Most influential economists in history

The greatest economists, those who have marked the thinking of the sciences of economics, are presented here in alphabetical order.

In each case, you will also find the two or three key concepts and ideas that have made these economists internationally renowned.

Within this non-exhaustive list, of the fathers of economics but also of more contemporary personalities, some names are to be remembered for their determining influence in the current debates in political economy, in the sense that most economists have subsequently positioned themselves in relation to these authors: Smith, Keynes, Marx, Friedman…

Michel Aglietta (1938 – )

School of regulation. For Aglietta, the crisis of 1929 was a crisis of underconsumption.

Kenneth Arrow (1921 – )

Influence of moral rules on the economic choices of the individual.

Interested in Condorcet’s paradox.

A democracy must be characterized by :

  • the free choice of the voters
  • the order in which the choices are proposed should have no influence
  • political balance and division, and never a dictator, not even a so-called benefactor dictator
  • collective choices that accurately reflect individual choices

Frederic Bastiat (1801 – 1850)

“The state is the great fiction by which everyone strives to live at the expense of everyone else

Gary Becker (1930 – )

Notion of human capital.

Notion of private initiative.

The economy invades all social sciences, there are no partitions.

Luc Boltanski (1940 – ) and Laurent Thévenot (1949 – )

Economics of greatness

Organization or company: they are spaces of rules and circulation of goods. Controversies and arbitrations take place.

In sociological and economic terms, there are several worlds, where choices are made according to reference values.

World Reference value
Market Competition
Science and industry Efficiency
Family Tradition
Civil general interest and responsibility

Fernand Braudel (1902 – 1985)

Economics is the science of exchange.

It is necessary to distinguish the market economy from capitalism. The latter is characterized by prosperity in limited domains and with the complicity of the State.

  • Economy of everyday life : use value
  • Market economy : exchange, profit
  • Capitalism : exchange + capital, reign of money

Ronald Coase (1910 – 2013)

Theory of transaction costs

Organization theory: hierarchical firms are more efficient than the market.

Daniel Cohen (1953 – )

Wealth of the world, poverty of nations: there is a convergence of the standard of living between all countries of the world. But there is also an increase in inequalities within countries.

John Rogers Commons (1862 – 1945)

Holistic approach to collective action validated or not by law.

Gérard Debreu (1921 – 2004)

Even if the economy is in equilibrium, markets are needed, i.e. in the future, because of agents’ expectations.

Olivier Favereau (1945 – )

4 fundamental cleavages in economics

  • apologetic/critical sciences : support or criticize the system
  • individualism / methodological holism : individual or group approach
  • axiological neutrality / normative approach : neutral, or moralistic
  • instrumentalism / realism : the economic system is an instrumentalized system, or it is intended as such.

Milton Friedman (1912 – 2006)

Founder of the monetarist movement. Figure of liberalism: state intervention is a brake on economic development.

His monetarist theses were applied in the 1980s, particularly in the United States.

The increase in the money supply must be approximately equal to the variation in nominal GDP.

Adaptive anticipation: agents anticipate and modify their behavior according to what is going to happen or what they expect to happen.

He distinguishes between two types of societies, as did the Greeks: cosmos societies (open) and cabs societies (regulated).

Harold Hotelling (1895 – 1973)

Model of political markets. The voter plans his choice in order to minimize his costs.

Michael Jensen (1939 – ) and William Meckling (1922 – 1998)

New Keynesian economics

In 1976, principal-agent model:

  • contract
  • anti-selection: risk of opportunistic behavior
  • moral hazard: it is not possible to measure the effort of an agent to achieve his objective

Peter Kenen (1932 – 2012)

The single currency is advantageous when countries are structurally diversified. (automatic price adjustment)

The single currency is disadvantageous when countries are little or not diversified. (exchange rate tool to correct prices)

John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946)

He can be considered as a liberal in the sense that he tries to reconcile capitalism and the State.

The precursors of his policy were the New Deal or the German reflation.

In the deficit lies the potential to increase activity and consequently to increase the employment rate.

Keynes renewed the economy on several levels:

  • purpose of economics: underemployment imbalance – unemployment is involuntary
  • method in economics: macroeconomics. There is a paradox of saving, the crisis generates a vicious circle.
  • solution to be implemented in economics: interest rates must be lowered (monetary stimulus) and the State must spend more (fiscal stimulus). Ideally, the State should place large orders

The Keynesian multiplier: when aggregate demand increases, it generates an even greater increase in aggregate income.

Paul Krugman (1953 – )

Neo-Keynesian, whose work focuses on international trade.

He explains the financial crises of countries, or of the international system, notably by the notion of liquidity trap.

He then defends a policy of recovery (and thus protests against austerity policies)

He defends a pedagogy of the economy, and writes books for the general public.

Laffer curve

On a diagram with government revenues on the x-axis and the tax rate on the y-axis, the curve forms an arc.

It is useful for the government to tax up to a certain point, then it is harmful to tax more.

