25 November 2009

Turgot: The Idea of Economic Stages of History

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot (1727-1781) was a French administrator and economist. He served as comptroller general of France from 1774 to 1776. In his work Plan of Two Discourses on Universal History (1750), he divided the history of the world into three (economic) stages:
1. Hunting
2. Pastoralism
3. Agriculture
(Remember - this was before the Industrial Revolution)

Later, Adam Smith made the idea famous in his Wealth of Nations (1776). He divided human history into four stages:
1. Age of hunters
2. Age of shepherds
3. Age of agriculture
4. Age of commerce
(This was also just before the Industrial Revolution)

In our own time, we divide history into these three stages:
1. Hunting-gathering (primitive)
2. Agricultural (traditional)
3. Industrial (modern)

Today this view of history is commonplace. The credit for originating the idea belongs to A R J Turgot.

Some thinkers like Alain Touraine, Daniel Bell and Alvin Toffler divide history (implicitly or explicitly) into these stages:
1. Agricultural
2. Industrial
3. Post-Industrial
Even they are children walking in Turgot's footsteps.

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