General and Periodic Crises of Overproduction

General and Periodic Crises of Overproduction

By Jean Lescure
Edited by D'Maris Coffman
Ali Kabiri
Nicholas Di Liberto

Economic Ideas that Built Europe Anthem Other Canon Economics

Jean Lescure’s General and Periodic Crises of Overproduction is a pioneering study of the causes and consequences of industrial crises in capitalist economies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was updated periodically through five editions and now appears in English for the first time.

EPUB, 532 Pages


November 2023

£50.00, $70.00

PDF, 532 Pages


November 2023

£50.00, $70.00

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About This Book

Jean Lescure’s two-volume General and Periodic Crises of Overproduction is a pioneering study of the causes and consequences of industrial crises in capitalist economies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The author, who held doctorates in political economy and law, is most remembered as a founder of the French historical school and a staunch advocate of empiricism in the economic sciences. Lescure called his approach the ’complex historical method’, by which he sought to revise classical and quantitative economic theory through the historical analysis and statistical observation of cyclical phenomena. Ever the controversialist, Lescure wrote in an engaging style, accessible to non-specialists and economists alike, and critiqued the leading monetary theorists of the period, insisting that observation of the movements in production costs, industrial orders and profits be given priority over circulation and credit in understanding the periodic crises of capitalist economies. In Lescure’s view, crises were inevitable in both market and command economies and their onset and consequences were predictable with the help of the more detailed production statistics newly available to economists and entrepreneurs at the time. Observation of corporate profits, the margin between cost price and selling price, provided the means to predict crises and measure their impact, not only on industry and trade but also on the working classes who would endure unemployment and the many social ills that accompany it. Lescure, unlike many of the liberal economists of the time, was always careful to include in his historical account statistical analysis of unemployment figures, as well as those on crime, marriage and birth rates, homelessness and suicide. Although he remained sceptical of government intervention in the form of monetary policies adjusting the money supply, and lauded the success of industrial concentration and trusts in reducing costs and prices, Lescure admitted the state’s role in the recovery of the 1930s, when social insurance schemes and investment in public works mitigated the worst effects of unemployment for industrial labour.
This treatise, which grew out of his doctoral work, was a lifetime project for Lescure, who updated it periodically over five editions, to include each new cycle of growth, crisis, depression and recovery. Volume one provides a historical study of economic crises from the post-Napoleonic period through the Great Depression and the recovery of the late 1930s.
Volume two offers a critique of the theories of crises, their causes and potential remedies, in which Lescure outlines his preference for ‘organic’ theories that focus on the production process and qualitative statistical observation of the movements in costs, selling prices, industrial orders and profits.
The text of the fifth edition appears here in English for the first time, unabridged and complete with editorial materials designed to help the English reader understand the work on its own terms and situate its author’s prominent place in the history of economic thought.


This first authoritative English scholarly edition of Jean Lescure’s seminal work on business cycles is essential reading for all who study economics and and markets. Lescure showed that to understand market success and periodic failure, economists had to take a historical view, using high quality, long-term statistics— Jacob Soll, University Professor and Professor of Philosophy, History, and Accounting, University of Southern California

“Lescure’s book is a powerful historical reminder that ‘the study of the general movement of business cannot dispense with the study of the main branches of production.’ Aggregate dynamics cannot be detached from the transformation of internal structures. This entails that the theory and the policy of economic fluctuations need a multisectoral viewpoint. The co-editors have done an admirable job and have provided an outstanding introductory essay.” — Alberto Quadrio Curzio, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy

This book is a classic in the empirics and theory of industrial fluctuations and an English translation has been long overdue. Its emphasis on overheating as the primary signal and cause of an approaching crisis is combined with a detailed reconstruction of the role of different industries in economic fluctuations. Lescure’s core and most valuable lesson is that the analysis of industrial crises must combine the sectoral and the macro levels of investigation, and that multi- layered interdependence provides the key for the differential diffusion of crises across industrial sectors and economic systems— Roberto Scazzieri, National Lincei Academy and University of Bologna Gonville and Caius College and Clare Hall, Cambridge.

‘Jean Lescure’s Des Crises is a lively and original blend of historical narrative, statistical evidence and contextually grounded theoretical construction that revolves around interde-pendencies between sectors and countries. The work is wonderfully contextualized and translated in this first English edition, which will be of great interest to students of economic crises.’ — Ivano Cardinale, Reader in Economics, Goldsmiths, University of London

‘Lescure’s book belongs to the early nineteenth-century literature on economic fluctuations, but is of striking actuality for its discussion of market and sectoral interdependencies within and between nations; generalized crises; and contagion in a globalized world. The editors and the translator deserve the gratitude of economists, historians and historians of economic thought for this edition of a classic treatise that may have suffered from a language barrier thus far.’ — Lilia Costabile, University of Naples Federico II and Clare Hall, Cambridge

Author Information

Professor D’Maris Coffman holds a Chair in Economics and Finance of the Built Environment at UCL’s Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment where she is also Vice Dean Innovation & Enterprise.

Professor Ali Kabiri is Head of the Department of Economics and International Studies and Co-director of the MSc in Money, Banking and Central Banking at the University of Buckingham.

Dr Nicholas Di Liberto is an honorary assistant researcher in the Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction, University College London, with a focus on the history of economic ideas and environ-mental history. He is also the translator of Albert Aftalion’s Periodic Crises of Overproduction, forth-coming from Anthem Press.


Economic Ideas that Built Europe

Anthem Other Canon Economics

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; Introduction: Jean Lescure on the Role of Solidarité in Industrial Economies and Among the Social Sciences; Early Biography; The First World War and the Globalization of Crises; Lescure and Aftalion on Interdependencies in the Economy and the Possibility of General Overproduction Crises; Methodological Pluralism and Interdependencies in the Social Sciences; Historical Narrative and Statistical Evidence in Lescure’s ‘Complex Historical Method’; Lescure’s Liberalism and the Role of Government in the Recovery of the 1930s; Lescure’s Complex Historical Method and the Use and Misuse of Statistics; Are Crises Inevitable and Forecastable?; Translator’s Note; General and Periodic Crises of Overproduction; Volume I: The Phenomenon; Chapter 1: The Phenomenon; Section 1: A Historical Study of Economic Crises; Section 2: Theoretical Outline of the Alternating Periods of Growth and Depression; Section 3: The Role of Various Industries in the Alternating Periods Growth and Depression; Volume II: Causes and Remedies; Chapter 2: The Causes of General Overproduction Crises; Section 1: Theories Explaining Crises as Monetary Phenomena; Section 2: Theories Explaining Crises Through the Phenomena of Production, Consumption and Distribution; Chapter 3: Remedies for Crises; Section 1: Is the Crisis an Evil?; Section 2: Remedies; Section 3: Crises and the Working Class; Conclusion; Annexes; Appendix One: Bibliography of the Works Cited by Jean Lescure; Appendix Two: Bibliography of the Works of Jean Lescure; Index


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