On the 40th Anniversay of

The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Will Lissner

[Reprinted from The American Journal of Economics and Sociology,
Vol.40, No.4, October, 1981]

THIS JOURNAL has now completed 40 years of service to the social science sector of the country's scientific community and to the American people whose work that community benefits.[1] Forty years! Four decades!

It is hard to believe that 40 years ago, in the midst of a war that was soon to engulf the world and at the close of a catastrophic depression that was ended only by production for war, we launched this scholarly enterprise. It is even harder to believe that thereafter, quarter after quarter, we have brought out issue after issue.[2]

This Journal is a product of the Georgist movement; the 21 directors of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, who sponsor and finance it, the editor in-chief, the business manager, their close associates, a majority of the editorial council and many of the members of the editorial board are followers of Henry George, the 19th century American economist and social philosopher.

The distinguished British economist, Mark Blaug, has referred to this Journal as "a Georgist journal," and, of course, the designation, in view of the above, is accurate. But I wonder if our readers understand as well as Professor Blaug what the characterization means.

When the editor-in-chief won the backing of the foundation for the enterprise, he received a mandate from the foundation's directors, and from the original editorial council which included John Dewey, the philosopher, and Franz Oppenheimer, the sociologist, to run the Journal as a scientific journal, not an ideological organ.

It has taken hard research by Georgist and non-Georgist scholars to prove that George was wrong when he disclaimed originality for his own contributions. And this was particularly true with respect to this Journal's reason for being - the promotion of interdisciplinary research.

The decision to make interdisciplinary research the basis of our work was mine and it was entirely a pragmatic one. I believed then, and I believe now, that the challenging problems of democratic capitalist society can be solved - not by some genius's blueprint, and not necessarily by some current program - but by using the whole range of the social sciences and philosophy to achieve an objective analysis of a problem and an understanding of its rational solution. And this belief also betrays George's influence, as John Dewey made clear in his "Introduction" to our first issue:

"Although the American Journal of Economics and Sociology is not committed to swearing loyalty to any one master, it is certainly fitting that an American endeavor at synthesis in the social field should honor the work of Henry George. For I know of no writer by whom the interdependence of all aspects and phases of human relations, economic, political, cultural, moral, has been so vigorously and so sympathetically set forth."

Few journals last a generation. Why has our journal survived where other journalistic enterprises railed? I think it is because it tends to apply closely one of the tenets of our democratic social philosophy: that association in equality is the key to human progress. As Francis Neilson so ably pointed out in reply to Albert Jay Nock, we Georgists are not elitists; we believe that every person is a unique individual, with talents which, if made available to all through individual enterprise or through voluntary association in properly rewarded ventures in which individuals cooperate, enable him or her to make a distinct contribution to human culture which assures human survival and well being.

And that is what we have been fighting for these forty years. The restoration or the introduction of free, fair and open competition in a market open to all on an equal basis without fear or favor, so that individuals and groups, when serving their own interest, can serve best the general interest.

We are not anarchists, though we share with Peter Kropotkin and his brethren a love for freedom that does not degenerate into license. We are individualists. But by free compact, we think, individuals can form associations that will function more efficiently as social organizations than any the socialists can contrive. Or the communists fantasize.

Our association has functioned effectively and survived, I think, because we clearly defined our goal at the outset and allowed no deviation from it. We felt that, the vital need of our times was research conducted by the interdisciplinary approach[3] and that this research could be promoted by making available a means of communication among those devoted to this field.[4] From our very first board to the present one we always included non-Georgists and from our very first issue to the last one we have had only one ideological means test for contributors: commitment to scientific method and philosophical inquiry.[5]

Indeed, during the 40 years we have never rejected an article by a competent social scientist attacking our basic beliefs; if we received one that was deficient, just as with other manuscripts, we helped the author to do the best job of which he or she was capable. In this we followed Henry George and John Stuart Mill in the tenet that the antagonistic critic, in posing difficulties, was doing our work for us and hence should earn our gratitude.

And during the 40 years we have always afforded our authors the widest freedom of expression (even when, with reluctance, we have to publish criticism concocted more out of anger than moral responsibility.)[6] By our policies we have mobilized a corps of 10,000 research workers and specialized students in more than 100 countries who are interested in our problems.

