Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

Turgot’s Unpublished Notes on The Effects of Indirect Taxation

van den Berg Richard, Kingston University

Present amongst the newly accessible private papers of the Enlightenment thinker and statesman Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (1727-1781) is a five-page set of calculations that carries the title Appreciations des effets de l’impôt indirect. These notes, whose existence has remained virtually unknown until now, throw new light on a topic that Turgot dealt with in several of his other writings. They are unique in revealing his attempt to apply mathematics to the matter. In the notes Turgot attempts to follow a number of reasoned assumptions with regards to tax incidence. They show his struggles with an arithmetical method, involving the calculation of a diminishing series, by means of which he proposed to trace the effects of the imposition of a new indirect tax on prices, expenditures and incomes. Turgot’s basic assumptions, the arithmetical method, and the presumed effects of indirect taxes can be compared to the efforts on the same topic of Quesnay and Dupont. This comparison improves our understanding of the extent of Turgot’s agreement on this topic with physiocratic doctrine, both in principle and in technical detail.

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Keywords: Turgot, taxation, mathematical economics, physiocracy

Paper file