William A. Niskanen, economist, public intellectual, and chairman emeritus of the Cato Institute, passed on yesterday after a remarkably successful career. As a member of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers (1981-85, acting chair, 1985), he is often cited as one of the central forces behind Reaganomics.
Despite his close association with Reaganomics, Niskanen was nonetheless able to provide a sober assessment of the notable achievements and failures of the administration. You can read his book length account in Reaganomics (1988) or a rather brief entry on the Reagan record in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. There is also a wonderful podcast (Reagan at 100) at Cato for those who have never heard Niskanen speak.
Of course, many are more familiar with Niskanen’s scholarly contributions. In Bureaucracy and Representative Government (1971), he introduced us to the budget-maximizing bureaucrat, something that became a mainstay in public choice theory and principal-agent accounts of regulation. While those of us who study political-bureaucratic relations understand the limits of the construct, it remains a useful heuristic when introducing students in institutional rational choice.
William A. Niskanen (1933-2011), RIP
Cato announcement here.
Reason obituary here.