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Stephen Marglin

Stephen A. Marglin
Born California, USA
Nationality United States
Institution Harvard
Alma mater Harvard
Influences Karl Marx
John Maynard Keynes
Friedrich Hayek
Stephen Alan Marglin is the Walter S. Barker Professor of Economics at Harvard University.


  • Background 1
  • Career 2
  • Partial publications list 3
  • Political and other views 4
  • Personal life 5
  • Notes 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • External links 8


Marglin grew up in a moderately left-wing Jewish family,[1] and attended Hollywood High School in Los Angeles[2] before moving to Harvard for his university studies in 1955.[3] He earned membership of Phi Beta Kappa,[1] graduated summa cum laude in 1959,[3] was honored with a Harvard Junior Fellowship from 1960–63,[4] and was later granted a Guggenheim Fellowship.[5]


Marglin started out as a neoclassical economist, and was regarded, even while still an undergraduate, as the star of Harvard's economics department.[3] Arthur Maass, the Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government, Emeritus, at Harvard,[6] once remembered how Marglin, "when he was just a senior, wrote two of the best chapters in a book published by a team of graduate students and professors."[3] His exceptional early contributions to neoclassical theory[3] led to his becoming a tenured professor at Harvard in 1968, one of the youngest in the history of the university.[1]

After the late 1960s, however, having been immersed in the events of that decade, and possessing the security of tenure and the psychological confidence of having made it to the top tier of mainstream economics, he followed the lead of people like Samuel Bowles, Herbert Gintis and Arthur MacEwan by turning his back on orthodox economics and permitting his left-wing world view to express itself in his academic work.[2][3][7] According to his former teacher, James Duesenberry, Marglin's career subsequently suffered as a result of his department and university taking a negative view of this transformation.[3]

Marglin has published in areas including the foundations of production, the relationship between the growth of income and its distribution, and the process of macroeconomic adjustment.[8]

He wrote the widely discussed[9] 1974 paper "What do bosses do?",[10] followed by a series of others,[11] in which he argued that

the most important innovation of the Industrial Revolution was not technological, but organizational: the linear hierarchy (master–journeyman–apprentice) typical of crafts in the premodern era was replaced by the pyramidal hierarchy (boss–foreman–worker) of the modern, capitalist enterprise. How did this happen? What hold did the capitalist have on the worker that permitted this new form of organization to thrive and eventually to dominate? The conventional answer is superior efficiency, a better mousetrap. If the capitalist enterprise comes into existence because of its superior efficiency, then the boss can entice the worker by offering him more money than the worker could earn on his own. […] By contrast, the answer in "Bosses" is that the capitalist organization of work came into existence not because of superior efficiency but in consequence of the rent-seeking activities of the capitalist.[12]

Elsewhere, Marglin argued: "The obstacles to liberating the workplace lie not only in the dominance of classes in whose interest it is to perpetuate the authoritarian workplace, but also in the dominance of the knowledge system that legitimizes the authority of the boss. In this perspective, to liberate the workplace it is hardly sufficient to overthrow capitalism. The commissar turned out to be an even more formidable obstacle to workers' control than the capitalist."[13]

"What do bosses do?" came as part of Marglin's disagreement with fellow Harvard professor David Landes over aspects of the Industrial Revolution;[14] years later, Landes wrote "What do bosses really do?" in reply.[15]

Marglin is critical of those who explicitly set out to deny the normative aspect of economics—something that he believes "really started with the British economist Lionel Robbins"[16]—arguing that opposing ideology is

in my view a methodological error. What is ideology, after all, but the unproved assumptions, beliefs, and values that must underlie any intellectual inquiry, or for that matter, any form of contemplation or action? […] As long as we deny the ideological component of our theories, we shall never transcend it.[17]

Marglin's current research focuses on the foundational assumptions of economics, concentrating on whether they represent universal human values or merely reflect western culture and history. The Dismal Science (2008) looks at, amongst other things, the manner in which community is steadily gutted as human relations are replaced with market transactions.[18]

In line with his view of economics teaching as extremely narrow and restrictive, he teaches, every other year, an alternative to Greg Mankiw's course in introductory economics.[19][20][21][22][23]

Partial publications list


  • The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community. Cambridge, MA:  
  • Decolonizing Knowledge: From Development to Dialogue. Oxford:   (Co-editor with Frédérique Apffel-Marglin).
  • Dominating Knowledge: Development, Culture, and Resistance. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1990b.  (Co-editor with Apffel-Marglin).
  • The Golden Age of Capitalism: Reinterpreting the Postwar Experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1990a.  (Co-editor with Juliet Schor).
  • Growth, Distribution, and Prices. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1984a. 
  • Value and Price in the Labour-Surplus Economy. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1976. 

