Tracing consequences both seen and unseen.
Christine HarbinThe Lesson Applied to My Car Window
Posted at 9:22 am on March 26, 2010, by Christine Harbin

On Monday I experienced Bastiat’s parable of the broken window in the most literal sense: somebody smashed the front passenger window on my car while it was parked in the (gated!) lot at my apartment. I played in the role of the storekeeper whose window was broken, and I can attest that no wealth was created for myself or the Saint Louis community.

Ce qu'on voit!

In chapter 2 of Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt explains:

Instead of having a window and $250 he now has merely a window. Or, as he was planning to buy the suit that very afternoon, instead of having both a window and a suit he must be content with the window and no suit.

When I went to bed that night, I had a passenger car window again, but I was about $500 poorer. In addition to the $250 that I spent on replacing the car window, I will have to pay to replace the items that were stolen too, including: a 16 GB ipod Touch ($250), a universal car phone charger ($18), ipod case ($15), the cost of gas for driving to auto glass changer, and lost productivity. Like the storekeeper, I have to be content with the window only.

If we think of him as a part of the community, the community has lost a new suit that might otherwise have come into being, and is just that much poorer.

In my case, the Saint Louis community lost an Apple iPad that would otherwise have been bought. Ce qu’on ne voit pas. If I didn’t have to pay to replace that window, I would have used the money to buy one. Or, I could have saved the money in my bank account, where it would generate interest, and I would spend it at a later date. I cannot spend the money that I spend at the window repair shop in any other way.

Some people would argue that, had nobody broken my window, the window repairer would be out of a job. This is fallacious because it ignores the fact that the window repairer could develop skills or apply his existing skills to a different activity that would actually encourage productive economic growth. He could work at an Apple store, for example, and sell me an iPad.

Filed under: Economic Theory, Unintended Consequences
Comments: 1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Or the repairman could focus on repairing windows that were broken accidentally.

    Comment by Sarah Brodsky — 2010-03-26 @ 11:06 am

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Henry Hazlitt"[T]he whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson






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