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