IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Neoclassical Advent: American Economics at the Dawn of the 20th Century


  • Joseph Persky


For the U.S. economy, the last quarter of the 19th century brought the closing of the Western frontier, agricultural hardship in the South, the rise of large corporations and trusts, and the emergence of a serious labor movement. The fledgling American economics profession struggled to document and prescribe for the confounding mix of industrialization, urbanization, and rural crisis. In 1900, the relatively small community of serious economic researchers focused on applied issues in public policy and industrial organization. The prominent institutionalist school, strongly influenced by the almost millennial theories of the social gospel movement, emphasized the inequities of the emerging economy and looked forward to a new, more cooperative system of production. On the eve of the 20th century, John Bates Clark published in 1899 The Distribution of Wealth: A Theory of Wages, Interest and Profit. With this volume, neoclassicism matured into a major intellectual force within American economic thought, with Clark as its defining figure. Clark's analytical approach and his normative purposes hardly went unchallenged. Moreover, the great majority of economists in the United States continued to work in the institutionalist vein up to World War II. Nevertheless, by viewing the American neoclassical advent in the context of its own time, we can gain a deeper understanding of both American economics at the turn of the 20th century and the early character of the school that came to dominate our discipline.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph Persky, 2000. "The Neoclassical Advent: American Economics at the Dawn of the 20th Century," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(1), pages 95-108, Winter.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:14:y:2000:i:1:p:95-108 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.14.1.95

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Tobin, James, 1985. "Neoclassical Theory in America: J. B. Clark and Fisher," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(6), pages 28-38, December.
    2. Richard J. Arnott & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1979. "Aggregate Land Rents, Expenditure on Public Goods, and Optimal City Size," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 93(4), pages 471-500.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Hugh Rockoff, 2008. "Great Fortunes of the Gilded Age," NBER Working Papers 14555, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Avi J. Cohen, 2003. "Retrospectives: Whatever Happened to the Cambridge Capital Theory Controversies?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(1), pages 199-214, Winter.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • A11 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Role of Economics; Role of Economists


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:14:y:2000:i:1:p:95-108. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Jane Voros) or (Michael P. Albert). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.