DEFINITION of John Bates Clark

John Bates Clark was an American Neoclassical economist renowned for his development of the marginal productivity theory of distribution. He is best known for his works on marginal utility, a revolutionary principle in economics.

BREAKING DOWN John Bates Clark

Born and raised in Providence, Island in 1847 in Rhode Island, Clark graduated from Amherst College in 1872 at the age of 25.  He took his graduate studies at the Universities of Heidelberg and Zurich, studying under Karl Kneiss, and leader of the German Historical School.  Although his earliest writings show him as sympathetic to socialism, he would over time come not to criticize capitalism but to embrace it.

Upon returning to the United States, Clark took a position as a professor at Columbia University and taught there for nearly 30 years. He was also a former president of the American Economic Association (AEA).

His work on marginal utility earned him a great reputation as a living scholar with revolutionary ideas, particularly his work on marginal utility.  Marginalism is a theory of economics that discusses the discrepancy in the value of goods and services to their secondary or marginal utility.  In other words, if supply exceeds demand, the value of a good or service drops despite its comparative value with other products.

Though a distinguished professor at Columbia, Clark was well-known in economic circles through his writing in journals, much of which was later collections and developed into a total of five books. These were: The Philosophy of Wealth: Economic Principles Newly Formulated (1886); Capital and Its Earnings (1888); The Distribution of Wealth: A Theory of Wages, Interest and Profits (1899); Essentials of Economic Theory (1907); Social Justice without Socialism (1914).

The John Bates Clark Medal is named in his honor. The John Bates Clark Medal is a prize awarded each year by the AEA to an economist working in the United States who is younger than 40 and who has contributed outstanding research to the field of economics. Many economists who would later receive the Nobel Prize in Economics were recipients of the John Bates Clark medal early on in their careers as students and practitioners of economics.