Friday, December 24, 2010

Bastiat--Christian Economist

Frederic Bastiat (1801 - 1850)
One hundred sixty years ago on this date, Christmas Eve, Frederic Bastiat breathed his last. There are some who think Economics and Christianity are and will remain in eternal conflict. Bastiat, like myself, was not one of these. He is most well know for his Economic Sophisms and his brilliant essay "That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen," in which he refutes the economic beneficence of Keynesian-style economic stimulus decades before Keynes was born.

The opening chapter of his Economic Harmonies is a sort of exhortative prologue directed to "the Youth of France." In this chapter he says this:
In these days in which a grievous skepticism would seem to be at once the effect and the punishment of the anarchy of ideas that prevails, I shall esteem myself happy if this work, as you proceed in its perusal, should bring to your lips the consoling words, I BELIEVE—words of a sweet-smelling savor, which are at once a refuge and a force, which are said to move mountains, and stand at the head of the Christian’s creed—I believe. “I believe, not with a blind and submissive faith, for we are not concerned here with the mysteries of revelation, but with a rational and scientific faith, befitting things that are left to man’s investigation. I believe that He who has arranged the material universe has not withheld His regards from the arrangements of the social world. I believe that He has combined, and caused to move in harmony, free agents as well as inert molecules. I believe that His over-ruling Providence shines forth as strikingly, if not more so, in the laws to which He has subjected men’s interests and men’s wills, as in the laws He has imposed on weight and velocity.

In the concluding chapter of the book entitled "The Relationships Between Political Economy and Religion," he says
[I]t is not true that as science advances, the idea of God recedes. On the contrary, what is true is that, as our intelligence increases, this idea is enlarged, and broadened, and elevated. When we discover a natural cause for what we had imagined an immediate, spontaneous, supernatural act of the Divine will, are we to conclude that His will is absent or indifferent? No, indeed; all that it proves is that that will acts by processes different from those it had pleased us to imagine. All that it proves is,that the phenomenon we regarded as an accident in creation occupies its place in the universal frame; and that everything, even the most special effects, have been foreseen from all eternity by the divine prescience. What! Is the idea we form of the power of God lessened when we come to see that each of the countless results which we discover, or that escape our investigations, not only has its natural cause, but is bound up in an infinite circle of causes; so that there is not a detail of movement, of force, of form, of life, that is not the product of the great whole, or that can be explained apart from that whole.

For those interested in learning more about he economic contributions of Frederic Bastiat, I recommend, Guido Hulsmann's "Bastiat's Legacy in Economics" in the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.

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