Fifteen years after the Global Financial Crisis: Recessions and Business Cycles in the History of Economic Thought

Irving Fisher on Conservation, National Vitality and Economic Progress

Dimand Robert, Brock University

As a member of the National Conservation Commission appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, Yale economist Irving Fisher wrote a138-page Report on National Vitality, Its Wastes and Conservation, published in the commission's 3-volume report in January 1909 and separately as a bulletin of the Committee of One Hundred on National Health. The report provided the most thorough and analytical statement of Fisher's advocacy of increasing the length and breadth of life, reducing mortality and morbidity rates through investment in human capital and through changes in behavior. Fisher's Report, quantifying the costs and benefits of such investments and reforms, provided the economic case underlying his best-selling How to Live (which went through twenty-one editions, apart from six to eight million copies of a condensed version distributed by Metropolitan Life), his Life Extension Institute, his efforts at dietary reform with Dr. Kellogg, and his support for Prohibition. The economic analysis in Fisher's Report has received much less attention than his practical efforts motivated by that analysis. This examines the analysis of human capital in Fisher's report and its relation to his subsequent presidential addresses to the American Association for Labor Legislation and AEA and to the conservation, eugenics and Progressive movements. This paper is for the special session "Crucial controversies on the concept of progress in Progressive Era American Economics" organized by Guillaume Vallet.

Area: Eshet Conference

Keywords: Irving Fisher, investment in human capital, Progressive Era economics, conservation movement

Please Login in order to download this file