James Harvey Rogers was Yale University Sterling Professor of Economics from 1931 until his death in 1939. He served as an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on monetary economics from 1933–1934. He was a student of Irving Fisher and Vilfredo Pareto and is considered Fisher's closest disciple and a proto-Keynesian.
In 1743, Nicholas Rogers established a 350-acre plantation in the wilderness of Welsh Neck, east across the Great Pee Dee River from Society Hill, in the adjoining Marlboro County. Nicholas's grandson was Colonel Benjamin Rogers, Jr., who fought in the American Revolution and was the father of 18 children and one step-child. James Harvey's father, John Terrell Rogers, was a fourth generation descendant of Nicholas Rogers. John was a Captain in the Confederate Army by the age of 19 and after the War started his own plantation in Society Hill that he named Belle vue. Captain Rogers's first wife died in 1874 and he married Florence Coker, the youngest daughter of a prosperous store owner, in 1879.
Rogers attended primary school at St. David's Academy where he was a mediocre, if diligent, student. In 1904 he enrolled at the College of South Carolina in Columbia. By starting as an advanced sophomore and taking large course loads he was able to complete bachelor's degrees in both arts and sciences and a Master of Arts in mathematics and astronomy by 1907. At this point in his life, Rogers had not advanced beyond the sentimental, ethnocentric nationalism the Southern landowning class. After graduating he taught at St. David's Academy and was acting principal for one year before entering Yale University for a second bachelor's degrees in 1909. He spent two years at the University of Chicago studying mathematics and astronomy. Studying under Alvin Johnson convinced Rogers to combine his interest in mathematics with economics. Nevertheless, he left unsatisfied and without earning a degree and returned to Yale. The death of his father in 1912 temporarily interrupted his education, but he received an M.A. in 1913. Owing to a sense of civic duty and an interest in social reform, he switched to political economy in the doctoral program. It was during his time at Yale that he began his study with Irving Fisher.
For the 1914-1915 school year, Rogers was awarded Yale's Cyler Fellowship to study economics abroad. On Fisher's advice that Vilfredo Pareto was one of the foremost mathematical economists, Rogers went to the Geneva for his fellowship year. In 1893, Pareto had succeeded Léon Walras to the chair of Political Economy at the University of Lausanne where he continued his work on general equilibrium theory. By 1914 Pareto was largely retired from teaching, but had finished his Trattato di sociologia generale (published in Italian in 1916; published in English as The Mind and Society in 1935) and was eager to lecture on his work. Pareto was living at his Villa Angora in the village of Céligny. For six months Rogers would "go out [to Céligny from Geneva] each Tuesday afternoon at five, listen to [Pareto] lecture for an hour, then discuss the matter for half an hour more, then eat a big French dinner and sit an talk until ten o'clock."
While in Europe, Rogers developed a method that he would employ throughout his career. Weak in theory and lacking the focus on detail necessary to produce the kind of data that was scarce in the pre-War era, Rogers traveled widely, established relationships, spoke to people with first-hand knowledge and cultivated his skills as an observer.
He completed his doctoral dissertation on Some Theories on the Incidence of Taxation in 1916.
Rogers was in Europe on his fellowship at the start of the First World War. Reading French, German and Italian newspapers imbued Rogers with a certain neutrality. The sinking of the Lusitania changed that. On 12 May 1915 he wrote to his mother that prior to the Lusitania, "... hearing the Germans so unjustly run down in French Switzerland, I got in the habit of putting in a word for them now and then." After the Lusitania, he wrote, "I think I have spoken my last word in their favor." He also got his first taste of the mob. Witnessing demonstrations in Rome "has knocked the last spark of Socialism out of my soul and with it most of my respect for the labor unions."
Upon returning to the United States and completing his dissertation, Rogers sought to continue in his family's martial tradition. He sought to enlist as a Quartermaster in the Officers' Reserve Corps, but was rejected. He served with the Yale battalion along the Texas-Mexico border. He helped to enroll students in the American Ambulance Service thinking he would ship out to France with them but was again rejected. In the fall of 1917 he accepted a position as a statistician with the Priorities Committee of the Council of National Defense. Rogers was shocked and dismayed to learn the state of U.S. unpreparedness, administrative disorganization, the paucity of information on the economy and the unwillingness of business to cooperate. Rogers opposed direct government control of the economy and sought instead the creation of a system of priorities. With the routinization of management, he left the Council and was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the Ordnance Reserve Corps in January 1918 and sent to Europe.
After the Armistice in November, the War Department sent him to work with the War Industries Board. Wesley C. Mitchell, was the foremost U.S. expert on Business Cycles. Mitchell needed a statistician to help with the publication, History of Prices During the War, a compilation into a uniform format of the price data gathered by the government during the war. Rogers authored Bulletin Number 23 in the project, Prices of Cotton and Cotton Products, in 1919.
Eager to return to Europe, in April 1919 Rogers joined the Red Cross. He spent two and a half months working in Paris. In late July he went to Czechoslovakia and returned to the U.S. in the fall.
Though he had absorbed a good deal of Pareto's pessimism; an admirer of such works as The Adding Machine and the essays of H. L. Mencken; as well as having witnessed first-hand the destruction in Europe, Rogers did not share the disillusion of fellow intellectuals of the Lost Generation; rather, he remained optimistic about the possibilities of U.S. business culture, democracy, altruism and scientific rationalism.
On 13 August 1939, while on a mission to investigate the status of the Brazilian economy in the Hemispheric Defense Zone, his airplane crashed in the vicinity of Rio de Janeiro. At Roger's prearrangement, he is buried in the Welsh Neck Baptist Church Cemetery in Society Hill.
The University of Missouri-Columbia employs a James Harvey Rogers Chair of Money, Credit and Banking.
The James Harvey Rogers papers are available at the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University.