Richard T. Ely

Richard Theodore Ely (April 13, 1854 – October 4, 1943) was an American economist, author, and leader of the Progressive movement who called for more government intervention in order to reform what they perceived as the injustices of capitalism, especially regarding factory conditions, compulsory education, child labor, and labor unions. Ely is best remembered as a founder and the first Secretary of the American Economic Association, as a founder and secretary of the Christian Social Union, and as the author of a series of widely read books on the organized labor movement, socialism, and other social questions.

Richard T. Ely
Ely as he appeared in 1903
BornApril 13, 1854
DiedOctober 4, 1943 (aged 89)
FieldPolitical economy
Alma mater
Karl Knies
Johann Bluntschli
Other notable students


Early years

Richard Theodore Ely was born on April 13, 1854, in Ripley, New York, the eldest of three children of Ezra Sterling and Harriet Gardner (Mason) Ely.[1][2] Soon after Ely's birth, his father moved the family to a 90-acre farm near Fredonia, New York, where Ely would spend the next 16 years. The elder Ely was a self-taught engineer and lacked the skills and knowledge to farm successfully, relying too heavily on popular, sometimes erroneous, information he obtained from farm magazines.

Although harsh weather and fluctuating market prices provided further hardship to the family, Ely credited his early farm life with instilling in him many valuable qualities. From a young age he had numerous responsibilities in maintaining the farm, including carrying wood, churning butter, picking up rocks out of the fields, and milking the cows. His parents were Presbyterian but Ely transferred his affiliation to the Episcopal Church when in college.

Education and career

Ely attended Columbia University in New York City, from which he received a bachelor's degree in 1876 and a master's degree in 1879. He received a Doctor of Philosophy degree in economics from the University of Heidelberg in that same year, where he had studied with Karl Knies, who belonged to the historical school of economics,[3] and Johann Kaspar Bluntschli.[4] He later received a Doctorate of Laws from Hobart College, receiving the degree in 1892.[3]

Ely was a professor and head of the Department of Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland from 1881 to 1892.[5]

In 1885, Ely was a founder of the American Economic Association, serving until 1892 as the group's Secretary.[5] He later served a term as President of the organization, holding that position from 1899 to 1901.[5] AEA still entitles the keynote address at its annual meeting the Richard T. Ely Lecture and recently honored him in the association's annual Economists' Calendar.[6] Ely also founded Lambda Alpha International in 1930. Its purposes included the encouragement of the study of land economics in universities; the promotion of a closer affiliation between its members and the professional world of land economics; and the furtherance of the highest ideals of scholarship and honesty in business and the universities. Richard T. Ely is known as the "Father of Land Economics".

In April 1891, Ely was a founder and the first Secretary of the Christian Social Union, a membership organization advocating the application of Christian principles to the social problems of the world.[7]

From 1892 until 1925, he was professor of Political Economy and director of the School of Economics, Political Science, and History at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In 1894 an unsuccessful attempt was made to depose him from his chair at Wisconsin for purportedly teaching socialistic doctrines. This effort failed, with the Wisconsin state Board of Regents issuing a ringing proclamation in favor of academic freedom, acknowledging the necessity for freely "sifting and winnowing" among competing claims of truth.[8]

In 1925, Ely moved to Northwestern University in Chicago, where he accepted a position as professor of Economics. He remained at Northwestern until his retirement in 1933.[5]

Political views

Although regarded as a radical by his detractors on the political right,[9] Ely was in fact opposed to socialism. "I condemn alike," he declared, "that individualism that would allow the state no room for industrial activity, and that socialism which would absorb in the state the functions of the individual."[10] He argued that socialism was not needed, and "the alternative of socialism is our complex socio-economic order, which is based, in the main, upon private property." He warned that the proper "balance between private and public enterprise" is "menaced by socialism, on the one hand, and by plutocracy, on the other."[11]

Ely's critique of socialism made him a political target of the socialists themselves. In his 1910 book, Ten Blind Leaders of the Blind, Arthur Morrow Lewis acknowledged that Ely was a "fair opponent" who had "done much to obtain a hearing for [socialism] among the unreasonable," but charged he was merely one of those "bourgeois intellectuals" who were "not sufficiently intellectual to grasp the nature of our position."[12]

Ely was a product of the German historical school with an emphasis on evolution to new forms, and never accepted the marginalist revolution that was transforming economic theory in Britain and the U.S. He was strongly influenced by Herbert Spencer and strongly favored competition over monopoly or state ownership, with regulation to "secure its benefits" and "mitigate its evils." What was needed was "to raise its moral and ethical level."[13] However, whereas Herbert Spencer believed that free competition was best served by deregulation and a smaller state, Richard Ely believed that more regulation and a more interventionist state was the policy to follow. Also on social Darwinism, Herbert Spencer believed that the state should not get involved in supporting one ethnic group over another — whereas Richard Ely believed that the state should support white "Nordic" people against people of other races (in line with the opinions of his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Edward Alsworth Ross and Charles R. Van Hise).

