Blogs > Liberty and Power > Bastiat's Window

Feb 16, 2005 10:39 pm

Bastiat's Window

Bastiat's Window is a new blog with a great idea: It documents real-world examples of the broken window fallacy first described by French classical liberal economist Claude Frédéric Bastiat. It also seeks to address other economic fallacies, particularly if a good dose of Bastiat might cure them.

Rejoice, o you who have been lamenting the foolish recent tsunami reporting: This blog is out to set things right. ("Just look at all the economic opportunities!" scream those who do not know their Bastiat).

And because it's such a good story, here is the original parable of the broken window:
Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James B., when his careless son happened to break a square of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact, that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation—"It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?"

Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.

Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier's trade—that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs—I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out,"Stop there! your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen."

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way, which this accident has prevented.
[Crossposted at Positive Liberty.]

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More Comments:

Jeremy Horpedahl - 2/17/2005

For those of you that think this a good idea and could lend a helping hand occasionally, we'd love for you to join! Head over and read the "Mission Statement."

Sheldon Richman - 2/17/2005

Excellent idea!