TO ANYONE BARELY ACQUAINTED with the development of present-day economic theory we need hardly explain why we undertook the task of translating Carl Menger’s Grundsätze der Volkwirthschaftslehre. In this work Menger first stated the central propositions that were to form the theoretical core around which the economics of the Austrian School developed. His work served as the basic text of successive generations of Austrian students and scholars. That economists in Sweden and Italy found direct inspiration in the Grundsätze (both in the original German and in translation) goes some distance, moreover, toward explaining the excellence of economic theorizing in these two countries. But English-speaking economists were not so fortunate in this respect. Relying upon second-hand expositions of Menger’s ideas, and lacking direct contact with his treatise in a language that could be read by more than a few, they failed to obtain the full benefit of his innovations. From the vantage point of the present day, this fact must be regretted. Menger’s chief contribution to economics was his statement of marginal utility theory and his integration of it into value and price theory, and it is readily granted that this function was performed in England largely by the works of Jevons and Marshall. But some of the blind spots of English economics might have been avoided if Menger’s treatment of bilateral monopoly, of the relation of monopoly to competition, and of the marketability of commodities as a foundation for the theory of money had been easily available to English-speaking scholars. As it was, imperfect competition and the role of liquidity in monetary theory became explicit theoretical concerns of English-speaking writers only in the 1930’s.
The fact that the Grundsätze has remained untranslated into English for almost 80 years must therefore be considered a mystery. While we are unable to offer a complete solution to this mystery, we nevertheless feel (and most acutely!) that we have earned the right to offer at least a partial solution. For Menger’s book is more than normally difficult to translate, and it seems possible, to us at any rate, that this fact may well have discouraged earlier attempts to translate it.
The difficulties we have encountered may be attributed in part to the fact that Menger was a pioneer attempting to express ideas and concepts for which he could find no exact words in the German economic literature of his day. He therefore coined a considerable number of new expressions, many of which have been superseded by more modern terms—this is not to imply that his ideas had only a transitory influence, but merely that a more apt terminology for their expression was later devised. In a number of instances these expressions were untranslatable compounds or words for which no exact English equivalents exist. A more serious difficulty was the fact that Menger’s style is unusually cumbersome, even for German. His constructions form complicated patterns of clauses within clauses; they are filled with pronominal referents to these clauses; and they abound in agglomerations of adverbial fillers. Many of his sentences run half a page or more and expound several independent thoughts which, due to the tight grammatical fusion, can be separated by a translator only with the expenditure of much effort and ingenuity. It is suggested that these peculiarities of Menger’s style may in part be attributed to his exposure to the heavy officialese current in his day among Austrian civil servants.
The translation presented here is a complete rendering of the first edition of the Grundsätze which was published in Vienna in 1871. A second German edition was published in Vienna in 1923, two years after Menger’s death. We rejected the possibility of a variorum translation because it was the first edition only that influenced the development of economic doctrine, because of the posthumous character of the second edition, and because the numerous differences between the two editions make a variorum translation impractical.
While our translation is complete, we have eliminated Menger’s excessively long footnotes (several of which occupy from three to five pages each) by transferring the material of these notes either to appendices or to the text itself. All such transfers have been indicated in notes at the appropriate points. In general, we have placed footnotes of a bibliographical character in appendices, and have placed in the text only material that is really an integral part of it. There were no appendices in the original. The titles of the appendices have been supplied by us.
Menger’s bibliographical references and citations posed a special problem. In his time, not only was there no standardized method of giving citations, but a quite general spirit of carelessness prevailed. Menger was neither more nor less guilty in this respect than the bulk of his contemporaries. If we had given his citations without verification and without change, they would have been unreliable and to some extent useless. Moreover, the editions of standard authors used by Menger are now, in many instances, unavailable or extremely scarce. We have checked all citations and references, and were successful in verifying all but some half dozen which we have noted as they occur. We have substituted references to modern standard editions for all references given by Menger to inaccessible editions. Thus all references to Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Roscher are given in terms of the Modern Library edition of the Wealth of Nations, the Gonner edition of Ricardo’s Principles, and the twentieth edition of Roscher’s System.
Another problem was posed by the fact that Menger gives verbatim quotations from other writers in several different languages, principally German, French, and Latin. We have preferred to leave these quotations in the original languages in which they were given, but have supplied English translations in footnotes whenever it appeared that a translation might prove helpful.
Translators’ footnotes have all been labeled as such in order to avoid any possible confusion between Menger’s notes and our own. We have attempted to keep our own notes to a minimum. Most of them record the transfers already mentioned of material from the overlong footnotes of the original to appendices or to the text, or explain the translations we have given to especially troublesome words. In only a few instances have we taken the liberty of commenting upon the text, and in these instances we did so because we felt that some obscurity could thereby be eliminated.
We have prepared an index which we hope may prove useful. Although we have in general used Menger’s terms in the selection of entry headings, there were a number of instances in which we felt that strict adherence to this rule would unduly limit the usefulness of the index to present-day readers. We do not, therefore, necessarily represent any index heading as a term used by Menger himself.
We wish to thank Professor Frank H. Knight for his introduction to our translation and Professor Friedrich A. von Hayek for his constant encouragement. We are indebted to Mrs. Edna Dombrovsky, Mr. E.L. Pattullo, and Miss Elizabeth Sterenberg for the typing of the manuscript, to Miss Elizabeth Sterenberg in addition for her assistance in the location of references, and to the Social Science Research Committee of the University of Chicago for a grant to finance the typing of the manuscript.
Bert F. Hoselitz