Jean-Baptiste Say

French economist and businessman
Jean-Baptiste Say
To have never done any thing but make the eighteenth part of a pin, is a sorry account for a human being to give of his existence.

Jean-Baptiste Say (5 January 176715 November 1832) was a French economist and businessman. He was said to have held classically liberal views. He is most remembered today for Say's Law.



A Treatise On Political Economy (Fourth Edition) (1832)Edit

Jean Baptiste Say, A Treatise On Political Economy: or the Production, Distribution, and Consumption of Wealth. Translated from the Fourth Edition of the French by C.R. Prinsep, M.A. With Notes by the Translator. (Sixth American Edition)


  • A science only advances with certainty, when the plan of inquiry and the object of our researches have been clearly defined; otherwise a small number of truths are loosely laid hold of, without their connexion being perceived, and numerous errors, without being enabled to detect their fallacy.
    • p. xv
  • The manner in which things exist and take place, constitutes what is called the nature of things; and a careful observation of the nature of things is the sole foundation of all truth.
    • p. xvii
  • With respect to the present time, there are few persons who unite the qualifications of good observers with a situation favourable for accurate observation.
    • p. xix
  • Nothing can be more idle than the opposition of theory to practice!
    • p. xxi
  • Political economy has only become a science since it has been confined to the results of inductive investigation.
    • p. xxvi
  • What can we expect from nations still less advanced in civilization than the Greeks?
    • p. xxix
  • It is, perhaps, a well founded objection to Mr. Ricardo, that he sometimes reasons upon abstract principles to which he gives too great a generalization.
    • p. xlvii
  • How many other opinions, as universally prevailing and as much respected, will in like manner pass away?
    • p. xlix
  • The haggardness of poverty is everywhere seen contrasted with the sleekness of wealth, the exhorted labour of some compensating for the idleness of others, wretched hovels by the side of stately colonnades, the rags of indigence blended with the ensigns of opulence; in a word, the most useless profusion in the midst of the most urgent wants.
    • p. l
  • But, is it possible for princes and ministers to be enlightened, when private individuals are not so?
    • p. liv
  • With no fixed opinions in relation to the causes of public prosperity, the nation, like a ship without chart or compass, was driven about by the caprice of the winds and the folly of the pilot, alike ignorant of the place of her departure or destination.
    • p. lvi
  • Still how unenlightened and ignorant are the very nations we term civilized!
    • p. lix-lx

