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The Racism of the Marginal Utility Theorists

Posted by Steve Palmer on May 22, 2009

There’s a PhD thesis in this, somewhere. While working on Early English Debates in Marxist Value Theory, I needed to add some notes to the piece by Foxwell to explain who Stanley Jevons, Alfred Marshall and Henry Sidgwick were. Of course, you can always peer in the Wikipedia … but you won’t find this there.

I pulled down my copies of Jevons Theory of Political Economy (Kelly’s 1965 reprint) and Marshall’s Principles of Political Economy (Macmillan’s 1966 ‘Papermac’ edition) and poked around a bit.

W. Stanley Jevons is well known as the economist famous for ‘proving’ that sunspots are responsible for crises. Bourgeois economists don’t crow about that, for some reason. He also ‘proved’ that “labour is never the cause of value” through developing a marginal utility theory of value. Discussing the productivity of labour, he casually throws out this remark: “Persons of an energetic disposition feel labour less painful than they otherwise would, and, if they happen to be endowed with various and acute sensibilities, their desire of further acquisition never ceases. A man of lower race, a negro for instance, enjoys possession less, and loathes labour more; his exertions, therefore, soon stop. A poor savage would be content to gather the almost gratuitous fruits of nature, if they were sufficient to give sustenance; it is only physical want that drives him to exertion.” Theory of Political Economy, (5th edition, New York, 1965), pp182-183. Ask your nearest bourgeois economist if s/he agrees or not. Compare and contrast Marx: “Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” Jevons would be quite comfortable with the branding iron, apparently.

Jevons was also intellectually gutless and never defended his theory in debate with defenders of the law of labour value: when Hyndman addressed the Political Economy group of the National Liberal Club, he invited Jevons to debate with him. Jevons never showed.

Alfred Marshall was Professor Economics at Cambridge University. His Principles of Economics used to be the ‘Bible’, as Foxwell might put it, of neo-classical vulgar economy. Although I read parts of it many years ago, I had embarassingly missed the fact that it oozes race theory from every pore and is riddled with anxiety about ‘degeneration’ of the human race. Eg. “on the Pacific Slope, there were at one time just grounds for fearing that all but highly skilled work would be left to the Chinese; and that the white men would live in an artificial way in which a family became a great expense. In this case Chinese lives would have been substituted for American, and the average quality of the human race would have been lowered.”(Principles, 8th edition, IV.V.23n73). Or, “conquering races generally incorporated the women of the conquered; they often carried with them many slaves of both sexes during their migrations, and slaves were less likely than freemen to be killed in battle or to adopt a monastic life. In consequence nearly every race had much servile, that is mixed blood in it: and as the share of servile blood was largest in the industrial classes, a race history of industrial habits seems impossible.” (Ibid,.IV.V.7 n65) We also meet the clever but cunning and slippery money-dealing Jew: Ricardo’s “aversion to inductions and his delight in abstract reasonings are due, not to his English education, but, as Bagehot points out, to his Semitic origin. Nearly every branch of the Semitic race has had some special genius for dealing with abstractions, and several of them have had a bias towards the abstract calculations connected with the trade of money dealing, and its modern developments; and Ricardo’s power of threading his way without slip through intricate paths to new and unexpected results has never been surpassed. But it is difficult even[!!! SP] for an Englishman to follow his track” (Appendix B.19 n44). It makes one want to vomit, doesn’t it. There’s page after page of this stuff. It is completely fitting that this book should have served as the economics textbook of the English ruling class during their period of imperial domination. Perish the thought that the theories of Marx (who was, after all, of ‘the Semitic race’) should be superior to this member of the master-race!

Sidgwick, too, had concerns for the relationship between ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ races, though he seems to have been more optimistic than Marshall about the influence good ‘tutelage’ could have on ‘inferior races’. Marshall described him as his “spiritual mother and father.”

Now there’s a couple of facts your Professor never taught you …

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