No Time for Nonsense

The first time I met John Makin, back around 1985, we had lunch in the dining room at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. There was a large round table in the middle, at which a bunch of pompous know-it-alls — if you’re old enough to remember those days, you’d recognize their names — held forth with the answers to all of the world’s problems. At a smaller table off to the side, John tutored me on the shortcomings of the Reagan Administration’s economic policies. He was a Republican, and AEI was home base for the Ronald Reagan Fan Club. That made no difference to him. John didn’t have much time for economic nonsense, and he felt no need to justify it just because it happened to be the current Republican Party line.

If pressed, John would describe his ideology as conservative Keynesian, a term that is now long out of fashion. Ideology, though, wasn’t really his interest. He had equally little respect for politicians who pontificated about balancing the federal budget, politicians who claimed lower tax rates would bring in more revenue, and politicians who fancied that more government spending could provide everyone a job. What intrigued him was not what politicians said, but how interest rates and hence exchange rates responded to what politicians and central bankers did, and how that response affected economies around the world. His ear was well tuned to the nuances of Japanese and European monetary policy. He knew what he was talking about, and for many years he spent much of his time helping a hedge fund make money from his ideas.

John spent three decades at AEI, turning out thoughtful work rather than predictable talking points. In a city in which many people devote their lives to twisting the facts in order to support some political view, he was an independent thinker and a straight shooter. His death last week leaves a void.

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