The Story of
The American Journal of Economics and Sociology
[An unpublished remembrance, 30 September, 1999]
Although, in one sense, the American Journal of Economics and
Sociology, can be said to have had the stirrings of its beginning
in 1920 when I was 12 years old, it did not become an actual reality
until many years later. Until 1941, in fact. By that time I was
through college and working as a reporter and correspondent on the New
But to get back to 1920. At the time I had a chum, Johnny Keresztesy,
who went to Boy Scout meetings with me. He had a sister, a school
teacher, who subscribed to the Freeman, a weekly literary and
opinion journal. Knowing that I was interested in economics and the
way the world ran, Johnny began to bring me copies of the Freeman
and for the first time I learned about Henry George because the people
associated with the Freeman were all Georgists, which is to
say they were all followers of the theories, insights and
understandings of the American 19th Century philosopher and economist
Henry George who firmly believed that people in a free society could
remedy their own problems by cooperation, that competitive capitalism
was the ideal economic system as opposed to monopolistic capitalism,
which was developing at the time and has become true today.
I was fascinated with what I learned in the Freeman and from
that time on I became a lifelong Georgist.
Not until I was 25, however, between my studies at several colleges
and my job at the Times, did I find the time to become a
volunteer teacher at the Henry George School in New York City. It was
while I was teaching there that Francis Neilson, the Anglo-American
essayist and cultural sociologist, asked the school to recommend some
person to edit his writings and the HGS recommended me. After meeting
Neilson and knowing that he had been one of the founders of the
Freeman, along with his wife Helen Swift Neilson, Albert Jay Nock,
Suzanne LaFolette and Ben Huebsch, the publisher, I agreed to his
By that time the weekly Freeman was no longer being
published. It had not had a large enough circulation to survive,
having used up in four years the two million dollars that Helen Swift
Neilson, heiress to the Swift fortune had provided for it.
Meanwhile, at the New York Times, as their economic
journalist, I was assigned to reading the leading scientific journals
of the social sciences. After a two-year study of such journals I got
the idea that what the Georgist movement really needed was a
scientific journal in economics and I asked the Schalkenbach
Foundation if they would fund such a Journal, They agreed and promised
me a grant of four hundred dollars. At the end of that year that
promise was to cause the first real problem the Journal encountered
when the Foundation discovered it only had two hundred dollars. More
about that later.
Before I could embark on the project I had had to get permission from
the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Hays Sulzberger,
because my name would appear on the Journal as editor and the Times
had a rule that no one could have an outside activity that might leave
them open to bribery.
I also had to get the okay of my superiors. I still have some of the
papers that went the rounds before reaching Mr. Sulzberger and in my
old age they make me very proud. Mr. E. L. James, the managing editor
(the top editor), in his memo to Mr. Sulzberger wrote, "Personally
I don't see any objection to this. But because his name may show up on
the magazine, I am asking you what you think. He is a very high class
man" (meaning me). Eventually Mr. Sulzberger not only gave his
permission but informed me that I could use office stamps for my
correspondence and whatever I needed of office paper.
In my query to Mr. Sulzberger I had told him that the work of the
scholarly quarterly magazine in the social sciences I wished to
develop would only take "a few hours of my time each week and
would in no way interfere with my work in the office or burden me in
any way." "I would," I added, "be doing it in my
Little did I truly realize the work that founding a scientific
journal largely by one person would entail. As I had promised I never
let it interfere with my work at the office but I was often glad that
I was young and had always needed only about four hours sleep a night
as my mind began to fill with a jumble of all the things that had to
be done to get the magazine up and running.
First, of course, I had to define the purpose of the journal which I
did fairly early in my mind as a scientific journal publishing
refereed reports, edited in consultation with leading specialists of
empirical investigations. Later it was to become written in the first
issue of the magazine in the Prospectus as: "The American
Journal of Economics and Sociology has been founded by a group of
specialists in the social sciences and in moral and social philosophy,
in association with men of affairs, to serve as a stimulus to
investigation of special types of problems in these fields and as a
medium of publication for such studies. Its interests are confined to
problems that gain recognition in the growing awareness of the
scientist and the scholar of his added social responsibility in a time
of world-wide cultural crisis." The entire Prospectus as stated
in that first issue is much more detailed but before that first issue
came out there was much more to be done.
There was, naturally, the need to find and organize a group of
scientists; and scholars who would be willing to edit and write the
articles that would go into the magazine. I chose to ask academicians
who were either Georgists or friendly to Georgist ideas. Originally
the group consisted of such notables as Harold Hotelling, Columbia
University, Raymond Crist, University of Illinois, Harry Gunnison
Brown, University of Missouri, John Dewey, Columbia University (who
was to write the Introduction for the first issue) Lancaster M. Greene
and Mortimer J. Adler, University of Chicago.
