Clark, John Bates, 1847-1938

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1847-01-26
Death 1938-03-21
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Professor of Economics, Columbia University, 1895-1923, and Director of the Division of Economics and History, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1911-1923.

When John Bates Clark turned eighty years old in 1927, the occasion was marked with extraordinary aplomb. Eighty guests from Clark's professional and personal life were invited to a celebratory dinner, including such notables as Nicholas Murray Butler, Irving Fisher, Franklin H. Giddings, Jacob H. Hollander, Dwight W. Morrow, Edwin R.A. Seligman, and Rexford Tugwell. A festschrift was published to mark the occasion, featuring essays by prominent economists such as Hollander, Seligman, Richard T. Ely, and Joseph Schumpeter. The American Economic Review published a special supplementary issue devoted to the celebration. At 80, John Bates Clark was a living legend in the world of economics. The path he had taken to that point was one filled with notable achievements.

From the description of John Bates Clark papers, 1848-1955 (Bulk dates: 1874-1938). (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 299029156

BIOGHIST REQUIRED Professor of Economics, Columbia University, 1895-1923, and Director of the Division of Economics and History, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1911-1923. When John Bates Clark turned eighty years old in 1927, the occasion was marked with extraordinary aplomb. Eighty guests from Clark's professional and personal life were invited to a celebratory dinner, including such notables as Nicholas Murray Butler, Irving Fisher, Franklin H. Giddings, Jacob H. Hollander, Dwight W. Morrow, Edwin R.A. Seligman, and Rexford Tugwell. A festschrift was published to mark the occasion, featuring essays by prominent economists such as Hollander, Seligman, Richard T. Ely, and Joseph Schumpeter. The American Economic Review published a special supplementary issue devoted to the celebration. At 80, John Bates Clark was a living legend in the world of economics. The path he had taken to that point was one filled with notable achievements.

Born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, Clark entered Brown University in 1865, ultimately transferring to Amherst College in 1867. Clark quickly left the school, however, to attend to his family's business when his father began to suffer the severe effects of tuberculosis. It was only upon returning to Amherst in 1871 after his father's death that Clark took a course on mental and moral philosophy taught by Julius Seelye which he wrote of as the spark that lit a fire to his interest in the formal study of political economy. Due in part to Seelye's encouragement, Clark decided to pursue this field as a graduate student in Europe where he studied political economy at the University of Heidelberg under the eminent German economist Karl Knies from 1874-76. During this period, Clark also found time to marry Vassar graduate Myra Almeda Smith in 1875 (they went on to have four children--Alden Hyde, Frederick Huntington, Helen Clark Lancaster, and John Maurice) and to attend a summer term in Zurich in 1876. He received his PhD from Heidelberg in 1877.

Upon returning home to Minnesota (the Clark family had relocated there during the illness of Clark's father), Clark became part of what would become known as "the first faculty" of Carleton College, at which he had briefly lectured in 1875. During his tenure there as Professor of History and Political Economy from 1877-1882, Clark taught Thorstein Veblen (among others) and began to publish the essays in the Yale Review which would form the basis of his first book, The Philosophy of Wealth (1885). Clark then went on to teach at Smith College as Professor of Political Science from 1882-1893. From 1892-1895 he was both Professor of Political Economy at Amherst and a visiting lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University. In the fall of 1895, he finally settled at Columbia University, where he served as Professor of Political Economy in the Faculty of Political Science until he became a Professor Emeritus in 1923.

By electing to pursue graduate study in Germany in the 1870s and then return to the United States to teach, Clark placed himself at the leading edge of a movement of American academics who pursued similar courses of study and employment and in the process revolutionized the state of American academics. For Clark and those like him, this revolution consisted of both the reorganization of the American university system (including the introduction of rigorous distinctions between fields of study, creating permanent faculty, and incorporating primary research into curricula) and the professionalization of academic disciplines. In pursuit of these goals, Clark was a driving force and founding member (along with several other economists of similar professional weight, such as Henry Carter Adams, Richard T. Ely, Francis Amasa Walker, and Charles F. Dunbar) of the American Economics Association. Formed in 1885, Clark eventually served as the AEA's third president from 1894-1895. From 1895-1911 he was the editor of the Political Science Quarterly.

