What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen
By Frederic Bastiat
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
There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad
economist confines himself to the
effect; the good economist takes into account
both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be
Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate
consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa.
Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be
followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to
come, at the risk of a small present evil.
The same thing, of course, is true of health and morals. Often, the sweeter the first fruit
of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits: for example, debauchery, sloth, prodigality.
When a man is impressed by the effect
that is seen
and has not yet learned to discern
that are not seen
, he indulges in deplorable habits, not only through natural
inclination, but deliberately.
This explains man’s necessarily painful evolution. Ignorance surrounds him at his cradle;
therefore, he regulates his acts according to their first consequences, the only ones that,
in his infancy, he can see. It is only after a long time that he learns to take account of the
others. Two very different masters teach him this lesson: experience and foresight.
Experience teaches efficaciously but brutally. It instructs us in all the effects of an act by