From The Economist, Oct 11th 2013
IF YOU asked twenty well-educated souls to identify a physiocrat, only a couple could help you out. Writers like A.R.J. Turgot, the Marquis de Condorcet and Francois Quesnay are not household names, unlike Adam Smith or David Ricardo. But they are important. According to one late-19th century historian, the physiocrats (who called themselves the “économistes”) created “the first strictly scientific system of economics”.
Physiocracy was a theory of wealth. The physiocrats, led by Quesnay, believed that the wealth of nations was derived solely from the value of agriculture. Quesnay’s understanding of value-added was rather primitive—he could not see, for example, how manufacturing could create wealth. Farmers, on the other hand, could. As Karl Marx explains in “Das Kapital”, “the Physiocrats insist that only agricultural labour is productive, since that alone, they say, yields a surplus-value”.
The physiocrats are most commonly known for these simplistic economic ideas. But this was not their most important contribution to economic thought. Rather, it was the physiocrats’ methodological approach to economics that was revolutionary.