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To Err is Human: Bastiat on Value and Progress


  • Garello Jacques

    (University of Aix-Marseille III)


The bulk of Bastiats scientific work is contained in Economic Harmonies, a work generally overlooked or underestimated. Thsi paper would contribute to its comprehensive rehabilitation by re-examining and reappraising Bastiats theory of value.Bastiat defined value as the relationship existing between two services that have been exchanged. He respected the principle of objective or intrinsic value (Smith, Ricardo and Marx), of materiality or durability (Smith), utility (Say, Storch), scarcity (Senior). Products have no value if not traded, and the exchange is not between two products (Say) but two services mutually produced, traded and subjectively compared by two persons. The origin of the value is the effort, which transforms the gifts of nature, and consists in providing services to others in return for services desired.Bastiats criticism of Smith and Say anticipated recent developments in contemporary economics. By stressing the importance of services rather that of products, he laid the groundwork for a new approach to consumer theory (Becker, Lancaster). By abandoning the reference to production and concentrating on exchange, he has been joined by some Austrian Economists (especially I. Kirzner and his analysis of the role of the entrepreneur who coordinates products and need).However, Bastiat in his eagerness to blunt the socialist criticism of private property, was on a wrong fast in making the prediction that the area of property and value will decrease with the progress in civilization, since the efforts will be smaller and smaller, and the action of Nature will play a larger and larger role. Errare humanum Le talent scientifique de Bastiat sexprime et sapprécie dans Les Harmonjes Economiques, oeuvre posthume et injustement méconnue.En 1850, sa théorie de la valeur est davant garde. Bastiat réfute les conceptions courantes à lépoque qui rattachent la valeur aux caractéristiques dun produit, quelles soient le travail requis (Smith, Ricardo), ou lutilité (Say) ou la rareté (Senior). Pour lui la valeur naît de la comparaison subjective entre services échangés par deux individus. Les services séchangent contre des services. Léchange est luimême le résultat dun effort, cest-àdire dune action humaine tendant à rapprocher besoins à satisfaire et moyens de les satisfaire. Ainsi Bastiat annonce-t-il à la fois les nouvelles approches de la rationalité du consommateur (Becker, Lancaster) et la théorie de la création entrepreneuriale et de la subjectivité des Autrichiens (Kirzner).Bastiat a été moins heureux dans sa prospective : pour répondre aux socialistes révoltés par la propriété privée, il diagnostique que le progrès de la civilisation, grâce au génie de lhomme, nous conduira vers moins defforts et déchanges, donc moins de propriété, et plus de dons gratuits offerts par la nature, plus de communauté. Il se jugeait lui-même : Errare humanum...

Suggested Citation

  • Garello Jacques, 2001. "To Err is Human: Bastiat on Value and Progress," Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, De Gruyter, vol. 11(2), pages 1-17, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:jeehcn:v:11:y:2001:i:2:n:9

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Murray N. Rothbard, 1995. "Economic Thought Before Adam Smith," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 377.
    2. Kelvin J. Lancaster, 1966. "A New Approach to Consumer Theory," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 74, pages 132-132.
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