Production and Economic Classes

  • Brian William Head
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idees/International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 112)


Economics, in Tracy’s theory, is the science which studies “the effects and consequences of our actions considered as means to provide for our needs of all types, from the most material to the most intellectual”.1 Economic science, then, should be distinguished from the traditional connotation of economy as household management, and from its common meaning of carefully managing the goods in one’s possession. The term “political economy” generally meant “the science of the formation and administration of the wealth of a political society”.2 It is true, wrote Tracy, that the science entitled, somewhat improperly, political economy has discovered “some important truths on the effects of property, industry and the causes which favour or hinder the formation and growth of wealth”. But economics really should go back to the origin of our needs and of our power to act, for it is really the study of “the history of the use of our powers for the satisfaction of our needs”.3 (As if to express his dissatisfaction with the term “political economy”, Tracy sometimes used the term “social economy”. However, his major work on economics, Traité de la Volonté (1815), was republished in 1823 under the title Traité d’économie politique.)


Political Economy Market Price Eighteenth Century Social Economy Economic Classis 
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  1. 2.
    Ibid., p. 437. On the origin of the term political economy, cf. W. Letwin, The Origins of Scientific Economics (Westport, 1975), p. 217; and J.-B. Say, Traite d’economie politique (Paris, 2nd ed. 1814 ), “Discours preliminaire”, pp. xiii–xv.Google Scholar
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    Tracy, Traite (1818), p. 154. For the origin of “class” terminology, cf. Brunot, Histoire de la langue frangaise, tome VI, pp. 191f.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 170–1. Cf. Say, Traite, book 2, chapter 7 (Treatise, pp. 327-9), who claims that the savant is typically underpaid for the important services he provides.Google Scholar
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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1985

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  • Brian William Head

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