Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume I
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Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume I

Great Economists Since Petty and Boisguilbert

Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz

Volume I contains original biographical profiles of many of the most important and influential economists from the seventeenth century to the present day. These inform the reader about their lives, works and impact on the further development of the discipline. The emphasis is on their lasting contributions to our understanding of the complex system known as the economy. The entries also shed light on the means and ways in which the functioning of this system can be improved and its dysfunction reduced. Each Handbook can be read individually and acts as a self-contained volume in its own right. It can be purchased separately or as part of a three-volume set.
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Chapter 90: John von Neumann (1903–1957)

Manfred J. Holler


Two Contributions? The impact of John von Neumann’s “model of general economic equilibrium” could be evaluated by the number and names of laureates of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel who refer to this work: Kenneth Arrow, Gérard Debreu, Paul Samuelson, Tjalling Koopmans, Leonid Kantarovich, and Robert Solow. Weintraub (1983: 13) claims that von Neumann’s “A model of general economic equilibrium” (GE) is “the single most important article in mathematical economics” while Baumol (1972) labels GE “the most remarkable virtuoso performance” in this field. Indeed, GE is a virtuoso performance, but one can easily get advanced degrees in economics without having heard of this paper. This is not to say that advanced students of economics do not study both general equilibrium theory and growth theory, but they might never learn that the mathematical treatment of both has one of its roots in von Neumann’s GE. Von Neumann presented this paper at the Mathematical Seminar of Princeton University in 1932 and in Karl Menger’s Mathematical Colloquium at the University of Vienna in 1936. It was published in German in 1937 and in English in 1945, see von Neumann (1937 [1945]). This is quite different to the second area of economics that von Neumann inspired with his work, that is, game theory. Of course, we cannot answer the question of how game theory would look today, or whether there would be any game theory at all, if von Neumann had never presented the minimax theorem...

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