Chapter

From Electricity to Economy

in Science in the Age of Sensibility

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2002 | ISBN: 9780226720784
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226720852 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226720852.003.0004
From Electricity to Economy

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The French economists—the physiocrats—were among those who seized upon Franklinist philosophy and adapted it to their own purposes. They introduced Franklin to the emerging field of political economy and to a prominent position in French politics by enlisting him in their program of economic reform. This chapter begins with this program. The economists cast wealth as a natural fluid akin to heat, light, or electricity, and subjected it to a conservation law like Franklin's conservation of electrical charge. The same natural motives that regulate the flow of electricity would, the economists argued, also maintain a harmonious distribution of wealth. They, therefore, recommended an empirical method of determining correct taxes from sensory “evidence,” the annual agricultural surplus.

Keywords: French economists; Franklinist philosophy; political economy; economic reform; conservation law; electricity; agricultural surplus

Chapter.  15360 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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