Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Alfred E. Kahn 1917-2010

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

It is with great sadness that I post on the passing of one of the greatest economists and public policy experts of the 20th Century.  Alfred E. Kahn, professor emeritus of Cornell dided of cancer yesterday.  He was 93.  The Cornell press release is available here

A blurb from the press release on Kahn's policy work:

In 1974, he took a leave from the university when he was appointed by New York Gov. Malcolm Wilson to chair the New York Public Service Commission, which was responsible for the regulation of the electric, gas, telephone and water companies. He was subsequently reappointed to the PSC by Gov. Hugh Carey.

While chairing the CAB in 1977-78, Kahn not only became known as the "father of deregulation" but also created a sensation with his campaign to eliminate "'bureaucratese' or gobbledygook" at the CAB, according to Robert Frank, the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management at Cornell's Johnson School and a colleague of Kahn. The Washington Post printed a copy of Kahn's memo calling for simpler language and ran an editorial, "The Sayings of Chairman Kahn," a reference to the then-topical Sayings of Chairman Mao. According to Frank, Kahn was subsequently nominated for the presidency by a newspaper in Kansas and for the Nobel Prize in an editorial in the Singapore Strait Times and was appointed to the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary; his war on bureaucratese was a major feature of his first, full-hour appearance on PBS's "The MacNeil/Lehrer Report" -- for which the demand for copies was greater than for any previous program -- featuring especially his admonition to the CAB staff: "If you can't explain what you're doing in plain English, you're probably doing something wrong."

In October 1978, Kahn was tapped by Carter to serve as adviser to the president on inflation and as chair of the Council on Wage and Price Stability. He appeared with Carter on the cover of Newsweek as the nation's "Inflation Czar."

On his academic work:

He is the author of more than 130 academic papers as well as eight books, including the landmark two-volume "The Economics of Regulation" (John Wiley, 1971; reissued with a postscript by the MIT Press in 1988), which is still considered the pre-eminent work in the field almost four decades later, and most recently of "Whom the Gods Would Destroy, or How Not to Deregulate" (2001) and "Letting Go: Deregulating the Process of Deregulation" (1998), which focuses on deregulation of the electric power and telecommunications industries. His other publications include "Great Britain in the World Economy," "Fair Competition," "The Law and Economics of Antitrust Policy" (co-authored), and "Integration and Competition in the Petroleum Industry" (co-authored). Kahn was one of the four titular subjects of "Prophets of Regulation: Charles Francis Adams, Louis D. Brandeis, James M. Landis, Alfred E. Kahn" by historian Thomas K. McGraw, who won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1986 for the book.

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