October 03, 2017
Remembering Allan Meltzer
On Monday, Oct. 2, the university community joined the family of the late Allan Meltzer, the Allan H. Meltzer University Professor of Political Economy, in remembering Meltzer’s life and career at the university. Meltzer passed away on May 8, 2017.
“A great economist and human being has died,” Scott Richard, retired practice professor of finance at the Wharton School in the University of Pennsylvania and former junior colleague of Meltzer’s, told the audience of Carnegie Mellon University faculty and esteemed economists.
Throughout the event, “A Celebration of Life and Legacy: Dr. Allan H. Meltzer,” speakers fondly recalled his steadfast opinions, unwavering dedication to academic excellence and surprising humility. “He was at once completely self-assured and completely lacking in self-importance,” Christopher DeMuth, distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute, said during his remarks.
In particular, many speakers observed that he was unquestionably devoted to Carnegie Mellon, where he remained for his entire career, rather than shifting into the kinds of regulatory roles that his colleagues so often encouraged him to consider. Meltzer’s eldest son, Bruce, began his remarks stating, “After his love for my mother, his love for CMU was everything to him. One of the reasons he said he never left CMU was because no one else could give him what CMU gave him: the colleagues, the collaborative environment, and a place that left him alone and let him do what he wanted.”
Following a VIP luncheon, honored guests spoke of Meltzer’s storied career as a professor, researcher, policy expert and historian as part of a symposium in the Rangos Ballroom of the Cohon University Center. Interim Provost Laurie Weingart, Richard M. and Margaret S. Cyert Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory, facilitated the event. “Hailed as one of the greatest economists of the 20th century, Allan gave so much to Carnegie Mellon, our community and to the world,” she said in her opening remarks.
David Coulter, MSIA ’71, University Trustee and Business Board of Advisors member, invoked Meltzer’s well-known and oft-repeated aphorism: “Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin.” Throughout the symposium, Meltzer’s words and wisdom became the focus of speeches from his colleagues and peers. Michael Bordo, Board of Governors Professor of Economics at Rutgers University, explored Meltzer’s seminal work, “A History of the Federal Reserve.” The two-volume work codified Meltzer’s positions on regulatory policy, particularly in relation to the short-term decisions that often drive the Fed’s fiscal strategies. A key resource in developing the text, DeMuth recalled Meltzer’s many contributions to fiscal policy in the United States.
Meltzer was also called upon as an expert on international monetary policy, including serving as chair of the International Financial Institution Advisory Commission, informally known as the “Meltzer Commission.” The American Enterprise Institute’s Adam Lerrick, who held the Friends of Allan H. Meltzer Chair in Economics at the Tepper School from 2001 through 2010, served as a senior advisor to Meltzer as the chair. During his address, Lerrick said, “In his academic work, [Meltzer] insisted that technical skill is not a substitute for sound reasoning. No matter how beautiful the mathematical intricacy was, it was worthless unless the assumptions and the conclusions made sense to an ordinary person.” Nobel laureate Robert Lucas, Jr., Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago and former junior colleague of Meltzer’s, remarked that Meltzer was skilled at decoding the incredibly complex language of econometrics and synthesizing information from disparate disciplines to form novel economic theories that have lasted for decades.
Wrapping up the symposium, Marvin Goodfriend, the Friends of Allan Meltzer Professor of Economics at the Tepper School, remembered his close friend, mentor and colleague. “Allan demonstrated four classic virtues of a great man. Allan was wise and visionary in identifying and offering solutions to public policy problems. Allan employed judicious reasoning — that is, neoclassical economic reasoning in his case — to suggest practical solutions for public policy problems. Allan was patient, persevering and courageous in the pursuit of his research and advocacy. And finally, Allan exhibited a sense of justice in the esteem he accorded to the rule of law, and in the personal civility he always showed to others when debating their ideas.”
Later that afternoon, Carnegie Mellon invited attendees into the McConomy Auditorium with musical selections from a string quartet composed of Carnegie Mellon music students. Dean Robert Dammon addressed guests at the event with his welcome and thanks. “Regardless of how we knew Allan, he touched all of our lives and made them better.” Dammon detailed the span of Meltzer’s life and academic career and remarked on his impact personally and on the world at large.
Interim University President Farnam Jahanian spoke specifically about Meltzer’s impact on the university as Carnegie Mellon’s longest-standing professor and influential researcher. He announced the establishment of the Allan Meltzer Presidential Fellowship in Economics, to be administered to a graduate student studying economics and political economy.
Meltzer’s Tepper School colleagues Egon Balas, University Professor of Industrial Administration, The Thomas Lord Professor of Operations Research, and Dennis Epple, Thomas Lord University Professor of Economics recalled their experiences interacting with Meltzer both socially and professionally, calling him a mentor and friend and expressing gratitude for his tremendous generosity with his time and wisdom. Kiron Skinner, director of the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon, noted Meltzer’s significant contributions to political studies at the university, calling him “Carnegie Mellon’s first public intellectual.”
Dr. Mounzer Agha, director of the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers and clinical director of the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation Program, treated Meltzer through his battle with an incurable blood cancer known as myelodysplastic syndrome. He was impressed by how intensely and deeply Meltzer researched the disease, but also by how Meltzer continued his work through his treatment. “Allan took his illness as a challenge to give and contribute more and to run against the clock. And that he did.”
Meltzer’s sons, Bruce and Eric, and their wives, Nancy Cooper and Ann King, each offered very personal memories. Their anecdotes painted a portrait of a man who was fiercely opinionated, who thrived on challenges, who effortlessly inspired the people around him, and whose love for his family was powerful and unequivocal. Following impromptu remarks from family members, colleagues and friends, Meltzer’s wife, Marilyn, closed the event by sharing her love for her husband and its striking similarity to the feelings of those who knew him personally and professionally.
She recalled what he said when he first entered the hospital: “Isn’t it wonderful to be 89 years old and still excited about your work?”