Joan Robinson’s Critique of Marginal Utility Theory

A great summation:

Fixing the Economists


In her excellent book Economic Philosophy (available as a PDF here) Joan Robinson undertakes an extensive discussion of marginal utility theory. Here I will be more so interested in her technical criticisms. But before going into these it should be noted that Robinson characterises the impetus of marginal utility theory in a way many might find unusual.

Basically, she claims that it is a revolutionary leftist doctrine. The reason she makes this claim is because if we apply the law of diminishing returns to income it soon becomes clear that radical egalitarianism — indeed, some sort of socialism or communism — is the best manner in which to maximise the utility of society as a whole. Robinson points out that the early marginalists — many of whom, like Walras, were socialists — recognised this full well. She quotes Alfred Marshall in this regard,

Next we must take account…

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Author: Damian Merciar

Damian Merciar is Managing Director of Merciar Business Consulting,, a niche business economics consultancy founded in 1998. He has over twenty years experience in the areas of commercial Business Strategy. He is experienced in the transition environments of nationalized to private sector state utilities and the senior practice of commercial management, advisorial consultancy, and implementation. He has carried out policy advisory work for government ministries and been an adviser to institutional bodies proposing changes to government. He holds an MSc Economics from the University of Surrey’s leading Economics department and an MBA from the University of Kent. Also attending the leading University in the Middle East, studying International Relations and Language, for which he won a competitive international scholarship, and has a BA (Hons) in Economic History and Political Economy from the University of Portsmouth. He is currently based in London.

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