I just finished reading Frederick Bastiat's Harmonies of Political Economy, available from the Mises Institute (gratuitously!), and I'm close to convinced that this ought to be a, if not the, starting text for any student starting in economics.
What makes Bastiat unique? First of all, the man knew how to write, and it shows even in translation. The prose is gorgeous. More importantly, though, he derives his ideas not only from the typical historical/economic analysis ("let's imagine you are Robinson Crusoe"), but also from a profoundly moral and religious sense. Bastiat does not rest with a mechanical analysis of supply and demand, as so many would today, but begins with the concepts of liberty and God's grace to man--building a great portion of his work on the notion that one of the mainsprings of modern prosperity was the "gratuitous" nature of many of the forces that work for our prosperity.
In some ways, it's not even predominantly a treatise on economics per se, but rather a response to the socialism that was rampant in the late 1840s; Bastiat clearly demonstrates how the assumptions of socialism--the ones we all learned from such sources as Rousseau and his contemporaries--are at odds with liberty and morality.
The writing against socialism dates his work fairly clearly; the February revolution to which he refers was in 1848, and he died in 1850. As such, the last few chapters were written as he knew that he was going to die, and accordingly he emphasises even more the moral and religious nature of liberty; there are true and false religions, and religions whose laws are in accord with, and conflict with, natural law. Bastiat for the most part finds that natural law and Biblical law speak with one voice.
There are certain things about which I have reservations, but on the whole, this book is well worth the time needed to read it. It is at once a better primer on economics than Adam Smith or Say, and also a much needed connection between economics, morality, and the Scriptures.
Hello Steeltown; Goodbye, DFL - Jamestown, North Dakota. 15,000 people. At confluence of the James and Pipestem rivers, about 90 miles west of Fargo. Home to a state hospital and psychi...
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