Say on Markets
- Essays on Economics: 19thC French Political Economy in Lalor's Cyclopedia
Source: This article first appeared in the Dictionnaire d'Économie Politique, ed. Guillaumin and Charles Coquelin (Paris: Guillaumin, 1852) and was translated into English and included in Lalor's Cyclopedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States by the best American and European Authors, ed. John J. Lalor (Chicago: M.B. Carey, 1899) in Vol 3 Oath - Zollverein Chapter: OUTLET.
Copyright: The text is in the public domain.
Fair Use: This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832) was the leading French political economist in the first third of the nineteenth century. Before becoming an academic political economist quite late in life, Say apprenticed in a commercial office, working for a life insurance company; he also worked as a journalist, soldier, politician, cotton manufacturer, and writer. During the revolution he worked on the journal of the idéologues, La Décade philosophique, littéraire, et politique, for which he wrote articles on political economy from 1794 to 1799. In 1814 he was asked by the government to travel to England on a fact-finding mission to discover the secret of English economic growth and to report on the impact of the revolutionary wars on the British economy. His book De l'Angleterre et des Anglais (1815) was the result. After the defeat of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, Say was appointed to teach economics in Paris, first at the Athénée, then as a chair in "industrial economics" at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers, and finally the first chair in political economy at the Collège de France. Say is best known for his Traité d'économie politique (1803), which went through many editions (and revisions) during his lifetime. One of his last major works, the Cours complet d'économie politique pratique (1828-33), was an attempt to broaden the scope of political economy, away from the preoccupation with the production of wealth, by examining the moral, political, and sociological requirements of a free society and how they interrelated with the study of political economy.
[Editor's note: the title used in Lalor's Cyclopedia for Say's article, "Outlet", is better rendered into English as "Markets" and, as such, is a useful introduction to Say's famous "Law of Markets." It comes from the article "Débouchés" in the Dictionnaire d'Économie Politique and was an excerpt from Say's Cours complet d'économie politique, Part 3, chapter 2.]
OUTLET. An outlet, properly speaking, is an opening made for the sale of certain products. We say that a merchant seeks an outlet for his wares, when he is in quest of places where he can sell them; that he finds an outlet abroad, when his products are ordinarily sold abroad. To open outlets to a country is to give it the opportunity of entering upon friendly relations with other countries, which will afford it new avenues of sale. It would seem that this subject does not allow of any really economic development. But J. B. Say has almost given us a theory of it. We here reproduce his thoughts on the matter. They have been approved and appreciated by all economists.—"As the division of labor makes it impossible for producers to consume more than a small part of their products, they are compelled to seek consumers who may need these surplus products. They are compelled to find what is called, in the language of commerce, outlets, or markets, that is, means of effecting the exchange of the products which they have created against those which they need. It is important for them to know how these outlets are opened to them.
—Every product embodies a utility, the faculty of ministering to the satisfaction of a want. A product is a product only by reason of the value which has been given to it; and this value can be given to it only by giving it utility. If a product cost nothing, the demand for it would be infinite; for no one would neglect an opportunity to procure for himself what satisfies or serves to satisfy his wants, when he could have it for the wishing it. If this were the case with all products, and one could have them all for nothing, human beings would come into existence to consume them; for human beings are born wherever they can obtain the things necessary to their subsistence. The outlets opened to them would become immense in number. These outlets are limited only by the necessity under which consumers are to pay for what they wish to acquire. It is never the will to acquire, but the means to acquire, that is wanting.
—Yet in what does this means consist? In money, we shall be hastily told. Granted; but I ask in turn, by what means does this money come into the hands of these who desire to buy? must it not be obtained by the sale of another product? The man who wishes to buy must first sell, and he can only sell what he produces, or what has been produced for him. If the owner of land does not sell with his own hands the portion of the harvest which comes to him by reason of his proprietorship, his lessee sells it for him. If the capitalist, who has made advances to a manufacturer, in order to get his interest, does not himself sell a part of the manufactured goods, the manufacturer sells it for him. It is always by means of products that we purchase the products of others. Beneficiaries, pensioners of the state themselves, who produce nothing, are able to buy goods only because things have been produced, by which they have profited.
—What must we conclude from this? If it be with products that products are purchased, each product will find more purchasers in proportion as all other products shall have increased in quantity. How is it that in France eight or ten times more things are bought to-day, than under the miserable reign of Charles VI.? It must not be imagined that it is because there is more money in that country now; for if the mines of the new world had not increased the amount of specie in circulation, gold and silver would have preserved their old value; that value would even have increased; silver would be worth perhaps what gold is worth now; and a smaller amount of silver would render the same service that a very considerable quantity renders us, just as a gold piece of twenty francs renders us as much service as four five-franc pieces. What is it, then, that enables the French to purchase ten times as many things, since it is not the greater quantity of money which they possess? The reason is, that they produce ten times as much. All these things are bought, the ones by the others. More wheat is sold in France, because cloth and a great number of other things are manufactured there in a much greater quantity. Products unknown to our ancestors are bought by other products of which they had no idea. The man who produces watches (which were unknown in the time of Charles VI.; purchases with his watches, potatoes (which were also then unknown).
