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Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era

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In Illiberal Reformers, Thomas Leonard reexamines the economic progressives whose ideas and reform agenda underwrote the Progressive Era dismantling of laissez-faire and the creation of the regulatory welfare state, which, they believed, would humanize and rationalize industrial capitalism. But not for all. Academic social scientists such as Richard T. Ely, John R. Commons, and Edward A. Ross, together with their reform allies in social work, charity, journalism, and law, played a pivotal role in establishing minimum-wage and maximum-hours laws, workmen's compensation, antitrust regulation, and other hallmarks of the regulatory welfare state. But even as they offered uplift to some, economic progressives advocated exclusion for others, and did both in the name of progress. Leonard meticulously reconstructs the influence of Darwinism, racial science, and eugenics on scholars and activists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, revealing a reform community deeply ambivalent about America's poor. Illiberal Reformers shows that the intellectual champions of the regulatory welfare state proposed using it not to help those they portrayed as hereditary inferiors but to exclude them.

Finalist for the 2017 Hayek Prize, The Manhattan Institute
One of Bloomberg View’s Great History Books of 2016

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Leonard Thomas
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Thomas C. Leonard is research scholar in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University, where he is also lecturer in the Department of Economics.

Acknowledgments vii
Prologue ix
Part I The Progressive Ascendancy
1 Redeeming American Economic Life 3
2 Turning Illiberal 17
3 Becoming Experts 27
4 Efficiency in Business and Public Administration 55
Part II The Progressive Paradox
5 Valuing Labor: What Should Labor Get? 77
6 Darwinism in Economic Reform 89
7 Eugenics and Race in Economic Reform 109
8 Excluding the Unemployable 129
9 Excluding Immigrants and the Unproductive 141
10 Excluding Women 169
Epilogue 187
Notes 193
Index 233

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