Great Economists Since Petty and Boisguilbert
Edited by Gilbert Faccarello and Heinz D. Kurz
Chapter 67: Wesley Clair Mitchell (1874–1948)
Mitchell’s great contributions to economics lie in his pioneering work on business cycles, his broad promotion of empirical work in economics, his role in the development of research organizations, and in the students he inspired. He was one of the major figures within the institutionalist movement in American economics. Mitchell was born in Rushville, Illinois, on 5 August 1874, and brought up in Decatur, Illinois. His university education was at the University of Chicago (AB 1896; PhD 1899), with one year spent at Halle and Vienna taking lectures from Johannes Conrad and Carl Menger. At Chicago, Mitchell came under the influence of Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey, but it was Laurence Laughlin who supervised Mitchell’s PhD thesis on the Greenback issues of the Civil War (Mitchell 1903). Laughlin inspired Mitchell’s empiricism, Veblen his institutionalism, and Dewey his pragmatic reformism. Mitchell worked for a year in the Census Office and for two years at Chicago as an instructor before being recruited to Berkeley in 1903. He continued to work on the Greenbacks, but, influenced by Veblen, expanded his horizons to write on the issue of rationality in economics (Mitchell 1910), the economic problems of the household (Mitchell 1912), and embark on a project concerning the evolution and functioning of the “money economy”. This last project grew too large, and in 1910 he decided to focus on just one part. In a remarkably short time Mitchell produced his most important book Business Cycles (Mitchell 1913). The book provided an empirically based “analytic...
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