The Marginal Productivity Theory of Distribution: A Critical History, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Marginal Productivity Theory of Distribution

A Critical History, 1st Edition

By John Pullen


212 pages

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The Marginal Productivity Theory of Distribution (MPTD) claims that in a free-market economy the demand for a factor of production will depend upon its marginal product – where "marginal product" is defined as the change in total product that is caused by, or that follows, the addition or subtraction of the marginal unit of the factor used in the production process, with all other inputs held constant. From its inception in the early nineteenth century the MPTD has been claimed by some economists to be a solution to the ethical problem of distributive justice, i.e. to be a means of determining fairness in wages, profits, interest and rent. Other economists have rejected this ethical claim, but have seen the MPTD as a valid demand-side criterion in the determination of equilibrium and efficiency.

This book argues that the MPTD is valid, neither as a normative theory of social justice, nor as a positive law of economics. It suggests that economics is yet to develop a satisfactory theory of distribution that is scientific in the quantitative or mathematical sense. Through a survey of the origin and subsequent evolution of the MPTD in the writings of over 50 contributors over 150 years, John Pullen presents a critical history of the concept. The book begins by examining the conceptual tools that have been deployed to facilitate this analysis of past contributions to the MPTD and then looks at various economists and their contribution to the debate including its supporters such as Wicksteed, Marshall, Wicksell and Stigler, and its critics such as Pareto, Hobson, Edgeworth, Adriance and Cassel.

Table of Contents

1. Basic Concepts 2. Forerunners and Founders 3. Followers and Critics: 1900-1920: From Hobson to Adriance 4. Followers and Critics: 1920-1940: From Cassel to Fraser 5. Followers and Critics After 1940: From Kaldor to Blaug 6. Summary of Main Themes 7. Miscellaneous Considerations 8. The Normative Language of the Non-normative MPTD 9. General Conclusion: Neither Normative Nor Positive

About the Author

John Pullen was previously Associate Professor in the Department of Business, Economics and Public Policy at the University of New England, Australia, before being appointed as an Honorary Fellow in 2006.

About the Series

Routledge Advances in Heterodox Economics

Over the past two decades, the intellectual agendas of heterodox economists have taken a decidedly pluralist turn.  Leading thinkers have begun to move beyond the established paradigms of Austrian, feminist, Institutional-evolutionary, Marxian, Post Keynesian, radical, social, and Sraffian economics—opening up new lines of analysis, criticism, and dialogue among dissenting schools of thought.  This cross-fertilization of ideas is creating a new generation of scholarship in which novel combinations of heterodox ideas are being brought to bear on important contemporary and historical problems.

Routledge Advances in Heterodox Economics aims to promote this new scholarship by publishing innovative books in heterodox economic theory, policy, philosophy, intellectual history, institutional history, and pedagogy.  Syntheses or critical engagement of two or more heterodox traditions are especially encouraged.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Economic History
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Economics / General
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Economics / Theory