by Gene Dallaire
Changes in the economic structure of
a country can greatly affect the
types and levels of human migrations occurring within that society. Yet, in
trying to discover the most basic causes of human migrations, there is
something even more fundamental than a change in a society's economic
structure, something that has even greater potential to generate changes in
migration patterns. That most basic cause is governmental economic policy.
Economic restructuring in a society needs to be viewed as the actual concrete
materialization, the implementation, of a government's political economic
policy, whether that policy be consciously contrived or the result of
This paper is about theoretical political economy and applied
governmental economic policy in France during the 18th century. More
specifically, the purpose of this paper is to examine the economic program
proposed by the French Physiocrats for restructuring the French economy in
mid- and late-18th-century France -- and also the implementation of that
economic philosophy. Among the chief questions this paper will probe are
these: Who were the French Physiocrats? Who were their leading thinkers? What
did they think were the most serious economic problems facing France? What
specific remedies did they propose and why? To what extent, if at all, were
proposed Physiocratic solutions implemented? We pay particular attention to
the ideas of the chief theoretician of Physiocracy, Fran‡ois Quesnay; to the
actions of this school's chief practitioner, French provincial administrator
and later national Minister of Finance, Ann Robert Jacques Turgot; and to the
late-18th-century's most outspoken non-French critic of the French economy and
especially of its agricultural sector's poor farming practices, the English
agriculturalist and author, Arthur Young.
An important thread throughout the entire paper is migration. That is,
our intent in discussing any particular political-economic policy is to keep
foremost in mind, either explicitly or implicitly, the question: What are the
possible ramifications of this proposed or actual Physiocratic policy for
migration? Would such a proposed policy increase or decrease migration? Our
intent is to, in most cases, focus on those proposed or actual Physiocratic
policies that have significant ramifications for migration. At the same time,
we wish to provide the reader with a useful overview of the history of
PART I: ECONOMIC PROBLEMS OF 18TH CENTURY FRANCE
In his Siˆcle de Louis XIV published in 1751, Voltaire acknowledged that
there was still much misery among the peasantry in many districts of France
(Young, 1950, p. xxv). Even in the late 18th century, on the eve of the
French Revolution, the number of vagabonds that roamed through the country and
the frequent murder of travellers on highways pointed to some unhealthy
conditions in French society, especially landlessness and high unemployment in
town and country (Young, 1950, p. xxv). And there remained periodic rioting
for bread, brought on by uncertain harvests, well-intentioned but misguided
restrictions placed on grain trading by the French government, and, more
fundamentally, the backward state of French agriculture (Young, 1950, p. xxv).
Looking back from the 19th century, Taine described the 18th-century
French peasant as the "mule" of the ancien r‚gime because of the numerous
burdens he had to bear. In certain regions, he was subject to the corv‚e, in
which he was forced to labor on roads and other public works. His children
were taken from him for the militia. And he was required to give away much of
his produce for taxes to the Government and for rents and fees to privileges
classes (Young, 1950, p. xxvi). According to one 20th-century estimate (The
Economic Journal xxix (1919): 18), 36 % of the 18th-century French peasant's
income went for direct taxes to the state; another 14 % for tithes payable to
the Church; then another 11 to 12 %, for seigniorial dues. Beyond that, they
were forced to pay higher lands rents, as landlords raised rates and revived
many old dues to keep pace with the rising prices of the 18th century.
Finally, farmers had to pay tolls on their produce being transported to market
and market fees themselves (Young, 1950, pp. xxvi-xxvii). Numerous minute
regulations fettered commerce. Though Colbert had simplified and lightened
tolls in 1664, in the 18th century there still remained 28 tolls on the Loire
River alone. And corn could not be freely "exported" even from one part of
France to another -- much less to foreign countries (Higgs, 1963, pp. 8-9).
"The people," wrote Taine in his L'Ancien R‚gime, "is like a man walking
in a pond with water up to his chin; the least dip in the ground, the least
ripple, and he loses footing, goes under, and suffocates... The water is too
high. Its level must abate... Till then the miserable man can breathe only at
intervals, and at every moment will run the risk of drowning (Taine, pp. 429-
441; Higgs, 1963, p. 10). Taine calculated that the average taxation (taille,
tithes, feudal dues, etc.) for a small peasant proprietor was nearly 82 % of
his total net produce (Higgs, 1963, p. 10; Taine, p. 543).
In the first half of the 18th century, large territories in France lay
idle. A major reason for this was that the duties levied upon land were so
burdensome that some proprietors preferred to abandon their property. Young
laborers fled from the farms and the hated militia to the glitter of the
cities and the security of domestic service with the great. The poor were
often reduced to living on grass and water, like the beasts of the field.
Throughout France, beggars abounded. Bread riots were frequent and so
desperate that they could only be quelled by military force. Instead of
looking after their estates in the countryside, the seigniors were vying with
one another for the King's favor at Versailles (Higgs, 1963, pp. 6-10).
The core of France's 18th century economic problem was this. Since the
time of King Louis XIV and before, France had governments that spent with
abandon on lavish court life and costly and ill-conceived foreign wars. Most
of the tax burden was shouldered by the peasantry, the aristocratic and
clerical classes, despite their great wealth, escaping through privilege the
paying of their proportionate share of the tax load. The net result was that
the peasants had no capital to plow back into their farming operations to
improve them -- a major reason French agriculture was in moribund condition.
Beyond this, there was a despotic government that provided no outlet for
public opinion; a privileged nobility and clergy who escaped from shouldering
their proportionate share of the tax burden; an oppressive government
regulatory apparatus in the towns that inhibited and often prevented the
creation of new businesses; and an antiquated feudalism in the countryside
that hampered entrepreneurial farmers who wished to produce for commercial
markets (Young, 1950; Higgs, 1963).
PART II: THE PHYSIOCRATS
So deplorable was the economic condition of the ancien r‚gime that it
could not fail to evoke the criticism of thinking people. One of the earliest
critics of economic problems in France was Boisguillebert (1646-1714), a state
official of Normandy. He exposed the misery of the people and the link of that
misery with government policy and actions. He was convinced that agriculture
was the most important business of the country and that government policies
were stifling it. Accordingly, he urged economic ministers to consolidate and
reduce taxes and to abolish existing fetters on internal trade and on exports.
Because of his meddling, he was exiled (Higgs, 1963, pp. 11-12).
In 1707 the 74-year-old soldier, Marshal Vauban, printed anonymously for
private circulation an essay entitled Dixme Royale. Vauban believed that
Boisguillebert had been right, that taxation had reached the point of
absurdity. He noted that ragged and starving beggars swarmed the roads of
France. He criticized noble privilege, public debt, and the farming of taxes.
And he championed better agriculture, and equality before the law. He pointed
out that it was not in the king's longterm interest to tax his subject into
poverty. He recommended replacing France's numerous taxes with a general
tithe upon all classes of people and all kinds of revenue. Vauban died that
same year, but not before the book had won the king's strong disfavor and was
quickly suppressed (Higgs, 1963, p. 12). As Higgs remarks:
The army of financiers and functionaries found their occupations
menaced by this hardy plan for the simplification of taxation. The
anger of the privileged classes was easily roused by proposals to
tax them equally with others...Half a century was to pass before
Vauban's ideas reappeared, in a modified form, with the
Physiocrats...After Vauban they [France's writers] kept long
silence, and the intellect of the nation seemed to lie fallow"
(Higgs, 1963, pp. 12-13).
MID-18TH-CENTURY FRENCH RENAISSANCE
During the first half of the 18th century, the French Government was
subjected to little public criticism. It was the calm before the storm. After
1748, there was a renaissance in every department of thought -- religion,
politics, philosophy, science -- sparked by English writers, especially John
Locke. Montesquieu's Espirit des Lois appeared in 1748. The Encyclop‚die of
Diderot and D'Alembert was started in 1751. Voltaire and Rousseau were
publishing. And some essays of Hume appeared in French translation in 1756
(Higgs, 1963, pp. 16-16).
By mid century, there was renewed interest in France in strengthening
the country's agricultural sector, largely due to the influence of a group of
thinkers grouping around the Marquis de Mirabeau and Fran‡ois Quesnay that
later became known as the French Physiocrats. Physiocracy was a reaction
against the mercantilist system that had dominated the political economic
thinking of European governments in the 17th and 18th centuries. In France,
Physiocracy was directed against the mercantilist approach developed by
Colbert in the late 17th century and still very influential.
Like other mercantilists, Colbert believed that the wealth of a nation
could only be increased by a systematic government-directed effort to
aggressively expand exports and minimize imports. To do this, he centralized
the manufacturing capability of France within large towns, causing a migration
of the best and most energetic people from the provinces to Paris and several
other major towns. Colbert tried to strengthen the manufacturing interests by
taking steps to insure that they could buy food for their workers at low
prices. To that end, Colbert prohibited the export of grains and other produce
from the kingdom, thereby depriving the agricultural class of important
markets. Further, to insure that towns and their industries were not
excessively burdened, he imposed a disproportionate share of the tax burden on
the agricultural sector. In a word, the countryside was sacrificed to the
towns. And, over time, French agriculture markedly deteriorated (Stephens,
1895, pp. 62-64).
THE MARQUIS DE MIRABEAU: PHYSIOCRACY'S GREAT POPULARIZER
One of the main founders of Physiocracy was the Marquis de Mirabeau, who
in 1755 published a provocative, best-selling book entitled L'Ami des Hommes:
Trait‚ de la Population, a commentary on Cantillon's influential Essai sur la
nature du commerce en g‚n‚ral, published earlier that year (Higgs, 1963, pp.
16-18.) Mirabeau's main theme was that a large population was conducive to
wealth. For decades France population and wealth had been in decline. Mirabeau
urged the state to abolish obstacles that retard population growth. "Men
multiply like rats in a barn," he wrote, "if they have the means of
subsistence." To that end, Mirabeau recommended numerous reforms: reducing
tax burdens on the agricultural sector; encouraging small cultivators; urging
great landowners to live on their estates and improve them -- abandoning their
absentee life of pleasure in the city; reducing interest rates; and
establishing a ministry of agriculture, to bring applied science to farms and
to develop canals, roads, and other transportation infrastructure (Higgs,
1963, pp. 16-21).
In a memorably metaphor that pithily embodied the physiocratic
philosophy, Mirabeau compared the state to a tree. The roots of the tree
represented the country's farms, its agriculture. The trunk symbolized the
population; and its leaves, commerce and manufacturing. Mirabeau acknowledged
that the leaves were the most brilliant, but also the most vulnerable part of
the tree, often destroyed in storms. Nonetheless, the leaves of industry and
commerce would be quickly restored by the sap flowing up through the tree --
provided the roots of the tree remained sound. But if some unfriendly insects
were to attack and damage the roots, then no amount of sunlight and rain would
restore the leaves. The continued health of the tree's roots was absolutely
essential to the entire tree's well-being -- trunk, branches, leaves (Higgs,
1963, pp. 21-22).
