David Levy

David Levy Image

The Sandra Peart-David Levy paper that was just accepted for publication at the Review of Austrian Economics might help clear up an old confusion. For a very long time the contributions of Carl Menger and W. S. Jevons have seen as the case of scholars arriving at the same results independently, creating “subjective value theory.” If that name is supposed to mean they both modeled an acting agent with a distinct utility function, that’s what they did.  However, if we ask about whether the model speaks to things or to beliefs then there are obvious differences. Jevons realized that he needed to work with things because one cannot substitute “similars” across belief states. Menger is clear that he deals with beliefs. From a technical point of view the question is whether the “axiom of extensionality” – the fundamental substitution principle in set theory – holds. Jevons is explicit that it does; Menger is implicit that it does not. Thus the split in the 1870s is not between mathematical economics or literary economics but what axioms holds. The axiom of extensionality has the pleasing property of turning wishes into theorems.

The work on economics and racism continues. One of the products of this effort came out in the chapter on Harriet Martineau. The difference between what she accomplished as a technical economist and her reputation as an economist is unbelievable. It is now obvious Carlyle’s target for the “dismal science” label. We finished up a chapter on T. N. Carver for the volume on Harvard economics. Carver is particularly interesting for many reasons. He’s a very important technical economist who was both a flamboyant eugenicist and a stern advocate of the free market. His best known student was Walter Lippmann whose eugenic advocacy it has pleased readers to overlook. Perhaps Carver’s least known student, Orval Watts (his name is not spelled correctly even by the Library of Congress!) was important in the free market movement in the 1940s and 50s. The canonical histories of economics seem never to notice Carver’s eugenics. This is a reason replication is so important.

For our work on the long history of economics and racism we are now addressing the complication that there was a very long period in which Blacks were absent from professional economics. The issue is not that Black scholars were absent from higher education. Harvard awarded a Ph.D. in history to W. E. B. DuBois in the 1890s but no Black person was awarded a Ph.D. in economics at Harvard until the 1930s. However, Black scholars made major contributions to what would be seen as economics but that was called history or sociology. The desires of the funders of the single most important on racism in the twentieth century, Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 American Dilemma, have been addressed by exemplary scholarship from which we are benefiting.    One of issues we faced in our Natural Equals was the decision of the Ford Foundation not to support the Thomas Jefferson Center.  Economic analysis is not purely exogenous.

There were two panels at APEE this spring on Natural Equals. Our decision to publish documents seems to have been the correct one.  This was also the reaction we received last year at the Public Choice Society meetings.  The replication crisis is not unique to applied econometrics.


Article published

 “Responses to the Comments on Natural Equals” with Sandra Peart, Research in the History of Economics and Methodology, 2022


Book chapters published

“George Stigler” with Sandra Peart. The Palgrave Companion to University of Chicago Economics. Edited by Robert Cord. Palgraves 2022.

 “Harriet Martineau” with Sandra Peart. The Essential Women of Liberty. Edited by Donald Boudreaux and Aeon Skoble. Fraser Institute



 “Harriet Martineau and the Collective Action Problems of Slavery.” Public Choice Society. Nashville

 Responses to papers in two panels on the Levy-Peart Towards an Economics of Natural Equals at Association of Private Enterprise Education, Las Vegas

 Article forthcoming

 “Menger and Jevons: Beliefs or Things” with Sandra Peart. Review of Austrian Economics. 2023 forthcoming.

 Book chapter forthcoming

 “Thomas Nixon Carver” with Sandra Peart. The Palgrave Companion to Harvard University Economics. Edited by Robert Cord. Palgraves 2023.

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