Fifteen years after the Global Financial Crisis: Recessions and Business Cycles in the History of Economic Thought

Of Machines and Capital. French and British Debates, 1760s to 1780s

Van den Berg Richard, Kingston University

This paper examines the implications of the new theories of capitalist production that emerged in the early 1760s for the debates about the (dis)advantages of the introduction of machinery. In a previous paper, I examined the debates about machinery of the 1750s, in the works of amongst others Parrott, Dangeul, Forbonnais, Tucker and Goudar (van den Berg 2022). In the present paper I argue that the arguments in favour (largely) of machinery changed under the influence of the more formal theories about economic reproduction introduced by François Quesnay, in France, and Adam Smith, in Britain. Their ideas about productivity, the notions of circulating and fixed capital and of surplus, as well as more general notions of the benefits of trade, provided a new conceptual framework. In this paper I examine how this new framework changed the terms of the debates about the application of machinery at a time when the first industrial revolution was gathering pace. Van den Berg, R. 2022. ‘Apologistes des Machines. French and British Machinery Debates of the 1750s’, Paper presented at the THETS conference in Cambridge, UK.

Area: Eshet Conference

Keywords: Machinery, Quesnay, Smith

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