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Broken Windows: lessons for patriots

Written on Sunday, November 13, 2011 by

broken window

The “broken window” illustration has been used for two quite distinct concepts, but both have instructive value in spotting leftist errors and a suggested way forward.

Broken Windows 1: Bastiat

Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850) was a great French economist and supporter of liberty against government tyranny.  In the last year of his life, he published his essay That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen, which should be required reading.

Bastiat’s most famous illustration concerns a hardworking shopkeeper, whose careless son breaks a window.  But onlookers tried to console him with: just think about the work you’ll provide to the glazier to mend your window.  Then this glazier will have money to spend on other businesses, and this will help the economy as a whole.

But as Bastiat pointed out, as per the title of this essay, this faulty analysis concerns only “that which is seen”.  But “what is not seen” is that because the shopkeeper was forced to spend money on window repairs, this is money he could not spend on something else.  If  I were note for his cost, he might have been able to spend the money on,  say a pair of shoes.  Then the cobbler would have had this money to spend on other businesses, and to stimulate the economy.

Compare these two cases: in the former, the shopkeeper has just lost the cost of the repairs, but in the latter, he has a pair of shoes to enjoy to compensate for his money.  Or, in the former, the shopkeeper has just a window, while in the latter, he has both a window and a pair of shoes. In short, the broken window is no stimulus: it just makes the economy poorer by the value of the window.

The great modern defender of liberty, economist Dr Walter Williams (see this Patriot column), has exposed modern leftists who commit the same fallacy.  In a column rightly titled, Economic lunacy, he documents how Larry Summers, Obama’s former economics adviser, claimed that the horrible Japanese Tōhoku earthquake/tsunami disaster “may lead to some temporary increments, ironically, to GDP as a process of rebuilding takes place. In the wake of the earlier Kobe earthquake, Japan actually gained some economic strength.”

Once again, this fails to consider what the Japanese could have done with the repair money had they not had to rebuild.

Stimulus programs are broken windows!

In one of my early columns, Spendulus Spin, I showed that in the same essay, Bastiat  demonstrated that stimulus spending (what he called “public works programs”) make the same blunder.  It’s worth revisiting because Obama’s new jobs bill—which we must pass right now, because God wants it done—commits the same fallacy.  (Actually, despite what the churchian left, including Obama’s Communist-supporting spiritual adviser Jim Wallis, seem to think, I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t commit economic fallacies, or any other type for that matter).

Well, even granting that his new bill will create jobs, contrary to the extravagant promises of the last spending spree, once again, this is only “what is seen”.  What it does not see is this money comes from somewhere else in the economy.  That is, from taxes confiscated from the demonized “millionaires and billionaires”.  This is money that they can’t spend to hire people, or just patronize businesses who hire people.   It  means, at best, no net growth in the economy.   Indeed, Dr Williams pointed out in the Stossel clip above, that politicians love this, because the “seen” benefits win them votes, while the “unseen” losses don’t cost them anything personally.

Thus, Obama’s jobs bill will be just like the previous Spendulus: fewer overall jobs, but growth in government instead!  Instead of growth in productive jobs that people choose to support with their own money, it will be growth for Obama’s cronies like the unionized schoolteachers.  If the Occupier rabble want to do something useful, why not ask where all the Stimulus money went, since it was clearly nowhere near them!  (And despite all the money spent on “education”, Obama and the Democrats, the party of the Teachers Unions, still think that an income of $250,000 makes you a millionaire or billionaire).

Broken Windows 2: Giuliani

For decades, Democrat-dominated New York City was infested in crime.  The New York Subway, built by private investment, went to the dogs when the government took it over.  It was both unsafe and filthy.  What could be done about all the crime?

In 1982 however, social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling published a now famous article in the Atlantic MonthlyBroken Windows: The Police and Neighbourhood Safety.  This is very different from Bastiat:

“Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.”

Thus the basic principle is: fix problems when they are still small, to stop them escalating.  The same principle was applied to crime: punish smallish crime when caught.  This will not only deter the small crimes, but might also set them on the straight and narrow, so they are less likely to become hardened major criminals.  And it sends the message to would-be major criminals: we are serious about punishing crime.

