250th Anniversay of Quesnay's Tableau Economique

Carl Shaw

[Reprinted from GroundSwell, November-December 2008]

Richard Cantillon, an Irish banker living in France, wrote ?Essay on the Nature of Commerce? in 1756, which encouraged Francois Quesnay, a medical doctor, to think about economics. Quesnay lived in the French palace, was Louis XV and Mme Pompadour's doctor, and later the "King's Thinker". He is also referred to as "The French Confucious." Quesnay stated that "Tableau Economique" was written in 1758, and it could have been published in December of that year, but no printed copy has ever been found. It was revised in 1759, and again in later years. It was practically the first economics book to examine the general economic process of a nation. Quesnay said the Propriatory class (Land owners) should be taxed, and so favored the Impot Unique, or single tax.

The Physiocrats saw the rent of land as being a social surplus. Quesnay also favored reducing taxes on labor and questioned government interference in the economy.

Quesnay's writings got the attention of other intellectuals, such as Ann Robert J. Turgot, Jean C.M.V. deGournay, Victor deRiqueti, marquis deMirabeau, Count de Mirabeau, and Piere Samuel du Pont deNemours. This group became known as the Physiocrats. They believed that the wealth of nations was derived solely from agriculture. It was the first well-developed theory of economics. Today we would think of food growing as a primary wealth product, which then gets processed into finished products in a city as secondary wealth product, where processing is essential to serve the market.  Quesnay saw this process as ?sterile? in that city workers income was derived from farmers? labor. Quesnay had little love for cities. The Physiocrats opposed mercantilism or trade between countries, as they thought first of the peasant society as being the economic foundation of a nation's wealth. Later they favored free trade.

Much of "Tableau Economique" is in ?Zig-Zag tables of data, which diagrammed the relationship between the different economic sectors and the flow of payments between them. It illustrated the amounts of livres required to encourage farm production, and how the product was distributed to land owners, manufactures, and the farmers. Farm conditions had deteriorated; nobles had obtained almost complete control over the lands in western, central, and northern France. Nobles had deserted their estates, and were spending their incomes in Paris and at the Court of Versailles. Their sole interest in the rural areas was in collecting their revenues from their domains.  (quoted from Dr. Henri Woog in "The Tableau Economique of Francois Quesnay")

The Physiocrats were the reforming liberals in the age of enlightenment. For example, Emperor Joseph II, of Austria, initiated several reforms, removed the walls around Vienna to open up access and trade, attempted to impose the single tax, and his list of reforms goes on and on.  Joseph II was the complete liberal. Upon his death at age 49, his brother inherited the throne and dumped most of Joseph's reforms.

Several Physiocrats went on to develop liberal reforms, and wrote about economic conditions.  The elder Mirabeau said, "The Impot Unique (single tax) was one of the three great inventions which have contributed most to the stability of political societies, the other two being those of writing and the invention of money." Another Physiocrat, Baron A.R.J. Turgot, became Minister of Finance.

So the science of Political Economy began as a campaign for the single tax and free trade.  We Georgists owe much to Francois Quesnay.

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