Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

On the Origins of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology: Its Purposes and Objectives

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

On the Origins of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology: Its Purposes and Objectives

Article excerpt

WILL LISSNER [*]

ABSTRACT. This essay, written with the help of his devoted wife, Mrs. Dorothy Burnham Lissner, was prepared at the request of the current editor of the AJES. This essay was written during the fall of 1999. On September 10, Mrs. Lissner informed me that, "The early history of the Journal is all done. ... I hope it is satisfactory ... Will and I worked very hard on it. Long hours ... so I decided to interview him and take down what he said or have him answer on tape. Then I put everything together on the computer, almost like an article. He [Will Lissner] has checked it and thinks it's perfect, that we can do no better" (correspendence of D. B. Lissner with L. Moss, 9/10/99). This is the last known writing of Will Lissner and summarizes his aims, goals, and ambitions for this Journal nearly six decades after its founding. Had Will had more time, this essay would have been the first of a series of reflections on this history of this Journal.

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 was working as a reporter and correspondent on the New York Times.

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. 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. George firmly believed that people in a free society could remedy their own problems by cooperation and that competitive capitalism was the ideal economic system, as opposed to monopolistic capitalism. Competitive capitalism was developing at the time and this 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. While I was teaching there Francis Neilson, the Anglo-American essayist and cultural sociologist, asked the school to recommend some person to edit his writings and they 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 request.

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 $400. 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 $200. 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 Flays 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. …

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