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The Economist as Surveyor: Physiocracy in the Fields

Loïc Charles () and Christine There

History of Political Economy, 2012, vol. 44, issue 5, 71-89

Abstract: In this article, we show that Quesnay, while himself devoted to a major analytical effort to create what was at the time, like today, assessed as an original and far-reaching social theory, was also very much concerned with the development of a systematic empirical inquiry of French economy and society. Our claim is that this program of observation was for Quesnay and the physiocrats no less important than their theoretical investigation. The results of the surveys and agricultural accounts they produced were integrated in some of the physiocrats’ main theoretical works like the Philosophie rurale, in more or less stylized form. Some of Quesnay’s aides were able to conduct land survey experiments that applied physiocratic knowledge to the measurement of concrete economic activities. In the 1760s, the integration of empirical and theoretical inquiries was sufficiently developed that one of Quesnay’s closest disciples, Charles Richard de Butré, conceived of a plan for some sort of national accounting.

Keywords: observation; observing; physiocracy; Francois Quesnay; Charles Richard de Butré (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2012
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