Wow. My understanding of the word “progressive” is forever changed. I think it’s accurate to say that historically, “progressives” are people who perceive a flaw in society so great, that it can only be solved with a monumental act of violence, like WWI, central banking, prohibition, eugenics.
Here’s a fantastic essay about WWI and the Progressive movement by Murray Rothbard:
In contrast to older historians who regarded World War I as the destruction of progressive reform, I am convinced that the war came to the United States as the “fulfillment,” the culmination, the veritable apotheosis of progressivism in American life. I regard progressivism as basically a movement on behalf of Big Government in all walks of the economy and society, in a fusion or coalition between various groups of big businessmen, led by the House of Morgan, and rising groups of technocratic and statist intellectuals. In this fusion, the values and interests of both groups would be pursued through government.
Big business would be able to use the government to cartelize the economy, restrict competition, and regulate production and prices, and also be able to wield a militaristic and imperialist foreign policy to force open markets abroad and apply the sword of the State to protect foreign investments. Intellectuals would be able to use the government to restrict entry into their professions and to assume jobs in Big Government to apologize for, and to help plan and staff, government operations. Both groups also believed that, in this fusion, the Big State could be used to harmonize and interpret the “national interest” and thereby provide a “middle way” between the extremes of “dog-eat-dog” laissez faire and the bitter conflicts of proletarian Marxism.
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There is no better epigraph for the remainder of this paper than a congratulatory note sent to President Wilson after the delivery of his war message on April 2, 1917. The note was sent by Wilson’s son-in-law and fellow Southern pietist and progressive, Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo, a man who had spent his entire life as an industrialist in New York City, solidly in the J.P. Morgan ambit. McAdoo wrote to Wilson: “You have done a great thing nobly! I firmly believe that it is God’s will that America should do this transcendent service for humanity throughout the world and that you are His chosen instrument.” It was not a sentiment with which the president could disagree.
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II. Pietism and Prohibition
At the Anti-Saloon League’s convention of 1909, Rev. Purley A. Baker lauded the labor union movement as a holy crusade for justice and a square deal. The League’s 1915 convention, which attracted 10,000 people, was noted for the same blend of statism, social service, and combative Christianity that had marked the national convention of the Progressive Party in 1912. And at the League’s June 1916 convention, Bishop Luther B. Wilson stated, without contradiction, that everyone present would undoubtedly hail the progressive reforms then being proposed.
During the Progressive years, the Social Gospel became part of the mainstream of pietist Protestantism. Most of the evangelical churches created commissions on social service to promulgate the Social Gospel, and virtually all of the denominations adopted the Social Creed drawn up in 1912 by the Commission of the Church and Social Service of the Federal Council of Churches. The creed called for the abolition of child labor, the regulation of female labor, the right of labor to organize (i.e., compulsory collective bargaining), the elimination of poverty, and an “equitable” division of the national product. And right up there as a matter of social concern was the liquor problem. The creed maintained that liquor was a grave hindrance toward the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, and it advocated the “protection of the individual and society from the social, economic, and moral waste of the liquor traffic.
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In an article supporting prohibition in the July 1914 issue, The Gospel of the Kingdom hailed the progressive spirit that was at last putting an end to “personal liberty”:
“Personal Liberty” is at last an uncrowned, dethroned king, with no one to do him reverence. The social consciousness is so far developed. and is becoming so autocratic, that institutions and governments must give heed to its mandate and share their life accordingly. We are no longer frightened by that ancient bogy – “paternalism in government.” We affirm boldly, it is the business of government to be just that – Paternal. Nothing human can be foreign to a true government.
As true crusaders, the pietists were not content to stop with the stamping out of sin in the United States alone. If American pietism was convinced that Americans were God’s chosen people, destined to establish a Kingdom of God within the United States, surely the pietists’ religious and moral duty could not stop there. In a sense, the world was America’s oyster. As Professor Timberlake put it, once the Kingdom of God was in the course of being established in the United States, “it was therefore America’s mission to spread these ideals and institutions abroad so that the Kingdom could be established throughout the world. American Protestants were accordingly not content merely to work for the kingdom of God in America, but felt compelled to assist in the reformation of the rest of the world also.”
American entry into World War I provided the fulfillment of prohibitionist dreams. In the first place, all food production was placed under the control of Herbert Hoover, Food Administration czar. But if the US government was to control and allocate food resources, shall it permit the precious scarce supply of grain to be siphoned off into the “waste,” if not the sin, of the manufacture of liquor? Even though less than two percent of American cereal production went into the manufacture of alcohol, think of the starving children of the world who might otherwise be fed. As the progressive weekly The Independent demagogically phrased it. “Shall the many have food, or the few have drink?” For the ostensible purpose of “conserving” grain, Congress wrote an amendment into the Lever Food and Fuel Control Act of August 10, 1917, that absolutely prohibited the use of foodstuffs, hence grain, in the production of alcohol. Congress would have added a prohibition on the manufacture of wine or beer, but President Wilson persuaded the Anti-Saloon League that he could accomplish the same goal more slowly and thereby avoid a delaying filibuster by the wets in Congress.
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The prohibitionists were able to use the Lever Act and war patriotism to good effect. Thus, Mrs. W. E. Lindsey, wife of the governor of New Mexico, delivered a speech in November 1917 that noted the Lever Act, and declared:
Aside from the long list of awful tragedies following in the wake of the liquor traffic, the economic waste is too great to be tolerated at this time. With so many people of the allied nations near to the door of starvation, it would be criminal ingratitude for us to continue the manufacture of whiskey.
