This parable (which Henry Hazlitt also spends good time illustrating in the second chapter of Economics in One Lesson) explains how destruction and reconstruction do not provide a net benefit to society. In short, suppose that a shopkeeper’s window is smashed by a vandal. People might suppose this ultimately helps the economy, as they will see the replacement the shopkeeper must buy from the glazier. But what they will not see is the shopkeeper’s new suit, as it will never come into existence once the shopkeeper can no longer afford to pay the tailor. Whereas a window would have existed in either event, it is only thanks to the vandal that the suit can not come into creation as well.
Apply this logic on a larger scale, and it does a good deal to chip away at the hawkish argument that war is good for the economy.
Broken windows aside, Bastiat is best known for writing The Law. In it Bastiat states that man’s right to “defend his person, his liberty, and his property” comes not from the state, but from God. He continues to argue that the law becomes perverted whenever it violates this natural right, which essentially amounts to plundering by the government. (Language which Ayn Rand would borrow in Atlas Shrugged.)
In The Law Bastiat also explains that a government which concerns itself with philanthropy rather than justice can grow endlessly, as philanthropy, unlike justice, has no limits. Remember this whenever a politician claims they need more power because they want to help people – it is within the scope of possibility that the politician merely wants more power.
Best Frédéric Bastiat Quotes
We skipped over Economic Sophisms to make room for all the Frédéric Bastiat quotes. This is too bad, because it means we also skipped over Bastiat’s candlemakers’ petition – a satirical parable about candlemakers lobbying the government to blot out the sun. It is satirical because only a cartoonishly evil villain would actually propose such a thing, such as Mr. Burns or Bill Gates.
An Austrian-British economist and philosopher, Friedrich August von Hayek remains a pivotal figure in the defense of classical liberalism – the assertion that civil liberties and economic freedom are paramount to civilization. Hayek quotes are worth reading and considering given the influence he’s had on freedom and liberty movements.