THE SPECULATOR: Bernard M. Baruch in Washington, 1917-1965 by Jordan A. Schwarz

THE SPECULATOR: Bernard M. Baruch in Washington, 1917-1965

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Bernard Baruch (1870-1965) made millions by the time he was 32--through practices that are now illegal (mostly buying and selling on margin, and otherwise speculating in raw materials and railroads)--and then turned his wealth toward becoming an important public person. If Northern Illinois University historian Schwarz's biography establishes nothing else, it shows what money can do. Although Baruch's money came from stock transactions and corporate mergers, rather than from productive activities, he was smart enough to realize that as far as the public was concerned, he had to know something about industrial productivity if he was so rich; and he parlayed this perception into a public persona which got off the ground during the Wilson administration. Having put a lot of money into Wilson's candidacy, Baruch won appointment to the War Industries Board, and eventually became its head. Here he established his reputation as an advocate of cooperation between labor, capital, and government as a means to hold down prices while maintaining productivity (inflation was Baruch's idee fixe; as a stock speculator, he bad a vested interest in low prices). He also established a reputation for getting people who knew what they were doing to administer and operate the agency he controlled while he stuck to getting the headlines. Schwarz's story is awash with lavish dinners, expensive gifts, and hunting weekends at Baruch's South Carolina estate that served as Baruch's method of making friends. After the WIB success, Baruch managed to get himself into the Paris Peace Conference delegation, where he was a staunch supporter of Wilson. After John Maynard Keynes published his brilliant attack on the Wilsonians, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, Baruch paid John Foster Dulles $10,000 to write the bulk of a response published under Baruch's name. That too was characteristic of Baruch, who employed many ghosts, including Times man Arthur Krock. With the exception of his position at the head of the US delegation to the UN Atomic Energy Commission, where his firm stand helped contribute to the absence of a post-WW II treaty on atomic energy, Baruch never held another important post, cultivating instead the reputation of an old wise man. Economists like Galbraith and Samuelson, in addition to Keynes, considered Baruch to be longer on show than economic intelligence, but Schwarz wants to portray him as ahead of his time in his unceasing advocacy of price controls, cooperation, and curbing inflation. His admiring view clashes with the mountains of detail he provides--but that mountainous detail is an index, too, of Baruch's multifarious involvements. A good job, however arguable the conclusions.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1981
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina Press