Clark owed much of his success as a leader in the fields of economics and political economy to the reception of his early works. In 1885's The Philosophy of Wealth, Clark strongly defended the place of theoretical discussions in political economy at a time when abstract work was frowned upon, declaring that "if obscurity still hangs over principles . . . the removal of it, besides having an incalculable value in itself, will afford a welcome supplement to directly practical work" [emphasis added]. This insistence on a theoretical grounding for economics was intimately connected to the static-dynamic model which Clark based nearly all of his work on, the premise of which was that a national or international economy was so complicated that it was desirable to first establish relationships between various factors in an ideal frozen or "static" state, and only then to attempt to derive the economic laws governing a more realistic "dynamic" state which recognized change over time as a factor.

In The Philosophy of Wealth, Clark also began to develop the idea that "wealth"--in an economic sense--could only be measured by material goods of whose value all could more or less agree and which could be transferred from one person to another. Clark continued to develop his conception of the relationship between social value and material wealth in later groundbreaking works, such as his 1888 extended essay "Capital and Its Earnings." In this piece, Clark demonstrated that interest earned on capital bore a direct relationship to the amount of wealth that capital was able to produce. In writings like "Capital" as well as later works such as 1899's The Distribution of Wealth and 1907's The Essentials of Economic Theory, Clark developed a theoretical model that for the first time identified capital, wages, and land as economic factors which were essentially similar because their values were defined in direct proportion to their overall productivity. Along the way, he also helped lay the foundation for what would become known as the Neo-Classical school of economists by insisting that the world economy contained a fixed supply of capital. This last point was became the crux of a long-running debated between Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk and the so-called Austrian School.

A fundamental idea inherent in Clark's studies of wealth and value was that the pursuit of wealth might lead not only to the transfer of wealth from one individual to another, but also its appropriation or perversion by artificial means. This idea clearly troubled the religious Clark, who rooted a free-market economic theory in an ethics oriented around altruism, cooperation and mutual benefit, themes which were developed as early as The Philosophy of Wealth but continued to mark his career. Not long after World War I, Clark wrote in this vein that "the greatest problem for the world to solve, concerns itself not with national boundaries nor even with national debts, but with this deeply rooted policy of restricting production in the hope that the men who practice it may thrive at the expense of others."

This insistence that an essentially free market would thrive and benefit all if everyone agreed to play by certain rules resulted in a series of works such as 1901's The Control of Trusts by the Natural Method and 1914's Social Justice Without Socialism, in which Clark clearly identified the problems of unethical business practices plaguing the industrializing world yet was hamstrung by his insistence on free-market liberalism to offer any solutions more concrete than an insistence on the observance of his ethical standards. But while these works did little to advance any original economic theory or policy, they nevertheless provided Clark with further rhetorical ammunition in pursuit of his other great passion: the advent of world-wide peace.

In this pursuit, Clark was active throughout much of his life. He was a member of the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration and a frequent speaker at its annual meetings from 1895-1916. He was also an active leader of the New York Peace Society in the 1910s and 1920s, and he served as a Vice President of the League of Nations Union. Perhaps the influential position Clark held in his pursuit of international peace was as the first Director of the Division of Economics and History at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Clark's successor, James T. Shotwell, described the division's job as "study[ing] the nature and the consequences of war and the interplay of the forces of war and peace in modern civilization," and Clark pursued this study in the same way that he pursued his economic interests: with a morally-guided pursuit of a theoretical understanding that might pave the way for practical policy. The crowning achievement of Clark's tenure from 1911-1923 at the Carnegie Endowment was his conception and original organization of the group of international scholars whose inter-disciplinary studies eventually became the multi-volume and multi-decade Economic and Social History of the World War. The urgent nature of this and similar work in Clark's mind was evident in his last book, A Tender of Peace (1935). Published when Clark was 88 years old and just three years before his death, it continued his record of insisting that international cooperation was the only chance that nations had to avoid impending world war.

Throughout his long career, Clark was granted a plethora of honors, including honorary memberships in both the Austrian Economic Society and the Royal Swedish Academy of Science. He received honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Amherst, Princeton, Columbia, and Christiana (now Oslo) University in Norway, an honorary PhD from Amherst, and an honorary Doctor of Political Science degree from the University of Tubingen in Germany. In 1947, the American Economics Association named one of its highest honors--awarded to "that American economist under the age of forty who is adjudged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge"--the John Bates Clark Medal. These honors and many more bear witness to the high regard in which Clark was held by his colleagues in the United States and internationally.

From the guide to the John Bates Clark Papers, 1848-1955, [Bulk dates: 1874-1938]., (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, )

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Subjects:

  • Economics
  • Wealth
  • College teachers
  • Economics--Study and teaching
  • Economists
  • War--Economic aspects

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)