Sumner Slichter

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Sumner H. Slichter
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Chicago
Scientific career
FieldsLabor economics
InstitutionsHarvard University
Doctoral advisorHarry A. Millis

Sumner Huber Slichter (1892–1959) was an American economist and the first Lamont University Professor at Harvard University. Slichter was considered by many to be the pre-eminent labor economist of the 1940s and 1950s.[1][2][3]


Slichter was born in Madison, Wisconsin, the son of Charles Sumner Slichter, a mathematician and dean of the graduate school at the University of Wisconsin.[4] He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1913 before earning a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.[1]


Following stints at Cornell and Princeton, Slichter moved to Harvard in 1930. After Harvard president James Bryant Conant created university professorships, not tied to any particular department, in 1936, Slichter was named the inaugural Lamont University Professor. He remained at Harvard through the end of his career. Slichter received an honorary degree from Harvard in 1942.[5]

A regular lecturer and contributor to magazines such as Harper's,[6] Slichter was arguably the best-known economist in America at the peak of his career.[3][7] Slichter's textbook, Modern Economic Society, was a standard introductory economics textbook in America before 1950.

Slichter was president of the American Economic Association in 1941.[8]

Though critical of substantial portions of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's economic policy, Slichter served as an informal economic adviser to Harry Truman.[9]


Slichter was skeptical of the New Deal as a means to provide full employment, arguing that a government guarantee of full employment created perverse incentives for employees.[10]

As World War II drew to a close, most economists predicted that with an end to government spending on the war, the economy would collapse again. Slichter correctly predicted that with soldiers coming home seeking a normal life and material pleasures, the economy would grow strongly after the end of the war and that inflation would be a greater cause for concern than depression.[11][12][13]

Slichter was the first major economist to recognize that the pool of labor from comparably skilled workers was not unified across the economy but rather segmented by industry, with supply and demand curves varying as a function of the industry's profitability.[14]


Sumner Slichter was the brother of geophysicist Louis B. Slichter, father of physicist Charles Pence Slichter, and the grandfather of musician Jacob Slichter.


  • Sumner Huber Slichter (1960). The impact of collective bargaining on management. Brookings Institution.
  • Sumner Huber Slichter (1941). The outlook for private enterprise in America. Investment Bankers Association of America.


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