Essai sur la Nature du Commerce in Général (Essay on the Nature of Trade in General)
By Richard Cantillon
Intrigue, murder, posthumous plagiarism, citations by Adam Smith, rediscovery by William Stanley Jevons a century later, and a stunning work on entrepreneurial risk, money, foreign exchange, and banking from the 1700s–what more could one ask for from an 18th century economist? Richard Cantillon offers fascination for historians and economists as much in death as he did in life.Richard Cantillon, Irish born but living in Paris as a young man, from circumstances became a banker/broker there, and moved in influential, educated social circles. Enriched but embarrassed by speculation in John Law’s scheme, he removed to London (perhaps in flight or to protect his assets). Somewhere along the line he wrote this influential work,
Essai sur la Nature du Commerce in Général (
Essay on the Nature of Trade in General). Probably first written between 1730 and 1734, the first surviving copies are in French, from 1755-56. Whether it was first drafted or circulated in English or in French is unclear; also unclear is what Smith may have seen of it. That Smith was familiar with Cantillon in some form is documented in Smith’s own rare citations. Other contemporary economists were also familiar with the work, even to the point of plagiarizing from the unpublished version.Despite the multiple plagiarizations and the disappearance of early originals, there is general agreement now that Richard Cantillon did indeed write the work; and it did indeed influence Smith and many other contemporaneous economists–the very same the French and English economists whose work became the basis of modern economic thought. Beyond that, though, all we have are the extant 1755-56 French versions and a few translations, of which Higgs’s translation is the only thorough edition. Econlib is pleased to present the full translation of this remarkable work. We also bring you Higgs’s side-by-side French/English edition for download as a pdf file, as well as our formatted searchable online edition.Higgs’s book also contains these other recommended readings:1. William Stanley Jevons’s famous 1881 essay rediscovering Cantillon’s work,
“Richard Cantillon and the Nationality of Political Economy,” an article rich with warranted enthusiasm and detailed research. It also contains a heartwarming surprise ending–a final paragraph that will make you smile.
2. Higgs’s annotated bibliography
“The Life and Work of Richard Cantillon” at the end of the book, an excellent survey of developments following Jevons’s rediscovery.Additional recommendations and summaries:3. We’ve left Higgs’s translation intact; but note that his arcane translations of some words like “Undertaker” for “entrepreneur” obscured Cantillon’s apparent coining of the word “entrepreneur”–see Mark Casson’s article,
Entrepreneurship, in the
Concise Encyclopedia of Economics for more on this.
4. Friedrich A. Hayek,
“Richard Cantillon,” 1931; translated by Micheál Ó Súilleabháin for the
Journal of Libertarian Studies, vol. 7, no. 2, Fall 1985 (republished on Econlib with permission). Other interesting essays in that conference volume on Cantillon include those by Hebert (a discussion of economic ground held in common between Cantillon and the Austrians) and Liggio (a brief history of France and England before and during the period Cantillon was writing). The conference volume is available online in pdf format through the Mises Institute.
5. Joseph Spengler, “Richard Cantillon: First of the Moderns,”
Journal of Political Economy, LXII, August-October 1954.Lauren F. Landsburg
Editor, Library of Economics and Liberty
Henry Higgs, ed. and trans.
First Pub. Date
London: Frank Cass and Co., Ltd.
First extant partial edition is in French: 1755. Includes "Richard Cantillon and the Nationality of Political Economy," by W. Stanley Jevons (1881).
The text of this edition is copyright ©: 1959, Frank Cass and Co. Republished with permission. Originally published 1931 by Macmillan & Co., Ltd. For the Royal Economic Society.
