excluding inferior workers eugenic influences on economic reform in the progressive era l.
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excluding inferior workers eugenic influences on economic reform in the progressive era



0 the progressive economists
0. The progressive economists
  • During the Progressive Era, 1890-1920, professional social science, the American research university, and the American welfare state all grew up together, of common origins.
  • All three institutions were founded or influenced by a pioneering band of progressive American economists, who made the case that administrative government should intervene broadly in voluntary commercial relationships.
  • But progressive economic reform, influential as it proved to be, was not that progressive.
  • The men and women who made American economics into an academic, policy discipline, and who built the foundations of the American welfare state, were also partisans of human inequality, heirs to the American tradition of race thinking, and their justification for economic reform was deeply informed by evolutionary science, especially by the Progressive Era vogue for eugenics, the social control of human heredity.
  • The conflict between progressivisms' contradictory goals – social uplift and social control – shaped the economic reform so characteristic of the Progressive Era.
    • The central debates – working poverty, immigration and the relation of women to market work – remain vital and contentious today.
i setting the stage industrial revolution
I. Setting the Stage: Industrial Revolution

The United States became a modern, urban, industrial and multicultural world power between 1890 and 1920.

  • INDUSTRIALIZATION: Following the Civil War, the United States industrialized on a revolutionary scale
    • “the most profound and rapid alteration in the material conditions of life that human society has ever experienced” (Haskell 1977: 1).
    • 1870-1913: Real GDP (1990$): 98 B to 517 B;
    • railroad and telegraph networks both measured and fostered the new national scope of American markets.
    • From “island communities” to mass society
  • URBANIZATION: The transformation from an agricultural to an industrial economy
    • Farm to factory; explosive growth in American cities.
    • About half the work force in agriculture in 1880; about one-quarter in 1920
    • By 1910, twenty-two percent of the U.S. labor force was foreign-born, and fully one-third of the population was foreign-born or had at least one foreign-born parent.
    • 60 percent of Chicagoans in 1889 were foreign-born.
i setting the stage industrial revolution 2
I. Setting the Stage: Industrial Revolution (2)
  • Unionization: Coincident with industrialization, nationalization, urbanization, and immigration were the rise of labor unions: 1880-1886: 50,000 to 1,000,000.
  • The 1890s consolidation of industry into pools and trusts – oil, railroads, steel, tobacco
  • The concentration of labor and capital intensified recurrent and sometimes violent labor conflict, for which names like Haymarket, Homestead, and Pullman still serve as synecdoches
  • Business cycle volatility: Prolonged economic depression in 1890s – unemployment exceeds 18%.
i setting the stage industrial revolution 3
I. Setting the Stage: Industrial Revolution (3)
  • Those who lived through the time recognized its revolutionary aspects.
  • E.R.A. Seligman’s 1902 Presidential address to the American Economic Association, “Economics and Social Progress,” said that industrialization promised an almost “limitless increase in production,” enough that “the history of the world in the future would be so different from the past.”
  • Simon Patten, a leading progressive economist at Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, saw in industrialization the rise of a new age of material abundance, so unprecedented as to form “a new basis for civilization,” and to make earlier forms of political economy, with their emphasis on scarcity and Malthusian inevitability, obsolete.
  • “One can hardly believe,” John Dewey marveled in 1899, “there has been a revolution in all history so rapid, so extensive, so complete”.
ii the progressive response the age of reform
II. The Progressive Response: The Age of Reform
  • An unprecedented outpouring of reform projects, private and public, undertaken in response to industrialization’s transformative changes in American economic, social, and political life.
  • Progressive Era reform reached into nearly all aspects of American life.
  • Familiar causes: anti-saloon leaguers, women suffragists, muckraking journalists, social Gospelers, birth controllers, trust busters, social surveyors, charity reformers, settlement house workers, peace activists, city beautifiers, factory inspectors, social purifiers, child-welfare advocates, and conservationists.
ii the progressive response the age of reform 2
II. The Progressive Response: The Age of Reform (2)
  • The diversity and sheer scope of American reform meantthat progressive organizations and constituencies would frequently find their respective reform goals incompatible.
    • W.E.B. Du Bois and Woodrow Wilson, for example, were both progressives, but held entirely opposed views of the proper role of whites and blacks in American life.
    • Progressive economist Richard T. Ely beat the drums for American entry into the First World War, while his former Wisconsin progressive ally, Robert LaFollette, opposed it.
    • Theodore Roosevelt, exemplary progressive, preferred to regulate the trusts, while Louis Brandeis, “the people’s lawyer,” wanted to break them up.
    • Social scientists John R. Commons and Edward A. Ross preached against the evils of drink, while John Dewey thought that reformers had more important things to worry about than “booze.”
  • The result was a pattern of conflict and cooperation that led to shifting political alliances, and to a reputation for fractiousness. “The friends of progress,” Benjamin P. DeWitt lamented as early as 1915, “are frequently the enemies of each other.”
ii the progressive response the age of reform 3
II. The Progressive Response: The Age of Reform (3)
  • The heterogeneity of historical interpretation has led some historians to despair of identifying a coherent set of ideas that can be gathered under the rubric of “progressivism” (Filene 1970).
  • But Progressive-Era historiography, for all the diversity it unavoidably (and rightly) reflects, does evince important narrative and intellectual commonalities, no more so than with respect to economic reform.
    • Economic reform, perhaps more than any other major tributary of American progressivism, unified progressives.
    • And though, like progressivism more generally, economic reform cannot be reduced to a single creed, it is possible to recover a real intellectual coherence in the foundational ideas of the Progressive Era economists, and their fellow progressives.
iii who were the progressive economists
III. Who were the progressive economists?
  • The first generation of American economic progressives was born largely between the mid-1850s and 1870.
  • Nearly all came from New England families of Puritan background. Their families typically were Republican and Unionist.
  • Unlike the Generation of 1840, men such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Lester Frank Ward, and William Graham Sumner, the progressives were too young to have served in the Civil War.
    • They grew up revering the martyred president, Abraham Lincoln
  • The cadre of reform economists that founded the American Economic Association in 1885 was a youthful one.
    • RICHARD T. ELY (b. 1854), the prime mover behind the Association’s founding, was thirty-one years old at the time. WOODROW WILSON (b. 1856) was twenty-eight, EDWARD W. BEMIS (b. 1860) was twenty-five, and EDWIN R.A. SELIGMAN (b. 1861) was twenty-four. Among the senior charter members, such as Henry Carter Adams (b. 1851) and Simon Patten (b. 1852), John Bates Clark (b. 1847) was, at thirty-eight, the grand old man. The elder statesman selected for the first AEA presidency, Francis Amasa Walker (b. 1840), was then forty-five.
american economic association 1885 founders
American Economic Association (1885) Founders

