Here at last is the first accurate and beautiful translation of Richard Cantillon's 1755 masterpiece on economics — widely credited with being the first to describe the market process as one driven by entrepreneurship. Unlike any previous writer, Cantillon explicated the vital role of the entrepreneur with perception and vigor. William Stanley Jevons, in the first blush of discovery, proclaimed Cantillon's Essai, "the cradle of political economy."
There can be little doubt that it added new life to the organizing principles of economics. But "political economy" does not accurately describe Cantillon's subject. Indeed, he scrupulously avoided political issues in order to concentrate on the mechanics of 18th-century economic life. He insisted that political considerations be put aside, "so as not to complicate our subject" — thus invoking a kind of ceteris paribus assumption before it became common in economics to do so. For this reason, Murray Rothbard called Cantillon the "founding father of modern economics."
We know little of Cantillon's life and circumstances of authorship. The manuscript that was eventually published in 1755 had by then circulated privately in France for almost two decades. When published, it appeared under mysterious circumstances.
Mark Thornton and Chantal Saucier have accomplished the arduous task of bringing forth a new and improved translation of Cantillon's famous work. Heretofore the only available English translation has been the 1931 edition produced by Henry Higgs for the Royal Economic Society. Though competent, it has become less serviceable over time, as more and more of its shortcomings emerged (not the least of which is the use of "undertaker" in place of "entrepreneur").
Saucier provides an accurate and lucid account better suited to the 21st century. Thornton's hand shows in his competent guidance of the translator and in the inclusion of numerous footnotes that add historical context.
Robert F. Hébert writes the foreword.