La microéconomie pour tous

TOULOUSE – Tout au long du dernier demi-siècle, les grandes universités du monde entier ont enseigné la microéconomie à travers le prisme du modèle d'équilibre général concurrentiel de Arrow-Debreu. Le modèle formalise une idée centrale développée par Adam Smith dans son ouvrage La richesse des nations. Il incarne la beauté, la simplicité et le manque de réalisme des deux théorèmes fondamentaux de l'équilibre concurrentiel, qui contrastent avec le désordre et la complexité des modifications apportées par les économistes cherchant à mieux saisir la façon dont le monde fonctionne en réalité. En d'autres termes, alors que les chercheurs tentent de comprendre les situations complexes du monde réel, les élèves s'interrogent sur des hypothèses irréalistes.

Cette approche pédagogique découle en grande partie de l'idée, raisonnable, qu’un cadre de réflexion sur les problèmes économiques est plus utile aux étudiants qu'un ramassis de modèles. Mais une autre notion, plus pernicieuse, s’est progressivement ajoutée à la première : puisque les variantes au modèle de Arrow-Debreu deviennent plus réalistes, et donc plus complexes, elles deviennent moins appropriées pour la salle de cours. En d'autres termes, la pensée microéconomique « réelle » devrait être laissée aux experts.

Bien sûr, les modèles de base - par exemple, les théories de monopole et d’oligopole simple, la théorie des biens publics ou la théorie de l’asymétrie d’information simple – ont une valeur pédagogique. Mais peu de chercheurs travaillent effectivement avec ces modèles. Les théories sur lesquelles se base véritablement la recherche microéconomique – les contrats incomplets, les marchés bilatéraux, l'analyse du risque, les choix inter-temporels, les signaux de marché, la microstructure des marchés financiers, la fiscalité optimale et les mécanismes d’incitation – sont beaucoup plus complexes et nécessitent une finesse exceptionnelle pour éviter l’inélégance. Compte tenu de cela, elles sont largement exclues des manuels.

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