If our experience proves anything, it is that freedom works. And hence we think that future generations will cultivate freedom with the same zeal that past generations cultivated rule.

What have we achieved in 40 years? The interdisciplinary approach, which we considered so necessary to solution of the problems besetting western civilization, is now fully accepted in the social sciences as a method of investigation, as a method of developing policy and for evaluating alternatives.

In the prospectus that rallied together the founding scholars, I wrote that "the conviction is spreading that the solution involves the development of practical means for improving the spirit of society, its social ethic; for abolishing the quasi-monopoly of man's natural environment; for bringing order into the chaos of the tax system; for abolishing industrial monopolies and all special privileges; for aiding the experiments in voluntary cooperation which provide the only substitutes for State paternalism - in a word, means for liberating the free spirit of man."[6]

This is a good test of a group's achievements. During the 40 years millions have been murdered in international wars. Fascism and communism, nationalism and terrorism, imperialism, despotism and messianism have claimed millions upon millions of victims, children as well as men and women. Has the conscience of society been quickened even a little?

In ending the quasi-monopoly of the environment, we and all who have worked in this area have been more successful. The universe (apart from Earth) and space have been declared by the nations the common heritage of all mankind and even the claims of coming generations are being recognized. The deep oceans and the continental shelves have been protected from the monopolists. And even on the land masses the common right of all people to the earth and its resources is achieving greater and greater acceptance.

We cannot say that much order has been achieved in our chaotic tax system but the issue is high on the agenda in the United States and other advanced industrial countries. Nor has much progress been made in ending monopolies and privileges but the work of scholars has helped immensely to achieve popular understanding of the issue. And we have had many experiments in voluntary cooperation with widely varying results.

In sum, in so far as our aim was to achieve rational control of the troubles that beleaguer us all, our scholars have won some notable engagements; but the critical battles of the war are yet to be fought. However, this does not dismay us. We never expected to arrive at Utopia in little more than a generation. Indeed, we never expected to reach Utopia at all. We realized full well that each generation must fight to win its liberties the same as the generations before it.

It is the fight for freedom that gives meaning to our lives. We are seekers of facts, insights and understandings. These are our weapons, the only weapons we know how to use, and in the long run they will prevail over myth, superstition, deception and ignorance. We dare not rest. We dare not turn a deaf ear to the clarion call.

No dictatorship, no powerful ruler can give us the free society. We must create it by restoring rational order to a chaotic social system. Scholarship is not the only means of doing so, but it is the basis on which the educators, the writers, the journalists, the broadcasters and the publicists create popular sentiment and the public will. If the scholars do their work, the other professions will do theirs. And some day - not too many generations from now, I hope - the world will be a better place in which to live and the people will be less ashamed of their times than we are.

And so we, who by work or contribution or subscription make this Journalpossible, may take a certain measure of satisfaction in what we have accomplished in 40 years. The future is brighter because of our efforts. The struggle has been difficult but it has been worthwhile.


1. This report to the readers, editors and production workers of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology is the gist of a report I made to the board of directors of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation at its annual meeting in New York on June 8, 1981. Afterward John M. Kelly of Scranton, Pa., voiced the consensus that the report be shared with our editors and readers. Within the same space constraints we impose on authors, I here do so.

2. That we did so, even when I served abroad as a war correspondent and a fleet correspondent, as a special correspondent in the Caribbean and Central America and even during several month-long stays in the hospital when I did my editing flat on my back, was due largely to our business manager, V. G. Peterson (Mrs. Malcolm Graham). "Miss Pete," as she was known in the office, was in charge of production, which assured that it would be done competently, efficiently, and with an eye to typographical artistry in keeping with our design by the late Wallace Kibbee. "Miss Pete" overcame all obstacles by wholehearted devotion to the Journal's interests; her dedicated work has continued despite her retirement as executive secretary of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation several years ago. Our 40-year partnership I count as one of the great blessings of my life. Her enlistment to replace a friend who disappointed us was one of two fortuitous circumstances that assured our success. The other was that Leonard Recker, then a Schalkenbach director, found a printer for us - Jacques Cattell, former publisher (in succession to his father, J. McKeen Cattell of Columbia), of Science Weekly in Lancaster, Pa. Cattell, personally interested in our enterprise, set the first year's prices at what we could afford, but so low as to be what he could afford only briefly. By the time prices had to be raised to market levels we were off and running. (Cattell was the godfather of many a scholarly enterprise.) A few years ago, after he had sold it, his Science Press of Lancaster, renamed Business Press, retired from business when offset replaced letterpress printing.