Professor Adler had at that time been researching the organization of
an encyclopedia to succeed the Encyclopedia Britannica and an
amusing story comes out of his participation with the journal. He
became so interested in getting articles and subscribers for me that
he neglected his work on planning the new encyclopedia and several of
his friends frantically wrote to me that they considered it a calamity
and could I please do something about it. After considerable thought I
composed a letter to Adler in which I told him how much I appreciated
all he had done and that it was with deep regret that I accepted his
resignation but understood that he had obligations of greater moment.
I later heard that my letter confounded Adler since he could not
recall offering his resignation which, of course, he hadn't, but my
letter did get him back to what he should have been doing in the first
From the time I had first conceived the idea of founding a scientific
magazine I had been going over in my mind what the name should be. I
had not been able to decide. However, when Adolph Lowe's book Economics
and Sociology came out in England the book was referred to me by
the Times' book section and as I began to read it I discovered
that Lowe was making a detailed exposition of the interdisciplinary
approach and was making a plea for cooperation in the social sciences.
Up to that time economists had studied economic problems and
sociologists had studied sociological problems. But I had always
believed that Henry George's economics was sociological and that his
sociology was economic. I also believed as Adolph Lowe was arguing
that often a problem transcended the boundaries of just one discipline
and had to be solved by an economist and a sociologist cooperating. (I
did not know Adolph Lowe then. He was then a refugee from the German
Nazi regime, living in England. Later when he emigrated to the United
States and joined the University in Exile at the New School for Social
Research where I had been a graduate student I met him and we soon
became fast friends).
Even before I had finished Lowe's book I knew I had the name for my
magazine -"The American Journal of Economics and Sociology"
- which the Schalkenbach office and others frequently shortened
vocally to AJES.
Money was always a worry in those early days and one of the greatest
worries was what the costs of printing the Journal was going
to be. I asked Leonard Recker, a printer who was also a member of the
Schalkenbaeh Board, if he could please find me a good printer who
would be willing to print the magazine at a price we could afford. I
had had a friend who was supposed to take care of the financial
details but he became busy at other things and dropped out. Vi
Peterson, Executive Director of the Foundation, agreed to take over
and become business manager. While still in the planning stage and
before we had to pay any bills, Vi had to inform me that although the
Foundation had agreed to fund the Journal for $400 it only had
$200 in its coffers for that purpose.
Desperately I began to send out letters about the project to members
of learned societies at various colleges and universities, using their
membership lists, explaining our project and our struggle to meet
publication costs. Members of these societies at Columbia University,
the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago
immediately responded by managing to acquire from their colleagues and
for the universities' library collections, about 15 subscriptions for
the magazine each. Members from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell
also came through by getting us a number of subscriptions.
Friends I had met through my work at the Times and when I had
been attending or lecturing at various colleges or universities also
came through with subscriptions.
Things were beginning to look up.
They were really beginning to took up when Leonard Recker found
Business Press, formerly known as Science Press, in Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, run by Jacques Cattell. The world-famous publication,
Science, had been founded at Science Press. Business Press was
prepared to turn out the kind of economic journal that we wanted to
have and because Cattell became interested in our project he gave us a
rate for the first year of publication that would have bankrupted
Business Press if it had continued but it enabled us to get started.
Cattell had also become interested in the Journal because he
very much liked the cover which had been done by Wallace Kibbee.
Kibbee was one of the four most famous typographical designers in the
country at that time and he was designing for the Foundation the book
The Life of Henry George by George's son, Henry George Jr.
Impressed with his work I had written to him asking him to design the
Journal. He had agreed and not only had designed the magazine,
front to back, but had drawn the cover and designed the title "The
American Journal of Economics and Sociology" in original
lettering, in lettering he used only for the Journal so that
there was never a complete alphabet. So we had a unique cover of which
we were very proud.
The printers at Business Press also liked the cover and the whole
idea of the magazine and they turned out a perfect job for us.
The first issue of the Journal finally came out in October
1941. All of those of us involved waited eagerly for the reaction. One
of the first and important reactions came from Thomas F. Woodlock,
editorial page columnist for the Wall Street Journal and
public relations counsel to J. P. Morgan, then the leading figure on
Wall Street He wrote a column in which he spoke about our project as "this
excellent magazine." I asked him to amplify his remarks and he
wrote an article we published in the second issue, Volume 1, Number 3,
in April 1942, under the title "Issues in the Quest for Synthesis
in the Social Sciences" and we all enjoyed his continued praise.
