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Robert S. Brookings: The Man, the Vision and the Institution

  • Donald T. Critchlow

Contrary to those social scientists who posit a close relationship between corporate interests, the capitalist state, and the nonpartisan research establishment, this paper challenges the linkage thesis through an examination of the early history of the Brookings Institution. As the nation's oldest and most prestigious “think tank,” the Brookings Institution played a multidimensional role in the public policy process. Robert S. Brookings, the capitalist who founded the institution in the aftermath of World War I, played little role in the subsequent history of the institution. Instead, the less reform-minded professional social scientists who staffed the organization shaped the character of the institution. In their defense of the market economy, Brookings economists emerged as leading opponents of the new liberal state.

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1 Guttman, Daniel and Willner, Barry, The Shadow Government (New York, 1976), pp. 122–28; and Dickson, Paul, Think Tanks (New York, 1971).

2 Weinstein, James, The Corporate Ideal and the Liberal State (Boston, 1968), pp. ixx.

3 Lustig, R. Jeffrey, Corporate Liberalism: The Origins of Modern Political Theory, 1890–1920 (Berkeley, 1982), pp. xixii.

4 Domhoff, G. William, The Higher Circles (New York, 1970), pp. 182–84; and Silk, Leonard and Silk, Mark, The American Establishment (New York, 1980); and Eakins, David, “The Development of Corporate Liberal Research in the United States” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1966).

5 Poulantzas, Nicos, State, Power, Socialism (London, 1978).

6 Block, Fred, “The Ruling Class Does Not Rule: Notes on the Marxist Theory of the State,” Socialist Revolution (0506, 1977), 628.

7 Skocpol, Theda, “Political Responses to Capitalist Crisis: Neo-Marxist Theories of the State and the Case of the New Deal,” Politics and Society (1975), 155–99.

8 The Brookings Institution, “By-Laws of the Corporation,” in Board of Trustees, Minutes (04 21–22, 1922) in Brookings Institution Files (hereafter BIF).

9 “Efficiency” remains an ambiguous concept. At least three meanings have been imparted to this word by social scientists in the twentieth century. First, “efficiency and economy” experts often use efficiency to mean managerial and administrative competency. In turn, economists use efficiency in the sense of opportunity costs or resource input compared with product outcome, ofter measured in dollars. At the same time, some economists discuss efficiency in terms of human costs incurred and human satisfactions and benefits produced.

Therefore, efficiency can be used in a myriad of ways. Thus every system, as Jacques Ellul correctly observes in The Technological Society (New York, 1964), seeks efficiency. Nevertheless, efficiency, with its multiple meanings, will be defined by the institutional context of each organization within the sociopolitical or technological system.

See Slichter, Sumner, “Efficiency,” The Encyclopedia of Social Science, 5 (New York, 1937), 437–39. Also, Haber, Samuel, Efficiency and Uplift: Scientific Management in the Progressive Era, 1890–1920 (Chicago, 1964).

10 For a fine discussion of voluntarist and determinist models within the history of the social sciences, see Alexander, Jeffrey C., Theoretical Logic in Sociology, 2 vols. (Berkeley, 1983), especially volume II, The Antinomies of Classical Thought: Marx and Durkheim, xviixxi and 92160. Alexander argues that deterministic models which emphasize social systems ignore the importance of individuals. Deterministic or collectivistic models assume that individual action is always instrumental and rational. Motives, therefore, are always calculating and efficient, action always predictable on the basis of external pressure alone. Alexander argues that social scientists must move beyond deterministic and voluntaristic models to a more synthetic and multidimensional understanding of the collective order.

11 For Carnegie see Wall, Joseph Frazier, Andrew Carnegie (New York, 1970). The following discussion of Robert S. Brookings is drawn from two unpublished autobiographies, one dated 1920 and the other 11 April 1932, found in the Chancellor Files, Washington University Archives. Also, see Hagedorn, Herman, Robert S. Brookings: A Biography (New York, 1937).

12 Thomson, Charles, The Institute for Government Research (Washington, D.C., 1965); and Saunders, Charles Jr, The Brookings Institution—A Fifty Year History (Washington, D.C., 1966).

13 President's Commission on Economy and Efficiency, The Need for a National Budget, H. Doc. 854, 62nd Cong., 2nd Sess. (Washington, D.C., 1910), pp. 23, 7879. Also, Cleveland, Frederick, The Budget and Responsible Government (New York, 1920);Fisher, Louis, Presidential Spending Power (Princeton, 1975), pp. 1735; and Kimmel, Lewis, The Federal Budget and Fiscal Policy, 1789–1958 (Washington, D.C., 1959).

14 Samuel Hays originally called attention to this process of depoliticalization during the Progressive period in a series of monographs including, “Political Parties and the Community-Society Continuum,” in The American Party Systems, ed. Chambers, William N. and Burnham, Walter Dean (New York, 1967), esp., pp. 171–80;“The New Organizational Society,” in Building the Organizational Society; Essays on Associational Activities in Modern America, ed. Israel, Jerry (New York, 1972); and The Politics of Reform in Municipal Government in the Progressive Era,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly, 55 (10 1964), 157–69. Also see Burnham, Walter Dean, Critical Elections and the Mainsprings of American Politics (New York, 1970), pp. 7190.

