Gardner Ackley Balanced Academia and Public Service to Become One of the Nation's Foremost Economists
(Hugh) Gardner Ackley was born in 1915 in Indianapolis. His family moved to the Kalamazoo area of Michigan when his father began teaching at Western State Teachers College (now Western Michigan University).
Ackley graduated from Western State Teachers College in 1936 with a double major in History and English. Upon graduation, he was nominated for Western’s State College Scholarship, awarding him funding for one year of graduate study at U-M.
In deciding which discipline to pursue, he landed on economics as it had the greatest possibility in resulting in a teaching fellowship once he completed his PhD. After his first year, he was awarded a Rackham Fellowship, which was renewed he following year. He earned his master’s degree in 1937 and his doctorate in 1940. After a year away at The Ohio State University in 1939, he returned to U-M in 1940 as an instructor in economic history.
Over the next 28 years, Ackley went back and forth between teaching at U-M and working for the government. He left U-M for Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1941. He served at the Office of Price Administration and the Office of Strategic Services from 1941-1945, taught at U-M from 1945-1951, served as the assistant director of the Office of Price Stabilization from 1951-1952, returned to U-M as a full professor in 1952 and department chair in 1954, served as a member of President John F. Kennedy’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) from 1962-1964 until President Lyndon Johnson named him Chairman of the CEA, he became ambassador to Italy in 1968 and returned to U-M for the last time in 1969.
Ackley had the unique experience of being department chair at a time when the nation was living with the reality of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and the rhetoric of Joseph McCarthy.
A subcommittee of the HUAC, the “Clardy Committee,” so named for Congressman Kit Clardy who oversaw it, was created to look into communist activities in the State of Michigan. Two graduate students from the department, about to be admitted to doctoral candidacy, were under investigation on allegations that they were part of a conspiratorial Communist network on campus. During this same period, Survey Research Center research associate and economics department lecturer Lawrence Klein1 was called to appear before the Clardy Committee for his past actions. Specially, his association with the Communist Party, which he left in 1947, seven years prior to this investigation.
This time in Michigan, and the country, is far too nuanced to be fully explained here. What is important is Ackley’s response to it. Ackley wrote a letter to Dean Ralph Sawyer outlining the importance of academic freedom in the department:
If they have violated reasonable standards of student conduct, they should be expelled. If they have violated the law, they should be jailed. Our whole concern is with the integrity of our academic process and our degree requirements. If we tamper with these to achieve the dismissal of Communists, we might someday find ourselves tampering again…to disqualify a McCarthyite, a Socialist, a Catholic, or a Negro. When we do this we have forfeited our right to be part of a great university.
Ackley was the Henry Carter Adams University Professor of Political Economy from 1969 until becoming professor emeritus in 1984. While he remained in Ann Arbor, he served as a member of the Trilateral Commission, the Advisory Council on Social Security, and was the president of the American Economic Association in 1982.
While at Michigan, he worked on macroeconomic model building and prepared the Klein-Goldberger Model with one of his students, Arthur Goldberger. This model evolved into a series of generations of the Michigan Model. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1980.
“Professor Klein’s use of vast survey data to build statistical economic models for the United States and several other countries has been adopted by economists around the world. ‘Few, if any, research workers in the empirical field of economic science have had so many successors and such a large impact as Lawrence Klein,’ the Nobel committee wrote in awarding him the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science,” wrote The New York Times.