Adam Smith, François Quesnay and the Problem of Ordering Eighteenth Century Economies
The article investigates the concept of natural order as it is used by François Quesnay and Adam Smith in their respective economic writings. While Smith used the concept only after having visited Quesnay and the Physiocrats in France in the 1760s, in The Wealth of Nations he sought to negotiate the meaning of what was “natural” about economic life. The Physiocrats believed it possible to identify a model or a perfect regime of natural order – an order that they in fact thought to exist and function in China due to a rigorous system of economic laws. Smith sided with contemporary critics of this metaphysical vision of economic perfection (and of Chinese governance), but he suggested that the economic mechanisms of the physiocratic theories would remain intact even with a minimum of control by state laws. However, Smith’s balancing act on these questions remained disputed even by his Scottish successors in political economy, and the problem of ordering the society from the vantage point of an economic science was rephrased as a problem of combining the physiocratic metaphysics of natural order with the ‘business of the world’ as expounded by Smith.