Saturday, January 1, 2011

Alfred Kahn Dies

Alfred Kahn died Dec. 27 of cancer. He was 93. I had several opportunities to hear Kahn give a presentation or to talk with him. Once, when I was at Miami University and the other times at LSU. Kahn was the most complete economist I ever met. He worked in the area of regulatory economics, a subject I taught at both the undergraduate and graduate level while at LSU. He knew the theory, he knew the empirical evidence, and he was a practioner of regulation, both in public utility regulation in New York and heading up the CAB under Pres. Carter. He was partially responsible for deregulation of airlines--an act that made airline travel affordable for families. Because of his experience deregulating airlines, he was asked to advise former Communist nations after the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Kahn taught at Cornell University and his daughter married a graduate student in English who ended up teaching at LSU. Consequently, we were able to have him make a couple of presentations when he would be visiting his grandchildren in Baton Rouge. On one occasion, he spoke to a group of faculty about his advising former Communist beaurocrats about "deregulating" their economies. I asked him if he planned on visiting Russia some time. His response was, "No." He added that he would rather go to Italy for the 25th time than go to Russia for the first time. He said that a proud moment in his life was when an Italian asked him what part of Italy he was from. (No German has ever asked me a similar question.)

Another strength of Kahn as an economist was his willingess to learn and to change his mind. An example is that when deregulating airlines, Kahn thought a gradual approach was best. He later concluded that that had been wrong because a slow process created new vested interests. He concluded that a rapid change was better.

I consider Alfred Kahn to be an excellent example to anyone who aspires to be an economist.