Marking Time: Marshall's Search for Narrative Explanatory Coherence


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Marking Time: Marshall's Search for Narrative Explanatory Coherence
History of Political Economy
Maas Harro
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It is well known that Marshall had great difficulty in organizing his work after the Principles. The promised second volume never came, and for the books that eventually were published, Industry and Trade (1919) and Money, Credit, and Commerce (1923), Marshall was at pains to find the right mode of expression for his research. In the introduction to the Principles, Marshall had explained his reliance on partial equilibrium analysis and, more generally, ceteris paribus reasoning as the natural method of the economist, for which his method of diagrams was an excellent fit. But already while working on his Principles Marshall had moved closer to economic history. In a letter of June 1879 to Jevons, he had praised Jevons's statistical work as an important step in “‘real’-ising” the abstract theories of economists, in which he promised to follow suit. However, while Jevons tried to flesh out mathematical relations that captured the economic causalities hidden in statistical data, Marshall started to explore a different strategy, a strategy that explains his criticism of “mathematico-statistics” and the waning away of his initial enthusiasm for the method of diagrams as an engine of discovery. Instead of relying on the ceteris paribus method, which would examine one causal factor at a time, Marshall searched for an approach that captured the causalities in the economy as an encompassing whole. A shorthand for this approach is his famous epigraph to Industry and Trade: “The many in the one, the one in the many.” Moving away from the opposition between abstract theory and economic facts, Marshall tried to develop a strategy that mediates between the generic categories of the economist and the specific events of history that are the domain of the economic historian. In contrast with the ceteris paribus strategy Marshall embraced in his Principles, in which an incomplete analysis is improved by adding causal factors, Marshall explored what this article calls a narrative strategy, in which he tried to work out how to integrate a manifold of heterogenous causal factors into a unified whole, thus providing causal coherence to a complete chronology of events. The purpose of my contribution to this issue is to explore the development and substance of this narrative strategy. This article will use Jevons's and Marshall's different cartographies of time as an entry point to understand Marshall's narrative take on the causal explanation of the facts of history.
Economics and Econometrics, History
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