A Digression on the Buyer

  • Joan Robinson


So far we have looked at the initial problem, Why does that banana cost a penny? through the eyes of the seller. We have considered the question, Why did that man take a penny for a banana? in forms of ever-increasing complexity. We must now open the second question, Why did the other man give a penny for a banana? Here we are immediately faced with one of the most awkward of the fundamental questions of economic analysis. It is usual to describe the quality in commodities which causes them to be bought or otherwise acquired as utility, but no perfectly satisfactory definition of utility has ever been found. The attempt to define it has generally originated in a desire to justify the use of a marginal utility curve. The use of the curve, and the apparently sensible results obtained from using it, precede the definition. The spectacle of successive economists erecting card-house definitions and of successive critics blowing them down (leaving the curve itself unaffected) has tempted the present writer to build a definition in which the cards are already lying flat.


Marginal Cost Common Sense Marginal Utility Demand Curve Supply Curve 
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1969

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  • Joan Robinson

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