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 Other contemporary economists were also familiar with the work, even to the point of plagiarizing from the unpublished version.Despite the multiple plagiarizations and the disappearance of early originals, there is general agreement now that Richard Cantillon did indeed write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 XII
All Classes and Individuals in a State subsist or are enriched at the Expense of the Proprietors of Land
There are none but the Prince and the Proprietors of Land who live independent; all other Classes and Inhabitants are hired or are Undertakers. The proof and detail of this will be developed in the next Chapter.
If the Prince and Proprietors of Land close their Estates and will not suffer them to be cultivated it is clear that there would be neither Food nor Rayment for any of the Inhabitants; consequently all the Individuals are supported not only by the produce of the Land which is cultivated for the benefit of the Owners but also at the Expense of these same Owners from whose property they derive all that they have.
The Farmers have generally two thirds of the Produce of the Land, one for their costs and the support of their Assistants, the other for the Profit of their Undertaking: on these two thirds the Farmer provides generally directly or indirectly subsistence for all those who live in the Country, and also Mechanicks or Undertakers in the City in respect of the Merchandise of the City consumed in the Country.
The Proprietor has usually one third of the produce of his Land and on this third he maintains all the Mechanicks and others whom he employs in the City as well, frequently, as the Carriers who bring the Produce of the Country to the City.
It is generally calculated that one half of the Inhabitants of a kingdom subsist and make their Abode in Cities, and the other half live in the Country; on this supposition the Farmer who has two thirds or four sixths of the Produce of the Land, pays either directly or indirectly one sixth to the Citizens in exchange for the Merchandise which he takes from them. This sixth with the one third or two sixths which the Proprietor spends in the City makes three sixths or one Half of the Produce of the Land. This Calculation is only to convey a general Idea of the Proportion; but in fact, if half of the Inhabitants live in the Cities they consume more than half of the Land’s Produce, as they live better than those who reside in the Country and spend more of the Produce of the Land being all Mechanicks or Dependents of the Proprietors and consequently better maintained than the Assistants and Dependents of the Farmers.
But let this Matter be how it will, if we examine the Means by which an Inhabitant is supported it will always appear in returning back to the Fountain-Head, that these Means arise from the Land of the Proprietor either in the two thirds reserved by the Farmer, or the one third which remains to the Landlord.
If a Proprietor had only the amount of Land which he lets out to one Farmer the Farmer would get a better living out of it than himself; but the Nobles and large Landowners in the Cities have sometimes several hundreds of Farmers and are themselves very few in number in proportion to all the Inhabitants of a state.
True there are often in the Cities several Undertakers and Mechanicks who live by Foreign Trade, and therefore at the Expense of Foreign Landowners: but at present I am considering only a State in regard to its own Produce and Industry, not to complicate my argument by accidental circumstances.
The Land belongs to the Proprietors but would be useless to them if it were not cultivated. The more labour is expended on it, other things being equal, the more it produces; and the more its products are worked up, other things being equal, the more value they have as Merchandize. Hence the Proprietors have need of the Inhabitants as these have of the Proprietors; but in this oeconomy it is for the Proprietors, who have the disposition and the direction of the Landed capital, to give the most advantageous turn and movement to the whole. Also everything in a State depends on the Fancy, Methods, and Fashions of life of the Proprietors of Land in especial, as I will endeavour to make clear later in this Essay.
It is need and necessity which enable Farmers, Mechanicks of every kind, Merchants, Officers, Soldiers, Sailors, Domestic Servants and all the other Classes who work or are employed in the State, to exist. All these working people serve not only the Prince and the Landowners but each other, so that there are many of them who do not work directly for the Landowners, and so it is not seen that they subsist on the capital of these Proprietors and live at their Expense. As for those who exercise Professions which are not essential, like Dancers, Actors, Painters, Musicians, etc. they are only supported in the State for pleasure or for ornament, and their number is always very small in proportion to the other Inhabitants.
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.