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Bastiat's Law

  • Lane Georges

    (Université Paris IX Dauphine)

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    In 1850, Bastiat outlined the original notion of “man’s aversion to uncertainty” and used it to explain why people freely associated or cooperated in the world of uncertainty where they lived. He dealt with two special instances of association, mutual insurance and wage system. His analysis, which can be termed “Bastiat’s law of association”, has been evicted by economists and is unknown by most of them today.Several decades before Bastiat, Ricardo had already expounded an explanation of association, but within a theoretical framework of certainty, and founded it on the notion of “labor cost”. Contrary to Bastiat’s law, Ricardo’s law has always been well known by economists.The article does not only describe Bastiat’s law but also shows that it is both coherent with “Ricardo’s law” and even more general since it includes it. Finally, it is claimed that Bastiat’s law heralded what will happen in the second half of the twentieth century: from 1950’s, the aversion to uncertainty will become a theoretical economic notion widely used; from 1970’s, the theory of organizations/associations will be developed within an explicit context of uncertainty.En 1850, Bastiat a délimité le concept original d’”aversion de la personne pour l’incertitude” et s’en est servi pour expliquer la libre association ou coopération des gens dans le monde d’incertitu- de où ils vivent. Il s’est intéressé à deux exemples particuliers d’association, l’assurance mutuelle et le salariat. Force est de constater que son analyse, qu’on dénommera “loi de Bastiat”, a été mise de côté par les économistes et qu’aujourd’hui elle est inconnue de la plupart d’entre eux.Plusieurs décennies avant Bastiat, Ricardo avait déjà proposé une explication de l’association, mais dans un cadre théorique de certitude, et l’avait bâtie sur la notion de “coût du travail”. Contrairement à la loi de Bastiat, la loi de Ricardo a toujours été bien connue des économistes.Non seulement, l’article présente la “loi de Bastiat”, mais encore il montre qu’elle est à la fois compatible avec la “loi de Ricardo’ et plus générale puisqu’elle l’inclut. Il revendique enfin que la loi de Bastiat a annoncé ce qui va arriver dans la seconde moitié du vingtième siècle: à partir de la décennie 1950, l’aversion pour l’incertitude va devenir une notion de théorie économique largement employée et à partir de la décennie 1970, la théorie des organisations/associations sera développée dans un contexte d’incertitude explicite.

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    Article provided by De Gruyter in its journal Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines.

    Volume (Year): 11 (2001)
    Issue (Month): 2 (June)
    Pages: 1-38

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    Handle: RePEc:bpj:jeehcn:v:11:y:2001:i:2:n:12
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