—So true is it, that it is with products that products are purchased, that a bad harvest injures all sales. Indeed, bad weather, which destroys the wheat and the vines of the year, does not, at the same time, destroy coin. Yet the sale of cloths instantly suffers from it. The products of the mason, the carpenter, the roofer, joiner, etc., are less in demand. The same is true of the harvests made by the arts and by commerce. When one branch of industry suffers, others suffer too. An industry which is prosperous, on the other hand, makes others prosper also.
—The first deduction which may be drawn from this important truth is, that in every state the more numerous the producers are, and the more production is increased, the more easy, varied and vast do outlets become. In the place which produce much, there is created the substance with which alone purchases are made: I mean value.
—Money fills only a transient office in this double exchange. After each one has sold what he has produced, and bought what he wishes to consume, it is found that products have always been paid for in products.
—We thus see that each has an interest in the prosperity of all, and that the prosperity of one kind of industry is favorable to the prosperity of all others. In fact, whatever may be the industry to which man devotes himself, whatever the talent which he exercises, he will find it easier to employ it and to reap a greater profit from it in proportion as he is surrounded by people who are themselves gaining. A man of talent, sadly vegetating in a country in a state of decline, would find a thousand avenues of employment for his faculties in a productive country, where his talents might be used and paid for. A merchant established in an industrious city, sells much larger amounts than one who lives in a country in which indifference and idleness rule. What would an active manufacturer or a capable merchant do in one of the poorly peopled and poorly civilized cities of certain portions of Spain or Poland? Although he would encounter no competitor there, he would sell little, because little is produced there; whereas in Paris. Amsterdam or London, despite the competition of a hundred merchants like himself, he might do an immense business. The reason is simple: he is surrounded by people who produce much in a multitude of ways, and who make purchases with what they have produced; that is to say, with the money resulting from the sale of what they have produced, or with what their land or their capital has produced for them.
—Such is the source of the profits which the people of cities make from the people of the country and which the latter make from the former. Both have more to buy in proportion as they produce more. A city surrounded by a productive country finds there numerous and rich buyers; and in the neighborhood of a manufacturing city the products of the country sell much better. It is by a vain distinction that nations are classed as agricultural, manufacturing and commercial nations. If a nation is successful in agriculture, it is a reason why its commerce and its manufactures should prosper. If its manufactures and its commerce become flourishing, its agriculture will be better in consequence. A nation is in the same position as regards neighboring nations that a province is in relation to the country; it is interested in their prosperity; it is certain to profit by their wealth; for nothing is to be gained from a people who have nothing wherewith to pay. Hence, well-advised countries do all in their power to favor the progress of their neighbors. The republics of America have for neighbors savage peoples who live generally by the chase, and sell furs to the merchants of the United States; but this trade is of little importance, for these savages need a vast extent of country to find only a limited number of wild animals, and these wild animals are diminishing every day. Hence, the United States much prefer to have these Indians civilized, become cultivators of the soil, manufacturers, in fine, more capable producers; which unfortunately is very difficult of accomplishment, because it is very hard for men reared in habits of vagabondage and idleness to apply themselves to work. Yet there are examples of Indians who have become industrious. I read in the description of the United States, by Mr. Warden, that the tribes then living on the banks of the Mississippi, and who afforded no market to the citizens of the United States, were enabled to purchase of them in 1810 more than 80,000 francs' worth of merchandise; and probably they afterward bought from them a much larger amount. Whence came this change? From the fact that these Indians began to cultivate the bean and Indian corn, and to work the lead mines which were within their reservation.
—The English rightly expect that the new republics of America, after their emancipation shall have favored their development, will afford them more numerous and richer consumers, and already they are reaping the harvest of a policy more in consonance with the intelligence of our age; but this is nothing compared with the advantages which they will reap from them in the future. Narrow minds imagine some hidden motives in this enlightened policy. But what greater object can men propose to themselves than to render their country rich and powerful?
—A people who are prosperous should therefore be regarded rather as a useful friend than as a dangerous competitor. A nation must doubtless know how to guard itself against the foolish ambition or the anger of a neighbor, who understands its own interests so badly as to quarrel with it; but after it has put itself in the way to fear no unjust aggression, it is not best to weaken any other nation. We have seen merchants of London and Marseilles dread the enfranchisement of the Greeks and the competition of their commerce. These men had very false and very narrow ideas. What commerce could the independent Greeks carry on which would not be favorable to French industry? Can they carry products to France without buying her products and carrying away an equivalent value? And if it is money that they wish, how can France acquire it otherwise than by the products of her industry? A prosperous people is in every way favorable to the prosperity of the other. Could the Greeks indeed carry on business with French merchants against the will of the latter? And would French merchants consent to a trade which was not lucrative to themselves and consequently for their country?
—If the Greeks should become established in their independence, and grow rich by their agriculture, their arts and their commerce, they would become for all other peoples valuable consumers; they would experience new wants, and have wherewith to pay for their satisfaction. It is not necessary to be a philanthropist to assist them; it is only necessary to be in a condition to understand one's own true interests.
—These truths so important, which are beginning to penetrate among the enlightened classes of society, were absolutely unknown in the periods previous to our own. Voltaire made patriotism consist in wishing evil to one's neighbors. His humanity, his natural generosity, lamented this. How much happier are we, who, by the simple advance of enlightenment, have acquired the certainty that we have no enemies but ignorance and perversity; that all nations are, by nature and by their interests, friends of one another; and that to wish prosperity to other peoples, is to love and serve our own country."
J. B. SAY.