Until the early seventeenth century, economic problems, and especially those relating to food supplies, were conceived of in accordance with simple and unquestioned principles: wares were to be supplied in proper quantities to the market at proper prices, gold and silver were to be accumulated, there was to be cheap bread and help for the poor. Abundance and low prices were the primary aims. The perception of the nation’s economy was simplistic and in that it was much like the medicine of the time. Until the Renaissance, the human body was viewed as something of a black box: nobody quite knew what was inside it. Medicine, based on the works of Aristotle and the previously uncontested legacy of Galen, was more of an art than a science. But why the parallel between the two disciplines? The study of wealth and
that of biology, anatomy and medicine seem worlds apart. But many of those busy developing political economy were also physicians or professors of anatomy engaged in the investigation of physiological principles. Caﬀentzis evokes the ‘conceptual commerce between medicine and economic thought’ (Caﬀentzis 2003: 204) and argues that the two branches of knowledge were very closely allied. The newly developing economic science was searching for a principle around which to order itself and took the natural sciences as its model (Buck 1977). Economists’ systematic recourse to analogies and metaphors contributed extensively to this development. And the medical model was readily employed because a good number of economists, including Petty, Locke, Barbon and Mandeville, had studied anatomy and practised medicine (Groenewegen ed. 2001). But a few physicians-cum-economists are hardly suﬃcient grounds to explain
the connection between the two disciplines. And other economists, too, whether merchants (Malynes, Mun), government advisers (Montchrestien, Davenant, Defoe) or holders of high oﬃce (Boisguilbert) also made reference to medicine. In most works of the period, man as a physical entity served as a model for understanding the functions of the economy. Pre-classical authors did not focus their analysis on production, as the classical authors later would, but were preoccupied by exchange. Hence the circulation of wealth constituted a problem of ‘public health’. The organic paradigm still dominated reﬂection about society: physiological or psychological metaphors were used when dealing with social and economic phenomena.