Grades 3 - 8  -  Socratic Discussions



Here is the text of an assignment given to 7th grade students:

The Broken Window, by Bastiat

Have you ever witnessed the anger of the good shopkeeper, James B., when his careless son happened to break a square of glass? If you have been present at such a scene, you will most assuredly bear witness to the fact, that every one of the spectators, were there even thirty of them, by common consent apparently, offered the unfortunate owner this invariable consolation: "It is an ill wind that blows nobody good. Everybody must live, and what would become of the glaziers if panes of glass were never broken?"

Now, this form of condolence contains an entire theory, which it will be well to show up in this simple case, seeing that it is precisely the same as that which, unhappily, regulates the greater part of our economical institutions.

Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage, and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier's trade that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, "Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen."

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way which this accident has prevented.

Let us take a view of industry in general, as affected by this circumstance. The window being broken, the glazier's trade is encouraged to the amount of six francs: this is that which is seen.

If the window had not been broken, the shoemaker's trade (or some other) would have been encouraged to the amount of six francs: this is that which is not seen.

In preparation for our class please consider these questions:

1. There are those who say that, apart from the loss of human life, the destruction of property caused by, say, a hurricane is a good thing because it stimulates a lot of economic activity. Lumber yards sell lots of lumber to replace destroyed buildings. Hardware stores sell lots of electrical and plumbing supplies for the buildings. Tradesmen have lots of work to do for which they get paid and then they spend the money they received on all kinds of good s and services. They feed their families, buy their kids clothing. Are these good things? Has the hurricane been a blessing? If so, why? if not, why not?

2. Is life full of "that which is not seen"? As used in the text what does that phrase mean? 



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