What do GDP and free agency in major league sports have in common? Both rank among the 85 most “disruptive ideas” since 1929, according to Bloomberg Businessweek magazine.
Also, Robert R. Nathan played a role in both.
Nathan, the founder of Nathan Associates, worked for his former professor Simon Kuznets at the Commerce Department in the 1930s. During this collaboration, Nathan assembled data to create estimates of national income, using surveys, scattered studies, and reports. The resulting publications formed the basis for gross national national product (GNP), then gross domestic product (GDP).
Although Kuznets returned to the University of Pennsylvania, Nathan stayed on to serve as chief of the National Income Section at Commerce. And during World War II he used the National Income Product Accounts and GDP as chief of the Planning Committee of the War Mobilization Board.
“Getting a grip on GDP, including its thousands of components, empowers the planners in both Big Government and Big Business,” Peter Coy of Bloomberg Businessweek wrote. “It was conceived mainly in Great Britain and the U.S., first to understand and combat the Great Depression, then to organize war production to defeat the Axis powers.’’
Free agency dates to 1975, when an arbitrator ruled in favor of two pitchers, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. Free agency, Bob Costas wrote for the magazine, made baseball “fairer” and “more interesting.”
“Led by the formidable Marvin Miller, the union’s head, and propelled by the courage of Curt Flood, an All-Star center fielder who had essentially walked away from the game a few years earlier rather than accept a trade, the players’ cause had been gaining steam,” Costas wrote.
Nathan testified in 1970 in federal court supporting Flood’s challenge to the reserve clause, which gave team owners virtual control over where players played. Flood lost the court case, brought on antitrust grounds, and an appeal to the Supreme Court. But Major League Baseball in 1970 did permit senior players to veto trades.
The magazine published the list to mark the 85th anniversary of its founding, as Business Week.