Schools of Thought in Economics
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Chapter 10: French classical political economy
It is usually asserted that French classical political economy vaguely refers to liberal authors who wrote during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century. This tradition will be followed here with some reluctance, because it should be remembered that these economists have never properly been a school: their opinions were diverse and many of them criticized the ideas put forward by the English classical economists – especially those of David Ricardo (see, for example, Béraud and Faccarello 2014; see also Gehrke and Kurz 2001). The vague link that connects them is that they all start from the works of Jean-Baptiste Say. They are not necessarily Say’s disciples in the strict sense of the word: they differ from his views on important points, but they are influenced by him. They are liberals because they insist, with him, that the interests of men and nations do not conflict with each other. They therefore condemn any kind of protection or state intervention which would, they say, disrupt the competitive market mechanism. However, gradually, the memories of Say faded and towards the end of the nineteenth century French liberal economists became critical of the ideas defended by their predecessors. The liberal tradition continues but economists such as Paul Leroy-Beaulieu or Clément Colson can hardly be considered “classical” in the sense entertained here. In 1803, Jean-Baptiste Say (1767–1832) and Jean-Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi (1773–1842) published respectively the Traité d’économie politique and De la richesse commerciale: both books are at the origin of the development of classical political economy in France. In this first generation also, Antoine Destutt de Tracy (1754– 1836) – the leader of the idéologues – deserves to be mentioned. His writings pertain to philosophy, economics and political science, and were highly influential in France and abroad.
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