RIP, Martin Feldstein

In addition to being a great economist, Marty was an institution builder.  He was the early driving force behind the rise of the NBER, he led the development of empirical public finance as a respected field, and also very early on he pushed health care economics, both through his leadership at the NBER and through his own work and mentorship.  He always was reaching out to help others, and Larry Summers, Jim Poterba, David Cutler, Raj Chetty, and Jason Furman were some of those he mentored.  The economics of art museums was yet another topic he had a real interest in, and stimulated research in.

Marty also was one of my oral examiners at Harvard, and he asked only excellent questions.  I thank him for judging my answers to be good enough.


End of an era. D.E.P. R.I.P. I do believe Dr. Feldstein was known as "Dr. Doom" in the popular press, from memory. A monetarist.

No! Dr. Gloom (sic) is: Henry Kaufman (born October 20, 1927)... (still alive) ... and is known by the nickname "Dr. Doom" (sic)

Dr. Doom is sometimes the sobriquet of Dr. Nouriel Roubini as well.

Bonus trivia: Dr. Gloom was an ill-fated investor in Bernie Madoff's fund.

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Oh no. A great man and a great economist.

Even Raj Chetty was mentored by him. What a great man. Sad news

A great man, and also a good man. And teacher. And mentor.

Dr. Marty, you will be missed.

As a teen, I remember my parents saying to each other, reading the paper, "did you see x died?"

These days I see the news and think, "I five years past her", ....

Here, "that's just seven years from now...."

As a teen, I knew very few of the names. These days so many are familar for 40 years or more.

Marty was also a graduate of South Side High School, Rockville Centre, NY. He was the first from that small school accepted by Harvard College in many years, and I was grateful to him that his immediate success at Harvard eased the way for my acceptance there the following year. A great economist and always helpful to others throughout his life.

"Larry Summers [was someone] he mentored."

You cruel bastard, Cowen.

You can add to the list of those he mentored: Alan Auerbach, Larry Kotlikoff, Larry Lindsey, Glenn Hubbard, Doug Elmendorf, and me. (He was one of my oral examiners too.)

Here's an oddity: Feldstein's obituary has yet to appear on NYT digital. The WP's obituary emphasizes how Feldstein worked with and was respected across the political aisle, and how he had mentored some of today's most respected economists of differing political leanings. I'm curious whether the NYT's obituary might take a more critical approach, how Feldstein, working as Reagan's chair of the CEA, was instrumental in reducing top marginal income tax rates (lower the rates, broaden the base was the mantra), and how that effort has resulted in chronic deficits and growing debt, and was a consistent advocate for social security "reform", by which he meant a reduced government role (i.e., privatization).

Besides Reagan's income tax reform that cut top marginal rates, Feldstein also played a major role in the social security reform in the 1980s, including the sharp increase in payroll taxes on working Americans. (His effort in advising GWB in the aughts on partial privatization failed.) Now all these years later we know that the higher payroll taxes collected were mostly used to offset the income tax cuts for wealthier Americans: the excess payroll taxes collected, almost $3 trillion, has long since been spent on everything from farm subsidies to wars in the middle east. Feldstein can't be blamed for subsequent events (he didn't authorize the expenditure of the co-called social security trust fund), but how does one ignore his role in two of the most regressive pieces of legislation ever passed. This is not intended to be disrespectful to someone who was admired across the political aisle for his contribution to economics, but how does one ignore the consequences of his achievements.

Tax cuts affect revenue, which grew pretty good (except the one recession year): FY 1988 - $909 billion.
FY 1987 - $854 billion.
FY 1986 - $769 billion.
FY 1985 - $734 billion.
FY 1984 - $666 billion.
FY 1983 - $601 billion.
FY 1982 - $618 billion.
FY 1981 - $599 billion.
FY 1980 - $517 billion.

Deficits are a spending problem.

Deficits are, of course, partly a spending problem, but William Niskanen, another economist who worked in the Reagan administration, famously argued that aside from their effect on revenue, tax cuts tend to produce increased spending because they lead the citizenry to perceive government spending as less burdensome.

The NYT obit is now up and it's about as positive as the obit in the WP. The NYT obit emphasizes that Feldstein expressed concern about the deficits that followed the Reagan cuts to marginal income tax rates. My concern isn't what immediately followed but what those cuts have meant in the years since, namely, a Congress, a Republican Congress, that is fixated on the same policy, cuts to the top marginal tax rates, regardless of the circumstances or outcome. One might make the case that Feldstein was naive, that he could not have predicted the political consequence of the tax cut he promoted. But one has to be judged by the consequences of his achievements.

I worked at the NBER for many years and also at the CEA. For me Marty will always stand out as a person of superhuman time management. He was a living example of "If you need something done, ask the busiest man in town". He taught classes, mentored carefully a large number of students, managed the NBER, and had a very crowded lecture schedule. He adored his daughters. He even got a more or less normal amount of sleep. Yet if you needed his help he always seemed able to find time. His time management ability was always somewhere between inspiring and embarrassing for mortals like me.

I worked for Marty at the CEA and found him amazingly calm and insightful. He probably took work home, as his daughters were relatively young, and he liked to have dinner each night at their Georgetown home. So while he wasn't inclined to stay late in the Old Executive Office Building, there was always a project awaiting us research assistants in the morning with Marty's initials. I worked more directly for one of Marty's disciples & mentees, Larry Lindsey. I did not realize the breadth of Marty's contribution to economics until his passing. Nicely done tribute to him by Larry Summers in today's edition (6/13/19) of the Wall St Journal

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