Friday, October 7, 2011

Eugenics, Racism, and the Progressives

Sometimes I find tidbits of research I like sharing. Yep. Another cut-and-paste blog entry...sorry. And it relates to education since all are part of our educational model but ehhh.... I will at some nebulous point (aka "when I write my book") connect it to education and actually compose a well written bit without cut-and-paste mania.

from Eugenics and Economics in the
Progressive Era
Thomas C. Leonard ....

They justified racebased
immigration restriction as a remedy for “race suicide,” a Progressive Era term
for the process by which racially superior stock (“natives”) is outbred by a more
prolific, but racially inferior stock (immigrants). The term “race suicide” is often
attributed to Edward A. Ross

“The theory that races are virtually equal in
capacity leads to such monumental follies as lining the valleys of the South with the
bones of half a million picked whites in order to improve the conditions of four
million unpicked blacks.”

“every improvement . . . increases the amount of the deficiencies which
the laboring classes may possess without their being thereby overcome in the
struggle for subsistence that the survival of the ignorant brings upon society.”
In response, Patten ultimately argued for the state taking over the task of
selecting the fittest—eugenics. “Social progress is a higher law than equality,”
Patten (1899, pp. 302–303) volunteered, and the only way to progress was the
“eradication of the vicious and inefficient.”

Ross, Patten, Fetter and Farnam all saw higher living standards and Progressive
Era reforms less as a victory for social justice than as an impediment to Darwinian
weeding out. Their response was not to argue against reform, as might a social
Darwinist, but to advocate for eugenics, the substitution of state selection for
natural selection of the fittest.

Like Fisher, Ross, Patten, Fetter and Farnam, Walker endorsed eugenic policies.
“We must strain out of the blood of the race more of the taint inherited from
a bad and vicious past,” Walker (1899, p. 469) proposed, “before we can eliminate
poverty, much more pauperism, from our social life. The scientific treatment which
is applied to physical diseases must be extended to mental and moral disease, and
a wholesome surgery and cautery must be enforced by the whole power of the state
for the good of all.”

“Democracy and opportunity
[are] increasing the mediocre and reducing the excellent strains of stock . . . .
Progress is threatened unless social institutions can be so adjusted as to reverse this
process of multiplying the poorest, and of extinguishing the most capable families.”
Eugenic policies would introduce, Fetter argued, “an element of rational direction
into the process of perpetuating the race . . . .”

However, the progressive economists also
believed that the job loss induced by minimum wages was a social benefit, as it
212 Journal of Economic Perspectives
performed the eugenic service ridding the labor force of the “unemployable.”
Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1897 [1920], p. 785) put it plainly: “With regard to
certain sections of the population [the “unemployable”], this unemployment is not
a mark of social disease, but actually of social health.”

olumbia’s Henry Rogers Seager, a leading progressive economist who served
as president of the AEA in 1922, provides an example. Worthy wage-earners, Seager
(1913a, p. 12) argued, need protection from the “wearing competition of the casual
worker and the drifter” and from the other “unemployable” who unfairly drag
down the wages of more deserving workers (1913b, pp. 82–83). The minimum
wage protects deserving workers from the competition of the unfit by making it
illegal to work for less.

For progressives, a legal minimum wage had the useful property of sorting the
unfit, who would lose their jobs, from the deserving workers, who would retain their

“Better that the state should support the inefficient wholly
and prevent the multiplication of the breed than subsidize incompetence and
unthrift, enabling them to bring forth more of their kind.” A. B. Wolfe (1917,
p. 278), an American progressive economist who would later become president of
the AEA in 1943, also argued for the eugenic virtues of removing from employment
those who “are a burden on society.”

Eugenics found advocates whose ideologies spanned the entire political spectrum.
The eugenics movement attracted some reactionaries and conservatives.
Leading eugenicists, such as Francis Galton and Charles Davenport, director of the
Eugenics Record Office at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, can be described as
social conservatives. But others, such as Karl Pearson, were socialists. Eugenics won
many advocates on the left, such as birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, who
began intellectual life as a radical anarchist. Fabian socialists such as Sidney Webb,
George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells were eugenicists, as were Harold Laski and
John Maynard Keynes (Paul, 1984). The Marxist economist Scott Nearing (1912)
and the feminist economist Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1900) also embraced
Many biologists were drawn to eugenics. For example, David Starr Jordan,
president of Stanford, was a tireless advocate of the eugenic idea that “the blood of
nation determines its history,” as was Harvard geneticist and eugenicist E.M. East

Eugenic ideas were not new in the Progressive Era, but they acquired new
impetus with the Progressive Era advent of a more expansive government. In effect,
the expansion of state power meant that it became possible to have not only
eugenic thought, but also eugenic practice. As eugenics historian Diane Paul (1995,
p. 6) writes, eugenics legislation had to await “the rise of the welfare state.”

to the solution of the problem.”
Progressive opposition to laissez faire was motivated by a set of deep intellectual
commitments regarding the relationship between social science, social scientific
expertise and right governance. The progressives were committed to 1) the
explanatory power of scientific (especially statistical) social inquiry to get at the root
causes of social and economic problems; 2) the legitimacy of social control, which
derives from a holist conception of society as prior to and greater than the sum of
its constituent individuals; 3) the efficacy of social control via expert management
of public administration; where 4) expertise is both sufficient and necessary for the
task of wise public administration.

The legitimacy of social control meant, in practice, the legitimacy of state
control. For progressives, the legitimacy of state control derived from their conception
of the state as an entity prior to and greater than the sum of its constituent
individuals, a conception that opposed the traditional liberal emphasis on individual
freedom and the liberal view that the state’s legitimacy derives solely from the
consent of its individual creators. Lester Ward devised the term “sociocracy” to
describe the “scientific control of the social forces by the collective mind of society”

politics. As one widely read eugenics
text put it: “[G]overnment and social control are in the hands of expert politicians
who have power, instead of expert technologists who have wisdom. There should be
technologists in control of every field of human need and desire”

[O]nce we
admit that it is proper for the instructed classes to give tuition to the uninstructed,
we begin to see an almost boundless vista for possible human betterment.”

Popenoe and Johnson
argued for legislation that would abolish child labor and provide education for all
children, quintessentially progressive policies. But compulsory education and child
labor bans, for Popenoe and Johnson, were desirable because the unfit poor would
be unable to put their children to work and thus would have fewer children, a
eugenic goal.

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