QUESNAY: PHYSIOCRACY'S MAIN THEORETICIAN
Fran‡ois Quesnay (1694 -1774) became the leading theoretician for les
Economistes, later known as the Physiocrats. For most of his career Quesnay
had been a physician and surgeon, becoming in 1749 a doctor in Louis XV's
court. By the 1750s he was already in his 60s. Nonetheless he had recently
written two highly influential articles that helped to define the developing
Physiocratic philosophy. One was entitled Fermiers (1756), the other Grains
(1757), and they were published in Diderot's Encyclop‚die (Higgs, 1963, pp.
Quesnay had read Maribeau's writings and found much he agreed with.
Their meeting in 1757 marked the beginning of the Physiocratic school. Their
talents and personalities complimented one another. Quesnay was old, retiring,
timorous in action, but a deep and systematic thinker. The Marquis de Maribeau
at 42 was young, unsystematic, incapable of sustained rigorous thought, but
imaginative, daring, outgoing, and a provocative writer (Higgs, 1963, pp. 23-
A native of the countryside, Quesnay revolted against the Colbert
approach. The new economic doctrine he was developing was the antithesis of
the Colbertist one: instead of scorning agriculture, Quesnay portrayed it as
society's main engine of wealth creation. Quesnay believed that the economy
should not be subjected to the rule of Man, but to the rule of nature. By
allowing natural laws to function without interference, Quesnay believed, a
sound economy would result. A Quesnay disciple, Dupont de Neumeurs,
subsequently named the new economic philosophy physiocracy (Stephens, 1895,
QUESNAY'S MAIN ECONOMIC IDEAS
In his article on Grains, Quesnay set forth the basic principles of
Physiocracy in 15 maxims. One dealt with the crucial importance of free trade.
Quesnay argued that it was in the longterm interest of France to permit its
farmers to freely export grain -- both from one province in France to another,
and to foreign countries. All trade in France, both internal and external, he
believed, ought to be free. The government should take steps to revive
agricultural trade in certain depressed provinces by abolishing river tolls
and other barriers to enterprise and trade. Otherwise, the government should
abandon its economic regulation of industry and commerce and confine itself
merely to watching over the expansion of the kingdom's revenues, not (Meek,
1963, pp. 79-80).
Another important Quesnayan maxim was that it was not industry but
agriculture that was the fundamental source of wealth. For it was the revenues
from the sale of farm produce that not only paid for all costs and labor
associated with cultivation; they also yielded a profit for the husbandman,
and revenues for landowners. from which they were able to purchase industrial
goods. "All the expenses involved in making industrial goods," Quesnay wrote,
"are simply drawn from the revenue of landed property." (Meek, 1963, p. 73.)
In brief, without a strong agriculture, landowners and farmers would have no
money with which to buy agricultural goods, thereby resulting in the withering
of the industrial sector (Meek, English translation of selected Quesnay's
works, 1963, pp. 72-73).
Another important maxim set forth by Quesnay in the Grains article is
that agricultural profits are essential to sustaining a healthy agricultural
sector. It is the net produce or profit from agriculture that enables that
sector to grow. The farmer must invest a certain amount of capital to
cultivate with efficiency and effectiveness. Without adequate investment in
farm animals, plows, barns, drainage, seed, fertilizers, and other tools and
materials, cultivators labor in vain (Meek, 1963, p. 74).
Another maxim of Quesnay is that a nation that has little trade in raw
produce and must trade in industrial goods to subsist is in a precarious
position. For another competitor may steal that foreign trade. Or the buying
nation may face hard times and decide to concentrate on buying bare essentials
-- i.e. agricultural produce (Meek, 1963, pp. 75-76).
Still another Quesnay maxim is that a large internal trade in
manufactured commodities is possible only through the revenues of landed
property (Meek, 1963, p. 76). Said another way, in a country that is largely
agricultural, the main buyers of industrial products are in the agricultural
sector. The revenue from the agricultural sector constitutes the main wealth
of the country, and the main object of government, Quesnay believed, should be
to implement measures to increase that wealth (Meek, 1963, p. 76).
Quesnay's next maxim is that a large nation that lowers the price of its
agricultural produce to favor manufacturing destroys itself. For if the
cultivator is not adequately compensated and makes no gain, agriculture is
ruined; the nation loses the revenue stream from its landed properties;
manufacturing declines because of reduced demand for manufactured products in
the agricultural sector; and the country is depopulated through poverty
(smaller families and famine) and through the out migration of manufacturers,
artisans, laborers, and peasants (Meek, 1963, p. 76). In a word, a
government's policy on agricultural pricing has an important bearing on
peasant and worker decisions to migrate or not.
Another Quesnayan maxim is that the wealth of a nation can not be judged
by its external trade alone. The most important factor is the level of the
country's internal trade. For, in Quesnay's view, a country's wealth is
tantamount to both the abundance and price of its internal trade. "No nation
which draws the best possible product from its land, its men, and its
navigation" he writes, "ought ever to be envious of the trade of its
neighbors." Rival trading nations, instead of trying to destroy one another's
trade, should concentrate on increasing their own internal trade (Meek, 1963,
A central belief of Quesnay and his fellow Physiocrats was that France,
with its great agricultural potential, could turn out an abundance of produce
of prime necessity. Using efficient agricultural methods, the French output
would easily be great enough to satisfy both large domestic and foreign
markets. This high level of internal and external agricultural trade would
then provide the wealth to sustain a large internal trade in manufactured
goods (Meek, 1963, p. 79).
That said, Quesnay nevertheless felt that mid-18th-century France did
not have a large enough population to permit it to divert huge flows of
peasants out of agriculture into the manufacture of luxury and other goods for
export. (As discussed below, English agricultural critic Arthur Young believed
that France's problem was precisely the reverse, that its population was much
higher that the Physiocrats had estimated, that such a population was too high
for France, and that overpopulation impoverished French agriculture because it
meant peasants were working small, inefficient plots.) It would make more
sense, Quesnay thought, for France to focus on producing agricultural produce,
both for domestic and foreign markets, and to buy desired luxury goods from
other countries (Meek, 1963, p. 79). Quite clearly, such a policy, if
implemented, would result in a much lower level of rural-urban migration.
IMPORTANCE OF CAPITAL INVESTMENT FOR FRENCH AGRICULTURE
Quesnay believed it was vital for the French government to implement
measures to maintain, upgrade, and expand the kingdom's network of roads,
canals and rivers, so important to facilitating both internal and external
trade. For in mid-18th-century France, road linking agricultural areas with
main highways, towns, and markets were either lacking or in poor condition in
most provinces. In Quesnay's view, this difficulty could be eliminated in a
few years by levying a small tax on proprietors. The intendants of each
district could decide which road and river improvements to give priority to
(Meek, 1963, p. 80). Such a public works policy would of course facility not
only the movement of goods, but the migration of people.
The most important and indispensable step for improving agriculture,
Quesnay felt, was to greatly increase agricultural capital investment. Indeed,
agricultural productivity was far more dependent upon adequate capital
investment, he felt, than upon the diligence and hard labor of the husbandman:
It is manure which produces abundant harvests; it is live-stock
which produces the manure; and it is money which supplies the
live-stock and provides the men to take charge of them ...Poor
cultivation, however, requires a great deal of labor; but since
the cultivator is unable to undertake the necessary expenditure
his work is in vain; he goes under, and the bourgeois idiots
attribute his lack of success to laziness. They believe, no doubt,
that all one needs to do is to run a plough over the land, to
tumble it about, in order to compel it to yield good harvests.
People are delighted when a poor man who is unemployed is told to
go and plow the land. It is horses and oxen which ought to plough
the land, not men, and it is flocks and herds which ought to
fertilize it. Without this assistance it yields little return to
the work of the cultivators...Farmers who find it impossible to
meet the costs required for proper cultivation and to pay the
wages of servants and workman cannot employ the peasants. The
land, lacking manure and all but uncultivated, can only leave all
of them to languish in poverty. (Meek, 1963. pp. 81-82.)
Of course, the main reason French peasants
and farmers were greatly
underinvested in agriculture was that they were grossly overburdened by the
payment of taxes and fees to government and nobles. Most French peasants did
not even have the surplus funds to invest in draft horses to do the laborious
farm work. Keenly aware of this oppressive situation, Quesnay underscored the
need for major tax reform:
If the sovereign imposes taxes on the cultivator himself, if they
swallow up his profit, there is a decline in cultivation and a
diminution in the proprietors'[sic] revenue, whence follows an
inevitable retrenchment which affects hired people, merchants,
workers, and servants. The general system of expenditure, work,
gain, and consumption is thrown out of gear; the state grows
weaker; and the tax comes to have a more and more destructive
effect. (Meek, 1963, p. 82).
Quesnay's proposed Physiocratic policy,
if implemented, would have
enormous longterm ramifications for population growth and migration. For
there to be greater agricultural capital investment, there would first have to
be a significant reduction in the tax and fee burdens on the peasantry.
Greater capital investment would then lead to an expansion of agricultural
output, which would likely lead to larger farm families and to some children
who on becoming adults would be forced to see work outside of agriculture. In
turn, the farm demand for new and better plows and other agricultural
implements would give rise to a larger industrial sector to supply those
needs. Said another way, greater investment in agriculture will give rise to a
more differentiated economy: to a declining percentage of the population
working in agriculture, and a growing percentage working in industry. That
economic restructuring, in turn, would very likely entail major migrations of
workers from rural to urban areas, where they would fill industrial jobs. And
as agriculture became more capital intensive, it would mean that fewer people
per unit of produce would be needed, further stimulating a rural to urban
QUESNAY'S ECONOMIC REFORM PLAN: FREE TRADE CRUCIAL
To recapitulate. Quesnay blamed the poor state of French agriculture on
three major causes: (1) the abandonment of farming by many peasants and their
children, who were motivated to migrate to French cities and towns to escape
oppressive taxation (the taille) and military service; (2) arbitrary taxation
of farmlands, which made people reluctant to invest in agriculture; and (3)
the numerous restrictions (concerning both internal and external trade) on the
grain trade (Higgs, 1963, pp. 27-28).
To revive agriculture and the economy, Quesnay urged that the
Government: provide freedom for the production and circulation of grain (i.e.
farmers free to export to other French provinces and other countries); abolish
all tolls on transport; create a more equitable tax system, with the tax
burdened shared by both peasants and privileged groups; and initiate programs
to construct and repair road and river transportation networks.
To Quesnay, the most crucial reform was the freeing of the grain trade.
For such would greatly diminish wild price fluctuations, as any given province
would now be very unlikely to suffer either extreme shortages or extremely
surpluses. Stable prices would increase farmer prosperity, which, in turn,
would beget greater prosperity throughout the entire economy as farmers
invested in better equipment and agricultural methods and purchased consumer
goods. Wealthier farmers would now be able to invest in improvements, such as
horses and better farm implements. And such improvements, Quesnay estimated,
could more than triple agricultural output and quintuple the net produce (i.e.
farm profits) (Higgs, 1963, pp. 28-30). Such a free-grain-movement policy
would also greatly reduce famine-induced migrations, which were all too common
in 18th-century France, as desperate peasants abandoned their stricken lands
in search of survival elsewhere.
