Eighteenth Century Economics: Turgot, Beccaria and Smith and Their Contemporaries

By Peter Groenewegen | Go to book overview

13

Quesnay’s first publication ineconomics

The article ‘Fermiers’ for the Encyclopédie - an introduction

The two essays now reproduced for the first time in English translation are both important pioneering contributions to the theory of capital applied to agricultural economics and, especially in the case of the second, practical taxation policy as well. This by itself warrants their reprinting. In addition, the first of them, the 1756 Encyclopédie article ‘Fermiers’, is the first piece on economics by François Quesnay, the founder of physiocracy. Its importance is therefore enhanced by the fact that it presents in rudimentary form the arguments in support of some of the more basic assumptions lying at the foundation of Quesnay’s more celebrated analysis of the circular flow in an agricultural kingdom through his Tableau économique of two years later. Ten years after the publication of ‘Fermiers’, Turgot wrote a short defence and cogent elucidation of one of Quesnay’s major contributions from his 1756 article - the controversial distinction between la grande et la petite culture. This common subject matter justifies reprinting these contributions to agricultural economics from two eminent economists of the eighteenth century between two covers.

Although the greater part of the economic work of Quesnay and Turgot no longer needs an introduction for the English reader, 1 this is unfortunately not the case with the two contributions here reprinted in translation. It is true that there are some specialist studies as well as more general commentaries on la grande et la petite culture, 2 but few of these are recent and with some notable exceptions, few are available in English. 3 In addition, some aspects of the contents of these pieces deserve more attention. These include the interesting illustration of the classical view of choice of technique embodied particularly in Quesnay’s careful study of the two ‘modes of production’ analysed in his paper, and the value-theoretic points made by him which have been neglected if not suppressed by most commentators on physiocracy. 4

This introduction highlights some of the more novel aspects which make ‘Fermiers’ an important contribution in its own right, while in addition it attempts to provide more background to the writing of this article than has hitherto been done. 5 One aspect of this is to provide a more satisfactory explanation for Quesnay’s interest in economics than has so far been provided. In addition, it provides some evaluation of the sources of Quesnay’s data and their accuracy, in the light of contemporary controversy involving such notable

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