Richard T. Ely Frank Fetter, J.B. Clark Francis Amasa Walker

(1854-1943) (1847-1938) (1840-1897)

american economic association 1885 founders11
American Economic Association (1885) Founders

John R. Commons Henry Carter Adams T. Woodrow Wilson

(1862-1945) (1851-1921) (1856-1924)

american economic association 1885 founders12
American Economic Association (1885) Founders

Simon N. Patten E.R.A. Seligman Edmund J. James

(1852-1922) (1861-1939) (1855-1925)

iii who were the progressive economists 2
III. Who were the progressive economists?(2)
  • A key formative experience of the AEA’s core group – graduate education in Germany.
    • Bismarkian Germany gave the young Americans exposure to the ideas of the German Historical School, with its positive view of state economic intervention, and its hostility to the idea of natural economic laws, what it disparaged as “English” economics.
  • Their German university professors, men like Adolph Wagner, Johannes Conrad and Gustav Schmoller were, moreover, accorded respect and authority and they were consulted on important matters of national economic policy.
    • The example of their German professors permitted the young American graduate students to imagine careers as yet non-existent in the United States – academic advocates with expert influence upon economic policy.
  • The young American economists’ experience in Germany gave shape and direction, however, to a reform impulse already strong in them.
    • The progressive economists’ desire to set the world to rights was powered by a quintessentially American phenomenon, an evangelical Protestant reform movement known as social Christianity, or the social Gospel.
iii who were the progressive economists 3
III. Who were the progressive economists?(3)
  • The Social Gospel describes a late 19th-century and early 20th-century form of evangelical Protestantism that sought progressive economic and social improvement via a religiously motivated and scientifically informed project of social redemption.
  • The Social Gospel was erected upon a version of Protestant post-millennialism, the Christian doctrine that prophesizes that a Kingdom of God – reigning for one thousand years of peace and love – would be realizedon Earth by the good works of Christian men and women.
  • The post-millennial substitution of the spirit of Christ for Christ himself as the agency of redemption helped make the Social Gospel especially congruent with the more rationalistic aspects of Progressive reform.
iii who were the progressive economists 4
III. Who were the progressive economists?(4)
  • 23 Protestant clergymen among the 55 charter AEA members who signed on in Saratoga in 1885
    • Thirteen of them prominent leaders of the Social Gospel movement, among them Washington Gladden, Lyman Abbott, R. Heber Newton and Newman Smyth.
    • Ely retailed the AEA economists as belonging to the “Christian School of Political Economy.”
  • Most of the association’s leading co-founders – Henry Carter Adams, Edward Bemis, John Bates Clark, Edmund J. James, Simon Patten – were, like Ely, not just economic reformers, but also Social Gospelers.
    • who “valued moral conscience in social and political as well as personal life,” and who “demanded of themselves and their countrymen moral purity and social renewal” (D. Ross).
iv the progressive doctrine social control
IV. The progressive doctrine: Social control
  • The progressive economists belonged to a broad group of American intellectuals and activists who promoted the idea of using a powerful, centralized state, led by a vanguard of expert social scientists, to reform markets and society in the name of advancing a social welfarist vision of the nation’s good.
    • Early on: “Christian Commonwealth”
  • Their ends were plural, but the progressives were broadly agreed on the best means to those ends – social control, or, reform through “organization, the application of scientific expertise, and the value of efficiency and rationality.”
iv the progressive doctrine social control 2
IV. The progressive doctrine: Social control (2)
  • The reform economists, like most progressives, placed a special faith in administrative government as the ideal organizational vehicle for economic reform.
