Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Georges d’Avenel an economic historian ahead of his time

Alcouffe Alain, University Toulouse 1 Capitole
Le Bris David, Toulouse Business School

At the end of the 19th Century, Georges d’Avenel (1855-1939) produced some highly original work in various fields from the history of prices to the history of mentalities through issues related to inequality. Unsatisfied with the usual way of writing history, he turned his attention early on to economic issues. He was a pioneer in taking into account the history of prices and currencies, gathering series of prices of multiples goods and services dating from 1200 to 1800. He used these data to analyse long term changes in relative prices as a result of technical progress, in incomes derived from different occupations and wealth inequalities, as well as the evolution of mentalities. His new approach which compared with that of Thorold Rogers (1866–1902), was heftily criticized by some staunch "Republican" academic historians who rejected this competition from outside and were horrified by his view of the social question strongly influenced by the Optimist school (French liberal school). He was also rejected and mobbed by the royalist Action française (a French far-right monarchist political movement ) which despised his ‘ralliement” to the Republican form of government. However, his impressive collections of data were praised by Vilfredo Pareto, Ragnar Frisch or Alfred Marshall and are still used by contemporary economic historians while his approach has fertilized various fields in particular the 'Ecole des Annales' as well as economic sociology.

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Keywords: d'Avenel, history of prices, economic history, quantitative history, Optimist school of economics

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