Alan Krueger, a well known economist and Princeton professor who served as an advisor under presidents Clinton and Obama, has died at age 58.
Princeton police were called to his home and found him unresponsive on Saturday, March 16. According to a statement made by his family and published by Princeton University, Krueger died by suicide.
Krueger made groundbreaking contributions to the field of economics, included a 1993 study on the minimum wage. He compared the labor market for fast food restaurants in New Jersey, where the minimum wage had increased, to Pennsylvania, where it had not. The study, which Krueger published together with David Card, showed that New Jersey’s minimum wage increase had no effect on employment. His work was often cited by advocates of raising the minimum wage nationwide and in New Jersey. A bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 is expected to be passed by the legislature and signed by Phil Murphy this year.
Krueger was assistant secretary of economic policy and later served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under Obama. In a statement, the former president praised Krueger’s service during the economic recession:
“He spent the first two years of my administration helping to engineer our response to the worst financial crisis in 80 years and to successfully prevent the chaos from spiraling into a second Great Depression,” Obama said. “He helped us return the economy to growth and sustained job creation, to bring down the deficit in a responsible way, and to set the stage for wages to rise again.”
As a professor, much of Krueger’s research centered on labor markets. He was chief economist for the Labor Department under Bill Clinton, an experience that led him to vow never to return to government.
Krueger told the Princeton Alumni Weekly that he broke this vow in 2008 after the treasury secretary gave him a call: “Tim Geithner called right around Christmas 2008 and said, ‘The economy’s in a free fall. Why don’t you come to Treasury and work on big, consequential things?’ That was his line. And I couldn’t say no.”
During his tenure in the Obama administration, Krueger developed a theory called the “Great Gatsby curve,” which showed that countries with greater inequality had lower inter-generational mobility.
He also argued for creating a tax credit to encourage businesses to hire new workers. According to the New York Times, he was able to convince a skeptical Obama that this policy would be a cost-effective way to create jobs. (The tax credit was defeated in congress.)
His recent policy proposals included having the government crack down on monopolies and ban “non-compete” clauses and “no-poaching” agreements between companies that restrict the freedom of workers to leave their jobs for new employment.
The week before he died, Krueger delivered a lecture at Stanford on universal basic income.
As a researcher, Krueger was part of a movement that emphasized scientific study of what was happening in the real world over what traditional economic theory predicted. Some economists call this movement, which Krueger helped lead, “the credibility revolution.”
For example, his study on minimum wage went against theory that dictated minimum wage increases would cause unemployment to rise.
In 2007 he wrote a research paper with data showing that there is no link between terrorism and poverty and lack of education, as was commonly assumed at the time. Instead, terrorists tend to come from middle class, college-educated backgrounds.
In another study, an analysis of already-published data, Krueger argued that educating the children of the poor was an excellent investment in the future of the economy, although not the only solution to poverty.
He also made groundbreaking studies of the environment, the effect of technology on the labor market, and other subjects.
His latest book, scheduled to be published in June, is called “Rockanomics” and is about the music industry, and how it can be a model for businesses that have to adapt to technological change.
He had been a professor at Princeton since 1987.