  • “Social control” captures the extraordinary progressive faith in the power of scientifically trained experts to beneficially direct the course of human events, that is, to produce progress.
  • The key assumption behind social control was that private and social interests were fundamentally at odds, so that when private behavior was excessive or destructive or deviant, it had to be controlled by society or government.
    • E.A. Ross Social Control: Survey of the Foundations of Order, first published in 1901, was in print until 1932.
iv the progressive doctrine social control 3
IV. The progressive doctrine: Social control (3)
  • The late 19th-century progressive embrace of social-control doctrine thus represented a decisive intellectual break with classically liberal thought, in two ways.
  • (1) Most fundamentally, it reconceived how economic and social progress was obtained.
    • No longer was progress seen as a gradual, evolutionary process arising naturally as the byproduct of voluntary exchange.
    • Instead, reformers argued, progress would need to be planned and continuously directed – the new guarantor of economic progress would be the visible hand of expert-guided government.
  • (2) American progressives were profoundly, almost naively, optimistic about the efficacy of reform, and the scope for its application: reform could improve education, medicine, family life, government, the economy, even humanity itself – everything, as Jane Addams said, was amenable to improvement.
iv the progressive doctrine social control 4
IV. The progressive doctrine: Social control (4)
  • The classically liberal idea that economic progress could be obtained as the natural byproduct of voluntary exchange, was dismissed by economic reformers as so much laissez-faire dogma.
  • Free market economics: a quaint doctrine perhaps suitable for Adam Smith’s day, but made obsolete by the new era of American industrial capitalism, which featured not only new organizational forms – trusts, natural monopolies and mass labor unions – but a rapidly increasing economic and social interdependence wrought by the furious pace of growth-induced specialization
iv the progressive doctrine social control 5
IV. The progressive doctrine: Social control (5)
  • How much government should interfere, and in what fashion, were questions that gave rise to vigorous debate.
  • But nearly all progressives ultimately accepted the two-fold justification for greater social control of the economy.
  • First, American economic life in the Gilded Age, most saliently in the form of labor conflict, (1) created social disorder, (2) operated with enormous waste, and (3) distributed its fruits unfairly and unequally.
  • Second, given the unprecedented complexity and volatility of economic life driven by industrial capitalism, markets, to the extent they ever could, could no longer self-regulate.
  • Thus, the only way to remedy the disorder, inefficiency and unfairness of American economic life was by greater social control: government must interfere more, government must interfere guided or directed by economic experts, and government must interfere, first and foremost, in labor relations.
iv intellectual foundations of social control
IV. Intellectual foundations of social control

1) the progressives believed in a powerful, national state, conceiving of administrative government as the best means for promoting the social good and rejecting the individualism of (classical) liberalism;

2) the progressives venerated social efficiency almost to the point of identifying progress with greater efficiency;

  • cult of efficiency (measurement and statistics); Social Survey

3) the progressives believed in the epistemic and moral authority of science

 biology could explain and control human inheritance

 economics could explain and control the root causes of economic ills;

4) the progressives believed that intellectuals should guide social and economic progress,

  • a faith the disinterestedness and incorruptibility of scientific experts
  • a faith that expertise could not only serve the social good, but also identify it;

5)While anti-monopoly, pro-Big Business (consistent with their faith in planning, organization and command), at least Big Business properly managed

