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.