C.A. Wiley and the Integrated Economy

By Vaughn, Gerald | Journal of Economic Issues, March 1995 | Go to article overview

C.A. Wiley and the Integrated Economy


Vaughn, Gerald, Journal of Economic Issues


Two leading centers of institutional economics were the University of Wisconsin from the 1890s to mid-century and the University of Texas during the period 1930-1970. In the subfields of agricultural and land economics, Clarence Alton Wiley (1890-1956) provided a singular link between these two great centers of higher learning. Wiley obtained his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin studying under Richard T. Ely, Benjamin H. Hibbard, and George S. Wehrwein, and served as a professor of economics at the University of Texas for more than 30 years.

Notable for his keen understanding of resource institutions, Wiley described himself as "a theoretical economist, and also a would-be practical one" [Wiley 1949, 47]. This, together with his appreciation of the role of technology in economic development, combined to create his unique line of in stitutionalist thought.

An independent thinker, Wiley's main contribution to institutionalist thought was development of the concept of the integrated economy and rural America's need for integration into the aggregate economy. A simple measure of U.S. agriculture's past isolation from society, and resulting disconnectedness with the aggregate economy, is the percentage of farms having telephones and electricity. In 1930, only 25 percent of U.S. farms had telephones and 13 percent had electricity. In 1940, only 34 percent had telephones and 33 percent had electricity. By 1954, shortly before Wiley's death, still only 49 percent of all farms had telephones, though 93 percent had electricity.

It is integration of the economy that enables specialization or division of labor and standardization of production. Integration is a dynamic process that accumulates and attracts both capital and technology.

His Education and Early Career

Wiley was born in Blanco County, Texas, on a ranch at the eastern edge of the Edwards Plateau range country. Following education in rural schools and graduation from Johnson City High School in 1908, he taught in rural schools and did farm work during the summers. In 1914, he received a diploma from Southwest Texas State Teachers College at San Marcos and became a high school principal in Thrall, Texas, for the school years 1914-1915 and 1915-1916. In 1916-1917, Wiley worked as a bank teller, then in the next year as superintendent of public schools in a small Texas town. During World War I, from May 16, 1918, until discharge on March 30, 1919, he served in the Army, which took him to the battlefields of France.

In Austin on April 2, 1919, Wiley married Effie Lee Wells of Salado, also a teacher; she was born in 1894 and died in 1982. They had three children, Gerald Alton (born 1924), Frances Elaine (1925-1982), and Joe Morris Wiley (born 1929). Late in his life, he and Mrs. Wiley were divorced, and in 1955 he married Mrs. Mary Dean Drinkard of Austin.

Beginning in summer 1914, Wiley sought higher education at the University of Texas, sometimes financing his studies by road work and part-time teaching. He loved to debate and wanted to become a lawyer [J. Wiley, 1992-93]. But his career objective changed in 1920 when he took a course on the problems of rural America, "Rural Sociology" taught by A. C. Burkholder in summer school.

Wiley received his bachelor's degree in economics in 1920 at the end of summer school. He received his master's degree in economics in 1921 with a thesis titled "Criticism of J. B. Clark's Specific Productivity Theory of Distribution." A. B. Wolfe, the thesis supervisor and a major influence on Wiley, had come to the economics faculty of the University of Texas in 1914. Wolfe's book, Conservatism, Radicalism, and Scientific Method: An Essay on Social Attitudes [1923], reveals substantial influence from Thorstein Veblen. Wolfe taught courses called "Social Problems," "The Distribution of Wealth and Income," and "Industrial Reconstruction" that Wiley took. Wiley also took several courses in economics and sociology under W. …

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