My AEA Speech on the Presidential Panel, 1980
In 1980, the American Economics Association had its annual meeting in Denver in early September. When I arrived and paid my dues, I noticed that the program had a session planned for the first day titled, “Presidential Candidates’ Economic and Financial Policies Panel.” On the program were three speakers: Charles Schultze on behalf of his boss, President Carter, Alan Greenspan on behalf of Ronald Reagan, and Hendrik Houthakker on behalf of John Anderson. I was surprised by this last entry, given John Anderson’s essentially zero chance of winning and given that Libertarian candidate Ed Clark was not represented.
I decided to do something about it. The next morning, I contacted Ed Crane, who ran the Clark campaign, to ask if I could represent Clark. I hadn’t been in touch with Ed Crane since having quit my position at the Cato Institute in the spring of that year. He was on the phone and so I asked his assistant to write out my request, hand it to Ed, and tell me whether he nodded or shook his head. He nodded. Then I called the president of the AEA, William Baumol, and asked him if I could be on the panel. “That’s not my call,” he answered. “That’s up to Leonard Silk, who put the panel together and is chairing the session.” “When I talk to Leonard Silk, may I tell him that this has your blessing?” He answered yes.
So I wandered around the convention hall and found Marina von Neumann Whitman, one of my former bosses at Nixon’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) when she was a member of the CEA, and, coincidentally, she was talking to Leonard Silk. So I went up to them, said hi, and introduced myself to Leonard. Just then, in another lucky coincidence, Hendrik Houthakker came along. He had been a member of the CEA when Marina was a senior staff economist.
I got to the point quickly. I pointed out Hendrik was representing John Anderson whom everyone knew had no chance of winning the election. Therefore, I said, I thought it reasonable that Clark be represented and I had got permission from the Clark campaign to represent him. “I’m so sorry,” said Leonard, “but this is not my call. Bill Baumol is the program organizer and it’s up to him.” “Good,” I said, “because I talked to him an hour ago, he said he favors it, and that’s it actually up to you.”
Leonard was nonplussed, but only for a few seconds. “The problem is,” he said, “that we have limited time and each person will get only 15 minutes or so. There won’t be time for you.” “I understand,” I said, “so how about this? Give me 7 minutes and I promise to stick to it.” I looked at Hendrik, pleading with my eyes for his support. He didn’t give it directly, but didn’t object. Finally, Marina said, “Come on, Leonard. Be a sport.” “OK,” said Leonard.
I didn’t have a room at the hotel–I had a fairly low income and little wealth in those days–and so I found a friend who had a room. She lent me her key and I holed up there for the next 2 hours writing out my talk and making sure it came in at about 6:50 in case anyone applauded. Then I went down to give it.
In my next post, I’ll show you my speech, which I came across in going through old papers.