At the time, the Physiocrats' championing of free trade was a bold
innovation. Except for Great Britain, most countries, still under the spell of
mercantilism, were opposed to free international trade. But to Quesnay and his
followers, international free trade was part of the "rule of Nature." They
believed a person had a natural right to sell the produce of his labor to
anyone desiring to buy it, whether at home or abroad. The locality or country
that could produce an item at the lowest cost, they felt, had a natural right
to sell it anywhere in the world. They disapproved of countries erecting
tariff barriers to protect domestic producers: such would raise domestic
prices, which would be unfair to domestic buyers; and labor worldwide would be
diverted from its must efficient applications. The net result would be a waste
of the world's wealth, a world with more suffering than there ought to be.
Free international trade, the Physiocrats believed, would also promote peace
among countries, lead to the development of international laws governing
trade, and eventually to world government (Stephens, 1895, pp. 65-67).
The Physiocrats not only believed in the free movement of goods within
and without a country, but also in the free movement of people. As we shall
see, the Physiocratic French finance minister, Turgot, favored a very liberal
policy on immigration, encouraging foreign entrepreneurs to take up residence
in French cities. Had they explicitly addressed the question, the Physiocrats
would very likely have favored a liberal immigration policy, with a minimum of
government restrictions on the internal and external movement of people. Thus,
in a world government by Physiocratic principles, one would expect to see much
international migration of peoples seeking the best possible economic
opportunities for themselves. Years before Adam Smith, the Physiocrats
embraced laissez faire. Indeed, Smith learned much of his laissez faire
doctrine from the Physiocrats themselves.
Quesnay also believed that tax reform was crucial. The taille was the
main royal tax, levied on nonprivileged subjects and lands. It fell mainly on
the peasantry, the nobility and the clergy escaping payment. Quesnay proposed
to replace the existing maze of government taxes with a single tax, the imp“t
unique, based on a farmer's rent. A farmer's means of production would not be
taxed, thereby eliminating a disincentive to investing in agricultural
improvements. Such tax reform would very likely have reduced the migration of
peasants from rural areas to towns, as the tax load on the peasant would now
be lighter, thus providing an incentive to remain on the land (Higgs, 1963,
Quesnay also strongly favored large farms over small, for large farms
had the potential of being much more productive.This policy of large farms and
heavy investment in agriculture would eventually have resulted in fewer
workers employed in agriculture per unit of produce. Thus this le grande
culture approach would have eventually caused a migration of people from
countryside to town. Finally, Quesnay urged the government to exempt the sons
of farmers from service in the militia, as many of them were then fleeing to
towns to escape such service (Higgs, 1963, pp. 27-31 ).
Higgs characterized Quesnay's proposed reforms as "bold and
statesmanlike" and added: "If a serious, cautious, and continued effort had
been made to carry it out, the subsequent history of France and of the world
would not have been what they are." (Higgs, 1963, p. 35).
CRITICISM OF PHYSIOCRACY
Over the past two centuries, Quesnay and his fellow Physiocrats have
been widely criticized for their belief that only the agriculture sector was
truly productive, that the industrial sector was sterile. While greatly
admiring much of the work of Quesnay, Adam Smith found the French doctor's
view that industry was somehow barren as very odd. Smith, after all, had grown
up in Kirkcaldy and Glasgow where he saw wealth being created in workshops and
factories (Heilbroner, 1972, p. 47).
While acknowledging Quesnay's contributions to economics, American
economist Robert Helibroner was also critical:
The trouble with Physiocracy was that it insisted that only the
agricultural classes provided true `wealth' and that the
manufacturing and commercial classes merely manipulated it in a
sterile way...True, it advocated a policy of laissez faire -- a
radical departure for the times. But in denigrating the industrial
side of life it flew against the sense of history, for the whole
development of capitalism unmistakably pointed to the emergence of
the industrial classes to a position of superiority over the
landed classes (Heilbroner, 1972, p. 47).
Yet, the Physiocratic stance that only
agriculture had merit was not as
foolish as it might at first appear. No doubt, Quesnay was moved to exaggerate
by his frustration with the French economic policy, which since the days of
Colbert had subsidized industrial production at the expense of agriculture.
The central fact about mid-18th-century France was that it was overwhelmingly
agricultural. That fact meant that the main buyers of manufactured products
(excluding luxury products for export) were farmers, landowners, and others in
agriculture. Thus, without agriculture, industry had no market. If
industrialists had looked at where their sales revenues were coming from, they
would have concluded it was coming mainly from the agricultural sector. In
that sense, industry was indeed sterile and parasitical on agriculture, as the
Physiocrats had claimed. In sum, in a lopsidedly agricultural society, the
Physiocratic claim that industry was parasitical is not without merit. In a
modern diversified economy, on the other hand, such a claim is nonsense.
THE PHYSIOCRATS: SOME SUCCESSES BY 1760S
Under Physiocratic pressure, the French Government moved to create a
Department of Agriculture in 1761. And they encouraged their provincial
intendants to promote new methods of cultivation among farmers in their
districts. All over the country, new agricultural societies began to spring
up, studying agricultural problems and publishing reports. The state provided
tax exemptions to those enclosing their lands or reclaiming wastelands. And it
gave renewed attention to improving inland navigation (Young, 1950, pp. xxxi-
The upshot of these activities was that there was some improvements in
French agriculture in the decades before the French Revolution. The French
enclosed some common lands, reclaimed some wastelands, and drained some
marshes. But, not unexpectedly, the people did not support the enclosure
movement (Young, 1950, p. xxxii). And the most important needed reform was
ignored: the need to sweep away the tithe and all feudal burdens and to
introduce a more equitable system of taxation (Young, 1950, pp. xxxii-xxxiii).
Without that, French farmers remained overburdened and had no capital to
invest in agricultural improvements.
Let us now explore in more depth the extent to which Physiocratic ideas
were put into practice. To do that, we will examine the administrative career
of the Physiocrats' most energetic practitioner, Ann Robert Jacques Turgot
PART III: TURGOT, THE PHYSIOCRATS' MAIN PRACTITIONER
Turgot was appointed Intendant of the generality of Limoges in 1761 and
remained in that post until he was appointed Comptroller-General of Finance
for the new government of Louis XVI in 1774 (Stephens, 1895, Ch. II). In 1766
Turgot published his R‚flections sur la formation et la distribution des
richesses, which tersely sets forth the main axioms of Physiocratic thinking.
It covers such topics as the division of labor, money, capital, and the
legitimacy of loans and interest and the impossibility of fixing interest
rates. Turgot had joined the Economists (the Physiocrats) before 1755 and was
soon regarded as one of their leaders ( Stephens, 1895, pp. 60-62.). This
small book anticipated many of the theories of Adam Smith.
Incidentally, Turgot and Smith met in 1766 when Smith was visiting in
Paris for several months. Dugald Stewart, one of Smith's contemporary
The satisfaction he [Smith] enjoyed in the conversation of Turgot
may be easily imagined. Their opinions on the most essential
points of political economy were the same; and they were both
animated by the same zeal for the best interests of mankind.
(Stewart, Dugald, Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith,
Sec. III; also quoted in Stephens, 1895, p. 66.)
TURGOT AS INTENDANT OF LIMOGES
In his 13 years as Intendant, Turgot
initiated numerous reforms:
suppressed the corv‚e; built new roads and upgraded and repaired existing
ones; caused the taille to be distributed more equitably; encouraged
agriculture; established a veterinary school; and secured an edict in favor of
liberty in the commerce of grain.
In his Ancien R‚gime, Taine described the conditions of the 18th century
French peasant, which certainly pertained to the peasantry in Limoges:
On the failure of a crop, this portion remains untilled; its
occupant is too poor to purchase seed: the intendant is often
obliged to distribute seed, without which the disaster of the
current year would be followed by sterility the following
year...The fields lie fallow one year out of three ... The
implements are poor; there are no ploughs of iron; in many cases
the plough of Virgil's time is still in use ... The yield is
slight. (As quoted by Stephens, 1895, p. 26.)
In his 1859 Essai sur l'Administration
de Turgot dans la G‚n, de
Limoges, M. Gustave d'Hugues quotes a source, M. Boudet, most knowledgeable
about mid-18th century Limoges:
On his arrival Turgot found a poor country without cultivation,
without trade, without roads, with an ungrateful soil, whose
products could scarcely suffice to defray the numerous charges
with which the property was burdened. The taxes, fixed upon an
unjust basis, were collected as unsystematically as they were
assessed ... The Militia was the scourge of the country which it
depopulated, the corv‚e ... crushed man and beast, and left the
fields uncultivated. No activity, no industry, everywhere
desolation -- crowds of beggars and vagabonds. (As quoted by
Stephens, 1895, pp. 26-27.)
TURGOT REFORMS TAILLE, ABOLISHES CORVEE
The taille and the corv‚e were the two heaviest burdens that the French
peasantry had to bear, and Turgot took steps to try to alleviate those
burdens. The taille was a tax levied by the king on his subjects or their
lands or other property. There were two things about it that were especially
bad: (1) for centuries, the nobility, the clergy, and some bourgeoisie were
exempt from paying it, the entire burden falling on the peasantry; (2) its
collection was very badly administered, it being collected each year by a
different collector, a randomly selected village peasant (Stephens, 1895, pp.
As intendant, Turgot lacked the power to abolished the taille. But he
made the tax much fairer by professionalizing assessment and collection. He
had all property in the province surveyed, so people would be assessed in
proportion to their wealth; established a professional corps of tax
collectors; and laid down clear rules to guide them. He also pressured the
national government to reduce the overall tax burden for his province, for he
was keenly aware that the unjustly heavy tax burden was the main reason for
the province's moribund agriculture; for it left peasants with no funds to
invest, to purchase draft animals, plows, and other agricultural improvements
(Stephens, 1895, pp. 35-41). Quite clearly, these actions and proposed actions
had implications for migration: if the tax burden on the peasantry could be
lightened, fewer peasants would abandon their farms and migrate to the city.
Aside from the taille, the next greatest burden on the French peasantry
was the corv‚e, the forced employment of peasants -- without pay -- for
building and repairing roads. The Marquis de Mirabeau had argued that
government should carry out its projects efficiently. Agriculture was too
important to be capriciously siphoning off men, horses, oxen, and carts from
farmwork to build roads. And the corv‚e was grossly inefficient: peasants
wasted hours just getting to and from work sites; they were unskilled in road
building; and, not being paid, they worked lethargically. Finally, those who
benefitted most from better roads, the privileged landowners, contributed
nothing (Stephens, 1895, pp. 42-43).
Agreeing with this physiocratic perspective, Turgot abolished the corv‚e
in his generality. He hired competent workmen to build and maintain roads,
paid them a fair wage, provided them with good supervision, and paid for this
with a moderate tax increase on the ratepayers. The road in Turgot's Limoges
soon were said to be the best in France (Stephens, 1895, pp. 42-43).
In his April 19, 1765 letter to the Comptroller-General of France,
The Government has been, for a long time, ignorant how important
it is not to sacrifice the liberty of the king's subjects to the
exactions and caprices of private interests ...
