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R.I.P. Lester Thurow

March 30, 2016

I just finished reading the Boston Globe obituary on Lester Thurow and now realize why I was drawn to his writings in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As the newly appointed Superintendent in a Western MD county school district, in the initial speeches I gave to groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Clubs when I was being introduced I drew heavily on quotes from Zero Sum Society, whose message is encapsulated as follows in the Globe obituary:

Having just turned in the manuscript for what would become his best-selling book “The Zero-Sum Society,” he added in the interview that “these solutions, whether they are planning-oriented or market-oriented, have the common denominator that the government must be willing to impose large economic penalties on one group or another.

After leading school districts in New England for seven years, I realized that the public needed to accept higher property taxes and/or higher sales or income taxes if they wanted to have better schools… and, therefore, any discussions about improving schools would necessarily involve discussions about the revenue side of the budget as well as the spending side. And Thurow’s writings always inferred that economic justice was not being rendered under the current economic system. As MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement after learning of Thurow’s passing, “Lester Thurow spent his life trying to make society more farsighted and more fair” . 

I’ll close this post with a quote from Zero Sum Society that I feel confident I paraphrased nearly three decades ago in my introductory speeches in MD:

“There is really only one important question in political economy. If elected, whose income do you and your party plan to cut in the process of solving the economic problems facing us?”

I will vote for any candidate who answers that question directly.

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