250th Anniversay of Quesnay's Tableau Economique
GroundSwell, November-December 2008]
Richard Cantillon, an Irish banker living in France, wrote ?Essay on
the Nature of Commerce? in 1756, which encouraged Francois Quesnay, a
medical doctor, to think about economics. Quesnay lived in the French
palace, was Louis XV and Mme Pompadour's doctor, and later the "King's
Thinker". He is also referred to as "The French Confucious."
Quesnay stated that "Tableau Economique" was written in
1758, and it could have been published in December of that year, but
no printed copy has ever been found. It was revised in 1759, and again
in later years. It was practically the first economics book to examine
the general economic process of a nation. Quesnay said the Propriatory
class (Land owners) should be taxed, and so favored the Impot Unique,
or single tax.
The Physiocrats saw the rent of land as being a social surplus.
Quesnay also favored reducing taxes on labor and questioned government
interference in the economy.
Quesnay's writings got the attention of other intellectuals, such as
Ann Robert J. Turgot, Jean C.M.V. deGournay, Victor deRiqueti, marquis
deMirabeau, Count de Mirabeau, and Piere Samuel du Pont deNemours.
This group became known as the Physiocrats. They believed that the
wealth of nations was derived solely from agriculture. It was the
first well-developed theory of economics. Today we would think of food
growing as a primary wealth product, which then gets processed into
finished products in a city as secondary wealth product, where
processing is essential to serve the market. Quesnay saw this
process as ?sterile? in that city workers income was derived from
farmers? labor. Quesnay had little love for cities. The Physiocrats
opposed mercantilism or trade between countries, as they thought first
of the peasant society as being the economic foundation of a nation's
wealth. Later they favored free trade.
Much of "Tableau Economique" is in ?Zig-Zag tables of data,
which diagrammed the relationship between the different economic
sectors and the flow of payments between them. It illustrated the
amounts of livres required to encourage farm production, and how the
product was distributed to land owners, manufactures, and the farmers.
Farm conditions had deteriorated; nobles had obtained almost complete
control over the lands in western, central, and northern France.
Nobles had deserted their estates, and were spending their incomes in
Paris and at the Court of Versailles. Their sole interest in the rural
areas was in collecting their revenues from their domains.
(quoted from Dr. Henri Woog in "The Tableau Economique of
The Physiocrats were the reforming liberals in the age of
enlightenment. For example, Emperor Joseph II, of Austria, initiated
several reforms, removed the walls around Vienna to open up access and
trade, attempted to impose the single tax, and his list of reforms
goes on and on. Joseph II was the complete liberal. Upon his
death at age 49, his brother inherited the throne and dumped most of
Several Physiocrats went on to develop liberal reforms, and wrote
about economic conditions. The elder Mirabeau said, "The
Impot Unique (single tax) was one of the three great inventions which
have contributed most to the stability of political societies, the
other two being those of writing and the invention of money."
Another Physiocrat, Baron A.R.J. Turgot, became Minister of Finance.
So the science of Political Economy began as a campaign for the
single tax and free trade. We Georgists owe much to Francois