|Clark, John Bates, 1847-1938
John Bates Clark was born in Providence on January 26, 1847, the son of merchant John H. Clark and Charlotte Huntington. In his early youth, his family moved to Minneapolis where his father engaged in the business of selling farm machinery. Clark came east in the early 1860s to attend Providence High School and Brown University, but after a return to Minnesota to manage his ailing father’s business, he concluded his American studies at Amherst College. Then, from 1874 to 1877 he spent considerable time in Germany studying economic theory with world-renowned scholars. Clark’s European experience had a profound impact on his later economic writings.
During his long academic career, Clark wrote several seminal works: The Philosophy of Wealth (1886), Capital and Its Earnings (1888), The Distribution of Wealth: A Theory of Wages, Interest and Profits (1899, 1902), The Control of Trusts (1901, 1912), The Essentials of Economic Theory (1907), Social Justice Without Socialism (1914), and A Tender of Peace (1935) which was a ringing but futile call for world peace.
Clark’s views shifted over his long academic career, but he was always an active participant in the debate over monopoly and business trusts. On this issue, Clark was forced to balance the belief of his German teachers that increased corporate growth was inevitable and no bad thing if superintended by the state, against the prevailing view of the English classical economists that all markets were naturally competitive if left alone by government. By 1912, in a revision of his 1901 book, The Control of Trusts, written with the assistance of his brilliant son, John Maurice Clark, the natural competitive model of the original book was modified and replaced by advocacy of several legal recommendations for controlling trusts that became a blueprint for a governmental antitrust policy, namely restrictions on mergers, exclusive dealing, interlocking directorates, and unfair competition. In 1914, both Clarks welcomed the Clayton Anti-Trust Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act.
In sum, Clark is described as a neoclassicist because he vigorously championed capitalism over socialism, but he also allied with the so-called “New Economists” in advocating some governmental regulation of the economic order such as implemented by Wilson’s New Freedom and FDR’s New Deal.
Clark taught at Carleton College in Minnesota (1877-1881), Smith College and Amherst College in Massachusetts (1882-1895), and eventually at Columbia University from 1895 to 1923. He was a founder (with New Economist Richard Ely) of the American Economic Association in 1885 and served as its president from 1893 to 1895. In 1911, he became the director of the history and economic section of the newly-organized Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in New York City. In that capacity, until he left that post in 1923, he helped to launch the studies that became the Social and Economic History of the World War (1935).
In 1875 Clark married Myra Smith, one of the early graduates of Vassar College. One of their four children, John Maurice, also became a leading economist and an associate of his father, a scholar and a theorist, who is regarded as the first American economist to deserve and gain a national reputation. John Bates Clark died in New York City on March 21, 1938 at the age of ninety-one.
– (Dr.) Patrick T. Conley