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Claude Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) was a French economist, legislator, and writer who championed private property, free markets, and limited government. Perhaps the main underlying theme of Bastiat's writings was that the free market was inherently a source of "economic harmony" among individuals, as long as government was restricted to the function of protecting the lives, liberties, and property of citizens from theft or aggression. To Bastiat, governmental coercion was only legitimate if it served "to guarantee security of person, liberty, and property rights, to cause justice to reign over all."

Bastiat emphasized the plan-coordination function of the free market, a major theme of the Austrian School, because his thinking was influenced by some of Adam Smith's writings and by the great French free-market economists Jean-Baptiste Say, Francois Quesnay, Destutt de Tracy, Charles Comte, Richard Cantillon (who was born in Ireland and emigrated to France), and Anne Robert Jacques Turgot. These French economists were among the precursors to the modern Austrian School, having first developed such concepts as the market as a dynamic, rivalrous process, the free-market evolution of money, subjective value theory, the laws of diminishing marginal utility and marginal returns, the marginal productivity theory of resource pricing, and the futility of price controls in particular and of the government's economic interventionism in general.


Bastiat was the author of many works on economics and political economy, generally characterized by their clear organization, forceful argumentation, and acerbic wit. Among his better known works is Economic Sophisms,[1] which contains many strongly-worded attacks on statist policies. Bastiat wrote it while living in England to advise the shapers of the French Republic on pitfalls to avoid.

Contained within Economic Sophisms is the famous satirical parable known as the "Candlemakers' petition"[2] which presents itself as a demand from the candlemakers' guild to the French government, asking the government to block out the Sun to prevent its unfair competition with their products. He also facetiously "advocated" the cutting off of everyone's right hand, based on the assumptions that more work means more wealth and more difficulty means more work.[3] Much like Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal or Benjamin Franklin's anti-slavery works, Bastiat's argument cleverly highlights basic flaws in protectionism by demonstrating its absurdity through logical extremes.

He also famously engaged in a debate with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon about the legitimacy of interest between 1849 and 1850.[4]

Bastiat's most famous work, however, is undoubtedly The Law, originally published as a pamphlet in 1850. It defines, through development, a just system of laws and then demonstrates how such law facilitates a free society.

The broken window fallacy[]

The parable of the broken window was created by Frédéric Bastiat in his 1850 essay Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas (That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen) to illuminate the notion of hidden costs associated with destroying property of others.

Bastiat uses this story to introduce a concept he calls the broken window fallacy, which is related to the law of unintended consequences, in that both involve an incomplete accounting for the consequences of an action. Economists of the Austrian School frequently cite this fallacy, and Henry Hazlitt devoted to it his book Economics in One Lesson.[5]


  1. Frédéric Bastiat. "Economic Sophisms", referenced 2009-06-13.
  2. Frédéric Bastiat. "Candlemakers' petition", referenced 2009-06-13.
  3. Frédéric Bastiat. "Economic Sophisms", Series 2, Chapter 14-17, referenced 2009-06-13.
  4. Frédéric Bastiat. "Bastiat-Proudhon Debate on Interest", referenced 2009-06-13.
  5. Henry Hazlitt. "Preface", Economics in One Lesson, online version, referenced 2009-05-15.

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