12.29.2017

Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 103

Here's an excerpt from a magazine article I recently read, "Prophet of Prosperity," in the November/December 2017 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette:





Back across the Atlantic, another man was thinking along the same lines. Joseph Wharton was a savvy Quaker who had parlayed his early training in chemistry into an industrial empire stretching from fertilizer and zinc oxide works to Bethlehem Steel. He believed that the development of American industry required jettisoning the free-trade theories that had lately taken root in England—and that justified American dependence on British manufacturing on the basis of Ricardian notions about economic efficiency and comparative advantage.


“The prestige universities like Harvard and Yale were all pro-trade,” says economic historian Michael Hudson, a research professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “They were affiliated with the trading interests. And there really wasn’t any manufacturing industry, apart from Pennsylvania, to push its own interests.”



So Wharton, perceiving what he dubbed an “intellectual hiatus in the business life of the nation,” endowed an entirely new kind of college at the University of Pennsylvania. The Wharton School of Finance and Economy would train a rising elite in “business management and civil government.” He envisioned a new class of virtuous administrators with explicitly civic-minded values. Whether they chose to “serve the community … in offices of trust” or manage private enterprises according to “sound financial morality,” they would focus on solving “the social problems incident to our civilization.”



Aside from those generalities, the industrialist had a specific pedagogical demand: that the “fungus” of free trade economics be stamped out in the classrooms of the new school. “No apologetic or merely defensive style of instruction must be tolerated upon this point,” he admonished the trustees in 1881, “but the right and duty of national self-protection must be firmly asserted and demonstrated.”



“Essentially,” says Hudson, “the Wharton School was the think tank for American industrialization. … [Its founder] was saying: Look, if we’re going to industrialize, we need a whole theory of how to get a trade policy and a government infrastructure policy to support industry.”
 



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