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Boulding, Kenneth Ewart

BOULDING, Kenneth Ewart

(b. 18 January 1910 in Liverpool, England; d. 18 March 1993 in Boulder, Colorado), internationally known economist, philosopher, social science theorist, author, peace activist, and witty poet.

Boulding was the only child of William Couchman Boulding, a plumber and Methodist lay preacher, and Elizabeth ("Bessie") Ann (Rowe) Boulding, a homemaker. When he was approximately nine years old, Boulding's parents took him out of his crowded Church of England school and entered him in a more desirable, originally Unitarian school, which prepared him for the examinations to gain a scholarship into the Liverpool Collegiate, a local day school from which Boulding graduated in 1928. He won a chemistry scholarship to New College, Oxford University, in 1928, but after a year he switched to the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and graduated in 1931, earning a first-class degree in economics. He also earned an M.A. in 1939 from the same institution. In his biography he was quoted as saying, "At that time the great problems of the human race seemed to be economic." At the age of twenty-two, he published his first paper in The Economic Journal, edited by John Maynard Keynes. Fellowships at Harvard University and the University of Chicago followed.

Boulding taught for three years, from 1934 to 1937, at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and then he moved to the United States. He taught at Colgate University in New York from 1937 to 1941 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1948. The bulk of his teaching career was spent at two institutions: the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor from 1949 to 1968, and the University of Colorado from 1968 to 1980. (In the latter year he was named professor emeritus.)

An active Methodist in his youth, Boulding wanted to model his life on the teachings of Christ. He stated that he "was flooded by a strong feeling that if I was going to love Jesus, I could neither kill anybody nor participate in war." He became interested in the Quaker religion and eventually joined the Society of Friends (Quakers), which became a major part of his life. Boulding met his wife, Elise Bjorn-Hansen, a sociologist and peace activist, in 1941 at a Quaker meeting in Syracuse, New York, and they were married within three months on 31 August 1941. They had five children.

Being a scholar and a Quaker, Boulding was committed to the doctrine of peace and worked for it throughout his life. From the last half of 1941 through the first of half of 1942, Boulding was an economist with the Economic and Financial Section of the League of Nations at Princeton, New Jersey. After being warned that he would be fired if he and his wife sent out a planned statement on disarmament, he resigned his wartime post and then distributed the letter. He also planned to go to jail or be deported rather than serve in World War II. After interviews with psychiatrists, he was classified as 4-F, or unfit for service.

Another facet of his personality was the need for order. His biographer quotes him as saying, "I have a secret and insidious passion for generality and for system." By 1949 he was working ardently on integrating the social sciences, theorizing that all the social sciences were studying the same thing. He had come to believe in a harmonious world order using this transdisciplinary approach. With the tumultuous social change of the 1960s, his views became more popular, and he increased his efforts to effect social change. He was an early nonviolent protestor.

In 1955 Boulding helped create the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and in 1959, the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution, which lasted for twelve years until 1971. In 1958 he began a vigil at the University of Michigan's flagpole, a campus focal point, in response to nuclear testing. In 1960 he stood at the Pentagon, protesting military aggression along with other Quakers. In 1961 he rejected an attractive visiting university position in Hawaii because it required a strict loyalty oath, and Quakers do not swear oaths.

In 1962 two books of his, Social Justice and Conflict and Defense: A General Theory, were published. The second of these explored the way that economics influences the fields of peace and conflict studies. That year, he and his wife helped start the International Peace Research Association, and in 1963, Boulding edited the book Disarmament and the Economy. In March of 1965 Boulding helped organize the early "teach-ins" at the University of Michigan to oppose the Vietnam War, a form of protest that spread to other campuses.

In the early days of the Students for a Democratic Society, Boulding gave them inspiration and encouragement. In 1965 Boulding published an article, "Reflection on Peace: Protesting Love Without Knowledge," in which he rejected "love acting without knowledge." In 1967 he wrote a memo on proposing to refuse paying taxes in protest against the Vietnam War. In 1971 he admonished a meeting of peace-research organizations, declaring that "there was too much creativity and not enough discipline."

Boulding once said, "They thought I was a dangerous radical. Actually, I am a dangerous conservative." Truthfully, Boulding had respect and faith for all humanity, and he believed that if individuals espoused his transdisciplinary philosophy, they could understand how to help all human beings live together peacefully in the future. When others turned to violence to make their point, Boulding turned to knowledge and activism. In the mid-1960s he successfully delved into grants investigation and helped found the Association for the Study of the Grants Economy. He stated that this interest arose from his ideas of conflict management and "why some conflicts were fruitful and others were not."

Boulding won the John Bates Clark Medal in 1949 and was President of the American Association of Economics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for General Systems Research, and the Peace Research Society International. He also was awarded numerous honorary doctorates. Boulding also wrote many books, including The Economics of Peace (1945); Disarmament and the Economy (1963); The Meaning of the Twentieth Century: The Great Transition (1964); Environmental Quality in a Growing Economy (1968); Beyond Economics: Essays on Society, Religion, and Ethics (1970); Economics as a Science (1970); Economics of Pollution (1971); The Economy of Love and Fear (1972); and Peace and War Industry (1972). He published more than one thousand articles, books, book reviews, monographs, and pamphlets in thirty-one, self-defined categories. The topics about which he wrote most often were the economics of peace and war; peace and conflict; and knowledge, information and education. During the 1960s he added "dynamics/development/future." Boulding contributed his valuable insights to fields such as economics, ecology, human behavior, and general system theory, and he inspired his colleagues to question their own belief systems. He once stated, "If my life philosophy can be summed up in a sentence, it is that I believe that there is such a thing as human betterment." Boulding died peacefully after a long bout with cancer at the age of eighty-three in Boulder, Colorado, where he was known as the "Boulding of Boulder."

Six volumes of Boulding's writings are in Fred R. Glahe and Larry D. Singell, Collected Papers of Kenneth E. Boulding (1971–1986). Boulding's biography is Cynthia Earl Kerman, Creative Tension: The Life and Thought of Kenneth Boulding (1974). Kerman wrote a chapter in the 1973 book Peace Movements in America on Boulding's achievements. Boulding wrote "A Bibliographical Autobiography" for his 1992 book, Towards a New Economics, and an autobiographical chapter, "From Chemistry to Economics and Beyond," for the book Exemplary Economists (2000), edited by Roger Backhouse and Roger Middleton. A bibliography of Boulding's writing is Vivian L. Wilson, Bibliography of Published Works by Kenneth E. Boulding (1985). Biographical information is also in Robert Wright, Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information (1988). Articles about Boulding include Tracy Mott, "Kenneth Boulding, 1910–1993," The Economic Journal 110 (June 2000): F430–F444; and an entry written by Anatol Rapoport in The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics (1987), edited by John Eatwell, Murray Milgate, and Peter Newman. Obituaries are in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 20 Mar. 1993), the Chicago Tribune (21 Mar. 1993), and the American Economist (22 Sept. 1993).

Gwyneth H. Crowley

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