Modern Economic Thought: The American Contribution

By Allan G. Gruchy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
3
The Collective Economics of John R. Commons

The long period of chronic hard times from 1873 to 1897 which nourished the rebellious spirit of Thorstein Veblen was also the period in which John R. Commons reached his maturity. Like Veblen he had seen the price level undergo a secular decline after 1873. He had observed business struggle against the depressing effects of a long-continuing deflationary era; and he had also witnessed the desperate attempts of the agricultural areas of the country to provide for their growing burdens of fixed charges in the face of shrinking incomes. As was the case with Veblen, Commonscame to doubt the validity of the analysis provided by the conventional economic theory of the times. Events quickened his appreciation of the economic disequilibrium which was so widespread, and which appeared to be more characteristic of economic life than was the static equilibrium referred to in the generally accepted economic treatises. Along with R. T. Ely, E. A. Ross, and Veblen, Commons was soon enrolled in that group of economists who, at the turn of the century, began to challenge the general body of orthodox economic doctrine. However, Commons' heterodoxy in economics has been coupled with a buoyancy of spirit and an optimistic, midwestern outlook which are quite alien to the whole Veblenian interpretation of the course of economic development. Whereas the events of the last quarter of the nineteenth century served to bring out Veblen's inherent pessimism and iconoclastic proclivities, for Commons the same events merely whetted a desire to make the existing economic system more "reasonable" and less destructive of human values.

To the student of American economic thought John R. Commons

-135-

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