“Richard Cooper, cutting-edge economist”

That’s from the title of a Harvard Gazette article today:

Most economists live in the world of theory, using careful calculations to predict the future. But Richard N. Cooper believed theory couldn’t tell the whole story when it came to solving real-world problems, particularly when they involve the whole world — which he amply demonstrated after a global recession in the 1970s.

The Maurits C. Boas Professor of International Economics “understood that human systems are complex,” said Kenneth Rogoff, professor of economics and Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy, a colleague of Cooper in Harvard’s economics department. “He wanted to bring realism, institutional understanding, and historical experience to economics, not just mathematical technique.”

Cooper, who died Dec. 23 at age 86 from cancer, left his mark on the world of economics from his position at Harvard, where he taught for almost 40 years, and from the White House, where he worked under four different presidents as an adviser and policy expert.

As a researcher, Cooper was a trailblazer….

Entire article here. Jeff Frankel’s remembrance here. Professor Cooper was my first teacher of international economics, specifically international trade. I learned Stolper-Samuelson, the Chicken War (current tariffs on pickup trucks is the enduring legacy), and the demands of the steel industry for temporary (!) protection (this book by Bob Crandall was on the reading list). That knowledge informed my first task as a staff economist at CEA (reviewing a Commerce report on steel). Amazingly, nearly 40 years later, I’m still talking about, not only the same models, but the same topics (e.g., steel).

Cooper’s essay was influential in my senior thesis on macroeconomic stabilization policy in developing countries. And while I didn’t stay in touch with Professor Cooper in the years after graduating — only crossing paths a few times at conferences — his work still influenced my views. Here are some of my Econbrowser posts referring to him: The 2007 ERP on exchange rate determination, A misalignment primer, and A still relevant GAO classic.

13 thoughts on ““Richard Cooper, cutting-edge economist”

  1. pgl

    :The U.S. Steel Industry in Recurrent Crisis
    Policy Options in a Competitive World
    By Robert Crandall July 1, 1981″

    Steel wanted protection during the 1970’s. They got that temporary protection from Bush-Cheney 20 years ago. And they got protection from Team Trump. Temporary has a whole new meaning!

  2. Moses Herzog

    Great stuff. Terrific post and a lot of must reads here that I have to figure out how to jam into the top of my “Damn I’m still way behind” reading list. Thanks for making us more aware of this great man and thanks for the links.

  3. Barkley Rosser

    This is a fine piece and a good addition to the post here by Jeffrey Frankel on Cooper and his work. As I did when Frankel put his up, I approve of this and always admired Cooper, although I never met him.

    I shall add that I did know well an important policy-oriented international trade economist, one that Menzie knew, the late Robert E. Baldwin of the UW-Madison econ dept. I took the grad international econ sequence from him and even took the international econ prelim. He was even my major prof for a period of time, although I eventually changed topics and ended up with Gene Smolensky in the end. But I always liked and respected Bob Baldwin, who was the lead US negotiater in the Kennedy round of tariff reduction negotiations.

    He passed some years ago. Interestingly, he was one of the few prominent economists who had a son follow in his footsteps into the same sub-field of economics, in this case Richard Baldwin

    1. Moses Herzog

      @ Barkley Junior
      But seriously, enough about the recently deceased Richard Cooper, can you share a few things about yourself?? You know, just enough so we don’t get the impression you’re some kind of narcissist, er something. On the last venture outside your house, did some woman heal herself from the Covid-19 by touching the hem of your winter coat for example??

      1. Barkley Rosser

        Actually, Mose, that last bit was put there partly for your benefit, since you seemed to somehow think I have no standing to dare to be embarrassed by the idiotic and ignorant remarks about international economics being made by your pal, JohnH. Also aimed at Menzie, who I know knew the late Bob Baldwin. In case you have not noticed, both Menzie and pgl have been basically tearing JohnH to shreds on international econ questions, so I have good reason to be embarrassed for being a fellow alumnus of the same institution. I know who I took international econ from, and said it, but I have no idea who he took it from, if he did at all. If he did, it is pretty clear he has forgotten most of whatever it was that he supposedly learned.

      2. Barkley Rosser


        Oh, and since you decided to get snarky and challenge my credentials on this stuff, I shall add that I have actually published refereed papers in academic journals on the determination of foreign exchange rates. I have not done so for quite some time, and they never got anywhere near the number of citations the many papers Menzie has published have gotten. But I do have some, and a couple were even in modestly respectable journals.

        So, all the more reason why I am appalled by the half-baked discussions of international econ coming out of your pal, JohnH, much less your even less-well-baked efforts to defend him on all this.

  4. ltr


    September 10, 1984

    Overtaxed By Tax Revision
    By Richard N. Cooper

    However much they disagree about whether or not to raise taxes, Walter F. Mondale and Ronald Reagan agree that we need some sort of tax reform. In this, I believe, they both are wrong: The last thing the country needs now is another wholesale revision of the tax code.

    The appeal of ”tax reform” is that no one likes the system as it is. The difficulty is that there is no agreement on the parts we dislike most. As a result, every effort at reform evokes a counter-effort, and we end up with a tax system that is even more complex.

    We should learn from our experience. Since 1975, we have passed six major tax reform bills, contributing nearly 1,800 pages of new legislation to the basic 1954 tax code (which itself took 929 pages), plus more than 4,000 pages of accompanying legislative history issued by Congress. (And these figures do not count the pages that must be added after every major piece of tax legislation to correct the errors.) We have ”reformed” the tax code on average every 15 months since 1976, and each time it has become more complicated.

