February 22, 2002 - Financial Markets Center: Henry S. Reuss: A Personal Note

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By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, September 30, 2002 - 8:32 pm: Edit Post

Henry S. Reuss: A Personal Note





Read and comment on this these remarks from the Financial Markets Center which were delivered by James K. Galbraith at a memorial service for Henry Reuss, founder of the Peace Corps idea, at Milwaukee's Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on February 22, 2002 at:

Henry S. Reuss: A Personal Note*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Henry S. Reuss: A Personal Note

By James K. Galbraith

Let me begin with a few words from my father. Of Henry Reuss, John Kenneth Galbraith writes: "No one in my lifetime has so wonderfully combined law, economics, public life and politics and a wonderful quality of friendship. I first came to know him in 1941 when he was one of the leaders of a group of lawyers engaged in lifting the specter of inflation in World War II... In later times, we were both in Germany as the war came to an end and the formidable problems of peace were upon us.... Thereafter, came his great years as perhaps the most admirably qualified and influential member of the House of Representatives. Here, his brilliant combination of law and economics, acute political sense and, once again, a strong sense of the public purpose became his lifetime mark."

Henry Reussís monuments, apart from the Ice Age Trail, are not mainly physical. They are social, institutional, historic: the rescue of New York City, the process of Federal Reserve oversight, the Peace Corps, and his resistance to Reaganism that was lonely at the beginning and that he carried right through to the end. He was a lawyer, a legislator, an environmentalist, urbanist, economist, statesman, a visionary, and a guerrilla.

Let me claim for him special distinction as an economist. John Maynard Keynes once wrote: "the master economist must possess a rare combination of gifts. He must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together. ... He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in terms of the past for the purposes of the future... He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician."

Henry had all of this. He was interested in everything, deeply informed, active on all fronts, from the structure of the International Monetary Fund to the 1899 Refuse Act to endless proposals to save and rebuild our cities and our transportation systems. He understood just how complicated, just how expert, just how motivated and just how engaged government had to be. And he had an unfailing sense of the larger goals: full employment, balanced growth, reasonable price stability, as in the language that he wrote into the 1978 Full Employment Act.

I have a more personal appreciation of Henry Reuss. He taught me how to write. When I first went to work for him, at twenty-two, I did not know how. Reuss placed me in some back offices of the Joint Economic Committee, out of the way in the Congressional Hotel.

Yet every morning, before nine, he would be on the phone. My assignment for the day: a speech on the 1974 Sugar Act, or on the recession, a press release, something on the Export-Import Bank bill. Around three in the afternoon, Iíd go to his office. There, he would motion me to a chair, take out a pencil, and edit on the spot, cutting out a third or so and always improving the product. What was pedestrian became, after a few minutes, as he once said, "equestrian."

To work for Henry Reuss was to be challenged, inspired, thrilled by his energy, verve, and style. Especially his style. Henryís prose was direct, and in the nature of congressional life he found a thousand ways to hammer a theme, years and years on end.

He was not always utterly transparent. Looking through a few old documents I found a comment on a budget impasse of April, 1982: "The farce is over. As they say over at the Met, "Veste la guibba!" I still donít know what that means. Or, there was the day when Margie had to be called in to dissuade him from using the phrase "Attic Salts" in a press release destined for Milwaukee. We thought he was having too much fun.

But we all loved to be with him at a hearing, an exercise he raised to an art form. Thus, an anti-inflation policy reminded him of the story of Beau Geste, "the greatest in all literature" with its "dead legionnaires behind the crenelations." Or there was the day when our witnesses were Lehrman, Paulus, Dornbusch and Brunner, and Herr Reuss started the hearing off in German, until the stenographer called for time out. The staff, he said, had a "marvelous ethnic sensibility."

He was quick. A notable exchange came on October 21, 1981; the witness was a supply-sider named John Rutledge, who claimed that "God put zero in the middle of the numbers, because it was the optimal rate of inflation."

Mr. Reuss: Well now, to examine that, is zero the optimum unemployment rate too?

Mr. Rutledge: No, I would not say that.

Mr. Reuss: Did God switch signals on that one?

Mr. Rutledge: No. God never made a target for unemployment so far as I know, in the King James version anyway.

Mr. Reuss. Speaking of theology is unsuccessful, at least in resolving this.

And he was gracious; as in his farewell greeting to Admiral Rickover on January 28, 1982: "Let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings." Or somber, sometimes, as in his own farewell to the House, in the late days of December, 1982: "We have left undone that which we ought to have done, and there is no health in us."

In the days since Henry died, I have had occasion to speak of him with many old comrades who cannot be here: my fellow staff Richard Kaufman, Mary Eccles, Bob Auerbach, my Republican counterpart Bruce Bartlett who penned a gracious essay in his honor, Senator Paul Sarbanes, Congressman Charles Rangel, Ambassador Felix Rohatyn. It is a pleasure to be able to mention his name, for it never fails to evoke the utmost combination of pleasure and respect.

As for myself, I searched for words to capture my own feelings. I found them, in the remarks of the Duke of Buccleuch, the young man to whom Adam Smith became a tutor, when that greatest of all economists died in 1790. "We spent near three years together, without the slightest disagreement or coolness... We continued to live in friendship till the hour of his death; and I shall always remain with the impression of having lost a friend whom I loved and respected, not only for his great talents, but for every private virtue."

James K. Galbraith delivered these remarks at a memorial service for Henry Reuss at Milwaukee's Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on February 22, 2002.



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