William Bliss & Richard Ely
Priest + Economist
8 October 1926, 1943
From the Satucket Lectionary
William Dwight Porter Bliss (20 August 1856 – 8 October 1926) was a U.S. Christian Socialist.
He acted as pastor following his graduation in 1882. He first served Congregationalist communities and then Episcopalian churches.
In the 1880s Bliss became interested in Christian Socialism. This movement sought to apply the teachings of Christ to modern social difficulties, caused, they believed, by industrialisation and urbanisation. In 1889 Bliss organised the first Christian Socialist Society in the U.S.A. He was also the editor of The Dawn, its magazine. He lectured extensively on labour and social reform. He edited and compiled many publications, including the Encyclopædia of Social Reform in 1897.
In 1887 Bliss, running on the Labor Party ticket, attempted to become the Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts but lost the election. He served as an investigator for the Bureau of Labor.
In World War I, he did educational work among French and Belgian soldiers interned in Switzerland. After the War, he returned to the United States and preached in New York City until his death in that city.
Richard Theodore Ely (April 13, 1854 – October 4, 1943) was an American economist and leader of the progressive Movement who called for more government intervention in order to reform the injustices of capitalism, especially regarding factory conditions, compulsory education, child labor and labor unions. He opposed the individualism he found troubling in capitalism, calling for an evolution to a higher stage of social conscience. He helped inspire and lead the Social Gospel movement.
Ely was born in Ripley, New York. He was born as the eldest of three children of Ezra Sterling and Harriet Gardner (Mason) Ely. His parents were Presbyterian but he never had a religious conversion experience and became an Episcopalian in college. Ely received his undergraduate degree from Columbia, later receiving his doctorate in economics from the University of Heidelberg, where he studied under Karl Knies. He was a product of the German historical school with an emphasis on evolution to new forms, and never accepted the marginalist revolution that was transforming economic theory in Britain and the U.S. He held the professorship of economics at Johns Hopkins University from 1881 to 1892, and was subsequently professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1894 an unsuccessful attempt was made to depose him from his chair at Wisconsin for teaching socialistic doctrines: an effort met by the state Board of Regents with a ringing proclamation of the necessity for freely “sifting and winnowing” among claims of truth.
Ely was in fact opposed to socialism. “I condemn alike,” he declared, “that individualism that would allow the state no room for industrial activity, and that socialism which would absorb in the state the functions of the individual.” He argued that socialism was not needed, and “the alternative of socialism is our complex socio-economic order, which is based, in the main, upon private property.” He warned that the proper “balance between private and public enterprise” is “menaced by socialism, on the one hand, and by plutocracy, on the other.”
Ely was strongly influenced by Herbert Spencer and strongly favored competition over monopoly or state ownership, with regulation to “secure its benefits” and “mitigate its evils.” What was needed was “to raise its moral and ethical level.”
Ely did support labor unions and opposed child labor, as did many leaders of the Progressive Movement, including such conservatives as Mark Hanna. He was close to the Social Gospel movement, emphasizing that the Gospel of Christ was social, not merely individualistic; he worked hard to get churches to realize their responsibility to reform capitalism so that workers got fair treatment. Ely strongly influenced his friend Walter Rauschenbusch, a leading spokesman for the Social Gospel.
Professor Ely took an active part in the formation of the American Economic Association, serving as its secretary from 1885 to 1892 and its president from 1899 to 1901. He also edited Macmillan’s Citizen’s Library of Economics, Politics, and Sociology. Throughout his teaching career he was a frequent contributor to periodical literature, both scientific and popular. He died in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
- French and German Socialism (1883)
- Labor Movement in America (1886)
- Taxation in American States and Cities (1888)
- Introduction to Political Economy (1889)
- Outlines of Economics (1893)
- The Labor Movement in America (1883)
- Problems of To-day (1888)
- Social Aspects of Christianity (1889)
- Socialism and Social Reform (1894)
- The Strength and Weakness of Socialism (1899)
- Monopolies and Trusts (1900; new edition, 1912)
- The Coming City (1902)
- Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society (1903; new edition, 1913)
- Property and Contract in their Relation to the Distribution of Wealth (1914)