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Jean Baptiste Say, 1767-1832

The French political economist, Jean Baptiste Say, was born at Lyons, and passed part of his youth in England. On the outbreak of the Revolution he worked for Mirabeau on the Courrier de Provence, and was secretary to the Minister of finance. In 1794-1800 he edited La Décade, and in it expanded the views of Adam Smith. A member of the tribunate in 1799, as a protest against the our arbitrary tendencies of consular government he resigned (1804). In 1803 he issued his Traité d'économie politique. In 1814 the government sent him to England to study its economics: he laid down the results in De l'Angleterre et des Anglais (1816). From 1819 he lectured on political economy, and in 1831 became professor at the Collège de France. He also wrote Catéchisme d'économie politique (1815) and Melanges et correspondance (1833). As a disciple of Adam Smith and through his own writings his influence on French economics of the first half of the 19th century was of the greatest importance.

"Say had two very simple propositions. The desire for food might be limited by the capacity of a man's stomach, as Adam Smith had said, but his desire for clothes, furniture, luxuries, and ornaments seemed incalculably large. But not only was demand infinitely large, said Ricardo and Say, but the ability to purchase was guaranteed as well. For every good that was produced cost something -- and every cost was some man's income. Whether that cost was wages, rent, or profits, its sale price accrued as someone's income. And so how could a general glut ever occur? The good existed, the demand for them existed, and the incomes to buy them existed as well. Only pure perversity could prevent the market from finding the buyers it needed to clear its wares."

[Source: Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers, 4th ed. (New York: Touchstone, 1972), p.98.]

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