Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 16 No. 3 (Summer 2002)


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Retrospectives: The Origins of Neoclassical Microeconomics

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Ekelund, Robert B. Jr, and Robert F. Hébert. 2002. "Retrospectives: The Origins of Neoclassical Microeconomics." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 16(3): 197-215.

DOI: 10.1257/089533002760278785


Until recently, the standard story line in history of thought textbooks was that a triumvirate of British and Continental writers established demarcation between classical economics and neoclassical economics in the early 1870s. The authors raise two objections to this potted history. The first is that the tools of neoclassical economics were invented earlier. Recent work has demonstrated that the tools of neoclassical analysis were widely available across Europe well before 1870. The notion that neoclassical economics experienced a tripartite immaculate conception around 1870 cannot stand. The second objection is that the method of neoclassical economics was invented later. As it stands, the legend undervalues the key contribution of Alfred Marshall, who put an indelible stamp on neoclassical economics by defining the appropriate method of economic inquiry. When we refer to neoclassical economics today, we usually mean the collection of tools of economic knowledge available to (and invented by) Marshall, channeled and directed into uses dictated by Marshall's view of economic science. Yet as we shall see, Marshall had an eminent predecessor in method as well, in the person of Jules Dupuit.

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Ekelund, Robert B. Jr
Hébert, Robert F.


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