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‘Nous marchons sur un autre terrain.’
The reception of Ricardo in the French
language: episodes from a complex history
Alain Béraud and Gilbert Faccarello ∗
A journal (Edinburgh Review, n. 59, June 1818) . .. announces [Ricardo’s
Principles] as having provoked, in political economy, the greatest step
forward since Adam Smith. However, we feel so much that we are walking
on a diﬀerent ground [nous marchons sur un autre terrain] that we would
hardly have had the occasion to quote this book . .. were it not because
its fame obliged us sometimes to do so. (Sismondi 1819, 1 : 58-59)
His [Ricardo’s] writings might be found beautiful, but reading them with-
out an authorized guide is perhaps no less dangerous for the scientiﬁc
truth than, for the Catholic religion, reading the Bible without the com-
mentaries of the Church. (Puynode 1866, III : 5)
On 4 September 1820, alluding to his Principles of Political Economy and
Taxation, Ricardo wrote to Malthus that he ‘did not expect’ he ‘had so many
readers in France as the number of copies of the French translation which . . .
have been sold would seem to imply’. He was of course pleased, but without
∗University of Cergy-Pontoise (A. Béraud) and Panthéon-Assas University, Paris (G.
Faccarello). Emails: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Published in Gil-
bert Faccarello and Masashi Izumo (eds), The Reception of David Ricardo in Continental
Europe and Japan, London: Routledge, 2014, pp. 10-75. Some typos have been corrected.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 2
any illusions about the quality of the reception of his ideas. He thus added :
‘I am not surprised that you found few who understood my theory correctly,
and still fewer who were disposed to agree with me’ (Ricardo 1951-73, 8 : 227).
Ricardo was not far from the truth, and the reception of his works in France
does indeed present an intriguing and complex history. The two quotations
with which this chapter is headed give some idea of the tone of some French
reactions to the Principles.
This chapter aims to provide a ﬁrst precise picture of the French reception
of Ricardo’s works and ideas. The subject is certainly wide and the authors to
be taken into account are numerous. We therefore had to make a choice. While
limiting our study to the nineteenth century — with some unavoidable refe-
rences to later works — we have selected some periods, authors and themes
that, we think, give a signiﬁcant idea of debates of the time about the va-
rious aspects of Ricardo’s theories. 1Some topics had to be omitted, like the
discussions about machinery, wages and proﬁts, and employment. Some other
discussions too, about international trade or socialism, have been discarded :
in these debates, Ricardo’s works and ideas were not a main concern. On in-
ternational trade, for example, the main question was free trade or protection,
and the theory of comparative advantage, when it was correctly understood,
was probably considered by most writers to be a simple extension of Smith’s
ideas. 2And for the various socialist movements — outside the Marxist cur-
rents that developed late in the century — Ricardo was not a reference : it was
Smith who was read and commented. Ironically enough, those who referred to
Ricardo in relation to socialism were certain liberals frightened by the possible
consequences of the Ricardian theory of rent.
This chapter is organized as follows. Section 1 sets the stage and brieﬂy
describes the context of this reception. Section 2 presents the various transla-
tions and editions of Ricardo’s writings in the French language. Section 3 deals
with some methodological aspects of Ricardo’s approach to political economy.
The following sections are devoted to more speciﬁc topics : value and wealth
1. Some very partial studies are, however, available : see for example Gehrke and Kurz
on Say and Ricardo (2001, 2003) and Kurz and Salvadori on Walras and Ricardo (2002).
2. See for example Bloomﬁeld 1989. Is should also be stressed that in England, Ricardo’s
theory of comparative advantage had to wait for John Stuart Mill’s publications in the 1840s
to be fully understood.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 3
(section 4), rent (section 5), money and banking (section 6) and Say’s law of
markets and crises (section 7).
1Ricardo : ‘. . . deadly boring for the reader’ ?
The reception of the works of David Ricardo in the French language stands
in sharp contrast to what happened in England. Today, almost all Ricardo
scholars have in mind the enthusiastic lines Thomas De Quincey wrote in
his Confessions of an English Opium Eater, recalling his ﬁrst reading of the
Principles of Political Economy and Taxation and quoting the Bible, Books of
Samuel : ‘Thou art the man!’
Had this profound work been really written in England during the
nineteenth century? Was it possible? I supposed thinking had been
extinct in England. Could it be that an Englishman, and he not
in academic bowers .. . had accomplished what all the universities
of Europe, and a century of thought, had failed even to advance
by one hair’s breadth? . . . Mr. Ricardo had deduced, a priori, from
the understanding itself, laws which ﬁrst gave a ray of light into the
unwieldy chaos of materials, and had constructed what had been
but a collection of tentative discussions into a science of regular
proportions, now ﬁrst standing on an eternal basis. (De Quincey
1863 : 255)
A neo-Smithian context
To say that the French readers were less enthusiastic is certainly an understa-
tement. Look at the press, for example, that shaped the opinion of the general
learned public of the time. In 1819, Le Journal des Débats announced the pu-
blication of the translation of the ﬁrst edition of Ricardo’s Principles in the
following terms :
The book . . . that has just been published in French with notes by
M. J.-B. Say incited us to read again Say’s praised Traité and to
make a comparison with the new English writer. This comparison
fully conﬁrms that . .. when foreigners and French authors deal
with the same subjects, the former can write a book in which there
is some good stuﬀ ; but only the latter know how to write a good
book . .. . In sum, M. Ricardo’s book is very useful while not always
pleasant; but we do not need it. (12 February 1819 : 3)
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 4
Three years later, in 1822, and while Ricardo was not the only target of the
critique, the Revue Encyclopédique — despite being an open-minded periodical
— was even more negative : ‘MM. Ricardo, Malthus and others . .. have written
some books that are diﬃcult to apply to the needs of life, and deadly boring
for the reader’ (XIII : 631), adding :
French translations of the Political Economy of Ricardo and Mal-
thus have been published ; people we consulted on these books ad-
mitted that they were unable to read them to the end. (XIII : 631
Of course, not all reactions were so negative, and some were also fortunately
better documented, but these quotations nevertheless set the tone of many
comments. They induced the reader to think, moreover, that there was an
opposition between a French and an English political economy. In fact the
situation was much more complex than seems at ﬁrst sight, and Ricardo’s
theories, while not enthusiastically acclaimed and accepted, actually had a
real inﬂuence on the evolution of French thought.
On the one hand, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the writings
of Ricardo, Malthus, McCulloch and others reached a French public inﬂuen-
ced by the Physiocrats, Turgot and above all Say, and who had long since
read, discussed and on the whole accepted and adapted the work of Adam
Smith (the Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations : see Fac-
carello and Steiner, 2002). At that time, French public and authors were imbued
with speciﬁc interpretations of the Wealth of Nations — by Germain Garnier,
Jean-Baptiste Say, Antoine-Louis-Claude Destutt de Tracy and Jean-Charles
Léonard Simonde de Sismondi for example — and could not accept without
reluctance the new and so very diﬀerent view of Ricardo : they were and they
remained ‘neo-Smithian’ (Béraud, Gislain and Steiner, 2004). A passage from
Auguste Walras’s Esquisse d’une théorie de la richesse expresses this general
attitude quite well :
God forbid ! We do not deny in Ricardo some interesting research
and instructive observations ; but in our view, his theories of va-
lue and rent are simply an exaggeration of the vice Adam Smith
introduced in his system : ascribing to human labour alone the
whole creation of social wealth . .. . Had it had some success, Ri-
cardo’s book would have caused a regression in political economy;
but his theory was not successful .. . . Thus, until now, there are
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 5
only two famous names in political economy .. . : François Quesnay
and Adam Smith. All political economy prior to Adam Smith comes
under Quesnay. All modern political economy is tied up with Adam
Smith. (1844 : 437)
As stated eloquently by Sismondi in the ﬁrst quotation heading this chap-
ter, French economists were ‘walking on a diﬀerent ground’. This explains the
critical tone of the reception of the works of Ricardo — in this respect Mal-
thus was more fortunate with his Essay on the Principle of Population and
his Principles of Political Economy, on many points closer to the French ideas
However, this is not to say that the French reactions were only negative
and without consequences on the evolution of French economic thought. Firstly
because among the French-speaking economists, although none can be charac-
terized as a disciple of Ricardo, some of them accepted certain speciﬁc Ricar-
dian doctrines, either on the distribution of income or on monetary questions.
And secondly because the discussions of Ricardo’s theories often provoked the
evolution and modiﬁcation of their own points of view, forced as they were to
delve deeper into the subjects under examination.
Before turning to some of the episodes in this complex reception of Ri-
cardo’s writings in the French language, however, we must set the stage more
completely and some preliminary remarks are in order : ﬁrstly on the opinions
expressed on Ricardo’s personality ; secondly on the many strands of literature
to be taken into account; and thirdly on the fact that the enquiry must not
be limited to France but extended to other French-speaking countries.
A positive opinion of Ricardo, the man
In the ﬁrst place, it should be noted that Ricardo, the man, was respected by
the French economists. In almost all their writings — there are only few and
marginal exceptions — they stressed his intelligence, honesty and intellectual
disinterestedness. ‘Like his friend Jeremy Bentham, Ricardo only listened to
advice from the general interest’ (Comte 1833 : 89-90). ‘He was neither Whig
nor radical. His tactic was that of his reason, and not of his ambition or the
ambition of others’ (Fonteyraud 1847 : xlv). They noted the fact that he was a
poor orator, quoting his own confession that, in the House of Commons, ‘I have
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 6
twice attempted to speak, but I proceed in the most embarrassed manner, and
I have no hope of conquering the alarm with which I am assailed the moment
I hear the sound of my own voice’ (Ricardo to McCulloch, 7 April 1819, 8 :
21). His peculiar written style was also often highlighted and most of the
time criticized as being too dense, highly theoretical and almost mathematical.
‘Never was a man less possessed with the demon of dissertation’ (Fonteyraud
1847 : xv). Hence some rather embarrassed judgments, such as Joseph Garnier’s
in a note to his ‘Ricardo’ entry in the inﬂuential Dictionnaire de l’économie
As a thinker, Ricardo appears to be superior, original and pro-
found ; as a writer, he sometimes obscures his thought in abstract
formulations, the rigour of which is only apparent — but we do
not mean to say that he is mistaken when he is obscure. (Garnier
1853 : 531 n3)
Finally, French authors were also fascinated by Ricardo’s ‘success story’ as
a broker and ﬁnancier, permitted by his ‘sound and cold capacity to judge,
his penetrating sagacity’ (Garnier 1853 : 530). This certainly stood in sharp
contrast to the poor entrepreneurial capacities of J.-B. Say, for example.
As a broker at the London stock exchange, he acquired a vast for-
tune, further increased since then by some always judicious specu-
lations and the greatest order in his business ; so much that he was
said to be in possession, when he died, of more than forty million
in our currency. One might be tempted to say : ‘who minds the mil-
lions ? ’ because he used his wealth in such an excellent way that
they became respectable. (Comte 1833 : 86)
The many receptions of Ricardo’s writings
In the second place, and even limiting our inquiry to the nineteenth century,
we have to deal with a huge set of literature of many theoretical origins. The
various groups of liberal economists — Jean-Baptiste Say and his followers, the
Doctrinaires, etc. — are of course the most directly concerned in this story.
But the many ‘associationist’ or socialist writers are also part of the picture,
and so are the various tendencies of the so-called Christian political economy,
not to speak of some original and rather independent writers like Cournot
and A. and L. Walras. Their evaluation of the works of Ricardo are far from
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 7
homogeneous, and the positions evolved through time — sometimes because
of the many political events that shook France during the century, 3in which
our protagonists often played a role. Moreover, their opinions varied greatly
according to the diﬀerent topics dealt with — method, value and prices, income
distribution, money and banking, machinery and employment, pauperism, etc.
— and it is also natural that the interest in some Ricardian themes faded away
as the century progressed.
Broadly speaking and to greatly simplify the picture, three periods can be
distinguished in the reception of Ricardo’s writings.
The ﬁrst covers the Napoleonic era and the Restoration, i.e., approximately,
the early nineteenth century until the death of Say (1832), a period during
which the many currents of the liberal school opposed the political regimes
of the Empire, the Restoration and their economic policies. These eventful
decades were indisputably dominated by the writings of Say and Sismondi.
The neo-Smithian wisdom of our authors was challenged by Ricardo’s writing,
provoking a re-examination of many points of doctrine. As a consequence,
almost all the theoretical themes were addressed and discussed — sometimes
with Ricardo himself — and, a point of no mean importance, the technical
vocabulary was also considered and ﬁxed.
The second period includes the July Monarchy, the 1848 Revolution and
the Second Republic. This period is also fertile in economic and political events.
Certain liberal economists, the Doctrinaires, were in power : after J.-B. Say
died in 1832, Guizot and the Duke of Broglie asked Pellegrino Rossi (much
closer to Ricardo’s ideas than Say was) to go to Paris and succeed him to
the chair of Collège de France. Some other liberals, more radical — the so-
called School of Paris, with many followers of Say — were heavily attacked
from all corners and attempted to organize themselves to ﬁght for their free
market ideas; and this was the time of the emergence and aﬃrmation, from the
late 1820s and the early 1830s on, of new currents of thought who challenged
the economic wisdom of Smith and Say : the many ‘associationist’, socialist
3. 1789 : French Revolution. 1804 : First Empire. 1814 and 1815 : fall of the Empire,
the Cent Jours and the Restoration of the Bourbon dynasty. 1830 : July Revolution. 1848 :
February Revolution and Second Republic. 1852 : Putsch by the President of the Republic,
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, and Second Empire. 1870 : fall of the Empire. 1871 : Civil war
of the Paris Commune. 1875 : Third Republic.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 8
and Christian schools. As time went by, the positions sharpened and, around
1848, on the occasion of the economic crisis and the revolutionary events, they
crystallized into clear political and theoretical opposition. During this period,
the perception of Ricardo changed markedly, becoming much more diverse even
among the liberal authors : Bastiat, for example, moved away from both Say
and Ricardo, while Dupuit and Molinari adopted some Ricardian themes.
The third period covers the Second Empire and the ﬁrst decades of the
Third Republic, during which the various schools developed their positions in
sharp contrast to each other. It is striking to see how the ﬁgure of Ricardo
progressively became a moment in the history of economic thought, and how
his doctrines were less and less topical, except perhaps for certain socialist or
Christian authors. He was, in a way, replaced by John Stuart Mill. However, for
various reasons to be analyzed, he never disappeared from the debates within
the liberal schools and was even the object of a kind of liberal rehabilitation,
even on the subject of ground rent.
Perspectives from the French-speaking community
In the third place, we are concerned here with French-speaking countries in
general, not just France. This involves ﬁrstly Switzerland (and more speciﬁcally
Geneva), a point whose importance we must stress, and secondly Belgium, after
its independence from the Low Countries in 1830.
There were signiﬁcant links between Geneva and France during the ﬁrst half
of the century, thus continuing a tradition which, during the eighteenth and at
the turn of the nineteenth century, was exempliﬁed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
Jean Herrenschwand, Jacques Necker, his daughter Germaine Necker de Staël,
and Benjamin Constant. Some Genevan economists played a prominent role in
relation to our subject : ﬁrst and foremost Jean-Charles Léonard Simonde de
Sismondi (1773-1842) and Antoine-Élisée Cherbuliez (1797-1869). We should
not forget Bentham’s friend Étienne Dumont, and remember that Say, although
born in France, came from a Genevan family — ‘our fellow citizen Say’ (Bi-
bliothèque Universelle, 1818 :11) was always considered as an eminent member
of the community by the other Genevan writers.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 9
There are also less well-known ﬁgures who are important for the beginning
of our story : Marc-Auguste Pictet (1752-1825), his brother Charles Pictet
de Rochemont (1755-1824), Pierre Prévost (1751-1839) and his son Guillaume
— respectively the brother in law and the nephew of Jane Marcet, herself of
Swiss origin. 4They were almost all scientists and philosophers and played a
not unimportant part in the political life of the city. They also had family and
intellectual links with Britain and were personally acquainted with English wri-
ters (Prévost knew Malthus well). Ricardo visited them during his 1822 travel
on the continent. Napoleon spoke angrily of Geneva — a French ‘département’
during the Empire, the ‘département du Léman’ — as ‘this town where people
know far too much English’. Sismondi himself described Geneva as ‘an English
town on the Continent, an advanced post for political and religious enlighten-
ment’ (Sismondi 1814 : 4), ‘a town where people think and feel in English but
speak and write in French’ (Sismondi 1814 : 7). As stated in 1816 in the ﬁrst
issue of the inﬂuential Bibliothèque Universelle :
It is above all as thinkers and scholars that the English and Scottish
men of letters appear in the great market for human knowledge.
All that supposes long meditations, strength in the analysis and a
logical sequence of ideas belong to them as their own. Their suc-
cess in philosophical studies, the progress and dissemination of the
best principles of political economy and legislation, depend on this
faculty for reﬂection and great capacity for serious studies that dis-
tinguish them among all others. (Bibliothèque Universelle, 1816 :
M.-A. Pictet and P. Prévost introduced Sismondi and Cherbuliez to politi-
cal economy, informing them of the English and Scottish authors in the ﬁeld.
Pellegrino Rossi, who also played an important role in the French debates,
lived and taught for a time in Geneva and was acquainted with all of them.
They also had an intense editorial activity. In 1796, during the post-Thermi-
dorian period and before the annexation of Geneva to France, the Pictets
founded the Bibliothèque Britannique — called the Bibliothèque Universelle
4. Her father, Antoine François Haldimand, was Swiss. In 1799, she married Alexandre
John Gaspard Marcet, himself Swiss, who was banned from Geneva in 1794 and became a
British citizen in 1800. Pierre Prévost married two of Alexandre’s sisters successively : Louise
in 1788, who died the same year, and Jeanne in 1795.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 10
from 1816 on 5— with a clear intellectual programme referring to the Scottish
philosophy as an antidote to what they considered the foolish and dangerous
ideas of the time. 6In 1816, in the paper introducing the ﬁrst issue of the new
formula, the Bibliothèque Universelle, the discourse remained the same and the
reader was reminded that one aim was ‘to ﬁght, with the weapon of reason,
all kinds of subversive principles and their pernicious inﬂuence on the younger
generation’ (Bibliothèque Universelle 1816 : 10).
The series ‘Littérature’ of the Bibliothèque, directed by P. Prévost from
1803 on, contained excerpts of English books and even full translations of
some papers — some of them, for example, in the 1820s, were originally pu-
blished in the Edinburgh Review. Charles Pictet also published separately a
French translation of Henry Thornton’s Paper Credit (1802). 7Pierre Prévost
translated works by Adam Smith, 8Benjamin Bell, 9Dugald Stewart, 10 Hugh
Blair 11 and Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population — ﬁrst some ex-
cerpts from the second edition, in 1805 in the Bibliothèque Britannique, and
then the entire third edition in 1809, the subsequent versions being revised by
his son Guillaume. Guillaume Prévost also translated into French Jane Mar-
cet’s Conversations sur l’économie politique (1817), her Conversations sur la
philosophie naturelle (1820) and J. R. McCulloch’s Discours sur l’origine, les
progrès, les objets particuliers, et l’importance de l’économie politique (1825),
5. Bibliothèque Universelle des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts, faisant suite à la Biblio-
thèque Britannique, rédigée à Genève par les auteurs de ce dernier recueil.
6. ‘There is a science, the principles of which we particularly wish to propagate : the
books of the English and Scottish moralists contain its precious lessons. No one, better
than these philosophers, ever knew how to develop and cultivate this instinct of justice and
guide this passionate and blind desire of happiness to which all the secret workings of the
human heart tend. The moral doctrine of these writers is luminous and pure, its colours
pleasant and attractive. Never the mistakes of a wrong philosophy and the evils that are
overwhelming mankind ever made this antidote more necessary’ (Bibliothèque Britannique,
1796, 1, Préface : 6-7).
