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The Unseen Economic Benefits of Brexit

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Our focus on the immediate costs of EU departure risks blinding us to the very real costs of maintaining the status quo.

By Madeline Grant                                                      @fee.org

 

In a now-famous essay, “What is Seen and What Is Not Seen,” the great economist Frederic Bastiat warned against judging the value of any activity in a vacuum.

Bastiat’s “broken window fallacy” brilliantly exposes a common tendency to focus on the visible, tangible benefits of an action—the “seen”—while neglecting the “unseen” penalties and long-term drawbacks associated with the same activity—the invisible cost of opportunities foregone.

Though he wrote the essay in 19th-century France, Bastiat’s insights have a timeless wisdom. We live with the consequences of reductive “broken window” thinking every day, especially where public money is concerned. Politicians often praise the visible benefits of public spending, e.g. the number of jobs “created,” without considering whether the funds could have been spent more wisely elsewhere or even how the taxpayer might have spent the cash had it remained in his or her pocket.

For my money, the fraught Brexit debate badly needs a dose of Bastiat.

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