Leonard S. Silk papers, 1929-1995, bulk dates 1950-1985

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Silk, Leonard Solomon, 1918-1995
Leonard Silk (1918-1995) was a columnist and editorial writer on economics for The New York Times and Business Week. This collection primarily documents his professional life through his correspondence, writings, research, and teaching. It forms part of the Economists' Papers Archive.
544.7 Linear Feet (232 boxes and one oversize folder.)
Material in English.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

This collection spans Silk's entire career and is arranged by accession, within which are divisions by format, assembled by Silk. Most but not all accessions are described in this collection guide.

There are many format divisions, and they typically include correspondence files; printed material such as periodicals and reports; research or subject files; newspaper clippings files; drafts of writings, including Silk's books, news columns, editorials, speeches, lectures, book reviews, and essays; papers and reprints by Silk's colleagues; organizations files; publicity and informal photographs of Silk and others; financial documents; economic data such as forecasts and tables, much of it reported by the US government; some teaching materials such as reading lists; and theses and dissertations (including Silk's 1947 thesis on Swedish housing policies). There are also groups of cards, notes, memos, calendars and agendas, and some minutes of meetings relating to organizations with which Silk was involved.

Leonard Silk's papers are a vast and rich resource for learning about the intersection of politics, economics, and popular opinion in the 20th century. Specific topics include US fiscal policies; global economics (starting with materials on post-World War II Europe); trends in social institutions in the US; and other economic topics as American business, unemployment, inflation, banking, macroeconomics and Keynesian economics, markets and marketing (pharmaceutical and tobacco, among others), the economies of Asian countries such as Japan, and many other subjects.

A more detailed original paper inventory is available in the library; in it, significant portions of the correspondence are listed at the item level, including correspondents' names; separated book titles are also listed individually. Many groups of other materials, however, are described only by number of pieces.

In the correspondence files, many of them arranged in chronological order, the majority of the letters are addressed to Silk, but there are also some written by him. Significant correspondents include writers and journalists as well as well-known political figures and economists too numerous to mention. A search using key words may be helpful in locating particular individuals. Again, the original paper inventory contains the names of hundreds of individual correspondents.

The largest group of materials in the collection consists of print items. Silk assembled extensive research files of clippings, articles, periodicals, reports, government publications, and reprints. All of these supported his current research interests, which ranged widely but chiefly focused on macroeconomics, Keynesian economic theory, economics for the social good, and banking and finance. He also set aside pamphlets, tables and charts, and even maps related to his travels.

Biographical / historical:

Leonard Solomon Silk (1918-1995) was a white American journalist and economist who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and died in Montclair, New Jersey. He entered Dickinson College in Pennsylvania in 1936 and transferred to The University of Wisconsin on a scholarship the following year. There, he began his journalistic career, editing the humor magazine Octopus. He also became influenced by the cutting-edge economics department, and professors such as Selig Perlman. Silk entered Duke University in 1940 for graduate study in economics; his mentor at Duke was international economist Calvin Bryce Hoover. His graduate study was interrupted during World War II when he enlisted in the US Army Air Force. He worked as a Morse code operator in Alaska, but also wrote for Yank and other Army publications. In this capacity, he covered the 1945 founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco. Upon his return to graduate study in 1946, he travelled to Sweden to study the Swedish housing system. He published an article on this research in Fortune magazine; a longer version of which became his PhD thesis and subsequently his first book, Sweden Plans for Better Housing (1948), published by Duke University Press.

Silk is most well known as a columnist and editorial writer for The New York Times and Business Week. He was one of the first journalists known for making complex economic issues understandable to the average reader. He became a full-time columnist for The New York Times from 1976-1993 and published a column twice weekly in the business pages under the "Economic Scene" rubric. In later years he also frequently wrote major news stories on economic issues.

In addition to his journalistic work, Silk taught economics at the University of Maine, Simmons College in Boston, the University of Oslo, and Pace University. He was a Senior Research Fellow on the United Nations for the Ralph Bunche Institute at the City University of New York, and a Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution. He worked for the federal government in various positions such as a housing expert and an economist for the United States Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Silk expanded much of his journalistic research into books; his most well known are Economics in Plain English (1978), Economics in the Real World (1984), and The American Establishment.

Silk was drawn to economics by the Great Depression. During his undergraduate study at the University of Wisconsin, he was influenced by Keynesian theory and recently popularized views that economists should study microeconomics and not just macr-economics. He eventually moved away from Keynesian theory but advocated both government regulation and deregulation based on the particular economic situation. He viewed economics as a branch of philosophy and believed that economics should improve the quality of life for people, especially the disadvantaged.

Acquisition information:
The Leonard Silk papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library as transfers from the University of Wyoming in 2005 and 2008.
Processing information:

Processed by University of Wyoming and Rubenstein Library staff.

Accessions described in this collection guide: 2005-0046 and 2008-0039.


This collection has been minimally processed and is in original order as received from the University of Wyoming, who transferred it. Each series represents an addition to the Silk papers, numbered by the University of Wyoming and dated, and is made up of subseries by format, such as correspondence, reports, and subject files. Within subseries, there is often an original alphabetical order, particularly for subject files and correspondence.

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Access restricted. Collection requires additional arrangement, description, and/or screening because it has been minimally processed. Contact Research Services for more information.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the Rubenstein Library's Citations, Permissions, and Copyright guide.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Leonard Solomon Silk papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University.