Then in 1990, Bill Bratton, who described Kelling as his “intellectual mentor”, became chief of police, and he saw the sense in this policy.  When Republican Rudy Giuliani became NY mayor in 1993, he strongly backed this policy. He ordered the police to crack down on relatively minor things like subway fare evasion, public drinking and urination.  And New York City traffic jams were infested with the infamous “squeegee men”, who were “washing” the windshield of stopped cars without being asked, then extorting  money by threats of breaking the windows or other violence.  Giuliani ordered the police to arrest them, if necessary, for jaywalking.

As a result of Giuliani’s support of these policies, not only did petty crime drop, but serious crime fell as well.  He justifiably claimed, “New York City turned from the crime capital of America to the safest large city in the country for five, six years in a row.” The policy worked in other cities and in controlled scientific tests as well.

Taxing and spending: fix some ‘broken windows’

Giuliani’s methods could also be used by Republicans when they have a narrow minority.  A lot of conservatives understandably want to pass “comprehensive” bills on things.  But these offer too many targets for multiple special interests.  Or “forget the small expenditures; we must fix the entitlements.”

This is true, as far as it goes.  But if we have only a small minority, this will mean nothing gets done, because it’s too easy to derail.

Another strategy is needed, and we should remember Giuliani.  How about tackling some of the smaller expenses?  First, it is a small target to attack by a small minority.  Second, it will show the ‘gimme’ groups that we are serious about some cutting.  Third, it will show that the world didn’t end when this relatively small funding was cut, so it should disarm resistance to cutting bigger amounts.

Say just cut abortion and sex-trafficking business Planned Parenthood, founded by the racist eugenicist Margaret Sanger to eliminate what she called “human weeds”, including black people.  Let Planned Parenthood’s defenders explain to the American people why they should be forced to fund an organization that kills babies and covers up statutory rape.  As it was, proposed cuts were tied to wider things, and the Demagogues threatened a government shut-down, and the Gutless Old Party led by “Neville” Boehner just caved.

Or, if we can’t cut foreign ‘aid’ totally, as we should, simply threaten any aid recipient country with: “if you ever vote against us at the UN, your foreign aid gravy train will dry up instantly.”  Let the Dems and foreign aid bureaucrats explain to the people why their tax dollars should fund dictators who are clearly our enemies.

Certainly this is only postponing needed major cuts in spending and government meddling.  But Giuliani showed that big changes for the better can start small.  This was also the way Wilberforce defeated slavery.

The alternative “perfection or nothing” has been the approach of people like Ron Paul and many of his uncritical followers.  The Club for Growth concluded:

“But Ron Paul is a purist, too often at the cost of real accomplishments on free trade, school choice, entitlement reform, and tort reform.  It is perfectly legitimate, and in fact vital, that think tanks, free-market groups, and individual members of Congress develop and propose idealized solutions.  But presidents have the responsibility of making progress, and often, Ron Paul opposes progress because, in his mind, the progress is not perfect.  In these cases, although for very different reasons, Ron Paul is practically often aligned with the most left-wing Democrats, voting against important, albeit imperfect, pro-growth legislation.”

Of course, if real Republicans (not RINOs)  capture the White House and Senate 2012, then they should implement big reforms to cut taxes and spending.  Why give the defeated, reeling Dems a change to organize to keep their special interest spending?  E.g. they rammed through Obamacare by devious means, so we should ram through a repeal bill instead of “playing nice”—repeal is what the American people elected the Republicans for in 2010!  The Debtocrats rammed through the Spendulus, so ram through an immediate halt on all unspent stimulus money.  Ram through bills to slash funding for Planned Parenthood and foreign aid, and abolish as many unconstitutional government departments as possible, such as Education, Agriculture, Energy and the people- and job-killing EPA. Implement the real “fair tax”, i.e. a flat tax.


Since ‘reality has a conservative bias’, it shouldn’t be surprising that there is timeless wisdom discovered by great minds of the past that should be applicable to the present and future.  Here, two quite different policies under the same name can converge and inspire Patriots in their current battles.