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And so the Anti-Saloon League thundered that “German brewers in this country have rendered thousands of men inefficient and are thus crippling the Republic in its war on Prussian militarism.” Apparently, the Anti-Saloon League took no heed of the work of German brewers in Germany, who were presumably performing the estimable service of rendering “Prussian militarism” helpless. The brewers were accused of being pro-German, and of subsidizing the press (apparently it was all right to be pro-English or to subsidize the press if one were not a brewer). The acme of the accusations came from one prohibitionist: “We have German enemies,” he warned, “in this country too. And the worst of all our German enemies, the most treacherous, the most menacing are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller.”
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The prohibitionists’ goals were fervently expressed by Rev. A.C. Bane at the Anti-Saloon League’s 1917 convention, when victory in America was already in sight. To a wildly cheering throng, Bane thundered:
America will “go over the top” in humanity’s greatest battle [against liquor] and plant the victorious white standard of Prohibition upon the nation’s loftiest eminence. Then catching sight of the beckoning hand of our sister nations across the sea, struggling with the same age-long foe, we will go forth with the spirit of the missionary and the crusader to help drive the demon of drink from all civilization. With America leading the way, with faith in Omnipotent God, and bearing with patriotic hands our stainless flag, the emblem of civic purity, we will soon bestow upon mankind the priceless gift of World Prohibition.
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III. Women at War and at the Polls
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Women’s suffrage had long been a movement directly allied with prohibition. Desperate to combat a demographic trend that seemed to be going against them, the evangelical pietists called for women’s suffrage (and enacted it in many Western states). They did so because they knew that while pietist women were socially and politically active, ethnic or liturgical women tended to be culturally bound to hearth and home and therefore far less likely to vote.
Hence, women’s suffrage would greatly increase pietist voting power. In 1869 the Prohibitionist Party became the first party to endorse women’s suffrage, which it continued to do. The Progressive Party was equally enthusiastic about female suffrage; it was the first major national party to permit women delegates at its conventions. A leading women’s suffrage organization was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which reached an enormous membership of 300,000 by 1900. And three successive presidents of the major women’s suffrage group, the National American Woman Suffrage Association – Susan B. Anthony, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw – all began their activist careers as prohibitionists. Susan B. Anthony put the issue clearly:
There is an enemy of the homes of this nation and that enemy is drunkenness. Everyone connected with the gambling house, the brothel and the saloon works and votes solidly against the enfranchisement of women, and, I say, if you believe in chastity, if you believe in honesty and integrity, then take the necessary steps to put the ballot in the hands of women.
For its part, the German-American Alliance of Nebraska sent out an appeal during the unsuccessful referendum in November 1914 on women suffrage. Written in German, the appeal declared, “Our German women do not want the right to vote, and since our opponents desire the right of suffrage mainly for the purpose of saddling the yoke of prohibition on our necks, we should oppose it with all our might….”
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The Woman’s Committee promptly set up organizations in cities and states across the country, and on June 19, 1917 convened a conference of over fifty national women’s organizations to coordinate their efforts. It was at this conference that “the first definite task was imposed upon American women” by the indefatigable Food Czar, Herbert Hoover. Hoover enlisted the cooperation of the nation’s women in his ambitious campaign for controlling, restricting, and cartelizing the food industry in the name of “conservation” and elimination of “waste.” Celebrating this coming together of women was one of the Woman’s Committee members, the Progressive writer and muckraker Mrs. Ida M. Tarbell. Mrs. Tarbell lauded the “growing consciousness everywhere that this great enterprise for democracy which we are launching [the US entry into the war] is a national affair, and if an individual or a society is going to do its bit it must act with and under the government at Washington.” “Nothing else,” Mrs. Tarbell gushed, “can explain the action of the women of the country in coming together as they are doing today under one centralized direction.”
Mrs. Tarbell’s enthusiasm might have been heightened by the fact that she was one of the directing rather than the directed. Herbert Hoover came to the women’s conference with the proposal that each of the women sign and distribute a “food pledge card” on behalf of food conservation. While support for the food pledge among the public was narrower than anticipated, educational efforts to promote the pledge became the basis of the remainder of the women’s conservation campaign. The Woman’s Committee appointed Mrs. Tarbell as chairman of its committee on Food Administration, and she not only tirelessly organized the campaign but also wrote many letters and newspaper and magazine articles on its behalf.
In addition to food control, another important and immediate function of the Woman’s Committee was to attempt to register every woman in the country for possible volunteer or paid work in support of the war effort. Every woman aged sixteen or over was asked to sign and submit a registration card with all pertinent information, including training, experience, and the sort of work desired. In that way the government would know the whereabouts and training of every woman, and government and women could then serve each other best. In many states, especially Ohio and Illinois, state governments set up schools to train the registrars. And even though the Woman’s Committee kept insisting that the registration was completely voluntary, the state of Louisiana, as Ida Clarke puts it, developed a “novel and clever” idea to facilitate the program: women’s registration was made compulsory.
Louisiana’s Governor Ruftin G. Pleasant decreed October 17, 1917 compulsory registration day, and a host of state officials collaborated in its operation. The State Food Commission made sure that food pledges were also signed by all, and the State School Board granted a holiday on October 17 so that teachers could assist in the compulsory registration, especially in the rural districts.