  • the progressives believed that industrial consolidation was inevitable, and (mostly) desirable,
  • Fred Winslow Taylor and scientific management
iv intellectual foundations of social control 2
IV. Intellectual foundations of social control (2)
  • Economic progressivism was not some inevitable democratic (or populist) upwelling of the people versus the moneyed and powerful interests (D. Kennedy)
  • It was the purposeful and successful effort of ambitious middle class professionals and scientific experts to bring system and rationality to a society suffering from the evils (even if democratic evils) of disorder, inefficiency and injustice (ibid).
  • The progressives didn’t deliver govt. to Labor, but neither did they deliver it to Capital. They delivered govt. to themselves. (D. Ross)
iv social control in practice bringing in the state
IV. Social Control in practice: Bringing in the state
  • By the outbreak of the first World War in 1914, the U.S. government had
    • created the Federal Reserve Banking system,
    • amended the Constitution to institute a graduated personal income tax,
    • established the Federal Trade Commission,
    • applied anti-trust laws to industrial combinations,
    • exempted (with the Clayton Act) labor unions from anti-trust prosecution,
    • restricted immigration,
    • regulated food and drug safety,
    • conserved federal lands,
    • established a Children’s Bureau,
    • supervised railroad rates, and outlawed railroad price discrimination.
  • During the First World War, the War Industries Board introduced Americans to business planning methods applied by the government to entire economy
  • it coordinated most government purchasing, determined the allocation of resources, established priorities in output, restricted the alcohol trade, and fixed prices on commodities in over 60 industries, not all of them military-related (Fogel 2000).
  • The War also enabled a permanent increase in federal income taxes and their progressivity
    • Federal government expenditures, under $1 billion before the war, jumped to $12.7 billion in 1918. In 1920, federal spending fell, but remained six times its pre-war level.
iv social control in practice bringing in the state 2
IV. Social Control in practice: Bringing in the state (2)
  • State governments, where the labor reform impulse was stronger still
    • regulated working conditions
    • inspected factories
    • banned child labor
    • compelled education for children
    • mandated workmen’s compensation
    • instituted “mothers’ pensions” (payments to single mothers with dependent children)
    • capped working hours
    • set minimum wages
    • taxed inheritances
    • adopted antitrust statutes before the federal government
    • and banned corporate donations to political campaigns.
  • Local governments municipalized streetcar companies and gas and water utilities.
v eugenics in the progressive era
V. Eugenics in the Progressive Era
  • A new name for an old idea.
  • A movement to improve human heredity by the social control of human breeding, premised on the assumption that differences in human intelligence, character and temperament are largely due to differences in heredity (Paul, 2001).
    • negative eugenics: check the birthrate of the “unfit”
    • positive eugenics: promote the birthrate of the “fit”
  • The important human traits are heritable, and improvable for social ends.
  • Francis Galton (Victorian and half-cousin to Darwin): eugenics is the social program that aims “to replace natural selection by other processes that are more merciful and not less effective.”
  • Galton (1869) Hereditary Genius; (1883) Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development;
v eugenics in the progressive era 2
V. Eugenics in the Progressive Era (2)
  • Eugenics is related to racial science
  • Progressive Era usage of “race” often meant ethnicity or nationality
    • e.g., the Anglo-Saxon race, the Irish race, the Italian race, the Hebrew race
  • Racial science begins with the view that human racial differences are real, significant, scientifically measurable, and heritable.
    • Scientific racism is racial science premised on racial hierarchy—the idea that different races can be ranked by innate fitness
  • The most influential racial taxonomy of the day, The Races of Europe, was written by William Z. Ripley (1899), an economist, AEA president
    • Measured heads (cephalic index), physiognomy, hair color,
v popularity of eugenics
V. Popularity of eugenics
  • Dirty-word problem
  • In 1933, Paul Popenoe boasted that eugenic sterilization laws obtained in jurisdictions comprising 150 million people (Kevles, 1995, p. 115).
  •  Eugenic ideas were influential in nearly all non-Catholic western countries and in many others besides.
    • Canada (McLaren, 1990), France (Schneider, 1990), Japan (Suzuki, 1975), Russia (Adams, 1990), Scandinavian countries (Broberg and Roll-Hansen, 1996), Romania (Bucur, 2002), Latin America (Stepan, 1991) and China (Dikotter, 1992)
  • American eugenic science, before the 1930s, was, especially among elites, popular and respectable, signaled high-mindedness, and possessed real scientific authority.
  • It was also supported by leading figures in the newly emerging science of genetics; defections begin only in the late 1920s
    • Thomas Hunt Morgan (Nobel in Medicine 1933); Raymond Pearl
  • In 1928, 376 US college courses were dedicated to the subject of eugenics
  • Searchlights on Health, the Science of Eugenics, sold one million copies in the first two years of its publication
  • The American Eugenics Society, co-founded by Irving Fisher to educate Americans on the virtues of eugenics, set up instructional pavilions and staged “fitter family” competitions at state agricultural fairs.
v popularity of eugenics 2
V. Popularity of eugenics (2)
  • Scopes “Monkey” Trial: Hunter's Civic Biology (1914), pp. 261-265.
  • “Parasitism and its Cost to Society. — Hundreds of families such as those described above exist today, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.
  • The Remedy. — If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with some success in this country.”
v eugenics and darwinism
V. Eugenics and Darwinism
  • Eugenics, social selection of the fittest, was clearly connected to the theory of evolution by natural selection.
    • Darwin, after all, began the Origin of Species explaining natural selection by analogy to artificial selection: nature selects, Darwin suggested, as does a breeder of dogs or pigeons.
