AbstractThomas Leonard's 2016 book Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era argues that exclusionary views on eugenics, race, immigration, and gender taint the intellectual legacy of progressive economics and economists. This review essay reconsiders that legacy and places it in the context within which it developed. While the early generations of scholars who founded the economics profession in the United States and trained in its departments did indeed hold and express retrograde views on those subjects, those views were common to a broad swath of the intellectual elite of that era, including the progressives' staunchest opponents inside and outside academia. Moreover, Leonard anachronistically intermingles a contemporary critique of early-twentieth-century progressive economics and the progressive movement writ large, serving to decontextualize those disputes—a flaw that is amplified by the book's unsystematic approach to reconstructing the views and writing it attacks. Notwithstanding the history Leonard presents, economists working now nonetheless owe their progressive forebears for contributions that have become newly relevant: the “credibility revolution,” the influence of economic research on policy and program design, the prestige of economists working in and providing advice to government agencies and policy makers, and the academic freedom economists enjoy in modern research-oriented universities are all a part of that legacy. (JEL A11, B15, D82, J15, N31, N32)
Journal of Economic Literature – American Economic Association
Published: Sep 1, 2017
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