Usually after Marx (1818-1883), economic books goes to the next great economic genius: Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) and the establishing of marginalism analysis. Of course Marshall was a noteworthy mathematical genius, but, is there more people in between? I mean, there are 52 years between the Manifesto and the “Principles of Economics” (the ruling book of economics written by Marshall). Heilbroner noted some interesting people between Marx and Marshall and divided these people in two groups: The Victorian Economists and The Underground Economists. Rather than a time division, it is a style division.
The Victorian Economists were characterized by they academician love for rigorous mathematical models. They wanted to describe economics just as physicists and mathematicians were doing in their fields. Maybe this is the reason why during this time, Political Economy was now being called just Economics. Some of these Victorians were:
Johann Heinrich von Thunen (1783-1850) a landowner mathematician that came with this pearl:
Y: Units of comoddity per land.
p: Market priceper unit of commodity.
c: Production expenses per unit of commodity.
m: distance to market.
Just put it here because it is funny to think in a landowner german writing equations. Can someone please make a caricature of this guy? (put some pigs, beer and a mustache).
Francis Ysidore Edgeworth (1845-1926), a man fascinated with political economy only because it deals with quantities, and anything that deal with quantities could be translated to mathematics. Edgeworth based his analysis on the assumption: “every man is a pleasure machine” (I only say that when I’m drunk). So, based in Jeremy Bentham principle of human pleasure mechanisms competing for shares of society’s stock of pleasure, it could be show that in a world with perfect competition, each pleasure machine would achieve the highest amount of pleasure that society could ever reach. Edgeworth could be one of the first economists to treat this practice as a world phenomena, just as physics or mathematics, and not that human (can I say that this is the beginning of the end?).
León Walras (1834-1910) Famous for proving that you could deduce the exact prices that would clear the market (supply equals demand on the general equilibrium theory), if you have an equation for every single economic good on the market. Now is up to you to solve these millions of equations. His masterpiece was Elements of Pure Economics, published in 1877. In the future, Schumpeter will have some words to Walras:
“Walras is … greatest of all economists. His system of economic equilibrium, uniting, as it does, the quality of revolutionary creativeness with the quality of classic synthesis, is the only work by an economist that will stand comparison with the achievements of theoretical physics“
These men were great academics, but, is it necessary to be a mathematical genius to talk about economics? isn’t economics a day-a-day issue that we all have to fight? could a simple man say something about main economic issues?
Academic economists could and do great job modeling economics, but, is their work really improving our everyday life? is their rigorous labor paying off? I mean, we are now around two hundred years since Adams Smith and all the great minds that followed him; all them geniuses dedicated to economics and we still have people dying from hunger everyday. So, if we consider economics aimed to the material welfare of all, we are clearly missing some points.
Some guys did believe the same. Some guys did believed that they could say and do something about economics. The academic world largely ignored them. Maybe because of not being part of them. Maybe because these new guys touched some really weak points of the economics development (none of the academics wanted to change a model where most their work rested).
These guys are called The Underground Economists.
Dedicated to The Boss, the only one with the social pressure to read this.