Bastiat as an Economist
By María Blanco, Carlos Rodríguez Braun
This article appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of The Independent Review

Economists have not been kind to their French colleague Frédéric Bastiat (1801–50), whom they regard generally as a forceful polemicist, but a shallow economist. Contrary to that negative assessment, however, Bastiat’s writings on method, economic order, law, value, distribution, and money show that he was a fine economist.


Economists have not been kind to their French colleague Frederic Bastiat (1801–50), recognizing him as a mere publicist. J. S. Mill said that he “shines as a dialectician” but lamented his “parti pris of explaining away all the evils which are the stronghold of socialists” (1972, 1665). Joseph Schumpeter calls him “the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived” but adds, “he was no theorist” (1954, 500). Mark Blaug regards Bastiat as a great writer for the layperson and a master of sustained polemics, yet a “third-rate” theorist (1986, 15). In most textbooks on the history of economic thought, Bastiat is dismissed as a popularizer or simply ignored. Marx would find this dismissal pleasing, considering that he wrote off Bastiat with these biting words: “a dwarf economist . . . the most superficial and therefore the most adequate representative of apologetics of vulgar economy” (1975, 1:15, 100). Inasmuch as only the Austrian school of economics vindicates Bastiat—although Friedrich Hayek criticized him on monetary theory (Rothbard 2000, chap. XIV; Thornton 2001, 2002, 82; Hu¨lsmann 2007, 737)—it might be argued that this vindication has more to do with Bastiat’s vigorous libertarianism than with his intellectual contributions. Bastiat, nicknamed “the French Cobden,”...

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