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Arnaud Diemer, Jérôme Lallement et Bertrand Munier (dir.), Maurice Allais et la science économique

Jean-Sébastien Lenfant
p. 146-157
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Maurice Allais et la science économique, sous la direction de Arnaud Diemer, Jérôme Lallement et Bertrand Munier, avec un hommage de Paul Samuelson, une préface d’Yvon Gattaz et une introduction de Roger Guesnerie, Paris : Clément Juglar, 2010, ISBN 978-290873523-9

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Crédits : Clément Juglar

1In 1988, Maurice Allais (1911-2010) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Yet the contributions of Maurice Allais to economics and economic policy have received only scattered attention (notably in the years following the Nobel award), and this book is the first serious and collective attempt at appraising his contributions to economics.

2Given that some contributors to this volume were students, disciples or just colleagues of Maurice Allais, and few were convinced supporters of his theoretical battles (notably members of the ARAIMA, an association dedicated to disseminating Allais's work), the general tone of the book might appear here and there to lie outside the usual boundaries of academic articles. Contributions or tributes by Samuelson, Boiteux, Malinvaud, Lesourne cohabitate with more vindictive presentations of Allais's insights (Bourcier de Carbon on the hereditary and logistic approach to monetary dynamics) against the Establishment, who is accused of a cynical ignorance towards his contributions to economic theory. Clearly, the reader will have to delve into about twenty contributions of unequal length and interest. The whole set of articles provides a good coverage of Allais's involvement in practically all fields of economic theory to which he contributed (theory of choice, general equilibrium, regulation of public utilities, macroeconomic dynamics and monetary economics) save time series analysis and overlapping generation models (see Malinvaud (1986)). All the articles in this volume contain useful information to those who wish to get an overall idea of Allais's involvement in economic theory, economic expertise and economic policy. The usual image of Maurice Allais as a convinced partisan of free competition with anti-conformist tendencies will not be altered. Allais is not just a theoretician who wrote academic articles and books; he also contributed constantly to public debate with essays and pamphlets, and often took positions at odds with the proponents of “laissez-faire” or globalization and the advocates of central planning or Keynesian policies. A seminal example of this independent attitude is when Allais, a founding member of the Mont-Pèlerin Society, refused to sign the founding text of the Society, because he disagreed with Hayek on the principle of collective ownership. Allais was a convinced federalist and a partisan of a unique monetary currency, he advocated for a reasonable degree of protection in trade with underdeveloped countries, he favored the idea of reducing uncertainty through indexing not only debts but also wages. On all these issues, the reader will find rather complete contributions.

3On reading this book, one might hesitate between two contradictory feelings. The first is that, although sometimes original and provocative, Allais's ideas were actually discussed and debated within academic circles and he was able to publish in its most influential journals and answer to his critics. On this, it must be noted that Allais was prone to asserting some superiority over his contradictors. As Drèze (1989, 10) puts it: “Allais has never shied away from controversy. Instead he has tended to assert his views all the more forcefully when they seemed less readily accepted —with little tendency to retreat or express doubts. Such an approach has not always been conducive to effective communication and, as a consequence, some potentially important contributions may have been temporarily lost”. The second feeling is that most of the contributions in the book tend to foster the representation of Allais as an isolated scientist whose innovative and personal ideas were too singular to be compared with what was going on in economic theory. Whereas Allais’s work would have benefit from a systematic comparative approach, most contributions to this book offer monographic enquiries on different themes.

4The book is divided into two parts, using the traditional division between pure economics versus applied and practical economics. This is certainly well justified, although it might have been possible to devote a complete part to applied economics and a third one to broader views on economic policy and the role of the State. I have chosen to start our presentation from the end and then to proceed backward.

5Under the heading of applied economics, a number of contributions link Allais's theoretical and practical recommendations. Boiteux gives striking examples of Allais's recommendations in rail transportation price policy and in the withdrawal from coal extraction activities. Bonnafous and Baumstark try to explain the specificity of Allais's theory of surplus and losses compared with Dupuit’s. Guillaumont-Jeanneney discusses the theoretical foundations of Allais's proposal for indexing liabilities and its implication for financial stability. And Klotz provides a very nice article (“Les comptabilités de Maurice Allais” —“Maurice Allais's Accounting Systems”) showing that Allais developed his own system of business accounting adapted to the foundations of macroeconomics and macroeconomic dynamics. He shows how Allais's approach echoed much-debated issues of the time, dealing with Kuznets, Haberler, Stone and the process of normalization of National Accounting systems, and how he turned them into something more.

6Some contributions dealing with general economic policy issues will help deepen the portrait of Allais as an original thinker, who participated rather actively in public debates through articles in non-academic journals and pamphlets, and who also tackled sociological and political topics. The book contains a number of original contributions by Diemer on European Federalism and fiscal policies in Europe and also on income distribution, showing that Allais was always sensitive to long-term effects of economic growth on economic justice (equality of opportunities). On fiscal policies and economic justice, a broader, comparative view would have been useful (cf. Picavet, 2002). In 1948, Allais published Manifeste économique et social pour les Etats-Unis d’Europe (Economic and Social Manifesto for the United-States of Europe). As a convinced Federalist, Allais wanted to develop economic cooperation and to go beyond national conflicts of interests. Notably, a federalist government would have control over a unique monetary currency. Dard gives a scholarly view on Maurice Allais's political stances through his contributions to different journals. He focuses more particularly on his positions regarding planning and economic liberalism in the reconstruction period, and also regarding the Algerian War. Laurier presents Allais's ideas on free trade, protectionism and economic development. Allais advocates the superiority of free trade as long as it does not jeopardize long-term conditions for social and economic stability. For instance, food self-sufficiency imposes some limits to international specialization. Also, Allais entrusts the State with responsabilities concerning long-term expectations for profitable activities. On the topic of international trade, it is regrettable that the reader is not able to judge to what extent Allais's proposals are grounded on a theoretical model, since Laurier does not mention Allais's 1961 model (Allais, 1961).