I hold that it is most advantageous for the Government to pay for
everything in money, because by this method only they know how
much exactly an operation costs, and because, by that means, it
will always cost infinitely less ...Expenditure in money spreads
itself over all the king's subjects, in proportion to their means;
expenditure in kind strikes exceptionally at individuals. (Oeuvres
de Turgot, ii, pp. 98-105; also quoted in Stephens, 1895, pp. 44-
It is clear that abolishing the corv‚e
would have an effect on internal
home to work migration patterns. There was no longer a need for peasants to
take the often long daily journey from farm to road-construction site.
TURGOT ESTABLISHES FREE GRAIN TRADE
Confirmed Physiocrat that he was, Turgot vigorously advocated free trade
-- both between different provinces within France and between France and other
countries. In 18th-century France, there were few provinces that did not
suffer from periodic famines. Turgot believed that permitting grain to flow
freely between one province and another would abolish famine (Stephens, 1895,
Turgot persuaded Louis XV of the wisdom of a free-trade policy. And on
May 25, 1763, the king issued a Declaration establishing freedom of trade. But
things did not go smoothly. The 1764 harvest in Limoges was sparce and
peasants grew restless when they saw grain shipments leaving their district
for another. By stopping the export of grain from Limoges, they hoped to make
it abundant and cheap, not asking what would become of them when a bad harvest
struck (Stephens, 1895, pp. 46-47). On February 15, 1765, Turgot sent a letter
to the police officers of Limoges, in an attempt to persuade them that free
trade in grain was crucial to the well being of society:
All harvests are not equal; that corn being in the same places
sometimes very abundant, and at other times very scarce ...
subsistence can only be sustained, in those years and in those
cantons in which wheat is deficient, by the wheat which may be
transported from the places where it is more abundant....
It is necessary, then, that the transport and the storage of grain
should be entirely free, for if the inhabitants of a particular
town arrogate the right to prevent the grain going elsewhere, the
other towns will believe themselves to have the same right, and
thus the places where the dearth is greatest, not being succored
by the others, will be condemned to suffer famine. Also, if
merchants... are exposed to the insults, to the violences, of the
populace; if the magistrates... by injunctions to sell at a low
price, sanction the popular prejudice against this commerce; if
they who undertake it cannot count on a sure profit to recompense
them for the charges of storing, of waste, of the interest on
their money, no one will give himself to it...
What design have the people in their blind excitement? That the
merchants should be obligated to sell cheap? That they should be
forced to lose? In this case who would bring grain to them?
(Oeuvres de Turgot, i, pp. 664-672; also quoted in Stephens, 1895,
Turgot managed to calm the province. But free trade in grain remained
the most controversial economic issue of 18th century France, and it was to
come up again and again (Stephens, 1895, p. 49). In practice it proved to be
less than a perfect solution -- perhaps because imperfectly implemented. This
was made clear in 1770 and 1771, when famine stalked Limonges. Turgot wrote:
Many of the inhabitants have been obliged to disperse themselves
through other provinces to seek work or to beg [italics added],
leaving their wives and children to the charity of the parishes.
(Oeuvres de Turgot, i., pp. 590-596; also quoted in Stephens,
1895, pp. 49-50.)
To recapitulate. Periodic famines were
a major problem in 18th century
France, forcing people in stricken areas to abandon their homes in search of
greener pastures elsewhere. In principle, a free trade policy, implemented on
a country-wide scale, would lessen famines, thereby reducing the number of
famine refugees migrating from famine to non-famine areas.
TURGOT'S MEASURES TO IMPROVE AGRICULTURE
As a confirmed Physiocrat, Turgot wrote to his subordinate
administrators, urging them to gather facts on the state of agriculture in
their districts, as a first step to improving farming practices:
Do not neglect to instruct yourself upon the state of agriculture
in each parish, the quantity of lands in waste ...the principal
products of the soil ...the place we here they [the inhabitants]
can find the best market for their commodities, the state of the
roads, and if they are practicable for carts or only for beasts of
burden...the most frequent maladies of men and of animals...You
should always listen to the complaints of individuals on all
matters. You should endeavour...to discover the abuses of every
sort by which people may suffer. (Stephens, 1895, p. 28.)
He was instrumental in founding the Royal
Society of Agriculture of
Limoges, one of the earliest societies of its kind in Europe. The society
offered an annual prize on the best paper dealing with rural economy. And
Turgot offered another prize on the best paper on political economy.
To improve the province's deficient pasture land, Turgot urged peasants
to plant clover, lucern, and sainfoin, which would (being nitrogen-fixing
plants) restore plant nutrients to the soil. Turgot procured vast quantities
of seeds for these plants, distributed them to intelligent cultivators --
with excellent results (Dupont, i, p. 126; also quoted in Stephens, 1895, p.
58). Turgot also introduced the peasants of Limonges to the potato, it
becoming a major staple there. In his Life of Turgot, Cordorcet writes:
The people at first regarded the potato with disdain...not
reconciled to it till the intendant [Turgot] had caused it to be
served at his own table, and to the first class of citizens, and
had given it vogue among the fashionable and rich. (Condorcet,
Life of Turgot ([English translation], p. 47.)
To improve animal husbandry, Turgot sent
several students to the
Veterinary School of Lyons. Afterwards, he established these graduates as
teachers in a similar school in Limoges (Stephens, 1895, p. 59). Turgot
involved the country clergy (cur‚s) in helping to spread good agricultural
ideas. Concerned about peasant illiteracy and the retarding effect it was
having on French agriculture, Turgot sent this circular to the cur‚s in the
summer of 1762:
this excess of ignorance in the people appears to me a great evil,
and I exhort MM. the Cur‚s to concern themselves with the means of
spreading a little more instruction in the country places, and to
propose to me such measures as they would judge to be most
efficacious. (Stephens, 1895, pp. 31-32.)
All these measures -- the gathering of
agricultural information, the
establishment of professional societies, the improvement of pasturelands, the
introduction of the potato, the spread of education -- helped to improve
agricultural productivity. And, over the long term, that would mean fewer
famines, thus fewer famine-refugee migrants; an expanding population; and a
growing percentage of workers in the industrial sector, thus considerable
rural to urban migration.
TURGOT AS LOUIS XVI'S MINISTER OF FINANCE
In the late 17th and early 18th century, Louis XIV had spend recklessly
to wage foreign wars and to sustain a lavish court life. And Louis XV followed
that same policy of profligacy, the enormous expense of which was ultimately
born by an increasingly impoverished French peasantry. By mid-18th century,
France once again was immersed in a costly foreign war. In 1756, Louis XV's
France went to war with Great Britain over colony boundary disputes in North
America. The French not only lost this so-called Seven Years' War (1756-1763),
but subjected themselves to enormous financial burdens.
In late 1770, the Abb‚ Terray, Comptroller-General of Finances in Louis
XV's Government, promptly annulled the law permitting free circulation of
grain throughput the kingdom. Under him, government expenditures remained
unchecked and money was borrowed recklessly to meet current government needs
(Stephens, 1895, pp. 81-82).
On May 10, 1774, Louis XV died and was succeeded by his 19-year-old
grandson, Louis XVI, together with his 18-year-old queen, Marie Antoinette.
The new king burned with desire to make his reign notable. Count de Maurepas
was selected as chief minister and Turgot was appointed Minister of Marine
and, a few months later, succeeded the unpopular Terray as Minister of
Finance (Stephens, 1895, pp. 82-84).
Even during his short stint in the Ministry of Marine, Turgot displayed
his Physiocratic faith in free international trade. Specifically, he laid
plans to have French naval vessels built in Sweden instead of in France,
because doing so would cut costs 40%. True, Sweden would thereby make profits
from French expenditures and there would be fewer French employed in
shipbuilding. But, overall, the downturn in French employment in shipbuilding,
Turgot felt, would be more than offset by rising employment in French export-
oriented industries. For the Swedes drank French wines and consumed coffee and
sugar from French colonies (Stephens, 1895, pp. 83-84).
Turgot realized that his predecessor, the Abb‚ Terray, had survived as
Finance Minister under Louis XV only by his readiness to supply the late king
with as much money as he desired. His yearly deficits were met by securing
still more new loans, often on bad terms. Turgot knew that saving France from
financial disaster would require major reforms and severe financial belt-
tightening, putting him on a collision course with numerous factions at court
and other groups who benefitted from government largesse (Stephens, 1895, pp.
Turgot's plan was: (1) to respect legitimate engagements contracted by
the state; (2) to repay them to the extend state resources allowed; (3) to
increase government revenues by more efficient administration; (4) to limit
the expenses of the government and of the Court; (5) to escape from ruinous
dependence upon financiers; and (6) to deliver industry and agriculture from
excessive taxation, thereby giving them an opportunity to invest in
improvements and growth (Stephens, 1895, p. 107).
TURGOT REESTABLISHES FREE GRAIN TRADE ACROSS FRANCE
As Louis XVI's Finance Minister, one of Turgot's first and most
important reforms was to reestablish free grain trade throughout France. To
that end, on September 13, 1774, the Government issued a decree reestablishing
the free-trade declaration of May 1763. Article I of that decree declares:
It shall be free to all persons whatever to carry on, as it may
seem best to them, their trade in corn and flour, to sell and to
buy it, in whatever places they choose throughout the kingdom.
(Stephens, 1895, p. 91.)
Under Article II, the King reserved the right to enact freedom of export
circumstances for such became more favorable.
In the spring of 1775, grain riots broke out across France, possibly
triggered by Turgot's free-trade law. A district with natural agricultural
advantages would have large stocks of grain stored in its main town, with low
prices in the adjacent countryside. Some inhabitants would resent grain
merchants shipping some stock to other provinces to meet market demand there,
a move that would be bound to boost prices locally. Around Paris, peasants
cried "famine" and "monopoly" and, demanding grain and flour at prices below
market value, set barns aflame and sank grain-laden boats. On May 2nd, rebels
arrived at Versailles, pillaged flour stores, and demanded a reduction in
bread prices (Stephens, 1895, pp. 97-101).
The Parlement petitioned the king to reduce bread prices. But Turgot
ordered the military to placard over their plea with a royal ordinance backing
the market price for bread. He also ordered all bakers' shops to be protected
by sentinels. And an army of 25,000 under Turgot's command dispersed the
rioters and restored public order. In the succeeding months, Turgot
established perfect freedom of the grain trade throughout France by removing
legal barriers and abolishing trade-inhibiting duties at the entry points of
numerous cities (Stephens, 1895, pp. 99-102).
Turgot suspected his political rivals had instigated the grain riots.
For shortly before they had broken out, one of his leading opponents, M.
Necker, had published an essay entitled Sur la L‚gislation et le Commerce des
Grains, a work reinforcing all the popular prejudices against free grain
circulation. Necker argued:
So long as corn has not reached the price to which it can be
raised without causing great inconvenience, there should be the
most complete liberty of sale or purpose... But as soon as it
shall have advanced to a high price, I would prevent all advances
in price derived from the intervention of the merchants. (Necker,
Sur la L‚gislation et le Commerce des Grains, part iv, Ch. 5).
