Birthplace Hollandsburg, Ohio, USA.
Posts Held Teacher Econ., Univs. Wesleyan, Oberlin, Indiana and Syracuse, 1890-9; Prof., Univ. Wisconsin, 1904.
Degree BA Oberlin Coll., 1888.
Offices and Honours Prs., American Economic Assosiation.
Publications Books: 1. The Distribution of Wealth (1893, 1968); 2. A Documentary History of American Industrial Society , 10 vols (1910-11, 1958); 3. History of Labor in the United States , 4 vols (1918-35); 4. Legal Foudations of Capitalism (1924, 1959); 5. Institutional Economics (1934, 1959); 6. Myself (1934, 1963); 7. The Economics of Collective Action , ed. K. H. Parsons (1950, 1956).
Career Both a theorist and a successful maker of economic policy. His early interest in both the German historical school and marginalism was the inspiration for The Distribution of Wealth . In his later theoretical works he developed an analysis of collective action by the State, and a wide range of other institutions, which he saw as essential to understanding economic life. This institutional theory was closely related to his remarkable successes in factfinding and drafting legislation on a wide range of social issues for the State of Wisconsin. The State became a laboratory for progressive innovations whose success later gave Commons a similar role at the federal level. Indeed, his practical work has been remembered more favourably than his theory which reached its fullest form in Institutional Economics . He was also a major histotian of American labour.
Secondary Literature J. Dorfman, `Commons, John R.', International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences , D. L. Sills (ed.) (Macmillan and Free Press, 1968), vol. 3; L. G. Harter, John R. Commons: His Assault on Laissez-Faire (Oregon State Univ. Press, 1962).