Letters to the Editor

Winter 2017

EclipseAfter seeing the “That’s So Grinnellian” photo of the eclipse viewing in the Fall 2017 issue of The Grinnell Magazine, I thought I’d share how this Grinnellian and her family viewed the eclipse: homemade pinhole viewers and no viewer at all (thanks, Kartik Sheth ’93, for the interlaced fingers tip). Photos were taken in Boothbay, Maine of Storck with her nephew Harry.

- Holly Collins Storck ’93

Fall 2017

Grinnell Professor John C. Dawson died Nov. 22, 2016, at the age of 90. A short biography was included in the Summer 2017 issue [of The Grinnell Magazine, Page 49], which also included an article [Page 50] by James Kissane ’52 that praised Professor Dawson for this commitment and service to the College, but did not discuss the nature of economics that he taught to majors for many years.  

The purpose of this brief article is to provide an introduction to that teaching as it was delivered in the early 1960s. At that time the more senior members of the Department of Economics included Kenyon Knopf (Ph.D. from Harvard), Robert Voertman (Ph.D. from University of Texas) and Professor Dawson. Newer members of the department were Robert Haveman and Phil Thomas. Professor Knopf taught economic history and microeconomic theory, but his economic history course was the more sophisticated of the two. Professor Voertman was an institutional economist who taught history of economic thought and comparative economic systems. Professor Haveman was a popular instructor in the one-semester introductory course, and he taught more advanced versions of microeconomic theory as well as economics of industry. Professor Thomas taught international economics. It is clear that, during these years, the department offered a solid, traditional (old-fashioned?) program in economics (that required no mathematics or formal statistical analysis), with one major exception — to which we now turn.

Professor Dawson earned his doctorate at Cornell University and was a student there of Morris Copeland, the inventor of the flow-of-funds system and one of the developers of the national income accounts in the 1930s and 1940s. Professor Dawson’s doctoral dissertation is a study of the flow of funds, and a version was published in the American Economic Review in 1958. He had joined the Grinnell faculty in 1957.

The flow-of-funds system is a part of the larger tradition of American institutional economics that includes earlier scholars Thorstein Veblen, John R. Commons, Clarence Ayres, J. K. Galbraith, and many others. The institutionalist school also includes empirical researchers such as Wesley Clair Mitchell, who was director of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) for many years. The original purpose of NBER was to document what goes on within a business cycle, and NBER is still the organization that officially dates the beginning and end of recessions. Copeland and Dawson were in this tradition of empirical documentation and analysis of the business cycle.  

The basic idea of the flow-of-funds system is to pay strict attention of the proper accounting of sources and uses of funds. Every entity in the economy has sources and uses of funds. Indeed, the entire economy, as represented by the gross domestic product accounts, has sources (personal consumption, gross investment, government purchases, and net exports) and uses (payments by businesses to households, business taxes, and funds held within businesses). And every sector has sources and uses of funds as well.  For example, households receive payments from businesses and transfer payments from government and use the funds for personal consumption, taxes, and personal saving. And the flow of funds accounts for all of the sectors (households, businesses, governments, and foreign sector) must be consistent. This paragraph is a verbal description of the most important diagram that Professor Dawson handed out in class.

So what did Professor Dawson teach to every economics major? Economics 307, Money and Income, usually taught in the fall semester, was the required course in macroeconomics and was his course. No one else taught this course as he did, as far as I know. Indeed, when Professor Dawson was on leave in 1964–65, Professor Voertman taught the course as a standard course in macroeconomic theory using a textbook. I know because Jim Hamilton ’65 and I were Professor Voertmann’s teaching assistants. In short, economics majors at Grinnell were required to take a course in macroeconomics that was not the typical course offered elsewhere.

Now it is time to say it. Econ 307 earned Professor Dawson the nickname of “Black Jack.” New majors or prospective majors typically signed up for the course after just a one-semester introduction to economics. Most of us knew little or nothing about accounting in the beginning. The course was difficult. Just what did Econ 307 contain?  I still have my class notes — my attempt to keep up with Professor Dawson.

The books assigned for the class were classics such as The Great Crash 1929 by J. K. Galbraith and a couple of other books, a textbook on money and economic activity by Lawrence Ritter, and A Guide to Keynes by Alvin Hansen. But readings also included the latest Federal Reserve Bulletin, the Survey of Current Business [U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis], and a large volume titled U.S. Income and Output published by the U.S. Department of Commerce. I still have my copies of Galbraith, Hansen, and U.S. Income and Output.  

