Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune

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The productions of the earth require long and difficult preparations, before they are rendered fit to supply the wants of men.

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune (10 May 172718 March 1781), usually referred to as simply "Turgot", was a French economist and statesman.

Sourced[edit]

He seized the lightning from Heaven and the scepter from the Tyrants.
It is impossible not to wish ardently that this people may attain to all the prosperity of which they are capable. They are the hope of the world.
The earth has been cultivated before it has been divided; the cultivation itself having been the only motive for a division, and for that law which secures to every one his property.
Every soil does not produce every material.
All is more or less proper to serve as a common measure, in proportion as it is more or less in general use, of a more similar quality, and more easy to be divided into aliquot parts.
  • Eripuit Coelo fulmen, mox Sceptra Tyrannis.
    • He seized the lightning from Heaven and the scepter from the Tyrants.
      • Statement in Latin about Benjamin Franklin, as quoted in The Monthly Anthology, and Boston Review, Vol. X (March 1811). This has also been quoted in several other variants of Latin or French expression, and been translated into English in various ways. Though it has probably incorrectly been cited as a remark of 1775, the earliest published reference to it appears to have occurred in April 1778.
    • Variants:
    • Eripuit fulmen coelo, mox sceptra tyrannis.
    • Eripuit coelo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis.
    • He snatched lightning from the sky and scepters from tyrants.
  • The fate of America is already decided — Behold her independent beyond recovery. — But will She be free and happy? — Can this new people, so advantageously placed for giving an example to the world of a constitution under which man may enjoy his rights, freely exercise all his faculties, and be governed only by nature, reason and justice — Can they form such a Constitution? — Can they establish it upon a never failing foundation, and guard against every source of division and corruption which may gradually undermine and destroy it? ... It is impossible not to wish ardently that this people may attain to all the prosperity of which they are capable. They are the hope of the world. They may become a model to it. They may prove by fact that men can be free and yet tranquil; and that it is in their power to rescue themselves from the chains in which tyrants and knaves of all descriptions have presumed to bind them under the pretence of the public good. They may exhibit an example of political liberty, of religious liberty, of commercial liberty, and of industry. The Asylum they open to the oppressed of all nations should console the earth. The case with which the injured may escape from oppressive governments, will compel Princes to become just and cautious; and the rest of the world will gradually open their eyes upon the empty illusions with which they have been hitherto cheated by politicians. But for this purpose America must preserve herself from these illusions; and take care to avoid being what your ministerial writers are frequently saying She will be — an image of our Europe — a mass of divided powers contending for territory and commerce, and continually cementing the slavery of the people with their own blood.
    • Letter to Richard Price (22 March 1778) regarding Price's pamphlet, Observations on Civil Liberty and the Justice and Policy of the War with America (1776).

Reflections on the Formation and Distribution of Wealth (1766)[edit]

Réflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses (written in 1766, published in 1769 - 1770); (online English translation)
  • If the land was divided among all the inhabitants of a country, so that each of them possessed precisely the quantity necessary for his support, and nothing more; it is evident that all of them being equal, no one would work for another. Neither would any of them possess wherewith to pay another for his labour, for each person having only such a quantity of land as was necessary to produce a subsistence, would consume all he should gather, and would not have any thing to give in exchange for the labour of others.
    • § 1
  • The earth has been cultivated before it has been divided; the cultivation itself having been the only motive for a division, and for that law which secures to every one his property. For the first persons who have employed themselves in cultivation, have probably worked as much land as their strength would permit, and, consequently, more than was necessary for their own nourishment.
    • § 2
  • Every soil does not produce every material.
    • § 2
  • The productions of the earth require long and difficult preparations, before they are rendered fit to supply the wants of men.
    The productions which the earth supplies to satisfy the different wants of man, will not, for the most part, administer to those wants, in the state nature affords them; it is necessary they should undergo different operations, and be prepared by art. Wheat must be converted into flour, then into bread; hides must be dressed or tanned; wool and cotton must be spun; silk must be taken from the cod; hemp and flax must be soaked, peeled, spun, and wove into different textures; then cut and sewed together again to make garments, &c. If the same man who cultivates on his own land these different articles, and who raises them to supply his wants, was obliged to perform all the intermediate operations himself, it is certain he would succeed very badly.
    • § 3
  • All merchandize has the two essential properties of money, to measure and to represent all value: and in this sense all merchandize is money.
    • § 39
  • All is more or less proper to serve as a common measure, in proportion as it is more or less in general use, of a more similar quality, and more easy to be divided into aliquot parts. All is more or less applicable for the purpose of a general pledge of exchange, in proportion as it is less susceptible of decay or alteration in quantity or quality.
    • § 39
  • All money is essentially merchandize.
    • § 40
  • Gold and silver are constituted, by the nature of things, money, and universal money, independent of all convention, and of all laws.
    • § 43
  • Not only there does not exist, nor can exist, any other revenue than the clear produce of land, but it is the earth also that has furnished all capitals, that form the mass of all the advances of culture and commerce. It has produced, without culture, the first gross and indispensible advances of the first labourers; all the rest are the accumulated fruits of the œconomy of successive ages, since they have begun to cultivate the earth. This œconomy has effect not only on the revenues of proprietors, but also on the profits of all the members of laborious classes. It is even generally true, that, though the proprietors have more overplus, they spare less; for, having more treasure, they have more desires, and more passions; they think themselves better ensured of their fortune; and are more desirous of enjoying it contentedly, than to augment it; luxury is their pursuit. The stipendiary class, and he chiefly the undertakers of the other classes, receiving profits proportionate to their advances, talents, and activity, have, though they are not possessed of a revenue properly so called, a superfluity beyond their subsistence; but, absorbed as they generally are, only in their enterprizes, and anxious to increase their fortune; restrained by their labour from amusements and expensive passions; they save their whole superfluity, to re-convert it in other enterprizes, and augment it.
    • § 100

Quotes about Turgot[edit]

