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Léon Walras
Lausanne school
Lwalras.jpg
Léon Walras
Birth December 16, 1834(1834-12-16)
Death January 5, 1910 (aged 75)
Nationality  France
Field Marginalism
Influences Cournot, French Rationalism
Influenced Vilfredo Pareto
Contributions Walras' law, General equilibrium

Marie-Esprit-Léon Walras (December 16, 1834 in Évreux, Eure - January 5, 1910 in Clarens, near Montreux, Switzerland) was a French mathematical economist associated with the creation of the general equilibrium theory.

Contents

Life and career

Walras was the son of French economist Auguste Walras. His father was a school administrator and not a professional economist, yet his economic thinking had a profound effect on his son. He found the value of goods by setting their scarcity relative to human wants.

Walras also inherited his father's interest in social reform. Much like the Fabians, Walras called for the nationalization of land, believing that land’s value would always increase and that rents from that land would be sufficient to support the nation without taxes.

Another of Walras’ influences was Augustin Cournot, a former schoolmate of his father. Through Cournot, Walras came under the influence of French Rationalism and was introduced to the use of mathematics in economics.

Although Walras came to be regarded as one of the three leaders of the marginalist revolution, he was not familiar with the two other leading figures of marginalism, William Stanley Jevons and Carl Menger, and developed his theories independently.

In 1874 and 1877 Walras published Elements of Pure Economics, a work that led him to be considered the father of the general equilibrium theory. The problem that Walras set out to solve was one presented by Cournot, that even though it could be demonstrated that prices would equate supply and demand to clear individual markets, it was unclear that an equilibrium existed for all markets simultaneously.

Walras created a system of simultaneous equations in an attempt to solve Cournot’s problem. He presented an informal argument for the existence of an equilibrium based on the assumption that an equilibrium exists whenever the number of equations equals the number of unknowns.

The crucial step in the argument was Walras' Law which states that considering any particular market, if all other markets in an economy are in equilibrium, then that specific market must also be in equilibrium. Walras’ Law hinges on the mathematical notion that excess market demands (or, inversely, excess market supplies) must sum to zero. This means that, in an economy with n markets, it is sufficient to solve n-1 simultaneous equations for market clearing. Taking one good as the numeraire in terms of which prices are specified, the economy has n-1 prices that can be determined by the equation, so an equilibrium should exist. A more rigorous version of the argument was developed by Kenneth Arrow and Gerard Debreu in the 1950s.

Professor at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, Walras is credited for having founded what subsequently became known, under direction of his Italian disciple, the economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, as the Lausanne school of economics.

Because for a long time most of Walras' publications were only available in French, only a relatively small section of the economics profession really became familiar with his work. This changed in the 1950s, largely due to the work of William Jaffé, the translator of Walras' main works, and the editor of his Complete Correspondence (1965).

See also

Major Works of Léon Walras

  • Francis Saveur, 1858.
  • "De la propriété intellectuelle", 1859, Journal des économistes.
  • L'économie politique et la justice; Examen critique et réfutation des doctrines économiques de M. P.J. Proudhon précédes d'une introduction à l'étude de la question sociale, 1860.
  • "Paradoxes économiques I", 1860, Journal des économistes.
  • "Théorie critique de l'impôt", 1861.
  • De l'impôt dans le Canton de Vaud, 1861.
  • Les associations populaires de consommation, de production et de crédit, 1865.
  • "La bourse et le crédit", 1867, Paris Guide.
  • Recherche de l'idéal social, 1868.
  • "Principe d'une théorie mathématique de l'échange", 1874, Journal des économistes.
  • Éléments d'économie politique pure, ou théorie de la richesse sociale (Elements of Pure Economics, or the theory of social wealth, transl. W. Jaffé), 1874. (1899, 4th ed.; 1926, rev ed., 1954, Engl. transl.)
  • "Correspondance entre M. Jevons, professeur a Manchester, et M. Walras, professeur a Lausanne", 1874, Journal des économistes.
  • "Un nuovo ramo della matematica. Dell' applicazione delle matematiche all' economia politica", 1876, Giornale degli economisti.
  • Théorie mathématique de la richesse sociale, 1883.
  • "Notice autobiographique de Léon Walras", 1893.
  • Études d'économie sociale; Théorie de la répartition de la richesse sociale, 1896.
  • Études d'économie politique appliquée; Théorie de la production de la richesse sociale, 1898.
  • "Théorie du crédit", 1898, Revue d'économie politique.
  • "Sur les équations de la circulation", 1899, Giornale degli economisti
  • "Cournot et l'Économique Mathématique", 1905, Gazette de Lausanne.
  • "La Paix par la Justice Sociale et le Libre Échange", 1907, Questions Pratiques de Legislation Ouvrière.
  • L'état et le chemin de fer.
  • "Leone Walras, Autobiografia", 1908, Giornale degli Economisti.
  • "Un initiateur en économie politique, A.A. Walras", 1908, La Revue du Mois.
  • "Économique et méchanique", 1909, Bulletin de la Societe Vaudoise de Sciences Naturelles
  • Correspondence of Léon Walras and related papers(ed. by William Jaffé, 3 vols.), 1965.

Secondary sources

  • Jaffé, William, and Donald A. Walker (ed.) (1983). Essays on Walras. Cambridge University Press.
  • Morishima, Michio (1977). Walras' economics : a pure theory of capital and money. Cambridge University Press.

External links

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