Clay’s Economics

This was the query at the history of economics website, which I might note, has had quite an interesting response:

I’m working on an analysis of introductory economics textbooks published in the United States between about 1890 and 1950 (the period between Marshall and Samuelson, roughly). I’ve accumulated an ad hoc collection of texts based on the holdings of my library and scattered references in the secondary literature (Elzinga 1992, Walstad et al 1998, and Giraud 2013 in particular), but I was hoping that there might be some more systematic way to generate a universe of texts from which to sample. Does anyone have a recommendation for a good source that discusses principles texts in this period, perhaps with information on relative influence (number of editions, course adoptions, or sales)? Does such a source exist?

This was my own contribution:

In a reply to a recent request for any centenary celebrations coming up in economics in 2016 which was put out by the editors of the History of Economics Review, our HET journal here in Australasia, I wrote:

“2016 is the hundredth anniversary of the publication of what I think of as the best single introductory text on economics published in the twentieth century, Henry Clay’s Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader. I would very happily provide you with a shortish note on this great text – you have to see just its publication history from 1916 to 1942 when the second edition was published to appreciate just how extraordinary it was. Used everywhere, including Oxford and Cambridge, and not just mechanics institutes. Also the best summary of pre-Keynesian theory available, in my view, from any source.”

I realise that the request in this instance is for “introductory economics textbooks published in the United States” and Clay was published by Macmillan in the UK. But looking here at my lovely first edition, the second listing of the publisher’s location reads in a way which does suggest that it would have had a publication history within the US:

“The Macmillan Company
“New York . Boston . Chicago
“Dallas . San Francisco”

And as in indication of its presence in the United States, I also have this: Problems and Exercises to Accompany Clay’s Economics for the General Reader and Ely’s Outlines of Economics, which was published in 1921, whose author was:

“H. Gordon Hayes
“Professor of Economics in Ohio State University”

I might point out that in this set of questions – which you might for fun test your graduate students on for their understanding of economics – it is Clay who is mentioned before Ely.

I will finally mention that in The Great Gatsby, a text as American as it gets, we have this passage in reference to Gatsby himself as he stands waiting in the library for Daisy to arrive:

“[He] looked with vacant eyes through a copy of Clay’s Economics.”

If even Gatsby was reading Clay, who wasn’t?

What I didn’t mention was that I titled my own text to follow Clay’s: Free Market Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader. The number of out and out Keynesian falsehoods that are revealed by going through Clay is astonishing, starting with acceptance of Say’s Law means classical economists always assumed full employment. It’s not a short book, and its lack of diagrams makes it hard for someone of the present generation of economists to bother with, but it very efficiently gets the job done. And naturally, what I like best about it, is that it is the economics of John Stuart Mill, brought up to date for the first half of the twentieth century, just as my own text is Mill for the 21st century. Did I ever mention, by the way, that the cover of my book shows a Mill made of Clay?

1 thought on “Clay’s Economics

  1. This is funny. I just did a search on ‘economics’ in The Great Gatsby.
    Gatsby supposedly read Clay’s Economics. LOL

    Of course no one tells us the annual depreciation of automobiles since Sputnik and how much is due to planned obsolescence.

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