- Introduction, by Henry Higgs
- Previous Editions, by Henry Higgs
- I.I Of Wealth
- I.II Of Human Societies
- I.III Of Villages
- I.IV Of Market Towns
- I.V Of Cities
- I.VI Of Capital Cities
- I.VII The Labour of the Husbandman is of less Value than that of the Handicrafts-Man
- I.VIII Some Handicrafts-Men earn more, others less, according to the different Cases and Circumstances
- I.IX The Number of Labourers, Handicraftsmen and others, who work in a State is naturally proportioned to the Demand for them
- I.X The Price and Intrinsic Value of a Thing in general is the measure of the Land and Labour which enter into its Production
- I.XI Of the Par or Relation between the Value of Land and Labour
- I.XII All Classes and Individuals in a State subsist or are enriched at the Expense of the Proprietors of Land
- I.XIII The circulation and exchange of goods and merchandise as well as their production are carried on in Europe by Undertakers, and at a risk
- I.XIV The Fancies, the Fashions, and the Modes of Living of the Prince, and especially of the Landowners, determine the use to which Land is put
- I.XV The Increase and Decrease of the Number of People in a State chiefly depend on the taste, the fashions, and the modes of living of the proprietors of land
- I.XVI The more Labour there is in a State the more naturally rich the State is esteemed
- I.XVII Of Metals and Money, and especially of Gold and Silver
- II.I Of Barter
- II.II Of Market Prices
- II.III Of the Circulation of Money
- II.IV Further Reflection on the Rapidity or Slowness of the Circulation of Money in Exchange
- II.V Of the inequality of the circulation of hard money in a State
- II.VI Of the increase and decrease in the quantity of hard money in a State
- II.VII Continuation of the same subject
- II.VIII Further Reflection on the same subject
- II.IX Of the Interest of Money and its Causes
- II.X Of the Causes of the Increase and Decrease of the Interest of Money in a State
- III.I Of Foreign Trade
- III.II Of the Exchanges and their Nature
- III.III Further explanations of the nature of the Exchanges
- III.IV Of the variations in the proportion of values with regard to the Metals which serve as Money
- III.V Of the augmentation and diminution of coin in denomination
- III.VI Of Banks and their Credit
- III.VII Further explanations and enquiries as to the utility of a National Bank
- III.VIII Of the Refinements of Credit of General Banks
- Richard Cantillon and the Nationality of Political Economy, by W. Stanley Jevons
- Life and Work of Richard Cantillon, by Henry Higgs
- Appendix A
- Appendix B, Bibliography
Part I, Chapter XI
Of the Par or Relation between the Value of Land and Labour
It does not appear that Providence has given the Right of the Possession of Land to one Man preferably to another: the most ancient titles are founded on Violence and Conquest. The Lands of Mexico now belong to the Spaniards and those at Jerusalem to the Turks. But howsoever people come to the property and possession of Land we have already observed that it always falls into the hands of a few in proportion to the total inhabitants.
If the Proprietor of a great Estate keeps it in his own hands he will employ Slaves or free men to work upon it. If he has many Slaves he must have Overseers to keep them at work: he must likewise have Slave craftsmen to supply the needs and conveniencies of life for himself and his workers, and must have trades taught to others in order to carry on the work.
In this oeconomy he must allow his Labouring Slaves their subsistence and wherewithal to bring up their Children. The Overseers must allow Advantages proportionable to the confidence and authority which he gives them. The Slaves who have been taught a craft must be maintained without any return during the time of their Apprenticeship and the artisan Slaves and their Overseers who should be competent in the crafts must have a better subsistence than the labouring Slaves, etc. since the loss of an Artisan would be greater than that of a Labourer and more care must be taken of him having regard to the expense of training another to take his place.
On this assumption the labour of an adult Slave of the lowest class is worth at least as much as the quantity of Land which the Proprietor is obliged to allot for his food and necessaries and also to double the Land which serves to breed a Child up till he is of age fit for labour, seeing half the children that are born die before the age of 17, according to the calculations and observations of the celebrated Dr Halley. So that two children must be reared up to keep one of them till working age and it would seem that even this would not be enough to ensure a continuance of Labour since adult Men die at all ages.
It is true that the one half of the Children who die before 17 die faster in the first years after birth than in the following, since a good third of those who are born die in their first year. This seems to diminish the cost of raising a Child to working age, but as the Mothers lose much time in nursing their Children in illness and infancy and the Daughters even when grown up are not the equals of the Males in work and barely earn their living, it seems that to keep one of two Children to manhood or working age as much Land must be employed as for the subsistence of an adult Slave, whether the Proprietor raises them himself in his house or has the children raised there or that the Father brings them up in a House or Hamlet apart. Thus I conclude that the daily labour of the meanest Slave corresponds in value to double the produce of the Land required to maintain him, whether the Proprietor give it him for his subsistence and that of his Family or provides him and his Family subsistence in his own house. It does not admit of exact calculation, and exactitude is not very necessary; it suffices to be near enough to the truth.
If the Proprietor employ the Labour of Vassals or free Peasants he will probably maintain them upon a better foot than Slaves according to the custom of the place he lives in, yet in this case also the Labour of a free Labourer ought to correspond in value to double the produce of Land needed for his maintenance. But it will always be more profitable to the Proprietor to keep Slaves than to keep free Peasants, because when he has brought up a number too large for his requirements he can sell the surplus Slaves as he does his cattle and obtain for them a price proportionable to what he has spent in rearing them to manhood or working age, except in cases of old age or infirmity.
In the same way on may appraise the Labour of slave craftsmen at twice the produce of the Land which they consume. Overseers likewise, allowing for the favours and privileges given to them above those who work under them.
When the Artisans or Labourers have their double portion at their own disposal they employ one part of it for their own upkeep if they are married and the other for their Children. If they are unmarried they set aside a little of their double portion to enable them to marry and to make a little store for housekeeping; but most of them will consume the double portion for their own maintenance.
