Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

Teaching General Equilibrium Theory in the Early 20th Century: An Analysis of Treatises

Centurião Lúcia, University of São Paulo

This paper aims to analyze the teaching of general equilibrium theory at the begin- ning of the 20th century. I studied three general treatises: The Mathematical Groundwork of Economics: An Introductory Treatise (1924), by Arthur Bowley; The Theory of So- cial Economy (1924), by Gustav Cassel; and Principes d’ ́Economie Pure: La Th ́eorie de l’ ́Echange sous le R ́egime de la Libre Concurrence (1914), written by ́Etienne Antonelli. Despite having some original contributions, the three works were undoubtedly written for students, and analysing them allow us 1) to contribute to the literature on economics education in the pre-war, and 2) to analyze from a singular point of view the emergence of mathematical economics as a field within economic science. I used content analysis technique and quantitative text summarization, and I commented on the rhetorical el- ements employed by the authors. With respect to the dissemination of the Walrasian general equilibrium theory, I conclude that, although the three books presented Walras’s framework, they also presented at the same time antagonistic fundamental beliefs about what was economic science and its scope; therefore, Walras’s model was taught in very different theoretical frameworks: no one dominant group appropriated it. In spite of that, the content analysis technique shows that the three treatises share similarities in their structure, which already indicates some degree of standardization in the first decades of the 20th century.


Keywords: General Equilibrium Theory

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