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Origin of the term "homo economicus"

The homo economicus is a model of a rational economic agent. What’s the history of the term?

It’s commonly attributed to Vilfred Pareto in 1906, but this article will show an example of Claudio Jannet using the term in 1878.

Vilfred Pareto

Wikipedia references a 1995 article by Joseph Persky, published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

The first use of the Latin homo economicus I turned up is in Vilfredo Pareto’s Manual (1906, pp. 12–14), but I haven’t done a serious search of continental sources.

Here’s an extract from Pareto’s Manual of Political Economy.

Real man performs economic, moral, religious aesthetic, and other actions. Exactly the same idea is expressed whether we say: “I study economic actions, and I set others aside”, or “I study homo economicus who performs only economic actions.”

Maffeo Pantaleoni

In 2010 Edward O’Boyle wrote a paper noting a 1889 mention of the term by Maffeo Pantaleoni.

As we continued to dig, we encountered some confusion regarding the origins of homo economicus. Sheasby […] for instance, attributes the expression to Adolph Löwe’s Economics and Sociology (Löwe 1935). With Zabieglik (Zabieglik 2002:3-4) concurring, Persky (Persky 1995:222) identifies the term as originating with Vilfredo Pareto’s Manual (Pareto 1906) though he openly admits that he had not completed a thorough search of sources in Europe. Pareto himself ascribes it to Vito Volterra (Volterra 1901:436-458).

To date, we have clearly identified Maffeo Pantaleoni’s Principii di Economia Pura (Pantaleoni 1889) as the earliest use of homo economicus in print.

Pantaleoni discusses the homo economicus in Principles of Pure Economics (from Italian via Google Translate):

[…] it follows that the progress of economic science can be achieved in only two ways: either through the invention of new inferences from the premises, rich in inferences, or through the invention of new inferences from the premises that already exist.

It is easy to understand how the most complete satisfaction of his needs at the lowest possible cost has come to be considered as the specific characteristic of homo œconomicus, since an economic problem, in a broad sense, arises wherever it is a question of achieving a determined result with relatively minimal means, or, conversely, any maximum result with given means.

Claudio Jannet

The first mention of homo economicus I found using Google Books is from French writer Claudio Jannet in 1878. In an article published in Le Correspondant titled “On the current state of social science” (“De l’etat actuel de la science sociale”) he writes (again via Google Translate):

Men who had said with Turgot: “Whoever does not forget that there are political states separated from each other and constructed differently, will never find any question of political economy,“ were inclined to do economic phenomena. sorts of combinations from which most of the human elements were excluded. The influence of national life, that of the family, of the connection of men to places, custom, the action of the idea of ​​law and feelings of social benevolence, being eliminated as secondary things and unworthy of science, man, the subject of political economy, became conventionally subject only to the action of supply and demand. How many scientists have tried to reduce economic phenomena to algebraic equations! How many more have worn themselves out to the determination of the average man.

In reality, it is with this sort of homo economicus as it is with Rousseau’s man of nature: he has never existed!

Charles Stanton Devas

Charles Stanton Devas picked up the term from Jannet and used it in “Groundwork of economics” in 1883.

the excesses and absurdities of most of the economists in the first half of this century, measuring humanity by their own time and locality, and dressing up a ridiculous homo oeconomicus, just as in political science Rousseau had dressed up a ridiculous homme de la nature, were likely to cause a reaction and an oppositet excess, which would see nothing common or ‘natural’ to all men. […] See the excellent articles by Claudio Jannet, in Le Correspondant for Sept. 1878


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