Journal of Management History (Archive)

ISSN: 1355-252X

Article publication date: 1 May 1999



Nagel, S.S. (1999), "Editorial", Journal of Management History (Archive), Vol. 5 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/jmh_arc.1999.15805caa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited


About the Guest Editor Stuart S. Nagel is a Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA.

This introduction will describe some of the major changes that have occurred in the main fields of public policy since 1900, generally during three time periods. The first period was the era of Woodrow Wilson, partly continuing the public policy program of Theodore Roosevelt; the second was the era of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, partly continued by Harry Truman; the third was the 1960s during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. The intermediate time periods tended to legitimize the policy changes that had occurred during the 1910s, 1930s, and 1960s. Thus the subsequent nonrepeal of the Wilson legislation later in the 1920s, the FDR legislation later in the 1950s, and the Kennedy-Johnson legislation later in the 1980s has served to make those changes less controversial and more accepted.

Another way of thinking in terms of cycles in policy change is by periods that promote greater equality or sharing of productivity advances, as contrasted to periods that concentrate on technological improvements for increasing national productivity. Thus the 1910s, 1930s, and 1960s were periods emphasizing more rights to consumers, workers, minorities, and other nondominant groups. The 1920s, 1950s, and 1980s were periods with a relative emphasis on economic growth, rather than equalizing of previous gains.

In discussing each specific policy field, one can ask what happened in that field in the 1910s, 1930s, and 1960s in order to see better how things have changed, although important changes may have also occurred in the intermediate periods. Some subject matter had been undergoing substantial change as early as the 1910s or 1930s, such as consumer and labor matters. Other areas have not shown much activity until the 1960s or later, such as poverty-discrimination and environment-energy.

Economic issues (unemployment-inflation, consumers, and labor)

On unemployment, inflation, and regulating the business cycle, the big contribution of the 1910s was the establishment of the Federal Reserve System. That system allows for stimulating the economy to reduce unemployment by lowering interest rates and by lowering the cash requirements banks need to keep on reserve. The opposite is to be done in times of inflation to dampen the economy. It is interesting to note that this king of monetary policy, which had been a radical proposal in the Wilson administration, is now conservative economics, especially associated with Milton Friedman.

The contribution of the 1930s was the explicit establishment of Keynesian economic policy. It involves stimulating the economy to reduce unemployment by decreasing taxes and increasing government spending. The opposite is to be done in time of inflation to dampen the economy. Keynesian economics largely replaced Federal Reserve monetary policy for dealing with the Depression because no matter how low the interest rates are and how much lending money is available, business firms are unwilling to borrow to expand their plants if they are currently operating at substantially less than 100 percent of capacity.

The contribution of the 1960s and later to the handling of unemployment and inflation is the increasing adoption of a more focused incentives approach. Keynesian policy did not work well for dealing with inflation of the 1960s or later because it is politically unfeasible to sufficiently increase taxes and decrease government spending. Worse is the fact that in the 1970s we were faced with increased unemployment and increased inflation simultaneously due to the ability of businesses and unions to keep prices and wages high even though demand had fallen off. Monetary and Keynesian approaches advocate stimulating the economy to deal with unemployment and dampening the economy to deal with inflation, but both cannot be done simultaneously.

The more contemporary Reagan and Carter administrations increasingly looked toward using a system of incentives to stimulate potential employers to hire the unemployed, and to stimulate unemployed people to obtain jobs and training. The incentives system can also help stimulate new technology and increase income, thereby expanding the need to hire people. The incentives system can also be used to reduce inflation. In that regard, tax breaks can be given to business firms and labor unions for not raising prices or wages. This has been discussed in the economic policy literature, but not yet implemented. The inflation of the early 1980s was mainly dealt with by raising interest rates, but that may be too costly an approach in terms of hurting economic growth.

