Propuestas de estudio del Dr. Guillermo Luis Covernton: Economía – Políticas Públicas – Libertad – Humanismo Cristiano

“Who discovered the principle of Marginal Utility?”

This is a translation of the article of the same name published by Prof. Dr. Jorge Ubiratán Iorio:

We present here, for ease of dissemination and debate among scholars of English speakers.


” ” This article is a brief excerpt of Chapter IX of my book From the first Austrian protoaustríacos : a brief history of the Austrian School , which will be released in Brazil in September this year by the Mises Institute Brasil ” ” .


” ” Those who responded to this question by saying Menger , Jevons and Walras, wrong! In fact, any economics student , or even someone with an interest in science, soon learns that the principle ( or doctrine or law) of marginal utility is a discovery of these three thinkers, who worked independently , without any of them knew what the other two were doing until the final draft in 1871 . Carl Menger , William Stanley Jevons and Walras Léon are thus considered the fathers of the doctrine of marginal utility, which settled the so-called paradox of value, which allows extraordinary developments in economic theory , in the Austrian school and the mainstream economy.
This has been taught from generation to generation , but it is not true, though – I can assure you – ten thousand economists , perhaps nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine not know, not by their own fault, but because they were taught different and , in turn , who taught them also learned in the same traditional way.
But what , after all, I mean by this ? Who was the real ” inventor ” of the principle of marginal utility ?

In regard to the truth and merit , we affirm that the true ” discoverer ” of that – and important – the law, in the final form in which it was learned , was Jaime Luciano Balmes and Antonio Urpiá (or , in Catalan, Antoni Jaume Balmes Llucià Urpià i ) !
In fact, no doubt, was Jaime Balmes (1810-1848) – as it is known – the Catalan priest and philosopher , who , in 1844 , was not only the first to untie the Gordian knot of the famous paradox of value , which is challenging thinkers for centuries , but also the first to clearly state the law of marginal utility. Balmes was a contemporary of the Prussian Hermann Heinrich Gossen ( both born in 1810 ) has reached this important solution that helped pave the way for further development of the Austrian School and very current economy in 1844 and therefore before qu Gossen , in his article the true idea of the value or reflections on the origin, nature and variety of prices .
Hermann Heinrich Gossen (1810-1858) came to the same result – although very different methodology , with a strong appeal for math – ten years later, ie in 1854 , in his Die Entwickelung der des Gesetze menschlichen Verkehrs ( Development exchanges between people) laws. It was therefore Gossen who makes the second submission to the law of marginal utility.
Therefore, before Menger , Jevons and Walras reached the top marginal utility in 1871 , two other scholars of the economy had already crossed the ” finish line ” Balmes was the first and the second Gossen .
Jaime Balmes was born in Barcelona. Philosopher , theologian, apologist, sociologist and politician, was one of the most interesting personalities of Spain in the first half of the nineteenth century. Although familiar with the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas and therefore keeping traits thought of Thomas Aquinas, was an original philosopher , without belonging to any particular school.
While it is completely unknown to economists, who traditionally form in the Anglo-Saxon tradition , is very popular in the Catalan country where almost every city has a street or square that bears his name, but even in Catalonia his works and contributions are more known now than during his time.
On September 7, 1844 , Balmes – the largest in Spain and Europe Thomist philosopher of his time – published a text called The true idea of the value or reflections on the origin, nature and variety of prices , which resolves the paradox of value after centuries of unsuccessful or only partially satisfactory answers , clearly presenting the concept of marginal utility, brilliantly answering the question ; ” Why a gemstone [ which is a ” luxury good ” ] is higher than a piece of bread [ a value of” essential good “] “?
Your question and answer quirky and pioneering can be formulated as follows :
How does a gemstone worth more than a piece of bread , a comfortable dress and maybe even a healthy and pleasant villa? And he answers:
… “It is difficult to explain , and the value of something given by its utility or its ability to meet our needs , more accurate is your satisfaction , the greater its value , one must also consider that if the number of assets increases, reduces the need for each one individually , because if you can choose among many , none is indispensable. Here’s why there is a necessary dependence between the increase and decrease in value and scarcity and abundance of something. A loaf of bread has little value because it keeps no necessary connection with the satisfaction of our needs, but because when there are many, will have abundant food . But decreasing its abundance , its value will grow rapidly to reach any level , a phenomenon that occurs in times of scarcity , and that becomes more palpable in all genres during the calamities of war somewhere cornered by a prolonged harassment ” ( Balmes, Spanish Ed 1949 : 615-624 ) .
Therefore, Balmes was able to close the circle of the continental tradition and make it ready for it to be completed , perfected and taken a few decades later by Carl Menger and his followers of the Austrian School of Economics .
In addition to this pioneering contribution as shown Alex Chafuen  in his interesting article : Roman Catholic Authors and free society : Jaime Balmes (1810-1848) , in : , the writing about Balmes, gives us some of the features that allow us to undoubtedly say that was a protoaustríaco Balmes – and the best:
( A) He wrote numerous articles and essays on topics related to freedom , published in the collections of the Social Studies and originally published in the Journal of the Society : seven critical essays on socialism , including from the point of view of Thomas fault system Moro Robert Owen ;
(B ) has, as noted , the first discovery in 1844 – the correct explanation of the idea of ​​value and origin , natural varieties of prices in ten years anticipating solution twenty-seven years Gossen and Menger , Jevons and Walras . He contributed decisively to the development of the Austrian tradition that developed from Menger’s Principles way ;
(C ) He brought about twenty-five pages of Chapter XVIII of the XXVI Elemental Philosophy course to issues of private property , labor, tax , civil law , usury and other information relevant to the Austrian School.
Science , whether social or accurate is not something that comes ready out of the blue .

