Sir James Denham Steuart, 1713-1780.

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Often regarded as the "last Mercantilist", Sir James Steuart occupies a peculiar place in the history of economic thought. A gentleman lawyer and Scottish nationalist, Steuart spent nearly half of his life in Continental Europe (esp. Germany): during a "grand tour" in 1735-1740, and later in a long period of exile from 1745 to 1763 (he had backed Bonnie Prince Charlie and '45 Jacobite rebellion).

Steuart's 1767 Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy is perhaps the first, fully-fledged economics treatise. Although often regarded as part of the Scottish Enlightenment which produced David Hume and Adam Smith, Steuart's economics hark back to the earlier Mercantilist era. More accurately, while on the Continent, Steuart had imbibed the sophisticated Enlightenment Mercantilism that was in the air -- particularly, German Neo-Cameralism -- which combined a legal-statist approach with a "natural" approach to economics. Although a promoter of old fashioned export subsidies and import tariffs, Steuart added several elements that tied this in with a more general theory of economic development. Unlike the old Mercantilists, he recognized Cantillon's "population-subsistence" dynamics. He also introduced the concept of diminishing returns to land. Steuart juggled two interesting theories of price -- a long-run, quasi-Marxian labor theory of value and a short-run "demand-and-supply" theory. Indeed, Steuart was among the first to introduce the term "equilibrium". Thus, Steuart was an important forerunner of both the Classical and Neoclassical schools in many respects. Steuart also provided one of the more able statements of the real bills doctrine of money.

Adam Smith's (1776) attacks on Mercantilism were mainly directed against Steuart (even though the latter was hardly mentioned by name). However, Steuart's economics were lauded by Karl Marx and he became something of a darling to the German Historical School.

Major Works of James Steuart

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