Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Walter Lippmann

Walter Lippmann: Public Economist

Craufurd D. Goodwin
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 370
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Walter Lippmann
    Book Description:

    Unemployment, monetary and fiscal policy, and the merits and drawbacks of free markets were a few of the issues the journalist and public philosopher Walter Lippmann explained to the public during the Depression, when professional economists skilled at translating concepts for a lay audience were not yet on the scene, as Craufurd Goodwin shows.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-73575-0
    Subjects: Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Citations and Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    From the onset of the Great Depression to the years after World War II Americans were faced with a long and agonizing series of economic policy questions. What had caused the economic collapse and what could be done about it? How should the domestic economy be reformed to make it resistant to future crises? How might the distribution of income and wealth be reshaped so as to become more equitable and humane? Should large concentrations of power in capital and labor be broken up or constrained in some way? How might the dramatic soil erosion in the South and Southwest,...

  6. 1 The Making of a Public Economist
    (pp. 5-35)

    Who can say with confidence what prepares someone for a career, in this case one as a public economist? We can only speculate. In this chapter those aspects of Walter Lippmann’s family background, education, and early experience in journalism, public service, and scholarly endeavors are described that seem relevant to his later career.

    The only child born to an upper-middle-class German-Jewish family in New York City in 1889, Lippmann led a privileged, even pampered early life. His father worked in the clothing business, and his mother inherited wealth from her family in real estate (Steel 1980, 8). His parents while...

  7. 2 Building Intellectual Community
    (pp. 36-55)

    Most intellectuals are embedded in some kind of supportive group from which they draw creative nourishment. Sometimes this group is clearly defined within a profession, such as college and university teaching and research. In such cases there are regularized meetings, lectures, publications, close colleagues where the intellectuals are employed, and networks of relationships that grow up and sustain intellectual activity over a lifetime. In other instances a single major institution is large enough in itself to create the supportive group. Sometimes the intellectual community is very informal and made up of people from similar occupations like business or farming or...

  8. 3 “You Can Always Tell a Harvard Man”
    (pp. 56-73)

    It remains a puzzle how Lippmann, with all his responsibilities as author, editor, and political journalist, kept up so well with the fast-moving social sciences and academic affairs in general during the turbulent depression years. Part of the explanation lies undoubtedly in his voracious reading, his extended friendships, and his development of a complex set of intellectual relationships discussed in Chapter 2. But unlike conventional academics he did not have daily exchanges with colleagues, the stimulus of classroom teaching, time specifically designated for serious research, or participation in professional societies to sustain his intellectual engagement and keep him on the...

  9. 4 Recovery
    (pp. 74-117)

    Where then did Walter Lippmann stand when he began his extraordinarily successful newspaper column in 1931? He had sampled many of the main intellectual disciplines in the humanities, the arts, and the social sciences, with emphasis on philosophy, political science, law, economics, and psychology. He had concluded that he would never be comfortable specializing in just one, but he was excited at the challenge of making combinations among them. Within economics he had been exposed to classical economics, socialist doctrine, evolving Institutionalist ideas, and the new Keynesian macroeconomics. He felt most comfortable with the last two. His contacts and friendships...

  10. 5 Keynesian Conversion
    (pp. 118-170)

    The final macroeconomic sacred cow to appear before Lippmann in his search for the cause of the depression, after free trade and the gold standard, was the balanced fiscal budget. He began his columns in 1931 devoutly orthodox on this matter. On fiscal policy, he wrote that “maintaining an absolute confidence throughout the world in the credit of the United States” was of paramount importance and therefore “the balancing of the Federal budget by reducing expenditures and by increasing revenues is the fundamental and indispensable problem before Congress” (HT 1/5/32). He admitted that maintaining a balanced budget during a depression...

  11. 6 Reform I: Redistribution
    (pp. 171-196)

    Walter Lippmann was a kind and generous man in his relations with family, friends, and even relative strangers. He volunteered to help the less privileged as a student, and he made a substantial (and anonymous) contribution to a private committee set up at the beginning of the depression to help the unemployed (WL to Emergency Unemployment Relief Committee, November 9, 1931, WLPIII F708). He even paid the tuition of neighbors’ children when the neighbors ran out of money. So there is no reason to expect that he would be opposed to all redistribution of income and wealth. Indeed, he did...

  12. 7 Reform II: Monopoly
    (pp. 197-222)

    Lippmann began his career as a journalist at the end of World War I with the optimism of the young progressive intellectuals of his day. He was a reformer but not a revolutionary. He believed that the democratic polity and competitive market economy were far from perfect, but they could be improved and they could be saved. These systems should not be replaced if for no other reason than because no better alternatives could be discerned. Lippmann believed that society was populated in the main by reasonable people of goodwill who would do the right thing if it were pointed...

  13. 8 “Regenerated Liberalism”
    (pp. 223-260)

    The last half of the 1930s was an especially dark time for Lippmann. The Great Depression would not go away. Dictators were strengthening their positions in Europe. The economic and political ill effects of World War I had not been dealt with satisfactorily. The various conferences set up to achieve peace, disarmament, and a more satisfactory world economy had been unsuccessful. Even the League of Nations seemed to have failed. In the United States Roosevelt was elected to a second term despite his apparent disregard for free markets and civil liberties. The New Dealers in his administration kept coming up...

  14. 9 War
    (pp. 261-297)

    Lippmann was revolted by war. It was the antithesis of the peaceful and efficient Good Society, to which he looked forward throughout the 1930s. War was wasteful, in most respects irrational, and destructive both of goods and services and of human freedom. He had seen war up close in the War Department in 1917 and as a commissioned officer, and he was especially conscious of how truth and candor were replaced by propaganda. He had been disgusted at how the war effort was turned over to those who knew little about it or how to conduct it. At the start...

  15. 10 Peace
    (pp. 298-315)

    As he looked forward to peace on the home front even before war had ended overseas, Lippmann brought together in his columns many of his recommendations for peacetime made over the years about how to achieve a good economy, together with some new ones. He emphasized at the outset that his abiding objective was to make possible for his fellow Americans a life based on reason, and now the objective should be to spread this tradition of the West throughout the world, a sort of newfound Manifest Destiny for America based on ideas. He wrote in 1945: “Our power and...

  16. 11 The Economy of the Postwar World
    (pp. 316-350)

    Lippmann’s columns during the first decade and a half of publication, 1931–1946, were driven by his strong sense that the free market system was failing, especially in the United States. This meant to him that liberal democracy also was in jeopardy. At the macroeconomic level, failure was evident in the high levels of unemployment and stagnation. A democratic nation would not tolerate this suffering for long. Already, he observed, authoritarian regimes promising a brighter future had come into power in Europe, and others were just over the horizon. At the microeconomic level, schemes for “planning” and market intervention were...

  17. 12 The Good Economy
    (pp. 351-372)

    Walter Lippmann began his career as a newspaper columnist having devoted little time or attention to economics. As a student he dismissed classical economics as mainly a tool of the ruling class, and then he became disillusioned quickly with socialist doctrine. The new Institutionalist economics that was emerging during the early years of the twentieth century did not seem to answer many of the questions that troubled him. Yet by the end of his first decade and a half as a columnist he had arrived at a confident position on the several major economic challenges that faced the nation. One...

  18. Draft of Declaration of Principles, 1936 (WLPIII F640)
    (pp. 373-376)
  19. Columns by Walter Lippmann
    (pp. 377-396)
  20. References
    (pp. 397-400)
  21. Index
    (pp. 401-414)