Biography and History

Jacob Viner (1892-1970) is considered one of the greatest economists of the twentieth century. His career was spent at the University of Chicago and Princeton University, and he also frequently served as an advisor to the United States government. His primary academic interests included international economics, international economic relations, and the history of economic thought, but his investigations ranged across many disciplines. His studies included all areas of economics, as well as the fields of history, philosophy, literature, international relations, social science, intellectual history, and religion.

Jacob "Jack" Viner was born on May 3, 1892 in Montreal, Canada to Samuel P. and Rachel (Smilovici) Viner, who had immigrated to Canada from Romania a few years before. Viner moved to the United States in 1914 and became a naturalized citizen in 1924. He married Frances V. Klein of West Virginia on September 15, 1919, and they had two children: a son, Arthur, and a daughter, Ellen (Seiler).

Viner graduated with a B.A. from McGill University in 1914, where he studied economics under Stephen Leacock. He then enrolled at Harvard University, where he earned his M.A. in 1915 and his Ph.D. in 1922. At Harvard, he was a student of Professor Frank W. Taussig, who influenced Viner's life-long interest in international economics. Viner's doctoral dissertation, Canada's Balance of International Indebtedness, was prepared under the supervision of Taussig.

Viner accepted a position as an instructor at the University of Chicago in 1916, and became an assistant professor of economics in 1919. In 1923, he was promoted to associate professor, and in 1925 to full professor. In 1940, he became the Martin Hill Distinguished Service Professor. Viner held this position until he left the university in 1946 to accept a position at Princeton University. While at the University of Chicago, Viner was influential in elevating the level of the Economics Department and also greatly strengthened the library in the social sciences through his work on collection development. He first taught public finance and international economic policy. By the late 1920s, he was teaching value and distribution theory, international economic theory and policy, and the history of economic thought.

Viner moved to Princeton University in 1946 after the recruitment efforts of Princeton's president Harold W. Dodds. At Princeton, Viner was the Walker Professor of Economics and International Finance from 1950 to 1960, when he retired professor emeritus. The two classes Viner typically taught at Princeton, both graduate level, were the theory of international trade and the history of economic doctrines. Viner also served as a member of the Editorial Board and ex officio Trustee of the University Press from 1950 to 1953, and as an elective Trustee of the University Press from 1959 to 1961, where he set guidelines for the publication of scholarly books. He was also active in strengthening the collections of the Princeton University Library.

During his career at the University of Chicago and Princeton University, Viner also served as a visiting lecturer or professor at many leading institutions, including the Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva, Switzerland (1930-31 and 1933-34), Stanford University (1937), Yale University (1942-43), Hitchcock Professor at the University of California (1945), the London School of Economics (1946), Marshall Lecturer at Cambridge (1946), and the National University of Brazil (1950). Viner was also a permanent member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1946 to 1970.

Viner gained an international reputation early in his career for his contributions to the theory of cost and pricing, international economics, the history of economic thought, and a variety of other fields. During his career, Viner wrote ten books and monographs, as well as over 250 articles and book reviews in professional journals, scholarly and semipopular magazines, symposia, and conference proceedings. Among his important works are his first book Dumping: A Problem in International Trade (1923), and his second, based on his doctoral dissertation, Canada's Balance of International Indebtedness (1924). Studies in the Theory of International Trade (1937) is considered his magnum opus and is a classic in the field. His other significant works include Trade Relations Between Freemarket and Controlled Economies (1943), The Customs Union Issue (1950), International Economics (1951), International Trade and Economic Development (1952), and Problems of Monetary Control (1964). Viner was also the editor of the Journal of Political Economy from 1929 to 1946, often jointly with Frank H. Knight, and brought the journal to its peak of distinction. For his 65th birthday, his friends and students published a selection of his writings in The Long View and the Short (1958), providing a sample of the depth and breadth of his contributions to scholarship.

Viner was also frequently called upon throughout his career to serve as an adviser to the United States government and to represent the United States as a delegate to international economic conferences. He was an advisor to the United States Tariff Commission from 1917 to 1919 under Frank Taussig, and also advised the Shipping Board in 1918. From 1934 to 1942, he intermittently served as special assistant to the United States Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and as special expert for the United States Treasury Department. Through his work with Morgenthau, Viner was influential in establishing the economic policies of the Roosevelt administration, in particular the planning of the Social Security Program. He was a delegate to the International Studies Conference of the League for Intellectual Cooperation, in London in 1933 and in Bergen, Norway in 1939. He also served as alternate American representative to the Economic Committee of the League of Nations at Geneva in 1933. Additionally, Viner served as a consultant to the State Department from 1943 to 1952 and as a consultant for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in 1955.

Viner retired in 1960 but continued his research and scholarship. He remained a member of the Princeton University community, making regular trips to the library for his research. As he worked, Viner frequently became engaged in discussions with colleagues and students, continuing to teach informally and exchange ideas. Viner also served as the only Professor Emeritus on the Advisory Council of the Princeton University Library. During his retirement, Viner spent a year (1961-1962) at Harvard University as the Taussig Research Professor, wrote a monograph on monetary control, and wrote the introduction for the Guide to John Rae's Life of Adam Smith (1965).

Viner was well recognized and awarded for his scholarly work. He was a fellow or member of numerous honorary academies in the United States and abroad, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the British Academy, the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Manchester Statistical Society, the Swedish Royal Academy, and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome. He was an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and gave the Jayne lectures in 1966 on "The Role of Providence in the Social Order: An Essay in Intellectual History." He also served as president of the American Economic Association in 1939 and was elected a distinguished fellow of the association in 1965.

Viner received honorary degrees from 13 universities over the course of his career, including Princeton University. He was the recipient of a special award from the American Council of Learned Societies in 1958, and the Medal of Honor from Rice University in 1962. In 1962, he was also awarded the Francis A. Walker Medal, given by the American Economic Association once every five years to an economist who has made a contribution of the highest distinction to economics. It is their most prestigious honor.

Jacob Viner passed away on September 12, 1970.

Source: From the finding aid for MC138

  • Jacob Viner Papers. 1909-1979 (inclusive), 1930-1960 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC138

    Jacob Viner (1892-1970) is considered one of the greatest economists of the twentieth century. His career was spent at the University of Chicago and Princeton University, and he also frequently served as an advisor to the United States government. His primary academic interests included international economics, international economic relations, and the history of economic thought, but his investigations ranged across many disciplines. Viner's papers document his scholarship, as well as his government service, and include correspondence, manuscripts, reports, and research materials.

  • Jacob Viner Papers. 1909-1979 (inclusive), 1930-1960 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC138

    Jacob Viner (1892-1970) is considered one of the greatest economists of the twentieth century. His career was spent at the University of Chicago and Princeton University, and he also frequently served as an advisor to the United States government. His primary academic interests included international economics, international economic relations, and the history of economic thought, but his investigations ranged across many disciplines. Viner's papers document his scholarship, as well as his government service, and include correspondence, manuscripts, reports, and research materials.