Studies in the History of French Political Economy: From Bodin to Walras

By Gilbert Faccarello | Go to book overview

3

MATHEMATICAL ECONOMICS AND PROBABILITY THEORY

Charles-François Bicquilley’s daring contribution

Pierre Crépel

In Year XII (1804) a little known author, C.-F. Bicquilley, at the age of 66, having never published any other writings on economics, published a work entitled Théorie élémentaire du Commerce1 in Toul, in the department of Meurthe. This book is not to be found in the catalogue of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, nor is any reference made to it in studies of the ‘precursors’ of mathematical economics. However, the work is remarkable in more than one respect: (1) it is a mathematics book, constructed as such in terms of definitions, theorems and corollaries; (2) it is written for a wide public in a particularly clear and comprehensible style; (3) it contains a mathematical determination of prices very similar to N.-F. Canard’s in his work Principes d’économie politique, although manuscript analysis proves that Bicquilley’s formulation is without doubt the earlier of the two; (4) unlike the mathematical economic theories published in subsequent decades, Bicquilley’s theory also uses probability theory. I will therefore be dealing with a work which has not only remained unknown until the present day, but which is also the product of a daring enterprise.


I Bicquilley’s project: the ‘Elementary Theory of Commerce Treated as a Mathematical Science’

Bicquilley’s audacity is expressed right from the start in a Preface in which his sincerely modest tone should not obscure its considerable implications:

Many excellent works relating to Commerce have been published. Commerce has been considered from such varying points of view as those of Legislation, Politics and public and individual Economics. Geometry has contributed its exactitude and illumination of some of the Questions relating to it, yet we still do not have an Elementary

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