3. I had learned from the work of Franz Oppenheimer, George Geiger and Adolph Lowe that economic solutions to the problems of democratic capitalist society depended on sociological and philosophical arguments, as Dewey, who had come to philosophy by way of psychology, had long held, the Journal had to have a reason for being that distinguished it from the older journals in the field. So I made a virtue out of a necessity: a commitment to the interdisciplinary approach to the analysis and study of economic, social and political problems. Of course we did not originate this approach. It dates at least from Comte. In the 19th century Herbert Spencer, Henry George, William Graham Sumner and others employed it with notable skill, and in out century so did Max Weber and Franz Oppenheimer. In the 1920s the approach was cultivated for urban studies at the University of Chicago. John Dewey developed it in studying the unity of science. I learned it from Dewey (at the labor colleges where I did my undergraduate work and where Dewey was a visiting lecturer, not at Columbia where George Geiger and Mortimer Adler were lucky enough to have been his students), from the works of such as Eileen Power and Henri Pirenne and from the textbooks of Carlton J. H. Hayes and Harry J. Carman. Their tradition at Columbia was carried on by the distinguished sociologist, Robert K. Merton, and my friend, Paul Lazarsfeld, the social psychologist. Talcott Parsons and Neil J. Smelser also developed it at Harvard. In Europe there has been a notable development at several universities. All we can claim is that ours was the first American journal to make the interdisciplinary approach its reason for being. And we cannot make too much of that -several outstanding multidisciplinary journals are older, e.g. the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Alvin Johnson's Social Research, Columbia's Political Science Quarterly, Daedalus of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston and the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. And physicians, engineers, lawyers as legislators, theologians and military administrators have long practiced it.

4. A little bit of history may be interesting. Why did we go to the trouble of setting up this Journal? In 1939, when I revived the weekly freeman as a monthly and built it, with Frank Chodorov's help on promotion, into a self-sustaining enterprise with a wide range of contributors and a 5,000 circulation, I became impressed with the fact that we could not prove the case for the basic beliefs of ethical democracy: the primacy of land and natural resources in the economic process, the crucial role of privilege, monopoly and oligopoly in distorting the distribution of income and hence wealth, and so on. It was apparent that we could make a case for our views only because our opponents lacked the data to prove us wrong.

So I proposed to Frank, who had quit his job as a traveling salesman for an underwear line to become the director of the Henry George School in New York, that we define the problems requiring validation or refutation and try to get teachers in graduate schools to assign them as dissertation topics to their candidates for masters' and doctoral degrees. I set down as many as I could think of, Frank added four or five and a teacher at the school two or three and we had the material for a four-page folder. Leonard and Gene Recker saw to its printing and we circulated it, with a letter, widely.

But we didn't get a single taker. Up to that time I had only taught and lectured to undergraduates; only after the war did I specialize in teaching graduate or professional students. I was naive about graduate student research. I did not know that degree candidates and their faculty committees tended to prefer safe topics to avoid the failures arising from inability to complete dissertations which plague graduate study.

It was essential that something be done. John Dewey, Harold S. Buttenheim, Eduard C. Lindemann, George Raymond Geiger, John Haynes Holmes, Ben Huebsch, Norman Thomas, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and others equally notable had done their best to make people realize that Henry George was a social philosopher to be reckoned with and that a revival of the social philosophy of the Progressive Era was badly needed by a country and a world now disillusioned with the get-rich-quick materialism of the 1920s. But the efforts of Dewey and the others only persuaded a few of the better educated.

