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The law of indifference, equilibrium, and equilibration in Jevons, Walras, Edgeworth, and Negishi


  • Franco DONZELLI



In developing their equilibrium theories over the decade 1871-1881, Jevons (1871), Walras (1874-7), and Edgeworth (1881) made use of some version of a Law, called Law of Indifference by Jevons and Edgeworth and often referred to as the Law of One Price in connection with Walrasian economics. In Jevons’s theory of exchange, the Law of Indifference is a quasi-tautology playing a fundamental role in both the derivation of the equilibrium conditions and the characterisation of Jevons’s equilibrium concept. In Walras’s pure-exchange model, the Law of One Price, assumed as a postulate and lacking any proper theoretical underpinnings, is no longer confined to equilibrium analysis, as in Jevons, but is so conceived as to embrace Walras’s equilibration analysis, namely, the celebrated tâtonnement construct, too. Finally, in Edgeworth’s theory of exchange, the Law of Indifference, once again restricted to equilibrium analysis only, is made to emerge as a limiting result, produced by the joint operation of Edgeworth’s replication and recontracting mechanisms and associated with the unbounded increase in the size of the economy. One century after Edgeworth’s achievements, Negishi (1982) resumed Jevons’s and Edgeworth’s interpretation of the Law of Indifference as an equilibrium property; yet, parting company with Edgeworth, he tried to prove that the arbitrage mechanism underlying the Law is at work and fully effective even in very small finite economies. The aim of this paper is twofold: first, to reconstruct the various uses of the Law of Indifference and its variants in the diverse theoretical traditions originated by Jevons, Walras, and Edgeworth; secondly, to critically discuss Negishi’s attempt to revive Jevons’s Law of Indifference as a fully micro-founded and extremely powerful equilibrium property of finite competitive economies where arbitraging activities are allowed for.

Suggested Citation

  • Franco DONZELLI, 2011. "The law of indifference, equilibrium, and equilibration in Jevons, Walras, Edgeworth, and Negishi," Departmental Working Papers 2011-11, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano.
  • Handle: RePEc:mil:wpdepa:2011-11

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Franco Donzelli, 2007. "Equilibrium and Tâtonnement in Walras's Eléments," History of Economic Ideas, Fabrizio Serra Editore, Pisa - Roma, vol. 15(3), pages 85-138.
    2. Allan M. Feldman, 1973. "Bilateral Trading Processes, Pairwise Optimally, and Pareto Optimality," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 40(4), pages 463-473.
    3. Kunimoto, Takashi & Serrano, Roberto, 2004. "Bargaining and competition revisited," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 115(1), pages 78-88, March.
    4. Nicholas Kaldor, 1934. "A Classificatory Note on the Determinateness of Equilibrium," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 1(2), pages 122-136.
    5. Koutsougeras, Leonidas C., 2003. "Non-Walrasian equilibria and the law of one price," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 108(1), pages 169-175, January.
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    More about this item


    Jevons; Walras; Edgeworth; Law of Indifference; equilibrium; equilibration; arbitrage;

    JEL classification:

    • B13 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Neoclassical through 1925 (Austrian, Marshallian, Walrasian, Wicksellian)
    • B21 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - Microeconomics
    • C71 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Cooperative Games
    • D41 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Perfect Competition
    • D51 - Microeconomics - - General Equilibrium and Disequilibrium - - - Exchange and Production Economies


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