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Is There Progress in Economics?

Knowledge, Truth and the History of Economic Thought

Edited by Stephan Boehm, Christian Gehrke, Heinz D. Kurz and Richard Sturn

This thought-provoking book discusses the concept of progress in economics and investigates whether any advance has been made in its different spheres of research. The authors look back at the history, successes and failures of their respective fields and thoroughly examine the notion of progress from an epistemological and methodological perspective.
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Chapter 17: Contemporary responses to the Tableau Economique

Knowledge, Truth and the History of Economic Thought

Richard van den Berg


17. Contemporary responses to the Tableau ƒconomique Richard van den Berg* Calculations are to the economic science what bones are to the human body. Without them it will always be a vague and confused science, at the mercy of error and prejudice. (Fran•ois Quesnay)1 More than 240 years after Fran•ois QuesnayÕs Tableau ƒconomique was published, the fascination of economists with this first formal depiction of the circular flow of goods and money in the economy continues. Indeed, in recent decades QuesnayÕs attempt to outline a quantitative ÔskeletonÕ of the economy has received the most unanimously positive press since it was first exposed to the world. As is quite well known, the earlier reception of the Tableau was far less favourable. Many of the books and articles about QuesnayÕs model note the mixed reception it received in the past by starting with a short enumeration of the opinions of famous earlier students of the Tableau. However, a preoccupation with the alleged similarities between QuesnayÕs analysis and current economic theories often prevents a more than cursory look at the opinions of earlier commentators.2 In particular, little seems to have been written about the reception of the Tableau ƒconomique by QuesnayÕs contemporaries. In this paper an attempt is made to fill what is felt to be a lacuna in the literature about the Tableau ƒconomique, by means of a re-examination of the earliest responses to this novel analytical tool. There are two reasons for this...

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