The Empire of Value

The Empire of Value

A New Foundation for Economics

By André Orléan

Translated by M. B. DeBevoise

An argument that conceiving of economic value as a social force makes it possible to develop a new and more powerful theory of market behavior.





An argument that conceiving of economic value as a social force makes it possible to develop a new and more powerful theory of market behavior.

With the advent of the 2007–2008 financial crisis, the economics profession itself entered into a crisis of legitimacy from which it has yet to emerge. Despite the obviousness of their failures, however, economists continue to rely on the same methods and to proceed from the same underlying assumptions. André Orléan challenges the neoclassical paradigm in this book, with a new way of thinking about perhaps its most fundamental concept, economic value.

Orléan argues that value is not bound up with labor, or utility, or any other property that preexists market exchange. Economic value, he contends, is a social force whose vast sphere of influence, amounting to a kind of empire, extends to every aspect of economic life. Markets are based on the identification of value with money, and exchange value can only be regarded as a social institution. Financial markets, for example, instead of defining an extrinsic, objective value for securities, act as a mechanism for arriving at a reference price that will be accepted by all investors. What economists must therefore study, Orléan urges, is the hold that value has over individuals and how it shapes their perceptions and behavior.

Awarded the prestigious Prix Paul Ricoeur on its original publication in France in 2011, The Empire of Value has been substantially revised and enlarged for this edition, with an entirely new section discussing the financial crisis of 2007–2008.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262026970 360 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 9 figures, 6 tables


M. B. DeBevoise.


  • In lucid, accessible language, André Orléan resurrects and explores the vital (but neglected) problem of value, grappling along the way with some fundamental defects of conventional theory. Through his mimetic hypothesis, the role of money emerges in the central role that both classical political economy and neoclassical economics denied to it. The Empire of Value is a bold argument, and a deep rejection of the justification for reliance on markets, except as a device for obtaining consent.

    James K. Galbraith

    The University of Texas at Austin

  • The Empire of Value is an engaging, ambitious, erudite, and innovative reflection on how markets work (or not). The scholarship is impressive and refreshingly different from many other 'big picture' books prompted by the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. This is a very smart book that forced me to consider new avenues of analysis and alternative interpretations.

    Bruce Carruthers

    Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University

  • This is a highly innovative and provocative book that will surely become part of the new economics that is so desperately needed today. What will especially appeal to many readers is the ingenious way in which the author mixes economics and sociology in his analysis.

    Richard Swedberg

    Professor of Sociology, Cornell University