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Kept out of military service by dim eyesight (20/100 in one eye, 20/200 in the other). Heller spent the war years in the Treasury Department in Washington, working on the massive wartime increases in taxes. After the war, he joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota. But he sallied out at various times to serve as a financial adviser to U.S. Military Governor Lucius Clay in occupied Germany (1947-48), financial adviser to the U.N., a member of the Treasury team that worked out Korean war tax increases, fiscal adviser to Minnesota's Governor Orville Freeman (Secretary of Agriculture in the new Administration), consultant to the state tax department and, last summer, tax-reform adviser to the government of Jordan.
Behind a rather placid-seeming, professorial surface, Walter Heller seethes with drive and energy. In 1955, working on economic messages and policy papers for Governor Freeman atop a heavy academic load, Heller developed a stubborn case of rheumatic fever. Hospitalized for six months, he had a dictating machine set up beside his bed and kept right on working. He still takes a penicillin pill every morning to prevent a recurrence. For recreation back home in Minnesota, Heller used to go into the backyard and chop firewood for hours on end.
The Larger Task. President-elect Kennedy's first choice to head up CEA was not Walter Heller but Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Paul Samuelson, most eminent and influential of all U.S. economists. Samuelson declined in the belief that he could have more influence on the outside, recommended Heller for the post. For the other two seats on CEA, Heller chose two university economists much like himself in age and outlook:
JAMES TOBIN, 42, professor of economics at Yale. U.S. economists are fond of making lists of the ten most brilliant U.S. economists, and Tobin always appears on them. A specialist in statistical analysis of economic forces, he is essentially a "scientific" economist with no strong political attachments. When Kennedy asked him to serve on CEA, Tobin said: "Mr. President, you must have the wrong man. I'm a sort of ivory-tower economist." Replied Kennedy: "That's all right. I'm a sort of ivory-tower President."
KERMIT GORDON, 45, Rhodes scholar, professor of economics at Williams College, lately on leave to the Ford Foundation. Less of an ivory-tower economist than Tobin, Gordon is a strong believer in softening economic conflicts by means of compromise.
Ideological differences among the three men are slight. Heller calls his two colleagues "twin rocks of Gibraltar." Says Tobin: "We are all pragmatists."
The pragmatic Kennedy economists regard the recession as something of an annoyance to be got out of the way as fast as possible so they can get the nation's economy growing at a faster rate.