For example the married Labourer will content himself with Bread, Cheese, Vegetables, etc., will rarely eat meat, will drink little wine or beer, and will have only old and shabby clothes which he will wear as long as he can. The surplus of his double portion he will employ in raising and keeping his children, while the unmarried Labourer will eat meat as often as he can, will treat himself to new cloaths, etc. and employ his double portion on his own requirements. Thus he will consume twice as much personally of the produce of the Land as the married man.
I do not here take into account the expense of the Wife. I suppose that her Labour barely suffices to pay for her own living, and when one sees a large number of little Children in one of these poor families I suppose that charitable persons contribute somewhat to their maintenance, otherwise the Parents must deprive themselves of some of their necessaries to provide a living for their Children.
For the better understanding of this it is to be observed that a poor Labourer may maintain himself, at the lowest computation, upon the produce of an Acre and a half of Land if he lives on bread and vegetables, wears hempen garments, wooden shoes, etc., while if he can allow himself wine, meat, woollen cloaths, etc. he may without drunkenness or gluttony or excess of any kind consume the produce of 4 to 10 acres of Land of ordinary goodness, such as most of the Land in Europe taking part with another. I have caused some figures to be drawn up which will be found in the Supplement, to determine the amount of Land of which one man can consume the produce under each head of Food, Clothing, and other necessaries of life in a single year, according to the mode of living in Europe where the Peasants of divers countries are often nourished and maintained very differently.
For this reason I have not determined to how much Land the Labour of the meanest Peasant corresponds in Value when I laid down that it is worth double the produce of the Land which serves to maintain him: because this varies according to the mode of living in different countries. In some southern Provinces of France the Peasant keeps himself on the produce of one acre and a half of Land and the value of his Labour may be reckoned equal to the product of Three Acres. But in the County of Middlesex the Peasant usually spends the produce of 5 to 8 acres of Land and his Labour may be valued at twice as much as this.
In the country of the Iroquois where the inhabitants do not plough the Land and live entirely by Hunting, the meanest Hunter may consume the produce of 50 Acres of Land since it probably requires so much to support the animals he eats in one year, especially as these Savages have not the industry to grow grass by cutting down the trees but leave everything to nature. The Labour of this Hunter may then be reckoned equal in value to the product of 100 acres of Land. In the southern Provinces of China the Land yields Rice up to three crops in one year and a hundred times as much as is sown, owing to the great care which they have of Agriculture and the fertility of the soil which is never fallow. The Peasants who work there almost naked live only on Rice and drink only Rice water, and it appears that one Acre will support there more than 10 Peasants. It is not surprising, therefore, that the population is prodigious in number. In any case it seems from these examples that Nature is altogether indifferent whether the Earth produce grass, trees, or grain, or maintains a large or small number of Vegetables, Animals, or Men.
Farmers in Europe seem to correspond to Overseers of labouring Slaves in other Countries, and the Master Tradesmen who employ several Journeymen to the Overseers of Artisan Slaves. These Masters know pretty well how much work a journeyman Artisan can do in a day in each Craft, and often pay them in proportion to the work they do, so that the Journeymen work for their own interest as hard as they can without further inspection.
As the Farmers and Masters of Crafts in Europe are all Undertakers working at a risk, some get rich and gain more than a double subsistence, others are ruined and become bankrupt, as will be explained more in detail in treating of Undertakers; but the majority support themselves and their Families from day to day, and their Labour or Superintendence may be valued at about thrice the produce of the Land which serves for their maintenance.
Evidently these Farmers and Master Craftsmen, if they superintend the Labour of 10 Labourers or Journeymen, would be equally capable of superintending the Labour of 20, according to the size of their Farms or the number of their customers, and this renders uncertain the value of their Labour or Superintendence.
By these examples and others which might be added in the same sense, it is seen that the value of the day’s work has a relation to the produce of the soil, and that the intrinsic value of any thing may be measured by the quantity of Land used in its production and the quantity of labour which enters into it, in other words by the quantity of Land of which the produce is allotted to those who have worked upon it; and as all the Land belongs to the Prince and the Landowners all things which have this intrinsic value have it only at their expense.
The Money or Coin which finds the proportion of Values in exchange is the most certain measure for judging of the Par between Land and labour and the relation of one to the other in different Countries where this Par varies according to the greater or less produce of the Land allotted to those who labour.
If, for example, one man earn an ounce of silver every day by his work, and another in the same place earn only half an ounce, one can conclude that the first has as much again of the produce of the Land to dispose of as the second.
Sir William Petty, in a little manuscript of the year 1685,
*4 considers this Par, or Equation between Land and Labour, as the most important consideration in Political Arithmetic, but the research which he has made into it in passing is fanciful and remote from natural laws, because he has attached himself not to causes and principles but only to effects, as Mr Locke, Mr Davenant and all the other English authors who have written on this subject have done after him.
Essai says “un à un”—a printer’s error, or a slip of the pen. Postlethwayt has “one million.” See
post, p. 385.
Political Anatomy of Ireland, ch. ix.