Articles, papers, and chapters

Marglin SA (2013) Premises for a new economy. Development 56(2): 149–154. Available at:

  • Marglin, Stephen (2013). "Where Did All the Money Go? Stimulus in Fact and Fantasy".   (With Peter M. Spiegler).
  • Marglin, Stephen (2004), "Individualism and Scarcity", in  
  • Marglin, Stephen (2003). "Development as Poison: Rethinking the Western Model of Modernity".  
  • Marglin, Stephen (2002). Economic Myths. Séminaire Hétérodoxies du Matisse.  
  • Marglin, Stephen (2000). "Keynes Without Nominal Rigidities". SSRN Electronic Journal (Harvard Institute of Economic Research Paper No. 1907).  
  • Marglin, Stephen (1991). "Understanding Capitalism: Control vs. Efficiency". In B. Gustaffsson, ed., Power and Economic Institutions: Reinterpretations in Economic History. Aldershot:  
  • Marglin, Stephen (1990). "Unemployment and the real wage: the economic basis for contesting political ideologies".   (With Amit Bhaduri).
  • Marglin, Stephen (1990). "Sustainable Development: A Systems of Knowledge Approach".  
  • Marglin, Stephen (1984b). "Knowledge and Power". In F. Stephen, ed., Firms, Organization and Labour. London:  
  • Marglin, Stephen (1979). "Catching Flies with Honey: An Inquiry into Management Initiatives to Humanize Work". Economic Analysis and Workers' Management 13 (4): 473–487. 
  • Marglin, Stephen (1975). "What Do Bosses Do? Part II".  
  • Marglin, Stephen (1974). "What Do Bosses Do?". Review of Radical Political Economics 6 (2): 60–112.  
  • Marglin, Stephen (1970). "Investment and Interest: A Reformulation and Extension of Keynesian Theory".  
  • Marglin, Stephen (1963). "The Opportunity Costs of Public Investment".  
  • Marglin, Stephen (1963). "The Social Rate of Discount and The Optimal Rate of Investment". Quarterly Journal of Economics 77 (1): 95–111.  

Political and other views

A liberal in his earlier years, since the mid-1960s Marglin has been a Leftist,[2] and has even been labelled a Marxist,[1] though he describes himself as Marxist "only in the sense of not being anti-Marx."[3] He identifies as a cultural Jew and a secular humanist, and maintains his practice of Judaism for the sense of community it provides.[24]

Marglin was arrested in 1972 while demonstrating against the Vietnam War.[1] He supported the Occupy movement,[25] and contributed to a teach-in at Occupy Harvard.[26]

Personal life

Marglin is married to cultural anthropologist Frédérique Apffel-Marglin. They have four children.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e Groll, Elias J. (1 June 2009). "Radical Harvard economics professor defies 'established order' of the 1950s".  
  2. ^ a b c Lee, Tom (12 May 1975). "The Radicalization of Stephen Marglin".  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Drucker, Linda S.; Rabinovitz, Jonathan D. (12 March 1980). "Stephen Marglin".  
  4. ^ "Current and Former Junior Fellows: Listing by Term".  
  5. ^ "Stephen A. Marglin: 1975 Fellow, Economics".  
  6. ^  
    "Arthur Maass: 1954 Fellow, Political Science".  
  7. ^ "MacEwan Accepts One-Year Contract In Economics Dept.".  
  8. ^ a b "Stephen Marglin: Biography".  
  9. ^ Bryer 2002, p. 17.
  10. ^ Marglin 1974.
  11. ^ Marglin 1975, 1979, 1984b, Chapter 7 in 1990b, 1991.
  12. ^ Marglin 2008, pp. 153–4.
  13. ^ Marglin, Stephen. "Why Is So Little Left Of The Left?".  
  14. ^ Tunzelmann 2001, p. 10 of the pdf. "[The] debate, in regard to the First Industrial Revolution, […] between Stephen Marglin and David Landes [was] over which was the more potent symbol of that revolution—the factory, interpreted as a governance mechanism, or the machinery? Landes' original survey (Landes, 1969), drawn on his background in entrepreneurial history, had suggested a combination of technological and cultural factors explaining why Britain came first and why it later dropped behind. Marglin (1974), from a background in radical economics, instead took a strong labour-process view, in a paper entitled "What Do Bosses Do?" For him it was the control entrusted to the 'bosses' through the factory system that crucially defined that Industrial Revolution. Landes (1986) replied with a restatement more strongly favouring the technology as the sine qua non of early industrialisation. Both sides could accept some interdependence between governance changes and technological changes, but remained committed to their respective views about priority".
  15. ^ Landes 1986.
  16. ^ Interview with Marglin (2008). "Why Thinking Like an Economist Can Be Harmful to the Community".  
  17. ^ Marglin 2002, p. 48.
  18. ^ The Dismal Science, from the book's page on the Harvard University Press website.
  19. ^ Marglin, Stephen A. (2 September 2010). "Economics: A Critical Approach".  
  20. ^  
  21. ^ Shea, Christopher (14 December 2011). "The Econ-Alternative at Harvard".  
  22. ^ Concerned students of Economics 10 (2 November 2011). "An Open Letter to Greg Mankiw".  
  23. ^ "Stephen Marglin: Occupy Harvard, Economics and Ideology". The Institute Blog.  
  24. ^ Fiske, Courtney A. (7 November 2007). "Dershowitz, Gross and Marglin reflect on being 'Jewish in 2007' ".  
  25. ^ "Economists Statement in Support of Occupy Wall Street". Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  26. ^ "Stephen Marglin: Interviews and Lectures: Occupy Harvard Teach-In on Heterodox Economics".   His Occupy lecture is available on YouTube.


  • Bryer, R. A. (2002).  
  • Tunzelmann, Nick von (2001). "Historical Coevolution of Governance and Technology".  

External links

  • Marglin's staff page on Harvard's website
  • Interview of Marglin by Cato's Will Wilkinson on
  • Video of Marglin giving a talk called "The Future of Capitalism" at the New School, 14 February 2008. The occasion was the third annual Robert Heilbroner Memorial Lecture, which was based around Marglin's The Dismal Science.
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