Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Mniszechs' Project of the Reform of Poland: Theorising Economic Development in the Eighteenth-Century Economic Thought

Szymanski Radoslaw Szymanski, Université de Lausanne

In this paper I am discussing one non-canonical attempt to engage with various strands of early-modern economic thought in order to adapt them to the challenges specific to a developing state – Poland. In 1760s two Poles (M. & J. Mniszech) came to one of the key nodes of the Enlightenment Europe, Berne, in order to advance their understanding of economic and social processes. They studied the measures which resulted in the increase in agricultural productivity (the ‘agricultural revolution’ which subsequently enabled the ‘Industrial Revolution’) ; the dynamics of rural flight and urbanisation ; the relationship between commerce, manufacturing and agriculture ; the link between property regime and productivity ; and other, closely related issues. In the course of their work they engaged with the Economic Society of Berne, the Physiocrats and German theories of public administration (Polizeiwissenschaft). Their goal in drawing from these heterogeneous sources was to elaborate a workable theory of economic and political reform for the Polish state : an agrarian republic with underdeveloped commercial infrastructure, which had been left out of the economic advancements which occurred elsewhere in Europe in the previous decades. On the basis of published and unpublished materials produced by the Mniszechs, I am reconstructing the manner in which they conceptualised the problems of economic development and their tentative solutions. In their understanding, successful attempts to implant manufacturing needed to be based on its exact fit with the productive capabilities of agriculture, reinforced by a property regime based on the ownership of land by the workers. This partial affinity with the Physiocracy, however, did not extend to a laissez-faire approach to state intervention in the economy. They concluded that developing states needed institutionalised production of economic knowledge – a modern public administration tasked with collecting data for policymaking.


Keywords: Poland; Physiocracy; Polizeiwissenschaft; serfdom; public administration