In all we had what we considered an overwhelming response but I was
really not immensely surprised because here was a project endorsed by
two of the world's great philosophers at that time, John Dewey, the
philosopher of Instrumentalism, and Lord Russell, Bertrand Russell,
the philosopher of Rational Inquiry.
Many American economists and sociologists welcomed the new journal,
illustrating how willingly American scientists are to accept new
approaches in their fields. This we found very heartening.
As a matter of fact soon after the first issue came out we began to
receive articles not only from American but from foreign scholars as
well and it became clear that it wasn't going to be a great problem
getting articles. Actually, because the leaders in the fields of
Economics and Sociology were submitting so many articles, if I had
accepted them all much of the Journal's available space would
have been taken up. Therefore, believing that younger people and
minorities weren't going to get a chance to build a publication record
that would help them get permanent jobs, after some thought, I made a
rule that we were going to give younger and minority scholars
preference in allotted space. I explained the rule to the veteran
scholars and none of them argued.
Early on Lord Russell had told me that if I were ever in need of
articles I could use anything he had written unless he was co-author
and then he would try to get the other author to agree. His permission
was comforting although since we were having much less trouble than we
had anticipated I did not want to take advantage. I was still editing
Francis Neilson's writings and had used an article from one of his
published books in the issue but I knew that he was the only cultural
sociologist we had practicing in the United States and I knew that
anything he wrote would add a dimension to the Journal so I
asked him for new essays. For a long time he would not hear of it
because he had had a very unpleasant experience in his collaboration
with Albert Jay Nock when they were both working on the old Freeman
and he was leery of any possible repetition.
After the first issue came out he had sent me a check for twenty five
hundred dollars for the Journal and told me that another check
for the same amount would be sent in six months. I had sent the check
back, telling him that what I needed from him was not money but the
contribution of articles, that after the first issue had come out we
had received a number of new subscriptions and so we no longer had to
worry right then about covering publishing costs.
He continued to resist and I continued to ask until finally he broke
down and slowly began to send things in.
We had gotten one decided criticism about the Journal when
the first issue came out. One economist at the University of
Pennsylvania made the comment that he thought we were desperately
trying to be scientific by using technical terms and when he kidded us
about that in public. I immediately made a rule that any of our
authors could always use the scientific language of economics and
sociology but adroitly had to give the definition. That was a good
rule for it made for greater clarity.
Throughout all the planning and the final publication of the Journal
I was, of course, still working at the Times.
Things went along okay until there came a period when prices were
going up and the colleges and universities were going through a budget
crunch so they began to sell anything they could sell in order to add
to their endowments. In this period academic publishers saw a chance
to make a profit on scientific journals by raising the subscription
rates and by charging the authors of scientific reports page charges
for printing them. By then the Journal was well established
but I feared that with scientific journal subscription rates rising
libraries would have difficulty with their budgets for such journals
and would have to get rid of some of these publications. Naturally I
was afraid that one of the publications would be our Journal.
I was happy when it turned out that the libraries were not cancelling
any of our subscriptions. Instead they seemed to be cancelling more
the scientific journals that the academic publishers had bought.
Nevertheless, we made a special effort not to raise the Journal's
subscription rate at that time and I refused to establish the practice
of page charging authors.
I would like to make clear that these actions did not apply to all
academic publishers of that time. I know of one who maintained the
highest ethics, JAI Press. JAI Press, although it published and
acquired many scientific journals never tried to make a profit by
exacting page charges against authors.
Around this time we had two other problems. The first was the worry
about whether we would have our paper supply for printing the Journal
America had joined the Allies in the Second World War and paper was
scarce. But that worry never happened. The government had a bank of
writers, members of the administration in Washington, writing articles
about the war and discussing its problems. We were glad to publish
these articles and the administration realized that the public's need
to know about what was going on in the war was very important.
The second problem we had was not so much a worry as an uncertainty.
I wanted to help in the war effort, of course, but I was pulled two
different ways. I didn't know whether the government was going to
insist on my joining the war effort by going down to Washington and
working in the Pentagon, where I would be working long, long hours and
I would have no time to work on anything else, especially not the
Journal. I had been given a test for every type of secret clearance
except for the Q clearance for nuclear energy and I had passed with
flying colors. Immediately the administration offered me a Colonel's
commission to become an aide to the Chief of Staff. I accepted the
fact I would have to go if they claimed it was necessary.