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Also helping out in women’s registration and food control was another, smaller, but slightly more sinister women’s organization that had been launched by Congress as a sort of prewar wartime group at a large Congress for Constructive Patriotism, held in Washington, D.C. in late January 1917. This was the National League for Woman’s Service (NLWS), which established a nationwide organization later overshadowed and overlapped by the larger Woman’s Committee. The difference was that the NLWS was set up on quite frankly military lines. Each local working unit was called a “detachment” under a “detachment commander,” district-wide and state-wide detachments met in annual “encampments,” and every woman member was to wear a uniform with an organization badge and insignia. In particular, “the basis of training for all detachments is standardized, physical drill.”
A vital part of the Woman’s Committee work was engaging in “patriotic education.” The government and the Woman’s Committee recognized that immigrant ethnic women were most in need of such vital instruction, and so it set up a committee on education, headed by the energetic Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt. Mrs. Catt stated the problem well to the Woman’s Committee: Millions of people in the United States were unclear on why we were at war, and why, as Ida Clarke paraphrases Mrs. Can, there is “the imperative necessity of winning the war if future generations were to be protected from the menace of an unscrupulous militarism.” Presumably US militarism, being “scrupulous,” posed no problem.
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Mrs. Margaret Dreier Robins, president of the National Women’s Trade Union’s League, hailed the fact that the Woman’s Committee was organizing committees in every state to protect minimum standards for women and children’s labor in industry and demanded minimum wages and shorter hours for women. Mrs. Robins particularly warned that “not only are unorganized women workers in vast numbers used as underbidders in the labor market for lowering industrial standards, but they are related to those groups in industrial centers of our country that are least Americanized and most alien to our institutions and ideals.” And so “Americanization” and cartelization of female labor went hand in hand.
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IV. Saving Our Boys from Alcohol and Vice
One of organized womanhood’s major contributions to the war effort was to collaborate in an attempt to save American soldiers from vice and Demon Rum. In addition to establishing rigorous dry zones around every military camp in the United States, the Selective Service Act of May 1917 also outlawed prostitution in wide zones around the military camps. To enforce these provisions, the War Department had ready at hand a Commission on Training Camp Activities, an agency soon imitated by the Department of the Navy. Both commissions were headed by a man tailor-made for the job, the progressive New York settlement-house worker, municipal political reformer, and former student and disciple of Woodrow Wilson, Raymond Blaine Fosdick.
Fosdick’s background, life, and career were paradigmatic for progressive intellectuals and activists of that era. Fosdick’s ancestors were Yankees from Massachusetts and Connecticut, and his great-grandfather pioneered westward in a covered wagon to become a frontier farmer in the heart of the Burned-Over District of transplanted Yankees, Buffalo, New York. Fosdick’s grandfather, a pietist lay preacher born again in a Baptist revival, was a prohibitionist who married a preacher’s daughter and became a lifelong public school teacher in Buffalo.
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While active in New York reform administration, Fosdick made a fateful friendship. In 1910, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., like his father a pietist Baptist, was chairman of a special grand jury to investigate and to try to stamp out prostitution in New York City. For Rockefeller, the elimination of prostitution was to become an ardent and lifelong crusade. He believed that sin, such as prostitution, must be criminated, quarantined, and driven underground through rigorous suppression.
In 1911, Rockefeller began his crusade by setting up the Bureau of Social Hygiene, into which he poured $5 million in the next quarter century. Two years later he enlisted Fosdick, already a speaker at the annual dinner of Rockefeller’s Baptist Bible class, to study police systems in Europe in conjunction with activities to end the great “social vice.” Surveying American police after his stint in Europe at Rockefeller’s behest, Fosdick was appalled that police work in the United States was not considered a “science” and that it was subject to “sordid” political influences.
At that point, the new Secretary of War, the progressive former mayor of Cleveland Newton D. Baker, became disturbed at reports that areas near the army camps in Texas on the Mexican border, where troops were mobilized to combat the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, were honeycombed with saloons and prostitution. Sent by Baker on a fact-finding tour in the summer of 1916, scoffed at by tough army officers as the “Reverend,” Fosdick was horrified to find saloons and brothels seemingly everywhere in the vicinity of the military camps. He reported his consternation to Baker, and, at Fosdick’s suggestion, Baker cracked down on the army commanders and their lax attitude toward alcohol and vice.
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In some cases, the federal anti-vice crusade met considerable resistance. Secretary of Navy Josephus Daniels, a progressive from North Carolina, had to call out the marines to patrol the streets of resistant Philadelphia, and naval troops, over the strenuous objections of the mayor, were used to crush the fabled red light district of Storyville, in New Orleans, in November 1917.
In its hubris, the US Army decided to extend its anti-vice crusade to foreign shores. General John J. Pershing issued an official bulletin to members of the American Expeditionary Force in France urging that “sexual continence is the plain duty of members of the A.E.F., both for the vigorous conduct of the war, and for the clean health of the American people after the war.” Pershing and the American military tried to close all the French brothels in areas where American troops were located, but the move was unsuccessful because the French objected bitterly.
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For Woods [Robert A. Woods of Boston, the Grand Old Man of the settlement house movement and a veteran advocate of prohibition] the world war was a momentous event. It had advanced the process of “Americanization,” a “great humanizing process through which all loyalties, all beliefs must be wrought together in a better order.” The war had wonderfully released the energies of the American people. Now, however, it was important to carry the wartime momentum into the postwar world. Lauding the war collectivist society during the spring of 1918, Robert Woods asked the crucial question, “Why should it not always be so? Why not continue in the years of peace this close, vast, wholesome organism of service, of fellowship, of constructive creative power?”
