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Home > Macroeconomic Issues Thinkers > Jean-Baptiste Say

Macroeconomic Issues Thinkers

Jean-Baptiste Say

Early classical political economist
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Timeline

1767
Born in Lyon, France.
1792
Fought as a volunteer in the campaign of Champagne.
1793
Appointed secretary to the Minister of Finance in the French government.
1794
Edited the periodical, La Decade Philosophique, Litteraire, et Politique.
1799
Appointed a member of the French Tribunate.
1800
Publication of Olbie, ou Essai sur les Moyens de Reformer les Moeurs d’une Nation.
1803
Publication of A Treatise on Political Economy.
1819
Appointed to the chair of industrial economy at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers.
1820
Publication of Lettres Malthus.
1828
Publication of Cours Complet D’economie Politique Pratique.
1830
Appointed a member of the Council-General of the Department of the Seine.
1831
Appointed professor of political economy at the Collège de France.
1832
Died in Paris.

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Life and Career

Jean-Baptiste Say was an economist and businessman, writer, social philosopher, and a successful entrepreneur, and businessman. He initially worked as clerk to a merchant in England before returning to France, where he was employed at a life assurance company. His first published work was a pamphlet on the liberty of the press, published in 1789. He taught at the Conservatoire des Arts and Métiers, and Collège de France and, after being removed from the Tribunate by Napoleon in 1804, he founded a large spinning mill. The restoration of the Bourbon government brought him many honors, and he was subsequently invited to deliver a course of lectures on economics. He is best known as the author of the law of markets, known as Say’s Law of Markets (or Say’s Law), and as the first to coin the term “entrepreneur.”

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Key Thinking

  • Say was a central figure in classical economics; he led the revival in the study of political economy, and supported it during a time of opposition to liberal views.

  • His most celebrated work was A Treatise on Political Economy, which expounded laissez-faire economic principles, and a combination of the utility theory of demand, and Adam Smith’s cost theory of supply.

  • A Treatise on Political Economy was not popular with Napoleon Bonaparte, who demanded he rewrite parts of it to support his move towards protectionism and regulation. When Say refused, Napoleon banned the book and threw him out of the Tribunate.

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In Perspective

  • Say championed classically liberal principles and argued in favor of competition and free trade, and the lifting of restraints on business.

  • He believed that society benefits if the precepts of political economy are widely known, and understood by the people.

  • Say’s Law of Markets, as outlined in A Treatise on Political Economy, states that total demand in an economy cannot exceed or fall below total supply in that economy, so that there can be no demand without supply, and that recession does not occur because of failure in demand, or lack of money.

  • Rather, he argued, the more goods that are produced, the more those goods can constitute a demand for other goods, so that prosperity can be increased by stimulating production, not consumption.

  • He also proposed that the creation of more money results in inflation. This, he suggested, was because a greater amount of money demanding the same quantity of goods does not represent an increase in real demand.

  • Studied the role of entrepreneurs, and their unique importance to the economy as risk-takers and contributors to production, as compared with the manager or the capitalist.

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Quotation

“No set of men are more bigoted to system, than those who boast that they go upon none.”

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Further reading on Jean-Baptiste Say

Books:

  • Hollander, Samuel. Jean-Baptiste Say and the Classical Canon in Economics: The British Connection in French Classicism. London: Routledge, 2005. Examines the similarities and differences between Say’s views on economics and the Ricardo School, supported by extensive analysis of Say’s writings.
  • Say, Jean-Baptiste. A Treatise on Political Economy. Paris: Déterville, 1803. His most famous book, which helped Say spread his liberal economic ideas, and views on laissez-faire and free trade in many parts of the world.
  • Whatmore, Richard. Republicanism and the French Revolution: An Intellectual History of Jean-Baptiste Say’s Political Economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Provides context on the conflict between modern republicanism and other theories of governing societies through Say’s writing.

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