Little Keynesian Economics Purge on the Prairie Weblogging: Live from The Roasterie CXXVIII: March 27, 2014
Apropos of Little Libertarians on the Prairie, Colander and Landreth:
With the depression in the 1930s that view about the role of the market was changing, both in the academic and the political spheres. With the success of the Western governments in World War II, there was also a change in the view of the role of government. It was within this changing ideological structure that Lorie Tarshis wrote his book. Tarshis’s book conveyed a quite different policy perspective. Tarshis saw the government as an agency through which people acted collectively for the common good. That view of government was combined with a belief that the market needed government assistance to assure full employment. Thus, it was inevitable that a book presenting the new view that questioned the self-regulating nature of the economic system would provoke a reaction.
Initially, Tarshis’s book was well received. According to Tarshis:
When the book came out in--probably April of 1947-- I kept getting glowing telegrams from the publisher. I thought, "Oh, my God, this is just beyond belief." The publisher was very happy....I would get letters from my very conservative publisher saying Brown has adopted it, maybe Middlebury adopted it, Yale has adopted it--one place after another had adopted it. Every time I got a letter like this that indicated ten more adoptions or twenty more adoptions, I thought, "Boy, that bank account will be picking up."
But these happy days did not last long; soon after publication Tarshis’s book received a harsh attack in the form of a book review by Rose Wilder Lane. Her review was followed by an evidently organized campaign against Tarshis’s book during which the administrations and trustees of colleges adopting the book were written letters calling for the removal of the textbook. Letter writers to Stanford’s trustees and President wanted both Tarshis and his book removed. According the Tarshis, “It was a nasty performance, an organized campaign in which they sent newsletters to all the trustees of all the universities that had adopted the book.” Lane’s attack was followed by others, and soon, removing the Tarshis book from economics classes became a cause celebre of conservative organizations.
In the face of these attacks Stanford stood firm and refused to budge; throughout the period Stanford supported the right of free expression by their professors. Tarshis recounts:
...my department chairman sheltered me. I know that from time to time the University had trouble, because after the new president came in 1949, he let me see some of the correspondence. It was villainous stuff. They were after Paul Baran, who was a Marxist; they were after Ed Shaw, who was a monetarist, and me. They thought Stanford should get rid of all of us. Wallace Sterling the president of Stanford, wasn't as vigorous as I would think the thing deserved, but he would certainly never give an inch.
The schools which had adopted Tarshis’ book were not so firm and sales of Tarshis’s book soon dwindled; Tarshis was not to be a millionaire book author. Tarshis states:
Merwin K. Hart organized a thing called "The National Economic Committee." He got Rose Wilder Lane to write a newsletter for it and he sent copies of this newsletter...to all the members of every Board of Trustees of every university anywhere, including politicians, Republican universities and so on. Then I began to get notices from Houghton Mifflin about "X is canceling its order; Y is canceling its order.” Before the summer was halfway through sales had fallen just as sharply as they had risen. I was at Williams that summer, teaching, and the president of Williams, a man called Baxter-- Emile (Despres) had seen to it that Williams had adopted my book and Baxter was very strongly supportive of the book-- wrote a strong letter to other university presidents he knew. But sales, instead of staying at that beautiful peak, went down just like that. The book did all right--I think I sold something like 10,000 copies. But it really died in 1948 or 1949.
Tarshis was especially upset by an attack by William Buckley in the book God and Man at Yale in which he criticized the views of Tarshis’s and authors of several other economics textbooks used at Yale. Tarshis states:
That bastard Buckley--I get so angry when I think of him, because, you know, he's still parading his objectivity and concern for "moral values," and so on. The amount of distortion is enormous. He would pick a phrase and tack it onto a phrase two pages later, another page later, another page four pages earlier, and make a sentence that I couldn't recognize as anything I'd written--I was only able to see it when I had my book in front of me, and I could see where they came from--and make it seem as though I was no supporter of market capitalism, which I felt I always was....
Paul Samuelson wrote to David Colander:
For some reason that I have no understanding of, the virulence of the attack on Tarshis was of a higher order of magnitude than on my book, but there were plenty of attacks on my book, and there was a lot of work done by people. Also I wrote carefully and lawyer-like so that there were a lot of complaints that Samuelson was playing peek-a-boo with the Commies. The whole thing was a sad scene that did not reflect well on conservative business pressuring of colleges.
And Paul Samuelson: