Most people probably have never heard of Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, being more familiar with, say, Adam Smith. The reason for Turgot’s anonymity may be as simple as he was French. The power of the world these last few centuries rested to a large degree in English-speaking countries; thus Smith and not Turgot. No one can deny Smith membership in the “Titan’s of Economic Thought” club, but let us not forget that, like all great thinkers, he stood on the shoulders of, mostly forgotten, giants.
Reading Turgot in my little (and lovely) corner of the world I can’t help but feel connected to the man and his time. Although a genius and visionary compared with my limited intellectual abilities, Turgot faced the same task we all face; how do we make sense of a world seemingly devoid of an intellectual and moral anchor? Like Turgot and because of thinkers like him, I have come to the conclusion that things aren’t as bad as I regularly say they are. Shocking revelation, I know, but an important one for me nonetheless.
It’s easy (and some would say fun) to be cynical in our world today. Politically, the nations of the west are intellectually and morally bankrupt. The only goal is seemingly to increase their power, of course at the expense of civil society. Economically, the trajectory of these nations seems clear, but therein lies the hope. The hope is not that people will suddenly come to their senses and elect politicians who will protect, rather than destroy, human liberties. The hope is that the voluntary interactions of billions of people (called for short “the market”) will overcome the hurdle of etatism.
In this, I believe I have history on my side. Even the most bloodthirsty regimes in the history of the world (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Mao’s China) came toppling down. Of course the machine of the state, particularly the model 20th century state that we still labour under today, grinds human beings up like cattle. Regardless, humans have continued to improve their lot in life at an astonishing pace given the powers arrayed against just such an outcome. Much like the 18th century English citizen, who simply ignored the edicts of the monarch and its guilds to embark on the greatest advancement in human livelihood up to that time, today millions of people simply ignore to their best of their abilities the powers-that-be, or move to an area that is more conducive to the market and human progress.
There have always been opportunities for advancement in the world. So far, humans have done nothing but advance. There have been terrible, unfortunate instances of humans butchering each other instead of participating in the mutually beneficial market of exchange, that is for sure. However, through all of the wars and destruction, humans have proved not merely resilient, but forward-looking and opportunity driven. I am confident this trend will continue.