Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Widening Wicksell’s conception of political economy: his “thoroughly revolutionary programme”

Guillot Léon, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

In the introduction of the first volume of Föreläsningar i nationalekonomi in 1901, Knut Wicksell (1851-1926) claims that “the very concept of political economy […] implies, strictly speaking, a thoroughly revolutionary programme”, a programme that has often been neglected in the literature. These past twenty years have indeed witnessed a gain of interest for Wicksell’s thought and his legacy in the history of economic thought, especially in the fields of macroeconomics and monetary analysis but tend to disconnecting Wicksell’s theories from social perspectives as Woodford (2003). In the meantime Wicksell’s role as a social reformer is stressed by Swedberg (1999, 2002), Carlson and Jonung (2004), and Johnson (2010). Yet those scholars do not explore his role as an economist reformer. I argue on the contrary that his roles of social and economic reformer cannot be separated and his contribution to both fields has to be considered as a whole. By both extending the existing literature and explaining Wicksell’s theoretical scheme, my paper aims at showing that Wicksell implements a “thoroughly revolutionary programme” based on criteria of justice in order to enlarge political economy. During Wicksell time, marginalist analysis was starting to replace the classical one almost everywhere in Europe, except in Scandinavian countries. Although he stressed in his In Defence of the Theory of Marginal Utility (1900) and in 1901 that the marginal principle “governs every part of political economy”, he argued that it cannot be used “as such” to explain the greatest prosperity of society or the greatest happiness of the whole. In the beginning of the 1890’s Wicksell claimed that economic and social problems may be solved only by a complete social reorganisation, i.e. the implementation of social justice.


Keywords: Wicksell ; Social Justice ; Marginal Productivity ; Instability

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