Economist Martin Feldstein's Own Ox Is Gored on the Supply Side

UPDATED 06/08/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/08/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT

Economist Martin Feldstein has no one to blame but himself. The 41-year-old Harvard professor talked so long, loudly and persuasively about the benefits of supply-side economics, Washington finally heard him. Now the Reagan administration is practicing what Feldstein (and other conservative economists) preaches, reducing federal funding to organizations like the National Bureau of Economic Research, of which Feldstein is president. Last year the organization received $2.2 million (one-third of its budget) in federal grants; that amount figures to be drastically slashed by the 1981 budget cuts.

Feldstein grimaces at the irony. According to the Wall Street Journal'(to which he is a regular contributor), Feldstein fired off an "outraged" letter to Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, urging restoration of the funding. The Journal's characterization of the letter, Feldstein says, was a "misinterpretation," but he explains that "given the senator's background as a Harvard professor, I thought he would be able to understand the importance of this type of research."

A cutback would hurt, Feldstein admits. But he says, "We would not have to close our doors." The bureau receives aid from some 300 organizations, including corporations and unions.

Born in the Bronx (his father was an attorney), Feldstein was a scholarship student at Harvard. He took premed courses while majoring in economics and graduated near the top of his class in 1961. He went to Oxford on a Fulbright grant and stayed for six years, earning three degrees, in addition to marrying a Radcliffe graduate who was also studying there. His 40-year-old wife, Kathleen, an MIT economics Ph.D., co-writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column on economic policy with him.

Feldstein joined the Harvard faculty in 1967, and at 29 became one of the university's youngest full professors. The American Economic Association awarded him the 1977 John Bates Clark Medal, its highest honor for an economist under 40. And last year the New York Times Magazine called him "by far the most powerful of the young conservative economists." Feldstein says of the article that included that tribute, "The parts that are strictly factual are correct, and I don't have any objection to anything else."

Despite the impact of his ideas, Feldstein has never met President Reagan. He was reportedly a candidate for the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, but he spurned Administration headhunters last winter. "I find Cambridge a pleasant place to be," he says.

Relentlessly singleminded, Feldstein is unrivaled at economic computer analysis. He is also a prolific writer (150 papers published) and a frequent witness at congressional hearings. He grudgingly admits to occasional cross-country skiing. But he says he has only one real hobby: economics.

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