Beardsley Ruml (5 November 1894 – 19 April 1960) was an American statistician, economist, philanthropist, planner, businessman and man of affairs in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. He was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His father, Wentzle Ruml, was a country doctor. His mother, Salome Beardsley Ruml, was a hospital superintendent. He received a BA from Dartmouth College in 1915 and a Ph.D. in psychology and education from the University of Chicago in 1917. On August 28, 1917 he married Lois Treadwell; they had three children. A pioneer statistician, in 1918 he helped design aptitude and intelligence tests for the U.S. Army. Ruml viewed society as composed of groups whose traits could be measured and ranked on a scale of normality and deviance.
From 1922-29 he directed the fellowship program of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund, focusing on support for quantitative social and behavioral science. He was an advisor to President Herbert Hoover especially on farm issues. In 1931 he became dean of the Division of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago—a center for quantitative research. He was not popular with the faculty and in 1934 Ruml became an executive of R. H. Macy & Company, parent company of the department store, rising to chairman in 1945. He also served as a director of the New York Federal Reserve Bank (1937–1947), and was its chairman from 1941 until 1946; he was active at the Bretton Woods Conference (1944) that established the international monetary system. He was active in New Deal planning agencies but their plans never saw fruition.
In the summer of 1942 Ruml proposed that the U.S. Treasury start collecting income taxes through a withholding, pay-as-you-go, system. He proposed an abatement on the previous year's taxes, making up the revenue by immediately collecting on the current year's taxes. In 1943 Congress adopted the withholding system.
In 1945, Ruml made a famous speech to the ABA, asserting that since the end of the gold standard, "Taxes for Revenue are Obsolete". The real purposes of taxes were: to "stabilize the purchasing power of the dollar", to "express public policy in the distribution of wealth and of income", "in subsidizing or in penalizing various industries and economic groups" and to "isolate and assess directly the costs of certain national benefits, such as highways and social security". This is seen as a forerunner of functional finance or chartalism.
Ruml wrote several books and essays, including "The Interest Rate Problem," "Memo to a college trustee: A report on financial and structural problems of the liberal college," "Government, Business, and Values," and "Tomorrow's Business."
Ruml died April 19, 1960, in Danbury, CT.
- Patrick D. Reagan; Designing a New America: The Origins of New Deal Planning, 1890-1943 University of Massachusetts Press 2000.
- Patrick D. Reagan, "The Withholding Tax, Beardsley Ruml, and Modern American Policy," Prologue 24 (1992): 19-31.
- Beardsley Ruml, 'Taxes for Revenue are Obsolete' American Affairs, Jan. 1946, VIII:1, p. 35 pdf html