7. Recherches sur la nature et les eﬀets du crédit du papier dans la Grande Bretagne,
Geneva : Imprimerie de la Bibliothèque Britannique, 1803. The quality of this translation is
8. Essais de philosophie, précédés d’un Précis historique sur sa vie par Dugald Stewart,
Paris : Agasse, 1797.
9. De la disette. Geneva : Imprimerie de la Bibliothèque Britannique, 1804.
10. For example Stewart’s Éléments de la philosophie de l’esprit humain, Geneva : Pa-
11. Cours de rhétorique et de Belles lettres, Genève : Manget et Cherbuliez, 1808.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 11
all published by J. J. Paschoud in Geneva. It is also interesting to note how
quickly these translations were published after the publication of the original
works in Britain. 12
The case of Belgium after its independence in 1830 is no less important.
A prominent and original liberal economist like Gustave de Molinari (1819-
1912) was Belgian, lived in Paris for a time and played a signiﬁcant part in
French intellectual life during his long life. Christian political economists also
had very close ties with Belgium. Charles de Coux (1787-1864), one of the
‘founding fathers’ of the movement, though French, held the ﬁrst chair of po-
litical economy at the new Catholic University of Malines (later to become
the Catholic University of Louvain), and his Belgian disciple and successor at
the chair, Charles Périn (1815-1905) — almost the exact contemporary as his
liberal fellow countryman Molinari — played a prominent role in the French
Catholic movement during the second part of the century.
2The French translations of Ricardo’s works
The ﬁrst step in our enquiry is to note which among Ricardo’s writings were
translated, by whom and when. Appendix 1 recapitulates the various editions
in the French language published during the nineteenth century. Those from
the twentieth century, while not included in our period, are nevertheless listed
in Appendix 2.
From Paris to Geneva : the ﬁrst translations into the French
Our story starts in Paris. The ﬁrst work translated was the third edition of
Ricardo’s High Price of Bullion. It was published in September 1810 in the
quasi-oﬃcial Gazette nationale, ou le Moniteur universel, in three instalments.
The occasion was the debate about the organization of the French banking
system and the role of the Banque de France (founded in 1800). The problems
of monetary circulation and its uniﬁcation also created fear among the public
12. The 1825 translation of McCulloch’s Discourse, made on the ﬁrst edition (1824) also
contains the additions McCulloch introduced for the second edition (1825).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 12
— especially the fear of seeing the creation of paper money again after the
disastrous collapse of the assignats system — and led to the monetary and
then economic crisis of 1810-1811. Ricardo’s ideas on money and banking were
thus quickly noticed and they were often referred to in the debates during the
following decades. The subsequent publications by Ricardo, about the Corn
Laws and an economic and secure currency, were published after the fall of the
Empire, when French people had many other concerns, and this might explain
why they were relatively neglected at that time, together with the fact that
the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation appeared soon afterwards.
To take this new element into account, we must cross the border to Geneva
and the Pictet/Prévost group around the celebrated Bibliothèque Britannique
(1796-1815), renamed Bibliothèque Universelle in 1816 to show that, while the
British authors were still a major reference, the editors wanted to widen the
horizons of their fellow citizens and draw their attention to other valuable in-
tellectual productions. Immediately after the publication of the ﬁrst edition of
Ricardo’s Principles, two excerpts were translated and published in the No-
vember 1817 and January 1818 issues of Bibliothèque Universelle (Littérature).
Both were drawn from the ﬁrst chapter of the Principles. The ﬁrst excerpt was
the translation of pp. 1-11 of the ﬁrst edition, i.e., the opening pages where Ri-
cardo criticizes Adam Smith’s theory of value. The second was the translation
of some passages, together with the summary of certain developments, from
the rest of Chapter 1 : pp. 19, 21, 22, 23-25, 31-36, 41-42, 44-48 — the ﬁnal
pages of the chapter — of the 1817 edition of the Principles, mainly devoted
to the inﬂuence of distribution on prices.
Each excerpt is followed by an unsigned commentary : 13 while the ﬁrst
is entitled ‘Observations du traducteur’ and the second, ‘Observations du ré-
dacteur’, they are by the same author. The ﬁrst commentary concludes with
the remark that only the most important chapters of Ricardo’s book will be
analyzed. The second ends with the mention ‘to be continued’, but the table of
contents of the issue indicates that this was the ‘second and last excerpt’ : and,
in fact, the following issues do not contain anything more. The publication thus
13. Guillaume Prévost referred to them in his 1825 remarks on McCulloch’s Discourse.
There he notes, in relation to the idea that the capital could be evaluated by the labour
which was necessary to produce it : ‘We see this idea already stated by the author of three
articles on Ricardo’s book in the Bibliothèque Universelle, vol. 6 and 7, Littér. 1817, 1818.’
(G. Prévost 1825b : 183 n. 2). Guillaume mentions three papers, but only two were published.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 13
stopped suddenly. The translation is unsigned as well, but some passages in the
text indicate that the translation and the comments are by the same person,
Pierre Prévost. 14 We know that he was interested in political economy15 and
a very active translator. Moreover he was just back from a four-month stay in
London (Cherbuliez 1839 : 54) and at that time he was interested in income
distribution : ‘I would like some day to publish a book on political economy
entitled Of Labour, in which I would show the necessity of raising wages’, he
wrote on 4 April 1817 in his diary. Ricardo’s book, no doubt, challenged his
Back to Paris, via Lisbon
The next stage in the story deals with the publication of Ricardo’s Principles
in their entirety. This also happened quickly : the French translation of the
ﬁrst edition was published in Paris in 1819, in 2 volumes, by J.-P. Aillaud, a
publisher who was later described as being partly specialized in Portuguese
books. As a matter of fact, the translator was a cosmopolitan Portuguese in-
tellectual, Francisco Solano Constâncio (1777-1846), who was active in Paris
at that time as a kind of diplomatic agent and collaborated there, between
1818 and 1822, on a journal in Portuguese, Anais das Ciências das Artes e
das Letras por huma Sociedade de Portuguezes Residentes em Paris (Annals
of Science, Arts and Letters) published by A. Bobée. 16 He was interested in
political economy and especially in the controversy between Malthus and Say
about the possibility of general gluts. In addition to his translation of Ricardo’s
Principles, Constâncio also published with Aillaud a translation of Malthus’s
14. The ﬁrst commentary ends with a note signed ‘P.P.p.’ and, in the second commentary,
the commentator refers to one of his previous paper, published in the Bibliothèque Britan-
nique and also signed in the same way. From some publications in Bibliothèque Britannique,
and from the tables of this journal, it appears that ‘P.P.p.’ means ‘Pierre Prévost prof.’
(Professor Pierre Prévost) — Pierre Prévost was teaching at the Genevan Académie.
15. In 1783, when he was in Berlin at the Academy of Sciences, Pierre Prévost published an
essay entitled De l’économie des anciens gouvernements comparée à celle des gouvernements
modernes. Mémoire lu dans l’Assemblée publique de l’Académie royale des sciences et belles-
lettres de Prusse du 5 juin 1783. Berlin : G.-J. Decker.
16. On Constâncio, see Cardoso (1999, 2009) and Chapter 3 of the present book.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 14
Principles 17 in 1820 and a French version of William Godwin’s refutation of
Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population in 1821. 18
Constâncio’s translation of Ricardo is important because the French learned
public could read the Principles in their own language as soon as 1819, because
Ricardo’s text was supplemented by a series of notes by J.-B. Say, and ﬁnally
because this text, revised in 1847 by Alcide Fonteyraud (see below), formed
the basis for most subsequent editions and remained the main reference in
France for almost a whole century, until the new 1992 translation published by
Flammarion (on all these points, see Appendices 1 and 2). 19 It was, however,
defective, with many errors and approximations that obscured the meaning of
some chapters — the chapter on rent in particular.
The 1819 translation was nevertheless republished twice in 1835. First by
J.-P. Aillaud in Paris, in two volumes, and then in one volume by H. Dumont
in Brussels (probably an unauthorized edition, Belgium being specialized in
this kind of publishing during the nineteenth century). The Paris edition was
misleadingly presented as the ‘second edition’, and the Brussels edition as the
‘third edition’ : but both were in fact simply the republication of Constân-
cio’s translation of the 1817 text. The notes by Say were also reprinted, and a
preface was added : ‘Notice sur la vie et les écrits de Ricardo, publiée par sa
famille’ (Memoir on the life and writings of Ricardo, published by his family).
Despite what the French sub-title indicates, this Memoir is not the text pu-
blished by Moses Ricardo in 1824, but the translation of McCulloch’s eulogy
ﬁrst published in 1824 in The Edinburgh annual register for 1823 and then
independently, in 1825, as Memoir of the life and writings of David Ricardo,
Esq. M.P. — although this text does, it is true, make extensive use of Moses’s
17. Principes d’économie politique, considérés sous le rapport de leur application pratique.
Paris : Aillaud, 2 volumes.
18. Recherches sur la population et sur la faculté d’accroissement de l’espèce humaine,
contenant une réfutation des doctrines de M. Malthus sur cette matière. Paris : Aillaud, 2
19. Some excerpts of the Constâncio/Fonteyraud translation were revised and published
in 1889 with Guillaumin and the entire translation was still republished in 1971 with Flam-
marion. An alleged new translation by Charles Debyser was published in 1933-1934 — and
also republished in 1971 with Calmann-Lévy — but it borrowed in fact a lot from the former
ones, even reproducing some of their mistranslations and errors.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 15
The Fonteyraud edition in Guillaumin’s ‘Collection des princi-
The third stage in our story took place when the economists, for the most part
liberal and followers of Jean-Baptiste Say, started to organize themselves to
defend their ideas when, after the ﬁrst modern economic crises, they were atta-
cked from all corners on the question of pauperism and a number of important
issues were being discussed — like free foreign trade for example. One entrepre-
neur played an important part in this movement : Gilbert-Urbain Guillaumin
(1801-1864), a publisher. He started publishing the Journal des économistes in
1841 and before that, in 1840, the famous series ‘Collection des principaux éco-
nomistes’, intended to present the most important texts in the recent history
of economic theory. Fifteen thick volumes were published during the following
decade. The 13th of the series, a tall 8◦of more than 800 pages, was devoted
to Ricardo and entitled Œuvres complètes de David Ricardo (1847).
The editor was a young liberal economist who was to die prematurely, Paul
Henri Alcide Fonteyraud (1822-1849). In the ﬁrst part of the book, Fonteyraud
republished Ricardo’s Principles. He was supposed to revise Constâncio’s trans-
lation and take into account the changes made by Ricardo in the third edition.
However, the result is almost appalling : ‘the version of the Principles which
it presents is no better than a pastiche of the ﬁrst and third original edition’
(Sraﬀa in Ricardo 1951-1973, 10 : 375).
The revision is superﬁcial. While the new chapters of the third
edition are translated, it is at the cost of many additional mis-
translations . .. ; a certain number of new texts and notes inserted
into the last English edition were omitted; and some passages of
the ﬁrst edition suppressed in the third were maintained. .. . It thus
happens that the 1847 Guillaumin edition . . . is neither the trans-
lation of the ﬁrst English edition nor of the third, but a kind of
hybrid of the two. (Delmas et alii, 1992 : 11)
In the second part of the book — entitled ‘Œuvres diverses relatives à
des questions de monnaies, de banque, de ﬁnances et de liberté commerciale’
— Fonteyraud published his translations of some other major publications by
Ricardo : The High Price of Bullion,Reply to Mr Bosanquet’s Practical Ob-
servations, the Essay on Proﬁts, the Proposals for an Economical and Secure
Currency,On Protection to Agriculture, the Plan for the Establishment of a
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 16
National Bank, and ‘Funding system’. 20 These translations also remained the
reference in France for more than a century, the Essay on Proﬁts only being
retranslated in 1988, and some monetary writings (1809-1811) in 1991. Fon-
teyraud, who contacted and visited Ricardo’s family for this work, added a
long and interesting introduction to this collection— on which more below —
simply entitled ‘Notice sur la vie et les écrits de David Ricardo’ (Fonteyraud
1847). This ‘Notice’, declared Adolphe-Jérôme Blanqui in February 1848 at
the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, is ‘the most perfect that has
been written on any economist’. 21
This volume of the ‘Collection des principaux économistes’ was republished
in 1882 — a preface by Maurice Block being added — and again in 1966. Only
two other minor publications are to be noted during the nineteenth century. In
1865, Ricardo’s 1818 evidence on the usury laws was translated in Paul-Jacques
Coullet and Clément Juglar’s Extraits des enquêtes parlementaires anglaises
sur les questions de banque, de circulation monétaire et de crédit. Enquêtes de
1810, 1811, 1819, 1841, together with his 1819 evidence on the resumption of
cash payments. A few years later — in 1889 according to the catalogue of the
Bibliothèque nationale de France — some excerpts from the Principles were
edited by Paul Beauregard. They consisted of eight chapters of the book (see
Appendix 1). The Constâncio/Fonteyraud translation was used but revised by
Charles Formentin. As for Ricardo’s correspondence, only the letters to Say
were translated and published twice, ﬁrst in Say’s Mélanges et correspondance
d’économie politique (1833) and then in Œuvres diverses (1848).
3Methodological approaches to political economy
Against abstract principles
It was Say’s opinion — and most French economists shared this point of view
— that one of Smith’s greatest achievements had been to apply
20. As Sraﬀa remarked, the Fonteyraud volume contains all the works published by Mc-
Culloch in his 1846 edition of the works of Ricardo ‘with the exception of the two papers on
Paliamentary Reform’ : ‘Observations on Parliamentary Reform’ and ‘Speech on Voting by
Ballot’ (in Ricardo 1951-1973, 10 : 375).
21. Séances et travaux de l’Académie des sciences morales et politiques, vol. 13, 1848 : 211.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 17
. .. to political economy the new mode of scientiﬁc investigation,
i.e., not looking abstractedly for principles but ascending instead
from facts the most constantly observed to the general laws which
govern them, thanks to a rigorous manner of reasoning and without
relying on simple assumptions. (Say 1814 : 34)
He criticized Ricardo for doing precisely the reverse : reasoning from abs-
tract principles whereas political economy, ‘in order to be useful, should not
teach .. . what should necessarily happen, but show how what really happens
is the consequence of another real fact’ (Say 1819 : 45). Discussions on abstrac-
tions are endless, useless and dangerous. People argue about words, the reader
is bored and ends up believing that in political economy, authors are unable to
agree on any truth (Say 1825 : 270). Dismissing both the followers of Quesnay
and those of Ricardo, he insisted again on the complexity of the reality :
They keep on generalizing and I am afraid that they have all mo-
ved away from the path of nature that only shows us complicated
phenomena — the result of several combined actions — and moves
towards its goal in its own way and despite the rules that we wish
to impose on it. (Say 1825 : 270)
Pierre Prévost was of the same opinion. In his series of observations on Ri-
cardo’s Principles, he wrote : ‘All is extreme in this system of thought. No
consideration is paid to modifying circumstances, and consequences are infer-
red from each other with too much conﬁdence’ (P. Prévost 1818 : 14).
François Ferrier, who did not share Say’s liberal ideas, also stressed the
same point. ‘Would you like to know what Ricardo proved in his two volumes ?
Nothing . .. . M. Ricardo usually reasons on hypotheses : I suppose that. . .’
(Ferrier 1822 : xxix-xxx). The legitimacy of a deductive approach that draws
all the consequences from a series of hypotheses is thus rejected. On this point,
Sismondi’s opinion is not diﬀerent from Say’s or Ferrier’s and will also, with va-
riations, be shared by some other currents of thought, like the Saint-Simonians
Adam Smith’s followers moved away from his doctrine and still
more from his way of searching for the truth. Adam Smith consi-
dered political economy as a science based on experience. His new
disciples . .. have thrown themselves into abstractions that make
us absolutely lose sight of reality. In their hands, science is so spe-
culative that it seems to be removed from any practice . . . . We
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 18
believe that in so doing, it has moved away from both truth and
clarity. (Sismondi 1819, 1 : 57)
This kind of criticism was in general accepted by a majority of authors and
was repeated during the following decades. A liberal author, Gustave du Puy-
node, wrote for example half a century later : ‘When dealing with the economic
science, one has the impression that he [Ricardo] does not remember that it is
a question of men and of societies ; he only speaks of them as a mathematician
facing rigorous and dry theorems’ (Puynode 1866, III : 51). But there were also
some dissenting voices that were more radical, either intensifying the critique
of ‘abstraction’ or on the contrary opposing the usual wisdom and stressing
the fact that Ricardo, in his attempt to reason in a rigorous way, did not go
A more radical view of abstraction
Among those who held a more radical position are a number of authors who,
during the 1830s and 1840s, sought to develop a Christian critique of the new
industrial society and of political economy. In their opinion, the massive phe-
nomenon of pauperism and the ﬁrst modern economic crises were due to the
adoption of a new social system based on free markets and ﬁrst advocated by
the English political economists. From this point of view, Ricardo’s theories
represented the most perfect achievement of an approach that, basing its rea-
soning on abstractions — and here the words ‘abstract’ and ‘abstraction’ have
a diﬀerent and more aggressive meaning than in Say —, lost sight of men and
only focused on things, in other words they lost sight of the political, moral
and religious principles and only focused on material interests and the eco-
nomy. Let us note what two eminent Christian writers wrote at that time :
ﬁrst Jean-Paul Alban de Villeneuve-Bargemont, whose voluminous Économie
politique chrétienne (1834) is a landmark in the ﬁeld, and, second, Eugène
Buret, who unfortunately died at a young age after the publication of his cele-
brated De la misère des classes laborieuses en Angleterre et en France (1840).
Moreover, Buret’s book is an important step in the dissemination of Ricardo’s
works and ideas : Marx, when in Paris, ﬁrst read Ricardo in Buret’s book and
the excerpts from Ricardo’s Principles that are to be found in the celebrated
1844 Manuscripts are drawn from it (Hattori 1994, Vatin 2001-2, 2005).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 19
One can mainly criticize Ricardo, Villeneuve-Bargemont stated, ‘for having
considered wealth in an abstract and absolute way, without consideration for
the lot of the workers. Like most English economists, he was more concerned
with the collective power of nations than with the individual well-being of their
citizens, and very often he considered men as instruments instead of treating
them with care as sensitive beings’ (Villeneuve-Bargemont 1841, 2 : 396). His
attitude, like that of his followers, is ‘the inﬂexible absolutism of the manu-
facturing system which consists in pushing the products and manhandling the
producer, if not with indiﬀerence then at least through an abuse of principles’
(1841, 2 : 397). The ‘exaggerated disciples of Smith’, Villeneuve insisted, aimed
at ‘governing, settling everything’.
Whenever one wants to ﬁght one of their principles with moral
or political arguments, they answer : ‘You go beyond the limits
of science, this is not our concern : our task is just to show how
wealth is created.’ That’s a ﬁne idea! But in this case allow us to
neglect some economic considerations when it is the matter of the
great interests of the morals and happiness of the people. Since the
writings of Smith and MM. Say and Ricardo, one would not deny
that political economy has the form and attributes of a real science.
But in order for its principles be accepted as true and absolute, they
still have to prove that they spread well-being in all the classes of
the human society — and it is doubtful that they will ever succeed
in doing this. (Villeneuve-Bargemont 1834, 1 : 32)
It is interesting to note that the critique also concerned Jean-Baptiste Say
and his followers, who were considered as bad as their British counterparts.
