Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Clément Juglar’s epistemic usage of metaphors

Roberto Baranzini, Université de Lausanne
Daniele Besomi, Université de Lausanne

Clément Juglar extensively used metaphors in the theoretical parts of his writings on crises (almost none is to be found in the historical and descriptive sections). Some are used to characterize the main features of crises (their suddenness, short duration, violence, the propagation of their effects) and of the subsequent liquidation (their longer duration, the sufferance they bring). The most interesting ones, however, were essential in defining Juglar’s epistemological approach to crises. Like some of his contemporaries (but contrary to the mainstream approach of his French liberal colleagues), Juglar came to the conclusion that crises are not accidents but are a consequence of the (ill-defined) ‘excesses’ of the prosperous phase (abuse of credit, overtrading, overspeculation). This is expressed by means of metaphors such as the ‘predisposition’ to disease, the necessity that the explosive charge has to be loaded before the explosion can take place, and the last drop causing an already full water basing to overflow. Juglar’s emphasis is on causation rather than on the specific mechanism, with two interesting corollaries. The first is that he saw the credit mechanism as at once as necessary to prosperity and intrinsically unstable, so that after some point any disturbance can trigger the crisis. The second lies in his criticism of the mainstream understanding of crises as anomalies: since any disturbance can cause a crisis once the system is predisposed, the theories focusing on the disturbances mistook secondary causes for the true cause of crises. Our paper first discusses Juglar’s metaphors for crises; then it compares them with other metaphors used in the contemporary literature, both considering whether and how his own metaphors were used by other writers, and by comparing them with the metaphors evoked by other writers to stress similar points.

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Keywords: crisis, juglar, metaphors