Ely did support labor unions and opposed child labor, as did many leaders of the Progressive Movement, including such conservatives as Mark Hanna. Ely was close to the Social Gospel movement, emphasizing that the Gospel of Christ applied to society as a whole and was not merely individualistic; he worked hard to convince churches to advocate on behalf of workers. Ely strongly influenced his friend Walter Rauschenbusch, a leading spokesman for the Social Gospel.

During World War I, Ely was active in the political movement to build popular support for the American war effort, taking part in the activities of the League to Enforce Peace. Ely was the head of the committee of arrangements for a "Win the War Convention" held in Madison from November 8–10, 1918.[14] Richard Ely's political activities during the First World War included his strong campaign to remove Senator La Follette from politics. Although Robert La Follette was generally a Progressive in politics, his lack of support for the war had made him unfit for office, in the opinion of Richard Ely, and so Ely campaigned to both have him removed from the United States Senate and to end his influence in the politics of Wisconsin.

Ely edited Macmillan's Citizen's Library of Economics, Politics, and Sociology and its Social Science Textbook Series, Crowell's Library of Economics and Politics, and was a frequent contributor to periodical literature, both scientific and popular.[15]

Death and legacy

Ely House
The Richard T. Ely House in Madison, Wisconsin

Richard Ely died in Old Lyme, Connecticut on October 4, 1943. A large portion of his library was purchased by Louisiana State University and is now a part of LSU's Special Collections division.

Ely is honored together with William Dwight Porter Bliss with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on October 8.

The American Economic Association instituted the annual "Richard T. Ely Lecture" in 1960 in his memory, which, unlike the Association's other honors is also open to non-American economists.

His former home, now known as the Richard T. Ely House, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[16]


See also


  1. ^ Sterling, Edward Boker (15 February 2019). "The Sterling genealogy". Grafton Press – via Google Books.
  2. ^ "The National Cyclopedia of American Biography ... V.1-". J. T. White. 15 February 1899 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b Francis X. Gannon, Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume IV. Boston: Western Islands, 1973; pg. 355.
  4. ^ Ely, Richard T. (1938). Ground Under Our Feet. New York: McMillan. p. 43.
  5. ^ a b c d Gannon, Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume IV, pg. 356.
  6. ^ Thies, Clifford F., and Ryan Daza. "Richard T. Ely: The Confederate Flag of the AEA?", Econ Journal Watch 8(2):147–156, May 2011.[1]
  7. ^ Gannon, Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume IV. Boston: Western Islands, 1973; pg. 359.
  8. ^ "Sifting and Winnowing,"
  9. ^ See, for example, the editorializing comments in his biography published by the John Birch Society in 1973: Francis X. Gannon, "Richard T. Ely" in Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume IV, pg. 357 and passim.
  10. ^ Quoted in Sidney Fine, "Richard T. Ely, Forerunner of Progressivism, 1880–1901," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 37, no. 4 (March 1951), pg. 611.
  11. ^ Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, pp. 464, 468, 237.
  12. ^ Arthur M. Lewis, Ten Blind Leaders of the Blind. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1912; pp. 65, 78.
  13. ^ Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, p. 97.
  14. ^ Ely to A.M. Simons in Milwaukee, November 12, 1918. Simons Papers, box 2, folder 2.
  15. ^ Gannon, A Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume 4, pg. 361.
  16. ^ "Ely House Historical Marker".
  17. ^ Ramage, B.J., ‘Dr. Ely on Social Reform’, The Sewanee Review 3 (1894), pp. 105-110.

Further reading

External links

Media related to Richard Theodore Ely at Wikimedia Commons

Albert B. Wolfe

Albert Benedict Wolfe (1876–1967) was an American economist.

Allyn Abbott Young

Allyn Abbott Young (September 19, 1876 – March 7, 1929) was an American economist. He was born into a middle-class family in Kenton, Ohio. He died aged 52 in London, his life cut short by pneumonia during an influenza epidemic. He was then at the height of his intellectual powers and current president of Section F of the British Association. Uniquely, Young had also been president of the American Statistical Association (1917) and the American Economic Association (1925).