Prior to about 1910, consumer-business relations in the USA were controlled almost completely by the marketplace and a pro-business legal system. As of the Woodrow Wilson years, the Clayton Anti-Trust Act was passed. It was slightly more consumer-oriented than the previous Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which emphasized protecting business firms from monopolies, although business firms are important consumers from other businesses. More important was the establishment of the Federal Trade Commission and the Pure Food and Drug Administration, which had definite consumer orientations. In the field of common law, Justice Cardozo of the New York Court of Appeals established the principle that consumers could sue manufacturers for defective products, even if the consumer had not dealt directly with the manufacturer, and even if the consumer could not prove the manufacturer was negligently responsible for the defect except by circumstantial evidence. That was the beginning of effective products liability litigation. Consumer rights were strengthened in the 1960s as a result of congressional legislation establishing the Product Safety Commission. The common law courts also established the idea that a consumer contract could be too unconscionable to be enforced, and that consumers must be given minimum due process before they can be subjected to product repossession or a lien on their wages or property.

Prior to about 1910, labor-management relations in the USA were controlled almost completely by the marketplace and a pro-management legal system. Some gains were made during World War I in essential industries like railway labor, where strikes could be highly effective. The really important legislation, though, did not come until the 1930s, partly because the Supreme Court found wage, hour, and child labor legislation to be unconstitutional. The key 1930s legislation was the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). It allowed workers to petition for a secret ballot election to determine whether they wanted to be represented by a union, and it prohibited management from firing workers simply because they wanted to join a union. Also highly important was the Fair Labor Standards Act, which provided for minimum wages, overtime pay, and a prohibition on child labor. There have been amendments to the NLRA in subsequent years, but the extremely emotional and sometimes lethal battles between labor and management in the 1930s are now relatively noncontroversial.

Social issues (poverty, discrimination, and crime)

In the development of public policy, the have-not groups who have relatively greater power are more likely to achieve their policy goals first. Thus the consumers succeeded in obtaining important legislation and judicial precedents in the 1910s. Most people considered themselves consumers. Labor succeeded in obtaining important policy changes in the 1930s. Labor has less political influence than consumers collectively do. It was not until the 1960s, however, that poor people and race-sex minorities succeeded in obtaining important policy changes, because they have the least power of those three sets of interest groups.

The war on poverty was an important policy activity of the 1960s. Perhaps its greatest gains were in the form of judicial precedents, which held that:

  • welfare recipients were entitled to at least minimum due process and nonarbitrary classification before they could be terminated;

  • indigent defendants were entitled to court-appointed counsel in felony and misdemeanor cases;

  • delinquents, illegitimate children, and neglected children were entitled to hearings with at least minimum due process and no arbitrary denial of equal protection; and

  • tenants could withhold rent if landlords failed to satisfy minimum implied warranties of habitability.

Also important was the beginning of work incentive programs, which provided for:

  • being allowed to keep a portion of one's earnings without losing welfare benefits;

  • being provided with day-care facilities so that mothers of preschool children could work; and

  • being provided with meaningful training.

Also important was legislation for rent supplements to rent economic housing in the marketplace, and for food stamps to buy food in the marketplace rather than rely on federal commodities or food handouts. The Reagan administration added an increased emphasis on the importance of economic prosperity and growth for dealing with poverty, as contrasted to specific antipoverty programs, and also the importance of incentives to business to provide on-the-job training and to hire welfare recipients.

In the realm of race discrimination, the gains have been mainly at the Supreme Court and congressional levels during the 1960s in such areas as:

  • voting rights, by abolishing the poll tax and racial malapportionment;

  • criminal justice, by abolishing discrimination in becoming a juror, lawyer, or a judge;

  • education, by prohibiting legally required segregation and providing federal aid to education, which stimulates compliance with desegregation guidelines;

  • housing, by prohibiting race and sex discrimination in job activities.

Any judicial precedent or legislation that benefits the poor is likely to benefit blacks, and vice versa, given the correlation between those two policy fields.

On the matter of criminal justice, the early 1900s first saw the Supreme Court say that something in the Bill of Rights was applicable to the states, starting with the principle against double jeopardy. In the 1930s, right to counsel was established but only for capital and serious felony cases. The 1960s saw the important right to counsel extended to misdemeanor cases, pretrial interrogation, and post-trial appeal. The 1960s also saw the establishment of the rule excluding illegally seized evidence on a nationwide basis. That was also a time for bail reform, which involved more releasing of defendants prior to trial accompanied by screening, periodic reporting, notification, and prosecution for skipping out. There were also increased experiments and concern for reducing delay in the criminal and civil justice process. The Supreme Court established minimum rights for people on parole, probation, or in prison.

