Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) and Rethinking Classical Economics in the mid-19th Century


Talk given to a Conference on “A Brief History of Economic Thought,”
Institute for Liberal Studies, The University of Toronto, Bahen Centre
Friday 29 September, 2012

Online here

Abstract: The decade or so 1845-1856 saw a major re-thinking taking place in the nature of classical economic thought in France. The first generation of 19th century French political economy had built upon the legacy left by the Physiocrats of the 18thC (Quesnay, Turgot, et al.), and was comprised of Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), Charles Comte (1782-1837), Charles Dunoyer (1786-1862). They were active in the period between the appearance of Say’s Treatise in 1803 and the appearance of Dunoyer’s magnum opus De la Liberté du travail which appeared in 1845. A new second generation of French political economists emerged in the early 1840s under the umbrella provided by the Guillaumin publishing firm and the founding of the Political Economy Society and the Journal des Économistes in 1841-42. This younger generation was made up by Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), Charles Coquelin (1802-1852), Jean-Gustave Courcelle-Seneuil (1813-1892), and Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912). They made important contributions in the ten years between 1846-1856 which transformed the way economics was thought and done. Some of their innovations included the following: the appearance of a more radical radical libertarianism view of political economy in the areas of free banking (Coquelin), and the theory of plunder, subjective value theory, free trade and peace (Bastiat). They also began to challenge some of the key principles of the orthodox classical school of Ricardo, Malthus, and Smith, with new ideas about rent, value theory, and Malthusianism (Bastiat) and the private provision of public goods ( Molinari), and also free competitive banking (Coquelin). Some of these new directions in French political economy are discussed, with an emphasis on the work of Bastiat.

Gustave de Molinari and the Future of Liberty in 1901: ‘Fin de Siècle, Fin de la Liberté’?


Online here

Abstract: This paper examines Molinari’s assessment in two articles he wrote at the turn of the 20th century of the achievements of liberty in the 19th century and his prognosis for liberty in the coming 20th century. Concerning the latter, he successfully predicted two related things: firstly, that anti-liberal policies being introduced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries would inevitably lead to a long period of economic crisis and political oppression brought about by war, imperialism, socialist revolution and government intervention in the economy; and secondly, that once this dark period of “statism” had run its course, the benefits of individual liberty and the free market would be rediscovered and the classical liberal reforms the classical liberals had advocated in the 19th century would be introduced once again. His successful predictions need to be seen against the unsuccessful predictions of socialists of all kinds made in the same period. Whether democratic socialist or revolutionary (Marxist) socialist, the predictions of inevitable socialist revolution bringing about peace, prosperity and freedom for the mass of people have been proven to be hopelessly wrong by the extraordinary events of the 20th century. The paper also includes three appendices of Molinari’s writings (in French) from this period.

How Austrian were the French? Or, How French are the Austrians? An Austro-Australian Perspective.


(Left to right, top to bottom: Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832); Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973); Charles Dunoyer (1786-1862); Augustin Thierry (1795-1856); Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992); Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850); Jean-Gustave Courcelle-Seneuil (1813-1892); Murray Rothbard (1926-1995); Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912).)

A paper given at the Inaugural Mises Seminar, Sydney, 26 November 2011

Abstract: This paper examines the mid-19th century century French classical school of political economists and compares them to the modern Austrian school of economics which emerged in the late 20th century. In it I ask two questions: “How Austrian were the French?” – this question comes about because a number of Austrian economists (Rothbard and the Mises Institute) have seen many glimmerings of Austrian economic insights in the writings of the French CL school (Say, Bastiat). They ask themselves whether or not they were precursors or “proto-Austrians” before the full flowering of Austrian economics after the marginal revolution of 1870s? How many ideas concerning economic and social theory (history, sociology) were shared by the two schools of thought? The second question I ask is, “How French are the Austrians?” – one might also ask would Rothbard and his school within the Austrian tradition have turned down the anarcho-capitalist road if it were not for the seminal writings by Molinari in the late 1840s and mid-1850s? Did Leonard Liggio introduce Rothbard to these French writers? From this perspective one might ask “how French are the Austrians?”

Is Biography History? The Relationship between Ideas and Human Action in the Life of Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)


A paper given at the Historical Society’s 2012 Conference, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, 1 June, 2012 June 1.

Online here

Abstract: “Is Biography History?” My conclusion is that the life of FB is a good example of how the “biography of ideas” developed by Ashcraft for Locke and Scott for Sidney, and Mises’ theory that “human action” is purposeful and ultimately based upon the ideas that an individual holds, can be profitably used to deepen our knowledge and appreciation of Bastiat ideas in the late 1840s. The historian has to know what Bastiat was doing between 1844 and 1850 in order to understand what he was thinking and and why he thought the things he did. Studying the texts by themselves in not sufficient. Studying the events of his life without reference to the evolution of his ideas is also not sufficient. Bastiat provides us with a good example of an individual who had a set of well-thought out (though evolving) ideas upon which he based his actions in order to achieve certain specific goals. He modified his ideas as circumstances changed, he adapted his strategies to achieve his goals, and he cooperated with other individuals who shared his ideas and his goals. The biographical study of his life provides the historian with the information which is needed to understand his ideas, his purposes, and his strategies, as well as to evaluate his successes and failures as a man of ideas and of action. To return to Mises’ useful summary of the relationship between ideas and action in the life of a man: “Action is preceded by thinking. Thinking is to deliberate beforehand over future action and to reflect afterwards upon past action. Thinking and acting are inseparable… But thinking is always a manifestation of individuals.” This was certainly true in the case of Frédéric Bastiat.

Frédéric Bastiat’s Distinction between Legal and Illegal Plunder


A Paper given at the Molinari Society Session “Explorations in Philosophical Anarchy” at the Pacific Meeting of the American Philosophical Society, Seattle WA, 7 April, 2012.

Abstract: This paper comes out of a larger research and publishing project on the life and work of the French advocate for free trade, economic journalist, arch-critic of the socialist movement, member of the French Chamber of Deputies during the Second Republic, and economic, political, and social theorist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850). An important part of Bastiat’s social theory was the idea of “plunder” (“spoliation” in French). His theory emerged in the last 3 years of his life (1847-1850) as he intensified his battle against protectionism and socialism, first as a journalist, then as a politician in the Chamber of Deputies during Second Republic, and then as an economic theorist. In this paper I would like to explore in more detail what Bastiat thought about the history of plunder and what part it plays in his social and economic theory.