Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

Productive versus economic: whether natural history is the origin of economics?

Chaplygina Irina, Lomonosov Moscow State University

Studying cameralism, especially Russian, we came to conclusion: in that period a lot of economic issues were objects of investigation of natural scientists and were a part of natural history. Widely interpreting cameralism as an economic strategy of national states to improve public welfare we have seen a lot of examples when this political goal stimulated the development of economic studies, often in response to a direct request from the authorities. As a result, a lot of economic issues were explored in a practical and naturalistic way as a problem of producing material welfare. We can mention a lot of initiatives - I.K.Kirilov, The Flourishing of the Russian State (1727) or Tatischev Questionnaires (1737) - which were created to study the country's economic resources and summarize the existing knowledge on soil, mineral resources, flora and fauna, as well as on crafts, trade routes and the population. These projects, initiated for an economic goal, gave a head start to the development of natural science disciplines: geography, geology, biology. The biography of Matvey Afonin can be an illustration of this historical feature. He was one of Russian young men who were sent to Europe to get a good education. He ended up at Uppsala University (1761), attended the courses in “Practical Economics” (sic) held by Emanuel Ekman and Zoology and Botany held by Carl Linnaeus. Under Linnaeus, he wrote his dissertation "On the usefulness of natural history in public life". Even though this work focused on welfare, it was not an economic research in the modern sense of the term. Similar understanding of the nature of economic issues can be found in the letter of recommendation given to Afonin and his friend Karamyshev by Emanuel Ekman at the end of the course. In the letter Ekman refers to his lectures on mineralogy as seminars on economicsю. Also, Carl Linnaeus stated that economy is a practical part of natural science. All that means that economic problems were treated by these scientists as problems of production. As a rule, we draw the line between cameralism and classical political economy in the following way: camerailsm has practical goals whereas classical economics produces purely theoretical knowledge. But we believe that naturalistic vision of the economic problem, inherent in cameralism, is a more significant feature. This naturalistic approach was dispelled only in the works of Ricardo, but according to L. Robbins it retained its influence well into the 20th century.


Keywords: cameralism, natural history, russian economic thought, methodology

Please Login in order to download this file