William Niskanen, RIP

We're very sorry to report that William Niskanen, the chairman emeritus of the Cato Institute, former head of Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, and one of the great figures in the libertarian movement, has passed away at the age of 78. Our deepest condolences to his wife, daughters, and colleagues at the Cato Institute.

Cato has an obituary up. Here's part of it, detailing the episode that led to his being fired by the Ford Motor Company:

Niskanen's 1980 departure from the Ford Motor Company was recounted in several books and in a Wall Street Journal profile. These accounts concluded that Niskanen's departure had been forced upon him due to his principled opposition to protectionist trade policies. "Mr. Niskanen's sermons against the protectionist temptation weren't exactly what Ford management wanted to hear," wrote the Journal's Robert Simison. "It soon decided to launch anyway what has become an active publicity and lobbying campaign for government controls on Japanese autos. ...They also decided they didn't need Mr. Niskanen's advice. They fired him."

Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty, currently on a leave to write a biography of Ron Paul, worked closely with Bill years ago at Cato. He notes that Niskanen

...was a legend for his bravery in speaking up to his bosses at Ford Motors, telling them "a common commitment to refrain from seeking special favors serves the same economic function as a common commitment to refrain from stealing" and getting fired for it. He was no firebrand, just a decent, quiet guy who really, really loved doing economics; I recall piles of equation-heavy serious econ papers always sat around his office and in his printer. I don't think he ever sought a position as the guy who fell on a sword for principle. He simply understood the principles and reasonably wondered why other intelligent people, and businesses, didn't. He was a quiet but effective grandboss...and I'm grateful to have had him as my first editorial supervisor in the magazine business.

John Samples of Cato, who worked closely with Niskanen, remembers his colleague in a moving podcast. Listen to it here.

Read Niskanen's selected works.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty, currently on a leave to write a biography of Ron Paul

    What what what!?!

  • Trespassers W||

    Yeah, I had no idea, either. I was wondering what happened to him.

    Surely this will mend the ancient ties between us and the good folks at lewrockwell.com...

  • ||

    Fences will not be mended. We do not treat Ron Paul as the second coming of Jesus Christ, therefore we are apostates in Lew Rockwell's eyes.

  • ||

    If he gets elected and even partially reshackles the beast, he will please me greatly, whether he's my idea of an ideal candidate or not.

  • cynical||

    Paul wouldn't be Jesus anyway, he'd be Paul... right?

  • Brian Doherty||

    It's more of a profile of Ron Paul and the Ron Paul revolution than a biography per se. It's 99 percent about his political career, and probably about 75 percent about 2007-on. Book should be out in May, I should be back on duty at Reason within a month.

  • rather||

    Are you going to bookwhore us to death? Not naming any names, but two guys wrote a book, and mention the damn thing more than epi posts as me

  • leather_jacket_h8r||

    I'm sayin, right??

  • Brian Doherty||

    I will bookwhore to the best of my abilities, to my death, or to rather's...

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "When Bill first came to Washington in the '60s, Americans had great faith in government," said Cato scholar John Samples. "Bureaucracy and Representative Government, the book he wrote in 1971, was one of the main forces that helped start to change that. In that book, Bill accurately predicted that Congress would have a very difficult time calculating the true costs of public services, particularly national defense."

    If only Congress, like Ford, could have fired him for dropping truth bombs.


  • Trespassers W||

    "Me too."

  • Vake||

    It's always sad to hear a champion of liberty has passed. RIP Dr. Niskanen.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Godspeed, Mr. Niskanen.

  • Jebus||

    Maybe if Ford had listen to him, they would have spent time building better cars then lobbying for protection from the government.

  • fghu||

    hello,welcome to www.luckygrip. com,i hope everyone will more like them because of there have more nice top goods and cheaper price in there,thanks

  • Colonel_Angus||

    This guy deserves more recognition.

    And screw Ford.

  • rather||

    They didn't take TARP money; maybe they learned something from him

  • djconnor||

    I guess you don't read Federal Reserve disclosures. Ford very much received bailout/TARP dollars.

  • rather||

  • Jeffersonian||

    The first I heard of Bill Niskanen was during the Hillarycare debacle at a Cato symposium. What a top-notch mind and true gentleman. He will be missed. RIP, Bill, hope to see you again some day.

  • Robert||

    I met him in the 1990s IIRC, having first heard him on CATO's "Byline" bits ca. 1980. Hearing him was always like, OK, no more fooling around, let's hear from the boss!

  • ||

    RIP and thanks for fighting the good fight.

  • Nike Dunk Shoes||



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