    Why has the code become complex? Because it reflects political compromise: one person’s loophole is another person’s public policy. The legislators are not, in general, venal. They have put provisions in the tax code because some interested parties have argued persuasively that the public interest will be served by those provisions. Thus we have tax credits for research and development, deductions for interest on mortgages to encourage home ownership, deductions on charitable contributions to encourage a pluralistic society, and so on. A complex society such as ours requires a complex tax system.

    The problem is that constant changes in the tax rules greatly complicate decision-making by individuals and business. No one makes a financial decision without thinking about the tax code, and almost annual changes in the code greatly disrupt the way people make these decisions. Instead of thinking about how to make their companies more efficient, high-level business people devote their attention to manipulating the next round of ”tax reform” to their corporate advantage. Clearly, there is something to be said for the adage: ”Any old tax is a good tax.”

    True, any complex tax system erodes over time as people figure out new ways to avoid taxes. This is especially true in a society such as ours where some people regard beating the tax collector as good sport, where much legal and accounting talent is devoted to this sport, and where custom easily permits institutional change to take advantage of changing tax laws. We do therefore need to review the tax system at regular intervals – to insure tax equity and to reaffirm that the code is indeed furthering the public policies it was designed to advance. There is, however, absolutely no reason why this review should occur annually. It takes considerably longer than a year for people to adjust to a new tax law – and it takes the Government longer than that to understand how the public is responding and decide whether or not the new law is furthering its stated purpose.

    I suggest a moratorium on ”tax reform” for at least five years (or six, to conform with the electoral cycle). Some technical adjustments would certainly have to be made during that period, but we should avoid a top-to- bottom review. After five or six years, we should undertake a systematic overhaul, and then hold off again for another five or six stable years.

    I make this proposal not because I like the tax system as it is. I do not. But neither does anyone else, and at least we should give it a chance – a chance to prove or disprove the claims of its supporters.

    We do, at the moment, badly need a tax increase to reduce our huge and ultimately unsustainable budget deficit. The way to do that without tax reform would be to add a surcharge to all existing income tax bills, starting next year with, say, a 10 percent surcharge – that would raise about $40 billion – and moving the following year to 20 percent if economic conditions permit. (It should probably be accompanied by a commensurate cut in the rate of growth of expenditures.) …

    1. Barkley Rosser

      This is a very wise commentary by Cooper, which continues to this day. Far too much noise is made about changing the tax system, with most such changes not achieving nearly as close to what they were claimed to, with the unpopular tax bill of Trump just the latest such example, and with most of them, with an occasional exception, mostly just making the system more complicated, always a benefit for the tax accountants.

  5. ltr

    January 9, 2021



    Cases   ( 22,699,938)
    Deaths   ( 381,480)


    Cases   ( 10,451,346)
    Deaths   ( 151,048)


    Cases   ( 3,017,409)
    Deaths   ( 80,868)


    Cases   ( 2,767,312)
    Deaths   ( 67,599)


    Cases   ( 1,914,328)
    Deaths   ( 41,061)


    Cases   ( 1,507,931)
    Deaths   ( 132,069)


    Cases   ( 652,473)
    Deaths   ( 16,833)


    Cases   ( 87,364)
    Deaths   ( 4,634)

  6. ltr

    January 9, 2021

    Coronavirus   (Deaths per million)

    UK   ( 1,188)
    US   ( 1,149)
    France   ( 1,034)
    Mexico   ( 1,019)

    Germany   ( 489)
    Canada   ( 444)
    India   ( 109)
    China   ( 3)

    Notice the ratios of deaths to coronavirus cases are 8.8%, 2.7% and 2.4% for Mexico, the United Kingdom and France respectively.

  7. ltr


    January 10, 2021

    Chinese mainland reports 69 new COVID-19 cases

    The Chinese mainland on Saturday recorded 69 new COVID-19 cases – 48 of local transmission and 21 from overseas, the National Health Commission said on Sunday.

    The domestic cases were reported in north and northeast China: 46 in Hebei Province, 1 in Liaoning Province and 1 in Beijing.

    Moreover, 27 new asymptomatic COVID-19 cases were recorded, while 470 asymptomatic patients remain under medical observation. No deaths related to COVID-19 were registered on Saturday, while 16 patients were discharged from hospitals.

    The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in China has reached 87,433, and the death toll stands at 4,634.

    Chinese mainland new imported cases


    Chinese mainland new asymptomatic cases


    [ There has been no coronavirus death on the Chinese mainland since the beginning of last May.  Since the beginning of last June there have been only limited community clusters of infections, each of which was an immediate focus of mass testing, contact tracing and quarantine, with each outbreak having been contained.  Symptomatic and asymptomatic cases are all contact traced and quarantined.

    Imported coronavirus cases are caught at entry points with required testing and immediate quarantine.  Cold-chain imported food products are all checked and tracked through distribution.  The flow of imported cases to China is low, but has been persistent.

    There are now 588 active coronavirus cases in all on the Chinese mainland, 16 of which cases are classed as serious or critical. ]

  8. ltr

    Interestingly, in the course of defending a Democratic member of Congress and Major, I was asked about whether I would defend John McCain in like manner, and of course the answer was “yes.” Sadly and shockingly, I happened to notice that Maricopa County Arizona Republicans have formal censured Cindy McCain for supporting Joe Biden. Conscience really has to matter. Tulsi Gabbard and John McCain served and acted out of conscience; so Cindy McCain acted out of conscience.

    1. ltr


      In the course of defending a Democratic member of Congress and Major, I was asked about whether I would defend John McCain in like manner, and of course the answer was “yes.” Sadly and shockingly, I happened to notice that Maricopa County, Arizona Republicans have formally censured Cindy McCain for supporting Joe Biden. Conscience really has to matter. Tulsi Gabbard and John McCain served and acted out of conscience; so Cindy McCain acted out of conscience.

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