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  • Jonathan Gartner

    You also can call this the “nickel and dimed” to death. Of course the liberals say that this program does not cost much and it is for the good of the children. The Republican programs are much more straight forward and do not have to imply emotion to be seen as realistic. The liberals of course have no problems spending money as long as is it not theirs.

    • MilitaryPatriot

      That’s the history of the liberals. Not my money, we will use yours, and don’t cry about because we are entitled and it’s only Faaaaaaier! Isn’t that right Obummer. Chicago thug style. Jerk

    • handyman

      The Leaders (AH)? say its my game so I without a brain, make the rules, so we play it my way, its only fair, right? Need I say they don’t listen to those who could solve the problems? They make rules for those who pay the price?

  • am2sweet

    More proof as to how badly we need Conservatives in office. And I mean every office of the government. We don’t need a democrat anywhere within shouting distance. They are trouble and will never be anything else. Look at all that has happened over the last couple years. Look at all the demonstrators right now. This is thanks to having democrats in charge. We need rid of them and their warped brains and get our country back to being America with pride.

    • T Lady

      So are RINOs. But yes, I certainly agree Democrats should be entrusted to even run for City Dog Catcher.

    • T Lady

      Correction: Should not

    • alex

      but when you have democraps under the guise of the republican name they are even worse

  • Betty S

    “A stitch in time saves nine”, all just good common sense, of which the libtards have zero.


    One of the first intelligent analysis I have heard through out this entire consistent barage of political rhetoric and claims of fraud.
    I believe Obozzo is a fraud as are his stated political agenda’s. I believe he is out to destroy this country and facilitate and islamic takeover of the USA.
    An impeachable offense to add to his list of imp[eachable offenses.
    Congress DO YOUR JOB OR BYE BYE IN 2012.

    • Tom Stewart

      Right-On OLD DAD However Have You Ever tried To Catch A “Chi-Town COYOTE King Obama”? Yikeess, With George Sore-Ass Money And A Line Of Obamacare BS And Lots Of Kool-Aid For His Army Of “Flea Party OWS” Beware. God Bless America And Sarah Palin.

  • Yellow Horse

    I think the “GOD” obama was referring to was and Islamic Jihid one!!!What ever that those people call a god?? I’m wondering if the crazed occupy people kill several at once people in their drug crazed Rants if the democrates will still support them! And of course mayor Bloomdumb!!!Can’t forget that patriot of obama left wing radical group!!!

  • Randy131

    All too true, but who has the guts to do it, certainly not the Republicans, unless they are Tea Party Republicans, and with their capitulation to Boehner, I doubt all of them have the guts to do what is right either. Ronald Reagan showed he had the guts, because he did it, but where are the Ronald Reagans of today, when we need them the most, not saying we didn’t need him badly after what Jimmy Carter did to the country, but Obama has proven to be worse than even Jimmy Carter.

    • skip

      obama is soooooooo far below/worse than carter it’s not even a question/statement that needs to be posed/considered…

    • Jonathan Gartner

      Absolutely however it seems we are reliving Carters era on steroids. The Common Market failed (like the EU is about to ) we had almost unbelievable unemployment(10+%) gas had gone up and with it food and gold was $500(today $2400)

    • NIKI

      Randy 131-You are sadly mistaken if you think the Tea Party does not see what Boehner is doing. The reason all of the people that have been in office to long are worried because the Tea Party stands for something and falls for nothing any longer.
      Also, the only reason Harry Reid and the senate want to control the internet starting November 20th is because they want this Freedom that I am using to type this STOPPED so they can control the PEOPLE. What have you done to STOP this? I signed the petition to stop it – did you? We are losing America very quickly and 2012 will be the year from HELL if people do NOT get out and take care of business to STOP these people that are only elected by the people. Vote them out of office. STOP VOTING PARTIES AND VOTE PEOPLE AND WE NEED POLL WATCHERS AT THE POLLS BECAUSE OF ALL THE CHEATING THAT WILL HAPPEN.

    • Gloria

      It needs to be cleaned up and the tea party people that we have in there will need help. I don’t think Boner will do anything. They all forget we are their bosses and we need to show them come 2012.