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V. The New Republic Collectivists
The New Republic magazine, founded in 1914 as the leading intellectual organ of progressivism, was a living embodiment of the burgeoning alliance between big-business interests, in particular the House of Morgan, and the growing legion of collectivist intellectuals. Founder and publisher of the New Republic was Willard W. Straight, partner of J.P. Morgan & Co., and its financier was Straight’s wife, the heiress Dorothy Whitney. Major editor of the influential new weekly was the veteran collectivist and theoretician of Teddy Roosevelt’s New Nationalism, Herbert David Croly. Croly’s two coeditors were Walter Edward Weyl, another theoretician of the New Nationalism, and the young, ambitious former official of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, the future pundit Walter Lippmann. As Woodrow Wilson began to take America into World War I, the New Republic, though originally Rooseveltian, became an enthusiastic supporter of the war, and a virtual spokesman for the Wilson war effort, the wartime collectivist economy, and the new society molded by the war.
On the higher levels of ratiocination, unquestionably the leading progressive intellectual, before, during, and after World War I, was the champion of pragmatism, Professor John Dewey of Columbia University. Dewey wrote frequently for the New Republic in this period and was clearly its leading theoretician. A Yankee born in 1859, Dewey was, as Mencken put it, “of indestructible Vermont stock and a man of the highest bearable sobriety.” John Dewey was the son of a small town Vermont grocer. Although he was a pragmatist and a secular humanist most of his life, it is not as well known that Dewey, in the years before 1900, was a postmillennial pietist, seeking the gradual development of a Christianized social order and Kingdom of God on earth via the expansion of science, community, and the State.
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After 1900 it was easy for John Dewey, along with most other postmillennial intellectuals of the period, to shift gradually but decisively from postmillennial progressive Christian statism to progressive secular statism. The path, the expansion of statism and “social control” and planning, remained the same. And even though the Christian creed dropped out of the picture, the intellectuals and activists continued to possess the same evangelical zeal for the salvation of the world that their parents and they themselves had once possessed. The world would and must still be saved through progress and statism.
A pacifist while in the midst of peace, John Dewey prepared himself to lead the parade for war as America drew nearer to armed intervention in the European struggle. First, in January 1916 in the New Republic, Dewey attacked the “professional pacifist’s” outright condemnation of war as a “sentimental phantasy,” a confusion of means and ends. Force, he declared, was simply “a means of getting results,” and therefore would neither be lauded or condemned per se. Next, in April Dewey signed a pro-Allied manifesto, not only cheering for an Allied victory but also proclaiming that the Allies were “struggling to preserve the liberties of the world and the highest ideals of civilization.” And though Dewey supported US entry into the war so that Germany could be defeated, “a hard job, but one which had to be done,” he was far more interested in the wonderful changes that the war would surely bring about in the domestic American polity. In particular, war offered a golden opportunity to bring about collectivist social control in the interest of social justice. As one historian put it,
because war demanded paramount commitment to the national interest and necessitated an unprecedented degree of government planning and economic regulation in that interest, Dewey saw the prospect of permanent socialization, permanent replacement of private and possessive interest by public and social interest, both within and among nations.
In an interview with the New York World a few months after US entry into the war, Dewey exulted that “this war may easily be the beginning of the end of business.” For out of the needs of the war, “we are beginning to produce for use, not for sale, and the capitalist is not a capitalist [in the face of] the war.” Capitalist conditions of production and sale are now under government control, and “there is no reason to believe that the old principle will ever be resumed…. Private property had already lost its sanctity …industrial democracy is on the way.”
In short, intelligence is at last being used to tackle social problems, and this practice is destroying the old order and creating a new social order of “democratic integrated control.” Labor is acquiring more power, science is at last being socially mobilized, and massive government controls are socializing industry. These developments, Dewey proclaimed, were precisely what we are fighting for.
Furthermore, John Dewey saw great possibilities opened by the war for the advent of worldwide collectivism. To Dewey, America’s entrance into the war created a “plastic juncture” in the world, a world marked by a “world organization and the beginnings of a public control which crosses nationalistic boundaries and interests,” and which would also “outlaw war.”
The editors of the New Republic took a position similar to Dewey’s, except that they arrived at it even earlier.
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As America prepared to enter the war, the New Republic, examining war collectivism in Europe, rejoiced that “on its administrative side socialism [had] won a victory that [was] superb and compelling.” True, European war collectivism was a bit grim and autocratic, but never fear, America could use the selfsame means for “democratic” goals.
The New Republic intellectuals also delighted in the “war spirit” in America, for that spirit meant “the substitution of national and social and organic forces for the more or less mechanical private forces operative in peace.” The purposes of war and social reform might be a bit different, but, after all, “they are both purposes, and luckily for mankind a social organization which is efficient is as useful for the one as for the other.” Lucky indeed.
As America prepared to enter the war, the New Republic eagerly looked forward to imminent collectivization, sure that it would bring “immense gains in national efficiency and happiness.” After war was declared, the magazine urged that the war be used as “an aggressive tool of democracy.”
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Young Felix Frankfurter, progressive Harvard Law Professor and a close associate of the New Republic editorial staff, had just been as a special assistant to Secretary of War Baker. Lippmann somehow felt that his own inestimable services could be better used planning the postwar world than battling in the trenches. And so he wrote to Frankfurter asking for a job in Baker’s office. “What I want to do,” he pleaded, “is to devote all my time to studying and speculating on the approaches to peace and the reaction from the peace. Do you think you can get me an exemption on such highfalutin grounds?”
