Hermann Heinrich Gossen, 1810-1858.

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Prussian civil servant whose 1854 masterpiece independently introduced the concept of diminishing marginal utility - what became known as "Gossen's First Law". "Gossen's Second Law" was that the exchange ratio of goods is equal to the ratio of marginal utilities of the traders. His "Third Law" was that a good has value only when the demand for it exceeds supply (i.e. subjective scarcity is the source of value). His "second law" was his most original contribution and presaged the Marginalist Revolution of 1871-74.

Gossen endeavored to find these "laws" in all sorts of economic activities. He can be credited with a disutility theory of labor supply, anticipating William Stanley Jevons. Gossen's attempt to apply the utilitarian philosophical calculus to his theory led him to argue that the market exchange outcome also maximized social utility -- a conclusion which earned him a sharp rebuke from Léon Walras (1874: p.204-5).

Because of its abstract, universalist and mathematical nature, Gossen's work was utterly disparaged by scions of the all- powerful German Historical School (Schmoller dismissed him as an "ingenious idiot"). The pretentious tone of his work, wherein he compared himself to Copernicus, probably did not help him gain an audience. Gossen died bitter and unknown. His work was only uncovered and graciously acknowledged by Jevons in 1878.

Major Works of Hermann Heinrich Gossen

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