The essay seemed designed to check the
rising influence of Turgot in
government. And Stephens believes the uprisings may have been planned to
discredit Turgot's ministry by a faction that benefitted greatly from the
existing system of privilege, which feared Turgot's planned reforms.
TURGOT ABOLISHES RESTRICTIVE TRADE PRACTICES IN FRENCH CITIES
Turgot's second most important reform -- one with major consequences for
migration -- dealt with the abolition of guilds and other manufacturing- and
commerce-restricting corporations. Following the Reformation, many such trade
corporations had been disbanded in Europe, but many lingered on in France.
The situation in Rouen was typical. There, the number of merchants in
the grain and flour trade had been restricted by a 1693 law to only 112 firms.
These law-based privileges gave them the exclusive right not only to be the
sole sellers of grains in city markets and shops, but also to be the sole
purchasers of grains brought from elsewhere. Transportation within Rouen was
also hobbled by antiquated regulations serving special interests and
inhibiting competition. Grain buyers were forced to use one of only 90 bona
fide porters, specified in a 1677 law, to transport their goods with no
haggling over price. Town regulations also forced bakers to have their grain
ground at one of only five town mills (Stephens, 1895, pp. 102-103).
Such restrictive commercial practices were anathema to an avid
Physiocrat like Turgot, who was confident that free-wheeling competition would
force firms to provide much better products and services to the public at
lower prices. On January 6, 1776, the French Government, at Turgot's behest,
issued a decree abolishing all such restrictive practices throughout the
Kingdom. In a statement accompanying the decree, Turgot wrote:
In almost all the towns [of France] the exercise of the different
arts and trades is concentrated in the hands of a small number of
maitres, united in corporations, who alone can, to the exclusion
of all other citizens, make or sell the articles belonging to
their particular industry...Citizens of all classes are deprived
... of the advantages they would enjoy from competition operating
towards improvements of manufacture and reduction in price. Often
one cannot get done the simplest work without its having to go
through the hands of several workmen of different corporations ...
Thus the effects of these establishments are ... a vast tyranny
over trade and industrial work...[to] the people, a loss of wages
and the means of subsistence; in regard to the inhabitants of
towns in general, a slavery to exclusive privileges equivalent to
a real monopoly...
Among the infinite number of unreasonable regulations, we find in
some corporations that all are excluded from them except the sons
of maŒtres, or those who marry the widows of maŒtres. Others
reject all those whom they call `strangers,' that is, those born
in another town...
The spirit of monopoly which has dictated the making of these
statues has been carried out to the excluding of women even from
the trades the most suitable to their sex, such as embroidery,
which they are forbidden to exercise on their own account.
(Oeuvres de Turgot, ii, pp. 302-316; also quoted in Stephens,
1895, pp. 129-130.)
To Turgot, then, such trade corporations, with their innumerable self-
serving rules and regulations, should be abolished because they make an
economy stagnant, inefficient, and unresponsive to citizen needs and wants.
But, for Turgot, there was yet another good reason to abolish cartels: to
safeguard a worker's fundamental right to work:
God, by giving to man wants, and making his recourse to work
necessary to supply them, has made the right to work the property
of every man, and this property is the first, the most sacred, the
most imprescriptible of all. (Oeuvres de Turgot, ii, pp. 302-316;
also quoted in Stephens, 1895, p. 130.)
Clause I of King Louis XVI's 1776 edict abolishing all trade-restricting
corporations throughout France declared:
It shall be free to all persons, of whatever quality or
condition...even to all foreigners, to undertake ...in all our
kingdom...whatever kind of trade and whatever profession of art or
industry may seem good to them, for which purpose we now
extinguish and suppress all corporations and communities of
merchants and artisans, such as the maŒtres and the jurandes. We
abrogate all privileges, statues, and regulations of the said
corporations, so that none of our subjects shall be troubled in
the exercise of his trade or profession by any cause or under any
pretext whatever. (Stephens, 1895, p. 130.)
Quite clearly, the migration ramifications of such a bold and sweeping
political economic policy were enormous. Over the long term, such a policy
would make the population much more mobile. No longer would millions of people
have to play the same role in the same play that their father and their
grandfather and their great grandfather had performed. There was now a new
play with a different script. And people would be free to try different
roles -- whether it be the role of peasant, or blacksmith, or shoemaker, or
tailor, merchant, or banker, or any of hundreds of other traditional and
emerging jobs. People would henceforth be free to chose new work roles for
themselves. And that freedom would inevitably give rise to extensive
Incidentally, in late 1774, Turgot had also abolished the droit
d'aubaine, which had prevented enterprising foreigners from settling in France
and conducting their businesses there. Turgot felt it made sense to abolish
this law towards all nations, without concern for reciprocity; for such a law
would be good for France (Stephens, 1895, pp. 94-95). Clearly, the effect of
this law would be to facilitate migrations between France and other countries.
TURGOT'S DECLINE AND FALL
In addition to disbanding the trade corporations, Turgot also abolished
the corv‚e throughout France, much as he had done while intendant of Limonges.
For as a Physiocrat he realized that until both the trade corporations and the
corv‚e had been swept away, neither peasants in the provinces nor artisans in
the towns would have the freedom to make the most efficient use of their labor
(Stephens, 1895, p. 124).
Louis XVI readily backed Turgot's proposal to abolish the corv‚e. But on
the King's Council and in the King's court, opposition to the reform-minded
Turgot began to build. His Council colleague, Hue de Mirom‚nil, argued that
the corv‚e should not be abolished and that peasants -- not just land
proprietors -- should contribute to road improvements, for they used the roads
to walk on. Turgot replied that "the pleasure of walking on a well-made road
can scarcely compensate the peasant for making it without being paid." At
bottom what Mirom‚nil and fellow courtiers objected to was Turgot's continuing
assault on privilege. Mirom‚nil declared that "in France the privilege of the
nobility ought to be respected, and it is the interest of the king to maintain
it." (Stephens, 1895, pp. 124-126). To this Turgot responded:
The expenses of the Government having for their object the
interest of all, all ought to contribute to them; and the more any
class enjoys advantages of social order, the more should it feel
bound in honour to share the State's necessary charges... it is
difficult to congratulate oneself on being exempt from a tax by
being a gentleman, while it is exacted from the peasant even by
the distraining of his cooking-pot...if the privileged persons are
of great number, and possess the bulk of the nation's wealth,
while the expenses of the State require a considerable sum, this
sum may be beyond the ability of the non-privileged people to
furnish...and this certainly will soon impoverish and enfeeble the
State (L‚on Say, Turgot, pp. 165-174; also quoted in Stephens,
1895, p. 126.)
Turgot reminded courtiers of the origins
of noble privilege:
Privilege was founded at a time when the nobles... were under
special obligations to render military service, which they
fulfilled in person at their own expense. Now ...this personal
service ...is fallen entirely into desuetude...The nobles who may
serve in this army are paid by the State, and not only are they
under no obligation to serve, but, on the contrary, it is the
common people [roturiers] alone who are compelled to serve. (L‚on
Say, Turgot, pp. 165-174; also quoted in Stephens, 1895, pp. 126-
But Turgot's enlightened reforms proved
to be short-lived. Turgot's
existing and planned reforms were threatening to many courtiers and other
friends of the government who benefitted from existing structures of
privilege. His restrictions on the court budget soon won for him a formidable
opponent, who was to be a key influence is orchestrating his removal -- Marie
Antoinette. In May 1776, Turgot was ousted. Most of his reforms were reversed.
And France resumed its old course, which, in little more than a dozen years,
witnessed the onset of the French Revolution (Young, 1950, p. 364).
PART IV: ARTHUR YOUNG, ENGLISH PHYSIOCRAT AND UNRESTRAINED CRITIC
OF 18TH-CENTURY FRENCH AGRICULTURE
When Arthur Young's Travels in France
was first published in 1792 (based
on his extended travels there in the late 1780s), it met with universal
success. The French Convention ordered 20,000 copies, distributing them to all
the communes of France. In the book, Young condemned the evils of the ancien
r‚gime and declared himself in favor of the new order (Young, 1950, pp. xvi-
In his native England, Young had had more influence on the course of
husbandry than any other individual of his time, popularizing new and improved
agricultural methods. It was due to him, notes Constantia Maxwell, in his
extensive "Editor's Introduction" to Young's Travels, that, in England, large
farming was substituted for small, that enclosures of common fields were given
a further boost, and that a new system of crop rotation was substituted for
periodic fallows. In 1860 French economist Lavergne declared Young's book the
best account anywhere of France on the eve of the Revolution. "Of all the
strangers that have described France in the 18th century," said the writer
Babeau, "Young is the most celebrated." (Young, 1950, pp. xviii-xix.)
Young was in agreement with the French Physiocrats on the important
political economic issues: on the primary importance of the agricultural
sector; on the need to maximize the net produce from agriculture; on the
importance and efficiency of large-scale farming and its preferment over small
farms; on the need for long leases for tenant farmers, to encourage them to
invest; on the importance of enclosures; on the importance of freedom for the
grain trade, including freedom to export and prices determined by the market
(Young, 1950, p. xxxv). His only substantive disagreement with the Physiocrats
was on tax policy. The Physiocrats had advocated a single tax (the imp“t
unique) on land rent as being the most just and least harmful. Believing such
a tax would harm both landlords and tenants, Young urged instead a tax on
consumption (Young, 1950, p. xxxv).
THE RURAL HIERARCHY: FERMIERS, METAYERS, AND DAY LABORERS
As a prelude to Young's critique, let us quickly sketch the hierarchical
structure of the French countryside. In the richer provinces in north France,
there were many well-to-do peasants known as fermiers, who rented their
extensive farms on leases from landowners and often practiced the modern,
large-scale farming methods known as le grande culture. In the remaining four-
sevenths of France, the m‚tayage system of tenure prevailed, under which the
landlord provided his tenant with cattle, implements, and seed; in return, the
peasant gave the landlord half his produce (instead of paying in money, which
he lacked). Beneath the fermiers and the m‚tayers in the rural hierarchy were
the poorest peasants of all, the day laborers. Often, they worked on large
farms, like those in north France, where a new commercial agriculture was
emerging in the late 18th century in response to high grain prices. As Maxwell
This miserable class received very poor wages and formed a large
percentage of the vagabond population, for it was of course the
first to suffer from the frequent famines of the period. (Young,
1950, p. xxviii).
Of course, above the fermiers on the socioeconomic hierarchy were the
landowners, many of whom were absentee, living the leisured good life in
Paris, Versailles, or provincial towns, and leaving their lands to be managed
by middlemen. These middlemen in turn sublet to fermiers or m‚tayers. Thus,
the owners and middlemen, usually, were removed from agriculture. The real
work of farming was done by fermiers, m‚tayers, day laborers, peasants, who
were often too poor or too ignorant or too ill-motivated to introduce
improvements. As a result, agricultural practices in 18th-century France were
often no better than those of the Middle Ages. French peasants very often had
inadequate barns, still used old wooden plows; still threshed grain using
flails; and still let certain fields lie fallow every three years as part of
their antiquated crop-rotation scheme (Young, 1950, p. xxxi).
