Carl Kaysen: Economist, author and special assistant to John F Kennedy

Instructed by my supervisor, the Canadian economist Harry Johnson – his students, such as Amartya Sen, later a Nobel Prize winner and master of Trinity, Mahbub-ul-Hay, later of the World Bank, and the rest of us reading Part II Economics, did as we were told – I attended a series of lectures by Carl Kaysen.

He had been recommended to the economics faculty of the University of Cambridge by the visiting American Professor of the Year, Milton Friedman.

Unforgettable. Without notes this tall, elegant, bow-tied and extremely well-dressed 35-year-old, in contrast to other scruffy but hugely distinguished colleagues, held forth on the Trade Cycle. Roy Harrod, Michael Kalecki, Franco Modigliani and other gurus of the 1950s were clinically assessed. Every so often, he would pause and say, "is that clear – have you any questions?" Some perceptive undergraduate, often Jagdish Bhagwati, later professor of economics at Columbia, would ask an erudite and involved question. Kaysen's responses were models of clarity. Asked for her opinion, an earnest, as we thought, Newnham undergraduate, favoured protégé of Ruth Cohen, later Mistress of Newnham, blurted out, "Carl Kaysen," – pause – "was the most handsome and attractive man that I have ever set eyes on!" We understood.

Kaysen grew up in Philadelphia, graduating in 1940 from the University of Pennsylvania. Posted to London in 1941, he worked on identifying the targets on the European mainland where bombing could do most damage to the Nazi war machine. Returning to the US, he worked at the National Bureau of Economic Research and then went via graduate study at Columbia to Harvard, where he completed his doctorate in 1954. He was appointed associate professor, then to a full professorship in 1957, and then associate dean of the Graduate School of Public Administration.

It was from this position that he was plucked out to serve in high positions under President Kennedy. As deputy special assistant for national security affairs he is credited with being the brains on the American side when the Partial Test Ban Treaty was being formulated. When he left, Kennedy praised him for the very qualities which we as students had recognised when he had come to Cambridge eight years previously – an astonishing ability to sift through a large amount of material and present it in a form that made the decision processes much simpler and more precise. Kaysen was at the heart of US decision-making during the Berlin Wall crisis, and of the responses to the dreadful situation in the former Belgian Congo.

In 1966, at the age of only 40, he was selected to succeed J. Robert Oppenheimer as director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton. After 10 years he moved to become professor of political economy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and contemporaneously vice-chairman of the Sloan Commission on Higher Education (he was also their director of research). He was an administrative super heavyweight.

Amazingly, the books written by himself or co-authored continued to flow. In 2003, by then a mid-octogenarian, Kaysen published War with Iraq: Costs, Consequences and Alternatives. As a strident opponent of Tony Blair's decision to endorse Bush, I found Kaysen's contribution the most powerful and succinct of any text. He asserted that Bush and Blair had connived to "invent the war for a perfectly implausible purpose".

When I wrote him a letter saying how useful and powerful his book had been, I received a friendly but acid reply: how had people like me allowed a situation in which Bush, whom he despised, could say, "but, look, a Labour – a Labour Prime Minister in Britain – is supporting me!" Kaysen was sad that a country where he had served in the Second World War, and with whose University of Cambridge he had so many connections, should have egged on Bush's Washington in such a catastrophic foreign policy.

Carl Kaysen, economist and public policy adviser: born Philadelphia 5 March 1920; deputy special assistant to the President of the US, 1961–63; David W. Skinner professor of political economy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1977–90, then Emeritus; married first 1940 Annette Neutra (died 1990; two daughters), second 1994 Ruth Butler; died 8 February 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR administrator - London - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Office and HR Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Middleweight Designer

£25000 - £26500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The On-Site division of the UK'...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project