Steuart, Smith and the “System of Commerce”

Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Symposium on Sir James Steuart: The Political Economy of Money and Trade

ISBN: 978-1-83867-708-4, eISBN: 978-1-83867-707-7

ISSN: 0743-4154

Publication date: 30 October 2020

Abstract

Though contemporaries, Adam Smith and Sir James Steuart are commonly portrayed as if they belonged to different eras. Whereas Smith went down in history as both founder of the science of political economy and patron saint of economic liberalism, Steuart became known as the last, outdated advocate for mercantilist policies in Britain. Smith himself was responsible for popularizing the notion of the “system of commerce” as an approach to political economy that dominated the early modern period. As a historiographical concept, the mercantile system became a misguided international trade theory grounded upon the Midas fallacy and the favorable balance of trade doctrine. Smith’s treatment of international trade in the Wealth of Nations, however, was criticized for its inconsistencies and lack of analytical clarity even by some among his own followers. Given Smith’s doubtful credentials as an international trade theorist, the chapter investigates the reasons that led him and Steuart to be placed on opposite sides of the mercantilist divide. The authors analyze the works of both authors in depth, showing that their disagreements had chiefly to do with different views on money and monetary policy. Additionally, the authors explore how early nineteenth-century writers such as Jean-Baptiste Say and J. R. McCulloch helped forge the intellectual profiles of both Steuart and Smith.

Keywords

Citation

Coutinho, M.C. and Suprinyak, C.E. (2020), "Steuart, Smith and the “System of Commerce”", Fiorito, L., Scheall, S. and Suprinyak, C.E. (Ed.) Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology: Including a Symposium on Sir James Steuart: The Political Economy of Money and Trade (Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. 38C), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 11-33. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0743-41542020000038C004

Download as .RIS

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020 Emerald Publishing Limited

To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below

You may be able to access this content by logging in via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
If you think you should have access to this content, click the button to contact our support team.