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 Other contemporary economists were also familiar with the work, even to the point of plagiarizing from the unpublished version.Despite the multiple plagiarizations and the disappearance of early originals, there is general agreement now that Richard Cantillon did indeed write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
Jevons (W. S.), art. in
Contemporary Review, January 1881. Reprinted above, pp. 333-360, and in his posthumous
Principles of Economics (ed. Higgs), London, 1905.
Higgs (H.), art. in
Economic Journal, June 1891;
Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1892; Preface to Jevons’s
Principles, pp. ix-xiii, 1905;
The Physiocrats, London, 1897,
von Sivers (F.), art. “Turgot’s Stellung in den Geschichten der Nationalökonomie,”
Jahrb. für Nationalökonomie, Bd. XXII. Jena, 1874.
Bauer (S.), art. “Zur Entstehung der Physiokratie,”
Jahrb. für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, N.F. Bd. XXII, Jena 1890; art. in
Quarterly Journal of Economics, October 1890.
Horton (S. Dana),
Sir Isaac Newton and England’s Prohibitive Tariff upon Silver Money, in an open letter to Professor Jevons in reply to his Essay on Cantillon. Cincinnati, 1881.
Dict. of Nat. Biography, s.v. “Cantillon,” art. by H. R. Tedder. London, 1886.
Dict. of Political Economy (ed. Palgrave and Higgs), s.v. “Cantillon,” arts. by H. Higgs, S. Bauer and F. Y. Edgeworth. London, 1925.
Monroe (A. E.),
Early Economic Thought. Boston, Mass., 1924.
Monetary Theory before Adam Smith. Boston, Mass., 1923.
Richard Cantillon. Paris, 1900.
Travail et Terre. 1893-4.
Ueber den Richard Cantillon zugeschrieben “Essay sur la Nature du Commerce en général” mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Lehren von Otto Effertz. Liesthal, 1889 [one of the Basler Dissertations].
A Review of Economic Theory. 1929
References to Cantillon are made by (among others)
Quesnay, art. “Grains” in the
Encyclopédie of Diderot and D’Alembert. Paris 1757.
L’Ami des Hommes, t. I,
passim (especially chapters 2 and 7). Avignon, 1756.
Œuvres, ed. Daire, t. II, p. 819. Paris, 1848.
Œuvres, t. V, p. 169; t. VI, pp. 311-328. 1789.
Œuvres, t. VI, p. 141. 1803.
Mémoires, t. I, p. 33. 1821.
Essai analytigue sur la Richesse et l’Impôt, p. 365. Londres, 1767.
Wealth of Nations, Bk I, cap. 8.
Political Arithmetic, Pt 2, p. 29. 1799.
Steuart (Sir J.),
Works, vol. III, p. 22. 1805.
Graumann (J. P.),
Gesammelte Briefe von dem Gelde, p. 144. Berlin, 1762.
Rousseau, ses amis et ses ennemis, t. II, pp. 338, 365-7. Paris, 1865. An important letter, dated 30 July 1767, from Mirabeau to Rousseau about Cantillon.
Lavergne (L. De),
Les grands économistes français du XVIII
e siècle, pp. 167
et seq. Paris, 1870.
Les Physiocrates, p. 47. Paris, 1846.
For Grimm, Fréron, Postlethwayt, Harris, etc., see Jevons’s article.
op. cit. p. 440.
A Six Weeks’ Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales 3rd edition, London, 1772, p. 164. But the family is undoubtedly of French extraction.
th Report Historical MSS Commission, IV. 157.
“Mémoire pour Jean et Remi Carol frères, banquiers à Paris, contre Richard Cantillon, marchand mercier à Paris…. Paris, 1730, chez André Knapen, 1730,” 32 pp. fol. Bibl. Nat. Fm. 2838.
Econ. Journ. 1891, p. 279 etc.
Arrêt of the 5th they were fixed at 97 l. 10 sols. By
Arrêt of the 11th idem they were to shrink by degrees to 32 l. 10 sols. at the end of the year.
v. Countess of Stafford and others. Philip Cantillon, described as a bankrupt, is one of the “others”. I have been guided to this reference by the aid of Mr J. A. Langley, the present Assistant Paymaster General of the Supreme Court.
cit. p. 365,
ante, pp. 237-8.
An entry in the executor’s accounts: “By an Undertaker for burying the Remains of the said Richard Cantillon £6. 2
d.,” suggests that the burial took place in London.
“The Proceedings at the Sessions… for the City of London… 4th to 7th December 1734, No. 1, Part II. London, Prtd for John Roberts… 1734. Price Six Pence,” 4to, pp. 5-15
City Churches, London 1926, pp. 62-63.
id. II. 86.
circa 1750. For the original French see
Econ. Journ. loc. cit.
Review of Economic Theory, 1929, pp. 19, 65.
Essai soon sunk into oblivion “probably in part owing to its mongrel Franco-English character” (
op. cit p. 19), but its French is quite passable. Mirabeau expressly says Cantillon knew the language perfectly. See
Econ. Journ. I, p. 268.
The Physiocrats, pp. 19-25.
Dict. of Pol. Econ. s.v. Say, J. B.
Dict. of Pol. Econ. s.v. French School of Political Economy.
Harvard Quarterly Journal of Economics, Boston, Mass., vol. VI. pp. 436-456, 1892.