  • But eugenics also departed from Darwinism in several ways important for progressivism.
    • Eugenics was premised on the idea that evolution by natural selection was too wasteful, too gradual, and too indifferent to progress.
    • Human direction of evolution would (1) reduce waste, (2) improve heredity at a faster rate, and (3) ensure that evolutionary change was not left to blind chance, but was made progressive.
v eugenics and darwinism 2
V. Eugenics and Darwinism (2)
  • Who shall select the fittest: nature, women or experts?
    • There was little disagreement between conservatives and progressives on the value of selection, and its importance for the biological fitness of the human species.
  • The disagreement concerned how, and to what extent, humankind had a role in superintending its own evolution.
    • Some proponents of laissez-faire argued that the best way to improve the race was by Spencerian bootstrapping, competition would induce individuals to purposefully improve their minds and bodies.
    • Wallace, and proto-feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman, argued that best mechanism would be female selection. Improve the economic status of women, and they will choose fitter husbands.
    • The mainline eugenicists, for their part, wanted government experts to select the fittest.
vi the unfit as unemployable
VI. The Unfit As “Unemployable”
  • The unemployable were those workers who, owing to putative hereditary debility, earned less than what American reformers called a “living wage.”
    • Reformers understood the difference between actual wages and living wages as entailing a shortfall that must be met by charity, by the state, or by other members of the worker’s household. By this logic, reformers called firms that paid workers less than living wages “parasites,” an epithet also attached to workers who received such wages.
  • Fabian socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb, to pick an influential example, classified as unemployable
    • children, the aged, and the child-bearing women[,] . . . the sick and the crippled, the idiots and lunatics, the epileptic, the blind and the deaf and dumb, the criminals and the incorrigibly idle, and all who are actually “morally deficient” . . . and [those] incapable of steady or continuous application, or who are so deficient in strength, speed, or skill that they are incapable . . . of producing their maintenance at any occupation whatsoever.
  • Progressive Era reform economists argued that a worker’s standard of living, not his productivity, determined market wages.
  • Making wages a function of living standards opened the door to the eugenic claim that immigrant groups were hereditarily predisposed to low standards of living.
  • Economist-turned-sociologist Edward A. Ross, for example, argued that “the coolie, though he cannot outdo the American, can underlive him.” “Native” workers were more productive, claimed Ross, but because Chinese immigrants were racially disposed to work for lower wages, they displaced the “native” workers, the Anglo-Saxon race disposed to “American” wages.
vi the unfit as unemployable 2
VI. The Unfit As “Unemployable”(2)
  • In Races and Immigrants,John R. Commons argued that “[t]he Jewish sweatshop is the tragic penalty paid by that ambitious race.”
  • For Commons, when inferior races were allowed to work, their economiccompetition not only lowered wages, it also biologically selected for the unfit races.
    • “[C]ompetition has no respect for superior races,” said Commons; “[t]he race with lowest necessities displaces others.”
  • Because race, not productivity, determined living standards, Commons could populate his low-wage-races category with the industrious and lazy alike. African Americans, he said, were “indolent and fickle,” which explained why slavery was defensible, even necessary: “The negro could not possibly have found a place in American industry had he come as a free man . . . . [I]f such races are to adopt that industrious life which is second nature to races of the temperate zones, it is only through some form of compulsion.”
vi the unfit as unemployable 3
VI. The Unfit As “Unemployable”(3)
  • Few groups escaped the reformers’ low-wage-race indictment. Labor leader Eugene Debs said in 1891 of Italian immigrant workers, “‘The Dago . . . lives far more like a savage or a wild be[a]st than the Chinese’ and therefore can ‘underbid the American workingman.’”
  • Wharton School reformer Scott Nearing volunteered that if “[a]n employer has a Scotchman working for him at $3 a day [and] [a]n equally efficient Lithuanian offers to do the same work for $2 . . . the work is given to the lowest bidder.”
  • Paul Kellogg, editor of The Survey, one of the most influential organs of progressive ideas, defended legislation “to exclude [Angelo] Lucca and [Alexis] Spivak and other ‘greeners’ from our congregate industries, which beckon to them now.”
vi the unfit as unemployable 4
VI. The Unfit As “Unemployable”(4)
  • The low-wage races threatened American wages and employment, and their putatively greater fertility also threatened the health and viability of the Anglo-Saxon race.
  • The latter claim was known as “race suicide,” a Progressive Era catchphrase for the idea that persons of inferior stock outbreed their biological betters. Races compete, argued race-suicide theorists, and racial competition is subject to a kind of Gresham’s law.
  • “Race suicide” was coined by Edward A. Ross, who bemoaned that “[t]he higher race quietly and unmurmuringly eliminates itself rather than endure individually the bitter competition it has failed to ward off by collective action.”
  • Ross’s theory was that the “native” Anglo-Saxon stock was biologically well adapted to rural, traditional life but less well suited to the new urban, industrial milieu of capitalism. Thus could the inferior immigrant races, “beaten members of beaten breeds,” outbreed the superior Anglo-Saxon race. New immigrant stock, while racially inferior, was, said Ross, better adapted to the conditions of industrial capitalism.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt called race suicide the “greatest problem of civilization.”
vi the unfit as unemployable 5
VI. The Unfit As “Unemployable”(5)