Still holding the belief that research ("ideas are plans of action," Dewey taught) was the answer, I decided to shift my hopes to professional research workers in the social sciences. I realized I would have to spend a year doing research myself into how, with our very limited resources, we could get professional researchers interested in our problems. I became convinced that if we had a scientific journal that served as a medium of communication among research workers, it could stimulate that interest. So I turned the monthly Freeman over to Chodorov and got my good friend Grover Cleveland Loud, a New York Times editor, to continue Frank's training in editorial and essay writing. The big question was could we get enough publishable papers? I was ready to pad out the book with translations of important foreign articles (at the time, in addition to being the Times's economic journalist, I was monitoring the world's government radio stations in half a dozen languages) but we needed a few original ones for each issue. My studies had turned up nine scholars who could be counted on for the editorial board. They were headed by John Dewey, who, of course, would endorse the project since I was one of his proteges (in elementary school I had been one of 60 pupils from various schools in New York City chosen to test one of his theories). They included the economists Harry Gunnison Brown, Harold Hotelling and John Ise, the sociologists Glenn E. Hoover and Franz Oppenheimer, the human geographer Raymond E. Crist and the philosophers George Raymond Geiger and Mortimer J. Adler. I recruited the group with a manifesto I believe is still up-to-date (it was used recently to found a competing quarterly). Then I sold Chodorov, a consummate salesman, on my program. I still remember that conference - on my lunch hour, for I worked at night - in the cafeteria that used to be on the site of the New York Telephone Company building at 42nd Street and Avenue of the Americas in New York. Chodorov sold it to Vi Peterson - who has always been open to new ideas - and to the 21 directors of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

To strengthen our editorial board and our contributors' list, I twisted the arms of Schalkenbach directors and got them to serve as editors and writers (all are scholars, of course, including those who work on Wall Street and in government). And at that point I had a great stroke of luck.

For several years I had been editing the books of Francis Neilson, one of radical liberalism's great essayists. Dr. Neilson had had such an unhappy experience with the old Freeman that he swore he would never again get involved in a periodical. He tried to salve his conscience with a pledge of a large annual contribution but I returned his check, telling him I needed articles, not money. (That was true; subscriptions were coming in at a volume which covered expenses, held to the minimum by "Miss Pete.") By editing an excerpt from one of his recent books and a recent lecture he had given into articles, I convinced him that he belonged foursquare in our midst. Before the first volume was completed he wrote his first original article for the Journal and thereafter he could always be counted on for an article or two, mostly in cultural sociology of which he had made a lifelong and systematic study, each quarter. This continued right to the end of his life at 94, 20 years later, though aging had left him blind and deaf. (In his sighted days he had carefully marked his books and his devoted literary secretary, Miss K. Phyllis Evans, knew precisely where to find quotations he needed to have read to refresh his remarkable recollection.)

5. The members of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation board, who were (and still are) as much dedicated to academic and literary freedom as to economic and other freedom, had certain misgivings about the project. They learned that academic enterprises were plagued by log-rolling and back-scratching and cliquish monopolization. The board of another Georgist magazine had to begin considering whether to remove its editor, who by insults and rudeness had driven those who differed with his individualist anarchism to resignation and replaced them with cronies. So they appointed a committee of three to monitor the editor to see that he remained honest and treated all contributors with equal consideration while maintaining the highest standards of scientific ethics. The three were pledged never to interfere in editorial matters and they have never done so. No member of the committee or the foundation board has ever discussed with me or the other editors any submission or any article, though they often say, in general terms, how much they enjoy and profit from reading the magazine. (This is also true of foundation boards of which I have personal knowledge, but instances of abridgment of academic and literary freedom are not infrequent in the literature.) I have always made good use of the committee. O. K. Dorn, our first president, looked after our business affairs, coming to the office every day to worry with "Miss Pete" about costs and revenues until they balanced. Charles Johnson Post was persuaded to write. And Albert Pleydell, who later succeeded Dorn, then teaching at New York University, handled our university relations.

6. I had to intervene early when Oppenheimer and Hoover descended to rancor in differing over the nature of the present economic system. Recently I suffered soul-searching anguish when one of my friends dealt angrily with a critic. I could have edited the anger out on the ground that ours was not a journal of opinion. But I thought it might have some significance for the history of economic thought and deleting it might be doing the historians a disservice. Until the controversy progressed I did not know that I made the right decision in leaving the anger in. (Normally we discuss this with an author; in this instance, discussion might have influenced him irrationally.)