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Harvard. Alumnus (A.B., Ph.D.) Professor Seymour Edwin Harris, 1945 and 1970


The Silver and Gold Anniversary Class Reunions (25th and 50th, respectively) of Harvard College publish reports sent by class members to the class secretary. For answering the question, whatever happened to X, Class of ‘YY, these class reunion volumes can be useful. While it is not hard to discover what happened to Seymour Harris, a member of the Harvard Class of 1920 who went on to become a professor of economics at Harvard, the personal notes from this Harvard man, crimson to the bone, provide us a glimpse at least of how he wanted himself to be viewed by his former classmates..



Home Address: Four Winds Farm, West Acton, Mass.
Office Address: Room 234, Littauer Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Born: Sept. 8, 1897, New York, N.Y. Parents: Henry Harris, Augusta Kulick.
Prepared at: Morris High School, New York, N.Y.
Years in College: 1918-1920. Degrees: A.B. cum laude, 1920; Ph.D., 1926.
Married: Ruth Black, Sept. 3, 1923, Honesdale, Pa.
Occupation: Professor of economics, Harvard University.
Military or Naval Record: Harvard Unit, Students’ Army Training Corps, 1918.
Wartime Government Posts: Director, Office of Export-Import Price Control; member, Policy Committee of Board of Economic Warfare; member, Secretary of State’s Committee on Post-War Economic Policy; adviser on Price Control and Stabilization to several Latin American governments; economic adviser to vice-chairman, War Production Board.
Offices held: Managing Editor, Review of Economic Statistics.
Member of: Harvard Faculty Club.
Publications: Thirteen volumes in economics; Twenty Years of Federal Reserve Policy; Post-War Economic Problems; Economics of America at War; Price and Related Controls in American Economy; Economic Problems of Latin America; Inflation in War and Post-War.

SEYMOUR HARRIS gives us a reading time of five minutes for the following account: “We—my wife and I—live twenty-five miles outside of Boston. We have a 40-acre farm and an old colonial house. This offers a much-needed escape from Cambridge, as the latter in turn is an escape from wartime Washington. I wish that I could say that we were doing a good job on the farm. Actually, help is not available, and the amount of time to be squeezed out these days for its care is limited. Our only farming this year has been a 7000-foot vegetable garden, one spraying of our two apple orchards, and frequent encounters with millions of ants, potato bugs, skunks, bats, crickets, etc.

“My working hours are divided among the following: teaching, writing, editing, and war work for the government. The last is the most maddening and the most interesting—also the most futile, tiring, and exasperating, yet rewarding. The newsworthy fact is not that so little, but that so much is accomplished in Washington. In retrospect this is hard to understand, for the se-up is such that progress would seem impossible. Yet we have increased our national income by 125 per cent, put eleven millions into the armed services, and produced war goods twice the value of our whole national income in 1932. Tens of thousands of little bureaucrats (including the writer) and tens of thousands of ingenious business men and millions of loyal workers have achieved what to most experts seemed to be the impossible in 1940. We have produced the mightiest war machine and the highest standard of living in our modern civilization. Our number one economic problem of the post-war is to do an equally effective production and distribution job. Upon our success or failure rests the future of private enterprise.

“Writing has become a habit with me—a drug, if you will. I have written (had printed) at least two million words. As I look back, I am surprised that I have had the patience to write so much. As I look forward, I am impatient to write even more. I can scarcely wait to finish a book so that I can start another. At present one is in page proof, another is in press, a third is about to go to press, a fourth is being planned. I ask myself why. It is certainly not because I hold that the world is waiting for my pontificalia. In fact, I often wonder if books are ever read. But the publishers seem to find printing books profitable, and they have sold 6,000 to 7,000 copies of at least one book of mine—practically a best-seller for technical books. Perhaps a slight contribution to the world’s knowledge is made, and it is hoped that in some manner or other we do have a very small effect on public policy.

“My wife, who has always given me editorial and proofreading assistance, does her best to discourage me—perhaps in self-defense. But there is as little hope for me as for the alcoholic, cures of which, I am told, are less than ten per cent. So long as paper and pencil are to be found my energies will go into writing, and so long as Scotch is available, the alcoholic will go after it. A psychiatrist might cure me, but I shall not give him a chance. The cure would leave me with little to do.