  • Confronted with this two-fold threat, the task for reformers was to devise scientific methods for identifying low-wage races and other inferior groups (for example, the “feeble-minded”)—such as cranial measurements, literacy tests, and intelligence tests—and to promote laws that would exclude inferiors from work and isolate them for eugenic treatment.
  • Two historically important vehicles for exclusion: (1) race-based immigration barriers and (2) statutory minimum wages.
vii immigration and race suicide
VII. Immigration and “Race Suicide”
  • The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 ended the era of open immigration to the United States. Already stalled by World War I, the immigration of the eastern and southern European peoples, which had averaged 730,000 per year in the decade before World War I, plummeted to a scant 20,000 persons per year following the eugenics-inspired Immigration Act of 1924, which also barred immigration from Japan.
  • The American Economic Association (AEA), founded in 1885, almost immediately began offering annual prizes for the best essay on the evils of unrestricted immigration.
    • In 1887, progressive economist Edward W. Bemis devised the idea of using a literacy test to exclude putatively unfit immigrants, particularly those from southern and eastern Europe.
vii immigration and race suicide 2
VII. Immigration and “Race Suicide” (2)
  • Leading economist Irving Fisher said, “If we could leave out of account the question of race and eugenics, I should, as an economist, be inclined to the view that unrestricted immigration . . . is economically advantageous to a country as a whole . . . .” But, cautioned Fisher, “[t]he core of the problem of immigration is . . . one of race and eugenics”: the problem of the Anglo-Saxon racial stock being overwhelmed by racially inferior “defectives, delinquents and dependents.”
  • “[Mine] is not an argument against immigration,” demurred University of Chicago sociologist Charles Henderson, “but only against the immigration of persons who can never be induced to demand a civilized scale of life.” Remove the unfit, said Henderson, and “the real workers will more easily rise in earning power.”
  • Wharton School reformer Simon Patten argued that social progress is “a higher law than equality” and proposed the “eradication of the vicious and inefficient.”
  • Henry Farnam, cofounder of the American Association for Labor Legislation (AALL) and later AEA president, thought the growth of the unfit classes rendered “more and more imperative the solution of that exceedingly difficult problem which Mr. Arnold White calls ‘the sterilization of the unfit.’”
  • Ross, well known for his militancy against immigration, once suggested that “should the wors[e] come to the worst, it would be better for us if we were to turn our guns upon every vessel bringing [Asiatics] to our shores rather than to permit them to land.”
vii immigration and race suicide 3
VII. Immigration and “Race Suicide” (3)
  • Francis Amasa Walker, president of MIT and of the AEA and director of the U.S. Census of 1870 and of 1880, offered an especially influential theory of race suicide.
  • Walker argued that immigration itself checked the natural fertility of the native population, so that inferior foreign-born stock effectively displaced superior native stock: “[T]he native element failed to maintain its previous rate of increase because the foreigners came in such swarms.” The American shrank from industrial competition with the low-wage races, Walker argued: “He was unwilling himself to engage in the lowest kind of day-labor with these new elements of the population; he was even more unwilling to bring sons and daughters into the world to enter into that competition.”
  • Walker characterized the low-wage races, “peasants” from “southern Italy, Hungary, Austria, and Russia,” as “beaten men from beaten races; representing the worst failures in the struggle for existence.” Without immigration restriction, Walker warned, “every foul and stagnant pool of population in Europe, [in] which no breath of intellectual life has stirred for ages . . . [will] be decanted upon our shores.”
vii immigration and race suicide 4
VII. Immigration and “Race Suicide” (4)
  • Race-suicide theories were popular abroad as well, differing principally in their conception of which inferior races constituted the eugenic threat. In England, for example, Sidney Webb devised a novel term, “adverse selection,” to describe what he saw as English race suicide:
    • Twenty-five percent of our parents, as Professor Karl Pearson keeps warning us, is producing 50 percent of the next generation. This can hardly result in anything but national deterioration; or, as an alternative, in this country gradually falling to the Irish and the Jews.
  • Eugenic views of inferior groups were commonplace in the Progressive Era textbooks of leading economists.
  • In his Elementary Principles,Irving Fisher declared that “if the vitality or vital capital is impaired by a breeding of the worst and a cessation of the breeding of the best, no greater calamity could be imagined.”
  • Fortunately, said Fisher, eugenics offered a means, “by isolation in public institutions and in some cases by surgical operation,” to prevent the calamity of “inheritable taint.” .
vii immigration and race suicide 5
VII. Immigration and “Race Suicide” (5)
  • Similarly, Princeton economist Frank Fetter lamented, “Democracy and opportunity are increasing the mediocre and reducing the excellent strains of stock . . . . Progress is threatened unless social institutions can be so adjusted as to reverse this process of multiplying the poorest, and of extinguishing the most capable families.”
    • Eugenic policies would introduce “an element of rational direction into the process of perpetuating the race.”
  • In his Principles of Economics, Harvard’s Frank Taussig asked, rhetorically, “how . . . deal with the unemployable?”
  • Taussig identified two classes of unemployable workers, distinguishing the aged, infirm, and disabled from the “feeble minded[,] . . . those saturated by alcohol or tainted with hereditary disease . . . [and] the irretrievable criminals and tramps.” The latter class, Taussig proposed, “should simply be stamped out.” “We have not reached the stage,” Taussig allowed, “where we can proceed to chloroform them once [and] for all; but at least they can be segregated, shut up in refuges and asylums, and prevented from propagating their kind.”
viii the eugenic benefits of minimum wage laws
