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Frédéric Bastiat: The Economics and Philosophy of Freedom


  • Barry Norman

    (University of Buckingham)


Bastiat belonged to the optimist French tradition of liberal economic thought. Following Jean-Baptiste Say, he argued that the market was immensely creative in the discovery of new opportunities for improving human well-being and creating social harmony. He also recognized the importance of the entrepreneur, who earned a profit in contrast to the capitalist who simply earned a return for his investment. Although he was no great theorist, Bastiat demonstrated with relentless informal logic the social value of freedom. This is best exemplified in his demonstration of the virtues of free trade. Bastiat anticipated modern public choice theory with his argument that people tried to use the coercive power of the state to get what they would not achieve by market transactions. He was also concerned with the moral virtue of liberty and in his final work, The Law, he showed how the modern system of law had been perverted. Instead of protecting individual rights it had become an instrument of plunder. Socialism was most malevolent form of plunder.Bastiat appartenait à la tradition optimiste française de la pensée économique libérale. Dans la lignée de Jean-Baptiste Say, il considérait que léconomie de marché recelait une créativité significative ouvrant sur la découverte de nouvelles opportunités permettant daméliorer le bien-être humain et donnant parallèlement lieu a une harmonie sociale. Bastiat avait aussi conscience de limportance de lentrepreneur, celui qui glane des profits contrairement au capitaliste qui perçoit simplement une rémunération pour ses investissements. Bien que nétant pas un très grand théoricien, Bastiat démontre avec une logique informelle implacable la valeur sociale de la liberté. La meilleure illustration en est sa démonstration des vertus du libre-échange. Bastiat anticipe la théorie moderne des décisions publiques quand il argumente que les individus essayent dutiliser le pouvoir coercitif de lEtat pour obtenir ce quils ne peuvent obtenir à travers les transactions marchandes. Bastiat était aussi préoccupé par la vertu morale de la liberté et dans son dernier ouvrage, La Loi, il montre de quelle manière le système juridique moderne a été perverti. Au lieu de protéger les droits individuels, ce système est devenu un instrument de pillage public et le socialisme est la forme la plus pernicieuse de ce pillage.

Suggested Citation

  • Barry Norman, 2001. "Frédéric Bastiat: The Economics and Philosophy of Freedom," Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, De Gruyter, vol. 11(2), pages 1-20, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:jeehcn:v:11:y:2001:i:2:n:2

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Frydman, Roman & Gray, Cheryl & Hessel, Marek & Rapaczynski, Andrzej, 1997. "Private Ownership and Corporate Performance: Some Lessons from Transition Economies," Working Papers 97-28, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
    2. Barberis, Nicholas & Maxim Boycko & Andrei Shleifer & Natalia Tsukanova, 1996. "How Does Privatization Work? Evidence from the Russian Shops," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(4), pages 764-790, August.
    3. Frydman, Roman & Gray, Cheryl W. & Hessel, Marek & Rapaczynski, Andrzej, 1997. "Private ownership and corporate performance : some lessons from transition economies," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1830, The World Bank.
    4. Dewatripont, M & Roland, G, 1992. "The Virtues of Gradualism and Legitimacy in the Transition to a Market Economy," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 102(411), pages 291-300, March.
    5. Oleh Havrylyshyn & Donal McGettigan, 1999. "Privatization in Transition Countries; A Sampling of the Literature," IMF Working Papers 99/6, International Monetary Fund.
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