Chapter 6: Quesnay's Creation of the Tableau Économique in Response to the Economic Weakness of France
6. Quesnay’s creation of the Tableau économique in response to the economic weakness of France Walter Eltis1 When François Quesnay began to publish on economics there were unmistakable indications that fundamental change was required in France. The ﬁnances of the state were in perpetual diﬃculty, and it had to borrow at higher interest rates than the private sector. Paris was the intellectual capital of Europe, and France was unquestionably one of Europe’s great powers, but she had diﬃculty in simultaneously ﬁnancing the army and the navy which her international ambitions required. In the repeated wars with Great Britain in what has been described as the Second Hundred Years War (dating from 1688 until 1815) military weaknesses associated with inadequacies of ﬁnance hampered France’s eﬀorts to match Britain in the colonisation and exploitation of the wealth of North America and India. In the absence of representative institutions such as the British Parliament, the wealthy in France would not consent to the taxation required to establish the French state on a ﬁnancial foundation commensurate with its political aspirations. Quesnay’s response to the diﬃculties his country faced was to construct a scientiﬁc theory which could explain the economic decline of France, and how it could attain an economic strength which matched its intellectual and cultural leadership. As one of France’s leading natural scientists and a fellow of the Royal Society of London he was well qualiﬁed to do this. In the process Quesnay created what Philippe...
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