But the Times, like other newspapers, had the authority to
overrule any decision by the war department to take any reporter or
correspondent away from his or her work, again because of the people's
need to know what was going on, and they informed the government that
they needed me at the Times, that they had spent a great deal
of money training me in a number of European languages and that I was
assigned to use that knowledge to reach military headquarters abroad
through neutral countries so that I could verify communiques as they
were received. The administration had been accepting the versions of
any communiques as authentic as they were printed hi the Times,
realizing that after the war any errors could be corrected, so they
agreed to leave me at the Times.
Another war-time assignment I had at the Times was to handle
the strategy of the war. Not the tactics. That was handled by a
professional military historian, Hanson Baldwin. But as part of my
assignment I had to go to Canada several times because the strategy of
the war was being planned by the allies at the Chateau Frontenac in
Quebec. During all this tune I had been able to continue editing and
publishing the Journal, in spite of the long hours I had to work but
whenever I had to go away I had to edit the Journal well in
advance so that my absence didn't keep it from coming out and this
often proved difficult, though I almost always managed.
One fact that may prove interesting to know is that I was the only
American newspaper correspondent at the conference of the British
Empire powers in Quebec in 1943 and although nobody knew it at the
time I was the only one given the exact plan for the Normandy Invasion
to report. The experts on Psychological Warfare reasoned that the
Germans would never believe that the British would let an American
report such a plan, that it therefore could not possibly be the
correct one. The experts were right so the allies achieved tactical
surprise when they did indeed invade Normandy.
When the war was over the Times' correspondent was expelled
from Moscow because the Russians didn't like his frank and revealing
dispatches. I was assigned to take over Russian correspondence from
New York. This meant I had to devote more and more time to my job at
the Times. I became so overworked that my good friend Neil
Macneil, assistant night managing editor, asked Vi Peterson to come
over to his office at the Times one evening. He told her that
most people acknowledged that I was a genius but that I was so
overworked he feared for my health. Couldn't she do something to
lighten the burden of the Journal for me? he asked.
Vi went back to the office, not knowing what to do but after much
thought she decided to hire a retired school teacher to do the editing
and proof reading on the articles that were going into the Journal.
This worked out very well and was a great relief to me because I
really was exhausted. However, for years afterward Vi liked to tell
that story, always emphasizing that Macneil had said most people
acknowledged that I was a genius. She kept telling it because she knew
it always embarrassed me, made me uncomfortable. And she always
laughed when she saw my reaction.
In 1960 I met the woman who was to become my wife, Dorothy Burnham,
She was a writer and I soon recruited her to take on the job of
assistant editor of the Journal.
When we married she suggested to me that we try to make the Journal
outstanding in its field.
I was happy to agree and not much later I retired early from the Times
so we were able to concentrate entirely on the Journal. When
Dorothy had come aboard the staff, academics were being criticized for
writing obscurely in the hope that such writing would make them appear
more scholarly. Dorothy abhorred that kind of writing and insisted
that the articles we got ready to be printed in the Journal
had to be written clearly and gracefully and if they weren't she would
edit them until they were.
One day when she was editing an article she turned to me and said in
exasperation, "I think this guy must have gotten his Ph.D. with
box tops." I laughed and it became a joke we shared. Every now
and again I would tell her, "Here's another article from an
author whose Ph.D came from box tops."
Sometime during the years that followed, a canvass was taken by
specialists in economics which showed that there were about 350
economic journals in the world. Another study set out to rate these
journals annually and we were elated to learn that the AJES placed
among the first 25, year after year.
As I aged Tommy Larkin of the Schalkenbach Board began to worry about
what the Foundation would do if something happened to me and I
couldn't go on as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal. We needed to
have someone in the wings as backup, he insisted. Dorothy was asked if
she would be willing to take over the office. Dorothy adamantly
refused. If she were not helping me on the Journal, she said,
she preferred to work in the field in which she had last gotten a
degree -- psychology.
Tommy then suggested that a committee be formed to search for
somebody to take over when I retired. This was done and later when we
did retire Professor Frank Genovese of Babson College and his wife
Eleanor were chosen as our successors.
They did an excellent job of continuing what we had started until
they too retired and Professor Lawrence Moss, also of Babson College,
I have mentioned several ways in which I believe the Journal
pioneered. They are: It introduced the interdisciplinary approach. It
promoted the study of Henry George. It encouraged the study of
competitive capitalism as the ideal economic system. It promoted the
study of monopolistic capitalism so as to define the types of monopoly
of which it consisted. It formed the rule that scientific terms in the
social sciences must be defined but adroitly when they are used. It
advanced the idea that academic writing must exhibit grace and clarity
like all good writing and the requirement that criticism of scientific
reports must be designed to improve them. And finally, it strengthened
the idea that editors of scientific journals should welcome younger
and minority scholars.