The triumph of the invisible hand

“By virtue of exchange, one man’s prosperity is beneficial to all others.” – Frédéric Bastiat.

It remains one of the most powerful metaphors in economics. In 1850 Frédéric Bastiat gave the world the story of the broken window. The son of a shopkeeper accidentally breaks a pane of glass in the shop. A crowd gathers at the scene.

Pretty soon, the onlookers jump to the conclusion that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Admittedly, the shopkeeper is out of pocket by the cost of a window. But the glazier just summoned will reap the benefit. Where would poor glaziers be in a world without broken windows? Imagine all the good uses to which the glazier can put his new-found windfall from repairing the damage. Think what he could buy. All that new money circulating through the economy. Perhaps we might all be better off if…

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