Monday, March 18, 2019

A Small Anecdote about Alan Krueger

It was back at the beginning of the 1990s, and I was putting together a panel on NAFTA for the ASSA meetings.  This would be URPE’s big plenary at the event, and, among others, I was able to enlist Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, a leader of uncommon integrity and seriousness of purpose whose victory in the 1988 Mexican presidential election was overturned through blatant fraud.  I wanted someone of stature to present the case in favor of NAFTA, however, and I thought of Krueger because of his influential paper with Gene Grossman that argued for an “Environmental Kuznets Curve”.  (I discovered later the paper had been financed by the Mexican government.)  I sent a request to him, and he agreed to do it. 

Needless to say, he faced a hostile audience.  He was denounced from the floor, and there was no one in the room to defend him.  I disagreed with him too, but on a human level I admired his willingness to take on this job—one for which he would receive no reward of any sort from his department, university or profession.  I’ve had the experience of making similar requests to bring mainstream panelists to URPE events (something I believe in strongly), and it isn’t an easy sell.  Alan took it all in stride.

I’ve subsequently leaned on him a few times for his opinion about empirical controversies I needed to address for UN-related work, and he was always prompt and helpful, a real mensch.  I’m sorry to see him leave us long before his time.

6 comments:

Don Coffin said...

I am exceptionally saddened by the news of Alan Krueger's death, and that it is reported as being suicide. I never met him, or had any personal or professional contact with him, but his work (especially on labor markets) helped re-shape my thinking on regular basis. Too damned young...

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Unknown said...

Noah Smith's tribute to this outstanding economist:

https://www.bloomberg.com/amp/opinion/articles/2019-03-18/princeton-professor-alan-krueger-led-quiet-economics-revolution

Barkley Rosser said...

I only met him once, but had plenty of respect for him. His willingness to take empirical data and findings seriously whatever they showed was always admirable.

This is probably an inappropriate moment to mention this, but while Grossman and Krueger are often credited with "discovering" the EKC, this is due to them getting their paper published first, as well as being well known. I happen to know that it was discovered by Thomas Selden who wrote the first paper on it and coined the term. Grossman saw a copy of Selden's paper before it was published and he and Krueger got theirs out first.

Note that this is not a knock on Krueger, just a matter of setting the record straight. I agree with Peter that he was admirable, and I agree that it is regrettable that he took his own life at such a relatively early age. on the surface he seems like somebody who had much to live for with many things going for him, but obviously something unfortunate led him to this.

Peter Dorman said...

Thanks for the correction on the EKC, Barkley. Given the financing of their paper, I suspect the idea behind Krueger and Grossman was there before the empirics, which is not the usual story people tell about Alan. The paper itself was technically well done but naive in retrospect. I think it was worth doing, since we've learned a lot from the critiques.

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