An Essay on Economic Theory

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Richard Cantillon's Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général (published in English as An Essay on Economic Theory) was written around 1730. It was published in 1755 and was the key document for the Physiocrats, Turgot and Condillac. It was also an important influence on David Hume and Adam Smith. William Stanley Jevons rediscovered Cantillon and wrote in 1881 that Cantillon's Essai was the true "cradle of political economy." Henry Higgs translated the Essai into English in 1931 the same year that Friedrich Hayek and his wife translated it into German. A new English translation by Chantal Saucier and Mark Thornton was published in 2010 (An Essay on Economic Theory). In addition to thorough modernization and improvement of the Higgs translation, this translation also provides chapter abstracts, definitions and explanatory footnotes, and an index.


  • Foreword by Robert F. Hébert 5
  • Introduction by Chantal Saucier and Mark Thornton 13
  1. Part One: Production, Distribution, and Consumption
    Chapter One: Wealth 21
    Chapter Two: Human Societies 23
    Chapter Three: Villages 27
    Chapter Four: Market Towns 31
    Chapter Five: Cities 35
    Chapter Six: Capital Cities 39
    Chapter Seven: The Labor of the Plowman is of less Value than that of the Artisan 41
    Chapter Eight: Some Artisans earn more, others less, according to the different Cases and Circumstances 45
    Chapter Nine: The Number of Laborers, Artisans and others, who work in a State is naturally proportioned to the Demand for them 49
    Chapter Ten: The Price and Intrinsic Value of a Thing in general is the measure of the Land and Labor which enter into its Production 53
    Chapter Eleven: The Par or Relation between the Value of Land and Labor 59
    Chapter Twelve: All Classes and Individuals in a State subsist or are enriched at the Expense of the Proprietors of Land 69
    Chapter Thirteen: The Circulation and Exchange of Goods and Merchandise as well as their Production are carried on in Europe by Entrepreneurs, and at a risk 73
    Chapter Fourteen: The Desires, Fashions, and the Ways of Life of the Prince, and especially of the Property Owners, determine the Use to which Land is put in a State and Cause the Variations in the Market Prices of all Things 79
    Chapter Fifteen: The Increase and Decrease of the Number of People in a State chiefly Depends on the Taste, the Fashions, and the Ways of Life Property Owners 85
    Chapter Sixteen: The more Labor there is in a State the more the State is judged naturally rich 97
    Chapter Seventeen: Metals and Money, and especially of Gold and Silver 103
  2. Part Two: Money and Interest
    Chapter One: Barter 115
    Chapter Two: Market Prices 119
    Chapter Three: The Circulation of Money 123
    Chapter Four: Further Reflection on the Rapidity or Slowness of the Circulation of Money in Exchange 133
    Chapter Five: The inequality of the circulation of hard money in a State 139
    Chapter Six: The increase and decrease in the quantity of hard money in a State 147
    Chapter Seven: Continuation of the same subject 155
    Chapter Eight: Further Reflection on the same subject 159
    Chapter Nine: The Interest of Money and its Causes 169
    Chapter Ten: The Causes of the Increase and Decrease of the Interest of Money in a State 177
  3. Part Three: International Trade and Business Cycles
    Chapter One: Foreign Trade 185
    Chapter Two: The Nature of Exchange Rates 195
    Chapter Three: Further explanations of the Nature of Exchange Rates 203
    Chapter Four: The variations in the proportion of values with regard to the Metals which serve as Money 209
    Chapter Five: The augmentation and diminution of coin in denomination 219
    Chapter Six: Banks and their Credit 227
    Chapter Seven: Further explanations and enquiries as to the utility of a National Bank 233
    Chapter Eight: Refinements of Credit of General Banks 241