Paul McCracken, scholar, teacher, presidential adviser, dies at 96
Former University of Michigan Professor Paul W. McCracken, who advised several presidents and served as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for President Richard Nixon, died Friday. He was 96.
McCracken, the New York Times reported, led Nixon’s “largely unsuccessful effort to tame the rising inflation of the late 1960s and early 1970s.”
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Nixon, writing in 1985, praised McCracken’s efforts during his administration, the university said.
"During the most difficult hours of my first term I came to depend on Paul both for his incisive intellect and his hard-headed pragmatism. He was a key adviser during a crucial time in our nation's history."
At the Ross School of Business, McCracken was the Edmund Ezra Day Distinguished University Professor (Emeritus) of Business Administration, Economics, and Public Policy, and kept regular hours at the school well after retiring. Until recently he was a fixture in the school's common area, the Davidson Winter Garden, where he conversed with students and faculty.
"Professor McCracken was a national treasure, and we were fortunate to have him at Ross for so many years," Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the school, said in the press release. "We're deeply saddened by his passing. Not only was he an excellent scholar, he was a worldly adviser who shared his wisdom with presidents in the White House and with students and colleagues in the Winter Garden."
McCracken is survived by daughters Linda Langer and Paula McCracken. His wife, Ruth, preceded him in death.
A native of Iowa, McCracken first arrived on campus in 1948, having earned a bachelor's degree from William Penn College (now William Penn University), and his master's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. He had been an economist and director of research for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and, unusual for a business professor, briefly taught English at Berea College in Kentucky.
"I always joked that he was a closeted English professor at heart," said Herb Hildebrandt, professor emeritus of business administration and professor emeritus of communication studies.
The two began a 54-year professional relationship and friendship over a hearty debate about the use of metaphors in political speeches.
McCracken described his economic philosophy as "Friedmanesque," after noted economist Milton Friedman. Leaders of both political parties recognized his economic and policy acumen, and he served as an adviser in various capacities for Presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon and Gerald Ford, a U-M alumnus.
Friedman noted in 1985, "Paul McCracken has earned a deservedly high reputation in three different worlds: the academic, the governmental and the business Few academics have achieved so wide a range of influence."
Nixon, after being elected president in 1968, tapped McCracken to be his chief economic adviser.
When the president asked him to take the job during a meeting in New York, McCracken replied he ought to get home and talk to his wife. “Nixon and I talked a while longer,” McCracken said in a 2011 interview, “and he said, 'You know, I have a press conference coming up in about 20 minutes, and I don't have anything to tell them. Why don't we just announce it?' What are you doing to do? So I said, 'Well, OK. I guess my wife can find out about it on the news.'"
McCracken's challenge as chairman of the council was to encourage policies that would ward off inflation, the chief concern at the time, while not increasing unemployment, which could lead to a recession. He sought to do this by reducing growth slowly, a policy known as gradualism.
Nixon and McCracken eventually disagreed over the issue of wage and price controls, a tool some argued could help fight inflation. McCracken didn't hold that view, and Nixon had his own reservations, but the president eventually enacted them.
McCracken resigned from the Council of Economic Advisers in late 1971.
McCracken continued to teach at U-M, write papers and articles—including more than 70 for the Wall Street Journal—lecture and influence policy in many ways. He was a senior consultant to Nixon's and Ford's treasury secretary, William E. Simon, in 1974-75, and was chairman of the International Committee of Economists commissioned by the OECD in Paris. He also chaired the Academic Advisory Board for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
McCracken said that his experiences in Washington had a major impact on his teachings and research at Michigan.
Despite his many accomplishments, Hildebrandt said McCracken would be the last to trumpet them.
"Paul lived a life of ethical elegance," he said "He stubbornly believed that a fitting coda to one's life should be that ethics and morality should walk hand in hand with whatever one does. He taught me many things, but most importantly, he taught me humility."