The term was originally introduced by Thorstein Veblen in 1900, in his article 'Preconceptions of Economic Science', to distinguish marginalists in the tradition of Alfred Marshall from those in the Austrian School.
"No attempt will here be made even to pass a verdict on the relative claims of the recognized two or three main "schools" of theory, beyond the somewhat obvious finding that, for the purpose in hand, the so-called Austrian school is scarcely distinguishable from the neo-classical, unless it be in the different distribution of emphasis. The divergence between the modernized classical views, on the one hand, and the historical and Marxist schools, on the other hand, is wider, so much so, indeed, as to bar out a consideration of the postulates of the latter under the same head of inquiry with the former." - Veblen
It was later used by John Hicks, George Stigler, and others to include the work of Carl Menger, William Stanley Jevons, John Bates Clark and many others. Today it is usually used to refer to mainstream economics, although it has also been used as an umbrella term encompassing a number of other schools of thought, notably excluding institutional economics, various historical schools of economics, and Marxian economics, in addition to various other heterodox approaches to economics.
Neoclassical economics is characterized by several assumptions common to many schools of economic thought. There is not a complete agreement on what is meant by neoclassical economics, and the result is a wide range of neoclassical approaches to various problem areas and domains—ranging from neoclassical theories of labor to neoclassical theories of demographic changes. As expressed by E. Roy Weintraub, neoclassical economics rests on three assumptions, although certain branches of neoclassical theory may have different approaches:
- People have rational preferences among outcomes that can be identified and associated with a value.
- Individuals maximize utility and firms maximize profits.
- People act independently on the basis of full and relevant information.
From these three assumptions, neoclassical economists have built a structure to understand the allocation of scarce resources among alternative ends—in fact understanding such allocation is often considered the definition of economics to neoclassical theorists. Here's how William Stanley Jevons presented "the problem of Economics".
"Given, a certain population, with various needs and powers of production, in possession of certain lands and other sources of material: required, the mode of employing their labour which will maximize the utility of their produce."
From the basic assumptions of neoclassical economics comes a wide range of theories about various areas of economic activity. For example, profit maximization lies behind the neoclassical theory of the firm, while the derivation of demand curves leads to an understanding of consumer goods, and the supply curve allows an analysis of the factors of production. Utility maximization is the source for the neoclassical theory of consumption, the derivation of demand curves for consumer goods, and the derivation of labor supply curves and reservation demand. Market supply and demand are aggregated across firms and individuals. Their interactions determine equilibrium output and price. The market supply and demand for each factor of production is derived analogously to those for market final output to determine equilibrium income and the income distribution. Factor demand incorporates the marginal-productivity relationship of that factor in the output market.
Neoclassical economics emphasizes equilibria, where equilibria are the solutions of agent maximization problems. Regularities in economies are explained by methodological individualism, the position that economic phenomena can be explained by aggregating over the behavior of agents. The emphasis is on microeconomics. Institutions, which might be considered as prior to and conditioning individual behavior, are de-emphasized. Economic subjectivism accompanies these emphases. See also general equilibrium.
Read more about this topic: Neoclassical Economics