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The Association and the Journal after sixty-five years.

The purpose of this paper is to trace briefly the development of the Southern Economic Association and the Southern Economic Journal during the past sixty-five years within the context of the economic circumstances in the South. It will be shown that the orientation of the Association and the Journal shifted with time from a regional one, where the emphasis was on research on Southern economic problems, to a national one, largely paralleling the South's diminished regional identity during its development in the last three decades.

I. Southern Economics during the Nineteenth Century

The South has often been regarded a laggard in the development of economics when compared to other regions of the United States. This has not always been the case. According to Professor Snavely,

It is not an exaggeration to say that in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Southern states held the foremost place in the development of economics in this country. This holds true both for the quality of instruction given and the creditable books and pamphlets that appeared from Southern authors. The priority of the South in this respect may be attributed quite largely to the influence of Thomas Jefferson who, along with Madison and Monroe, was profoundly interested in political and economic theory |6, 7~.

He goes on to argue that Jefferson and Monroe constructed the most liberal curricula in the social sciences yet known in this country for William and Mary and later for the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina, University of South Carolina, the University of Georgia as well as Transylvania University |6, 7~. Snavely also provides an impressive list of Southern economists who contributed to the literature during the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Civil War ended the South's premier position in teaching and research in economics. For a generation following that war conditions in the South retarded progress of its colleges and universities, and productive efforts in the social sciences languished. Impoverishment of the universities made it impossible to attract persons of similar attainments as those of the past, and difficult to retain its own best minds.(1)

During the first three decades of this century, conditions improved and this period witnessed the expansion of departments of economics and schools of commerce which were established at practically all the southern institutions, and it seemed that the South was well on its way towards recovery. It was in this environment that the Southern Economic Association was founded.

II. The Southern Economic Association

The Southern Economic Association had its beginnings in the fall of 1927, although it did not officially acquire that name until November 12, 1932.(2) Since 1930, it had been known as the Southeastern Economic Association, and between November 1928 to 1930 it operated as the Southeastern Economics Conference. In October of 1927, Walter J. Matherly, sent a letter to several southern economists and administrators proposing the organization of an association in the South. On the strength of replies received, he called a meeting of the representatives of 10 institutions to be held in Atlanta on December 10, 1927. At this meeting a committee drew up plans for the proposed organization which was presented to the group of representatives. A resolution was passed that an organization be established to be known as the Southern Association of Instructors in Economics and Business Administration. Upon passage of the resolution the association elected the following officers: president, Walter J. Matherly; vice-president, S. E. Leland; secretary, Mercer G. Evans, and treasurer, T. W. Noel. The first annual session of the association was to be held the following year on February 20-22, 1928.

The results of the meeting were sent to various colleges and universities in the South, and because of suggestions received from respondents, a meeting was held in Washington on December 29, 1927 in conjunction with the American Economic Association meetings during the Christmas holidays. At that meeting, the majority in attendance seemed to think that the idea of a regional association was a good one and those responsible for the plan should proceed with the execution of the plan.

Evans, the secretary of the organization, proposed that the October 1928 meeting be held under the auspices of the Atlanta group of economists which had been in existence for some time as an association of faculty from Agnes Scott College, Oglethorpe University, Georgia School of Technology and Emory University. The Evans proposal was presented to this group and on March 17, 1928 it adopted a resolution which would permit the original Southern Association of Instructors in Economics and Business Administration and its officers to disappear. These, in turn, were replaced by the Southeastern Economics Conference, without officers but with a local arrangements committee. The first meeting of the Southeastern Economics Conference was held in Atlanta on November 9-10, 1928.

The second annual meeting of the Conference was held in Atlanta on November 15-16, 1929. During this meeting it was decided that a formal organization be created. The officers elected were: Walter J. Matherly, University of Florida, President; O. C. Ault, George Peabody, College for Teachers, vice-president; Mercer G. Evans, Emory University, secretary-treasurer. A committee on constitution and by-laws was appointed at this meeting. The third annual meeting of the Conference was held in Atlanta November 14-15, 1930. One hundred sixty-seven persons attended, and a total of 15 papers were presented. At the business meeting of the Conference, a constitution and by-laws were adopted and the conference name was changed to Southeastern Economic Association. The association operated under this name until the fifth annual conference in 1932 when it changed its name to the Southern Economic Association.

