Front Page Titles (by Subject) V - Richard Cantillon
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
V - Friedrich August von Hayek, “Richard Cantillon” 
“Richard Cantillon”, Journal of Libertarian Studies, vol. VII, No. 2, Fall 1985, pp. 217–247.
About Liberty Fund:
This essay is published with permission of the copyright holders the Journal of Libertarian Studies.
Fair use statement:
While the magnitude of his scientific accomplishment can scarcely be disputed, it is extraordinarily difficult to assess his actual influence on the development of economic thought. One may deduce from the various instances of either pre-publication or post-publication though unacknowledged utilization of the Essai that many other writes knew him and drew upon his work. The exceedingly rich literature from the mid-eighteenth century has scarcely been investigated with this in mind. The time and milieu in which Cantillon wrote favored to an exceptional degree a reverberating impact even where personal communication was involved, for it was this same Anglo-French society of the second quarter of the century which, starting out from an intellectual revolution, paved the way for the political revolution and the upswing of the political sciences. Not only Montesquieu but also Voltaire and Rousseau were in England at this time, in close contact with those circles in which Cantillon moved. In the same way David Hume and Adam Smith found decisive stimulation in France. As we said, Smith was acquainted with Cantillon. Whether the same can be said of Hume is a more difficult and no less tantalizing question, for his Political Discourses, which embody his economic treatises, appeared three years before Cantillon's Essai. From a comparison of Hume's monetary theory with that of Cantillon one gets the inescapable impression that Hume must in fact have known Cantillon.97
It may be recalled that part of the relevant passages from Cantillon appeared in Postlethwayt's Dictionary in 1751, that is a year before the publication of Hume's work, and the acquaintance may have originated there. However, the similarities are by no means confined to the passages reproduced by Postlethwayt. There are several instances such as Hume's treatment of the effects of an increase in the money supply or his refutation of the notion that such an increase could induce a fall in the interest rate: these amount to a superficial resemblance which, however, loses force once it is realized that Hume is no match for Cantillon in profundity of insight.98 Hume would have had adequate opportunity to become acquainted with the Essai manuscript, for he spent the greater part of three years in France after 1734 and in later years—beginning especially with Montesquieu in 1749—he corresponded regularly with French scholars. This surmise is strengthened considerably when one encounters in Hume's economics notes, which date predominantly from 1740/41, the observation that a pound of steel, when processed, can have a value of £10,000, which clearly reminds one of Cantillon's example of the watch spring.99 If, in addition to Smith and Hume, perhaps even Malthus had known and borrowed from Cantillon—for there are several instances in his essay on the principles of population where this seems likely—this would suffice to establish a persistent influence on all subsequent economists.100
In addition to our earlier evidence of the efficacy of Cantillon's treatise in France, it is perhaps worth noting that the year of its publication, 1755, was consistently identified by contemporary writers as the year in which the new school of economics emerged. Germain Garnier, the first proponent of the abstinence theory, drew extensively but without acknowledgment on Cantillon's ideas in writing his ‘Abrégé élémentaire des principes de l’économie politique’ (Paris 1796) and sought to reconcile them with the views of Smith, whom he had translated into French, and of the Physiocrats.101 102 At times Garnier borrowed not only Cantillon's examples but even reproduced his argument verbatim.103
Cantillon tended to be forgotten in France once J. B. Say led the way in ignoring all writers before Adam Smith. The Essai seems, however, to have been read to some extent in Germany and Italy also. The influence of the Italian translation of the Essai shows up at least in G. Filangieri, while in Germany not only Graumann, to whom we already referred, but also the “German Physiocrat” Jakob Mauvillon, whose father brought out an edition of the Essai, must have known Cantillon.104 Firm evidence exists in the case of von Pfeifer, who, without naming Cantillon but clearly referring to him, said that “the Physiocratic system had been produced in England, propagated in France and finally transmitted to Germany”.105 G. A. Will, having quoted this remark of von Pfeifer's in his “Versuch über die Physiokratie” (1782), added in turn that “it is indeed correct that, among others, the English writer Cantillon, in his delightful study on commerce, delineated many years ago the theory of the Physiocrats concerning the nature of the state in terms of the underlying principles and main conclusions.”106
Huart (loc. cit. article of July 26) also considered or considers that the influence of Cantillon on Hume was very great. A. E. Monroe, on the other hand (loc. cit., p. 228) is of the opinion that there are no grounds for assuming that Hume was familiar with Cantillon's manuscript, even though it is known that it passed through many hands.
See also L. Cossa, An Introduction to the Study of Political Economy (London, 1893), p. 255, who says that “Hume's Political Discourses... don't stand comparison in terms of coherency or unity with Cantillon's more concise, systematic and thorough exposition.”
J. Hill Burton, Life and Correspondence of David Hume (Edinburgh 1846). p. 367. This contains only excerpts from Hume's economic writings. Mr. J. Y. T. Greig, who, as literary executor, is preparing a complete edition for the press, had the extraordinary kindness to send me the full text by Hume, and I find that it contains no further indications of a direct influence of Cantillon on Hume.
As another example of Cantillon's influence on English writers Huart mentions W. Paley, Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (1785), VI/II.
See W. Hasbach, German Garnier als erster Aufsteller der Abstinenztheorie, Jahrbuch für Gesetzgebung usw (1905).
See E. Allix, 'L'oeuvre économique de Germain Garnier traducteur d'Adam Smith et Disciple de Cantillon.” Revue d'histoire des doctrines économiques et sociales, V (Paris, 1912).
As in preceding reference, p. 333.
Delle leggi politiche a economiche “Scienza della legislazione II,” (1780), reprinted in Scrittori Classici Italiani, di Economia Politica, edited by Custodi, Parte Moderna, vol. 32. See chap. 4.
J. F. v. Pfeifer, Natürliche, aus dem Endzweck der Gesellschaft entstehende allgemeine Polizeiwissenschaft, Part II (Frankfurt, 1779), p. 62.
G. A. Will, Versuch uber die Physiokratie, deren Geschichte, Literatur, Inhalt und Werth (Nurnberg, 1782), p. 4.