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Richard T. Ely

Richard T. Ely
Richard T. Ely as he appeared in 1903
Born (1854-04-13)April 13, 1854
Ripley, New York
Died October 4, 1943(1943-10-04) (aged 89)
Old Lyme, Connecticut
Nationality United States
Field Political economy
Influenced John R. Commons
Ha-Joon Chang
Woodrow Wilson
Herbert A. Simon

Richard Theodore Ely (April 13, 1854 – October 4, 1943) was an American socialism, and other social questions.


  • Biography 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • Education and career 1.2
    • Political views 1.3
    • Death and legacy 1.4
  • Works 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • Additional reading 5
  • External links 6


Early years

Ely was born on April 13, 1854, in Ripley, New York, the eldest of three children of Ezra Sterling Ely and the former Harriet Gardner Mason. Richard Theodore Ely was born on April 13, 1854, in Ripley, New York, the eldest of three children of Ezra Sterling and Harriet Gardner (Mason) Ely. Soon after Ely's birth, his father moved the family to a 90-acre farm near Fredonia, New York, where Ely would spend the next 16 years. The elder Ely was a self-taught engineer and lacked the skills and knowledge to farm successfully, relying too heavily on popular, sometimes erroneous, information he obtained from farm magazines. Although harsh weather and fluctuating market prices provided further hardship to the family, Ely credited his early farm life with instilling in him many valuable qualities. From a young age he had numerous responsibilities in maintaining the farm, including carrying wood, churning butter, picking up rocks out of the fields, and milking the cows. His parents were Presbyterian but Ely transferred his affiliation to the Episcopal Church when in college.

Education and career

Ely attended Columbia University in New York City, from which he received a Bachelor's degree in 1876 and a Master's degree in 1879. He received a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Heidelberg in that same year.[1] He later received a Doctorate of Laws from Hobart College, receiving the degree in 1892.[1]

Ely was a professor and head of the Department of Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland from 1881 to 1892.[2]

In 1885, Ely was a founder of the

  • Profile at History of Economic Thought website
  • Profile at University of Wisconsin–Madison website
  • Academic Freedom on Trial: on Ely's 1894 trial
  • Extract from The Social Law of Service

External links

  • Sidney Fine, "Richard T. Ely, Forerunner of Progressivism, 1880–1901," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. vol. 37, no. 4 (March 1951). in JSTOR
  • Robert J. Gough, "Richard T. Ely and the Development of the Wisconsin Cutover", Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 75, no. 1 (Autumn 1991), pp. 2–38.
  • Arthur M. Lewis, Ten Blind Leaders of the Blind. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1910. See "Chapter 4: Richard T. Ely," pp. 65–82.
  • Benjamin G. Rader, "Richard T. Ely: Lay Spokesman for the Social Gospel," Journal of American History, vol. 53, no. 1 (June 1966). in JSTOR
  • Theron F. Schlabach, "An Aristocrat on Trial: The Case of Richard T. Ely", Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 47, no. 2 (Winter 1963-64), pp. 140–159.

Additional reading

  1. ^ a b Francis X. Gannon, Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume IV. Boston: Western Islands, 1973; pg. 355.
  2. ^ a b c d Gannon, Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume IV, pg. 356.
  3. ^ Thies, Clifford F., and Ryan Daza. "Richard T. Ely: The Confederate Flag of the AEA?", Econ Journal Watch 8(2):147–156, May 2011.[2]
  4. ^ Gannon, Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume IV. Boston: Western Islands, 1973; pg. 359.
  5. ^ "Sifting and Winnowing,"
  6. ^ See, for example, the editorializing comments in his biography published by the John Birch Society in 1973: Francis X. Gannon, "Richard T. Ely" in Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume IV, pg. 357 and passim.
  7. ^ Quoted in Sidney Fine, "Richard T. Ely, Forerunner of Progressivism, 1880–1901," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 37, no. 4 (March 1951), pg. 611.
  8. ^ Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, pp. 464, 468, 237.
  9. ^ Arthur M. Lewis, Ten Blind Leaders of the Blind. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1912; pp. 65, 78.
  10. ^ Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society, p. 97.
  11. ^ Ely to A.M. Simons in Milwaukee, November 12, 1918. Simons Papers, box 2, folder 2.
  12. ^ Gannon, A Biographical Dictionary of the Left: Volume 4, pg. 361.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Ramage, B.J., ‘Dr. Ely on Social Reform’, The Sewanee Review 3 (1894), 105-110


