The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Rousseau, Jean Jacques (1712–1778)

  • S. C. Stimson
Reference work entry


Political philosopher, moral reformer, citizen of Geneva. Rousseau’s economic thought cannot readily be placed within the mainstream of the schools of 18th-century economic discourse. The entire thrust of his work, comprising a sustained argument against the luxury and conspicuous consumption of the rising European bourgeosie of new commerce, implied a sharp rejection of the practices as well as principles of the mercantilist. Rousseau’s most explicit contribution to economic thought, a contribution to the Encyclopédie entitled ‘Economie politique’ (vol. v, 1755), significantly preceded publication of the earliest published statement of the Physiocrats, Quesnay’s Maximes générales du gouvernement économique d’un royaume agricole (1758), and their positions on important issues of property and to a lesser extent taxation bear comparison but are by no means identical. For his position on the right of the State to tax its citizens and the inseparable relationship between justice and the sacred rights of property (see Political Writings, I, 234), ‘Rousseau appears to have appealed to and hardly superseded Locke. Nonetheless, Rousseau influenced both contemporary and later proponents of economie as well as political reform through his single-minded opposition to economic inequality, his disbelief in the benign effects of unregulated laissez faire, and his attack on what he considered the trivialized conception of liberal public life which accepted the interactions of the market as an adequate substitute for a theory of social relations.

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  1. Sklar, J.N. 1969. Men and citizens: A study of Rousseau’s social theory. London: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. C. Stimson
    • 1
  1. 1.