Francis Amasa Walker

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Amasa Walker (17991875) grew to prominence as a financial expert and economist in the United States after warning a group of distinguished New England businessmen during a financial recession in 1857 that the state-chartered banks of their region should suspend all cash (specie) payments in order to save the merchants from total ruin. Weeks later, many Boston banks stopped their specie payments, saving many businesses, and Walker's credentials as an expert were established. With the publication of his book, The Science of Wealth, in 1866, Walker's reputation grew as a U.S. economist working to free economic study from its reputation in that period as a mere extension of moral and theological philosophy. Walker was among the first economists to confront theory with statistical evidence. He pioneered in economics what is known as "time series analysis," where economic variables were taken at different points in time and the results plotted on a graph so that economic changes could be visually assessed and compared to other changes in the society over a period of time.

Amasa Walker was born in May 1799, in Woodstock, Connecticut. He was the son of Walter Walker, a blacksmith, and Priscilla. Walker's poor health as an adolescent prevented him from going to college. In 1820, at age 21, he formed a business partnership in Brookfield, Massachusetts, to make shoes. After three years he left the shoe business and joined Methuen Manufacturing Co. as its agent. At age 26 he moved to Boston, where he pursued a variety of retail business ventures.

Walker's election to the Democratic National Convention in 1836 marked his entrance into public life. By 1839 he served as a director of the Franklin Bank in Boston and also as president of the Boston Temperance Society, and in 1848 he agitated for the abolition of U.S. slavery as a member of the Free Soil Party. In 1849 Walker was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and a year later to the state Senate. He is remembered in his position as a congressman for his efforts to put copies of Webster's Dictionary in the public schools.

It was during the financial panic of 1857, however, that Walker emerged as an expert on finance, banking, and currency. He had published a series of articles for Hunt's Merchant Magazine that explained the nature of financial panics, especially those severe enough to call for the banks to suspend all specie payments. His advice to a group of New England merchants calling for a "suspension of specie payments" by the state-chartered banks to save the best merchants from financial ruin proved prophetic when the Boston banks stopped specie payments and saved many businesses.

Walker's fame as a financial expert helped his career as a college lecturer in political economy. He left his mark on Washington, D.C., by serving out a term as a Republican congressman between 1862 and 1863. Walker, as an economist and a congressman, advocated the elimination of the rights of state-chartered banks to create credit money. He argued that the practice was "prejudicial to the industrial and commercial interests of the nation," because of the unreliable fluctuations it caused in the economy. He held that the government should manage the nation's credit currency for the best interests of the population. Walker was against any bank-credit expansion. He believed it was unconstitutional and that bank-credit money destabilized the larger economy and helped cause what are now called "business cycles," periods of boom and bust.

In his effort to make his theories in economic thinking more credible, Walker pulled away from economics as a philosophy and insisted on using economics in a more scientific manner. He created his own scientific method of studying economics, which he discussed in his book The Science of Wealth in 1866. In his book Walker pioneered "time series analysis," where he measured specific economic variables at different points in time and plotted them on graphs so that the data could be compared and visually examined for information about the economy.

Walker argued against what he called "financial novelty" and he was a strong specie advocate, focusing on metallic money and remaining deeply suspicious of artificial credit creation. In his book Walker also described his opposition to legislation that fixed hours of work. He identified market forces bringing women's wages into equality with men's, and he advocated open immigration laws. He also emphasized the importance of labor unions as a necessary force to offset the advantages enjoyed by the owners of factories. As an economic thinker, Walker was less concerned with the production of physical objects than with the production and exchange of material that is useful and has exchange value.

Amasa Walker died in 1875, having pioneered a new era in economics ruled by science rather than philosophy. By using graphs and analysis in his economic proposals, Walker was arguably one of the first economists to be able to scientifically assess the subjective nature of market values and to statistically follow economic forces. His work was immensely popular, and it did much to develop an appreciation of economic questions among the general public.

See also: Financial Panic, Specie


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