Frédéric Bastiat
November 5, 2006 3:16 PM   Subscribe


 
"If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?"

oh, yes, Frédéric.
posted by squasha at 3:33 PM on November 5, 2006


His parable of the broken window is a fallacy that keeps coming back.
posted by ruelle at 4:36 PM on November 5, 2006


Interesting fallacy indeed.

Some of the keynesian exception makes sense as well, as sometime setting a process in motion produces negative effects that are more then compensated by the positive ones, so that the net result is positive.

But it is also possible that the negative ones will prevail ; if so the public money spent in cathedrals in the desert is most probably _lost_ value, sustained entirely by public ; private capital still would take advantage from a failing operation and not necessarily offering improvements, but simply selling already existing products and services, effectively a concealed form of capital welfare. Halliburton Cost Plus accounting seem to further prove that , literally, cathedral in the desert don't always produce effiency and efficacy.
posted by elpapacito at 4:56 PM on November 5, 2006


grazie, this was a wonderful and timely link to remind us.
posted by infini at 5:11 PM on November 5, 2006


If you're in the mood for a good book on classical liberalism, look no further than Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. Addressed to "socialists of all parties" so come one, come all!
posted by MarkO at 5:30 PM on November 5, 2006


As a former dues-paying member of the Libertarian Party who eventually gained a conscience and a sense of history, I call bullshit on Bastiat, Hayek, and the entirety of classical economic liberalism. It's an ahistorical platonic ideology with no bearing on reality.
posted by stemlot at 5:48 PM on November 5, 2006


.
posted by First Post at 6:28 PM on November 5, 2006


I'm sorry you feel that way Stemlot, but Hayek, Bastiat et al. seem to have been far more prescient about the development and influence of market economies (for good *and* ill) than many now discredited aspects of Keynesian and other schools of economic thought.

But hey centralized economic planning did wonders in the 20th century! It's too bad there were these classical liberal economists that provided an alternate view of economics different Mao's China and the Soviet Union! Those were countries with a conscience and sense of history that really knew how to provide for their people.
posted by Heminator at 7:04 PM on November 5, 2006 [1 favorite]


But hey centralized economic planning did wonders in the 20th century! It's too bad there were these classical liberal economists that provided an alternate view of economics different Mao's China and the Soviet Union! Those were countries with a conscience and sense of history that really knew how to provide for their people.

Are libertarians now going around telling people that Keynes was a communist, or that a free market economics suddenly NOT based on a mixed economy defeated communism?
posted by Brian B. at 12:02 AM on November 6, 2006


Bastiat was a great enemy of government, as he recognized that government was an enemy of him.

You'd think that with the government we have now, people would be more willing to give his ideas the benefit of the doubt.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:06 AM on November 6, 2006


When the hell did this become about contemporary libertarians? (And are talking about the political party or that philosophical inclination?)

If you want a platform to beat up on contemporary conservatives and Republicans, reading Bastiat et al. will provide plenty of ammunition.

And Brian B., I'm not sure I have any idea what you're saying... but I don't care what contemproary libertarians are saying. I'm simply saying that Bastiat, Hayek and the Austrians, Friedman etc. have their place in economic theory and are useful thinkers -- just as Keynes is. You can argue to varying degrees about how wrong they are on specific points (as I attempted to do) but I think they have there place in history secured.
posted by Heminator at 6:39 AM on November 6, 2006


Bastiat wrote:
We cannot doubt that self-interest is the mainspring of human nature. It must be clearly understood that this word is used here to designate a universal, incontestable fact, resulting from the nature of man, and not an adverse judgment, as would be the word selfishness.

If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?

Let's assume that Bastiat was criticizing modern democracy and advocating removing barriers that were placed there well after he gave his advice. Did they solve the problem of crime? Do they believe themselves to be made of finer clay that we can trust them to remove public barriers to protect people who are too young or old to provide for themselves?

Using an ANALOGY of walls and fences, classical liberals want to remove all the walls and fences that protect people, and idealistically replace them with the notion that we don't need them in their perfect world. The irony is that walls and fences is how their property is protected in their perfect world, and for a good reason. It would be complete lunacy to trust them, as per Bastiat.
posted by Brian B. at 9:13 AM on November 6, 2006


And it would as well be lunatic to trust people that see barriers as ALWAYS the answer.
posted by elpapacito at 12:13 PM on November 6, 2006


Thanks Brian B. I didn't mean to turn this into a debate about libertarianism vs. communism. All I'm saying is that classical liberal economic policy does not take into account two things: 1) economic power can rival political or military power in the scope of its negative effects, and thus needs to be constrained; and 2) most people who wield economic power do not start from scratch -- and this inequality of opportunity is obviously in large part based on their moneyed status at birth. I can't really speak too knowledgeably about Bastiat, but Hayek's, Friedman's, et al's response is simply to say that all political philosophies other than theirs lead down a slippery slope to totalitarianism -- and since tyranny is bad, governmental power can never be used for good.

I'm not informed enough to have a debate about individual theories -- many of which may be well and good -- but it's blatantly obvious that unadulterated classical liberalism does not provide for many of the things (health care, pensions for the elderly, humane work environments, economic equity) that are valued in our society. Since modern-day conservatives claim that it does, I call bullshit on it.
posted by stemlot at 1:32 PM on November 6, 2006


My main problem with classical liberalism is the disconnect feature they use for proselytiing. I don't know that Bastiat would agree with them, but the theorists know that it will create a class society with beggars and starving people, but their minions are led to believe it will erase poverty and such. Anyone will find these two opinions regarding their platform for legalizing drugs (a mass genocide versus joy paradise). I noticed that libertarians have dropped their proposal to do away with all borders, knowing that this was too obvious to fool working people with.
posted by Brian B. at 10:23 AM on November 7, 2006


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