Rudy Gonzalez, RIP
By David Henderson
Earlier this week, Jeff Hummel forwarded me some sad news that he received from Lydia Ortega, former chair of the San Jose State University economics department: their former colleague Rudy Gonzalez has died. Lydia gave a moving tribute to Rudy that she has allowed me to post. I’ll add my own after hers. Here’s Lydia:
I’m writing with sad news. I just learned that Rudy passed away today [February 3]. I have no other information about cause of death or services or memorials. He was a private person. I cobbled together this email list from those I believe would have taken his Law and Economics course or his course in Public Finance/Public Choice or his History of Economics thought or Industrial Organization, even his course in Race and Gender. Rudy certainly opened minds. He was a true Renaissance scholar (someone who knows a lot about a lot as opposed to modern specialist scholars who know a lot about a little). He knew just as much about Formula 1 drivers as the School of Salamanca as he did about classic film directors. He knew what it was to fight — literally physically and strategically fight for his values. Clearly, he was one of the best political strategists I have ever met. Yet with all this physical and mental power at his command he was the epitome of a self-effacing, humble gentleman. He never made you feel like you asked a silly question; covered in chalk dust, with a can of diet coke in one hand and an unlit cigarette in the other, he pointed, ‘to the door’ and you would go outside to discuss the question.
I know that he had health issues and that with his tremendous will-power he made strides that shocked his doctors. He persevered for as long as he did for the love of his life and partner for over 50 years, Silvia Gonzalez.
So why am I writing this to you? Because life races by so fast that you forget to appreciate that in this moment you are alive. Maybe you can pause to remember one thing that Rudy gave to you that made a difference. Then pass it on. Or in his memory get into a dynamic discussion. Or read a good book (the kind where you turn pages with your hand). I know that he would want you to think.
I second what Lydia said above. I first met Rudy when we hired him at the Naval Postgraduate School to teach a few courses. That was in about 1987. I have a vague recall that I sat in on a class or two to see how he taught and was very impressed. I have a strong recall that I talked to NPS students whom he had taught and was impressed with how much good economics they had retained months later.
I had Rudy give a guest lecture in 1988. I had read this policy analysis of defense spending by Bill Niskanen and expressed my strong agreement with it. Rudy was not as impressed and his comments were well enough thought out that I thought it would be good for the students to see another view. I still remember the part of his talk where he challenged Niskanen’s view that DOD was not getting much increased quality for the much higher cost of various bits of hardware.
Rudy stated (and I remember this almost word for word):
I’ll criticize his point by analogy. When I was a graduate student, I had a house. I now have a house. I ate in restaurants. I eat in restaurants. I had a car. I have a car. The difference is this. When I was a graduate student, I had a small house in a so-so area; now I have a nice house in a nice area. I ate at McDonald’s; now I eat at steak houses. I had an old beat-up car. Now I have a much nicer car.
Rudy and I both wanted George H.W. Bush to beat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election and I remember his great analytic discussions of Dukakis’s mistakes. I don’t mean the obvious ones about his wearing a goofy helmet in an Army tank or his bloodless response to CNN’s Bernard Shaw’s question at the start of one of the debates. The thing that stands out is his pointing out that to save his campaign, which by then was going down in flames, Dukakis consented to a one-on-one interview with ABC’s Ted Koppel. I agreed that it had gone badly. “But how could Dukakis have known in advance that that was a bad move?” I asked him. “Because,” said Rudy, “Koppel is notorious for asking tough questions and not letting up. If Dukakis and Bush were there together, it might have made sense. But with just Dukakis, the only person Koppel gets to grill is Dukakis.”
I remember that Rudy was teaching in Monterey on election night and I invited him to watch the returns with me. Lydia mentions above his diet Coke; at the time, I made sure the house was well stocked with Rudy’s favorite drink: actual Coke. (That’s why I used the Coke can picture above; I can’t find a pic of Rudy on line.) Rudy and I were relieved, though not excited, that Bush won.
(By the way, I know that both Rudy and I were disappointed by Bush’s actual performance, probably I more than he. One area where Rudy and I differed was on foreign policy and I was appalled by his invasion, before being in office for even a year, of Panama.)
I told my wife the other day that Rudy had died. My wife summed it up nicely: “He was a nice man.”
Rick Weber, whom Rudy turned into an economist, has written a nice tribute to him. Here are three great paragraphs from his tribute:
I think my students hate it when I digress. They’ve been trained by a lifetime of standardized tests and the empty promise that ambition is as simple as uncritically ticking off the right boxes: take these classes in this order, get a degree, then get a job (whatever that means). There’s a lot of lip service to the importance of education, but now education is a commodity. Bricks to be stacked mechanically.
In Rudy’s class, education was a process of enlightenment. Knowledge wasn’t an assembly of bricks, but a garden–different bits of knowledge growing and complementing one another, fertilized with jokes and stories.
It was in his class I decided I wanted to be an economics professor. He also gave me a copy of the paper that convinced me of anarchism. I’m still trying to share a taste of the excitement I got in his class with my students. It’s an uphill battle, but I’m glad I’ve had the chance to fight ignorance with economics and humor.
[DRH addition on the issue of mechanically stacking bricks: One way that is becoming even more so is with the deadly Assurance of Learning requirements. They were coming into full swing about the time I retired and I’m glad I was able to largely avoid them. One way I resisted was by saying, “I already have assurance of learning: it’s in 4 problem sets, one midterm, and one final.” I notice that the AoL advocates don’t seem, by and large, to be, you know, actual teachers.]