Murray Weidenbaum, RIP
By David Henderson
Murray Weidenbaum, Ronald Reagan’s first chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, died on Thursday. The New York Times obit on him is excellent, uncovering some nuggets about him that I hadn’t known. Check out the picture in the NYT obit and see if you can identify who is sitting to his right.
I first met Murray when I was in the job market at the San Francisco AEA Meetings in December 1974. I interviewed with Washington University and Murray, who was known for his study of regulation and advocacy of deregulation, liked the fact that my dissertation was on coal mine safety regulation. My take at the interview was that the other faculty there were not impressed.
A few years later, when I was the editor of Policy Report at the Cato Institute, then in San Francisco, the Village Voice ran an attack piece on a number of economists who were advocating deregulation. Murray was one of them. I wrote a defense of the deregulation movement, titled “Reply to the Voice.” When it was published, I sent copies to the people I had defended and got a nice note from Murray.
Later, when I learned that Ronald Reagan had chosen him as chairman of the CEA, I called him in St. Louis to make my pitch for a job. The offer was not forthcoming right away and so I took a policy position in the U.S. Labor Department. While there, I got a call to come over to the Council to meet with Murray. I received an offer a few weeks later and accepted. I overlapped with Murray only for a few weeks because he resigned in the summer of 1982 and his replacement, Martin Feldstein, showed up after Labor Day. Marty kept me on and renewed me for a year, but that’s another story.
When I really got to know Murray was when I was a John Olin Fellow in his Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University in St. Louis from July to December 1994. He and his wife, Phyllis, who survives him, were gracious host and hostess. My wife still fondly remembers Phyllis inviting her and my daughter Karen to lunch.
Murray was a good mentor. I often dropped by his office to chat and he gave good, quick, clear advice and also often told great stories. I fear that too much of the above is about me and not about him and that would be even more so if I talked about some specific advice he gave that was particularly helpful.
One piece I will share, though, that was not actually given as advice but that I took as advice and have acted on. Murray was in great demand to testify in Washington and give speeches around the country. He also had a regular teaching schedule. Murray prided himself on virtually never (and it might even be literally never) missing a class to do these activities. I have broken this rule a few times but when I do so, I virtually always do a make-up class. For that part of my character, I owe Murray Weidenbaum. He was a gentle man with a great sense of humor about himself. I will miss him.