15 Willoughby, William F., “Two Years of Legislation in Porto Rico,” Atlantic Monthly, 07 1902, pp. 3442;The Reorganization of Municipal Government in Porto Rico,” Political Science Quarterly, 24 (09 1909), 409–43.

Willoughby's twin brother, Westel, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins, took the elitism of many social scientists a step further when he proposed in 1921 that “the vote of each individual be given a weight proportionate to his intelligence” (Willoughby, Westel W. and Rogers, Lindsay, An Introduction to the Problem of Government [New York, 1921]).

16 Anderson, Chandler P., Diary, entry 22 01 1918, Anderson Papers, Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.). Also, Schwarz, Jordan A., The Speculator: Bernard M. Baruch in Washington, 1917–1975 (Chapel Hill, 1981), pp. 7376.Urofsky, Melvin I., Big Steel and the Wilson Administration: A Study in Business-Government Relations (New York, 1969);Cuff, Robert D., The War Industries Board: Business-Government Relations During World War I (New York, 1973).

17 Fisher, Irving, “Economists in Public Service,” American Economic Review, 9 (06 1919).

18 Hagedorn, , Brookings, p. 261.

19 “Proposal to the Carnegie Foundation,” quoted in full in Board of Trustees, Minutes, 5 January 1922, BIF.

20 John D. Rockefeller to Jerome P. Green, 8 November 1920, BIF.

21 Harold G. Moulton to Robert S. Brookings, 21 January 1922 and Moulton to Brookings, 8 May 1922, BIF.

22 Saunders, , The Brookings Institution, p. 39;Lyon, Leverett, “Report to the Trustees,” in Memorandum on the Early History of the Brookings Institution, BIF.

23 Brookings, Robert S., Industrial Ownership: Its Economic and Social Significance (New York, 1925).

24 Ibid., pp. 58–64

25 Ibid., pp. 54–55

26 Quoted, in Hagedorn, Brookings, p. 310.

27 Robert S. Brookings to Harold G. Moulton, 26 March 1932, BIF.

28 Berle, Adolph A. and Means, Gardner C., The Modern Corporation and Private Property (New York, 1932).

29 See Moulton, Harold G., Germany's Capacity to Pay (Washington, D.C., 1923);Moulton, Harold G. and Pasvolsky, Leo, World War Debt Settlements (New York, 1924);Moulton, H. G., “War Debts and International Trade Theory,” American Economic Review, 15 (12 1925).

For the Brookings Institution's work with Indians see Meriam, Lewis et al. , The Problem of Indian Administration in the United States (Washington, D.C., 1927).

30 Lyon, Leverett et al. , The National Recovery Administration: An Analysis and Appraisal (Washington, D.C., 1935);Lyon, Leverett, The Economics of Free Deals: With Suggestions for Code-Making Under the NRA (Washington, D.C., 1933);Moulton, Harold G., The Recovery Problem in the United States (Washington, D.C., 1938).

31 Moulton, Harold G. and Schlotterbeck, Karl T., Should Price Controls Be Retained? (Washington, D.C., 1945);Bachman, George W. and Meriam, Lewis, The Issue of Compulsory Health Insurance (Washington, D.C., 1948); and Meriam, Lewis and Schlotterbeck, Karl, The Cost and Finances of Social Security (Washington, D.C., 1950).

32 Harold G. Moulton to Frederic Delano, 21 April 1935, BIF.

33 Moulton, Harold G., Controlling Factors in Economic Development (Washington, D.C., 1949).

34 Delano in fact resigned from the board of trustees after prolonged confrontations with Moulton.

35 Standard works on government reorganization in the Roosevelt administration include Polenberg, Richard, Reorganizing Roosevelt's Government: The Controversy Over Executive Reorganization, 1936–1939 (Cambridge, 1966); and Karl's, Barry Dean excellent Executive Reorganization and Reform in the New Deal (Cambridge, 1963).

Also see President's Committee on Government Administration and Management, The Reorganization of the Executive Branch of Government (Washington, D.C. 1937).

36 The Brookings Institution's relations with the Brownlow Committee are found in Moulton, H. G., “Memorandum to Louis Brownlow,” (24 March 1937); and Brownlow, Louis, “Memorandum for Moulton,” (11 March 1937) in President's Reorganization Committee Files, FDR Library, Hyde Park, New York. Also, Seiko, Daniel, Memorandum, “Financial Administration of the Federal Government,” (n.d.) in the Brookings Institution Archives, Washington, D.C.

37 Senator Byrd to W. F. Powell, 25 February 1937; H. G. Moulton to Senator Byrd, 2 March 1937; and Moulton to Senator Byrd, 23 March 1937, in the Brookings Institution Archives, Washington, D.C.

38 Memorandum, “State and County Surveys Made by the Institute for Government Research, 1929–1941,” (n.d.) in the Brookings Institution Archives.

39 U.S. Congress, Hearings Before the Joint Committee on Government Organization (Washington, D.C., 1937), pp. 276–94, 307310.

40 Edwin Gay to Harold G. Moulton, 3 August 1943.

41 See Harold G. Moulton's speeches to the Foreign Policy Association, Philadelphia, 16 December 1944; American Finance Conference, 17 November 1943; American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers, 18 November 1940; the Ohio Public Expenditures Conference, 3 November 1949, BIF.

42 Quoted in Alexander, , Theoretical Logic in Sociology, 2: 93.

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