Remarks made by Martin Feldstein
April 14, 2000 at a
dinner honoring Anna Schwartz's 85th birthday
Anna Schwartz at the National Bureau of Economic Research
This conference and tonights dinner are a grand celebration. I am pleased to be here to wish Anna well on this occasion not only as an old friend of Annas but also on behalf of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).
Anna is a symbol of the NBER. The style of Annas work over many years at the NBER is something that we aspire to as an organization but rarely achieve. Its careful, serious, empirical research. Its developing new data. Its studying historical facts in detail. Its collaborating with others. And all of this produces research that really makes a difference.
Anna and the Bureau are inseparable. She has certainly been at the Bureau a lot longer than I have. And although she is almost 85 years old, she continues to be fully active in research and writing and thinking and arguing with others about economics in a serious but good-natured way.
I recently visited the NBERS new offices in New York. Of course, Anna was there, at her desk, hard at work. I know that when I go to the next meeting of the NBER Monetary Economics program, Anna will be there--participating actively in the discussion and showing researchers who are less than one third her age what serious scholarship is all about.
2. Early Days
I'm tempted to say that Anna has been at the NBER from the very beginning. But thats not quite true and Anna wouldnt want me to get my facts wrong.
Anna wasnt there when the NBER began in 1920 because she was then only five years old. But it didnt take her long to get there. Anna was already interested in economics even when she was just a teenager. And she didnt waste much time becoming a professional economist. She graduated from Barnard College at the age of 18 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She received her masters degree in economics from Columbia when she was just 19.
A year later, Anna was married and on her way to raising a family of four children. But she continued her career as a professional economist throughout the years. Her first published paper appeared in the Review of Economics and Statistics in 1940 when she was just 24 years old. If the refereeing and publication lags were as long then as they are now, she was not much more than 20 when she did the work that earned her that co-authorship.
In 1941 Anna joined the staff of the NBER. I realize how long ago that was when I recognize that when Anna joined the NBER I was just two years old. So while Anna was not always at the NBER, thats not a bad approximation.
That was a remarkable time at the NBER. The small but high-quality staff was producing pioneering work in empirical economics at a time when empirical economics - i.e., statistical research in economics - was very rare. There were fewer than a dozen senior researchers at the Bureau, and the annual budget was less than $200,000. But in 1941 the NBER published Simon Kuznets National Income and Its composition, 1919 - 38. That year also saw the publication of the first NBER Technical Paper, a study by Allen Wallis and Geoffrey Moore on significance tests in time series data. And Wesley Mitchell and Arthur Burns were working on the vast project on business cycles, trying to understand the cyclical behavior of all components of the economy with the goal of eventually synthesizing these studies into a general understanding of business cycles.
3. Historical studies
Anna has always been interested in money and banking. And she always saw that historical evidence could help her understand how money and banks influence the current economy. Anna is widely praised by economists and by economic historians for her contributions to economic history and for her deep historical knowledge.
But for Anna history was never an end in itself. She is an economist who uses historical evidence to understand the present. That puts her in the same great NBER tradition as Simon Kuznets and Robert Fogel, whose interest in historical evidence was guided by an interest in current problems.
It is that interest in using historic evidence to understand current issues that characterizes Annas important work on monetary history. As some of you know, the most famous economic collaboration was brought about when Anna was at the National Bureau and Arthur Burns suggested to another young NBER economist - Milton Friedman - that he might do an NBER project on Money in the Business Cycle as part of the major NBER research project on the business cycle. Burns suggested to Friedman that he might do this project jointly with Anna Schwartz, since she was already working on developing some of the historic data that would be needed for such a project. The result of that suggestion - many years later - was the 1963 volume A Monetary Historv of the United States.
The effect of that book has been enormous. And while it was conceived as part of a project on business cycles, its greatest effect has been to put the case for focusing monetary policy on the goal of price stability.
It was a remarkable collaboration in many ways. One of the most unusual things was that this vast project was done at a distance. Although this was very much an NBER project, Anna and Milton were not together at the NBER. Anna was in New York at the NBER office, but Milton was generally in Chicago. In those days, there was no Internet to share files and swap drafts. There was no email for the rapid communication of messages.
I'm told that they rarely even spoke on the phone. Instead, drafts, comments, and suggestions traveled back and forth the old-fashioned way--by mail.
Anna and Milton brought different talents to this collaboration. It is clear that neither of them could have done this work alone. It is clear also that its major impact has been the result not only of the force of its ideas but also, even more, the impressive weight of the historic evidence.
Anna continues to bring her knowledge of economic history to discussions at NBER program meetings - as well as her analytic insights and her frank opinions about what is and what is not good research.
She is always candid and honest in everything she says. Even as I stand here, I can imagine her sitting at an NBER Monetary Economics program meeting and saying gently but firmly to some author, "How can you continue to hold that view when the evidence all points in the opposite direction?"
Anna is a great resource and a great contributor to our profession. We can all join happily in this celebration of her 85th birthday later this year and look forward to many more years of Annas active participation in the NBER and the economics profession.
Appears in Journal of Financial Services Research 18:2/3 115-117, 2000
2000 Kulwer Academic Publishers, The Netherlands