NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Austrian Theory of the Marginal Use And of Ordinal Marginal Utility

J. Huston McCulloch

NBER Working Paper No. 170
Issued in March 1977

The Austrian theory of the "marginal use" is restated and extended. It is found that the Austrian concept of marginal utility (as derived from the marginal use) is not dependent on cardinal utility, and indeed is consistent with "intrinsically ordinal" utility. In this system, diminishing (ordinal) marginal utility is an implication of rational choice, rather than an assumption. Examples of the rank-ordering on commodity space, derived from the underlying rank ordering on want-set space in conjunction with the technological relationship between goods and wants, are given in the cases of independent, rival, and complementary goods. In each case the derived commodity preferences are quasi-concave, which suggests that the Hicksian assumption of quasi-concavity is superfluous. In each case, the Auspitz and Lieben-Edgeworth-Pareto criterion for net complementarity or rivalness emerges. It is shown that while a negative cross substitution elasticity is not a necessary condition for net complementarity, it is a sufficient condition under not very restrictive conditions.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w0170

Published: McCulloch, J. Huston, "The Austrian Theory of the Marginal Use and of Ordinal Marginal Utility," Zeitschrift fur Nationalokonomie, Vol. 37, No. 3/4,pp. 249-280. (Dec. 1977).

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