Title

Neoclassical Theory in America: J. B. Clark and Fisher

Authors

James Tobin

Document Type

Discussion Paper

Publication Date

9-1-1985

CFDP Number

776

CFDP Pages

36

Abstract

The intellectual breakthroughs that mark the neoclassical revolution in economic analysis occurred in Europe around 1870. The next two decades witnessed lively debates in which the new theory more or less absorbed or was absorbed in the classical tradition that preceded and provoked it. In the 1890s, according to Joseph A. Schumpeter (1954, p. 754) there emerged “a large expanse of common ground and … a feeling of repose, both of which created, in the superficial observer, an impression of finality — the finality of a Greek temple that spreads its perfect lines against a cloudless sky.” Of course the temple was by no means complete. Its building and decoration continue to this day, even while its faithful throngs worship within. American economists were not present at the creation. To a considerable extent they built their own edifice independently, designing some new architecture in the process. They participated actively in the international controversies and syntheses of the period 1870-1914. At least two Americans were prominent builders of the “temple,” John Bates Clark and Irving Fisher. They and others brought neoclassical theory into American journals, classrooms, and textbooks, and its analytical tools into the kits of researchers and practitioners. Eventually, for better or worse, their paradigm would dominate economic science in this country. This paper discusses their contribution.

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