As documented in a 1995 biography by Charles Blitch, Young was a brilliant student, graduating from Hiram College in 1892 at the age of sixteen, the youngest graduate on record. After a few years in the printing trade he enrolled in 1898 in the graduate school of the University of Wisconsin where he studied economics under Richard T. Ely and William A. Scott, history under Charles H. Haskins and Frederick Jackson Turner, and statistics under Edward D. Jones. In 1900 he was engaged for a year as an assistant in the United States Bureau of the Census in Washington DC where he established lifelong friendships with Walter F. Willcox, Wesley C. Mitchell and Thomas S. Adams.

Young returned to the University of Wisconsin as Instructor in Economics for the 1901–02 academic session and graduated there in 1902 with a doctoral dissertation on Age Statistics. He then embarked on what Blitch has called a peripatetic academic career, beginning with posts at Western Reserve University, 1902–04; Dartmouth, 1904–05; and Wisconsin, 1905–06. He was then head of the economics department at Stanford, 1906–10, followed by a year at Harvard as visitor, 1910–11, and two years at Washington University, St Louis, 1911–13. In 1914 he became one of the inaugural Fellows of the American Statistical Association. From 1913 to 1920 he was professor at Cornell University, but war took him to Washington DC in 1917 to direct the Bureau of Statistical Research for the War Trade Board, and to New York in 1918 to head the economics division of a group known as "The Enquiry" under Colonel Edward M. House, the group charged with laying the groundwork for the Paris Peace Conference.

After the war, Young moved to Harvard in 1920 where he stayed until 1927 when he accepted William Beveridge's offer of the chair vacated by Edwin Cannan at the London School of Economics. He remained at the LSE for three years before returning to Harvard. In December 1928 he traveled to the University of Chicago to explain in person why he felt unable to accept their invitation to be chairman of their economics department. It was shortly after his return to London that he succumbed to the fateful influenza epidemic.

At the time of his death T. E. Gregory, a colleague at the LSE, wrote that Young had recently "begun work on a systematic treatise on economic theory and had resumed the writing of the work upon monetary theory which he had begun at Harvard." He continued:

A passion for thoroughness would drive him on to explore every inch of the field in which he was for the time interested: he was always convinced that economic truth was not the monopoly of a single school or way of thinking, and that the first duty of a teacher and thinker was to see the strong points in every presentation of a point of view. Such an attitude of mind, combined with great personal modesty, made for unsystematic writing: for scattered papers and articles and not for a comprehensive treatise. In many respects he resembled Edgeworth, for whose work he felt a growing admiration; and if Young's work is ever collected, it will be seen that, like Edgeworth's, it amounts in sum to a very considerable and impressive achievement.In 1971 Nobel Laureate Bertil Ohlin, who attended a course of Young's at Harvard in 1922–23, wrote to Young's biographer:

I am inclined to believe that he was a man, who knew and thoroughly understood his subject — economics — better than anyone else I have met. I tested him by means of a question about the "Wicksell effect", i.e. the special aspects of the marginal productivity of capital, which at that time was practically unknown in most countries outside of Scandinavia. He immediately gave a fine account in a five minutes speech before the students. What characterizes Allyn Young as an economist was that he had deep understanding of all fields of economic theory while other economists knew well one third of the theory and had only superficial knowledge of the rest.Young's other famous students, strongly influenced by him, included Frank H. Knight, Edward Chamberlin, Nicholas Kaldor and Lauchlin Currie. He was also an influential adviser in the 1920s to Benjamin Strong, governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Much of his writing was published anonymously and posthumously in encyclopedias, but rescued from oblivion in a volume edited by Perry Mehrling and Roger Sandilands (1999).

His best-known single paper was his presidential address to the British Association in September 1928 on "Increasing returns and economic progress". Nicholas Kaldor insisted that this paper had been neglected because it was 50 years ahead of his time, but it has recently enjoyed a revival of interest as an acknowledged forerunner of modern "endogenous growth theory".

Paul Samuelson named Young (along with Harry Gunnison Brown, Wesley Clair Mitchell, Henry Ludwell Moore, Frank Knight, Jacob Viner, and Henry Schultz) as one of the several "American saints in economics" born after 1860.

