmonies, among the disturbing factors. Lastly, as the final evidence of the interest he took in it, he said on the eve of his death: "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.”“ In ES1 ”Conclusion", in CW3, p. 110. FEE ed. ↩
Bastiat, T.223 "Harmonie économiques. I, II, III (Des besoins de l'homme)", Journal des Économistes, T. XXI, No. 87, 15 Sept. 1848, pp. 105–20; T.225 "Harmonie économiques. IV", Journal des Économistes, T. XXII, No. 93, 15 Dec. 1848, pp. 7–18. Our edition of Economic Harmonies will be in CW5 (forthcoming). FEE ed. ↩
The first part of Economic Harmonies published in Bastiat’s lifetime contained only the first 10 chapters and appeared in Jan. 1850 but was not reviewed by the JDE until June. See, "Harmonies économies, par M. Frédéric Bastiat. (Compte rendu par. M. A. Clément), JDE, T. 26, no. 111, 15 juin 1850, pp. 235–47. Bastiat realised that he had upset the economists with his radically new interpretations of key aspects of orthodox classical economics such as rent, Malthusian population theory, and value theory. Bastiat mentions its appearance in January 1850 in Letter 158 to Félix Coudroy, Paris, Ja. 1850, CW1, pp. 228–9. ↩
The second, enlarged edition of the Economic Harmonies was published posthumously by “les Amis de Bastiat” (the friends of Bastiat), or Prosper Paillottet and Roger de Fontenay, who added an additional 15 chapters which they had reconstructed from Bastiat’s notes and drafts. See, Harmonies économiques. 2me Édition augmentées des manuscrits laissés par l'auteur. Publiée par la Société des amis de Bastiat (Paris: Guillaumin, 1851). Introduction by Prosper Paillottet and Roger de Fontenay. It was reviewed by Joseph Garnier in JDE in August 1851 so it may have been published in June or July. See, Garnier, Joseph Garnier, "La deuxième édition des Harmonies économiques de Frédéric Bastiat," JDE, T. 29, no. 124, 15 août 1851, pp. 312–16. ↩
The Political Economy Society discussed his chapter on rent in Economic Harmonies at their Dec. 10, 1849 meeting. In a very vigorous and critical discussion they rejected his theory. See, Annales de la Société d’Économie politique. Publiés sous la direction de Alph. Courtois fils, secrétaire perpétuel. Tome premier, 1846–1853 (Paris: Guillaumin, 1889), p. 94. Also T.245 [1849.12.10] “Comments at a Meeting of the Political Economy Society on State Support for popularising Political Economy, his idea of Land Rent in Economic Harmonies, the Tax on Alcohol, and Socialism” (10 Dec. 1849), in CW4 (forthcoming). ↩
See the debate in the JDE in the first half of 1851: “Les Harmonies économiques. Lettre de M. Carey; Réponse de MM. Frédéric Bastiat et A. Clément,” JDE, T. 28, N° 117, 15 janvier 1851, pp. 38–54; “Observations de M. H.C. Carey sur la dernière note de FRÉDÉRIC BASTIAT,” JDE, T. 29, N° 121, 15 mai 1851, pp. 43–54; “Correspondance. Au sujet des reclamations de M. H. Carey, par M. PAILLOTTET,” JDE, T. 29, N° 122, 15 juin 1851, pp. 156–60. The end result was that it seems they had both independently come upon the same idea at the same time. ↩
T.128 ES3 4 "Un profit contre deux pertes" (One Profit versus Two Losses), Le Libre-Échange, 9 May 1847, no. 24, p. 192 in CW3, pp. 271–76. ↩
Molinari, "Nécrologie. — Frédéric Bastiat, notice sur sa vie et ses écrits," JDE, T. 28, N° 118, 15 février 1851, pp. 180–96. ↩
“I do not hold that Bastiat was a bad theorist. I hold that he was no theorist.” Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis. Edited from Manuscript by Elizabeth Boody Schumpeter (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974). 1st ed. 1954), p. 500–1. ↩
James A. Dorn, “Bastiat: A Pioneer in Constitutional Political Economy” Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, vol. 11, no. 2/3 (June 2001); Caplan, Bryan; Stringham, Edward (2005). “Mises, Bastiat, Public Opinion, and Public Choice”. Review of Political Economy 17: 79–105. http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/pdfs/misesbastiat.pdf; 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. See also the Liberty Matters discussion of Bastiat: Lead essay by Robert Leroux, "Bastiat and Political Economy" (July 1, 2013) with response essays by Donald J. Boudreaux, Michael C. Munger, and David M. Hart. /pages/bastiat-and-political-economy. ↩
See for example essays by Murray N. Rothbard, Thomas DiLorenzo, Jörg Guido Hülsmann: Rothbard, Classical Economics: An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought. Volume II (Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006), Especially chap. 14 “After Mill: Bastiat and the French laissez-faire tradition,” pp. 439–75. 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. ↩
See, "Bastiat’s Invention of 'Crusoe Economics'," in the Introduction to CW3, pp. lxiv-lxvii. ↩
See, "Human Action" in Further Aspects of Bastiat's Thought, in CW4 (forthcoming). ↩
See, "Service for Service" in Further Aspects of Bastiat's Thought, in CW4 (forthcoming). ↩
See, "Harmony and Disharmony" and "Disturbing and Restorative Factors" in Further Aspects of Bastiat's Thought, in CW4 (forthcoming). ↩
See, "Ceteris Paribus" in Further Aspects of Bastiat's Thought, in CW4 (forthcoming). ↩
See, "Society is One Great Market" in Further Aspects of Bastiat's Thought, in CW4 (forthcoming). ↩
See, "The Sophism Bastiat never wrote: The Sophism of the Ricochet Effect" in Further Aspects of Bastiat's Thought, in CW3, pp. 457–61. ↩
Last modified June 22, 2017