Professor Dawson paid little attention to Galbraith and the other standard books. Indeed, he told us to read Hansen’s A Guide to Keynes over a weekend. The Keynesian system as presented in Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money is complicated, and standard classes take weeks to cover it. Professor Dawson did lecture on Keynes briefly during the semester.

Econ 307 classes began with a basic introduction to classical and Keynesian macroeconomics, but by week three the class turned to accounting of national income and product. Homework was assigned based on data from U.S. Income and Output. This is followed by very detailed examinations of the gross domestic product accounts and of the sources and uses of funds for the various sectors of the economy. Then the course turned briefly to models of the macro economy, mainly the Keynesian model in which the economy is driven by aggregate demand (not supply). This was followed by material on the financial system, mainly the banking system (and how to do basic accounting for banks), leading to the mechanics of monetary policy. The course concluded with two topics: how to include the financial system in the flow-of-funds accounts, and how to use the flow of funds to create a Keynesian-type model. 

Professor Dawson taught an elective course in economic fluctuations in the spring semester in which we read a detailed study of the 1957–58 recession and a book by Wesley Claire Mitchell on the 1907 panic and did our own empirical studies. We also purchased our own copy of Keynes, which I still have. Since we knew quite a lot about how the economic data are compiled, we were taught to pull apart economic aggregates to locate the sources of economic fluctuations. For example, it turned out that the 1957–58 recession was driven largely by changes in business inventories (a component of business investment). We used our knowledge of data sources to do papers on the causes of the Great Depression and other fluctuations.  

I would wager that few economics majors of the day acquired such extensive training in empirical macroeconomics. And I would wager that no undergraduate program offers a course that consists mainly of flow-of-funds and national-income accounting methods.

John F. McDonald ’65 earned a doctorate in economics from Yale University in 1971 and taught economics and real estate for the next 42 years. He introduced basic accounting concepts in most of his courses but never did research on flow of funds.

- John F. McDonald

“Soccer coach (sort of) … ”? Don’t think so. “Coach Drake” was inspiring and determined; he took the heavy responsibility seriously and to the soccer team’s benefit. Coach Drake, former Grinnell track and field star, worked the team hard. It was run to the field for practice, run on the field for practice, then run back to the locker room after practice; run, run, run and Coach Drake ran with us. Fortunately, being the goalkeeper, I watched everyone else do the running! We were a disciplined, well-trained team and the record showed it, both on and off the field. Thanks, Coach. 

- Jim Soble ’63

I read with fondness, interest, and appreciation “Portrait of a Teacher: George Drake ’56.” In your listing of his roles at Grinnell, you omitted, in my opinion, perhaps his best role: exemplary mentor. Though that role is likely implicit in many, or perhaps all, of the listed roles, it was the one that had lasting effect upon me.

My senior year was my only year of overlap with President Drake, and it got off to a bad start. Shortly before the start of fall semester, he decided to change the long-planned date of Parents’ Weekend so that it would fall on a weekend with more sports activities, if I recall. When I received that announcement I was crushed — my parents had planned on coming to their first (and only) of my years at Grinnell. 

As soon as I got to Grinnell I went to meet President Drake and explain my displeasure: how he screwed up our long-anticipated plans, how my parents have very busy schedules and now can’t come, and further, scheduling it on the weekend of Rosh Hashanah was thoughtless, at best.

By his response and thus his modeling, President Drake taught me that leaders make mistakes [he didn’t change the weekend], and the best ones admit it, apologize, and do their best to rectify the situation. He did so with class, sincerity, and respect toward me, and my parents.

Throughout my career, when I found myself needing to recover from my own blunders, I have often replayed President Drake’s example in my head. I did so with the hope that I was a good-enough student of my one “class” with President Drake.

- Bruce A. Crane ’80

Having just returned from a visit with colleagues at Nanjing Normal University (the big new campus) with side trips to Hangzhou and Suzhou, I very much enjoyed reading this feature [“Around the World, Around the Table,” Page 28, Summer 2017]. My husband and I tasted many of the same dishes described in the story and had similar reactions to some of the more unusual foods. I think I missed the pig brains, but pig lungs, duck tongue, and intestines were definitely on the tables. The Global Learning Program sounds like a brilliant way to learn about history, culture, and cuisine of other countries. Congratulations, Grinnell, on this innovative learning experience!