American Economic Association

The American Economic Association (AEA) is a learned society in the field of economics, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. It publishes one of the most prestigious academic journals in economics: the American Economic Review. The AEA was established in 1885 in Saratoga, New York by younger progressive economists trained in the German historical school, including Richard T. Ely, Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman and Katharine Coman, the only woman co-founder; since 1900 it has been under the control of academics.The purposes of the Association are: 1) The encouragement of economic research, especially the historical and statistical study of the actual conditions of industrial life; 2) The issue of publications on economic subjects; 3) The encouragement of perfect freedom of economic discussion. The Association as such will take no partisan attitude, nor will it commit its members to any position on practical economic questions. Its current president is Olivier Blanchard of Peterson Institute for International Economics.Once composed primarily of college and university teachers of economics, the Association now attracts an increasing number of members from business and professional groups. Today the membership is about 18,000, over half of whom are academics. About 15% are employed in business and industry, and the remainder largely by federal, state, and local government or other not-for-profit organizations.

Ely (surname)

Ely is a surname which may refer to:

Alfred Ely (1815-1892), American politician

Arthur V. Ely (1912–1942), United States Navy officer and Navy Cross recipient

Ben Ely (born 1970), Australian musician

Bill Ely (1869–1957), Australian politician

Bob Ely (born 1958), American entrepreneur, former investment banker and 2012 presidential candidate

Dudley Ely (1817–1895), first mayor of South Norwalk, Connecticut

Eugene Burton Ely (1886-1911), American aviation pioneer

Frederick D. Ely (1838-1921), American politician

Harold Ely (1909–1983), American football player

Harry Ely, American football and baseball coach, mainly in the 1890s

Harry Ely (baseball), American baseball player

Helena Rutherfurd Ely (1858–1920), American author, amateur gardener and founding member of the Garden Club of America

Jack Ely (1943–2015), American guitarist and singer, best known for singing the Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie"

Janet Ely (born 1953), American diver

Joe Ely (born 1947), American singer, songwriter and guitarist

John Ely (disambiguation)

Joseph B. Ely (1881–1956), 52nd Governor of Massachusetts

Melvin Ely (born 1978), American basketball player

Michael Ely, author

Nathaniel Ely (1605–1675), founding settler of Hartford and Norwalk, Connecticut

Reginald Ely (fl. 1438-1471), English architect

Richard T. Ely (1854-1943), American economist

Rodrigo Ely (born 1993), Brazilian-Italian footballer

Ron Ely (born 1938), stage name of American actor Ronald Pierce

Shyra Ely (born 1983), American former Women's National Basketball Association player

Smith Ely, Jr. (1825–1911), New York City mayor and member of the United States House of Representatives

Sumner Ely (1787–1857), New York politician

Talfourd Ely (1838–1923), English archaeologist and classicist

Theodore N. Ely (1846-1916), American businessman

Thomas C. Ely, American bishop

Victoria Joyce Ely (1889–1979), American nurse

William Ely (disambiguation)

Howard S. Ellis

Howard Sylvester Ellis (July 2, 1898 – April 15, 1992) was an American economist. He was a Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley from 1938 to 1965. In 1949, he served as President of the American Economic Association.He is remembered for his essay 'Bilateralism and the Future of International Trade' (Summer 1945) which influenced United States trade policy after World War II.

International Working People's Association

The International Working People's Association (IWPA), sometimes known as the "Black International," was an international anarchist political organization established in 1881 at a convention held in London, England. In America the group is best remembered as the political organization uniting Albert Parsons, August Spies, and other anarchist leaders prosecuted in the wake of the 1886 Haymarket bombing in Chicago.

Johannes Conrad

Johannes Ernst Conrad (born 28 February 1839 in West Prussia) was a German political economist. Johannes Conrad was a Professor of economics in Halle (Saale), Prussian Germany. He was a co-founder (with Gustav von Schmoller) of the important conservative Verein für Sozialpolitik in 1872. Late in his career, in 1911, he became the director of the newly established Institute for Co-operative Studies at the University of Halle. Conrad was an expert in political economy (Nationalökonomie) and became the editor of the influential Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik in 1870.

John R. Commons

John Rogers Commons (October 13, 1862 – May 11, 1945) was an American institutional economist, Georgist, progressive and labor historian at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Karl Knies

Karl Gustav Adolf Knies (29 March 1821 – 3 August 1898) was a German economist of the historical school of economics, best known as the author of Political Economy from the Standpoint of the Historical Method (1853). Knies taught at the University of Heidelberg for over 30 years, and was perhaps the most theoretically-oriented economist of the older historical school.Like others in the German historical school, Knies disliked the attitudes of the "classical school" (Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and their followers), particularly their belief that the pursuit of individual self-interest redounded to the good of the community. In his Political Economy, p. 157, he comments that self-interest is "in the public interest, so to speak, in its weakness, and dangerous in its strength" (gemeinnützig, so zu sagen, in seine Schwäche und gefährlich in seine Stärke).

