John Bates Clark 101: A Pioneer of the Marginalist Theory
Zatrun Published at March 14, 2023

John Bates Clark was an American neoclassical economist who was born on January 26, 1847 in Rhode Island and died in 1938. He was a prominent figure in the field of economics and spent a large part of his career as a professor at Columbia University.

Clark was known for his work in developing the marginalist theory and was a rival of the institutionalist economic school. In this essay, we will explore John Bates Clark’s life, theories, and impact on economics. If you are interested in learning more about John Clark, keep reading this article on

Who is John Bates Clark?

John Bates Clark was born in North Providence, Rhode Island, in a family that was not very well off. His father was a prominent Baptist minister and Clark grew up with a strong religious upbringing. He attended Amherst College in Massachusetts and graduated in 1872. After graduating, Clark received a scholarship to study in Germany, where he attended the universities of Heidelberg and Zurich. He studied under some of the most prominent economists of his time, including Karl Knies, who was a leading figure in the German Historical School of economics.

In 1875, Clark returned to the United States and became a professor of economics at Carleton College in Minnesota. He worked there for six years before moving to Smith College in Massachusetts. In 1895, he was appointed a professor of political economy at Amherst College, where he remained until 1901. During this time, he published several papers on economic theory, including a paper on the concept of marginal utility, which would become the foundation for his later work on marginalist theory.

In 1901, Clark moved to New York City to take up a position as a professor of political economy at Columbia University. He would spend the remainder of his career at Columbia, where he was a highly respected and influential figure in the field of economics. He was a prolific writer, and his work on economic theory and policy was widely read and debated.

The Marginalist Revolution and Criticism

John Bates Clark was one of the key figures in the development of the marginalist theory. This theory is based on the idea that economic value is determined by the marginal utility of a good or service. In other words, the value of a good or service is not determined by its overall usefulness, but by the usefulness of the last unit consumed.

Clark’s work on marginal utility was helped to lay the foundation for modern economic theory. His ideas were influential in the development of the neoclassical school of economics, which dominated economic thought in the early 20th century.

John Bates Clark was also a critic of the Institutionalist school of economics, which was a competing school of economic thought that emerged in the late 19th century. Institutionalism rejected the idea that economic value is determined solely by supply, and demand and argued that economic activity is influenced by a range of social, cultural, and political factors.

Clark disagreed with the Institutionalists’ approach, arguing that economic value is determined by the market, and that the laws of supply and demand are the primary drivers of economic activity. He believed that the market was an efficient and effective means of allocating resources, and that interference by the government or other actors could only lead to inefficiency and waste.

John Bates Clark’s Legacy and Impact

John Bates Clark’s contributions to economics were significant and far-reaching. His work on marginalist theory helped to shape the development of neoclassical economics, which remains an important field of study to this day. His ideas on the role of the market in determining economic value have had a lasting impact on economic policy and practice.

The view on fair wages changed in 1886, as “Clark himself sang the praises of competition as fate in his book, The Philosophy of Wealth. But now… he is defending the competitive system and constructing economic laws into a body,” according to Homan (1928), and Everett (1946) found that “Clark began to defend the competitive system right after writing The Philosophy of Wealth.”

Clark’s controversial aspects of the concept of capital led to the birth of the Cambridge capital controversy between the economics departments at Cambridge University in England and MIT in Massachusetts from 1954 to 1965. Paul A. Samuelson’s classic Economics book, published in 1947, spread Clark’s concept of capital worldwide.

Follow the developments in the crypto world. What would you like us to inform you about?