“My views are not always orthodox. Even the Saturday Evening Post has editorialized against some of my unacceptable (to them) views. To state them: I would like to see a revival of capitalism. I am not sure that private enterprise can carry the ball. But we should give it the best possible milieu. Several years in government work have convinced me more than ever that regimentation is not for the American people. And the bureaucrat soon learns to hate controls even more than those whom he subjects to controls. I hope that we can have a minimum of government participation in our economic life. Yet I fear that unplanned capitalism will not work. Can we have a society half capitalistic and half socialistic? Here is hoping that the thirties were not so significant as many of us fear.

“Lest you conclude that I work and farm and that’s all, let me add that I like to play tennis, golf, and especially to ski. I learned how to ski at forty, when I took an enforced vacation. I ski cautiously as old men must, but I manage to ski everything and so far with few bad spills. I have covered as much as thirty miles downhill in one day—riding up, of course.

“All this proves once more that I write too much. I want to conclude by saying that I have had one good break—a fine wife.

“And here are an additional 1,000 words—writing time thirty minutes, reading time five minutes. I shall not read what I have written, for if I do, I shall never send it.”

Source:  Harvard Class of 1920. Twenty-fifth Anniversary Report (Cambridge, 1945), pp. 337-339.



SEYMOUR HARRIS was born September 8, 1897, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Henry and August (Kulick) Harris. He prepared at Morris High School, New York City, and at Harvard received an A.B., cum laude, in 1920 and a Ph.D. in 1926. From Monmouth College in 1961 he received an LL.D. In Honesdale, Pennsylvania, on September 3, 1923, he married Ruth Black, who died September 9, 1965. In Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 27, 1968, he married Dorothy Heron. He reports the following offices held, honors and awards: member of executive board and vice-president, American Economic Association; David A. Wells Prize, Harvard; Alexander Hamilton award, U. S. Treasury, 1968; Gold Medal for contribution to New England Economy; joint winner, Post War Plan for Greater Boston. His publications include: fifty books, the latest, The Economics of Harvard, 800 pages (in press); and edited the McGraw-Hill Economic Handbook Series. A college professor and writer, and a professor at Harvard for forty-three years he writes:

“I am finishing my fiftieth year of teaching—two years at Princeton, forty-three at Harvard, and five years at the University of California, San Diego. Am now Littauer Professor, Political Economy, emeritus, Harvard (since 1946).

“I have been an editor of four journals, including twenty years as editor of the Harvard Review of Economics and Statistics.

“I served on eight committees at Harvard, inclusive of General Education, Athletics, and Fringe Benefits.

“Over a period of thirty years I served on twenty-three committees or departments of the U.S. government, including chief advisor of the secretary of the treasury, 1961-68, and testified and wrote statements for about fifty congressional committees; was an advisor to three Massachusetts governors, and to the Conference of New England Governors.

“I was an advisor of President Kennedy and also Governor Stevenson in three presidential campaigns.

“I have also served as president of the Harvard Chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

“Upon the occasion of my retirement from Harvard in December 1963, letters of congratulation and commendation were received from a number of eminent men, including, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Adlai E. Stevenson, United States Representative to the United Nations, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Clinton P. Anderson, United States Senate, Joseph S. Clark, United States Senate, Paul H. Douglas, United States Senate, Abe Ribicoff, United States Senate, Walter W. Heller, Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers, Washington, Sherman Adams, Lincoln, New Hampshire, Dennis J. Roberts, Providence, Rhode Island, and President Nathan Pusey of Harvard.”

Home Address, 9036 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, Calif. 92037. Office Address, Dept. of Economics, Univ. of California, San Diego, La Jolla, Calif. 92037.


Source:  Harvard Class of 1920. Fiftieth Anniversary Report (Cambridge, 1970), pp. 183-184.

Image Source:  Harvard Class of 1920. Twenty-fifth Anniversary Report (Cambridge, 1945), p. 1046.


Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier