François Quesnay (4 June 1694 – 16 December 1774) was a French economist and physician of the Physiocratic school. He is known for publishing the "Tableau économique" (Economic Table) in 1758, which provided the foundations of the ideas of the Physiocrats. This was perhaps the first work attempting to describe the workings of the economy in an analytical way, and as such can be viewed as one of the first important contributions to economic thought. His Le Despotisme de la Chine, written in 1767, describes Chinese politics and society, and his own political support for constitutional Oriental despotism.
"François Quesnay was the leading figure of the Physiocrats, generally considered to be the first school of economic thinking. ... it was Quesnay who coined the term 'laissez-faire, laissez-passer.' ... His first work appeared only as encyclopedia articles in 1756 and 1757. In his Tableau économique, he detailed his famous zigzag diagram, a circular flow diagram of the economy that showed who produced what and who spent what, in an attempt to understand and explain the causes of growth. ... That Quesnay had such a seminal influence on economics is all the more surprising in light of the fact that he served under Louis XV in Versailles not as an economist, but as a medical doctor."
"Francois Quesnay was born in Seine-and-Oise, June 4 1694, of a father who worked as a ploughman and merchant. ... he registered at the university and the college of surgery, receiving his degree in 1717. ... Encouraged to collaborate on the Encyclopaedia, Quesnay delivers initially the articles 'Obviousness' and 'Farmers' (political economy), which appear in volume VI (1756), then 'Grains', which appears in volume VII (1757). But the attack of Damiens (January 5, 1757) makes him withdraw three other articles that he had prepared: 'Interest of the money', 'Men' and 'Taxes'."
Quesnay - Biographie
In French, abridged translation available in "The Encyclopedia on Political Economy"; includes links to two memorial essays (also in French)
"A partir de 1765, Quesnay et les adeptes de sa doctrine entreprennent d'en assurer la diffusion par la presse. Un supplément à la Gazette du commerce, le Journal de l'agriculture, du commerce et des finances, est créé. Et, sous les pseudonymes M. H., M. N., M. de l'Isle ou M. Nisaque, Quesnay y publie régulièrement des articles : 'Observations sur le droit naturel', 'Mémoire sur les avantages de l'industrie et du commerce' lançant la discussion sur la classe productive et la classe stérile, 'Analyse de la formule arithmétique du Tableau économique'..."
"'Physiocrat' referred to ideas popularized by Francois Quesnay (1694-1774), a nobleman's son who made himself a surgeon and bought his post as physician to King Louis XV and his influential courtesan Madame de Pompadour. Historians Will and Ariel Durant wrote that although Quesnay 'was a self-confident dogmatist in his works, he was in person a kindly soul, distinguished by integrity in an immoral milieu.' Quesnay attacked taxes and trade restrictions in his articles for the Encyclopédie (1756), his own little book Tableau économique (1758), and elsewhere."
Cantillon for Laymen, by Karen De Coster, Mises Daily, 7 Jun 2006
Discusses the themes in Cantillon's Essai in general terms, including a short biographical section
"... the Physiocrats, the first 'school' of economists ... began as an assemblage of French, laissez-faire intellectuals opposing the oppressive reign of Louis XIV ... [were] influenced by Cantillon's still unpublished Essai ... François Quesnay [was] the most notable of that group ... Quesnay's circular-flow model, the Tableau Économique, drew heavily from Cantillon's discussion of the circulation of money in an economy of rural and urban sectors as well as Cantillon's own version of a circulation model."
"For two decades Quesnay served as royal physician to the king of France, Louis XV. But his attention and interests were focused equally on the social system and its functioning. He blended his knowledge of agriculture with his training as a medical doctor. He insisted that it was the production of the land – resources and food production – that was the basis of all prosperity in society. Manufacturing and industrial crafts were derivative and not primary sources of wealth. ... Thus, in the division of labor, it was the agricultural sectors that were the foundation of society and its economic wellbeing, Quesnay argued."
