Richard Cantillon’s Essai and the early-modern British mercantilism

Celik, Erbil (2022) Richard Cantillon’s Essai and the early-modern British mercantilism. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Since it was rediscovered by Stanley Jevons (1881, p.67-8), who described the Essai as “the Cradle of Political Economy”, the name and works of Richard Cantillon, an Irish French economist lived in the late 17th and early 18th century, have gained currency among scholars. Different aspects of his works and theories, alongside the minute details of his enigmatic life has been widely studied. Nonetheless, his economic theories are mainly examined against more modern texts and schools like French Physiocratic school, British classical school or Austrian economics. Although being helpful to see the continuum of the economic theories over time, such a tendency leaves aside and say barely anything about the intellectual influence of previous British mercantilists upon Cantillon and, most specifically, Cantillon’s possible motivations, if any, in writing his masterpiece. This dissertation aims to specifically fill this gap most specifically by attempting to (re-)read this masterpiece as a mercantilist text aiming for bringing gentry class as the only class that matter in the socio-economic organisation. Put differently, this project aims to revisits and re-examine Cantillon’s Essai as a mercantilist text that, on one hand, is mainly influenced from the earlier British scholars/economists that, on the other, puts landlords at the centre stage of his analysis. Bringing landlords influence in his analysis so lucidly is the main contribution the projects aim to make. Thus, the role Cantillon attributes in his socio-economic system, from the establishment of closed and market economies to population trends of societies, the par established between land and labour values and observations upon his intrinsic values all will be re-examined and highlighted in the first chapters. In the last chapter, his foreign trade is examined as a continuum of previous British mercantilist tradition in which some economists sought, vainly though, for finding an alternative measure to monetary values so the net gains and losses of their nation could be most accurately assessed even when trade balance is even. In this chapter, I have also tried to make a new contribution to literature on mercantilist trade balance doctrine by arguing that for mercantilist trade could benefit one side more even when monetary values of commodities exchanged are equal, a mechanism that is called in the dissertation as mercantilist monetary unequal exchange mechanism. However, this chapter is there not only as it is a contribution made to the literature but most specifically, I think Cantillon’s value theory makes great sense only when we examine it against such a mercantilist background. His attempts to find an alternative measure, the dissertation claims, helped Cantillon not only to find an alternative value theory that pave the root for classical (/Smithian natural) value theory, but arguably also to establish an economic system rotating around the gentry class.

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