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As Lippmann put it in a remarkable demonstration of cant:
I have consulted all the people whose advice I value and they urge me to apply for exemption. You can well understand that this is not a pleasant thing to do, and yet, after searching my soul as candidly as I know how, I am convinced that I can serve my bit much more effectively than as a private in the new armies.
As icing on the cake, Lippmann added an important bit of “disinformation.” For, he piteously wrote to Baker, the fact is “that my father is dying and my mother is absolutely alone in the world. She does not know what his condition is, and I cannot tell anyone for fear it would become known.”
Apparently, no one else “knew” his father’s condition either, including his father and the medical profession, for the elder Lippmann managed to peg along successfully for the next ten years.
Secure in his draft exemption, Walter Lippmann hied off in high excitement to Washington, there to help run the war and, a few months later, to help direct Colonel House’s secret conclave of historians and social scientists setting out to plan the shape of the future peace treaty and the postwar world. Let others fight and die in the trenches; Walter Lippmann had the satisfaction of knowing that his talents, at least, would be put to their best use by the newly emerging collectivist State.
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But the revolution had not been fully completed. Despite the objections of Bernard Baruch and other wartime planners, the government decided not to make most of the war collectivist machinery permanent. From then on, the fondest ambition of Baruch and the others was to make the World War I system a permanent institution of American life. The most trenchant epitaph on the World War I polity was delivered by Rexford Guy Tugwell, the most frankly collectivist of the Brain Trusters of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Looking back on “America’s wartime socialism” in 1927, Tugwell lamented that if only the war had lasted longer, that great “experiment” could have been completed: “We were on the verge of having an international industrial machine when peace broke,” Tugwell mourned. “Only the Armistice prevented a great experiment in control of production, control of prices, and control of consumption.” Tugwell need not have been troubled; there would soon be other emergencies, other wars.
At the end of the war, Lippmann was to go on to become America’s foremost journalistic pundit. Croly, having broken with the Wilson Administration on the harshness of the Versailles Treaty, was bereft to find the New Republic no longer the spokesman for some great political leader. During the late 1920s he was to discover an exemplary national collectivist leader abroad – in Benito Mussolini. That Croly ended his years as an admirer of Mussolini comes as no surprise when we realize that from early childhood he had been steeped by a doting father in the authoritarian socialist doctrines of Auguste Comte’s Positivism. These views were to mark Croly throughout his life.
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And what of Professor Dewey, the doyen of the pacifist intellectuals – turned drumbeaters for war? In a little known period of his life, John Dewey spent the immediate postwar years, 1919–21, teaching at Peking University and traveling in the Far East.
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The Wilson Administration, which had originally taken a pro-Chinese stand, reversed itself in the spring of 1919 and endorsed the Versailles provisions.
Into this complex situation John Dewey plunged, seeing no complexity and of course considering it unthinkable for either him or the United States to stay out of the entire fray. Dewey leaped into total support of the Chinese nationalist position, hailing the aggressive Young China movement and even endorsing the pro-missionary YMCA in China as “social workers.” Dewey thundered that while “I didn’t expect to be a jingo,” that Japan must be called to account and that Japan is the great menace in Asia. Thus, scarcely had Dewey ceased being a champion of one terrible world war than he began to pave the way for an even greater one.
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VI. Economics in Service of the State: The Empiricism of Richard T. Ely
World War I was the apotheosis of the growing notion of intellectuals as servants of the State and junior partners in State rule. In the new fusion of intellectuals and State, each was of powerful aid to the other. Intellectuals could serve the State by apologizing for and supplying rationales for its deeds. Intellectuals were also needed to staff important positions as planners and controllers of the society and economy. The State could also serve intellectuals by restricting entry into, and thereby raising the income and the prestige of, the various occupations and professions. During World War I, historians were of particular importance in supplying the government with war propaganda, convincing the public of the unique evil of Germans throughout history and of the satanic designs of the Kaiser. Economists, particularly empirical economists and statisticians, were of great importance in the planning and control of the nation’s wartime economy. Historians playing preeminent roles in the war propaganda machine have been studied fairly extensively; economists and statisticians, playing a less blatant and allegedly “value-free” role, have received far less attention.
Although it is an outworn generalization to say that nineteenth century economists were stalwart champions of laissez faire, it is still true that deductive economic theory proved to be a mighty bulwark against government intervention. For, basically, economic theory showed the harmony and order inherent in the free market, as well as the counterproductive distortions and economic shackles imposed by state intervention. In order for statism to dominate the economics profession, then, it was important to discredit deductive theory. One of the most important ways of doing so was to advance the notion that, to be “genuinely scientific,” economics had to eschew generalization and deductive laws and simply engage in empirical inquiry into the facts of history and historical institutions, hoping that somehow laws would eventually arise from these detailed investigations.
Thus the German Historical School, which managed to seize control of the economics discipline in Germany, fiercely proclaimed not only its devotion to statism and government control, but also its opposition to the “abstract” deductive laws of political economy. This was the first major group within the economics profession to champion what Ludwig von Mises was later to call “anti-economics.”
