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Trevor Swan And The Neoclassical Growth Model


  • Robert W. Dimand
  • Barbara J. Spencer


Trevor Swan independently developed the neoclassical growth model. Swan (1956) was published ten months later than Solow (1956), but included a more complete analysis of technical progress, which Solow treated separately in Solow (1957). Reference is sometimes made to the "Solow-Swan growth model", but more commonly reference is made only to the "Solow growth model". This paper examines the history of Swan's development of the growth model, the similarities and differences between the approaches of Swan and Solow and the reasons why Swan's contribution has been overshadowed. We draw on unpublished work to show that in 1950, Swan was working on a growth model in a verbal format. In 1956, Swan published only a simplified version of his model based on a Cobb-Douglas production function, but Swan's original model (circulated July 1956 and published posthumously in 2002) was much more general. Swan's reluctance to publish was consistent with his perhaps counterproductive modesty and perfectionism. His well known paper, "Longer run problems of the Balance of Payments" was circulated in 1955, eight years before publication in 1963. His pioneering work in 1945, developing the first macroeconomic model of the Australian economy, was published posthumously in 1989.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert W. Dimand & Barbara J. Spencer, 2008. "Trevor Swan And The Neoclassical Growth Model," NBER Working Papers 13950, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13950
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert Dixon, 2003. "Trevor Swan on Equilibrium Growth with Technical Progress," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 79(247), pages 487-490, December.
    2. Nicholas Kaldor, 1955. "Alternative Theories of Distribution," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(2), pages 83-100.
    3. T. W. Swan, 1940. "Australian War Finance And Banking Policy," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 16(1), pages 50-67, June.
    4. J. v. Neumann, 1945. "A Model of General Economic Equilibrium," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 1-9.
    5. W. E. G. Salter, 1959. "THE PRODUCTION FUNCTION and THE DURABILITY OF CAPITAL1," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 35(70), pages 47-66, April.
    6. Swan, T W, 1989. "The Principle of Effective Demand--A 'Real Life' Model," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 65(191), pages 378-398, December.
    7. T. W. Swan, 1950. "Progress Report On The Trade Cycle," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 26(51), pages 186-200, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rainer Klump & Peter McAdam & Alpo Willman, 2012. "The Normalized Ces Production Function: Theory And Empirics," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 26(5), pages 769-799, December.
    2. Matheus Assaf, 2017. "Coast to Coast: How MIT's students linked the Solow model and optimal growth theory," Working Papers, Department of Economics 2017_20, University of São Paulo (FEA-USP).
    3. Selwyn Cornish & Raghbendra Jha, 2016. "Trevor Swan and Indian planning: The lessons of 1958/59," Departmental Working Papers 2016-19, The Australian National University, Arndt-Corden Department of Economics.
    4. Voosholz, Frauke, 2014. "A survey on modeling economic growth. With special interest on natural resource use," CAWM Discussion Papers 69, University of Münster, Center of Applied Economic Research Münster (CAWM).
    5. Laurent Cellarier & Richard Day, 2011. "Structural instability and alternative development scenarios," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 24(3), pages 1165-1180, July.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • B2 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925
    • B3 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals
    • B4 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology
    • O41 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - One, Two, and Multisector Growth Models

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