Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

'Atlantic Crossings': Jean-Gustave Courcelle-Seneuil, a 19th century French Liberal economist in Chile

Cot Annie L., University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne

December 2nd 1851: Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s coup in France opens a stormy discussion on the relationship between economic liberalism and political liberalism. Jean-Gustave Courcelle-Seneuil (1813-1892), one of the leading French Liberal economists, chose to go into exile in Chile, where he both acted as an advisor to the Finance Minister between 1852 and 1862, and established the first ‘modern’ course in political economy at the University of Santiago. As a member of the French Liberal School, Courcelle-Seneuil was not considered as an expert on policy issues, but rather as an ideologue of the most radical liberal economic theses. His “Atlantic crossing” and his stay in Chile marked a double turning point. On the one hand, his courses in economic theory, widely advertised, were essential in building a group of liberal economists and reformers in Chile. By helping the Chilean authorities to establish new principles on tariff structure, trade policy and freedom of commerce; to reorganise the banking system on the base of a free banking principle with a fractional reserve; to establish a national free trade market through a new and vast railroad network; or to rationalise the State mode of accounting, he played, on the other hand, an instrumental role in “modernising” the Chilean economy on a liberal basis. As such, Courcelle-Seneuil became a “prototype” of what Albert O. Hirschman, has called the “visiting-economist” syndrome. The paper compares Courcelle-Seneuil’s early theoretical and epistemological positions (1. Courcelle-Seneuil in France: a non-academic, liberal, eclectic, polemist) with his different roles during his exile in Chile (2. Transatlantic crossings I - popularising “the good economic doctrines”: Courcelle-Seneuil’s Chilean battles); and analyses the effect of this “transatlantic crossing” on his theoretical project at his return to France (3. Transatlantic crossings II - the return to France: an epistemological shift).


Keywords: French 19th century Liberal school, visiting economists, transatlantic crossings

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