Buret made this critique his own and developed it in the long introduction
to his Misère des classes laborieuses. Villeneuve-Bargemont was very critical
of Smith : in his opinion, the evil started with the Wealth of Nations :
It is certain that Smith almost always disregards moral and reli-
gious considerations : with the consequence that, basing the prin-
ciple of work and civilisation on a continuous excitement of the
needs, he founded the theory of the production of wealth on in-
dustrial monopoly, sensationist philosophy and the selﬁsh morals
of personal interest. (Villeneuve-Bargemont 1836, 87)
Buret partly saved Smith from this original sin : ‘he is the least exclusive
economist of his school’ (Buret 1840, 1 : 5). In his eyes, Smith did not limit
himself to the study of the production of wealth but also dealt with some
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 20
‘high questions of social philosophy’ (Buret 1840, 1 : 6). But after him political
economy conﬁned its ﬁeld to the abstract theory of value and production, with
no consideration of morals, religion and politics. ‘Its aim is to be a fully positive
science like mathematics, and in this perspective it claims for its principles the
privilege of absolute certainty’ (Buret 1840, 1 : 7). The real culprit for this
negative evolution was of course Ricardo, the ‘ingenious metaphysician’ of land
rent : ‘For M. Ricardo, men are nothing, products are all that matters’ (1840,
1 : 6n).
The most complete and exaggerated expression of this political eco-
nomy that we would call absolute, can be found in the books of M.
Ricardo, the ingenious metaphysician of the ‘fermage’.22 There all
social tendencies have disappeared. Nations are now only conside-
red as productive workshops; — man as a productive and consu-
ming machine, and human life as a capital. — All is weighted and
calculated, and economic laws inevitably govern the world. (Buret
1840, 1 : 6)
Unfortunately, a science that limits itself to studying the ‘abstract phenomena
of wealth’ is an impossibility : ‘It is much more diﬃcult to separate the various
branches of the social science than those of physical sciences : the tree of
moral knowledge cannot be mutilated without danger’ (Buret 1840 : 12). The
best proof of this is to look at the practical consequences of this ‘science’ :
pauperism, crises. ‘We are not playing on words when we say that, opposite
the picture of the wealth of nations must stand the picture of the poverty of
nations’ (1840, 1 : 13). And he asked : ‘Which man, which Christian would
not recoil in front of the complete implementation of the economic system
advocated by the books of the English school ?’ (Buret 1840, 1 : 38-39).
From arithmetic to mathematics : hurrah for abstraction !
A few authors, however, were not afraid of abstraction — in yet another mea-
ning of the word. Say and Sismondi rejected Ricardo’s deductive methodology.
They proposed an inductive reasoning — but they lacked any meaningful data
as well as any adequate statistical method. Rossi, in his lectures, challenged
this view. ‘The science of political economy, to the extent that it concerns
22. On the word ‘fermage’, see below, section 5.
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what is general and invariable’, he wrote, ‘is rather a science of reasoning than
a science of observation’ (Rossi 1836-1838, 1 : 32) : it is ‘speculative economics’
and in his eyes it was important to distinguish ‘rational political economy’ from
‘applied political economy’ and ‘social economics’.
Some authors also looked favourably on deduction and ‘abstraction’, in
keeping with the French intellectual tradition of mathématique sociale. ‘We
must bind men to reason through the precision of ideas and the rigour of
proofs, thus placing the truths out of reach of the eloquence of words or the
sophism of interest’ (Condorcet 1793 : 109). The theory of value and prices must
serve this purpose (1793 : 166). Auguste Walras belonged to this tradition, as
did Cournot. To prove a proposition, it is impossible to limit oneself to giving
a numerical example that simply illustrates it. One must go further and use
algebra, as he wrote in Recherches sur les principes mathématiques de la théorie
des richesses : no elementary algebra like Ricardo, but arbitrary functions :
Some authors, like Smith and Say, wrote on political economy while
preserving in their style the amenities of a purely literary form;
but others, like Ricardo, dealing with more abstract questions or
in search of greater precision, could not avoid algebra but disgui-
sed it in the form of arithmetical calculations of a tiring prolixity.
. .. In this essay I intend to show that the answer to the general
questions raised by the theory of wealth essentially depends, not on
elementary algebra but on this branch of calculus that deals with
arbitrary functions. (Cournot 1838 : 4-5)
Cournot’s position was odd in the French context. Even Auguste Walras
declared he had ‘never well understood’ Cournot’s 1838 book. And he added :
‘but from what I could grasp, I suppose that M. Cournot translated into algebra
the metaphysics of Ricardo’ (Auguste to Léon Walras, 18 May 1861, in A.
Walras 2005 : 490). However, the idea that political economy should become a
mathematical science, in order to acquire the rigour that Ricardo was aiming
at, gradually spread.
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4Value and wealth
The French context
Value theory and the deﬁnitions of wealth and productivity were considered
of the utmost importance among French economists, who realized that many
problems in economics required the clariﬁcation of such basic concepts. This
was not new : Turgot, for example, called for rigour and developed a fascinating
subjective theory of value. But in the ﬁrst half of the nineteenth century this
was still a novelty and Ricardo and Say were often considered responsible
for this evolution. ‘All that pertains to the exchange value is fundamental in
political economy. David Ricardo declared it and J.-B. Say repeated it after
him’ (A. Walras 1849 : 505). But it was also obvious that there was, on the
whole, little agreement on these topics on both sides of the Channel.
Two main opinions on the origin of exchange value dominate the
economic world today. We can call the ﬁrst the opinion of the En-
glish economists : it is based on the authority of Smith, Ricardo
and McCulloch. The second can be called the French doctrine, and
is linked with the names of Condillac and J.-B. Say. (A. Walras
1849 : 506)
At the beginning of the century, before the publication of Ricardo’s Prin-
ciples, Say, Sismondi and Destutt de Tracy had developed their own theories of
value. We cannot of course enter into details and analyze the diﬀerences bet-
ween these theories here. However, one common feature must be stressed : they
all confer a fundamental role on utility and demand — the legacy of Turgot
and Condillac. While not neglecting the cost of production, they thought that,
in markets, it forms a kind of ﬂoor below which the price cannot permanently
fall. But the eﬀective price, the ‘valeur vénale’ of a commodity, is determined
by demand and supply — again Turgot’s legacy. On the whole, these authors
used the idea of ‘gravitation’, ﬁrst proposed by Turgot and developed by Smith,
but they adapted it to their purpose. For Say, for example, the market price
is supposed to gravitate around a natural price 23 understood as the sum of
the remuneration of the services of labour, capital and land ; for Destutt, the
23. ‘I do not like the expression natural price, because this rate at which the commodity is
not sold is no price’ (Say, marginal note to the Wealth of Nations, in Hashimoto 1980 : 70).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 23
cost of production is but a ﬂoor, the lower limit below which a price cannot
remain for a long time. Moreover, Say and Destutt stressed again and again
that production, through the transformation of things, is only the production
of utility. Ricardo shared none of these points of view.
In this context, Destutt de Tracy’s writings nevertheless attracted Ricardo’s
attention. Basing his analysis on the ﬁrst edition of Say’s Traité, powerfully de-
veloping the French sensationist tradition, this key ﬁgure among the Idéologues
developed a political economy in the last part of his Éléments d’idéologie entit-
led Traité de la volonté et de ses eﬀets, 1815, and his Commentaire sur l’Esprit
des lois de Montesquieu.24 Criticizing Say on this point, Destutt stressed that
all wealth ﬁnds its origin solely in the use by men of their own faculties, thus
advancing the paramount importance of labour activity and denying the exis-
tence of other factors of production like land and capital — itself the product
of labour :
The old French economists . . . have not then suﬃciently studied
the nature of man, and particularly his intellectual predispositions.
They did not perceive that in our faculties and in the manner in
which our will employs them, all our treasure consists, and that this
employment, labour,25 constitutes the only wealth that in itself has
a natural and necessary primitive value, which it communicates to
all things upon which it is employed, and which have not other.
(1811 : 185-186)
In the Traité de la Volonté, he speciﬁed :
. .. as it is certain that our physical and moral faculties are alone
our original riches, the employment of those faculties, labour of
some kind, is our only original treasure, and that it is always from
this employment, that all those things are created which we call
riches .. . . It is certain too, that all those things only represent
24. The Traité de la volonté was published in English in 1817 as A Treatise on Political
Economy, the translation being revised by Thomas Jeﬀerson (Destutt de Tracy 1817). As
for the Commentaire, its American translation by Jeﬀerson — A Commetary and Review of
Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, 1811 — was published long before the French original text
in 1819 (Destutt de Tracy 1811, 1819). It is also to be noted that, in France, an unauthorized
and anonymous edition of the French version was published in 1817.
25. Jeﬀerson’s 1811 translation reads here ‘this employment of nature’ instead of ‘this
employment, labour ’ in the French edition (Destutt’s italics, 1819 : 282). It is not clear,
however, whether this diﬀerence comes from a change later made by Destutt for the French
edition of his Commentaire.
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the labour which has created them, and if they have a value, or
even two distinct values, they can only derive them from that of
the labour from which they emanate. (Destutt 1817 : 64)
While Destutt’s approach is not independent of his views on the determina-
tion of prices — ﬁxed by the interaction of demand and supply, they measure
‘the value of things, and of the labour which produces them’ (1817 : 31) — this
and other aspects of his writings were obviously of interest to Ricardo, who re-
ferred to them in the paragraphs he inserted in 1821 in Chapter XX, ‘Value and
Riches, their Distinctive Properties’, of the Principles (1817-1821 : 284-285).
Ricardo met Destutt in Paris during his 1822 journey on the continent :
M. Destutt Tracy [is] a very agreeable old gentleman, whose works I
had read with pleasure. I do not entirely agree with him in his Poli-
tical Economy,— he is one of Say’s school :— there are nevertheless
some points of diﬀerence between them. (Ricardo to Malthus, 16
December 1822, in 1951-73, 9 : 248) 26
Say was thus unfair — and inaccurate in his interpretation — when, after the
death of Ricardo, reviewing Prévost’s translation of McCulloch Discourse, he
Not only has Ricardo’s book been given an importance that I feel to
be exaggerated ; but it was also granted, with as little justiﬁcation,
the merit of originality and novelty. According to M. McCulloch,
the publication of this book opens a new and memorable era, and it
is stressed that he [Ricardo] discovered that all exchangeable values
are but the price of labour, and land does not inﬂuence prices ;
but M. Destutt de Tracy, in his Commentaire sur Montesquieu
26. Ricardo was obviously also interested in the idea Destutt stated, after Turgot, that to
measure a thing, we must compare it to another thing of the same kind. And he contrasted
Destutt with Say on this point. ‘I cannot agree with M. Say — he wrote in the third edition
of the Principles (1951, 1 : 284) — in estimating the value of a commodity, by the abundance
of other commodities for which it will exchange; I am of the opinion of a very distinguished
writer, M. Destutt de Tracy, who says, that “To measure any one thing is to compare it
with a determinate quantity of that same thing which we take for a standard of comparison,
for unity. To measure, then to ascertain a length, a weight, a value, is to ﬁnd how many
times they contain metres, grammes, francs, in a word, unities of the same description.”
A franc is not a measure of value for any thing, but for a quantity of the same metal of
which francs are made, unless francs, and the thing to be measured, can be referred to some
other measure which is common to both. This, I think, they can be, for they are both the
result of labour ; and, therefore, labour is a common measure, by which their real as well
as their relative value may be estimated. This also, I am happy to say, appears to be M.
Destutt de Tracy’s opinion.’ Ricardo is however certainly deluding himself about the degree
of agreement between his approach and that of Destutt.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 25
— which, even before the 1814 events, had been translated into
English by the renowned Jeﬀerson, former President of the United
States — had advanced the same principles that he repeated in his
1815 Traité de la volonté. (Say 1825 : 275)
The ﬁrst discussions
Say was in England from September to December 1814, sent by the French
Government — he subsequently published De l’Angleterre et des Anglais in
April 1815. There he met James Mill, Jeremy Bentham and David Ricardo.
Say took the opportunity to send Ricardo a plan for a reform of the French
currency system inspired by the Appendix of The High Price of Bullion. After
his return to Paris, he sent him his Cathéchisme d’économie politique. Ricardo
replied on 18 August 1815 and a correspondence started between them, mainly
devoted to the discussion of Ricardo’s critiques of Say’s theory of value.
While at this time neither Ricardo’s nor Say’s approaches were ﬁxed — and
consequently the theoretical vocabulary was still vague and hesitant — this ﬁrst
debate before the publication of the Principles is important for understanding
the nature of their divergence. It turned on the role of utility. Both admitted
that utility is ‘the foundation of value’, but they did not give the same meaning
to ‘foundation’. Ricardo speciﬁed that ‘a commodity must be useful to have
value’ (to Say, 18 August 1815, in Ricardo 1951-1973, 6 : 247). In his answer27
(10 September 1815, ibid. : 270-273) Says asserted that Ricardo in fact shared
his analysis of value, and that utility is not the sole but the primary cause of
value. In order for a commodity to be produced :
. .. the price that its utility determines people to accept must be
suﬃcient to repay the expenses incurred in its production . .. . I
thus say, like you, that these expenses of production determine the
lowest limit for its price; but that they are not the primary cause
of the price that people oﬀer for it. (ibid. : 271)
27. Curiously, the text of Say’s letters to Ricardo is diﬀerent in the edition of Charles
Comte (Say 1833) and in that of Sraﬀa. In the present case, the letter found in Ricardo’s
papers was dated September 10, but that of the 1833 edition is dated December 2. Sraﬀa
suggests that Say forgot his ﬁrst answer and wrote a second letter that he did not send when
he realized his mistake.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 26
In fact, Ricardo criticized Say on three points. First, he criticized him for
having stated that utility is the measure of value : ‘the degree of utility can
never be the measure by which to estimate value’ (ibid. : 247). Say denied
having made such a statement : rather, value is the measure of the utility. 28
Second, Ricardo criticized Say for having written that ‘a man is superlati-
vely rich, although he has few valuables, who can procure easily or for nothing
those things which he wishes to consume’ (ibid. : 248, cf. Say 1814 : 1194 and
1815 : 95). Ricardo took the example of a man who :
. .. may only wish to consume bread and water and may be able to
procure no more. He cannot be so rich as his neighbour who has
abundance of valuables which he can exchange for all the luxuries
of life, which it is his desire to consume. (Ricardo 1951-1973, 6 :
He concluded : ‘Riches are measured by the quantity of valuables which a
man possesses, not by the moderation of his wants’ (ibid.). Say denied having
said that a man is all the richer for having less desires, but repeated that a
man is all the richer when he can satisfy his desires at a lower cost.
Third, Ricardo criticized Say for having stated that an entrepreneur ‘must
make an inventory of all that he possesses, valuing each commodity at its
current price’ (Ricardo ibid. : 248, cf. Say 1814 : 184 and 1815 : 21) in order
to know whether his capital has increased : this is misleading, according to
Ricardo, because the calculation will reﬂect the evolution of prices. Say replied
that the value of money is assumed to be unchanged : to measure the increment
of capital by its capacity to employ labour, as Ricardo suggests, is to return to
Smith, which is unfortunate because the price of labour is more variable than
the price of money.
Two problems emerged from this exchange. The ﬁrst is the question of the
link between utility and exchangeable value, considered here from the point of
view of the measure. However, this debate came to a sudden end when Ricardo
quoted the correct sentence from the second edition of Say’s Traité : ‘Price is
the measure of the value of things, and their value is the measure of their utility’
(Ricardo 1817-1821 : 282, cf. Say 1814 : 83). He did not comment directly on
28. This assertion appears in the letter dated December 2, but not in the letter Ricardo
received (see the previous note).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 27
this sentence but neither did he change his mind. Utility remained linked in
his eyes with value in use. The last sentence of the Principles leaves no room
for ambiguity : ‘value in use cannot be measured by any known standard ; it is
diﬀerently estimated by diﬀerent persons’ (Ricardo 1817-1821 : 429).
The second problem is the question of the deﬁnition of wealth. Disregarding
here the evolution of Say’s thought on this point, it is enough to note that in
the fourth edition of the Traité, wealth is deﬁned as ‘the things we possess and
that can be used to satisfy our needs’ (Say 1819 : 1156). Say however, while
giving up the idea that ‘the value of things measures the quantity of wealth’
when two countries are compared, implicitly admitted that it is still possible to
proceed in this way for two men living in the same place and facing the same
price system. As for Ricardo, he ended in the Principles with the assertion that,
like for Smith, wealth or riches ‘consist of the necessaries, conveniences, and
enjoyments of human life. One set of necessaries and conveniences admits of no
comparison with another set’ (Ricardo 1817-1821 : 429). It is then impossible
to consider riches as a sum of values, as Say did. ‘Value .. . essentially diﬀers
from riches, for value depends not on abundance, but on the diﬃculty or facility
of production’ (Ricardo 1817-1821 : 273).
The subsequent debates : some examples
In spite of its importance in the French context, the controversies about the
nature of wealth and how to measure it will be left aside here : the subsequent
discussion between Say and Ricardo, and the reactions and developments it
generated, especially from Pellegrino Rossi, Augustin Cournot and Jules Du-
puit, are analyzed in a former paper (Béraud 2005). It should also be noted
that many authors contested the fact that wealth was solely to be apprehen-
ded in purely economic and material terms : the emerging Christian political
economy forcefully denounced this way of thinking — but so did some other au-
thors independently of their political inclinations, the best example being the
ultra-liberal Charles Dunoyer. The following will instead focus on the theories
of value and prices.
We know how Ricardo, in the Principles, speciﬁed what he meant by value
in use and value in exchange, and by reproducible or non-reproducible commo-
dities, and how his theory of value worked in each case. It is also well-known
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 28
that Say, especially in the notes he appended to the French translation of the
Principles, rejected the idea that the value of a commodity is determined by
the quantity of labour necessary for its production. In this context, one appa-
rently insigniﬁcant assertion by Ricardo — namely, that the exchange value
of a commodity rises with the quantity of labour spent in its production —
generated a discussion and an evolution in Say’s own conceptions.
To Ricardo’s assertion, Say objected that the demand for that commodity
must also increase in order for its value to rise with its cost of production.
But, without entering into too much detail, Say’s argument is puzzling. In fact
Say faces two diﬃculties here. In the ﬁrst place, the concept of demand is not
clearly deﬁned : is ‘demand’ the quantity demanded, or a relationship between
this quantity and the price? In the second place, the idea that ‘the value of
every commodity always rises in direct ratio to the demand, and in inverse
ratio to the supply’ is, as Ricardo states (1817-1821 : 382-385), a source of
error : it led Say to maintain wrongly that, in order for the price to rise with
the costs, there must be an unchanged proportion of demand to supply. He
wrote in his notes to Ricardo’s Principles :
When costs of production increase, it would be necessary for the
proportion of demand to supply to remain the same for the price
also to increase ; it would be necessary for demand also to rise ; but
actually it decreases ; and it is impossible, all circumstances being
the same, for it not to decrease. Exchange value cannot rise like
the costs of production. (1819, 1 :10)
This proposition seems paradoxical and even absurd. It can be interpreted
as follows. For a rise in the cost of production to be fully transferred to the
current price, the demand must increase — more speciﬁcally : the demand
price must increase like the supply price. However, Say’s analysis of the deter-
mination of prices through the interaction of demand and supply remains too
vague to form the basis for a theory of prices.
To answer Ricardo, Say was thus obliged ﬁrstly to explain what he meant
by ‘demand’. In his Cours complet d’économie politique pratique, he insisted
both on the choice of individuals and on the role of income distribution. ‘Men
. .. make a kind of classiﬁcation of their needs according to the degree of im-
portance they attach to the satisfaction of each of these needs’ (Say, 1828-29,
1 : 356). Each man, according to his income, satisﬁes the most urgent need
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 29
ﬁrst. When the price of a good is high, only the rich can aﬀord it. If the price
falls, it becomes accessible to a greater number. The notion of demand was
thus clariﬁed : it is the quantity of a commodity demanded by those who can
pay for its costs of production.
In the second place, the shape of the relation was speciﬁed : when the price
decreases, the demand increases because there are more buyers. Its shape can
even be analyzed. Income distribution can be represented as a pyramid : the
rich are fewer than the poor. In this perspective, a reduction in price aﬀects the
demand for a commodity all the more when the price was initially rather low,
and the concentration of incomes inﬂuences the shape of the demand function.
The idea that demand is a function of the price — in the mathematical mea-
ning of the term — is not to be found in Say, but Cournot and Dupuit took
inspiration from Say’s text to formulate it. It is thus not unreasonable to think
that the ﬁrst attempts to build a demand function owed something to Ricardo.
The inﬂuence was indirect : his criticism of Say induced a more accurate study
of the concepts used in demand and supply analysis.
In the last editions of the Traité, Say re-examined the idea that the costs
of production determine the value of products. He concluded that Ricardians
were right to some extent :
. .. in that products never could be sold for a long time at a lower
price than their costs of production ; but when they said that the
demand for these products does not inﬂuence their value, they were
wrong . .. because demand inﬂuences the value of the productive
services. (Say, 1826a : 619)
Some other opinions
While Jean-Baptiste Say was certainly the prominent ﬁgure in this debate,
some other writers held diﬀerent views. Louis Say (Jean-Baptiste’s brother), for
example, put forward a very diﬀerent opinion. In his 1822 book, Considérations
sur l’industrie et la législation, Chapter 8 is devoted to an ‘Examen de l’ouvrage
de M. David Ricardo, intitulé : Des Principes de l’économie politique’, in which
his intention was to intervene in the controversy between Ricardo and his
brother on value and wealth and state his own position (1822 : 158-59). He
rejected the Smithian opposition between value in use and value in exchange as
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 30
well as the idea that the exchange value measures utility. Prices are important
for an individual, but only the utilities that he can buy with his income really
matter. ‘If the word value has to be used in political economy, it can only be
understood as the degree of utility possessed by things . .. . It is this utility
possessed by a thing which forms its real eﬀective value’ (L. Say 1822 : 158).
Louis Say thus agreed with Ricardo, against his brother : ‘as M. Ricardo states
rightly, exchangeable value is no measure of utility’ (1822 : 161). But the
solution he proposed was of course totally diﬀerent from that of Ricardo.
In the same perspective, some years later, Auguste Walras criticized Ri-
cardo for having contrasted two kinds of commodities : those which are rare,
and those of which the quantity can be increased through industry. But, Walras
remarked, a commodity is always produced because it is rare. ‘It is impossible
to distinguish among the commodities . . . between those that are rare and
those that are not. All the goods that exist in limited quantities are rare ; and
only unlimited goods form an exception’ (1831 : 183). To make things more
precise, A. Walras redeﬁned certain concepts. According to him, scarcity is the
relationship between demand and supply, but absolute demand and supply.
Absolute demand is deﬁned as the demand ‘which is the expression of all the
needs taken together .. . disregarding the means men have to satisfy them’
(1831 : 235-236). The absolute demand for a thing is thus the quantity that
would allow everyone to fully satisfy his need for it. Absolute supply is simply
the quantity of a thing that exists at a given point in time. When the absolute
demand for a good exceeds the absolute supply, it is said to exist in limited
quantity. It is rare and its value is in proportion to its scarcity. While A. Wal-
ras gave ‘scarcity’ a meaning that is now ours, he had diﬃculty specifying the
links between value and scarcity. As we know, his son took up the torch, with
success : scarcity was deﬁned as ‘the intensity of the last need satisﬁed’ and
‘scarcity is the cause of exchangeable value’ (Léon Walras 1874 : 144, 145).
Finally, let us note two other important consequences from the debates
generated by Ricardo. In the ﬁrst place, Dupuit discarded Say’s assertion that
the prices of things measure their utility. He replaced it with the idea that ‘the
greatest sacriﬁce that we would be prepared to make to get a thing we desire,
or the price at which you would decide to do without it, can act as a measure
of utility’ (Dupuit, 1849 : 205). In the second place, Cournot, just like Ricardo,
asserted that there is no ﬁxed measure of the utility of things. But then he
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 31
drew a diﬀerent conclusion : he held that riches must be understood as the
value of the products, not as their utility.
We must totally identify the meaning of the word riches with that
of these other words exchangeable value . . . . We must accurately
distinguish the abstract idea of riches .. . from the secondary ideas
of utility, scarcity, suitability to the needs and enjoyments of man,
which the word riches still suggests in the ordinary language. (1838 :
We must acknowledge that riches can vary without aﬀecting the public
utility or the general well-being : it is also possible for riches to increase while
well-being decreases. In any variation of income, it is thus necessary to distin-
guish the real and the nominal variations. Cournot showed that to measure the
real increment of riches, it is necessary to reason, as we now do, with constant
As for Pellegrino Rossi — certainly the most Ricardian of the writers of the
time in France — his analysis is mainly grounded on a theory of value based
on the costs of production. No doubt demand and supply, he argued, play an
important role in the true explanation of the determination and variations of
prices. But these concepts are diﬃcult to understand and to work analytically
with them is almost impossible. This is the reason why economists should
resort to another law, a kind of approximation and certainly a better analytical
tool, the determination of the value of commodities by the quantity of labour
necessary for their production (Rossi 1836-38, 1 : 89-90). From the quantity
of labour he then moved on to costs of production in general, including the
proﬁts of the entrepreneurs but not the rent of land : like Ricardo, he thought
that rent is a consequence of prices and not an element of cost.
News from the Genevan Front
Many other aspects of Ricardo’s theory of value and prices were discussed,
especially during the ﬁrst half of the century. Without entering here into too
much detail, some other important points are to be noted : they came from
Switzerland, from the group of authors around the Bibliothèque Universelle.
Pierre Prévost’s commentaries (1817, 1818) on the ﬁrst chapter of the Prin-
ciples are not really developed but are interesting because they show, more
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 32
clearly than the case of Say, for example, the reactions of a Smithian reader
to Ricardo’s attacks in the ﬁeld of the theory of value and prices. He raised
two main criticisms. In the ﬁrst place, and with great clarity, Prévost defended
Smith’s ‘adding-up’ theory and the measure of value through the labour a com-
modity can command. It is not true, he wrote, that Smith is inconsequent, as
Ricardo aﬃrmed. He does not have two theories of values, one for the rude and
primitive state of society and another for the commercial society with private
land property and accumulation of capital. Labour commanded is the measure
of value in both societies.
When Smith said ‘The real price of every thing .. . is the toil and
trouble of acquiring it’, he was establishing his doctrine of the mea-
sure of value. We known that the basis of this doctrine is the labour
that a commodity commands. But when he said ‘In that early and
rude state of society . .. the proportion between the quantities of
labour necessary for acquiring diﬀerent objects seems to be the only
circumstance which can aﬀord any rule for exchanging them for one
another’, 29 he was dealing with the distinction between the com-
ponent parts of a price, and his aim was to dissipate a cloud that
could rise on this discussion. He remarked in consequence that there
is a stage, in social life, when these two measures — the labour that
a commodity commands and the labour spent in his production —
are almost the same, and when consequently the distinction is not
really necessary. (Prévost 1817 : 217-218)
So Ricardo was not a good reader, and Smith was not inconsequent. In the
second place, Ricardo was accused of introducing new and unclear deﬁnitions
for concepts that were deﬁned by Smith in an appropriate way — the distinc-
tion between ﬁxed and circulating capital for example (Prévost 1818 : 12-13)
— and thus creating a lot of confusion. But Prévost simply did not unders-
tand the pages where Ricardo discusses the inﬂuence of a change of income
distribution on relative prices and the relationship between wages and the rate
of proﬁts — that was, in his eyes, incomprehensible because he stuck to an
‘adding-up’ theory of value — and his criticism petered out.
29. The original quotation is here restored. Prévost wrote a summary — ‘à l’origine des
sociétés, le travail dont une marchandise est chargée, le travail nécessaire pour la produire,
est la mesure de la valeur’ — because the full quotation was written some page before as
quoted by Ricardo in Chapter 1 of the Principles (P. Prévost 1817 : 217 n. 2).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 33
Another interesting criticism came from Sismondi, because he simply did
not accept Ricardo’s process of economic adjustment through the mobility
of capital and labour. ‘M. Ricardo does not leave the abstractions on which
he founded his system, and it is diﬃcult to bring them closer to the facts’
(1819, 2 : 215), he wrote in the Nouveaux Principes d’Économie Politique. After
some perturbation in the economy, it is not true that things return easily to
equilibrium, simply because it is not correct to consider capital and labour as
Let us beware of this dangerous theory of an equilibrium that res-
tores itself ! .. . Some equilibrium, it is true, is again reached in the
end, but through incredible suﬀering. One can take it as certain
that capital only leaves an industry through the bankruptcy of the
owner, and men only leave a job through the death of the worker :
all those who ﬁnd a job or move more easily must be seen as the
exception and not the rule. (1819, 2 : 217)
Some other reasons — a long apprenticeship or experience necessary for the
production, the investment of an important amount of ﬁxed capital — explain
the relative immobility of factors of production. With the notable consequence
that there is no uniformity in wages and in the proﬁt rates among the diﬀerent
. .. we do not admit the foundations of M. Ricardo’s reasoning
or a continuous equilibrium of proﬁts in all industries. We believe
instead that, because it is impossible for the owners of ﬁxed capital
to withdraw it and invest it elsewhere, they keep this capital in
the same industry for a long time after it has started to yield a
much lower income than all others. Their persistence in the same
industries is also strongly augmented by their reluctance to loose
the skilfulness they have acquired in them, and their incapacity to
embrace another vocation. (1819, 1 : 277-278)
It is however worth noting that Sismondi — like Say, as we will show below —
somewhat misinterprets Ricardo on this point, insisting on short term diﬃcul-
ties. In Chapter IV of the Principles, ‘On Natural and Market Price’, Ricardo
actually describes a more complex process of readjustment, introducing ﬁnance
capital into the picture. And, at the beginning of Chapter XIII ‘On Taxes on
Gold’ and extensively in Chapter XIX ‘On Sudden Changes in the Channels of
Trade’, he insists on the fact that a reallocation of capital between industries
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 34
could take a long time, be diﬃcult and entail important negative consequences
in the short term.
5The nature and evolution of rent
Setting the stage
Even more than the theory of value, the question of the nature and evolution
of ground rent remained topical among French-speaking economists during
almost the entire century. It was, of course, the theory of income distribution
that continuously raised lively discussions, especially around the question of
pauperism — later the ‘social question’. But it went much further : the problem
of rent considered as a monopoly income challenged ﬁrstly the legitimacy of
the status of the landowner, and secondly, over and above the question of land
property, the legitimacy of private property. This was of course the danger, as
stated by Hippolyte Passy in his entry ‘Rente du sol’ in the Dictionnaire de
l’économie politique :
For some authors, rent is a monopoly that forces those who do not
possess land to pay a greater price for their subsistence than it
really costs to those who possess it ; for others, it is, using Scrope’s
phrase, a limitation to the enjoyment of the gifts that God gave
to men for the satisfaction of their needs. From these opinions to
the celebrated axiom : La propriété, c’est le vol,30 there is only one
step that was quickly made. (Passy 1853 : 518)
Some decades later, the same problem was still topical.
Ricardo’s theory, well stated by Rossi in France and J. Stuart Mill
in England . .. was accepted by the economists when the 1848 Re-
volution happened and socialism came openly to the light. Ricardo
said : ‘a part only of the money paid to the landlord is paid for the
use of the original and indestructible powers of the soil’.31 Prou-
dhon and the German refugees in Paris took over this idea not only
to attack land property but property in general. (Courcelle-Seneuil
1892 : 711)
30. ‘Property is theft’. Passy is alluding here to Proudhon.
31. Courcelle-Seneuil is obviously misquoting Ricardo here. Ricardo wrote : ‘Rent is that
portion of the produce of the earth, which is paid to the landlord for the use of the original
and indestructible powers of the soil’ (Ricardo 1817-1821 : 67).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 35
The most varied opinions were thus expressed on rent and the discussions
went well beyond economic theory. But the economists were of course standing
on the front line, and the subject was often discussed at the Société d’économie
politique and in the Journal des économistes — so much that some readers of
the Journal complained. 32 In the 1850s, a number of books were still published
on the question, either in favour of Ricardo’s theory, like Mathieu Wolkoﬀ’s
Opuscules sur la rente foncière (1854), or to criticize it, for example along the
lines developed by Bastiat just before his death, as in Roger de Fontenay’s
Du revenu foncier (1854). The Académie des science morales et politiques of
the Institut launched a competition on the theory of rent three times, the
prize being eventually awarded to Auguste Boutron, who later published his
book on the subject : Théorie de la rente foncière (1867). The report on this
competition, by Hippolyte Passy, was published in 1858 in the Journal des
économistes (Passy 1858). In 1866, the Société d’économie politique, at the
suggestion of Frédéric Passy, organized one more discussion on the theory of
rent, with this question : ‘Is ground rent diﬀerent from interest on capital ?’
(Journal des économistes, June 1866 : 447-467).
Before examining the positions developed during these controversies, three
remarks are in order.
In the ﬁrst place, and contrary to a generally accepted opinion, Ricardo’s
theory of rent, while having faced strong criticism, also had inﬂuential advo-
cates within the liberal current of thought and not only among its opponents.
The case of Pellegrino Rossi (Rossi 1836-1838) is well-known. But Antoine-
Élisée Cherbuliez (on whom more below) is also a central ﬁgure in this story,
as well as the uncompromising liberal Gustave de Molinari. The case of Charles
Coquelin is worth citing. The following is a testimony by Molinari taken from
the ‘Notice biographique sur Charles Coquelin’ he wrote for the second (post-
humous) edition of Coquelin’s Du crédit et des banques, entitled Le Crédit et
les banques (1859) :
He came across Ricardo only later ; but Coquelin had already found
by himself .. . this ingenious theory of rent which is one of the
main claims to fame of the renowned English economist. He later
32. ‘Some readers criticized us . . . for having devoted too much space to the question of
the rent ; but some also levelled the opposite complaint’ (Journal des économistes, 15 April
1854 : 128).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 36
said to his friends how much he was surprised — and up to a
point frustrated — when he found in Ricardo’s writings what he
thought his own discovery. This incident, during his ﬁrst studies of
political economy, explains the enthusiasm with which he defended
the theory of rent when it was challenged by M. Carey and . . .
Bastiat. Charles Coquelin considered more or less Ricardo’s theory
as his own. (Molinari 1859 : 7)
A similar acceptation also came unexpectedly from one of the main au-
thors who developed Catholic Christian political economy during the second
half of the century and inspired the so-called social doctrine of the Church
(as promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical letter Rerum Nova-
rum), namely the Belgian economist Charles Périn. He was the successor to
the Frenchman Charles de Coux — the co-founder, even before Villeneuve-
Bargemont, of this current of thought — at the chair of political economy at
the Université Catholique de Louvain. Villeneuve-Bargemont accused the ‘En-
glish school’ in general, and Ricardo speciﬁcally, of having only developed the
laws of the production of wealth, and neglected its distribution. Périn stressed
instead the progress made by Ricardo in distribution theory.
In Ricardo’s view, the main problem in political economy is the
determination of the laws of the distribution of wealth. Unfortuna-
tely, the nature of his mind was fond of abstraction and he lost the
fruit of this genuine conception of the economic science. (1880 : 66)
In particular, too much emphasis was placed on the theory of value :
‘Contrary to what was alleged, all political economy does not lie in the theory
of value’ (1880 : 67). In spite of this, Ricardo is granted ‘the merit of having,
the ﬁrst, laid the foundations for a theory of the distribution of wealth’ (1880 :
68). The positive point is his conception of rent, which Périn himself used in
his writings together with Malthus’s principle of population.
Second, the vocabulary employed by Smith and Ricardo raised a problem
for French-speaking economists. The word ‘rente’ was already widely used in
the French language to designate something that has nothing to do with ground
rent : it referred mainly to the constitution of life annuities. To translate ‘rent’,
many French writers thus used the word ‘fermage’ but also progressively adop-
ted ‘rente’ to this context. The reluctance to call the revenue of the landowner
‘rent’ also had theoretical bases. For Say, for example, the global revenue of the
landowner is the ‘fermage’ which includes the proﬁts on the capital he invested
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 37
in the land and the ‘proﬁts of the land’, i.e., the bare income from property —
what Ricardo calls rent.33
What is ground rent? asked Hippolyte Passy in the Dictionnaire de l’éco-
nomie politique : ‘It is the share of property. It must not however be confused
with “fermage”, although it is one element thereof. Any “fermage” . .. includes
an additional part : the payment to the landowners because of their spending,
at diﬀerent times, with a view to facilitating labour or multiplying the pro-
duct’ (Passy 1853 : 509), in other words because of the capital landowners
themselves invested in the land. Some other writers included both elements —
the property income and the remuneration of the capital invested — under the
same term of ‘rente’.
The problem was raised very early on. F. S. Constâncio, the translator of
the ﬁrst edition of the Principles, translated the title of the chapter ‘On Rent’
by ‘Du fermage ou proﬁt des terres’ (Ricardo 1819, 1 : 63), i.e., ‘Of ‘fermage’
or proﬁt of land’. In the text, he sometimes used “fermage’, sometimes ‘proﬁt
des fonds de terre’ because, as he explained in a footnote (in Ricardo 1819, 1 :
64), they have diﬀerent meanings — while his translation of the title of the
chapter makes them appear to be equivalent !
I thus was obliged to translate the very vague English word ‘rent’
sometimes by proﬁt des fonds de terre, and sometimes by fermage,
which are two things that the author does not distinguish enough :
the ﬁrst refers to the proﬁt that land gives to the cultivator, the
second to the rent [loyer] that the farmer pays to the landowner
who does not himself farm his property. (Constâncio, in Ricardo
1819, 1 : 64n)
Constâncio’s comment shows that he did not understand Ricardo properly,
and we can imagine what the French readers might have understood during
30 years whenever they did not have access to the English text. This question
induced Alcide Fonteyraud, in 1847, to add a long footnote at the beginning
of the Chaper ‘On Rent’ of his revised translation of the Principles. He rightly
chose to adopt the term ‘rente’ everywhere.
33. Moreover, for Say, because of the old French meaning, ‘rente’ designates a ratio : the
ratio of the income from land ownership to the price of land.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 38
We did not hesitate to substitute . . . the word ‘rente’ for the word
‘fermage’ which most writers used to translate the English ‘rent’.
Before us, people were afraid to introduce an uncommon term into
the scientiﬁc nomenclature .. . [but] every new idea in science . . .
brings its form, its expressions. (1847 : 38)
The word ‘fermage’ was also to be rejected for a theoretical reason : ‘This
is something more than a mere lexicographic rectiﬁcation, this is above all a
scientiﬁc rectiﬁcation’ (1847 : 39) because otherwise Ricardo’s theory appears
absurd and incomprehensible.
In political economy, what do we mean by the word ‘fermage’ ? It
is the sum paid by the cultivator . . . to the landowner. Now what
do we mean by ‘rente’ ? Following the very deﬁnition of Ricardo,
it is that portion of the produce of the earth, which is paid to the
landlord for the use of the original and indestructible powers of the
soil. The diﬀerence is here obvious, essential .. . and the author
dedicated a series of arguments to making it stand out. Moreover,
after having well established that the portion of the produce given
to the owner for the interest on the capital he devoted to the bet-
terment of land .. . etc, cannot be called rent, he . .. says that in
popular language the term is applied to whatever is annually paid
by a farmer to his landlord, and that Adam Smith often conformed
to this mistake made by most writers. Rent is thus a fee attached
to the ground itself, to property rights. (1847 : 38)
In the third place, for sake of brevity, some comments on the origin of the
theory of rent — concerning Anderson, West, and Malthus — will be omitted
here. French authors at least agree on one point : Ricardo’s version is the most
rigorous statement of it. Some other criticisms must also be omitted, though
they were heavily debated at the time, such as, for example, the problem of the
order in which diﬀerent plots of land are cultivated — some authors contesting
that the most fertile are cultivated ﬁrst. We also exclude the interesting point
that the order of fertility is not a physical property given once for all but can
change according to the techniques employed by the farmers, as well as the
possibility and consequences of technical progress in agriculture — on all this
see for example Fonteyraud (1847) and G. du Puynode (1866) as well as the
above-quoted books on rent.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 39
What characterises Say’s views on rent is twofold — two consequences, proba-
bly, of his faithfulness to Smith’s analysis — : rent enters into the formation
of prices, and intensive rent is disregarded.
My argument respecting rent, proﬁt and taxes — Ricardo wrote
to Say — is founded on a supposition that there is land in every
country which pays no rent, or that there is capital employed on
land before in cultivation for which no rent is paid. You answer
to the ﬁrst proposition, but you take no notice of the second. The
admission of either will answer my purpose. (Ricardo to Say, 11
January 1820, in 1951-73, 8 : 149-50)
Hence an interesting debate with Ricardo which provoked, signiﬁcantly, an
evolution in both positions : Say was led to accept, in some speciﬁc cases,
the existence of a marginal land deprived of rent as well as the existence of
an intensive rent ; and Ricardo admitted that, in some speciﬁc cases also, an
absolute rent can arise.
For Say, ‘fermage’ is a component part of the prices of commodities. It
remunerates the productive capacity of the land and the capital irreversibly
invested in it. Rent thus includes a kind of monopoly income because land
is limited in quantity and private property of it is socially and economically
useful — an argument which was of course taken up and developed by the
liberal economists. ‘Were the landowner not certain of enjoying his fruits, who
would accept to advance the labour and money necessary for its cultivation?’
he wrote in his notes to Ricardo’s Principles (Say 1819b : 83). A social conven-
tion — land property — increases productivity. ‘This is why land could supply
a quantity of products useful to men ten times, a hundred times, superior’
(1819b : 83). Could not we say, he insisted, ‘that the owner fulﬁls a produc-
tive function because without it [private property] production would not take
place ?’ (1819b : 92). Say thus accepted the existence of an absolute rent on
land. In the same notes to the Principles, he wrote that, ‘in populous and pro-
ductive countries, the pieces of land of worst quality, from the moment they
are cultivated, always yield some fermage and consequently some income from
land property’ (Say 1819b, 1 : 95).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 40
At the same time, however, Say recognized that in some situations, a mar-
ginal piece of land may not yield any rent to its owner. In his marginal notes
to the Wealth of Nations, he remarked that ‘plots of land which are not worth
being cultivated’ can exist (in Hashimoto 1980 : 77) and the income of the
owner be nil. This idea is picked up in slightly diﬀerent forms in the successive
editions of the Traité. In the ﬁfth edition, for example, he wrote :
. .. a plot of land which does not yield any proﬁt can still be culti-
vated provided that the cultivator can ﬁnd compensation for the
capital and labour invested. As it is impossible to ﬁnd a farmer
for such a piece of land, it is usually cultivated by its owner. (Say
1826a : 805-807) 34
But this is, in his eyes, an exceptional case. Disregarding the possibility of
increasing corn production through the adoption of more intensive techniques,
Say’s normal situation is the following. In rich countries where agricultural
production reaches its limits, where the demand for agricultural products is
high and exceeds production, the price of corn — ﬁxed by the interaction of
demand and supply — is always a monopoly price in excess of the cost of
production on marginal land. It generates an income for its owner, i.e., a rent
on the marginal land.
Ricardo, for his part, was willing to accept this possibility. But, in his
opinion, the situation judged normal by Say was instead exceptional :
The corn and raw produce of a country may, indeed, for a time sell
at a monopoly price ; but they can do so permanently only when no
more capital can be proﬁtably employed on the lands, and when,
therefore, their produce cannot be increased. (Ricardo 1817-1821 :
At the end of his life, Say somewhat reconsidered his analysis of ‘fermage’
in the ﬁfth edition of his Traité and in his Cours complet d’économie politique
pratique (1828-1829). It is likely that the evolution of his thought was due to
his past debate with Ricardo.
On three points he appeared to have moved closer to Ricardo. First, he
accepted in the ﬁfth edition of the Traité that some marginal land, when
34. Hollander considers that this is ‘an instance of silent adherence to Ricardo’s position’
(2005 : 56).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 41
cultivated by its owner, may not yield any rent (Say 1826a : 805, see above).
Second, he acknowledged that :
. .. the supply of the produce of land is not limited as long as there
remains some uncultivated land on our earth; if demand goes on
increasing when Beauce is totally cultivated, there is still some land
in Berry that is not yet under cultivation. 35 (Say 1828-1829, 2 : 96)
Of course, the costs increase when the product comes from a more distant
place : but this last remark matches Ricardo’s theory. Thus the idea of a
normal case with a limited supply and a rent on the marginal land faded away
in Cours complet.
Finally, when criticizing the notes McCulloch appended to his edition of
the Wealth of Nations, Say seemed to acknowledge the existence of an intensive
rent : ‘on the entire capital employed in agriculture, a portion of it does not
give any proﬁt for the land [proﬁt foncier ]’ (McCulloch, quoted by Say 1828-
1829, 2 : 111). But he did not think that it brought a new element to the
discussion. This gave him instead the opportunity to reaﬃrm his approach —
and implicitly that of Ricardo. McCulloch realized, Say stressed, ‘that the idea
which considers the land of bad quality as the cause of the proﬁt on the land
of better quality is ridiculous’, and this is the reason why he switched to the
other formulation (just cited above). Quoting Malthus instead of Ricardo, 36
Say insisted that the cultivation of land of bad quality and the increase in
‘fermages’ are the consequence, and not the cause, of the rise in agricultural
prices. And he added :
. .. the theory of rent did not introduce any new truth into the
science of political economy and . .. does not explain any pheno-
menon that cannot be more naturally explained by the already
established truths. I shall refrain from any supplementary discus-
sion on that topic, to avoid the reproach levelled at the debates
that have taken place hitherto, i.e., of being incredibly boring and
of having put many people right oﬀ a study [of political economy]
35. Beauce and Berry are two French provinces. Beauce, a very fertile and rich province,
is traditionally called the granary of France.
36. Say (1826a : 808) attributed also this proposition to Ricardo. But it seems that Ricardo
never advanced such an assertion.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 42
so attractive because of its applications and its inﬂuence on the lot
of mankind. (1828-1829, 2 : 111-112) 37
Fundamentally, Say’s approach remained the same in spite of some speciﬁc
developments. Agricultural products should be dealt with in the same way
as the other products, and land like the other factors of production. On the
one hand, land generates a productive service that, like any other productive
service, is bought by the entrepreneur. And the productive service of land is
the basis of ‘fermage’. ‘Fermage’ can diﬀer according to the fertility and the
location of land. This is a general phenomenon : the price that an entrepreneur
is willing to pay for a productive service depends on the importance of its
contribution to production. On the other hand, agricultural products behave in
the same way as other commodities. Whenever the demand for corn increases,
plots of land of bad quality will be cultivated and costs and prices will increase.
This happens for all kinds of products.
The products cost more as they come from farther aﬁeld . . . . If the
producers who are closer do not produce enough for the needs of
society, the price of the product in demand increases and is then
suﬃcient to pay for the production costs of the quantity one is
obliged to bring from a more distant place. When a manufacturer
succeeds in enjoying a speciﬁc advantage, as a more favourable
location, he earns more than the one who necessarily incurs higher
costs of production. (Say 1828-1829 : 109)
More on the French theoretical landscape
We know that Pellegrino Rossi, who succeeded Say to the chair of political
economy at the Collège de France, was in favour of Ricardo’s theory of rent
and stated this in his lectures (Rossi 1836-38). While modifying Ricardo on
some points — it was his opinion that rent also depends on the ‘absolute’ and
not only comparative productive power of land — he basically accepted his
theory. He criticized Say for supposing that the supply of agricultural products
could meet a limit and for denying that the marginal capital invested in land
yields no rent : to Rossi’s mind, Say does not understand that the fact that no
land remains without rent is no proof of his denial, simply because rent is not
37. Fonteyraud also wrote that the doctrine of the rent ‘has only been an opportunity to
argue endlessly and to practice high scholastics’ (1847 : xliii).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 43
only extensive but also intensive. A land can thus on the whole yield a rent
while the last portion of capital invested in it only produces the usual rate of
proﬁt and no rent.
We also know that Coquelin and Molinari accepted Ricardo’s theory of
rent. But between the time of Say and the Second Republic, other economists
developed diﬀerent opinions. Let us brieﬂy mention two of them : Adrien de
Gasparin and Frédéric Bastiat.
Gasparin was a friend of François Guizot and thus probably close to Rossi
too. The theory of rent was important in his view because he was mainly
interested in agricultural economics and legislation. In his 1829 Guide des pro-
priétaires des biens ruraux aﬀermés, he wrote that Ricardo’s theory of rent
was certainly the most satisfactory but he also confessed that, in the end, he
did not see much diﬀerence between Ricardo’s and Say’s ideas.
Ricardo’s theory is . .. identical to M. Say’s. As a matter of fact,
the more land is in demand and the more plots of land of inferior
quality are cultivated, the more the rent increases on land of better
quality .. . and this demand will always stop, in both cases, at the
point where land only pays for the costs of production. (1829 : 46)
Gasparin tried to reformulate some points in Ricardo’s theories of value and
rent but, using odd deﬁnitions and vocabulary, he eventually ended with the
same results. More polemical, but incomplete because of his death, is Bastiat’s
attempt to reformulate the question of rent.
Bastiat wrote his pamphlets on land property and rent at the time of the
1848 Revolution during which the liberal camp took a tougher stand against
the various socialist movements. These essays, together with others, already
published or not, were included in his posthumous Harmonies Économiques
(1850, with a second enlarged edition in 1851). Bastiat’s position was radical
— like that of Henry Charles Carey at that time, who accused Bastiat of pla-
giarism. In order to ﬁght the socialists, Bastiat simply denied that rent resulted
from a monopoly power, linked to property rights and not corresponding to
any human service or labour : ‘The theory of rent is an illusion.’ According
to Bastiat, what is called rent is nothing other that the just remuneration
of the capital and labour invested by landowners to make land suitable for
cultivation. Hippolyte Passy summed up Bastiat’s arguments well :
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 44
Now M. Bastiat acknowledges that rent may well rise without the
landowner having to make any sacriﬁce to beneﬁt from this incre-
ment; but this case, he remarks, is not speciﬁc to land property.
What creates the value of any service rendered by human indus-
try . .. is not only the eﬀort incurred by the producer, but also
the eﬀort spared to the consumer : any time his needs increase,
the latter pays more for the service he buys, which spares him the
more important eﬀorts he would have been obliged to make to get
it himself. (H. Passy 1853 : 510)
Now the liberal economists were aware of the fragility of this thesis. ‘It is
unfortunate’, H. Passy went on, ‘that his death did not give M. Bastiat enough
time to specify and coordinate his ideas more rigorously’ (H. Passy 1853 : 510).
To have an idea of the last step in the evolution of the debates on rent,
let us jump to the Nouveau dictionnaire d’économie politique, edited by Léon
Say (Jean-Baptiste’s grandson) and Joseph Chailley, published in 1891-1892
with Guillaumin. The author of the entry ‘Rente (loi de la)’ was Jean-Gustave
Courcelle-Seneuil, already active for some decades and the translator of John-
Stuart Mill’s Principles. His text shows how the liberal discourse changed du-
ring these decades. Courcelle-Seneuil’s is a defence of the theory of rent which,
he said, although forcefully accepted or attacked in the past, was never pro-
perly understood. The law of rent, he argued, is in fact more general than
initially thought by Ricardo. Some authors, however, generalized it too much :
after von Thünen, for example, who enlarged its purpose, ‘it was thought that
the law of rent was not speciﬁc to agriculture, mining industries or locations ;
it was claimed that it was general and was felt in all branches of industry,
including trade’ (1892 : 713).
But this evolution is questionable, Courcelle-Seneuil claimed, because in
this way the law loses any precision. He preferred another, more usual pers-
pective. Referring to the production of all kinds of agricultural products and
raw materials, he reformulated the law in the following way : ‘As the number of
men rises and want to satisfy new needs, they consume in greater quantities the
raw products supplied by nature, the quantities of which are limited’ (1892 :
715). This formulation simply refers to industries that produce with increasing
costs. Thus understood in a rather loose way, the law of rent is opposed to the
‘law of markets’ interpreted as a law of increasing returns experienced in the
other industries and in trade. While the old names of ‘law of rent’ and ‘law of
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 45
markets’ are still retained and used, Courcelle-Seneuil noted, it is also possible
‘to speak, like some English authors, of a “law of decreasing returns” for the
ﬁrst, and a “law of increasing returns” for the second’ (1892 : 717). He was,
however, using the new phrases with reluctance. ‘We do not think that these
new names must be preferred to the old ones : the latter have the advantage of
reminding us of the works of Ricardo and Jean-Baptiste Say’ (ibid.). With one
important qualiﬁcation : the law of diminishing returns is not an inevitability,
thanks to science and technical progress.
Back to Geneva
In Geneva, the Ricardian theory of rent was immediately received as an impor-
tant development in economic theory, all the more so since one of the origins
of Ricardo’s ideas was Malthus. In the December 1824 issue of Bibliothèque
Universelle, Charles Pictet (Pictet 1824) commented on a review — translated
from the Edinburgh Review 38 — of a book by John Cazenove on the accu-
mulation of capital and its eﬀects on prices. He explained Ricardo’s views on
rent quite accurately, but the paper itself — a discussion of the possible conse-
quences of an abolition of the corn laws — did not go deep into the subject :
Pictet in fact could not fully understand Ricardo because he could not get
rid of the idea that prices are determined by adding up wages, proﬁts and
rent. Guillaume Prévost also discussed brieﬂy the Ricardian principle of rent
in the ‘Réﬂexions du traducteur sur le système de Ricardo’ he appended to his
translation of McCulloch’s Discourse (G. Prévost 1825b). He developed an idea
similar to that of Say, that rent aﬀects the price of commodities because, due
to the institution of private property, there is no land that does not pay any
rent. Referring to James Mill’s defence of Ricardo’s principle in his Elements
of Political Economy (Chapter 2, section 1 on rent), he accepted that the rent
on marginal land could be very small, even negligible as Mill wrote,39 but it
nevertheless exists (G. Prévost 1825b : 172-175).
38. ‘Considerations on the accumulations, etc. Considérations sur l’accumulation des capi-
taux, et sur ses eﬀets relativement aux valeurs échangeables. Edinburgh Review. Mars 1824’.
Bibliothèque Universelle, October and November 1824. The name of John Cazenove was not
39. ‘. . . the rent paid for the barren mountains of Scotland is anything but a triﬂe’ (J. Mill
1824 : 35). It is to be noted that Mill only accepted this idea temporarily in order to dismiss
the objections made to Ricardo’s theory and to restate it.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 46
A radically diﬀerent picture is given by Sismondi’s writings. In his 1803 De
la richesse commerciale, Sismondi used Smith to reject the Physiocratic pro-
positions. Rent, he wrote, is a mixed income that partly remunerates property
rights on uncultivated land, and partly the labour accumulated on that land
in order to make it suitable for cultivation. This part of the rent which is not
the counterpart of human labour :
. .. results from a kind of monopoly that landowners enjoy against
their fellow citizens .. . . It is the sole part of the product of labour
that is purely nominal, and does not correspond to anything real ;
it is in fact the result of the increase in price that a seller obtains
because of his privilege, though the thing which is sold is not worth
more. (Sismondi 1803, 1 : 49)
However, like Say, he qualiﬁed this heretical assertion by stressing the fact
that the monopoly of the landowners is useful to society, because only privately
appropriated land can be properly cultivated.
When dealing with the Ricardian theory of rent, in the Nouveaux principes,
he limited himself to referring to Say’s notes, which he found excellent. He
still thought that rent [‘fermage’]40 is a monopoly income but, to clarify this
opinion he had to analyze the determination of the price of the product and the
way in which the net product is shared between the farmer and the landlord.
In this perspective, he used his own theory of prices and his rejection of the
hypothesis of mobility of capital and labour. His starting-point is the idea —
later attributed to Ricardo by Sraﬀa — that in agriculture the product and the
means of production are homogeneous (Sismondi 1819, 1 : 279-282), viewed
here from the perspective that agriculture can form a vertically integrated
sector where labour is the sole primary input.
As farming is the only work that meets [the needs of] life, it is also
the only work that can be appreciated without any exchange. Land
can provide a man with all the necessaries of life if he cultivates
it. If he clothes himself in the skins of his sheep, as he eats their
meat and the seeds he harvests, and builds his hut from the wood
of his forests, he can compare directly the quantity produced by
his labour with the quantity used during his work, and he can thus
40. It is interesting to note that while Sismondi, in 1803, used the French word ‘rente’
[rent], this is no longer the case in 1819 where he employs the word ‘fermage’. On this
question of vocabulary, see above.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 47
see that the latter is smaller than the former. He sees with his
own eyes the emergence of a net product .. . , absolutely free of
any competition, any market demand, any value against which he
might exchange this product. (Sismondi 1819, 1 : 282)
The farmer thus knows the physical size of the surplus. If we assume a
gross product of 25 sacks of wheat, the means of production (seeds) requiring
5 sacks and his own consumption another 5 sacks, then he can immediately
see that the net product amounts to 15 bags (Sismondi 1819, 1 : 281-282). But
sharing this surplus depends on the relative price of the agricultural product
and the relative bargaining powers of the landlord and the farmer. The price
of wheat depends on the supply and demand for it in the local market. If this
market is in excess demand, the farmer raises his price and the equilibrium is
reached when the price allows ‘the producer the most distant from this market
to sell in it although he spent as much to produce the wheat and incurred the
additional cost of bringing it from his distant ﬁelds’. After having negotiated
the price under these conditions, the farmer has to negotiate the amount of
rent he must pay the landlord, and in this process he must be aware of the
competition of other farmers wishing to rent the same land. In spite of its lack
of precision, Sismondi’s discourse is clear. The general result depends on the
relative bargaining powers of the participants — the consumer, the landlord
and the farmer — and what each of them gets of the surplus can vary greatly :
. .. the mercantile value [of the produit net] can be determined
through a double or triple struggle [lutte] so that, according to
circumstances, it will sometimes entirely go to the landowner .. . ;
sometimes it will partly go to the farmer . .. ; and the consumer
will also often beneﬁt from it. (Sismondi 1819, 1 : 284-5)
In this process, however, the landowner has a prominent role that ensures
the positivity of the rent and of the price of wheat :
Property rights, or the monopoly warranted by society, that any
landowner has against two classes of people — those who demand
foodstuﬀs [the consumers] and those who oﬀer labour to produce
them [the farmers] — prevent the price of ‘fermage’ on the one
hand, and that of foodstuﬀs [‘denrées’] on the other hand, from
being too much reduced in value (Sismondi 1819, 1 : 286).
