Father of Modern Economics

In his seminal work The Wealth of Nations (full text), Adam Smith refers to a man by his last name only, “Cantillon”. Smith was stingy in acknowledging the ideas of others so the reference to another author is striking. It is ironic that, in this instance, Smith argued with an idea that he mistakenly attributed to Cantillon. Had Smith paid closer attention to Cantillon’s text, he would have understood that Cantillon was refuting an earlier proposal by a William Perry.

So who was this rather obscure author? He was Richard Cantillon, a multimillionare who died a decade after Smith was born and who was arguably the first modern economist. Contrary to the stereotype of the drab economist, Cantillon enjoyed a colorful life and is the only prominent economist to have been murdered. In his posthumously published book of 1755, Essay on the Nature of Trade in General (full text) Cantillon begins with “The Land is the Source or Matter from whence all Wealth is produced. The Labour of man is the Form which produces it: and Wealth in itself is nothing but the Maintenance, Conveniencies, and Superfluities of Life.”

It is not often that one finds a book on economics that is short, understandable by the general reader and contains no cryptic formulas.

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