Friday, June 6, 2008

Teaching the Professors

by the Sandwichman

"Mr. Sargent has been getting out letters, collecting data, making addresses, and holding debates with eminent representatives of the other side of the question, making addresses in our colleges and universities, and he has attracted a great deal of favorable attention from our seats of learning in this country. He is teaching the teachers. He is teaching the professors and college presidents."

That is how National Association of Manufacturers President John Edgerton introduced Noel Sargent, manager of the Open Shop Publicity Bureau (subsequently renamed the Industrial Relations Department) at the NAM's 1923 convention. Prior to working for the Association, Sargent was a professor of economics at the University of Minnesota.

How accurate was Edgerton's boast, "he is teaching the professors and college presidents," and what conceivable relevance could it have for economics in the 21st century?

Among the contributors to NAM "educational literature" were Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot and University of Chicago economics professor, founder of the Journal of Political Economy, J. Laurence Laughlin. Other conspicuous advocates of the NAM open shop policy included Chancellor James Roscoe Day of Syracuse University, President George B. Cutten of Colgate University and Dean Robertson of New York University. In 1922, the Open Shop Publicity Bureau "supplied 1,500 colleges and university teachers of economics and sociology with material.... Practically all of the college and university teachers of sociology, government, and economics receive our publications."

Sending materials to university professors provides no guarantee they will read them or pass on the message to their students. The substantial quantity of non-NAM publication by economists echoing the NAM talking points (in defiance of conclusive evidence contradicting NAM assertions) is strong circumstantial evidence that economics professors did read and adopt the NAM party line. Also, the well-documented pressure tactics of the Association in its dealings with the press and Congress offer a clue to how the Open Shop Publicity Bureau probably would have added "legs" (and a strong arm) to its message.

In its relations with the press, the Association sent out materials to newspapers, monitored the take-up of these stories by the papers, rewarded (with advertising revenue) those newspapers who towed the line and punished those who didn't through blacklists and boycotts. It made no secret of those activities; rather it extolled them as the organization's sacred and patriotic duty to uphold the US Constitution and the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. The hyperbole is not Sandwichman's but President Edgerton's in a 1920 address to the Tennessee Manufacturers Association. "When the people of this enlightened country surrender to the absurdity of the argument for the so-called closed shop and accept it as an established institution, they will owe it to the devil to repudiate the Decalogue and repeal the Constitution of the United States."

On the other hand, its dealings with Congress were handled somewhat more discreetly. It took a Congressional investigation in 1913 to expose the machinations of the "invisible government" that the NAM orchestrated.

The case for the NAM's virtual authorship of economic textbook dogma on shorter hours relies on the following assumptions:

1. That the NAM actually carried out the intentions with respect to college teaching of economics that it publically proclaimed. "We must point out to the people that all this legislation that is going on affects them; shorter hours increases the cost of living, raises taxes, creates a condition for them that is really worse than it is for the manufacturers. We owe it to them. We must do it. That is the important thing for this organization to do."

2. That the NAM used strategies toward that end consistent with the strategies it employed in its other endeavors.

3. That in practice, the NAM strategies would have been virtually identical to those documented by FCC investigation in the case of the Missouri and Illinois committees on Public Utilities Education.

4. That the publication of hundreds of economics textbooks and other publications echoing the NAM claims would be more difficult to explain in the absence of a NAM campaign of carrots and sticks.


Michael Perelman said...

Where did you find this?

Sandwichman said...

Various sources for various parts, Michael.

The money quotes in this piece are from Albion Guilford Taylor, Labor Policies of the National Association of Manufacturers 1927 (PhD thesis, University of Illinois). The "hundreds of textbooks and other publications echoing the NAM dogma" comes from Boolean searching the relevant terms on Google Books and to a lesser extent on JSTOR. Information on the Missouri and Illinois Public Utility Information comes from The Propaganda Menance by Frederick Lumley. My knowledge of the 1913 Congressional investigation (the "Mulhall Affair") comes largely from contemporary reports in newspapers and magazines

I would very much like to do archival research on this puppy. From what I have been able to see of NAM convention reports and other publications there is a lot of juice there that the secondary literature hasn't begun to squeeze out. A fine example of the kind of material that can be found in the NAM archives is William Millikan's superb A Union Against Unions published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 2001.

PS, regarding the Mulhall Affair and the later public utilities scandal note the uniformity of tactics.

Upton Sinclair in the Brass Check:

It was the same way with the Mulhall revelations, brought out by a committee of the United States Senate. Here was the "National Association of Manufacturers" and the "Merchant Marine League," spending enormous subsidies for propaganda with newspapers. When the La Follette Seamen's Law was being fought in the Senate, it was shown that the great newspapers were distributing every year two million dollars for shipping advertisements, and they claimed and got their return in the form of bitter opposition to this bill. During the Life Insurance investigations in New York, it was shown that every one of these great financial enterprises maintained not merely an advertising bureau, but a "literary bureau." The Mutual Life Insurance Company had employed a certain "Telegraphic News Bureau," which supplied newspapers with propaganda which they published as reading matter. For one item, supplied to about one hundred different papers, the agent had been paid over five thousand dollars. What the newspapers were paid was not brought out, but the agent testified that he had been paid one dollar a line, while the papers had been paid as high as five dollars a line. Also there was another agency, through which the Mutual Life was sending out what it called "telegraphic readers." The big newspapers had special advertising agents to solicit this kind of paid material, and they had regular printed schedules of rates for publishing it.

In the same way Attorney-General Monnett of Ohio brought out that the Standard Oil Company maintained the "Jennings Advertising Agency" to distribute and pay for propaganda upon this contract:

The publisher agrees to reprint on news or editorial pages of said newspaper such notices, set in the body type of said paper and bearing no mark to indicate advertising, as are furnished from time to time by said Jennings Agency at the rate of ---- per line, and to furnish such agency extra copies of paper containing such notes at four cents per copy.

With regard to the NELA vetting of textbooks, Lumley wrote,

Two or three publishers did agree to allow the NELA committee to have a peep at the manuscripts before publication, and also agreed to receive suggestions; one publishing company "had agreed to avoid pitfalls in the future." A nationwide questionnaire brought forth information as to what teachers were writing textbooks dealing in any way with utilities. These writers were then offered information compiled by the utilities' committees. More than this, these teachers were offered a market; the utilities offered to buy for their own use and for libraries 5000 copies of approved texts -- a fair start on the road to satisfactory circulation. Some teachers, even university professors with reputations, fell for this plan, and one wrote, on submitting his manuscript for criticism and suggestion, "If it should prove satisfactory to your committee, of course, I should be pleased."

And back again to Sinclair and the Brass Check:

When is a bribe not a bribe? When it is "legitimate business"? When, for instance, the "New Haven" is discovered to have ordered 9,716 copies of the "Outlook" containing a boost of the "New Haven" system by Sylvester J. Baxter, a paid writer of the "New Haven"? You may read the details of this in "The Profits of Religion"; the president of the "Outlook" corporation wrote to me that the "New Haven" bought these copies "without any previous understanding or arrangement." They are so naive in the office of this religious weekly; nobody had the slightest idea that if they boosted some railroad grafters in peril of discovery, these grafters might come back with a big order!

Michael Perelman said...

you will appreciate:
Prothro, James Warren. 1954. The Dollar Decade: Business Ideas in the 1920's (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press).