What about the circumstances that Ricardo proposed to explain the exis-
tence and level of the diﬀerential rent ? They are, Sismondi stated, of secondary
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 48
importance. ‘It is only after these three causes worked with inﬁnite variations
and according to the circumstances, that the other causes acknowledged by M.
Ricardo are felt’ (1819, 1 : 286). From this point of view, part of the criticism
raised later by A. Walras is formulated along the same lines :
Malthus’ and Ricardo’s doctrine to explain the origin of ‘fermage’
is certainly most ingenious but it is wrong. To explain the origin
of ‘fermage’ by the inequality of land is like explaining wages by
the unequal capacities of workers. The inequality of the workers
explains the inequality of wages, just as inequality of land explains
the inequality of ‘fermages’. But the origin of ‘fermage’ and the
origin of wages, considered in themselves independently of their
levels, comes from another source than the inequality that can be
found between one worker and another or one plot of land and
another. (A. Walras 1830 : 16)
Finally, yet another diﬀerent point of view on rent was advanced by Antoine-
Élisée Cherbuliez, a renowned utilitarian politician and intellectual, and a col-
laborator of the Bibliothèque Universelle — now Bibliothèque Universelle de
Genève — who was to play an important part in the group of liberal eco-
nomists in France. He was already the celebrated author of the Théorie des
garanties constitutionnelles (1838), was teaching at the Genevan Académie
and was a member of the Conseil Représentatif de Genève. Drawing some
inspiration from ideas expressed by P. Prévost and Sismondi, he published a
book entitled Riche ou pauvrre, exposition succincte des causes et des eﬀets de
la distribution actuelle des richesses sociales (Cherbuliez 1840) which was an
acute analysis of the economic and social consequences — unequal distribu-
tion of income, insecure condition of the workers and pauperism, etc. — of the
new industrial order. Contrary to Ch. Pictet and G. Prévost, he understood
perfectly the Ricardian theory of rent — intensive41 as well as extensive —
and accepted it. His conclusions, however, were radical and like Ricardo, he
aﬃrmed the conﬂicting interests between the landowners and the other classes
in society. He heavily stressed that, while landowners can also marginally ac-
cumulate capital on land and earn a proﬁt from it, rent is an income they
get without any labour or activity of their own. This income, moreover, was
steadily increasing with population growth and accumulation of capital, thus
41. An unusual fact at the time. Cherbuliez started with intensive rent and addressed
extensive rent after that.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 49
favouring the ‘interests of the past’ — the landowner’s — against those of the
dynamic elements of the new economic and social order : the capitalists and
Landowners are idle persons kept at the expense of the public wi-
thout any advantage for either industry or the general welfare of
society. They form a powerful class, an unavoidable aristocracy
whose interests are isolated and distinct from the interests of the
other members of the association. (Cherbuliez 1840 : 205)
These are men who receive an ever-increasing part of the social
income, without doing any physical or intellectual activity, without
incurring any risk, without making any sacriﬁce, solely by virtue of
a right that the law confers on them over the . . . territory of their
nation. (Cherbuliez 1840 : 163)
To remedy this damaging situation and referring to the Physiocratic single
tax project, Cherbuliez imagined a tax on rent — he rejected the idea of a
land tax levied on landowners independently of the fertility of their property
— which would replace all existing taxes and thus suppress their negative
impact on the accumulation of capital, while allowing the State to ﬁnance
its expenditure. The consequences on the economy would be positive because
the landowners are generally not inclined to save and accumulate from their
income, and because they would be unable to transfer the new tax onto any
other social group (Cherbuliez 1840 : 203-204). It is, however, Cherbuliez’s
opinion that this scheme, although just, could not be implemented for practical
Unfortunately, it is impossible to levy a tax on rent and rent alone;
because while it is already diﬃcult, for the land exploited under
the regime of farming leases, to know which portion of ‘fermage’
corresponds to the rent itself — i.e., which does not represent the
proﬁt of any portion of agricultural capital — this diﬃculty turns
into an absolute impossibility for the plots of land exploited by
their owners. (Cherbuliez 1840 : 204)
The only solution, then, is more radical : ‘why should we not go one step further
and abolish the private appropriation of land?’ (Cherbuliez 1840 : 205). The
State should replace private landowners. It would not cultivate the land itself,
but rent it out to farmers.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 50
The abolition of the private ownership of land would not change
anything in the causes that give rise to the rent, and this rent
would still exist. But it would be received by the State . .. and land
would be leased to individuals in possession of suﬃcient amounts
of capital to exploit it. . .. The State would ﬁnd in this revenue the
means, ﬁrst to supply the ordinary needs of the administration,
and then to cover the country with canals and roads and create
all kinds of establishments favourable to industry and to the in-
crease of the general welfare. All direct and indirect taxes would
be suppressed . . . . Finally, industry, emancipated and unfettered,
would expand in an unprecedented manner, while the cultivation
of land, under free competition, would rapidly go from progress to
progress ! (Cherbuliez 1840 : 206-207)
Needless to say, Riche ou Pauvre caused a huge scandal in Geneva. But it
was read with interest in France where an edition — probably unauthorised —
was published in Paris in 1841 under a slightly diﬀerent title, Richesse et pau-
vreté, on the initiative of a conﬁdential social Christian movement named the
‘Solidairunis’. 42 A preface was added and signed P. G.-B., 43 entitled : ‘Résumé
de la doctrine des Solidairunis’ — stating that while Cherbuliez’s analysis was
right, he hardly proposed anything to remedy the dramatic situation of the
workers. But the book was on the whole well received, even outside the ‘leftist’
circles of the time.
Contemporaries could see an heir to Cherbuliez’s 1840 ideas, or an echo of
them, in Auguste and Léon Walras’ well-known proposal for the nationalization
of land. However, it should be noted that Auguste Walras — with, strikingly,
almost the same phrases as those employed by Cherbuliez — had already for-
mulated his proposal in a manuscript entitled ‘De l’abolissement de l’impôt et
de l’établissement de la loi agraire, telle qu’elle peut être conçue et pratiquée
au XIXe siècle’, written ten years before the publication of Cherbuliez’s book
(A. Walras 1830). This is all the more interesting since A. Walras’ theoretical
background was diﬀerent : and this shows how Ricardo’s assertion that lan-
42. ‘Solidairunis’ is the contraction of ‘solidaires’ (people showing solidarity with each
other) and ‘unis’ (united).
43. Probably a physician, the doctor P. Gallier-Boissière according to Charles Louandre
and Félix Bourquelot, La littérature française contemporaine, Paris : Félix Daguin, 1846 —
‘The ‘solidairunis’ are a kind of communists ; the author of the Résumé is M. Gallier-Boissière,
physician in Paris’ (2 : 617).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 51
downers beneﬁted from the situation and threatened capital accumulation and
economic growth caught the imagination of his readers.
As for Cherbuliez, he later repudiated his former ideas and, in his Précis
de la science économique et de ses principales applications (Cherbuliez 1862),
while still sticking to the Ricardian theory, defended the institution of private
6Money and banking
Ricardo’s ideas on money and banking, developed in his monetary pamphlets
and in the Principles, were received by the French economists with both interest
and reluctance. They all stressed the great expertise of Ricardo in the ﬁeld,
and respected his rigour and action during and after the Bullion controversy.
Some of them even considered that the originality and importance of Ricardo
in the post-Smithian debates lay precisely in his theory of money and banking :
. .. there we ﬁnd all that most entitles him to the admiration of
the economists. It is strange that the relative merits of his works
have been so misjudged and that his entire glory usually rests on
the theory of rent. (Fonteyraud 1847 : xxvi)
Say’s opinion was not diﬀerent (below). Whatever their opinions on this
point, however, French economists mainly considered Ricardo’s monetary doc-
trines with the greatest suspicion. From Ricardo’s chapter on money and ban-
king in the Principles, the majority of French economists retained three in-
tertwined propositions : (i) the quantity of paper money determines its value ;
(ii) the convertibility of the paper money is not necessary to preserve its gold
parity; (iii) the most perfect currency is made of paper.
The ﬁrst proposition was in tune with the most generally accepted theory
of value which, with variations from one author to another, conferred an impor-
tant role on the interaction between supply and demand. It was nevertheless
widely discussed (see below the remarks on the deﬁnition of paper money and
the need to distinguish it from money proper and bank notes). In addition,
disregarding the coherence of Ricardo’s assertions in the ﬁeld, many authors
jumped at the opportunity of accusing him of inconsistency. In their eyes, the
role of the quantity of money in the determination of its value was in total
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 52
contradiction to his general theory of value. Say, for whom the debate about
value was of paramount importance, was only too willing to take this oppor-
It is amusing to see — he wrote — that Ricardo’s doctrine in
this ﬁeld is precisely grounded on the principle of the proportion
between the quantities supplied and demanded — principle the
inﬂuence of which he refuses to acknowledge. He irrefutably proves
that the medium of exchange is a commodity of the same nature
as any other, and he denies that the others are subject to the same
inﬂuences. (Say 1825 : 278)
The denunciation of this alleged inconsistency was subsequently repeated by
French authors. Auguste Walras, for example :
Had gold and silver a value proportionate to the quantity of labour
employed in their production, one should not say that the value of
money is regulated by its quantity ; and were the quantity of money
existing in a country the real rule for its value, one should give up
stating that the value of money stems from the quantity of labour
used in the production of gold and silver. (A. Walras 1831 : 179)
The second and third above-mentioned propositions were in general oppo-
sed. The fact that Ricardo was in favour of a paper currency raised serious
doubts about the pertinence of his theory : as a matter of historical fact, John
Law’s bankruptcy and the recent disaster of the assignats were still very much
present in French minds. Consider the opinions expressed by some of them in
the 1820s : Charles Ganilh, François Ferrier, Isaac Péreire and Louis Say, for
example. They did not go deep into theoretical investigations nor analyze the
historical experience from which Ricardo’s proposal stemmed : their reaction
was instinctive. Some other French economists — in fact, the majority — de-
veloped a more documented position. They opposed Ricardian ideas because
they were attached to a theory of commodity money : money can only be made
out of a commodity which, also serving for other purposes, has its own value.
Finally, the reception of Ricardo’s monetary theory also depended in France
on the debate between central banking and free banking.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 53
Reactions against paper money
To explain how an object without intrinsic value could act as money, Ricardo
used the quantity theory. He ﬁrst explained that, provided the State has the
monopoly of coinage, a limitation on the quantity of coins could raise their
value to any level so that the seigniorage could increase without limit. He then
asserted that this principle regulates the circulation of paper money. With this
conclusion : ‘though it has no intrinsic value, yet, by limiting its quantity, its
value in exchange is as great as an equal denomination of coins, or of bullion
in that coin’ (Ricardo 1817-1821 : 353). Ganilh exclaimed : ‘What ! Paper
money has a value provided that its quantity is limited to the needs of the
circulation !’ (Ganilh 1821, 2 : 137). He did not deny that an object deprived
of any intrinsic value could theoretically act as a means of payment, but he
thought that, if such money were issued by a Government, citizens would think
that it was risky to accept it. They would prefer to hold commodities rather
than money and would accept the latter only when they could not do otherwise.
Trade would quickly decline. It is certainly possible to imagine theoretically
how paper money could circulate, but this circulation would be impossible in
Moreover, contrary to Smith, Ricardo asserted that :
. .. it is not necessary that paper money should be payable in specie
to secure its value; it is only necessary that its quantity should be
regulated according to the value of the metal which is declared to
be the standard. (1817-1821 : 354)
Ganilh was puzzled. He admitted he did not understand this theory and
reasserted the traditional analysis that opposes the banknote to paper money.
The former, at least, is convertible. ‘The former is guaranteed by all the com-
mercial values that it circulates .. . , the latter depends solely on public trust
[‘foi publique’] which is rarely well kept’ (1821, 2 : 142).
Ricardo also concluded that ‘a currency is in its most perfect state when
it consists wholly of paper money, but of paper money of an equal value with
the gold which it professes to represent’ (Ricardo 1817-1821 : 361). Ferrier
(1822 : 205) feared the worst and prayed God that France would avoid a third
experience of paper money. Isaac Péreire was puzzled and cautious. He warned
his audience : ‘You all still have in mind the disorders that paper money has
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 54
provoked’ (Péreire 1832 : 16). As for Louis Say, Ricardo’s formulation was a
non sequitur because paper money has no value in the Ricardian sense of the
word (L. Say 1822 : 229). One should speak of its purchasing power [capacité
acquisitive]. Ricardo should have written that the most perfect money is a
paper the purchasing power of which is equal to that of the gold it represents.
L. Say seems to play on words, but his acceptation of Ricardo’s opinion is
not evident. When Ricardo asserted that a perfectly safe paper redeemable
in ﬁfteen years is of equal value to a paper redeemable on request (Ricardo
1817-1821 : 356), L. Say disagreed. People are cautious, he argued, and would
always prefer the latter : ‘they would get more cheaply what they acquire with
a paper redeemable on request than with a paper redeemable in ﬁfteen years’
(L. Say 1822 : 230).
Say’s dissenting voice
In the 1820s, surrounded by this chorus of criticism, Say’s voice is resolutely
out of tune. He supported Ricardo’s ideas and made them his own. In a review
of G. Prévost’s translation of McCulloch’s Discourse, he did not hesitate to
write : ‘To come back to Ricardo, I think that his only claim to fame is his
doctrine on money’ (Say 1825 : 278).
His position was not new. Ten years before, his reading of The High Price
of Bullion led him to reconsider the analysis of paper money he had proposed
in the ﬁrst edition of his Traité (1803). His opinion, at that time, was not clear.
On the one hand, he stressed that ‘money is a commodity having its own value’
(1803 : 456), this value being determined, like that of any other commodity, by
supply and demand : with the consequence that ‘the adoption of a commodity
as money considerably increases its intrinsic value’ (1803 : 458). But, on the
other hand, he acknowledged that a commodity deprived of any utility — he
gave the example of the cowry — could also act as money. The problem was
then for him to explain the value of paper money deﬁned as notes ‘that do
not oblige the issuing authority to reimburse them, at least not immediately’
(1803 : 502). In 1803 and in the second edition in 1814, Say maintained that
such a money deprived of intrinsic value can nevertheless have a value for three
reasons : (i) it can be used to pay taxes ; (ii) it can be used to buy commodities
at given prices, because the Government ‘obliges the producers not to refuse
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 55
to give such quantity of goods in exchange for this quantity of paper money’
(1803 : 504) ; (iii) people’s need to use money can give paper some of the value
that its role as medium of exchange confers on metal. Say’s ambiguity lies in
the fact that it is not clear whether this third reason is suﬃcient per se.
Say’s journey to England during the last months of 1814 gave him the
opportunity to reconsider the question. His analysis of the British monetary
problems and his reading of Ricardo’s High Price of Bullion prompted a change
in his thinking. He probably evoked this development in a letter to James Mill,
who in turn referred to it in a letter to Ricardo dated 9 November 1815 :
I have a long letter from our Parisian friend . . . . He says he is
rectifying his chapters on money to a conformity with your ideas,
for the third edition of his book, which will probably appear next
year. (in Ricardo 1951-73, 6 : 321)
In 1815, Say stated clearly that the value of the notes issued by the Bank of
England did not depend on the ﬂimsy hope for future convertibility into gold :
it was only determined by their quantity.
It is . .. the proportion of notes and not the discredit that inﬂuences
their value; discredit, whatever it can be, does not possess the least
inﬂuence on that value .. . . Were I asked what time I believe the
Bank of England would repay its bank notes on demand, I would
answer that I do not know .. . and that my answer would also be
of no importance. (Say 1815 : 75)
The Bank of England, he added, can control the value of its notes. To restore
them to par, it is suﬃcient to reduce the amount of discounted paper in order
to diminish their quantity.
In 1814, before returning to the continent, Say wrote down a plan for
the reorganization of the banking system in France. He sent it to Ricardo who
replied that it was similar to the proposals he himself had made for the Bank of
England as set out in the 1811 Appendix to the High Price of Bullion (Ricardo
to Say, 24 December 1814, in 1951-73, 6 : 165). The only diﬀerence, stressed by
Ricardo himself, was that in Say’s plan the Government was supposed to be
the issuer of the notes. Ricardo thought that this clause was dangerous because
no Government could resist the temptation of misusing this power.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 56
Say subsequently 44 showed some interest in Ricardo’s plan to reform the
English banking system set out in his 1816 Proposals for an Economic and
Secure Currency. He made them his own in the third edition of the Traité :
The extraordinary circumstances that have occurred in England in
respect to money . .. have given a decisive proof, that the mere want
of a medium of exchange .. . is suﬃcient to support the value of
a paper money destitute of security for its convertibility, provided
it is limited in amount to the actual needs of circulation. Whence
some English writers . .. have been led to conclude, that . .. it
was possible to use, for that purpose, some substance less costly
than the precious metals : paper, for instance, due attention being
paid to keep the amount of the paper money within the needs
of the circulation. The celebrated Ricardo has, with this object,
proposed an ingenious plan, making the Bank or corporate body
invested with the privilege of issuing the paper-money, liable to pay
in bullion for its notes on demand. (Say 1817 : 555)
He repeated his approval in his 1819 notes to the French translation of the
Principles (Say 1819b, 2 : 236-237). He justiﬁed his position by referring anew
to the English experience and to the fact that, when the war against France
was over, the inconvertible notes of the Bank of England were again at par.
This appreciation of the notes, he stressed, was not caused by trust but by the
fact that the quantity of circulating notes corresponded to the needs.
However, Say’s approval faded away. The above quotation from the Traité
no longer appeared in the ﬁfth and sixth editions. Obviously Say — who, at
the end of his life, wanted to stand apart from Ricardo — became increasingly
sceptical and eventually accepted the common monetary wisdom of the time.
In 1826, in the ﬁfth edition of the Traité, he reconsidered the question. He
maintained, it is true, that Ricardo’s proposal was clever but speciﬁed that
its implementation supposed ‘a Government that could oﬀer all the desirable
guarantees, together with an independent bank’ (Say 1826a : 513). While he
was not explicit on this point, it is not diﬃcult to imagine that in his eyes,
44. In the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, there is a ‘Plan d’une nouvelle
monnaie dans le genre de Ricardo’ — ‘Plan for a new money in Ricardo’s style’ — (manuscript
11 739 : 66-68 ; the reference is indicated by Jacoud 2010 : 29 n. 58 and translated in Say
2013 : 237-239 ; see also Jacoud 2013). This paper is going to be published in one of the
forthcoming volumes of Say’s Œuvres complètes (Paris : Économica). The manuscript is
undated. It is not clear whether it is a re-elaboration of the plan Say sent to Ricardo, nor
when it was rewritten.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 57
these conditions were not fulﬁlled in France. He quoted Smith’s celebrated
phrase on the ‘Daedalian wings of paper money’ (1776 : 321) and eventually
accepted Tooke’s cautious attitude : even if the convertibility into coins is more
expensive than the convertibility into bullion, it is safer and should therefore
Central or free banking ?
The reaction of most French economists against paper money has been noted
above. Their own ideas must be brieﬂy stated at this point because the name
of Ricardo was used during the controversies that raged between them about
the best way to organize a monetary and banking system.