VIII. The Eugenic Benefits of Minimum-Wage Laws
  • Minimum-wage legislation, passed by several states beginning with Massachusetts in 1912, was the sine qua non of progressive labor reform, and progressive economists championed minimum wages.
  • But eugenically minded progressives advocated minimum wages precisely because binding minimums would cause job losses.
  • They argued that minimum-wage-induced job loss was a social benefit because it performed the eugenic service of ridding the labor force of the “unemployable.”
  • Sidney and Beatrice Webb, as ever, put it plainly: “With regard to certain sections of the population [the unemployable], this unemployment is not a mark of social disease, but actually of social health.” “[O]f all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites,” Sidney Webb opined, “the most ruinous to the community is to allow them unrestrainedly to compete as wage earners . . . .”
viii the eugenic benefits of minimum wage laws 2
VIII. The Eugenic Benefits of Minimum-Wage Laws (2)
  • Henry Rogers Seager leading progressive economist, argued that deserving workers needed protection from the “wearing competition of the casual worker and the drifter” and from the other “defectives” who drag down the wages of more deserving workers.
  • Seager made clear what should happen to those who, even after remedial training, could not earn the legal minimum: “If we are to maintain a race that is to be made of up of capable, efficient and independent individuals and family groups we must courageously cut off lines of heredity that have been proved to be undesirable by isolation or sterilization . . . .”
  • A.B. Wolfe, an American progressive economist and future AEA president, also argued for the eugenic virtues of removing from employment those who are “a burden on society.” “If the inefficient entrepreneurs would be eliminated [by minimum wages,] so would the ineffective workers,” said Wolfe. “I am not disposed to waste much sympathy upon either class. The elimination of the inefficient is in line with our traditional emphasis on free competition, and also with the spirit and trend of modern social economics.”
viii the eugenic benefits of minimum wage laws 3
VIII. The Eugenic Benefits of Minimum-Wage Laws (3)
  • For economic progressives, a minimum wage, which is a wage floor, had the useful property of segregating the unfit, who would lose their jobs, from the deserving workers, who would not.
  • Royal Meeker, a Princeton economist who served as Woodrow Wilson’s Commissioner of Labor, opposed subsidies of poor workers’ wages because wage subsidies increase employment. “It is much better to enact a minimum-wage law, even if it deprives these unfortunates of work,” argued Meeker.
  • Labor Commissioner Meeker argued, “Better that the state should support the inefficient wholly and prevent the multiplication of the breed than subsidize incompetence and unthrift, enabling them to bring forth after their kind.”
  • As with immigration restriction, theminimum-wage barrier was seen to meet the two-fold threat of inferior workers: it protected deserving workers’ wages by reducing the competition of inferior groups, and it identified (by disemploying) inferior groups, enabling eugenic treatment.
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VIII. The Eugenic Benefits of Minimum-Wage Laws (4)
  • The Webbs: a minimum would mark “out [weaklings and degenerates] . . . so that they could be isolated and properly treated.”
  • Sidney Ball, another Fabian, likewise promoted minimum wages for enabling “a process of conscious social selection by which the industrial residuum is naturally sifted and made manageable for some kind of restorative, disciplinary, or, it may be, surgical treatment.”
  • Felix Frankfurter, then the AALL’s legal counsel, found that the culling effects of minimum-wage laws helped buttress his legal defense of minimum wages. Instancing the police-power virtues of minimum wages for identifying (by disemployment) the class of the unemployable, Frankfurter argued that “[t]he state . . . may use means, like the present statute, of sorting the normal self-supporting workers from the unemployables and then deal with the latter appropriately as a special class . . . .”
ix women workers as unemployable
IX. Women Workers as Unemployable
  • Florence Kelley, perhaps the most influential U.S. labor reformer of the period, endorsed the Victoria, Australia, minimum-wage law as “redeeming the sweated trades.” It did so by preventing the “unbridled competition” of the unemployable, the “women, children, and Chinese [who] were reducing all the employees to starvation.”
  • Kelley’s exclusion of Chinese and women workers from the category of “employee,” and her grouping of these workers with children, characteristically treats women and Chinese as both victims and threats. Her conflation depicts women and Chinese as children, thus in need of paternalistic protection, but also as competitive threats to the deserving, white male workers, thus in need of social control.
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IX. Women Workers as Unemployable (2)
  • Their current reputation for feminism notwithstanding, the original progressives were in fact deeply ambivalent about women’s participation in the labor force—and sometimes hostile to it.
  • The reform case against women’s market work, couched as it often was in the language of protection, was subtler than the eugenic hysteria directed at immigrants and mental and moral defectives.
  • Nonetheless, as with other groups they deemed unemployable, leading progressives portrayed women’s labor-force participation as socially and economically destructive— (1) a threat to the wages of deserving workers (white male heads of household), (2) a threat to the sanctity of the home, and (3) a threat to the eugenic health of the race
ix women workers as unemployable 3
IX. Women Workers as Unemployable (3)
  • The tension between the progressives’ impulse to protect women and their impulse to control women manifested itself in the sometimes contradictory arguments for regulating women’s market work.
  • Some progressives argued that women, too, deserved living wages. But even this more-egalitarian framing was often “maternalist”; that is, it conceived of women as mothers and guardians of the home first.
  • So, when progressives calculated living wages, they assumed that male workers deserved a wage sufficient to support several dependents—the so-called “family wage.”