    • DanDy

      A recent pub pointed out that OBummer did us a huge favor by pointing out how outragous the damage of the Liberal agenda is, and awakening the “silent (conservative) majority” to action. We were and are the ones working to pay our bills and build our lives and pay our taxes. We are no longer willing to do so while the 49% do nothing!

  • Hank is back

    Bastiat’s point was that military spending is bad for the economy. It can be extended to other sectors of the public and private economy, but the argument is primarily used against excessive spending on destructive projects, such as weapons. Our nuclear arsenal, if converted into TNT, is enough for EVERY person on the globe to have six tons of TNT. Why do we have this much and continue to create more (not just nukes)? Because it PROVIDES ‘STIMULUS’ to a sector of the economy known as arms manufacturers, mining, smelting, etc. If one kind of stimulus is bad, so are all other kinds. A consistent conservative, regardless of his understanding or beliefs about foreign policy should oppose it. It serves no purpose other than to transfer wealth from the tax payer, the thrifty, and the self-made, to the subsidized, the spendy, and the dependent.

    Military Keynesianism is just as bad as domestic Keynesianism. Eisenhower said ‘Beware the Military-Industrial Complex.’ This is exactly what he was referring to.

    • DanDy

      Beware the country that does not have the means to defend itself as it will be a primary target for attack by others seeking what they have of value: In the case of the USA it is freedom and ingenuity.

      Beware of wasteful spending such as the 300 dollar wrench or the 600 dollar toilet, but also beware of the groups of “anti almost everything” when they complain about the cost of “a 98,000 ton mobile force of Diplomacy” like a nuclear Aircraft Carrier which can be used to provide Search and Rescue in a disaster zone (such as Japan), or a major city with a source for fresh drinking water and a mobile hospital (as in Hatie) or to support the forces of Freedom against dictators…and can be deployed to the area required in a matter of days instead of weeks or months. With a Nuc Boat and her supporting floatila we can command respect instead of begging for “forgiveness and cooperation”
      And Yeah they do cost a lot of money – but so does the alternative. I am of the “Live Free” camp…

    • Hank is back

      No one is advocating getting rid of the means of defending ourselves. Nukes are great deterrents. All I am saying is that you can’t be consistently anti-Keynesian, as most conservatives purport to be, and still support deficit spending on non-vital, redundant, corrupt, and sometimes unconstitutional ‘defense’ measures. Like I said: we have the equivalent of 6 tons of TNT for every person on the face of the planet. There is nothing wrong with having enough to defend yourself, but as soon as defense spending becomes little more than a stimulus package, it is just as bad for the economy as any other big government meddling in the free market. We spend 46% of the entire world’s defense spending and for some reason we still wonder why it is we have to come to the aid of everyone else.

  • 2WarAbnVet

    “Of course, if real Republicans (not RINOs) capture the White House” – in other words, someone other than Romney.

    • NEAL

      Sounds like a liberal demo got into this…

  • MrInterpid

    Would somebody please use this “broken window” tale to put the lie to the libs totally insane claim that unemployment payments stimulate the economy. Libs have it exactly backwards. One dollar of unemployment pay does not generate $1.60 in spending! Actually it is closer to the truth to say than it takes $1.60 of hard earned taxpayer monies to pay 1.00 in unemployment.

  • TheThinMan

    Somewhere in all that is the answer to the Ron Paul IDOL worshipers.

    • Hank is back

      If anything, this misguided article inadvertently justifies the claims made by Ron Paul and his supporters, the purists. No one in their right mind would quote Frederic Bastiat and Rudy Giuliani in the same article. No one would use the Broken Window fallacy to justify anything done or said by a warmongering social democrat like the ex-mayor, whom Reagan called ‘crazy’. Julie-Annie is a joke.

    • Nathaniel Davidson

      I made it clear why I was quoting both Bastiat and Giuliani: both applied Broken Windows parables to good effect.

      You purists need to decide whether you prefer good results or good posturing. You get the latter (arguably) with Dr Paul, but at the expense of the former. Conversely, people like Reagan and Gingrich, while not as “pure” (supposedly) as Paul, actually got things done that improved America.