The Southern Economic Association was originally conceived of as a regional association, not only in membership but also in research interest. The constitution specified the following:

The objects of this Association shall be the stimulation of interest in economics and economic questions and the encouragement of original research along economic lines with the view of assisting in the solution of economic questions which inevitably appear in the agricultural and industrial development of the South |Art. II~.

Although the annual programs from 1930 to 1939 varied considerably, they tended to concentrate on major problems of Southern interest. "Almost every important phase of southern life has received treatment of some kind" |4, 234~. During this period those who appeared on the programs of the Association meetings were Southerners by affiliation, with one or two exceptions each year.

The preoccupation of the association with southern problems was not a consequence of southern regionalism, but the result of the concern on the part of educators and researchers with the tremendous economic problems facing the South during the Depression years of the 1930s.

Although the entire country was affected by the economic conditions of that period, the South fared for worse than other regions in many respects. The transportation system in the South was more severely affected than any other section of the country. Southern railroads as a whole earned only 74% of their fixed charges in 1931 and only 44% in 1932, in comparison to railroads in the East which earned more than their fixed changes in 1931 and 98% in 1932 |1, 14~. The fiscal situation in the Southern states was just as dismal. Together, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina represented 9.5% of the country's public debt but accounted for 45% of the defaults |5, 19~. For the region as a whole, although it represented less than 25% of the national state and local debt, 62% of all defaults occurred within its borders |5, 13~. The debt burden of the southern states was due to the South's increase in indebtedness much faster than other sections of the country during the 1920s. Highway construction was a major factor, and since the South had lagged the other regions of the country in earlier years it spent relatively more. The South increased its surfaced road mileage by 212% as compared to 177% for the country as a whole. Urbanization of the South was another factor for public borrowing during the period since 1900. Between 1900 and 1930 the urban population had tripled, which required more governmental services and heavy capital outlays. So for all these reasons, during the 1930s southern states were caught with heavy indebtness and high service costs and declining revenues. For Southern states interest payments in 1937 amounted to 12.5% of all expenditures and bond retirements 6% or together about 18% of all disbursements. For the four states with the heaviest loads the amount was 24% of disbursements. Mississippi's state income tax revenue decreased in 1932 to one-fourth what it had been in 1928, and serves as an example of how badly state revenues were affected.

The South being mostly rural, was adversely affected by the depression in agriculture. The number of tenant farmers in Georgia between 1930 and 1935 was estimated to have been reduced by 80,000 (or a total of nearly 400,000 including their dependents) and they were reduced to the status of day laborers and displaced workers |3, 49~.

It is not my purpose to provide a comprehensive picture of the economic conditions in the South during the 1930s, but the above should offer some feel for the economic environment at the time the Southern Economic Association came into being. The universities in the South also suffered as they were asked to make great sacrifices. At the University of North Carolina, this took the form of a 50% reduction across the board in faculty salaries, among other things.

The post-War years witnessed a change both in terms of the research emphasis of papers presented at the meetings as well as the geographical distribution of participants. The meetings gradually lost their southern regional focus and the papers presented were similar to those presented at national meetings both in content, scope, and methods of analysis. This largely reflected the economic growth of the South and its increasing importance nationally, together with the growth of southern colleges and universities and the influx of faculty personnel trained in other regions.

The preliminary program of the Association's sixtieth annual conference at New Orleans reveals the extent to which the Association has lost its regional character. Of the 138 sessions listed in the program, only one, titled "The Economic History of the American South: Recent Research," is devoted exclusively to the South. In addition, six papers which have some regional focus appear in other sessions. All together these papers account for less than 2% of the papers presented at the meetings. Half of these are historical in nature.

The geographical distribution of participants has also changed in the direction of greater national participation. Of the papers presented at this meeting 55% of the authors were affiliated with southern institutions and the remaining 45% with non-southern institutions. In summary the regional character of the Southern Economic Association has diminished during the past 60 years, in terms of papers presented at the annual meetings as well as the geographical distribution of participants at those meetings. Nevertheless, the Association remains regional in one respect, that is in terms of its membership. There are 1474 members from within the region and only 84 from outside the South.

