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L'economie politique en France au XIX siecle.

As the introduction of this collection of essays points out, some aspects of nineteenth-century French economic thought are still generally ignored. There is then no room for doubt as to the editors' ambition. The contributions are intended to fill a lacuna in the history of economics.

In the introductory chapter, Michel Lutfalla claims that Say represents the major link between the Enlightenment and the nineteenth century. Accordingly, Say is the fountainhead of three liberal trends: the "ultra-liberals" (Charles Dunoyer, Frederic Bastiat, Joseph Garnier and Jean-Gustave Courcelle-Seneuil), the "moderate liberals" (Adolphe-Jerome Blanqui, Louis Wolowski and Paul Leroy-Beaulieu) and the "heterodox liberals" (Michel Chevalier and Clement Juglar).

Chapter 2 deals with the "ultra-liberals." Some interesting connections between this group and contemporary economics are put forward. For instance, Marc Penin finds similarities between Dunoyer's methodology and the Scottish moral philosophers', and therefore between Dunoyer and Hayek, who once acknowledged his links with the Scottish Enlightenment. Moreover, Dunoyer, it is argued, develops a theory of human capital, thus extending Say's idea that the individual can be regarded as "accumulated capital". From this viewpoint, Dunoyer's approach to entrepreneurs' abilities appears very close to Schultz's "entrepreneurial ability." In the same vien, Maurice Basle and Alain Geledan wonder whether Bastiat is one of the founding fathers of Public Choice. Unfortunately, the argument is rather sketchy. In addition to emphsizing the modernity of the "ultra-liberals," Chapter 2 shows that the definition of political economy makes it possible to characterize authors' views on methodology. Richard Arena points out that Joseph Garnier steers a middle course between those who consider political economy an experimental science and those who base the discipline on reasoning. Similarly, Luc Marco notes that Courcelle-Seneuil "wanted political economy first to be included in a general social science, then, to be used as a forum for social science."

In chapter 3, the links between history and economics are touched upon. Pictured as a "moderate liberal," A.-J. Blanqui is usually known as the first author of a history of economic thought. However, Arena recalls that the actual subject of Blanqui's innovative book (L'Histoire de l'economie politique en Europe . . . , 1837) is less analytical systems than economic history and its social teachings. This proves altogether consistent with the two outstanding features of Blanqui's social philosophy, namely, his hostility to the English manufacturing system and his approval of social reformers. Identically, it is his "historical method" that makes Louis Wolowski aware of the importance of phases of transition. The fact that industrialization is the only way to settle la question sociale (see the "criticism of the false solutions" |pp. 193-6~) does not preclude the possibility for institutions to influence social progress. Unlike Wolowski, Leroy-Beaulieu believes "la question sociale is solved by itself, gradually and peacefully" (cited by Basle, p. 222). However, as aptly recalled by Basle, Leroy-Beaulieu was far from being consistent on this matter. Does he not advocate state intervention both to promote the Colonial Empire and raise the birth rate?

Chapter 4 features two "heterodox liberals"--Juglar and Chevalier. Breton emphasizes Chevalier's line of conduct, his being faithful to the main Saint-Simonian principles, namely: pacifism, internationalism and the willingness to better the lot of the poor. Logically, Chevalier focuses on the means to increase labor productivity, thus regarding political economy primarily as an art. Juglar, on the other hand, fully agrees with the prevailing view among French liberals that political economy is an experimental science aimed at answering la question sociale. However, Juglar's theory of cycles does not fit in this overall outlook. Although observation is an important part in the analysis of cycles, prediction does not have any social dimension and therefore cannot aid government's ambitions to boost the economy. On the fringe of heterodoxy, Charles Gide is depicted as a representative of the "cooperationist movement" (chapter 5). He challenges the anti-interventionist views of the liberals from an original perspective. His main criticism rests upon the contention that political economy is uncompleted. Provided that the discipline presents theoretical limitations, some current "false solutions" might well appear "right" in the near future. If so, it follows directly that there is room for state intervention. Paul Cauwes--the "anti-Bastiat"--goes further (chapter 6). Political economy must serve as an instrument in the hands of politicians to promote social progress. It is no accident then to find him the bete noire of liberal economists.

