Means, Gardiner C.

views updated


Economist Gardiner Coit Means (June 8, 1896–February 15, 1988) challenged orthodox economic ideas about corporations, prices, and economic planning. Born in Windham, Connecticut, as the son of a Congregational minister, Means entered Harvard University, graduating in absentia in 1918. After joining the army in 1917, Means worked for the Near East Relief helping Armenians in Turkey after the war. In the early 1920s, he founded a blanket making company. In 1924, Means went back to Harvard to study economics formally, earning a master's degree in 1927 and a Ph.D. in 1933.

Means accepted a 1927 invitation from Adolf A. Berle, Jr., at Columbia Law School to assist in researching The Modern Corporation and Private Property (1932). They argued that by 1930, two hundred U.S. corporations controlled half of corporate wealth and 43 percent of corporate income. While only two thousand men out of 125 million Americans managed these corporations, real control lay in the hands of several hundred managers. The corporate revolution separated ownership and control. Concentration and control by managers (not stockholders) suggested that competition, individualism, self-regulation, and stockholder control were outmoded.

In the 1933 to 1934 period, while working with the Department of Agriculture and the Consumers' Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration, Means researched prices to develop his theory of "administered pricing." Two forms of pricing existed. Small businesses and farmers changed prices in response to changing market demand. Concentration in some industries, on the other hand, meant managers set prices based on profit concerns rather than market demand or price competition. Farm prices had declined drastically since 1929, yet many industrial prices had remained stable due to administered pricing. Social responsibility and even market forces had given way to profit maximization.

Between 1934 and 1940, Means worked with the Industrial Committee of the New Deal planning agency (the National Resources Planning Board). Building an economic model based on research on consumer income and industrial structure, Means argued for government industrial policy making. He wanted to adopt multi-industry planning to counterbalance corporate control. After New Deal planners opted for compensatory spending policy, Means went to work for the fiscal division of the Bureau of the Budget in 1940 and 1941.

After 1941, Means engaged in research, writing, and speaking. Between 1943 and 1958, he worked for the Committee for Economic Development, a private sector economic research institution. On February 15, 1988, he died in Vienna, Virginia. Means's work on corporate concentration, separation of ownership and control, administered pricing, and national economic planning represented an alternate path for New Deal economic policy.



Hawley, Ellis W. The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly: A Study in Economic Ambivalence. 1966. Reprint, 1995.

Lee, Frederic S. "A New Dealer in Agriculture: G. C. Means and the Writing of Industrial Prices. " Review of Social Economy 46 (1988): 180–202.

Lee, Frederic S. "From Multi-Industry Planning to Keynesian Planning: Gardiner Means, the American Keynesians, and National Economic Planning at the National Resources Committee." Journal of Policy History 2 (1990): 186–212.

Lee, Frederic S. "Administrative Hypothesis and the Dominance of Neoclassical Price Theory: The Case of the Industrial Prices Dispute." Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology 17 (1999): 23–42.

Lee, Frederic S., and Warren J. Samuels, eds., with Caroline F. Ware and Steven G. Medema. The Heterodox Economics of Gardiner Means: A Collection. 1992.

McCraw, Thomas K. "In Retrospect: Berle and Means." Reviews in American History 18 (1990): 578–596.

Reagan, Patrick D. Designing a New America: The Origins of New Deal Planning, 1890–1943. 2000.

Rosenhof, Theodore C. Economics in the Long Run: New Deal Theorists and Their Legacies, 1933–1993. 1997.

Samuels, Warren J., and Steven G. Medema. Gardiner C. Means: Institutionalist and Post-Keynesian. 1990.

Patrick D. Reagan