The Social Economics of Jean-Baptiste Say: Markets and Virtue

The Social Economics of Jean-Baptiste Say: Markets and Virtue

The Social Economics of Jean-Baptiste Say: Markets and Virtue

The Social Economics of Jean-Baptiste Say: Markets and Virtue


Although Say is often depicted as a one-dimensional libertarian ideologist who popularized Adam Smith's economics in France, Forget (economics, U. of Manitoba, Canada) depicts him as a complex republican whose interests included bringing together support for free markets, industrial development, government legislation, and the educational system to create and maintain an ideal civil society. This book also contains the full text (translated into English) of Say's Olbie, a utopian novel he wrote for an academic competition in 1800.


Jean-Baptiste Say and the institutions of idéologie

After 1789, Paris was left scrambling to recreate and resuscitate the formal and informal institutions that gave structure to the lives of its people. It is not surprising that many of the institutions of the ancien régime, perhaps most notably the informal institutions of that period, were retained and made to serve similar and new roles. Other institutions, such as the Academies and the religious institutions, could not survive the Terror, and were replaced. Sometimes, the new institutions were new in name only; they functioned very much as did their predecessors. Other times, they were significantly transformed. Both formal and informal institutions, especially the salon culture and the newspapers, were fundamental to the dissemination of idéologie.

Jean-Baptiste Say absorbed the fundamental tenets of idéologie at the homes of Mme Helvétius and other hostesses of the period, and wrote about them in La Décade. Many commentators have devoted enormous amounts of effort to untangling the various intellectual influences on the development of idéologie, including most notably Gusdorf (1978), Moravia (1968; 1974), Kaiser (1976), Azouvi (1992) and many others. However, there is little evidence that Say came to advocate idéologie by reading Locke or Condillac, or by working carefully through the physiology of Cabanis. He was undoubtedly well read, but the impression one has is that his idéologie came to him in a distinctly less linear and systematic way, mediated by the conversation of the salons, the articles in newspapers and broadsheets, the popular fiction of the period and, in general, through all kinds of informal social institutions and networks. Idéologie came to Say by means of his imagination and sensibilities, absorbed from the atmosphere in which he was immersed. Contrast this with Say’s approach to economic analysis. There does exist evidence that his economic analysis was developed in a very systematic way, by reading, understanding and criticising his predecessors, including the physiocratic writers and Adam Smith. The purpose of this chapter, then, is to give some indication of the various institutions that favoured the dissemination of idéologie, and to draw some very tentative conclusions about the nature of their influence.

It is no simple task to determine who ought to be included under the rubric idéologue. Idéologie published no membership list. Its doctrines, to the extent that such can be discerned, were not shared equally by everyone travelling

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.