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Murray Weidenbaum, 1927-2014

Posted By Russ Roberts On March 26, 2014 @ 10:53 am In Hubris and humility | Comments Disabled

Murray Weidenbaum passed away last week. What a full career and life he had. He worked for Boeing, served in numerous Presidential administrations, wrote academic articles, and was a superb and conscientious teacher. The combination of business, government, and academia is a career path that rarely happens these days.

I was in the Olin School of Business when Murray hired me to join his think tank, the Center for the Study of American Business (that is now the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy.) I spent four great years as Murray’s colleague, leaving in 2003 for George Mason. I will always be grateful to him for giving me that opportunity.

My favorite memory of Murray was when I gave him a draft of something I’d written asking him for feedback. He gave a wry smile and said “Do you want kudos or criticism?” Puzzled, I asked him to explain. He said something like–if it’s mostly done and you don’t have the time or energy to change it, I’ll tell you how good how it is. If there’s time for changes, I’ll give you real comments. So true. Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we just want a pat on the back. When you asked for criticism, his comments were always superb.

Murray was a conservative but nothing close to an ideologue. He was a realist. His most important contribution to public policy was an insistence on cost-benefit analysis for government programs. He had a real impact. Cost-benefit analysis is always imperfect, but Murray believed that it was better to do the best you can measuring impact than just telling stories. I like to think that his effective encouragement of cost-benefit analysis in government has prevented some particularly horrible programs from happening.

Murray was a gentleman and a scholar. More than that, he was a gentle man and a scholar. Given his career achievements, he was remarkably humble and self-effacing, two traits that are rare even in lesser men. He had a glorious dry sense of humor and a willingness to serve, whether it was in Washington or in St. Louis when I’d ask him for criticism rather than kudos. Rest in peace, Murray.

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