Robert Lucas (1937 – )

New classical economics

Why are there rigidities? When there is an increase in wealth, either the climate is favorable and the individual spends on leisure, or the individual analyzes this sudden wealth as temporary and transitory, and in this case he saves.

Edmond Malinvaud (1923 – )


Confirms the idea that prices are rigid in the short term:

  • keynesian unemployment: insufficient market opportunities
  • contained inflation: general excess of demand
  • classical unemployment : insufficient profitability

Bernard Mandeville (1670 – 1733)

Fable of the bees: the queen bee spends, and the economy is prosperous. The new queen bee reduces spending, there is unemployment.

“Vice lends a hand to virtue”

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

The Capital (1844)

The Communist Manifesto (1848)

The rate of exploitation is identical to the rate of surplus value, which is equal to the ratio of surplus value to wages.

Capitalism is in search of profit. However, the decrease in wages and the progressive mechanization, generated by the search for profit, lead to underconsumption and thus to a crisis of capitalism.

There is a tendency for the rate of profit to fall.

Wesley Clair Mitchell (1874 – 1948)


Business cycle: increase in investment leads to acceleration, while decrease in investment ends the cycle. Growth comes from previous causes.

Monetary distribution causes investment, which is opposed to Friedman’s monetarist theories.

Antoine Monchrestien de Watteville (1575 – 1621)

Treatise on political economy, mercantilist theses.

Economics is the “science of production and redistribution of wealth on a national scale”

Montesquieu (1689 – 1755)

Thesis of “soft trade”. Through trade, relations between countries are calmed.

Robert Alexander Mundell (1932 – )

Two countries have an interest in a single monetary zone if the mobility of factors between these countries is greater than the mobility of factors between them and the rest of the foreign countries.

Vilfredo Pareto (1848 – 1923)

The Pareto optimum is reached when the well-being of one individual cannot be improved without damaging that of another.

Phillips curve

Study conducted in Great Britain on the relationship between the inflation rate and unemployment.

Globally, the more unemployment there is, the less inflation there is, and vice versa. Thus, when unemployment is high, employees accept a decrease in their salary. When unemployment is low, they have to negotiate more to lower their wages.

Thomas Piketty

A French economist, Piketty has made an international name for himself with the publication of his book Capital in the 21st Century.

In it, he analyzes how, for more than a century, inequalities (especially by property but also by income) have been growing continuously and relentlessly.

Karl Polanyi (1886 – 1964)

The Great Transformation takes place in two stages:

  1. Dismantling of the market: market autonomy, ultraliberalism
  2. Re-entry of the market: state intervention, fair capitalism

Finn Kydland (1943 – ) and Edward Prescott (1940 – )


rules VS discretion: it is necessary to put in place rules to which the State is bound rather than to conduct a discretionary policy. Indeed, a discretionary policy, i.e. one that is decided on an ad hoc basis and is variable, threatens to break the confidence of economic actors.

David Ricardo (1772 – 1823)

Founder of classical economics.

Comparative advantages: two countries have an interest in specializing in a certain activity and then trading with each other, because this trade is a positive-sum game.

Productivity gains decrease as time goes by.

Quantitative theory of money: M (money supply) x V (velocity) = p (prices) x q (quantities)

Walt Whitman Rostow (1916 – 2003)

Each country goes through the same stages from underdevelopment to development.

Notion of economic catching up.

Jean-Baptiste Say (1767 – 1832)

Say’s Law: supply creates its own demand.

Therefore, no crisis is sustainable.

Joseph Aloïs Schumpeter (1883 – 1950)

Heterodox economic movement.

Schumpeter insists on the link between economic cycles and technical progress.

A key concept is that of innovation clusters: an innovation generates a series of other innovations that are favorable to the economy. The economy therefore develops in “clusters”

Herbert Simon (1916 – 2001)

Limited rationality. The individual in his reflection for a choice follows procedures. He is not aware of all the possibilities available to him, but chooses in a limited time.

Adam Smith (1723 – 1790)

Founder of modern economics.

His founding work, to which we devote a special article, is entitled Research on the nature and causes of the wealth of nations

Two absolutely essential concepts to remember made him the father of liberalism:

John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873)

Classical economics.

Notion of power, importance of the State.

Emmanuel Todd (1951 – )

The economic illusion

Distinction between the stem family and the atomic family, and categorization of countries according to this distinction.

Root family: Germany, Sweden, Japan, Korea – productivists, exporters

Atomic family: mainly Anglo-Saxon countries – consumerist, importers

Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857 – 1929)

The Veblen effect, or snobbery effect: if the price of a luxury good drops, then there may be a drop in interest from the customer. The customer seeks to distinguish himself from others by buying products at a high price, regardless of their real value.

Léon Walras (1834 – 1910)

Neoclassical economics.

The general equilibrium of pure and perfect competition

Oliver Eaton Williamson (1932 – )

Theory of transaction costs

Insists on the notion of contract. Homo Contractor

Feel free to add your own references in the comments below.