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The Concept Of An Agricultural Surplus, From Petty To Smith




Everyone has to eat, so agriculturalists must produce enough to feed themselves and the rest of the population. This statement is trivially obvious but making it explicit mattered to the early development of economic thinking. Many important economic writers of the period (Petty, Cantillon, Hutcheson, Hume, Steuart, Mirabeau, Smith, and others) used a specific notion of agricultural surplus of the form: x men can feed y, where y > x. A series of questions about the relation between agriculture and the rest of the economy naturally follows. Will the surplus be produced? How does it reach those who consume it? What are the “superfluous hands” (in Hume’s terms) to do? This paper points out this neglected theme in early economics.

Suggested Citation

  • Brewer, Anthony, 2011. "The Concept Of An Agricultural Surplus, From Petty To Smith," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 33(04), pages 487-505, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jhisec:v:33:y:2011:i:04:p:487-505_00

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    Cited by:

    1. Serrano, Franklin & Mazat, Numa, 2013. "Quesnay and the analysis of the surplus in an agrarian capitalist economy," MPRA Paper 47781, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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    JEL classification:

    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)


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