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During the 1880s and 1890s bright young graduate students in history and the social sciences went to Germany, the home of the PhD degree, to obtain their doctorates. Almost to a man, they returned to the United States to teach in colleges and in the newly created graduate schools, imbued with the excitement of the “new” economics and political science. It was a “new” social science that lauded the German and Bismarckian development of a powerful welfare-warfare State, a State seemingly above all social classes, that fused the nation into an integrated and allegedly harmonious whole. The new society and polity was to be run by a powerful central government, cartelizing, dictating, arbitrating, and controlling, thereby eliminating competitive laissez-faire capitalism on the one hand and the threat of proletarian socialism on the other.
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Richard T. Ely, virtually the founder of this new breed, was the leading progressive economist and also the teacher of most of the others. As an ardent postmillennialist pietist, Ely was convinced that he was serving God and Christ as well. Like so many pietists, Ely was born (in 1854) of solid Yankee and old Puritan stock, again in the midst of the fanatical Burned-Over District of western New York. Ely’s father, Ezra, was an extreme Sabbatarian, preventing his family from playing games or reading books on Sunday, and so ardent a prohibitionist that, even though an impoverished, marginal farmer, he refused to grow barley, a crop uniquely suitable to his soil, because it would have been used to make that monstrously sinful product, beer. Having been graduated from Columbia College in 1876, Ely went to Germany and received his PhD from Heidelberg in 1879. In several decades of teaching at Johns Hopkins and then at Wisconsin, the energetic and empire-building Ely became enormously influential in American thought and politics. At Johns Hopkins he turned out a gallery of influential students and statist disciples in all fields of the social sciences as well as economics. These disciples were headed by the pro-union institutionalist economist John R. Commons, and included the social-control sociologists Edward Alsworth Ross and Albion W. Small; John H. Finlay, President of City College of New York; Dr. Albert Shaw, editor of the Review of Reviews and influential adviser and theoretician to Theodore Roosevelt; the municipal reformer Frederick C. Howe; and the historians Frederick Jackson Turner and J. Franklin Jameson. Newton D. Baker was trained by Ely at Hopkins, and Woodrow Wilson was also his student there, although there is no direct evidence of intellectual influence.
In the mid-1880s Richard Ely founded the American Economic Association in a conscious attempt to commit the economics profession to statism as against the older laissez-faire economists grouped in the Political Economy Club. Ely continued as secretary-treasurer of the AEA for seven years, until his reformer allies decided to weaken the association’s commitment to statism in order to induce the laissez-faire economists to join the organization. At that point, Ely, in high dudgeon, left the AEA.
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When war came, Richard Ely was for some reason (perhaps because he was in his sixties) left out of the excitement of war work and economic planning in Washington. He bitterly regretted that “I have not had a more active part then I have had in this greatest war in the world’s history.” But Ely made up for his lack as best he could; virtually from the start of the European war, he whooped it up for militarism, war, the “discipline” of conscription, and the suppression of dissent and “disloyalty” at home. A lifelong militarist, Ely had tried to volunteer for war service in the Spanish-American War, had called for the suppression of the Philippine insurrection, and was particularly eager for conscription and for forced labor for “loafers” during World War I. By 1915 Ely was agitating for immediate compulsory military service, and the following year he joined the ardently pro-war and heavily big business–influenced National Security League, where he called for the liberation of the German people from “autocracy.”
In advocating conscription, Ely was neatly able to combine moral, economic, and prohibitionist arguments for the draft: “The moral effect of taking boys off street corners and out of saloons and drilling them is excellent, and the economic effects are likewise beneficial.” Indeed, conscription for Ely served almost as a panacea for all ills. So enthusiastic was he about the World War I experience that Ely again prescribed his favorite cure-all to alleviate the 1929 depression. He proposed a permanent peacetime “industrial army” engaged in public works and manned by conscripting youth for strenuous physical labor. This conscription would instill into America’s youth the essential “military ideals of hardihood and discipline,” a discipline once provided by life on the farm but unavailable to the bulk of the populace now growing up in the effete cities. This small, standing conscript army could then speedily absorb the unemployed during depressions. Under the command of “an economic general staff,” the industrial army would “go to work to relieve distress with all the vigor and resources of brain and brawn that we employed in the World War.”
Deprived of a position in Washington, Ely made the stamping out of “disloyalty” at home his major contribution to the war effort. He called for the total suspension of academic freedom for the duration. Any professor, he declared, who stated “opinions which hinder us in this awful struggle” should be “fired” if not indeed “shot.” The particular focus of Ely’s formidable energy was a zealous campaign to try to get his old ally in Wisconsin politics, Robert M. La Follette, expelled from the US Senate for continuing to oppose America’s participation in the war. Ely declared that his “blood boils” at La Follette’s “treason” and attacks on war profiteering.
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In his unremitting campaign against the Wisconsin Senator, Ely thundered that La Follette “has been of more help to the Kaiser than a quarter of a million troops.” “Empiricism” rampant.
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VII. Economics in Service of the State: Government and Statistics
Statistics is a vital, though much underplayed, requisite of modern government. Government could not even presume to control, regulate, or plan any portion of the economy without the service of its statistical bureaus and agencies. Deprive government of its statistics and it would be a blind and helpless giant, with no idea whatever of what to do or where to do it.
