Two longtime friends of mine, Chip Case and Michael Elliot, died within the last week after battles with long illnesses. In different ways, they illustrated something I think is very important—that you can think superbly as an economist and act and live in an extraordinarily humane way.
Chip was a professor at Wellesley for the last forty years. To the wide world he is best known for his collaboration with Robert Shiller on the Case-Shiller home price indices. These indices, based on houses that are sold repeatedly, are the best tool economists have for tracking developments in the all-important housing market.
Those who know him well know that the economics profession had no more dedicated and inspiring a teacher. Chip had time for every student and treated with equal interest the brilliant ones headed for careers as research economists and those who struggled to understand what elasticity meant. I doubt there is any man anywhere who has done more to encourage women to pursue careers in economics than Chip did while teaching at Wellesley.
Chip’s warm optimism was an inspiration to all who had the opportunity to work with him. I remember hi saying once that he thought his Parkinson’s had actually improved his golf swing by by weakening his right arm! And because he thought his students could do anything, they did much more than others would have thought possible.
Most economists run with the pack and do what is most rewarded by our profession. They focus on research using existing data to fill in holes in the literature. Chip charted his own course of total dedication to students and of doing research that involved developing primary data. He was as content and happy as any friend I have, and he deserved every bit of the joy that was part of his life.
Michael, for most of the time that I knew him, was a journalists’ journalist. He served in major editorial roles at The Economist, Time and Newsweek. He was interested in everything and able to see every point of view. Unlike so many reporters and editors, he had no axe to grind. I have never been covered in a more fair-minded way than when Michael was in charge. You could not predict with confidence where he would come out on any given issue. But you could always be confident that when he came to an issue he would have something to say that was novel and worthy of serious reflection.
For the last five years Michael served as the CEO of ONE—an enormously effective advocacy group for global development founded by Bono. As a board member it was my privilege to watch Michael lead. He never failed to bring intellectual rigor to every question: whether it was how best to raise funds or what priorities with respect to global poverty were most important. But he also never failed to recognize how morally important and practically consequential ONE’s advocacy was. And he always saw and brought out the best in every one of his colleagues. Michael was truly a happy warrior as he fought global poverty.
Michael, even after his diagnosis, was always positive. On those rare instances when he was frustrated, he channeled this energy into his journalism and his advocacy. His smile and his laughter were never forced; they reflected his genuine joy in his work. He was proud and he should have been. Millions of desperately poor people around the world who have never heard of Michael or even of Bono will live better lives because of the work Michael did at ONE.
I am deeply saddened by the loss of these two men, but so privileged to have known them and have learned from their great examples.