See also

  • French and German Socialism in Modern Times. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1883.
  • The Past and Present of Political Economy. (contributor) Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, 1884.
  • Recent American Socialism. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, 1885.
  • The Labor Movement in America. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1886.
  • Taxation in American States and Cities. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1888.
  • Problems of To-day. (1888)
  • Introduction to Political Economy. (1889)
  • Social Aspects of Christianity, and Other Essays. (1889)
  • The Universities and the Churches: An Address Delivered at the 31st University Convocation, State Chamber, Albany, New York, July 5, 1893. Albany: State University of New York, 1893.
  • Socialism: An Examination of Its Nature, Its Strength and Its Weakness. (1894) Reissued as The Strength and Weakness of Socialism. Also known by the short version of its title, Socialism and Social Reform.[14]
  • The Social Law of Service. (1896)
  • Monopolies and Trusts. New York: Macmillan, 1900.
  • The Coming City. (1902)
  • Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society. (1903)
  • Elementary Principles of Economics: Together with a Short Sketch of Economic History. With G.R. Wicker. New York: Macmillan, 1904.
  • Outlines of Economics. With T. S. Adams, Max Otto Lorenz, and Allyn Abbott Young. (1908)
  • Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society. (1903; new edition, 1913)
  • Property and Contract in their Relation to the Distribution of Wealth. In two volumes: Volume 1 and Volume 2. New York: Macmillan, 1914.
  • "Private Colonization of Land," Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1918.
  • Elements of Land Economics. (co-author) (1926)
  • Hard Times: The Way In and the Way Out. (1931)
  • The Great Change. (co-author) (1935)
  • Ground Under Our Feet. (1938)
  • Land Economics. With G.S. Wehrwein. (1940)


His former home, now known as the Richard T. Ely House, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[13]

The American Economic Association instituted the annual "Richard T. Ely Lecture" in 1960 in his memory, which, unlike the Association's other honors is also open to non-American economists.

Ely is honored together with William Dwight Porter Bliss with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on October 8.

Richard Ely died in Old Lyme, Connecticut on October 4, 1943. A large portion of his library was purchased by Louisiana State University and is now a part of LSU's Special Collections division.

The Richard T. Ely House in Madison, Wisconsin

Death and legacy

Ely edited Macmillan's Citizen's Library of Economics, Politics, and Sociology and its Social Science Textbook Series, Crowell's Library of Economics and Politics, and was a frequent contributor to periodical literature, both scientific and popular.[12]

During World War I, Ely was active in the political movement to build popular support for the American war effort, taking part in the activities of the League to Enforce Peace. Ely was the head of the committee of arrangements for a "Win the War Convention" held in Madison from November 8–10, 1918.[11] Richard Ely's political activities during the First World War included his strong campaign to remove Senator La Follette from politics. Although Robert La Follette was generally a Progressive in politics, his lack of support for the war had made him unfit for office, in the opinion of Richard Ely, and so Ely campaigned to both have him removed from the United States Senate and to end his influence in the politics of Wisconsin.

Ely did support labor unions and opposed child labor, as did many leaders of the Progressive Movement, including such conservatives as Mark Hanna. He was close to the Social Gospel movement, emphasizing that the Gospel of Christ applied to society as a whole and was not merely individualistic; he worked hard to convince churches to advocate on behalf of workers. Ely strongly influenced his friend Walter Rauschenbusch, a leading spokesman for the Social Gospel.

Ely was a product of the German historical school with an emphasis on evolution to new forms, and never accepted the marginalist revolution that was transforming economic theory in Britain and the U.S. He was strongly influenced by Herbert Spencer and strongly favored competition over monopoly or state ownership, with regulation to "secure its benefits" and "mitigate its evils." What was needed was "to raise its moral and ethical level."[10] However, whereas Herbert Spencer believed that free competition was best served by deregulation and a smaller state, Richard Ely believed that more regulation and a more interventionist state was the policy to follow. Also on social Darwinism, Herbert Spencer believed that the state should not get involved in supporting one ethnic group over another — whereas Richard Ely believed that the state should support white "Nordic" people against people of other races (in line with the opinions of his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Edward Alsworth Ross and Charles R. Van Hise).

Ely's critique of socialism made him a political target of the socialists themselves. In his 1910 book, Ten Blind Leaders of the Blind, Arthur Morrow Lewis acknowledged that Ely was a "fair opponent" who had "done much to obtain a hearing for [socialism] among the unreasonable," but charged he was merely one of those "bourgeois intellectuals" who were "not sufficiently intellectual to grasp the nature of our position."[9]

Although regarded as a radical by his detractors on the political right,[6] Ely was in fact opposed to socialism. "I condemn alike," he declared, "that individualism that would allow the state no room for industrial activity, and that socialism which would absorb in the state the functions of the individual."[7] He argued that socialism was not needed, and "the alternative of socialism is our complex socio-economic order, which is based, in the main, upon private property." He warned that the proper "balance between private and public enterprise" is "menaced by socialism, on the one hand, and by plutocracy, on the other."[8]

Political views

In 1925, Ely moved to Northwestern University in Chicago, where he accepted a position as professor of Economics. He remained at Northwestern until his retirement in 1933.[2]

From 1892 until 1925, he was professor of Political Economy and director of the School of Economics, Political Science, and History at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In 1894 an unsuccessful attempt was made to depose him from his chair at Wisconsin for purportedly teaching socialistic doctrines. This effort failed, with the Wisconsin state Board of Regents issuing a ringing proclamation in favor of academic freedom, acknowledging the necessity for freely "sifting and winnowing" among competing claims of truth.[5]

In April 1891, Ely was a founder and the first Secretary of the Christian principles to the social problems of the world.[4]

." Land Economics Ely also founded Lambda Alpha International in 1930. Its purposes included the encouragement of the study of land economics in universities; the promotion of a closer affiliation between its members and the professional world of land economics; and the furtherance of the highest ideals of scholarship and honesty in business and the universities. Richard T. Ely is known as the "Father of [3] AEA still entitles the keynote address at its annual meeting the Richard T. Ely Lecture and recently honored him in the association's annual Economists' Calendar.[2]

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