Arnold Kling  

Progressives, Eugenics, and Airbrushing

Economics and Sociology... The Civic Duty to Know Your Li...

In a history of Swarthmore's economics department, Joshua Hausman wrote,

Nearing is also the only Swarthmore professor to have taught eugenics in an economics class. He omits his past interest in eugenics from his 1972 autobiography...

In a 1912 book, The Super Race: An American Problem, Nearing develops his ideas on race and eugenics. He describes one element of his desired policy (p. 40):

The first step in Eugenics progress – the elimination of defects by preventing the procreation of defectives – is easily stated, and may be almost as easily obtained. The price of six battleships ($50,000,000) would probably provide homes for all of the seriously defective men, women and children now at large in the United States. Yet with tens of thousands of defectives, freely propagating their kind, we continue to build battle-ships, fondly believing that rifled cannon and steel armor plate will prove sufficient for national defense.

For Nearing in 1912, preventing some members of society from reproducing was closely linked to a progressive program that included the redistribution of income, the elimination of war, and the “emancipation” of women (Nearing, 1912). Nearing’s thought on eugenics was not unusual during the Progressive Era.

...unlike many Swarthmore economics courses in the early 20th century, Nearing’s course on eugenics was more popular with women than it was with men.

I meandered to this essay by starting at Newmark's Door.

The quoted passage fits with the thesis of Jonah Goldberg's bestseller.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Buzzcut writes:

I actually came across a Eugenics textbook at an antiques store once. It was copywrited early twentieth century. I should have bought it, it was probably a real find.

Joe Horton writes:

There is a very good article, "Retrospectives: Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era". Some of the most important economists of the time were eugnicists.

Joe Horton

Joe Horton writes:

Sorry. I should have said the article is in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Fall, 2005.

Joe Horton

Troy Camplin writes:

Such a person as this would have sterilized my mentally ill grandmother on my dad's side and my father whose dyslexia is so severe as to prevent him from learning how to read very well and who has a genetic defect affecting his hips, which I have inherited. As a result, I would not have been born -- not that I'm a fine specimen by any stretch of the imagination, what with my hips and all, but I think he would have approved of my IQ and Ph.D. -- and neither would my dyslexic brother been born, who is an artist currently working on his MFA. Ironically, if his ideas had been successful, two examples he would have approved of would have never been born. And this is merely a pragmatic argument against eugenics.

Dain writes:

This complements Thomas Leonard's research on the illiberal (dominant, in fact) elements of Progressive thought. Paternalism, Maternalism, protection of wages for the "fit" races - it's all there.

Pedant writes:

Troy Camplin, is your point the existence of Type 1 Error? I think economists back then would have anticipated that.

Troy Camplin writes:

Yes (at least, the classically liberal economists, anyway), but not the eugenecists.

bill greene writes:

Dain correctly observes that these most repulsive ideas dominated the illiberality of Progressive thought. Writers Bullock, Peikoff and Goldhagen have suggested that it was the Great Philosophers and their "enlightened" and secular ideas that dominated the European Enlightenment and made Hitler possible. The call for euthanasia, genocide, and genetic engineering was started by Von Trietschke in the University of Berlin 100 years before Hitler's birth. Trietschke was followed by a host of the "great philosophers" who developed the idea of supermen crushing the weak. Of course euthanasia was just one of their bad ideas--even if they had become born-again Christians and eschewed violence their remaining destructive ideas favoring central governmental planning and social engineering would have placed these "Progressives" high up among the Top Ten worst minds of all time.

Rod McFadden writes:

Eugenics is addressed in How the Dismal Science got its Name by David Levy of GMU and Sandra Peart of the University of Richmond. The number of well-known people who signed onto ye goode shippe Eugenics -- Margaret Sanger, Charles Darwin -- in whole or in part was a real eye-opener.

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