It might be replied that business firms, too, need statistics in order to function. But business needs for statistics are far less in quantity and also different in quality. Business may need statistics in its own micro area of the economy, but only on its prices and costs; it has little need for broad collections of data or for sweeping, holistic aggregates. Business could perhaps rely on its own privately collected and unshared data. Furthermore, much entrepreneurial knowledge is qualitative, not enshrined in quantitative data, and of a particular time, area, and location. But government bureaucracy could do nothing if forced to be confined to qualitative data. Deprived of profit and loss tests for efficiency, or of the need to serve consumers efficiently, conscripting both capital and operating costs from taxpayers, and forced to abide by fixed, bureaucratic rules, modern government shorn of masses of statistics could do virtually nothing.
Hence the enormous importance of World War I, not only in providing the power and the precedent for a collectivized economy, but also in greatly accelerating the advent of statisticians and statistical agencies of government, many of which (and who) remained in government, ready for the next leap forward of power.
Richard T. Ely, of course, championed the new empirical “look and see” approach, with the aim of fact-gathering to “mold the forces at work in society and to improve existing conditions.” More importantly, one of the leading authorities on the growth of government expenditure has linked it with statistics and empirical data: “Advance in economic science and statistics strengthened belief in the possibilities of dealing with social problems by collective action. It made for increase in the statistical and other fact-finding activities of government.”
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Moreover, government statistics are clearly needed for specific types of intervention. Government could not intervene to alleviate unemployment unless statistics of unemployment were collected – and so the impetus for such collection. Carroll D. Wright, one of the first Commissioners of Labor in the United States, was greatly influenced by the famous statistician and German Historical School member, Ernst Engel, head of the Royal Statistical Bureau of Prussia. Wright sought the collection of unemployment statistics for that reason, and in general, for “the amelioration of unfortunate industrial and social relations.” Henry Carter Adams, a former student of Engel’s, and, like Ely, a statist and progressive “new economist,” established the Statistical Bureau of the Interstate Commerce Commission, believing that “ever increasing statistical activity by the government was essential – for the sake of controlling naturally monopolistic industries.”
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Carroll Wright was a Bostonian and a progressive reformer. Henry Carter Adams, the son of a New England pietist Congregationalist preacher on missionary duty in Iowa, studied for the ministry at his father’s alma mater, Andover Theological Seminary, but soon abandoned this path. Adams devised the accounting system of the Statistical Bureau of the ICC. This system “served as a model for the regulation of public utilities here and throughout the world.”
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Particularly important in the expansion of statistics in World War I was the growing insistence, by progressive intellectuals and corporate liberal businessmen alike, that democratic decision-making must be increasingly replaced by the administrative and technocratic. Democratic or legislative decisions were messy, “inefficient,” and might lead to a significant curbing of statism, as had happened in the heyday of the Democratic party during the nineteenth century. But if decisions were largely administrative and technocratic, the burgeoning of state power could continue unchecked. The collapse of the laissez-faire creed of the Democrats in 1896 left a power vacuum in government that administrative and corporatist types were eager to fill.
Increasingly, then, such powerful corporatist big business groups as the National Civic Federation disseminated the idea that governmental decisions should be in the hands of the efficient technician, the allegedly value-free expert. In short, government, in virtually all of its aspects, should be “taken out of politics.” And statistical research with its aura of empiricism, quantitative precision, and nonpolitical value-freedom, was in the forefront of such emphasis. In the municipalities, an increasingly powerful progressive reform movement shifted decisions from elections in neighborhood wards to citywide professional managers and school superintendents. As a corollary, political power was increasingly shifted from working class and ethnic German Lutheran and Catholic wards to upper-class pietist business groups.
By the time World War I arrived in Europe, a coalition of progressive intellectuals and corporatist businessmen was ready to go national in sponsoring allegedly objective statistical research institutes and think tanks. Their views have been aptly summed up by David Eakins:
The conclusion being drawn by these people by 1915 was that fact-finding and policymaking had to be isolated from class struggle and freed from political pressure groups. The reforms that would lead to industrial peace and social order, these experts were coming to believe, could only be derived from data determined by objective fact-finders (such as themselves) and under the auspices of sober and respectable organizations (such as only they could construct). The capitalist system could be improved only by a single-minded reliance upon experts detached from the hurly-burly of democratic policy-making. The emphasis was upon efficiency – and democratic policymaking was inefficient. An approach to the making of national economic and social policy outside traditional democratic political processes was thus emerging before the United States formally entered World War I.
Several corporatist businessmen and intellectuals moved at about the same time toward founding such statistical research institutes. In 1906–07, Jerome D. Greene, secretary of the Harvard University Corporation, helped found an elite Tuesday Evening Club at Harvard to explore important issues in economics and the social sciences. In 1910 Greene rose to an even more powerful post as general manager of the new Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, and three years later Greene became secretary and CEO of the powerful philanthropic organization, the Rockefeller Foundation.
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While the National Bureau was not to take final shape until after the war, another organization, created on similar lines, successfully won Greene’s and Rockefeller’s support. In 1916 they were persuaded by Raymond B. Fosdick to found the Institute for Government Research (IGR). The IGR was slightly different in focus from the National Bureau group, as it grew directly out of municipal progressive reform and the political science profession. One of the important devices used by the municipal reformers was the private bureau of municipal research, which tried to seize decision-making from allegedly “corrupt” democratic bodies on behalf of efficient, nonpartisan organizations headed by progressive technocrats and social scientists.