CRITICISM OF METAYAGE SYSTEM
M‚tayage was by far the most commonly used tenure system in France.
Typically, the landlord provided the cattle and the seed; and the m‚tayer paid
one-half his produce as rent, and furnished farm implements and labor, and
paid the taxes. Perceiving it as a major cause of France's inefficient
agriculture, Young, like the Physiocrats who preceded him, denounced m‚tayage,
calling it "a miserable system that perpetuates poverty and excludes
instruction." (Young, 1950, p. xxx.) To Young it was a bad system because: (1)
under it, individual farms were too small to be agriculturally efficient; (2)
tenants had little incentive to work hard, thus were often idle; (3) it
comprised a risky investment situation for the landlord, for he invested in
the farm only to entrusted his land and capital to individuals who were often
ignorant, careless, and unenterprising. The only justification for the system
was necessity: the tenants were poor, thus dependent upon the landlord to
stock the farm (Young, 1950, pp. 297-298). Young wrote:
In Limousin the m‚tayers are considered as little better than
menial servants, removable at pleasure, and obliged to conform in
all things to the will of the landlords...half the tenantry are
deeply in debt to the proprietor, so that he is often obliged to
turn them off with the loss of these debts, in order to save his
farm from running waste. (Young, 1950, p. 297.)
In a word, Young felt the m‚tayage system
was grossly inadequate, bad
for both tenant and landlord. The landlord received a rent, but far below what
it could be. The peasant lived in poverty. The land was miserably cultivated.
And the nation suffered with an inadequate flow of farm produce (Young, 1950,
To remedy these drawbacks, both the Physiocrats and Young urged
landlords to grant tenants longterm leases (21 years) both on the land and the
stock, payable in money rents. By the end of the lease time, the tenant, they
felt, would be in a position to buy out his landlord -- assuming that, in the
interim, tithes would have been abolished and the burden of taxation reduced
(Young, 1950, p. xxx).
The blunt Young was very critical of French agriculture, which he saw as
primitive and unintelligently managed and at the root of the country's
numerous famines. In 1786, half the arable land in France lay uncultivated,
much of it intentionally keep waste for common pastures. Typically, French
farms yielded a mere 18 bushels/acre of wheat vs. 28 on English farms (Young,
1950, p. xxxi). Most important, France was still following an antiquated and
wasteful crop-rotation plan requiring land to lie fallow one year out of every
three as an aid to its restoration. In England, on the other hand, farmers
were wisely planting useful soil-restoring crops rather that foolishly letting
precious fields lie fallow. Young estimated that, in 1790, 40 million acres
of French farmland -- the equivalent of all agricultural land in England --
were in a "waste" state; such lands, he believed, could readily be made 4 to
10 times more productive (Young, 1950, pp. 284-285, 293).
SMALL FARMS: THE BANE OF FRENCH AGRICULTURE
Young believed it possible to practice sound farming on a property as
small as 40 to 50 acres. But, once divided among children, such a farm would
be 20 acres or less -- which would be too small to cultivate well. To Young,
as to the Physiocrats, it was axiomatic that small farms meant inefficient
agriculture. And for that reason both the Physiocrats and Young big-farm
agriculture. Young wrote:
Go to the districts [of France] where the properties are minutely
divided and you will find great distress, and even misery, and
probably very bad agriculture. Go to others, where such
subdivision has not taken place, and you will find a better
cultivation, and infinitely less misery. (Young, 1950, pp. 278-
Unlike in England, in late-18th-century France, there were innumerable
small peasant-owned properties. The misery of the French peasant, Young
believed, was singularly attributable to the minute division of their little
farms among all their children (Young, 1950, p. 295). Further, such small
farms induced young couples to marry and have children, based on the dream
rather than the reality of a productive farm. At the time of his visits about
1790, Young estimated that more than one-third of the land in France was still
held by smallholders (Young, 1950, p. xxix). In his brisk, no-nonsense manner,
Hence...small properties, much divided, prove the greatest source
of misery that can be conceived; and this has operated to such an
extent and degree in France, that a law undoubtedly ought to be
passed, to render all division, below a certain number of arpents,
illegal. (Young, 1950, pp. 299-300.)
And elsewhere, he wrote:
The only property fit for a small family, is their cottage,
garden, and perhaps grass land enough to yield milk; this need not
...impede their daily labour; if they have more, they are to be
classed with farmers, and will have arable fields, which must, in
the nature of things be ill-cultivated, and the national interest
consequently suffer." (Young, 1950, p. xxix).
Young was advocating the large over the small farm based on his
experience in England. There, most agricultural advances had taken place on
large farms; for large farmers usually had the knowledge and the capital to
undertake farming improvements. Yet, as Maxwell observes, Young had forgotten
that in England, landholders had a strong incentive to invest in agriculture.
For there, the transition to an industrial economy was already well advanced,
with numerous towns having a brisk demand for agricultural produce. But France
in the late 18th century had few towns and was not that far along in its
transition to an industrial economy. Consequently the demand for agricultural
produce was less. And thus, Maxwell concludes, there was less of an incentive
for persons of means to invest in agriculture, especially when there were so
many feudal burdens attached to land (Young, 1950, p. xxix).
In any event, it is clear that both the Physiocrats and Young strongly
favored large over small farms, le grande culture over le petite culture. Such
a political economic policy, if implemented, would have had profound
consequences for migration. Small farmers would have been forced to become
proletarianized workers on large farms or else would have had to have migrated
to towns in search of industrial, commercial, or other work. The law that
Young wanted placing a lower limit on the permissible size of farms was never
passed. But, over the long term, economic forces favored the large, more
efficient farm anyway, and France, like other European nations, did undergo a
belated rural to urban transformation. Yet, had Young and the Physiocrats had
their way, the transition to the large farm would have occurred much more
rapidly and probably with much more social upheaval and discord.
YOUNG AND FRENCH PHYSIOCRATS DISAGREE ON POPULATION
Like the French Physiocrats, Young believed that population was an
important factor in a nation's well-being. Haunted by the depopulating effects
of Louis XIV's wars, Mirabeau had desired a large population (Young, 1950, p.
392). He felt that the more people France had, the wealthier it would be. In
contrast, Young felt the French population was already too large and would
lead to even more ruinous subdivision of farms in the future. The vast number
of poor migrants swarming over France, Young felt, was due to overpopulation,
too many people seeking too little land. France would have been much better
off, he believed, if its population had been six million less (Young, 1950,
pp. 276-278). (The Physiocrats estimated the late 18th century population of
France at 16 million. Young argued persuasively that that was far too high,
that the 1784 population was 25.5 million, including 110,000 nobility and
80,000 clergy. In 1790, the Constituent Assembly gave the French population at
26.3 million, 5.7 million of which dwelled in towns [Young, 1950, pp. 276-
It seems that Young may have had a sounder argument. For the Physiocrats
never seemed to explain how the larger population they desired would make a
living. And their vision of France's future seemed to be a mainly agricultural
one, with a subservient role for industry and commerce. At the same time, they
were enthusiastic about greatly improving the efficiency of agriculture. Yet
they did not seem to grasp that a more efficient agriculture implied that a
smaller percentage of the population would invariably be working in
agriculture. They did not seem to realize that a more efficient agriculture
would invariably lead to the growth of a larger commercial and industrial
sector; and that that could be very good for the health of the agricultural
sector; that indeed there was a symbiotic relationship between the two; that a
growing industrial and commercial sector would be crucial to the flourishing
of agriculture, in that it would provide better farming tools and machinery, a
huge domestic market for its agricultural produce, and jobs for surplus
agricultural workers. In a word, the Physiocratic vision of the future was at
times a bit near-sighted.
Young, de facto Physiocrat that he was, patron of agriculture, had the
vision to see that both agriculture and industry were important. His was a
more mature, a more tempered Physiocracy. He observed that too few French
people (about 11 %) dwelled in towns. For the country to flourish, for it to
be able to have a proper synergistic relationship between countryside and
city, Young believed that at least half the population would have to be town
dwellers. Before 1789, Paris, with 600,000, was the only city of significant
size. In his view, the French had failed to develop sufficient population in
towns because of the poor state of their agriculture. In turn, thriving towns
give a strong boost to commercial agriculture because they create a demand for
agricultural produce. It is not the country, but the towns, that spark a rapid
circulation of goods in a society (Young, 1950, pp. 276-277, xxxvii). His
Physiocratic vision would result in more rural to urban migration that the
vision of the French Physiocrats.
YOUNG PUSHES FRENCH ENCLOSURE MOVEMENT
At the time of his visits to France about 1790, Arthur Young estimated
that about half of French farm and pasture lands were already enclosed (Young,
1950, p. 291). He believed that enclosing common lands was important to
improving French agriculture:
Without a regular system of enclosures, no cattle can be kept,
except on the Flemish system of constant confinement in stables,
stalls, or yards; and this method ... is inconvenient and
it should always be remembered, that cattle and enclosure are
synonymous terms. Without enclosure the half of France cannot
possibly support the requisite stock of cattle and sheep; and
without such stock, a good and productive husbandry is utterly
impractical. (Young, 1950, pp. 292-293).
Young felt that French agriculturists
did not understand that profitable
farming required that farms have a compatible balance between grain and
cattle. For cattle were not just for producing meat for the market: they also
provided the fertilizer to efficiently grow grain.
For France, Young advocated more reclamation of wastelands and,
especially, more enclosures of open fields and common lands. He was
disappointed when most French peasants expressed strong opposition to the
French enclosure movement in their Cahiers of 1789 and when the revolutionary
assemblies failed to promote the enclosure of common lands. After 1800, Young
became more sensitive to the enormous misery enclosure of common lands brought
on the evicted poor and ceased to advocate them, despite the fact that they
brought about more efficient agriculture (Young, 1950, . xxxiii-xxxiv; The
Annals, vol 34 :186-192).
CAPITAL INVESTMENT ON FRENCH FARMS GROSSLY INADEQUATE
No doubt exhibiting his English bias, Arthur Young believed France was
pouring too much capital into its expanding Navy, to the neglect of its
agriculture. Had France in the quarter century before 1790 invested these
Naval funds in agriculture instead, he calculated, its agricultural sector
would now be yielding 50 million more sterling per annum for the government
(Young, 1950, pp. 287-288). Wrote Young:
I do not contend that a State should neglect the proper means of
its defense, and the advantages of a maritime situation. I
maintain only that the true progress of national industry is to
stock fully the lands of a country, before any capitals are
invested in other pursuits (Young, 1950, p. 288.)
French farms, Young concluded, suffered
from grossly inadequate capital
investment. Young observed:
The quantity of sheep and cattle is everywhere trifling
in comparison of what it ought to be. The implements of husbandry
are contrived for cheapness, not for duration and effect; and such
stacks of hay in store, as are found all over England, are rarely
seen in France. Improvements invested in the land, by marling,
draining, etc., which on farms in England amount to large sums of
money, are inconsiderable even in the best parts of France.
(Young, 1950, pp. 286-287.)