Book I, On ProductionEdit

Law has been unjustly charged with the whole blame of the calamities resulting from the scheme that bears his name.
  • The quantity of money, which is readily parted with to obtain a thing is called its price.
    • Chapter I, p. 61
  • No human being has the faculty of originally creating matter, which is more than nature itself can do. But any one may avail himself of the agents offered him by nature, to invest matter with utility.
    • Chapter II, p. 65
  • The wants of mankind are supplied and satisfied out of the gross values produced and created, and not out of the net values only.
    • Chapter II, p. 69
  • Capital in the hands of a national government forms a part of the gross national capital.
    • Chapter III, p. 73
  • Capital must work, as it were, in concert with industry; and this concurrence is what I call the productive agency of capital.
    • Chapter III, p. 73
  • When a tree, a natural product, is felled, is society put into possession of no greater produce than that of the mere labour of the woodman?
    • Chapter IV, p. 76
  • Labour, upon whichever of those operations it be bestowed, is productive, because it concurs in the creation of a product. Thus the labour of the philosopher, whether experimental or literary, is productive; the labour of the adventurer or master-manufacturer is productive, although he perform no actual manual work; the labour of every operative workman is productive, from the common day-labourer in agriculture, to the pilot that governs the motion of a ship.
    • Chapter VII, p. 85
  • The celebrated Adam Smith was the first to point out the immense increase of production, and the superior perfection of products referable to this division of labour.
    • Chapter VIII, p. 91
  • To have never done anything but make the eighteenth part of a pin, is a sorry account for a human being to give of his existence.
  • A shop-keeper in good business is quite as well off as a pedlar that travels the country with his wares on his back. Commercial jealousy is, after all, nothing but prejudice: it is a wild fruit, that will drop of itself when it has arrived at maturity.
    • Chapter IX, p. 101
  • The love of domination never attains more than a factitious elevation, that is sure to make enemies of all its neighbours.
    • Chapter IX, p. 104
  • There is no security of property, where a despotic authority can possess itself of the property of the subject against his consent. Neither is there such security, where the consent is merely nominal and delusive.
    • Chapter XIV
  • A man who applies his labour to the investing of objects with value by the creation of utility of some sort, can not expect such a value to be appreciated and paid for, unless where other men have the means of purchasing it. Now, of what do these means consist? Of other values of other products, likewise the fruits of industry, capital, and land. Which leads us to a conclusion that may at first appear paradoxical, namely, that it is production which opens a demand for products.
  • The United States will have the honour of proving experimentally, that true policy goes hand in hand with moderation and humanity.
    • Chapter XV, p. 138
  • The encouragement of mere consumption is no benefit to commerce; for the difficulty lies in supplying the means, not in stimulating the desire of consumption; and we have seen that production alone, furnishes those means. Thus, it is the aim of good government to stimulate production, of bad government to encourage consumption.
    • Chapter XV, p. 138
  • I have made no distinction between the circulation of goods and of money, because there really is none.
    • Chapter XVI, p. 142
  • The day will come, sooner or later, when people will wonder at the necessity of taking all this trouble to expose the folly of a system, so childish and absurd, and yet so often enforced at the point of a bayonet.
    • Chapter XVII, Digression, p. 159
  • A tax can never be favorable to the public welfare, except by the good use that is made of its proceeds.
    • Chapter XVII, Section I, p. 168
  • Freedoms and apprenticeships are likewise expedients of police,not of that wholesome branch of police, whose object is the maintenance of the public and private security, and which is neither costly nor vexatious; but of that sort of police which bad governments employ to preserve or extend their personal authority at any expense.
    • Chapter XVII, Section II, p. 177
  • "regulation is useful and proper, when aimed at the prevention of fraud or contrivance, manifestly injurious to other kinds of production, or to the public safety, and not at prescribing the nature of the products and the methods of fabrication."
    • Chapter XVII, Section II, p. 181
  • Some writers maintain arithmetic to be only the only sure guide in political economy; for my part, I see so many detestable systems built upon arithmetical statements, that I am rather inclined to regard that science as the instrument of national calamity.
    • Chapter XVII, Section III, p. 188
  • Nothing is more dangerous in practice, than an obstinate, unbending adherence to a system, particularly in its application to the wants and errors of mankind.
    • Chapter XVII, Section IV, P. 196
  • What is the motive which operates in every man's breast to counteract the impulse towards the gratification of his wants and appetites?
    • Chapter XIX, p. 207
  • The ancients, by their system of colonization, made themselves friends all over the known world; the moderns have sought to make subjects, and therefore have made enemies.
    • Chapter XIX, p. 213
"At Newfoundland, it is said, that dried cod performs the office of money,"
  • What would people think of a tradesman, that was to give a ball in his shop, hire performers, and hand refreshments about, with a view to benefit his business?
  • "At Newfoundland, it is said, that dried cod performs the office of money,"
    • Chapter XXI, Section II, p. 221
  • And let no government imagine, that, to strip them of the power of defrauding their subjects, is to deprive them of a valuable privilege. A system of swindling can never be long lived, and must infallibly in the end produce much more loss than profit.
    • Chapter XXI, Section V, p. 238
  • Wherefore it is impossible to succeed in comparing wealth of different eras or different nations. This, in political economy, like squaring the circle in mathematics, is impracticable, for want of a common mean or measure to go by.
    • Chapter XXI, Section VI, p. 244
  • Law has been unjustly charged with the whole blame of the calamities resulting from the scheme that bears his name.
    • Chapter XXII, Section IV, p. 281

