Jules Dupuit 1804-1866 Biography

Jules Dupuit (1804-1866) Biography and Theory

While Cournot was working out the foundations of microeconomics, a venerable French institution—the School of Civil Engineering—was about to produce a man who would combine micro tools with a theory of utility to establish the foundations of welfare economics, public finance, and public-goods theory. Like Cournot, this famous French engineer thought of economics as an avocation, not a profession, and although he possessed a fine technical education, he brought keen practical insight to an analysis of economic problems.

Arsine-Jules-Emile-Juvenal Dupuit was born on May 18,1804, in Fossano, Italy, when the region was ruled by France. At the age of ten, Dupuit returned with his par­ents to France. There he continued his education in the secondary schools at Ver­sailles, at Louis-le-Grand, and at Saint-Louis, where he finished brilliantly by win­ning a physics prize in a large competition.

Dupuit was accepted to the French School of Civil Engineering (the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees) in 1824, and in 1827 he was put in charge, in the department of Sarthe, of an engineering district that encompassed roadway and navigation work. He was married in 1829 and was made first-class engineer in 1836, two years be­fore Cournot published the Researches.

Dupuit concerned himself with problems of economic interest throughout his il­lustrious career as an engineer. He conducted experiments on the deterioration of roadways, which resulted in his Essay and Experiments on Carriage Hauling and on the Friction of Rotation (1837). A subsequent contribution on the same subject earned him a gold medal, awarded as a result of an engineers' ballot. As a result of his engineering activities, Dupuit was eventually decorated with the Legion of Honor on May 1, 1843.

The floods of the Loire in 1844 and 1846 occasioned Dupuit's Theoretical and Practical Studies on the Movement of Running Water (1848), and his classic Floods: An Examination of the Means Proposed to Prevent Their Return, published in 1858, was another attack on the same problem. In 1850, Dupuit was called to municipal duty in Paris as director and chief engineer, a job in which he studied municipal water distribution and supervised the construction of sewers. In December of 1855, Dupuit was named Inspector-General of Civil Engineering. He was, in short, one of the most distinguished engineers in France at the time. But political economy was Dupuit's hobby and the object of his passionate attention, and his career as an engineer was no more remarkable than his career as an economist. Unfortunately, a projected book entitled Political Economy Applied to Public Works, to which Dupuit referred as early as 1844, was never brought to completion (death intervened in 1866). With the ex­ception of the short plea for free trade, Commercial Freedom, published in 1861, Dupuit's reputation as an economist must stand with a considerable number of jour­nal contributions to economic policy and theory.