Basically, most liberal economists were of the opinion that money should
be made of a commodity having a value of its own. In a traditional way, they
thought that the choice of the commodity to act as money was a practical
choice based on the physical properties of the good. The other forms of me-
dium of exchange — bills of exchange or any paper that circulates through
endorsement, bank notes, or the most modern form at that time : cheques —
result from operations of credit and are not money as such. Bank notes, for
example, are just a diﬀerent and more developed form of bills of exchange,
an evolution permitted by the creation of modern banking institutions. The
banker substitutes his signature for that of the issuer of the bill, and himself
issues another bill — his bank note — which, contrary to the original com-
mercial paper, circulates without endorsement, does not entail any redemption
date but is instead redeemable to the bearer on demand. Hence, obviously, the
importance of the convertibility into money i.e., in specie or bullion.
This scheme was reassessed several times (see for example Charles Coquelin
1842, 1848, 1852a and b, 1859, or Michel Chevalier 1850, 1853) especially
against the many projects that, during the century, aimed at reorganizing the
monetary and banking system along the most diverse lines of thought. In this
perspective, French liberals insisted on the fact that bank notes are not money.
To state that notes replace money is ‘a fatal doctrine . .. , the poisonous source
of all wrong systems’ (Coquelin 1848 : 46).
All these bonds and credit instruments are substitutes for money —
Chevalier stressed —but none of them is money, and it is impossible
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 58
to deny their diﬀerence without important risks. This would be the
same kind of mistake as mixing a portrait with the original or the
shadow with the substance. (Chevalier 1853 : 216)
Along the same lines, they warned that bank notes should not be confused
with paper money. The latter is an inconvertible paper issued by the State,
generally through a bank granted with a monopoly of issue : ‘it is the creation
of the political power . .. ; the bearer of paper money has no right to any
exchange against specie’ (Courcelle-Seneuil 1853 : 316).
In this perspective, how was it possible to organize the monetary system in
an eﬃcient way ? Roughly speaking, discarding the idea of the establishment of
paper money, two broad solutions were possible : a system with a central bank,
i.e., a convertible but monopolized bank note — sometimes called paper money
by its opponents — or free banking. The historical context in France favoured
the debates : it witnessed the development of the Banque de France, created
in 1800 and progressively transformed during the century into a monopolized
institution with the privilege of issue on the entire territory.
At ﬁrst sight, Ricardo’s writings — his 1816 Proposals and especially the
1824 Plan for the Establishment of a National Bank — together with his widely
discussed assertion that the most perfect currency is made of paper, could be
interpreted as supporting the ﬁrst system. It was the opinion of most French
liberal economists that Ricardo’s plans were adopted in Great Britain in 1844,
even if there were some diﬀerences that they considered minor (Fonteyraud
1847 : xxvii-xxviii, Courcelle-Seneuil 1857 : 545-547). Some supporters of the
Central bank system only criticized Ricardo for having limited the converti-
bility of notes to bullion alone. Alfred Sudre, for example, thought that this
measure was intended to avoid runs, the depletion of the Bank of England’s
gold reserves and the contraction of the level of activity, and asserted that it
would be ineﬀective against these evils.
Finally, we must remember that the celebrated economist Ricardo
had outlined a plan for a bank the notes of which would have
been redeemed . . . in bullion . . . . This plan, rather unworthy of
the reputation of its author, could only hinder the demands for
reimbursement of small holders of banknotes — these mass panics
called runs by our neighbours. But these panics have not recur-
red since half a century, and experience shows that the cause of
the demands for precious metals that assail banks at the time of
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 59
commercial crises does not lie in the fears of the notes-holders but
solely in the deterioration of the exchange and in the needs of the
commercial world [haut commerce] for exportation. Now, the reim-
bursement in bullion at a ﬁxed rate would not have any eﬀect in
this case, because the bankers and the tradesmen can export ingots
as well as species. . .. Ricardo’s Bullion system would be powerless
to protect the reserves of the banks and to avoid a rise in the dis-
count rate and the contraction of circulation, all measures taken
by these institutions in time of crisis. (Sudre 1865 : 18-19)
Faced with Ricardo’s authority, which they also respected, supporters of
the free banking idea reacted in various but converging ways. Gustave du
Puynode, who published a series of three papers on Ricardo (Puynode 1866)
in the Journal des Économistes, again accused him of inconsistency : while
advocating free trade everywhere, he was favouring monopoly in the banking
Who has ever studied in a better way than him the questions of
money and credit ? And after having stated so many profound and
ingenious considerations on these questions, does he not end with
the iniquitous and the impossible, with the monopoly of credit and
the sole circulation of paper ? (Puynode 1865, I : 12)
In addition, Ricardo was accused of imagining ‘that banks could arbitrarily
decide on their issues without any need to adjust them to the demands of trade’
(Puynode 1865, I : 12), i.e., of not understanding how strong the free banking
approach is and how dangerous a National bank. Finally, he was accused —
and this may be the source of all his mistakes — on confusing bank notes with
paper money (Puynode 1865, II : 14) : he did not pay suﬃcient attention to
the question of credit, and left it unsolved (Fonteyraud 1847 : xxviii-xxix).
In our opinion, the problem [the question of the ‘science of credit’]
slipped out of Ricardo’s hands without having been solved, and this
because of two distinct reasons. In the ﬁrst place, he did not reach,
in his skilful analyses, the very sources of the circulation; — in
the second place, he did not acknowledge the check and regulatory
power that credit exercises on itself, so that he was led to seek aid
and assistance from the State, and to see in illusory regulations an
equilibrium that would naturally ensue from a regime of liberty.
(Fonteyraud 1847 : xxix)
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 60
Finally, some authors tried to explain what Ricardo really meant by his asser-
tion that the most perfect currency is made of paper. They interpreted it by
referring to a basic idea of Ricardo’s plan : the currency had to be economical.
A Bank has fulﬁlled all its useful functions when it has substituted
paper in the circulation for gold ; when it has enabled us to carry on
our commerce with a cheap currency, and to employ the valuable
one which it supplants productively. (Ricardo 1822 : 233-234)
Ricardo added : ‘provided it fulﬁls this object it is of little importance at what
rate of interest it lends its money’ (Ricardo 1822 : 234). He was speaking of
‘a Bank’ with a capital B, i.e., the Bank of England or its equivalent, any
Central Bank in modern parlance. In the French translation, however, ‘a bank’
is written without the capital B, implicitly generalizing the assertion to all
kinds of bank, and this may have been a source of confusion.
As a matter of fact, Chevalier noted, the development of notes brought
about an important saving in the cost of circulation. But this saving, he stres-
sed, was somewhat limited for a time, because people still needed specie whe-
never a bank note was of too high a denomination. The development of com-
mercial accounting, clearing houses, cheques and bank transfers, while greatly
favouring economic activity, allowed further reduction in the metallic circula-
tion (see also Puynode 1865, II : 15 & sq), thus fulﬁlling Ricardo’s prediction.
At that time, at least in Great Britain and the United States, Chevalier insis-
ted, the quantity of specie and even of banknotes was very small compared to
the mass of other instruments used for the same purpose, and this is the real
meaning of Ricardo’s famous assertion.
It is in this sense, and not literally and in an absolute meaning, that
Ricardo’s expression — so widely discussed but distorted because
of exaggeration — must be understood : the most perfect state of
money is to be made of paper. (Chevalier 1853 : 216)
But while admitting that a saving in the cost of circulation is not to be
neglected, and disregarding the fact that Ricardo was speaking of a Central
Bank, Coquelin disapproved of Ricardo’s assertion. In his view, the function of
a bank is not primarily to issue notes in that purpose, but to develop credit,
i.e., to advance money to entrepreneurs and to incite them, simply by their
presence and function, to grant credit to each other (1848 : 316).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 61
At this point, of course, the positions could not be reconciled. ‘Our utopia’,
Fonteyraud wrote, would be to see a strong monetary circulation based on
precious metals and on credit made by free banks whose accounts and situation
are permanently in public view ; a ﬂexible and secure circulation that would
give life to economic activity and resist, because of its ﬂexibility, the most
important shocks ; a ‘democracy of credit’ replacing the oligarchy that governs
the stock exchanges. In a word : ‘by dint of freedom and publicity, we would
join the interest of the banks with that of the population’ (Fonteyraud 1847 :
xxxv). With this parable as a conclusion and a warning :
A nice legend . .. says that a saint, who took refuge in a poor
cottage in Brittany, took oﬀ his wet coat . . . and, not ﬁnding any
coat-peg, hung it on a sunbeam. The circulation of paper such as
the alleged economists of the day would like it, exactly represents
this sunbeam : and this is, we think, a far too fragile support to
entrust to its care the wealth of a whole generation. Freedom alone
has foundations wide enough to resist shocks, and were Ricardo
alive now .. . , he would not hesitate to seek in freedom, like us,
the true solution of credit. (Fonteyraud 1847 : xxxvi-xxxvii)
7Say’s law and crises
One point is expected a priori to be unproblematic : the question of the ‘loi
des débouchés’ — Say’s law. We know that Ricardo accepted this law, and the
majority of French economists who dissented on this point criticized primarily
Say and his followers, not Ricardo. However, things did not happen exactly in
this way, and there are some marked diﬀerences between Say and Ricardo on
this topic as well. This is all the more interesting since, in dealing with this
point, we will again meet the question of money.
Is Say inconsequent ?
Acknowledging the importance of the chapter on ‘débouchés’ in Say’s Traité
d’économie politique, Ricardo wrote, in his preface to the Principles, that ‘it
contains .. . some very important principles, which I believe were ﬁrst explai-
ned by this distinguished writer’ (1817-1821 : 7). Further on in the book, he
explained his opinion :
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 62
M. Say has, however, most satisfactory shewn, that there is no
amount of capital which may not be employed in a country, because
demand is only limited by production. No man produces, but with a
view to consume or sell, and he never sells, but with an intention to
purchase some other commodity, which may be immediately useful
to him, or may contribute to future production. By producing,
then, he necessarily becomes either the consumer of his own goods,
or the purchaser and consumer of the goods of some other person.
(1817-1821 : 290)
At the same time, however, he criticized the way in which Say analyzed
the eﬀects of the accumulation of capital on the evolution of proﬁts. Later,
when reading Say’s letters to Malthus, he thought that Say ‘has said a great
deal for the right cause, but not all what could be said’ (Ricardo to Malthus, 4
September 1820, in 1951-73, VIII : 227). It is therefore questionable to suppose
that Say and Ricardo had the same conception of the law of markets (Forget
2003, Gehrke and Kurz 2003). In the discussions in this ﬁeld, it is legitimate
to ask to what extent the critical remarks of Ricardo inﬂuenced Say’s thought.
When Say examined the determination of the interest rate, he asserted
that ‘the greater the abundance of capital in proportion to the extent of its
employment, the lower the interest on the capital that is lent’ (1814 : 765).
He also speciﬁed that only the available capital — still in circulation and not
yet invested — inﬂuences the rate of interest. To put it brieﬂy, he maintained
that the rate of interest is determined on the loanable funds market. Ricardo
thought this proposition to be incompatible with the law of markets. ‘If capital
to any extent can be employed by a country’, he wrote, ‘how can it be said
abundant, compared with the extent of employment for it ?’ (1817-1821 : 290).
In a note to the Principles,45 Say seemed at ﬁrst to accept the criticism :
From the principle established in my Traité, M. Ricardo infers here
a perfectly correct consequence. He explains satisfactorily the de-
crease in the capital-proﬁts, or interest, with the increase in capital
45. There is a problem of interpretation here. Hollander (2005 : 65) stresses the fact that
Say did not indicate precisely where his note was to be placed. In the 1819 edition, the
publisher placed the note in such a way that it seems to refer to the law of markets. In
a more recent edition, however (Ricardo 1992 : 303), the note seems to refer to Smith’s
analysis of the decline of proﬁts in Holland. The principle to which Say is thought to have
alluded would have been the idea that a rise in wages reduces proﬁts. The ﬁrst interpretation
seems more adequate. But the fact that Say left unchanged the passage of the Traité where
he analyzes the inﬂuence of the abundance of available capital on the rate of interest is an
argument in favour of the second.
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 63
while the occasions to use it multiplies with it. It is also certain that
I was wrong when I said that capital can be more or less abundant
compared with its employments because I proved elsewhere that
these employments multiply in proportion to the abundance of ca-
pital. (Say 1819b, 2 : 107)
Did Say change his mind after this self-criticism? Surprisingly, he did not.
Moreover, the passage criticized by Ricardo is one of the few that remained
unchanged throughout the various editions of the Traité. Why ? Two reasons
may explain this fact.
A question of deﬁnition
The ﬁrst reason has something to do with the subject of the analysis. In Chap-
ter XXI of the Principles to which this note is appended, Ricardo dealt with
the ‘Eﬀects of Accumulation on Proﬁts and Interest’. In his opinion, the ac-
cumulation of capital only provokes a lasting fall in proﬁts if wages rise, and
he criticized Smith’s assertion that the fall in proﬁts can be due to capital
competition resulting from accumulation :
The increase of stock, which raises wages, tends to lower proﬁt.
When the stocks of many rich merchants are turned into the same
trade, their mutual competition naturally tends to lower its proﬁt :
and when there is a like increase of stock in all the diﬀerent trades
carried on in the same society, the same competition must produce
the same eﬀect in them all. (Smith, 1776 : 105)
For Ricardo, the evolution of proﬁts determines that of interest. If demand
is only limited by production, competition in the goods market cannot explain
the fall in proﬁts when accumulation increases. He did not understand how Say
could speak of an abundance of capital compared with its employments while
asserting that ‘a product is no sooner created than, from that very moment,
it aﬀords a market for other products to the full extent of its own value’ (Say
1814 : 250).
In Say’s opinion, Smith and Ricardo, under the term ‘proﬁt’, confused ‘the
income that the entrepreneur gets from his industry, his talent, and the income
coming from his instrument, his capital’ (1826a : 691). The nature and evolu-
tion of these two kinds of income are diﬀerent. When Say referred to capital
competition, he examined how the interest rate is determined. The capital he
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 64
referred to is the available capital — the loanable funds. The interest rate is
determined by supply and demand for these funds. When supply increases —
when a greater amount of capital is available — the rate of interest decreases.
This evolution does not imply that capital accumulation entails greater com-
petition in the goods market. In Say’s view, there is no conﬂict between the
law of market and the proposition that an increase in the capital available
provokes a fall in the interest rate. On this point, Ricardo’s criticism did not
incite him to change the view he advanced in the second edition of the Traité.
But he had to make his point clearer.
The nature of adjustment
There is also a second reason why Say did not change his mind. In the ﬁrst
edition of the Traité, Say maintained that ‘when a nation has too many pro-
ducts of one kind, the way to sell them is to create products of another kind’
(Say 1803 : 246). It is the lack of counterpart that explains the glut in some
It is because the production of the lacking commodities suﬀered
that the superabundant commodities cannot be sold and their value
falls. To use a more hackneyed phrase, many people have bought
less, because they have earned less; and they have earned less,
either because they have had diﬃculty in the employment of their
means of production, or because these means have themselves been
deﬁcient. (Say 1814 : 252-3)
He explained that ‘when crops are deﬁcient, manufactured products do not sell
well, because part of these manufactured products is bought with the product of
crops’ (Say 1814 : 1104). On this point, it seems that Say’s analysis conﬂicted
with that of Ricardo, who explained that crises were due to ‘sudden changes
in the channels of trade’ and the mistakes of capitalists when choosing the
activities in which to invest their capital.
Say subsequently reformulated his opinion and wrote that ‘one can only
speak of a complete production when all the services needed for it are paid
with the value of the product’ (1827, in 1833 : 309-10). This new formulation
of the law of market has been considered as inadequate (Baumol 1977 : 159).
But the problem is real. It is perfectly possible that entrepreneurs made wrong
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 65
choices and that their production cannot be sold at a high enough price to cover
their costs. The supply of such goods cannot ﬁnance the purchases and there
is no reason to think that, in the budget constraint of the ﬁrms, the products
must be valued according to their costs of production. Say always accepted
that an unfortunate allocation of capital could provoke an overproduction of
some commodities and, as a consequence, some disequilibrium in other markets.
The law of markets does not deny the possibility of such crises : it dismisses
the idea that economic growth cannot be sustainable because of insuﬃcient
Ricardo and Say agreed on this point. But what is at issue, and a subject
of controversy between them, is the process of adjustment. While Ricardo
suggested that equilibrium is restored through a reallocation of the means of
production, Say’s opinion was that the readjustment necessitates an increase in
the production of the commodities in excess of demand. Say wrote to Malthus :
I uphold that, whenever there is a glut, a superabundance of some
kinds of commodities, it is because some other commodities are not
produced in amounts suﬃcient to be exchanged with the former; if
their producers could produce more . . . then the former could ﬁnd
the sales they are lacking. (Say 1820 : 227)
Ricardo disagreed :
In one point I think he [Say] falls into the same error as Torrens
in his article in the Edinburgh Review. They both appear to think
that stagnation in commerce arises from a counter set of commo-
dities not being produced with which the commodities on sale are
to be purchased, and they seem to infer that the evil will not be
removed till such other commodities are in the market. But surely
the true remedy is in regulating future production, — if there is a
glut of one commodity produce less of that and more of another
but do not let the glut continue till the purchaser chuses to pro-
duce the commodity which is more wanted. (Ricardo to Malthus,
4 September 1820, in 1951-73, t. 8 : 227-228)
However, while Say proposed the development of the activities where supply
was falling short, he did not explicitly exclude a transfer of means of production
from the branches where they are superabundant to those where they are
lacking. But there are obstacles. Some of them are purely political or pertain
to a wrong economic policy :
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 66
Major causes . . . like natural or political disasters, the greediness
or incompetence of Governments, necessarily maintain somewhere
this shortage that creates a glut elsewhere. Whenever this political
disease stops, the means of production go where production is in-
suﬃcient; and, in this way, they favour the progress of production
in all other branches. A kind of production would seldom be in
excess, and its product seldom depreciated if they all would enjoy
an entire liberty. (Say 1826a : 253)
The analysis of the eﬀects of taxation raised a similar debate. Say thought
that ‘a tax on a commodity does not raise its price by the whole amount of
the tax’ (1814 : 1018) because, if that were the case, this would mean that the
demand for it remains the same — which is impossible because any increase
in the price of a commodity reduces the number of buyers. Ricardo, on the
contrary, asserted that the price of the commodity would rise by the amount
of the tax because if the price of the commodity ‘did not rise by a sum equal to
the tax, it would not give the same proﬁt to the producer which he had before,
and he would remove his capital to some other employment’ (Ricardo 1817-
1821 : 243). But Say rejected this hypothesis and, on this point, his arguments
are similar to those advanced by Sismondi (see above) when he objected to the
process of gravitation :
. .. M. Ricardo, too generally and without restriction, admits that
capital and industry leave a production that does not generate pro-
ﬁts equal to those of other trades. In almost all kinds of industry,
there are stocks so completely invested that it is impossible to with-
draw them from their employment without considerably damaging
their value. Talents and industrial labour themselves do not change
object without serious disadvantages. People prefer working in an
activity that is less remunerative because they would incur greater
losses if they changed; and this eﬀect lasts sometimes for half a
century. (Say 1819b, 2 : 3)
And he added :
It is impossible to neglect the circumstances that inﬂuence so po-
werfully the results; there is a great risk of being mistaken when
one’s attention is only focused on some great principles, the mo-
diﬁcations they receive from some other secondary considerations
being neglected. Circumstances act following principles that are
equally undisputable. (Say 1819b, 2 : 3-4)
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 67
In conclusion, like Sismondi, Say disagreed with Ricardo on the pertinence
of a seemingly ‘empirical’ hypothesis. If the structure of demand changes, it
was Ricardo’s opinion that the allocation of the existing capital would be
modiﬁed in consequence. By contrast, in Say’s view, the allocation would not be
modiﬁed and the adjustment would only take place through new investment. Of
course Say’s judgment — like that of Sismondi — in part reﬂects an incomplete
understanding of Ricardo’s position, as already noted above.