    • Steve

      Radical and rapid-moving national decline has resulted in the need for a no-nonsense agenda to counter the socialist policies pursued by Democrats and not actively countered by so-called Rebublicans or self-styled conservative thought leaders. That Ron Paul is called a “purist” by a group who thinks that NAFTA was a “good” thing for trade is no insult to Ron Paul. Maybe the Club for Growth are purists for their (generally) good cause as well, but in several areas they are off base with what it takes to reverse the disastrous trend.

      What other candidate has the courage to get straight at the very foundation of the economic disaster that is facing the US today, namely the Federal Reserve? What candidate knows enough to completely repudiate socialistic Keynesian economic philosopy that has been actively or tacitly embraced by every president since FDR? I can forgive Ron Paul for being a purist on the small things when he is the only one who has the courage to get straight to the root of the really major things that have put this country on the fast track to third world status.

  • http://ThePatriotUpdate Mary

    The biggest problem I see in politics today is that conservatives fail to get the message out in a coherent manner. Liberals on the other hand are very good at articulating their message. Conservatives seem to be always on the defensive, liberals are agressive in their rhetoric.

    • cactusbob

      I whole-heartedly agree! If the GOP would continually harp on the fact that all the Democrat programs are Socialist Programs, and then illustrate what socialism is and what countries have been ruined by it, some ObamaVoters might just see a light bulb over their head and maybe think about how the Democrat Party is now run by Socialists. The fact that the Communist Party USA has endorsed Obama’s reelection, and the fact that 70 or so Members of Congress (most of the really vocal and mean ones) are members of the Democratic Socialists of America, might strike a chord with some of the wiser ObamaVoters (I know, an oxymoron).

    • Janice

      You’ve got to be kidding? The radical liberals are the most obnoxious group of hippies who don’t even want to listen to anyone else but theselves………..even if it means our country goes down the drain, along with their children. Total fools. Why do they stay on the side of their radical leader who is a muslim and whose job is to take out our country and all it stands for….freedom, all of our Constitutional rights, and all that we grew up to abide by and care for? What do they think your children and grandchildren will gain? NOTHING BUT SOCIALISM AND MISERY BY THE BIG GOVERNMENT WHO IS OUT TO DESTROY OUR BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY. There will be no chance to live the “American Dream” because there wil be none. OBAMA AND HIS CREW OF ANIMALS WILL TURN US INTO A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY, WHILE HE AND HIS CRONIES LEAD A RICH LIFE AT OUR EXPENSE. You liberals are either brain dead or have gotten lobotomies at the expense of the taxpayer as usual. Smarten up or you will regret it, especialy if you love your children and grandchildren, who will suffer the most. If you love your family, vote against Obama and his crew… who are out to destroy America. Please, think for a change, those of you who have been liberals all along and those of you that believe the ideas that this man is trying to bain-wash our country with…vote against this violent administration and the destruction of our great country. That is the change he vowed for in his campaign…the slime that he is…..not for a better country and more advantage to the people and minority groups and to make our country sronger and stop the awful mess our country was in….his corruption and administration has done three times the amount of monetary and other horrid things than any other…all to make us a a weak and helpless country.
      DO NOT LET THIS MAN DESTROY THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN HE WORLD. We owe it to our fore fathers and all those brave soles who lost their lives to keep us safe. He is doing the opposite, for he is a coward, protected by more security than any other president I would suspect..and not because of any racial issue as his latest buddy Al Sharpton would say….no, he knows he is doing evil, but that is what he was trained to do by our enemy. His job was to get into his position and little by little destroy our country….and boy is he doing a good job when he isn’t even an American. I will believe that until I die no matter how the media and his cronies try to cover it up. It will all come out one day and his kids can read about the worst, most evil president ever to preside, and if they’re smart, they will be greatly upset and try to undo his awful crimes against a country that trusted him.

  • Idylewylde

    Our current economy isn’t the broken window. It’s the untuned engine.

    When your car engine is out of tune, you can do one of three things:

    1.) You can get a fiscal Conservative to actually fix the engine.

    2.) You can hire a RINO to ignore the engine, but get a great wax job and detail.

    3.) You can take it to a Democrat … and the next thing you know, the engine and tires are missing, the car body is up on blocks, and you’re getting a ticket for creating a toxic environmental threat.

