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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jean-Baptiste Say

It is truly a scandal that there is not a single biography of the great J.B. Say in English (and only one in French, an old work by Ernest Teilhac). In fact, there is precious little analysis of any aspect of Say's thought except for a mountain of work devoted to the small part of it known as ‘Say's law’ – and too much of that deals with mathematical equations that Say would have properly scorned in any case. Say's magnum opus is translated into English as A Treatise on Political Economy (ed. Clement C. Biddle, 6th Amer. ed., 1834, New York: A. M. Kelley, 1964), based on the final fifth French edition of 1826. Biddle's excellent notes occasionally correct lapses from laissez-faire by the author. Also see J.B. Say, Letters to Mr. Malthus (1821, New York: A.M. Kelley, 1967). It is also unfortunate that in the mighty and definitive multi-volume Sraffa edition of Ricardo's works and letters, Say's letters to Ricardo are printed in the original French and not translated into English. Considering the enormous resources that were poured into the Ricardo project, it is difficult to see why these letters were not translated.
On the ideologues and their philosophical and scientific background, see the notable discussion in FA. von Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science (Glencoe, 111.: The Free Press, 1952), pp. 105–16. De Tracy is covered fully in Emmet Kennedy, Destutt De Tracy and the Origins of ‘Ideology’ (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1978). On Say and the ideologues, see Leonard P. Liggio, ‘Charles Dunoyer and French Classical Liberalism’, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1 (Summer 1977), pp. 153–65; and Mark Weinburg, ‘The Social Analysis of Three Early 19th Century French Liberals: Say, Comte, and Dunoyer’, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 2 (Winter 1978), pp. 45–63. Also see Charles Hunter Van Duzer, Contribution of the Ideologues to French Revolutionary Thought (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1935). Some connections between the Ideologues, and Storch, Brown, and Mill can be found in Cheryl B. Welch, Liberty and Utility: The French Ideologues and the Transformation of Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984). Welch, however, overstresses the alleged utilitarianism of the French school. On the conflict between the ideologues and Napoleon, see Lewis A. Coser, ‘Napoleon and the Ideologues’, in George B. de Huszar (ed.), The Intellectuals (Glencoe, 111.: The Free Press, 1960), pp. 80–86.
On Jefferson's monetary views and his plan to eliminate bank paper, see Murray N. Rothbard, The Panic of 1819: Reactions and Policies (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), p. 140. Also see Clifton B. Luttrell, ‘Thomas Jefferson on Money and Banking: Disciple of David Hume and Forerunner of Some Modern Monetary Views’, History of Political Economy, 7 (Spring 1975), pp. 156–73.
On Say as a Smithian, see J. Hollander, ‘The Founder of a School’, in J.M. Clark et al., Adam Smith, 1776–1926 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1928) and on the influence of Say's Treatise in Europe, see Palyi, ‘The Introduction of Adam Smith’, in ibid., pp. 180–233. On the influence of the Treatise in the United States, see Michael J.L. O'Connor, Origins of Academic Economics in the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944), pp. 120–35.
A discussion of Say's critique of statistics is to be found in Claude Ménard, ‘Three Forms of Resistance to Statistics: Say, Cournot, Walras’, History of Political Economy, 12 (Winter, 1980), pp. 524–9. Ménard is incorrect, however, in believing that the last English translation of the Traité was the 1821 version based on the 4th French edition. For the currently available translation was based on the 5th French edition of 1826, and therefore includes Say's excellent Introduction presenting his critique of the statistical method.
A trenchant comparison and contrast between Say's and Ricardo's theories of value, and a critique of Say's rebuff of Condillac and Genovesi on the gains of exchange, is to be found in the excellent chapter, ‘Ricardo versus Say. Cost or Utility the Foundation of Value?’, in Oswald St Clair, A Key to Ricardo (1957, New York: A. M. Kelley, 1965), pp. 260–96.
Say's theory of the entrepreneur is discussed, not totally satisfactorily, in J.A. Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), and Robert F. Hébert and Albert N. Link, The Entrepreneur: Mainstream Views and Radical Critiques (New York: Praeger, 1982), pp. 29–35. For an excellent discussion of Say on the entrepreneur and a contrast with the treatments of Smith and Ricardo, see G. Koolman, ‘Say's Conception of the Role of the Entrepreneur’, Economica, 38 (August 1971), pp. 269–86. On Say's pre-Austrian view of the values of the factors of production being derived from their products instead of vice versa, see the passage in Marian Bowley, Studies in the History of Economic Theory Before 1870 (London: Macmillan, 1973), p. 127.
The best place to read about Say's law of markets is in the bulk of his Letters to Malthus and in his Treatise. Most of the voluminous modern literature on Say's law has little to offer; but see Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, pp. 615–25; Henry Hazlitt, (ed.), The Critics of Keynesian Economics (1960, 2nd ed., New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1977), pp. 11—45; and especially the grievously neglected William H. Hutt, A Rehabilitation of Say's Law (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1974). Key-nes's notorious attack on Say's law may be found in John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1936), p. 23.
On Say's unique attitude of implacable hostility toward taxation, see Murray N. Rothbard, ‘The Myth of Neutral Taxation’, Cato Journal, 1 (Autumn, 1981), pp. 551—4. On Say and his followers as libertarians, see Weinburg, ‘Social Analysis’, pp. 54–63. On Say's methodology, see Murray N. Rothbard, Individualism and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (1973, San Francisco: Cato Institute, 1979), pp. 45–49.

Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought (2 volume set)

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