7Under the heading of theoretical economics the first part of the book deals with fundamental contributions by Allais to economic theory. Munier provides a useful synthesis of Allais's contributions to decision under uncertainty and to cardinal utility, which he links to recent developments. It is a pity that the presentation of the theory of maximum social efficiency (or distributable surplus) is dispersed among three articles (Béraud, Alcouffe, and Bonnafous and Baumstark) whereas it might have been the centerpiece of the book, a clue for understanding Allais's divergences from mainstream neoclassical economics (in particular his rejection of a general hypothesis of convexity and perfect competition). Notably, Alcouffe’s presentation does not discuss the mathematical apparatus of the theory of maximum efficiency (cf. Guesnerie (1984), Bronsard and Salvas-Bronsard, (1988)), which was also an important contribution to the disequilibrium dynamics of general equilibrium. Béraud offers a good introduction to Allais's theory of general equilibrium, and he highlights (although too briefly) the differences with Hicks (1939) (for complementary discussion, see Weintraub (1991) and Lenfant (2005)). Finally, two other articles confront Allais's ideas with those of his contemporaries. Gomez (“Qu’est-ce que la monnaie? Les courants contemporains et Maurice Allais”) offers a meticulous presentation of Allais's (essentially psychological) definition of money and of his models of demand for money, and he confronts them with alternative models, but curiously does not mention Baumol and Tobin's model of optimal cash balance (cf. Baumol and Tobin (1989)). Lastly, Jérôme Lallement provides the first epistemological appraisal of Allais's work. Although his epistemology had a strong Popperian flavor (with a constant reference to empirical evidence), Allais also highlighted the distinction between the corroboration of a theory and the more usual practice of applying it. Without knowing it, Allais was addressing points similar to those discussed by Friedman and Leontief. Sterdyniac (2009) recently remarked that: “It is not easy to appraise Maurice Allais's work”. Undoubtedly, this book will help to draw some connections between different aspects of his work, even though it would have benefited from more critical and comparative contributions.

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Allais, Maurice. 1961. Un Paradoxe de la Théorie du Commerce International. In Money, Growth and Methodology, in honor of Professor Johan Akerman, Hugo Hegeland (ed.), C. W. K. Gleerup, Publishers, 337-50.

Baumol, William Jack and James Tobin. 1989. The Optimal Cash Balance Proposition : Maurice Allais’ Priority. Journal of Economic Literature, 27(3) :1160-1162.

Bronsard, Camille et Lise Salvas-Bronsard. 1988. Sur trois contributions d’Allais. L'Actualité économique, 64(4): 481-492.

Drèze, Jacques. 1989. Maurice Allais and the French Marginalist School. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 91(1): 5-16.

Grandmont, Jean-Michel. 1989. Report on Maurice Allais' Scientific Work. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 91(1): 17-28.

Guesnerie Roger. 1984, Review of: La Théorie générale des surplus by Maurice Allais. The Journal of Political Economy, 92(4): 780-783.

Lenfant, Jean-Sébastien. 2005. Psychologie individuelle et stabilité d’un équilibre général concurrentiel dans le Traité d’économie pure de Maurice Allais. Revue économique, 56(4): 855-888.

Malinvaud, Edmond. 1986. Maurice Allais, précurseur méconnu des modèles à générations renouvelées. In Marcel Boiteux, de Montbrial et Munier (eds.). Marchés, capital et incertitudes: essays en l’honneur de Maurice Allais, Paris, Economica, 1986.

Munier, Bertrand. 1989. Portée et signification de l’œuvre de Maurice Allais, Prix Nobel d’Economie 1988. Revue d’économie politique, 99(1): 1-27.

Picavet, Emmanuel. 2002. Capital et imposition selon les critères de justice. Archives de philosophie du droit, 46: 291-310.

Sterdyniac, Henry 2009 Maurice Allais, itinéraire d’un économiste français. OFCE WP-2009-23.

Weintraub, E. Roy. 1991. Allais Stability, and Liapounov Theory. History of Political Economy, 23(3):383-418.

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Jean-Sébastien Lenfant, « Arnaud Diemer, Jérôme Lallement et Bertrand Munier (dir.), Maurice Allais et la science économique », Œconomia, 1-1 | 2011, 146-157.

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Jean-Sébastien Lenfant, « Arnaud Diemer, Jérôme Lallement et Bertrand Munier (dir.), Maurice Allais et la science économique », Œconomia [En ligne], 1-1 | 2011, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2011, consulté le 17 janvier 2018. URL :

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Jean-Sébastien Lenfant

Université Lillle 1 Sciences et technologies

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