And one of the social sciences such as economics is particularly dynamic . It is always the result of the work of generations of researchers, scientists and thinkers who , from any of those who preceded , contribute their own ideas, leaving the tasks , improvement or expansion, or even denied by scientific researchers and thinkers of future generations .
As science is not born ready , too ready or never finished. The evolution of a science, whatever it is, is a phenomenon that characterizes spontaneous orders , the expression of Hayek is used to describe the phenomena , such as language and currency, which are the result of free human action , but that are not provided by the state or by specific groups .
It’s like a permanent building renovation and construction , where each worker, of those who started the work, adds his contribution to the building of stone. Some of these stones are angular and placed usually called by the founders of the science ; others are less important or grandiose , but neither exist without the cornerstones .
In economics, the researcher is usually attributed paternity is Adam Smith, with the publication in 1776 of The Wealth of Nations , a work that undoubtedly made ​​an important contribution to erect the building. But more important queesa contribution was the bright Hispanic Scottish Irish Richard Cantillon , who was the first to present a systematic way the economy, 46 years before the publication of ” The Wealth of Nations ” in his brilliant “south test the nature du commerce en général ” , written around 1730 and published in France in 1755.
In the case of the Austrian School , the first stone was laid for the work “constructor” of Carl Menger , considered by all, with justice , as its founder. However, Menger did not put the stone in a vacuum, was cemented in other very important work done by many of his predecessors in earlier centuries .
Using the football analogy ( since we are in the World Cup) , we can say that when the ball is put to Conca Jean and after dribbling three opponents , surrender to Fred , who scored a goal in the future , all refer to him as ” the goal against Flamengo Fred ” , but if Jean had not turned the ball Conca and this had not been released to Fred , it would be ” a great goal from Fred . ” The” ball ” Jaime Luciano Balmes reached Urpiá Antonio and other thinkers , from post- school , who passed on in ages and so from Cantillon , Turgot , Galiani , Bandini , Delfico , Say and Bastiat ; this at the hands of Balmes , who dribbled and threw for Menger did scorer .
Therefore, the true and indisputable principle of marginal utility father was not Menger , Jevons and Walras, but Jaime Balmes. Live and learn , right? … ” ”


Ubiratán Jorge Iorio is Doctor in Economics ( EPGE / Fundação Getulio Vargas, 1984)
Economist (UFRJ , 1969)
Executive Chairman of the Interdisciplinary Center for Ethics and personalistic Economics  ( CIEEP )
Academic Director and member of honor of von Mises Institute Brasil ( IMB)
Editor in Chief MISES : Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy , Law and Economics
Laureate Award Intenazionale mind Liber @ 2013 in Catanzaro, Calabria (Italy )
Visiting Professor at the Scuola di Liberalism and Member of the Editorial Board of the Rivista Liber @ mind, Fondazione Vincenzo Scoppa , Catanzaro , Italy
Member of the Scientific Council of the chain of ” liberalism delle Regole Il ” with Darius Antisseri , Flavio Felice and Francesco Forte , Rome , Italy
Honorary Member of Associazione Culturale Italia Ludwig von Mises
The Comitato Scientifico members and Senior Fellow of the Tocqueville Center – Acton ( Italy)
Vice President of Communio : International Review of Theology and Culture
Director of the School of Economics UERJ (2000/2003)
Deputy FCE / UERJ (1996/1999)
Associate Professor, Department of Economic Analysis FCE / UERJ
Professor of Special Programs ( MBA) at the Getulio Vargas Foundation
Coordinator of the Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences IBMEC (1995/1998)
Researcher IBMEC (1982/1994)
Economist IBRE / FGV (1973/1982)
Official Central Bank of Brazil ( 1967/1973 ) .

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