Historian speaks on influential economist

Historian David Hart lectured on French economic thinker Frédéric Bastiat in the Engineering Auditorium Monday as part of the SJSU economics department’s David S. Saurman Provocative Series.

“Bastiat has a very witty and sarcastic way of making a point,” said Graham Newell, graduate master’s student of economics.

Hart studied extensively in history, completing a master’s degree at Stanford University and a Ph.D. at King’s College in Cambridge, United Kingdom. He is the director of the Online Library of Liberty Project at Liberty Fund in Indianapolis and recently translated the first of six volumes of Bastiat’s work.

According to Hart, Bastiat’s work was out of print from 1914 until the late 1970’s. Hart said Liberty Fund brings works of significance back to light.

“Many people have heard of his broken window fallacy, but there is much more to his brilliance,” Hart explained.

Hart said that the broken window fallacy has seen and unseen effects when disaster occurs: though the “jacques bonhomme,” the Joe six-pack, may employ to repair a broken window, he then doesn’t buy a pair of shoes from the shoemaker.

He said that disaster, though, does employ and shows increase in productivity. There is a silver lining post-disaster for countries like Japan, who recently had a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

Economics lecturer John Estill helped choose Hart as one of the three guests of the lecture series.

“We look to choose people who bring different ideas to the table,” he said. “Hart does that.”

Hart said though most of Bastiat’s work had never been translated into English, Americans find him fascinating, with three major American followers — economists Leonard Reed and Henry Hazlitt and President Ronald Reagan.

“(Bastiat) was a fervent advocate of individual political liberty and free market economics,” Hart said.

Senior economics major Hosni Benchekroun said he appreciated Bastiat’s connection to French literature tales, including that of Jean de La Fontaine.

“He had a way of connecting the problems to a story the people knew,” Benchekroun said.

Bastiat’s life began in the south of France. He spent 20 years reading economics texts in the five languages he spoke fluently: French, English, Italian, Spanish and Basque.

From these Bastiat developed a stance of economic harmony — that if left undisturbed by government and outside intervention, economics systems are harmonious. He wrote six complete volumes in six years until he died of throat cancer in 1850.

“He fought for the people,” Hart said. “In the (French) revolution of 1848 he handed leaflets out even though (his opposition) the socialists were the proponents.”

According to Hart, Bastiat worked as an economic journalist debunking the “myths” of protectionism and government intervention. Using humor and puns, he engaged the people’s interest in the economic system around them.

“Taking a historical perspective is fruitful,” said Emily Skarbek, assistant professor of economics at SJSU. “It gives good context to what is said.”

Skarbek said she encouraged her students to come to the event.

“We stress an open dialogue and consider all perspectives of economics,” she said.