The Intellectual Legacy of Progressive Economics: A Review Essay of Thomas C. Leonard's Illiberal Reformers
Marshall I. Steinbaum
Bernard A. Weisberger
Journal of Economic Literature
no. 3, September 2017
Thomas 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.
Steinbaum, Marshall I., and Bernard A. Weisberger.
"The Intellectual Legacy of Progressive Economics: A Review Essay of Thomas C. Leonard's Illiberal Reformers."
Journal of Economic Literature,
Role of Economics; Role of Economists; Market for Economists
History of Economic Thought through 1925: Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary
Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
Economic History: Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy: U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
Economic History: Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy: U.S.; Canada: 1913-