  • Women, however, deserved only enough to support a single woman living alone, presumably until marriage could end the misfortune of market employment. “So long as men cannot be mothers,” Florence Kelley wrote in defense of female difference and female deference, “the cry Equality, Equality, where Nature has created Inequality is as stupid and as deadly as the cry Peace, Peace where there is no Peace.”
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IX. Women Workers as Unemployable (4)
  • Moreover, even when progressives spoke of “equal pay for equal work,” they often were not referring to comparable worth.
  • In the Progressive Era, “equal pay for equal work” also referred to the reform idea that motherhood—which was seen to require removal from the labor force—should be recognized as socially vital work and should be compensated by the state.
  • Paying women to stay home to bear and raise children was a popular progressive idea in the United States and abroad. Indeed, from 1911 to 1919, all but nine states passed “mothers’ pensions” laws.
ix women workers as unemployable 5
IX. Women Workers as Unemployable (5)
  • Other arguments for regulating women’s work reflected the tension between the goals of protecting women and controlling women.
  • One strand of paternalism argued that women, as the biologically weaker sex, needed, like children, protection from the hazards of market work (if not from the hazards of domestic labor), usually in the form of hours restrictions.
  • Reformers also argued that minimum wages could serve a paternalistic (and moralistic) function by protecting wage-earning women (if not women working in the home) from the temptation of prostitution. Better-paid factory girls were less likely to succumb, a key selling point for promoters of social purity.
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IX. Women Workers as Unemployable (6)
  • It is a peculiar sort of protection for women that proposes to protect men and to protect the Anglo-Saxon race from the labor-force participation of women.
  • Indeed, the “family wage” and “mothers of the race” reasoning argued not for women’s rights but for women’s obligations, not for women’s welfare but for the welfare of men and the race.
    • Nonetheless, the “family wage” argument was pervasive among reformers: “Almost all [progressive] welfare activists, male and female, endorsed the family-wage principle . . . .”
  • The “family wage” and “mothers of the race” rationales for women-only labor legislation essentially abandoned protection of women in favor of social control of women. The family-wage argument portrayed wage-earning women as usurpers of jobs that rightfully belonged to male heads of household. Returning women to the home would also ensure that women properly carried out their eugenic duties as “mothers of the race.”
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IX. Women Workers as Unemployable (7)
  • The arguments for women-only labor legislation were heterogeneous—variously paternalistic, moralistic, maternalistic, and eugenicist.
  • They were, moreover, sometimes internally inconsistent, reflecting the tension between the two progressive desiderata, to protect women and to control women.
  • But, however different or inconsistent, all these arguments for regulating women’s work were premised upon the idea that women workers should be legally inferior to men, owing to their biological weakness or to their “natural” obligations to husband, family, and race.
  • And, most importantly, all these arguments for regulating women’s work had the intended effect of discouraging women’s labor-force participation
x conclusion social uplift vs social control
X. Conclusion: social uplift vs. social control
  • Thus did progressives advocate for labor, even as they depicted many groups of poor workers as threats – the cause rather than the consequence of low wages.
  • Thus did progressives advocate for women’s rights, even as they also promoted a maternalist vision of economic and family life that would remove women from the labor force, the better to meet women’s obligations to be “mothers of the race,” and to defer to the “family wage”.
  • Thus did progressives advocate for peace, even as they founded their opposition to war on its putatively dysgenic effects, and championed making the world safe for democracy.
  • Thus did progressives argue for more democracy (via secret ballot, referendum, direct election), even as they proposed to limit democratic control over the technocratic agencies they devised and staffed.
  • Thus did progressives seek to countervail corporate power, even as they admired the scientifically managed corporation, regarding its planning, organization and efficiency as an exemplar for the reform of government.
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X. Conclusion: social uplift vs. social control (2)
  • The protean aspect of American reform derives from a longstanding tension between two opposed and rival conceptions of American nationhood. Is the United States constituted solely by its founding principles, or is it, rather, an organic entity (as economist Henry C. Adams once put it), constituted by a people or a race connected by evolutionary consanguinity?
  • Gary Gerstle (1994) calls these opposed and rival conceptions of the American nation, civic nationalism and racial nationalism, respectively. Civic nationalism is inclusive. It requires only that citizens join an implicit social compact and it implies that democracy can be made universal. Racial nationalism, in contrast, is exclusive. It requires that citizens be of good heredity, on grounds that only the right stock is capable of meeting the special demands of American political and economic life, and it implies that democracy can and must be limited.
  • The conflict between progressivisms’ contradictory goals – social uplift and social control – shaped the economic reform so characteristic of the Progressive Era. Directly and indirectly, progressives appealed to both the civic and racial conceptions of the American nation. Progressive advocacy of social uplift was inclusive, in the tradition of civic nationalism – it embraced Americans on the margins of economic and political life. Progressive advocacy of social control, in the tradition of racial nationalism, was exclusive – it restrained Americans on the margins of economic and political life.