Adolf Berle During the New Deal: The Brain Truster as an Intellectual Jobber

31 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2018

Date Written: November 1, 2018


Thirty-seven year old law professor Adolf Berle had a career year in 1932. His book published that year, The Modern Corporation and Private Property (written with Gardiner Means), framed the fundamental twentieth century change in understanding modern corporations. Berle’s exchange with Merrick Dodd on the purpose of the corporation that played out that spring on the pages of the Harvard Law Review launched a still fierce debate over the role of shareholders and other stakeholders. His service as a brain truster for Franklin Roosevelt during the fall election gave voice to the transformative economic policies of the New Deal. This article looks at what came next, particularly Berle’s career development and policy impact during the twelve years of the Roosevelt administration. Somewhat surprisingly, he didn’t join the government for its first five years, and when he eventually moved to Washington it was for a job in the State Department. This exploration of his role between 1933 and 1945 reveals a driving force of these career choices—his strong affinity (evidenced not just in this period but in the time before and after) to work as a brain truster. What that meant to Berle was to be an intellectual jobber and free-lancer, taking on a series of important tasks, often suggesting big ideas, before moving on to the next challenge. Part II takes a deep dive into the planning for post-war international economic policy that commenced immediately after World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, not long after Berle had joined the State Department, and in which he was assigned a key role. This examination provides a fuller picture of the process leading to new international institutions in trade, monetary policy, and assembling global capital while at the same time illustrating the familiar characteristics of Berle as an intellectual jobber.

Keywords: Berle, brain trust, Bretton Woods, international economic law, Keynes, Harry Dexter White, New Deal

JEL Classification: B15, B27, B31, F13, F33, N10, N22, G30, K22

Suggested Citation

Thompson, Robert B., Adolf Berle During the New Deal: The Brain Truster as an Intellectual Jobber (November 1, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Robert B. Thompson (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
(202) 661-6591 (Phone)

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