Quesnay, Franois (1694-1774)

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

A surgeon by profession, he held the post of secretary of the French Academy of Surgery and edited its officia! journal. He became physician to Madame de Pompadour. His major economic works appeared in various articles in the Encyclopedie in 1756 and 1757, and in the Journal del ‘agriculture du commerce et desfinances in 1765 and 1767. The Tableau Economique and Maximes, a commentary on the Tableau, were both published in 1758. The Tableau set out three classes of society, and showed how transactions flowed between them. The three classes were (a) landowners, (b) the farmers and farm-labourers and (c) others, called the ‘sterile class’. Only the agricultural sector produced any surplus value, the rest only reproducing what it consumed. He anticipated Malthus’s fear of underconsumption arising from excessive savings. Net income would be reduced if the flows in the Tableau were interrupted by delays in spending. This was the first attempt to construct a macroeconomic input-output model of the economy. In fact, progress in this field had to await the application of matrix algebra and computerization. Quesnay suggested a single tax, ‘l ‘impot unique’, on the net income from land, arguing that by so doing the nation would save tax-collecting costs. Only agriculture yielded a surplus, and therefore ultimately it bears all taxes anyway. He was the central figure in the group of economists called the physiocrats, who flourished in France between 1760 and 1770.

Reference: The Penguin Dictionary of Economics, 3rd edt.

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James Knight
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