October 27, 2011 9:46AM

The Objective Insider

This is a reminiscence of Bill Niskanen by his former student and colleague Benjamin Zycher:


The late Herbert Stein, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and a genuinely wise man—in the true rather than the Beltway sense—once described Bill Niskanen as “a member of that rare species, the objective insider.”


I knew Bill for almost forty years, as his student at the public policy school at Berkeley, as his colleague at the Council of Economic Advisers, and as a dear friend. Bill introduced me to the newly emerging field of public choice economics. Bill sharpened my still‐​meager skills in economic analysis. Bill improved my econometric modeling. I cannot count the number of errors from which Bill, exhibiting the patience of Job, diverted me. Bill above all was a friend, a real friend, always willing to help, always willing to listen, always willing to be honest when called for, in a manner simultaneously uncompromising and kind.


And yet: Those nine simple words from Herb Stein capture Bill far better than I have ever been able to do. Absolute honesty, absolute integrity, absolute devotion to principle, immune to the petty pressures of others: Bill was a mensch. Even more than his prodigious contributions to economic and public policy analysis, those attributes will remain synonymous with his name. Kathy and Lea and Pamela and Jaime: May you be comforted with the knowledge that his name, and yours, will evoke tremendous respect for many lifetimes to come.


May Bill rest in peace.