Alan B. Krueger 10 Replies Alan B. Krueger, the James Madison Professor of Political Economy, died March 16, 2019
I first got to know Alan in early 2008 when he found out that President Bush’s budget proposed eliminating the American Time Use Survey, which provided critical information for so many researchers throughout the country. We put together a nationwide campaign to ensure that Congress rejected this proposal. I don t think I ever worked on a more rewarding and fun advocacy effort. Within a short period of time, Alan had produced a letter with 1500 prominent signatories — I remember it included four Nobel Prize winners. Every Congressional office we visited knew about Alan and his work. I am supposed to be expert at opening doors for faculty, but with Alan, it was the opposite!
We remained friends through the years and worked on a number of other things, including a conference with Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman shortly after she was elected. Her only request was to make sure Alan was there!
And while he was a staunch Democrat, Alan mentored students who found their way into Republican administrations as well. A very thoughtful former student was until last year in charge of education policy at the White House. All she wanted to talk about was Alan!
Through the years, I would look forward to Alan’s notes at unexpected moments— have a few minutes to talk? I would always learn something in those few minutes or at a lunch at Prospect.
I am deeply grateful for the privilege to have worked with Alan as a colleague and friend.
With deep gratitude for his contributions not only to the field, but also to us here at the Council for Economic Education. We called, he answered. Our most sincere condolences to his wife Lisa, also a friend of CEE, and to his entire family. Nan J. Morrison, President and CEO, Council for Economic Education.
I first met Alan in the late 1980s. I found him to be a kind, gentle, lovely person and an articulate and brilliant economist. This is a tragic loss to all who had the privilege of knowing. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.
I feel a bit funny writing here because I only had Dr. Krueger for one class, over 20 years ago. But he is one of those professors that make an outsized mark on you, or at least me. He was of course brilliant, but he also really enjoyed teaching and made a class that could have been very dry (statistics) almost thrilling. He was human and funny in ways that also exceeded any rational expectations for such a topic. He made me want to not only study the subject, but work to apply it beyond the class. And his research made me feel like academic economic research had a very immediate place in making the world a better place. I only saw him a couple times after I left in ’99, both times at local tennis courts in D.C. There was no reason to expect he’d remember me, but both times (years apart) he convincingly told me he did. He asked and I told him of my work in environmental policy and he seemed genuinely glad to hear of it. In his warm and engaging way.
I don’t know what his demons were, but having lost a brother to suicide, I can imagine how difficult it was for him to manage his. And I know how hard it is for family – both while a loved one is in battle with such demons, and after the battle ends. My only message to his family is something a friend wrote to me after my brother died: “We keep each other because we love each other.” My heart is with his family.
When I brought my daughter up to Princeton for her freshman week, I wrote to Alan and asked if I could stop by and say hello while I was in town. He immediately invited both of us to his home for brunch with Lisa and his two kids. During the meal, I told him that I would like my daughter to get a job and earn some money while a student and wondered if he would consider hiring her as his research assistant (what chutzpah!). He said that his research assistants were usually graduate students, but he would give her an assignment and see how she did. This led to a four year working relationship that extended beyond my daughter’s time at Princeton. Alan recommended her to become an economics reporter for a major newspaper for which she was hired. He helped launch her career and she is a leading journalist that has a deep understanding of economics and economic policies.
He was the faculty advisor to the varsity tennis team, and despite his unorthodox strokes became an accomplished player, beating at least one of the former varsity players in singles.
In short, Alan was a mensch!
I had the pleasure of meeting Alan and his family at an event in Hyannis Port several summers ago. We spoke about a number of things, including health care policy, which led to a follow-up call later. I came away from these limited interactions feeling as if I had met a truly remarkable person.
Before meeting Alan, I certainly knew who he was; but upon meeting him, he did not act as if I should have known who he was. I think that was probably just one of a number of ways in which Alan was special.
Alan was my PhD thesis advisor at Princeton, continued being my mentor well after graduation, and we have kept in touch ever since.
I was a graduate student in the economics department, part of the industrial relation section when following the 9-11 attacks he approached me and suggested we should use applied economic research to study the drivers beyond terrorism. For me that was the beginning of a great journey that would define much of my academic career. Doing so Alan pretty much developed a new subfield in economics. He is the one who taught me the foundations of what I know in my field of work and research.
This is such a huge loss both for me personally but also to the world, and particularly to the fields of economics and public policy. He was such a good person, humble and yet a true giant, a person I really totally admire. I am lucky to have known him, to have had him as mentor, and advisor. It will take me a while to grasp that he is no longer with us.
My sincere condolences to Lisa and the family.
My interactions with the great professor were few and far between but as those closest to him have attested, he cared deeply about his fellow human beings and I am tempted to speculate that the recent state of affairs might have made him despondent (as it has so many of us). His passing reminds me of Don McLean’s lyrics in his song about Vincent VanGogh: “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you”. I wish it weren’t so. My heart goes out to this wonderful man’s family and friends.
Despite attending Princeton and learning about Alan’s groundbreaking work on the minimum wage as an undergraduate, I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting and getting to know him until years later, when we worked together at the White House. He was head of the CEA and a key advisor to President Obama, while I was a mid-level staffer in the Chief of Staff’s office. Despite Alan’s top leadership role and many accomplishments, I always felt that he treated me as an equal. And it was clear that he was held in the highest respect by everyone lucky enough to work with him.
One of the highlights of my White House job was attending the daily senior staff meetings where, once a month, Alan would present on the state of the U.S. economy. He always picked out an interesting trend to highlight, and his presentations were fantastic. I loved them – and was grateful that, for 15 mins each month, I had the chance to turn my brain away from politics and just be a student taking in the insights of Professor Krueger.
Perhaps my fondest memory of Alan is watching the NCAA basketball finals one year with him and a handful of other colleagues at a bar in DC. I remember thinking to myself at the time – “I can’t believe I’m hanging out and watching college basketball with one of the world’s leading economists.”
Not only was Alan down-to-earth, he was incredibly kind and generous with his time — including just a few weeks ago, when I emailed him to ask about an economic mobility point and he responded right away. I was very much looking forward to seeing him during my 20th reunion this spring, am so saddened by his passing, and am keeping his family in my prayers and thoughts.
While I was a graduate student in statistics at Stanford, Alan did a sabbatical at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford where my adviser was also doing a sabbatical. I was interested in public policy and my adviser asked Alan for some advice on what kind of statistical research would be useful for policy. Alan kindly offered to mentor me on a project even though he was on a sabbatical and wanted quiet time to focus on his research. Obviously he had interest in the project himself but the time he put into mentoring me showed that he cared about mentoring me and not just the project. Unfortunately I did not work with enough persistence and never carried the project through to completion. Alan’s research that used thoughtful observational study designs and data collection to investigate important public policy questions inspired me as a researcher on observational studies. Over the years I contacted Alan several times for advice and he was always kind and helpful.