Carl Menger's classic 1871 text Principles of Economics—a founding text of marginal utility theory and neoclassical economics—narrates a scene familiar to theorists of the novel. “Suppose,” Menger writes, “that an isolated economizing individual inhabits a rocky island in the sea.” (133). The shipwrecked character Menger unsurprisingly comes to call “Crusoe” discovers that the value of water depends on its supply: if water is plentiful, each unit of it will be of little value; if water is scarce, each unit will be worth a great deal. Menger's “Crusoe economy” allows him to argue that value is not based on labor but rather on a good's capacity to subjectively “satisfy,” to use Menger's term (15). The image of an economy made up of only one “isolated individual” gave what was later termed microeconomics its specific scalar unit, and versions of the story...
Your Money or Your Life!
ANNIE MCCLANAHAN is associate professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and 21st Century Culture (2016). She has written on the intellectual and cultural history of microeconomic individualism and is currently at work on a book about contemporary labor.
Annie McClanahan; Your Money or Your Life!. Novel 1 May 2020; 53 (1): 119–123. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-8139393
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