The parable of the broken window was introduced by French economist Frédéric Bastiat in his Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.” It is not seen . “The broken trailer fallacy: Seeing the unseen effects of government policies in post-Katrina New Orleans”. International . In , a French economist named Frédéric Bastiat, years-old at the time, wrote a seminal essay titled ‘That Which is Seen, and That Which. Frédéric Bastiat, Selected Essays on Political Economy, trans. . apparent consequences (“the unseen”), and secondly the “ricochet” or flow on.
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In the unzeen of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not bastiiat to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause— it is seen. The others unfold in succession— they are not seen: Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference—the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen and also of those which it is necessary to foresee.
Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse. Hence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.
5 Concepts from Frederick Bastiat You Should Know – Acton Institute PowerBlog
In fact, it is the same in the science of health, arts, and in that of morals. If often happens, that the sweeter the first fruit of a habit is, the more bitter sedn the consequences. Take, for example, debauchery, idleness, prodigality. When, therefore, a man, absorbed in the effect which is seenhas not yet learned to discern those which are not seen, he gives way to fatal habits, not only by inclination, but by calculation. This explains the fatally grievous condition of mankind.
Ignorance surrounds its cradle: It is only in the long run that it learns to take account of the others. It has to learn this lesson from two very different masters—experience and foresight.
Experience teaches baatiat, but brutally. It makes us acquainted with all the effects of an action, by causing us to feel them; and we cannot fail to finish by knowing that fire burns, if we have burned ourselves. For this rough teacher, I should like, if possible, to substitute a more gentle one. For this purpose I shall examine the consequences of certain economical phenomena, by placing in opposition to each other those which are seenand those which are not seen.
Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James B. 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: Everybody unsen 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 baetiat in general will basriat the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, ” Stop there! 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 unsseen in some way which this accident has prevented. Let us take a view of industry in general, as affected by this circumstance. The window being broken, the glazier’s trade is encouraged to the amount of six francs: If the window had not been broken, the shoemaker’s trade or some other would have been encouraged to the amount of six francs: And if that which is not seen is taken into consideration, because it is a negative fact, as well as that which is seen, because it is a positive fact, it will be understood that neither industry in generalnor the sum total of national labor, is affected, whether windows are broken or not.
The Seen and the Unseen: the lens that Bastiat made — The Seen and the Unseen
Now let us consider James B. In the former supposition, that of the window bastiiat broken, he spends six francs, and has neither more nor less than he had before, the enjoyment of a window. In the annd, where we suppose the window not to have been broken, he would have spent six francs in shoes, and would have had at the same time the enjoyment of a pair of shoes and of a window. Now, as James B. Whence we arrive at this unexpected conclusion: What will you say, Moniteur Industriel?
Chamans, who has calculated with so much precision how much trade would gain by the burning of Paris, from the number of houses it would be necessary to rebuild?
I am sorry to disturb these ingenious calculations, as far as their spirit has been introduced into our legislation; but I beg him to begin them again, by taking into the account that which is not seenand placing it alongside of that which is seen.
The reader must take care to remember that there are not two persons only, but three concerned in the little scene which I have submitted to his attention. One of them, James B. Another, under the title of the glazier, shows us the producer, whose trade is encouraged by the accident. The third is the shoemaker or some other tradesmanwhose labor suffers proportionably by the same cause. It is this third person who is always kept in the shade, and who, personating that which is not seen, is a necessary element of the problem.
It is he who shows us how absurd it is to think we see a profit in an act of destruction. It is he who will soon teach us that it is not less absurd to see a profit in a restriction, which is, after all, nothing else than a partial destruction. Therefore, if you will only go to the root of all the arguments which are adduced in its favor, all you will find will be the paraphrase of this vulgar saying—What would become of the glaziers, if nobody ever broke windows?
It is the same with a people as it is with a man. If it wishes to give itself some gratification, it naturally considers whether it is worth what it costs. To a nation, security is the greatest of advantages.
If, in order to obtain it, it is necessary to have an army of a hundred thousand men, I have nothing to say against it. It is an enjoyment bought by a sacrifice.
Let me not be misunderstood unseenn the extent of my position. A member of the assembly ssen to disband a hundred thousand men, for the sake of relieving the tax-payers of a hundred millions.
If we confine ourselves to this answer—”The hundred millions of men, and these hundred millions of money, are indispensable to the national security: The error begins when the sacrifice itself batsiat said to be an advantage because it profits somebody.
Now I am very much mistaken if, the moment the author of the proposal has taken his seat, some orator will not rise and say—”Disband a hundred thousand men!
Do you know what you are saying? What will become of them? Where will they get a living? Don’t you know that work is inseen everywhere? That every field is over-stocked?
Would you turn them out of doors to increase competition and to weigh upon the rate of wages? Just now, when it is a hard matter to live at all, it would be a pretty thing if the State must find bread for a hundred thousand individuals? Consider, besides, that the army consumes basriat, arms, clothing-that it promotes the activity of manufactures in garrison towns—that it is, in short, the godsend of innumerable purveyors.
Why, any one must tremble at the bare idea of doing away with this immense industrial movement.
This discourse, it is evident, concludes by voting the maintenance of a hundred thousand soldiers, for reasons drawn from the necessity of the service, and from economical considerations. It is these considerations only that I have to refute.
A hundred thousand men, costing the tax-payers a hundred millions of money, live and bring to the purveyors as much as a hundred millions can supply. This is that which is seen.
But, a hundred millions taken from the pockets of the tax-payers, cease to maintain these tax-payers and the purveyors, as far as a hundred millions reach. This is that which is not seen. Now make your calculations. Cast up, and tell me what profit there is for the masses? I will tell you where the loss lies; and to simplify it, instead of speaking of a hundred thousand men and a million of money, it shall be of one man and a thousand francs.
Online Library of Liberty
We will suppose that we are in the village of A. The recruiting sergeants go their round, and take off a man. The tax-gatherers go their round, and take off a thousand francs. The man and the sum of money are taken to Metz, and the latter is destined to support the former for a year without doing anything. If you consider Metz only, you are quite right; the measure is a very baastiat one: At first sight, there would seem to be some compensation.
What took place at the village, now takes place at Metz, that is all. But the loss is to be estimated in this way: At the village, a man dug and worked; he was a worker. At Metz, he turns to the right about and to the left about; he is a soldier. The money and the circulation are the same in both cases; but in the one there were three hundred days of productive labor, in the other there are three hundred days of unproductive labor, supposing, of course, that a part of the army is not indispensable to the public safety.
Now, suppose the disbanding to take place. You tell me there will be a surplus of a hundred thousand workers, that competition will be stimulated, and it will reduce the rate of unesen.
This is what you see.
But what you do not see is this. You do not see that to dismiss a hundred thousand soldiers is not to do away with a million of money, but to return it to the tax-payers. You do not see that to throw a hundred thousand workers on the market, is to throw into it, at the same moment, the hundred millions of money needed to pay for their labor: You do not see that, before the disbanding as well as after it, there are hastiat the country a hundred millions of money corresponding with the hundred thousand men.
bbastiat That the whole difference consists in this: You do not see, in short, that when a tax-payer gives his money either to a soldier in exchange for nothing, or to a worker in exchange for something, all the ultimate consequences of the circulation of this money are the same in the two cases; only, in the second case the tax-payer receives something, in the former he receives nothing.
The result is—a dead loss to the nation. The sophism which I am here combating will not stand the test of progression, which is the unsseen of principles.