The Neoclassical Club: Irving Fisher and the Progressive Origins of Neoliberalism

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In examining the mathematical models, theories of value, and price statistics wielded by leading economist and social reformer Irving Fisher, this article explores the overlooked impact that Neoclassical Economics had on Progressive Era reform and thought. By offering a neoclassical theory of marginal utility that claimed that market prices reflected subjective value, Fisher formalized, legitimized, and popularized the use of price statistics in progressive political discourse, teaching the American people that if they wanted to argue over the nature of progress or the worthiness of a certain reform, they would have to price it first. The article argues that such a "pricing of progressivism" served as an important foundational precursor to the rise of neoliberal thought in the 1980s. In light of such a significant intellectual legacy, it seems imperative that intellectual historians of the Progressive Era turn their attention away from the usual suspects of this period, such as Pragmatists William James and John Dewey, and shift their analytical focus away from the "Metaphysical Club" and toward a neoclassical one.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-262
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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