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American Economic Reform in the Progressive Era: Its Foundational Beliefs and Their Relation to Eugenics


  • Thomas C. Leonard


This essay explores the progressive beliefs other than human hierarchy that inclined Progressive Era economic reform toward eugenics. It argues the following: that the progressives believed in a powerful, centralized state, conceiving of government as the best means for promoting the social good and rejecting the individualism of (classical) liberalism; that the progressives venerated social efficiency; that the progressives believed in the epistemic and moral authority of science, a belief that comprised their view that biology could explain and control human inheritance and that the still nascent sciences of society could explain and control the causes of economic ills; that the progressives believed that intellectuals should guide social and economic progress, a belief erected upon two subsidiary faiths, a faith in the disinterestedness and incorruptibility of the experts who would run the technocracy they envisioned, and a faith that expertise could not only serve the social good, but also identify it; and that, while antimonopoly, the progressives believed that increasing industrial consolidation was inevitable, and desirable, consistent with their faith in planning, organization, and command.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas C. Leonard, 2009. "American Economic Reform in the Progressive Era: Its Foundational Beliefs and Their Relation to Eugenics," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 41(1), pages 109-141, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:hop:hopeec:v:41:y:2009:i:1:p:109-141

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Richard Layard, 2006. "Happiness and Public Policy: a Challenge to the Profession," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 116(510), pages 24-33, March.
    2. Coase, R H, 1976. "Adam Smith's Views of Man," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(3), pages 529-546, October.
    3. N. Emrah Aydinonat, 2006. "Is the Invisible Hand un− Smithian? A Comment on Rothschild," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 2(2), pages 1-9.
    4. Lisa Hill, 2001. "The hidden theology of Adam Smith," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 8(1), pages 1-29.
    5. A. M. C. Waterman, 2002. "Economics as Theology: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 68(4), pages 907-921, April.
    6. repec:ebl:ecbull:v:2:y:2006:i:2:p:1-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Brewer, Anthony, 1998. "Luxury and Economic Development: David Hume and Adam Smith," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 45(1), pages 78-98, February.
    8. Anthony Brewer, 1997. "An eighteenth-century view of economic development: Hume and Steuart," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(1), pages 1-22.
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    Cited by:

    1. Butkiewicz, James, 2015. "Eugene Meyer And The German Influence On The Origin Of Us Federal Financial Rescues," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 37(01), pages 57-77, March.
    2. Matthew Hood & John Nofsinger & Abhishek Varma, 2014. "Conservation, Discrimination, and Salvation: Investors’ Social Concerns in the Stock Market," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 45(1), pages 5-37, February.
    3. Luca Fiorito & Cosma Orsi, 2012. "Anti-Semitism and Progressive Era Social Science. The case of John R. Commons," Department of Economics University of Siena 658, Department of Economics, University of Siena.
    4. Soldatos, Gerasimos T., 2014. "On the Missing Macroeconomics of Social Liberalism: From Physiocrats to Pre-war Chicagoans and Freiburg," MPRA Paper 59425, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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    Progressive Era; eugenics;


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