Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, The Hôtel de Ville and the Place de Grève, 1753
World markets continue to reel from the British government’s free market reform fiasco. New British Prime Minister Liz Truss believed she could cut taxes without taking into account the policy’s immediate effects on the market, or its actual overall cost. The result has been a full-fledged economic disaster. One might call it a free market reform that the market rejected. It’s a funny concept, but it’s not the first time such a thing has occurred.
Indeed, the first attempt to liberalize an economy was based on the same idea: that liberalizing markets was all that it took for markets to function. In fact, it turned out, markets need much more tending and plenty of governmental care. The French found this out the hard way in the 18th century after new free-market reforms led to market failure, uprisings and famine — and perhaps even the first sparks of the French Revolution. The ensuing government reversal bears an eerie resemblance to Britain’s crisis today.
Anne Claude de Caylus, Coffee-Seller, 1746
In the 1760s, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot began a series of reforms to liberalize the French economy. Turgot was a famed French philosopher and high government administrator (known as a royal intendant) whose responsibilities were to manage the monarchy’s legal affairs, taxes and political questions in the provinces. A leader of Enlightenment thought, he believed in religious tolerance, the abolition of slavery, secular public schools, free speech and more democratic representation. Most of all, Turgot was influenced by the new French free-market school of thought called physiocracy, which held that all wealth came from farming (as opposed to commerce and industry), and that, therefore, landowners and farm laborers should be freed from taxes and regulations so that farming could prosper and produce capital investment for improvement and progress.
“How a Visionary French Philosopher Accidentally Fueled Famine, Riots and Revolt”, Jacob Sill, Politico