  • Blair Colquhoun

    Let’s get real. Sure, the government wastes money. That’s what governments do. Unless, of
    course, they provide the conditions for businesses to create jobs.

  • Maynard Merrell

    I thought the readers might like to read the following from the “Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla,” by Carlos Marighella, published by the New World Liberation Front, in 1970. This manual has been nd still is being used by guerrillas (or terrorists if you wish) all over the world: “Before any action, the urban guerrilla must think of the methods and the personnel at his disposal to carry out the action. Operations and the actions that demand the urban guerrilla’s technical preparation cannot be carried out by someone who lacks that technical skill. With these cautions, the action models which the urban guerrilla can carry out are the following: a) assaults; b) raids and penetration; c) occupations; d)ambush; e) street tactics; f) strikes and work interruptions; g) desertions, diversions, seizures, expropriation of arms, ammunition, explosives; h) liberation of prisoners; i) executions; j) kidnappings; k) sabotage; l)terrorism; m) armed propaganda; n) war of nerves.”

  • Maynard Merrell

    In the “Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla,” that I wrote about earlier, in the chapter intitled “Guerrilla Security,” it is written: “The worst enemy of the urban guerrilla and the major danger we run is infiltration into our organization by a spy or an informer. The spy trapped within the organization will be punished with death. The same goes for those who desert and inform to the police.” Back in the 60s, thanks to U.S.Sen. Frank Church and his crony subvesives, they stopped all investigations by Congress and infiltrations by the FBI and CIA into any known or suspected subversive organizations, which put Americans at the mercy of our enemies. No infiltartions,no information. Hence the Towers came down. I use to educate and help infiltrate young men into communist fronts in Cleveland, Ohio. They voluteered to infiltrate, because the FBI informed us that they could no longer recruit anyone to do so, but that they could receive information and file it away. Information volutarily given to them. My young men are unknown heros that you hear nothing about. And there are others. Thank God for their courage and patriotism.

  • Speed

    we’ll never find perfect candidates,but in my opinion,the BEST I’ve seen so far are Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann. Ron Paul will be very helpful for his understanding of finance and his unshakeable values,but many of the People have reservations about voting for him because he may be a little TOO Conservative for them. At the other end of the scale,I just can’t get myself to trust Romney and Perry. Regardless who we vote for,we MUST get O out of office,and I’ll be urging the new President to ACTIVELY pursue Criminal sanctions against him for usurping the office of President while not legally able to take that office,and Treason for his practice of bypassing correct procedure to get his agenda on the books through executive fiat. Also,we must revisit the choices he made for judges of Supreme Court,as he “stacked the deck” there in a manner that I’m sure he thinks would protect him from criminal charges. (Evidenced by the fact that Kagan has thrown out all lawsuits regarding his illegibility to seek the office of President.)

  • Not Impressed

    It comes back to TRUTH, HONESTY and INTEGRITY. Do you think otherwise? Where there are small improvements, they SHOULD be made. But if the leaders are not truthful, honest and having integrity, they can’t even make SMALL improvements. This is not Democrat or Republican, as such. But is pervades the system. We simply MUST find good people and put them in positions of trust.

  • W Smith

    The “Left” is always about the destruction of societies. Window pains, broken glass in place of lives and dreams lost. A promise that first requires commitment that cannot be taken back. Bolshevik or Brownshirt they are of different path’s to the same end. The killing fields of Cambodia can be brought home. Do not think it cannot happen here. It can. Just look to the mind numbing participants of OWS. How anyone of sound heart could march abreast of monsters I know not. They are all tainted and none can rise above the most base level of their association.

  • S Rubicon

    For me, one thing is almost a certainty. If a politician or a special interest group talks about “comprehensive” legislation, you can bet your bottom dollar the public will pay through the nose & the legislation will end up covering anything politico’s can stuff into it. Comprehensive legislation means the public discovers some days, weeks, moths, & even years later a special item was included in a bill & now it comes back to haunt all of us. Most are shocked to find college education loans in the health care bill, but that is what you get when its called comprehensive.
    No thanks. I prefer targeted legislation that deals w/ an issue. It may take more effort, but it will benefit us all in the end by not creating trash can legislation stuffed with garbage programs the public would have never supported.