"Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called 'marginal-productivity theory.' In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards 'performance bonuses' that they felt compelled to change the name to 'retention bonuses' (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin."Stiglitz had negative reviews in 1974 and 1975 of books by Harcourt and Pasinetti. Nevertheless, the idea that marginalism was formulated to justify those with high income echoes certain ideas from Sraffa and others. Likewise, finding marginal productivity theory to be "all bosh" is a long-standing Cambridge idea.
I can think of three ways to attack a theory