Frederic Bastiat - Criticism

Frederic Bastiat - Criticism

In general criticism of Bastiat's work, it is to be observed that he was greatly influenced by the controversial atmosphere in which he lived. His doctrines appear unduly warped by his propaganda against protectionism and Socialism, while underlying all his argument is the unsound idea that the organization of society under laisser-faire competition is the most perfect that can be effected or even conceived of.

His reasoning on land value is quite erroneous. To hold that the value of land equals the expenses of rendering it accessible, clearing, fencing, etc., is untenable in the light of facts. For example, much land is now worth far less than such expenditures. His view overlooks the fact that such outlays are made with the idea that they will pay for themselves, and something more — that long ago they have been replaced and ceased to operate. The value of a good Illinois farm or a New York lot is far greater than such expenses. It is vain to argue that even the gifts of nature cannot be appropriated and be made the basis of a payment to the owner. That is not the way to meet Socialistic attacks.

Bastiat's limitations are well exhibited in his theory of value. The words "efforts" and "services," he uses almost as fetishes, but they explain nothing. If service means more than labor, how much more? What determines the value of the service? Bastiat gives us no adequate answer. Moreover, by confin­ing himself narrowly to exchange value he leaves out of con­sideration the important phenomena of utility and subjective value.

In his Sophisms Bastiat cries: You protectionists cannot apply your theory as a general one. As between individuals, families, communities, and provinces you accept free trade. But you say the political economy of individuals is not that of peoples! And just here appears his absolutism. He does not regard national lines. He follows to the extreme the cosmopol­itanism of the Classical School, many of the other doctrines of which he attempts to rectify.

On account of its shallowness and manifest disregard of certain facts of social life, Bastiat's writing has had little influence on the leaders of economic thought. Its popular influence, however, was remarkable, and it is this which has justified the devotion of so much space to it. This influence was increased by the extreme free trade party in England, called on the Continent generally the Manchester Party, after the city where it had its stronghold. But Bastiat's system has also reacted upon this party, leading it to greater extremes in doctrine. In Germany a party was also formed between the years 1840 and 1850, op­posing all interference of government, and accepting Bastiat without reserve. Prominent members of this party were Prince-Smith, an Englishman by birth, J. Faucher, Victor Bohmert, and Max Wirth.

Bastiat did not deny that the poor and unhappy existed, though he found the ground for their condition in a mere lack of freedom, and bade the laborer be content and grateful to the capitalist. His followers in Germany went still further. In their admiration of our present social organization, they denied the existence of a social problem. The world looked so happy to them that they could find no poor man in it. It became at one time quite the thing to speak of the so-called poor man. Cliffe Leslie says: "Political writers and speakers of this school have long enjoyed the double satisfaction of beholding in themselves the masters of a difficult study, and of pleasing the powers that be, by lending the sanction of science to all established institutions and customs, unless, indeed, customs of the poor. Instead of a science of wealth, they give us a science for wealth."