Working Paper BETA #2023-22

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Title : Hidden order, concrete disorders and political arithmetic in Boisguilbert. The non-harmonious equilibrium of private interests against the good order.

Author(s) : Jean Daniel Boyer

Abstract : Seeking to clarify Boisguilbert’s conception of economics and of private interests, we examine his possible links with British political arithmetic and set out the influence this may have had on his thought. Then we explain how Boisguilbert estimates the wealth of the kingdom of France and the income of the king, and reconstruct the data he employs. We also show that Boisguilbert’s analysis of prices and public revenues is grounded on the distinction he makes between current and constant prices. Boisguilbert echoes Gramont’s analysis (1620): he seeks to dissipate the ‘monetary illusion’ to which he saw his contemporaries as having fallen victim, and which disrupted the good order. On these grounds, we show that two approaches coexist in Boisguilbert’s writings: 1. a conjectural and abstract conception of the history of society, inspired by the Scriptures; and 2. a more concrete study of the recent history of the French kingdom, although based on questionable sources. We reconstruct Boisguilbert’s conception of the good economic order following the principles of his conjectural historical analysis. We then demonstrate that Boisguilbert is an author who defends the importance of the good order of nature, which he considers as having been destroyed in France in the second half of the seventeenth century by the tax system, hoarding, the failure of circulation, and the low and disproportionate price of grain. We conclude that Boisguilbert is a very moderate supporter of the pursuit of private interests, seeing them as tending to disrupt the good order. He believes essentially in a natural pre-existing good order to which men have to bend, or else risk economic crisis.

Key-words : Boisguilbert, circulation, crisis, interest, political arithmetic, order, proportion

JEL Classification : B11, E02, E21, E31