Frédéric Bastiat was an economist, politician, magistrate and French liberal thinker of the first half of the 19th century. He developed a liberal thought, characterized by the defense of free trade and the opposition to socialism and colonialism.
Bastiat was born in Bayonne, a port city in southern France, on June 30, 1801. His father, Pierre Bastiat, was an important businessman in the city. In 1808, after the death of his mother, he moved to the city of Mugron with his father. The Bastiat estate in Mugron had been acquired during the French Revolution and had belonged to the Marquis de Poyanne. Pierre Bastiat died in 1810, leaving Frédéric an orphan. In this circumstance, his paternal grandparents and an aunt took care of the little one.
At 17 he left school to work for his uncle in the family export business. In the opinion of economist Thomas DiLorenzo, this experience marked Bastiat’s subsequent thinking, as it allowed him to acquire first-hand knowledge of how regulation can affect markets.
Bastiat’s political activism
His intellectual concerns made him dream of going to Paris for formal studies, something that, due to his grandfather’s poor health, he could never fulfill. With 24 years, when his grandfather died, he was in charge of the family farm, which provided him with the means of subsistence to devote himself to the study of philosophy, history, politics, religion, poetry and political economy. After the bourgeois revolution of 1830, Bastiat became politically active and was elected Justice of the Peace of Mugron in 1831 and to the General Council (sub-state level assembly) of the Landes in 1832. He was elected member of the national legislative assembly after the French Revolution of 1848.
His public career as an economist began in 1844 when he published his first article in the “Journal des Economistes.” He traveled throughout France to promote his liberal ideas . A work that was truncated by death in 1850, suffering from tuberculosis. Bastiat died in Rome. His remains still rest in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, in the center of this city.
The thought of Frédéric Bastiat
Bastiat’s thinking is a fundamentally individualistic and liberal thought that consistently defends the freedom of the individual against all authority.
In fact, references to Adam Smith and Jean-Baptiste Say are frequent in his letters , who greatly influenced him. like the economists who fed his thinking, although he is very critical of his theories of value. His critical thinking leads him to question any dogma and established authors and thinkers. In his writings, with a direct, but also pedagogical style, he addresses very diverse topics, such as the individual, rights, protectionism or the State .
He is a strong supporter of the defense of many rights, as his speeches demonstrate. He also participates in the debate of ideas that fight against the death penalty, slavery and the defense of the right to organize.
For some of his positions, he is considered a forerunner of the Austrian school of economics and the theory of public choice. His ideas greatly influenced the mining current.
The need for free trade
Frédéric Bastiat frequently uses satirical fables. One of the most popular is its “Petition to the French Parliament by candle manufacturers.” This fable tells how candle makers ask the State to protect them from a foreign competitor who offers light at a much lower price than they are capable of: the Sun. Their inability to compete leads them to ask the French Parliament to force Close windows and skylights.
With this fable, Bastiat ridicules protectionist positions and supporters of restricting free trade . In his opinion, any government should promote free trade, even with those countries that apply protectionist measures , since this system allows generating a multiplier effect of wealth.
A limited state
Bastiat has a minimalist vision of the state. Therefore, he believes that his only function is to guarantee justice and security, allow people to interact freely, administer the common good and collect the essential taxes .
He points out that any other function will be nothing more than the consequence that a pressure group has managed to convince the rulers to live at the expense of what belongs to everyone, which would generate negative consequences for the whole economy.
Theory of value and influence in the Austrian school
He developed a subjective conception of value along the lines of Jean-Baptiste Say and Turgot. Instead he opposed the perspective maintained by Adam Smith and David Ricardo , who sought an objective basis of value through work. This, together with other issues, such as capital theory or praxeology, among others, influenced the development of the Austrian school.
Frédéric Bastiat worked on many issues, always in defense of the freedoms and rights of citizens. His contributions are today of great relevance, in a context of debate on the role of the State and the redefinition of citizenship rights.