Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Menger, Jevons, and Walras Un-Homogenized, De-Homogenized, and Homogenized: A Comment on Peart

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Menger, Jevons, and Walras Un-Homogenized, De-Homogenized, and Homogenized: A Comment on Peart

Article excerpt

What did Jaffe (1976) mean by de-homogenizing Menger, Jevons, and Walras after all? The first thing that comes to mind is that they had been homogenized at some point and that Jaffe was trying to restore them to their original position of "un-homogenized" authors. The question then becomes: "What does 'homogenize' mean?" Here the example of milk homogenization is particularly telling. Homogenizing milk consists of breaking up its fat globules into very fine particles, the purpose of the whole process being to blend its diverse elements into a uniform mixture so that cream no longer separates from the rest of the milk. Could it be, then, that in using a chemical metaphor, Jaffe intended to reveal to his fellow economists that Menger, Jevons, and Walras had undergone the unfair treatment of being "reduced" to their simplest expression? This has been common practice in the history of the evaluations of schools of thought in the history of economics - a clever means to divert attention from authors' own contributions to economics. Did not David Hume use a similar metaphor long ago? When writing to Morellet about another group of economists, namely, the physiocrats, he suggested the following "I hope that in your work you will thunder them, and crush them, and pound them, and reduce them to dust and ashes!" (Hume 1955, pp. 215-16). In fact, Hume's metaphor cannot be equated with Jaffe's although it contributes to illustrating it. Indeed, Quesnay, Baudeau, Mirabeau, and others had already been homogenized, that is, blended into a uniform mixture, where their possible differences could not show. What Hume meant, then, was that the time had come to reduce the physiocrats to nothing (not to their simplest expression), to fine particles such as dust and ashes - pulverization more than homogenization.

As it turns out, Jaffe was not so much interested in the process of homogenization itself as its outcome. He was well aware, indeed, that Menger, Jevons, and Walras had been blended into the uniform mixture of the "marginal revolution,"(1) but he did not expand much on this process, allowing himself only a brief, though instructive, remark:

The stress laid by historians of economics on the marginal utility tool as constituting the essential feature of the triple discoveries is in accord with Schumpeter's definition of science as "tooled knowledge". This definition in the hands of historians of economics who construe it altogether too narrowly has tended to divert attention from the desired knowledge to the tools used in giving formal structure to the knowledge. That knowledge-structures are more important than the tools used in erecting them is seen in the fact that the theoretical edifices raised by Menger, Jevons and Walras, albeit with closely similar variants of the same tool, were markedly different and influenced the future course of theoretical model building in fundamentally different ways, the tool itself having in the meantime become obsolete (Jaffe 1976. p. 512).

So Jaffe's main purpose was not so much to elucidate the nature of homogenization as to emphasize the drawbacks associated with its result. It is advisable to bear that in mind if one really wants to learn something from the Jaffe thesis. For in the same way as he did not elaborate on the process of homogenization itself, so Jaffe did not bother defining "de-homogenization."(2) Hence, Jaffe's call for de-homogenization is somewhat misleading. Jaffe would have been well inspired in titling his article "Menger, Jevons and Walras Un-homogenized and De-homogenized," for his thesis actually comprises two distinct claims. In the first place, "de-homogenization" is meant to recall to historians of economics that "the widely disseminated practice of lumping Menger, Jevons and Walras together under one caption" (Jaffe 1976, p. 511) should not obscure the fact that Menger, Jevons, and Walras are by definition separate authors with views of their own. From this perspective, Jaffe was not really advocating a process of de-homogenization that would follow an unfortunate process of homogenization; he rather pointed to a prerequisite to higher research in the history of economics, notably the examination of original texts, thus suggesting that we should approach Menger, Jevons, and Walras as un-homogenized. …

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