Publication Date


Document Type

Working Paper


John Hall

Journal of Economic Literature Classification Codes

B11, B12, B31

Key Words

Laissez-faire, Adam Smith, Francois Quesnay, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Jean Jacques Rousseau, French Enlightenment, Public Sector, Public Receipts, Public Expenditures


This paper traces laissez-faire back to its French roots, and in particular, to its origins as a political philosophy evoking an economic approach. Related to his visit to France in the 1760s and his personal contacts, we suggest that Adam Smith serves as the link between selected French thinkers and what after Smith’s Inquiry would be widely accepted as a quintessentially Anglo-Saxon tradition in economics. Exploring doctrine, we offer linkages between F. Quesnay, A. Turgot, J.J. Rousseau, and Smith’s ideas. Similarities in Smith’s understanding and the French exponents regarding economic activity vis-a- vis a public sector are presented, along with what we characterize as their minor departures related to relative size and tasks of the public sector, agriculture policy, role of competition, taxation and expenditure, as well as consumption by the wealthy.


© Thomas Breaden

In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Persistent Identifier