John Maurice Clark

The American economist John Maurice Clark (1884-1963) is perhaps the best-known forerunner of the American economists who are sometimes referred to as the pragmatic school.

John Maurice Clark was born in Northampton, Mass. He graduated from nearby Amherst College in 1905 and did his graduate study in economics at Columbia University, where he received his doctorate in 1910. He instructed at Colorado College (1908-1910) and at Amherst College (1910-1915) until he joined the faculty of political economy at the University of Chicago, where his colleagues included Jacob Viner and Frank Knight. In 1926 he left Chicago to accept a professorship at Columbia, where he remained until he retired in 1957, completing a half century of uninterrupted teaching and productive scholarship.

Clark's works, while primarily theoretical in content, were almost always directed toward clarifying and solving practical economic issues. He skillfully built his own analytical treatises upon the logic underlying the rigorously formulated models of others, first the marginalists and later Edward H. Chamberlin and Joan Robinson. In contrast with the methodology of these scholars, and of the younger mathematical economists who rose to prominence during the latter part of his professional life, Clark's methodology relied on the written word rather than geometric and algebraic formulations.

Dynamics of a Market Economy

Clark has been singled out as one of the few economists (John Maynard Keynes was another) born into the profession. He was the son of the distinguished John Bates Clark, a founder and the third president of the American Economic Association. John Maurice Clark, following in his father's footsteps, was the association's thirty-seventh president. The senior Clark had a pronounced influence on Clark's professional and personal life. The father directed the son's doctoral dissertation at Columbia (Standards of Reasonableness in Local Freight Discriminations), and in turn the younger Clark was the coauthor of the revised edition of his father's The Control of Trusts (1914). Clark dedicated his highly praised Studies in the Economics of Overhead Costs to his father, and in his last major work published before his death, Competition as a Dynamic Process (1961), he attributed his concern with the dynamics of economics to his father's basic conception that static equilibrium analysis was properly an introduction to the study of dynamics rather than an end in itself.

Virtually all of Clark's works were concerned with the dynamics of a market economy. His article "Towards a Concept of Workable Competition" (1940) greatly influenced the later writings of others concerned with the policy standards applicable to the functioning of a dynamic market economy.

Clark received honorary degrees from Amherst College, Columbia University, the University of Paris, the New School of Social Research, and Yale University. In 1951 Columbia appointed him to the John Bates Clark chair, established in his father's honor. A year later the American Economic Association bestowed on him its highest honor by awarding him the Francis A. Walker Medal for distinguished service in the field of economics.

Further Reading on John Maurice Clark

Detailed biographies of Clark are in Joseph Dorfman, The Economic Mind in American Civilization (5 vols., 1946-1959), and Ben B. Seligman, Main Currents in Modern Economics: Economic Thought since 1870 (1962). See also T.W. Hutchison, A Review of Economic Doctrines, 1870-1929 (1953).

Additional Biography Sources

Hickman, Charles Addison, J. M. Clark, New York: Columbia University Press, 1975.

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