Saturday, July 05, 2008

Some History of the Label 'Neoclassical"

I suppose if I want to note the origin of the term "neoclassical" in relation to economics, I should quote Aspromourgos. But I happen to have a Colander essay nearer at hand. The term grew to have a extremely general connotation:
"The term, neoClassical, was initially coined by Thorstein Veblen (1900) in his 'Preconceptions of Economic Science.'...

Hicks (1932, 1934) and Stigler (1941) extended the meaning of neoClassical to encompass all marginalist writers, including Menger, Jevons, and J.B. Clark. Most writers after Hicks and Stigler used the term inclusively. Thus it lost most of its initial meaning. Instead of describing Marshallian economics, it became associated with the use of calculus, the use of marginal productivity theory, and a focus on relative prices. As has been noted by a number of authors, while the neoClassical terminology makes some sense for Marshall, who emphasized the connection of his approach with the Classical approach, it makes far less sense for the others, such as Jevons, who emphasized the difference between his views and those of the Classicals. Some have suggested that anti-Classical would have been preferable.

...In the third edition of his principles textbook Samuelson (1955) built on Keynes' classification and turned it around on Keynes by developing the neoClassical synthesis. In the neoClassical synthesis, Keynes' dispute with Classical economists was resolved. This use of the term 'neoClassical' as an alternative to Keynesian models provides another confusion because it adds another reference point that brings to mind different elements of thought than would other comparisons." -- David Colander
By the way, shortly before World War II, Austrian economists did not see themselves as lying outside neoclassical economics or putting forth a separate doctrine:
"Referring to the usual separation of economic theorists into three schools of thought, 'the Austrian and the Anglo-American schools and the School of Lausanne', Mises (citing Morgernstern) emphasizes that these groups 'differ only in their mode of expressing the same fundamental idea and that they are divided more by their terminology and by peculiarities of presentation than by substance of their teachings' (Mises 1960 [1933])." - Israel Kirzner
For completeness, I expand the references in the above quotations.

  • Tony Aspromourgos, "On the Origins of the Term 'Neoclassical'", Cambridge Journal of Economics, V. 10, N. 3: 265-270
  • David Colander, "The Death of Neoclassical Economics"
  • J. R. Hicks (1932) "Marginal Productivity and the Principle of Variation", Economica (February)
  • J. R. Hicks (1934) "Leon Walras", Econometrica (October)
  • Israel Kirzner (1987) "The Austrian School of Economics", The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics
  • L. von Mises (1960) Epistemological Problems of Economics, Van Nostrand (translation of Grundprobleme der Nationalökonomie, 1933)
  • G. J. Sigler (1941) Production and Distribution Theories, Macmillan


Anonymous said...

As I point out in my recent book on JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (Palgrave/Macmillan 2007 isbn #978-1-40399623-7, Samuelson adopterd the title neoclassical synthesis to his version of Keynesianism because of th political witchhunt (McCarthyism) for economic textbooks that espoused this communist inspired Keynesianism (e.g., Lorie Tashis's post war textbook -- the first to explicitly discuss Keynes's theory. Tarshis was a student at Cambridge in the early 1930s and attended Keynes's lectures during Keynes's writing of the GENERAL THEORY.

Paul Davidson

Roberto Fortich Mesa said...

So, according to Colander, Neoclassicals = Marginalists? Menger is a neoclassical? Interesting...