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Edited by Ross B. Emmett
Chapter 7: J. Laurence Laughlin
William J. Barber James Laurence Laughlin (1850–1933), the first Head Professor of Political Economy at the University of Chicago, was the principal mover and shaker of that department during the first quarter-century of its existence. He had been called to this post by William Rainey Harper, the university’s first president, who was determined – with the aid of the John D. Rockefeller’s checkbook – to build a world-class university virtually overnight. On its opening day in October 1892, the University of Chicago had a larger complement of students and faculty than any American institution of higher learning possessed before the Civil War. Laughlin brought considerable academic credentials to this assignment. He had been awarded the AB and PhD degrees in history by Harvard University. He earned the latter qualification with a dissertation directed by Henry Adams on Anglo-Saxon legal procedures (Adams et al. 1876). Thereafter he turned attention to political economy and taught this subject at Harvard from 1878 to 1888. During this phase of his career, he prepared an abridged version of John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy, with adaptations that he took to be suitable for American student audiences (Mill 1884). This meant that the illustrative material drew on the US (rather than British) experience; it also meant that Mill’s comments on the virtues of free markets were emphasized and that his sympathetic references to the state as an agent for social amelioration were systematically purged. He also produced a volume on the history of bimetallism in the...
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