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Kaldor on Debreu: The Critique of General Equilibrium Reconsidered’


  • Thomas A. Boylan
  • Paschal F. O’Gorman

    (Department of Economics, National University of Ireland, Galway)


This paper revisits Kaldor’s methodological critique of orthodox economics. The main target of his critique was the theory of general equilibrium as expounded in the work of Debreu and others. Kaldor deemed this theory to be seriously flawed as an empirically adequate description of real-world economies. According to Kaldor, scientific progress was not possible in economics without a major act of demolition, by which he meant the destruction of the basic conceptual framework of the theory of general equilibrium. We extend Kaldor’s critique by recourse to major developments in 20th century philosophy of mathematics, and then go on to demonstrate that Debreu’s work, based as it is on Bourbakist formalism and in particular Cantorian set theory, is conceptually incompatible with Kaldor’s requirements for an empirical science. This aspect of Kaldor’s critique has not been explored, and as a consequence a major source of substantiating his critique has remained undeveloped.

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  • Thomas A. Boylan & Paschal F. O’Gorman, 2008. "Kaldor on Debreu: The Critique of General Equilibrium Reconsidered’," Working Papers 0138, National University of Ireland Galway, Department of Economics, revised 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:nig:wpaper:0138

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fidrmuc, Jan, 2004. "Migration and regional adjustment to asymmetric shocks in transition economies," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(2), pages 230-247, June.
    2. Kahanec, Martin & Zimmermann, Klaus F., 2008. "International Migration, Ethnicity and Economic Inequality," IZA Discussion Papers 3450, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Bauer, Thomas K. & Zimmermann, Klaus F., 1999. "Report No. 3: Assessment of Possible Migration Pressure and its Labour Market Impact Following EU Enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe," IZA Research Reports 3, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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