In 1910 President William Howard Taft, intrigued with the potential for centralizing power in a chief executive inherent in the idea of the executive budget, appointed the “father of the budget idea,” the political scientist Frederick D. Cleveland, as head of a Commission on Economy and Efficiency. Cleveland was the director of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research. The Cleveland Commission also included political scientist and municipal reformer Frank Goodnow, professor of public law at Columbia University, first president of the American Political Science Association and president of Johns Hopkins; and William Franklin Willoughby, former student of Ely, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Census, and later President of the American Association for Labor Legislation. The Cleveland Commission was delighted to tell President Taft precisely what he wanted to hear. The Commission recommended sweeping administrative changes that would provide a Bureau of Central Administrative Control to form a “consolidated information and statistical arm of the entire national government.”
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When America entered the war, present and future NBER and IGR leaders were all over Washington, key figures and statisticians in the collectivized war economy.
By far the most powerful of the growing number of economists and statisticians involved in World War I was Edwin F. Gay. Arch W. Shaw, an enthusiast for rigid wartime planning of economic resources, was made head of the new Commercial Economy Board by the Council for National Defense as soon as America entered the war. Shaw, who had taught at and served on the administrative board of Harvard Business School, staffed the board with Harvard Business people; the secretary was Harvard economist Melvin T. Copeland, and other members included Dean Gay.
The board, which later became the powerful Conservation Division of the War Industries Board, focused on restricting competition in industry by eliminating the number and variety of products and by imposing compulsory uniformity, all in the name of “conservation” of resources to aid the war effort. For example, garment firms had complained loudly of severe competition because of the number and variety of styles, and so Gay urged the garment firms to form a trade association to work with the government in curbing the surfeit of competition. Gay also tried to organize the bakers so that they would not follow the usual custom of taking back stale and unsold bread from retail outlets. By the end of 1917, Gay was tired of using voluntary persuasion and was urging the government to use compulsory measures.
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Within a year, Edwin Gay had risen from a special expert to the unquestioned czar of a giant network of federal statistical agencies, with over a thousand researchers and statisticians working under his direct control. It is no wonder then that Gay, instead of being enthusiastic about the American victory he had worked so hard to secure, saw the Armistice as “almost a personal blow” that plunged him “into the slough of despond.” All of his empire of statistics and control had just been coming together and developing into a mighty machine when suddenly “came that wretched Armistice.” Truly a tragedy of peace.
Gay tried valiantly to keep the war machinery going, continually complaining because many of his aides were leaving and bitterly denouncing the “hungry pack” who, for some odd reason, were clamoring for an immediate end to all wartime controls, including those closest to his heart, foreign trade and shipping. But one by one, despite the best efforts of Baruch and many of the wartime planners, the WIB and other war agencies disappeared.
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Peace having finally and irrevocably arrived, Edwin Gay, backed by Mitchell, tried his best to have the CBPS kept as a permanent, peacetime organization. Gay argued that the agency, with himself of course remaining as its head, could provide continuing data to the League of Nations, and above all could serve as the president’s own eyes and ears and mold the sort of executive budget envisioned by the old Taft Commission. CBPS staff member and Harvard economist Edmund E. Day contributed a memorandum outlining specific tasks for the bureau to aid in demobilization and reconstruction, as well as rationale for the bureau becoming a permanent part of government. One thing it could do was to make a “continuing canvass” of business conditions in the United States. As Gay put it to President Wilson, using a favorite organicist analogy, a permanent board would serve “as a nervous system to the vast and complex organization of the government, furnishing to the controlling brain [the president] the information necessary for directing the efficient operation of the various members.” Although the President was “very cordial” to Gay’s plan, Congress refused to agree, and on June 30, 1919 the Central Bureau of Planning and Statistics was finally terminated, along with the War Trade Board. Edwin Gay would now have to seek employment in, if not the private, at least the quasi-independent, sector.
But Gay and Mitchell were not to be denied. Nor would the Brookings-Willoughby group. Their objective would be met more gradually and by slightly different means. Gay became editor of the New York Evening Post under the aegis of its new owner and Gay’s friend, J.P. Morgan partner Thomas W. Lamont. Gay also helped to form and become first president of the National Bureau of Economic Research in 1920, with Wesley C. Mitchell as research director.
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Edwin Gay also moved into the foreign policy field by becoming secretary-treasurer and head of the Research Committee of the new and extremely influential organization, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
And finally, in the field of government statistics, Gay and Mitchell found a more gradual but longer-range route to power via collaboration with Herbert Hoover, soon to be Secretary of Commerce. No sooner had Hoover assumed the post in early 1921 when he expanded the Advisory Committee on the Census to include Gay, Mitchell, and other economists and then launched the monthly Survey of Current Business. The Survey was designed to supplement the informational activities of cooperating trade associations and, by supplying business information, aid these associations in Hoover’s aim of cartelizing their respective industries.
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the assembled economists in 1918 were regaled with the visionary presidential address of Yale economist Irving Fisher. Fisher looked forward to an economic “world reconstruction” that would provide glorious opportunities for economists to satisfy their constructive impulses. A class struggle, Fisher noted, would surely be continuing over distribution of the nation’s wealth. But by devising a mechanism of “readjustment,” the nation’s economists could occupy an enviable role as the independent and impartial arbiters of the class struggle, these disinterested social scientists making the crucial decisions for the public good.
In short, both Mitchell and Fisher were, subtly and perhaps half-consciously, advancing the case for a postwar world in which their own allegedly impartial and scientific professions could levitate above the narrow struggles of classes for the social product, and thus emerge as a commonly accepted, “objective” new ruling class, a twentieth-century version of the philosopher-kings. (Read more from lewrockwell.com)