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Anders Chydenius (aut.), Maren Jonasson and Pertti Hyttinen (eds), Anticipating The Wealth of Nations: The selected works of Anders Chydenius (1729–1803)

Bo Sandelin
p. 117-119
Bibliographical reference

Maren Jonasson and Pertti Hyttinen (eds), Anticipating The Wealth of Nations: The selected works of Anders Chydenius (1729–1803), Routledge, 2012, 408 pages, ISBN: 978-0415551335

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1During the last half of the 18th century—when Finland was still part of the Swedish realm—the Finnish clergyman, politician, and economist Anders Chydenius was an important figure in Swedish social life. Only a few of his publications have earlier been available to non-Swedish readers, so we should welcome the book under review, Anticipating The Wealth of Nations: The selected works of Anders Chydenius (1729-1803), edited by Maren Jonasson and Pertti Hyttinen, translated by Peter C. Hogg. The book consists of Chydenius’ most important publications, with a 59-page introduction—and commentaries on each paper giving the historical context—by Lars Magnusson.

2Chydenius’ writings—such as the four papers collected in Part I, which related to the Parliament of 1765-1766—were most often contributions to the political debate of the time. In spite of his low formal position in the clerical hierarchy, the young and radical Chydenius had been elected as one of the representatives of the Clerical Estate.

3The first paper was Chydenius’ response to a prize question prescribed by the Royal Academy of Sciences: “What may be the Cause of So Many People Annually Emigrating from This Country? And by What Measures May It Best Be Prevented?” One might think the question premature, as Sweden had no high emigration in the 18th century. But Chydenius took the chance to bring up his message: There was not enough freedom in Sweden, “and that oppression, or lack of sufficient freedom to pursue his fortune in any honourable manner, I venture to assert is the one and only cause of all emigration and thus also of that which occurs from our beloved Sweden” (71). He gives many examples—from antiquity to his own time—of compelling rules which forced people to emigrate.

4Chydenius asserts that “among the economic pursuits agriculture is the principle one, the foremost and the most crucial” (80), and is thus sometimes described as a Physiocrat. In view of his focus on emigration, this assertion makes sense. Agriculture suffered from small, badly distributed holdings, insecure tenure, and (frequently) absentee landlords—all of which, Chydenius believed, stimulated emigration.

5The second paper—Chydenius’ booklet The Source of Our Country’s Weakness, published anonymously in April 1765, with a German edition following later in the same year—provoked at least nine critical pamphlets in response. Its main targets were the Commodity Ordinances of 1724 and 1726—the Swedish equivalents of the British Navigation Acts—which mandated that imports must be carried only on Swedish ships or ships from the exporting country, and that foreign ships could not transport goods between Swedish ports. Chydenius demonstrates many undesired consequences. One was that Dutch and English ships could no longer arrive in Sweden with salt (which had originated in a third country) as ballast, making both goods and salt more expensive in Sweden. And of course the Dutch reciprocated with their own Retorsion Act.

6The third paper—The National Gain (first published in English in 1931) —is probably the best known of Chydenius’ publications. It was “respectfully presented to The Honourable Estates of the Realm By one of Their Members” and “published by Director Lars Salvius, 1765”.

7The first pages surprise with a rather mercantilistic approach. Having explained that, through trade, all goods can be converted into gold and silver, Chydenius declares that the balance of trade is the gain of the nation. He gives an example: “If the statement were in all respects true that Sweden during the past year of 1764 exported commodities for approximately 72 million daler kmt but the imported ones amounted to no more than 66 million, our national profit for that year would be six million daler” (144). There are also examples of the invisible hand and of opportunity cost, ideas of natural law, and, of course, arguments against regulations and other attempts to intervene in the allocation process.

8This is not Chydenius’ clearest work. Its prominence in the literature about him may be because it includes elements from many areas which Chydenius analyses in more detail elsewhere.

9The last publication in Part I—A Remedy for the Country by Means of a Natural System of Finance, delivered before the Clerical Estate on 11 June 1766—concerns the metallic basis of coins and banknotes. The contemporary political situation was messy—it was risky for Chydenius to discuss the question—and the publication forced him to leave the Diet.

10Part II consists of three reports about freedom of the press which led to the 1766 law on that topic.

11Besides a tribute to freedom of religion, Part III includes an “Answer to the Question Posed by the Society of Arts and Sciences in Gothenburg” on “Whether Rural Trade Is Generally Useful or Harmful to a Country, and to What Extent It Contributes to the Promotion or Decline of Industry”, as well as a paper “Concerning the Natural Rights of Masters and Servants”. Chydenius considers rural trade useful, and the Royal Ordinance on Servants and Hired Workers to be an infringement of natural law, designed to favour masters.

12Part IV includes the autobiography which Chydenius delivered when he became a corresponding member of the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences in Gothenburg in 1780.

13Because of the title of the book—Anticipating The Wealth of Nations—a few words should be said about the relation between Chydenius and Adam Smith. Of course there is no causal relation between them, as Smith did not read Chydenius’ Swedish publications—nor did Chydenius’ influence likely reach him indirectly—but there are similarities in their basic liberal views.

14However, Smith’s analyses—in both The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments—are more comprehensive than those in Chydenius’ papers and booklets, which are all considerably shorter works.

15There is also a difference in purpose and style. Chydenius had a more immediate political purpose, with many of his publications being written in connection with his work in the Diet. He therefore presents purer arguments in favour of his own message, while Smith, as a philosopher, discusses more complications.

16For example, Chydenius’ finds only disadvantages in the Swedish Commodity Ordinance, whereas Smith—in spite of his liberalism—characterizes its model, the original English Navigation Act, as “perhaps, the wisest of all the commercial regulations of England” as it increased shipping and the number of sailors, which fostered England’s defence (Wealth of Nations, IV.ii.24-30).

17The translated texts are the most important among Chydenius’ publications. Thanks to this excellent new book, it is possible to penetrate Chydenius’ ideas without reading Swedish.

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Bibliographical reference

Bo Sandelin, Anders Chydenius (aut.), Maren Jonasson and Pertti Hyttinen (eds), Anticipating The Wealth of Nations: The selected works of Anders Chydenius (1729–1803)Œconomia, 4-1 | 2014, 117-119.

Electronic reference

Bo Sandelin, Anders Chydenius (aut.), Maren Jonasson and Pertti Hyttinen (eds), Anticipating The Wealth of Nations: The selected works of Anders Chydenius (1729–1803)Œconomia [Online], 4-1 | 2014, Online since 01 March 2014, connection on 05 June 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Bo Sandelin

University of Gothenburg.

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