That Which Is Seen, And That Which Is Not Seen, by Frèdèric Bastiat
As someone who happens to be a fan of Bastiat’s writing , I found this book to be deeply interesting. Perhaps, as someone who has now read three of the short books of a short-lived but deeply worthwhile French economist of the mid-19th century, I should stop being surprised at how relevant the author’s writings are. Not only does the author provide a firm refutation of the fallacious economic reasoning of socialists and imperialists, continuing his trends in other writings, but the writings also anticipate the sort of ad hominem rhetoric that is still used against those who oppose socialist endeavors. The author’s frustration at the misrepresentation of his position regarding government support and the attacks that were made against capitalists as middlemen while not showing the worse record of government as a middleman is the same sort of frustration that has been shared by many a later thinker who has been viewed as an enemy of humanity for pointing out that what government can do the private sector can generally do far better and far more efficiently, largely because it does so indirectly.
This book is a short one, like Bastiat’s work in general, about 50 pages in length and divided into twelve shorter essays that were probably published independently as part of the author’s efforts to combat socialism in the early French Second Republic before his untimely death due to tuberculosis. In these essays, Bastiat discusses the classic example of the broken window that would later become expanded into a much larger economic lesson by Hazlitt. He talks about the demobilization of troops, taxes, government supported arts, public works, intermediates, restrictions on trade, machinery, credit, Algeria, frugality and luxury, and the right to work and the right to profit. It is hard to know one’s proper approach to Bastiat’s clear and lucid economic writing. Should we cheer on that Bastiat’s writing is still relevant to the political arguments of our own time or lament that the poor logic of socialists has not improved in the last 150 years to something better approaching sound reasoning and fair dealing. The fair reader of this book can take whichever approach they wish, but the results are the same in that this book retains its force and shows Bastiat as a clear thinking person who understands a great deal of what makes political economics such an unpleasant subject.
Again, it should be emphasized that this book is not only short but it is a classic in the best way. Bastiat shows himself indefatigable when it comes to pointing out that believing that Government should not do something does not mean that it should not be done in the first place. Our contemporary age shows both that our society is full of broken windows and that government is not very trustworthy at dealing with those broken windows, wherever or whatever thy are. It is to be regretted that to believe that government should not provide health care–because it does a poor job at it and is very inefficient at it–often is viewed as being against health care being provided to those who cannot pay for its full price themselves. One has to deal with the question of what happens, though, if charity is insufficient and people are insufficiently creative at solving problems. How can we make public efforts unnecessary through making private ones more effective? One wishes that Bastiat had more time in writing about these matters because his writings against socialism and in favor of thrift and industry were deeply profound and worthy of reading today.
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