- Lynne McAnelly ’75

Thank you for a very enjoyable issue of The Grinnell Magazine. For perhaps the first time I read it cover to cover. Each article told me what was going on at Grinnell and was fun to read. I enjoyed reading about George Drake. (What a guy!) About Commencement 2017. What recent grads are doing. Things an alumni magazine should do. 

- Nancy Coe Fuller ’57

I loved reading the article “Portrait of a Teacher: George Drake ’56” [Page 20, Summer 2017]. I formed a special relationship with George. To this day, I believe in the phrase “everything happens for a reason” in large part due to our meeting. The year George took over as College president, 1979, I was elected SGA [Student Government Association] president. I ran on a unique campaign proclaiming myself “not just president for the next year, but messiah for the coming millennium.” The campaign was printed in papers nationally by UPI and caused quite an uproar among conservative ministers and others. (I wonder how much worse it would have been with the Internet.) It seems they didn’t have my sense of humor.

I had no idea what to expect from a man who went to seminary. And I had heard from other SGAers that the previous president, A. Richard Turner, was very serious about how SGA was run, although I had no interaction with him. Was I going to find the same sentiments with George?

Of course, George couldn’t have been more opposite those concerns: He was very open-minded with a profound sense of humor. I remember initially and nervously addressing him as “President Drake” and he responded — with that great smile and a handshake — “SGA President Kramer.” We laughed, I learned to call him George, and from that moment on I felt comfortable around him. I would meet with George regularly to update him on student happenings. He never judged or interrupted. He was engaged and interested in everything I discussed with him, as was I with his suggestions. We worked together to make student life a little bit more interesting that year.  

In those days, we had a Skip Day, announced by the SGA president on KDIC. Some of the professors, especially in the sciences, were against this inconvenient nonacademic intrusion and scheduled tests for that morning. George was very supportive, feeling Skip Day was an important part of student life. He always seemed to be on the students’ side. In retrospect, this was one of the best years of my life in no small measure due to George’s enthusiasm for Grinnell.

It is so nice to read George is still actively teaching and engaging students with humor and open-mindedness. I hope to hear he is still doing so into his 100s!

- David Kramer ’80

Summer 2017

Along with various things I would do differently were I to return to my days at Grinnell (1965–69), I can now add participation in women’s sports. I never thought of myself as an athlete and had no awareness of the opportunities available to women at that time. It was a major achievement for me to flounder across the pool for the swim test!

In my sixties, I began to dance and play tennis and have belatedly realized that I CAN be an athlete. I try not to dwell on how much better I would be now if I had begun earlier in my life. I just enjoy the experience now.

- Janet Hamilton Triplett ’69

I was delighted to read the article “Fit for Life” [Page 18, Spring 2017] about women’s sports at Grinnell before Title IX. I remember women coming in from field hockey with dirt on their uniforms and smiles on their faces. I remember women proudly wearing their Honor G sweaters. And I remember one particular moment not mentioned.

In early 1963, Grinnell’s women’s club basketball team played in the then-usual six-woman format, three forwards and three guards. Two veterans of Iowa girls’ basketball lit up the court for Grinnell. In one half, Janet Lind [Hewitt] ’63 from Argyle scored 19 points primarily turning around from free throw range. In the other half, Barb Benda [Jenkins] ’64 of Hartwick scored 19 points, mostly from what is now 3-point range.  

All of us in the crowd wished we could shoot like that! They would have fit just fine in Coach [David] Arseneault’s System if the rules had permitted them to play the whole court. 

- Steve Aldrich ’63

Received another copy of The Grinnell Magazine. I was struck by one title that I thought might actually be informative, but it proved to be just a compendium of pretty pictures.
“A Year at the Conard Environmental Research Area” [Page 22, Spring 2017] failed, miserably, in showing anything but wildflowers, skyscapes, a windmill, some geese, and … no substance as to what CERA actually IS.
How about a series of in-depth articles about one or more of the wild species of vertebrates and non-plant life that dwell therein? 
Are no Grinnell students capable of “in the real world of nature” research before the sun comes up? Is Grinnell Magazine just another “rag” for elitist socialists who can afford Grinnell’s overpriced schooling?

- Jim Greaves ’71