Ex-White House Economist Alan Krueger Dies; Saw Lessons For Economy In Rock Music

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Updated at 5:55 p.m. ET

There aren't many people who can command attention at the White House, the classrooms of Princeton University, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Alan Krueger did all three.

Krueger, who served as economic adviser to former President Barack Obama, died over the weekend at age 58. The cause was suicide, according to a statement from his family, released by Princeton University where Krueger taught.

"Alan was someone who was deeper than numbers on a screen and charts on a page," Obama said in a statement. "He saw economic policy not as a matter of abstract theories, but as a way to make people's lives better."

Krueger's influential labor research showed it's possible to give fast-food workers a pay raise without losing jobs. He also explored the high cost of the opioid epidemic and the dubious value of an elite college degree.

"He had this extraordinary knack for engaging himself in hugely important questions where he really could shed a great deal of light," said former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who was Krueger's academic adviser and occasional tennis partner.

Krueger was also a fan of rock and roll, who felt the rapidly changing music industry held lessons for the broader economy. His latest book on the subject, Rockonomics, is due out this summer.

As he told an audience at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, a handful of big stars — think Taylor Swift, Jay-Z, Beyoncé — are raking in the lion's share of money from selling concert tickets.

"The lucky and the talented — and it is often hard to tell the difference — have been doing better and better while the vast majority has struggled to keep up," Krueger said.

That winner-take-all pattern is repeated throughout the economy.

He titled his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame speech "Land of Hope and Dreams," a nod to one of his favorite rock stars, Bruce Springsteen, as well as the kind of upward mobility that Krueger worried is increasingly out of reach.

"Most Americans are concerned that the tremendous increase in inequality that we've seen is jeopardizing equality of opportunity," Krueger told students at Oberlin college. "That's unhealthy for our economy. It's unhealthy for our country."

Before he became chairman of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, Krueger was a top economist in the Treasury Department. He also served as chief economist at the Labor Department during the Clinton administration.

In a statement Monday, Princeton called Krueger a "true leader" who will be "deeply missed by his students and colleagues."

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

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