Concerning Commerce

I’ve gotten through the first chapters of Jerry Muller’s new book The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought, from which I expect to learn a great deal. (I’ve also got my agenda-detectors going, since Muller’s got a few conservative anti-market axes, which he grinds quite thoroughly in the book.) I’ll post my thoughts after I’ve finished it, but so far it’s quite interesting. More useful is an outstanding new collection of original sources, Commerce, Culture, and Liberty: Readings on Capitalism Before Adam Smith, edited by Henry C. Clark. Much of the material in the book was previously unavailable in any modern edition. Especially worth reading is Turgot’s famous and brilliant “Eloge de Gournay” (translated in the volume as “In Praise of Gournay”), which offers a classic statement of the morality and goodness of freedom of exchange. The “Memoire” of Gournay himself (one of the most important figures in the development of classical liberal thinking, through his sponsorship of translation and publication projects in the 18th century and especially through his mentorship of Turgot) is newly translated and provided me some interesting insights into the development of proto-liberal economic thinking. Muller’s book provides a guide to Muller’s own take on how other people have understood capitalism (and along the way you’ll learn a good deal about what those people thought, too). Clark’s volume is an extremely valuable collection of original sources. Both are worth buying and reading, but if you had to choose just one, I’d take the Clark volume.