Science policy (environment and health)

The end of the 1960s saw an increased concern for two sets of policy problems that had not previously been salient. The first was environmental protection. Prior to about 1970, people tended to think of air, water, and landfills as virtually unlimited goods, unless they lived in an area where there was a water shortage. As of about 1970, people became much more concerned with the public health aspects of air pollution, water pollution, and solid waste disposal. Federal legislation was passed providing for standard setting, permits, inspections, hearing procedures, and other rules designed to protect the environment. Along related lines, prior to 1970 energy was also thought of as an almost unlimited inexpensive product. Since 1975, however, there has been increased legislation designed to stimulate energy conservation and regulate new forms of energy production such as nuclear energy.

Prior to the 1960s, health policy was largely left to the marketplace and private charity. Probably the first big breakthrough with regard to government responsibility was the establishment of Medicare for the aged and Medicaid for the poor. Such programs might have been established sooner, but they required mustering sufficient public support to overcome the power of the American Medical Association. As the elderly have increased in absolute and percentage terms, increased pressure has been placed on Medicare funds. The idea of federal funding is now well-accepted, and even the Reagan administration proposed federally funded catastrophic health insurance. Some day there may be government-salaried doctors for Medicaid and Medicare patients, as there are government-salaried lawyers under the Legal Services Corporation. Doing so is substantially less expensive to the taxpayer than reimbursing the private health-care providers.

Political policy (free speech, world peace, and government reform)

The previous issues tend to have a chronological relation in the order of consumer, labor, poverty-discrimination, and environment-elderly. The political issues tend to be a more constant concern like the economic issue of unemployment-inflation. One can argue that free speech is the most important public policy issue because all the other policy problems would be poorly handled if there were no free speech to communicate the existence and possible remedies for the other problems. Free speech, however, was not recognized as a national right in the sense of being applicable to the states by way of the first and fourteenth amendments until the 1930s. At that time, the Supreme Court first declared the states had an obligation to respect first amendment free speech. The early cases involved blatant forms of government censorship and suppression of ideas, including criticism of mayors of Minneapolis and Jersey City. In the 1960s the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional less severe nonpolitical activities such as:

  • restrictions on most pornography;

  • allowing ordinary libel suits by public figures instead of requiring intentional libel or gross negligence; and

  • restrictions on commercial speech such as lawyer advertising.

On the matter of world peace, the same time periods of expansion in public policy were also periods when the USA became involved in World War I in the 1910s, World War II in the late 1930s, and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Part of the explanation might be that the liberal Democrats of the 1910s and the 1930s were more prone to go to war with the reactionary governments of Kaiser Wilhelm, Adolf Hitler, and Hideki Tojo. In the 1960s the liberal Democrats may have been trying to avoid appearing to be softer on communism than the Republicans, which could have been a factor leading to the Vietnam War. More important in terms of current trends is the fact that there has been no international war comparable to World War I or II in the second half of the twentieth century, and the likelihood of such a war may be decreasing as a result of recent changes in the Soviet Union and agreements between it and the USA. That trend could be very desirable in terms of making funds available for economic growth that would otherwise be wasted on armament.

The third subfield under political policy is government reform. It can be subdivided into legislative, judicial, and administrative reform. Government reform refers to changes in the structures and procedures of those institutions so as to make them more effective in achieving their purposes and more efficient in doing so with less time and expense. Effective and efficient functioning of government structures affects all public policies. During the twentieth century in the USA, there have been significant changes in all three sets of institutions.

At the congressional and state legislative levels, the reforms include:

  • redrawing legislative districts so as to provide for equal population per district;

  • the lessening of the filibuster whereby a minority block of the US Senate could prevent a bill from coming to a vote;

  • an overemphasis on the power of seniority in choosing committee chairs as contrasted to merit or a vote by the committee members;

  • less power to the house speaker and committee chairs to make binding agenda decisions;

  • more voting rights for women, blacks, poor people, and young people;

  • more technical competence available through legislative staffs; and

  • more open disclosure of activities of interest groups and income of legislators.

