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Clarence Ayres

Clarence Ayres

Economists are people who have much knowledge of various practices and policies in the field of economics. Moreover, they themselves propose and implement certain policies. Usually, economists work both in private and public sectors making a significant contribution to economics. Among the most prominent economists is Clarence Ayres. Clarence Ayres is a renowned economist and author of such books as Science: The False Messiah (1927), Holier Than Thou: The Way of the Righteous (1929), The Theory of Economic Progress (1944), The Industrial Economy: Its Technological Basis and Institutional Destiny (1952), etc. This paper will provide biographical information about Clarence Ayres and discuss the context in which he wrote, his philosophical as well as methodological positions, and contribution to the field of economics.

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Clarence Ayres was born on 6 May 1891 in Lowell, Massachusetts (Lawson, 2015). The  family’s emphasis on a social education, morality, and personal growth influenced the life of the young economist. Clarence Ayres graduated from Brown University in 1912 and received a B.A. in philosophy with honors. He also attended Harvard University for one year and then returned to Brown University where he obtained an M.A. in economics in 1914. Then, Clarence Ayres entered the University of Chicago to study philosophy and was awarded a Ph.D. in 1917. He remained as an instructor at the University of Chicago until 1920. In 1920, Ayres became an associate professor of economics at Amherst College. In 1923, many faculty members, including him, resigned from the college in protest at the dismissal of Alexander Meiklejohn, the president of Amherst College (Lawson, 2015). After his resignation, Clarence Ayres went to Reed College to teach economics there. He was also an editor and author of articles for the New Republic until 1927. In 1927, Ayres migrated to New Mexico and became a professor at the University of Texas. He taught economics at this university until his retirement in 1968. Apart from teaching, Ayres was a director of the San Antonio branch of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank and helped to establish the Association for Evolutionary Economics (Elsner, Heinrich, Schwardt, & Gräbner, 2014). Furthermore, he was the president of the Southwestern Social Science Association and served on the national committee of the American Civil Liberties Union. Clarence Ayres had two wives, Anna Bryan and Gwendolyn Jane. He had three children with Anna Bryan. The famous economist died from complications of arthritis in 1972 in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Clarence Ayres wrote his books when the world experienced radical changes in key industries. For instance, numerous inventions, the rapid development of science, capitalism, and the issue of morality played a significant role in Ayres’s life, influencing ideas and theories discussed in his books (Lutz, 1990). The economist believed that the topic of technological advancements and the issue of traditional cultures limited the extent to which people could realize their full potential. He argued that traditional mores inhibited human progress. Consequently, there was a need for elaborate guidelines to facilitate the development of society instead of spending much time on debating whether to adopt technologies or stick to traditional theories. In addition, contentious moral values and capitalism had a great impact on all his works. Thus, the need to develop universal morals pushed the economist to denounce the key goals of the capitalist society. Overall, Clarence Ayres wrote in the era when the world was in a state of confusion owing to numerous technological inventions and ethical as well as moral values that dictated how people should live. 

Several writers significantly influenced Clarence Ayres, his ideas, and works. According to Tilman (1992), John Dewey positively influenced Ayres who continued to study and further develop his theories at the University of Chicago. He was extremely interested in the integration of philosophy and economics and explored philosophical instrumentalism previously developed by Dewey. As a result, Clarence Ayres wrote his dissertation and two books called Science: The False Messiah (1927) and Holier Than Thou: The Way of the Righteous (1929), which are mainly based on institutionalism and the integration of philosophy and economics. Thorstein Veblen was also another key figure who had a profound impact on Ayres’s writing and teaching career. Veblen’s economic theory of institutionalism played a crucial role in defining ethical values (Tilman, 1992). After working hard, Ayres wrote two books based on Veblen’s models such as The Theory of Economic Progress (1944) and The Industrial Economy (1952). Ayres considered John Dewey and Thorstein Veblen to be a source of motivation and inspiration. These figures accepted the ideas of moral and cultural relativism introduced by Ayres. Using and analyzing the works of John Dewey and Thorstein Veblen, Ayres could criticize other researchers’ works and such economic policy as capitalism. Ayres himself also influenced some of his students who later made great contributions to the development of different fields of science. For instance, Ayres taught Frank Knight, a renowned economist, and Talcott Parsons, a famous sociologist. 

Clarence Ayres’s methodological and philosophical positions were clear; he supported the utility of pure science describing it as an invention of the technological perspective. In his book Science: The False Messiah (1927), Ayres argues that pure science is the only way scientists can achieve technological advancement. Pure science aims to create predictions and theories through research development (Almeida, 2016). Consequently, it is important for individuals to conduct research and create advanced technologies capable of making life better. In his book Holier Than Thou: The Way of the Righteous (1929), Clarence Ayres discusses traditional mores and calls them “ceremonialism.” These mores prevent technology from developing, thus limiting human progress. He believes that traditional mores and values not only hinder self-improvement but are also key impediments to the social and economic mobility of citizens. Clarence Ayres protests against capitalism as savings accumulation and full-time employment hinder technological advance and full production. The economist supports the idea that the government policy should remove impediments and foster a smooth transition to the economic development. According to Cavalieri and Almeida (2015), his position was often disapproved and criticized. His protest against capitalism led to numerous conflicts with Texas legislators and the administrators of the University of Texas. Therefore, the administrators voted for his immediate dismissal from the university; however, Clarence Ayres managed to save his job and continued to teach students until his retirement. 

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Clarence Ayres made significant contributions to his school and the society in general. While working as a professor, he always helped his students and explained all information in detail, paying special attention to the theory of integration of economics and philosophy. Moreover, Clarence Ayres mentored students who wanted to continue to develop his theories and methods. One of his student, Frank Knight, managed to become a renowned economist due to his vast knowledge of economics (Elsner et al., 2014). Also, Clarence Ayres mentored Talcott Parsons, the most famous sociologists in the United States who continued Ayres’s legacy. Some term papers written by Talcott Parsons for Ayres’s class have survived. Moreover, all Ayres’s works are still used today.

One of the most significant contributions of Clarence Ayres is the development of the Veblenian dichotomy, the concept first introduced by economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen. It deals with institutionalism and its relationship with economics (Tilman, 1992). Clarence Ayres also developed the Veblen’s model arguing that institutions determine the type of technology that should be used. Consequently, some institutions have a tendency to be more ceremonial and wasteful than others. As a result, there is a need for adjustments to ensure that technology is properly used. Ayres defines the term “ceremonial” as connected to the past and supportive of old tribal legends as well as classical conduct and attitudes. According to Almeida (2016), Clarence Ayres argues that” instrumental” supports the importance of technology, judging value by the capacity to control future implications of adopting a particular technology. The Veblenian dichotomy states that every community depends on skills and tools necessary for enhancing the life process. Furthermore, every society supports a “ceremonial” stratified structure that contradicts the needs of the technological aspects of community life. 

In conclusion, Clarence Ayres is a famous economist who devoted his life to studying and teaching economics. He is the author of many books about economic and philosophical issues. Clarence Ayres explored institutionalism and supported the need for integration of philosophy and economics. Some of his remarkable works include Science: The False Messiah (1927), Holier Than Thou: The Way of the Righteous (1929), The Theory of Economic Progress (1944), and The Industrial Economy (1952). John Dewey and Thorstein Veblen greatly influenced Clarence Ayres and encouraged him to further develop the Veblenian dichotomy, which forms the basis of modern economics. In addition, the economist himself mentored Frank Knight and Talcott Parson, who later made significant contributions to different fields of science. Clarence Ayres played a huge role in the development of American economics, and all his works are still used by many people. 


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