Originally published in Flourishing June 2012.
Claude Frédéric Bastiat was born on June 29, 1801 inBayonne,France, located on theBay of Biscaycoast.
Orphaned at the age of nine, Bastiat was raised by his paternal grandfather. During his teen years Frédéric worked in his uncle’s export business, and while there, he developed an interest in economics. When he was twenty-four, his grandfather died, leaving his entire estate to young Frédéric.
Influenced primarily by Adam Smith and Richard Cobden, Frédéric spent his remaining years developing his understanding of economics, and he became famous in his own right as a brilliant economic essayist. His most popular work was his satirical “Candlemakers’ Petition”, in which he mockingly called for the government to outlaw open windows and the Sun; published as part of the larger Economic Sophisms, published in 1845.
In his most important work, The Law, published in 1850, Bastiat asserted (like our Founders before him) that the sole purpose of government is to defend and protect the right of an individual to life, liberty, and property. From this definition, he concluded that the law cannot defend these things if it promotes socialist and interventionist policies; they are diametrically opposed to individual liberty. In this way, he wrote, the law is turned against the very things it is supposed to defend.
One hundred and sixty-two years later, we are about to find out whether and/or to what degree the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with Bastiat, when it hands down its decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) later this month.
Wouldn’t it be a delicious coincidence if a decision to throw out that Act were announced on Bastiat’s birthday? I think so, anyway. mh