An especially important reform for the future that relates to legislative representation is the idea of expanding representation and participation to provide for voter registration by way of being on the census, and vote-casting at any polling place in the country on election day.

At the judicial level or branch, the reforms include:

  • free counsel for the poor in criminal and civil cases;

  • encouraging out-of-court settlements through pretrial procedures;

  • shifting cases away from the courts to administrative agencies;

  • the computerizing of court records for increased efficiency;

  • encouraging alternative dispute resolution through ad hoc arbitration;

  • clearer guidelines for more objective sentencing and the determination of damages; and

  • higher standards for admission to the bar and the bench with more emphasis on professional responsibility.

An important reform for the future that relates to the judicial process is the idea of selecting judges on the basis of having been specially trained and tested for the bench in law school like high-level civil servants, rather than through a system of political appointment or election.

At the administrative level or branch, the reforms include:

  • more emphasis on hiring on the basis of merit, rather than political considerations;

  • more performance measurement and evaluation of government programs;

  • more professional training, especially in schools of public affairs and administration;

  • a lessening of elected department heads in state government, so as to have better coordinated control in the hands of state governors;

  • more use of professional city managers to supplement mayors at the municipal level;

  • improved grievance procedures, collective bargaining, and working conditions;

  • the development of the field of administrative law for clarifying due process in administrative adjudications, rule making, and judicial review;

  • better coordination of administrative agencies across different levels of government; and

  • more freedom of information for the public to be able to obtain access to administrative records.

Mutually beneficial results

Table I summarizes some of the trends in specific policy fields. The overall idea is that there have been increased benefits for people who had few rights as of the base years of 1910, 1930, or 1950. These people have been the immediate beneficiaries of the policy changes. It is, however, unduly narrow to limit the analysis to those immediate effects. The longer-term and broader effects have generally been to benefit the dominant groups as well, or the total society. This is shown, for example, on the top row of Table I. Labor has benefited from better wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions, the ending of child labor, and the lessening of race and sex discrimination. Also highly important is the stimulus those labor policies have had on encouraging the development and adoption of labor-saving technology.

Policy fields Benefits for the have nots Benefits for the haves or for all
Economic policy
Labor Better wages, hours, working Stimulus to labor-saving
conditions. No child labor. Less technology. Happier and
discrimination more productive workers
Consumers More rights concerning product Stimulus to providing better
liability products and greater sales
Political/legal policy
Free speech More rights in politics, art and Stimulus to creativity
Due process and More rights to counsel, notice, More respect for the law
criminal justice hearings
Equal treatment More rights to blacks, women More equality of opportunity
and the poor on voting, criminal and allocation on the basis of
justice, schools, employment, merit
housing and consumerism
Government reform Less corruption, intimidation More effectiveness and efficiency
and incompetence
World peace and trade Increased standards of living Uplifted countries become good
for developing countries trading partners
Social policy
Poverty More rights as employees, The same rights apply to
consumers, tenants, welfare middle-class employees,
recipients and family members consumers, tenants and family
Education More access to more education More efficient economy from
better training. Less welfare
Science policy
Environment More rights to cleaner air, water The same rights as important
solid waste, noise, radiation, to all people
and conservation
Health More access to medical help That includes catastrophic help
from which even the rich benefit

Table ISome trends in specific policy fields

The USA, as of 1980, might still be using slave labor or cheap immigrant labor and be a backward low-technology country if it had not been for the successful efforts of labor unions and working-class people to increase the cost of their labor. A third-level result is that the labor-saving technology has made labor more productive and more skilled. This has the effect of increasing wages still further, thereby stimulating greater consumption and the creation of new jobs, especially in service fields.

Likewise, one can go through each of the 11 policy fields and see that the initial policy changes have tended in a direction of increasing the rights of the have nots. Those increases have in turn stimulated benefits for the total society, regardless of whether one is talking about consumer rights, free speech, criminal justice, equal treatment, government reform, world peace, trade, poverty, education, environment, or health.

Stuart S. NagelGuest Editor

Journal of Management History,Vol. 5 No. 3, 1999, pp. 111-119.© MCB University Press, 1355-252X

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