Leading American Economists

Leading American Economists Since 1920

The outstand­ing general theorists between 1920 and 1945, the end of World War II, may be said to include: J. M. Clark (theory of produc­tion, costs, and social tests of efficiency); F. H. Knight (risk, uncertainty, profits, and psychological and philosophical back­ground); J. Viner (international trade); E. H. Chamberlin (price and imperfect competition); M. A. Copeland (monopo­listic competition, and national income analysis); J. W. Angell (investment and business cycles); F. D. Graham (international trade and social goals); S. H. Slichter (labor and institutional factors); A. H. Hansen (cycles, fiscal policy, monetary equilib­rium, stagnation); A. W. Marget (theory of prices). The work of P. H. Douglas (wages and marginal productivity) and H. Schultz (mathematical price theory), both deceased, insured them a permanent position, the latter being notable as the author of The Theory and Measurement of Demand (1938).

With the exception of Hansen, these men have been either untouched by Keynes or opposed to Keynesian doctrines.

In addition, this period was marked by active and valuable contributions by a number of foreign-born and foreign-trained economists who have made permanent places in American economic theory: J. A. Schumpeter, L. Mises, W. W. Leontief, G. Haberler, and F. Machlup. Of these, most have the Austrian background.

Finally, in the more recent post-Keynes period of the forties, economic thought in America has been in a turmoil, with a majority of those whose names attract most attention con­cerned with macro-economic schemes for a more or less managed economy. Several of the younger men who stand out have been mentioned in the discussions of Keynes, general equilibrium, and monopolistic-competition theory. They range from such near-Keynesian or moderate Keynesian thinkers as D. McC. Wright, W. Fellner, and P. Samuelson, to the radical Marxian type economists such as 0. Lange, L. R. Klein,6 and P. M. Sweezy. But the names of the great body of American econo­mists will be found among those who have written some mono­graph or article upon some special branch of economics. And throughout the period, while the foregoing theories were debated in journals and the younger men did " government work," prob­ably a majority of the older economists in the colleges and uni­versities clung to their micro-economics, and discussed price problems in Neo-Classical "opportunity-cost" terms. An increasing number of able economists found employment with large corporations and trade associations.

At first generally recognized as a hopeful sign as to the future significance of economics in America, has been the employment of economists by the government. As early as 1893, Professor Folwell could say before the American Economic Association: "We seem already to have made some impression on the public. One of our members has been called to assist in framing a system of taxation; a second to assist the national railway commission; a third to give testimony in a case involving municipal owner­ship of gas works."

This tendency grew. Among the earlier economists, men who did notable work are H. C. Adams, formerly of the Bureau of Statistics and Accounts of the Interstate Commerce Commis­sion; J. W. Jenks as agent for the United States Industrial Commission (1899-1901), and special commissioner for the War Department to investigate currency, labor, etc., in the Orient; W. F. Willcox as census statistician; B. H. Meyer, first as head of the Wisconsin State Railway Commission, then as a member of the Interstate Commerce Commission; E. D. Durand in the Bureau of Corporations and later heading the Census Bureau; Francis Walker as economist to the Federal Trade Commission; and H. P. Willis in connection with the Federal Reserve System.

Then World War I greatly increased the government service done by economists. Beginning in 1933 the "New Deal" admin­istration called many (mostly the younger or less conservative ones) to Washington. Finally, came World War II; and the War Production Board, Office of Price Administration, and many other government agencies swarmed with economists dealing with the problems of a so-called '' war economy'' and the ensuing problems of "reconstruction." In America it is quite generally the case that academic economists have had experience, as experts or executives, in some branch of government service, state or Federal.

It seems probable that in the long run the connection between economic and political values may work for the clarification of both. There is some reason, however, to fear that, just as the service in business may sometimes lead to bias in favor of indi­vidualism or elements of private monopoly, so service in govern­ment may sometimes encourage a tendency to favor wasteful experiments and to practice that tyranny which lies in the equal treatment of unequals.