This article explores in detail the reactions among American economists to John Bates Clark's famously controversial claim that the marginal productivity theory of factor pricing and distribution is necessarily just. The general debate around Clark's “naïve productivity ethics,” as George Stigler sharply called it, transcended the then existing distinctions within the discipline and involved figures of virtually all theoretical and ideological persuasions—from prolabor progressives such as Richard T. Ely to staunch conservatives such as Thomas Nixon Carver. Our reconstruction reveals that, contrary to several standard historical accounts, for American early twentieth-century marginalism, let alone American economics at large, Clark's solution to the ethical problem of distributive justice was far more divisive than consolidating.

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