Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

An economic advisor manqué finds a follower: Léon Walras and Étienne Antonelli

Centurião Lucia, University of São Paulo

Léon Walras’s letters show he spent much of his life trying to arouse interest in his ideas and theories. Attempts in his home country, France, though, were even less fruitful than in other places. Nevertheless, there were exceptions and this paper aims to present an outstanding case in the French community: Étienne Antonelli. Still young, Antonelli proclaimed open affiliation to Walrasian theory. This affiliation, however, made his academic life more difficult -- he failed twice in the examination to be a Professor agrégé. I conjecture that he reacted to these failures by looking for alternatives, and he dedicated himself to two other activities: policy-maker and the popularization of economic knowledge. The purpose of the paper is to analyze how Walrasian ideas influenced these last two activities. I went through some newspaper material, available documents published by Antonelli, some selected documents written by Walras and Walras's exchanged letters. Throughout his life, Walras made occasional excursions outside the Ivory Tower and defended the formation of mutual assistance cooperatives and increasing workers’ share in capital formation. Antonelli became a politician in 1924, and he was one of the chief authors of the law that established modern social security in France. He also wrote several best-sellers translated into many languages, and he tried to promote a law that would facilitate workers’ participation in industrial capital. The literature about Walras points out that there was, after his death, a period of "quiescence" in the development of Walrasian agenda. Nonetheless, this paper shows that, at least in the case of France, perhaps the main followers just were not in the academy, and Walras’s ideas were being applied in other spheres.

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Keywords: Léon Walras; France; policy making

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