Janeway, Eliot

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Janeway, Eliot

(b. 1 January 1913 in New York City; d. 8 February 1993 in New York City), political economist, author, syndicated columnist, and presidential adviser and critic.

Janeway, the son of Meyer Joseph Janeway, a physician, and Fanny Siff, graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in 1932 with a B.A. degree in philosophy. He then pursued graduate work at the London School of Economics in England, returning to the United States in 1935 without another degree.

Janeway began his writing career at the age of twenty-four when he penned a series of articles for the Nation in which he predicted that the United States would experience an inventory recession in 1937 and 1938. The American economy had risen steadily from the depths of the Great Depression in 1932, and conventional economic wisdom held that it would continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Seeing things differently, Janeway proposed that the federal government initiate a massive investment program in infrastructure to moderate the impact of the “coming” recession. Both his forecast and his policy recommendation were ignored, and the United States, as he predicted, experienced a first in its economic history, a recession imbedded within a depression.

The series of articles in the Nation attracted the interest of the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and brought Janeway a modicum of influence with its policy-making councils. Another interested reader, Henry R. Luce, the publisher of such periodicals as Time, Life, and Fortune, admired Janeway’s insights into economics and hired him to write part-time for those magazines. Janeway also worked directly for Luce, writing a private weekly economic and political advisory letter. On 29 October 1938 Janeway married Elizabeth Hall, a novelist and essayist. They had two sons.

From 1940 to 1942 Janeway served as the business editor oí Time magazine, where his articles appeared on a regular basis. In 1941 he wrote Smashing Hitler’s International: The Strategy of a Political Offensive Against the Axis with Edmund Taylor and Edgar Snow. In 1944 he became the business trends consultant for Newsweek and for the next four years he continued to publish articles that linked economics and politics in interesting and provocative ways. In 1948 he put his journalism career on hold while he wrote his first solo book, The Struggle for Survival (1951). Subtitled A Chronicle of Economic Mobilization in World War II, this scholarly book was a study of how the United States mobilized its economy to become the decisive weapon that turned the tide in World War II. During the 1950s Janeway started two weekly economic advisory newsletters that formed the core of the Janeway Publishing and Research Corporation, a business he operated from his five-story townhouse on East Eightieth Street in Manhattan. During this period he became an informal adviser and fund-raiser for Senator Lyndon B. Johnson.

Janeway first became acquainted with Johnson in the late 1930s, when Johnson was a member of the House of Representatives. Over the years Janeway became close to Johnson and urged him to run for the presidency in 1956. Janeway was an active fund-raiser for Johnson during the 1960 Democratic presidential primary. After Johnson became president in November 1963, Janeway began to disagree with him on many points of economic policy, but an irrevocable break between the two came in 1965 over Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War. Janeway did not disapprove of the war exactly, just its financing. “I was not arguing against the war itself,” he once told an interviewer, “that is not my field of expertise.” What Janeway found objectionable was the lack of financing for the war. “I said that putting it [the war] on the back of the economy without raising taxes and instituting controls would bring disaster,” a position he elaborated in detail in The Economics of Crisis: War, Politics, and the Dollar (1968).

In the 1960s and 1970s Janeway became a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune—New York News Syndicate. A tireless worker, he usually began his day at about 9:00 A.M., reading a dozen newspapers, magazines, and trade publications, and finished his day around 3:00 A.M., reading history, economics, biographies, or novels. He never actually wrote his articles or books, preferring instead to dictate everything. “I don’t think of myself as a writer,” he once said. “I’m a talker who reduces some of what he says to writing.”

In these decades Janeway began to write a series of personal finance and investment books in addition to publishing his newsletters, writing a syndicated column, and making frequent appearances on television talk shows and the lecture circuit. He was at the top of his game. Yet for all his personal success, Janeway was never sanguine about the prospects of the world as a whole. Years earlier his continually gloomy predictions as a stock market forecaster had earned him the nickname “Calamity Janeway” among Wall Street pundits. Seen through the fractured lenses of two world wars and the most protracted economic downturn the Western world had experienced, his view of the future was always apprehensive. The financial advice he gave in such works as What Shall I Do with My Money? (1970), You and Your Money (1972), and Musings on Money (1976) reflected this anxiety.

In his last book, The Economics of Chaos (1989), ostensibly a critique of Reaganomics, Janeway created a complex yet compelling economic history of the United States and the policy lapses of just about every president from George Washington to Ronald Reagan. Following in the intellectual footsteps of the maverick American economist Thor-stein Veblen, Janeway reiterated his belief that the nexus of technology, ideas, and social institutions did more to shape the patterns of economics than market activity and the interplay of demand and supply. He was particularly harsh in his criticism of mainstream economists and the politicians who trust without questioning the theories they expound. In his judgment, basing economic policies on ir-relevant and often inaccurate hypotheses was a surefire formula for disaster. Janeway once mused that the “practitioners of the ‘dismal science’ do best when they live up to their reputations,” a conviction he held until his death. He died of diabetes and heart problems in 1993.

Janeway’s The Economics of Chaos (1989) is a tour de force that reveals much about his thinking process. See also Norman King, The Money Messiah$ (1983). Additional insights can be found in S. Wellisz’s review of Janeway’s The Economics of Crisis in Commonweal (12 July 1968) and C. Welles, “Eliot Calamity Janeway: An Old Bear Who’s Largely Bull,” Esquire (21 Nov. 1978). The best available on-line source of information about Janeway is the Gale Literary Databases. Obituaries are in the Chicago Tribune (9 Feb. 1993) and the New York Times (9 Feb. 1993).

James Cicarelli