Carl Menger

Carl Menger

Menger, Carl, 1840-1921, Austrian economist, a founder of the Austrian school of economics. He was professor of economics at the Univ. of Vienna from 1873 until 1903, when he retired to devote himself to research. Following an empirical approach rather than the historical method, he formulated a theory of marginal utility. The basic principle is that consumer goods have value of two orders, as they serve human needs directly or indirectly; thus he explained the economic phenomena of price and distribution in terms of social value. His theories are well known to the English-speaking world through the works of some of his associates, especially Friedrich von Wieser and Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. In response to a particularly negative review of Menger's Problems of Economics and Sociology (1883) by Gustav Schmoller, Menger published a critique of the historical school of economics. This exchange resulted in long-standing animosity between the two schools of economic thought. His chief work is Principles of Economics (1871; tr. 1950).
This article is about the economist, not about his son, the mathematician Karl Menger.

Carl Menger (February 28, 1840February 26, 1921) was the founder of the Austrian School of economics, famous for contributing to the development of the theory of marginal utility that refuted the labor theory of value developed by the classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

Menger was born in Nowy Sącz, Poland (at that time Neu Sandec, Austrian Galicia). He was the son of a wealthy family of minor nobility; his father, Anton, was a lawyer. His mother, Caroline, was the daughter of a wealthy Bohemian merchant. He had two brothers, Anton and Max, both prominent as lawyers. After attending Gymnasium he studied law at the Universities of Prague and Vienna and later received a doctorate in jurisprudence from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. In the 1860s Menger left school and enjoyed a stint as a journalist reporting and analyzing market news, first at the Lemberger Zeitung in Lwów, Ukraine and later at the Wiener Zeitung in Vienna.

During the course of his newspaper work he noticed a discrepancy between what the classical economics he was taught in school said about price determination and what real world market participants believed. In 1867 Menger began a study of political economy which culminated in 1871 with the publication of his Principles of Economics (Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre), thus becoming the father of the Austrian School of economic thought. It was in this work that he challenged the classical labor theory of value with his theory of marginality.

In 1872 Menger was enrolled into the law faculty at the University of Vienna and spent the next several years teaching finance and political economy both in seminars and lectures to a growing number of students. In 1873 he received the university's chair of economic theory at the very young age of 33.

In 1876 Menger began tutoring Archduke Rudolf von Habsburg, the Crown Prince of Austria in political economy and statistics. For two years Menger accompanied the prince in his travels, first through continental Europe and then later through the British Isles. He is also thought to have assisted the crown prince in the composition of a pamphlet, published anonymously in 1878, which was highly critical of the higher Austrian aristocracy. His association with the prince would last until Rudolf's suicide in 1889 (see the Mayerling Affair).

In 1878 Rudolf's father, Emperor Franz Josef, appointed Menger to the chair of political economy at Vienna. The title of Hofrat was conferred on him and was appointed to the Austrian Herrenhaus in 1900.

Ensconced in his professorship he set about refining and defending the positions he took and methods he utilized in Principles, the result of which was the 1883 publication of Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences with Special Reference to Economics (Untersuchungen über die Methode der Socialwissenschaften und der politischen Oekonomie insbesondere). The book caused a firestorm of debate, during which members of the Historical School of economics began to derisively call Menger and his students the "Austrian School" to emphasize their departure from mainstream economic thought in Germany. In 1884 Menger responded with the pamphlet The Errors of Historicism in German Economics and launched the infamous Methodenstreit, or methodological debate, between the Historical School and the Austrian School. During this time Menger began to attract like-minded disciples who would go on to make their own mark on the field of economics, most notably Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk and Friedrich von Wieser.

In the late 1880s Menger was appointed to head a commission to reform the Austrian monetary system. Over the course of the next decade he authored a plethora of articles which would revolutionize monetary theory including "The Theory of Capital" (1888) and "Money" (1892). Largely due to his pessimism about the state of German scholarship Menger resigned his professorship in 1903 to concentrate on study.

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