Vilfredo Pareto and the Birth of Modern Microeconomics

Vilfredo Pareto and the Birth of Modern Microeconomics

Luigino Bruni

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the work of Vilfredo Pareto, one of the founders of modern economics. This book reconstructs the genesis and significance of Pareto’s theory of choice which is Pareto’s greatest contribution to economic science and which was used by John Hicks, amongst others, to develop microeconomics.

Chapter 5: More Wars Than Peace: Pareto and English Economists

Luigino Bruni

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, history of economic thought


Ideas are connected with each other much as prices are. Ideas form a system. They are all extremely complex functions of each other. (Pantaleoni 1923, p. 582) Pareto was one of the most influential economists of his time: his house in Céligny (Villa Angora) received visits from economists from all over Europe and America. The publication of a book on the reception of Italian economic thought in various countries (Asso 2001) shows that Pareto exerted great influence on many economists of his time. England, however, is a notable exeception. In fact, Pareto’s fortunes in England perfectly fit T. Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions. A theory, first put on the fringes in a given cultural climate (Marshall’s era), years later became the centre of the neo-positivistic revolution in microeconomics (Robbins’s era). Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, one of the first eminent writers who discovered and greatly appreciated Pareto’s economics, in 1975 wrote: There is no denying that Pareto’s own ideas met with an incredible lack of attention from most economists during his life as well as during many years thereafter. In the last edition of Alfred Marshall’s Principles (1920), Pareto is mentioned only once, as one of many who ‘have been inclined towards mathematical modes of thought’. (1975, p. 223) In 1913 W.E. Johnson wrote his important paper on utility, presenting a theory much in agreement with Pareto’s, but without quoting him. In 1929 E. Cannan wrote his Review of Economic Theory without mentioning Pareto. At that time, apart from a couple of...

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