chapter  6
Death and resurrection of a research programme
Pages 22

When agreement emerged among economists that around 1870, a scientific revolution had taken place, along similar lines, in different countries, doubts arose as to whether Marshall, who published his findings much later, was one of the founding fathers or merely a second-comer. Whitaker’s edition of the early economic writings settled the issue proving that, however excessive was Marshall’s claim that his doctrines on value and distribution were forged between 1867 and 1870 (Whitaker 1996, vol. III: 183), he framed the structure of his system and elaborated ‘the essential notions of demand-supply analysis’ independently of Jevons and the other marginalists (Whitaker 1975, vol. I: 37-52). Another fundamental issue, more difficult to settle, was whether similarity of tools implied convergence of research programmes. With the spread of marginalist formalism, the question received a positive answer and economists strove to eliminate the provisos and warnings on account of which Marshall’s system remained uniquely open and problematic. Some of his analytical tools were pulled out of their apparently disposable container while the slow speed of this process was blamed for the backwardness of English economics in the inter-war period (Samuelson 1967). Marshall’s praise of classical political economy was patronizingly looked upon as a piece of rhetoric, excusable in the troublesome waters of the nineteenth century, but misleadingly hiding from view the break that had taken place in economics. Moreover, when physics regained its prominent position among the natural sciences, biological analogies went out of fashion and ‘positive economics’ replaced Marshall’s complex, evolutionary view of economic systems. In the enthusiasm for a newly acquired general consensus on methodological standards, little room was left for variation and diversity. Even Shove, who – conscious of its peculiar worth – tried to update the Marshallian tradition, did not refrain from noticing that the motto on the new Mecca ‘carrie[d] its date on its face’ and picked up the notion of character as the clearest sign of the Principles’ obsolescence. In his opinion, the frustrating consequence of Marshall’s evolutionary ideas was ‘the very restricted sphere (more restricted as time went on) which he assigned to the path-breaking ideas of an “equilibrium price” and an “equilibrium amount” ’ (Shove 1942: 312).