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That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen, by Frédéric Bastiat

June 19, 2010

This Bastiat’s essay, written in 1850, is a very good and simple introduction into study of economics. It deals only with one simple thing; in Bastiat’s words:

“In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them. There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.”

It is a very common mistake to look only at the effect which is immediately seen. The unseen effects or costs are neglected. The essay is explaining the importance of considering both seen and unseen consequences.

Online at Econlib.org (html), as 1st chapter of Selected Essays on Political Economy.

Czech translation was published in book Co je vidět a co není vidět, a jiné práce (Prague, 1998) (pdf). This book contains also few other short works from Bastiat, as well as long text dealing with Bastiat and his works. The introduction offers some information on the history of economic thinking in Czech lands.

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