Seager, Henry R. (Henry Rogers), 1870-1930

Alternative names
Birth 1870-07-21
Death 1930-08-23

Biographical notes:

Professor of economics at Columbia University, 1903-1930.

From the description of Correspondence, 1928-1930. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122515136

Economist; professor (Wharton School, Columbia University); founder and president of American Association for Labor Legislation; president of American Economic Association.

Dr. Henry Rogers Seager (Ph.D., economics, University of Pennsylvania, 1884) taught at the University of Pennsylvania (1896-1902) and later at Columbia University (1902-1930). Seager was founder and three times president of the American Association for Labor Legislation, president of the American Economic Association and member of the editorial board of the POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY. Seager was well known as a social reformer who sought to better social conditions through legislative reform.

From the description of Henry R. Seager research notes and monographs, 1890-1923, bulk 1902-1923. (Cornell University Library). WorldCat record id: 63540297

Seager, Henry Rogers (July 21, 1870-Aug. 23, 1930), economist, was born in Lansing, Michigan, the son of Schuyler Fiske Seager, a lawyer, and Alice (Berry) Seager. Graduating from the University of Michigan in 1890, he did further work during the succeeding years at the Johns Hopkins University, at the Universities of Halle, Berlin, and Vienna, and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Ph.D. in 1894. That year he was appointed instructor in economics in the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, and in 1896 he was made an assistant professor; in 1902 he became adjunct professor and in 1905, professor, at Columbia University, where he served until his death. On June 5, 1899, he was married to Harriet Henderson of Philadelphia, who died in 1928; their son survived him.

Seager's training as an economist was in English classicism, in the German historical method and in the peculiar Austrian approach. His published work shows clearly the influence of each. His greatest admiration was for Simon N. Patten, with whom he served at the University of Pennsylvania but whose influence on his thought was slight. Seager's mind was orderly and compressive rather than brilliant and generalizing; conservatism was perhaps its distinguishing characteristic. He was solid and patient, slow to conclude, and even slower to write his conclusions. One result of this was that he was less a writing scholar than one who worked with students. Literally hundreds of dissertations passed through his careful hands at Columbia and many generations of students heard his lectures on labor and on corporation problems. Always active in meliorative activities, he assisted materially in the establishment of a system of workmen's compensation in New York; he was a supporter of the Survey (formerly Charities and the Commons) and for many years a member of its board of directors. During the war he served as secretary of the Shipbuilding Labor Adjustment Board, and in 1919-20, he was executive secretary of the President's Second Industrial Conference. He was one of the founders and three times president of the American Association for Labor Legislation. He was frequently consulted by philanthropists, legislators and publicists; he was a member of the editorial board of The Political Science Quarterly, and in 1922 was president of the American Economic Association. In all these varied activities he had one purpose: to better social conditions within the framework of laissez-faire. He possessed a determined faith that this could be done and worked constantly to show the way. Melioration consisted in making changes here and there, which while not disturbing fundamental arrangements, reduced their burden on less favored individuals. Improvement consisted in legal change and a large part of his effort was always directed toward reform by legislation.

His most considerable work is Principles of Economics, first published under this title in 1913, which grew out of his Introduction to Economics (1904 and later editions) and appeared in its final form in 1923. The most important of his other writings are Trust and Corporation Problems (1929), with C.A. Gulick, Jr. and the posthumous volume, Labor and Other Economic Essays (1931), to which is attached his complete bibliography. Somewhat more than the final half of the Principles of Economics is devoted to essays on important problems: banking, the tariff, railroads, trusts, taxation, labor and social insurance. The theoretical section begins with a consideration of consumption, progresses through value and production, and ends with distribution. There were many books published during this period with much the same outline; but Seager's was characterized by emphasis on all that pertained to human welfare. This led to stress on consumption and on the demand side of the value equilibrium, as well as to extra consideration of monopoly gains. The discussion of distribution was carried out within the framework of the "specific productivity" analysis but with more than usual weight given to such subjective influences as the balancing, in consumers' and producers' minds, of marginal disutilities over against marginal utilities. The conclusions were usually optimistic. Seager believed in progress and believed that, under the going system, it was being achieved. He felt, for instance, that capital goods were multiplying more rapidly than population and that this would tend to raise standards of living. He did not believe, however, that the possibilities of progress which inhere in the system insure automatic betterment. Groups of interested people, with journals and propaganda, need to be vigilant in the public interest. This duty of the good citizen, as Seager saw it, was best exemplified In his own career. He never became aware of a duty that he did not forthwith perform. In his posthumous Labor and Other Economic Essays his program is outlined: "The two great objects to be aimed at are: 1. To protect wage-earners in the continued enjoyment of standards of living to which they are already accustomed. II. To assist them to attain to higher standards of living" (p. 131). The contingencies which were the principal threats to existing standards were "(I) industrial accidents, (2) illness, (3) invalidity and old age, (4) premature death, (5) unemployment" (ibid.) All these, Seager felt, were legitimate objects of collective action. As for raising standards, this was largely dependent on industrial advance and on better education.

To all persons of Seager's generation the rather sudden rise of a complete alternative system in Russia offered a shock to which adjustment was necessarily slow. Because everything there was so antithetical to the system to which so many theoretical hostages had been given, the immediate impulse was to belittle Soviet accomplishments. Seager was exposed to the full force of the new ideas. Gradually they gained weight in his mind until at last his essential honesty compelled, not acceptance, but exploration. In 1930, with a group of companions, he undertook a Journey to the scene of these new economic adventures, in the midst of which he was taken ill. He died in Kiev of pneumonia, August 23, 1930. He was thus lost to the world at the close of an old period and the beginning of a new one. His identification with economy of the opening decades of the nineteenth century was a fortuitous one, but his progress into the new years cannot be said to have fairly started. He remains an economist of laissez-faire, of more than usual significance in foreshadowing the ameliorative program which so soon became a center of Interest.

From the guide to the Henry R. Seager research notes and monographs, 1890-1923 [bulk 1902-1923]., (Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Labor laws and legislation
  • Federal-state controversies
  • Industrial relations
  • Political science
  • Labor laws and legislation--United States
  • Labor policy
  • Comparative economics
  • Company unions
  • Economics teachers
  • Economics--Study and teaching
  • Employment agencies
  • Antitrust law--United States
  • Employment agencies--United States
  • Comparative government
  • Labor unions
  • Labor movement
  • Clothing workers--Labor unions
  • Antitrust law
  • Company unions--United States
  • Labor policy--United States
  • Lobbyists
  • Federal-state controversies--United States
  • Business cycles


not available for this record


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