The second part of the book gives up authors for debates. Describing the "institutionalization of political economy" (chapter 7), Lucette Le Van-Lemesle casts additional light on the aforementioned authors. First, from 1815 to 1877, the discipline has to fight the deep-seated protectionism of businessmen. As a result, the institutionalization of political economy can be construed as the success story of an economic policy favoring free trade and the role of the entrepreneur. Then, between 1877 and 1896, political economy surreptitiously enters law schools. Newly appointed professors have to face a twofold opposition. On the one hand, liberal economists question the teaching abilities of "jurists," maintaining that people learned in art can not teach science. On the other hand, within law schools themselves, professors of political economy hold an awkward position. Finally, from 1896 to 1914, the subject progressively enters the schools for engineers (mainly the Corps des Ponts et Chaussees and the Conservatoire des arts et metiers), where the students' background is more mathematical. Le Van-Lemesle notes that, among liberal economists of this day, "the rejection of mathematics, or a fortiori of statistics, was never complete nor based on epistemological grounds." Actually, mathematics arouses reservation more than rejection.

In chapter 8, Breton shows that, although not unanimous, the opposition to the use of mathematics within economics is nonetheless real (remember the opposition to Augustin Cournot and Leon Walras). The aversion to mathematics applies to history, too. French liberals concentrate their criticism on "the German Historical Schools" (Wilhem Roscher, Bruno Hildebrand, Karl Knies and Gustav Schmoller) suspected of an unbearable relativism. For those who were not prepared to give up the idea of "universal economic laws," the adhesion to the theses of a Hildebrand or a Knies could not but be difficult. The treatment of methodological issues goes on with the study of economic agents. Marco shows that French liberals progressively evolve from an "individualistic view of agents |inherited from Say~ to a more collective analysis of their functions." He differentiates "liberal" and "heterodox" economists. The former strive to maintain the original theoretical framework despite the addition of collective agents; the latter prefer to move on to macroagents whose logic does not necessarily coincide with that of individual agents.

In chapter 10, Yves Charbit addresses the "relationships between ideas on population and economic liberalism." He shows that at the end of the second Empire, both the "Prussian peril" and colonial rivalry with England are about to strengthen anti-Malthusian and populationist ideas. Henceforth, liberal economists face a dilemma: on the one hand, peace at home demands low birth rates; on the other hand, the settling of colonies--a condition for colonial expansion--requires a great increase in population. The analysis of free trade uncovers similar hesitations (chapter 11). Joel Ravix distinguishes two main periods. Until 1860, French liberals, following in Say's footsteps, uphold that "foreign trade is only a particular form of the commerce in general. As a result, there is no essential difference between domestic and international trade." Later on, especially after the "free-trade interlude" (1860-1880), liberals are divided on the subject. Some, like Gustave de Molinari and Yves Guyot, advocate Bastiat's absolute free-trade doctrine; interventionist liberals, like Leroy-Beaulieu and Cauwes, depict the nation as an economic agent in its own. Political economy likewise undergoes a notable evolution concerning the treatment of money. Whereas most liberal economists stick to a metallist theory of money in the first half of the nineteenth century, they adopt afterwards more modern monetary theories in which paper money is viewed as serving the same functions as metal money.

The last essay is devoted to la question sociale that Serge Moscovici once defined as the preeminent issue of the nineteenth century (Essai sur l'histoire humaine de la nature, Flammarion, 1968, p. 5). Jean Luciani sets out to show that the "liberal thought and la question sociale are not at all irreconcilable with each other." Clearly, Villerme's Tableau de l'etat physique et moral des ouvriers . . . (1840) makes liberal economists aware of the working conditions in manufactures. From that time on, being associated with the working classes, poverty is justified by improvidence rather than idleness. Accordingly, liberals distinguish between the "good" and "evil" workmen.

Too often, collections of essays lack unity. The book under review does not suffer from this flaw at all. Repetitions are rare, the terminology used throughout the volume is unified and internal cross-references are aptly used. Besides, each of the essays can be read independently in its own right. The title of the collection is too inaccurate, though. Indeed, L'Economie politique en France au XIX siecle does not depict the whole nineteenth-century political economy. For those who are not comfortable with the French language but have a liking for nineteenth-century French economic thought, it should be noted that this book is well-indexed. In addition, each chapter includes a bibliography distinguishing primary from secondary sources. In sum, this is a rich and timely book which historians of thought should enjoy.
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Author:Fontaine, Philippe
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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