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Arrow-Debreu and the classical and neoclassical economics


  • Cláudio Gontijo



This article challenges the notion that the modern general equilibrium theory of Arrow-Debreu is a rigorous formulation of neoclassical economics and that, by contrast, Sraffian and Marxian economics are not compatible with it. It shows that the standard Arrow-Debreu assumptions regarding the production sets and profit maximization are sufficient to determine equilibrium prices, which then do not depend on consumers’ preferences. Arrow-Debreu equilibrium prices are similar to Marxian labor values since they are proportional to labor time and factor prices are variables that determine the distribution of income but not commodity prices. Instead of being related to the quantity of capital, profits are also proportional to the quantity of labor, causing capital to have different prices at the same point in time and at the same market, which is hardly compatible with the hypothesis of free competition. If the notion of equilibrium prices is modified as to make capital to be rewarded at the same rate in all sectors of the economy, the hypothesis of decreasing returns to scale ensures that competitive prices are an increasing function of demand and, as a consequence, they can be viewed as a product of the interaction between supply and demand. However, in any case there is no inverse relationship between the quantity of capital and its rate of rewards, as requires the neoclassical law of diminishing returns.

Suggested Citation

  • Cláudio Gontijo, 2004. "Arrow-Debreu and the classical and neoclassical economics," Textos para Discussão Cedeplar-UFMG td241, Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdp:texdis:td241

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hahn, Frank, 1982. "The Neo-Ricardians," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(4), pages 353-374, December.
    2. Garegnani, Pierangelo, 1983. "The Classical Theory of Wages and the Role of Demand Schedules in the Determination of Relative Prices," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(2), pages 309-313, May.
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    More about this item


    Arrow-Debreu model; general equilibrium theory; Marxian economics; Sraffian economics; capital controversy;

    JEL classification:

    • B51 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Socialist; Marxian; Sraffian
    • C62 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Mathematical Methods; Programming Models; Mathematical and Simulation Modeling - - - Existence and Stability Conditions of Equilibrium
    • D50 - Microeconomics - - General Equilibrium and Disequilibrium - - - General

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