Fifteen years after the Global Financial Crisis: Recessions and Business Cycles in the History of Economic Thought

"The Journal des économistes (1841-1871), the word “équilibre” and the standardization of liberal discourse”

Loulergue Justine, Centre Walras Pareto (Université de Lausanne) & Centre d’économie de la Sorbonne (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

This contribution wonders about what created the unity of a group of XIXth century French economists gathered around the Journal des économistes, created in 1841. This journal was read across Europe and even further, and its liberal writers claimed to agree on an almost finished science, political economy. Their Science was supposed to enable them to overcome their political disagreements, so that they could all together lobby for laissez-faire. In their context, such a unity was essential to ensure the survival of the group – and it worked well, since the group institutionally dominated French political economy for more than half a century. But the surprising thing this is that, as the secondary literature already shows it, these economists formed their group while disagreeing on most of what constituted their liberal dogma: among other things, one can mention the way market prices are formed, what laissez-faire is, and what kind future society it should bring. In other words, those liberals all advocated for laissez-faire, but did not agree on what laissez-faire was nor on the reasons why it was worth defending. Hence, this contribution questions the factors that enabled the group to keep such a surprising unity despite all their differences. The answer proposed here is that these economists were united mainly by their rhetoric. Based on a quantitative and qualitative study of the Journal des économistes – a privileged place for the standardization of liberal discourse – and on the publications of two of its authors, Louis Wolowski and Gustave de Molinari, the paper shows that their rhetoric plays a key role in the construction of the group because it allows them to mask the extent of their disagreements. In particular, the contribution looks at the use these authors make of the word "équilibre". It is used in many ways in the Journal des économistes without ever being defined, and its metaphorical character allows it to mask numerous imprecisions and divergent interpretations of the dogma shared by these economists.

Area: Young Scholar Seminar

Keywords: French liberalism, equilibrium, discourse analysis, Molinari, Wolowski, rhetoric

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