Tuesday, May 01, 2007

This is Worth Following Up On: an 18th century Fin Who Influenced or Was Influenced by Adam Smith

Some months ago, Professor John Pratt (Oxford), was in correspondence with me and he introduced a Finnish author to me who wrote along similar lines to those that Smith developed in Book IV of Wealth Of Nations, in particular a small pamphlet called ‘The National Gain’ by Anders Chydenius.

I read the material and made a note of it in my manuscript because the arguments Chydenius used against mercantile political economy were similar to those developed by Adam Smith. Today I was revising my chapter on Smith’s critique of mercantile political economy (from Book IV) and it occurred to me that a wider audience for Chydenius’s ideas may be interested in reading him too.

Let me give two paragraphs as tasters (I want you to read the whole pamphlet):

Now, if this is incontrovertible, I intend to found thereon the following proposition, i.e. that every individual spontaneously tries to find the place and the trade in which he can best increase National gain, if laws do not prevent him from doing so.

Every man seeks his own gain. This inclination is so natural and necessary that all Communities in the world are founded upon it. Otherwise Laws, punishments and rewards would not exist and mankind would soon perish altogether. The work that has the greatest value is always best paid, and what is best paid is most sought after.”

Note his use of ‘spontaneous’ in a context which Hayek would have approved.

Smith would have approved of it in its entirety.

I have not followed up to see if there was any contact between them, but I did notice that Bonar's Catalogue of the Library of Adam Smith, p 97, mentions an indirect contact via Peter Kalm, listed as a ‘Swedish traveller’, who talked to Glasgow merchants trading with the Baltic countries, and had Chydenius as a pupil. In the 1760s, Smith was in France and back home in Kirkcaldy working on Wealth of Nations.

Chydenius’s ‘National Gain’ is available in html from a Finnish source here.

Source details are:

Chydenius, A. [1765] 1931. The National Gain. Intro. Georg Schauman. Ernest Benn, London.

Anybody interested in ‘Smithian’ (or ‘Chydeniusian’?) thinking is recommended to read National Gain.


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