Alan Krueger, natural talent

FEW ECONOMISTS can claim either to have successfully challenged the bedrock beliefs of their field or to have altered how governments pursue policies that affect millions. Alan Krueger, who died on March 16th, managed both. In research with David Card in the early 1990s, Mr Krueger showed, through careful data analysis, that increases in the minimum wage did not lead to reductions in employment, as standard models suggested they should. The research, which the authors summarised in a seminal book, “Myth and Measurement”, published in 1995, drew a scathing initial response. Critics assaulted their motivations, data and analysis until allowing, finally, that the pair had a point. Their work changed economics and politics. It also exemplified Mr Krueger’s career as both scholar and public servant.

Mr Krueger did not come across as the combative type. He was gracious and generous in person, and a skilled communicator. That came in handy during his time in Washington, as chief economist of the Department of Labour when Bill Clinton was president, and in the Treasury and the White House under Barack Obama during the most tumultuous economic times since the 1930s. He often wrote for the New York Times and appeared on television. Helping people understand what economists had learned was, he believed, part of an economist’s job.