Francois Quesnay

Francois Quesnay was a French economist of the Physiocratic school. The physiocrats were a group of economists who believed that the wealth of nations was derived solely from the value of land agriculture or land development. Their use of the term laissez faire meant that the only legitimate form of government revenue derived from the value of land. Their theories originated in France and were most popular during the second half of the 18th century. Physiocracy is perhaps the first well developed theory of economics. The movement was particularly dominated by Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot and Quesnay. It immediately preceded the first modern school, classical economics, which began with the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in 1776.

In 1758, Quesnay published the Tableau economique (Economic Table), which provided the foundation of the ideas of the Physiocrats. This was perhaps the first work to attempt to describe the workings of the economy in an analytical way, and as such can be viewed as one of the first important contributions to economic thought. That Quesnay had such a seminal influence on economics is all the more surprising since he served under Louis XV in Versailles, not as an economist, but as a medical doctor.

Though on account of its dryness and abstract form the Economic Table met with little general favour, it was regarded by the followers of Quesnay as entitled to a place amongst the foremost products of human wisdom. Its object was to exhibit by means of certain formulas the way in which the products of agriculture, which is the only source of wealth, would in a state of perfect liberty be distributed among the several classes of the community (namely, the productive classes of the proprietors and cultivators of land, and the unproductive class composed of manufacturers and merchants), and to represent by other formulas the modes of distribution which take place under systems of governmental restraint and regulation, with the evil results arising to the whole society from different degrees of such violations of the natural order. It follows from Quesnay’s theoretic views that the one thing deserving the solicitude of the practical economist and the statesman is the increase of the net product; and that the interest of the landowner is strictly and indissolubly connected with the general interest of the society. A small edition of this work, with other pieces, was printed in 1758 in the Palace of Versailles under the king’s immediate supervision. Already in 1767 the book had disappeared from circulation, and no copy of it is now procurable; but, the substance of it has been preserved in the Ami des hommes of Mirabeau, and the Physiocratie of Dupont de Nemours.

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