Turgot could not save France from her Revolution, but he gave her, and all countries, practical, working theories on government, on the liberty of the press, on the best means of helping the poor, on the use of riches, on civil, political, and religious liberty, which are still invaluable. ~ Evelyn Beatrice Hall
  • Turgot was something more even than the best man of his party. He was the best worker. While Voltaire clamoured and wept for humanity, while d'Alembert thought, Grimm wrote, Diderot talked, and Condorcet dreamed and died, Turgot laboured. Broad and bold in aim, he was yet content to do what he could. ... To do one's best here and now, with the wretched tools one has to hand, in the teeth of indolence, obstinacy, and the spirit of routine, to compromise where one cannot overcome, and instead of sitting picturing some golden future, to do at once the little one can — that was this statesman's policy.
  • All men now allow that if any human power could have stemmed the avalanche of the French Revolution, it would have been the reforms of Turgot.
  • Turgot was never dazzled; it was his greatness, if it was also his misfortune, to see men and the world exactly as they are.
  • It was nothing to him that his own caste shot out the lip and scorned him. Cold and awkward in manner, regular and austere in habit, and as pure as a good woman, of course they hated him. But it was much to him that the clergy who ruled the people were also his foes, that that very people themselves were so dull and hopeless, that they too suspected his motives and concluded that because for them every change had always been for the worse, every change always would be. Slowly, gradually, he gained the favour of the priest and the love of the flock. He could not turn their hell into heaven: he could not make earth at all what Condorcet, uplifted in noble vision, would dream it yet might be. But he could do something.
  • In his home-life Turgot remained most frugal and laborious, treating his servants with a benevolence then accounted contemptible, and working out his quiet schemes with an infinite patience and thoroughness. When he was offered the richer Intendancy of Lyons, he would not take it. Here, as he said of himself, though he was 'the compulsory instrument of great evil,' he was doing a little good. Only a little, it might be. But if every man did the little he could — what a different world!
  • Turgot could not save France from her Revolution, but he gave her, and all countries, practical, working theories on government, on the liberty of the press, on the best means of helping the poor, on the use of riches, on civil, political, and religious liberty, which are still invaluable. ... He has been justly said to have founded modern political economy ; to have bequeathed to future generations ' the idea of the freedom of industry;' and to have made ready the way for the reforms which are the glory of our own day.
    Among Voltaire's fellow-workers there are far more dazzling personalities. But from their fiery words, exalted visions, and too glorious hopes one turns with a certain sense of relief to this quiet, strong, practical man, and understands why the people, whose instinct in judging the character of their rulers seldom betrays them in the long run, specially acclaimed Turgot as a friend.
  • TURGOT...I present today one of the three greatest statesmen who fought unreason in France between the close of the Middle Ages and the outbreak of the French Revolution—Louis XI and Richelieu being the two other. And not only this: were you to count the greatest men of the modern world upon your fingers, he would be of the number—a great thinker, writer, administrator, philanthropist, statesman, and above all, a great character and a great man. And yet, judged by ordinary standards, a failure. For he was thrown out of his culminating position, as Comptroller-General of France, after serving but twenty months, and then lived only long enough to see every leading measure to which he had devoted his life deliberately and malignantly undone; the flagrant abuses which he had abolished restored, apparently forever; the highways to national prosperity, peace, and influence, which he had opened, destroyed; and his country put under full headway toward the greatest catastrophe the modern world has seen.
  • The greatness of Turgot now began to appear: while he performed all the duties of the seminary and studied thoroughly what was required, he gave himself to a wide range of other studies, and chiefly in two very different directions—to thought and work upon those problems in religion which transcend all theologies, and upon those problems in politics which are of vast importance in all countries, and which especially needed discussion in his own.
    • White, ibid., Seven Great Statesmen...
  • The French philosophy of the eighteenth century was in full strength. Those were the years in which Voltaire ruled European opinion, and Turgot could not but take account of his influence. Yet no one could apparently be more unlike those who were especially named as the French philosophers of the eighteenth century. He remained reverential; he was never blasphemous, never blatant; he was careful to avoid giving needless pain or arousing fruitless discussion; and, while the tendency of his whole thinking was evidently removing him from the orthodoxy of the Church, his was a broader and deeper philosophy than that which was then dominant.
    • White, ibid., Seven Great Statesmen...
  • His [Turgot's] first important literary and scholastic effort was a treatise On the Existence of God. Few fragments of it remain, but we are helped to understand him when we learn that he asserted, and to the end of his life maintained, his belief in an Almighty Creator and Upholder of the Universe. It did, indeed, at a later period suit the purposes of his enemies, exasperated by his tolerant spirit and his reforming plans, to proclaim him an atheist; but that sort of charge has been the commonest of missiles against troublesome thinkers in all times.
    • White, ibid., Seven Great Statesmen...
  • He [Turgot] now, in 1749, at the age of twenty two, wrote... a letter which has been an object of wonder among political thinkers ever since. Its subject was paper money. Discussing the ideas of John Law, and especially the essay of Terrasson which had supported them, he dissected them mercilessly, but in a way useful not only in those times but in these.
    • White, ibid., Seven Great Statesmen...
  • Turgot's attempt... showed how the results that had followed Law's issues of paper money must follow all such issues. As regards currency inflation, Turgot saw that the issue of paper money beyond the point where it is convertible into coin is the beginning of disaster—that a standard of value must have value, just as a standard of length must have length, or a standard of capacity, capacity, or a standard of weight, weight. He showed that if a larger amount of the circulating medium is issued than is called for by the business of the country, it will begin to be discredited, and that paper, if its issue be not controlled by its relation to some real standard of value, inevitably depreciates no matter what stamp it bears. Turgot developed his argument [on currency inflation] with a depth, strength, clearness, and breadth, which have amazed every dispassionate reader from that day to this. It still remains one of the best presentations of this subject ever made; and what adds to our wonder is that it was not the result of a study of authorities, but was worked out wholly from his own observation and thought. Up to this time there were no authorities and no received doctrine on the subject; there were simply records of financial practice more or less vicious; it was reserved for this young student, in a letter not intended for publication, to lay down for the first time the great law in which the modern world, after all its puzzling and costly experiences, has found safety.
    • White, ibid., Seven Great Statesmen...

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