Originally Published in Flourishing May/June 2013
Claude Frédéric Bastiat was born in Bayonne, Aquitaine, a port town in the south of France on the Bay of Biscay, on June 30, 1801. His father, Pierre Bastiat, was a prominent businessman in the town. His mother died in 1808 when Frédéric was seven years old. His father moved inland to the town of Mugron with Frédéric following soon after. The Bastiat estate in Mugron had been acquired during the French Revolution and had previously belonged to the Marquis of Poyanne.
Pierre Bastiat died in 1810, leaving Frédéric an orphan. He was taken in by his paternal grandfather and his maiden aunt, Justine Bastiat. He attended a school in Bayonne, but his aunt thought poorly of it and enrolled him in Saint-Sever. At 17, he left school at Sorèze to work for his uncle in his family’s export business. It was the same firm where his father had been a partner. Economist Thomas DiLorenzo suggests that this experience was crucial to Bastiat’s later work, since it allowed young Frédéric to acquire first-hand knowledge of how regulation can affect markets.
Bastiat began to develop intellectual interests, and he no longer wished to work with his uncle. He dreamed of going to Paris for formal studies. This dream never came true, because his grandfather was in poor health and wished to go to the Mugron estate. Frédéric accompanied him and took care of him. The next year his grandfather died, leaving Frédéric the family estate, thereby providing him with the means to further his theoretical inquiries. He was 24. Bastiat developed intellectual interests in several areas including philosophy, history, politics, religion, travel, poetry, political economy and biography. He was elected to the national legislative assembly after the French Revolution of 1848.
His public career as an economist began in 1844, when his first article was published in the Journal des Economistes in October of that year. His life and career were cut short by his untimely death in 1850. Stricken with tuberculosis, he was sent to Italy by his doctors. He first traveled to Pisa, then to Rome. On Christmas Eve of 1850, Bastiat called those with him to approach his bed. He twice whispered the words “the truth” and passed away.
My thanks to the Library of Economics and Liberty for this biographical information. mh