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The Political Failure of an Economic Theory: Physiocracy

Yves Charbit and Arundhati Virmani
Population (English Edition, 2002-)
Vol. 57, No. 6 (Nov. - Dec., 2002), pp. 855-883
DOI: 10.2307/3246619
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3246619
Page Count: 29
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The Political Failure of an Economic Theory: Physiocracy
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Abstract

Physiocracy, the "rule of nature", which held agriculture to be the sole source of wealth, was the first theoretical account of the relationship between the economy and population. The centrality of agriculture is the key to understanding the theory of population. Population is a dependent variable, and from this a number of implications flow concerning luxury, free trade, the fiscal system, and the army. The "Physiocratic movement" failed, however, to win acceptance for its system and this political failure was inextricably linked to the theoretical construct. The Physiocrats' strategy for development lacked credibility compared with the alternatives, in particular colonial trade. Also damaging was the association of their views with the fear of famine. Finally, they were unable to resolve the impossible contradictions between rigour in economic theory and the pressure of political realities. The result was their near total isolation. /// La fisiocracia, el "gobierno de la naturaleza", que considera a la agricultura como la fuente exclusiva de riqueza, es la primera teoría de las relaciones entre la economía y la población. La posición otorgada a la agricultura permite comprender la teoría de la población: ésta es una variable dependiente y de ella se derivan varias implicaciones relativas al lujo, a la libertad de comercio, al sistema impositivo y a los ejércitos. No obstante, el "movimiento fisiocrático" no logró imponer su modelo; su fracaso politico es indisociable de su construcción teórica: en comparación con otras alternativas, y en particular con la opción del comercio colonial, su estrategia de desarollo era poco convincente; sufrió las consecuencias de la amalgama que se hizo entre esta teoría y el miedo al hambre; se encerró en contradicciones insolubles entre el rigor de la teoría económica y la presión de los retos politicos. Todo ello derivó en su marginación casi total.

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