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The hypostatisation of the concept of equilibrium in neoclassical economics

Denis, A. (2007). The hypostatisation of the concept of equilibrium in neoclassical economics. In: Mosini, V. (Ed.), Equilibrium in Economics Scope and Limits. Routledge Frontiers of Political Economy, 83. (pp. 261-279). Oxford, UK: ROUTLEDGE.


The concept of equilibrium has long been a focus for dissent between orthodox and heterodox schools of thought in economics. The paper explores the meanings of equilibrium and attempts to tease apart salient appropriate and inappropriate modes of deployment of the concept. Under far-from-equilibrium conditions, equilibrium is not even an approximate description of the condition of the system, but an abstraction - a state of affairs which might obtain should a process under consideration run to its conclusion. The order of the system is viewed from this standpoint, not as an equilibrium, but as a temporary and ephemeral balance of forces, destined to be disturbed by the passage of time. A specific instance of the deployment of the concept of equilibrium by a neoclassical writer Robert Lucas is examined and the conclusion drawn that the concept has been hypostatised: an aspect of a process has been one-sidedly emphasised and substituted for the whole. The temporary is made permanent, and process subordinated to stasis, with clear apologetic results. The paper concludes by suggesting that this hypostatisation exemplifies the contrast between formal and dialectical modes of thought, and that it is in the application of a dialectical notion of equilibrium that the heterodoxy can make its most telling contribution.

Publication Type: Book Section
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Economics
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