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History of Political Economy 32.3 (2000) 703-705

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Book Review

The History of Economic Analysis:
Selected Essays by John Creedy

The History of Economic Analysis: Selected Essays by John Creedy. By John Creedy. Cheltenham, U.K., and Northampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar, 1998. vii; 348 pp. £59.95 and $95.00.

This book reprints twenty-three articles published by the author in some fifteen different sources over the last twenty-two years. Although its title irresistibly recalls Joseph Schumpeter’s epic History of Economic Analysis, its scope is much less. Schumpeter’s majestic Grand Tour ranged widely from Plato to John Maynard Keynes, but Creedy restricts his journey mainly to economic theorists who flourished during the “classical” period of neoclassical economic analysis from 1870 to 1914, and by no means all of those; there is, for example, no discussion of any Austrian economist. But he does make some interesting side trips outside that classical period to analyze contributions by earlier writers such as Augustin Cournot (article no. 20), Charles Davenant (9), Hans von Mangoldt (16), and William Whewell (11), and to survey two hundred years of public finance theory (8).

Seven of the earlier articles (2–7 and 12), occupying almost a third of the text, are devoted chiefly to F. Y. Edgeworth. The substance of the first six, and some of the literal content of articles 4, 6, and 7, were incorporated into Creedy 1986, a book that provided a much-needed modern reappraisal of Edgeworth’s achievements as an economic theorist and utilitarian philosopher.

The subjects of the other sixteen articles are quite heterogeneous, with no single topic predominating. In addition to the five side trips already mentioned, the eleven others deal with Paretian income distributions (1); Knut Wicksell on Edgeworth’s tax paradox (10); Marshallian geometry, especially in international trade (13, 15, and 17); general neoclassical economic theory (14); Philip Wicksteed’s reversible supply curve (18); Jevonian exchange (19); Wilhelm Launhardt (21); Nash bargaining and other solution concepts in exchange (22); and Walrasian demand and supply curves [End Page 703] (23) (while Creedy lists this as appearing in a 1998 issue of The Manchester School, it did not actually appear until March 1999—an amusing example of an article being “reprinted” in a book published before the original).

The heterogeneous subjects of these non-Edgeworth papers are balanced to some degree by a certain homogeneity in their treatment. Typically, Creedy sets up a formal model designed to capture and analyze the topic under discussion and then, quite often, carries out exercises that endow that model with specific functional forms (linear, polynomial, Cobb-Douglas, CES) in order to obtain more specific conclusions. Sometimes this type of treatment works well (16, 22) and sometimes not.

Consider for example Creedy’s discussion of Wicksteed’s reversible supply curve (18). As Robbins perceptively noted in his introduction to the reprinted Common Sense, the unusually fierce language surrounding Wicksteed’s assertion that “what is usually called the supply curve is in reality the demand curve of those who possess the commodity” (1933, 2:785) really only makes sense as protest at those incautious Marshallians who (in 1913) were falling into error by employing “partial equilibrium analysis unaccompanied by a continual awareness of the propositions of general equilibrium theory” (1:xv, n. 3). Thus Wicksteed’s approach here was not itself general equilibrium theory but partial equilibrium analysis informed by a general equilibrium perspective.

This view is borne out by J. R. Hicks’s remark in part 2 of Value and Capital (titled “General Equilibrium”) that the “‘Wicksteed’ demand curve will have the same properties as our excess demand curve, only differing from it by a constant” (63, n. 2). Creedy’s account, however, wrenches Wicksteed’s problem quite out of this context and, mistakenly treating it solely as a problem in the general equilibrium of exchange, upbraids Wicksteed for not using the methods of Léon Walras and Edgeworth to deal with it. Moreover, he seems to imply that multiple equilibria (which Hicks’s excess demand curve was expressly...


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