Book II, On DistributionEdit

  • Valuation is vague and arbitrary, when there is no assurance that it will be generally acquiesced in by others.
    • Chapter I, p. 285
  • Demand and supply are the opposite extremes of the beam, whence depend the scales of dearness and cheapness; the price is the point of equilibrium, where the momentum of the one ceases, and that of the other begins.
    • Chapter I, p. 290
  • One product is always ultimately bought with another, even when paid for in the first instance with money.
    • Chapter IV, 306
  • A much larger value is consumed in lettuces than in pineapples, throughout Europe at large; and the superb shawls of Cachemere are, in France, a very poor object in trade, in comparison with the plain cotton goods of Rouen.
    • Chapter VI, p. 323
  • Whence it is evident that the remedy must be adapted to the particular cause of the mischief; consequently, the cause must be ascertained, before the remedy is devised.
    • Chapter VII, p. 336
  • But what must be the character of that policy, which aims at national prosperity through the impoverishment of a large proportion of the home producers, with a view to supply foreigners at a cheaper rate, and give them all the benifet of the national privation and self denial?
    • Chapter VII, Section IV, p. 340
  • The theory of interest was wrapped in utter obscurity, until Hume and Smith dispelled the vapor.
    • Chapter VIII, Section I, p. 354
  • " capital cannot be more beneficially employed, then in strengthening and aiding the productive powers of nature."
    • Chapter VIII, Section III, p. 357
The sea and wind can at the same time convey my neighbour's vessel and my own.
  • The sea and wind can at the same time convey my neighbour's vessel and my own.
    • Chapter IX, Section I, p. 360
  • Capital can seldom be made productive, without undergoing several changes both of form and of place, the risk of which is always more or less alarming to persons unaccustomed to the operations of industry; whereas, on the contrary, landed property produces without any change of either quality or position.
    • Chapter IX, Section I, p. 363
  • It is a melancholy but an undoubted fact, that, even in the most thriving countries, part of the population annually dies of mere want. Not that all who perish from want absolutely die of hunger; though this calamity is of more frequent occurrence than is generally supposed.
    • Chapter XI, Section I, p. 372-373
  • The most effectual encouragement to population is, the activity of industry, and the consequent multiplication of the national products.
  • All travellers agree that protestant are both richer and more populous than catholic countries;and the reason is, because the habits of the former are more conducive to production.
    • Chapter XI, Section I, p. 381 (See also: Max Weber)

Book III, On ConsumptionEdit

  • Opulent, civilized, and industrious nations, are greater consumers than poor ones, because they are infinitely greater producers.
  • In times of political confusion, and under an arbitrary government, many will prefer to keep their capital inactive, concealed, and unproductive, either of profit or gratification, rather than run the risk of its display. This latter evil is never felt under a good government.
    • Chapter I, note 2
  • The luxury of ostentation affords a much less substantial and solid gratification, than the luxury of comfort, if I may be allowed the expression.
    • Chapter IV, p. 397
  • A nation or an individual, will do wisely to direct consumption chiefly to those articles, that are longest time in wearing out, and the most frequently in use.
    • Chapter IV, p. 398
  • The government has, in all countries, a vast influence, in determining the character of the national consumption; not only because it absolutely directs the consumption of the state itself, but because a great proportion of the consumption of individuals is gained by its will and example.
    • Chapter IV, p. 400
  • It is doubtless very desirable, that private persons should have a correct knowledge of their personal interests; but it must be infinitely more so, that governments should possess that knowledge.
    • Chapter VI, Section I, p. 418
  • When war becomes a trade, it benefits, like all other trades, from the division of labour.
    • Chapter VI, Section II, p. 429
  • Dominion by land or sea will appear equally destitute of attraction, when it comes to be generally understood, that all its advantages rest with the rulers, and that the subjects at large derive no benefit whatever.
    • Chapter VI, Section II, p. 431
  • Every individual, from the common mechanic, that works in wood or clay, to the prime minister that regulates with the dash of his pen the agriculture, the breeding of cattle, the mining, or the commerce of a nation, will perform his business the better, the better he understands the nature of things,and the more his understanding is enlightened.
    • Chapter VI, Section II, p. 432
An uniformity of weights and measures, arranged upon mathematical principles, would be a benefit to the whole commercial world, if it were wise enough to adopt such an expedient.
  • An uniformity of weights and measures, arranged upon mathematical principles, would be a benefit to the whole commercial world, if it were wise enough to adopt such an expedient.
    • Chapter VI, Section II, p. 433
  • If the community wish to have the benefit of more knowledge and intelligence in the labouring classes, it must dispense it at the public charge.
    • Chapter VI, Section II, p. 436
  • The wealthy are generally impressed with an idea, that they shall never stand in need of public charitable relief; but a little less confidence would become them better.
    • Chapter VI, Section II, p. 439
  • The best scheme of finance is, to spend as little as possible; and the best tax is always the lightest.
    • Chapter VIII, Section I, p. 449
  • Taxation being a burthen, must needs weigh lightest on each individual, when it bears upon all alike.
    • Chapter VIII, Section I, p. 454
  • The occupation of the stock-jobber yields no new or useful product; consequently having no product of his own to give in exchange, he has no revenue to subsist upon, but what he contrives to make out of the unskilfulness or ill-fortune of gamesters like himself.
  • A treasure does not always contribute to the political security of its possessors. It rather invites attack, and very seldom is faithfully applied to the purpose for which it was destined.
    • Chapter IX, p. 487
  • The command of a large sum is a dangerous temptation to a national administration. Though accumulated at their expense, the people rarely, if ever profit by it: yet in point of fact, all value, and consequently, all wealth, originates with the people.
    • Chapter IX, p. 487

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