YOUNG CRITICAL OF FRANCE'S POOR SCHEME OF CROP ROTATION
As mentioned, Young was critical of France's antiquated scheme of crop
rotation. Typically, this involved the planting of wheat or rye in season one,
followed by, for example, the planting of barley or oats in season two,
followed by letting the field lie fallow in season three, until it had a
chance to recover (Young, 1950, pp. 288-290).
But this traditional adherence to this centuries-old system of crop
rotation pointed to the fact that most French farmers in the late 18th century
were still tragically ignorant of a crucially important and wonderful fact:
that there was a much better alternative for restoring a field that letting it
lie fallow and placing manure on it. And that alternative was to plant the
field with a leguminous crop such as turnips, carrots, cabbages, beans,
or sainfoin (By the 20th century, it was understood that the roots of
leguminous crops contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which convert free nitrogen
in the air to nitrogenous compounds that replenish the soil.) Not only would
such crops much more efficiently restored depleted nutrients in the soil; the
crops themselves would be very useful as produce for humans and animals; with
such produce, French farmers would be able to grow and sustain abundant herds
of sheep and cows, of which they then had a serious dearth (Young, 1950, p.
Young rightfully pointed out that, for a country that had experienced
numerous famines, letting one-third of its arable lands deliberately lie
fallow -- rather than planting leguminous crops instead to restore the soil--
was a major blunder. (Young, 1950, pp. 289-290). In one of his most
provocative remarks, Young declared:
When Louis XIV beggared his people in order to place
a grandson of France on the throne of Spain, and to acquire
Flanders, Alsace, etc, he would have rendered his kingdom
infinitely richer, more prosperous and more powerful, had he
banished the fallows from half-a-dozen of his provinces, or
introduced turnips in some others; there is scarcely a step he
could have taken in such an improvement of his agriculture which
would not have given him more subjects and more wealth than any of
his conquered provinces. (Young, 1950, pp. 290-291.)
PART V: CONCLUSION
One of the main contentions of
this article is that government economic
policy is, ultimately, one of the most fundamental drivers of change in human
If the proposed Physiocratic program had been fully implemented, what
would have been the most important effects of Physiocracy on migration? In
Limoges, the most important Physiocratic policy actually implemented by Turgot
was the freeing of the grain trade, so that grain merchants could sell their
produce anywhere in France. The expected effect of this policy would be to
reduce greatly famine-induced migrations. As Finance Minister for Louis XVI,
Turgot's most important policies were reestablishment of free trade in grain,
and the abolition of the corv‚e and of trade-restricting guilds. Once again,
free trade would reduce famine-induced migrations; and the abolition of the
corv‚e and of the guilds would make the population much more mobile, setting
the stage for a much higher level of job-seeking migrations. Over the
longterm, freeing of the grain trade would be expected to increase
agricultural profits, thus increase capital investment in agriculture, thereby
producing gains in agricultural efficiency. That in turn would lead to a
smaller percentage of the population working in agriculture and a growing
percentage working in industry, commerce, and other non-agricultural sectors.
As that happened, there would be a growing migration from rural to urban
Another major theme of Physiocracy was improving the equipment and
techniques used in agriculture. As before, this would lead to greater
agricultural efficiency, a smaller percentage of people in agriculture,
greater diversity of the economy, and greater rural to urban migration.
For much of the 18th century, French agriculture was in a moribund
condition. The fundamental longterm cause of agriculture's problems was a
French government with a long history of reckless spending on ill-conceived
foreign wars and lavish spending on court life. Another major cause was a
grossly unfair system of taxation that placed most of the tax burden on an
already impoverished peasantry, while allowing the wealthy nobility and clergy
to escape the paying of their fair share. The upshot was that peasants made
skimpy profits, thus had little or no capital to invest in agricultural
improvements. Such low investment, then, was the intermediate cause of
France's backward and inefficient farming methods. Another intermediate cause
was peasant ignorance, as exemplified by peasant failure to take advantage of
the enormous importance of leguminous crops for restoring soils without
resorting to fallow fields.
Fundamentally, Physiocracy was a reaction against Colbertian
mercantilism. Colbertian mercantilism assumed that only industry and commerce
were important, that agricultural was of secondary importance. That was the
Hegelian thesis. Physiocracy, on the other hand, argued that only agriculture
was important, that it was the source of all wealth, that industry and
commerce were parasitical. That was the Hegelian antithesis. Arthur Young
argued that both agriculture and industry were important, that it was
essential for a country to have an appropriate mix between them, which would
result in a simbiotic relationship between agriculture and industry, each
stimulating the other. That was the Hegilian synthesis.
It is Young's vision of a dynamic mix between agriculture and industry
that has endured. The Founders of the American Republic had tried a
Physiocratic-like approach first -- and failed. They had wanted to keep
America a nation of independent farmers. But the Americans found that world
export markets was not large enough to sustain them, so they were forced to
diversify into industry, commerce, and other non-agricultural areas. In
effect, they adopted young's vision of a diversified economy.
The chief success of physiocracy was that it focused the attention of
France on the desperate need to reform its agriculture. And it proposed some
effective solutions, among them: free grain trade; abolition of the corv‚e,
of restrictive guilds, and of innumerable transportation tolls; tax reform;
and the promotion of better agricultural methods. The chief failure of
Physiocracy was that its vision for the future was too near-sighted: it made
sense over the shortterm, until France restored its agriculture. But over the
longterm, France would have to develop a synergistic mix of both agriculture,
industry, and other non-agricultural sectors.
(Includes both sources cited in attached paper and references for future
I. MOST IMPORTANT PRIMARY SOURCES:
Cantillion, Richard. 1931. Essai sur la nature du commerce en g‚n‚ral.
and translated by Henry Higgs. London. Some arguments against the physiocrats.
Daire, EugŠne, Ed. 1833. Oeuvres de Turgot. Paris: Guillaumin
Dupont. La Physiocratie.
Groenewegen, P.D. Editor & Translator. 1977. The Economics of A.R.J.
The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Contains English translations of Turgot's most
important economic writings. *
Kuczynski, Marguerite and Ronald Meek, Eds. 1972. Quesnay's Tableau
Economique, with new materials, translations, and notes. London. *
Meek, Ronald L. Ed. 1963. The Economics of Physiocracy: Essays
Translations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. HB93.M4 c.4 *
Mainly, French to English translations of numerous, important writings of
-------------------. Editor & Translator. 1973. Turgot: On Progress,
and Economics. London: Cambridge University Press. Contains translations of
some important Turgot writings. *
Necker, Jacques. 1775. Sur la l‚gislation at le commerce des grains. Paris.
Quesnay, Fran‡ois. 1766 & 1968. The Economic Table [Tableau ‚conomique].
York: Bergman Publishers. English translation of Quesnay's most important
Schelle, Gustave. Ed. 1913-1923. Oeuvres de Turgot 5 vols. Paris
Smith, Adam. 1776. Wealth of Nations.,(See Bk IV, Ch. 9 for his discussion
the "agricultural system." *
Stephens, W. Walker, Ed. 1895. The Life and Writings of Turgot,
General of France 1774-6. Contains extensive French to English translations of
many of Turgot's writings, plus extensive commentary by editor. *
Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques. 1770 & 1963. Reflections on the Formation
Distribution of Riches. New York: Reprints of Economic Classics, Augustus M.
Kelly, Bookseller. An English translation of Turgot's best-known work. *
Weulersse, Georges. 1968. Les manuscrits ‚conomiques
de Fran‡ois Quesnay et du Marquis de Mirabeau aux Archives nationales (M 778 …
785), with inventory, extracts, and notes. New York: Burt Franklin. *
Young, Arthur. Travels in France. *
An excellent primary source. One of the leading agricultural experts of
the 18th century and a person whose policies were virtually indistinguishable
from those of the French Physiocrats. A very respected critic of 18th-century
French agricultural practices.
II. MOST IMPORTANT SECONDARY SOURCES
Aston, Trevor, Ed. 1967. Crisis in Europe, 1560-1666. Garden City, NY.,
Pierre Goubert's "The French Peasantry of the 17th Century, pp. 150-176. *
Beer, M. 1966. An Inquiry into Physiocracy. New York: Russell &
HB93.B47 c.2 *
Bouchard, G‚rald. 1972. Le Village Immobile. Paris: Plon.
Bourde, Andr‚. 1953. The Influence of England on the French Agronomes,
1789 Cambridge, England.
Dakin, Douglas. 1939. Turgot and the Ancien R‚gime in France. London:
Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. 1976. The Origins of Physiocracy: Economic
and Social Order in Eighteenth-Century France. Ithaca: Cornell University
Press. HB93.F69 *
Grange, Henri. 1974. Les Id‚es de Necker. Paris.
Harris, Robert D. 1986. Necker and the Revolution of 1789. Lanham, MD:
University Press of America. *
Heywood, Colin. 1992. The Development of the French Economy, 1750-1914.
London: MacMillan Press. *
Higgs, Henry. 1963. The Physiocrats: Six Lectures on the French Economistes
the 18th Century. Hamden, CT: Archon Books. HB93.H6 c.2. *
Best known book in English on the Physiocrats.
Horrocks, J.W. 1925. A short History of Mercantilism. London: Methuen.
Hufton, Olwen H. 1974. The Poor of Eighteen-Century France, 1750-1789.
The Clarendon Press. *
Hutchison, Terence. 1988. Before Adam Smith: The Emergence of Political
Economy, 1662-1776. New York: Basil Blackwell. *
Kemp, Tom. 1971. Economic Forces in French History. London:Dennis Dobson. *
Lis, Catharina and Hugo Soly. 1979. Poverty and Capitalism in Pre-Industrial
Europe. Bristol, England: Harvester Press. *
Lom‚nie, Louis de. 1879-1891. Les Mirabeau: Nouvelles ‚tudes sur la
fran‡aise au XVIIIe siŠcle. Paris.
The best and most complete account.
Lundberg, I.C. 1964. Turgot's Unknown Translator: The R‚flexions and
Smith. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. *
McLain, James J.. 1977. The Economic Writings of DuPont de Nemours.
University of Delaware Press. HB93.D86 M3 *
Mirabeau, Marquis de. 1910. Notes in‚dites sur Boisguillebert. Paris:
Librairie Paul Geuthner. *
Quesnay, Fran‡ois. 1888. Oeuvres Economiques et Philosophiques de F.
Fondateur du SystŠme Physiocratique. Edited by Auguste Oncken. Paris: Lules
Quesnay, Fran‡ois. 1969. Tableau Economique des Physiocrates. Paris:
Say, L‚on. 1888. Turgot. London: Routledge. In English. *
Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1954. History of Economic Analysis. New York:
University Press. *
Schwartz, Robert M. 1988. Policing the Poor in Eighteenth-Century France.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. *
S‚e, Henri. 1927. Economic and Social Conditions in France During the
Eighteenth Century. New York: Crofts. *
Spiegel, Henry William. 1971. The Growth of Economic Thought.Englewood
NJ: Prentice-Hall. *
Srivastava, S.K. 1965. History of Economic Thought. Delhi: Atma Ram & Sons. *
Usher, A.P. 1913. History of the Grain Trade in France.
