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A Note on Backhouse and Medema: On Walras’ Contribution to the Definition of Economics


  • Vahabi, Mehrdad


In this paper, I argue that the insightful and rich collection of various definitions of economics provided by Backhouse and Medema (2009a,b) suffers from a major shortcoming: it misses Walras’ contributions on this topic. Borrowing from the authors’ taxonomy, I will show that Walras’ ‘synthetic method’ provides a particular interpretation that brings together ‘wealth-based,’ ‘scarcity-based,’ and ‘market-exchange based’ definitions of economics. Finally, I will argue that the ‘scarcity-based’ definition of economics originated with the Walrases (the father and son) rather than Robbins ([1932]1935). Walras pioneered the notion of scarcity as a subjective agent-based reality existing at an individual level.

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  • Vahabi, Mehrdad, 2012. "A Note on Backhouse and Medema: On Walras’ Contribution to the Definition of Economics," MPRA Paper 42673, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:42673

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. O. Lange, 1945. "The Scope and Method of Economics," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 19-32.
    2. Roger E. Backhouse & Steve G. Medema, 2009. "Defining Economics: The Long Road to Acceptance of the Robbins Definition," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 76(s1), pages 805-820, October.
    3. Donald A. Walker, 1984. "Is Walras's Theory of General Equilibrium a Normative Scheme?," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 16(3), pages 445-469, Fall.
    4. Manuel L. Costa, 1998. "General Equilibrium Analysis and the Theory of Markets," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 1604.
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    More about this item


    Applied political economy; pure political economy; scarcity; social economics; Walrasian definitions of economics;

    JEL classification:

    • B31 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals - - - Individuals
    • B13 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Neoclassical through 1925 (Austrian, Marshallian, Walrasian, Wicksellian)

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