How the Drafting of the Clayton Antitrust Act Helped Spread the Managerial Approach to Efficiency

AuthorSophie Agulhon,Thomas Michael Mueller
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterPerspectives
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(3) 591 –612
© The Author(s) 2022
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DOI: 10.1177/00953997221133488
How the Drafting of
the Clayton Antitrust
Act Helped Spread the
Managerial Approach
to Efficiency
Sophie Agulhon1 and Thomas Michael Mueller1
Managerial sciences are generally considered to be the art of efficiently
running business. Their influence, though, extends far beyond the corporate
sphere, and they play an important part in public administration and in
particular in its dialog with society at large. Here, from the viewpoint of
historical institutionalism, we document one of the earliest successful
examples of the wider application of management science: the 1914 antitrust
rules (the Clayton Antitrust and Federal Trade Commission Acts) from the
perspectives of economic scholars as technical experts, the early years of the
Wilson administration, and the spheres of business and society. The societal
debate about business and efficiency and the successive implementation of
scientific managerial ideas in the administrative sphere, saw management
science permeate the whole of American society and become an almost
irrefutable aspect of everyday life and representations, thereby enabling it
to spread well beyond the boundaries of the firm.
business regulation, management history, public debate
1Université Paris 8, Saint-Denis, France
Corresponding Author:
Thomas Michael Mueller, Université Paris 8, rue de la liberté, Saint-Denis 93526, France.
1133488AAS0010.1177/00953997221133488Administration & SocietyAgulhon and Mueller
592 Administration & Society 55(3)
During the Progressive Era, management became an international movement,
extending far beyond F. Taylor’s influence (Leonard, 2017; Wren &
Greenwood, 1998). Management became a fundamental element of American
society, opening up pathways and shaping institutions that still exist today.
Taking a historical institutionalist approach to examine how management
arose “as a result of human interactions becoming habituated or reproduced
over time” (Suddaby et al., 2014, p. 111), we attempt to show the role of the
dialog between science, institutions, and society that enabled managerial
habits regarding efficiency to spread through American society.
As the history of management literature has highlighted, during the
Progressive Era, the cultural environment of the Industrial Revolution proved
a leading factor in the emergence of management science (Cummings et al.,
2017). Management was committed to the efficient use of societal resources
(a “gospel of efficiency” [see also Hays, 1999]) which was considered unat-
tainable with the market system. While efficiency referred to technical
advances in factories, it was also a source of inspiration at every level of
society (Le Goff, 2014). As has been highlighted, some admirers of F. Taylor
extended the “efficiency craze” (Tichi, 1987) to other organizational types.
For instance, Morris Llewellyn Cooke “advocate[ed] for better managed
municipalities” in Philadelphia (Wren & Bedeian, 2008, p. 153) and Gilman
(1913) promoted managerial techniques to emancipate women; efficiency
was also largely advocated in the administration and in conservation policies
(Haber, 1964). Taylor himself included psychological explanations of human
underperformances and was possibly more nuanced that is commonly
acknowledged concerning human factors (Raadschelders & Fry, 2023). We
attempt to show how this trend became massive, spreading from intellectual
circles throughout the whole of American society, including in business, eco-
nomics, politics and among the general public, and came to mean more than
the narrow idea of getting more for less in terms of values.
Newly released archival sources from the Library of Congress reveal
intriguing connections between Louis Brandeis, Woodrow Wilson, and Henry
Ford concerning market competition, scientific management, and the welfare
of society on the eve of World War I. Ford’s innovative role as a “maker”
stands out particularly (Wren & Greenwood, 1998) at a time when antitrust
law reform was making the headlines in domestic politics. We develop a the-
orized understanding of the historical particularities and contingencies sur-
rounding the drafting of the Clayton Act with which to identify and
conceptualize the development and expansion of a managerial approach to
efficiency. So we situate the emergence of management and its spread
throughout American society historically (Rowlinson & Hassard, 2014;
Üsdiken & Kipping, 2014).

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