Weulersse, Georges. 1910. Le mouvement physiocratique en France de 1756
1770, Multi-volume. Paris. The best history of the physiocrats as a school.
______. 1985. La Physiocratie … L'Aube de la R‚volution: 1781-1792.
Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. *
_______. 1931. Les Physiocrates. Paris: G. Doin.
(a shortened version of the above multi-volume work)
_______. 1950. La Physiocrates sous les MinistŠres de Turgot et de Necker.
_______. 1959. La Physiocrates … la fin du RŠgne de Louis XV. Paris.
III. MOST IMPORTANT JOURNAL ARTICLES
Bloomfield, Arthur I. 1938. The foreign-trade doctrines of the Physiocrats.
American Economic Review 28:716-735.
Brandenburg, David J. 1950. Agriculture in the Encyclop‚die: An Essay
French Intellectual History. Agricultural History XXIV:96-108.
Brenner, Robert. 1978. In search of agrarian capitalism. Past and Present
Daire, Eugene. 1847. La Doctrine des physiocrates. Journal des Economistes
Eltis, W.A. 1975. Fran‡ois Quesnay: A Reinterpretation: 1. The Tableau
‚conomique. Oxford Economic Papers 27: 167-200.
____________. 1975. Fran‡ois Quesnay: A Reinterpretation 2. The Theory
Economic Growth. Oxford Economic Papers 27: 327-351.
_________. 1988. The contrasting theories of industrialization of Fran‡ois
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Forster, Robert. 1970. Obstacles to agricultural growth in eighteenth-century
France. American Historical Review 1970: 75: 1600-1615.
Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. 1975. A Physiocratic Model: the Transition
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Groenewegen, Peter. 1969. Turgot and Adam Smith. Scottish Journal of
------------------. 1983. Turgot's place in the history of economic
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Herlitz, Lars. 1961. Trends in the development of physiocratic doctrine.
Scandinavian Economic History Review IX (2): 107-151.
Hilton, R.H. 1978. Agrarian class structure and economic development
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Hoselitz, Bert F. 1968. Agrarian Capitalism, the natural order of things:
Fran‡ais Quesnay. Kyklos 21:637-663.
Herlitz, Lars. 1961. The Tableau Economique and the Doctrine of Sterility.
Scandinavian Economic History Review IX:3-51.
_____________. 1961. Trends in the Development of Physiocratic Doctrine.
Scandinavian Economic History Review IX: 136-140.
Hobsbawm, Eric J. 1954. The General Crisis of the European Economy in
Century. Past and Present 5-6:
Hoselitz, Bert. 1968. Agrarian Capitalism, the Natural Order of Things:
Fran‡ois Quesnay. Kyklos XXI:657-
Mathiez, Albert. 1936. Les doctrines politiques des physiocrates. Annales
historique de la R‚volution fran‡aise XIII:193-203.
Meek, Ronald L. 1971. Smith, Turgot, and the "four Stages" Theory. History
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Mingay, G.E. 1961-1962. The size of farms in the eighteenth century.
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Muller, A.L. 1978. Quesnay's theory of growth: a comment. Oxford Economic
Papers 30: 150-158.
Reed, Clyde G. 1973. Transactions Costs and Differential Growth in 17th-
Century Western Europe. Journal of Economic History XXXIII:177-190.
Samuels, Warren J. 1961. The Physiocratic Theory of Property and the
Quarterly Journal of Economics. LXXV:96-111.
Schachter, Gustav. 1991. Fran‡ais Quesnay: interpreters and critics
Semmel, Bernard. Malthus: Physiocracy and the Commercial System. Economic
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Spengler, Joseph J. 1984. Boisguilbert's economic views vis-…-vis those
contemporary r‚formateurs. 16(1):69-88.
Taylor, George. V. 1964. Types of capitalism in Eighteenth-century France.
Economic History Review 79: 478-497.
Ware, Norman J. 1931. The Physiocrats: A Study in Economic Rationalization.
American Economic Review XXI:607-619.
IV. OTHER USEFUL PRIMARY SOURCES FOR FUTURE WORK
Colbert, J.C. Lettres, Instructions, etc., Vol II.
Daire, Eugene, Ed. Les Physiocrates. 2 vols.
Contains letter of the physiocrats.
Institut national d'‚tudes d‚ d‚mographiques. 1958. Fran‡ois Quesnay
physiocratie, 2 vols. Paris. See esp Adolphe Landry's "Les id‚es de Quesnay
sur la population," I, p. 49.
Le Mercier, Ed. 1910. L'Ordre naturel et essential. Paris.
(the most authoritative commentator on Quesnay)
Mirabeau. 1750. M‚moire concernant l'utilit‚ des ‚tats provinciaux.
Mirabeau. 1757. L'ami des hommes, ou trait‚ de la population.
Mirabeau and Quesnay. 1758. Le trait‚ de la monarchie (unpublished).
Mirabeau. 1758. L'ami des hommes, part IV (Includes introduction and
Mirabeau. L'ami des hommes, part V (includes "M‚moire sur l'agricukture
… la trŠs-louable societ‚ d'agriculture de Berne).
Mirabeau. L'ami des hommes, part VI (includes "Le Tableau oeconomique
Mirabeau. 1760. Th‚orie de l'imp“t.
Mirabeau and Quesnay. 1763. La philosophie rurale.
Onken, Auguste, Ed. 1888. Oeuvres ‚conomiques et philosophiques de F.
fondateur du systŠme physiocratique, with other biographical works on Quesnay.
(Also spelled Oncken)
Quesnay. 1743. M‚moires de l'Acad‚mie royal de chirurgie.
Quesnay. 1747. L'essai physique sur l'oeconomie animale. 2nd Ed.
Quesnay. 1756. "Evidence" and "Fermiers" in the Encyclop‚die. Vol VI.
Quesnay. 1757. "Grains," "Hommes," and "Imp“ts," in the
Encyclop‚die. Vol VI.
Quesnay, 1759. Tableau Oeconomique, 3rd ed.
Quesnay, Fran‡ais. 1972. Oekonomishe Schriften, 2 vols. Berlin.
Kuczynski, Marguerite. 1972. Currently the best edition of Quesnay's early
work in any language. See Marguerite Kuczynski's introduction, which adds
numerous references, particularly to works in German.
Schelle, Gustave. 1888. Dupont de Nemours. Paris.
Voltaire. SiŠcle de Louis XIV.
V. OTHER USEFUL SECONDARY SOURCES FOR FUTURE WORK
Baker, Keith. 1975. Condorcet: From Natural Philosophy to Social Mathematics
Brocard, Lucien. 1902. Les doctrines ‚conomiques et sociales du marquis
Buck, Philip W. 1942. The Politics of Mercantilism. New York: Henry
Cole, Charles Woolsey. 1931. French Mercantilist Doctrines Before Colbert.
York: Richard R. Smith. HB91.C6 *
Coleman, D.C. Ed. 1969. Revisions in Mercantilism. London: Methuen.
Donaghay, Marie Martenis. 1967. The Role of Physiocratic Thought in
French Commercial Treaty of 1786. Master's Thesis, University of Virginia.
Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. 1976. The Forging of a Bourgeois Ideology:
A Study in
the Origins of Physiocracy. Widener Library, Harvard University.
Faure, Edgar. 1961. La disgrƒce de Turgot. Paris. *
Grange, Henri. 1974. Les id‚es de Necker. Paris: Librairie C. Klincksieck. *
Hecht, Jacqueline. 1958. Fran‡ais Quesnay et la Physiocratie. Paris:
National d'Etudes D‚mographiques.
(Most up-to-date biography on Quesnay. A very useful work.)
Heckscher, Eli F. 1955. Mercantilism 2 vols. New York: MacMillan. HB91.H413 *
Horn, J.E. 1867. L'‚conomie politique avant les Physiocrats. Paris.
Hoselitz, Bert, Ed.. 1960. Theories of Economic Growth. See papers entitled
"Mercantilist and Physiocratic Growth Theory." *
Institut National d'‚tudes D‚mographiques Bibliography. 1956. Economie
Population: Les doctrines fran‡aises avant 1800. Paris.
Kaplan, Steven L. 1974. Subsistence, Police, and Political Economy at
of the Reign of Louis XV (dissertation). Ann Arbor: University Microfilms.
Labrousse, Ernest and Pierre L‚on, et al. 1970. Histoire ‚conomique
de la France, vol II:Des derniers temps de l'age seigneurial aux pr‚ludes de
l'ƒge industriel (1660-1789). Paris.
Mandrou, Robert. 1968. La France au XVIIe et XVIIIe siŠcles. Paris.
Remains the standard bibliographic introduction to the physiocrats.
Martin, Germain. 1900. Les grandes industries en France: 1715-1774. Paris.
North, Douglass C. and Robert P. Thomas. 1973. The Rise of the Western
A New Economic History. Cambridge.
Ripert, Henri. 1910. Le marquis de Mirabeau: ses th‚ories politiques
Roberts, Hazell. 1925. Boisguillebert. New York
Rogers, John W. Jr. 1971. The Opposition to the Physiocrats (dissertation).
Ann Arbor: University Microfilms.
Rule, John C., Ed. 1969. Louis XIV and the Craft of Kingship. Columbus.
Spengler, Joseph J. 1968. Physiocratic Thought. In the International
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 4 , edited by David L. Sills. New
York: Macmillan and the Free Press, pp. 443-446.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1974. The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture
and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the 16th Century. New York.
Woog, Henri. 1950. The Tableau Economique of Fran‡ois Quesnay: An Essay
Explanation of its Mechanism and a Critical Review of the Interpretations of
Marx, Bilmovic, and Onken. Bern.
VI. OTHER USEFUL JOURNAL ARTICLES FOR FUTURE WORK
Fishman, L. A reconsideration of the Tableau Economique. Current Economic
Comment (Univ. of Illinois) XX (Feb. 1958) no. 1 , 41 ff.
Phillips, Almarin. 1955. The Tableau Economique as a Simple Leontief
Quarterly Journal of Economics LXIX:137-144.
Thiele, Ottomar. 1906. Fran‡ois Quesnay und die Agrarkrisis im Ancien
Dargestellt auf Grund Zwei Briefe. Vierteljahreschrift fur Sozialund
Wirtschaftsgeschichte IV:515-562, 633-652.
Barna, T. 1975. Quesnay's Tableau in Modern Guise. Economic Journal.
Cioranescu, Alexandre. 1969. Bibliographie de la litt‚rature fran‡aise
dix-huitiŠme siŠcle 3 vols. Paris.
Eltis, W.A. 1975. Fran‡ois Quesnay: A Reinterpretation. Part I: The
Economique. Oxford Economic Papers XXVII:167-200.
Hecht, Jacqueline. 1957. See INED, I.
In 1957, the author compiled an exhaustive bibliography of works by and about
Contains the basic bibliography for the physiocratic school. There are also
good bibliographies in the author's other works.
Weulersse. 1959. La Physiocratie … la fin du rŠgne de Louis XIV, 1770-1774.
Weulersse. 1950. La Physiocratie sous les ministŠres de Turgot et de
* = Currently have the book in my possession.