David Warsh's column this week is about the rise of the MIT economics department. One explanation (among many):
its willingness to appoint Jewish economists to senior positions, starting with Samuelson himself. Anti-Semitism was common in American universities on the eve of World War II, and while most of the best universities had one Jew or even two on their faculties of arts and sciences, to demonstrate that they were free of prejudice, none showed any willingness to appoint significant numbers until the flood of European émigrés after World War I began to open their doors. MIT was able to recruit its charter faculty – Morris Adelman, Max Millikan, Walt Rostow, Paul Rosenstein-Rodin, Solow, Evsey Domar and Franco Modigliani were Jews – "not only because of Samuelson's growing renown," writes Weintraub, "…but because the department and university were remarkably open to the hiring of Jewish faculty at a time when such hiring was just beginning to be possible at Ivy League Universities."
This is a great example of how competition is often better than regulation at providing a remedy to discrimination. Governments at the federal, state, or local level could have — and in fact have — enacted laws prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of religion or national origin. But more effective in bringing about change was competition from a nondiscriminatory department at MIT whose Jewish economists were winning prizes and publishing in top journals.