Anne Robert Jacques Turgot 101: The Physiocrat Economist
Zatrun Published at June 13, 2023

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot was one of the most significant economists and politicians of the 18th century. He was among the founders of the economic thought school known as Physiocrats, which advocated for the importance of economic liberalism and agriculture and conducted research defining the law of diminishing marginal returns.

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot also served as France’s Finance Minister and attempted a series of reform initiatives to improve the country’s financial situation. For more information on Turgot’s biography, important ideas, works, and legacy, keep reading this article on

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot

Who is Anne Robert Jacques Turgot?

Born in Paris on May 10, 1727, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot came from a noble and politically involved family. He began his education at home and later entered the Sorbonne University, where he studied philosophy, theology, and law. Turgot, who received education for a career in the church, worked as a parish priest for a while after his education. However, he later left the church and entered politics in 1751.

At the same year, he was appointed as the governor of the Limoges by France’s King Louis XV. Turgot held this position for 13 years, addressed the region’s economic and social issues. He reduced taxes, promoted agriculture, supported education, and helped the poor.

In 1764, he returned to Paris and met with the Physiocrats. The Physiocratic school was an economic movement that advocated that agriculture was the basis of the economy and that the state should not intervene in commerce. Turgot became close friends with François Quesnay, one of the leading figures of the Physiocrats, and was influenced by his ideas.

Turgot was appointed as Navy Minister by France’s new king, Louis XVI, in 1774. A month later, he became Finance Minister. During his two-year tenure, Turgot attempted to implement radical reforms to solve France’s financial crisis. He aimed to establish fairness in the tax system, liberalise the grain trade, and stop borrowing. However, these reforms were met with opposition from both the nobles, who opposed the increase in taxes, and the people, who were unhappy with the rising grain prices.

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot was dismissed from his position on May 12, 1776, due to these complaints. After this, he withdrew from politics and began living in his home in Paris. He continued to write about economic issues. He died in Paris on March 18, 1781.

His Major Contributions

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot was a prominent economist and politician who put forward many works and ideas. The most important of these are:

  • “Letters on Tolerance” (1754): In this work, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot criticises religious bigotry and advocates for everyone to have freedom of belief. He also emphasizes the need for the state to be neutral in religious matters.
  • The Formation and Distribution of Wealth” (1766): In this work, Turgot explains the basic principles of physiocrats. He argues that agriculture is the foundation of the economy and that the state should not interfere with trade. He also emphasizes the importance of freedom of labor and trade.
  • Theory of diminishing marginal returns: This law emerged in Turgot’s studies on agricultural economy. According to this law, when one production factor is increased while keeping other factors constant, the rate of increase in production decreases. This law emphasized the importance of agriculture and led to the emphasis of physiocrats on agriculture.
  • Fair collection of taxes: Turgot tried to ensure fairness in the tax system in France. He also demanded that the nobles pay taxes and advocated for taxes to be based on income. He preferred indirect taxation over direct taxation.
  • Freeing up grain trade: Turgot opposed government regulation of grain trade. He advocated for the determination of grain prices through market mechanisms and allowed for the export of grain. These reforms increased grain production but also caused price fluctuations.
  • Abolition of guilds: Turgot believed that guilds hindered industrial development. He argued that the abolition of guilds would allow workers to work freely and employers to compete. These reforms were supported by industrialists but protested by guilds.

Turgot’s Ideas and Legacy

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot was one of the pioneers of economic liberalism in France even before the French Revolution. His reforms influenced both supporters and opponents and benefited other countries as well. One of his greatest admirers was Adam Smith. Smith read Turgot’s work “Formation and Distribution of Wealth” and corresponded with him. Smith frequently quoted Turgot in his own work “The Wealth of Nations” (1776) and praised him.

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot’s ideas also inspired the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, was friends with Turgot and was influenced by his ideas. After Turgot’s death, Jefferson wrote a funeral speech for him. Turgot also contributed to the French Revolution. Condorcet, one of the leading figures of the Revolution, was his close friend and assistant. Condorcet supported Turgot’s reforms and tried to continue them.

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot’s legacy continued to have an impact in the following centuries. For example, John Maynard Keynes saw Turgot as one of the founders of modern macroeconomics. Economists such as Murray Rothbard, Joseph Schumpeter, and Friedrich Hayek were also influenced by his ideas. Turgot played an important role in the history of France and the world as both an economist and a politician. Known as an advocate of economic liberalism, Turgot was also a leader of the physiocrats, who emphasized the importance of agriculture.

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