Irving Fisher

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Irving Fisher, 1927

Irving Fisher (born February 27, 1867 in Saugerties , New York , † April 29, 1947 in New York City ) was an American economist .

He is one of the main representatives of the neoclassical in the USA, but has a special role in the neoclassical. Fisher was already known to a wide audience during his lifetime. He is known for his interest theory. In addition, z. B. the Fisher effect , the Fisher equation , Fisher's traffic equation and the Fisher separation theorem named after him.


Theory of interest as determined by impatience to spend income and opportunity to invest it , 1930

Fisher's father was a teacher and parish priest and raised his son to believe that he should be a useful member of society. Irving Fisher showed a gift for mathematics and an inclination for inventing early on. A week after he was admitted to Yale University, his father died at the age of 53. Nevertheless Fisher began his studies and supported his mother and brother financially from his teaching activities as a tutor.

Fisher's strongest subject was mathematics , but economics was more in keeping with his vision of contributing to society. For his career and his dissertation, he decided to combine the two and worked in the field of mathematical economics. In 1891 he received his first doctorate in economics, which was awarded at Yale University . His doctoral supervisors were the physicist Josiah Willard Gibbs and the economist William Graham Sumner. When Fisher began his work, he did not realize that there were substantial contributions in the field of mathematical economics. However, his work reached a high level very quickly, and his contributions were also considered top-class by European economists.

In 1898 - Fisher was already a professor at Yale University and married - Fisher was diagnosed with tuberculosis. After a three-year stay in a sanatorium, he returned to his work. He became known to the public through a book that deals with questions of health and hygiene. Fisher was also a staunch eugenicist .

In 1918, Fisher served as president-elect of the American Economic Association . Since 1927 he was a member of the American Philosophical Society .

Due to the great stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent global economic crisis , Fisher lost the fortune that he had earned with his card index invention, a forerunner of Rolodex . A few days before the stock market crash, Fisher - who was also a supporter of then President Herbert Hoover - made his famous statement that "stock prices have, it seems, reached a consistently high level." Even in the months after the stock market crash, he continued, To reassure investors that a recovery would come soon. When the Great Depression was at its height, he began to warn of the economic dangers of deflation. The price level remained central to his thinking, but his debt deflation theory emphasized the increasing real burden of debt as the price level fell. The analysis failed to convince, and those looking for new ideas turned to Keynes' ideas instead .

In the 1930s, Fisher advocated the idea of ​​a full reserve system . After the Chicago Plan was not implemented, he spent the rest of his life lobbying Congress and the public to get 100% money. In 1932/33, he supported the idea of circulating saved money by Silvio Gesell . After unsuccessful efforts to Roosevelt - Administration to convince he wrote under the title "Stamp Scrip" a handbook for local introduction of the adhesive label money.

Fisher has always been very concerned about bringing life to his analysis. Although his books and articles were of an unusual mathematical nature for his time, he managed to present his theory plausibly. His estate is in the Yale University library.


Monetary theory

His research on basic theory did not yet touch the social issues of his time. That changed, however, when Fisher turned to questions of monetary theory that became the focus of his work. At the end of the 19th century, there was disagreement in the US over the question of the monetary standard: should the value of the dollar be left to market forces, or linked to the value of a certain amount of silver or gold, or a combination of both? A link to silver (or gold) without a limit on the minting amount was particularly in the interests of mine owners in the western United States as well as of farmers who expected an increase in the prices of farm products from a monetary expansion. Debtors also hoped for real relief in the course of an expansion of the money supply ( free silver movement ).

Phillips curve anticipated

Fisher also dealt with an abstract analysis of the behavior of interest rates with changing price levels , thus anticipating the findings of the Phillips curve. For more than forty years, Fisher worked on his conception of the harmful effects of a “dance of the dollar” and devised ways to stabilize the price level. Statistical analyzes played a crucial role in establishing why the price level needed stabilization. Fisher was one of the pioneers in the application of correlation analysis in economics, and in the 1920s he introduced the technique of "distributed lag analysis". One of his articles on the statistical relationship between unemployment and changes in price levels was reprinted in 1973 and published in the Journal of Political Economy under the title "I discovered the Phillips curve".

