Opportunity cost: beginning, evolution and a much-needed clarification


Sheetal Bharat


BASE University Working Paper Series 02 /2020


Having found discrepancies in the definitions of opportunity cost in a few textbooks, I started disinterring its beginning and evolution. The journey, for over two years now, has resulted in this paper. It works along two related lines: i. It makes significant corrections and some additions to received knowledge regarding the beginning and evolution of the concept of opportunity cost. Frederick von Wieser is normally credited with having birthed the concept. The scholars who I credit with shaping and slowly building the concept are Cantillon, von Thünen, Ricardo, Mill, Patten, Macvane, Green, and Davenport, among others in the foundational phases. Further, the LSE scholars have worked extensively on the applicability issues surrounding the concept. Even in the past two decades, scholars have conducted surveys to gauge the level of understanding of the opportunity cost concept among economists, and proposed clarifications. ii. Based on the edifice of opportunity cost so constructed, I propose a schema for calculating it in a way that imbues it with conceptual