by Sandwichman at Econospeak (reposted with permission from the author)
Karl Marx could hardly bring himself to utter the name of J. B. Say without affixing to it some contemptuous description or sarcastic remark:
“Say’s earth-shaking discovery…”
“…adopted by Ricardo from the tedious Say (and to which we shall return when we discuss that miserable individual)…”
“…his authority, Say, is playing a trick on him here… “
“…we shall criticise Say’s theories later, when we deal with this humbug himself.”
“The constant recurrence of crises has in fact reduced the rigmarole of Say and others to a phraseology which is now only used in times of prosperity but is cast aside in times of crises.”
“This is the childish babble of a Say…”
“Say, who tries to hide his dull superficiality by repeating in absolute general phrases Smith’s inconsistencies and blunders…”
“Storch says of this trash of Say’s…
“After Garnier appeared the inane Jean-Baptiste Say’s Traité d’économie politique.”
“This is his kind of originality, his kind of productivity and way of making discoveries, And with his customary logic, he refutes himself again…”
“Say replies with his characteristic profundity…”
“…the absurdity of J. B. Say, who pretends to account…”
“…as it does to J. B. Say in the vulgarisation of Adam Smith.”
“The result he arrives at, is precisely that proposition of Ricardo that he aimed at disproving. After this mighty effort of thought, he triumphantly apostrophises Malthus…”
“A disciple of Ricardo, in reply to the insipid nonsense uttered by J. B. Say…”
Curiously, in “The compensation theory, with regard to the workers displaced by machinery,” Section 6, Chapter 15, Volume 1 of Capital, Marx performed the ultimate insult by snubbing Say, almost entirely. The first sentence includes “James Mill, McCulloch, Torrens, Senior and John Stuart Mill” among those bourgeois political economists claiming that machinery sets free enough capital to reabsorb the workers displaced by it. Say is relegated to a footnote citing the anonymous pamphlet in which the author refutes “the insipid nonsense uttered by J. B. Say” by pointing out:
Where division of labour is well developed, the skill of the labourer is available only in that particular branch in which it has been acquired; he himself is a sort of machine. It does not therefore help matters one jot, to repeat in parrot fashion, that things have a tendency to find their level. On looking around us we cannot but see, that they are unable to find their level for a long time; and that when they do find it, the level is always lower than at the commencement of the process.
Thus, the anonymous author of An Inquiry into Those Principles Respecting the Nature of Demand, and the Necessity of Consumption, Lately Advocated by Mr. Malthus, neatly summed up in a paragraph the rebuttal to the so-called compensation theory. This succinct reply makes a mystery of Marx’s exclusion of Say from his listing, at the start of the section, of bourgeois political economists.
The mystery is solved in Chapter 20 of Theories of Surplus Value, “Disintegration of the Ricardian School,” where Marx discussed the pamphlet he described as “one of the best of the polemical works of the decade.” “What the author writes about Say is very true,” Marx observed. Following a quotation from the pamphlet about the hazard arising from the difference in timing between consumption by workers and their production, Marx exclaimed that this was, “indeed the secret basis of glut.” Several paragraphs later, Marx concluded:
Over-production, the credit system, etc., are means by which capitalist production seeks to break through its own barriers and to produce over and above its own limits. Capitalist production, on the one hand, has this driving force; on the other hand, it only tolerates production commensurate with the profitable employment of existing capital.