The Ecological Opportunity
Edited by Blandine Laperche, Nadine Levratto and Dimitri Uzunidis
Chapter 7: Sustainable Development: The Teachings of the Physiocrats and the Classics
Pierre Le Masne INTRODUCTION Between 1750 and 1880, a group of economists, Quesnay, Turgot, Smith, Ricardo, Cournot and Marx, developed interesting ideas concerning the relationships between men and nature. These ideas can help us understand that some important questions about sustainable development were first broached a long time ago. The approaches of these authors are compared with those of neoclassical, ecologist or radical economists today. We call precursor economists the previous group of economists going from Quesnay to Marx. When we speak of Physiocrats, we are essentially dealing with Quesnay and Turgot, even if Turgot moves away from Physiocracy on some points. We classify the Classics as Smith, Ricardo and Marx. The classification of Marx among the Classics may astonish some people. Nevertheless, Marx widely shares the ideas of Smith and Ricardo concerning the relationships between men and nature. Like Smith and Ricardo, he distinguishes ‘value in use’ and ‘value in exchange’, and this distinction is very important for the role of nature in production. We will particularly discuss the role of nature in production. Can nature be considered as a natural capital participating in production as a factor of production (like labour and traditional capital)? This is the current problematic of neoclassical economists (Solow, Stiglitz) and also of some ecologist economists (Daly, Costanza). Or should nature rather be considered as a pool of resources available for humans, that is to say a source of free use value for production, without being as labour, a factor of production which one...
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