The Ten Commandments of Economics

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Who said free markets was a religion?

Here’s a great episode from Melvin Bragg’s In Our Time series on the History of the Physiocrats, a movement which can lay good claim to be the first real school of economics. At the root of their school was their version of the Ten Commandments, called the tableau économique, an audacious attempt to describe how economic systems work on a single page. As the Marquis de Mirabeau grandly stated, “There have been since the world began three great inventions which have principally given stability to political societies, independent of many other inventions which have enriched and adorned them. The first is the invention of writing, which alone gives human nature the power of transmitting, without alteration, its laws, its contracts, its annals, and its discoveries. The second is the invention of money, which binds together all the relations between civilized societies. The third is the economical table, the result of the other two, which completes them both by perfecting their object; the great discovery of our age, but of which our posterity will reap the benefit.”

They got a good deal right (Adam Smith himself acknowledged their influence on his own thinking), such as the need to free markets and trade, but they got a whole lot wrong too (their dismissal of the what we would call “industry” as the “sterile” or “barren” class seems ridiculous today). That said, this is a fascinating account of a school of thought which deserves much more airplay. Enjoy!

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