Interest theory

He underlined the separation of real and nominal interest rates, a separation that is fundamental to analyzing inflation today.

Money illusion

Fisher believed that people succumbed to the illusion of money in different ways : They have difficulty looking behind money and the goods that money can buy. In an ideal world, changes in price levels would not affect output and employment, but in the reality of the money illusion inflation and deflation could cause serious damage.

Index numbers

Index numbers played an important role in his techniques as a monetary theorist, and his book "The Making of Index Numbers" was an influential contribution.

Classics of economics

Fisher was a prolific writer who wrote theoretical treatises while also addressing the problems of World War I , the roaring twenties and the Great Depression in the 1930s in journalistic articles . His best-known book “The Purchasing Power of Money” (1911) interpreted quantity theory - his explanation of the determinants of the price level - and his well-known book “Theory of Interest” (1930) also summarized his view of the effects of price level on the interest rate together like the real forces among the nominal quantities.

Use for health campaigns and eugenics

Health campaigns

In 1898, Fisher was diagnosed with tuberculosis from which his father had died. The three years he spent in a sanatorium to recover, led him to actively campaign for a healthy lifestyle for the population. He co-founded the Life Extension Institute , under whose patronage he published his bestseller How to Live: Rules for Healthful Living Based on Modern Science in 1915 . Among other things, he advocated regular physical activity and the avoidance of red meat, tobacco and alcohol.

Scientific knowledge about the harmfulness of smoking

He presented the scientific findings against smoking presented here again in 1924 in an article in Reader's Digest . Fischer compared the effects of nicotine with other drugs and presented animal experiments that had proven the arteriosclerotic and toxic effects of smoking. Based on his statistical research, he was also aware of the link between nicotine abuse and increased mortality. He also conducted research on athletic performance and found that smoking decreased performance and lung capacity.

Support of the alcohol ban

Fisher supported the legal ban on alcohol and defended it in several brochures with references to the consequences for public health and economic performance.


He also defended the principles of eugenics and served on the scientific council of the official authority for eugenics. He was also the first president of the American Society for Eugenics.

Schizophrenia treatment

When his daughter Margaret became ill with schizophrenia , Fischer had her treated at the New Jersey State Hospital at Trenton . The director of this facility was the psychiatrist Henry Cotton . Cotton advocated the "focal sepsis " theory, which attributed mental illness to infections in the tooth roots, intestines and other organs. Cotton advocated the surgical removal of the infected tissue. Margaret Fisher had parts of her intestines removed, which resulted in her death. Irving Fisher remained convinced of the correctness of the treatment, however.


