Frederic Bastiat and Carey

Frederic Bastiat and Carey

To a great extent, Bastiat stood on the shoulders of Say, Dunoyer, and the American, Carey. List, too, might be mentioned in this connection. There has been some considerable dispute between the friends of Carey and those of Bastiat as to which of the two originated their system of harmony. Bastiat has been accused repeatedly of literary theft. Their doctrines and even their language are undoubtedly often strikingly similar. The reader will remember Bastiat's theory that the share of labor increases both relatively and absolutely, while that of the capitalist increases absolutely but decreases relatively; and how he illustrated it mathematically. This may be compared with the following paragraph, taken from Carey's Social Science: —

"In the early period of society, when land is abundant and people are few in number, labor is unproductive, and of the small product, the land-owner or other capitalist takes a large proportion, leaving to the laborer a small one. The large proportion yields, however, but a small amount, and both laborer and capitalist are poor — the former so poor that he is everywhere seen to have been a slave to the latter. Population and wealth, however, increasing, and labor becoming more productive, the land-owner's share diminishes in its proportion, but increases in its amount. The laborer's share in­creases not only in its amount, but also in its proportion, and the more rapid the increase in the productiveness of his labor, the greater is the proportion of the augmented quantity retained by him: and thus, while the interests of both are in perfect harmony with each other, there is a constant tendency towards the establishment of an equality of condition."

Bastiat and Carey also have some similar ideas as regards value and utility; and there is a close parallelism in their theories of the origin of land value. Carey criticizes Bastiat's definition of value, it is true, but they both proceed from a criticism of the Classical labor-cost theory, and have an optimistic justi­fication of the existing social order in mind.

Though some have argued that both writers were quite orig­inal in reaching the same conclusions, it seems improbable that this is the case. It is the general consensus of the best opinion that Bastiat was more deeply indebted to Carey than he would admit, and that he erred in not giving Carey credit in connection with his statement of the law of distribution and his discussion of land value. Carey impresses the reader as decidedly the more original, and on the whole his work antedated Bastiat's. It will be remembered that his Principles of Political Economy and Past, Present, and Future, containing the essentials of his doctrine, appeared in 1837 and 1848; while Bastiat's con­structive work came in 1850.

On the general theory of value, however, Bastiat's main ideas seem to have been formed independently of Carey.