Albert O. Hirschman and the “visiting-economist syndrome”

Annie Cot (Panthéon-Sorbonne University - Paris 1)

  • Martes, 14 Marzo 2023
  • 12-13 pm
  • Salón 3 - Edificio de Investigación y Posgrados - Lauro Müller 1921

Since his trilogy on economic development, The Strategy of Economic Development (1958), Journeys Towards Progress – Studies of Economic Policy-Making in Latin America (1963), and Development Projects Observed (1967), Albert O. Hirschman discussed on several occasions what he called a “visiting-economist syndrome”: “the habit of issuing peremptory advice and prescription by calling on universally valid economic principles and remedies – be they old or brand new – after a strictly minimal acquaintance with the ‘patient’” (Rival Views of Market Society and Other Recent Essays, 1992, 11). The critique was directed at North American (or European) economists visiting Latin America on policy missions, who offered recommendations based on what they considered as scientific and universally valid economic principles, without any form of careful investigation on the specific economic, political, social and cultural conditions of the countries they visited.


For Hirschman, the archetype of this “visiting economist” was Jean-Gustave Courcelle- Seneuil, a French liberal economist who moved to Chile after Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s coup in 1852, to become both a special adviser to the government and the University of Chile's first full professor of Political economy.


Courcelle-Seneuil’s attempt had mixed results – and these mixed results serve as a basis both for Hirschman's analysis of such “visits” and for an alternative conception of the theories of economic development. “Poor Courcelle-Seneuil!” concludes Hirschman. “His one-man technical assistance mission could hardly have been more successful, according to ordinary standards of performance. His advice was punctiliously followed, the laws he drafted were passed, his bust stands in the University of Chile and his influence as a teacher and publicist came to be widely felt. But just because of that, virtually every serious ill subsequently experienced by the Chilean economy, from inflation to monoexportation, has been traced to him.” (Journeys Towards Progress, 1963, 166-7)