The Fruits of Civilization – Jean de Sismondi

Jean de Sismondi

Wealth is a blessing when it spreads comfort over all classes. A country may be wretched, though some individuals in it are amassing colossal fortunes. ~ Jean Sismondi

Swiss writer Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi (1773–1842) had an abiding interest in history and economics. Sismondi, whose real name was Simonde, was of upper-class stock, and well-educated.

Though he initially followed the doctrine of Adam Smith, Sismondi came to insist that economics was too concerned with wealth and too little concerned with happiness.

Sismondi ran counter to Ricardo by challenging the sanguine belief that economic equilibrium offering full employment would be spontaneously achieved in a capitalist system. Instead, Sismondi considered capitalism as prone to periodic crises. This idea was further developed by French economist Charles Dunoyer, who conceptualized the bipolar boom/bust business cycle.

In observing the contemporary industrial system in England, Sismondi noted that unchecked competition resulted in overproduction and under-consumption, as manufacturers were unaware of the production levels of others. This forced reduced prices to sell surplus inventory. Lost profits were made up by slashing worker wages, which left laborers without buying power.

Sismondi foresaw the economic benefit of consumption-driven demand as an engine of growth, beginning with paying decent wages. This was an unorthodox decency.