Jean Baptiste Say

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Say, Jean Baptiste


Born Jan. 5, 1767, in Lyon; died Nov. 15, 1832, in Paris. French economist, one of the first representatives of vulgar political economy. An ideologist of the big bourgeoisie, Say advocated free trade and opposed intervention by the state in the economy. From 1819 he was a professor of political economy. His principal work is A Treatise on Political Economy (1803; Russian translation of individual chapters, 1896).

Say considered himself a commentator on and popularizer of the teachings of A. Smith, but in fact he vulgarized Smith’s views. He believed that the laws of capitalist production are eternal and that consumption is the goal of economic activity. In his opinion, utility, production costs, and supply and demand are the basis of value. Drawing on Smith’s dogma, Say created a vulgar apologetic theory of production factors, pervaded by the idea that labor, capital, and nature play equal roles in the creation of value. Thus, Say denied the exploitative character of capitalist production and preached the harmony of class interests. Say was mistaken in his views, because the production factors—concrete labor, the means of production (in the terminology of bourgeois political economy, capital), and nature—play a role only in the creation of the consumption value of a good. The sole source of value is abstract labor. The acquisition of a portion of value, the surplus value, is the aim of capitalist production.

Say idealized the system of free enterprise and denied the inevitability of general crises of overproduction, admitting only the possibility of the overproduction of particular goods. He formulated a law of markets, according to which the exchange of one product for another results automatically in an equilibrium between purchase and sale. Say ignored the circumstance that the development of commodity exchange intensifies the contradiction between value and consumption value, leading to the isolation of money as a special commodity and to the emergence of a gap between the acts of buying and selling.

Say’s concepts were criticized by K. Marx. His apologetic views, particularly the theory of production factors and the law of markets, were extensively used in vulgar bourgeois political economy.


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 3, ch. 48. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch. 2nd ed., vol. 25, part 2.
Marx, K. “Teorii pribavochnoi stoimosti” (vol. 4 of Kapital). Appendix. Ibid., vol. 26, part 3.
Markov, I. G. Zh. B. Sei. (Ego zhizn’, deiatel’nost’ i uchenie). Moscow-Leningrad, 1929.
Anikin, A. V. lunost’nauki. Moscow, 1971.


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