Thursday, March 12, 2015

Remembering Murray Weidenbaum: 1927-2014

Murray Weidenbaum died last May at the age of 78. During Weidenbaum’s career, his jobs and affifiliations included: the New York State Department of Labor; the U.S. Bureau of the Budget; Ph.D. study at Princeton; jobs at General Dynamics and Boeing; the University of Washington; the Stanford Research Institute; director of a Presidential Committee on the Economics of Defense and Disarmament (we’re now up to the 1960s); a NASA Economic Research Program based at Washington University in St. Louis, which by the end of his career had turned into a University Professorship; Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury for Economic Policy; Chairman of President
Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers; positions on corporate boards (Centerre Bank, Hill and Knowlton, May Department Stores, Tesoro Petroleum, Beatrice Foods, the Harbour Group); affiliations with the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and blue-ribbon commissions on everything from trade deficits to terrorism.

As an economist focused on defense spending and the costs of regulation, perhaps his best-known line was: "Don’t just stand there, undo something.” David R. Henderson offers some memories of Weidenbaum in "A Feel for EconomicsMurray Weidenbaum 1927–2014," appearing in Winter 2014-15 issue of Regulation magazine. 

"Murray was the ultimate economist, as two stories about him bear out: Although he was Jewish, his family celebrated Christmas, and he and his wife encouraged their son and two daughters to believe in Santa Claus. In time, his older daughter reached the age when she began to doubt Santa Claus’s existence and suspected that her parents were the real source of Christmas gifts. But on Christmas morning, she opened a gift and found an expensive item that she had wanted. “There must be a Santa Claus,” she said, excitedly. “Dad’s too cheap to spend that much money.” Murray delighted in telling that story.

"The second story is about traveling light. While working at CSAB [the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University], I was getting ready to go to a conference. One thing that always happened at conferences, before the Internet achieved its prominence, was that one returned home with copies of various papers. If you collected enough such papers, it was hard to take just a carry-on, and you had to check a bag. What to do? I told Murray that my packing for the conference included old underwear that I didn’t mind losing. On the trip, I would throw away the underwear instead of bringing it home, creating space for papers in my carry-on. As far as I knew, I was the only person who did this—until Murray told me (eyes twinkling) that he often did that very thing."