As I prepare to speak on a Bastiat panel at the Association of Private Enterprise Educators conference next week, I am recalling the many reasons why Bastiat is one of my favorite economists. I wrote the following tribute to Bastiat earlier this semester:
One of my greatest influences is Frederic Bastiat, because his writing possesses clarity and perceptiveness that have continued to win minds for freedom since he first began writing. Though he contributed little original theory or research to the study of economics, he has been a strong voice for limited government and sound economic policy. He had a remarkable proclivity for illustrating fallacies by telling colorful tales. His wit stripped away the facades that statist positions try to hide behind, and the movement for freedom is stronger for it. Bastiat is a model of dedication to freedom in many ways.
Even though he did not develop new economic theories, he was a great communicator of the importance of property rights, individual liberty, and justice. His work illustrates that an individual does not need to be as brilliant as Alchian or Hayek to make a lasting contribution towards a freer society.
His passion for the work of liberty is a remarkable example for modern liberty-lovers. He encountered hindrance after hindrance in his political work, but by dogged determination and tireless effort, he and his colleagues were able to stop the encroachment of protective tariffs. As Bastiat wrote to an acquaintance,
“For my part, I will join the combat at whatever level I am placed, for apart from the fact that I put our noble cause a thousand times higher than our little individual ideas, I have learned from Mr. Cobden… that individual self-sacrifice is the soul and cement of any voluntary association” (The Man and The Statesman).
Edit 3/25/17: I wrote above that Bastiat did not develop new theories, but that is not true. Embarrassingly, I did not realize until a year after writing this piece that Bastiat’s “unseen” costs are the missed benefits of a choice that was not made because another choice was made instead. Sound familiar? Bastiat may have been the first to write about opportunity costs, now one of the first and most important concepts learned in economics. So I suppose my quest for a liberty hero of ordinary intellect continues.