Frédéric Bastiat was a French economist, politician, magistrate, and liberal thinker of the first half of the 19th century. He developed a liberal thought, characterized by the defense of free trade and 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. Bastiat's estate at 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 such a 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 later thinking, as it allowed him to gain 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. At the age of 24, when his grandfather died, he was left in charge of the family farm, which provided him with the means of subsistence to dedicate 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 from Mugron in 1831 and to the General Council (sub-state level assembly) of the Landes in 1832. He was elected a 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 all over France to promote his liberal ideas. A work that was cut short by death in 1850, sick with 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 thought is a fundamentally individualistic and liberal thought that consistently defends the freedom of the individual against all authority.
In fact, frequent in his letters are references to Adam Smith and Jean-Baptiste Say, who greatly influenced him. like the economists who fed his thought, 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 deals with very diverse topics, such as the individual, rights, protectionism or the State.
He is a strong supporter of the defense of many rights, as evidenced by his speeches. 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 notably influenced the minarchist current.
The need for free trade
Frédéric Bastiat frequently uses satirical fables. One of the most popular is his "Petition to the French Parliament by Sail Makers." This fable tells how candle makers ask the State to protect them from a foreign competitor that 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 them to 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 view of the state. Therefore, it believes that its sole function is to ensure justice and security, allow people to interact freely, administer the common good and collect essential taxes.
He points out that any other function will be nothing more than the consequence of a pressure group having managed to convince the rulers to live at the expense of what belongs to everyone, which would generate negative consequences for the economy as a whole.
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 held by Adam Smith and David Ricardo, who sought an objective basis of value through work. This, along with other issues, such as the theory of capital 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 citizenship. His contributions are highly topical today, in a context of debate on the role of the State and the redefinition of the rights of citizenship.