The Bastiat Society is a global network and outreach program of the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) committed to advancing the ideals of free enterprise and a free society. Since starting up a new Washington, DC chapter of the Bastiat Society in May 2019, I have been asked a number of times, “Who was Frederic Bastiat?”

This article answers that question with a brief biographical sketch of the man named Frederic Bastiat
supplemented with a link to an article on Bastiat published on the AIER website by George Mason University economics professor and AIER senior fellow Donald Boudreaux.

Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) was a French economic theorist, writer, publisher, and, late in his life, a legislator in the French General Assembly. He is renowned for being one of history’s most brilliant and clearest writers on economics advocating the merits of free markets, private property, and limited government.

He is credited with expanding on Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the free market with writings on economic policies having unseen and unintended consequences beyond the obvious visible consequences. In his famous essay, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen,” Bastiat wrote:
“There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.”

Bastiat’s most prominent written work, “The Law,” was published just before his death in 1850. Although not intended at the time, it was a powerful rebuttal of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto published two years earlier in 1848. Bastiat wrote in “The Law” that every human being has a natural right, from God, to defend his person, his liberty, and his property; that the law should protect and maintain the natural rights of each individual.

Bastiat has several famous quotes from his writings. Three of his best known — and my personal favorites — are as follows:

  • “When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.”
  • “The State is that great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.”
  • “If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they belie that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?

Below is the link to the excellent Donald Boudreaux article on Frederic Bastiat published on the AIER website on February 18, 2019: