Contrast The Economic Philosophy Of The Physiocrats With That Of The Mercantilists


Contrasting Economic Philosophies Physiocrats vs Mercantilists

In the realm of economic thought, two prominent schools of thinking emerged during the 18th century: physiocracy and mercantilism. These philosophies presented contrasting views on the principles governing economic prosperity, trade, and government intervention. Understanding the differences between physiocracy and mercantilism sheds light on the evolution of economic theory and its impact on policy-making.


Mercantilism, predominant in Europe during the early modern period, emphasized the accumulation of wealth through international trade and the acquisition of precious metals, particularly gold and silver. Mercantilists believed that a nation’s economic strength and power were directly tied to its stockpile of bullion. To achieve this, mercantilist policies advocated for state intervention in the economy through measures such as tariffs, subsidies, and colonial exploitation.

Key Tenets of Mercantilism

  • Trade Surpluses: Mercantilists viewed trade surpluses, achieved by exporting more than importing, as essential for accumulating wealth and achieving economic dominance.
  • Protectionism: Mercantilist policies aimed to protect domestic industries from foreign competition through tariffs, quotas, and trade restrictions.
  • Colonialism: Mercantilists advocated for colonial expansion to secure access to raw materials, markets, and cheap labor, thereby bolstering the home country’s economic prosperity.


Physiocracy, a school of economic thought that emerged in France during the mid-18th century, presented a stark departure from mercantilism. Led by François Quesnay, physiocrats rejected mercantilist policies and instead emphasized the importance of natural laws governing economic activity, particularly in agriculture. They believed that wealth was derived primarily from the land and agricultural production.

Key Tenets of Physiocracy

  • Laissez-faire: Physiocrats advocated for minimal government intervention in the economy, promoting laissez-faire principles and free-market mechanisms.
  • Productive Labor: Physiocrats argued that agricultural labor was the only truly productive form of economic activity, as it generated surplus value and contributed to overall wealth creation.
  • Single Tax: A central tenet of physiocracy was the concept of the “impôt unique” or single tax, which proposed taxing land rent as the sole source of government revenue.

Contrast and Implications

The economic philosophies of physiocracy and mercantilism represent contrasting approaches to economic policy and governance. While mercantilism advocated for state intervention, protectionism, and colonial expansion, physiocracy championed laissez-faire principles, agricultural productivity, and the single tax. These differences have profound implications for trade policy, government intervention, and economic development.

The contrast between the economic philosophies of physiocracy and mercantilism highlights the diversity of thought within the field of economics and its impact on policy-making. While mercantilism dominated European economic thought for centuries, the rise of physiocracy signaled a shift towards more laissez-faire principles and paved the way for subsequent schools of economic theory. Understanding these contrasting philosophies enriches our comprehension of economic history and informs contemporary debates on trade, taxation, and government intervention.