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Claude-Frederic Bastiat

French economist (1801-1850)

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Bastiat, CLAUDE-FREDERIC, a French economist, b. at Mugron, a small city in the Department of Landes, June 29, 1801; d. at Rome, December 24, 1850. He was the son of Pierre Bastiat, whose father had founded at Bayonne a business house that prospered in consequence of the franchise granted this port by the Treaty of Versailles, but ceased to flourish under the prohibitory regime of the Empire. The widely different effects of these two economic systems upon the fortunes of his family undoubtedly gave rise to Bastiat’s free-trade opinions. Left an orphan at the age of nine, he was brought up by his paternal grandfather and, after pursuing his studies at St. Sever and Soreze, entered the business founded by his grandfather and then conducted by his uncle at Bayonne. Returning to Mugron in 1825, he inherited an extensive estate through the death of his grandfather, and subsequently devoted himself to farming. After the Revolution of 1830 he was appointed justice of the peace at Mugron and, being deeply interested in political economy, gave himself up to it with great earnestness and constituted himself the champion of commercial liberty. In 1841 he published his first essay “Le fisc et la vigne” and, apprised of the free-trade movement that Cobden was then directing in England, joined forces with him. In 1844, his article, “L’influence des tarifs anglais et francais” in the “Journal des Economistes” opened his way to fame. Then appeared successively: “Sophismes economiques”, “Cobden et la ligue”, and several pamphlets, one of which, “Petition des marchands de chandelles”, against the sun that interferes with the candle merchants’ trade, is a little masterpiece of verve and delicate irony. Elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1848, and then to the Legislative Assembly, he became the implacable enemy of socialism, against which he wrote: “Propriete et loi”, “Capital et rente”, “Justice et fraternite”, “Protectionisme et communisme”, and other treatises. In 1849 he published “Harmonies economiques”, which the illness that had already undermined his health prevented him from finishing.

Bastiat belonged to the Liberal school and enunciated its principles on the following lines: “Let men work, trade, learn, form partnerships, act and react upon one another, since according to the decrees of Providence, naught save order, harmony, and progress can spring from their intelligent spontaneity”. (Harmonies, p. 12.) Of a sincere and generous nature he was fitted to understand and defend Catholic truth; but the prejudices in the midst of which he lived kept him aloof from the Faith until the very eve of his death. It was in Rome that his eyes were opened to the light of Catholicism, and Proudhon, his enemy, says that in his last hour Bastiat cried out with Polyeucte: “I see, I know, I believe; I am a Christian“. Some time before his death he declared that if God would but grant him a new lease of life he would devote his energy to the development of Christian harmony and political economy, but he did not live to fulfil this vow. Bastiat’s complete works were published by Guillaumin (Paris, 1854, 1872).


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