Jude Wanniski, RIP


The popularizer of supply-side economics, and to hear him tell it, a great many other things as well, has died suddenly of a heart attack. Jude Wanniski was an idea man to his core. Big ideas, small ideas, brilliant ideas, silly ideas. Talking to him, or better still watching him work a room of power brokers, was a series of declarations and questions. "You should do this," "have you tried that?" Ideas careened out of the man.

His fascination with Louis Farrakhan rivaled the minister's own fetish for the Washington Monument, perhaps the best example of Wanniski thinking so far outside of the box as to wander off the edge of the Earth. But only Jude would keep hammering at Charlie Rangel about high marginal tax rates in Africa; the brutal, capricious levies that Wanniski was convinced hold the key to explaining the continent's chronic, abject poverty.

Jude also knew how to cut to the quick, as he often did when Paul Krugman was at issue. Way back in 1996 Wanniski unleashed this gem:

Krugman's childish attempts at economic analysis are able to fool Mother Jones' editors only because you have nobody on the staff who is competent to assess his scribbles. Do any of you know the difference between income and wealth?

For all his association with the supply-siders, he was no GOP toady. Recently, Jude's distinctive memos—Bolton Nomination Another Affront to Sanity is a personal fave—turned up on antiwar.com, more of his absolute conviction that the power of his ideas would blot out all other considerations. He was obviously right about that a good bit of the time, as evidenced by the business he built consisting of telling investors and money managers what Jude Wanniski thought about the world's financial and political picture.

"Nobody else, I believe has accomplished what Jude Wanniski has without institutional sponsorship, without formal political or financial power, and with merely will and brainpower," is how my old boss Bob Novak described Wanniski in an introduction to The Way The World Works. Wanniski regarded that book as his magnum opus, linking as it does the Senate's votes on the Smoot-Hawley tariff to the stock market crash of October 1929.

And it is precisely that kind of head-snapping, original idea that the world will miss without him.