Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Frederic Bastiadass

Bastiat is without a doubt my favorite writer of popular economics. Sure he never really provided any original contributions to the science, but his uncanny ability to bitchslap economic illiterates with the error of their ways had more of an impact on public understanding of basic economics than a million arcane books and academic journal articles.

Bastiat was pretty much the George Carlin of 1800s France: A brilliant, badass, sarcastic, quick witted, rhetorical genius with no patience for stupidity or crackpots. A righteous econ-warrior who was always willing to take on spreaders of economic fallacies and disinformation in glorious intellectual battle.

Bastiat would take a bad argument, like the case for protectionism, and run with the flawed logic of its proponents. He knew the arguments of the protectionists better than the protectionists themselves. He would extend their case out to its logical extreme and reveal the patent absurdity behind asinine ideas like prohibiting voluntary trade between nations, and he would do it in a way that turned the whole exercise into a joke on the protectionists. It takes a special kind of brilliance to not only demolish your opponents arguments, but also to do so in a way that makes people laugh and think.

Bastiat's Sophisms is like a textbook for deconstructing almost every boneheaded economic fallacy one can come across in public discourse. Combine The Petition's deconstruction of protectionism with the "succinct and flawless argument" of the "Iowa car crop" and you've got the world's  best argument for free trade in under 5 pages.

Protectionism destroys wealth, trade is a form of technology, and the idea that Americans should "buy American" is as morally repugnant as the idea that whites should "buy white". Those three simple facts turned me onto economics back in the day and remain the three most powerful arguments in favor of free trade that I've ever encountered.

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