Knies is very important to early American economics thought, as some of its founders studied under him, e.g., John Bates Clark attended from 1872 to 1875 the University of Zurich and the University of Heidelberg where he studied under him; Clark supervised the thesis of Frank Knight, who in turn influenced Paul Samuelson, who was the first to win the John Bates Clark Medal for the best American economist under age forty. Richard T. Ely studied under Knies and received his Ph.D in 1879 in Heidelberg.

Land Economics

Land Economics is a peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to the economics of natural and environmental resources. The journal was established in 1925 by the founder of the American Economic Association, Richard T. Ely (University of Wisconsin). Land Economics covers such topics as environmental quality, natural resources, housing, urban and rural land use, transportation, and other areas in both developed and developing country contexts. The journal features conceptual and/or empirical work with direct relevance for public policy. The journal is published by the University of Wisconsin Press. As of 2017, Land Economics had an impact factor of 1.500.Since 2018, the editor of Land Economics has been Daniel J. Phaneuf, the Henry C. Taylor Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Phaneuf follows former editor Daniel W. Bromley, the Anderson-Bascom Professor (Emeritus) of Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who led the journal for forty-four years.

Richard Ely

Richard Ely may refer to:

Richard T. Ely, American author and economist

Richard Ely (writer), Belgian writer

Richard T. Ely House

The Richard T. Ely House is a historic house located at 205 North Prospect Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 16, 1974. It is located within the University Heights Historic District.

Sidney Sherwood

Sidney Sherwood (May 28, 1860 – August 5, 1901) was an American economist. He was a Professor of Economics at Johns Hopkins University from 1892 to 1901, where he succeeded his teacher Richard T. Ely who had left for the University of Wisconsin–Madison, as head of the political economy program. Although a student of Ely's, Sherwood was one of the early American Marginalists.

Sherwood died at age 41 in his hometown, Ballston, New York.

Sifting and winnowing

Sifting and winnowing is a metaphor for the academic pursuit of truth affiliated with the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It was coined by UW President Charles Kendall Adams in an 1894 final report from a committee exonerating economics professor Richard T. Ely of censurable charges from state education superintendent Oliver Elwin Wells. The phrase became a local byword for the tenet of academic freedom.

Social Gospel

The Social Gospel was a movement in Protestantism that applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially issues of social justice such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labour, inadequate labour unions, poor schools, and the danger of war. It was most prominent in the early-20th-century United States and Canada. Theologically, the Social Gospellers sought to operationalize the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:10): "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". They typically were postmillennialist; that is, they believed the Second Coming could not happen until humankind rid itself of social evils by human effort. The Social Gospel was more popular among clergy than laity. Its leaders were predominantly associated with the liberal wing of the progressive movement, and most were theologically liberal, although a few were also conservative when it came to their views on social issues. Important leaders include Richard T. Ely, Josiah Strong, Washington Gladden, and Walter Rauschenbusch.

Thomas Nixon Carver

Thomas Nixon Carver (25 March 1865 – 8 March 1961) was an American economics professor.

Thomas Sewall Adams

Thomas Sewall Adams (December 29, 1873 – February 8, 1933) was an American economist, and educator, Professor of Political Economy at Yale University and advisor to the U.S. Treasury Department.

William Amasa Scott

William Amasa Scott (1862–1944) was an American economist and one of the leading representatives of the marginalist school. Born in Clarkson, New York, he received his B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1886, and his PhD under supervision of Richard T. Ely from Johns Hopkins University in 1892. Scott was a professor of Political Economy at the University of Wisconsin–Madison until 1931, and a contributor to John Kells Ingram’s A History of Political Economy.

Wisconsin school

The Wisconsin school in economics was based at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and played a prominent role in American economics in the first half of the 20th century. The Wisconsin school was central to institutionalism in the United States, and also played a prominent role in labor economics and in the development of the policy ideas associated with the New Deal. The central figures in the Wisconsin school were Richard T. Ely and his student John R. Commons.

Notable students of Commons included Edwin E. Witte, largely responsible for the drafting of the Social Security Act, Selig Perlman, Kenneth Parsons, and Harold Groves.

Other notable economists associated with the Wisconsin school include Walter Heller, Robert J. Lampman, Warren Samuels, and Theodore Schultz.

Institutional economists
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