De la richesse commerciale, ou principes d’économie politique, appliqués à la legislation du commerce ... Tome premier [- second].

Geneva, J.J. Paschoud, An XI (1803).

2 vols, 8vo, pp. [4], lxxxv, [1 blank], 348; [4], 448; fore-edges dusty, a few light marks; a very good uncut copy in 19th-century half calf over marbled boards, spines gilt in compartments with red morocco lettering- and numbering-pieces, marbled endpapers; small wormhole at foot of upper joint vol. I and at foot of lower joint vol. II, some wear to corners; inscription ‘L. Fagneux (?) – Avocat’ to front free endpaper vol. I; with extensive marginal annotations in ink in a contemporary hand throughout (to 95 pages of vol. I, and to 192 pages of vol. II).


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First edition of Sismondi’s original and important work, this copy filled with highly critical marginalia by a contemporary reader, who concludes his annotations with the cutting comment: ‘Voila bien le plus mauvais livre qui existe en France sur l’administration commerciale. Fasse le ciel qu'il soit le dernier.’ Occupying the margins of over 280 pages, these annotations represent an extraordinary engagement with Sismondi’s text, and certainly merit further research.

The topics discussed by our annotator cover mercantilism, productivity and unproductivity, value, national wealth, consumption, utility, commerce and free trade, capital, property, paper money, merchandise, tax and customs, prices, exports, regulation, monopolies, colonies, and free ports. He frequently mentions Adam Smith, and also refers to Nicolas-François Canard, has much to say on France and England, and makes references to Holland, Spain, and Portugal too. His detailed criticisms frequently open with comments such as ‘ridicule, bete, absurde’ or ‘tout cela est faux, absolument faux’, and he dislikes Sismondi’s use of algebraic formulae, as well as his style of writing (‘Dans un livre sur l’adm[inistrati]on, du grec, de l’anglais, de l’italien, et des vers de Lafontaine!!’). Our annotator clearly re-read the work in 1830, writing at one point, ‘Je relis cette note 27 ans après l’avoir ecrite, et j’y ajoute que Ricardo a volé à M. de Sismondi sa détestable theorie du fermage, Janvier 1830’.

Born in Geneva, the son of a Calvinist clergyman, Sismondi (1773-1842) was ‘the first critic of industrial capitalism’ (Blaug). De la richesse commerciale ‘was intended as a systematic exposition of the ideas of Adam Smith. Yet in it Sismondi also pointed out that he was presenting “an absolutely new” way of looking at aggregate output changes. Crude arithmetic examples depicted output during a given year as a function of investment during a previous year, and showed how a closed economy differed from an economy with international trade, and how the latter differed when there was an export surplus and an import surplus. Algebraic formulas in his footnotes repeated the same arguments presented arithmetically in the text’ (The New Palgrave). The work ‘has a number of original features, for example, it includes an early statement ascribing the international exchange of goods to differences in factor endowments and factor prices – England, being plentifully endowed with capital, will import labor-intensive goods, such as lace from France, from countries where capital is relatively scarce and wages low. Sismondi here points the way to doctrinal developments that were bought to full fruition by Ohlin in the twentieth century but were overshadowed during the nineteenth century by the Ricardian doctrine of comparative cost, which was primarily designed to demonstrate the gains from trade’ (Spiegel, p. 303).

Einaudi 5298; Goldsmiths’ 18617; Kress B.4734.

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