III. The Southern Economic Journal

The history of the Southern Economic Journal parallels that of the Association. The first issue appeared on October 1933, in the midst of the Depression. In the introduction to that issue, the editor, Malcolm H. Bryan, stated what he believed to be the purpose of the Journal:

It may be explained that the creation of this journal does not in any way imply a belief in the existence of a distinctively Southern economics as a separate intellectual discipline or doctrinal ensemble. On the other hand there does appear to exist in a measure a distinguishable Southern economy. It is marked, of course, more by differences of degree than of kind; but these differences are often of such commanding importance in the entire Southern area as to compel their examination on a basis quite at variance with the scope and point of view of their national consideration |2, 2~.

Accordingly, the first five issues of the journal contained 8 articles, 7 of which were devoted to the South.

Unfortunately, the Association was faced with financial difficulties which would force it to suspend publication of the Journal. In 1935, the Journal was rescued from financial failure by the University of North Carolina which entered into a joint publication agreement with the Association. In a joint announcement which appeared in the October 1935 issue, James W. Martin, President of the Association and Frank P. Graham, President of the University of North Carolina, outlined the new arrangement and focus of the journal:

The Southern Economic Journal, which has heretofore been published by the Southern Economic Association, becomes with this issue the joint undertaking of the Association and of the University of North Carolina. It has seemed to the Association and to the University that such a union of forces was mutually desirable and that a more serviceable publication would result. While the present Journal is in a sense a continuation of an effort previously carried on through the unaided efforts of the Association, it has, through this reorganization, been changed in style, expanded in size and content, and is therefore almost a new venture. Both parties to the present arrangement sincerely hope that the Journal in its new form will stimulate thinking and writing by social scientists generally and by economists particularly; that Southern problems will receive major though not exclusive attention in its pages; and that it will in the years to come make a significant contribution to a wider understanding of the South's difficulties, an understanding that must precede and be the basis of any intelligent attempts at amelioration and advancement |Southern Economic Journal, October 1935, 1~.

In the same issue there also appeared a statement by the editors, describing the mission of the Journal which more or less paraphrased Malcolm Byran's earlier introductory remarks in the inaugural issue two years earlier.

But already, the fraction of regional topics decreased to one-third by the end of the second volume. By 1944, of the sixteen articles which appeared in Volume X, only 3 had a Southern focus, or 19%. By 1953, of the 30 articles and communications which appeared in Volume XIX 3 or 10% were southern oriented, and by 1963 the percentage remained the same. Since the 1960s, the number of articles devoted to southern studies has virtually ceased except for an occasional economic history paper devoted to the region.(3)

In terms of submissions, 50% of the manuscripts received during the period 1989-90, were authored by economists with a southern affiliation. The geographical distribution of authors publishing in the Journal was similar to submissions. Of the 438 articles and communications printed for the most recent five year period, 52% were authored by writers located in the South.

In summary, the Southern Economic Journal is not southern in terms of subject matter published, and only half southern in terms of geographical distribution of submissions and authors.

IV. Conclusion

The Southern Economic Association was founded as a regional organization whose primary purpose was to encourage research on economic problems of the region. The Southern Economic Journal also reflected the regional orientation of the Association during its early years. With time, the regional character of the Association and Journal virtually has disappeared in terms of Southern studies. Participants in the annual meetings of the Association and authors publishing in the Journal are represented approximately equally in terms of southern and non-southern affiliations. What remains predominately southern is the membership, which is 95% southern affiliated.

1. For a more detailed account of the history of southern economics see Snavely |6~.

2. The history of the Southern Economic Association outlined here follows Matherly |4~.

3. However, a regional supplement to the Southern Economic Journal titled Education and the Southern Economy was published in July 1965.


1. Brown, C. K., "The Financial Conditions of Railroads in the South in 1923." Southern Economic Journal, January 1934, 14-23.

2. Bryan, Malcolm H., "Announcement." Southern Economic Journal, October 1933, 2.

3. Hood, Robin, "Southern Labor Standards." Southern Economic Journal, October 1935, 45-60.

4. Matherly, Walter J., "The History of the Southern Economic Association 1927-1939." Southern Economic Journal, October 1940, 225-40.

5. Ratchford, B. U., "Public Debts in the South." Southern Economic Journal, October 1935, 13-25.

6. Snavely, Tipton R., "Economic Thought and Economic Policy in the South." Southern Economic Journal, October 1933, 3-14.
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Title Annotation:Communications; Southern Economic Association; Southern Economic Journal
Author:Tarascio, Vincent J.
Publication:Southern Economic Journal
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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