Utility Matters: Edmond Malinvaud and Growth Theory in the 1950s and 1960s
30 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2018
Date Written: March 30, 2018
The present-day standard textbook narrative on the history of growth theory usually takes Robert Solow’s 1956 contribution as a key starting point, with extensions on the savings decision (done by David Cass and Tjalling Koopmans in 1965) being the next important development. However, such account is historically misleading because it organizes past developments based on theoretical concerns. Our goal is to tell a richer story about the developments of growth theory from the 1950s to the mid 1960s, in the activity analysis literature that started before Solow’s model and never had him as a central reference. We stress the role played by Edmond Malinvaud, and take his travel from the French milieu of mathematical economics to the Cowles Commission in 1950-1951 and back to France as a guiding line. The rise of turnpike theory in the end of the 1950s generated a debate on the choice criteria of growth programs, opposing the productive efficiency typical of these models to the utilitarian approach supported by Malinvaud and Koopmans. The Vatican Conference of 1963, where Koopmans presented a first version of his 1965 model, was embedded in this debate. We argue that Malinvaud’s (and Koopmans’s) contributions were crucial to steer the activity analysis literature towards a utilitarian analysis of growth paths.
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