Physiocracy, by George H. Smith, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Discusses the Physiocrats, focusing mostly on Quesnay and his Tableau
"The founder of physiocracy was François Quesnay, physician to Madame de Pompadour and Louis XV. Having gained an international reputation in medicine with the publication of five books, Quesnay acquired his interest in economic theory late in life, publishing his first articles on the subject in Diderot's Encyclopedia at age 62. The publication, in 1758, of Quesnay's Tableau Économique signaled the beginning of the physiocratic movement. ... According to Quesnay, only this productive class is capable of producing new wealth (i.e., a 'net product' that exceeds the expense of maintaining workers and other costs of production)."
The Physiocrats, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, Dec 2010
Discusses the 18th century French economists and their influences on Adam Smith, on American agriarianism and on Henry George
"Indeed, Smith was so influenced by the Physiocrats that he had intended to dedicate The Wealth of Nations to François Quesnay, the leading figure of the school; perhaps his several significant disagreements with Quesnay dissuaded him. ... Quesnay was not merely the leading Physiocrat but also the court physician to Louis XV, who called him 'my thinker.' Respected in Parisian intellectual circles, Quesnay became famous for his Tableau economiques or Economic Table (1758) — an economic model that formed a basis for Physiocratic theory."
"François Quesnay, the founder of the school of the Économistes (or, as they came to be called in later years, the Physiocrates), was born at Méré near Versailles on the 4th of June 1694, the same year as Voltaire, and died at Versailles on the 16th December 1774, the same year as Louis XV. ... he made ... the acquaintance of Mirabeau, and it was after discussion with that writer that he printed his Tableau Oeconomique in December 1758 ... We shall find him inspiring much of the work of other men ... but ... the Tableau Oeconomique may serve to explain at once the main doctrines of the master and the school."
Science, Reason, and Moral Progress, by Michael Shermer, Cato Policy Report, Jan 2015
Argues that the progress made in the domain of morality in the past few centuries resulted primarily from the Scientific Revolution (Copernicus, Newton, etc.) and the Enlightment that followed it
"One of these physiocrats, François Quesnay — a physician to the king of France who later served as an emissary to Napoleon for Thomas Jefferson — modeled the economy after the human body, in which money flowed through a nation like blood flows through a body, and ruinous government policies were like diseases that impeded economic health. He argued that even though people have unequal abilities, they have equal natural rights, and so it was the government's duty to protect the rights of individuals from being usurped by other individuals, while at the same time enabling people to pursue their own best interests."
La Liberté, Essai physique sur l'œconomie animale, 1747
French transcription of pages 349-373, second edition, in which Quesnay discusses liberty and natural rights
"La liberté de l'homme ne consiste donc pas simplement dans le pouvoir d'agir ou de ne pas agir, elle renferme aussi celui d'examiner, & d'apprécier les motifs qui doivent préférablement nous déterminer. Ainsi la liberté consiste dans le pouvoir de délibérer pour se déterminer avec raison à agir, ou à ne pas agir. ... L'homme ne doit pas se considérer lui seul dans l'exercice & dans l'usage de sa liberté ; il vit en société avec d'autres hommes qui ont comme lui des droits qu'il doit respecter, & ausquels [sic] on ne peut gueres préjudicier impunément : Ces droits sont naturels ou légitimes."
Tableau Économique, 1758
First edition: handwritten page, published in Nov or Dec 1758; second edition: typeset page, 1759; Analysis: June 1766, transcript of 31 pages from Journal de l'agriculture, du commerce & des finances
"La Nation est réduite à trois classes de Citoyens: la classe productive, la classe des propriétaires & la classe stérile. La classe productive est celle qui fait renaître par la culture du territoire les richesses annuelles de la Nation, qui fait les avances des dépenses des travaux de l'agriculture, & qui paye annuellement les revenus des propriétaires des terres. ... La classe des propriétaires comprend le Souverain, les Possesseurs des terres & les Décimateurs. La classe stérile est formée de tous les citoyens occupés à d'autres services & à d'autres travaux que ceux de l'agriculture ..."
Francois Quesnay, by Marginal Revolution University, Great Economists: Classical Economics and Its Forerunners, 15 Sep 2015
Short video on Quesnay and the Physiocrats, including his "Tableau", their ideas for a single tax on land, on free trade, and recommended supplementary reading