"Give me a one-armed economist," President Harry S. Truman once demanded as he vented his frustration over economic advisers who offer straightforward recommendations, then hedge their bets by tacking on a slew of caveats, often beginning with the phrase "but, on the other hand..."
Now, Murray Weidenbaum, the chairman of President Ronald Reagan's first Council of Economic Advisers, has published a compilation of essays that offers the clear, no-nonsense economic policy analysis that Truman craved.
Titled One-Armed Economist: On the Intersection of Business and Government (Transaction Publishers, June 2004), the book provides a distillation of Weidenbaum's writings over four decades. His essays cover six major clusters of public policy issues: economic policy, government programs, business decision-making, government regulation, the defense sector, and the international economy.
For Weidenbaum, the Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, the book offers a personal, if eclectic, representation of his outlook on critical public policy issues. He avoids doctrinaire positions, be they Keynesian or monetarist or supply side or libertarian, while providing readers with lucid economic analyses of the major issues of our time.
"Murray Weidenbaum has brought solid economic understanding and a talent for clear expression to analyses of a wide range of public and private policy problems," writes Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve System. "Written over the course of a remarkable and varied career as a scholar, official, and participant in varied businesses, this collection of concise essays is full of insights and lessons as fresh and relevant to issues of today as to the time they were written."
Weidenbaum's book title reference to Truman's views on economists is apt for several reasons. Truman was the first president to appoint a council of economic advisers, but unlike many of his successors, Truman was known to follow the advice of his council. Weidenbaum, on the other hand, stepped down from Reagan's economic council in late 1982, reportedly over his frustration with the administration's refusal to cut government spending in areas that Weidenbaum considered wasteful, including items in both the military and domestic budgets.
Skyrocketing deficits would later be cited as the chief negative legacy of Reagan's economic policies. Weidenbaum, however, continues to be a staunch defender of the underlying economic principles of Reaganomics, many of which he helped craft.
Weidenbaum's "one-armed" essays include a defense of Reaganomics, as well as information on how to achieve a cleaner environment, how to fundamentally overhaul the tax and health care systems. His examination of the impact public sector activities can have on the performance of the national economy explores the role of government as a buyer, a seller, a provider of credit, and a source of subsidy and support.
Drawing heavily on his experience as economist for a major military contractor, Weidenbaum shows that the defense industry is the most heavily regulated sector of the American economy and discusses ways to modernize the arcane and wasteful process of procuring weapon systems. He also draws on his work on the hidden costs of regulation on the consumer, showing how to improve the regulatory process so as to achieve national objectives while minimizing the burdens of compliance. The last section is devoted to the international economy, with chapters on the role of overseas enterprises.
Weidenbaum's essays provide a showcase for insight drawn from his experience as an economist in three arenas -- business, government and academia.
Weidenbaum chaired Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers in 1981 and 1982. In that capacity, he helped formulate the economic policy of the Reagan administration and was a key spokesperson for the administration on economic and financial issues. During the years 1983-1989, he was a member of the President's Economic Policy Advisory Board.
Earlier, Weidenbaum was the first Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy in the Nixon administration. He also served as Fiscal Economist in the U.S. Bureau of the Budget and as the Corporate Economist at the Boeing Company. He is a member of the boards of directors of Harbour Group, Macroeconomic Advisers, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He founded the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University in 1975 and served as its director for many years before becoming honorary chairman in 2001. The independent think tank was recently renamed in his honor as the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy.
The list of those offering praise for Weidenbaum's new book reads like a Who's Who of American economic policy:
Michael J. Boskin, T.M. Friedman Professor of Economics at Stanford University and former chairman of President George Herbert Walker Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, describes the book as "must reading" for students and scholars of economic policy.
"Highly recommended," says Boskin. "A blend of theory, history and practice, this collection of essays provides important and enduring insights into subjects as diverse as government regulation of business, tax reform, the military and presidential advising from the invaluable perspective of an academic who has also been inside business and government."
"'One-Armed Economist' could easily have been titled 'Intellectually Honest Economist,' or 'Clear-Eyed Economist,' or 'Literate Economist.' Murray Weidenbaum is all of those things, as these essays, spanning his career, as professor, corporate planner, and top White House official, elegantly make clear. In a non-dogmatic, non-doctrinaire, clear-headed and clearly written fashion, Weidenbaum ranges over the widest range of issues involving business, government and economics. He is that rare person who can write for an audience of experts and specialists while still being able to reach a larger audience. People in business, government and academia, as well as those in corner shops and on factory floors, can benefit from his insights and experiences."
—Norman Ornstein, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
"Murray Weidenbaum is a triple threat: a wise, witty, and one-armed economist. This wonderful selection of his professional writing displays impressive public policymaking insights based on an extraordinarily rich set of experiences in the public and private sector; a refreshingly puckish and self-deprecating humor; and a most welcome willingness to say exactly what he thinks."
—Thomas E. Mann, W. Averell Harriman Chair and Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
"With this book we all have available to us the perceptivity and wisdom of a distinguished American economist. It is good that these pieces were brought together in one package."
—Paul W. McCracken, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Business Administration, Economics, and Public Policy, University of Michigan Business Schools
Editors' Note: For more information about One-Armed Economist: On the Intersection of Business and Government, contact Karen Ornstein via email: NEWS@transactionpub.com; or via postal mail: Transaction Publishers, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey Department OF0501MW, 35 Berrue Circle, Piscataway, NJ 08854 USA; Fax: (732) 748-9801; To place an order, please contact : ORDERS@TRANSACTIONPUB.COM; call toll-free (U.S. ONLY): 1-888-999-6778; or visit the Website: www.transactionpub.com.