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The Broken Window Fallacy Explained



  Feb 01, 2024

The Broken Window Fallacy Explained



Introduction:

The Broken Window Fallacy is a concept in economics that helps us understand why destruction doesn’t actually benefit the economy, despite appearances. It was first explained by Frederic Bastiat and later popularised by Henry Hazlitt. Let’s break it down with simple examples.

Basic Idea:

Imagine a boy accidentally breaks a shop’s window. People might say this is good for the economy because the shopkeeper will buy a new window, giving business to the glazier (window maker). It seems like the broken window is creating economic activity.

The Fallacy:

Bastiat argued that this view is mistaken. If the window wasn’t broken, the shopkeeper might have spent his money on something else, like new shoes or books. So, the money spent on the window is a loss because it could have been used for other things. This is what we call the ‘opportunity cost’ - the cost of what you have to give up.

Natural Disasters Example:

Let’s say an earthquake destroys homes. It might look good for the economy because there’s a lot of construction work to rebuild homes. But this is also a fallacy. The resources used for rebuilding could have been used for improving the community in other ways if there was no earthquake. So, the earthquake actually causes a net loss to the economy.

War Example:

Some people think wars are good for the economy because of the rebuilding that happens afterward. But this is the same fallacy. The resources spent on war and rebuilding could have been used for other beneficial things in society. War, like other forms of destruction, results in a net loss to the economy.

Conclusion:

The Broken Window Fallacy teaches us to look at the bigger picture. When something is destroyed, the money spent on fixing it is not a gain but a loss, as it could have been used for other things. It’s important to see not just what is obvious, but also what opportunities are lost.

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