Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era

I was recently revisiting some of the research by economist Thomas C. Leonard of Princeton University on eugenics and economics during the Progressive Era. Leonard is currently working on a book entitled Excluding Inferior Workers: Eugenic Influences on Economic Reform in the Progressive Era. I had nearly forgotten about the excellent slide-show he produced for his book’s research. For those who have an interest in economic history–especially the Progressive Era’s influence on America’s economic thinking–these slides are definitely worth reading.

2 thoughts on “Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era”

  1. Thanks, Walker. I haven’t seen Leonard’s work before, and it looks fascinating. I’ve only skimmed some of his work, but I’m definitely on board with what seems to be his argument against . . . well, social control being too easily and too opaquely handed over to so-called experts, esp. economists (I’m not very confident this accurately characterizes any of his arguments–it’s more of a guess, filtered through some of my own thoughts, and an argument that Alasdair MacIntyre makes against Marxism).

    I also skim-read Leonard’s review of Marglin’s book which criticizes economic thinking for undermining community. I haven’t read Marglin’s book, but I suspect I’d be more sympathetic to Marglin’s arguments than Leonard is. Nevertheless, I really liked the way Leonard’s review didn’t oversimplify the issues, and made what seemed like very fair and appropriately nuanced criticisms.

    So, I’m anxious to read more of Leonard’s work, esp. in hopes that he will help me in critically evaluating some of the communitarian-vs-individualism arguments I’m currently trying to think through more deeply….

  2. Leonard’s work is very eye-opening in understanding early 20th-century Progressivism. For example, linking eugenic thought to the minimum wage (which was used to get rid of the “unfit” in the workplace) is absolutely fascinating.

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