Alfred Marshall is one of the most well-known economic scholars of all time, let alone his generation. Marshall’s inclinations were more towards microeconomics, as his forte lied in the study of markets in the individual context. He is widely recognized has one of the chief forefathers of the economic discipline due to his lifetime of contributions to the subject.
Marshall’s birth took place in Clapham, England, on 26 July 1842. He had a middle class family background where his upbringing was such that he was bound towards entering the clergy. However, Marshall resisted such pressures to join the ministry from his parents, and instead opted to go down the educational route. He enrolled in St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1862 where he pursued mathematics due to his extraordinary talent in the field. The Mathematical Tripos, as the degree was called, was the most prestigious one offered by the institution, which Marshall managed to complete in 1865 with distinction after receiving the rank of Second Wrangler. He received fellowship at the university the same year after graduating.
Marshall diversified his interests after by exploring the fields of physics and philosophy, only to return to developing theories of economics in the early 1870’s. His brief digressions saw him teach moral sciences. However, he began lecturing on economics and political economies later at the University College, Bristol, where he was also made principal. He returned to Cambridge in 1885 in the capacity of a professor of Political Economy, a title he held until his retirement in 1908. Marshall also lead the ‘Cambridge School’ during this time, a responsibility he passed on to Arthur Pigou and John Keynes after his retirement.
Marshall’s devotion towards making breakthroughs in economics saw him travel to other countries, such as the United States in 1875, to expand his range of study on prominent issues in order to get further perspective. Marshall firmly believed that if material prosperity was to be realized and disseminated, it would have to be assisted by social and political agents as well rather than just rely on economic theory. His early works saw him comment on international trade, especially policies implemented by the government to safeguard domestic industries, and write essays concerning other issues. It was only until 1879 that he published his first book titled ‘The Economics of Industry’, which he co-wrote with his wife. Marshall sought to give economics a mathematical foundation in this book to add scientific value to the discipline itself.
In 1990, Marshall rose to world prominence after authoring his book, Principles of Economics, which usurped other works as the principal economics textbook. This book gave Marshall elite status in the domain of microeconomics. Marshall underscored in the text how demand and supply are the prime influences behind the price and output levels of goods. He also pointed out the factors which shift their curves, and redefined the notions of consumer and producer surplus which were previously unclear. Marginal utility concepts which dictate how consumer derive utility from each additional unit falls were also introduced in this book, along with the conceptions of short run, intermediate run, and long run in business cycles which determine the level of factor inputs to production.
In the course of his lifetime and professional career, Alfred Marshall had the opportunity to work with a number of other renowned scholars, including John Keynes, Henry Sidgwick and William Jevons . He passed away in 1924 having left the world with key ideas which form the very grassroots of all economic theory today, only going on to highlight how significant his contributions were to economics.
Books by Alfred Marshall