Money and crises
From the ﬁrst edition of the Traité onwards, Say stressed the beneﬁcial eﬀects
of the active circulation of money and commodities : the more rapidly a com-
modity is produced and sold, the more swiftly the stock immobilized can be
devoted to a new productive employment. There is no opposition here between
money and goods : both ready cash and stored commodities are idle capital.
In order to lose as little as possible on the interest on the invested capital,
entrepreneurs accelerate the turnover of their capital. Interest inﬂuences the
velocity of the circulation of money. The latter is slow in periods of fear and
uncertainty; it accelerates in the event of inﬂation.
When money . .. depreciates, people try to exchange it, to get rid
of it by all means. This is the reason why there was such prodi-
gious circulation when the discredit of the assignats was increasing.
Everyone endeavoured to ﬁnd an employment for paper money of
which the value was vanishing every hour : one only received it
to employ it immediately; it seemed to be burning everyone who
touched it. (Say 1826a : 268)
This implicitly acknowledges that money can be hoarded. In his Lettres
à Malthus, Say explicitly admitted this point. He criticized Ricardo for his
assertion that ‘all saved capital is always employed . . . . On the contrary,
many savings cannot be placed during hard times’ (Say 1820 : 272). Money is
hoarded during a crisis and, in this case, a general glut can occur : but hoarding
is a consequence, not a cause, of the crisis.
In 1826, Say analyzed the commercial crisis in England in a paper published
in the Revue Encyclopédique : ‘De la crise commerciale en Angleterre’. Against
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 68
Sismondi, he developed a monetary theory of crises. 46 He explained that an
excessive issue of banknotes greatly encouraged speculation because anybody
who wanted to create or develop a business could obtain the required amount
What happened ? The abundance of the medium of exchange (coins
and banknotes) caused its depreciation with respect to bullion ; and
from the moment a gold coin was no longer equal in value to an in-
got of the same weight, people ran to the bank to convert banknotes
into gold coins, and gold coins into ingots .. . . As a consequence . . .
the banks, obliged to convert their banknotes and being incapable
of issuing new ones, could no longer discount the bills of exchange
presented by entrepreneurs . .. . Obliged to pay their liabilities, and
having no real capital, entrepreneurs went bankrupt after having
turned everything into cash and sold their commodities for next to
nothing. (1826b : 241)
What is puzzling is that Say argued that the commercial crisis could be ex-
plained according to Ricardo’s principles concerning money, although Ricardo
never stated a monetary theory of crises in this way. Say probably wanted to
assert that his analysis followed logically from Ricardo’s theory of money, and
especially from the idea that the quantity of banknotes ‘is necessarily limited
by the needs of circulation .. . [and cannot] without danger exceed this amount’
(1826b : 241).
Sismondi’s critique : back to the adjustment process
At ﬁrst sight, it seems paradoxical that Ricardo could inﬂuence Sismondi’s
theory of crises, since their opinions on that topic are supposed to be radically
diﬀerent. But the question deserves closer examination.
As early as 1815, in his entry ‘Political Economy’ of the Edinburgh Ency-
clopaedia, Sismondi asserted that
. .. surely none will maintain that it can be advantageous to substi-
tute a machine for a man, if this man cannot ﬁnd work elsewhere;
or that it is not better to have the population composed of citizens
46. Say repeated this analysis in his paper ‘Économie politique’ (1826b : 251) published
in Guizot’s Encyclopédie progressive, and in his Cours complet (1828-29, 1 : 474).
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 69
than of steam-engines, even though the cotton cloth of the ﬁrst
should be a little dearer than that of the second. (1815 : 76)
In his Nouveaux principes d’économie politique, he developed this thesis, basing
his arguments on four ideas.
(i) An increase in production leads to a general glut whenever it is not caused
by an increase in income and demand but by the accumulation of capital
(Sismondi 1827, 2 : 398).
(ii) The knowledge that entrepreneurs obtain of the market for their product,
through prices, is too patchy to guide their decisions in an eﬃcient way.
Someone who lives from commercial wealth depends on a metaphy-
sical public, on an invisible and unknown power ; he must satisfy its
needs, anticipate its tastes .. . ; he must guess without it speaking,
and he cannot allow himself to misunderstand it without risking his
subsistence because of a miscalculation. (Sismondi 1819, 1 : 301)
(iii) The mobility of the means of production is low : ‘Workers can seldom do
another job . .. . Fixed capital cannot be employed for another use . .. . Finally
the manufacturer himself needs his industry to get his living, and he does not
abandon it easily’ (Sismondi 1819, 1 : 308-9).
(iv) The introduction of new techniques of production does not necessarily
have a positive result, since it can destroy employment.
Whenever the discovery cannot increase the number of consumers,
while serving them more cheaply, either because they are all al-
ready provided with the commodity or because they do not need
it, whatever its price, the discovery becomes a calamity. (Sismondi
1819, 1 : 321)
Sismondi answered Torrens and Say, but he did not comment on the chap-
ters of Ricardo’s Principles that analyzed the phenomena he was trying to
understand : the consequences of a misallocation of resources and of the intro-
duction of machines. However, he reported three times (1824 : 264-298 ; 1827 :
408-458 ; 1837 : 81-91) the discussions he had with Ricardo when the latter
visited him in Geneva during his journey to the continent in 1822.
They assumed a closed economy with three sectors : agriculture (wheat),
manufactured necessities and luxury goods. They also typically abstracted from
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 70
numéraire and thus from the role of money in crises. The model is characterized
by the fact that consumption of commodities produced in the ﬁrst two sectors
cannot be increased. They further assumed a discovery that allows a 50 per
cent increase in the agricultural product. The consumption of wheat being
ﬁxed, two situations can be envisaged : in the ﬁrst, the number of workers in
agriculture is reduced ; in the second, nobody is sacked but wages decrease. In
both cases, the demand of the agricultural workers for manufactured products
diminishes, which causes a diminution of the level of employment and output in
that sector. The landowner, however, has a surplus in wheat that he wishes to
exchange for luxury goods. For Ricardo, the solution lies in the transfer of some
means of production to the third sector : not only will the workers who had
become redundant in agriculture be employed there, but it will also be possible
to employ new workers. Sismondi stressed that this solution was diﬃcult to
implement. It would be necessary to extend the factory that produces luxury
goods or build a new one, train the workers to their new jobs, build machines,
etc. He concluded :
When a discovery in the productive powers of labour is applied to
agriculture without having been required by a previous demand for
labour ; when, moreover, a single man is the owner and all others
supply their labour to get their living, a single one beneﬁts from
the discovery suggested by the progress of sciences ; stocks, ma-
terials, men, industry, all are lacking to put the rest of society in
equilibrium with the too rapid pace of agriculture. (Sismondi 1824 :
Ricardo’s inﬂuence is manifest but very speciﬁc. Sismondi accepted neither
his opinions nor the law of markets. But using a scheme of Ricardian ﬂavour,
he tried to show how the introduction of machines can reduce employment,
and — as before in his critique of the hypothesis of the mobility of the factors
of production — stressed the complexity of the adjustment process that would
be necessary to reach a new equilibrium.
Even though this chapter has been limited to the ﬁrst three quarters of the
nineteenth century and to some main topics which generated lively debates
(method, value and wealth, rent, money and banking, Say’s law of markets and
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 71
crises), it shows how the reception of the works and ideas of Ricardo among
French-speaking economists was complex. Ricardo the man, no doubt, was
highly appreciated and respected, and even admired for the ﬁnancial skills that
allowed him to build up a sizeable fortune. His writings, however, were received
in a theoretical context marked by Turgot’s writings and a widely-accepted
French adaptation and development of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations by
Jean-Baptiste Say which, among other things, emphasised a theory of value
and distribution based on supply and demand.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the French approach to politi-
cal economy was also in a sense the result of severe traumas that had aﬀected
the country in the more or less recent past : the bankruptcy of John Law’s
system at the beginning of the eighteenth century, for example, but ﬁrst and
foremost the French Revolution with its erratic economic policy and the dra-
matic monetary episode of the assignats. It is therefore not surprising, in this
context, to see most of the French economists mistrusting abstract principles
and asking for concrete and practical reasoning — thus paving the way for
a suspicious and even hostile reception of Ricardo’s writings. If we add their
selective reading of the Principles, according to their immediate preoccupa-
tions, and the poor translation of some strategic chapters — like the chapter
on rent — we can understand why no French economist could be considered
as a Ricardian, except perhaps Pellegrino Rossi, and then with qualiﬁcations.
The ﬁrst economic crises of the industrial age and the appalling development of
pauperism also generated deep mistrust of what was called ‘English’ political
economy, of which Ricardo was the main representative.
However, this does not mean that Ricardo was not inﬂuential in France.
Quite the contrary. But his legacy was fragmented, and French-speaking eco-
nomists only retained the aspects of Ricardo’s doctrines that were of interest
to them, discarding or criticizing the rest.
One of the best examples is certainly Ricardo’s theory of rent : it was ac-
cepted by some liberal writers like Rossi, Cherbuliez and Molinari and inspired
some doctrines that other writers (Léon Walras for example) made their own
and developed afterwards. Other examples can also be advanced. There is no
doubt that Cournot was positively struck by Ricardo’s abstract way of reaso-
ning, which might have strengthened his project to develop a mathematical
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 72
theory of market forms. Rossi also, while rejecting or neglecting some impor-
tant aspects of Ricardo’s doctrines, developed some interesting points out of
the Principles : his concept of ‘rational economics’ was subsequently taken up
and developed by Léon Walras, and his rehabilitation of the opposition bet-
ween use value and exchangeable value — questioned by most of the other
French economists — was probably a source of inspiration for Dupuit.
But Ricardo was also inﬂuential in another, more diﬀuse way. His writings
obliged some authors to react to and discuss his ideas, thereby also driving
them to clarify and develop their own theories. This was obviously the case for
Say and Sismondi — who had furthermore the opportunity to discuss directly
with the author of the Principles.
Last but not least, the French reception of Ricardo’s ideas and doctrines
was of the utmost importance on the continent. As time went by, and for
the major part of the century, Say and the French economists exerted a great
intellectual inﬂuence abroad — ﬁrst through their writings and then, from
the 1840s on, through the Société d’Économie Politique and the Journal des
Économistes. In this way, they also shaped, for a time, the reception of Ricardo
on the continent, as the following chapters show.
Publications of the works of David Ricardo in the French lan-
guage during the nineteenth century
(1810). ‘Le haut prix de l’or et de l’argent, considéré comme une preuve de la déprécia-
tion des billets de banque. Troisième édition revue et augmentée.’ Gazette nationale,
ou Le moniteur universel, 24, 25 et 26 September : 1050-1052, 1054-1056, 1058-1060.
—– [Translation of the third edition of The High Price of Bullion, a Proof of the
Depreciation of Bank Notes.]
(1817). ‘On the Principles, etc. C’est-à-dire, Des principes de l’économie politique et
des taxes ; par D. Ricardo. Londres, 1817. Un vol. in-8◦de 600 pages. (Premier ex-
trait.)’ Bibliothèque Universelle. Littérature. VI(3), November : 207-215. —– [Trans-
lation of some excerpts from Chapter I of the Principles.]
(1818). ‘On the Principles, etc. C’est-à-dire, Des principes de l’économie politique
et des taxes ; par D. Ricardo. Londres, 1817. Un vol. in-8◦de 600 pages. (Deuxième
extrait.)’ Bibliothèque Universelle. Littérature. VII(1), January : 1-11. —– [Translation
of some excerpts from Chapter I of the Principles (continued).]
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 73
(1819). Des Principes de l’économie politique et de l’impôt, par David Ricardo, traduit
de l’anglais par F.-S. Constancio, avec des notes explicatives et critiques par J.-B. Say.
Paris : J.-P. Aillaud. 2 vols.
(1833). ‘Correspondence with Ricardo’, in Jean-Baptiste Say, Mélanges et correspon-
dance d’économie politique, ouvrage posthume . . . publié par Charles Comte. Paris :
Chamerot, pp. 92-136.
(1835). Des Principes de l’économie politique et de l’impôt, par David Ricardo. Traduit
de l’anglais par F.-S. Constancio, D. M., etc., avec des notes explicatives et critiques
par J.-B. Say .. . . Deuxième édition, revue, corrigée et augmentée d’une notice sur
la vie et les écrits de Ricardo, publiée par sa famille. Paris : J.-P. Aillaud. 2 vols. —–
[Misleadingly indicated as ‘deuxième édition’ (second edition).]
(1835). Des Principes de l’économie politique et de l’impôt, par David Ricardo. Traduit
de l’anglais par F.-S. Constancio, D. M., etc., avec des notes explicatives et critiques
par J.-B. Say .. . . Deuxième édition, revue, corrigée et augmentée d’une notice sur
la vie et les écrits de Ricardo, publiée par sa famille. Bruxelles : H. Dumont. 1 vol.
—– [Misleadingly indicated as ‘troisième édition’ (third edition).]
(1847). Œuvres complètes de David Ricardo, traduites en français, par MM. Constan-
cio et Alc. Fonteyraud, augmentées de notes de Jean-Baptiste Say, de nouvelles notes
et de commentaires par Malthus, Sismondi, MM. Rossi, Blanqui, etc., et précédées
d’une notice par M. Alcide Fonteyraud. Paris : Guillaumin. —– [Volume XIII of the
Collection des principaux économistes.]
(1848). Correspondence with Ricardo, in Jean-Baptiste Say, Œuvres diverses. Paris :
Guillaumin, pp. 406-429.
(1865). (a) ‘Enquête sur les lois qui limitent le taux d’intérêt. Déposition de M. Ri-
cardo. Séance du 30 avril 1818’. (b) ‘Enquête sur la reprise des paiements en espèces.
Déposition de M. Ricardo. Séance du jeudi 4 mars 1819’. (c) ‘Deuxième déposition
de M. Ricardo. Séance du vendredi 19 mars 1819’. In Coullet, Paul-Jacques and Clé-
ment Juglar (eds). Extraits des enquêtes parlementaires anglaises sur les questions de
banque, de circulation monétaire et de crédit. Enquêtes de 1810, 1811, 1819, 1841.
Bullion report. Intérêt de l’argent. Paiements en espèces. Paris : Furne & Guillaumin,
pp. 69-76, 188-205, 205-216.
(1882). Œuvres complètes de David Ricardo, trad. en français par MM. Constancio
et Alc. Fonteyraud ; augm. de notes de J.-B. Say, Malthus, Sismondi... [et al.]; pré-
cédées d’une notice biographique sur la vie et les travaux de l’auteur par M. Alcide
Fonteyraud; et d’une préface par M. Maurice Block. Paris : Guillaumin. (Collection
des principaux économistes)
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 74
(1889). Ricardo : rentes, salaires et proﬁts, éd. par Paul Beauregard ; trad. revue par
M. [Charles] Formentin. Paris : Guillaumin. Petite bibliothèque économique française
et étrangère. —– [A selection of 8 chapters from the Principles, under 4 headings :
Value (chapters I ant IV), Rent (chapters II, XXIV and XXXII), Wages (chapter V)
and Proﬁts (chapters VI and XXI). The Constâncio-Fonteyraud translation is revised
Publications of the works of David Ricardo in the French lan-
guage during the twentieth century
(1933-1934). Principes de l’économie politique et de l’impôt. Avec introduction, notes
et appendices de E. C. K. Gonner. Traduit de l’anglais par C. Debyser. Paris : A.
Costes. 2 vol. —– [This translation was made on the Gonner 1891 English edition of
the Principles. It borrowed in fact a lot from the former translations, even reproducing
some of their mistranslations and errors.]
(1966). Œuvres complètes de David Ricardo, trad. en français par MM. Constancio
et Alc. Fonteyraud ; augm. des notes de Jean-Baptiste Say ; de nouvelles notes et de
commentaires par Malthus, Sismondi, MM. Rossi, Blanqui, etc.; et précédées d’une
notice biographique sur la vie et les travaux de l’auteur par M. Alcide Fonteyraud.
Osnabrück : Otto Zeller. (Collection des principaux économistes, vol. 13.) —– [This
is the fac-simile of the 1847 edition.]
(1971). Principes de l’économie politique et de l’impôt. Préface de Christian Schmidt.
Paris : Calmann-Lévy. —– [Republication of the 1933-4 Debyser translation in the
series ‘Perspectives de l’économique. Les Fondateurs de l’économie’.]
(1971). Des Principes de l’économie politique et de l’impôt, introd. de Pierre Do-
ckès ; trad. de P. Constancio et A. [Alcide] Fonteyraud. Paris : Flammarion. —–
[Republication of the 1847 Constâncio-Fonteyraud translation in the series ‘Sciences’.
Republished in 1977 and afterwards in the series ‘Champs’.]
(1973). Croissance et progrès ? textes [de] Jean-Baptiste Say, David Ricardo, John
Stuart Mill, Karl Marx... [et al.] ; réunis et présentés par J.-Marie Hervé. Tours :
Mame. —– [Some texts by Ricardo, included in a book of readings.]
(1988). Essai sur l’inﬂuence d’un bas prix du blé sur les proﬁts, [trad.,] présentation
et comment. de M.-F. Jarret et F.-R. Mahieu. Paris : Economica.
(1991). Écrits monétaires, 1809-1811, édités sous la direction de Bernard Courbis et
Jean-Michel Servet. Lyon : Association des amis du Musée de l’imprimerie et de la
banque. —– [Translation of Ricardo’s letters to the Morning Chronicle, 1809 and
Nous marchons sur un autre terrain 75
1810, of the fourth edition of The High Price of Bullion, a Proof of the Depreciation
of Bank Notes, 1811, and of the Reply to M. Bosanquet’s Practical Observations on
the Report of the Bullion Committee, 1811.]
(1992). Des principes de l’économie politique et de l’impôt, traduction par Cécile Sou-
dan en collaboration avec B. Delmas, T. Demals, F.-R. Mahieu... [et al.] ; présentation
de François-Régis Mahieu. Paris : Flammarion. (Classiques de l’économie politique.)
Bastiat, Frédéric (1850a). ‘Propriété foncière’. In Œuvres complètes de Frédéric Bas-
tiat, Paris : Guillaumin, 1870, VI (Harmonies économiques), 297-348.
Bastiat, Frédéric (1850b). ‘De la rente’. In Œuvres complètes de Frédéric Bastiat,
Paris : Guillaumin, 1870, VI (Harmonies économiques), 430-436.
Baumol, William J. (1977). ‘Say’s (at least) eight laws, or what Say and James Mill
may really have meant’. Economica,44(74), 145-161.
Béraud, Alain (2005). ‘Richesse et valeur : la contribution des économistes français
au début du 19e siècle’. Économies et Sociétés, Cahiers de l’ISMEA, 39(6), série
Œconomia, PE 36, 1009-1032.
Béraud, Alain, Jean-Jacques Gislain et Philippe Steiner (2004). ‘L’économie politique
néo-smithienne continentale’. Économies et Sociétés, Cahiers de l’ISMEA, 38(2), série
Œconomia, PE 34, 325-418.
Bloomﬁeld, Arthur I. (1989). ‘Aspects of the Theory of International Trade in France :
1800-1914’. Oxford Economic Papers, New Series, 41(3), 619-639.
Breton, Yves (1984). ‘Les économistes français et la rente foncière entre 1830 et 1870’.
Économie rurale, 161, May-June, 10-14.
Buret, Eugène (1840). De la misère des classes laborieuses en Angleterre et en France;
de la nature de la misère, de son existence, de ses eﬀets, de ses causes, et de l’insuﬃ-
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