ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Paul W. McCracken, a former economic adviser to several U.S. presidents, died Friday in Ann Arbor at age 96.
McCracken was a member of President Dwight Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisers and later chair of the council under President Richard Nixon.
Herbert Hildebrandt, a retired University of Michigan business professor and longtime friend, said Saturday he was told of the death by McCracken’s daughter, Linda Langer.
McCracken was professor emeritus of business administration, economics and public policy at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. An announcement of his death on the school’s website said Nixon once wrote that during his first term he depended on McCracken “for his incisive intellect and his hard-headed pragmatism.”
“He was a key adviser during a crucial time in our nation’s history,” Nixon wrote in 1985.
McCracken recalled his appointment last year in an interview with the business school’s alumni magazine.
“After Nixon won the election, the press started guessing who was going to get what job, and my name was mentioned as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers,” he said. “A guy with the Washington Post and I had become pretty well acquainted, and he called me up and said, ‘I hear your name mentioned frequently. Is it real?’ I said, ‘I have no idea.'”
McCracken went on to say that Nixon called him the next day and he flew to New York to meet him. Nixon offered him the job, and he said he wanted to discuss it with his wife.
“Nixon and I talked a while longer and he said, ‘You know, I have a press conference coming up in about 20 minutes, and I don’t have anything to tell them. Why don’t we just announce it?’ What are you doing to do? So I said, ‘Well, OK. I guess my wife can find out about it on the news,'” McCracken said.
Between Eisenhower’s and Nixon’s administrations, McCracken served on a domestic economic task force under President John F. Kennedy and on the Commission on Budget Concepts for President Lyndon Johnson.
“He had great respect for Mr. Nixon, as he did for Eisenhower and the other Democratic presidents that asked him to sit on committees and give advice,” Hildebrandt said.
McCracken resigned from the Council of Economic Advisers in late 1971. By that time, he and Nixon had disagreed over price and wage controls.
“I thought price controls were a bad idea for a very simple reason. You couldn’t look back into history and point to a success story,” McCracken said. “At the time, the president and Congress were involved in a battle in the political domain. Political battles are often more important to them than hard, solid data.”
McCracken later served as senior consultant to Treasury Secretary William E. Simon in 1974 and 1975 and chaired the International Committee of Economists and the Academic Advisory Board for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, according to the Ross School.
An Iowa native, McCracken earned his bachelor’s degree from what now is William Penn University. He earned and his master’s and doctorate from Harvard University.
He worked as economist and research director for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis before affiliating with University of Michigan.
He retired from teaching in 1986, but continued to meet with students and other faculty on the school’s campus.
“Not only was he an excellent scholar, he was a worldly adviser who shared his wisdom with presidents in the White House and with students and colleagues in the Winter Garden,” dean and business professor Alison Davis-Blake said in a statement. “I loved seeing Paul frequent our building, long past his ‘retirement.’ He set a wonderful example for our current faculty and students, and is a testament to the enduring legacy of education.”
He is survived by two daughters, Langer and Paula McCracken.