The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Mathematical Methods in Political Economy

  • F. Y. Edgeworth
Reference work entry


The idea of applying mathematics to human affairs may appear at first sight an absurdity worthy of Swift’s Laputa. Yet there is one department of social science which by general consent has proved amenable to mathematical reasoning – statistics. The operations not only of arithmetic, but also of the higher calculus, are applicable to statistics. What has long been admitted with respect to the average results of human action has within the last half-century been claimed for the general laws of political economy. The latter, indeed, unlike the former, do not usually present numerical constants; but they possess the essential condition for the application of mathematics: constancy of quantitative – though not necessarily numerical – relations. Such, for example, is the character of the law of Diminishing Returns: that an increase in the capital and labour applied to land is (tends to be) attended with a less than proportionate increase in produce. The language of Functions is well adapted to express such relations. When, as in the example given, and frequently in economics (see Marshall, Principles, 5th edn, Preface, p. xix), the relation is between increments of quantities, the differential calculus is appropriate. In the simpler cases the geometrical representations of functions and their differentials may with advantage be employed.


Calculus of variations Mathematical economics Mathematical method in political economy Simultaneous equations Statistics 

JEL Classifications

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Auspitz, R., and R. Lieben. 1889. Untersuchungen über die Theorie des Preises. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cournot, A. 1838. Recherches sur les principes mathématiques de la théorie des richesses. Paris: Hachette.Google Scholar
  3. Dupuit, E.T. 1844. De la mesure de l’utilité des travaux publics. Annales des Ponts et Chaussées, 2nd series 8: 332–375.Google Scholar
  4. Dupuit, E.T. 1849. De l’influence des Péages. Paris: Guillaumin.Google Scholar
  5. Edgeworth, F.Y. 1881. Mathematical psychics. London: Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  6. Gossen, H.H. 1854. Entwicklung der Gesetze des menschlichen Verkehrs. 2nd ed, 1889. Berlin: Praeger.Google Scholar
  7. Jevons, W.S. 1871. Theory of political economy. 3rd ed, 1888. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  8. Keynes, J.N. 1891. The scope and method of political economy. 3rd ed., revised. London: Macmillan, 1904.Google Scholar
  9. Launhardt, W. 1885. Mathematische Begründung der Volkwirthschaftslehre. Leipzig.Google Scholar
  10. Marshall, A. 1890. Principles of economics. London: Macmillan, 2nd ed., 1891; 5th ed., 1907.Google Scholar
  11. Pantaleoni, M. 1889. Principii di economia pura. Florence: G. Barbčra.Google Scholar
  12. Pareto, V. 1896. Cours d’économie politique. Lausanne: Rouge.Google Scholar
  13. Walras, L. 1874. Eléments d’économie politique pure. 2nd ed. Lausanne: F. Rouge, 1889.Google Scholar
  14. Wicksteed, P.H. 1888. Alphabet of economic science. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Y. Edgeworth
    • 1
  1. 1.