The Economy: The Pragmatic Professor

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In the intricate workings of cause and effect, there come moments in every life when great consequences hang in shaky balance, to be tipped by a tiny mischance, a trivial decision. A man misses a train by half a minute, wanders into a bookstore while waiting for the next train, and picks up a book that might alter his life forever. Another, taking a walk in the country, comes to a fork in the lane, hesitates, chooses the left turn rather than the right, and meets the girl he will marry. Afterward, men often look back upon such events and call them inevitable.

During last autumn's presidential campaign, friends invited Walter Wolfgang Heller, chairman of the University of Minnesota's economics department to attend a Democratic dinner in honor of Candidate John F. Kennedy. Heller decided to stay home. "I wasn't feeling very well," explains Heller's wife Emily, "and we were both tired. We don't mix in politics anyway." But to Emily's surprise, Heller decided after dinner to go out after all and take a look at the man who might be the next President of the U.S. As Heller approached the cluster of people gathered around Kennedy, Minnesota's Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, who knew Heller as a longtime economic consultant to Minnesota politicians, beckoned him and introduced him to the candidate. Other people in the cluster stepped back a bit, as if they thought Kennedy and Heller might have some important matters to talk about. Keeping TV cameramen waiting impatiently for him, Kennedy talked with Heller for about ten minutes.

When Heller got home that night he sat down at his dictating machine and composed a memo to Kennedy elaborating on some points that had come up during their talk. Heller never met Kennedy again during the campaign, heard nothing from him until a week before Christmas, when, to Heller's astonishment, the President-elect telephoned him from Palm Beach and asked him to join the new Administration as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

The Ear of the President. Economist Heller is an impressive man, of a type that especially impresses John Kennedy: the present-minded professor who tempers earnestness with cordiality and intellect with a touch of ambitious worldliness. In looking around for a top economist to chair the Council of Economic Advisers, Kennedy asked several economists to furnish him with lists of prospects, and Heller's name stood high on most lists, but what tipped the decision to Heller was probably that almost-never-was encounter in Minneapolis. Since the ramifications of the Federal Government's economic policies reach into every home and office in the nation, Walter Heller's hesitant decision to go and take a look at Candidate Kennedy may well affect not only his own life, but to a degree the life of every U.S. citizen.

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