Thursday, October 27, 2022

Turgot: How a Visionary French Philosopher Accidentally Fueled Famine, Riots and Revolt

 From Politico:

Crucially, Turgot at first came to think that before unleashing free markets, one had to first protect the poor from the immediate market shock of liberalization and that the state would have to step in to help those with no work and no food. In Limoges, he forced landowners to support the poor, and worked to end the feudal forced road-building labor of the corvées by developing a tax for building highways, which, in turn, he hoped would help facilitate grain transportation. He proposed establishing state-supported “Charity Offices and Workshops” to provide employment for the poor to do public works. Turgot even tried to import food to sustain his impoverished region to spur its growth so it could improve its grain production. He then employed his state powers to help found the now-famous Limoges porcelain industry, which still exists today. Turgot’s unorthodox and highly pragmatic mix of liberalizing and state intervention produced modest success.

But as he crafted a theory to solve France’s economic woes, he still saw excessive state intervention over bread, the main staple of people’s diet, as the central problem. In times of poor harvest, the crown capped grain prices, kept emergency stores and facilitated grain distribution. Additionally, a number of powerful players — including the king’s brothers — made a fortune on tolls and various grain taxes. Turgot’s Letters on the Liberty of the Grain Trade (1770) was based on the simple equation that if the crown removed its caps, guarantees, protections and other tolls, the grain trade would prosper and the market would expand, thus bringing more profits to farmers and lower prices to consumers. (Read more.)


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Can this be compared to "shock doctrine" attempted in Russia in the '90s and Chile in the '70s and '80s? It was an attempt to liberalise but drained the economy, in Russia but in Chile any State support left kept the country afloat. Or was it the issue of scarcity in an 18th Century economy?