The Parable of the Broken Window Fallacy
The Parable of the Broken Window was an idea first written in Frédéric Bastiat’s essay Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas (that which is seen is not seen). In it, he paints an image of a town store who has just had a window broken out. A crowd gathers around the broken window and the shop owner runs out of the store in distress to look at the window. An optimistic onlooker comes up to the shop owner and tries to console him/her by explaining that he is helping out the glazer by giving him his/her business. Thus helping the ladder maker who is helping the lumberjack who is providing the wood make the ladder for the glazer to stand on to fix the window and so on. The idea is that the destruction of the broken window is stimulating the economy by providing a need to spend money. Rendering a statement such as war is good because it brings about jobs, true.
Bastiat argues that while it is true that the broken window is forcing a progression of economic stimulus, the stimulus is being created through unnecessary destruction. Perhaps the shop keeper was going to use the money that he/she now has to use on a new window for a new car. Providing income for a car dealer who provides income for a car supplier who supplies jobs for the people who produce the cars. The economic stimulus domino effect is still occurring, but not being born out of something else being destroyed. While person who introduced the notion that the broken window was very optimistic about a unfortunate situation (which I am a HUGE fan of), he/she was only looking at the situation from one vantage point.
I think that it is important that in all situations of life we attempt to look at it from all angles and perspectives. We, as a society, should not live life with the notion that the end justifies the means. The broken window is stimulating the economy, but it is doing so under the wrong context. The glazers job is to fix windows, and his job is virtuous and essential to society. This does not mean, however, that we as a society should go around breaking windows so that the glazer can have work. We should not focus our energy on beginning something with a negative action, and thus taking a step back before we take a step forward. We should instead put more energy into figuring out ways to stimulate the economy and domino effects of good without having to destroy something to begin the effect. The danger in the Parable Broken Window is that people will ignore the negative action that begins the stimulus and become greedy with the profits of that said stimulus. A great example would companies making profits off of war. War happens, conflict is a fact of life. Arms and ammunition providers are necessary to provide our armies with weapons to take lives. That being said, we should not purposely plan on fighting a war just to give the arms and ammunitions providers more business. The ends of those profits would not justify the means.
The Broken Window Parable is a great example of optimism. It shows society being creative to leave a bad situation in a positive light. However, it also points out a flaw in humanity in the form of destruction causing production. Therefore, initially being a negative step back before taking positive steps forward. The ends do not justify the means! Production not destruction! Production not destruction! Production not destruction!