  • Mathematical Investigations in the Theory of Value and Prices. 1892 (digitized 2nd edition from 1926 under: urn : nbn: de: s2w-12372 )
  • Appreciation and interest. Macmillan, New York 1896
  • A brief introduction to the infinitesimal calculus, designed especially to aid in reading mathematical economics and statistics. Macmillan, New York / London 1897
    • Brief introduction to differential and integral calculus (infinitesimal calculus). BG Teubner, Leipzig 1904
  • The Nature of Capital and Income. Macmillan, New York / London 1906
  • The rate of interest. Macmillan, New York 1907 ( PDF; 14.86 MB )
  • Introduction to Economic Science. Macmillan, New York 1910
  • The Purchasing Power of Money: Its Determination and Relation to Credit, Interest and Crises . Macmillan, New York 1911
    • The purchasing power of money. Their purpose and their relationship to credit, interest and crises. G. Reimer, Berlin 1916
  • Elementary Principles of Economics. Macmillan, New York 1911
  • Why is the Dollar Shrinking? A study in the high cost of living. Macmillan, New York 1914
  • After the war, what? A plea for a league of peace. The Church Peace Union, New York 1914
  • with Eugene Lyman Fisk: How to Live. Rules for healthful living based on modern science. Funk & Wagnalls, 1915 ( How to Live in Project Gutenberg ( currently not available to users from Germany ) )
    • Live right. A guide to a healthy lifestyle based on modern scientific principles. O. Lautenbach, Bad Buckow / Leipzig 1937
  • Stabilizing the dollar. A plan to stabilize the general price level without fixing individual prices. Macmillan, New York 1920
    • The fluctuating monetary value. Its causes and consequences and suggestions for its elimination. de Gruyter & Co., Berlin 1924
  • Dollar Stabilization . In: Encyclopædia Britannica . Volume XXX. 1920, p. 852 f.
  • The Making of Index Numbers. A study of their varieties, tests and reliability. Houghton Mifflin, Boston / New York 1922
  • A Statistical Relation Between Unemployment and Price Change. In: International Labor Review. 1926
  • Prohibition at its worst. Macmillan, New York 1926
    • The Prohibition Crisis. Neuland-Verlag, Berlin 1929
  • The Money Illusion. Adelphi, New York 1928
    • The illusion of money. Reimar Hobbing, Berlin 1928
  • The Stock Market Crash - and After. Macmillan, New York 1930
  • The "noble experiment". Alcohol Information Committee, New York 1930
    • America's meritorious attempt. Neuland-Verlag, Berlin 1932
  • The Theory of Interest. As Determined by Impatience to Spend Income and Opportunity to Invest It . Macmillan, New York 1930 (digitized edition at: urn : nbn: de: s2w-12364 )
    • The interest theory. Fischer, Jena 1932
  • Booms and Depressions. Some first principles. Adelphi, New York 1932
  • The debt-deflation theory of great depressions. In Econometrica. 1933 ( PDF; 1.91 MB )
  • with Herbert Wescott Fisher: Inflation? Adelphi, New York 1933
  • with Hans RL Cohrssen & Herbert Wescott Fisher: Stamp Scrip . Adelphi, New York 1933
  • with Hans RL Cohrssen: Stable Money. A history of the movement. Adelphi, New York 1934
    • Fixed currency. To the development history of the idea. Lautenbach, Uchtdorf / Weimar / Leipzig 1937
  • 100% money. Adelphi, New York 1935
  • The Works of Irving Fisher. Edited by William J. Barber et al. 14 volumes. Pickering & Chatto, London 1997


  • Irving Norton Fisher: My Father Irving Fisher. New York, 1956.
  • ders .: A Bibliography of the Writings of Irving Fisher. New Haven, 1961 (contains 2425 entries).
  • Arthur D. Gayer (Ed.): The Lessons of Monetary Experience: Essays in Honor of Irving Fisher. Farrar & Rinehart, New York 1937.
  • Thaler, Richard H .: Irving Fisher: Behavioral Economist . In: American Economic Review . tape 87 , no. 2 , 1997, p. 439-441 ( [PDF]).
  • Hans RL Cohrssen : Working with Irving Fisher . In: Money and Currency Working Papers . No. December 20 , 1991 ( [PDF]).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Past and Present Officers. ( American Economic Association ), accessed October 31, 2015 .
  2. ^ Member History: Irving Fisher. American Philosophical Society, accessed August 5, 2018 .
  3. Schäfer, Ulrich. "The crash of capitalism." Why the unleashed market economy failed, Frankfurt am Main (2009). P. 264.
  4. Irving Fisher: 100% Money . New York: Adelphi, 1935
  5. ^ Ronnie J. Phillips : The 'Chicago Plan' and New Deal Banking Reform, Working Paper No. 76 (PDF; 283 kB), Levy Economics Institute from June 1992
  6. Hans Cohrssen: One who set out to change the world. Knecht, Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 978-3-7820-0744-3 , pp. 68-71
  7. Irving Fisher with Hans RL Cohrssen & Herbert Wescott Fisher: Stamp Scrip. Adelphi, New York 1933.
  8. Irving Fisher papers , Yale University Library
  9. Irving Fisher: Does tobacco injure the human body? . In: Readers Digest . 1924.
  10. ^ Irving Fisher, Prohibition at Its Worst (New York: Macmillan, 1926); Prohibition Still at Its Worst (New York: Alcohol Information Committee, 1928); The Noble Experiment (New York: Alcohol Information Committee, 1930).
  11. Ruth C. Eng: The Progressive Era's Health Reform Movement: A Historical Dictionary . Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, ISBN 9780275979324 , p. 121.
  12. Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine , Andrew Scull, Yale University Press, 2005