The loss of a great economist and a great man

March 18th, 2019 at 11:15 am

Like everyone else who knew him, I’m in shock and despair over news of the death of the economist Alan Krueger. Alan was the best kind of colleague: always inquisitive, incredibly rigorous about what constituted facts and evidence in economics, and willing and able to talk about his work in ways that made sense to anyone who would listen.

I admired everything about Alan, but a few things stand out. He taught us a lot about creativity. Like the rest of us, he crunched numbers that were available from the usual sources. But he didn’t stop there. He believed that if you want to know the answer to something, sometimes you have to go out and get the data yourself, something very few economists do.

I can’t be the only one who’s been in meetings with Alan, scratching our heads about some policy outcome, only to have him show up at the next meeting with a survey he somehow fielded with the answer to the question.

It was this creativity that led to his path-breaking, minimum-wage work with David Card. Their book, Myth and Measurement, stands as one of the most muscular treatises not just on the facts of minimum wages–a national debate, btw, that Alan and David totally altered, to the benefit of millions of low-wage workers and their families (and how many of us can say that?…). The book is a shining example, one I’ve tried to emulate my own work, of how to test an economic assumption that everyone believes, but is wrong.

With his brain power, he could have been high-handed and haughty, but he was anything but. To the contrary, he went out of his way to be a kind and empathetic friend. Once, when we worked together in the Obama administration, a prominent Democrat publicly distanced himself from some something I’d written. Before I’d even heard about it, I got a sympathetic note from Alan reminding me that politics is one thing, but we don’t throw our friends under the bus (his words, which I remember to this day).

I simply can’t believe he’s not there for me to shoot an email off to, asking him some gnarly question that he typically answered for me in a clarifying sentence that completely unwound my confusion. Then, with that out of the way, we’d gossip a bit.

A terribly sad day…a huge loss. All any of us can take solace in is how lucky we are to have known him.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

12 comments in reply to "The loss of a great economist and a great man"

  1. Francisco Gonzalez says:

    Thanks for sharing your insights and understanding of the impact of Alan Krueger’s work on the lives of workers.

  2. Gerald Scorse says:

    From an obit: “His research concluded that a higher minimum wage did not generally slow hiring as many conservative critics have argued.” Hadn’t realized this was a Krueger contribution. As you say, it benefitted (and continues to benefit) millions and millions of workers.

    But that zombie conservative position is still out there, standing in way, to this day.

  3. Jill Shaffer Hammond says:

    To you and many other economists and co-workers from your government days: my condolences. His message on policy was very needed and welcomed by those of us feeling the difficulty of economic inequality. If only it could have been heeded.

  4. Louis Uchitelle says:

    Like you, I’m in shock at Alan Krueger’s death. He was an insightful mainstream economist. He helped journalists understand the issues of the day, especially labor issues. He was good-natured, warm and generous, and over the years he became a friend.
    Lou Uchitelle

  5. Jennifer Shangraw says:

    Big hug, Jared! I knew of his research because I scour articles on the plight of the working class. For you, suicide of a colleague is most horrific. I still grieve about Robin Williams. Another big hug for you.

  6. Dave says:

    I also admired his work. This is a sad day. And to anyone else that may believe things are just too bleak to bear in the present, tomorrow is always a new day with new hope!

    The more people you come into contact with directly or indirectly, the more people you lose. We must continue forwarding his ideas.

  7. Donald A. Coffin says:

    I’m a half-a-generation older than Alan Krueger (and, I am sorry to say, I never met him), but his work (on the minimum wage initially, but much more than that) changed the way I thought about economics, and about how I could do research in the questions that matter to me. I’m saddened, and shocked by his death.

  8. David Gold says:

    Very sad. I did not know him but I did admire his work. We shared an undergraduate degree — I am 20 yrs older — and I followed his career, especially his work on the minimum wage. He will definitely be missed.

  9. Lana C says:

    You’ve been able to express some of the more subtle qualities your colleague and friend obviously possessed so eloquently. Your respect and appreciation speak volumes of you both. A profound loss, continuing his accomplishments into the future may soothe while benefiting even more people.

  10. David Jacobs says:

    I didn’t know he had been a student of Richard Freeman. The myth-exploding measurement tradition!

  11. J. Yarde says:

    Very sad, to a point – stunned. Looked forward to seeing him monthly on various forums to discuss numbers a give great perspective.

    Rest assured, as your words are more adequately placed than mine could be.

    A loss, for those who knew him and will only learn of him.

  12. Chuck Sheketoff says:

    Thank you for sharing, Jared. I can’t count the number of times we cited Krueger and relied on his work to help low wage workers. Death is always difficult, and these circumstances make it even more difficult. Hopefully, the good memories and many lessons learned from Alan will give you and family and others strength.