David M Hart on Bastiat and Jasay

In this paper from 2014, David Hart discusses Anthony de Jasay’s articles for Econlib.org and their relation to Bastiat’s work.


The paper assesses Jasay’s monthly articles for Econlib between 2002 and 2014 in the light of the similar efforts by free market economists, especially French ones, to popularize economic ideas over the last 200 years. Beginning with the rather dry “catechism of political economy” developed by J.B. Say (1815), Harriet Martineau’s naive “economic tales” (1832–34), Bastiat’s witty and clever “economic sophisms” (1846–48), and Molinari’s civilised but rather staid “soirées” or conversations (1849 and 1855) in the first half of the 19th century, and then, after a hiatus of nearly 100 years, the columns of Henry Hazlitt in the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal in the 1930s and 1940s, and the columns of Milton Friedman in Newsweek (1966–84), we have many examples of the popularization of free market ideas in the pre-blogging age. Jasay very much continues this tradition with his monthly articles for Econlib where, in the great tradition of Bastiat, he writes clever and witty exposés of the economic folly he sees around him. Unlike Friedman or Hazlitt, both of whom adopted a fairly sober and matter of fact prose style, but again like Bastiat, Jasay uses well chosen metaphors and characters to cloak his deep understanding of political economy behind amusing, witty, and often angry and sarcastic tales which are designed to expose economic folly and to thereby enhance the understanding of economics by ordinary readers. The title of this paper refers to some of the great titles chosen by free market economists in their attempt to make free market ideas more interesting and better understood: “Turtle Soup” (Cherbuliez), “Negative Railways” (Bastiat), talking “Pencils” (Leonard Read), and “House owning Dogs” (which was the title of the first column Jasay ever wrote for Econlib and which set the tone of many of his subsequent columns). The paper will examine a selection of Jasay’s “economic tales” in order to demonstrate his great skill and fertile imagination in writing about economics for a popular audience. It concludes that, in spite of their heroic efforts, neither Bastiat nor Jasay have been able to lay to rest the “zombie economics” of protectionism and government interventionism which seems to keep coming back to life no matter how many rhetorical stakes are driven through its heart.

Read the full paper here:
“Negative railways, turtle soup, talking pencils and home-owning dogs”: “The French connection” and the popularisation of economics from Say to Jasay


2 thoughts on “David M Hart on Bastiat and Jasay

  1. Informative link…

    One thing regarding the de Jasay the popularizer might be to lament the degree de Jasay the theorist is dismissed by the professional academic libertarian intelligentsia. de Jasay, like Bastiat, may have his essays published by Econlib, but like Bastiat, the centrality of his core work is nonetheless dismissed by the likes of Econlib.

    To be specific, de Jasay’s singular rent-distributing actor–i.e., the State–is an anathema to the Chicago school, the Virginia School, and the modern “classical liberal” method which proceeds from the untouchable assumption of methodological individualism(i.e., there is no such thing as “the State”).

    Edward Snowden’s document trove demonstrates the relevance of de jasay’s theoretical work…much more so today than when de Jasay first published back in the early 1980s. de Jasay, like Bastiat, is much more than an expositor.



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