In the early nineteenth century, Bastiat posed the story of a young man who throws a brick through the window of a baker’s shop. We’re told that this may have a bright side — that the baker must now pay a glazier to fix the window, who will then use that income to spend elsewhere, creating a ripple effect that benefits many.
Such thinking is reminiscent of what would later be used to justify the logic behind the Keynesian multiplier. Keynes would later write in the General Theory, “Pyramid building, earthquakes, even wars may serve to increase wealth.”
The Opportunity Cost of Fixing Things
As many readers already know, such logic fails to take into account the opportunity cost of the broken window. Had the window not been broken, the baker wouldn’t have paid the glazier, but maybe he would’ve spent the money on a pair of shoes instead. The shoemaker would then have income to spend elsewhere, and the same multiplier would take place — but society would be better off by exactly one window.