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Jean-Baptiste Say (French: [ʒãbatist sɛ]; 5 January 1767 – 15 November 1832) was a French economist and businessman who had liberal views and argued in favor of competition, free trade and lifting restraints on business. He is best known for Say's law—also known as the law of markets—which he popularized. Scholars disagree on the surprisingly subtle question of whether it was Say who first stated what is now called Say's law. Moreover, he was one of the first economists to study entrepreneurship and conceptualized entrepreneurs as organizers and leaders of the economy.
Say was born in Lyon. His father Jean-Etienne Say was born to a Protestant family which had moved from Nîmes to Geneva for some time in consequence of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Say was intended to follow a commercial career and in 1785 was sent with his brother Horace to complete his education in England. He lodged for a time in Croydon and afterwards (following a return visit to France) in Fulham. During the latter period, he was employed successively by two London-based firms of sugar merchants, James Baillie & Co and Samuel and William Hibbert. At the end of 1786, he accompanied Samuel Hibbert on a voyage to France which ended in December with Hibbert's death in Nantes. Say returned to Paris, where he found employment in the office of a life assurance company directed by Étienne Clavière. His brother Louis Auguste (1774–1840) also became an economist.
Writings, teaching and entrepreneurship
Say's first literary attempt was a pamphlet on the liberty of the press, published in 1789. He later worked under Mirabeau on the Courrier de Provence. In 1792, he took part as a volunteer in the campaign of Champagne. In 1793, he assumed in keeping with French Revolutionary fashion the pseudonym Atticus and became secretary to Étienne Clavière, the then finance minister.
From 1794 to 1800, he edited a periodical, entitled La Decade philosophique, litteraire, et politique, in which he expounded the doctrines of Adam Smith. He had by this time established his reputation as a publicist and when the consular government was established in 1799 he was selected as one of the 100 members of the Tribunat, resigning the editorship of the Decade. In 1800, Say published Olbie, ou essai sur les moyens de réformer les mœurs d'une nation. In 1803, he published his principal work, the Traité d'économie politique ou simple exposition de la manière dont se forment, se distribuent et se composent les richesses. Having proved unwilling to compromise his convictions in the interests of Napoleon, Say was removed from the office of tribune in 1804. He turned to industrial activities and after having familiarised himself with the processes of cotton manufacture he established a spinning-mill at Auchy-lès-Hesdin in the Pas de Calais which employed some 400–500 people, mainly women and children. He devoted his leisure time to revising his economic treatise which had been out of print for some time, but the system of state censorship in place prevented him from republishing it.
In 1814, Say availed himself (to use his own words) of the relative liberty arising from the entrance of the allied powers into France to bring out a second edition of the work dedicated to the emperor Alexander I of Russia, who had professed himself his pupil. In the same year, the French government sent him to study the economic condition of the United Kingdom. The results of his observations appeared in a tract, De l'Angleterre et des Anglais. A third edition of the Traité appeared in 1817.
A chair of industrial economy was established for him in 1819 at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. Also in 1819, he was one of the founders of the École spéciale de commerce et d'industrie, one of the first business schools in the world, and now (as École supérieure de commerce de Paris - ESCP Europe) regarded as the world's oldest business school. In 1831, he was made professor of political economy at the Collège de France. In 1828–1830, he published his Cours complet d'economie politique pratique.
Say is well known for Say's law, or the law of markets, often controversially summarised as such:
Say's law is instead uncontroversially summarized as such:
The exact phrase "supply creates its own demand" was coined by John Maynard Keynes, who criticized it as in the former two, equating all four of these statements to mean the same thing. Some economists, including some advocates of Say's law who dispute this characterization as a misrepresentation, have disputed his interpretation, claiming that Say's law can actually be summarized more accurately as "production precedes consumption" and that Say was claiming that in order to consume one must produce something of value so that one can trade this (either in the form of money or barter) in order to consume later.
Similar sentiments through different wordings appear in the work of John Stuart Mill (1848) and his father James Mill (1808). The Scottish classical economist James Mill restates Say's law in 1808, writing that "production of commodities creates, and is the one and universal cause which creates a market for the commodities produced".
In Say's language, "products are paid for with products" (1803, p. 153) or "a glut can take place only when there are too many means of production applied to one kind of product and not enough to another" (1803, pp. 178–179). Explaining his point at length, he wrote the following:
Say also wrote that it is not the abundance of money, but the abundance of other products in general that facilitates sales:
Say's law may also have been culled from Ecclesiastes 5:11 – "When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?" (KJV). Say's law has been considered by John Kenneth Galbraith as "the most distinguished example of the stability of economic ideas, including when they are wrong".
Theory of entrepreneurship
In the Treatise, his main economic work, Say stated that any production process required effort, knowledge and the "application" of the entrepreneur. According to him, entrepreneurs are intermediaries in the production process who combine productive agents such as land, capital and labor in order to meet the demand of consumers. As a result, they play a central role in the economy and fulfil a coordinating role.
Besides studying large-scale entrepreneurs, Say looked at people working for themselves:
Say also thought about which qualities are essential for successful entrepreneurs and highlighted the quality of judgement. To his mind, entrepreneurs have to continuously assess market needs and the means which could meet them, which requires an "unerring market sense".
As he emphasized the coordinating function of entrepreneurs, Say viewed entrepreneurial income primarily as high wages that are paid in compensation for the skills and expert knowledge of entrepreneurs. He did so by making a distinction between the enterprise function and the supply-of-capital-function which allowed him to look at the earnings of the entrepreneur on the one hand and the remuneration of capital on the other hand. This clearly differentiates his theory from that of Joseph Schumpeter, who described entrepreneurial rent as short-term profits that compensate for high risk (Schumpeterian rent). Say also touched upon risk and uncertainty as well as innovation when discussing entrepreneurship, although he never deeply investigated their relationships. However, Say stated:
In 1826, Say was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Later years and death
In his later years, Say became subject to attacks of nervous apoplexy. He lost his wife in January 1830 and from that time his health declined. When the revolution of that year broke out, Say was named a member of the council-general of the department of the Seine, but he found it necessary to resign.
Say died in Paris on 15 November 1832 and was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.
In 1793, Say married Mlle Deloche, daughter of a former lawyer.