Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

Lessons from the United States: How Gaëtan Pirou Introduced "The New Trends in Economic Theory" in France

Cot Annie Lou, CES, University Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne

"The backwardness of French economic studies comes, partly, from the imperfect knowledge that professors of political economy often had of foreign economic science." In July 1943, Gaëtan Pirou made this observation to deplore the removal of the teaching in History of economic theories at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Introducing French scholars to "foreign economic science" had been the central goal of the seminar Pirou organized at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes between 1927 and 1939: how to open the French theoretical reflection to foreign theoretical debates? How to learn from both analytical and doctrinal conflicts? How to reconsider the conditions of scientificity of economic theory? In a word, how to depart from the narrowly national intellectual tradition inherited from the French liberal school of the late XIXth century? Pirou’s seminar soon became a central locus in Paris academic life, attended by a vast majority of future academic professors, by future civil servants – and by most of the first women who wrote a Ph.D. in France before WW2. According to Pirou, this American mirror reflected the image of the central role held by methodological debates. This led Pirou to reconsider the reflection he had engaged since the 1920s on the distinction between theories and doctrines, the former relating to a positive analysis, the latter to a normative analysis: "Theory is the explanation of reality, while doctrine is an appreciation, a value judgment and possibly a reform agenda." One of the thesis which came out of the seminar was that the reading of American writers tended to shatter this distinction: "Because one of the characteristics of these new currents is that, for them, political economy is not simply a science, a speculative and selfless discipline. It is and must be both a science and an art: science must lead to policy. "


Keywords: seminars, Gaëtan Pirou, American institutionalism, methodological debates