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Article Dans Une Revue Revue d'économie politique Année : 1990

Le « Tableau économique »: ombres et lumières


Quesnay's « Tableau économique » has been variously interpreted and misinterpreted for over two hundred years. Following the early example of Abbé Baudeau in 1767, many scholars have tried to clear up « these puzzling patterns of spending flows », as Samuelson formulated them, « that captivated the Tableau's admirers and critics ». But these analyses have thrown little light on the matter, when they haven't clouded it. In this respect, the interpretation — exactly thirty-five years ago — of the famous model as a three-industry closed input-output system by Almarin Phillips (a member of Leontief-workshop) appears to be an important breakthrough in the process of elucidation of Quesnay's work. Obviously, as Ronald Meek puts it : « Quesnay would certainly have raised his eyebrows at this model which (...) obliges us to assume that the proprietors produce « rental services » in return for their revenue; but there is no doubt that the model does provide an effective way of explaining the actual mecanism of the Tableau to economists who are unfamiliar with the Physiocratic ways of thought. » Nevertheless, this analysis has contributed to hide the contradictions of the original model, by trying, so to speak, to purify it, whereas « the Tableau is far from being the ideal and airy thing which is sometimes made out to be » (id.). The way remained thus open for a wide range of misapplications of the Phillips' reading. A likely reason, put forward by the authors, for some misinterpretation is Quesnay's conception of the internal use of its own output by a class only as expenses and not as receipts. This one-sided treatment of the « intraindustry inputs » gives the clue which seems to explain the unbalance of all the various formulations of the « Tableau » (unexplained if not unseen by the modern interpreters since Phillips). The conclusion arises from the careful comparison of all the original texts to which the authors urge to go back. This enables them to point out the difficulties that Quesnay is faced with and the tricks he made up to dodge them. Thus is provided an explanation of the numerous changes of the Tableau and, especially, of the giving up of the « Zigzag ». Thereby, it becomes also possible to understand why Quesnay had such trouble to conciliate the « Revenu » circulation and the « Avances » circulation and to lay the foundations of a theory of capital.
Le « Tableau économique » de Quesnay a fait l'objet d'interprétations diverses et de bien des contresens depuis plus de deux cents ans. Une raison possible de certains contresens, mise en évidence par les auteurs, est la conception quesnélienne des intra-consommations de chaque classe comme de pures dépenses et non comme des recettes. Ce traitement asymétrique des intra-consommations fournit une clef d'interprétation possible du déséquilibre de toutes les versions du « Tableau » (inexpliqué voire même inaperçu par les commentateurs modernes), de l'abandon du « Zigzag » et des difficultés à concilier circulation du Revenu et circulation des Avances.


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Dates et versions

hal-04467263 , version 1 (20-02-2024)


  • HAL Id : hal-04467263 , version 1


Bernard Delmas, Thierry Demals. Le « Tableau économique »: ombres et lumières. Revue d'économie politique, 1990, Revue d'économie politique, 100 (1), pp.83-108. ⟨hal-04467263⟩


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